Friday, July 23, 2010

Gas Prices Around the World: What It Costs to Fill 'Er Up

$43.52: That's what Americans now pay, on average, to fill a midsize car's 16-gallon tank, with prices for unleaded regular gasoline at $2.72 a gallon, according to AAA. All in all, it's been a relatively good summer for U.S. drivers as fuel costs continue to remain well below $3, even if they're still currently about 25 cents higher than a year ago.

And after Labor Day, Fred Rozell, director of Retail Pricing at the Oil Price Information Service (OPIS), sees prices retreating from summer levels. Because crude prices remain relatively steady and the economy looks like it's "going to be in malaise for quite some time," Rozell says, "I would suspect after the hurricane season you'll see prices decrease. I don't think they'll get as low as $2, but they could get down to around $2.20 or $2.30."

Still, whether costs dip or not, gasoline is a downright bargain for Americans compared to what many of our overseas neighbors pay. Even in the Western U.S., where gas prices are now running at nearly $3.50 a gallon, they'd still be the envy of many drivers in big cities across the globe. (more)

President Obama signs six-month extension of emergency unemployment benefits

By Lori Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 23, 2010

President Obama signed a six-month extension of emergency jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed on Thursday, restoring aid to nearly 3 million people whose checks have been cut off since the program expired in early June.

The White House signing ceremony came barely three hours after the House approved the $34 billion measure on a vote of 272 to 152. The Senate passed the measure Wednesday after a months-long stalemate.

"Americans who are fighting to find a good job and support their families will finally get the support they need to get back on their feet during these tough economic times," Obama said in a statement. He called on Congress to swiftly approve additional measures to create jobs and bolster the sluggish recovery, including a package of small-business incentives that faced a battery of GOP objections in the Senate late Thursday. (more)

Stocks Fall, Treasurys Up As Bernanke Outlook Gloomy

(Dow Jones)--Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke left investors disappointed after he painted a gloomy picture of the U.S. economy but gave no indication that the Fed is preparing any new stimulus measures.

Stocks and other assets with greater exposure to risk fell, while U.S. Treasurys gained sharply as Bernanke delivered his much-awaited semiannual address to Congress, describing the economic outlook as "unusually uncertain."

The Fed chairman reiterated the central bank's official view that interest rates would stay near zero for "an extended period." But although he stressed that it is "prepared to take further policy actions as needed to foster a return to full utilization of our nation's productive potential," he offered no new policy options for reversing the recent slowdown in the U.S. economic recovery.

In answer to senators' questions, Bernanke later explored the possibility of further stimulus measures "if the recovery seems to be faltering," but in failing to address this in his prepared remarks he left investors disappointed. (more)

Americans' economic insecurity at 25-year high

(MarketWatch) -- Insecure about your finances? You're not alone. Economic insecurity in the U.S. is at its highest point in 25 years, according to a report released late Wednesday.

Almost one in five Americans are estimated to be insecure in 2010, compared with less than one in eight in 1985, according to the report from the New York-based philanthropy Rockefeller Foundation, and Jacob Hacker, a political science professor at Yale University.

"There is a clear long-term upward trend in the economic insecurity of American families," Hacker said in a statement.

"And while economic insecurity is substantially higher for less affluent and educated Americans than for other groups, it has risen across virtually all parts of American society -- it's an issue squarely confronting the American middle class." (more)

Oil hits 11-week high above $79 on storm threat

(Reuters) - Oil jumped more than 3 percent to a 11-week high above $79 a barrel on Thursday as a potential tropical storm threatened energy installations in the Gulf of Mexico and strong earnings boosted investor sentiment.

Some companies operating in U.S. waters off the Gulf Coast pulled nonessential workers on forecasts a tropical depression off the Bahamas could become a storm over the next 12 hours.

Forecasts call for the storm to pass over key oil and natural gas production areas before making landfall in Louisiana or Texas in four days.

All of the weather models forecast the depression to skirt south of Florida and move northwest across the oil producing central Gulf of Mexico before hitting the coast of Louisiana or Texas.

U.S. crude oil for September delivery settled up $2.74, or 3.58 percent, at $79.30 a barrel, the highest settlement since May 5. Trading ranged from $76.16 to $79.42, highest intraday peak since prices reached $80.39 on May 6, and breaking through key resistance in afternoon activity. (more)

3 Stocks With Large Dividend Boosts

Sizable dividend boosts are an excellent sign for investors for two reasons. First, they suggest as much as any other measure that payments are safe. Companies can and do trim payments, but managers are generally loathe to do so, and few would announce increases if they had reason to believe cuts might become necessary. Second, dividends are more important to total returns than most investors believe. According to a 2002 study published in Financial Analysts Journal, over two centuries ended 2001, U.S. stocks provided an average dividend yield of 4.9%. A $100 investment during that period grew to $2,099, net of inflation, assuming dividends were spent, and $37 million assuming dividends were reinvested.

The three companies below don't have the highest dividend yields among S&P 500 index members, however, they have announced the largest increases, committing to spend 25% to 50% more than they had been. (more)

The Fertilizer Crisis

People need food. Food needs fertilizer. One of the world's most important fertilizers is in short supply. That fertilizer is potash.

One of the first things people change as they emerge from poverty is their diet. They move toward more meat and a greater variety of fruits and vegetables. So while we may wonder about how many cars or toasters the brave new world's top consumers will want, we know for sure they'll eat more food.

But the web of food production shivers and shakes in the short term in response to economic pressures. Farmers cut back - like everybody else - in 2008 and 2009. One of the things they cut back on was fertilizer. They used 30-40% less potash than usual, for instance. Potash, a key fertilizer ingredient, saw six consecutive quarters of falling volumes.

Farmers ran down their inventories. All that deferred buying pushed North American potash inventories below their five-year averages - first time that's happened since November 2008. In some cases, farmers didn't apply potash at all. Potash stays in the soil for up to two years, so you can skip applications. But you can do that for only so long. (more)

Mish: Ponzi "Shark Loans" Fuel China's Housing Bubble; Home Sales Plunge 44% in Xiamen; Bubble Busts in Tianjin

China's property bubble is now on the verge of collapse. Transaction volumes are significantly down and declining volume is how property bubbles always burst. In simple terms, the pool of greater fools eventually runs out.

In China's case, the pool of fools is heavily involved in "loan shark" schemes where speculators hope property values rise fast enough to cover the interest.

Ponzi Loan Shark Operations Fuel Bubble

Please consider The Secret Engine Behind China’s Housing Bubble- The Ponzi Shark Loan Finance

In this article we will show how the ponzi shark loan scheme works and why we think the regime in China will fall. Our research is based on sources INSIDE CHINA

This is how this Ponzi scheme works: (more)

The Tax Tsunami On The Horizon

Fiscal Policy: Many voters are looking forward to 2011, hoping a new Congress will put the country back on the right track. But unless something's done soon, the new year will also come with a raft of tax hikes — including a return of the death tax — that will be real killers.

Through the end of this year, the federal estate tax rate is zero — thanks to the package of broad-based tax cuts that President Bush pushed through to get the economy going earlier in the decade.

But as of midnight Dec. 31, the death tax returns — at a rate of 55% on estates of $1 million or more. The effect this will have on hospital life-support systems is already a matter of conjecture. (more)

Stocks to Watch Friday

(MarketWatch) -- Among the companies whose shares are expected to see active trade in Friday's session are Ford Motor Co., Honeywell International Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc.

Ford /quotes/comstock/13*!f/quotes/nls/f (F 12.21, +0.12, +0.99%) is expected to report earnings of 40 cents per share and revenue of $29.5 billion for the second quarter of 2010, according to Fact Set.

Honeywell /quotes/comstock/13*!hon/quotes/nls/hon (HON 42.50, -0.16, -0.38%) is expected to report earnings of 57 cents per share and revenue of $8 billion for the second quarter of 2010.

Verizon /quotes/comstock/13*!vz/quotes/nls/vz (VZ 27.10, +0.10, +0.37%) is expected to report earnings of 56 cents per share and revenue of $27 billion for the second quarter of 2010.

Amazon /quotes/comstock/15*!amzn/quotes/nls/amzn (AMZN 106.88, -13.19, -10.99%) reported a strong gain in net earnings for the second quarter on Thursday, but the final results missed Wall Street's estimates thanks to higher-than-expected costs for the period. The company said it earned $207 million, or 45 cents a share, for the period ended June 30. The online retailer saw its shares take a big hit in after-hours trading, falling by 14%, following the results. (more)

Chart of the Day

courtesy of