U.S. Economy

Little Hope for the Housing Market

Just when you thought the housing market couldn't get worse, it did.

New single-family home sales slumped 12.4% in July to a record-low annual rate of 276,000 units, as homebuyers shunned their realtors in the absence of government support. The consensus expectation was for a slight up-tick to a 333,000 unit annual rate, so I suppose it's time to throw out the models. Sales over the prior three months were also revised lower by 9,000 units.

No section of the country was spared, though the West led the parade with a 25.4% plunge. On a year-over-year basis, sales were down 32.4%, the fastest decline since April 2009.

New home inventories held steady at 210,000 units, the lowest level in 42 years, according to Ned Davis Research analysts. Low-to-medium-priced homes were in the most demand. Only properties in the $150,000 - $300,000 price range rose as a share of total sales. So median prices fell to the lowest level since 2003.

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Let's Make a Deal: How the Mergers-and-Acquisitions Boom Will Hurt the U.S. Economy

With its $39 billion hostile bid for Canada's Potash Corp. (NYSE: POT), mining giant BHP Billiton Ltd. (NYSE ADR: BHP) capped an active August in the mergers-and-acquisitions market.

With the moribund growth prospects of the U.S. economy, there would seem to be no great urgency for companies to go on an M&A spree, yet the total value of announced buyout deals for August alone has topped $175 billion.

Cynics are reaching only one conclusion: With interest rates so low and corporations so cash-rich, it seems that company management teams would rather do anything with that cash than to give it back to shareholders via stock buybacks or boosted dividends.

And those deals signal additional trouble ahead for the U.S. economy.



To understand the problems that this rampant dealmaking figures to cause, please read on...

Can the Obama Administration's New Stimulus Plan Revive the Housing Market?

Worries about the sorry state of the U.S. economy have officials from the Obama administration digging deep into their bag of tricks to stop the skid before it slips into a double-dip recession.

Their latest move was announced Sunday when Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan said the White House plans in the next few weeks to set up an emergency loan program for the unemployed and a government mortgage refinancing effort.

Despite all the monetary and fiscal firepower the U.S. Federal Reserve and the Treasury have deployed, economic growth has slowed to an agonizing pace. The slowdown has hit the housing market particularly hard, as evidenced by home sales that dropped to record lows in July.

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There's Reason to be Pessimistic about the U.S. Economy, but Never Panic

Pessimism increased again among investors last week, as a slew of economic data stoked fears of a double-dip recession.

Indeed, housing and unemployment continue to weigh on the U.S. economy. But don't panic. Remember that the prospects for a full economic recovery are much better outside the United States, and that it's often good to be greedy when others are fearful.

To find out more about the precarious state of the U.S. economy read on...


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Two Ways to Tell if the U.S. Economy is Ready to Get Back on its Feet

The U.S. economy has been crippled by the financial crisis. And regardless of what policymakers try to do to spur growth, it will hobble along lamely until two major economic pillars are rectified.

Simply put, there's no chance that stock investors will see a healthy, long-term bull market until credit again begins to flow freely and home prices start rising.

Unfortunately, neither the credit market nor the housing market is yet ready to lead a sustainable economic rebound. But knowing that these are the two legs on which our economy stands, we can effectively gauge their condition, and thus be better able to predict a stock market rally.

Let me explain.

To find out how you can effectively diagnose the economic recovery read on...

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Is the Bond Bubble About to Burst?

Bonds have provided a welcome safe-haven for investors seeking shelter from the financial maelstrom of the past two years. But now many analysts fear bonds have entered bubble territory and pose a rising threat to their holders.

The amount of money flowing into bonds is "probably not sustainable on a consistent basis" Joel Levington, managing director of corporate credit at Brookfield Investment Management Inc., told Bloomberg News. "Eventually it won't be sustainable. Whether that means five years from now or five weeks is a little difficult to tell."

Bond funds have attracted more investment than stock funds for 31 straight months, which matches the record streak that ran from 1984 - 1987. Bond funds attracted $559 billion in the 30 months through June, according to the Investment Company Institute (ICI). Meanwhile, investors withdrew $209.4 billion from U.S. stock funds and $24.4 billion from funds that buy foreign stocks.

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We Want to Hear From You: Are You Seeking 'Safe Haven' Shelter in the U.S. Bond Market?

Ongoing stock market worries and a string of discouraging economic reports have imbued the U.S. bond market with "safe-haven" status. The upshot: Investors have poured record amounts of money into bond funds.

"It is hard to pick up the newspaper and see anyone optimistic," Francis Kinniry from The Vanguard Group Inc., told Bloomberg News. "The problem is there is not a lot of good news on the recovery front and that translates in people's mind to poor capital markets."

Bond funds for the past two years have seen inflows almost as high as stock funds did during the Internet bubble, according to the Investment Company Institute (ICI). From January 2008 through June 2010, outflows from equity funds totaled $232 billion, while inflows to bond funds hit a staggering $559 billion.

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Three Ways to Brace for a Double-Dip Recession: Recession-Proof Stocks

Today (Friday) we conclude our series on bracing for a double-dip recession.

In Part I of this investment series, "Three Ways to Brace for a Double-Dip Recession: Going for the Gold," we discussed ways investors could safeguard against the imminent decline of the U.S. dollar by buying gold.

In Part II, "Three Ways to Brace for a Double-Dip Recession: Going Global," we explored potential investments in foreign countries that have more stable economies and better growth prospects.

And today, we're going to conclude by looking at "recession-proof" stocks right here in the United States.

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Money Morning Mailbag: Ending Bush Tax Cuts Not a Cure-All for U.S. Financial Woes

The question of whether or not to extend the Bush tax cuts will be a pivotal issue as Washington prepares for this year's midterm election.

The Congressional Budget Office yesterday (Thursday) reported that extending the tax cuts would result in only short-lived economic benefits.

"[It would provide] a considerable boost to economic activity in 2011 and beyond for a few years," CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf told CNN. "Over time, [however,] the negative consequences of very high federal borrowing build up."

The CBO reported that if the cuts for most U.S. taxpayers were made permanent - as proposed by U.S. President Barack Obama - the nation's accrued debt (not including money owed to Social Security and other government trust funds) could climb to 100% of gross domestic product by 2020, up from 62% this year.

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Investing Strategies: How to Protect Yourself if the U.S. Economy Catches the "Japan Disease"

Grim unemployment figures, growing worries about crushing debt loads and the apparent absence of any inflation are causing many investors to ask a tough question: Is the U.S. economy catching the "Japan disease," the dreaded and dreadful malaise that has left the onetime Asian powerhouse in a stagnant state since 1990?

It's a crucial question.

And the answer will guide your investment decisions for the next 20 years.

To find out the best investments to be making right now, please read on...

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Three Ways to Brace for a Double-Dip Recession: Going Global

The last time the U.S. economy suffered through a double-dip recession, this country was struggling to overcome the fallout from an Arab oil embargo, Vietnam War-era deficits, and an inflationary spiral that just wouldn't let go.

That 1981-82 double-dip downturn - the result of an economic "shock treatment" aimed at curing those ills - consisted of two recessions that were separated by a single quarter of growth.

The current backdrop is very different from the one that was in place back then, but the threat of a double-dip recession is no less real.

The world's No. 1 economy lost 8.4 million jobs during the recession that got its start in December 2007, making it the worst national downturn since the Great Depression and the biggest loss of employment since the end of World War II.

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Are Bonds a Bubble? Don't Bet on It

With the stock market unsteady, don't overlook the value of adding bonds to your portfolio. They provide income and are more reliable than equities.

Indeed, bonds have had a strong run up in the past decade - so strong, in fact, that many investors are afraid they've entered bubble territory. But not Albert Edwards, chief strategist at the old-school French bank Societe Generale SA (PINK: SCGLY).

Edwards isn't your typical white-shoe analyst. Guys in his position tend to have a perpetually optimistic worldview. Since they are in the business of selling the dream, they need to talk up assets. But Edwards is an iconoclast who is known as one of the dourer professional forecasters.

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Three Ways to Brace for a Double-Dip Recession: Going for the Gold

The last time the U.S. economy suffered through a double-dip recession, this country was struggling to overcome the fallout from an Arab oil embargo, Vietnam War-era deficits, and an inflationary spiral that just wouldn't let go.

That 1981-82 double-dip downturn - the result of an economic "shock treatment" aimed at curing those ills - consisted of two recessions that were separated by a single quarter of growth.

The current backdrop is very different from the one that was in place back then, but the threat of a double-dip recession is no less real. Indeed, with each passing week, and with every new economic report that comes out, the possibility that the U.S. economy will backslide into a double-dip recession seems to become more of a probability - or even a likelihood.

"For me a 'double-dip' is another recession before we've healed from this recession [and] the probability of that kind of double-dip is more than 50%," Robert Shiller, professor of economics at Yale University and co-developer of Standard and Poor's S&P/Case-Shiller home price indexes, told Reuters. "I actually expect it."

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The Headline You Never Expected: Foreign Growth Could Bail Out the U.S. Economy

During a period of increasingly worrisome headlines about the U.S. economy, there is one bright spot.

The rest of the world appears to be doing much better than we are.

In the long run, that's good news for the United States. Rapid world growth will eventually rekindle the economic fires here, producing a growth that is more balanced than the bubbles of 1995-2008.

Still, getting to that point will be a challenge, since - economically speaking - the home fires don't appear to be burning all that brightly.

To see how foreign growth could bail out the U.S. economy, please read on...


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Special Report: Why Investors Must Buy Gold … Before it Runs Away in Price

As gold hovers near $1,200 an ounce and pundits speculate about a "gold bubble," it's important for investors to remember that a mere decade ago the picture was very different.

In the year 2000, gold sat at an unimpressive annual average of $279 an ounce - a two-decade low. At that time, most analysts thought gold was finished as a monetary metal. They said its price would never recover and only kooks with tin hats would invest in it. I was one of the very few financial commentators publicly saying that gold was not only viable, but entering a long-term uptrend.

With the benefit of hindsight, we can all see that the consensus was wrong. Gold has performed remarkably against the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the Nasdaq Composite Index and U.S. real estate. The reason I was able to confidently forecast this result is because I ignore the 'certainties' determined by Wall Street consensus, and instead study the fundamental trends.

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