The US Labor Department reported Tuesday that the nations import prices subsided in April, easing inflation concerns for American households, thanks mainly to a decline in oil prices. According to the report, import prices fell by 0.5 percent from the prior month, marking the largest such decline since last December. The agency also revised its data for March, showing a 0.2 percent dip in prices instead of the originally reported 0.5 percent drop. With April's decline, and the March revision, import prices have now fallen 2.6 percent over the last 12 months through April. In a recent poll conducted by Reuters, economists projected the 0.5 percent slip in April, on average, as oil prices drove the decline. If oil prices were taken out of the equation, import prices would only have slipped 0.1 percent.
Ever since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December, business has been good for manufacturers of firearms and ammo, though somebody forgot to tell investors, as shares in companies like Sturm Ruger, Smith and Wesson and others are starting to level off. Sales are up drastically, as there were 44 percent more background checks conducted during the first quarter than in the same period a year earlier. Though not all background checks end in a gun purchase, the upswing suggests high demand in response to political rhetoric about gun control legislation. Gun stocks have risen as, well, though not at the same pace. Sturm Ruger has been the best performer among major gun makers, with shares gaining 10 percent so far this year, while Smith & Wesson stock has improved about 3 percent.
Ford Results Beat the Street on Strong North American Performance
Ford Motor Company issued its first-quarter results Tuesday, surpassing analyst expectations with earnings as its performance in North America helped offset weakness in other parts of the world. The performance is a reflection of Ford's efforts over the last 18 months to expand its stable of offerings while pumping new life into its F-Series of pickup trucks. Thanks to its success in the US, Ford said its revenue and deliveries increased in the quarter by about 10 percent on a year-over-year basis.
Internet radio pioneer Pandora reached a major milestone this week, announcing Tuesday that it has surpassed 200 million registered users. At just under 2 years since reaching 100 million users, the achievement came at an accelerated pace compared to the company's first 100 million users, which took six years to amass. In a blog post, Pandora founder Tim Westergren applauded the milestone. In addition to signing up more than 200 million users, Pandora is also streaming songs at an impressive rate, delivering more than 1.5 billion hours of music in March alone. Those songs were from more than 100,000 different artists and over a million unique songs were streamed.
An Appeals Court judge in New York ruled Friday that a lawsuit against Swedish bank UBS over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgage-related losses may proceed. Filed by the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the agency that oversees the two mortgage behemoths, the claim is but one of more than a dozen suits brought against banks over massive losses suffered by the mortgage insurers when the housing market collapsed in 2007. According to the FHFA, the two companies lost close to $200 billion on bad mortgages during the recession. UBS asked the judge, presiding over the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals, to dismiss the suit, but the judge ruled that the FHFA did not wait too long after taking control of Fannie and Freddie and that it had a basis to bring a case.
A report on the US manufacturing sector, issued Monday, showed a slowdown in the sector in excess of the small decline analysts were expecting. The Institute for Supply Management's manufacturing index came in at a reading of 51.3 for March, down from February's 54.2. The reading also fell short of the 54.0 reading projected, on average, by a group of economists that took part in a recent Bloomberg News survey. Of course, the ISM's index is calculated so that any reading above 50 equates to growth in the sector, and March did mark the fourth straight month with the index demonstrating growth.
According to numerous reports across the Web, Google is close to releasing a new note-taking application meant to challenge Evernote, the clear-cut leader in the space with more than 50 million users worldwide. Tech blogs and news sites were busy Monday with reports that Google debuted a new desktop-based App called Keep on Google Drive Sunday, leaving the app up for just 30 minutes before taking it down. Android Police noted that the service is somewhat similar to Notebook, Google's note-taking program that was sunsetted in 2009. A spokesman for Google declined to comment on the new app.
The National Association of Home Builders reported Monday that its index of builder sentiment, compiled jointly with Wells Fargo, fell for the third straight month in March, following eight straight months of gains. While home prices are up, and many builders are seeing elevated demand, builders are being hindered by legislative delays in developing lots as well as rising costs for labor and building materials. In addition, many potential buyers are unable to qualify for credit to buy new homes because of lenders' demands for high credit scores or down payments.
Since the onset of America's worst economic downturn since the 1930s, the economy has been in a state of constant recovery. Manufacturing, consumer spending and other parts of the economy have shown signs of solid growth at times, but a couple of US economic sectors have lagged behind: housing and the labor market. Based on recent reports, however, it seems as if both sectors are finally gaining some momentum. To put an even more positive spin on things, the housing recovery actually drives improvement in the labor market, as new homes require workers to build them, so the trend is likely to gain even more steam.
US consumer confidence rose more than expected in February, according to a survey released Friday by the University of Michigan and Thomson Reuters. The group's final index for the month produced a reading of 77.6, up from the previous month's 73.8 result, whereas economists in a recent Bloomberg survey were expecting a reading of 76.3 on average. Economists hope the gain in consumer confidence will lead to an improvement in consumer spending, a vital part of the economy that accounts for more than two-thirds of overall US GDP.