Each week I read hundreds—if not thousands—of headlines and breaking news stories. Most don’t deserve a second look, but this week there were a few that I think you’ll be interested to hear about and that you should keep an eye on:
- On news of increased international pressure on Iran and indications for increased global demand, Brent crude prices rose to $128 per barrel—a four-year high. In the past week alone, average U.S. gas prices have jumped $0.13 per gallon. Average gas prices now top $4 in Alaska, California and Hawaii.
- Rumors are swirling around about Apple’s (APPL) new iPad 3, which is slated to be released next week. New features may include a better camera, high-powered processors and a higher-resolution screen. Apple is allegedly going to also unveil a bargain-priced version of the new iPad with only 8GB of storage. By comparison, the most dressed down version of the iPad 2 has 16GB. Perhaps due to the excitement surrounding the new gadget, Apple’s market cap topped $500 billion this week.
- This morning, management at Bank of America Corp. (BAC) announced that they are testing new charges that would require many checking account holders to pay anywhere from $6 to $25 per month for their previously free service. These new fees are perhaps in response to the Dodd-Frank law, which limits how much financial institutions could charge merchants for accepting credit and debit cards. With these new charges, Bank of America would join the ranks of J.P. Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo, but risks alienating its customers. Only last fall, when the bank tried to impose a $5 monthly fee on debit card users, the bank lost enough customers to lose its ranking as the “nation’s largest bank”.
We also had a slew of economic reports that were released today:
- Initial claims for unemployment, an indicator of the direction of the job market, remained flat at 351,000. Economists expected the measure to rise to 355,000. Meanwhile, last week’s reading was revised upwards slightly by 2,000. This has brought the four-week moving average down to 354,000.
- Both personal income and personal consumption expenditures made modest gains in January, but did not top analyst estimates. Personal income crept up 0.3% thanks to gains from both the public and private sectors. Economists forecast a 0.4% gain. Meanwhile, PCE advanced 0.2%, in line with economists’ estimates. This represent’s a slight uptick from December’s 0.1% gain. The personal savings rate remained at a high level—4.6% in January compared with 4.7% in December.
- Construction spending dipped 0.1% in January, compared with a 1.4% gain in December. Economists expected construction spending to climb 0.5%.
- February same-store sales were released for dozens of retailers; these businesses advanced same-store sales by 6.5%, representing a significant uptick from January’s 4.2% gain. Economists expected same-store sales to climb 3.4%.
In a nutshell, the major indices vacillated through the day on these mixed economic reports, as well climbing oil prices. The Dow closed just under the psychologically significant 13,000 mark today, and it may take another big push—perhaps next week’s Unemployment Rate report—to get the Dow to trade consistently above this level.