Thursday, July 27, 2017

The State Rates

The new state-level employment reports are out from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and New Jersey is ahead of the pack. Our state unemployment rate for June was 4.1 percent, just under the national rate of 4.4 percent. It's also down from 5.1 percent a year earlier.

Unemployment rates were at all-time lows in six states: Arkansas, California, Colorado, North Dakota, Tennessee and Washington. At 2.3 percent, Colorado has the lowest unemployment rate in the nation. Records for state unemployment rates go back to 1976.

At the other end of the scale, Alaska had the highest jobless rate, 6.8 percent, followed by New Mexico at 6.4 percent. But no state had a statistically significant increase in its unemployment rate over the past year.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Investing in a Weaker Dollar

The dollar’s unexpected drop in value this year is poised to boost the earnings of some of the biggest U.S. companies. The ICE Dollar index, which measures the currency against six peers, is down about 8 percent this year, nearing its lowest level in 13 months.

That’s good for companies that sell large amounts of their goods abroad. A weaker dollar often translates into increased demand for their products, which become cheaper to foreign buyers. S&P 500 companies obtained about 43 percent of their sales abroad at the end of 2016, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices, led by the energy sector, where 59 percent of revenue came from outside the U.S.

That means that if  the dollar's value ends 2017 where it is now, the 8 percent drop for the year would boost per-share earnings in the S&P 500 by 4 percent in 2018, according to Morgan Stanley. They estimate that profits increase 1 percent for every 2 percent fall in the dollar.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Death of the 20 Percent Down Payment

It used to be axiomatic that first-time home buyers would need to come up with 20 percent of a house's purchase price for a down payment. But a new study shows that the 20 percent down payment is all but dead — and has been for quite some time, especially for first-time buyers.

More than 70 percent of noncash, first-time home buyers made down payments of less than 20 percent over at least the past five years, according to the National Association of Realtors. Just over half, or 54 percent, of all buyers put down less than 20 percent.

The typical down payment for 60 percent of first-time home buyers is 6 percent or less, according to NAR’s latest data. But NAR’s research finds few adults 34 and younger (just 13 percent) realize they can buy a house with a down payment of 5 percent or less.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Wall Street's Image Problem

Americans still don't like Wall Street. Despite efforts by Wall Street banks to regain trust since the 2008 financial crisis, fewer than a third of Americans view the industry positively -- no more than did in 2009, according to the latest Bloomberg National Poll.

Just 31 percent of Americans look favorably on corporate executives and Wall Street. The poll also shows that Americans are much more likely to distrust billionaires than admire them, 53 percent to 31 percent.

The Fed, meanwhile, improved its standing as the economy strengthened in recent years. Fifty-two percent of those surveyed view the central bank favorably, its highest score since the poll began tracking it in September 2009. Fed Chair Janet Yellen continues to toil in relative obscurity. More than half of respondents said they don’t know enough about her to form an opinion, while 28 percent view her favorably and 15 percent unfavorably.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Changes in the S&P

Next week, there will be five new entries on the S&P 500. MGM Resorts will replace Reynolds American, because British American Tobacco is acquiring Reynolds American in a deal expected to be completed next week.

The others are dropping off because their market caps have dropped them down to the S&P MidCap 400 The departing stocks:
  • Mallinckrodt 
  • Murphy Oil 
  • Bed Bath & Beyond 
  • Transocean 
Moving up from the S&P MidCap 400 to replace them:
  • ResMed 
  • Packaging Corporation of America
  • A.O. Smith Corp. 
  • Duke Realty Corp.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

High Tech

Tech stocks broke a nearly two-decade-old record yesterday. The S&P 500’s information-technology sector ended the day at 992, closing above its previous all-time high of 988 set in March 2000 at the peak of the dot-com bubble. Tech stocks are by far the best-performing among the index’s 11 sectors this year, up 23 percent after posting their ninth consecutive day of gains on Wednesday.

Apple, the largest publicly traded company in the U.S., has posted its longest streak of consecutive gains since August 2014. Shares of other tech titans, such as Facebook and Microsoft, have also closed at all-time highs.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite has been setting fresh highs all year, but the S&P tech sector has been slower to reclaim record levels than the Nasdaq, in part because it is missing some of the Nasdaq’s biggest gainers. Netflix and Amazon.com, though they are often associated with tech stocks and included in the Nasdaq, are classified by S&P as consumer-discretionary companies.

How to Pay for College

According to the latest annual "How America Pays for College" report, from Sallie Mae, here’s how a typical family financed a college education in 2016-2017:
  • Scholarships & grants:                    35%
  • Parent income & savings:                23%
  • Student loans:                                19%        
  • Student income & savings: loans:    11%                         
  • Parent loans:                                   8%
  • Relatives & friends:                          4%
There was little change in these breakdowns from last year – just a 1 percentage point difference up or down in all categories except for parent income and savings, which fell by six percentage points, and student loans, which rose by six percentage points.

Forty-two percent of families surveyed borrowed money to help pay for college this year, according to the report. The typical loan amount was just over $9,600 for students and almost $3,900 for parents.