The Middle’s Not Where It’s At; Unemployment Blame Game; The Fed’s Milky White Problem

Stuck in the middle…

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The middle class is shrinking and that’s not necessarily a good thing. Studies done by the Pew Research Center show that between 2000 and 2014, the middle class actually shrank in 9 out of ten U.S. cities. Of the 229 U.S. cities cited in the study, the amount of households classified as middle class dropped in 203 of those cities. Sure, some of those households left their socioeconomic perches because they graduated to the upper class. But that’s mostly not the case. In fact, the middle class now makes up less than half the population in the cities studied while the income inequality gap keeps growing. That could trigger some ugly economic consequences. The wider the gap gets, the more it is likely to inhibit economic growth. At least that’s what some experts think. What’s worse is that children raised in areas that are predominantly low-income, are less likely to reach the middle class. In case you were wondering, the middle class is defined as a household that earns an annual income between 2/3 to two times the median income. In 2014, a three-person household was considered middle class if its annual income was between $42,000 to $125,000. The largest middle class populations were found to be in the good old midwest. I’m sure there is irony in there somewhere. The largest low-income populations were found to be in the southwest, particularly near the Mexico border, while the highest populations of upper class were found to be in the northeast and the west coast. No matter where you stand on the issue, it’s one that is going to figure prominently in the November elections.

On the Verizon…

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Image courtesy of xedos4/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Nothing like unemployment numbers to ruin an otherwise pleasant Thursday. The number of first time applicants rose by 20,000 to a grand total of 294,000 seeking jobless benefits. Unfortunately it marked the third straight week of increases of first-time applicants. But at least that number was still below the 300,00 mark  – for 62 weeks straight, mind you  – so the situation isn’t that alarming. Well, except maybe for those who find themselves out of work. Also, economists are actually pointing the finger at Verizon – or rather the 40,000 Verizon workers who went on strike back in April. They are likely the ones who have applied for jobless benefits while on strike.  Economists predicted that the number of applicants would fall to about 270,000, which makes perfect mathematical sense if you figure that the Verizon strike is apparently responsible for that unwelcome surge and without it the numbers would have dropped.

White as a sheet…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Fed’s been taking a lot of heat lately. And some of that heat has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that it hasn’t raised rates, yet again. Instead, top lawmakers penned a letter to Janet Yellen and company calling out the lack of diversity at the Central Bank which is “disproportionately white and male.” Ha! Who would have thought the Central Bank and the Academy Awards have something in common? Signed by 116 members of the House and 11 senators, the letter expressed disappointment over the Fed’s failure to “represent the public” and would like it to consider a number of factors, including race, when filling posts in the future. The letter did, however, praise Yellen for her strong leadership. So props to her on that. So just how disproportionately white and male is the Fed? Well, of the five current Fed governors, all of them are white. However, to be fair, two of them are women, including Janet Yellen, who happens to be the first women to head the Central Bank in its 100 year history. If that’s not disproportionately white and male, then I don’t know what is. Since monetary policy strongly correlates with hard-working Americans of every ilk, it does seem odd that the Fed is primarily made up of mostly one ilk. Give or take. At least minorities make up 24% of regional Fed bank boards. While that’s not an ideal representation, it’s still a 16% increase from 2010.

 

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Taser International Shocks Wall Street; Marissa Mayer’s Having a Plentiful Year; Laboring Away

Zap to it…

Image courtesy of digitart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of digitart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Nothing like accountability to drive earnings up. The big winner amongst the civil unrest that has been infecting our country is Scottsdale-based Taser International. The company just reported strong first quarter earnings that beat expectations. The company reported revenue of $44.8 million with earnings per share of 13 cents, while analysts only expected 7 cents on $40 million in revenue. News of the boffo earnings even sent shares of the company up nearly 10% at one point today. Maybe analysts haven’t seen the news lately, because a lot of that came from Taser’s Axon body cameras  – yeah, they make those too – which, given all the unfortunate events involving law enforcement, are rapidly gaining in popularity. It seems everybody wants law enforcement to don those body cameras from lawmakers to average citizens.Yes, it’s hard to believe it wasn’t just the zappers that led to those great first quarter earnings.  In fact, Taser’s products are so hot lately (no pun intended) that shares are up 83% for the year.

Going green…

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Marissa Mayer had a very good year. Well, in her bank account anyway. However, it could have even been better. The Yahoo chief pulled down about $42 million for 2014, only getting a little more than half of her $2 million target bonus and and close to 70% of her stock awards. She could have made more. A lot more. Like way over $12 million more. Like more than $55 million in total. But, alas, the company stock didn’t do as well hoped. Oh well. Maybe next year. The way it works over at Yahoo, and presumably many other companies like it, is that folks like Ms. Mayer get paid according to how well they perform and if they are able to meet certain goals set by the board. She didn’t exactly meet them but she is not exactly hurting either. Since she took the helm at the company in 2012, Yahoo’s stock more than doubled. It also helps that Yahoo has a big chunk of Alibaba Group, which helped bring in some that $42 million. As for 2015, the Yahoo chief isn’t expected to take in as much since some of that bonus cash was from one time stock and option awards. But she’ll likely still have more than enough for a rainy day.

Labor gains…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Looks like there are a lot less people filing for unemployment benefits, according to the Department of Labor.  In fact, it’s been 15 years since numbers like this have even graced our fickle little economy. The number of people collecting unemployment checks for the very first time fell 34,000 to 262,000 applicants.  Analysts expected that number to be closer to 290,000 people. Employers even added 126,000 people to the payroll. Even the number of people who collect unemployment checks took a nice welcome dive by about 74,000 to 2.25 million people. That’s another figure that hasn’t been this low in almost fifteen years. All that aggravation over March’s numbers that gave us such fiscal economic anxiety turned out to be much ado about nothing. Well, it wasn’t nothing, but at least we can relegate it to a bad, distant memory.

Nasdaq’s Getting Crafty; Costco’s Earnings Knock it Out of the Warehouse; Labor Market Laboring

How crafty…

Image courtesy of sattva/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of sattva/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Etsy is looking to join the big kids on Wall Street. The online marketplace for all things crafty is looking to score $100 million for its IPO but that number could go much much higher. Brooklyn-based, Etsy, which would trade on Nasdaq under the ticker symbol ETSY (catchy, no?) was founded in 2005 and by 2014 it pulled in $195 million in revenue, a 56% increase over the previous year. Half of that revenue, though, comes from transaction fees. Plenty of that revenue also comes from the services it sells to its sellers, which are basically, payment processing, shipping labels and promoted listings. Impressive numbers definitely, but the company is spooking investors since it also took in a $15 million net loss last year and expects its operating expenses to “increase substantially.” Yikes. So yeah, that little tidbit puts a damper on things. Etsy currently has about 1.4 million sellers with close to 20 million buyers.

Are you even surprised?

Image courtesy of photoraidz/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of photoraidz/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Costco came out with its quarterly earnings, easily topping analysts’ predictions and if that is at all shocking to you then clearly you have never stepped foot inside one of its 671 warehouses dotting the world. News of the good earnings sent shares rising today 2.5% and why shouldn’t it? The stock went up 30% during 2014 and is already up 10% this year. And while the strong dollar has been playing some nasty little fiscal tricks with its earnings, the third largest retailer still managed to nail $598 million in profit at $1.35 a share on $27.5 billion in revenue. Analysts were only expecting $1.18 on $27.65 billion in revenue. It should be duly noted that some of that profit came courtesy of a $57 million tax benefit over a special dividend from last month. But it should also be duly noted that same store sales were up 2% and sales up 8%. These earnings come on the heels of Coscto’s AmEx breakup and its new contracts with Citigroup and Visa. Now it even has plans to sell a Kirkland Signature Chevrolet truck – a particularly handy vehicle for your average Costco run.

LinkedOut…

Image courtesy of  winnond/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of winnond/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

For some not-so-pleasant news on the labor market we look no further than the Labor Department who just shared with us that the number of people seeking jobless claims for the first time rose to a seasonally adjusted 320,000 for the week ending February 28, adding an unwitting 7,000 applicants. That leaves us with close to 2.5 million people getting jobless benefits and that’s the highest number it’s been since May. Analysts actually expected that number to fall to under 300,000. Some people might even be wondering, “Hmmm. What seems to be going on with this fickle little job market of ours?” Excellent question. Naturally weather always makes a good scapegoat for this sort of thing. But otherwise, the Labor Department couldn’t really pinpoint any one reason why that offensive number reared its ugly unwanted head once again. Last week, that number also rose instead of going back down to a cozy semi-acceptable spot below the 300,000 mark. Experts were hoping that it was just a little labor market hiccup that would correct itself by this week. It didn’t.

Morgan Stanley Finally Owns Up to All the Trouble It Caused; It’s a Darn Claim Unemployment Filings Are Up; Sears is Losing It

It was just a matter of time…

Image courtesy of  dream designs/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of dream designs/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Morgan Stanley is taking a bit of a beating today on Wall Street now that it has finally finally settled with the Department of Justice over its shady little role leading up to the 2008 financial crisis. Morgan Stanley reached a deal with the DOJ  that’ll have the bank paying $2.6 billion to get Uncle Sam off its back.  Attorney General Eric Holder and the DOJ will graciously end their probe into whether Morgan Stanley duped investors by telling them how very great their home loans were when in fact, they were anything but. This settlement is sure to put a major dent in MorganStanley’s 2014 profits. By major, I mean it’ll eat up nearly 50% of what MorganStanley got to take home in 2014. It officially lands Morgan Stanley on that illustrious list of banks who also had to shell out billion dollar settlements to the DOJ for their smarmy actions leading up to and during the 2008 financial crisis, including  – but not limited to –  Bank of America who reigns the top spot with a $16.7 billion payout. It’s followed by JPMorgan Chase which holds the number two spot for its $13 billion settlement. Citigroup rounds out the group with a $7 billion settlement.

Don’t stake this claim… 

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The number of people filing jobless claims went up. Not down. But up. The number climbed to 313,000 people instead of a projected 290,000. While the news is a bit of drag, economists  – who presumably know a thing or two  – are telling us that we can’t work ourselves up into a collective panic over one month’s lousy numbers. At least for now, anyway. First, the number of people filing those claims is still relatively close to the 300,000 mark. If it were way past that number, then yeah, having a fiscal freak out might be considered almost acceptable. Two, the labor market’s rockin’, sort of, and hiring is strong, which brings us to reason number three. Because hiring is strong, wages are actually going up. Walmart, TJ Maxx, Gap…the list goes on as to how many retailers are raising its employees’ wages. All these factors allow us to almost ignore this fiscal hiccup. However, leave it to Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen to remind us that, “wage growth remains sluggish” and that there’s always room for improvement.  You don’t say.

Loser…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sears isn’t having a very good year. Actually it hasn’t had a good year in…well, many many years. It just reported its fourth straight year of losses with this quarter losing $159 million and $1.50 per share. Incidentally, that figure is not nearly as dismal as last year’s $358 million fourth quarter loss. So you see, there is a bright side. Sort of. Run by the The Hoffman Estates, which also runs Kmart, the company has tried just about everything to help the ailing retailer reverse its downward financial spiral. From store closures to slashing inventory, the retailer has tried countless ways to cut costs. The company closed over 230 stores in 2014 and today has over 1,700 stores, which sounds impressive. But you know what’s more impressive? The over 3,500 stores the company had five years ago. The latest plan is to spin off between 200-300 stores into a REIT, which stands for Real Estate investment trust, by the way. The idea is apparently going to allow the failing company to pick up some $2 billion and help turn the fiscal tide. But if you want to know how exactly that works you’re on your own.

Happy Über New Year; DOJ: You’re Up, Morgan Stanley; Labor Department Jobless Claims are New Year’s Bummer

Year end surge…

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A heads up to all of you located in cities where Über is actually allowed to operate: Über is getting ready to ring in the New Year with some price surging. Of course, Über prefers the less obvious term, “dynamic pricing.” Just don’t expect to see any dynamic pricing for the rider, who might very well be paying as much as seven times the usual fare if the service is used between 12:30 am and 2:30 am. New Year’s is expected to be the busiest night of the year for the ride-sharing app, and many other services similar to it, due to the heightened demand on this particularly auspicious day. On its blog, the folks at Über said they are expecting to give more than 2 million rides in a 24 hour period and you’re best bet for the service is to call right when the ball drops or if riders are feeling especially adventurous, they should wait until after 2:30 am. Über also offered to graciously  – and economically – text riders to let them know when surge pricing – excuse me, I meant to say “dynamic pricing”  – ends.

Unsettled business…

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s Morgan Stanley’s turn to tangle with the DOJ in an effort to reach a settlement for Morgan Stanley’s role in the 2008 financial crisis. Like its peers, including JPMorganChase, Bank of America, Citigroup, etc…Morgan Stanley is also staring down the wrong end of a DOJ investigation for its role in getting New Century Financial Corp to issue subpime mortgages. Apparently, the bank knew that homeowners would have a hard time paying mortgages but still issued them anyways. Well, that didn’t work out for anyone, now did it? Incidentally, New Century went bust following a bankruptcy filing back in 2007.

Wishing you an employment-filled New Year…

Image courtesy of nonicknamephoto/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of nonicknamephoto/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Leave it to the Labor Department to help ring in the new year with some disappointing news: namely that the number of people filing jobless claims rose last week by 17,000. While the total number of people still remains below the 300,000 mark (just barely), we are still left with 298,000 making a New Year’s resolution to get a job (we hope, anyways). Analysts actually only expected that number to hit 290,000, but, oh well. Can’t accurately predict ’em all. But we are supposed to be reassured by the fact that this time of year brings with it good tidings of volatile claims and all fiscal signs still point to a decent economic recovery and climate. Also, the four-week average, which tends to be more accurate, was only up by 250. So maybe it’s okay to breathe a little little sigh of relief.

South Korea Puts Brakes on Über With Indictment; Walmart Raises Spirits and Paychecks; Jolly Jobless Claims Numbers

U-bummer….

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In what is yet another roadblock in the tech saga we call Über, South Korea has now entered the fray. Except this time there’s a twist because South Korea actually indicted Über CEO Travis Kalanick along with his local Korean business partner MK Korea Co. instead of just ceasing operations of the ride-sharing app, like all the other locales have been doing.  And like all the other countries, states and cities that have been putting the kibosh on the service, South Korean officials argue that Über is violating transportation law  – only this time, by allegedly using rental cars to run its business, apparently a major no-no in those parts. This latest snarl only adds to Über’s growing list of infractions, lawsuits, infringements, etc. The penalty for this latest hiccup, assuming Kalanick and his business partner are found guilty, is up to two years in prison or an $18,000 fine. Ironically, that $1.2 billion Über just got to help expand into Asia ought to help cover that fine, not to mention the legal expenses that are about to mount in China, where law enforcement officials raided an Über “training” facility. But at least back in the states things are looking up in Portland, Oregon, sort of. Even though Über operations were almost immediately halted after its launch there, the company was told to sit tight for three months while the city revamps its taxi rules, presumably to allow Über to fit right in.

And to all a good raise…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Over 1.3 million Walmart employees can expect a few more dollars in their paychecks, provided they are among the retailer’s minimum-waged. The biggest private employer in the US will be giving wage increases in nearly a third of its stores, located in 21 states, effective January 1, to comply with new federal guidelines. The three lowest pay grades, including cashiers, cart pushers and maintenance workers will now be combined into one base-level and the gap between the premium paid for higher-skilled workers and the minimum wage will become that much smaller. Walmart has taken a lot of slack for the low wages it has been known to pay and not for nothing as low-paid Walmart employees already collect $2.66 billion annually in government assistance.

Jolly jobless numbers…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

While the previously-owned housing market provided us with a very unwelcome and December buzz-killing decrease, the drop in the number of jobless claims filed almost makes up for that. In fact, 9,000 less people filed applications for jobless claims, bringing the total to 280,000 applicants –  making it the lowest number in seven weeks. Not only are employers not firing but they are hiring – even adding 321,000 jobs to the labor force. If that’s not merry, then I don’t know what is. By the way, a number under 300,000 is cause for celebration.  So take that, previously owned housing market! What this means for you, me and your neighbors who outdid you with their Christmas lights display is that the job market and the economy are both steadily improving. So let us all thank the Labor Department for doing its part to shame those housing numbers and giving us some good fiscal cheer.

Is Justin Bieber Set to Become Silicon Valley’s Newest Titan?; Microsoft Has “Taxing” Scuffle With Chinese; Not Thankful for Jobless Claims Number

Smile and say Bieber!

Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Looks like Twitter is going shopping this holiday season. It also looks like Twitter CFO Anthony Noto could use a comprehensive tutorial on how his company’s platform works. The social media exec publicly tweeted about a potential acquisition, which judging by the context, was actually meant as a private message. Of course, the internet universe went into overdrive speculating which company was the subject of the accidental tweet. The mystery was solved when CNBC reported that the company in question is none other than Shots, a selfie app backed by Justin Bieber. How convenient for him. And while it may be difficult for some (many) to stomach that Justin Bieber stands to make a fortune from an industry dominated by geniuses, know that the app already has 3 million users, 2/3 of whom are women under the age of 24.

Taxed out…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Microsoft is in really big trouble. Like $150 million worth of trouble. According to a report by the Chinese state-run Xinhua News Agency, Microsoft, while not specifically named, but rather referred to as “Corp. M”  has to pay $150 million in back taxes and interest. A source, who is not officially allowed to speak about it publicly, (but spoke about it anyways, presumably in private, to someone who then made it public) confirmed that Corp. M is indeed Microsoft. Along with car manufacturers, GlaxoSmithKline, other tech companies – the list goes on, that have had actions taken against them, Microsoft is being accused of tax evasion because its China subsidiary reported losses while other players in the field did not. Hmm. China says Microsoft was moving the profits offshore. Of course, Microsoft disputed all this and says the settlement actually has to do with a “bilateral advanced pricing agreement” and not back taxes. By the way, back in May China banned Windows 8 from being installed on public computers. Just saying.

Thanksgiving downer…

Image courtesy of hywards/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of hywards/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Not that I’m trying to put a downer on your holiday weekend, but jobless claims are up. If you think that sucks, be thankful that you’re not among the jobless. And if you are, my apologies. The number of claims increased by 21,000 to 313,000 claims, according to the always-good-for-a-downer Labor Department. That’s the highest number in three months. Analysts actually predicted a drop to about 288,000 claims. The number of people, however, receiving jobless claims dropped by 17,000 to 2.32 million people. So it’s not all bad. Besides, there really is no need to freak out, just yet, anyways, since the holiday season has just begun and for some reason that means those gosh-darn numbers aren’t as ominous as they would be at other times during the year.