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►  Walmart dives into voice-activated shopping with Google

Walmart is diving into voice-activated shopping. But unlike online leader Amazon, it’s not doing it alone.

The world’s largest retailer said Wednesday it’s working with Google to offer hundreds of thousands of items from laundry detergent to Legos for voice shopping through Google Assistant. The capability will be available in late September.

It’s Google’s biggest retail partnership — and the most personalized shopping experience it offers — as it tries to broaden the reach of its voice-powered assistant Home speaker. And it underscores Walmart’s drive to compete in an area dominated by Amazon’s Alexa-powered Echo device.

“Voice shopping is becoming a more important part of everyday shopping behavior,” said Marc Lore, CEO of Walmart’s U.S. e-commerce business.

The voice-activated devices are becoming more mainstream as they become more accessible. Even Apple has one coming out this year. Walmart has said Google’s investment in natural language processing and artificial intelligence will help make voice-activated shopping even more popular.

And Lore said the personalization of the partnership means people can shout out generic items like milk, bread and cheese, and Google Assistant will know exactly the brands and the size that the user wants.

Google introduced shopping to Home in February, letting people use voice to order essentials from more than 40 retailers like Target and Costco under its Google Express program. But that was far behind the Echo, available since late 2014.

Walmart, which has more stores than any other retailer and the largest share of the U.S. grocery market, is also working hard to close the gulf online between itself and Amazon.

It has overhauled its shipping strategy and is expanding store-curb pickup for groceries ordered online. But it’s also had to look beyond itself and form partnerships. Walmart announced Monday that it’s expanding its grocery delivery service with ride-hailing service Uber, and it’s been testing same-day delivery service with Deliv at Sam’s Club in Miami.

Amazon generally has been building its network of services on its own, using its $99-a-year Prime membership with same-day and even one-hour shipping options to develop loyalty.

It’s also been drawing in customers with its Alexa-powered devices. Amazon doesn’t give sales figures for Echo, but Consumer Intelligence Research Partners estimated that it’s sold more than 10 million Alexa-powered Echo devices in the U.S. since late 2014. That includes the core $179 Echo as well as the less expensive and smaller Echo Dot and the portable Amazon Tap.

To be more competitive with Amazon, Google Express is scrapping the $95-a-year membership starting Wednesday, allowing shoppers to get free delivery within one to three days on orders as long as the purchase is above each store’s minimum.

Walmart is integrating its Easy Reorder feature — which has data on both store and online purchases — into Google Express. Shoppers who want to reorder their favorites have to link their Walmart account to Google Express.

With other Google Express retailers, personalization takes time as the assistant learns shoppers’ preferences, says Brian Elliott, general manager of Google Express. So the quick personalization with Walmart should make voice-activated shopping more attractive, he says.

While one of Walmart’s biggest advantages over Amazon is its massive number of stores, Amazon’s nearly $14 billion offer for Whole Foods could shake up the landscape.

Walmart says it will be tapping its 4,700 U.S. stores and its fulfillment network next year to offer more kinds of customer experiences using voice shopping. For example, shoppers can tell Google Assistant they want to pick up an order in a store. Lore said the company wants to make voice shopping as easy as possible.

“That’s why it makes sense for us to team up with Google. We know this means being compared side-by-side with other retailers, and we think that’s the way it should be,” Lore wrote in a corporate blog post.

Independent internet analyst Sucharita Mulpuru-Kodal, who was unaware of the Google deal at the time of the interview, says Walmart is going in the right direction, though it has a long way to go. She noted that partnerships with companies like Uber enable the discounter to get the business “up and running” and it will be able to learn a lot.


►  Whole Foods shareholders to get their say on Amazon deal

Whole Foods shareholders will vote on whether to bless a union with Amazon that the organic grocery chain’s CEO called “love at first sight.”

Before agreeing to the $13.7 billion offer, Whole Foods had been under intense shareholder pressure to improve results and retain customers who have more choices about where to get natural foods.

Approval from Whole Foods shareholders on Wednesday is one of the steps required to close the deal. The companies also need approval from government regulators.

Amazon announced plans to buy Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Market Inc. in June. The takeover would give the e-commerce giant more than 460 Whole Foods stores and the possibility of making big changes to the supermarket industry. Seattle-based Amazon.com Inc. has said it expects the deal to close this year.


►  Bayer faces EU review of $66 billion Monsanto deal

Bayer AG faces months of haggling with European Union antitrust regulators who opened an in-depth probe into its $66 billion combination with Monsanto Co. amid concerns the takeover may reduce competition for pesticides, seeds and plant traits.

The European Commission flagged worries that the deal to create the world’s largest pesticides and seeds company risked raising prices for farmers, lowering quality and reducing choice and innovation. It set a January 8 deadline for its merger investigation.

“Seeds and pesticide products are essential for farmers and ultimately consumers,“ Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s competition commissioner, said in an emailed statement on Tuesday. “We need to ensure effective competition so that farmers can have access to innovative products, better quality and also purchase products at competitive prices.“

The Monsanto tie-up is the last of a trio of mega-deals reshaping the global agrochemicals industry. The first two drew intense scrutiny, with regulators saying they wanted to ensure that fewer suppliers of crop-protection products and other critical inputs for farmers wouldn’t ultimately lead to higher prices for consumers.

Bayer said it had expected an extended review “due to the size and scope of the transaction.“ The company said the deal “will be highly beneficial for farmers and consumers” and it will work constructively with the EU.

Monsanto said it was committed to working with regulators globally “with a view to receiving approval of the proposed transaction by the end of 2017.“ It said it looked forward to supporting growers’ efforts to be more productive, profitable and sustainable.

Monsanto and Bayer are “two of a limited number of competitors” making pesticides that are capable of discovering new active ingredients and developing new formulations to tackle issues such as weed resistance to older products, the EU said. Regulators also flagged possible problems over high market shares for vegetable seeds. Bayer is one of the few rivals Monsanto faces for plant traits, such as herbicide tolerance, it said.

The combined firm will have the largest portfolio of pesticides products and the strongest global market positions in seeds and traits. The EU said it will check if rivals’ access to distributors and farmers could worsen if the company were to link sales of pesticides or seeds to digital services that provide tailored advice or aggregated data to farmers.

Regulators’ concerns over innovation for agricultural chemicals saw DuPont Co. offer to sell part of its pesticides business and related research and development operations before it won EU approval to merge with Dow Chemical Co. earlier this year. China National Chemical Corp. also had to make concessions before the EU would clear its $43 billion takeover of Swiss pesticide maker Syngenta AG.

Environmental campaigners have bombarded Vestager with hundreds of tweets in recent weeks, asking her to block the deal, on top of more than 50,000 emails and more than 5,000 postcards and letters the EU said it’s received. Avaaz, a campaign group, called on Vestager “to show she has the guts to choose the public interest over corporate greed.“

Vestager posted a response to petitioners on the EU’s website, saying she was “carefully investigating the merger” and that her review would be limited to competition issues. Other concerns raised by petitioners fall under EU and national rules to protect food safety, consumers, the environment and the climate.

Commitments submitted by Bayer and Monsanto in July to address the EU regulator’s concerns were considered insufficient to send to rivals for feedback, the commission said.

The EU is cooperating closely with the U.S. Department of Justice and antitrust authorities in Australia, Brazil, Canada and South Africa, it said.

Business and Financial News

The Free Press WV

►  Our inner investing life doesn’t reflect reality

If the events of recent weeks (or years) have you asking yourself, “What is wrong with these people?,“ the answer is: not very much. They simply suffer from a small but crucial error in the way their brains create models of the world around them.

That is the conclusion of “The Unpersuadables: Adventures with the Enemies of Science,“ a 2014 book I reread this weekend. The insights of author Will Storr are applicable not only to the current political mayhem but to traders and investors. Indeed, anyone who makes important decisions based on their subjective understandings of the universe stands to learn something about themselves and their decision-making processes.

Storr interviews, and occasionally embeds himself with, people many of us might describe as rather eccentric if not disturbed. UFO abductees, Holocaust deniers, new earth creationists, Western medicine eschewing homeopaths, meditation gurus, extreme yogis, “skeptiks” and past-life regression therapists are among those whose world views are closely examined.

What is so striking about all of the people embracing unorthodox views isn’t that they are insane, but rather that they seem so normal. They are high-functioning individuals, who for reasons that within the book are only hinted at, have a deep flaw in their psychological understanding of how the world works.

Indeed, what is wrong with these people?

They are deeply tribal; they construct story lines to help make sense of the world; when evidence is presented in direct conflict to that narrative, they find ways to dismiss it or ignore it. Their compulsion for emotional narratives overwhelms any sense of data or evidence-based analysis. They are Homo sapiens operating the way Homo sapiens wetware has operated for hundreds of thousands of years. What is so shocking is not that these people are so awful or believe in awful things, but that they are otherwise rational and sane people.

As Storr writes, “Stories change us first, and then they change the world.“

All of our models are imperfect, which is a polite way to say wrong. But the mental images we create of the world we live in don’t have to be perfect; they need only be good enough to allow us to find food and water, avoid becoming someone else’s lunch, locate shelter and generally survive long enough to procreate and perpetuate the species. Good enough is all we need for those purposes.

That, of course, isn’t good enough for deciding where and how to risk money in the capital markets.

And yet this may be counterintuitive: Having a complete and accurate 360-degree view of the world, a model with perfect comprehension of the objective universe, wouldn’t aid the purpose of sustaining human life. That sort of mental model would be a huge burden to create and maintain in terms of sensory perceptions and energy consumption. The human brain weighs 3 pounds, or about 2 percent of body weight, yet it is responsible for using 20 percent of our daily caloric intake.

From an evolutionary perspective, having a perfect model of the world wouldn’t help survival of the species; it might even make perpetuation less likely during times of limited resources or environmental stress.

Storr quotes Jonathan Haidt, the New York University professor of ethical leadership, who notes that the world is “not really one made of rocks, trees, and physical objects; it is a world of insults, opportunities, status symbols, betrayals, saints and sinners.“

In other words, beliefs.

You can see this in the investing debates that take place every day. It is how people rationalize their current holdings. They “talk their book” because portfolios reflect their mental moDelegates Whether you are a value investor or an active trader, you believe you have an understanding of how markets and economies function, and deploy your capital accordingly. You can explain your positioning with a quick story, one that is a product of your world view. But you probably are unaware of how much your subjective inner narrative drives your rationalized views.

Regardless of where you fall in the Federal Reserve debate, or if you think stocks are cheap or expensive, or if this market is too old or has room to run, your mental models are at work. Be aware of how their imperfections might be driving your investing decisions.


►  NCWV gas price averages drop by 3 cents

Gas prices in the northern counties of West Virginia dropped this week by almost 3 cents to an average of $2.329 per gallon, according to AAA East Central’s gas price report.

Gas prices are cheaper in all states in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast on the week with the exception of New York, where gas prices remained stable. With a two-cent decrease, states such as West Virginia are seeing the largest decline in the region.

This week’s average prices:

Northern WV Average: $2.329

Average price during the week of August 14: $2.354

Average price during the week of August 22, 2016 $2.105

The following is a list of the average prices in several West Virginia locations:

Bridgeport: $2.293

Clarksburg: $2.279

Huntington: $2.337

Martinsburg: $2.449

Morgantown: $2.314

Parkersburg: $2.297

Weirton: $2.325

Wheeling: $2.340


►  Drawing nears for Powerball jackpot that’s climbed to $700M

The estimated jackpot for Wednesday night’s Powerball lottery game has climbed to $700 million, making it the second-largest in U.S. history.

Some details about the game and how the prize has grown so large:

___

WHEN IS THE DRAWING AND HOW DOES THE GAME WORK?

The drawing will be Wednesday at 10:59 p.m. Eastern Time in Tallahassee, Florida. Five white balls will be drawn from a drum containing 69 balls and one red ball will be selected from a drum with 26 balls. To win, players need to have paid $2 for a ticket and either have chosen numbers or opted to let a computer make a random choice.

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THE PRIZE

The jackpot is listed as $700 million, but that refers to the annuity option, doled out in 30 payments over 29 years. Nearly all winners favor the cash option, which pays significantly less. For the current jackpot, the cash prize would be $443.3 million.

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THE ODDS

The odds of winning are one in 292.2 million. Tom Rietz, a professor at the University of Iowa who researches probabilities, says one way to think about it is to envision the 324 million U.S. residents. Your chance of winning is roughly comparable to being that one lucky person out of the entire population, with everyone else losing.

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TAXES

Federal income taxes will take a 25 percent bite from winnings. State taxes vary, so the amount winners will pay in taxes depend on where they play. Some of the nation’s biggest states, including California and Texas, don’t assess state taxes on lottery prizes, so winners in those spots would be just a bit richer.

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WHAT IF I MATCH SOME BUT NOT ALL THE NUMBERS?

Face it, you’re almost certainly not going to win the jackpot, but players have much better odds of one in 25 of winning a lesser prize. Those odds range from one in 11.7 million of winning $1 million for matching the five regular balls to one in 38 for matching the Powerball and winning $4.

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WHAT’S THE POINT OF POWERBALL?

Amid all the talk about sudden wealth, it’s easy to forget that the purpose of Powerball is to raise money for government programs in the 44 states where the game is played, as well as Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Each jurisdiction decides how to spend the money raised by Powerball and other lottery games, with some funding college scholarships, others spending the money on transportation and many using it for general state programs.

Business and Financial News

The Free Press WV

►  China’s Great Wall considers bid for Fiat Chrysler Jeep unit

Chinese SUV maker Great Wall Motors is considering making a bid to buy Fiat Chrysler’s Jeep unit, spokespeople for the company said Monday, in a possible ambitious new step onto the global stage for China’s fast-growing auto brands.

Great Wall has yet to formally declare its interest in Jeep, but a possible acquisition would be in line with chairman Wang Jianjun’s goal, announced in February, of becoming the top specialty SUV producer by 2020.

Great Wall “has this intention,” said the public relations director for its Haval SUV brand, Zhao Lijia, when asked about a report by Automotive News that the Chinese automaker wants to buy Jeep. An employee of the press office for the company headquarters, who would give only his surname, Zhang, said, “Yes, we are interested in Jeep.”

Zhao and Zhang said they had no other details when asked about a possible price. Zhao said it may take some time to assemble a formal bid.

Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne has said the company is for sale and cannot compete globally without a tie-up to a bigger partner due to the high costs of developing and marketing vehicles.

In a statement Monday, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV said it had not been approached by Great Wall.

Marchionne said in April that Jeep and Chrysler’s Ram truck brand are strong enough to stand alone. The company spun off its Ferrari brand in 2015 into a separate business.

Chinese companies in industries from autos to robots are spending billions of dollars to acquire brands and technology to strengthen their competitive position at home and speed their development.

Great Wall Motors Ltd., headquartered in Baoding, southwest of Beijing, is one of a series of independent Chinese automakers that have grown up alongside state-owned giants such as Shanghai Automotive Industries.

If it goes ahead with a Jeep bid, Great Wall could become the second Chinese automaker, after Geely Holding Group, to expand onto the global stage by acquiring an established foreign brand.

Geely bought Sweden’s Volvo Cars from Ford Motor Co. in 2010 and has launched a third brand, Lynk & Co., as a partnership between Volvo and Geely’s Chinese brand.

In June, Geely bought a 49.9 percent stake in Malaysian automaker Proton and a controlling interest in British sports car maker Lotus.

In 2011, a state-owned Chinese automaker, Dongfeng Motor Group, bought 14 percent of France’s PSA Peugeot Citroen, Europe’s second-largest automaker.

Great Wall sold just under 1.1 million SUVs last year, behind Jeep’s 1.4 million. Its revenue of 98.6 billion yuan ($14.4 billion) was a fraction of FCA’s global total of $118 billion (111 billion euros), but its $1.5 billion profit was almost equal to the Italian-U.S. automaker’s $1.8 billion.

Great Wall also can draw on strong demand in China, the biggest auto market by units sold. Total SUV sales rose 16.8 percent over a year earlier to 4.5 million in the six months ending in June.

Great Wall emerged from a collective founded in the 1980s to repair and customize vehicles. Wei, then 26, took control in 1990 and shifted into auto manufacturing. The company launched its first sedan in 1993 but narrowed its focus a decade ago to SUVs.

Wei said in February that the company’s “globalization strategy” included improving technology to meet U.S. safety standards. But he gave no indication when Haval might export to the United States or major European markets such as Germany.

Great Wall shares rose 1.6 percent in Hong Kong, while Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV gained 2.8 percent in Milan.


►  Sempra Energy bids $9.45B for Oncor, topping Buffett offer

Sempra Energy is buying Texas power transmitter Oncor for $9.45 billion in cash, wresting it away from Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.

Sempra said Monday that it will also pick up $9.35 billion of the company’s debt. To gain possession of Oncor, Sempra will acquire the reorganized Energy Future Holdings Corp. Energy Future entered bankruptcy in 2014, saddled with more than $40 billion in debt due to cratering energy prices.

Berkshire Hathaway said last month that it would buy Oncor for $9 billion, and last week it stuck to that bid. Hedge fund Elliott Management, which owns a significant portion of Oncor’s debt, opposed Berkshire’s takeover bid, saying it wasn’t enough. But Berkshire Hathaway stood firm on its offer, saying last week that it would not be increasing the bid.

Elliott spokesman Michael O’Looney said the hedge fund supports Sempra’s bid because it will provide more to all of Oncor and Energy Future’s creditors.

Greg Abel, who leads Berkshire Hathaway Energy, said he’s disappointed the Oncor deal was terminated by Energy Future. But Berkshire is entitled to receive a $270 million termination fee that was negotiated.

Sempra expects to close the sale in the first half of next year. The deal still needs the approval of the Public Utility Commission of Texas, U.S. Bankruptcy Court of Delaware, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Once the transaction is complete, Oncor CEO Bob Shapard will become executive chairman of Oncor’s board. Allen Nye, currently Oncor’s general counsel, will succeed Shapard as Oncor CEO. Both will serve on Oncor’s board.

This is the fourth time that that an acquisition attempt has been made for Oncor. There was Berkshire Hathaway’s offer last month. Previously, in April Texas regulators rejected a proposed $18 billion sale of Oncor to NextEra Energy Inc. That price tag included debt. Regulators failed to accept that the NextEra transaction was in the public interest — a requirement for the deal.

A buyout attempt last year backed by the Ray Hunt family of Dallas also faltered.


►  U.S. stock indexes hold steady after back-to-back down weeks

U.S. stock indexes were little changed in midday trading on Monday, holding relatively steady following back-to-back losses for the Standard & Poor’s 500 index over the last two weeks.

The S&P 500 is close to its lowest level in six weeks, but this week may be a calmer one for stocks with few market-moving events approaching on the calendar. The highlight will likely arrive as the weekend approaches, when central bankers from around the world gather in Wyoming.

KEEPING SCORE: The S&P 500 flipped between modest gains and losses through the morning. It was up nearly 2 points, or 0.1 percent, at 2,427, as of noon Eastern time. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 1 points, or less than 0.1 percent, to 21,676. The Nasdaq composite fell 7 points, or 0.1 percent, to 6,210.

CALM CALENDAR: The beginning of this week may be slow for markets. Earnings reporting season is almost over, and roughly 95 percent of companies in the S&P 500 have already said how much they earned during the spring quarter. Few major economic reports are on deck, meanwhile.

A calm week may be welcome, following a second straight, shaky week where the S&P 500 had its biggest one-day loss in three months. Worries about politics, both domestic and international, contributed to the nervousness. The S&P 500 has had two days in the last two weeks where it’s dropped by more than 1 percent. It’s had only four for the year so far, which is well below typical levels.

ROCKY MOUNTAIN HIGH: This week’s highlight will likely be a mountain gathering in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, for central bankers, economists and policy makers. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen and European Central Bank head Mario Draghi are both expected to speak at the symposium, which begins Thursday and is hosted by the Fed’s regional bank in Kansas City.

Tremendous stimulus from central banks has been one of the main reasons for the stock market’s surge since the Great Recession. But the Federal Reserve is now slowly raising interest rates and preparing to pare back the vast trove of bonds that it bought following the 2008 financial crisis. Investors are wondering when the European Central Bank may follow suit.

Jackson Hole has been the site of market-moving news in the past, including in 2010 when former Fed Chair Ben Bernanke signaled the central bank may embark on another round of bond buying to shore up the economy.

KOREA DRILLS: One wild card for markets may lie in Asia, where U.S. and South Korean forces on Monday started their annual joint military exercises. Tensions are higher than usual with North Korea, and Pyongyang in the past has responded to the drills with weapons tests and a string of belligerent rhetoric.

MARKETS ABROAD: In Asia, South Korea’s Kospi index dipped 0.1 percent, Japan’s Nikkei 225 index fell 0.4 percent and the Hang Seng in Hong Kong rose 0.4 percent.

In Europe, France’s CAC 40 fell 0.5 percent, Germany’s DAX lost 0.8 percent and the FTSE 100 in London slipped 0.1 percent.

BENCHED AGAIN: Stocks of athletic-gear companies sank a second straight day, and the 5.3 percent drop for Foot Locker was one of the largest losses among companies in the S&P 500.

Shares tumbled across the industry on Friday after both Foot Locker and Hibbett Sports said revenue fell last quarter. Under Armour’s Class A shares lost 3.4 percent Monday, and Nike fell 2.5 percent.

POWERED UP: Sempra Energy rose 1.3 percent after saying it will buy Texas power-transmission company Oncor for $9.45 billion in cash. The deal snatches Oncor away from Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, which last month said that it would buy the company for $9 billion.

YIELDS: Treasury yields fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note dipped to 2.19 percent from 2.20 percent late Friday. The two-year yield slipped to 1.30 percent from 1.31 percent, and the 30-year yield fell to 2.77 percent from 2.78 percent.

CURRENCIES: The dollar dipped to 108.87 Japanese yen from 109.26 yen late Friday. The euro rose to $1.1812 from $1.1760, and the British pound rose to $1.2902 from $1.2876.

COMMODITIES: Benchmark U.S. crude fell 88 cents to $47.78 per barrel. Brent crude, the international standard, lost $1.12 to $51.60.

Natural gas rose 7 cents $2.97 per 1,000 cubic feet, heating oil fell 4 cents to $1.59 per gallon and wholesale gasoline lost 4 cents to $1.58 per gallon.

Gold rose $4.00 to $1,295.60 per ounce, silver rose 2 cents to $17.02 per ounce and copper gained 5 cents to $2.99 per pound.

Business and Financial News

The Free Press WV

►  11 U.S. states added jobs in July

Hiring increased in 11 U.S. states in July, while the unemployment rate tumbled to record lows in two states.

The Labor Department said Friday that unemployment rates were relatively stable in most states. They fell in 15 states and rose in 23, but many of the changes were statistically insignificant.

The jobs report for states reflects the steady job gains in a recovery from the Great Recession that has entered its ninth year. The overall unemployment rate fell to 4.3 percent last month as employers added 209,000.

Several states saw strong job growth between June and July. California added 82,600 jobs. Florida gained 32,700. Pennsylvania saw hiring of 29,000.

North Dakota’s unemployment rate fell to 2.2 percent, a record low. Tennessee’s rate of 3.4 percent is also a record low for that state.

When unemployment drops that to that low level, businesses may be forced to raise pay to compete for talented workers. So far, wage gains nationwide remain at about 2.5 percent a year, below the 3.5 percent pace normally associated with a healthy economy. But inflation has stayed relatively low, so the wage growth is still leaving many workers better off

Over the past year, Oregon, Arkansas, Florida, New Hampshire, Utah and Texas saw the largest percentage job gains — with growth of at least 2.4 percent. Texas added the most jobs in the past 12 months: 293,400.

Alaska’s unemployment rate of 7.0 percent is the nation’s highest, followed by New Mexico at 6.3 percent.

The unemployment rate fell by 1.4 percentage points in Indiana, Tennessee and Wyoming over the past year — the biggest declines in the country.


►  Fixed mortgage rates continue their slide, falling to two-month lows

Global and domestic unrest put downward pressure on mortgage rates this week.

According to the latest data released Thursday by Freddie Mac, the 30-year fixed-rate average slipped to 3.89 percent with an average 0.4 point. (Points are fees paid to a lender equal to 1 percent of the loan amount.) It was 3.90 percent a week ago and 3.43 percent a year ago. The 30-year fixed rate is at its lowest level since late June.

The 15-year fixed-rate average slid to 3.16 percent with an average 0.5 point. It was 3.18 percent a week ago and 2.74 percent a year ago. The five-year adjustable rate average moved slightly higher to 3.16 percent with an average 0.4 point. It was 3.14 percent a week ago and 2.76 percent a year ago.

Tensions over North Korea and the racist violence in Charlottesville had already stoked anxiety among investors. Then came Donald Trump’s decision to disband two corporate advisory councils in the wake of the mass resignation of business leaders. Although the president’s move came too late in the week to affect Freddie Mac’s survey, political drama tends to drive investors toward bonds and away from stocks, pushing rates lower.

How much lower rates will fall depends on what lies ahead. Besides concerns over domestic and international turmoil, investors are beginning to lose faith the administration will enact fiscal reforms.

Bankrate.com, which puts out a weekly mortgage rate trend index, found that half of the experts it surveyed say rates will remain relatively stable in the coming week. Brett Sinnott, vice president of capital markets at CMG Financial, is one who expects rates to hold steady.

“Even with the political gridlock and ever-widening division between government parties, mortgage rates have been able to avoid any major disruptions and remained relatively calm for almost all of the summer,“ Sinnott said. “The Fed is still contemplating another rate increase in December and is still expected to release a plan in regards to balance sheet correction when they meet next month. Unfortunately, it is difficult to tell whether or not it would be positive or negative.“

Meanwhile, mortgage applications were flat last week, according to the latest data from the Mortgage Bankers Association. The market composite index – a measure of total loan application volume – ticked up slightly 0.1 percent. The refinance index rose 2 percent, while the purchase index fell 2 percent.

The refinance share of mortgage activity accounted for 47.8 percent of all applications.

The latest downturn “in rates led to an increase in refinance activity, as borrowers took advantage of the opportunity,“ said Michael Fratantoni, MBA’s chief economist. “Purchase application volume was little changed for the week, dropping 1.5 percent, but remains about 10 percent ahead of last year’s pace.“

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