How Good Was the June Jobs Report?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has released its employment report for June, and the numbers are mighty impressive. Is it time to break out the bubbly, and declare that a full economic recovery is finally underway? Or should we curb our enthusiasm just a bit?
BLS’ headline numbers were spectacular: total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 288,000 in June, while the unemployment rate declined to 6.1%. These weren’t just good numbers; they we’ve been needing to see consistently in this lengthy post-recession recovery.
Not only were the totals impressive, but a breakdown of the data reveals a broad-based surge in hiring during June: professional services, manufacturing, retail and financial services all saw nice gains in hiring. The construction industry was the big gainer – a fact that signals a healthy recovery in real estate.
The Washington Post – citing a recent Gallup poll – points out that 45% of Americans reported being employed full-time in June. This the highest number seen since the polling firm began tracking this figure in 2010.
It is hard to poke holes this BLS report, or to be anything less than excited by the accelerating recovery that these jobs numbers seem to indicate. Yes, it is that good.
About the only cautionary note we’d sound is to wait through a few more monthly reports before declaring the hard times to be over. Recent data suggests that the economy actually contracted earlier this year – a victim of the harsh winter weather.
Last winter slowed retail sales, auto sales, and consumer confidence — and put the brakes on what had been a strong real estate recovery in 2013. What we’re perhaps seeing in the June data is the result of pent up demand for labor, as hiring plans put on hold for months are finally brought into being. Perhaps.
On the other hand, this could well be the signal of strong recovery that we’ve all been waiting five years to see. Let’s hope this is what the June BLS numbers are telling us, and what future reports will continue to tell. We’ll certainly know if that’s the case by the fall.

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Exports are Running 45.7% Ahead of 2009 Levels

As Washington factions argue over whether to continue funding the Export-Import Bank, it’s useful to note that U.S. exports are running at a good clip, and are way ahead of the paltry levels seen right after the recession.
According to the U.S. Commerce Department, the United States exported $195.5 billion of goods and services in May 2014. Over the past 12 months, the value of U.S. exports of goods and services totaled $2.3 trillion.
Commerce said this 45.7% above 2009’s level of exports.
This is all great news, but is it a good reason to continue funding the Ex-Im Bank, which was set up to fill gaps in private export financing?
Ex-Im said it approved more than $27 billion in total authorizations to support an estimated $37.4 billion in U.S. export sales during fiscal 2012. They claim that this supported 205,000 American jobs.
Critics of the bank don’t really argue against those figures, but say that the government should not be involved in backing loans extended to fund exporting deals. They say that the private sector should perform this task.
The bank argues that private lenders often turn down small businesses that seek loans to fund export deals in the pipeline. Critics then counter that most of Ex-Im’s funding volume supports big exporters like Boeing or Caterpillar.
From the data available it is clear that there are merits to both sides of the argument. Right now, things are fine since the global economy is running strong, and few of these export loans are in default. But if the economy were to turn sour fast, U.S. taxpayers could be on the hook for “backstopping” some of this lending.
Supporters of the bank point out that many of these export deals have only gone through because of this backstopping, and that the economic benefits to the U.S. exceed the potential risks of loan defaults in a recession.
Whichever side wins this argument, what’s clear is that – for now – the U.S. economy is benefitting from the steady growth of exports that has occurred during the past five years.

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Which Cities Have More Pet-Friendly Rentals?

Online real estate firm said it has tallied user data from its mobile application for rentals, and discovered some interesting things about where its users are searching most, and which cities have the most pet-friendly rental listings.
The company said that Chicago is the big winner in both categories. The Windy City ranked #1 in terms of user searches, #2 in total inventory (3,544) and a big #1 in its percentage of pet-friendly rental listings (49%).
Las Vegas beat Chicago in total inventory (4,497) but only a scant 4% of rental listings from that city were deemed pet-friendly.
Other cities in the top 10 included Atlanta, Dallas, Orlando, Los Angele, Houston, Miami, Charlotte and Jacksonville. No one came close to Chicago’s pet-friendliness, with the #2 city in that category (Dallas) boasting only 28% pet-friendly listings. said that its rental app is available for iOS and Android, and makes a handy tool for finding rentals in a number of cities.
It’s a good thing that the app finds pet-friendly listings, since this is an aspect of renting that can be very frustrating, expensive (or both) for renters. If you are looking to rent, don’t take it as a given that your potential landlord will be OK with you having a pet. Some will, some won’t and some will simply charge you more as security deposit.
So, make sure you get that detail sorted out before you sign any lease, or plan any moves.

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Pet Friendly Rentals, Rental Apps

More People Are Choosing Expensive Vehicles

People are paying more for vehicles these days, according to vehicle pricing guide Kelley Blue Book.
KBB said that estimated average transaction price (ATP) for light vehicles during June was $32,342, which is up from June 2013.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that vehicles are getting more expensive, only that people are spending more per given vehicle. For instance, automakers’ total sales include a higher percentage of upscale models. Also, people are choosing to include more optional equipment on a given model.
However, vehicle prices have risen as well: KBB said that new-car prices are up $454 (or 1.4%) versus June 2013. They rose $113 (0.4%) just since last month.
So, a combination of factors results in the higher average transaction prices.
Among automakers, General Motors posted a 5.4% year-over-year gain in average transaction price – largely due to increased sales of pricey trucks and SUVs. Meanwhile, Nissan saw a 1% decrease in its average transaction price, due to the Japanese company getting more of its mix of sales from its economy car lines.
KBB said this happened despite Nissan’s new vehicle sales numbers going up from 2013 to 2014.
Overall, this is shaping up to be a warm summer for auto sales, and prices are up. Things may slow down a bit later in the year, so if you’re in the market you may find the best deals after the summer heat is off.

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Credit Card Rates Inch Higher

For the first time in two months the average interest rates on new credit card offers moved higher last week. This according to online credit card marketplace, who publish a weekly survey of rates offered to U.S. consumers.

The average rate for all credit card offers surveyed by last week was 15.02%. This was up from 15.01% the week before but still down from the 15.06% measured six months ago.

Among the different types of cards on offer, only Airline cards (15.38%, up from 15.30% the week before) and Reward cards (14.98%, up from 14.97%) showed any real movement.

A range of card offers were unchanged from the previous week, including Low Interest (10.37%), Balance Transfer (12.64%), Business (12.80%), Student (13.27%), Cash Back (14.91%), Instant Approval (28%) and Bad Credit (22.73%) card offers. said its weekly credit card rate survey looks at 100 of the most popular credit cards in the country.


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After Two Months, CD Rates Move a Bit

The average rate paid on 5-year certificates of deposit (CD) rose a bit last week — after two months of stagnation – according to RateWatch. Is there hope for savers?

RateWatch said that its weekly survey discovered that the average APY paid on 5-year CDs across the country rose from 1.14% to 1.15%. However, rates on shorter-term CDs stayed the same.

The reason for the move on 5-year CDs – and not on 1-year or 6-month CDs – has to do with recent signals sent by the Federal Reserve. While the Fed has basically pledged to maintain its low-rate regime for the near term, it has signaled that it might raise its benchmark interest rate in the first half of 2015.

Anticipating this, financial institutions are trying to “lock in” more long-term funds from depositors.

As you can see, though, the move in rates is tiny, and the overall picture pretty much stays the same: savers who want secure, insured investments are stuck with sub-2% yields for the foreseeable future.

Until the Fed signals a more dramatic move on rates, things will continue in this fashion. Savers who want a good return on their money will opt for riskier investment options, such as stocks.


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Say Goodbye to the Cash Register



Would you like to bypass the checkout line, and just use your Smartphone to pay for your store purchases? So would a lot of other people – particularly young people.


European payment firm Yapital had a survey conducted to find out how people felt about paying by Smartphone. Not surprisingly, support for such unconventional transactions was highest among younger shoppers.


Yapital said that 83% of respondents aged 14 to 29 years expressed annoyance at having to stand in cash register lines. Even online checkout wasn’t considered ideal, since 44% of younger folk were bothered by the task of inputting data to complete those transactions.


Overall, 28% of consumers surveyed expressed positive support for mobile payments. They may not have long to wait.


Given that more than 85% of all transactions are now cashless, and given the growing sophistication of mobile payments systems, it’s only a matter of time before the retail environment is re-designed around fast, automated transactions via Smartphone.


Imagine walking into a supermarket and seeing only one or two cash register stations – or no registers? Technology could be used to determine the prices of the items in your cart or basket, and an app on your mobile device could make the payment instantly.


The future is coming fast, but you’d better bring a Smartphone.




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Why Your July 4th Barbeque Is Getting Expensive

If you’re finding that the cost of a traditional 4th of July barbeque is higher than it’s ever been, you can blame certain commodity prices.

According to the inaugural 2014 Rabobank BBQ Index, the price of a typical 10-person barbeque has risen from $51.90 in 2004 to $66.82 in 2014.

The Netherlands-based financial institution — which serves the global food, beverage and agribusiness industry — said that the increase in barbeque price comes from some rather dramatic rises in the prices paid for certain “BBQ-related” commodities.

For instance, beef prices have taken off like a 4th of July rocket, rising by 71% over the past five years. Rabobank points out that U.S. cattle herds are the smallest they’ve been in 63 years, while U.S. beef exports have grown substantially.

Using chicken as a substitute meat can bring some relief, but meat alone does not make a barbeque.

Cheese and ice cream prices are up by around 15%, on rising exports. Produce costs have also risen.

Which brings us to beverages.

According to Rabobank, beer accounts for 28% of the total cost of a typical U.S. barbecue, and beer prices are up. The Index tracked pricing on 20 different beers, and found their pricing up by around 10%, on average, over the past five years.

So, if you are doing some last-minute 4th of July barbeque shopping, consider using chicken as a meat choice, and looking for a good deal on beer. (Of course, you can always forego the beer entirely, and choose bottled water instead. Yea, we thought not.)

Or, you could just swallow the extra cost along with all that delicious barbeque. Have a great 4th!


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Used Car Luxury Values

These days, you can buy a lot of late-model luxury car for under $30,000, according to car valuation firm Kelley Blue Book.

KBB has put together its list of the 10 Best Certified Pre-Owned Luxury Cars Under $30,000, showing that consumers can often “step up” in vehicle luxury for the cost of an run-of-the-mill new car.

While many of these cars on the list can be had for less money, the valuations quoted here are for “certified” used cars. These are cars that have been put through a lengthy inspection, and have been determined to be in tip-top shape.

Certified used cars are often backed by good warranties, and for many consumers represent the “safest” way to buy a used vehicle. Particularly a used luxury model.

Here, then, are KBBs top 10 picks:

The #1 pick is the 2011 BMW 3 Series, which carries a Kelley Blue Book CPO Price of $25,464. Next is the 2011 Lexus ES ($27,751), followed by the 2011 Acura TL ($23,943), the 2011 Audi A6 ($29,525) and the 2011 Cadillac CTS ($23,208).

Picks 5-10 are the 2011 Infiniti G ($20,717), the 2011Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class ($28,383), the 2011 Cadillac DTS, ($28,227), the 2011 Volvo XC60 ($24,297) and the 2011 Audi A4 ($22,627).

Keep in mind that new cars lose 35% to 40% of their original value due to depreciation in just the first three years. With a certified 2011 model, you get a depreciated vehicle that has been fully inspected for safety — backed by a guarantee from the auto maker.

Before you pull the trigger on a new vehicle purchase, take a look at how much luxury you can get for your money.


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Card Fraud Hits 25% of Consumers

A troubling new report finds that one in four consumers around the world have been the victims of card fraud. While Americans are especially hard-hit compared to consumers in most other countries, we are not getting the worst of it.

Payments company ACI Worldwide and Aite Group surveyed more than 6,100 consumers across 20 countries, and found that the highest levels of card fraud occurred in the United Arab Emirates, followed closely by China, India and the U.S.

According to ACI, “card fraud” is comprised of unauthorized activity on debit, credit and prepaid cards. When it happens, consumers who become victims have their trust in financial institutions shaken.

In fact, of the survey respondents who have been victims of fraud, 63% say they are more likely to use their cards less, and 23% changed financial institutions after experiencing fraud.

This is perhaps understandable, but consumers must realize that financial institutions are but one link in the card security chain. (Remember those data breaches at U.S. retailers last year?) Above all, they must realize that they are a link in the chain as well.

Taking simple precautions – such as protecting your PIN from prying eyes while at an ATM or gas pump, and verifying that a retailer is legit before handing over card data – can go a long way toward making sure that you’re not the next victim of fraud.

Financial institutions, retailers, payment systems and you (the cardholder) are all links in the card security chain. Thieves will always find the weakest ones, and exploit them. So, it’s best that all parties work together on card security.


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