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DailyFinance.com

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    Financial Markets Wall Street
    Richard Drew/AP
    By Noel Randewich

    NEW YORK -- Wall Street ended sharply lower Thursday as weak earnings reports from media companies stirred fears that more viewers are ditching cable TV, dragging the sector to its worst two-day loss since the financial crisis.

    The sell-off was compounded by nervousness ahead of key employment data Friday that could provide clues about the timing of the first Federal Reserve interest rate hike in almost a decade.

    Viacom (VIAB) fell 14.2 percent to its lowest in almost four years after reporting lower-than-expected quarterly revenue due to weakness in its cable TV business. Walt Disney (DIS) was off 1.8 percent and down for a second session after it lowered profit guidance Tueday for its cable networks unit.

    All the media stocks are down and it seems people just want to get out of the sector at any cost and take any loss.

    The S&P 500 media index lost 2.1 percent and notched its biggest two-day fall since November 2008, with Time Warner (TWX), Comcast (CMCSA) and CBS (CBS) all in the red and Twenty-First Century Fox (FOXA) down 6.4 percent.

    "All the media stocks are down and it seems people just want to get out of the sector at any cost and take any loss," CLSA analyst Vasily Karasyov said.

    Viacom's results and Disney's warning put the spotlight on a trend of viewers shifting from cable TV to Internet-based services such as Netflix (NFLX), which rose 2.2 percent.

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) fell 0.7 percent to end at 17,419.75 and the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC lost 0.8 percent to 2,083.56. The Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) dropped 1.6 percent to 5,056.44, its biggest one-day tumble since early July.

    Eight of the 10 major S&P sectors were lower, with the health index's 2.1 percent fall leading the decliners. Allergan (AGN) fell 5.1 percent after the Irish drugmaker reported a second-quarter loss.

    In other earnings-driven stock moves, Tesla (TSLA) fell 8.9 percent and Keurig Green Mountain (GMCR) slumped as much as 29.8 percent after reporting disappointing numbers.

    Investors were also jittery ahead of the release of U.S. non-farm payroll numbers, which are expected to have risen by 223,000 in July, matching gains in June.

    The Fed has said it will raise rates only when it sees a sustained recovery in the economy.

    Higher Earnings, Lower Revenues

    After the bell, Zynga (ZNGA) fell 6 percent after it posted a disappointing quarterly report.

    With about three-quarters of the S&P 500 companies having reported, second-quarter earnings are estimated to have increased 1.6 percent while revenues are projected to have fallen 3.4 percent.

    However, valuations look stretched. The S&P 500 is trading at a 25 percent premium to its historical median price-to-sales ratio, Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at BMO Private Bank said in a note to clients.

    In Thursday's session, declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a rate of 1.47 to 1. On the Nasdaq, that rate was 2.46 to 1 favoring decliners. The S&P 500 index posted 18 new 52-week highs and 44 new lows; the Nasdaq composite saw 64 new highs and 169 new lows.

    About 7.8 billion shares changed hands on all U.S. exchanges, well above an average 6.77 billion in the past five sessions, according to BATS Global Markets data.

    -Tanya Agrawal and Lehar Maan contributed reporting.

    What to watch Friday:
    • The Labor Department releases employment data for July at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time.
    • The Federal Reserve releases consumer credit data for June at 3 p.m.
    Earnings Season
    These selected companies are scheduled to release quarterly financial results:
    • Cablevision Systems (CVC)
    • Groupon (GRPN)
    • Hershey (HSH)
    • Southeby's (BID)
    • Whitewave Foods (WWAV)

     

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    Family shouting on mountain
    Getty ImagesPlaying with your grandchildren can help to keep you active in retirement.
    By Tom Sightings

    No one admits that they want to be labeled or put into a box. It seems so confining. But, actually, most people do. It gives them an identity, and a group where they fit in.

    Here are 10 basic retirement lifestyles, some with a bit of tongue-in-cheek. But face it, if you're retired, you probably fit at least partially into one of these categories. If you're not retired, maybe this will give you an idea of what to expect after you hand in your papers and accept your gold watch.

    Traveler. You've already been to the national parks and Europe. You like to read articles about travel to exotic places. Now you're looking to expand your horizons and hit some of the must-see destinations like the Pyramids, the Great Wall or Machu Picchu. Next you'll be trying a different twist on the standard European vacation, perhaps venturing to Latvia or Romania. And instead of just visiting France or Spain, you could take a river cruise on the Loire or walk the Camino de Santiago.

    Social butterfly. A book club simply isn't enough. Perhaps you belong to three book clubs, or bridge or lunch clubs. You feel like a failure if you find yourself at home more than one or two nights a week. You like to dance, party and go to meetings. It doesn't really matter the topic. You just like to have places to go and people to see.

    Loafer. You're a type B personality. You like to watch TV, are a voracious reader and could spend hours listening to music. You are at your happiest when wearing a t-shirt and slippers or padding around the house barefoot, feeling comfortable and content.

    Dreamer. No matter where you are physically, your mind is somewhere else. Maybe you're planning a vacation, researching the place where you're going to retire or trying to decide on a political cause to get involved in. Your fantasy life is so active that there isn't much time to actually carry out your plans. That's OK. Your mind is occupied, you're not spending too much money and you're safe from the dangers of the world.

    Artist. You carry a camera everyplace you go, and your walls are covered with photographs. They are big and small, color and black and white, pretty sunsets, stately architecture and sharp-angled abstracts. Or maybe you're into knitting, crocheting, painting or woodwork. You might spend your weekend prowling around arts festivals, or maybe your work is featured on Etsy.

    Athlete. Maybe you play in the over-50 softball league, go hunting with your buddies or play tennis at the club. Whatever the sport, it is what you live for. Then there's the golfer who takes the game a little further than the casual player. Finally, there's the fan. He's got the hat, jersey, license plate and season tickets. He's in a league of his own.

    Worker. Some people never retire. They love their work. Sometimes their colleagues are their friends, while other people just don't want to sit around at home. If forced to retire, you plan to find another job. You might spend your retirement years consulting, offering your services to a nonprofit or down in the basement working on a craft or home improvement project.

    Stock market guru. You read Barron's and The Wall Street Journal. You watch Bloomberg and CNBC. You know about alpha and beta, price-to-earnings ratios as well as all the trendy new products. Every evening you log onto a financial website and check the balance in your IRA or 401(k). Win or lose, you know you are on top of things.

    Volunteer. You usually focus on one particular cause. Maybe it's your church, where you volunteer on the auction committee, help out at the church rummage sale, sing in the choir and spend Sundays as a deacon. Or maybe you're a volunteer fireman, or a member of the Lion's Club or Kiwanis Club. You're directing traffic at the Fourth of July celebration, grilling hamburgers at the club picnic and serving dinners at the annual fundraiser. You enjoy helping out your community, and you know everyone in town.

    Professional grandparent. She babysits the grandchildren two or three times a week. He has installed swings, play sets and ball fields in his backyard. You live down the street from your children. You see no greater joy in life than spending time with your family.

    Tom Sightings blogs at Sightings at 60.

     

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    Mature Woman Looking at Household Bills
    Getty Images
    By Mark Miller

    CHICAGO -- Retirees are facing a double whammy next year: no inflation adjustment in their Social Security benefits and a whopping 52 percent jump in certain Medicare premiums.

    The Medicare premium hikes will hit only 30 percent of beneficiaries: those who aren't protected from a "hold-harmless" provision in federal law that prohibits any premium hike that produces a net reduction in Social Security benefits. But the increases suggest strongly that the recent trend of moderate health care inflation is ending.

    Social Security Changes

    Final figures for 2016 won't be available until the fall, but the recent annual report of Social Security's trustees projects that there won't be any cost-of-living adjustment next year.

    The COLA is determined by averaging together third-quarter inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers. Inflation has been flat due to collapsing oil prices.

    The forecast underscores the need for a better gauge of the health care inflation that disproportionately affects seniors.

    Advocates have argued for years that an alternative, the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly, would do just that.

    If the CPI-E had been in place from 1985 to 2014, Social Security benefits last year would have been 6.5 percent higher than they are today, according to an analysis by J.P. Morgan Asset Management.

    The Health Care Front

    Health care inflation has been quiet lately -- annual growth in total Medicare spending averaged 4.1 percent from 2010 to 2014, compared with 9 percent from 2000 to 2010 -- even though the number of enrolled beneficiaries rose.

    But renewed cost pressures are pointing toward much higher Medicare premiums starting next year, according to the Medicare trustees' annual report.

    Consider the monthly premium for Part B (outpatient services), which has stayed at $104.90 for the past three years. The Medicare trustees projected that the premium will jump 52 percent, to $159.30 for beneficiaries who aren't protected by the hold-harmless provision.

    That would include anyone enrolled in Medicare who isn't yet taking Social Security benefits due to a decision to delay enrollment. It also would include new enrollees in Medicare next year. (The increase also would be applied to low-income beneficiaries whose premiums are paid by state Medicaid programs).

    High-income retirees -- another group that isn't protected by the hold-harmless provision -- also will be hit hard if the trustee projections hold.

    Affluent seniors already pay more for Medicare Part B and also Part D for prescription-drug coverage. This year, for example, higher-income seniors pay between $146.90 and $335.70 monthly for Part B, depending on their income, rather than $104.90.

    The Medicare trustees now project that to jump even more.

    "When you combine it all, it's looking pretty ugly," says Sharon Carson, a retirement strategist at J.P. Morgan Asset Management.

    Higher costs for the affluent look like a trend that could accelerate further. The recently passed "doc fix" legislation (which corrects long-standing problems with reimbursement rates to physicians) shifts a higher percentage of costs to higher-income seniors starting in 2018.

    Seniors with incomes of $133,000 to $160,000 would pay 65 percent of total premium costs, rather than 50 percent today. Seniors with incomes between $160,000 and $214,000 would pay 80 percent, as they do today.

    "Congress will probably go back to that well again," predicts Carson, and she thinks one possible outcome will be lower income thresholds.

    More Impact

    Medicare premiums aren't the only area where seniors may feel the impact of impending health care inflation. The median health care cost for a 65-year-old in 2014 was $4,400, according to recent J.P. Morgan research; the firm expects those costs to rise at an annual rate of 6.1 percent over the next 20 years, to $17,000 at age 85 (the costs include Medicare Part B, Part D, and Medigap premiums, out-of-pocket expenses, and vision and dental services.)

    If you want to be prudent in your retirement planning, Carson advises assuming inflation of 7 percent going forward. Coping strategies include keeping at least some portion of your portfolio in equities well into retirement, and taking steps to minimize ordinary income, with an aim to stay out of the high-income premium surcharge brackets.

    "The common wisdom is to withdraw money from the IRA or 401(k) last," says Carson. "But doing some of that in the early years -- or doing some Roth conversion -- can help."

    (The writer is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)

     

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  • 08/06/15--22:00: 3 Worst Things to Buy Online
  • Filed under: , , , ,

    3 Worst Things to Buy Online

    By Andrea N. Browne

    Shopping online certainly has its advantages. You can easily compare prices without having to leave your home, and you can quickly search the Web for coupon codes to score bigger discounts. And, of course, your purchases can be delivered to your doorstep.

    While convenience is a huge plus, sometimes it is smarter to make purchases in person rather than online. For starters, you can judge the quality of a product better. You also don't have to worry about paying those pesky shipping fees. And for certain items, it can be much more effective to haggle over price face-to-face.

    Here are three things that you probably shouldn't buy online:

    Groceries

    Ordering groceries online can save you the hassle of a trip to the supermarket. But if you are picky about your purchases and want to ensure that you're getting the choicest meats, fruits and vegetables, you should go to your local grocer and select everything yourself.

    Also, buying groceries online can be more expensive. For example, Peapod can charge $10 or more to delivery groceries from your local supermarket. And don't count on Amazon to undercut the competition. Our research found that warehouse clubs and grocery chains beat Amazon's prices on most food items.

    Bicycles

    If you're in the market for a new bike, the Internet is a great place to do research. But when it comes time to buy, most cyclists will want to visit a bike store in person to test-ride a few models. In particular pay attention to size. To get the most out of a new bike that might cost you hundreds or even thousands of dollars, it should be tailored to your measurements.

    Keep in mind too that it can be an inconvenience to get warranty repairs done on a bike ordered online. You'll need to pack it up and ship it to the seller or manufacturer. With a locally purchased bike, you can simply take it over to the shop to get the work done.

    Furniture

    There are several reasons to think twice about ordering furniture online. Start with shipping. Many Web retailers levy a delivery surcharge on top of the standard shipping fee. Typically, the larger the item, the higher the surcharge. Brick-and-mortar stores usually just charge a single fee for delivery. And you'll have a better shot at getting the delivery fee reduced or waived, not to mention getting a lower purchase price, by negotiating in-person with a furniture salesman.

    In addition, the shopping experts we talked to said it's difficult to judge furniture online. You need to see the colors in-person, touch the fabrics and sit on couches and chairs to determine quality and comfort.

    Take a look at our complete list of the worst things to buy online.

     

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    Group Of Friends Jumping Over Tree Trunk On Countryside Walk
    Getty Images
    By Gina Martinez

    Summer officially ends Sept. 22, but for most of us it ends much sooner. Nonetheless, there's still plenty of time for summery activities. Take advantage of free and low-cost offerings in your area, and get some practical stuff done. Here are 25 things to do before the school year starts and the weather turns.

    Attend an outdoor movie or concert. Parks all over the country show movies and concerts during the summer. You can sit on the lawn, have a picnic, and enjoy the entertainment, surrounded by fellow locals. (Cheapism.com assembled a guide to free concerts in 15 U.S. cities.) It's always worth checking your community's website, social media pages, and parks department for showings and performances. The free Bandsintown app (for iOS and Android) enables easy searches for concerts in and beyond urban areas.

    Discover a new podcast. If you're still feeling withdrawal from the Peabody-winning podcast "Serial," which wrapped last winter, you're not alone (and don't worry -- NPR has confirmed that a second and third season are coming). But there are tons of podcasts out there to obsess over this summer, so find a new fandom to join. Popular titles include "Freakonomics Radio," "On Being," "Radiolab," "Stuff You Should Know," and "Undisclosed," which examines the same case as "Serial."

    Dive in. Ocean waters are at their highest temperatures in August, usually reaching somewhere in the comfortable 75- to 85-degree range depending on the region. This goes for lakes as well, although the far north waters run slightly cooler. What are you waiting for? Find a stylish, affordable swimsuit and a swimming hole near you and take the plunge. For the kids, head to dollar stores for cheap beach toys including water noodles, rafts, buckets and shovels, sand toys, and beach balls. Don't forget the sunscreen.

    Make popsicles. Making popsicles is a fun summer activity for the whole family, and searching for recipes on Pinterest yields seemingly endless variety. Pick up a set of reusable popsicle molds, which sell at Amazon, Walmart, and Target for as little as $10, and you'll be ready to go. Try making smoothie popsicles out of cheap summer fruits that will be harder to find fresh next season, such as watermelon, cherries, and berries.

    Enjoy a thunderstorm. June, July, and August are storm season compared with the rest of the year. Take some time to enjoy a thunderstorm safely by lighting a few candles, sitting on the porch, or simply watching from the window. Interesting fact: A 2013 study of 58,000 Facebook users suggested that "liking" thunderstorms (as well as "The Colbert Report" and curly fries, apparently) is a strong predictor of high intelligence.

    Explore your surroundings. Visiting and exploring a new-to-you neighborhood, town, or city near your own can be a fun, cheap activity on an idle summer day. Look at a map and go, or use the AroundMe app and website to identify places of interest and get directions. Summer is a good time for trying new activities, as well, so check out nearby libraries for free or inexpensive summer reading programs, free workshops, classes, arts and crafts, movie screenings, and more. Also, look into activities at community recreation centers for free or low-cost end-of-summer memories.

    Go to a festival. Summer months are buzzing with street festivals and parades. Popular festival themes include food and beverage, holidays, heritage, history, music, art, and more, so there's something for everyone. Admission is usually free, under $10, or by donation. Most cities post comprehensive festival guides online. Check out community centers for smaller town events. Festivals.com is also an excellent resource.

    Harvest your own fruit. Summer is berry season, and blueberry and strawberry farms often invite guests to pick their own. The top states in blueberry production are Michigan, Oregon, Washington, Georgia, and New Jersey. Pick-your-own strawberries are most abundant in California, Florida, Oregon, North Carolina, and Washington. Not to worry, though: There are berry farms throughout the country. Berry picking is a family-friendly summer activity that yields a tasty souvenir to bring home. Pay by the pound and don't be afraid to load up: Freeze the fruit and use it in pastries and smoothies through the winter. In addition, tomatoes, watermelons, and summer squash are at their peak in August. Check out the map at Epicurious for seasonal ingredients in your state, then visit PickYourOwn.org to learn where to harvest the freshest fruits and vegetables.

    Host a barbecue. Invite family and friends over for a barbecue -- one that won't cost a fortune. The cheapest meats include pork shoulder and chops, beef brisket and burgers, lamb breast, chicken, and chuck eye steak. Inexpensive veggies to grill during the summer are corn, red and Vidalia onions, eggplant, potatoes, zucchini, asparagus, bell peppers, and green beans. If you're grill-less, Cheapism has a guide to quality, low-price options.

    Knock out medical appointments. Dental, vision, annual physicals -- get them all done over the summer. (You know you'll regret it if you don't.) The blog Save on Medical has advice on getting affordable health care. Check out Costco for cheap eye exams and glasses.

    Learn something. Putting off learning a language? Want to know about something you missed in school, such as ancient Rome, game theory, or how currency works? There are thousands of free online courses from renowned universities. Most are audio and/or video courses, and many are interactive, so it's almost like being a real student, except that you're at home and learning on your own schedule. Check out the list of more than 1,000 options at Open Culture and the website Coursera.

    Plan a budget. Spend a day going over family finances and making a plan for the coming months. Come the holidays, you'll be prepared to celebrate with peace of mind and a full wallet. With school out, summer is also a prime time for speaking with children and teens about money.

    Plant a garden. Prep and plant your garden in late summer, and you should have abundant crops to harvest when fall arrives. For gardening in July, August, and September, Urban Farmers suggests planting beans, carrots, cucumbers, kale, lettuce, spinach, radishes, and cover crops, which are various seeds that add nutrients to the soil for the upcoming year. If you reap more than you can use, consider selling some crops at a farmers market to make a bit of side money. Gardening even has mood-lifting and stress-relieving effects.

    Pick up a summer beach read. Find a sunny lounge spot and indulge in a crime thriller, a light piece of chick lit, or a young adult dystopian fantasy. Just don't overpay -- there are lots of sources of free and cheap ebooks. Libraries are perfect for picks you won't want to own or reread, and most offer free ebooks for download to electronic devices. Also check out BookLending.com, a service that lets you borrow and lend ebooks for free. Thrift stores are a good place to score hard copies for super low prices.

    Shop clearance sales. This is the cheapest season to buy summer clothes, office supplies, camping gear, and more. Toward the tail end of summer, start looking at holiday travel deals. Keep in mind that some states offer tax-free weekends in August for school supplies and clothing. Finally, Labor Day and the preceding weekend are associated with clearance sales for major purchases such as appliances and cars.

    Sightsee at a national park. U.S. national parks are a cheap, worthwhile family excursion. Visit one near you and hike one of the many trails. Entrance fees tend to run $10 to $30 a vehicle, though there are ways to save. Take advantage of fee-free days -- the next two are Aug. 26 (the birthday of the National Park Service) and, just a few days after summer's end, Sept. 26 (National Public Lands Day). Another option to explore: national monuments, protected historical and natural landmarks where entrance fees are often lower than those at national parks.

    Simplify, simplify. If you missed spring cleaning, the more leisurely summer months are a great time to declutter and purge your stuff. A tip from the best-selling Marie Kondo book everyone is talking about: Ask yourself if an item brings you joy; if not, it goes. Sell or donate unused clothing, shoes, books, and bric-a-brac. The Simple Dollar shows how purging will save you money, even if you don't sell anything.

    Tour a museum. Most museums feature free days or free afternoon or evening hours. Typically these opportunities are offered during the week, making it a challenge to plan a visit during the school year, so make the most of summer freedom. Other museums are always free or "pay what you will," so search for local options.

    Start saving. Dreaming up a vacation -- or big purchase -- for this year, or even next spring or summer? Start saving now. There's plenty of helpful information about saving money on Cheapism.com and elsewhere online. Even $10 a day can really add up by the end of the year.

    Unplug. Summer's an ideal time to shut off electronic devices and enjoy pets, family, friends, and the freedom that comes from being unplugged. Studies link excessive technology use to stress, sleep disruption, obesity, and antisocial behavior.

    Volunteer. Before school starts and it's harder to coordinate family activities, round up the troops to participate in a school-supply drive, serve food at the local soup kitchen, walk shelter dogs, or play bingo at a retirement home. For families with older children, building homes through Habitat for Humanity can be rewarding. For high schoolers, community service is sometimes required or recommended for college applications, and with few demands on students' time, summer is the moment to rack up those volunteer hours.

    Watch a baseball game. Whether it's a major league, minor league, or amateur club game, this is a quintessential summer activity not to be missed. Minor league baseball games, especially, are a cheap, child-friendly option; kids often get to meet the players and join in on-field activities. Weekday games are usually the cheapest, and if you wait as late as possible to buy baseball tickets, you can score a sweet deal.

    Wear white clothes. It's a controversial etiquette point, famously opposed by Coco Chanel, but nevertheless, many people quote "no white after Labor Day" as a fashion rule. Obviously white clothes are generally cooler; historians call the rule a status symbol dating to 1920s elites who left dingy cities for warmer climates, then changed their wardrobes when returning after Labor Day. The "Great Gatsby" look can be emulated on a budget at stores such as Old Navy and Target. Then strap on a pair of designer look-alike sandals and enjoy the sunshine.

    Whip up your own ice cream. There's no need for an expensive appliance to make this classic summer treat. There are ways to churn ice cream at home that cost less than the store-bought stuff. One nifty method calls for a resealable plastic bag and salt. We found the results to be pretty tasty but recommend heavy cream instead of milk.

    Write a letter. Some say it's a dying art, but a thoughtful letter or postcard can really make someone's day. Blue Mountain has free printable greeting cards, and the website Teaching with TLC provides a fun guide for teaching letter writing to kids. Once they've nailed it, help them seek out a pen pal for the coming year.

     

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    girl in white and falling...
    Shutterstock
    By Marianne Hayes

    It's a popular fantasy: Out of the blue, you receive a lump sum of inheritance cash from a great aunt twice removed.

    Fast forward a few months, when you're either lounging on a catamaran in the Caribbean, zipping around town in a bright red convertible -- or kicking back in a French country house for the summer.

    But if that happened in real life, would you really be so extravagant?

    If you're familiar with the 90/10 rule, you may already know the better way to divvy up a financial windfall -- putting 90 percent of that money toward financial goals, and the remaining 10 percent toward a splurge.

    Of course, not everyone has the same visions for a windfall, which is why we asked three people to answer a simple (but loaded) question: What would you do if you unexpectedly came into $10,000?

    We chose that amount because it's enough to make a difference in someone's budget -- but not so high that your brain goes straight to purchasing a private jet.

    Then we asked Chad Nehring, a certified financial planner with Conceptual Financial Advisors in Appleton, Wisconsin, for his opinion on whether they could stand to make some smarter decisions with that money.

    The Small Business Owner Who's Got Big Plans

    Courtesy: Natalie Elizabeth Tackett
    Who: Natalie Elizabeth Tackett, 44, owner of a painting and restoration business, Bristol, Tennessee.

    What I'd Do With a $10,000 Windfall: "My top priority would be to pay off my credit card debt.

    "I'm currently in the hole for about $3,500 -- a mix of personal expenses and costs from getting my company off the ground three years ago.

    "I'd split the remaining $6,500 between buying a work van or truck (I'd sell my current car to help defray the cost), and on classes to keep my restoration, repair and decorative painting skills fresh.

    "Being self-employed is a 24/7 job. I predict my take-home pay will be about $20,000 this year -- roughly five times less than what I was making as a marketing director -- so I'm focused on growing my business.

    "That said, my personal expenses are low enough that I still live a good life. I'm not married and I don't have children, so I don't have to support a family. My car is paid off. And I own a charming stone cottage that costs me under $1,000 a month in mortgage payments.

    "Unfortunately, my emergency fund isn't too impressive -- several hundred dollars, at best. And I'm sure a financial planner would say I should boost the $10,000 I have in my Roth IRA."

    What the financial planner thinks: Nehring agrees that Natalie should first tackle her credit card debt -- but he isn't a fan of commingling personal and business expenses.

    "I wouldn't be opposed to having her pay off the personal credit card debt, but the business itself needs to pay the business expenses," he explains.

    He suggests that she could start by treating debt repayment as a line item in her company budget, which would help make the business become more self-sustaining.

    As for the work vehicle, Nehring advises against using any of the $10,000 for that. Instead, he says it's a better idea to sell her existing car, and buy a used truck or van for the same amount to avoid having to finance a new vehicle.

    Nehring also suggests putting savings higher on her priority list -- over continuing education, which could also be a line item in her business budget.

    "I'd suggest she put a few thousand into her emergency fund," he says, adding that the remainder can go to the Roth IRA, "so she can get some more retirement accumulation."

    The Money-Savvy Soon-to-Be-Dad

    Courtesy: Eric Serdar
    Who: Eric Serdar, 25, online marketing specialist, Salt Lake City.

    What I'd Do With a $10,000 Windfall: "I like to think that my wife, Des, and I are pretty responsible when it comes to money. We have zero debt aside from our car loan, and saving is our strong suit.

    "We have $10,000 in a rainy-day fund -- enough to cover our expenses for at least six months -- but it can never hurt to pad that more, so I'd add $2,000 from the windfall.

    "We're currently renting an apartment, but I would love to start building equity in a home. So I would use $3,000 of the windfall to start a down payment fund.

    "Both Des and I save for retirement. I've got about $2,000 in my 401(k), and she has about $10,000 in hers -- plus I have another $4,000 in a separate mutual fund.

    "But I really don't know much about investing and I'd like to learn more, so I'd put another $4,000 into some type of brokerage account -- maybe take some risk with it for a higher return, since I wouldn't care as much if I lost that money.

    "I'd use the final $1,000 on a trip to Disneyland, because we're due to deliver our first child, a girl, very soon. Des loves Disneyland, so it'd be a nice vacation for us."

    What the financial planner thinks: Nehring commends Eric's windfall plans -- with just a few small changes.

    For starters, he'd ditch the trip to Disneyland.

    Instead, Nehring suggests using that $1,000 to start a travel fund for a future vacation, when his child is a little older and can appreciate it more.

    "If they're going to go in the next one to two years, I'd suggest keeping that money in either a savings account or a very short-term CD," Nehring says. "If it's a trip five or six years in the offing, then you could maybe take a little more risk with it [by investing it]."

    Nehring also lauds Eric's desire to pad his emergency fund and save for a home, but as a beginning investor, he doesn't think Eric needs to resort to complicated investing strategies to help that $4,000 grow.

    "A good starting point that's been attractive to investors lately could be target-date funds," says Nehring, a type of mutual fund that readjusts its asset allocation based on a selected time frame, and is often used to help meet a future retirement date. "Barring that, a balanced index fund or mutual fund could work just fine," he says. "[They don't provide] such a significant amount of risk that he could lose it all, but at the same time, the money's not sitting in a savings account," where it would potentially earn less.

    Overall, Nehring thinks Eric and Des are on the right track.

    "I really like what they've done so far," he says. "They've got a great emergency fund that's probably better than what a lot of their peers have, and they don't have a lot of debt. There are some good things happening here."

    The Expat Who's Starting Over Stateside

    Courtesy: Johari Murray
    Who: Johari Murray, 40, language educator, Norwalk, Connecticut.

    What I'd Do With a $10,000 Windfall: "My family has spent the last nine years living in Spain, so a $10,000 windfall would help us settle back into life in the U.S.

    "My husband, Agustin, is a linguist and former university lecturer, so he's looking for a job in higher education. I ran my own language school in Spain, and am waiting to hear if I'll be teaching in Norwalk's public school system this fall.

    "We're staying with friends and family while we transition, and living off savings for the next month or so. We also have about $3,000 in a separate emergency fund, but because our income is uncertain right now, I'd split $1,000 of the windfall between our two checking accounts, so we have an extra cash cushion.

    "I'd also put $1,000 each into savings accounts for my two children, ages 9 and 6, so they have some money that can grow for their futures.

    "I'd like to invest $6,000, but I'm not sure how. $1,000 could go toward seeding a new educational business project I have in mind, with the rest going toward the markets. I don't actively invest now, so I'd use the windfall as an opportunity to learn.

    "Finally, charitable giving is important to me, and I'd love to split $1,000 between my favorite causes, including museums, NPR and PBS."

    With a lot of the unknowns and uncertainties that they have, this money is best kept completely liquid.

    What the financial planner thinks: Between their international move and changes in employment, Johari and her family are dealing with a lot of moving parts -- and Nehring says a windfall could give her some much-needed peace of mind.

    "With a lot of the unknowns and uncertainties that they have, this money is best kept completely liquid," he says.

    So he'd suggest holding off on investing, charitable giving, and even funneling any of the money toward savings for the kids -- and keeping that windfall as an emergency fund in a basic savings account they can easily access.

    The reason, Nehring says, is simple: They don't have income coming in yet, and their current emergency fund is too low to provide enough of a safety net.

    "[The money] will earn nothing, but it's going to be there," he adds. "For these folks the idea of just having $10,000 that's liquid and free of any risk is going to be the most important thing."

     

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    State Farm Jobs Fair
    Ross D. Franklin/APA State Farm employee, back left, helps an attendee during a State Farm Career Fair in Phoenix.
    By Lucia Mutikani

    WASHINGTON -- U.S. employment rose at a solid clip in July and wages rebounded after a surprise stall in the prior month, signs of an improving economy that could open the door wider to a Federal Reserve interest rate hike in September.

    Nonfarm payrolls increased 215,000 last month as a pickup in construction and manufacturing jobs offset further declines in the mining sector, the Labor Department said Friday. The unemployment rate held at a seven-year low of 5.3 percent.

    Payrolls data for May and June were revised to show 14,000 more jobs created than previously reported. In addition, the average workweek increased to 34.6 hours, the highest since February, from 34.5 hours in June.

    If you thought that the Fed was going to go in September, this report would suit that thematic nicely.

    "If you thought that the Fed was going to go in September, this report would suit that thematic nicely. I don't think anything has changed in that regard. I think it's another step toward the eventual lift-off," said Tom Porcelli, chief U.S. economist at RBC Capital Markets in New York.

    U.S. stock index futures and prices for shorter-dated U.S. Treasuries were trading lower after the data. The dollar rose to a two-month high against the yen and firmed versus the euro. The swaps market was pricing in a 52 percent chance of a September rate hike, up from 47 percent before the jobs data.

    Though hiring has slowed from last year's robust pace, it remains at double the rate needed to keep up with population growth. The Fed last month upgraded its assessment of the labor market, describing it as continuing to "improve, with solid job gains and declining unemployment."

    Average hourly earnings increased 5 cents, or 0.2 percent, last month after being flat in June. That put them 2.1 percent above the year-ago level, but well shy of the 3.5 percent growth rate economists associate with full employment.

    Still, the gain supports views that a sharp slowdown in compensation growth in the second quarter and consumer spending in June were temporary. Economists had forecast nonfarm payrolls increasing 223,000 last month and the unemployment rate holding steady at 5.3 percent.

    Wage growth has been disappointingly slow. But tightening labor market conditions and decisions by several state and local governments to raise their minimum wage have fueled expectations of a pickup.

    In addition, a number of retailers, including Walmart (WMT), the nation's largest private employer, Target (TGT) and TJX Cos. (TJX) have increased pay for hourly workers.

    Nearing Full Employment

    The jobless rate is near the 5 percent to 5.2 percent range most Fed officials think is consistent with a steady but low level of inflation.

    A broad measure of joblessness that includes people who want to work but have given up searching and those working part-time because they can't find full-time employment fell to 10.4 percent last month, the lowest since June 2008, from 10.5 percent in June.

    But the labor force participation rate, or the share of working-age Americans who are employed or at least looking for a job, held at a more than 37½-year low of 62.6 percent.

    The fairly healthy employment report added to robust July automobile sales and service industries data in suggesting the economy continues to gather momentum after growing at a 2.3 percent annual rate in the second quarter.

    Employment gains in July were concentrated in service industries. At the same time, construction payrolls rose 6,000 thanks to a strengthening housing market, after being unchanged in June. Factory payrolls increased 15,000 as some automakers have decided to forgo a usual summer plant shutdown for retooling, after rising 2,000 in June.

    More layoffs in the energy sector, which is grappling with last year's sharp decline in crude oil prices, were a drag on mining payrolls, which shed 4,000 jobs in July. The mining sector has lost 78,000 jobs since December.

    Oilfield giants Schlumberger (SLM) and Halliburton (HAL) and many others in the oil and gas industry have announced thousands of job cuts in the past few months.

     

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    McDonalds To Offer Its Breakfast Menu All Day Long
    Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
    By Katie Little

    As restaurants double down on breakfast, their timing is far from eggscellent.

    After the worst avian flu outbreak in three decades hit flocks this year, U.S. egg supply is lower than usual. As a result, prices at both the retail and wholesale level remain sharply elevated, and several restaurants are starting to feel the heat in the kitchen.

    This coincides with a monthslong test at McDonald's (MCD) of extending breakfast hours all day, part of the broader effort to turn around its U.S. business. There is strong evidence, too, that a nationwide launch could be on the way as soon as October, meaning its need for eggs could be about to increase.

    It's probably not going to be the best timing for McDonald's, unfortunately, but it's part of a longer-term strategy to focus on what's working and increase that.

    "It's probably not going to be the best timing for McDonald's, unfortunately, but it's part of a longer-term strategy to focus on what's working and increase that," said Nick Setyan, equity analyst at Wedbush Securities, in a phone interview.

    Meanwhile, Will Slabaugh, managing director of Stephens, said, "It would definitely pressure their cost of goods sold if they were to roll it out now. It would hurt them near term."

    Fellow fast food brand Taco Bell (YUM) is also more exposed to egg swings after it rolled out breakfast last year, though a company representative said it has not been hit by the price hike so far. McDonald's did not respond to CNBC's request for comment.

    While restaurants often lock in prices under contract, they do feel the pinch from higher commodity prices if they stay elevated for a prolonged period of time.

    "Most are only going to contract three to six months because it's a volatile commodity, and you never want to get yourself locked into all of it," Slabaugh said.

    As of Monday, Midwest wholesale prices have risen 135 percent to $2.80 a dozen, from $1.19 a dozen on April 22, according to prices from market research firm Urner Barry. Retail prices typically run even higher.

    The problem could get worse if wild birds spread the flu this coming fall when they migrate south.

    Restaurants' exposure to avian flu impact is very case specific and depends on whether or not their suppliers have been directly impacted or not by the virus or not. "Some major corporate chains have not seen an impact to their supply or price. Others have seen higher costs through regular suppliers. Others are completely exposed to the open market and are struggling to source full need," said Brian Moscogiuri, market reporter for eggs and egg prices at Urner Barry, in an email.

    Due to tight supply, breakfast heavyweight Dunkin' Donuts (DNKN) withdrew a major promotion it planned for the current quarter.

    Shelving Products

    Others have also had to shelve products, including Rita's frozen custard and Panda Express' hot and sour soup.

    Meanwhile, Denny's (DENN) expects the impact from pricing to get "more significant" in the second half of the year. The chain pegs the egg portion of its market basket at 10 percent, a fairly big chunk for the restaurant industry.

    "[W]e think without the eggs, we would have had a fairly flattish commodity year, but we're guiding 2 percent to 2.5 percent," said John Miller, its president and CEO, on a Monday earnings call.

    To counteract the egg price increase, some restaurants are passing costs off to customers.

    Denny's boosted omelet pricing while Fiesta Restaurant Group's (FRGI) Taco Cabana temporarily raised prices on egg-based breakfast tacos and burritos until it was able to secure lower prices.

    While restaurants are already starting to see some impact from higher prices, analysts say restaurants will see a larger effect starting the current quarter.

    One positive is that eggs are typically featured in breakfast items, dishes that are already seeing strong demand. In fact, breakfast is the only time of day posting strong growth in visits, rising 4 percent for the year ended in May, according to data from The NPD Group.

    "I don't expect it to hurt as badly because that pricing power is there," said Stephens' Slabaugh.

     

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    Charter Netflix
    AP
    There were plenty of winners and losers this week, with analysts warming up to a leading online travel portal operator after another blowout report and companies behind beverage maker platforms posting financials that proved hard to swallow.

    Makers of Beverage Makers -- Losers

    SodaStream (SODA) and Keurig Green Mountain (GMCR) posted disappointing quarterly results this week. SodaStream posted another problematic report with double-digit year-over-year declines in all four of its regional territories. Folks just aren't interested in its once-trendy machine that turns tap water into carbonated beverages.

    Single-serve coffee leader Keurig Green Mountain saw its stock take a 30 percent hit Thursday after posting results that were a lot weaker than its signature brews. Things just haven't been the same for the K-Cup champ since it rolled out a new platform that uses copy protection to assure that only Keurig-packaged coffee is being brewed.

    Netflix (NFLX) -- Winner

    The leading premium video service turned heads after announcing that it will offer unlimited maternity and paternity leave, and it will be a paid leave with full benefits for the first year. It's a big move, even in a tech field where the benefits can be plentiful to attract top candidates.

    This is a brilliant move by Netflix. Sure, there were some people bellyaching about the decision, arguing that it's not fair to employees who won't be having kids. However, by and large, it seems as if most people now either adore Netflix even more or want to work for the company. That's going to help with attraction and retention for both subscribers and potential workers.

    Checkers Drive-In -- Loser

    This week's social media loser was Checkers Drive-In, the chain of small-box burger joints under the Checkers and Rally's banners. A video went viral this week showing an employee at a franchisee-operator outpost in Baltimore deliberately dropping a burger bun on the floor, rubbing it around the floor and placing it on a sandwich.

    Checkers claims that the burger was never served to a customer, but that's something that we'll just have to take on faith. The chain fired the employee, but the image will linger in the minds of potential customers.

    Priceline (PCLN) -- Winner

    At least two Wall Street pros see better times ahead for Priceline. Cantor Fitzgerald boosted its price target on the shares to $1,480 from $1,360. Even better, Benchmark jacked up its price target to $1,500 from $1,350. Yes, there are still some dot-com darlings out there that haven't gotten the itch to split their shares.

    Priceline moved higher after yet another strong quarterly report. It managed to post better-than-expected growth even with the negative impact of the strong dollar on overseas bookings.

    Media Companies -- Losers

    You know things are bad when even ESPN is feeling the pinch of cord cutters. Most of the leading cable channel and network operators took a hit after Disney (DIS) warned that ratings are down at ABC and tempered growth expectations for its cable properties.

    It was really a matter of time. Streaming services are gaining in popularity at a time when cable service providers are shedding subscribers. However, it was assumed that live sports was one bastion that was untouchable given the immediacy of the news. Well, even ESPN is feeling the sting, as cord cutters continue to free themselves of costly cable bundles.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Keurig Green Mountain, Netflix, SodaStream and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends Keurig Green Mountain, Netflix, Priceline Group and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Netflix, Priceline Group, SodaStream and Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Looking for a winner for your portfolio? Check out The Motley Fool's one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.

     

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    The Many Uses of Orange Peels

    We all know that oranges are great for our health, but what you might not realize, is that their peels are useful, too. So, before you throw them away, here are a bunch of ways to put them to use around the house.

    First, you've probably noticed that lots of wood polishes have citrus in them. Why spend money on chemicals when all you really need is an orange peel to get the job done? Just rub the white side of the peel on your wood furniture and watch it shine right up.

    The same goes for caked on microwave stains. Start by putting a few peels in a bowl, add some water, and then microwave on high for five minutes. The steam from the water will loosen up the stains, while the citric acid from the orange peels will kill the bacteria. Once it's done heating, wipe away the mess with a damp cloth and you'll be good to go.

    Next, orange peels aren't just good for cleaning around the house, they're good for cleaning your body, too. Instead of buying an expensive body scrub, just wrap the orange peels in some cheesecloth or gauze, tie it up and use it the next time you shower. The peel will firm and brighten you skin, and besides being free, it's all natural.

    Finally, orange peels are a great household deodorizer. Put a single layer of orange peels on a cookie sheet in a warm room for a few days until they're dry. Once they get brittle, grind them up, and put them in a sachet. From there you can place them in drawers, closets, shoes, or even at the bottom of your garbage can to keep odors from overwhelming your house.

    The next time you eat an orange, don't forget to hold onto the peel. You'll see that what most people toss in the trash can be a real treasure around the house.

    View Poll

     

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    Whole Foods Dispute
    Julie Jacobson/AP
    By Jonathan Stempel

    A Whole Foods Market shareholder has accused the grocer in a lawsuit of committing securities fraud by concealing its overcharging of New York City customers, leading to bad publicity that hurt sales and drove its share price down.

    In a complaint filed Thursday in federal court in Austin, Texas, the plaintiff Yochanan Markman said Whole Foods knew or recklessly disregarded that it routinely overstated the weight of pre-packaged products, causing the overcharging.

    The complaint said that made the company's public statements about its operations and prospects false and misleading.

    Whole Foods specializes in natural and organic goods. It has been sued several times by customers over the overcharges, which were revealed June 24, but not by shareholders.

    We have upheld our responsibility to our stakeholders, and are confident that this complaint is baseless and without merit.

    Whole Foods spokesman Michael Silverman said the grocer is committed to providing "transparent, accurate pricing" to customers.

    "We have upheld our responsibility to our stakeholders, and are confident that this complaint is baseless and without merit," he added.

    Shares of Whole Foods fell 11.6 percent on July 30, causing a $1.7 billion drop in market value, a day after the Austin-based company admitted that negative publicity about the overcharges had hurt its quarterly results.

    Whole Foods said same-store sales growth rose 2.6 percent in the first 10 weeks of its fiscal third quarter, but less than half a percent after the overcharges were revealed.

    Co-chief executive Walter Robb said in a July 29 conference call "there is no magic bullet for restoring whatever trust was lost," and that it was "just a matter of sawing wood and doing the good work day in and day out."

    The New York City Department of Consumer Affairs said the overcharges ranged from 80 cents for pecan panko to $14.84 for coconut shrimp.

    Robb and Co-chief executive John Mackey later apologized, calling the mistakes inadvertent. Both are defendants in the lawsuit, as is Chief Financial Officer Glenda Flanagan.

    Markman seeks class action status for shareholders from Aug. 9, 2013 to July 30, 2015.

    Shares of Whole Foods (WFM) were down about 1 percent Friday at $34.53.

     

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    Consumer Credit
    Julie Jacobson/AP
    By PAUL WISEMAN

    WASHINGTON -- U.S. consumer borrowing hit another record in June, good news for the American economy.

    Americans piled on another $20.7 billion in debt in June, bringing total consumer borrowing to a record $3.42 trillion, the Federal Reserve reported Friday.

    In June, borrowing in the category that includes auto and student loans rose by $15.2 billion. Borrowing in the category that includes credit cards rose by $5.5 billion.

    The Fed's monthly report on credit doesn't cover home mortgages or other loans secured by real estate such as home equity loans.

    Economists expect consumers to borrow and spend more the rest of the year. That would boost growth in a country where consumer spending accounts for nearly 70 percent of economic activity.

    The American economy grew at annual rate of 0.6 percent from January to March and 2.3 percent from April through June. Economists expect growth to pick up to about a 3 percent pace the second half of the year.

    Consumers are drawing confidence from an improving job market. On Friday, the Labor Department said employers added 215,000 jobs in July and unemployment remained at a seven-year low 5.3 percent.

    Over the past year, consumer borrowing is up 6.5 percent. Borrowing rose 7.7 percent in the student and auto loan category and 3.5 percent in the credit card category.

    During and after the 2007-2009 Great Recession, Americans scaled back their borrowing. Consumer borrowing hit bottom at less than $2.52 trillion in July 2010 and has been climbing more or less steadily ever since.

     

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    Financial Markets Wall Street
    Richard Drew/AP
    By Noel Randewich

    NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks ended lower Friday after solid job growth data for July pried the door open a little wider for a potential interest rate hike by the Federal Reserve in September.

    Wall Street took the latest signs of an improving economy as a fresh reason to sell shares in a market that has remained range-bound for much of 2015 in anticipation of the Fed's first rate hike in nearly 10 years.

    U.S. nonfarm payrolls increased 215,000 last month, less than the 223,000 forecast by economists, but the unemployment rate held at a seven-year low of 5.3 percent.

    It's enough to keep the Fed on track to raise rates in September but it's not enough to end the debate.

    U.S. overnight indexed swap rates rose after the jobs data, suggesting traders were pricing a 52 percent chance that rates would be raised in September rather than December, up from 47 percent prior to the data, according to John Briggs, head of cross-asset strategy at RBS Securities in Stamford, Connecticut.

    "It's enough to keep the Fed on track to raise rates in September but it's not enough to end the debate," said Briggs.

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) fell 0.3 percent to end at 17,373.38. The Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) lost 0.3 percent to 2,077.57 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) finished 0.3 percent lower at 5,043.54.

    For the week, the Dow lost 1.8 percent, the Nasdaq slipped 1.7 percent and the S&P edged down 1.2 percent. After hitting a record high in May, the S&P 500 is now up less than 1 percent for the year.

    On Friday, seven of the 10 major S&P sectors were lower, with the energy index's 1.9 percent fall leading the decliners as oil prices headed for a sixth week of losses.

    Exxon Mobil's (XOM) 1.6 percent drop weighed the most on the S&P 500.

    2Q Earnings Wrapping Up

    With second-quarter earnings season almost over, S&P 500 companies' aggregate profits are estimated to have increased 1.6 percent, while revenues are projected to have fallen 3.4 percent, according to Thomson Reuters (TRI) data.

    With many U.S. companies boosting their earnings per share by cutting costs and buying back stock instead of by growing their businesses, stock valuations remain a concern. The S&P 500 trades at 16.6 times expected earnings, which is pricier than the 10-year median of 14.7.

    Cablevision Systems (CVC) shares fell 2.7 percent after the company managed to stem video subscriber losses, but at the cost of margins.

    Nvidia (NVDA) shares surged 12.4 percent a day after the chipmaker reported a surprise rise in quarterly revenue, helped by strong demand for its graphic chips for high-end video game computers.

    Decliners outnumbered advancers on the NYSE by 1,800 to 1,262. On the Nasdaq, 1,701 issues fell and 1,088 advanced. The S&P 500 index chalked up four new 52-week highs and 20 new lows; the Nasdaq composite saw 27 new highs and 161 new lows. About 6.7 billion shares changed hands on all U.S. exchanges, under an average 7 billion in the past five sessions, according to BATS Global Markets data.

    -Tanya Agrawal contributed reporting.

    What to watch Monday:

    Earnings Season

    These selected companies are scheduled to release quarterly financial results:
    • AES Corp. (AES)
    • Hertz Global Holdings (HTZ)
    • Kraft Heinz Co. (KHC)
    • Sysco (SYY)

     

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    Gas Prices
    Gene J. Puskar/AP
    A year ago, oil prices plunged from over $100 a barrel to a low of less than $50. Now, after hovering around $60 a barrel for a couple of months, prices again fell to around $50 a barrel in mid-July, and there are emerging signs that cheap oil is here to stay.

    For drivers across the U.S., that's great news because it means gasoline prices are falling as well. Gas as low as $2.25 can be found in South Carolina, and if the price of oil continues to fall, we could break the $2-a-gallon barrier once again. Here are the three biggest reasons to think gas prices won't spike anytime soon.

    Maybe a Nuclear Deal With Iran Isn't a Bad Thing?

    On July 14, the U.S. and five other nations agreed to lift sanctions on Iran in return for limitations on the country's nuclear program. For energy markets -- and your wallet -- that's a huge deal.

    Iran holds the fourth-largest reserves of oil in the world, and in the late 1970s it produced as much as 5.5 million barrels of oil a day. Since then, sanctions and underinvestment have crushed the country's energy sector, and in 2014 it produced just 2.8 million barrels of oil a day -- but that amount could rise quickly. As recently as 2011, Iran's production was 3.7 million barrels of oil a day; lifting sanctions could increase oil production again, significantly, flooding the market with oil.

    A few hundred thousand barrels of oil in additional supply can have a big impact on oil prices, so if Iran adds a million barrels or more of oil to the market over the next few years, as it plans to, now that sanctions are being lifted we could see supply pressure on oil prices for a long time.

    The U.S. Isn't Giving Up on Shale Drilling

    Another supply challenge to watch is shale drilling in the U.S. Despite the plunge in oil prices, drillers have been stubborn about cutting production. In fact, U.S. oil production is up nearly 1 million barrels a day (or 11.2 percent) since this time a year ago.

    From a supply standpoint, that's putting more pressure on oil prices than Iran or OPEC's resistance to cutting supply. And with the number of rigs drilling for oil in the U.S. actually on the rise this summer, there could be an oversupply of oil for many years to come.

    China's Economy Could Be Oil's Biggest Driver

    The two biggest things that kept oil prices high over the past decade were increasing demand and periodic supply disruptions (think Iraq, Libya, Iran). I talked about supply additions above; on the demand side, China alone is responsible for about half of the increase in global oil demand over the past decade, so it's an incredibly important factor. If China's growth falters or more fuel-efficient vehicles become more popular in the region, there could be a dramatic impact on prices. And there are some signs that the Chinese economy may be ready to take a breather.

    Commodity prices have plunged this year (which will hurt China's GDP), stock markets in China lost $3 trillion in value at one point this month, and real estate has actually been in decline there over the past year.

    Among market watchers, there's a lot of concern that China is overstimulating its economy to keep growth high, and eventually a slowdown will be needed to sort the market out. If that happens, oil demand could stop growing, which would be bad for the oil industry -- but could be great for your wallet.

    Cheap Gasoline Is Here to Stay

    Add up all of these factors and you get a formula for cheap gas for a very long time. Given the trajectory oil is on, $2 a gallon at the pump isn't even out of reach before the summer is out.

    I wouldn't go out and buy a gas-guzzler now, though, because low oil prices will eventually subside -- and you don't want to be stuck with a gas-guzzler if prices rise, even if that's not until a few years from now. For now, it's good to know that energy prices will remain low for the foreseeable future. You can thank the strange mix of factors above for that.

    Travis Hoium is a Motley Fool contributor. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Check out our free report on one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.

     

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    Wall street sign in New York city.
    Eric Carr/Alamy
    By Lou Carlozo

    Last month's accounting scandal at Toshiba Corp. (TOSBF) -- which left the company facing as much as $3 billion in charges -- is an ongoing soap opera. The investigation is widening; Toshiba CEO Hisao Tanaka and seven other senior officials are out. And yet could it be, as with so many contradictory happenings in the investment world, that bad news is good news for investors?

    "My college-age son has an internship at Toshiba this summer and called me last week to ask if Toshiba's stock was tanking," says Bennett Gross, investment strategist with EP Wealth Advisors in Torrance, California. "I told him that I lived in a perverse world where sometimes good news is bad, and bad news is good." Indeed, the stock was up 8 percent on a recent day, a possible reaction to Tanaka's departure.

    The fact is, stock market investors do not want to see a great, flourishing economy.

    To be sure, Toshiba's stock price has taken a short-term hit. It's down nearly 25 percent since news of the scandal emerged in mid-April. Yet Gross likens the latest ousters to "a cancer surgery. Going forward, Toshiba's accounting is likely to be cleaner and more transparent than it's ever been."

    Yes, bad news can be good news -- not only for Toshiba but for any company not so much crashing and burning, but riding out shaky turbulence. For starters -- and as any savvy analyst will tell you -- bad news can create plenty of buying opportunities.

    Citing the last four pullbacks of the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC), "all of these were caused by an overreaction to seemingly bad news: an uptick in unemployment, fiscal cliff concerns, the Ebola scare and the Chinese market rout," says Randy Frederick, managing director of trading and derivatives at the Schwab Center for Financial Research. "Yet they all turned out to be excellent buying opportunities."

    Closer to home, consider the U.S. economy. It may lead to all sorts of finger-pointing on Capitol Hill, but on Wall Street, fingers are poised to hit the "buy" button.

    "The fact is, stock market investors do not want to see a great, flourishing economy," says Cary Greenspan, director of investments at PNC Wealth Management in the District of Columbia. "Great, flourishing economies eventually lead to inflation, higher rates to borrow and market peaks. Now, this type of activity is all part of a business or economic cycle. It does not happen overnight. But for now, a plodding economy or economic malaise is stock market heaven."

    Thus, it follows as sure as stock market daylight turns into night -- good news can be bad. Really.

    "Good news in the form of stronger economic data will be interpreted negatively by the market insofar as it may increase the trajectory and timing of rate increases," says Katie Nixon, chief investment officer for Wealth Management at Northern Trust.

    Which Way Is Up?

    So if good news is bad, bad news is good, an epic scandal means opportunity and an improving economy leads to jitters, then which way is up? Is Ebola a better market indicator than earnings? In the end, is the stock market as volatile as a spurned lover?

    Well, not really -- and often, it's more complex than that.

    "I've always been fascinated with how markets digest news, both good and bad," says Jeffrey Mortimer, director of investment strategy for BNY Mellon Wealth Management in Chicago. He's dedicated his career to studying market cycles that date back to 1969.

    Here's what he found: Sometimes the market is irrational in a way that's actually ... predictable.

    Confused? Read on.

    "The middle stages of a bull market are commonly known in the media as 'wall of worry' stages," Mortimer says. "I define 'wall of worry' by an adage: If you give the market bad news, it goes up, and if you give the market good news, it goes up substantially. Thus, during this stage of a bull market, an investor can utilize bad news with great confidence, knowing that markets generally move higher after generally small pullbacks."

    The Long View

    If you're throwing your hands in the air by this point, take heart. An overwhelming number of market watchers will tell you that in the long run, numbers don't lie, although emotions often do.

    And here's the truly good news: Patience often pays off.

    "Creating a long-term investment plan is far more beneficial to accomplishing your financial goals than looking to buy at the bottom or sell at the top," Greenspan says. "If you're focused on short-term nuances, you are likely to miss the long-term opportunity."

    And here's the truly bad: Gut feelings and guesswork are a recipe for loss.

    "Investors need to avoid catching the proverbial 'falling knife,'" Nixon says. "It's never a good idea to be on the wrong side of negative stock price momentum, as this can, and does, continue for some time."

    So goes your starring role in the stock market's soap opera. True, you can never tell when irrational exuberance or irrational anxiety will rear their heads -- or just irrationality altogether. But if you keep following the plot and hold out for the long-term happy ending, you'll be fine.

    Sigh. Or not. Gross quotes famed economic guru John Maynard Keynes for his parting shot: "The market can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent."

     

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    Strawberries at Union Square farmer's market.
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    By Elizabeth Sheer

    The first sign of summer, to me, is strawberries. I don't eat fruit out of season, and come April I am thoroughly sick of oranges. By the time the first week of June rolls around, I have a strawberry jones so great that I would pay a fortune for a basket of fresh, red beauties.

    But I don't have to do that. All I have to do is go to the farmers market, where the first harvest this year set me back $7 for a quart basket. I can easily eat a quart in one sitting, and I ate half on the way to the car. By contrast, strawberries in the supermarket at that time were $6 a quart, with a special for a second quart at half price. Yes, the farmers market was more expensive, but there's no comparison in taste between those grown locally and those shipped thousands of miles from California.

    Going local is one of the main reasons people frequent farmers markets. The food is often fresher and tastier than the fare at most grocery stores. Sometimes it's more expensive, as with the strawberries, although not always. Still, it pays to be selective about what you buy at the farmers market. Some foods seem to taste the same whatever their origin.

    I frequent four different farmers markets, and rarely skip a week between Memorial Day and Thanksgiving. Those in Hudson, New York, and Great Barrington, Massachusetts, are located in farm country. The super-fresh produce is often picked the day before. At the Union Square Greenmarket in Manhattan and one in Brooklyn, prices are usually higher than in the country.

    Prices at any farmers market reflect the cost of a display table, growing and harvesting the crop, and bringing the stuff to market. One farmer at the Manhattan market, who trucks his produce from six hours away, charges $9 a quart for strawberries, which is at the low end of the price range for Union Square. Most farmers charge $5 to $6 a pint.

    Aside from freshness, an advantage of shopping at the farmers market is buying things you won't find anywhere else, either because they don't ship well or because they're too unfamiliar. Garlic scapes are a popular late-spring crop priced at $2 a bunch in Hudson and $3 a bunch in Manhattan. Maybe you could find them at Whole Foods for some exorbitant cost, but you won't find them at a traditional supermarket. The Union Square Greenmarket is a mecca for unusual greens, which I am always eager to try. This year I found perilla, for $2.50 a bunch, whose very strong taste put me off trying it again, although I don't consider the purchase a waste of money.

    Sugar snap peas make a very short appearance -- about two weeks -- and I rarely see them at a supermarket. When they are on offer, they're never as crispy and fresh as at the farmers market, where I pay $6 a pound at Union Square, $5 a pound in Brooklyn, and $4 a pound in Hudson. Vegetables such as zucchini blossoms, Romanesco broccoli, and purple cauliflower are difficult to find in the grocery store but in abundance at the farmers markets.

    Some things at the farmers market are worth a splurge and some aren't. At Great Barrington, a pig farmer sells a pate that my fat-loving husband adores. I was shocked to learn that a "large" jar for $13 contains only 5 ounces, which he could polish off in two sittings. Then again, it's a unique treat, so I'm happy to oblige. At the same market I bought myself a quart of gazpacho for $13. Sure, I could have made it myself for about one-quarter the price, but tomatoes were nowhere near ripe yet, and that week in mid-June the farmers market variety offered a taste of summer that I craved.

    Specialty cheeses at most cheese stores and supermarkets run about $20 to $25 a pound. Ditto at farmers markets, but sometimes a cheese maker offers a unique variety you won't find elsewhere. One Connecticut farmer who sells her wares in Brooklyn has an aged "woman-chego" for about $20 a pound. An aged manchego at the supermarket costs about the same but pales in the flavor department. On the other hand, a Massachusetts creamery sells its own very delicious ice cream at the market for $4 a scoop. I can find the same flavors at the local supermarket for $6 a pint, so a farmers market purchase isn't worth it to me.

    Perhaps I'm not a vegetable connoisseur, but to my palate, there's not much difference flavor-wise between farmers market greens and supermarket offerings. Salad-green mixes from the farmers market run about $6 for a bag that's equivalent in size to the clamshell packages of greens sold at the grocery store for about $5. The only variant is the freshness. We've all had supermarket lettuce turn to mush after a few days, whereas leafy greens straight from the farm last close to a week. In summer I eat a lot of salad, so it's a matter of convenience where I buy it.

    Broccoli, chard, and cauliflower also seem to taste the same regardless, so I choose the cheapest option. Cucumbers are cheaper at the farmers market (75 cents each vs. 99 cents) and also much fresher. Carrots are way more expensive at the market: $2.95 for a large bunch (although the price drops as summer progresses) compared with 99 cents a bag at the grocery store. But I opt for the vibrant yellow and purple carrots at the farmers market, especially when I'm entertaining.

    At the time of writing, the summer harvest is coming in, and I am looking forward to peaches, plums, melons, tomatoes, and corn. I could practically live on corn once it ripens. It usually costs about $1 for five ears at the market, but the supermarket in Massachusetts sells local corn for about the same price; again, it's a question of convenience where I buy it. At the height of summer, it really doesn't matter to me how much tomatoes cost; there is such a difference between the fresh fruit of the farmers market and the hard, tasteless specimens at the chain groceries.

     

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    ABC's
    Michael Desmond/ABC via Getty Images
    By Lauren Lyons Cole

    NEW YORK -- When it comes to negotiation, certain guiding principles can make the process more effective and less painful.

    To really master the art, it pays to develop a personal style that works best for you. The cast of ABC's "Shark Tank" has done just that, turning negotiation into entertainment television watched by millions of people. We asked each of the sharks to share his or her fail-proof negotiation tactics, they answers came back mirroring the unique personalities on the show. Keep reading to find out their default approach to negotiating. It just might give you some ideas.

     

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    pencil with the statement of...
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    By Carleton English

    NEW YORK -- As the market examined new job data for July on Friday, analysts at investment bank Goldman Sachs (GS) focused more on wage growth.

    And basically, it has stalled, even though unemployment has fallen to about 5 percent from a high of 10 percent during the financial crisis, Goldman said in a report. Not only was growth lackluster through June, salaries have largely been flat since the late 1970s, according to data pulled from Pew Research.

    July did little to change that: Wages grew a modest 0.2 percent from the month before, the Labor Department reported Friday. Hiring was largely in line with analysts' estimates, with 215,000 jobs added, while the unemployment rate was flat at 5.3 percent.

    Those two data points may be good omens for wages, whose lackluster performance is shown in the graph below, Goldman Sachs says.

    "Each incremental decline in labor-market slack should have a larger positive effect on wage growth as the economy gets closer to full employment, which we would expect in the first half of 2016," analyst Kris Dawsey wrote in the report.

    Stagnant wages have been particularly troubling for Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen, even though the Fed's dual mandate is focused specifically on employment and inflation. The rate of wage gains can can be an indicator of underlying economic challenges, including what the Fed terms "slack," or the gap between current performance level and potential.

    A large number of underemployed workers or discouraged workers who have stopped seeking work would indicate a large amount of slack in the economy which could push wages down. As underemployed and discouraged workers don't figure into the headline unemployment number, it's possible for an unemployment rate to make the economy look stronger than it is. Indeed, Friday's report said the rate that accounts for discouraged workers is 10.4 percent, significantly higher than the overall unemployment figure.

    "The relationship between wage and price inflation is tenuous at best in the short term," Dawsey wrote. "However, we think that Fed officials view wage growth as a useful cross-check on the amount of slack remaining in the labor market, which is difficult to observe directly. In the past, we demonstrated that focusing on wage growth could help the Fed better meet its objectives in terms of inflation and unemployment over time."

     

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    401k - Nest Egg
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    By Kimberly Lankford

    Q. I have a 401(k) and a 457 plan from jobs I left many years ago. How old do I need to be to withdraw the money without a penalty?

    A. You generally must wait until age 59½ to withdraw money from a 401(k) or 403(b) employer-sponsored retirement plan without a 10 percent early withdrawal penalty, but there is an exception: You can take penalty-free withdrawals before then if you were age 55 or older when you left your job.

    And 457 plans, which are generally available to public-sector workers, have an especially generous rule: You can tap the money without the 10 percent early withdrawal penalty anytime after you leave your job, regardless of your age.

    Keep these rules in mind if you're thinking about rolling the money over into an IRA. You can roll money from a 401(k), 403(b) or 457 plan into an IRA after you leave your job, and there are benefits to IRA rollovers: You'll have more investing choices; you can choose the administrator; and you may be able to simplify your finances by consolidating several old plans into one account. But when the money is in a traditional IRA, you'll have to pay a 10 percent penalty if you take the money before age 59½.

    Got a question? Ask Kim at askkim@kiplinger.com.

     

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    Weight Watchers - Strawberry Smoothie Bar
    frozenfoodjournal/Flickr
    Plenty of stocks go up and down in any given week. The gainers inspire us to keep investing. The decliners keep greed in check while reminding us about the risks of the equity markets.

    Let's go over some of last week's best and worst performers.

    Weight Watchers (WTW) -- Up 49 percent last week

    The biggest winner on the New York Stock Exchange last week was Weight Watchers, putting on weight after raising its guidance for all of 2015. The provider of weight-loss management plans did post a sharp year-over-year drop in revenue and earnings. It's in a funk and there's a reason that even with last week's pop the stock has still shed a whopping 76 percent of its value this year. However, boosting its earnings outlook shows that it's making headway in controlling costs even as it tries to win back customers.

    Stamps.com (STMP) -- Up 23 percent last week

    We're relying on Stamps.com more than we used to for online postage and shipping solutions. Revenue at the company soared 41 percent in its latest quarter relative to last year. Wall Street can't seem to keep up with the success at Stamps.com. It has consistently beaten analyst quarterly profit targets over the past year.

    Build-A-Bear Workshop (BBW) -- Up 19 percent last week

    The turnaround at Build-A-Bear continues. The retailer that offers plush animal toys that are stuffed at the store came through with another strong quarter. Comparable-store sales rose 8.7 percent since the prior year, and this is the 10th quarter in a row of operating improvement at Build-A-Bear.

    We can call this the rise and fall and rise of Build-A-Bear. The chain was all the rage a decade ago when it was a popular hub for birthday parties, but then it fell on hard times. It's bouncing back now.

    Lumber Liquidators (LL) -- Down 38 percent last week

    The downward spiral for one of this year's biggest disappointments continues. Things have gone from bad to worse for the country's largest stand-alone seller of hardwood flooring products since a "60 Minutes" report called out safety concerns of its China-sourced laminates.

    Last week it was another lousy quarter leading to another wave of analyst downgrades. The stock has shed 82 percent of its value this year. It just goes to show that you can make selling floors your business, but sometimes there's no floor to your stock price.

    Shutterstock (SSTK) -- Down 37 percent last week

    A lousy quarter, weak guidance and the resignation of its CFO combined to blur the picture at Shutterstock. Jeffries and RBC Capital Markets were among the analysts that downgraded the seller of stock photography.

    Etsy (ETSY) -- Down 36 percent last week

    The online marketplace for arts and crafts may be losing its touch. The stock took a hit after posting another quarter of decelerating growth. Gross merchandise sales clocked in nearly 25 percent higher than a year earlier. That may seem like a strong gain, but it used to be growing faster. There are concerns that competition is looming. Etsy is now trading below April's IPO price of $16.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Lumber Liquidators, Shutterstock, and Stamps.com. The Motley Fool owns shares of Lumber Liquidators. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Check out our free report on one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.

     

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