When all you read is gloom, turn here for a much different perspective.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Holiday Retail: "Very Good Signs"

Retail executives were holding their breath on Friday, looking for indications that the recent recovery would extend into the holiday shopping season. Macy's CEO Terry Lundgren went on the record with the Wall Street Journal Saturday to assert that early indications of both traffic and sales are pointing to "very good signs" for the December shopping season.

Online market reports from Coremetrics showed the average amount online shoppers spent on Friday rose 35% from last year's Black Spending Friday. Top statistics included:

- Online Apparel retailers saw sales jump 28.6% from last year.
- Web-based jewelry sales reported nearly 25 percent surge.
- Online department stores did phenomenally well job reporting a 151.7 percent jump.

Overall consumer electronics are taking an early lead in sales volumes. Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn said that shoppers are in "a buying mood" and that "our crowds were materially bigger than last year."

Toys "R" Us also pointed to big crowds favoring electronics. CEO Jerry Storch said that not only are electronics a big hit but with respect to early sales results: "So far we're pleased. Friday morning we averaged over 1,000 people per store waiting in line, and we've been doing brisk business ever since."

In general Friday's results appear to be positive for holiday retailers. Given the big online surge on Friday that continued into Saturday, Cyber Monday is likely to follow suit. University of San Diego economics professor Alan Gin remarked over the weekend, "I think things will be surprisingly on the up side."

Friday, November 27, 2009

Appreciating Collectables

Some of the gifts you receive this holiday season may seem inexpensive, but that doesn't mean they will not be incredibly valuable one day. In fact you might just have something valuable kicking around in the back corner of that old childhood closet.

Do you happen to own the first Superman comic book from the 1950s? It sold for 35c back then, but today is worth over $300,000. How about a 1943 penny made of solid copper? Today that one cent piece is worth well over $100,000.

Were you an early rocker? A signed copy of John Lennon and Yoko Ono's Double Fantasy is now worth $120,000. Or perhaps you are a baseball card collector? Pull out that shoebox from 2006. The minor league card for Alex Gordon that year is trading for over $7,000 currently.

Chip Cutter and Kristen Girard who usually follow the performance of the S&P 500 by industry took time this Thanksgiving season to remind us that "building a collection of stuff may seem like a waste of cash, but if you happen to buy things that appreciate over time, you can actually make money."

Happy Hunting...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Reflecting on November Blessings...

As we consider our blessings this Thanksgiving, let's also reflect on a summary of some of the good news stories so far this November...

  • Housing, Profits, Confidence: Mending Continues

    Posted: Tue, 24 Nov 2009 20:53:00 +0000

    Recent days have seen continued rebounds in housing, corporate profit reports and consumer confidence.

    Two reports early this week point to continued progress in residential housing resales. On Monday the National Association of Realtors implied that the home-buyer tax credit will likely sustain the housing market throughout next year. In October, first-time buyers used the tax credit and combined it with record low mortgage rates to push home sales to their highest level in 2 1/2 years. Home sales are now 37 percent above their bottom in January and the seven-month supply of inventory is quite modest. We saw bidding wars break out earlier this year in select areas, but now those competitions are becoming more widespread.

    On Tuesday, home prices continued to show improvement according to the Case-Shiller report. The report data continued a long strong string of improvements: Year-on-year rates continue to improve; quarter-to-quarter rate shows steady improvement and those areas that were especially hit hard like the West and pockets of Florida have turned markedly higher.

    An analysis of corporate profits is also quite rosy. Tuesday's government release shed light on huge corporate profits: up 16% since the end of last year. What is particularly noteworthy is that even though we've just made it through a strong recession, profits in US firms have essentially doubled in the past 8 years.

    And a consumer confidence report out on Monday took everyone by surprise. Heading into the holiday season, consumer confidence is back on the rise. The Conference Board consumer confidence index rose to a level not forecast by even the most optimistic forecasters. Most had expected a downturn in confidence.

    While many expect that the holiday consumer season will be light, many indications point to an economy and a consumer that are ready to believe in a brighter 2010.
  • Gates Foundation Gives Teachers a $335M Raise

    Posted: Sat, 21 Nov 2009 03:09:00 +0000

    The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation announced this week that it will grant one of the largest privately sponsored school improvement programs in recent memory -- several teacher performance improvement initiatives in more than four states.

    The program will focus on efforts to improve teacher's results rather than simply compensate them on "educational qualifications."

    Announced on Thursday, the $335 million investment will benefit teacher effectiveness, funding experiments in tenure, evaluation, compensation, training and mentoring in several large school districts and a handful of charter schools.

    The area schools receiving the most funding include:
    - Hillsborough County Florida schools from the Tampa area: $100 million;
    - Memphis Tennessee schools: $90 million;
    - Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania schools: $40 million;
    - Five charter school networks in Los Angeles, California: $60 million.

    The awards will help revamp systems and reward teachers based on student results. For instance in the Hillsborough system, the award there will help administrators revamp teacher annual reviews so that student performance accounts for 40 percent of the educators' reviews instead of the current 7 percent contribution.

    The initiatives are proving that it isn't just about single student tests, but facilitating multiple ways to evaluate student and teacher performance.

    Federal stimulus dollars are also in play. A $4.35 billion school-reform grant competition also stresses teacher effectiveness coupled with student achievement. The Gates foundation award is striving to help states fund the preparation of applications for those larger Federal grant awards.

    On Thursday Ms. Gates said, "We have been in this work for almost a decade now and we've learned a lot about what works. . . . Let's focus on the thing that actually matters the most, which is the teacher."

  • More Convincing Reports Forecast A Jobs Rebound

    Posted: Fri, 20 Nov 2009 02:49:00 +0000

    This week saw addition signs that this recovery will be anything but a jobless one.

    On Monday the Empire State Manufacturing Survey was released. Amidst a report that shows continued manufacturing growth in the region came this assessment from the document: "Future indexes conveyed an expectation that activity and employment would improve in the months ahead and that both input and selling prices would increase significantly."

    Also on Monday, UPS announced that it will hire up to 50,000 temporary workers this season to handle increased holiday shipping activity. Shipments are up this year over next and temporary hiring levels are back to those of the 2007 holiday needs.

    On Thursday the Philadelphia Federal reserve released its business outlook survey. It's report proclaimed that: "the overall level of employment was mostly steady this month, and the average work hours index was positive for the first time in more than two years."

    Also the government released its jobless claims report for the Nov 14 week. It showed that the four-week average of initial claims for unemployment fell 6,500 to 514,000, down for the 11th straight week.

    These four reports are yet more data to support the claim of jobs growth by Christmas-time.

  • Lowe's Co: ""We Certainly Do Feel Better..."

    Posted: Thu, 19 Nov 2009 03:46:00 +0000

    Earlier in the week, Lowe's Cos. (LOW) said in the third quarter it saw improved sales in several major big-ticket categories, including major appliances and flooring projects.

    Same-store-sales declines for Lowe's progressively moderated as Q3 advanced, with October same-store sales only dropping 5.6%, following a 7.9% decline in September and an 8.7% drop in August. For the full quarter, same-store sales fell 7.5%, an improvement over the second-quarter's 9.5% decline.

    The firm sees inventory in better shape than a year ago and also sees signs that consumers are responding to good deals and promotions -- underscoring the firm's optimism.

    "We certainly do feel better about how things are trending," CFO Robert Hull said.

    Lowe's Chairman and Chief Executive Robert Niblock said appliances, flooring and interior paint posted same-store sales increases. A recent consumer survey found that flooring projects as well as kitchen and bath face-lifts are at the top of consumers' lists of planned home improvement projects.

    "The fact that these types of projects are at the top of homeowners' to-do lists is encouraging," Niblock said.
  • The Good News Economist Blog Turns One

    Posted: Wed, 18 Nov 2009 04:52:00 +0000

    What a year it has been. Today marks the one year anniversary of the Good News Economist Blog. And it truly has been all about you -- the reader.

    With nearly 250 positive stories, collectively you've read over 150,000 pages of good news in the last 12 months -- amidst the constant drumbeat of gloom and doom elsewhere.

    Based on your reading interest, here are this year's, top 10 stories:

    1. Recession is Over: Positive Economic Data Abounds 3458 pageviews

    So Happy Birthday to you. Keep reading and commenting. Another 12 months of good news is on its way.

  • UPS and Fedex Need 64,000 Holiday Workers

    Posted: Tue, 17 Nov 2009 06:30:00 +0000

    On Monday UPS announced that its projections show it will handle more parcel deliveries this holiday season than it did last year.

    UPS will deliver about 400 million packages worldwide between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

    Further UPS announced that it will hire 50,000 temporary workers to handle the greater volume.

    Last week FedEx also reported that it anticipates shipping more this year.

    FedEx said it will hire 14,000 additional part-time and temporary holiday workers.

    Both UPS and FedEx are considered indicators of U.S. economic activity because their business booms and cools with the broader economy.

    Post recession, labor markets usually improve first by showing a significant pickup in temporary labor, followed shortly thereafter by a return to full-time job growth.

    This time is no different.
  • Add Japan to the Q3 Growth Column

    Posted: Mon, 16 Nov 2009 03:56:00 +0000

    Rapidly growing neighbors as well as government stimulus programs helped Japan return to growth much more quickly than any had expected. Japan's Q3 growth surged sharply at a 4.8% annualized clip. It was Japan's second consecutive quarter of growth -- accelerating from the 2.7% annualized rate of Q2.

    The good news for Japan early Monday comes on the heals of solid growth reports from the U.S. and Europe where GDPs have also started expanding again. Japan's report adds additional creditably to the notion suggesting a broad global recovery is solidly under way.

    The news will likely add fresh rally fuel to Wall Street for its open on Monday as Y/Y stock market gainscontinue to shine.
  • Year Over Year Market Gains Shine Bright

    Posted: Sun, 15 Nov 2009 05:07:00 +0000

    Even though markets were sliding rapidly last year at this time, the stock market indexes have now recovered to the point that year over year gains are quite substantial.

    For the Dow Jones industrial average, the one year gain is now 1,773 points, up 21% from a year ago at this time:

    The S&P500 Index is up 220 points or 25% since it's pre-Thanksgiving 2008 level:

    And the technology laden Nasdaq has had the best year of the three, rising 651 points, up an impressive 43% from a year ago at this time:

    And you might remember that back in early March we speculated that these charts would look very similar to the charts for 1975. And indeed they do.
  • Foreclosure Rates Continue Steady Decline

    Posted: Thu, 12 Nov 2009 06:16:00 +0000

    In October the number of U.S. properties for which a foreclosure filing was received declined for the third month sequentially according to a RealtyTrac report released on Wednesday. The report is a further indication that foreclosures are beginning to subside and that the housing sector is stabilizing.

    According to the report, total foreclosure filings in October dropped 3.3% from September.

    Several foreclosure-laden states are seeing glimmers of hope in the October data. Nevada -- one of the hardest hit states in terms of foreclosures in the past year -- saw filings actually fall 4% from a year ago, the first ever year-over-year decline in the state since RealtyTrac began recording their foreclosure statistics in 2006. Florida also saw a 4% drop -- also the first year-over-year decline in that state since July 2006.

    Wednesday's positive foreclosure news is yet one more result of the improving housing sector.
  • Housing Outlook Improves - Local Media Agrees

    Posted: Wed, 11 Nov 2009 03:10:00 +0000

    Sales of previously owned homes rose across the country during the third quarter, according to a report released Tuesday by the National Association of Realtors.

    Nationally, sales were up 5.9 percent from the third quarter of last year. Previously owned homes changed hands at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.3 million, according to the report. NAR attributed much of the jump to continued affordable prices and a federal income tax credit. Congress and President Obama legislated an extension and expansion of the tax credit program last week.

    Home sales rose in 32 states and Washington, D.C., from the third quarter of 2008 to the third quarter this year. Sales jumped in 45 states, and in Washington, D.C., from the second to the third quarter.

    There was no lack of media enthusiasm for the news on Tuesday as local media outlets across the country finally picked up on the good news...

    1. Home sales up nearly 79.6% in October in Orlando

    2. Pittsburgh home prices rise in third quarter

    3. US Home Sales Rise to Two-Year High

    4. Home prices seen stabilizing in North Jersey

    5. NJ homes sales jump 11 percent in quarter

    6. DC Area housing sales jump

    7. Las Vegas Home Sales On The Rise

    8. Florida home sales up for fifth straight quarter

    9. Houston-area home prices rise in third quarter

    10. Ohio home sales rose during the third quarter

    11. Nashville home sales climb first time in three years

    12. Lehigh Valley home sales rise 30 percent in October

    13. Illinois Third Quarter Home Sales a Bright Spot in 2009

    14. Home Prices Are Suddenly Hot in Some Areas...

    Back in June we pointed out a dozen housing markets that were showing pricing improvement. August revealed a dozen more.

    While some year over year comparisons continue to show price erosion recent jumps in the national S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index further clarifies that the price drops of the past few years are now over. The 20-city index is now consistently rising quarter-over-quarter.

    Three independent sources, the National Association of Realtors, the Federal Housing Finance Agency and Case Shiller are now all showing housing price improvement.

    Repeatedly we've said that the strength of this recovery will be measured in part by how well the housing industry fares. Tuesday was further strong evidence that this recovery continues unabated.
  • US Job Growth Likely By Christmas

    Posted: Sun, 08 Nov 2009 06:07:00 +0000

    Now that the US recovery is in full swing, many continue to asked "when will this newfound economic growth produce new jobs?"

    This past week all eyes were on job numbers. And there were some encouraging signs.

    First, Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. announced on Wednesday that planned layoffs at U.S. firms fell for a third straight month in October to a 19-month low. Announced job cut rates are now at levels that are below average.

    Then on Thursday Monster's employment index was reported to rise an additional point in October to 120 indicating an ongoing improvement in job demand. The Monster Employment Index is a comprehensive monthly analysis of U.S. online job demand.

    And finally, initial jobless claims are clearly on the decline, down 20,000 in the Oct. 31 week to 512,000 (prior week revised 2,000 higher to 532,000). The four-week average is down for the ninth straight week, 3,000 lower at 523,750 for a 25,000 decrease from late September.

    So just when will this strong recovery start producing new jobs?

    The answer is likely found in the significant decline in the number of jobs lost since March. As can be seen from the linear trending in the chart below, if the current economic climate stays intact, it is quite likely that we will actually see job growth starting sometime in December.

  • Cisco Joins Many Others: Recovery Is Gaining Momentum

    Posted: Fri, 06 Nov 2009 03:44:00 +0000

    John Chambers ignited markets on Thursday. The Cisco CEO joined other leading firms like Apple, Amazon, Alcoa, Intel, and others by stating that, "the quarter was very strong. The recovery is gaining momentum." Earlier in the week, the institute for supply management speculated that the US GDP is likely now growing at an annualized rate of 4.5%.

    Chambers continued, "what we saw is a clear tipping point as our business continued to reflect strong sequential growth trends that meet or exceed expectations during normal economic times."

    Elsewhere on Thursday the US Labor Department said the output per hour of nonfarm workers rose at an annual rate of 9.5% in the quarter, more than four times the average productivity growth rate of the past quarter-century. When taken together with the second quarter's 6.9% rise, it was the strongest productivity growth rate over a six-month period since 1961.

    While unemployment remains high, initial claims for unemployment continue to fall and corporate profits have bounced back significantly from the strong downturn in Q1. As output keeps climbing, employment gains will follow shortly.

    Such large productivity gains are quite common at the end of deep recessions and the beginning of recoveries. A healthy pattern is that productivity grows first, then employment rises, and finally wages increase.

    It continues to be clear that this recovery will not be a jobless one. In fact on Thursday the government also reported that jobless claims dropped to a 10-month low raising speculation that the national unemployment rate has peaked will begin to fall as soon as next month.

    Employment gains have already sparked reasons for optimism in many states.

    As jobless rates continue to decrease nationally, almost all economic indicators will have turned positive:leading, coincident and lagging.

    And as we've published here since February (and as was witnessed on Thursday), the stock market will continue its move -- swift and steep.

  • Announced Job Cuts Are Now At Below Average Levels

    Posted: Thu, 05 Nov 2009 07:00:00 +0000

    Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. announced on Wednesday that planned layoffs at U.S. firms fell for a third straight month in October to a 19-month low.

    As we've noted the labor market is continuing to improve as US economic activity rebounds.

    Planned job cuts announced by U.S. employers fell to 55,679 in October, down 16 percent from 66,404 in September.

    The October job cuts represent the lowest level since March 2008, and are now at or below levels that were normally seen throughout all of 2006 and 2007.

    In fact at a 55,679 monthly rate, the cuts are now well below the monthly average cuts for the last three years.

    The Challenger report is one more indication that a return to US job growth is just around the corner.
  • Auto Sales Cruise Ahead in October

    Posted: Wed, 04 Nov 2009 02:40:00 +0000

    On Tuesday major auto manufacturers indicated that their October sales rebounded significantly following a weak September.

    The increase to the US annualized sales rate was nearly 20 percent better than September's measure. Early estimates show the bump adding $5 billion, or roughly 1.5% to October's retail sales numbers versus September's readings.

    It now appears as though consumers no longer needed cash-for-clunker rebates to commit to new auto acquisitions in October.

    GM, Ford and Nissan all reported that their sales are now up from a year ago.

    Jessica Caldwell, senior analyst at auto industry tracker Edmunds.com said, "We are trending in the right direction," and "it should be easier for auto companies to report year-over-year growth from this point on."

    Ford -- which reported a strong profit on Monday -- claims that increased production in October will help to replenish diminished supplies on dealer lots. Further, Ford sales management points to strong restocking demand through the end of 2009.
  • US Growth Probably Now at 4.5 percent

    Posted: Tue, 03 Nov 2009 01:32:00 +0000

    The economy continues to rebuild itself and the manufacturing sector has now grown for three consecutive months. According to the Institute for Supply Management, their PMI registered 55.7 percent. That is 3.1 percentage points higher than the 52.6 percent reported in September. It was the highest reading for the index in over 3 years and manufacturing output month over month rose at the fastest pace in 63 months.

    This year, the PMI has correlated extremely accurately with the growth in the overall economy. When annualized the current reading corresponds to a 4.5 percent GDP growth rate.

    In more good news on Monday, the National Association of Realtors said its Pending Home Sales Index, rose 6.1 percent -- the index is now at its highest level in nearly three years.

    An additional report from the US Commerce Dept showed that U.S. construction spending made its largest gain in a year in September. The report reflected a huge increase in private residential building -- the largest increase in more than six years.

    In continued positive earnings news: For the first nine months of the year, Ford has now posted a $1.8-billion profit. That’s a $10.6-billion improvement from the same period a year ago. Surprisingly, Ford said that even without Clunkermania, it would have showed a profit. Further, Ford said it “expects to be solidly profitable in 2011, with positive operating-related cash flow.”

    On the jobs front, the ISM's Employment Index registered 53.1 percent in October, which is 6.9 percentage points above the reading reported in September. This indicates the first month of growth in US manufacturing employment in over a year. Eight of the ISM's 18 manufacturing industries surveyed reported growth in employment in October.

    To recap, the overall economy is now growing robustly, the housing market continues to recover steadily, earnings news continues to be extremely positive, and it now appears that we've seen the early concrete indications of employment growth.

    While there continues to be fallout from the deep recession earlier in the year, it is becoming clearer by the day that upward economic momentum will persist and that this will not be a jobless recovery.

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