Showing posts with label budget. Show all posts
Showing posts with label budget. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Stubborn Dow Remains Range-Bound; NASDAQ Dips

Since March 9, the Dow has traded in a fairly tight range - considering the time elapsed (nearly six months) - of just more than 1400 points, or less than six percent of total market value.

Recently, it has been trading near the upper end of this range, but has repeatedly failed to surpass the previous interim high and is still another 1400-1500 points away from January's all-time high of 26,616.71.

The range, 23,924.98 - 25,335.74, has been wide enough to offer hope to both bulls and bears, though neither a breakout nor a breakdown has occurred, with much of the betting money on the latter. Current and prior sentiment sees a second half slowdown, with the Trump tax cuts already measured in, inflation becoming more of an issue, and the tariff tug-fo-war on the world stage only in the early stages.

Thus, seasoned investors are wary of sudden impulse moves such as today's and also have an eye toward the political spectrum, midterm elections and what now appears to be a runaway federal budget-busting deficit for the current fiscal year. These are the factors contributing to the skeptical view, while the more subdued bull case rests largely on the employment picture. Americans are well-employed at present, even though labor force participation remains near record lows.

Inside the demographics of the United States, there exists a virtuous cycle, in which retiring baby boomers give up jobs to millennials and Generation Xers, while spending their retirement incomes without a care. There's plenty of money to go around, though, with a country as large and diverse as the US, it's difficult to pigeonhole any particular stocks that should benefit the greatest.

Consumer staples are and have been the safest bets along with energy, tech, and basic materials, but the gains have been paltry outside the smoking tech sector. A diversified portfolio is probably the best insurance against a market rout, but being in the right stocks can prove tricky, if not altogether impossible to attain anything better than the average index fund.

On the day, the Dow and NASDAQ diverged, a sign that everything is not in sync, and that issues remain unresolved, though that is a normal case and not anything about which to be overly pessimistic.

With crosswinds at the crossroads of prosperity and desperation, there's more than ample rationale for either argument.

This remains a sit-tight-and-hold-cash condition.

Dow Jones Industrial Average July Scorecard:

Date Close Gain/Loss Cum. G/L
7/2/18 24,307.18 +35.77 +35.77
7/3/18 24,174.82 -132.36 -96.59
7/5/18 24,345.44 +181.92 +85.33
7/6/18 24,456.48 +99.74 +185.07
7/9/18 24,776.59 +320.11 +505.18
7/10/18 24,919.66 +143.07 +648.25
7/11/18 24,700.45 -219.21 +429.04
7/12/18 24,924.89 +224.44 +653.48
7/13/18 25,019.41 +94.52 +748.00
7/16/18 25,064.36 +44.95 +792.95
7/17/18 25,119.89 +55.53 +848.48
7/18/18 25,199.29 +79.40 +927.88
7/19/18 25,064.50 -134.79 +793.09
7/20/18 25,058.12 -6.38 +786.71
7/23/18 25,044.29 -13.83 +772.88
7/24/18 25,241.94 +197.65 +970.53

At the Close, Tuesday, July 24, 2018:
Dow Jones Industrial Average: 25,241.94, +197.65 (+0.79%)
NASDAQ: 7,840.77, -1.10 (-0.01%)
S&P 500: 2,820.40, +13.42 (+0.48%)
NYSE Composite: 12,847.49, +53.44 (+0.42%)

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Bad News Sends Stocks, Oil, Higher; Silver Outshines All

Stocks moved higher based on nothing other than an "informed diplomatic source" that said Russia and Saudi Arabia had agreed to freeze oil production. Along with stocks, oil futures moved notably higher, topping $41.50 a barrel.

The news was taken with so much enthusiasm that traders apparently forgot that there exists a worldwide glut of crude oil larger than any before it. They also disregarded obvious topping patterns in stocks and upcoming earnings reports, including those of the big banks which happen to be saddled with bad oil loans.

News that the IMF cut its global growth forecast for 2016 for the fourth time in a year, backing it off to 3.2%, was also disregarded, as was the US March budget deficit came in at double what it was last year, a whopping $108 billion.

In an unrelated move, silver continued its non-stop ascent, closing in New York at its highest price since late October of 2015, topping $16/ounce for the first time this year. The price of silver has risen more than 8% in the past week.

S&P 500: 2,061.72, +19.73 (0.97%)
Dow: 17,721.25, +164.84 (0.94%)
NASDAQ: 4,872.09, +38.69 (0.80%)

Crude Oil 41.56 +2.97% Gold 1,257.40 -0.05% EUR/USD 1.1390 -0.12% 10-Yr Bond 1.78 +3.31% Corn 361.25 +1.26% Copper 2.15 +2.85% Silver 16.22 +1.50% Natural Gas 2.02 +5.60% Russell 2000 1,105.71 +1.04% VIX 14.85 -8.67% BATS 1000 20,682.61 0.00% GBP/USD 1.4269 +0.24% USD/JPY 108.5655 +0.57%

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

America's Economy - and Society - is Grinding to a Halt

What a mess!

Stocks were down for the fifth consecutive session on Wednesday as congress fails to grasp the seriousness of any situation, be it the budget (substitue a continuing resolution), Obamacare (possibly the worst law ever passed) or the debt ceiling (due to run out of extraordinary measures by October 17, according to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew).

Meanwhile, the country does a slow burn; jobs aren't being created, business is stuck between bad choices and worse choices; governments - federal, state and local - can't make their budgets work.

Deflation has been taking hold in a rather large way, despite the best (wosrt) efforts by the Fed, through QE, to stimulate through inflation (another bad idea). There isn't any growth in manufacturing, the lifeblood of any economy, in the United States for thirty years. Our debts keep soaring. The Fed - and most other institutions - are failing the American people. Only the top 1% or maybe as little as 1/10 of the top 1% or as much as the top 10% are benefiting from centrally-planned economics.

There is no stock market, no price discovery mechanisms which can be reliably trusted, since the Fed now dominates all markets, from stocks to gold, silver, commodities, stocks and most especially, bonds, where the Federal Reserve is not only the buyer of last resort, they are also the first in line.

Obvious to anybody with an eye for such things, the recovery economics engineered over the past five years since the collapse of Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, Lehman Brothers and assorted collateral damages, are simply not working, yet the government, in cahoots with the Fed, continues to support and maintain the same policies.

Maybe it's time for a reset, a revolution, some kind of change, but the NSA monitors every movement of the American public, keeping public protest to an absolute minimum, in shades strangely reminiscent of pre-war Germany in the late 1930s. we are all at risk, from the poorest to the richest, yet the richest feel secure that they are entitled to, and thus, have more, enough to sustain themselves through any crisis.

They are wrong, as history calmly reassures; the fall of the Roman empire, the French Revolution being only the two most prominent examples of mass chaos.

In five more days the federal government faces a shutdown of "non-essential" services. In two weeks after that, without authority for more borrowing, the US government will legally default on some of its obligations. Of course, those less-well-connected will feel the pinch first, the insiders, later, though by forces beyond the ken of their limited imaginations.

Here at Money Daily, we do not espouse default, disorder and carnage because it is damaging to everyone, but especially to those least able to protect themselves against it, which would include probably 90% of the population. Take a look around. How many of your neighbors can manage their own gardens, feed themselves, grow from seed, if necessary? How about you, yourself?

Sadly, the American public is so poorly educated in basic survival skills such as farming, gardening, water and fuel management, health and safety that a catastrophic condition renders most of the population at very high risk of disease and death.

Is this the kind of world we imagined to leave to the next generation? The human race is so deficient in so many aspects that survival of the entire species is questionable. The problems are enormous, but most will go back to their TV sets and TV dinners, ignoring the threats which are all around them, hoping beyond hope that government - the same one that caused and foments many of the issues and problems we face - will be there to support them and save them.

Readers of this blog may call us alarmists, but the signs of collapse of the system - of all systems - are abundant, though normalcy bias and cognitive dissonance prevent most from any meaningful understanding.

We could be days away from a complete tearing of the social fabric. Are you prepared? Do you even care?

The race to the bottom is accelerating, and there are no winners.

Here's the latest edition of the Keiser Report, for a glimpse into the kind of world in which we live:

Dow 15,273.26, -61.33 (0.40%)
Nasdaq 3,761.10, -7.16 (0.19%)
S&P 500 1,692.77, -4.65 (0.27%)
10-Yr Bond 2.61%, -0.04
NYSE Volume 3,403,673,000
Nasdaq Volume 1,791,265,125
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 3174-3322
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 258-38
WTI crude oil: 102.66, -0.47
Gold: 1,336.20, +19.90
Silver: 21.89, +0.30

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Cypriot Parliament Rejects Savings Levy; EU, ECB, IMF Relent

Congrats to the Cyprus parliament for calling the bluff on the EU, ECB and the IMF.

Shortly after noon EDT, the Cypriot parliament voted unanimously - in a rare show of anti-Euro solidarity - to reject the bailout plan proposed by the "troika" (EU, ECB, IMF) that would have imposed a tax on savers, a stark violation of the rule of law.

The plan called for a 9.9% tax on savings accounts in banks with holdings of more than 100,000 Euros, and a 6.5% levy on those under the 100,000 Euro threshold.

The vote had been delayed for two days, but, in the end, the parliament stood up for the welfare of the people and the sanctity of personal property rights, or, could it have been a reaction to a very real threat from retaliation from Russian oligarchs and mobsters (recognized as one and the same, in some circles)?

Much of the billions of Euros on deposit in Cypriot banks belong to Russians, a fact not lost on those who had the fate of their country and countrymen in their hands.

Whatever the case, the troika's gambit to impose a tax on savings accounts went up in flames, fabulously, though one has to fear that this was more of a test run for a future raid on the money held by individuals and companies in banks across Europe. So deep was the opposition that the parliament rejected the plan in toto, sending the ECB and IMF back to the drawing board.

The EU quickly issued a statement to the effect that it would use existing means to bailout the banks in Cyprus, and with them, the bankrupt government. Though nothing material was offered right away, all in Europe know that whatever solution the troika devises will be austere toward the general populace and kind to banks.

In the end, it will be the people who suffer most, as it has been in Greece, Portugal, Ireland and, to a lesser extent, Spain and Italy.

At one point during the back-and-forth of memos and media bites, one of the EU finance ministers quipped that Europe was two-thirds of the way through the crisis. Skeptics of the overall viability of the European Union will note that using 2008 as a baseline, the year 2014 would serve as an end to the crisis, otherwise meaning the collapse of the EU and the end of the Euro as a multi-national currency.

It doesn't get any stranger than in Europe, the dystopian nightmare conceived as a method to compete on a global scale which has devolved rapidly into an Orwellian series of meetings, dictums, bailouts, trial runs and sovereign failures.

America took the drama in stride, the markets stumbling through the early part of the session only to rally in the afternoon, though the crisis in Cyprus is still far from over. This was only act one of what will certainly be a three-to-five piece performance.

While it may be back to normal (whatever that means) for US and global markets for the next few days, the FOMC meeting of the Fed wraps up tomorrow at 2:00 pm EDT and the budget battle in the US congress continues to gain pace, with the Senate and House bills far from resolution.

As usual, congress will be out of session beginning March 25, though it must pass a continuing resolution by the 27th in order to forestall a government shutdown due to lack of funding. As in Europe, the nefarious machinations of government are never without a dramatic deadline. Thus, the remainder of the week will shift focus from the tiny island nation of Cyprus to the secluded denizens within the halls of congress.

For now...

Dow 14,455.82, +3.76 (0.03%)
NASDAQ 3,229.10, -8.49 (0.26%)
S&P 500 1,548.34, -3.76 (0.24%)
NYSE Composite 9,018.73, -26.71 (0.30%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,648,331,375
NYSE Volume 3,809,744,750
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 2643-3781
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 313-42 (shrinkage)
WTI crude oil: 92.16, -1.58
Gold: 1,611.30, +6.70
Silver: 28.84, -0.031

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Meandering Midweek Market

Mostly, investors were mulling over issues that developed over Monday and Tuesday, as nothing new really sufaced on Wednesday. Europe is still in an uncertain state, as is the US, but there was nothing really developing to move markets and the indices dropped popped, dropped and popped back to positive at the end of the session.

Focus will soon turn to the budget and sequester debates in the congress, though that exercise has already been well telegraphed by the players involved. More can-kicking will likely be the order of the day on both fronts, but it is likely to cause a temporary drag on markets.

Tomorrow's initial unemployment claims may cause some excitement, after ripping back up to 368,000 last week, but the biggest factor overall is still the relentless MBS buying and treasury monetizing by the Fed, at a pace of $85 billion per month, underpinning the market.

Until some change in policy occurs, the bets are all on black, the market continuing to climb, obviously a position tough to stand against.

Dow 13,986.52, +7.22(0.05%)
NASDAQ 3,168.48, -3.10 (0.10%)
S&P 500 1,512.12, +0.83(0.05%)
NYSE Composite 8,934.26, +14.12 (0.16%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,961,700,250
NYSE Volume 3,775,844,750
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 3577-2796
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 324-19
WTI crude oil: 96.62, -0.02
Gold: 1,678.80, +5.30
Silver: 31.88, +0.002

Monday, February 13, 2012

Greece Passes Austerity Measures; Obama Budget Goes to Congress; Apple Closes Above 500

Any angst over Greece's passing of their mandatory austerity measures was quickly dispelled by the markets on Monday. Most European bourses finished the day solidly in the green, and US markets followed suit, posting gains which pretty much eviscerated Friday's fear-induced declines.

Even though the austerity in Greece is a death-knell for the country and widespread rioting took place in the capitol of Athens and elsewhere, the globalist elements of the EU, ECB and IMF viewed the vote as a positive referendum on the overall health of the Euro system.

Realistically, Greece will never be able to repay its debts nor will it be able to accommodate all of the cuts to social welfare programs and government employment, but the parliament did what was most expeditious to secure financing from its feudal masters in Germany and keep the game going.

The scheme - from the view of the IMF, ECB and Angela Merkel - seems to be to keep Greece functioning as a neo-slave-state to keep the Euro from collapsing, and, thus far, it seems to be working. A disorderly default by the Greeks might just be the catalyst that destroys whatever unity is left in the EuroZone, an outcome the supra-governmental EU leaders will fight bitterly with truckloads of money (it doesn't matter how much, they'll just print more) and the current kind of kabuki theatre that is disguised as "austerity" for the free-spending Greeks.

Their fear is that Greece's demise could foment similar outcomes in Portugal, Ireland and elsewhere, particularly Spain and Italy, and the continental currency experiment of the Euro would come crashing down upon their collective heads. Problematic as it may be, the monetarists in Brussels are committed to spending whatever it takes to keep the EuroZone intact by relentless money printing and worry about the consequences of widespread poverty, inflation, social unrest and ultimately, a continent-wide depression, later. We wish them luck, mostly because they'll need it, as desperate as the situation has become.

Here in the States, President Obama submitted his 2013 budget to congress, where it was deemed by many (mostly Republicans seeking to unseat the president this fall) as dead on arrival. Obama's 3.8 Trillion monstrosity would reduce military outlays while hiking outlays to infrastructure projects and features higher taxes for the wealthy and a $1.33 trillion deficit, marking the fourth straight year that the federal budget deficit would top one trillion dollars, despite an Obama campaign promise from 2008 to cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term.

Investors shrugged off the details and went about their task of re-inflating the corporate sector, sending stock prices close to their highest levels of 2012, though volume on the NYSE was the lowest for a non-Holiday session in over a decade.

Oil closed above $100 per barrel, despite US gas consumption being historically weak and Apple (AAPL) closing above 500 per share for the first time in its history. Apple is currently the largest company in the world by market cap, surpassing oil giant ExxonMobil for the top spot.

The major indices followed their now-routine pattern of a gap-up open followed by a mid-morning decline and rally and a flat-lining finish.

Dow 12,874.04, +72.81 (0.57%)
NASDAQ 2,931.39, +27.51 (0.95%)
S&P 500 1,351.77, +9.13 (0.68%)
NYSE Composite 8,056.25, +64.22 (0.80%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,613,612,250
NYSE Volume 3,462,219,000
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 4236-1411
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 262-12 (par-tay!)
WTI crude oil: 100.91, +2.24
Gold: 1,724.90, -0.40
Silver: 33.72, +0.12

Friday, November 18, 2011

Rough Week for Stocks Ends Mixed; Markets Gripped by fear and Uncertainty

Despite some favorable economic news during the course of the week, market participants mostly shunned equities as Europe's ongoing crisis and the lack of a deal by the congressional super-committee kept money mostly on the sidelines or taking profits (and losses).

Since the US stock market has become more akin to a day-trading casino than an investment culture, traders now routinely react swiftly to breaking news and events, preferring to stay out of the way or grab quick profits as the tableau of international economic falderal unfolds. The week was marked by more speculation than actual news, as Italian and Spanish 10-year notes criss-crossed the 7% yield threshold and Germany continues to balk at being the savior of the Southern nations, even as Chancellor Angela Merkel admitted that her country was ready to cede some degree of sovereignty in order to salvage what's left of the European monetary union.

Germany holds the key to whether the decade-old European Union will survive, being the largest and strongest economy in the region. While Merkel has made pronouncements pleasing to her neighbors to the West and South, she is losing a degree of favor at home, as many Germans don't exactly share her views and dislike the role of Germany as the bailout nation for weaker economies.

Funding for Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain has become an issue so delicate and abstract that one solution offered was for the ECB to loan money to the IMF, which would then fund the ailing nations, though that kind of Ponzi scheme would only work to relieve the ECB of their presumptive role of being the "lender of last resort" such as the US Federal Reserve was during the 2008 crisis.

It's a touchy situation in Europe, with new governments in Italy and Greece, both tottering on the brink of default, though Greece's predicament - with no new funding coming soon - is degrees more perilous.

Here in the USA, congressional members have not exactly been forthright in their effort to reach a compromise on the roughly $1.2 trillion in budget cuts which was the mandated approach after the August debt ceiling debacle.

With the US public debt officially exceeding $15 trillion on Thursday and the prospects for another $1 trillion-plus deficit in the coming fiscal year, one would think that congress and their "super-committee" would have found some resolution before their November 23rd deadline, but, as usual, congressional members are deadlocked, mostly along party lines, with Republicans steadfastly refusing to approve anything which even smells like a tax hike and Democrats seemingly all too happy to allow the blame to accrue to their across-the-aisle counterparts.

With the deadline looming just five days ahead, members of the committee are pondering letting the deadline pass, which would trigger automatic spending-cuts, otherwise known as sequestration, though that approach is also riddled with question marks as some members have openly suggested that even those automatic cuts could be ripped asunder, primarily because of opposition to cuts to the Department of Defense.

The comedy of errors which began last Spring with the threatened shutdown of the federal government over budget issues threatens the US credit rating, already taken down a notch in August by Standard and Poor's. Failure to reach agreement might not engender another rating cut, though scuttling the previously agreed-to automatic cuts just might cause S&P to downgrade the US again.

Against this backdrop of a do-nothing congress without political will or wherewithal, and a fractured Europe an landscape, one can hardly blame traders for seeking the safety of cash or Treasuries. Volume on the stock exchanges this week has been dismal, exacerbated by a missing $600 million in investor funds courtesy of the recently-bankrupt MF Global. The fund, run by former Goldman Sachs CEO and New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, made heavy bets on European debt and found themselves in too deep. The current thinking is that MF Global used client funds to shore up losing positions before going belly-up, a practice that is wholly criminal.

However, since nobody ever goes to trial or jail for financial follies in the US, regulators are being very tight-lipped about the matter, even though reputations have already been badly tarnished and over half a billion dollars is either unavailable or lost.

For the week, the Dow Jones Industrials took it on the chin to the tune of a 357-point decline. The S&P 500 fell 50 points during the week, the NASDAQ down 106 points and the NYSE Composite off by 294 points, hardly a ringing endorsement during a week that ended with options expiration, normally the forebear of a rally.

Maybe, with all the hurt, pain, fear and uncertainty, the big money went short.

Dow 11,796.16, +25.43 (0.22%)
NASDAQ 2,572.50, -15.49 (0.60%)
S&P 500 1,215.65, -0.48 (0.04%)
NYSE Composite 7,282.47, +8.32 (0.11%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,754,685,000
NYSE Volume 3,679,453,750
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 3011-2563
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 40-128
WTI crude oil: 97.41, -1.41
Gold: 1,725.10, +4.90
Silver: 32.42, +0.92

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Rise and Fall of US Stocks All in One Day; Making a Budget and Sticking to It

The Markets

Stocks did an about-face midday on Tuesday, shaving away all of the morning gains as the afternoon wore on and word from Europe was mixed. The Dow Jones Industrials and S&P 500 each made a run at the lower end of their 50-day moving averages, hit resistance and failed, badly.

All of the averages made suspicious-looking early moves between 10 and 11 am EDT, hovered near the highs, made new highs around 2:00 pm and then fell remarkably into the close, with not even a hint of a closing bounce.

From a technical point of view, meeting resistance at the 50-day MA makes perfect sense and the indices will likely take another run at it in coming days, though it seems a hurdle too high to surpass, considering all of the significant headwinds facing companies (lowered earnings forecasts) and nations, especially those in the Eurozone - Greece, Italy, Portugal, Ireland - to say nothing about the current poor economic conditions in the USA.

Stocks have been mired in a basically directionless trading range for the better part of two months and that's making people even more nervous and keeping significant amounts of money out of stocks and into treasuries, corporate paper, cash and equivalents, gold and other tangible assets. The fear surrounding a default by Greece and the associated fallout to other European countries and banks has the market in a condition of near paralysis.

Until the sovereign debt issues are resolved one way or another, stocks will be unlikely to advance as investors are simply too afraid to stake out new, large positions.

On the data front, housing starts fell to a three-month low, from 601,000 annualized in July to 571,000 in August. With such a glut of cheap foreclosures and bank REO property on the market, in addition to the nearly 300,000 residential homes held by Fannie Mae, hope for a recovery by the end of this year are fading fast. With the onset of colder weather and the usual seasonal downturn, one could easily suggest that housing will dive even lower or bounce around the bottom until Spring of 2012 at the earliest. Of course, such numbers didn't faze Wall Street in the least. Optimists pointed out that building permits rose from 601K in July to 620K in August, though it's only a 3% move, barely more than a rounding error.

So, with Europe still a basket case and the US close behind, the markets are stuck in neutral, awaiting some kind of announcement from the FOMC, which began a two-day meeting today with a rate announcement due out tomorrow around 2:15 pm. The wording of the FOMC statement is unlikely to change dramatically, though many on the street believe the Fed will either outline some new policy such as "operation twist" in which they purchase longer-dated securities in order to drive long rates lower, or announce another round of quantitative easing, which would be dubbed QE3, though that concept, having already failed to goose the economy twice in the past two years, is unlikely to gather much traction within the Fed circle.

All should be expecting something from the Fed, even though many believe that they have exhausted nearly all of their policy tools.

Dow 11,408.66, +7.65 (0.07%)
NASDAQ 2,590.24, -22.59 (0.86%)
S&P 500 1,202.09, -2.00 (0.17%)
NYSE Composite 7,217.11, -17.52 (0.24%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,942,335,500
NYSE Volume 4,250,461,500
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 2261-4207
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 85-189
WTI crude oil: 86.89, +1.19
Gold: 1804.80, +26.30
Silver: 39.74, +0.09

Idea: Making and Sticking to a Budget

We've all heard forever that making a budget for household and/or business expenses and income is a smart and necessary step toward financial freedom and fiscal responsibility, but, taking our lead from Washington, few people seem able to keep the process honest or reach desired outcomes. Our federal government is probably the worst example of budgeting known to man, as the process is riddled with partisan politics, fudged calculations, unrealistic expectations and projections and extraneous falderol like earmarks, off-balance sheet expenditures and unfunded liabilities like Social Security and Medicare.

Household budgets are a bit simpler to make though not quite as difficult to keep. The best approach is to go for a monthly outlook, as most of us have recurring expenses that serve as a baseline. Things like utility bills, phone and cable bills, car payments, mortgage payments (though some of us have eliminated those recently) and credit card expenses come due at some time or another during the month and have to be paid in a reasonably timely manner.

After that, items such as food, clothing, entertainment, (liquor and cigarettes if so inclined) and other variable expenses should be calculated out on a monthly basis as best as possible. That way, one can readily see where overspending or potential savings might occur. The regular bills, known in the business world as "fixed expenses" aren't going to change much, if at all, month to month, and one will find that over time, even variable expenses don't bounce around very much.

Once one has all the monthly expenses lined up, then it's time to match it against income (if one still has any) and see how it balances out. If you are one of the lucky few who have an extra $5,000-$2,000,000 on the income side of the ledger, you can stop reading right here. You don't need a budget; you need a financial advisor or a beach house.

If, however, you're like most people, you'll see where all that money goes, and when you stop crying, you might find a little bit left over. Anything more than 10-20% above your monthly regular expenses would be a great sign. If you find yourself a few hundred dollars short each month, then there's work to do.

Where most people get into trouble is in making exceptions, overspending (usually caused by not thinking and acting on emotion), and bogus projections, like "I'll get a raise soon," or the classic fail, "when I start receiving Social Security checks..." as wishful thinking almost never returns positive results.

Another trap is not counting the little things that add up to big headaches without one noticing. Things like that morning latte - and doughnut, bagel, croissant or McDonald's McBiscuit - the extra tip for the heavenly lunch waitress or waiter, tolls, parking fees, snacks, bottled water, the occasional needed home item, more expensive gas than calculated, all contribute to budget busting in all but the most frugal environments.

There are remedies for those items, such as keeping receipts for everything or a log book exclusively for "little" expenses, but the best way is to take your monthly expense total and add 10% to it, calling it the miscellaneous expense column. If you're judicious and cautious, you'll find yourself spending less than that 10%, but it's doubtful it will add up to very much. The key concept is that every dime and dollar counts, even those $200 binge nights out with the guys or gals.

In the end, we'd all like to earn more and save more, the goal eventually being filthy rich and not having to worry about money any more. Since that's an unlikely event for the vast majority, taking a little time each month to review and preview income and expenses gives one a clearer outlook on where one's been, where one's money is going and what can be done about it.

There are an assortment of online tools and sites which can provide some assistance. Here's a good place to start, with brief reviews of some of the best budgeting websites.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Keeping your budget in order is easier on the web

With so much focus on money, finances and personal accountability, individuals need sphisticated ways to manage both their money and their time. From online brokerage accounts to credit cards and bank accounts, retirement accounts, 401Ks and the like, keeping track of where your is coming from and going to is a necessity.

The old fashioned paper budget and ledger has gone the way of the pocket calculator and slide rule. More and more people are turning to tools on the web to track and quantify their cash and investments.

One such web tool is a site called Mint, which is a free online service which allows you to add all of your important financial information into your own secure, customizable platform.

Users enter their bank account information, plus information on loans, credit cards, home equity lines, and other regularly-used accounts, such as a stock account.

Then, once it's all set up, the software pulls all the information together and keeps it updated, employing bank-level security so your information doesn't fall into the wrong hands.

The site offers a high level of reliability and a one-click experience to see where and how your money is being employed. There are additional tools, such as auto-generated charts of where your money is being spent, and a budget app that can be adjusted to suit a personal preference.

Spending too much on gas, or clothes? Set up the budget to limit those expenses and put more money into other areas.

Mint is a great free solution designed to assist everyone in managing their finances.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Obama Speaks, JP Morgan Pops, Stops, Feds Love Banks

Sometimes you just have to sit back and take it all in, which is precisely what marketeers did today after JP Morgan put out a bogus earnings report prior to the open, and President Obama put down a line in the sand for Republicans over upcoming budgets.

Market futures pointed higher prior to the open after JP Morgan Chase (JPM) announced 1st quarter results, saying they beat wall Street expectations of $1.15 per share with a resounding $1.28 in the quarter. This sent the major indices off to the races at the open, but as soon as discoveries were made that Morgan's earnings figure was boosted by a 0.29 per share reduction in credit loan loss reserves, things began to turn ugly, and in a hurry.

After opening up 62 points to the good, the Dow Jones Industrials were seeing red by noon. Likewise, JP Morgan's 62 cent gain turned into a 76 cent loss (45.88) at the low of the day, just after 2:00 pm EDT. By the close, Morgan and the Dow had regained some ground, though JPM still finished down 39 cents and was quoted lower in the after-hours.

Around 2:00 pm, President Obama offered a retort to Republican Paul Ryan's proposed 2012 budget plan in a speech at George Washington University. The President outlined plans for cuts in defense spending and saving in Medicare and reiterated his 2008 campaign pledge to scale back the Bush tax cuts, saying he went along with Republican plans to extend them last year only so he could save middle class taxes from rising.

Obama's plan, in simple terms plans to cut the budget deficit by $4 trillion over the next 12 years, keeping intact the two largest entitlement programs, Medicare and Social Security, which was not mentioned for any revisions.

While the president was speaking, markets gyrated in both directions, finally heading into the positive, though only slightly, by the close. At the very least, the president did a good job of setting the parameters for a budget fight that figures to be a battle royale on Capitol Hill through the summer and into the fall.

Even though the markets broke a four-day losing streak, gains were minimal, the up early, lower later signature of trading was straight out of the bear market playbook.

Dow 12,270.99, +7.41 (0.06%)
NASDAQ 2,761.52, +16.73 (0.61%)
S&P 500 1,314.41, +0.25 (0.02%)
NYSE Composite 8,367.31, +6.85 (0.08%)

Advancers took back the edge over decliners, 3493-2976, but new highs and new lows were split, with a 46-46 tie on the NASDAQ and new highs bettering new lows, 50-15 on the NYSE. Volume was, as usual, uninspired.

NASDAQ Volume 1,766,435,000
NYSE Volume 4,275,430,000

Commodities snapped back to life with WTI crude futures gaining 86 cents, up to $107.11 on the NYMEX, snapping two-days of delightful declines. Gold picked up a gain of $2.00, to $1,455.60, while silver added 17 cents to $40.24.

The budget deal worked out last Friday now appears to be ready to pass both houses without much dissent, though some members of both parties have signaled that they would vote against the measure due to ideological values. A vote is scheduled for the House on Thursday.

In other news affecting JP Morgan and its cohorts (the 14 largest US banks), federal regulators slapped the collective wrists of the banks, but imposed no sanctions, fines or plausible remedies to foreclosure and mortgage servicing problems which surfaced last fall during the "robo-signing" scandal.

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Office of Thrift Supervision, the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. issued the settlement after markets had closed.

"The review uncovered unsafe and unsound practices, violations of law and foreclosure processes geared toward speed and quantity, instead of quality and accuracy," the OTS said in a statement.
That qualifies as the understatement of the decade. Not a single banker or functionary has been indicted, nor have any of the banks in question been subject to any serious scrutiny over their abuses that likely deprived many homeowners of due process.

This "agreement" leaves conditions almost as they were, with the banks still holding all the cards and homeowners getting no relief. It is expected that foreclosures will proceed through the courts as they have, with judges scrutinizing individual cases for flawed paperwork and other transgressions routine to the practice of the banking cartel.

Without a workable framework, the process will likely bog down the real estate market for the next five to ten years, as title defects, lost notes, fraudulent assignments and other illegal practices are given a green light by the nation's regulators. Obviously, some things in Washington remain just the same, as regulators look the other way when it comes to their favorites sons and campaign contributors.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Stocks Take Another Hit, But, Why?

Major US indices fell for a fourth consecutive session - with the exception of the Dow, which eked out a 1-point gain on Monday - and there are likely several reasons why this downtrend has continued and actually accelerated, with the biggest drop coming today.

After all, it is the beginning of earnings season, and first quarter results are expected to be pretty good. But is the market looking down the road, or could investors be wary of margin squeezes caused by runaway commodity prices, or consumer depression caused by over-the-top gas prices?

One thing's for sure: the winter was a long and cold one, and nobody got a break from high heating bills in a majority of the heating states of the Northeast and Midwest. That certainly couldn't have helped household budgets much and a Gallup poll released today suggests that Americans are as displeased with current and future conditions as they were this time in 2009 and through the middle of 2010.

The poll showed that only 33% of respondents in March think the economy is "getting better." That's a drop from 36% in February and 41% in January.

Another possibility is that the now-month-old tragedy in Japan is also worsening, as officials raised the level of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant accident to 7, on a par with the disaster at Chernobyl, 25 years ago.

Perhaps the stock market wasn't really sold on the late-night budget deal reached on Friday night (We had expected this was only a continuing resolution and were right) and the potential that the deal could fall apart. Details are just beginning to trickle out that the cuts amount to much less than the $38.5 billion reported and that members of both parties, in bouth houses of congress, are displeased.

At Business Insider, Joe Weisenthal reports that the government might still shut down, this Friday. The AP has details from just where the phantom cuts are coming.

So, here we go again? The 2011 fiscal year ends September 30 (about 5 1/2 months from now), and the budget is still being trimmed, debated and flayed? This is no way to run a country, especially one as on the financial ropes as the USA. Get ready for more drama from the queens on Capitol Hill and at the White House.

The Hill has more detail on the cuts, which will go to a House floor vote on Thursday. The legislation is known as H.R. 1473, for those wishing to keep score at home.

Notwithstanding the aforementioned possibilities and potentialities, the Fed's ending of thier policy of handing over free money to Primary Dealers in June, via QE2, might be on the minds of many in the investment world. When that nearly $100 billion a month stops, so might Wall Street's 2-year-long party. In a related note, the Fed released it's schedule of banker handouts (POMO) for the remainder of April through May 12.

All of this news added up to some big drops in the equity markets, centered around just about 1% overall. Commodities were hit even harder (see below).

Dow 12,263.58, -117.53 (0.95%)
NASDAQ 2,744.79, -26.72 (0.96%)
S&P 500 1,314.16, -10.30 (0.78%)
NYSE Composite 8,360.46, -85.31 (1.01%)

Declining issues clobbered advancers again, 4883-1663, a nearly 3:1 ratio, the largest of the past four sessions. On the NASDAQ, new lows overtook new highs, 56-39, but it was the other way around on the stubborn NYSE, with new highs holding a slim edge over new lows, 41-20. A similar pattern was witnessed in March, with the new lows overtaking new highs on both indices for 4-6 days, but the supposed correction was cut short by a surprise rally that now seems to have run up against resistance and is failing fast. Volume was not spectacular, and would most accurately be described as moribund. Another few days of this, and another row over continuing funding to the federal government could put the kibosh on 2011 gains, short and long term.

NASDAQ Volume 1,798,176,500
NYSE Volume 4,735,433,500

Oil took another massive hit in price on Tuesday, with WTI crude futures falling $3.67, to $106.25, and even lower after NYMEX trading closed. That's a two-day drop of $6.52 per barrel and motorists can only hope the trend continues. There are a lot of speculators in the market, and estimates range from them making up anywhere from 10-40% of the oil price.

Of course, in a real world, with real world consequences coming from an actually-functioning Justice Department, that would otherwise be known as price-fixing. Since the Attorney General hasn't been seen in six or eight months, and is generally regarded as the worst ever, don't expect anything like even an investigation to commence any time soon. We hear the name of the AG is Eric Holder, but nobody's been able to confirm that.

Along with oil, a good number of food and grain commodities are coming off their highs. Corn, soybeans and wheat were down the most, with lean hogs and live cattle following the trend. Gold slipped $14.50, to $1,453.60. Silver fell 55 cents, to settle in at $40.07 per ounce.

It has been said that one day does not make a trend, and there's truth in that, but maybe four straight declines in major indices are significant enough for somebody to take notice. It's no secret that the US system is largely bankrupt and operating on fumes and smoke, so it might be just a matter of time for the markets to correct. Naturally, the meddling Fed has kept the rally going with oodles of cash, and just to be sure, they gave some to the wives of some already-rich bankers, as Matt Taibbi reports for Rolling Stone.

Fair warning: reading Taibbi's latest story might lead to vomiting or breaking of inanimate objects. Strap in securely, as this story reveals just how corrupt and unbalanced the entire bailout process has been and continues to be.

Paging Ron Paul, paging Ron Paul. The country is calling on you to run for president.