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AAA: Gas Prices May Have Peaked

The Gilmer Free Press

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The national average retail price for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline in the United States is likely near its yearly peak, motor club AAA said.

AAA reports a national average price for a gallon of gasoline at around $2.74, a slight decrease from Monday but nearly 3 percent, or roughly 10 cents, more than one month ago. The current national average has held steady for the better part of the week.

“The national average price for regular unleaded gasoline has remained steady over the past week and continues to hover near at what many expect to be the highest average of the year,“ the motor club said in its weekly status report.

Drivers in Midwest states have suffered the most because of limitations are regional refineries that produce gasoline. The U.S. Energy Department said in a weekly petroleum report last week that Midwest gasoline production was the lowest it’s been since March.

For California, AAA said “a surge in imports” has helped offset refinery issues on the West Coast, making the Golden State the only one in the country to see prices at the pump fall dramatically.

The motor club said crude oil prices, and thereby gasoline prices, are likely to fall in response to last week’s decisions from members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

“Gas prices likely are poised for a seasonal decline given that refineries generally complete maintenance by this time of year and gear up production for the busy summer driving season,“ AAA said. “In addition, the cost of crude oil is unlikely to rise significantly in the near term given that OPEC decided not to cut production at its most recent meeting.“

This summer, AAA said, may be the cheapest for gas prices since 2009.

Wall Street Ends Flat; S&P 500 Snaps Three-Day Losing Streak

The Gilmer Free Press

U.S. stocks ended flat on Tuesday though the S&P 500 snapped three days of losses as financial and consumer staples shares bounced.

Shares of biotech companies were among the biggest drags, including Biogen (BIIB.O), down 1.1% at $382. The NASDAQ Biotech Index .NBI was down 0.7%.

The S&P financials .SPSY were up 0.3%, helped by prospects for higher interest rates, while S&P consumer staples .SPLRCS rose 0.5%, led by a 1.5% gain in Procter & Gamble (PG.N)

People are sick of timing the Fed when it comes to this sector. People don’t want to miss the boat.

Another batch of strong economic data underscored views that the Federal Reserve could raise interest rates in September.

Data showed that U.S. job openings surged to a record high in April and small business confidence increased in May, signs that the economy was regaining momentum after stumbling at the start of the year.

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI fell 2.51 points, or 0.01%, to 17,764.04, the S&P 500 .SPX gained 0.87 points, or 0.04%, to 2,080.15 and the NASDAQ Composite .IXIC dropped 7.76 points, or 0.15%, to 5,013.87.

The Dow Jones transportation average .DJT ended down 0.3%, just shy of correction territory, which would be a drop of 10% from its Dec. 29, 2014, record close of 9,217.44.

“It’s a market that’s searching for a rationale at this point ... and waiting for next week’s (Fed) meeting,“ said Quincy Krosby, market strategist at Prudential Financial, which is based in Newark, New Jersey.

Shares of Procter & Gamble climbed 1.5% to $78.90, leading gains in the staples sector, after Reuters, citing people familiar with the matter, reported late Monday that Henkel & Co (HNKG_p.DE) and Coty Inc (COTY.N) made binding offers to buy separate parts of Procter & Gamble Co’s beauty businesses.

Shares of Hovnanian Enterprises (HOV.N) dropped 9.8% to $2.86, the lowest since 2012, after disappointing results.

Lululemon (LULU.O) shares rose 11% to $68.27 after the Canadian yogawear retailer raised its full-year revenue and earnings forecast.

Sage Therapeutics (SAGE.O) jumped 15.4% to $86.71 after its experimental injectable drug was found to be effective in treating postpartum depression.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,976 to 1,066, for a 1.85-to-1 ratio on the downside; on the NASDAQ, 1,645 issues fell and 1,093 advanced for a 1.51-to-1 ratio favoring decliners.

The S&P 500 posted 10 new 52-week highs and nine new lows; the NASDAQ Composite recorded 88 new highs and 46 new lows.

About 5.9 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, about even with the 6.1 billion daily average for the month to date, according to data from BATS Global Markets.

Can You Pass This Retirement Quiz?

The Gilmer Free Press

Ready for a quick quiz on how Social Security benefits work?

You should ace it. After all, Social Security is the most important retirement benefit for most Americans, and understanding the rules is critical for getting the most out of the program.


So here we go with a few questions:

1. At what age can you receive your full benefit?

2. Can you keep working while collecting a full benefit?

3. If you are divorced, can you collect a benefit based on your ex-spouse’s earning history?

4. Can you receive a benefit even if you are not a U.S. citizen?


Only 28% of Americans can give enough correct answers to questions like these to get a passing grade, according to a new survey by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co.

Just one in 1,500 respondents correctly answered all 12 questions, and only 38% got more than half of the answers right.

The findings are disturbing. Ninety% of Americans over age 65 receive Social Security benefits, and, for 65%, the program provides more than half of total income, according to the National Academy of Social Insurance. For 36%, Social Security is the entire retirement income ballgame.

“We didn’t expect everyone to get a 100% score, but what shocked us was that only 28% got a passing grade,” said Michael R. Fanning, executive vice president of MassMutual’s U.S. Insurance Group.

The silver lining is that the retirement industry has ramped up efforts to educate workers about Social Security. Information and tools about benefits are cropping up in many workplace 401(k) plans, and much media coverage of the program has shifted of late away from political rants to useful information.

So how did you do? Here are the answers:


FULL BENEFIT AGE

Most people got this wrong. Some 71% of respondents think 65 is still the full retirement age for Social Security. But it is 66 for today’s retirees and will be 67 for people retiring in 2022.

Only 57% of respondents were aware that the timing of their claim affects the monthly benefit amount.


WORKING WHILE RECEIVING BENEFITS

Slightly more than half missed this one, believing people can continue to work while collecting a full Social Security retirement benefit. But that is true only if you have reached your full retirement age.

This year, an early Social Security filer with income of more than $15,720 from work (employment or self-employment) will pay a penalty. One dollar will be deducted from benefit payments for every $2 earned above that limit.


COLLECT FROM AN EX-SPOUSE

Just 45% think that it is possible to claim a benefit on the record of an ex-spouse. They are correct, and it does not matter if that ex-spouse has remarried.

This can boost benefits dramatically, since spousal and survivor benefits are among the most valuable features of Social Security.

You can claim half of an ex-spouse’s benefit if you are at full retirement age (currently 66), had been married for at least 10 years, and if that benefit works out to be higher than your own. You are entitled to 100% of a deceased ex-spouse’s benefit.


CITIZENSHIP

Three-quarters of survey respondents think that being an American citizen is necessary to receive Social Security retirement benefits. But the main eligibility requirement to receive benefits is paying into the system.

You must have contributed payroll taxes for a cumulative total of at least 40 quarters (10 years). Along with citizens, individuals who are “lawfully present” in the United States, including permanent residents, refugees and asylum seekers, are eligible for benefits.

Apple Announce Streaming Music Service

The Gilmer Free Press

Apple launched Apple Music on Monday, a $9.99-a-month streaming music service that may not differ dramatically from competitors but comes with Apple’s deep music roots, global brand and hundreds of millions of iTunes customers.

Apple’s push into the streaming business will likely alter the dynamics of how consumers listen to music as the music industry grapples with declines in downloaded songs and tries to figure out new ways to get people to pay for music.

“The Apple brand speaks for itself and it will have an earthquake-like impact on the industry,“ said Daniel Ives, an analyst with FBR Markets. “Given the gold standard brand, given Apple’s breadth and awareness, it’s more important what Apple is doing strategically than moving the needle financially.“

Offering few surprises to what had been expected, Apple Inc (AAPL.O) shares did not react strongly, closing down less than 1% at $127.80.

“The only thing that is going to move Apple stock is iPhone sales and there wasn’t enough news to be a mover in profitability,“ said Michael Yoshikami, the chief executive officer of Destination Wealth Management in Walnut Creek, California.

The unveiling of the service, the kick-off to the week-long Worldwide Developers Conference, also included the announcement of an upgraded operating system for Apple’s watch that will let developers create speedier “native” apps that rely less on the iPhone. Apple said that “El Capitan” will be the name of the next version of OS X for its Macs.

It disclosed that the next version of the software that powers iPhones and iPads, called iOS 9, will come out this fall and detailed the continued expansion of Apple Pay, which will launch in the United Kingdom next month.

But the music service was the star of the show. Apple introduced it with clips and live appearances by stars like Drake and up-and-comer The Weeknd. Legendary music industry figure Jimmy Iovine, who came to the company as part of its acquisition of Beats, took the stage to unveil details of the new service.

Apple’s music service will enable artists to share songs directly with fans, include a global 24/7 radio station named Beats 1 and stream music from the entire iTunes catalog. Apple Music follows similar streaming services from Spotify, which streams music from record labels and media companies, Pandora, a self-described personalized radio station and others.

Apple Music’s $9.99-a-month price takes effect after a three-month free subscription period. The company is also offering what it calls a “family plan” for $14.99 a month for up to six family members.

The success of Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook’s first new product, the Watch, will likely hinge on a compelling collection of apps. But early apps for the timepiece have been tied to the iPhone, placing limits on what developers could do.

“This will be a big deal in creating a much more useful set of apps for the Watch,“ said Jan Dawson, an analyst with Jackdaw Research, explaining that apps did not always run smoothly when tethered to the iPhone. “Watch apps could feel slow and unresponsive at times.“

The company also unveiled new details about its Apple Pay service, saying it was already supported by more than 2,500 banks and will surpass 1 million locations accepting it next month.

In a related move, Apple said it would rename Passbook, its app for credit and debit cards and boarding passes, to Wallet.

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