Weekly U.S. Oil and Natural Gas Rig Count Unchanged at 884

The Gilmer Free Press

HOUSTON, TX - Oilfield services company Baker Hughes Inc. says the number of rigs exploring for oil and natural gas in the U.S. this week remained steady at 884.

Houston-based Baker Hughes said 672 rigs were seeking oil and 211 explored for natural gas.

One was listed as miscellaneous.

A year ago, 1,913 rigs were active.

Among major oil- and gas-producing states, Texas gained six rigs, Alaska was up three and Colorado, Kansas and Wyoming each rose by two.

Louisiana and Oklahoma declined by four rigs apiece, New Mexico and North Dakota were down two, and Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia dropped by one each.

Arkansas, California and Utah were unchanged.

The U.S. rig count peaked at 4,530 in 1981 and bottomed at 488 in 1999.

Wall Street Up on Housing Data; Disney Boosts Media Stocks

The Gilmer Free Press

U.S. stocks rose on Monday after strong economic data boosted the housing sector and as investors bought recently battered shares in biotech and media.

Housing stocks rose after data showed U.S. homebuilder sentiment rose in August to its highest since a matching reading almost a decade ago.

The data more than offset earlier concern over a surprise fall in manufacturing activity in New York state in August.

An index of housing sector stocks .HGX gained 1.2 percent to hit its highest in 8-1/2 years.

Consumer stocks were among the day’s gainers led by media companies including Disney (DIS.N), which announced over the weekend plans for two theme park expansions that will bring the celebrated Star Wars movie franchise to life.

Disney shares gained 1.8 percent to $109.05 and Time Warner Inc (TWX.N) and Charter Communications (CHTR.O) also rose sharply. A reading of the sector’s stocks .DZM rose 1.3 percent after closing on Friday with its largest two-week drop in almost four years on investor concern over the future of media consumption.

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI rose 67.78 points, or 0.39 percent, to 17,545.18, the S&P 500 .SPX gained 10.9 points, or 0.52 percent, to 2,102.44 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC added 43.46 points, or 0.86 percent, to 5,091.70.

Among the best performing stocks on the S&P 500 and largest boost to the Nasdaq were those in biotech. The Nasdaq Biotech Index .NBI rose 2.1 percent after falling 4.8 percent over the previous two weeks.

With 92 percent of the S&P 500 companies having reported results so far, second-quarter earnings are expected to have edged up 1.2 percent, while revenue is expected to have fallen 3.5 percent.

Tesla (TSLA.O) rose 4.9 percent to $254.99 after Morgan Stanley raised its price target on the stock to $465 from $280 and said Tesla was its top pick among U.S. automakers.

Zulily (ZU.O) soared 49.1 percent to $18.74 after Liberty Interactive (QVCA.O) said it would buy the online retailer for $2.4 billion. Liberty was down 1.5 percent at $29.80.

Estee Lauder (EL.N) fell 6.8 percent to $82.80 after the cosmetics maker reported lower-than-expected quarterly sales.

The S&P 500 posted 29 new 52-week highs and 12 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 92 new highs and 83 new lows.

About 5.4 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, below the 6.84 billion daily average for the month to date.

Average U.S. Rate on 30-year Mortgage Edges up to 3.94%

The Gilmer Free Press

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Average long-term U.S. mortgage rates edged up this week after three straight weeks of declines. The key 30-year loan rate remained under 4 percent.

Mortgage giant Freddie Mac said Thursday the average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rose to 3.94 percent from 3.91 percent a week earlier. The rate on 15-year fixed-rate mortgages increased to 3.17 percent from 3.13 percent.

A solid U.S. employment report for July out last Friday – with employers adding 215,000 jobs and the jobless rate steady at 5.3 percent – means there’s a strong chance that the anticipated interest rate increase by the Federal Reserve will occur next month. The Fed has kept its key short-term rate near zero since the financial crisis year 2008.

However, China’s sharp and sudden devaluation of its currency against the dollar this week could complicate the Fed’s decision on timing of a rate increase. The rising dollar has been hurting U.S. exporters by making their goods costlier abroad. By making Chinese goods comparatively cheaper in the United States, a weaker yuan would push already-low U.S. inflation even lower.

The Fed wants to be “reasonably confident” that inflation is returning to its 2 percent target before raising rates. Inflation has risen just 1.3 percent in the past 12 months.

To calculate average mortgage rates, Freddie Mac surveys lenders across the country at the beginning of each week. The average doesn’t include extra fees, known as points, which most borrowers must pay to get the lowest rates. One point equals 1 percent of the loan amount.

The average fee for a 30-year mortgage was unchanged from last week at 0.6 point. The fee for a 15-year loan also held steady at 0.6 point.

The average rate on five-year adjustable-rate mortgages fell to 2.93 percent from 2.95 percent; the fee increased to 0.5 point from 0.4 point. The average rate on one-year ARMs jumped to 2.62 percent from 2.54 percent; the fee was unchanged at 0.3 point.

Wall Street Edges Up after Upbeat Data, Greek Bailout Agreement

The Gilmer Free Press

U.S. stocks ended a volatile week higher on Friday after upbeat U.S. economic data and as euro zone finance ministers agreed to launch a third bailout program for Greece.

All three major indexes also ended the week with slight gains, bouncing back from losses earlier in the week set off by worries over a slowdown in China and a yuan devaluation.

Gains in shares of retailers helped buoy the market. Nordstrom (JWN.N) and J.C. Penney (JCP.N) both rose after the department store chains posted better-than-expected quarterly results.

U.S. producer prices rose for a third straight month in July, suggesting the drag on inflation from weaker oil prices was easing, while industrial output advanced at its strongest pace in eight months.

Though the Chinese currency devaluation added some uncertainty to the outlook for a Federal Reserve interest rate hike, most traders and economists are still expecting a September increase.

That kept the market from breaking out of its trading range, said Michael James, managing director of equity trading at Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles.

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI rose 69.15 points, or 0.4 percent, to 17,477.4, while the S&P 500 .SPX gained 8.15 points, or 0.39 percent, to 2,091.54.

The Nasdaq Composite .IXIC, which swung 167 points from its low this week to its high, added 14.68 points, or 0.29 percent, to 5,048.24.

For the week, the Dow rose 0.6 percent, the S&P 500 added 0.7 percent and the Nasdaq gained 0.1 percent.

The day’s economic data followed strong employment and retail sales data for July on Thursday, which overall suggested the third quarter was off to a healthy start.

Nine of the 10 S&P 500 sectors ended higher.

Energy shares dipped in afternoon trade and the energy index .SPNY ended down 0.2 percent. Still, the energy index rose 3.2 percent for the week, its biggest gain since March.

J.C. Penney rose 5.6 percent at $8.52, Nordstrom jumped 4.3 percent to $78.13 and was among the biggest percentage gainers in the S&P 500, while the S&P retail index .SPXRT rose 0.4 percent.

Restaurant operator El Pollo Loco (LOCO.O) fell 20.7 percent to $14.56, below its IPO price, after weak quarterly results.

Sysco (SYY.N) rose 7.4 percent to $41.38 after Nelson Peltz reported a 7-percent stake in the food distributor and said he would seek representation on the company’s board.

NYSE advancers outnumbered decliners 2,072 to 962; on the Nasdaq, 1,697 issues rose and 1,096 fell. The S&P 500 posted 21 new 52-week highs and 11 new lows; the Nasdaq recorded 62 new highs and 101 new lows.

About 5.2 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, below the 7.1 billion daily average for the month to date.

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