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Business News

Consumer confidence improved in April to the second-highest level in more than eight years as Americans held more favorable views of the economic outlook and inflation. The University of Michigan index of sentiment climbed to 95.9 this month from 93 in March. (Bloomberg)

Hasbro turned in very strong quarter led by Transformers sales and other toys for boys. The toymaker, weighed down by the strong U.S. currency and battling a shift toward video games and other non-traditional toys reported a 17% percent drop in profits compared to a year earlier. But that included an income tax expense of almost $8.5 million. Revenue rose 5%. (AP)

Morgan Stanley says its quarterly profit surged 60% as revenue from trading stocks and bonds lifted the investment bank's results. Profits rose to $2.3 billion. Revenue for the quarter rose to $9.9 billion. (AP)

Costco increased its quarterly dividend 12% to 40 cents per share, and also announced a new stock repurchase program of up to $4 billion, replacing an existing $4 billion authorization with about $2.5 billion left. (CNBC)

We still can’t imagine why he is not in jail, but Jon Corzine, the former boss of bankrupt MF Global, is considering starting his own hedge fund, with cash from the ex-governor's personal funds and some outside investors. (WSJ)

Inflation at the consumer level rose 0.2% in March, lower than expected.  For the last 12 months we have deflation of 0.1%. (Bloomberg)

General Electric posted an enormous overall loss resulting from its recently-announced sale of its finance subsidiary. Costs associated with the sale pushed the company to an overall loss of $13.57 billion in the quarter, down from a profit of $3 billion during last year's first quarter. (Associated Press)

American Express, the world's largest credit card issuer, reported a 6.3% rise in quarterly profit, helped by higher spending by card holders and an increase in net interest income. Profits rose to $1.51 billion for the first quarter. (Reuters)

Oil technology and equipment provider Schlumberger cut an additional 11,000 jobs, which brings the total number of cuts to 20,000. The company reported first-quarter revenue of $10.25 billion, down 9% percent year-over-year. (CNBC)

Mattel reported its sixth straight fall in quarterly worldwide sales as it focuses on turning around its business and launching toys to make up for plunging demand for its Barbie dolls. The toymaker's net sales fell about 2.5% to $922.7 million. Their net loss widened to $58.2 million (Reuters)

Tax day has passed but it is interesting to note in grim coincidence of Abraham Lincoln having both created the income tax and perishing from his fatal wounds on April 15, 1865. Americans paid a record $1.4 trillion in income tax in 2014.

Smith & Wesson shares soared as the company announced that firearm orders are picking up. The company forecasts sales of about $179 million for the quarter. That's up 8% from its projection just six weeks ago. Smith & Wesson gun sales hit a record of $626.6 million last year. (CNN)

Goldman Sachs posted quarterly profits of $2.75 billion, up 41% from 2014. Revenue rose to $10.62 billion, up 14% from a year ago. Revenue from trading fixed income, currencies and commodities rose 10%. Goldman's stock has risen 30% in the last 12 months. (Reuters)

Philip Morris International reported first-quarter profit of $1.8 billion. The seller of Marlboro and other brands outside the US posted revenue of $6.62 billion. Both numbers were roughly equal to last year.  Cigarette shipment volume climbed 1.4%.  Philip Morris does all of its business overseas, the company has to navigate changes in currency values. A stronger dollar cuts into revenue generated overseas when it's translated back into dollars. (Associated Press)

Japan has overtaken China to become the leading holder of U.S. Treasuries for the first time since the 2008 financial crisis. (Bloomberg)

Sales at U.S. retailers increased 0.9%, the first gain in four months, after a 0.5% drop in February, Commerce Department figures showed. Americans remain focused on using the savings at the gas pump to shore up finances even as employment and confidence firm and interest rates remain low. Cars and light trucks sold at a 17.1 million annualized rate in March, matching the strongest pace since August. (Bloomberg)

The producer price index rose 0.2% in March. Over the past 12 months, wholesale costs fell 0.8%. The PPI excluding food and fuel also climbed 0.2% from a month earlier. (Bloomberg)

Being tax day the following is due for individuals:
·       Your returns and/or Extensions, with payments of balances due.

·       2014 Roth or Traditional IRA contributions.

·       2014 Oregon 529 plan contributions.  

·       2015 first quarter Estimated Tax Payments are also due.  

For Businesses:
·       The annual $150 OR Minimum Tax payment for all LLCs & S-Corps.

·       Oregon partnership tax returns must be filed or extended. (Fowler & Co.)

Earnings season begins in earnest this week, with profits in a real decline for the first time in six years. Big players to report include JPMorgan, American Express, Intel, and Johnson & Johnson. (CNBC)

The World Bank trimmed its 2015-2016 growth forecast for developing East Asia, citing a continued slowdown China, where exports surprisingly tumbled in March ahead of first quarter growth figures due on Wednesday. Chinese exports tumbled 14.6% from the year-ago. (CNBC)

Sears has struck a 50/50 joint venture with Simon Property Group designed to unlock the real estate value in the 10 properties the retailer will contribute. This follows a similar deal with another mall operator, General Growth Properties, earlier this month. Sears is struggling to survive after three years of big losses. (WSJ)

In the online world of media piracy can have a big impact. Game of Thrones is already the most pirated television show in 2015, research shows, as new episodes were leaked over the weekend ahead of Sunday's official fifth season debut on Time Warner's HBO. (CNBC)

The S&P 500 is down 2 and the NASDAQ is up 2.

In the oil patch there are tentative signs of demand improving and rig counts fell to the lowest level since 2010. On the other hand U.S. inventories are swelling and Saudi Arabian output marked a record high last month. Oil is up 76 cents at $52.48 a barrel. (Reuters)

Let the oil patch consolidation race begin. Royal Dutch Shell is acquiring British oil and gas company BG Group for $70 billion.  The acquisition will be the largest in 15 years. BG Group took a roughly $8.9 billion write down in February on its oil and gas assets to reflect the past year's sharp fall in oil prices. (Wall Street Journal)

McDonald's is trying out premium burgers again-adding third-pound sirloin patties to its U.S. menu for a limited time. It's the latest move by the new CEO to revive sales at the struggling fast-food chain. (WSJ)

Loan applications to purchase a home rose for the third straight week. Purchase applications are now 12% higher than the same week one year ago. (CNBC)

The FTC informed Dollar Tree that it must divest 340 stores before it can complete its $8.5 billion takeover of rival discount retailer Family Dollar. Dollar Tree said it expects almost all of those divested stores to be current Family Dollar locations. (CNBC)

The S&P 500 is up 1 and the NASDAQ is up 4. The MSCI international index is flat.

Oil was up 3.5% yesterday but is down this morning after the API said weekly crude stocks rose 12.2 million barrels. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia reported record output in March. Oil services company Baker Hughes says the average U.S. rig count for March was 1,110, down 238 from February and down 693 from a year ago. Oil is down $1.27 at $52.75 a barrel. (Reuters)

The pace of growth in the U.S. services sector fell in March to its lowest level in three months but exports rose to the highest level in over two years, according to the Institute for Supply Management.  The rise in the exports index came despite the U.S. dollar's surge against a basket of major currencies of more than 20% since last May. A strong dollar typically crimps demand for U.S exports and reduces the value of overseas sales when they are translated back into U.S. dollars. (Reuters)

In March, Americans' daily spending averaged $86, level with the March 2014 average of $87, but below the averages for many months in 2014. Last month's figure, however, is up slightly from February's $82. (Gallup)

Looking to expand globally, FedEx plans to buy Dutch rival TNT Express in an all-cash $4.8 billion deal. Two years ago, UPS tried to buy TNT, but was denied by competition regulators. (CNBC)

Samsung Electronics today reported earnings guidance that beat expectations, in what analysts say could be the "first glimpse of a turnaround" for the struggling tech giant. (CNBC)

U.S. stock markets are lower in early trading, with investors getting their first chance to react to Friday's weaker-than-expected March jobs reports. The stock market is set to resume normal hours this morning after the long holiday weekend. (CNBC)

The economy added 126,000 jobs in March.  The unemployment rate stays at 5.5%, but average hourly earnings accelerated to a 2.1% growth rate. About 182,000 people were unable to work due to bad weather during the month.  March follows 14 months of 200,000 per month in job gains.  This report is just a blip in strong job growth and should not cause much long-term concern.  One month does not make a trend. (LPL Research)

The dollar is under some pressure today, after the weak jobs data persuaded many market watchers that the Fed may wait until the second half of 2015 before raising interest rates. (Reuters)

In the online gaming sector Walt Disney is investing $250 million in DraftKings, putting the value of the online fantasy sports business at roughly $900 million. (WSJ)

Toy maker Mattel Inc. has laid off 107 employees at its headquarters, a few months after its chief executive abruptly resigned following a disappointing holiday season. (LA Times)

The S&P 500 is down 14 and the NASDAQ is down 30. The MSCI international index is up 0.87%.

Oil is up $1.01 at $50.14 a barrel. Oil is higher, after Saudi Arabia raised prices for crude sales to Asia for a second month, signaling stronger demand in the region. (Reuters)

The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission is charging that Kraft Foods and Mondelez manipulated wheat futures and cash wheat prices. Kraft said it did not expect the matter to have a financially material impact and that Mondelez would predominantly bear the costs of the matter. (Reuters)

Big Wall Street paychecks are back in the news. Morgan Stanley Chairman and CEO James Gorman has received a 25% pay increase in 2014-taking home $23.3 million, up from $14.4 million the prior year. (Reuters)

U.S. employers announced 36,594 layoffs last month, up 6.4% from March 2014. Industrial goods manufacturers led reductions in March with 9,383 cuts. The energy patch let go just 1,279 employees, compared with more than 16,000 in February. Target accounted for 6,640 retail sector cuts in March. (CNBC)

U.S. farmers are turning to a little-known grain called sorghum for relief from a two-year slump in agriculture prices. Native to Africa, sorghum has three things going for it right now: it’s cheap to plant; it holds up better in drought-like conditions than other crops; and, demand is soaring in China, where farmers feed the plant to their hog herds, and moonshiners make it into a whiskey. Corn, soybeans and wheat slumped into bear markets last year amid a global supply glut, sorghum prices have held stable. (Bloomberg)

US Stocks closed the first quarter with sizeable losses yesterday.  The Dow was down in the 1st quarter, while the S&P 500 and NASDAQ finished the quarter slightly higher.  Investors are eagerly awaiting first quarter earnings season which starts next week.

The Case-Shiller home price index which measures house prices in 20 major US cities rose 4.5% year over year last month.  Charlotte, Miami, and San Diego all saw the largest price increases.  A combination of low interest rates, strong consumer confidence, cheap oil, and low inflation continue to support further increases in home prices.

An index that measures the confidence of the US consumer surged in March because Americans think the economy will continue to improve over the next 6 months.

The US Dollar had its largest quarterly rise in the 1st quarter since 2008.  The dollar rose 9% against the Euro based on diverging monetary policies.  The US Fed is going to start to tighten monetary policy, while the ECB is losing their monetary policy.  The good news is it keeps getting cheaper to travel to Europe.

The payroll company ADP is out this morning with their March employment report showing US employer's added 189,000 jobs last month which is the lowest increase in monthly jobs in 14 months.

Ford and General Motors are out this morning with their March auto sales numbers.  Both companies saw year over year declines in sales of about 3.5% in March.  Both companies pointed to inclement weather in much of the country as reasons for weak sales numbers.

Today’s trading marks the last day of trading for the first quarter.  Earnings season is just around the corner.  

The dollar index, a measure against a basket of currencies, is on pace for its third quarterly gain in a row. Against the euro, which was down this morning, the dollar was up about 10.5% in 2015 . (Reuters)

As they work to reinvent themselves IBM is investing $3 billion in a unit centered on the Internet of Things. The unit's first partnership is with the Weather Channel's parent to move its data services into the IBM cloud. (AP)

As if you did not have enough drink choices. Starbucks has a new line of smoothies, priced at $5.95 for a 16-ounce size. This is part of a partnership with the maker of Dannon yogurt. (Reuters)

Could this be the future? McDonald's is introducing table service in Germany, while testing all-day breakfast in San Diego, as the fast-food chain tries to reinvent itself under new leadership. (Reuters & CNBC)

Colorado-based Vail Resorts is buying Perisher Ski Resort, the largest mountain destination in Australia for $136 million, in its first international acquisition. The deal gives Perisher season pass holders access to all of Vail's U.S. resorts. (CNBC)

The S&P 500 is down 13 and the NASDAQ is down 21. The MSCI international index was up 0.06% in yesterday’s trading.

Oil is down $1.11 at $47.57 a barrel. U.S. crude prices have lost more than 8.5% in the first three months of 2015-tracking for a third straight quarterly loss for the first time since 2003. (Reuters)

February US Personal Income rose 0.4%, above expectations.  Consumer spending was up 0.1% showing American are saving some money.

Volvo will invest $500 million in its first U.S. assembly plant, plugging a longstanding gap in the carmaker's manufacturing base as it pursues a global comeback under Chinese ownership. The location of the new plant has not been announced. The plant will serve export markets as well as the United States. (Reuters)

Just because you retire does not mean you are not relevant. Former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has launched his own economics blog. The first post is on low global interest rates. (WSJ)

Business economists says the US economy will be shrugging off a winter economic slowdown, predicting 3.1% GDP growth this year, the best performance in a decade, according to a poll from the National Association for Business Economics.

As they continue their claw back to relevance, Best Buy will consolidate and close stores in Canada.  The move will cost the electronics retailer up to $280 million in restructuring charges this year. (CNBC)

Thirteen years after the last Lincoln Continental rolled off the assembly line, Ford is bringing the car back, with a production version on sale next year. (AP)

The final read of fourth quarter GDP says the economy grew at a 2.2% rate.  About what we expected. (AP)

The average price of a pound of ground beef climbed to another record high in February, hitting $4.238 per pound. A year ago, the average price for a pound of ground beef was $3.555 per pound. Since then, the average price has increased 19.2 %. Since February 2010, the average price of a pound of ground beef has climbed by 86.1%. (Bloomberg)

The newest weapon in the breakfast wars is a biscuit shaped like a taco. Taco Bell is launching a "biscuit taco" this week and ditching its "waffle taco," which last year was included in the chain's breakfast menu.

The swap comes as the chain tries to build on its year-old breakfast business by once again going after the dominant player in the mornings: McDonald's. (Fox Business News)

The world’s biggest energy companies have sold record amounts of debt this year, taking advantage of historically low interest rates to plug cash shortfalls with borrowing, after a 50% plunge in oil prices.

The total debt raised in the first two months of 2015 by large US and European oil and gas companies has jumped by more than 60%. It outstrips the previous quarterly record set six years ago after the last price collapse. (Financial Times)

The fear trade is on this morning as investors wring their hands looking everywhere for something to worry about.

The payroll processor and human-resources services provider Paychex reported a quarterly profit of $169.4 million on revenue of $704.3 million. Payroll service revenue increased 2% and human resources revenue leapt 19%. Paychex shares have increased 11% since the beginning of the year, while the stock has climbed 21% in the last 12 months. (AP)

ConAgra the Omaha, Nebraska-based maker of Reddiwip, Swiss Miss and Banquet posted a quarterly loss of $952.7 million after reporting a profit in the same period last year. Total sales were $3.88 billion for the period. ConAgra shares have decreased nearly 4% since the beginning of the year, but have increased 16% over the last 12 months. (AP)

American Express may cut jobs if it can't keep clients who got their Amex cards through a relationship with Costco. The 16-year deal between the two parties will expire next year and Costco has already signed a deal with Visa and Citigroup to replace the American Express deal. (CNBC)

Stocks sold off modestly yesterday led lower by transportation stocks.  Investors are focused on the economic data out later this week to get an idea about when the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates.

The price of buying or renting a home continues to rise squeezing consumers which is starting to dampen the housing market.  The median price of a house nationally hit $20,600 last month which is 7.5% higher than February of last year.  Home affordability whether renting or buying continues to decline especially when incomes are growing at less than 2% per year.  The number of first time home buyers in the US is also at a record low.

The recent drop in gas prices has encouraged Americans to get out on the road at record levels.  American motorists drove more miles in 2014 than in any year since they starting tracking the data 69 years ago.  The average American spends the equivalent of 5 days in their car every year.

The Labor Department reported this morning that the consumer price index rose .2% in February which was in-line with forecasts.  That is the first time the CPI number has risen in 4 months as gas prices, and the cost of food and shelter have increased again.  The CPI data is being watched closely by investors as it is one of the data points the Federal Reserve uses when setting interest rate policy.  Even though the inflation rate rose in February, it is essentially unchanged over the last 12 months.

US stocks enjoyed their first weekly gain in four weeks friday, and the dollar had its biggest five-day drop since 2011 as the Federal Reserve's dovish midweek commentary continued to reverberate around the markets.  Treasury bond prices resumed their upward momentum, equity prices in Europe and Japan reached fresh highs, and crude oil staged a strong end-of-week rally. (WSJ)

The number of rigs drilling for oil in the US declined again by 41 to a total of 825 to end last week, according to the weekly count published by oilfield services company, Baker Hughes. The pace of decline is slower than the previous week, when 56 rigs were taken offline.  West Texas Intermediate, the US oil benchmark, had its best day in a month on the news. (FT)
RadioShack's fate hangs in the balance today when a bankruptcy auction kicks off, pitting companies that want to liquidate the remaining assets against a hedge fund that has pledged to keep about half the chain's stores open. Hedge fund Standard General LP is now the sole hope of survival for the company. (CNBC) has won approval from U.S. federal regulators to test a delivery drone outdoors, as the e-commerce company pursues its goal of sending packages to customers by air.  The Federal Aviation Administration said it issued an experimental airworthiness certificate to an Amazon business unit and its prototype drone, allowing test flights over private, rural land in Washington state. (WSJ)



Yesterday’s early losses turned into strong gains on indications from the Fed that an interest rate hike could come later rather than sooner. The bottom line is no one took away the punch bowl. Many economists had expected the Fed to move in June, while more had expected September. But now, the fed funds futures suggest the odds of a first hike in October. (CNBC)

Foreclosure activity in the United States fell last month to the lowest rate in nearly nine years as banks started the process on fewer homes and scheduled fewer auctions. A total of 101,938 properties across the United States are at some stage of the foreclosure process. Foreclosure activity is down 9.4% from year. (Reuters)

Bank of America must allow shareholders to vote on a proposal that calls for the company to consider spinning off its investment banking business.  The company has fought putting the idea on their shareholder proxy ballot.  The SEC says shareholders must be allowed to weigh in. (Reuters)

Streaming music services such as Pandora have eclipsed CD sales, and are closing in on digital downloads as the largest source of revenue for the U.S. music industry's. (Financial Times)

It will be all about the Federal Reserve today as they end a two day policy meeting. The Fed policy statement is due out at 11 (PT), along with the central bank's economic projections. Fed Chair Janet Yellen is set to hold a news conference also. (Bloomberg)

Package delivery company FedEx reported quarterly profits of $580 million on revenue of $11.72 billion driven by higher package volumes. The company said fuel expenses were reduced by 30% due to lower oil prices but its international business was hurt by the strong dollar. Package volumes internationally  were up 4% and U.S. ground package delivery rose 7%. (AP)

General Mills, maker of Bisquick and Betty Crocker cake mixes, reported lower sales for the sixth straight quarter, hurt by a stronger dollar. The company expects to eliminate about 800 jobs, primarily in the United States, this year. General Mills is raising its quarterly dividend by 7% to 44 cents per share. (Reuters)

A tiny pullback in interest rates did nothing to improve mortgage application volume. The refinance share of mortgage activity decreased to 59% of total applications, the lowest level since October 2014. Refinance applications are up nearly 11% from a year ago, but are down 15% in the last month. (CNBC)

U.S. manufacturing output fell in February for the third straight month as automobile production tumbled, pointing to slower economic growth in the first quarter.

Factory production slipped 0.2% last month. Mining output dropped 0.2% and utilities production jumped 7.3%as a cold snap boosted demand for heating. Manufacturing capacity slipped to 77.3% last month from 77.6% in January. (Reuters)

GM is facing some serious allegations of cover up in the faulty ignition switch issue. Sealed documents produced by Delphi Automotive indicate higher-level GM execs knew safety issues with ignition switch existed. The conclusion contrasts from the GM-sponsored report which tied the ignition switch problems to ineffectiveness from lower-level employees. (Seeking Alpha)

The largest company in the world by market cap, Apple showing how important the iPhone is to them. They are planning to launch a new trade-in program to allow non-iPhone users to trade in their non-Apple device for a gift card that can be used to purchase an iPhone. (9to5Mac)

Burlington Coat Stores reported Q4 profits of $94.9 million. The discount retailer posted sales of $1.5 billion. Burlington Stores shares have climbed 21% year-to-date and has more than doubled in the last year. (AP)

European stock markets are on the rise, with the European Central Bank's quantitative easing process offsetting wider worries about Greek debt talks and hawkish monetary policy in the US. The mood boosted Germany's DAX Index over 12,000 for the first time, up 1.3% on the day. (Reuters)

The euro recouped its earlier losses after briefly touching a new 12-year low against the dollar this morning. Further slides in the currency look likely given the diverging monetary policies in the eurozone and U.S. (Seeking Alpha)

Market moving news could come from this week’s Federal Reserve meeting.  Nearly all now believe that Fed policy setters will remove the word "patient" from their statement, opening the door for a potential interest rate increase in June. (Bloomberg)

U.S. consumer confidence was down in early March. The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan's preliminary March reading on the index was 91.2. It was down from the previous month's reading of 95.4. Consumer optimism was down for lower and middle income households although the reading improved for those with incomes in the top third. (CNBC)

U.S. business inventories were unchanged in January and further declines in sales pushed the number of months it would take to clear shelves to 1.35 months the highest since July 2009. In January, business sales fell 2.0 percent, the biggest decline since March 2009, after falling 1.0 percent in December. (Reuters)

The NFIB Small Business Optimism Survey for February rose 0.1 points to 98, a solid result despite unfavorable winter weather conditions.  Of the ten components, owners reporting hard-to-fill job openings was the largest gain increasing three points to a 29 which is a nine year high. This is the third highest reading since early 2007 with only November and December of 2014 trumping.  (NFIB)

Think the world is not healing from the Great Recession?  Think again. Household net worth rose by $1.5 trillion in the fourth quarter of 2014 to a record $83 trillion. Gains were driven by a surging real estate market. Household real estate holdings rose to their highest level since 2007, when they last peaked. (CNBC)

Bad news for the father of two girls. The average cost of a wedding, excluding the honeymoon, reached an all-time high of $31,213 in 2014. (CNBC)

US employers advertised the most jobs in 14 years in January, and more workers quit, both signs of a steadily strengthening job market. The number of Americans earning paychecks has jumped nearly 3.3 million in the past year, the best 12-month gain since March 2000. (AP)

Vail Resorts, the company that out maneuvered Mt.  Bachelor parent company Powdr Corp to buy the Park City, UT crown jewel, reported profits of $115.8 million for the quarter representing a 95.3% increase compared last year.  Total lift revenue increased $43.9 million, or 22.5%. They will increase their annual dividend by 50% to 62.25 cents per share. (PR Newswire)

Good news for those on drugs. The entry of copycat biotech drugs into the U.S. market could cut prices of expensive medications by 40% to 50% according to CVS. (Reuters).

The Euro rose against the dollar for the first time in two weeks, recovering from a 12-year low hit earlier today. (Reuters)

During yesterday’s emotional market sell-off the S&P 500 lost all their 2015 gains. The Nasdaq is still up about 2.5% on the year. The euro is under more pressure trading at 12-year lows at under $1.06. (CNBC)

Final results of the Federal Reserve’s annual stress tests are expected to be released after the market closes. Major banks such as JPMorgan, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, and Bank of America are expecting to win Fed approval to increase dividends and buy back more shares. (WSJ-subscription)

A sharp jump in mortgage rates last Friday took its toll on home lending, leaving mostly high-end home buyers on the playing field. Total mortgage application volume fell 1.3% last week. Mortgage applications to purchase a home are two percent higher than a year ago. (CNBC)

So you know you have a problem, now what do you do about it? Investors feel they need an average of $2.5 million in retirement to maintain their lifestyles, That's about $2.2 million more than the average retirement account balance. On average investors spend an hour and 20 minutes worrying about money each day. That's 475 hours, or nearly 20 full days, of financial hand-wringing a year. (CNBC/Legg Mason)

Today is the 15th anniversary of the Nasdaq's all-time high. The index will open about 200 points below the all-time closing high of 5048. (Seeking Alpha)

In an example of appeasement of activist investors run amuck the General Motors CEO and Board agreed to buy back $5 billion in stock, and put forth a new capital allocation plan. In exchange, activist investor Harry Wilson has agreed to drop his bid to join the GM board. GM was bailed out by taxpayers in 2008, costing us collectively billions of dollars. (CNBC)

Qualcomm has announced a $15 billion stock buyback plan. The chipmaker has also decided to raise its dividend by 14% to 48 cents per share.  The stock is up over 2% in early trading. (Reuters)

Climbing stock markets and rising real estate values helped create nearly 500,000 new millionaires in the U.S. in 2014. There are now 10.1 million households in the U.S. with $1 million or more in investable assets, excluding the value of their primary residence.

That's up from about 9.6 million in 2013, and tops the prerecession peak of 9.2 million in 2007. (Spectrum Report)

The Nanny State has inflicted another causality. Burger King has dropped soda from its children's menus, following similar announced moves in recent months by McDonald's and Wendy's. (USA Today)

Today marks six years since the 2009 stock market crash bottom. If you bolted from a well-diversified portfolio then you sold low and bought higher missing some spectacular returns.  Since March 9, 2009 when the S&P hit 666, the S&P 500 has added more than 206% percent and the NASDAQ has gained more than 288%.  (AP)

Those ‘golden arches’ seem to have lost their shine. McDonald's reported February global and U.S. sales that were much weaker than analysts expected. Global comparable-store sales fell 1.7%, and U.S. comparables fell 4.0%. European same-store sales rose 0.7% percent, as positive performance in the U.K. and Germany was partly offset by negative results in Russia. (CNBC)

Grocery chain Haggen will take ownership of the Albertsons stores in Bend in May.  The stores will close down early one evening and Haggen will take ownership of the store at midnight and begin the conversion. Both interior and exterior signage will change the store interior will receive a fresh coat of paint.  Then two days after the closure, the store will opens as Haggen. (

The S&P 500 is up 3 and the NASDAQ is up 12.  The MSCI International Index was down 0.12% on Friday.

Oil is down 12 cents at $49.49 a barrel. Gasoline is up 21 cents in the past two weeks on the back of refinery strikes and capacity constraints. Prices bottomed out January 23rd, but they're still nearly $1 lower than a year ago. (Reuters)

Gold is up $8 at $1173 a Troy ounce. Gold suffered its biggest single-session drop on Friday since December 2013.

It is jobs Friday and the Department of Labor says the US economy added a super-sized 295,000 jobs, 288,000 private sector and 7000 government jobs, in February. The 245,000 for the three-month trend, is the strongest pace of hiring since the 1990s. The unemployment rate fell to 5.5%.

After the European Central Bank announced its massive quantitative easing campaign would start Monday, the Euro has dropped below $1.10 for the first time since September 2003. (CNBC)

Big Lots reported fourth-quarter profits of $94.4 million on sales of $1.59 billion. Big Lots shares have increased 19% since the beginning of the year and are up 64% in the last 12 months. (AP)

In another sign summer is coming early and winter was never really here. Government Camp based Skibowl will be opening some of its summer attractions on March 7th. That will include the bungee jump tower, zip line and Malibu raceway. They also hope to get the alpine slide and mountain bike park ready to go by Spring Break. (KGW TV)

Join us Saturday at 10 for Financial Focus Radio when our guest will be Linda Baker, editor of Oregon Business Magazine.

China has set its Gross Domestic Product growth target at "around 7 percent" for 2015, the lowest in 11 years, focusing on quality over quantity as it overhauls its growth model. (CNBC)

As the landscape of media, especially TV viewing evolves two leaders may be teaming up.  Apple and HBO are closing in on a deal to include HBO's streaming service on Apple TV. (WSJ)

Employers cut fewer jobs, 50,579, in February than in the previous month, but total layoffs remained high compared to a year ago as the energy sector continues to slash employment, according to a report by Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

The Reinhart family is doing their part.  Costco reported quarterly profits up over 29%, boosted by a tax benefit related to its special cash dividend.  Overall sales rose 4.8% and same-store sales rose a better-than-expected 8%. (Reuters)

Mining equipment manufacturer Joy Global reported first-quarter profits of $23.6 million on sales of $704 million.  The results missed Wall Street expectations. Joy Global shares have dropped slightly more than 9% since the beginning of the year and are down 23% in the last 12 months. (Associated Press)

Stocks sold off yesterday with the NASDAQ retreating below the 5000 level after trading above 5000 for the first time in 15 years.  Investors did some profit taking after data came out that car sales in the US last month were weak after much of the country experienced bad car shopping weather.

Shares of Target traded higher yesterday after the company announced they would eliminate several thousand jobs and told investors digital business is a top priority.  The company said they will spend $1 Billion this year on e-commerce.  

American CEO's announced $104 Billion in stock buybacks last month.  That is the largest amount of stock repurchases by companies since they began tracking that data.  CEO's either think their stocks are cheap or they have no other way to grow their earnings per share.

The payroll company ADP is out this morning with their private sector employment report showing the US economy added 212,000 jobs in February.  That number is down from the 250,000 jobs added in January.

And the 3 most popular breweries in the state of Oregon as judged by Oregonians are: @ number 3 the Eugene based Ninkasi brewery, #2 the Bend based Deschutes brewery, and at #1 the Portland based Widmer brothers.

The Nasdaq closed over 5,000 for the first time in nearly 15 years, sparking both optimism and worry. Investors still remember the Nasdaq bubble bursting and a tumble down to the 1,114 level, while others look to more realistic valuations and actual revenue and profit among the companies involved. (CNBC)

Manufacturing grew in February at its slowest pace in a year, limited by weaker growth abroad and a work slowdown at West Coast ports. Manufacturing growth has slowed, but it’s still expansionary.  (Bloomberg)

U.S. consumer spending fell for a second straight month in January, by 0.2%, as lower gasoline prices continued to weigh on receipts at service stations. Personal income rose 0.3% percent in the month, a strong number. (Reuters)

U.S. consumer sentiment fell from an 11-year high in February, weighed down by an unusually severe winter.  (Reuters)

Left for dead?  Not so quick. BlackBerry will release four new phones this year, including a touchscreen model called the Leap, a keyboard handset, and a curved-screen device with a slide-out keyboard. The 5-inch Leap will cost $275. (Re/code)

Dick's Sporting Goods netted a fourth-quarter profit of $155.5 million on sales of $2.16 billion. Dick's shares have increased 12% since the beginning of the year and risen slightly more than 3% in the last 12 months. (AP)

Wells Fargo, one of the largest subprime car lenders, is pulling back from that raging market, a move that is being felt throughout the auto industry. Amid signs that the market is overheating, Wells Fargo has imposed a cap for the first time on the amount of loans it will extend to subprime borrowers. The bank is limiting the dollar volume of its subprime auto originations to 10% percent of its overall auto loans. (New York Times)

Berkshire Hathaway the insurance, ice cream, underwear and train business saw its Q4 net profit decline 16.7% to $4.16 billion. Full-year net profits were up 2% to $19.87 billion. Berkshire's 2014 book value grew 8.3% after taxes to $146,186 per share. (Seeking Alpha)

If you use a credit card to pay for those purchases at Costco you know American Express will go away in April of 2016.  Taking its place will be the Citi Visa card.  Terms of the exclusive deal between Citi and Costco were not announced. (CNBC)

The average price of a pound of ground beef climbed to another record high, $4.24 per pound, in the United States in January. In August 2014, the average price for a pound of all types of ground beef topped $4 for the first time. Five years ago, the average price of a pound of ground beef was $2.28 a pound. The price has since climbed by $1.96 per pound, or 85.8%. (

The S&P 500 is flat and the NASDAQ is up 9.  The MSCI International Index was up 0.03% Friday.

As we end the second month of the trading year let’s take a look at the numbers.
The S&P 500 is up 2.5% year to date.
The NASDAQ is up 5.32%.
The MSCI International index is up 6.95%.

The second reading of Gross Domestic Products for the last quarter of 2014 was revised down to 2.2%. About what was expected.  For all of 2014 the economy grew by 2.45%. (Bloomberg)

Confidence in the U.S. economy among chief financial officers has moved up sharply in the span of just a few weeks. Twenty-five percent of U.S.-based CFOs believe the U.S. economy is strongly improving. (CNBC)

Saturday will be the release of the 50th edition of Warren Buffett’s annual letter to shareholders. You can join Tyler in being one of the first readers by going to (Reuters)

New research shows that more than half of Americans are unprepared for financial emergencies and either spend more than they make or break even. Meanwhile, a third says they have no savings. (CNBC)

Join us Saturday at 10 for Financial Focus Radio when Tyler and I will give you a double helping of information from our wealth building buffet.

The S&P 500 is down 2 and the NASDAQ is down 5.  The MSCI International Index was up 0.10% yesterday.

Oil is up 96 cents at $49.11 a barrel. Whether U.S. crude can avoid its eighth straight monthly drop comes down to today's trading. The number to watch is $48.24 per barrel. (Reuters)

Durable goods orders climbed 2.8% in January, better than expected.  Consumer prices fell 0.7% in January with oil falling and food rising. (Commerce Department)

Sears reported a narrower quarterly loss of $159 million as it slashed costs and will launch a planned property trust by June, raising at least $2 billion for the struggling U.S. retailer. Sales at comparable stores dropped 4.4%, with Sears showing a 7% decline and Kmart stores a 2% drop.  (Reuters)

Kohl's reported a 10.5% rise in quarterly profits, helped by higher sales of apparel and accessories in the holiday shopping season. Net sales rose 4%. (Reuters)

Shop local? China has dropped major global tech brands-including Apple, Cisco, and Intel from its approved state purchase lists, while approving thousands of local vendors. (Reuters)

Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world's largest brewer, raised its dividend 46% and announced $1 billion share buyback program. It forecast improved beer sales, particularly with the growth in emerging markets of higher priced premium brands such as Budweiser, 60%of which is now sold outside the United States. (Reuters)

The S&P 500 is up 1 and the NASDAQ is up 4.  The MSCI International Index was up 0.10% yesterday.

Oil is up 98 cents at $50.01 a barrel, after settling up 3.5% yesterday and snapping a five-day losing streak on improved views on global oil demand. (Reuters)

Home prices in largest 20 US cities appreciated at a faster pace in December, a sign that a limited supply is forcing up property values. Prices rose at a 4.3% annual rate in 2014. (Bloomberg)


China's manufacturing sector expanded for the first time in four months in February-surprising investors who were expecting a third period of contraction after stalling in November. (Associated Press)


Lowe's, the No. 2 U.S. home improvement chain, saw same-store sales rise 7.4% last quarter as lower gas prices and an improving job market encouraged Americans to spend more on home renovations. Profits climbed 47% from a year earlier.  Lowes stock is up 58% from a year ago. (Reuters)


Hewlett Packard delivered quarterly profits 2% higher than last year, but sales came in down 5%. The computing giant forecast weak second-quarter results, citing currency headwinds. HP posted a surprise beat on PC revenue last quarter as notebook sales rose 8%. (CNBC)


More than 16,900 federal employees took home in excess of $200,000 in base salary in 2014, according to a federal salary database. The number of workers earning more than $200,000 represented about 1.6% of employees on the list. Most of the high earners worked as medical officers at the Veterans Affairs Department. (National Journal)

The direction of the markets may be influenced by Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen's testimony on Capitol Hill today and tomorrow. Investors are hoping for greater clarity on interest rates and the economy. (CNBC)

U.S. home resales fell sharply to their lowest level in nine months in January amid a shortage of properties on the market. The National Association of Realtors says existing home sales declined 4.9% to an annual rate of 4.82 million units. (Reuters)

Home Depot, the world’s No.1 home improvement chain, reported same-store sales rose 7.9% in the fourth quarter and said it would buy back $18 billion of its shares. Home Depot’s profits rose 36% to $1.38 billion. The company also raised its dividend 11%. (Fortune)

Northwest based fitness equipment maker Nautilus reported fourth quarter sales of $94.9 million, a 23% increase from last year. For the quarter, the company had a profit of nearly $10.4 million. Nautilus sells about 60% of its products directly to consumers, through phone or web sales, and about 40% through retailers. (Oregon Live)

The tech laden NASDAQ is on a tear to start the year, but just 5 stocks are contributing all the 218 point gain in the NASDAQ 100.  Those are:

Net Flix                         - 10 points
Gilead                           - 15 points
Biogen                          - 17 points
Amazon                        - 35 points
Apple                          - 141 points (CNBC)

Refining not oil supply is driving gas prices. The largest U.S. refinery strike in 35 years enters its fourth week workers at 12 refineries accounting for one-fifth of national production capacity are walking picket lines. The refinery work stoppage began on February 1st. The work stoppage now includes the nation's largest refinery at Port Arthur, Texas. (Reuters)

Another media hit by the digital age. The world's largest coffee-house chain, Starbucks, will stop selling CDs at the end of March in its 21,000 stores worldwide. CD sales nationally have been declining; they dropped another 15% in 2014. The company is expected to replace the CD racks with smaller racks that hold plastic digital download cards, similar to the iTunes card, that are Starbucks branded.(USA Today)

Last night’s Academy Awards were the most watched TV other than post-season football all year.  So you know it has huge economic impacts so here are some facts. (Forbes)

In 2014 the price for ad time increased for the fifth consecutive year. The average cost for a 30 second ad in 2014 was $1.76 million and total ad volume was $95 million. (Kantar Media)

In 2014 the Oscar telecast on average had 10 minutes and 58 seconds of advertising time each hour, the highest it had ever been. Nonetheless, the commercial load for a typical prime time hour on broadcast television is in the 14-16 minutes range. (Kantar Media)

The top five advertisers for the Oscar telecast over the past five years have been JC Penney ($50.8 million), Hyundai ($44.9 million), Samsung ($43.4 million), Coca-Cola ($31.1 million) and American Express ($28.8 million). Over the five years, these five advertisers have spent nearly $200 million on the show accounting for 49% of total ad volume for the show. (Kantar Media)

Since 1978 there have been three films to win both Best Picture Oscar and gross over $300 million in the U.S. Titanic $600.8 million released in 1997, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King $377.0 million released in 2003 and Forrest Gump $329.7 million released in 1994.  American Sniper will be the fourth.  (Box Office Mojo)

It is a run on the banks as the EU and Greece try to come to terms. Greek depositors have been pulling money out of banks in record amounts over the last few days. As much as $28.4 billion has left Greek banks since the end of December. (CNBC)

The big green machine, farm equipment maker Deere earned $1.12 per share for its latest quarter, well above the consensus estimate. Deere however, highlighted the difficult global market conditions and said it expected a 17% drop in equipment sales for 2015. (CNBC)

Nordstrom reported earnings that fell short of expectations, while revenue basically matched estimates. The retailer's full-year outlook was well below forecasts. Nordstrom has been increasing its investment in technology upgrades, and promotional activity at the Rack . (CNBC)

McDonald’s continues its efforts to right the ship. The Golden Arches is testing a new addition - flavored McNuggets.  McDonald's began testing seasoning flavors that customers can shake on nuggets, including zesty ranch, chipotle BBQ and garlic parmesan, this week. In the nugget category, McDonald's has faced heightened competition from rival Burger King, which is currently promoting 10 pieces for $1.49 as a limited-time offering. (CNBC)

Join us Saturday at 10 for Financial Focus, your smart money radio, when Tyler and I will have a new shame of the week.

U.S. crude stocks rose by 14.3 million barrels last week. At the same time, production from the world's biggest exporter Saudi Arabia may be increasing to near 10 million barrels per day. (Reuters)

While the supply of oil is rising, refinery capacity in the US is limited.  There were 142 operable petroleum refineries in the United States. The newest complex refinery with significant downstream unit capacity began operating in 1977 in Louisiana. So the explosion and fire that ripped through a gasoline processing unit at an Exxon Mobil refinery near Los Angeles could lead to higher gasoline prices. (Reuters)

Think China is not important to US companies?  Hershey is projecting a nearly 60% increase to $4.3 billion in chocolate sales in China by 2019-driven by demand from the growing urban population. (Reuters)

The amount of auto loans taken in the fourth quarter of 2014 climbed by $86 billion dollars. The strongest growth came from borrowers with the highest credit ratings. (CNBC)

They ran a leader into the ground and now they get a bonus.  RadioShack has asked the bankruptcy court to allow it to allot $3 million for retention bonuses to give eight executives and 30 other employees’ financial incentive to stay on board. The bonuses would range from $88,000-$650,000 for eight executives. (Money)

Prices at the manufacturing level fell 0.8% in January after falling 0.3% in December. Lots of that is the due to the falling price of oil.   Overall inflation is virtual non-existent in the US economy. (Bloomberg)

Mortgage rates rose to 3.93%, for a 30-year fixed rate, its highest level since the beginning of this year, and loan volume fell 13.2% last week. But total applications were still 14% above a year ago, when interest rates were considerably higher. (CNBC)

Garmin, maker of GPS-based devices, reported a 5.7% leap in quarterly revenue, helped by strong sales of its fitness products. The company's profits increased to $210.2 million in the fourth quarter. Sales rose to $803.3 million. (Reuters)

Big boy toy maker Caterpillar is being investigated by authorities regarding the movement of cash among its U.S. and overseas subsidiaries. The heavy equipment maker disclosed the probe in an SEC filing. (Reuters)

Yesterday it was talk of an electric car today it is a watch. It is reported Apple could sell as many as 20 million of its new smartwatches in the first year. Up to 6 million watches are said to have been ordered for the April launch. Looks like it might fare better than Google Glasses. (USA Today)

Michele Ferrero, the founder and patriarch of the Italian Nutella empire, died on Saturday. He was 89. He was "the richest candyman on the planet," according to Forbes, which put his wealth at $23.4 billion. (Money)

Grocer Haggen is about to expand from 18 stores in the Pacific Northwest to 164 throughout the West Coast and will for the first time be in California, Arizona and Nevada. The expansion is part of the divestment process resulting from the merger of Albertsons and Safeway. The conversion starts this Thursday. The bulk of the new Haggen stores will change over by July, with one to 12 converting each week. (Oregon Live)

American Express and Costco are ending their 16-year relationship. The unusual partnership, in which Costco exclusively accepted AmEx cards, had driven a significant chunk of business to the New York card company. In the past decade, Costco has more than doubled its annual revenue to $112.6 billion and nearly doubled profits to $2.06 billion. (Wall Street Journal)

What could be next for Apple?  An electric car? That may be enough to silence the tech giant's critics who question whether the company can produce another major revenue center beyond the iPhone. (CNBC)

Green shoots in Europe as the 19-country bloc's combined economy grew by 0.3% in the final three months of the year,  better than expected. Region-wide growth was driven by the euro zone's largest economy, Germany, which expanded by 0.7% during the quarter. In 2014 as a whole, the German economy grew by 1.6%. (CNBC)

US retail sales fell last month as gas prices plummeted and auto sales slowed. Retail sales dropped 0.8% in January, following a 0.9% decline in December. The dollar value of gas station sales plunged 9.3%, the largest drop in six years. Auto dealer sales also fell for the second straight month after big gains in the fall. Outside those categories, sales ticked up 0.2%. (Associated Press)

Old things become new again. The iconic View-Master stereoscopic photo viewer you had as a kid is catching up to the digital age. Mattel is teaming up with Google on an upcoming virtual reality-based View-Master. Mattel will make the announcement today at the annual Toy Fair trade show. The original View-Master dates back to the 1939 New York World's Fair.  (USA Today)

Mortgage rates rose this week, but remained near historically low levels. The nationwide average for 30-year mortgages rose to 3.69%, while 15-year loans increased to 2.99%. (USA Today)

West Coast ports are shutting down again today, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday-in the latest disruption in a bitter labor dispute. The seaports, handle some $1 trillion in trade per year. (CNBC)

The number of U.S. properties in foreclosure rose 5% in January, driven by a jump in bank repossessions.  A total of 37,292 homes were repossessed in January, a 15-month high. Overall, 119,888 properties were at some stage of the foreclosure process, still down 4% from a year earlier. (Reuters)

Kellogg reported fourth quarter 2014 sales of $3.5 billion, an increase of 0.3% from 2013. The company reported a loss of $422 million, driven by a significant non-cash mark-to-market adjustment of $822 million, which was primarily driven by the impact that changes in interest rates had on pension plans. (PR Newswire)

American Express Co., long the envy of the industry for its wealthy clientele, is fighting to retain its grip on affluent cardholders. As AmEx seeks to diversify by pursuing tech-savvy millennials and underbanked Americans, the risk of eroding its brand, and its biggest source of revenue, is rising. AmEx is the most widely held card among high-net-worth households, or those with $1 million or more of investable assets. Fifty-nine percent of wealthy households had a card issued by AmEx last year, while those holding a Chase-issued card rose to 58%. Among households making at least $125,000 annually, Chase surpassed AmEx two years ago. (Bloomberg)

U.S. small business optimism fell in January amid worries over the near-term outlook, but a strengthening labor market should keep the economy on solid ground early in the year. The National Federation of Independent Business said its Small Business Optimism Index fell 2.5 points to 97.9 last month, reversing December's gains, which had taken the index over the 100 threshold for the first time in eight years. (Reuters)

Portland-based aviation services firm Erickson Inc. will lay off 150 employees as it moves to restructure. The layoffs will affect field, factory and office locations. Most layoffs will affect the Oregon manufacturing operations in Medford. (Portland Business Journal)

Apple has become the first U.S. company to have its stock close with a market value above $700 billion. Apple’s share price has risen 23,639% from its first trading day on December 12, 1980. It is more than double the size of rival Microsoft, the second-biggest US company. (Market Watch)

US job openings climbed to more than 5 million in December, up 181,000 from November, in a further sign that job creation is quickening. The quits rate, a measure of the number of people who leave their current employer and often viewed as an indicator of optimism of available jobs, was unchanged at 1.9%. (Financial Times)

Coca-Cola reported a 55% plunge in quarterly profits as a stronger dollar hurt revenue from international markets. Profits fell to $770 million. Net operating revenue fell 2% to $10.87 billion. (Reuters)

Home Depot, the nation's largest home-improvement retailer, is hiring more than 80,000 workers for the spring selling season. The positions include both part-time and full-time positions.  Typically, more than half of Home Depot's spring seasonal workers stay on. Home Depot, operates 2,269 stores in all 50 states and employs more than 300,000 associates.  (Associated Press)

U.S. West Coast port operations resumed on Monday after shipping companies halted loading and unloading this weekend. The 29 ports affected handle nearly half of all U.S. maritime trade and more than 70% of Asian imports. Port slowdowns have trickled through the U.S. distribution chain, disrupting shipments of a wide range of goods affecting agriculture, manufacturing, transportation and retail. (Reuters)

Cigarette maker Reynolds American Inc. says its fourth-quarter profit fell 49% on pension charges and other costs. The maker of Camel and Pall Mall cigarettes said the number of cigarettes sold by its subsidiaries fell about 5% during the quarter to 14.9 billion, compared with an industry decline of 2%. (Associated Press)

Ports along the west coast were temporarily shut down Saturday in light of continued union slowdowns. The Pacific Maritime Association announced that weekend vessel loading and unloading operations would be temporarily suspended, as they would no longer pay union workers overtime for their slow productivity. (LA Times)

RadioShack operates a dense retail network that more closely resembles a drugstore chain than an electronics retailer. As part of its bankruptcy, the company plans to shut down nearly half of its roughly 4,000 stores. Seven of those closings are in Oregon – all on the I-5 corridor.  All three Central Oregon stores are slated to stay open. (Wall Street Journal)

Consumers increased their borrowing in December by $14.8 billion, pushing consumer debt to a record $3.31 trillion. It could be a sign that consumer spending will accelerate as strong jobs gains give shoppers more confidence about taking on debt. Total debt is up 6.9% in the past year. The category covering auto and student loans is up 8.2%, while the credit card category has risen 3.5%. (Associated Press)

The S&P 500 is down 6 and the NASDAQ is down 12.  The MSCI International Index was down 1.25% Friday.

Oil is up 78 cents at $52.47 a barrel. OPEC sharply raised its forecast of demand for its own oil in 2015, saying the fall in prices would slow production in the U.S. and other countries faster than previously thought. (Reuters)

Greece is moving markets again as a strong Wall Street rally faded yesterday on the ECB's decision to cancel its acceptance of Greek bonds as collateral for loans. More today as talks between Greece and its neighbors take place today, as the Greek and German finance ministers meet for the first time. (CNBC)

The number of planned layoffs by U.S. employers rose to a nearly two-year high in January as the energy industry slashed jobs in the face of falling oil prices. Employers planned to let go 53,041 jobs up 63% from last month. About 40% of layoffs were directly related to oil prices. (Challenger, Gray & Christmas)

The global icon of American cuisine, beef is about to fall another spot on the meat scale. For the past two decades, chicken has outranked beef as the most produced meat, and now pork is about to surpass it as well. Hog herds have rebounded and pork output in 2015 will jump 4.6% to an all-time record. Beef production is headed for a 22-year low. (Bloomberg)

Could this be the British chocolate equivalent of the New Coke blunder? Mondelez International will no longer use Cadburys signature Dairy Milk chocolate in its recipe for Cadbury Creme Eggs that has been used since the eggs were first “hatched” in 1971. Adding insult to injury, Mondelez is reducing the number of Creme Eggs sold in a package from six to five, while keeping approximately the same price. (Market Watch)


Bank of the Cascades reported fourth-quarter profits of $5 million on revenue of $25.6 million. For 2014, the company reported profit of $3.7 million, on revenue of $85.3 million. The company's shares closed at $4.71 yesterday. A year ago, they were trading at $4.96 a share.  (AP)

The pace of growth in the U.S. manufacturing sector slowed in January. Most components of the ISM index declined, suggesting a slowing in the pace of growth in the factory sector, though the 53.5 reading marks the 27th consecutive month of growth in manufacturing. Construction spending rose less than expected in December, with private outlays barely rising amid declines in investment in power and transportation projects. Construction spending rose 0.4% to an annual rate of $982.1 billion.  (Reuters)

Staples and Office Depot are in advanced merger talks, in what would be a major step toward consolidating the office-supply market.  Staples has a market value of about $11 billion, while Office Depot, which in 2013 absorbed rival OfficeMax, has a market value of about $4 billion.  (Wall Street Journal)

RadioShack will be delisted by the New York Stock Exchange, which has suspended trading in the stock. The electronics retailer may sell some of its stores to Amazon and Sprint. (Bloomberg)

Happy Ground Hog Day.  Investors are happy to be turning the calendar, with the S&P 500 coming off its second consecutive January selloff, posting its biggest monthly losses since January 2014. (CNBC)

It was an exciting Super Bowl and last night Americans consumed1.25 billion chicken wings.  The total price tag for food for the big game was over $14 billion. (Market Watch)

December personal income increased 0.3% as spending declined 0.3%. That means Americans saved a little. (Bloomberg)

Costco plans to return $2.2 billion to shareholders through the payment of a special dividend. The $5-a-share distribution will be funded from existing cash and additional borrowings. (Bloomberg)

Consumers started the year feeling very upbeat about the economy, with the sentiment index hitting its highest level since 2004. The preliminary January reading of the University of Michigan/Thomson Reuters consumer-sentiment index jumped up to 98.2. (Reuters)

The S&P 500 is up 5 and the NASDAQ is up 7.  The MSCI International Index was down 1.58% on Friday.

Oil is up 17 cents at $48.15 a barrel. Union leaders called strikes at nine U.S. refineries-accounting for more than 10% of U.S. capacity-in a bid to pressure oil companies to agree to a new national contract covering workers at 63 plants. (Reuters)

Gold is down $5 at $1274 a Troy ounce.

Markets went diving down yesterday as the Federal Reserve says it will remain "patient" on raising interest rates and indicated it sees the U.S. economy getting stronger. The Fed also sees inflation declining, and it may decline further. But it expects inflation to increase over the medium term as the labor market improves and the temporary effects of low energy prices fade. (CNBC)

In what could be another death shudder, Sears laid off 115 corporate workers, including 100 employees at its headquarters effective immediately. Sears hasn't had a profitable quarter since fourth quarter of 2012. (CNBC)

Qualcomm stock fell more than 7% in after-hours trading when the company lowered its chip guidance. The technology firm said it lowered the outlook on its semiconductor in part because of lower demand by manufactures. Qualcomm's Snapdragon processor has a major buyer in Samsung, and the lowered outlook may reflect Apple's share gains in the smartphone market. (AP)

The S&P 500 is down 2 and the NASDAQ is down 20.  The MSCI International Index is up 0.24% in early trading.

Oil is up 4 cents at $4 a barrel. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported U.S. crude stocks rose by 8.9 million barrels last week to 407 million barrels, the highest level since records began in 1982. Gasoline stocks fell by 2.6 million barrels while distillate stocks, which include diesel and heating oil, fell by 3.9 million barrels. Refined product demand continues to be the sole source of strength for the petroleum market.  (Reuters)


Orders for long-lasting manufactured goods dropped sharply in December, dragged lower by a big decline in demand for commercial aircraft. The Commerce Department says orders for durable goods fell 3.4% in December following a 2.1% decline in November. The weakness was led by a 55.5% plunge in the volatile category of commercial aircraft. (CNBC)

Sales of new U.S. homes accelerated strongly in December.  New home sales climbed 11.6% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 481,000. The gains were not enough to offset essentially flat home-buying over the course of 2014. Just 435,000 new homes were bought last year, a modest 1.2% improvement from 2013. (Associated Press)

U.S. consumer confidence shot up in January to the highest level since August 2007. Americans are feeling better about current economic conditions, including the job market. They are also more optimistic about business conditions over the next six months. (Associated Press)

Hillsboro-based Lattice Semiconductor is buying Silicon Image for $600 million. Lattice will pay a nearly 24% premium for the company.  Lattice will have to issue debt to complete the deal. (Oregon Live)

Mattel released Q4 results and sales fell 6% to $1.99 billion and a poor holiday sales period. After reporting, Barbie-maker Mattel's CEO Bryan Stockton got fired and will be replaced by Christopher Sinclair, a long-time board member and former Pepsi executive. There's more bad news ahead: Mattel is losing its merchandising license for the wildly popular Disney animated film "Frozen" to rival Hasbro next year. (CNN Money)

Construction and mining equipment maker Caterpillar reports lower profits of $757 million, down nearly 25% from $1.03 billion a year earlier. The decline is due primarily to the recent drop in the price of oil and lower prices for copper, coal and iron ore. (Reuters)

Procter & Gamble, the world's largest household products maker, reported an about 31% fall in quarterly profit, hurt by a stronger dollar. The maker of Pampers diapers and Tide detergent said net sales fell 4.4% to $20.2 billion, but sales rose 2% on an organic basis. P&G derives roughly two-thirds of its revenue outside the United States. (Reuters)

3M, the maker of Scotch tape and Post-it notes, reported a 7% increase in fourth-quarter profit as sales rose across its businesses and the company reaffirmed financial targets for 2015. Sales rose 2% to $7.72 billion. (Reuters)


Many ask why China is important to US companies. Apple is expected to announce that it has sold more iPhones in China than the US for the first time last year. Tim Cook, Apple CEO, said in 2013 that he expected China to overtake the US as Apple's single largest source of revenue. The iPhone already accounts for more than half of Apple's total sales and an even larger share of its profits. (Financial Times)

A significant number of American companies plan to raise worker pay in the next three months, the latest National Association for Business Economics quarterly survey found, bolstering expectations of acceleration in wage growth this year.

Cereal maker Post is acquiring privately held rival MOM Brands. Post, the maker of Raisin Bran and Honey Bunches of Oats, will pay $1.05 billion in cash and issue 2.5 million shares to the owners of MOM Brands. MOM Brands' ready-to-eat food and cereal brands include Malt-O-Meal, Frosted Mini Spooners, Golden Puffs, and Cinnamon Toasters. (Reuters)

Less means more for Coke and Pepsi.  With people drinking less soda, soda makers are pushing smaller cans that contain fewer calories and those cute little cans can cost more than twice as much per ounce. Soda hit its peak in 1998, when Americans drank an average of 576 cans a year. That figure was down to about 450 cans a year in 2013. A regular 12-ounce can of Coke sells for 31 cents. By comparison, a 7.5-ounce mini-can sells for 40 cents. That translates to 2.6 cents-per-ounce for a regular can, versus 5.3 cents-per ounce for the mini version. (Associated Press)

US Stocks saw their best gain in 2 weeks yesterday and turned positive in 2015 after the European Central Bank announced their long-awaited plan to initiate a bond buying program, in what has become affectionately known as Quantitative Easing, in an attempt to revive the slumping Eurozone economy.  The ECB announced they will start buying $60 billion euros worth of bonds from different Eurozone countries starting in March.  That news sent the Euro to a new low of $1.12 versus the dollar.

Shares of Starbucks traded sharply higher after the company reported earnings that were in-line with Wall St estimates.  Sales rose 13% over the same period last year and the company increased their forecast for 2015 earnings.  That news sent the stock 4.5% higher @ $86.50/share.

McDonald's is seeing their stock traded lower after the company reported earnings that were 21% lower over the same period last year, which ends a dismal year for McDonalds.  The company also announced they expect a slow January and plan to slow spending to improve their balance sheet.  McDonald's has been working to rejuvenate its business in recent months after posting some of the worst monthly sales figures in more than a decade.

Shares of GE are higher after the company posted higher than expected 4th quarter earnings.  GE has done the best job of any major industrial company managing lower oil prices and a slump in Europe and still growing earnings.

And speaking of Oil.  Crude inventories in the US are higher than they have been in over 80 years.  US supplies currently stand at 390mm barrels which is a big reason the price of crude oil is down 58% from its peak last summer.

International investors are the most bullish they've been on the U.S. markets in more than five years according to Bloomberg. The poll says 54% of subscribers say the US will be among the markets offering the best returns over the next year. That's a five-point jump from the previous poll in November and the highest rating for any country since the survey began in October 2009.

Groundbreaking for US single-family homes rose in December to the highest level in more than 6-1/2 years and permits surged. Single-family housing starts, the largest part of the market, jumped 7.2% to an annual pace of 728,000-units - the highest level since March 2008. (Reuters)

Where did that gas savings go? Consumers increased their gas consumption by 6%, but even with that 2-gallon-per-month increase, the cost savings were real, $18 per month. That $18 did not go to  savings. Cardlytics' data showed overall spending was up 2.3%, with a 5.3% increase just in retail and restaurants. Consumers spent more in total even after spending all of their gas savings. The $18 in gas savings was more than offset by a $45 jump in all other spending. (CNBC)

Melvin Gordon, CEO of Tootsie Roll Industries recently died at age 95. He ran the company, with a $1.2 billion market cap, for 53 years. The company's other brands include DOTS, Charms, Junior Mints, Sugar Daddy and Charleston Chew. (AP)

IBM easily beat earnings expectations on Tuesday, but shares fell as the company handed in a disappointing outlook for 2015. The company posted fourth-quarter earnings of $5.81 per share, down from $6.13 a share in the year-earlier period. Revenue decreased to $24.11 billion from $27.70 billion. (CNBC)

December 2014 was a bad one for Oregon homeowners unable to hold onto their homes. According to Gorilla Capital, there were a total of 753 judicial and non-judicial foreclosures filed in December the second highest total in 2014.

For 2014, there were 7,075 foreclosures compared to 13,446 in 2013.

In a blow to the traditional TV viewing model a US district court judge has rejected 21st Century Fox's claims against Dish Network. Fox had been trying to prevent Dish from selling its "Hopper" DVR, which lets viewers skip past commercials. (Reuters)

Mortgage application volume jumped 14.2% last week. Total volume is now 41% higher than a year ago. Applications to refinance increased 63% from a year ago. Applications to purchase a home are 3% higher than one year ago. (Mortgage Bankers Association)

Johnson & Johnson announced fourth quarter sales of $18.3 billion, a drop of 0.6% as compared to last year.  The negative impact of currency was 4.5%. Profits for the fourth quarter of 2014 were $2.5 billion.  

U.S. manufacturing output rose modestly in December by 0.3%. That marks the fourth straight month of growth. Mining output jumped by 2.2%, reflecting an increase in oil and gas extraction, although a drop in drilling and well-servicing activity tempered the gains. (Reuters)

Consumers started the year feeling very upbeat about the economy, with the sentiment index hitting its highest level since 2004. More consumers cited increases in their household incomes in early January than any time in the past decade, and more households reported unprompted references to favorable employment prospects. (CNBC)

Thai Union Frozen Products, the world's biggest producer of canned tuna, has agreed to buy US peer Bumble Bee Seafoods for $1.5 billion as part of a plan to double revenue through overseas acquisitions. The purchase will give Thai Union control of some of North America's most well-known seafood lines—including two of the three biggest canned tuna brands in the United States. Thai Union's Chicken of the Sea is the third-biggest tuna brand in the U.S. behind Bumble Bee. The top brand, Starkist, is owned by South Korea's Dongwon Industries. (Reuters)

U.S. producer prices in December recorded their biggest fall in more than three years on tumbling energy costs. The producer price index declined 0.3% in December with wholesale energy prices dropping a record 6.6% after falling 3.1% in November.  For 2014 inflation at the manufacturing level increased 1.1%. (Reuters)

At the consumer level inflation fell 0.4% in December. For all of 2014 consumer inflation ran at 1.6%.

Accelerating the sell off this week is retail investors pulling $4.1 billion out of US stocks, the second straight week of net outflows.  (Lipper)

Cuts in the oil patch are taking a toll as Schlumberger cuts 9,000 jobs, or about 7% of its workforce. (Reuters)

The 10-year Treasury stands at extreme lows of 1.70% as investors flee to safety of the dollar.

The euro is just above an 11-year low at $1.159, to the dollar, as the European Central Bank looks to start large-scale bond buying.

Join us Saturday at 10 for Financial Focus Radio Saturday at 10 a.m. when our mortgage expert, Peri Henderson of Directors Mortgage will be our guest.

CSX, the third-largest U.S. railroad, reported higher Q4 profits and expect a strong increase in its freight business and double-digit earnings growth during 2015. Profits rose on the back of an 11% rise in coal shipments and a 5% increase in agricultural, chemical and construction product shipments. CSX said the main driver for the rise in its chemicals business came from crude oil shipments to East Coast refineries due to increased supply of crude oil from domestic shale drilling activity. (Reuters)

Holiday sales rose 4.0% to $616.1 billion according to the National Retail Federation. It marked the first time since 2011 that holiday sales increased more than 4%. On average, holiday sales have grown 2.9% over the past 10 years.

US December retail sales fell 0.9% as gas prices plummet.  Declining gasoline prices weighed on service station sales, with receipts falling 6.5% the biggest decline since December 2008. (CNBC)

The yield on the U.S. 30-year Treasury bond fell to record low and the U.S. 10-year Treasury yield fell below October lows to hit a full-year low on Wednesday. The yield on the 10-year bond briefly touched 1.784%—its lowest level since May 2013. The yield on the government's 30-year bond fell to a record low of 2.395%, surpassing the previous record low of 2.443% set in July 2012. (Tradeweb)

The stock markets dramatic reversal yesterday from a gain of as much as 1.5% to big losses reflected the lack of conviction and confidence among investors as crude oil’s unabated slide stoked fears of global deflation. The steep downdraft came as the market was enjoying a rally underpinned by better-than-expected earnings from Alcoa, and hopes that ECB is close to providing quantitative easing. (CNBC)

JPMorgan Chase, the biggest U.S. bank, reported a 6.6% drop in quarterly profits, hit by legal costs of nearly $1 billion. The bank's profits fell to $4.93 billion in Q4 from $5.28 billion last year. Revenue fell 2.8% to $22.51 billion. (Reuters)

The National Federation of Independent Business’s small-business optimism index increased in December to its highest point since October 2006.

The gain in December was broad-based with the only subindex to decline was expected business conditions. It fell after a big November gain. (Wall Street Journal)

Earnings season is out of the gates as Alcoa swung a 4th quarter profit of $159 million after losing $2.34 billion last year, thanks to strong growth in its aerospace and automotive businesses and a rebound in prices for raw aluminum. Sales rose 14% to $6.38 billion. (Wall Street Journal)

Another sign the sun maybe close to setting. Salus Capital Partners is making an unsolicited offering to loan $500 million to RadioShack in a kind of debtor-in-possession loan used by companies to fund operations in bankruptcy. RadioShack, whose sales have been dropping since 2010, said in September that a bankruptcy filing was a possibility. (Wall Street Journal)

Burgers are the “largest dine-out segment” in the U.S., with more than $72 billion in sales last year. That makes it twice the size of the pizza market, the next largest category. Burgers are “the quintessential American meal,” but are also popular overseas, with an estimated global market size of over $135 billion. (Wall Street Journal)

Oil is down $1.41 at $44.63 a barrel.  The price fall is a result of rising output, especially of U.S. shale oil. At the same time, producers from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) have not cut output, instead offering discounts to customers in an attempt to defend market share. The downward pressure on prices is so big that even record Chinese crude imports for December. (Reuters)

Borrowers who took out auto loans over the past year are missing payments at the highest level since the recession. It’s clear that credit quality is eroding. More than 2.6% of car-loan borrowers who took out loans in the first quarter of last year had missed at least one monthly payment by November. The uptick comes amid an increase in subprime auto loans, raising concerns that car buyers may have taken on more debt than they can handle. (Wall Street Journal)

Some take aways from that big jobs report on Friday.
The U.S. added more jobs in 2014—an average of 246,000 per month—than in any since 1999.

Over the last 12 months, the 2.9 million jobs added is the most for a 12-month stretch since the middle of 2000.

The unemployment rate fell to 5.6% in December, down from 6.7% one year earlier.

Unemployment is 8.6% among those without a high school diploma, it’s only 5.3% among high school graduates, 4.9% among those with some college or an associate’s degree and 2.9% for college graduates.

Private-sector employees saw their average weekly earnings rise 2.5% from a year earlier as hours worked increased.

Payrolls grew 2.1% last year, led by gains in the private sector. State and local government hiring edged up 0.6% last year and federal payrolls edged down 0.6% last year. (Wall Street Journal)

The US Labor Department says the US economy added 252,000 jobs in December.  That lowered the unemployment rate to 5.6%. Over 2.9 million jobs were added to the economy in 2014.

Coca-Cola plans to layoff about 1,800 employees globally in the next few months. The move is a part of the beverage giant's effort to cut $3 billion in costs. The world' largest soft drink company employs about 130,000 workers worldwide. (CNBC)

JC Penny gave another death shudder on Thursday announcing it will close about 40 stores in 2015.  About 2,250 jobs will be lost. The only Oregon store closing will be in North Bend. (Huffington Post)

Despite the improving economy and rising financial markets it turned out to be a lousy year for private pension funds. After gradual progress rebuilding the funds they need to pay retirees, the average private pension fund held about 80% of what it needs to cover those payments. That's down from 89% at the end of 2013 and represents an overall deficit among large corporate plans of about $343 billion, nearly double the shortfall a year earlier. (Reuters)

Join Tyler and me on Saturday at 10am for Financial Focus when our guest will be Don Klippenes of Health Insurance Strategies.  

The U.S. 10-year Treasury note yield climbed to 2% after closing at 1.95% on Wednesday, following December's Federal Reserve meeting minutes that indicated inflation would not have to climb from current levels for the central bank to begin raising interest rates. (CNBC)

The nature of work is radically changing. Millennials are poised to become largest demographic in the workforce in 2015 and will compromise 75% of all workers by 2030. This tech-savvy generation thinks differently about earning a living. They care more about the content and impact of their toils than how much money they earn. They want to pursue the work they’re interested in while maintaining flexibility. Indeed, a recent study shows that 79% of them would consider quitting their traditional job to freelance. (Forbes)

These are trends that could change economies. Global life expectancy has increased by about 6 years over the past two decades. The rise in life expectancy is the result of dramatic advances in health care. Global deaths from infectious disease dropped by about 25% while the number of deaths linked to noncommunicable diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes has jumped by about 40%. (Wall Street Journal)

The US Stock market endured another day of selling yesterday with the S&P 500 extending its losing streak to 5 straight days.  The DOW if off to its worst start to the year since the financial crisis in 2008.

The crude oil price collapse continued yesterday with WTI Crude closing below $48/barrel for the first time since April 2009.  Traders are concerned about a weakening economy in Europe, a stronger dollar, and a global supply glut all combining to push oil prices lower.

The payroll company ADP is out this morning with a look at the labor market in December.  According to ADP the private sector added 241,000 jobs in December which is a number that is much better than expected by economists.  The service sector added the most jobs, and ¾ of those jobs were created by small businesses, those with 50 or fewer employees.

And it looks like we are finally starting to see improving sales at JC Penney.  The company said sales increased 3.7% during the holiday season.  They also said they expect to hit the high end of their earnings range as they continue to focus on profitable sales growth.  Shares of JC Penney are trading over 20% higher on that news.

The yield on the 10 Treasury fell below 2% in early trading and stands at 1.98%. Monday was the bonds sixth straight drop in yield as investors run to safety on increasing worries about Greece may possibly quit the euro zone. (Reuters)

2014 was a blockbuster year for the auto industry. According to TrueCar, combined new and used auto sales will rise 8.3% to $1.1 trillion in the U.S. alone. Americans purchased 54 million new and previously owned cars, trucks and crossovers. But it's not just volume that's driving the revenue boost. Thanks to a slowly improving economy and a drop in gas prices, automakers have been able to raise prices at a time of strong demand. (CNBC)

BMW is taking advantage of strong sales to raise prices for 2015. Given that it's selling luxury vehicles with prices to match, the increases are not likely to present much of a jolt to its well-heeled buyers. Prices will increase about 1.4%.  BMW calls them "modest inflationary" increase. (USA Today)

North Korean hackers may not be the biggest worry you should have in protecting your sensitive personal data.  Morgan Stanley has fired one of its stock brokers after accusing him of stealing account data on about 350,000 clients and posting some of that information online. (Wall Street Journal)

The euro hit a nine-year low against the dollar last night trading below $1.20 for first time since June 2010.  The Euro slumped to as low as $1.186 last night, the weakest since March 2006. That is drop of 1.2%.  Your trip to Europe this spring just got a lot cheaper. (Bloomberg)

The merger between Greensboro-based RF Micro Devices and Hillsboro-based TriQuint Semiconductor was completed on New Years Day.  The merger is expected to create a top competitor in the wireless component industry. The combined company, Qorvo, is trading on the NASDAQ under the symbol QRVO. (Portland Business Journal)

The pace of growth in the U.S. manufacturing sector slowed more than expected in December. The Institute for Supply Management said its index of national factory activity fell to 55.5 from 58.7 the month before. A reading above 50 indicates expansion in the manufacturing sector. In a separate report, U.S. construction spending fell in November, held back by a drop in government outlays and by less money spent by businesses on projects other than homes.

Construction spending fell 0.3%, the first decline since June, to an annual rate of $975 billion. (CNBC)

It has been a two-day rally that has raised markets 4.2%, the biggest two-day jump since November 2011. As we face a quadruple witching Friday we are in line for day three of the rally.  (CNBC)

Nike futures orders rose 13%, its slowest pace in four quarters, indicating potential weakening demand for the sportswear maker's products in emerging markets and western Europe. Nike said profits rose 23% to $655 million as sales rose 15% to $7.38 billion. (Reuters)

The index of U.S. leading indicators rose in November for a third straight month, a sign the economy is gaining traction heading into 2015. The biggest challenge remains, more income growth. However, with labor market conditions tightening, we are seeing the first signs of wage growth starting to pick up. (Bloomberg)

The U.S. services sector expanded in December at its slowest rate since February as growth in employment and new business slowed.  The Purchasing Managers Index hit 53.6 in December, down from November's final reading of 56.2.  A reading of 50 or more means the sector is growing. (Reuters)

Join us Saturday at 10 for Financial Focus Radio when we will talk about tying up those loose ends before the first of the year.

Inflation at the producer level fell 0.2% in November; a lot of the decline is driven by falling oil.  No inflation on our horizon. (Bloomberg)
The National Retail Federation says consumers are on track to meet its forecast for 4.1% sales growth this holiday season. The growth forecast comes despite a 5% decline in Black Friday sales.
American consumer confidence reached a seven-year high last week as job gains and plunging fuel costs propelled the economy and boosted spirits. The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index increased to 41.3, its highest since December 2007.
There could soon be one less place to shop soon. Activist investor Starboard Value wants to merge rival office-supply chains Staples and Office Depot. Analysts and investors say a merger between the two companies could generate anywhere from $1.4 billion to $2 billion in increased profits.  (CNBC)
Household net worth declined in the third quarter for the first time since the third quarter of 2011 according to the Federal Reserve. Net worth declined $141 billion to $81.35 trillion.  Declining stock prices were offset by a $214 billion rise in the value of real estate holdings.  Total debt rose 4.4%.
Join us Saturday at 10 for Financial Focus radio when we talk about the dark side of declining oil prices. 

Markets sold off for the 3rd straight day on Wednesday as the lack of economic growth overseas and the ripple impact of collapsing oil weighed heavy.  But you have to break things down to understand what is really going down.  In the last three trading days the Dow Jones Index is off just a little over 2% from its all-time highs.  Half the decline is due to just three stocks-- Exxon Mobile, McDonalds and Boeing.  This tells us so far this minor correction is shallow and contained. (CNBC)

November retail sales were up 0.7%, much better than expected. Lower gas prices are helping the consumer. (Bloomberg)

Costco posted quarterly profits 16.7% higher than last year on impressive comparable-store sales. Sales and membership fees climbed 7.4%. Costco currently operates 671 warehouses, with 474 in the US and Puerto Rico, 88 in Canada, 34 in Mexico, 26 in the United Kingdom, 20 in Japan, 11 in Korea, 10 in Taiwan, 7 in Australia and 1 in Spain. (Zacks)

Yum Brands, owners of Pizza Hut and KFC, lowered its profit forecast for the year for the second time, hurt by slower-than-expected sales recovery in China. The company expects full-year profit growth to be in mid-single-digits for 2014 and 10% growth in 2015. (Reuters)

Americans plan to spend more on gifts this Christmas than in any holiday season in the past five years as economic optimism hits a post-recession high. The average American plans to spend $765 this year, up 12% versus last year. Behind the Yuletide cheer is an improved outlook for expected home values, wage gains and stocks—all three are at or above their highest levels since the 2008 recession. (CNBC) 
The U.S. economy is picking up speed. That's the view of a panel of business economists, whose latest growth forecast calls for a 3.1% advance in U.S. gross domestic product in 2015—up from a 2.2% expansion this year. Global growth is seen rising 3.4% next year, with China slowing to a 7% annual pace, Europe expanding by 1.2% and Japan eking out 1% gain in GDP. (National Association for Business Economics)
When workers pass up an offer of essentially free money with no strings attached, it's hard to identify a scapegoat other than those workers. More than 56,000 Boeing employees collectively left $98 million on the table in 2013 by not taking advantage of matching funds in the company's 401(k) plan. Approximately 8,400 Boeing employees declined to participate at all in the program last year, and another 48,000 didn't contribute enough to receive the maximum company match. 
Obesity is now a threat to the world economy.  Taking together the costs of healthcare, of lost productivity and other spending needed to mitigate its impact, the annual cost of obesity now tops $2 trillion, or 2.8% of global economic output. That compares with an estimate of $2.1 trillion for war and terrorism, and for smoking, and is way ahead of alcoholism ($1.4 trillion).  (Fortune)

U.S. small business optimism surged in November to its highest level in nearly eight years, the latest indication the economy is positioned for faster growth in 2015. Owners are very bullish about business conditions over the next six months. They are also upbeat about sales and earnings, but continue to hold back on capital spending and hiring. (Reuters)

The future of McDonald's fast food may be slowing it down. Responding to declining same-store sales, falling stock prices and a shrinking base of younger customers, the world's largest fast-food chain will expand its "Create Your Taste" program. Create Your Taste lets customers skip the counter and head to tablet-like kiosks where they can customize everything about their burger, from the type of bun to the variety of cheese to the many, gloppy toppings and sauces that can go on it. (USA Today)

A growing number of Americans in their 20s and 30s are helping reverse a three-decade decline in agriculture's supply of young farmers. The number of Americans younger than 35 who are running farms as their main occupation increased 10% to about 55,000 between 2007 and 2012. The average age of principal farm operators is 58, and about 40% are 65 and older. (USA Today)

It was a global rout last night on international markets led by a 5.3% decline in Chinese equities and Greek stocks crashed 11% percent on political strife.

Those golden arches are not shinning very bright today. McDonald's global same-store sales decreased 2.2% in November.  US performance was down 4.6%, Europe down 2.0% and Asia/Pacific, Middle East and Africa (APMEA) down 4.0%. (Reuters)

Banks are urging some of their largest customers in the U.S. to take their cash elsewhere or be slapped with fees, citing new regulations that make it onerous for them to hold certain deposits. The banks include JPMorgan, Citigroup, and Bank of America.  Clients whose cash they don’t want include large companies hedge funds, insurers and smaller banks. (Wall Street Journal)

As ski season just gets started Vail Resorts reported a quarterly loss of $64.3 million on sales of $128.3 million. Vail Resorts shares have increased 22% since the beginning of the year. (Zacks)

As the media industry continues to change Time Warner’s HBO plans to offer online-only service in the US next year, letting viewers without a cable or satellite-TV subscription tune into their programing. The number of US households that pay for broadband but not TV has climbed to 10 million and is still growing, half of those homes do pay for a streaming service online. (Bloomberg)

The Labor Department says factory productivity expanded at a 2.3% annual rate in the third quarter.  The trend in productivity, however, remains relatively weak. Productivity rose 1.0% compared to the third quarter of 2013.

Compensation measures were revised sharply lower as unit labor costs, the price of labor for any given unit of production, fell at a 1.0% rate in the third quarter. Compared to the third quarter of last year, hourly compensation rose 2.2%. (US Department of Labor)

A gauge of growth in the U.S. services sector rose more than expected in November even as its employment component dipped. The Institute for Supply Management said its services index rose to 59.3 last month, just below the post-recession high of 59.6 hit in August. A reading above 50 indicates expansion in economic activity.

WiseTech Global, has announced an integration partnership with Bend, Oregon based VelaTrack. VelaTrack tracks containers in near real-time from all major ocean carriers worldwide. The integration will allow container information from VelaTrack to automatically flow into WiseTech.  VelaTrack , CEO Chris Mergenthaler says this partnership is important for growth of his firm. (WiseTech Global Press Release)

ADP report says the private sector produced 208,000 jobs in November. The service sector and small businesses lead the strong jobs growth.     

Chief executives at the largest U.S. companies surveyed by the Business Roundtable said 40% of its members plan to hire more workers, up from 34% in the third quarter. Nearly three-quarters project their sales will keep growing in the next six months. (Associated Press)

With soda sales sagging, Coca-Cola is moving into the dairy business. There new “Fairlife” milk is being sold as a premiumized product that tastes better and will cost you twice as much as the milk your used to buying. The milk which is being produced in venture involving 92 family-owned farms will contain 50% more protein and 30% less sugar than regular milk. A filtering process will also make it lactose-free. (USA Today)

A 30-year fixed rate mortgage printed at 4.15% last week.  But that is doing little to boost borrowing on a home.  Refinancing volume is down 16% this year and new purchase mortgages are down 4% in volume for the year. (Mortgage Bankers Association)

The digital wave just keeps coming. Viewership of traditional TV dropped nearly 4% last quarter, as online video streaming jumped 60%, according to a new report from Nielsen. (Wall Street Journal)

Although still reasonably strong, the pace of US manufacturing sector slowed in November to its lowest rate of growth since January, while gauges of new orders and output also fell. Global manufacturing activity expanded at its weakest pace in over a year in November, with new orders rising at their slowest rate since July 2013. (Reuters)

Just 23 days till Christmas and Wal-Mart says online sales broke company records, with more than 1.5 billion pages viewed over the holiday shopping period.  Mobile sales accounted for about 70% of traffic. (CNBC)

Broadly US online sales grew a smaller-than-expected 8% on Cyber Monday, with some consumers taking advantage of Internet promotions before and during the Thanksgiving weekend. Data over the weekend showed a 32% rise in online orders on Thanksgiving and a 26% increase on Black Friday. Cyber Monday sales continued to be driven by mobile traffic which grew 38.3% this year, even as the average order value remained flat at $131.66.

The average price for a pound of ground beef climbed to another record high -- $4.16 per pound -- in October.  A year ago the average price for a pound of ground beef was $3.39 per pound. That is a 22.6% jump in one year. Five years ago the average price for a pound of ground beef was $2.18. (

The U.S. stock market closes at 10am today in a shortened holiday trading session. As oil prices plunge oil stocks are falling and airlines are soaring.

It is still 27 days till Christmas but OPEC is giving everyone an early present at the pump.  On Thursday OPEC decided not to cut oil output to support prices. Oil stands at its weakest levels since July 2010 and is headed for its steepest monthly decline since November 2008, after falling more than 15% this month. (Bloomberg)

Your Christmas tree likely will cost a little more this year. Six years of decreased demand and low prices have put many growers out of business. Growers this year will see about $20 per tree, $2 more than the last several years.  (Associated Press)

That turkey may have cost you more yesterday as production is at its lowest level in nearly three decades and wholesale prices are at an all-time high. This year's anticipated stock is 235 million turkeys — the lowest since 1986. October wholesale prices for live turkeys jumped 12% from 2013. (Associated Press)

Before the big Civil War Game on Saturday join us at 10 for a brand new edition of Financial Focus Radio.  A great way to start your holiday weekend.

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