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The number of people who signed contracts to buy homes fell sharply in April, 7-month low …


Contracts to buy homes fall to a 7-month low
May 27, 2011, 11:11 a.m. EDT
Associated Press

Journal By Calvin Lee Ledsome Sr.,

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of people who signed contracts to buy homes fell sharply in April, hitting its lowest point since fall and renewing fears that a recovery in the housing market is far off.

An index of sales agreements for previously occupied homes sank 11.6 percent last month to a reading of 81.9, the National Association of Realtors said Friday.

A reading of 100 would be considered healthy.

The last time the index reached at least 100 was in April 2010.

That was the final month when people could qualify for a home-buying tax credit of up to $8,000.

Signings are still nearly 8 percent above June’s reading of 75.9, the lowest figure since the housing bust.

Contract signings are considered a reliable indicator of the housing market’s direction. That’s because there’s usually a one- to two-month lag between a sales contract and a completed deal.

But the Realtors group has noted a larger-than-usual number of contract cancellations in recent months. Some buyers have canceled purchases after appraisals showed that the homes were worth less than the buyers’ initial bids. A sale isn’t final until a mortgage is closed.

There “appears to have been a sudden arrest in willingness to commit to a home purchase,” said Pierre Ellis, a senior economist at Decision Economics.

“April sale closings came in noticeably less strong than March contract signings — hinting at mortgage problems,” Ellis said.

The Realtors group said Friday’s report “implies a slower-than-expected market recovery in upcoming months,” in light of rising oil prices, severe weather across the Midwest and South and a rise in applications for unemployment benefits.

Some analysts noted that recent natural disasters are causing a slowdown in construction. They point to the flooding Mississippi River, which has devastated homes and farmlands and closed factories; the tornado in Joplin, Mo., which has killed at least 132 people; and a tornado outbreak in April, which caused an estimated $8 billion in damage in Alabama and six other Southern states.

The Realtors index showed that contract signings were uneven across the country: They rose 1.7 percent in the Northeast but dropped 8.9 percent in the West, 10.4 percent in the Midwest and 17.2 percent in the South.

High unemployment, tighter credit and a lingering fear that home prices have yet to hit bottom are preventing many Americans from buying homes. That’s true despite super-low mortgage rates and home prices that are falling in some areas to their lowest points in a decade.

Overhanging the entire housing sector are waves of foreclosures. They are forcing down home prices.

Economists say it could be several years before the nation’s housing market recovers. Sales of previously occupied homes fell last year to their lowest level in 13 years.

This year is shaping up to be equally bleak. The number of purchases is running at just half the pace of 1963 — even though there are 120 million more people in the United States now.

A reading of 100 indicates the average level of sales activity in 2001, when the index was created. The reading exceeded the 100 threshold from March 2003 to April 2007, before sinking as the country fell into a deep recession.

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US Treasury Bond prices rise on weaker economic data


Treasurys prices rise on weaker economic data
May 26, 2011, 4:21 p.m. EDT
Associated Press

Journal By Calvin Lee Ledsome Sr.,

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NEW YORK (AP) — Investors sent government bond prices higher Thursday after reports on unemployment claims and first-quarter economic growth reinforced expectations that the economic recovery may be moderating.

The price of the 10-year Treasury note rose 62.5 cents per $100 invested in late trading. Its yield, which moves in the opposite direction to the price, fell to 3.06 percent from 3.13 percent late Wednesday.

It was the lowest level for the 10-year yield in a year. The yield is used as benchmark on a wide variety of loans for businesses and consumers including home mortgages.

The government reported that more people applied for unemployment benefits last week, the first increase in three weeks. Analysts had expected a drop.

The government also said that the U.S. economy grew at a relatively sluggish rate of 1.8 percent in the January-March quarter, due partly to a spike in gas prices above $4 a gallon. Economists had forecast an upward revision to 2.2 percent.

Traders tend to buy Treasurys when economic growth appears to be losing momentum.

The Treasury Department also auctioned off $29 billion in seven-year notes at a yield of 2.43 percent, the lowest yield of the year. Investors placed bids for 3.24 times the amount offered, higher than the previous four auctions this year.

The yield of the seven-year note was 2.36 percent late Thursday.

In other trading, the price of the 30-year bond rose $1.03 per $100 invested, while its yield fell to 4.22 percent from 4.27 percent late Wednesday. The yield on the two-year note slipped to 0.50 percent from 0.54 percent.

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NEW YORK (AP) — Stock futures rose Tuesday, a day after fears about European debt sparked …


US stock futures edge up after steep declines
May 24, 2011, 8:44 a.m. EDT
Associated Press

Journal By Calvin Lee Ledsome Sr.,

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NEW YORK (AP) — Stock futures rose Tuesday, a day after fears about European debt sparked steep declines in financial markets around the world.

Ahead of the opening bell, Dow Jones industrial average futures are up 39, or 0.3 percent, at 12,401. Standard & Poor’s 500 futures are up 5, or 0.4 percent, at 1,319. Nasdaq 100 futures are up 7, or 0.3, at 2,322.

The modest advance in futures trading came despite more troubling news about the state of European debt management.

Greece‘s main opposition party said it opposed the government’s new austerity measures. The announcement dashed hopes that the country might be able to repair its finances enough to get another loan package from the International Monetary Fund.

Ratings agency Moody’s warned that a Greek restructuring of its debt would constitute a default. Moody’s said such a move would hurt the credit ratings of Greece and other debt-laden European countries. The ratings agency also said it would review 14 British financial institutions for a possible downgrade.

Nonetheless, European stocks recovered Tuesday after Monday’s declines.

The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares rose 0.4 percent in midday trading. Germany’s DAX rose 0.7 percent and the CAC-40 in France was 0.2 percent higher. The euro also rose slightly against the dollar after falling to a two-month low Monday.

In economic news, the Commerce Department is expected to report at 10 a.m. Eastern on how many new homes were bought in April, offering traders a glimpse at the housing market.

Analysts expect sales to have been roughly flat, rising slightly to an annual rate of 303,000 from 300,000 in March. That is still far below the 700,000 in annual sales seen as representing a healthy market.

New homes are unappealing to budget-conscious families because their median price is nearly 31 percent higher than previously-occupied homes. That’s twice the price difference typical of a healthy economy. At their current rate, new-home sales are on track to experience a sixth straight year of declines.

The Dow fell as much as 180 points Monday before paring back some of its losses after Greece, Italy and Spain suffered weekend setbacks in their attempts to control their debt. The Dow fell 130.78 points, or 1 percent, to close at 12,381.26.The S&P 500 index lost 15.90, or 1.2 percent, to 1,317.37. The Nasdaq dropped 44.42, or 1.6 percent, to 2,758.90.

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AP-GfK Poll: Most Americans say they don’t believe Medicare has to be cut to balance the federal budget ditto …,


AP-GfK Poll: Medicare doesn’t have to be cut
May 23, 2011, 7:02 a.m. EDT
Associated Press

Journal By Calvin Lee Ledsome Sr.,

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WASHINGTON (AP) — They’re not buying it. Most Americans say they don’t believe Medicare has to be cut to balance the federal budget, and ditto for Social Security, a new poll shows.

The Associated Press-GfK poll suggests that arguments for overhauling the massive benefit programs to pare government debt have failed to sway the public. The debate is unlikely to be resolved before next year’s elections for president and Congress.

Americans worry about the future of the retirement safety net, the poll found, and 3 out of 5 say the two programs are vital to their basic financial security as they age. That helps explain why the Republican Medicare privatization plan flopped, and why President Barack Obama’s Medicare cuts to finance his health care law contributed to Democrats losing control of the House in last year’s elections.

Medicare seems to be turning into the new third rail of politics.

“I’m pretty confident Medicare will be there, because there would be a rebellion among voters,” said Nicholas Read, 67, a retired teacher who lives near Buffalo, N.Y. “Republicans only got a hint of that this year. They got burned. They touched the hot stove.”

Combined, Social Security and Medicare account for about a third of government spending, a share that will only grow. Economic experts say the cost of retirement programs for an aging society is the most serious budget problem facing the nation. The trustees who oversee Social Security and Medicare recently warned the programs are “not sustainable” over the long run under current financing.

Nearly every solution for Social Security is politically toxic, because the choices involve cutting benefits or raising taxes. Medicare is even harder to fix because the cost of modern medicine is going up faster than the overall cost of living, outpacing economic growth as well as tax revenues.

“Medicare is an incredibly complex area,” said former Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., who used to chair the Budget Committee. “It’s a matrix that is almost incomprehensible. Unlike Social Security, which has four or five moving parts, Medicare has hundreds of thousands. There is no single approach to Medicare, whereas with Social Security everyone knows where the problem is.”

That’s not what the public sees, however.

“It’s more a matter of bungling, and lack of oversight, and waste and fraud, and padding of the bureaucracy,” said Carolyn Rodgers, who lives near Memphis, Tenn., and is still working as a legal assistant at 74. “There is no reason why even Medicare, if it had been handled right, couldn’t have been solvent.”

In the poll, 54 percent said it’s possible to balance the budget without cutting spending for Medicare, and 59 percent said the same about Social Security.

Taking both programs together, 48 percent said the government could balance the budget without cutting either one. Democrats and political independents were far more likely than Republicans to say that neither program will have to be cut.

The recession cost millions their jobs and sent retirement savings accounts into a nosedive. It may also have underscored the value of government programs. Social Security kept sending monthly benefits to 55 million recipients, like clockwork; Medicare went on paying for everything from wheelchairs to heart operations.

Overall, 70 percent in the poll said Social Security is “extremely” or “very” important to their financial security in retirement, and 72 percent said so for Medicare. Sixty-two percent said that both programs are extremely or very important.

The sentiment was a lot stronger among the elderly. Eighty-four percent of those 65 or older said both programs are central to their financial security. Compare that to adults under 30, just starting out. Just under half, or 46 percent, said they believed both Social Security and Medicare would be extremely or very important to their financial security in retirement.

Old, middle-aged or just entering the workforce, most people are keenly aware of the cost of health care, and that may be helping to focus more attention on Medicare.

“Health insurance these days is very costly, and it’s not something that most people can afford to go out and buy on their own,” said Tim Messner, 38, a technology quality assurance analyst from Barberton, Ohio. “I don’t know that we could possibly plan ahead for medical insurance, but if you had to replace Social Security or investments, you at least have an idea of what you can live on.”

Numbers tell the story. As health care goes up, the value of Medicare benefits is catching up to Social Security’s. A two-earner couple with average wages retiring in 1980 would have expected to receive health care worth $132,000 through Medicare over their remaining lifetimes, and $446,000, or about three times more, in Social Security payments.

For a similar couple who retired last year, the Medicare benefit will be worth $343,000, compared to Social Security payments totaling $539,000, less than twice as much. The numbers, from economists at the nonpartisan Urban Institute, are adjusted for inflation to allow direct comparison. For low-income single retirees and some couples, the value of expected Medicare benefits already exceeds that of Social Security.

The poll found a deep current of pessimism about the future of Social Security and Medicare. As much as Americans say the programs are indispensable, only 35 percent say it’s extremely or very likely that Social Security will be there to pay benefits through their entire retirement. For Medicare, it was 36 percent.

Again, there’s a sharp difference between what the public believes and what experts say. Most experts say the programs will be there for generations to come. But they may look very different than they do today, and Americans should take note.

“Do they have a basis for worrying that these programs are going to pay them much less than they’re currently promising?” asked economist Charles Blahous. “Yes, absolutely. Do they have a basis for being concerned that the programs may have to be structurally changed in order to survive? The answer to that is yes, too.” A trustee of Social Security and Medicare, Blahous served as an economic adviser to President George W. Bush.

Republican lawmakers don’t inspire much confidence right now when it comes to dealing with retirement programs, the poll found. Democrats have the advantage as the party more trusted to do a better job handling Social Security by 52 percent to 34 percent, and Medicare by 54 percent to 33 percent. Often, but not always, major revisions have been accomplished through bipartisan compromise.

Sue DeSantis, 61, a store clerk from West Milton, Ohio, worries she won’t be able to rely on either program. Both are important to her well-being, but she thinks changes are inevitable. And she has little confidence in lawmakers.

“I don’t put my faith in politicians, and I don’t put my faith in the government,” said DeSantis. “I’m a Christian. I believe that God will take care of me. That doesn’t mean I should be foolish and not look at anything, but I don’t believe that the politicians are necessarily going to do the best for the common ordinary person like myself.”

The Associated Press-GfK poll was conducted May 5-9, 2011, by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cell phone interviews with 1,001 adults nationwide and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.

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Associated Press Polling Director Trevor Tompson, Deputy Director Jennifer Agiesta and AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.

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Online:

Poll results: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com

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Calvin Ledsome Sr.,

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Sharp drop in new claims for unemployment: Dropped 29,000 last week …


Stock edge higher after unemployment claims fall
May 19, 2011, 10:25 a.m. EDT
Associated Press

Journal By Calvin Lee Ledsome Sr.,

Owner and Founder of: http://www.LedSomeBioMetrics.com

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NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks opened slightly higher Thursday, extending Wednesday’s gains, after a government report showed a sharp drop in new claims for unemployment benefits. Weaker reports on home sales and economic expectations kept the gains in check.

Shares of social-networking company LinkedIn Corp. jumped 81 percent to $81.76 on their first day of trading. It is the largest U.S. Internet IPO since Google Inc.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 26 points, or 0.2 percent, at 12,586 in early trading. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index gained 2, or 0.2 percent, to 1,343. The Nasdaq composite index added 4, or 0.1 percent, to 2,819.

The Department of Labor reported that applications for unemployment dropped 29,000 last week, more than expected, to 409,000.

Two other reports raised doubts about the strength of the housing recovery and the overall direction of U.S. growth.

The National Association of Realtors said fewer people purchased previously occupied homes in April. The number of homes sold in foreclosure also declined.

The Conference Board reported that expectations for future economic activity decreased, based on its index of leading indicators. The private research group said the index fell 0.3 percent in April, the first decline since June 2010.

In a sign that the U.S. consumer recovery remains uneven, Big Lots Inc. fell 9 percent to $34.31 after news reports that it decided not to sell itself. The Wall Street Journal said late Wednesday that the company received bids from two private-equity groups that were lower than it had hoped.

Sears Holding Corp. reported softer sales at its Kmart and Sears stores, causing a first-quarter loss of $1.58 per share, worse than analysts expected. The stock fell 3.2 percent to $73.31.

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2 out of 5 Americans believe the economy will get better


Americans more upbeat about economy
May 12, 2011, 10:01 a.m. EDT
Associated Press

Journal By Calvin Lee Ledsome Sr.,

Owner and Founder of: http://www.LedSomeBioMetrics.com

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans are growing more optimistic about the U.S. economy, a sentiment that is benefiting President Barack Obama despite public disenchantment with his handling of rising gasoline prices and swollen government budget deficits.

An Associated Press-GfK poll shows that more than 2 out of 5 people believe the U.S. economy will get better, while a third think it will stay the same and nearly a fourth think it will get worse, a rebound from last month’s more pessimistic attitude. And, for the first time since the 100-day mark of his presidency, slightly more than half approve of Obama’s stewardship of the economy.

Both findings represent a boost for Obama, though he still must overcome ill will over government red ink and the price of gas at the pump, now hovering around $4 a gallon.

But the public’s brighter economic outlook also could signal a boost to the current recovery, which relies to a great degree on consumer behavior. A public that is confident about economic performance is more likely to spend more and accelerate the economy’s resurgence.

The poll was conducted May 5-9 in the aftermath of the U.S. commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaida leader behind the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The spike in public esteem for Obama as a result of that successful clandestine mission may have helped Obama’s standing on issues other than national security.

The poll coincides with renewed attention in Washington to the nation’s growing debt and the federal government’s long-term budget deficits, so any positive signs from the public could help Obama push his policy proposals. A bipartisan team of lawmakers is working with Vice President Joe Biden to identify spending cuts. Meanwhile, lawmakers also are discussing major structural changes to the tax system and to the government’s mammoth benefits programs of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

The results of the AP-GfK poll stood out because other surveys taken after bin Laden’s death, while showing a spike in support for the president, continued to indicate dissatisfaction by a majority for his handling of the economy. Still, like the AP-GfK poll, other surveys also found American attitudes about the state of the nation improving.

Forty-five percent of those polled in the AP-GfK survey said the country was now moving in the right direction, an increase of 10 percentage points from five weeks ago. And attitudes about life in general remained positive, with 4 out of 5 respondents saying they were happy or somewhat happy with their circumstances.

“Once you hit bottom the only one way to go is up,” said John Bair, 23, a photographer and filmmaker from Pittsburgh. “Everybody that I come in contact with seems to be on the upswing. I consider that a pretty good thing.”

But Bair, who describes himself as a moderate to conservative independent, doesn’t believe Obama deserves re-election. He strongly disapproves of the president’s handling of gasoline prices and says Obama should do more to increase domestic production of oil.

“When I’m paying $4 for a gallon of gas, it gets me wondering what’s going on,” he said.

Obama has tried to appear engaged on gas prices even though there is little presidents can do to alter market fluctuations. He has called for new renewable energy policies and for eliminating tax breaks for oil and gas companies, while conceding those steps will not address the current price increases. The efforts have not given the public much to cheer about, however. A total of 61 percent disapprove of Obama’s approach to the rising cost of gasoline.

Indeed, for all the long-term confidence that the economy will recover, the public is hardly upbeat about the current state of things. Only 21 percent describe the economy as good and 73 percent describe it as poor. About 1 in 5 thought the economy got better during the past month; an equal number thought it got worse.

A favorable jobs report last Friday showed that private companies had exceeded expectations by creating 268,000 jobs last month, the third month of at least 200,000 new jobs. And while unemployment has dropped from a high of 10.1 percent nationally in October 2009, it is now 9 percent, the same as in January.

“We haven’t done anything to create the jobs that (Obama) promised —that all of them promised,” said John Grezaffi, 60, a rancher from Pointe Coupee Parish, La.

Grezaffi, taking a short break from working to shore up his land against a rising Mississippi River on Wednesday, said he somewhat supports Obama but does not support his handling of the economy and believes the country is moving in the wrong direction.

Approaching retirement age, he said he wasn’t eager to see his upcoming benefits shortchanged.

“I’m willing to give up a little, but not everything when you see the waste that occurs in so many other areas,” he said.

Deana Floss, 39, a Springfield, Ohio, restaurant cook and owner of a cleaning business, voiced lukewarm approval for Obama even though she doesn’t care for the state of the economy or Obama’s handling of the nation’s budget deficits.

“I don’t think he has done a very bad job with the economy,” she said. “It was already going downhill when he took the reins.”

The Associated Press-GfK Poll was conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cell phone interviews with 1,001 adults nationwide and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.

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Associated Press Deputy Polling Director Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.

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Online:

http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com

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China is using high-level meetings to urge the United States to allow more technology exports


China urges US to lift controls on hi-tech exports
May 10, 2011, 6:49 a.m. EDT
Associated Press

Journal By Calvin Lee Ledsome Sr.,

Owner and Founder of: http://www.LedSomeBioMetrics.com

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WASHINGTON (AP) — China is using high-level meetings to urge the United States to allow more technology exports into the booming Chinese economy as a way of balancing trade.

The United States, meanwhile, has criticized the communist-led nation’s latest crackdown on democracy advocates, arguing that long-term stability depends on respecting human rights.

Both sides issued familiar grievances at the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, which began in Washington on Monday, but they took pains to stress a generally positive track in relations between the two economic superpowers.

State Councilor Dai Bingguo said common interests between the world’s two largest economies now make them “inseparable” and destined to grow more interdependent.

The annual two-day round of talks brings together leaders on economics, foreign policy and security. The meetings, involving scores of officials, wrap up Tuesday with news conferences.

President Barack Obama met Dai and Chinese delegation leader Vice Premier Wang Qishan after Monday’s deliberations. He encouraged China to implement policies to support “balanced global growth as well as a more balanced bilateral economic relationship.” On human rights, he underscored his support for freedom of expression and political participation, a White House statement said.

This year’s dialogue follows a January state visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao that helped eased tensions over the U.S. arms sales to self-governing Taiwan, which Beijing regards as part of Chinese territory. The U.S. and China also have been at odds over China’s intervention in currency markets, which the U.S. says has kept the value of the yuan low against the dollar, giving an unfair advantage to Chinese exporters.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on Monday softened the long-standing U.S. criticism of China’s economic policies, possibly in a belief that the outside pressure was proving counterproductive.

Geithner praised China’s efforts, which include a decision last June to resume allowing the yuan to rise in value against the dollar after freezing the currency’s value for two years during the height of the financial crisis. The yuan has risen by about 5 percent against the dollar since last summer. American manufacturers contend the yuan is still undervalued by as much as 40 percent.

The U.S. Treasury chief still urged China to allow its currency to appreciate at a faster rate and to allow Chinese consumer interest rates to rise. Both steps could help boost domestic demand and help lower America’s trade deficit, which hit an all-time high with China last year.

A Chinese official, however, blamed U.S. policies for the ballooning trade gap. Commerce Minister Chen Deming told a news conference that China’s currency appreciation was being carried out in a “very healthy manner.” He said the United States needed to change its own policies on high-tech sales and investment as a way to spur American manufacturing.

He took aim at the U.S. screening of Chinese foreign investment proposals, contending it was neither fair nor transparent. Most recently, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States rejected a takeover by private Chinese technology giant Huawei of a small U.S. computer company, 3Leaf, on national security grounds.

“We hope the United States can treat Chinese investment, including by state-owned enterprises, in a fair manner,” he said.

U.S. companies have their own long list of complaints: limited access to Chinese markets, theft of intellectual property, widespread use in China of counterfeit software and problems in seeking redress through China’s legal system.

At the ceremonial opening of the talks on Monday, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton offered blunt criticism of China’s human rights record, which Beijing regards as an internal matter. Clinton later had “very candid and honest” private discussions on the issue with Dai, U.S. officials said.

Since February, Chinese authorities have questioned or detained hundreds of lawyers, activists, journalists and bloggers after anonymous calls were made on the Internet for protests emulating those that have challenged and toppled authoritarian governments in the Middle East and North Africa. No such protests have taken place in China.

“We know over the long arc of history that societies that work toward respecting human rights are going to be more prosperous, stable and successful. That has certainly been proven time and time again, but most particularly in the last months,” Clinton said.

Dai said China had made progress in the area of human rights, but he did not mention the recent crackdown.

In Beijing on Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said, “No country is perfect in its human rights record and there is no one-size-fits-all human rights policy.”

In unusually mild comments on a subject that Beijing is highly sensitive about, Jiang said, “China and the U.S. have different opinions in the area of human rights and we believe we can use dialogue to increase mutual understanding and mutual trust.”

This year’s talks for the first time included high-level military leaders from both nations, a move seen as a way to increase understanding between military commanders and reduce the risk of conflict. China’s military has expanded rapidly in the past 15 years, deploying missiles and naval assets that could challenge American supremacy in the region.

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