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    Pending home sales rebound -- sort of -- in July

    Inventory shortages could have an effect later on

    After falling in June for the first time in five months, pending home sales are on the rise again -- although the increase was miniscule.

    The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports its Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI), which is based on contract signings, inched ahead 0.5% in July 110.9. The index is now 7.4% above July 2014 and has increased year-over-year for 11 consecutive months. The July reading is the third highest of the year, behind April (111.6) and May (112.3).

    A positive start for the second half

    "Led by a solid gain in the Northeast, contract activity in most of the country held steady last month, which bodes well for existing-sales to maintain their recent elevated pace to close out the summer," said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. "While demand and sales continue to be stronger than earlier this year, Realtors have reported since the spring that available listings in affordable price ranges remain elusive for some buyers trying to reach the market and are likely holding back sales from being more robust."

    Looking ahead, with inventory shortages likely to persist into the fall, Yun expects the national median existing-home price to increase 6.3% in this year to $221,400. He also predicts total existing-home sales this year to increase 7.1% to around 5.29 million, about 25% below the prior peak set in 2005 (7.08 million).

    Regional sales

    • The PHSI in the Northeast rose 4.0% to 98.8 in July, and is now 12.1% above a year ago.
    • Pending home sales in the South inched up 0.6% for a reading of 124.2, and are now 6.5% above last July.
    • In the Midwest the index was unchanged at 107.8, and is up 5.7% year-over-year.
    • The index in the West dipped 1.4% to 103.0, but is still 7.5% above a year ago.
    After falling in June for the first time in 5 months, pending home sales are on the rise again -- although the increase was miniscule. The National Associ...
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    Nation's economy showing strength

    Jobless claims on the decline

    The government has taken a second look at how the economy was doing in the April – June period, and it appears we're in better shape than we thought.

    According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, real gross domestic product -- the value of the goods and services produced by the nation’s economy less the value of the goods and services used up in production, adjusted for price changes – rose at an annual rate of 3.7% in the second quarter.

    Growth contributors

    The “advance estimate” of a 2.3% growth rate was based on less data than was available for this latest reading. The acceleration in real GDP in the second quarter reflected an upturn in exports, an acceleration Personal consumption spending (PCE), a deceleration in imports, an upturn in state and local government spending, and an acceleration in nonresidential fixed investment. These were partly offset by decelerations in private inventory investment, in federal government spending, and in residential fixed investment.

    GDP inflation

    The price index for gross domestic purchases, which measures prices paid by U.S. residents, increased 1.5% in the second quarter, in contrast to a decline of 1.6% in the first quarter. Excluding food and energy prices, the “core” rate of GDP inflation increased 1.2%, compared with a rise of 0.2% in the previous quarter.

    Real gross domestic purchases -- purchases by U.S. residents of goods and services wherever produced -- increased 3.4% in the second quarter, compared with an increase of 2.5% in the first.

    Corporate profits

    Profits from current production (corporate profits with inventory valuation adjustment and capital consumption adjustment) increased $47.5 billion in the second quarter, in contrast to a decrease of $123.0 billion in the first.

    The complete GDP report is avaliable on the Commerce Department website.

    Jobless claims

    Separately, the Department of Labor (DOL) reports first time applications for state jobless benefits fell by 6,000 in the week ending August 22 to a seasonally 271,000. Officials say there were no special factors affecting the claims level.

    The four-week moving average, which is considered a more accurate barometer of the labor market as it strips out the volatility found in the weekly report, came to 272,500 -- up 1,000 from the previous week.

    Analysts at Briefing.com say this leads them to believe that the August employment report will show more than 200,000 jobs were created during the month.

    The full report can be found on the DOL website.

    The government has taken a second look at how the economy was doing in the April – June period, and it appears we're in better shape than we thought. Acco...
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    Walmart builds holiday promotions around Star Wars

    Retailer also getting an early start on its layaway program

    After Amazon.com rang the pre-holiday cash register in a big way with his July 15 Prime Day sales promotion, it isn't surprising competitors are coming up with summer holiday promotions of their own.

    Walmart has announced Toy Week, which begins Friday, and has started its holiday layaway program two weeks earlier than in the past.

    The retailer says Toy Week will reveal “some of the biggest holiday trends” and leads into its Force Friday events on Sept. 4, when it says the wraps come off new and exclusive Star Wars merchandise. The cult movie merchandise isn't limited to toys but includes grocery, apparel, and even healthcare products.

    Layaway program changes

    Friday also marks the start of Walmart's holiday layaway program, a full two weeks earlier than last year. In addition to the earlier start, the company has lowered the price for eligible items to $10 with a $50 minimum basket.

    Customers aren't required to pay a fee to open an account, just pay 10% of the purchase. Customers have until Dec. 14 to pick up their merchandise and make their final payment.

    “Outside of the holiday season, we could be looking at the biggest week of 2015 for toys and we’re giving customers every reason to choose Walmart,” said Anne Marie Kehoe, vice president of toys at Walmart. “We’ve made a tradition out of letting kids tell us which toys will be most popular during the holidays. Between their selections this year and the excitement around Star Wars, parents know exactly what will top kids’ wish lists, and they can count on us for great prices.”

    The Force Awakens

    It's no surprise that Walmart is pushing its inventory of Star Wars: The Force Awakens products, including some that the retailer says it will have exclusively. The company says consumers can preorder the Legendary Yoda toy now at Walmart.com.

    Then at midnight Friday, Sept. 4, 2,900 Walmart stores will open their doors to kick-off a Star Wars- related sales event. Walmart has posted a prevview of some of its Star Wars products here.

    “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, customers could only shop in stores,” Kehoe said. “Today, we make it easy and convenient to find new Star Wars merchandise in our stores, on a mobile device or on Walmart.com with light speed shipping options.”

    Meanwhile, the retailer says Toy Week will spotlight the toys it believes will be the hot commodities of the season, based on feedback it got from children enlisted to play with the items. Near the top of the list are:

    • Wicked Cool Girl Scout Cookie Oven
    • Mattel Hot Wheels Terrain Twister
    • Mattel Frozen Ice Castle
    • Spin Master Paw Patrol Mission Chase
    • Fisher Price Little People Zoo
    After Amazon.com rang the pre-holiday cash register in a big way with his July 15 Prime Day sales promotion, it isn't surprising competitors are coming up ...
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      Organic cigarettes are still deadly, antismoking groups argue

      They want the FDA to crack down on ads for Natural American Spirit

      Slap an "organic" label on something and it's likely to sell better, even if it costs more. But what if the product is something that's inherently harmful? Like arsenic. Or cigarettes.

      A coalition of health and anti-smoking organizations want the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to do something about Renolds American's Natural American Spirit cigarette brand, which uses phrases like "additive free" and "organic tobacco," making it seem like the cigarettes might be less harmful than other brands.

      The groups don't dispute that the Natural American cigarettes are free of additives like glycerol and corn syrup found in other brands, nor that they are made with organically grown tobacco.

      But the health groups say that doesn't make them less likely to cause cancer, heart disease, emphysema, and other diseases associated with smoking. Yet that's what advertisements for the cigarettes imply, the groups say.

      They say the ads violate the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act and they want the FDA to order the ads pulled. The small-print warnings that appear in the ads and on cigarette packs are inadequate, the groups argue.

      Slap an "organic" label on something and it's likely to sell better, even if it costs more. But what if the product is something that's inherently harmful?...
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      IIHS rates cars with automatic braking capability

      Of the 19 tested, 14 received a superior rating

      Driverless cars!! What a concept -- someday in the future. But vehicles that can brake without driver intervention if a crash is imminent are already on the nation's roads

      To help consumers zero in on automatic braking systems with the most stopping power, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is putting these vehicles through their paces and rating them for front crash prevention in 2013.

      More than a dozen of them have earned the highest rating of “superior” in the latest round of testing.

      In its third year of releasing ratings for front crash prevention systems, IIHS rates vehicles as basic, advanced, or superior for front crash prevention depending on whether they offer autobrake and -- if so -- how effective it is in tests at 12 and 25 mph.

      "Most motorists won't be riding in driverless cars anytime soon," says David Zuby, IIHS executive vice president and chief research officer. "In the shorter term, automatic braking is an accessible technology that's within reach for many drivers. We've seen an uptick in the number of luxury and mainstream models with available autobrake. That's a welcome sign for highway safety and helps pave the way for the eventual deployment of fully autonomous vehicles."

      How they rank

      In the latest round of tests,14 new models earn a superior rating and five earn an advanced rating. Earning superior are:

      2016 Acura ILX, MDX, RDX, and RLX;

      • 2016 BMW X3;
      • 2015 Chrysler 300 and its twin, the 2015 Dodge Charger;
      • 2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class (both Collision Prevention Assist Plus and Pre-Safe Brake equipped versions), CLA (both Collision Prevention Assist Plus and Distronic Plus equipped versions), and E-Class; and
      • the 2016 Mazda 6 and CX-5.

      The 2016 Volkswagen Golf, Golf SportWagen, Jetta, and 2015 Volkswagen Touareg are rated advanced for front crash prevention.

      The BMW X3 earns an advanced rating when equipped with camera-only system called City Braking Function and is rated superior when equipped with a camera- and radar-based system.

      Rating the vehicles

      Forward collision warning systems that meet performance criteria set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and autobrake systems that provide only minimal speed reduction in IIHS tests earn a basic rating.

      Vehicles that combine the warning with moderate speed reductions earn an advanced rating. It also is possible to qualify for an advanced rating with an autobrake system that doesn't first warn the driver before taking action. Models that provide major speed reductions in IIHS tests earn a superior rating.

      Autobrake availability is on the rise, Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) data shows. Among 2015 models, 212 of 784 offer autobrake -- more than twice as many as in the 2012 model year.

      Driverless cars!! What a concept -- someday in the future. But vehicles that can brake without driver intervention if a crash is imminent are already on th...
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      Trek Recalls Superfly bicycles

      The seatpost can crack and break

      Trek Bicycle Corporation of Waterloo, Wis., is recalling about 330 Trek 9.8 Superfly FS SL, X1 and XT bicycles.

      The seatpost can crack and break, posing a fall hazard to the rider.

      The company has received two incidents report involving the recalled bicycles. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves model year 2015 Trek 9.8 Superfly FS SL, X1 and XT bicycles equipped with Bontrager Approved Carbon seatposts. Recalled bicycles have a serial number ending in J or K. The serial number is located on the bottom of the bicycle frame. Superfly FS, X1 or XT is printed on the bicycle’s top tube. Trek is printed on the frame downtube. “Bontrager Carbon” is printed on the seatpost.

      The bicycles, manufactured in Taiwan, were sold at bicycle stores nationwide from September 2014, through July 2015, for about $5,300 for the FS SL and about $3,500 for the X1 and XT bicycles.

      Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled bicycles and contact an authorized Trek retailer for a free replacement seatpost plus a $20 coupon toward any Bontrager merchandise. The coupon can be used through December 31, 2015.

      Consumers may contact Trek at 800-373-4594 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday, or online at http://www.trekbikes.com/us/en/ and click on Safety & Recalls at the bottom of the page for more information.

      Trek Bicycle Corporation of Waterloo, Wis., is recalling about 330 Trek 9.8 Superfly FS SL, X1 and XT bicycles. The seatpost can crack and break, posing a...
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      Study: kids are tossing, not eating, healthier lunches

      Researchers gather photographic evidence

      You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink -- or so the old saying goes. That wisdom might also apply to school children required under law to be served healthier lunches.

      You may recall that Congress passed a law mandating more fruit and vegetables in school lunches, in an effort to stem the alarming rise in child obesity. It banned past high-calorie favorites and replaced them with green beans and kale.

      Any parent who has tried to persuade a child to eat their vegetables could have predicted the result. In this case, University of Vermont researchers produced a study that confirms the suspicions of school officials – many students are putting the fruits and vegetables they're now required to take straight into the trash, consuming fewer than they did before the law took effect.

      Photographic evidence

      The study reached that conclusion by using digital imaging to capture students' lunch trays before and after they exited the lunch line. The researchers says it is also one of the first studies to compare fruit and vegetable consumption before and after the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 was passed.

      It concludes fruit and vegetable consumption at school has declined since the mandate was put in place in 2012, while waste of these food items has increased 56%.

      "The basic question we wanted to explore was: does requiring a child to select a fruit or vegetable actually correspond with consumption," said Sarah Amin, Ph.D., a researcher in Nutrition and Food Sciences at the University of Vermont and lead author on the study. "The answer was clearly no. It was heartbreaking to see so many students toss fruits like apples into the trash right after exiting the lunch line."

      The research team installed cameras over lunch lines at two elementary schools in the northeast and photographed lunch trays before the law went into effect. The researchers returned on multiple occasions after lunch lines began serving up the mandated fruits and vegetables.

      Kids like processed food

      Amin and her colleagues also looked at what kinds of fruits and vegetables children selected before the stricter mandates went into effect. They found that kids liked processed fruits and vegetables such as the tomato paste on pizza or 100% fruit juice instead of an orange or apple.

      The researchers conclude those previous options should be returned to the school lunch menu. They also offered up these suggestions to encourage children to eat a healthier lunch:

      • Cut up fresh vegetables and serve them with dip
      • When you serve orange and apples, cut them into slices, don't serve them whole
      • Adopt trendy farm-to-school programs that make it “cool” to eat heathier, fresh food
      • Find ways to encourage parents to serve more fruits and vegetables at home, instead of grabbing take out for dinner each night

      Amin says policymakers shouldn't give up on the mandates, believing they will eventually take hold, especially if schools make some adjustments in how they implement them.

      "An important message is that guidelines need to be supplemented with other strategies to enrich fruit and vegetable consumption,” she said. “We can't give up hope yet."

      You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink -- or so the old saying goes. That wisdom might also apply to school children required under law...
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      Illinois to allow electronic monitoring in nursing homes

      State has received thousands of complaints from nursing home residents and their families

      Stories of neglect and abuse of nursing home residents have become so common in recent years that Illinois has passed a law that allows families to install electronic monitoring systems in residents' rooms.

      Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the new piece of legislation late last week. It takes effect January 1, 2016, and will make Illinois one of four states in the nation that explicitly allows for cameras in nursing homes.

      "The Illinois Department of Public Health receives approximately 19,000 complaints of abuse and neglect against long-term care residents yearly," said Bob Gallo, AARP Illinois State Director. "AARP commends the General Assembly and Governor Rauner for their leadership on this issue and for helping to protect the state's most vulnerable residents."

      Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who drafted the legislation and lobbied for passage, says it will give families much-needed peace of mind.

      Peace of mind

      "Deciding to place a loved one into a nursing facility is extremely difficult, and as Baby Boomers age, more families will be faced with that decision," said Madigan. "This law makes Illinois one of the first states in the nation to give families peace of mind by allowing them to monitor their loved one's care when they cannot be present."

      Madigan said the legislation sprang from complaints her office received from nursing home residents and families who are concerned for their relatives' care and security. The new law allows residents of nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities or their family members to purchase and install video or audio monitoring devices in their rooms.

      "The vast majority of Illinois' nursing homes provide high-quality services to their residents, but this law allows commonly used modern technology [to] add another layer of care," said Rep. Bob Harris, a co-sponsor of the legislation. "These recording devices will help families ensure that their loved ones are receiving respectful and compassionate care."

      The new law stipulates that recordings are only to be used for civil, criminal, or administrative proceedings related to the health, safety, or welfare of a resident.

      At residents' expense

      Residents or their families must pay for the equipment and its installation. A resident or their guardian must consent to the use of a camera having the monitoring equipment in the resident's room. If a resident has a roommate, his or her consent is also required.

      If monitoring equipment is installed, the facility manager must be notified and a sign placed on the door of the room stating: "This room is electronically monitored."

      The law also provides protection to facility residents from any retaliation by facility staff. Staff could face criminal charges if they knowingly hamper, obstruct, or disable monitoring equipment.

      Madigan has long cited an increasing need for additional safety measures at Illinois nursing homes as the state's population continues to age. At the moment, Illinois has more than 860 nursing home facilities with more than 76,000 residents.

      Madigan said the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) investigates approximately 5,000 complaints every year, the majority of which involve long-term care facilities. In 2013, the IDPH found 106 allegations of abuse, neglect, or misappropriation of property against residents by facility staff to be valid.  

      Stories of neglect and abuse of nursing home residents have become so common in recent years that Illinois has passed a law that allows families to install...
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      Late August gas prices the cheapest since 2004

      But not if you live in the west or upper Midwest

      When it comes to U.S. gasoline prices, it's a tale of two countries. Consumers are enjoying a national average price of $2.57 a gallon – the lowest for late August since 2004, according to AAA.

      But it all depends on where you live. That $2.57 average is highly misleading.

      For example, if you happen to live in South Carolina, your average gasoline price is the nation's lowest, at $2.10 a gallon. In Alabama you're paying an average of $2.16 and in Mississippi, $2.17 a gallon. Not bad.

      But across the country in California, the average price at the pump is $3.45 a gallon. It's $3.02 in Washington state and $2.99 in Illinois.

      Refinery outage

      Motorists in Illinois and elsewhere in the upper Midwest are still suffering because BP’s largest refining unit at its Whiting, Indiana refinery remains out of commission. Repairs to the unit are said to be ongoing, but in the meantime the crimp in supplies has drastically increased the price of gasoline.

      Prices at the pump are especially high in Chicago. In the city, the average price of gas, according to AAA, is $3.45 a gallon, the same as in California. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan have sent a letter to the Illinois Petroleum Council and its member oil companies demanding an explanation for the recent gas price spike.

      “Gasoline is not an optional purchase for many hard-working Illinois residents, and paying more for gas means less money to spend on other essentials like rent, groceries and medicine,” said Madigan. “Unfortunately, every time gas prices rise, the oil companies give us excuses. The oil companies need better contingency plans because drivers deserve answers and relief from these outrageous prices.”

      Two weeks ago Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuett sent a similar letter to BP, after the refinery issues sent Michigan pump prices skyrocketing.

      Playing games?

      The state officials, who are no doubt hearing from angry constituents, hint broadly that they suspect refiners and wholesalers are “playing games” with supply to justify significantly higher prices.

      “We will not tolerate any unscrupulous behavior that violates Michigan law when it comes to gouging and price fixing,” Schuette warned earlier this month.

      In addition to the Midwest, motorists in the western U.S. are feeling pain at the pump. AAA says five of the six states with averages above $3 per gallon are located in this region. California leads the region, and is followed by Alaska, Nevada, Hawaii, and Washington state.

      Other western states are not far behind. The state-wide average price of gas in Wyoming is $2.81. In Utah it's $2.77.

      When it comes to U.S. gasoline prices, it's a tale of two countries. Consumers are enjoying a national average price of $2.57 a gallon – the lowest for lat...
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      Scientists predict that the coming El Niño will last through the winter

      Make sure your home is prepared

      Weather forecasters are saying that the big one is on the way. A strong El Niño is expected to be hitting its peak in late fall or early winter. This weather pattern has the potential to generate huge storms, and there are many things you should be doing in order to prepare your home for the coming inclement weather.

      An El Niño occurs when several different weather conditions are met. A more detailed description can be found here, but basically an El Niño is the result of weaker winds pushing ocean water from east to west. This causes the water in the Pacific to become warmer, which in turn makes the winds even weaker; this cycle can become very problematic.

      An El Niño can last for several months. It is characterized by wet winters over the Southeastern U.S. and droughts in Indonesia and Australia. El Niño’s usually occur every 3-7 years, and they make it much more likely that dangerous weather conditions, like huge thunderstorms, will occur.

      The last El Niño took place in 1997-1998, and it ravaged much of the western United States. It caused an estimated $550 million in damage and killed 17 people in California; 35 counties were declared federal disaster areas as well.

      Readying your home

      It's important to prepare your home so that you can minimize the impact that the weather may have. By being proactive, and taking the following measures, you can get out in front of the storms and take away their edge.

      Inspect and repair your roof. Doing this before snow starts flying will make the work much easier. Check for any areas that are sagging and can’t hold up to large amounts of snow. If you find any leaks, be sure to take care of them right away.

      Clean out your gutters. Lots of debris can build up in your gutters over time, which can cause clogs and blockages. If not checked, the excess water could back up and cause damage to your roof, walls, ceiling, and insulation. Be sure to check them during the winter months as well. Ice dams can often form in your gutters, which can cause permanent damage to your home. If you do have any signs of damage, then call a professional immediately.

      Be prepared for burst pipes. Cold temperatures can often cause pipes to burst, and it is always a real mess to clean up. If you know the temperature is going to be under 20 degrees, let any high-risk faucet drip so that the water is not sitting in the pipes. A high-risk faucet would be any that is being fed by a pipe that was previously broken or near an outside wall. Know where your water shut-off valve is so you can shut down water flow if a pipe does burst.

      Check to make sure your furnace is in good working order. Being stuck in sub-zero temperatures with a broken furnace is extremely dangerous, so performing regular maintenance is always a good idea. Have a professional come to your house to inspect pipes for any gas leaks. If your furnace needs a new filter, than have it installed before winter sets in. Finally, be sure to never keep anything flammable around your furnace. You would just be asking for trouble.

      If you take these precautionary steps, you should be in good shape when the El Niño finally hits. Do not put any of these tasks off; the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts that there is a greater-than-90-percent chance that this El Niño will last through the coming winter. 

      Weather forecasters are saying that the big one is on the way. A strong El Niño is expected to be hitting its peak in late fall or early winter. ...
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      Mortgage applications showed little movement 08/21/15

      The tiny increase was the result of an increase in government purchase loans

      Mortgage applications showed little movement during the week ending August 21.

      Data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey show an increase of just 0.2%.

      The Refinance Index dipped 1.0% percent from the previous week, pulling the refinance share of mortgage activity down to 55.3% of total applications from 55.5% the previous week. The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity fell to 6.8% of total applications.

      Applications for government home purchase loans drove the weekly increase. The seasonally adjusted FHA purchase index rose by 5.6% from the previous week while the VA purchase index rose by 5.2%. Conventional purchase applications were essentially unchanged from the previous week.

      The FHA share of total applications rose to 13.1% from 12.9% the week prior. The VA share was up to 11.4% from 11.1% and the USDA share of total applications was unchanged at 0.8%.

      Conventional purchase applications were essentially unchanged from the previous week.

      Contract interest rates

      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) fell three basis points -- to 4.08% from 4.11% -- with points decreasing to 0.36 from 0.37 (including the origination fee) for 80% loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs with jumbo loan balances (greater than $417,000) dipped to 4.00% from 4.03%, with points decreasing to 0.24 from 0.29 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA rose two basis points to 3.90%, with points increasing to 0.21 from 0.17 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs dropped to 3.33% from 3.37%, with points decreasing to 0.31 from 0.36 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs was down two basis points to 2.96%, with points decreasing to 0.36 from 0.40 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.

      The survey covers over 75% of all U.S. retail residential mortgage applications.

      Mortgage applications showed little movement during he week ending August 21, Data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applicati...
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      Kraft Heinz Foods recalls turkey bacon products

      The products may spoil before the “Best When Used By” date

      Kraft Heinz Foods Company of Newberry, S.C., is recalling approximately 2,068,467 pounds of turkey bacon products.

      The products may spoil before the “Best When Used By” date.

      The company has received reports of illness related to the consumption of these products.

      The following turkey bacon products, produced between May 31, 2015, and August 6, 2015, are being recalled:

      • 56 oz. cardboard boxes (containing four plastic wrapped packages) marked Oscar Mayer “Selects Uncured Turkey Bacon” bearing the plant number P-9070, the line number RS19 and Product UPC 0 4470007633 0, and with “Best When Used By” dates of 24 AUG 2015 through 26 OCT 2015.
      • 36 oz. cardboard boxes (containing three plastic wrapped packages) marked Oscar Mayer Turkey Bacon “Smoked Cured Turkey Chopped and Formed” bearing the plant number P-9070, the line number RS19 and Product UPC 0 7187154874 8, and with “Best When Used By” dates of 28 AUG 2015 through 20 OCT 2015.
      • 48 oz. cardboard boxes (containing four plastic wrapped packages) marked Oscar Mayer Turkey Bacon “Smoked Cured Turkey Chopped and Formed” bearing the plant number P-9070, the line number RS19 and Product UPC 0 7187154879 3, and with “Best When Used By” dates of 3 SEPT 2015 through 30 OCT 2015.

      The recalled products bear the establishment number “P-9070” inside the USDA mark of inspection, as well as the line number “RS19”. They were shipped nationwide and exported to the Bahamas and St. Martin.

      Consumers with questions about the recall may contact the Kraft Heinz consumer relations center at (800) 278-3403.

      Kraft Heinz Foods Company of Newberry, S.C., is recalling approximately 2,068,467 pounds of turkey bacon products. The products may spoil before the “Best...
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      Lincoln MKT Town Cars recalled

      The vehicles are missing a row of seating

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 265 model year 2015 Lincoln MKT Town Cars equipped with the livery package manufactured February 4, 2015, to June 23, 2015.

      The vehicles were intended to seat five passengers, but were delivered without the second row seating. Accordingly, the vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 110.

      The vehicles also fail to comply with FMVSS No. 225, "Child Restraint Anchorages" since they were delivered without a tether anchorage at the front passenger seating position, and as is required for vehicles without a second row of seats.

      The vehicles do not have the seats and restraints that they were intended to have. Unrestrained or improperly restrained occupants are at an increased risk of injury in the event of a crash.

      Dealers will inspect and install second row seating if it is missing. The recall began on July 28, 2015.

      Owners may contact Ford customer service at 1-866-436-7332. Ford's number for this recall is 15C08.

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 265 model year 2015 Lincoln MKT Town Cars equipped with the livery package manufactured February 4, 2015, to June 23, 2015....
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      Scag Power Equipment recalls lawn mowers

      The gas tank can leak

      Scag Power Equipment, a division of Metalcraft of Maryville, of Maryville, Wisc., is recalling about 4,400 Scag Liberty-Z zero-turn lawn mowers.

      The gas tank can leak, posing a fire hazard.

      The company has received five reports of gas tank leaks on the mowers. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves two Scag Liberty-Z zero-turn lawn mowers: model SZL48-22KT with serial numbers K7100001 through K7102353 and model SZL52-24KT with serial numbers K7200001 through K7202020. The model and serial numbers are printed on a vertical plate under the mower’s seat.

      “Scag” in red letters, “Liberty Z” in white letters and a blue “Z” are printed on a plate below the front of the seat. The mowers have an orange base with two orange and black steering handles. The mowers also have two large black with orange rim wheels in the back of the mower and two smaller black with orange rim wheels in the front of the mower.

      The mowers, manufactured in the U.S., were sold at Scag Power Equipment authorized dealers nationwide from October 2014, through May 2015, for about $4,500.

      Consumers should immediately stop using these recalled lawn mowers and contact Scag Power Equipment or an authorized dealer for a free repair. Scag Power Equipment authorized dealers have contacted all known owners.

      Consumers may contact Scag Power Equipment toll-free at 844-491-4859 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. CT Monday through Friday or online at www.scag.com.

      Scag Power Equipment, a division of Metalcraft of Maryville, of Maryville, Wisc., is recalling about 4,400 Scag Liberty-Z zero-turn lawn mowers. The gas t...
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      Honda Pilot aces safety test

      Midsize SUV does very well in difficult small front overlap test

      The Honda Pilot has always enjoyed a good safety reputation, and the latest safety tests from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has done nothing to diminish that. Rather, it's improved that reputation.

      The newly redesigned 2016 midsize SUV came through IIHS' small overlap front test with flying colors. Its available front crash prevention system earned a superior rating, helping it qualify for the 2015 Top Safety Pick+ award.

      “The 2016 model's good small overlap performance is a dramatic change from the earlier generation Pilot, which rated poor,” IIHS said in a statement

      Front quarter, head on

      The small overlap front test consists of a head on collision in which a front quarter of the vehicle encounters a hard, stationary object. In the past, it has been a particularly challenging test for most small and midsize SUVs, including the Pilot.

      The IIHS video below demonstrates the test and shows how destructive it can be.

      In the test of the latest model Honda Pilot, the driver space held up well, with maximum intrusion of four inches at the parking brake pedal. The test results reveal the dummy's movement was well-controlled, with the front and side curtain airbags working well together to keep the dummy in place and protect the head from contact with the intruding structure and outside objects.

      The IIHS stated that measures taken from the dummy showed a low risk of any significant injuries in a crash of this severity.

      Significant improvement

      For the Pilot, it's a significant improvement. While the car scored well in many tests, the 2014 Pilot did not fare well in the small overlap front test. In fact, the driver space was “seriously compromised,” suggesting injuries to the driver.

      In last year's test the parking brake pedal moved nearly 17 inches inward, and the door hinge pillar moved in about 14 inches. Video shows the dummy's head barely contacted the front airbag before sliding off to the left, as the steering column moved to the right and toward the driver. The side curtain airbag didn't extend far enough forward to protect the head.

      The new Pilot, like the previous models, scored good ratings in the Institute's four other crashworthiness tests — moderate overlap front, side, roof strength, and head restraints.

      Top Safety Pick+

      When equipped with front crash prevention, the Honda Pilot qualifies for a Top Safety Pick+ award.

      Vehicles must earn a good or acceptable small overlap rating and good ratings in the four other tests to qualify for that ranking. To earn a plus sign, vehicles must also have an available front crash prevention system that garners an advanced or superior rating.

      IIHS engineers rated the Pilot's optional system “superior.” They say the autobrake prevented a collision in the Institute's 12 mph track test and cut the vehicle's speed in half in the 25 mph test.  

      The Honda Pilot has always enjoyed a good safety reputation, and the latest safety tests from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has done no...
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      Zillow: home values slip first time in four years

      Analysts say market is getting back to normal

      For economists worrying that home prices were rising too far, too fast – here's some good news. Real estate market site Zillowreports that the average home went down in value last month for the first time since the market began its recovery in 2011.

      U.S. homes lost 0.1% of their value in July, falling to a Zillow Home Value Index of $179,900. But on a year-over-year basis, homes still went up in value by 3.0%, down from 3.4% in June.

      The numbers suggest the run-up in prices is more of a pause than a reversal, though the next few months will tell that story.

      Zillow covers 517 metros in its housing index and 204 metros saw a slowdown in July. Strong markets like Washington, DC and Cincinnati gave some ground last month. Market analysts at Zillow say the slowing appreciation is simply a sign that the market is returning to normal.

      Back to normal

      Markets like Denver, San Francisco, San Jose, and Dallas slowed from double-digit growth to the single digits.

      "This slight dip in home values is a sign of the times. Many people didn't think it was happening, but it is: we're going negative," said Zillow Chief Economist Svenja Gudell. "We've been expecting to see a monthly decline as markets return to normal.”

      Gudell says recent homebuyers shouldn't panic. This is not a bursting of a bubble and 10% declines are on no one's radar.

      “The market is leveling off, and it's good news, particularly for buyers, because it will ease some of the competitive pressure," she said.

      Rising inventories

      The leveling off of prices comes at a time when banks are putting a lot more foreclosed homes back on the market, replenishing declining inventories. In many markets, it was the lack of homes for sale that put upward pressure on home prices.

      As we reported just last week, there were 124,910 foreclosure filings in the U.S. in July, a sharp 7% rise from June and a 14% surge from July 2014. But that was because many old foreclosures were finally seized by lenders and placed back on the market, in many cases at below market prices.

      As distressed properties sell in the coming months, their lower prices can be expected to pull down the average sales price, or at least keep it from rising very much. But that doesn't necessarily mean the real estate market is slipping.

      Boost for first-time buyers

      And it might very well be good news for the millions of first-time buyers who have put off homeownership but now are sticking their toes into the market. In addition to more distressed property for sale, Zillow says homeowners who have been waiting to sell until prices hit their peak may now be ready to move.

      Meanwhile, the incentives to buy remain strong. Interest rates remain near their historic lows and Zillow reports rents continue to grow at a rapid pace, up 4.2% from last July.

      For economists worrying that home prices were rising too far, too fast – here's some good news. Real estate market site Zillow reports that the average hom...
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      A surge in consumer confidence

      The jobs outlook appears more upbeat

      Consumers are feeling a whole lot better about the economy than they did in July.

      The Conference Board reports its Consumer Confidence Index, which which lost ground last month, rebounded in August and now stands at 101.5. The Present Situation Index shot from 104.0 to 115.1, while the Expectations Index improved to 92.5 from 82.3 a month earlier.

      “Consumers’ assessment of current conditions was considerably more upbeat, primarily due to a more favorable appraisal of the labor market,” said Lynn Franco, Director of Economic Indicators at The Conference Board. “The uncertainty expressed last month about the short-term outlook has dissipated and consumers are once again feeling optimistic about the near future. Income expectations, however, were little improved.”

      How they see it

      Consumers’ assessment of current conditions was considerably more favorable in August. Those saying business conditions are “good” dipped slightly from 23.4% to 23.2%. Those who think business conditions are “bad” dropped from 18.2% to 17.6%.

      There was a more positive view of the job market. Those who believe jobs are “plentiful” rose 2% -- to 21.9%, while those who think jobs are “hard to get” plunged from 27.4% to 21.9%.

      Consumers’ optimism about the short-term outlook also improved. The percentage of those expecting business conditions to get better over the next six months increased from 15.3% to 15.8%, while those expecting it to worsen declined from 10.3% to 8.3%.

      The outlook for the labor market was more upbeat. Those anticipating more jobs in the months ahead rose to 14.6% from 13.7%, while those who think there will be fewer jobs was down sharply from 19.0% to 13.6%.

      The proportion of consumers expecting their incomes to increase declined moderately from 17.0% to 16.2%, while the proportion expecting a decline dropped from 11.3% to 10.0%.

      The monthly Consumer Confidence Survey, based on a probability-design random sample, is conducted for The Conference Board by Nielsen, a provider of information and analytics around what consumers buy and watch. The cut-off date for the preliminary results was August 13.

      Consumers are feeling a whole lot better about the economy than they did in July. The Conference Board reports its Consumer Confidence Index, which which ...
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      New home sales jump in July

      Prices were on the rise as well

      After falling in June to their lowest rate in eight months -- the first decline in three months -- sales of new single-family homes rebounded in July.

      The Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development are reporting jointly that sales last month totaled a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 507,000 up 5.4% from the revised June rate of 481,000, 25.8% higher than the same time a year ago.

      On a month-over-month basis, sales were up 23.1% in the Northeast, 6.7% in the West, and 5.8% in the South. They declined 6.9% in the Midwest.

      Prices and inventory

      Prices gained ground in July, too. The median price of new houses sold during the month was $285,900, up $5,500 or roughly 2% from July of 2014. The median is the point at which half the homes cost more and half cost less. The average sales price was $361,600, a year-over-year gain of 16,400 or 4.5%.

      The seasonally adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of July was 218,000, which translates to a supply of 5.2 months at the current sales rate.

      The complete report may be found on the Commerce Department website.

      After falling in June to their lowest rate in eight months -- the first decline in three months -- sales of new single-family homes rebounded in July. Th...
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      The climb continues for home prices

      Cities in the west continue to lead the way

      Home prices continued their rise across the country over the last 12 months during June, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices.

      The latest data shows that on a year-over-year basis, June was a better month for price hikes than May. The National Home Price Index, which covers all nine U.S. census divisions, recorded a 4.5% annual increase in June versus a 4.4% increase in May.

      The 10-City Composite had marginally lower year-over-year gains, with an increase of 4.6% year-over-year. The 20-City Composite year-over-year pace was virtually flat, rising 5.0% year-over-year.

      Way out west

      Denver, San Francisco, and Dallas reported the highest year-over-year gains among the 20 cities with price increases of 10.2%, 9.5%, and 8.2%, respectively. Eleven cities reported greater price increases in the year ending June 2015 over the year ending May 2015.

      Denver is the only city with a double digit increase, and Phoenix and Detroit had the longest streaks of year-over-year increases. Phoenix reported a 4.1% in June 2015, the seventh consecutive year-over-year increase. Detroit recorded 5.7% in June 2015, the sixth consecutive year-over-year increase.

      “Nationally, home prices continue to rise at a 4-5% annual rate, two to three times the rate of inflation,” said David M. Blitzer, managing director and chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices. “While prices in San Francisco and Denver are rising far faster than those in Washington D.C., New York or Cleveland, the city-to-city price patterns are little-changed in the last year. Washington saw the smallest year-over-year gains in five of the last six months; San Francisco and Denver ranked either first or second of all cities in the last five months. The price gains have been consistent as the unemployment rate declined with steady inflation and an unchanged Fed policy."

      Month-over-month

      Before seasonal adjustment, the National index and 20-City Composite both reported gains of 1.0% month-over-month in June. The 10-City Composite posted a month-over-month gain of 0.9%. After seasonal adjustment, the National index posted a gain of 0.1% while the 10-City and 20-City Composites were both down 0.1% month-over-month.

      All 20 cities reported increases in June before seasonal adjustment; after seasonal adjustment, nine were down, nine were up, and two were unchanged.

      FHFA prices

      Separately the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) House Price Index (HPI) shows prices were up 1.2% in the second quarter -- the 16th consecutive quarterly price increase in the purchase-only, seasonally adjusted index. FHFA's seasonally adjusted monthly index for June was up 0.2% from May. House prices rose 5.4% from a year earlier.

      "Home price growth in the second quarter once again far exceeded the pace of overall inflation, even as mortgage rates drifted upwards," said FHFA Principal Economist Andrew Leventis. "Although too early to tell whether it's a sign of a slowdown, the monthly appreciation rate in June was more modest than we have seen in a while."

      Report highlights

      • Home prices rose in every state between the second quarter of 2014 and the second quarter of 2015. The top five areas in annual appreciation: 1) Colorado – 10.6%, 2) Nevada – 10.5%, 3) Florida – 9.7%, 4) Hawaii – 9.5% and 5) Washington – 8.8%.
      • Among the 100 most-populated metropolitan areas in the U.S., four-quarter price increases were greatest in San Francisco-Redwood City-South San Francisco, Calif., where prices increased by 18.3%. Prices were weakest in the Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, Pa.-N.J., where they fell -1.1%.
      • Of the nine census divisions, the South Atlantic division experienced the strongest increase in the second quarter, posting a 1.7% quarterly increase and a 6.1% increase since last year. House price appreciation was weakest in the Middle Atlantic division, where prices were flat in the second quarter.

      The HPI is calculated using home sales price information from mortgages sold to, or guaranteed by, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

      The complete report is avaliable on the FHFA website.

      Home prices continued their rise across the country over the last 12 months during June, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller http://us.spindices.com/ Home P...
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