Quoted – Leading indicators drop, experts still expect “sluggish” economic growth

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The Conference Board reported Thursday the Leading Economic Index fell 0.1 percent in April, the first drop in a year, after a 1.3 percent gain in March and a 0.4 rise in February.  Nevertheless, economists still expect slow but steady economic growth in the months to come.

April’s dip is a sharp contrast with the year-earlier month, when the index rose 1 percent following consecutive decreases in the previous six months.

The Conference Board is a business-supported research organization. Its Leading Economic Index, composed of 10 economic indicators, is designed to predict economic activity. Typically, three consecutive LEI changes in the same direction usually reflect a turning point in the economy.

“I think we’re starting to make some headway,” said Scott Testa, an economics professor at Cabrini College in Philadelphia. “It’s going to be a steady slow climb. We’re not going to see anything dramatic, however, until fall, or maybe until 2011.”

The most influential lagging indicator is the unemployment rate, Testa said, which is “probably what the Fed looks at most for the inflation rate.” He continued, “When the Fed sees momentum, it’s going to start looking at raising interest rates again.”

Testa has a hunch that consumers will see inflation occur in oil and energy. “Energy has been kept in check two to three months, but the summer driving season combined with the Gulf situation is going to cause a small blip in prices and have long term affects on the price of food.”

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Quoted – Lower energy prices leads to cheaper cost of living; inflation still in check

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The cost of living fell slightly in April, led by lower energy prices, a sign that inflation is still in check. But prices rose in the Midwest

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Wednesday a 0.1 percent decrease in the Consumer Price Index on a seasonally adjusted basis. The index for energy dropped 1.4 percent while food prices were essentially flat, up 0.2 percent. The core index remained stable.

“As long as unemployment continues to be stubborn, I think the Fed is going to stay on the sidelines for a while,” said Wai, who predicts flat interest rates for the year.


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Quoted – Consumer confidence index reaches high, signaling economic recovery

Consumer confidence has reached its highest level since September 2008, another sign that the economic recovery is underway.

The Conference Board Inc.’s Consumer Confidence Index rose  5.6 points in April to 57.9 from 52.3 in March. The survey uses 1985 as a base year of 100.

It’s good news for everyone from homebuilders to store owners because higher confidence should result in more sales and consumer spending accounts for about 70 percent of gross domestic product.

The persons polled who said business conditions are “good” rose to 9.1 percent from 8.5 percent a month  earlier, while those who said business conditions are “bad” declined only slightly to 40.2 percent from 42.1 percent.

The economy has been helped by tax relief legislation, said Scott Testa, an economics professor of Cabrini College in Philadelphia. “This is the first time home-buyers assistance from the federal government has driven the economy.”

Psychologically, people feel the economy is at the tail end of this recession, Testa said. “We’ve seen other numbers in check such as inflation and the sentiment is certainly more positive than it was a year and a half ago. People are less afraid of losing their jobs,” he said.

Consumers’ outlook improved from March. Those anticipating improved business conditions over the next six months increased to 19.8 percent from 18.0 percent.

The rising Consumer Confidence Index runs counter to a preliminary report on consumer sentiment released by the University of Michigan, based on a survey conducted in  mid-April, showing that sentiment declined from March to April.

While the two surveys ask similar questions, the sentiment survey is conducted via phone, while the confidence survey is conducted with written questionnaires given to more people. The full consumer sentiment report will be released Friday.

“There may not be a very statistically significant difference between last month and this month, there’s a lot of noise from month to month,” Barsky said.

The survey also suggests that while consumers are more optimistic about the job outlook, the proportion of consumers expecting an increase in incomes declined to 10.3 from 10.8 percent.

“I don’t know anyone who has received a pay increase,” Compall said.

People are still nervous, Testa said. “The big lagging indicator in any economy is usually the unemployment rate and it still hasn’t moved that much. Those indicators make people generally hesitant in some ways.”

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Quoted – 5 questions to ask before getting a credit card with an annual fee

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There’s no doubt about it: More credit card issuers are adding or increasing annual fees. But there are still plenty of no-fee options, so before you sign up for a new card with an annual fee, make sure the benefits are worth the costs.

Spurred by the Credit CARD Act and new Federal Reserve Board regulations that limit the types of fees that credit card issuers can impose, card issuers are looking to increase revenues by adding or raising annual and other fees. In fact, 35 percent of all credit card offers mailed to consumers in the last quarter of 2009 carried an annual fee, the highest percentage in the past decade, according to Synovate Mail Monitor, a direct mail tracker.

5. Have you done your research to get the best deal? If you’re looking for a new card and considering paying an annual fee, your due diligence should include comparing rewards cards that have a fee with those that don’t and calling customer service to get more information if there is something you don’t understand. Many credit cards don’t offer a lot of specific information about redeeming rewards on their websites and in mailings, so make sure you know what you’re getting into before you get a new card.

If you already have a rewards card, check periodically to make sure the benefits you originally got the card for still exist, says Scott Testa, a professor of business administration at Cabrini College in Philadelphia. “Credit card companies generally are not in the business to advertise what they’re taking away from you,” he says.

And make sure to call your card issuer and ask them to waive the fee every year, Testa adds. “You’ve got nothing to lose,” he says. “The worst case, they say no.”


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Quoted – Powerball outmuscles Mega Millions in sales, jackpots – Philadelphia Inquirer

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Powerball is on a roll.

Wednesday’s annuity jackpot got to be gigantic – $252 million – by leaving the main rival in the dust.

Both grew for 11 drawings, but the top prize in Mega Millions rose only to $143 million Tuesday night.

When states began selling both lotteries on Jan. 31, observers wondered how they’d fare head to head.

The verdict seems to be in.

Powerball is Coke, Hertz, Muhammad Ali. Mega Millions is Pepsi, Avis, Joe Frazier.

Pennsylvania directs its proceeds, after expenses, to services for the elderly. New Jersey puts most of its lottery revenue toward higher education.

This delayed payout works to Powerball’s advantage, though, because the annuities get the large type and the bigger hype, said business professor Scott Testa of Cabrini College in Radnor.

Powerball added to this edge early last year, when it boosted its starting jackpots to $20 million, topping Mega Millions’ minimum $12 million.

“It’s probably a pretty good strategy move by Powerball,” Testa said.

But a head start doesn’t explain all of the momentum.

In early February, when Powerball’s annuity rebooted to $20 million, Mega Millions was offering $32 million ($20 million cash) and yet a half-dozen drawings later, Powerball’s annuity nudged higher, hitting $114 million vs. $112 million.

Has to be some additional appeal.

One clear edge is the Power Play. Every Powerball jurisdiction has this multiplier option, including all 37 states that now also sell Mega Millions. But players in 10 highly populated double-sales states – including New Jersey and New York – have no such option. They declined to retool and add a similar, Texas-innovated selection called the Megaplier.

While Power Play proceeds don’t directly fuel jackpots – they go toward their extra payouts, Alvanitakis said – many multiplier fans have no choice but to favor Powerball.

In addition, a Power Play ticket automatically awards $1 million to anyone who matches all the numbers but the Power Ball. The number drawn as the multiplier doesn’t matter. The Megaplier can award $1 million only when it comes up 4.

But Testa suspects the best explanation for Powerball’s apparent preeminence is much simpler:

“It’s a better name. It has better brand recognition. More people recognize what it is,” the professor said.

So just as people go into stores and ask for Kleenex or Windex when other brands will do, lottery players tend to think and say Powerball, he said.

“The name Powerball seems to resonate better with lottery players.”

“When you’re talking about gambling, you’re talking about dreams and emotion, and logic usually doesn’t come into play, believe it or not,” Testa said.

“If you really were thinking logically, you wouldn’t gamble, because you know the odds are against you.”


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