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    Personal income and spending creep higher in August

    Hurricane Harvey’s effect is clear but difficult to quantify

    Income and outlays showed very slight increases in August, according to the latest Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) report.

    The BEA reports personal income rose 0.2 percent – $28.6 billion – last month. Disposable personal income (DPI), what you have left after taxes, was up $14.9 billion (0.1 percent).

    The increase was due mostly to increases in government social benefits and compensation of employees.

    Consumer spending

    Personal consumption expenditures (PCE), or consumer spending, inched up 0.1 percent or $18.0 billion, it slipped 0.1 percent after adjusting for inflation.

    That decline in spending reflects a decrease of $20.2 billion for goods led by outlays for new motor vehicles.

    Additionally, the decline was partially offset by a $9.2 billion increase in spending for services -- mostly healthcare.

    The PCE price index -- an inflation gauge -- was up 0.2 percent. The “core” PCE price index, which excludes the volatile food and energy categories, rose just 0.1 percent.

    Consumers tucked away $522.9 billion in savings through August, pushing the personal saving rate -- personal saving as a percentage of disposable personal income -- up 0.1 percent to 3.6 percent.

    The Harvey factor

    The government points out that Hurricane Harvey is playing a role in these latest estimates of personal income and outlays, but clarifies that there is no way to precisely quantify its impact within the source data.

    The BEA says it made adjustments to estimates where source data was not yet available or did not fully reflect the effects of the storm.

    The complete report is available on the BEA website.

    Income and outlays showed very slight increases in August, according to the latest Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) report.The BEA reports personal in...

    King Soopers recalls deli chicken salad sandwiches

    The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

    King Soopers is recalling chicken salad sandwiches sold in King Soopers and City Market stores in Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming.

    The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

    No confirmed reports of illness or injury have been reported to date.

    The following item, a prepackaged 6.8-oz sandwich sold in the deli department, is being recalled:

    ProductUPCCodeSize

    DELI CHICKEN

    SALAD SANDWICH

    (Prepackaged)

    663209-02050Sell By dates:
    09/20/17
    -THRU-
    09/28/2017
    6.8oz

    What to do

    Customers who purchased the recalled product should not consume it, but return it to the store for a full refund or replacement.

    Consumers with questions may contact Kroger at 1-800-KROGERS, Monday through Friday 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 a.m.( ET), and Saturday & Sunday 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. (ET).

    King Soopers is recalling chicken salad sandwiches sold in King Soopers and City Market stores in Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming.The product ma...

    America New York RI Wang Food Group expands sausage recall

    The products contain milk, an allergen not declared on the label

    America New York RI Wang Food Group of Maspeth, N.Y., is expanding its earlier recall of Heat Treated but Not Fully Cooked-Not Shelf Stable pork sausage products and beef products.

    The products contain milk, an allergen not declared on the label.

    There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

    The recall now includes an additional 9,850 pounds of items produced from Jan. 5, 2016, through June 29, 2017. The following additional products are being recalled:

    • 25-lb. institutional pack of “Beef Balls,” with the following lot codes and package dates:
      • lot code “0418272” and package date “4/3/2017.”
      • lot code “1117011” and package date “12/22/2016.”
      • lot code “1117033” and package date “11/30/2016.”
      • lot code “1117048” and package date “11/15/2016.”
    • 25-lb. institutional pack of “Beef Tendon Balls,” with the following lot codes and package        dates:
      • lot code “0618185” and package date “6/29/2017.”
      • lot code “0618209” and package date “6/5/2017.”
      • lot code “0618212” and package date “6/2/2017.”
      • lot code “0618213” and package date “6/1/2017.”
      • lot code “0518229” and package date “5/16/2017.”
      • lot code “0518244” and package date “5/1/2017.”
      • lot code “0418247” and package date “4/28/2017.”
      • lot code “0418271” and package date “4/4/2017.”
      • lot code “0418272” and package date “4/3/2017.”
      • lot code “0318306” and package date “3/2/2017.”
      • lot code “0318307” and package date “3/1/2017.”
      • lot code “0218315” and package date “2/21/2017.”
      • lot code “0118339” and package date “1/26/2017.”
      • lot code “0118340” and package date “1/25/2017.”
      • lot code “0118360” and package date “1/6/2017.”
      • lot code “0118361” and package date “1/5/2017.”
      • lot code “1217010” and package date “12/23/2016.”
      • lot code “1217011” and package date “12/22/2016.”
      • lot code “1117033” and package date “11/30/2016.”
      • lot code “1117034” and package date “11/29/2016.”
      • lot code “1117048” and package date “11/15/2016.”
      • lot code “1117049” and package date “11/14/2016.”
      • lot code “1017069” and package date “10/25/2016.”
      • lot code “1017089” and package date “10/5/2016.”
      • lot code “1017090” and package date “10/4/2016.”
      • lot code “0917117” and package date “9/7/2016.”
      • lot code “0817125” and package date “8/30/2016.”
      • lot code “0807145” and package date “8/10/2016.”
      • lot code “0717181” and package date “7/6/2016.”
      • lot code “0717185” and package date “7/1/2016.”
      • lot code “0617199” and package date “6/17/2016.”
      • lot code “0417263” and package date “4/12/2016.”
      • lot code “0317297” and package date “3/9/2016.”
      • lot code “0317298” and package date “3/8/2016.”
      • lot code “0217313” and package date “2/22/2016.”
      • lot code “0217331” and package date “2/4/2016.”
      • lot code “0217332” and package date “2/3/2016.”
      • lot code “0117341” and package date “1/25/2016.”
      • lot code “0117345” and package date “1/21/2016.”
      • lot code “0117355” and package date “1/11/2016.”
      • lot code “0117358” and package date “1/8/2016.”
    • 25-lb. institutional pack of “Pork Patty Balls,” with the following lot codes and package            dates:
      • lot code “0618199” and package date “6/15/2017.”
      • lot code “0518228” and package date “5/17/2017.”
      • lot code “0717159” and package date “7/27/2016.”

    The additional products, bearing establishment number “EST. 40200” inside the USDA mark of inspection, were sold for institutional use in New York.

    What to do

    Customers who have purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but throw them away or return them to the place of purchase.

    Consumers with questions may contact Karen Tam at (718) 628-8999 or by email at Karenp@riwangusa.com.

    America New York RI Wang Food Group of Maspeth, N.Y., is expanding its earlier recall of Heat Treated but Not Fully Cooked-Not Shelf Stable pork sausage pr...

    More than 29 million Americans have years-old credit debt

    Study finds older consumers are especially prone to carrying debt that is at least two years old

    A new study shows 43 percent of U.S. consumers – around 29 million people – are carrying credit card debt that is at least two years old; another 15 million have credit card debt that is at least five years old.

    The CreditCards.com report paints a grim picture of consumers’ ability to pay down credit card debt, especially in light of recent findings which showed that consumers racked up $60 billion in new credit card debt in the second quarter.

    “Carrying credit card debt is a slippery slope. What may seem inconsequential at first can quickly grow into overwhelming debt,” said CreditCards.com senior analyst Matt Schulz.

    Older consumers racking up debt

    The findings show that older consumers are especially prone to carrying credit card debt over long periods of time. Older Baby Boomers (aged 63-71) were the most likely group to carry credit card debt for at least two years (63 percent) followed by members of the Silent Generation (aged 72+, 57 percent).

    Overall, the report showed that over a quarter (28 percent) of Americans carry a credit card balance from month to month. Gen Xers (aged 37-52) were the most likely group to carry any kind of credit card debt (36 percent), followed by younger Baby Boomers (aged 53-62, 33 percent).

    A common misconception is that consumers are accruing credit card debt by splurging on big ticket items, but the report finds that most people are falling behind by using plastic to meet day-to-day expenses.

    “What’s driving people into credit card debt? Life. For millions of Americans, it isn’t about splurging,” said Schulz. “They are going into credit card debt because they have to buy groceries, put the kids in daycare, or even just to keep the lights on.”

    Avoiding credit card debt

    Schulz points out that the best way to avoid longstanding credit card debt is to not let things get out of control in the first place. “Bottom line: stick to your budget and only charge what you know you can pay off each month,” he said.

    However, there are safe ways that consumers can cut their credit card debt and rebuild their credit scores. A good first step is to seek help and advice from a non-profit credit counselor, who will help review your income, expenses, and debt so you can establish a household budget.

    Consumers should also get into the habit of paying off their credit card bills in full each month. If you have accrued a large amount of debt over time, you should also make a small payment against the balance in order to gradually reduce it.

    A new study shows 43 percent of U.S. consumers – around 29 million people – are carrying credit card debt that is at least two years old; another 15 millio...

    Economic growth rate tops three percent

    First-time jobless claims rose sharply last week

    The nation's economy continued to chug along in the second quarter of 2017, showing increases in gross domestic product (GDP) but also in unemployment claims for hurricane-affected areas.

    In its third and final look at how things are going, the Labor Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis reports real GDP expanded at an annual rate of 3.1 percent in the April to June period.

    The "second" estimate, which came out in August, kept the number more or less the same, putting the increase at 3.0 percent due to bigger private inventory than previously believed.

    Corporate profits rose by $14.4 billion in the second quarter after falling by $46.2 billion in the first quarter. Profits of domestic nonfinancial corporations jumped $59.1 billion, offsetting the decline of $33.8 billion suffered by domestic financial corporations.

    The complete report is on the BEA website.

    Unemployment claims

    Unfortunately, destruction wrought by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma continues to have an impact on the weekly tally of first-time filings for state unemployment benefits.

    The Department of Labor (DOL) reports initial applications surged by 12,000 in the week ending September 23 to a seasonally adjusted total of 272,000.

    This is a large jump from the previous week's increase of 1,000 new applications.

    The four-week moving average, considered by many economists to be a more accurate reflection of the labor market, was 277,750 -- up 9,000 from the previous week's unrevised average and the highest level since February 6, 2016.

    The full report is available on the DOL website.

    The nation's economy continued to chug along in the second quarter of 2017, showing increases in gross domestic product (GDP) but also in unemployment clai...

    Pending home sales down again in August

    This year's housing production may fall below the pace of 2016

    For the fifth time in six months, pending home sales – based on contract signings – were lower in August.

    The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports its Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI) fell 2.6 percent last month to 106.3 -- its lowest reading since January 2016.

    NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun blames low supply levels and rising prices.

    “August was another month of declining contract activity because of the one-two punch of limited listings and home prices rising far above incomes,” he said. “Demand continues to overwhelm supply in most of the country, and as a result, many would-be buyers from earlier in the year are still in the market for a home, while others have perhaps decided to temporarily postpone their search.”

    A bleak outlook

    Slower activity in the areas hit hard by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma will likely pull existing sales for the year below the pace set in 2016.

    Yun believes Harvey’s damage to the Houston region contributed to the South’s waning contract signings in August, and will likely continue to do so in the months ahead.

    Furthermore, he thinks the temporary pause in activity in Florida this month will slow overall sales even more in the South.

    The NAR is now forecasting sales of existing homes will close out the year at around 5.44 million, which comes in slightly below (0.2 percent) the pace set in 2016 (5.45 million).

    Additionally, the national median existing-home price this year is expected to increase around 6 percent.

    Last year, existing sales rose 3.8 percent with prices gaining 5.1 percent.

    “The supply and affordability headwinds would have likely held sales growth just a tad above last year, but, coupled with the temporary effects from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, sales in 2017 will fall slightly below last year,” said Yun. “The good news is that nearly all of the missed closings for the remainder of the year will likely show up in 2018, with existing sales forecast to rise 6.9 percent.”

    Regional breakdown

    • The PHSI in the Northeast fell 4.4 percent to 93.4 last month and is now 4.1 percent below a year ago.
    • In the Midwest the index dipped 1.5 percent to 101.8 and is now down 3.2 percent from August 2016.
    • Pending home sales in the South were off 3.5 percent for a reading of 118.8 and are 1.7 percent below the previous August.
    • The index in the West declined 1.0 percent to 101.3 and is 2.4 percent below the same time last year.
    For the fifth time in six months, pending home sales – based on contract signings – were lower in August.The National Association of Realtors (NAR) rep...

    Twitter announces tests of 280-character limit for some users

    The change is meant to alleviate ‘cramming’

    Avid Twitter users frequently employ creative edits to get their tweets under the maximum character limit, but that might not be so difficult in the near future.

    Twitter announced on Tuesday that it would be testing an expanded character count for users’ tweets that would double the limit from 140 characters to 280 characters. Product Manager Aliza Rosen says the change, which will be rolled out on a limited basis initially, is meant to help close the gap between users of different languages.

    “We want every person around the world to easily express themselves on Twitter, so we’re doing something new: we’re going to try out a longer limit, 280 characters, in languages impacted by cramming (which is all except Japanese, Chinese, and Korean),” she said.

    Alleviate cramming

    What exactly is cramming? Rosen and Twitter senior software engineer Ikuhiro Ihara explain that certain languages – such as Chinese, Japanese, and Korean – are able to convey much more information in far fewer characters than languages like English or Spanish. As such, users who speak character-heavy languages like English or Spanish often have to cram their ideas into a tweet to get their message across.

    This is perhaps most easily seen in the tweet lengths of users from different languages. Rosen and Ihara point out that only 0.4 percent of tweets from Japanese users utilize all 140 characters, while tweets from English speakers use 140 characters 9 percent of the time.

    “Our research shows us that the character limit is a major cause of frustration for people Tweeting in English, but it is not for those Tweeting in Japanese,” Rosen said.

    “Although we feel confident about our data and the positive impact this change will have, we want to try it out with a small group of people before we make a decision to launch for everyone. What matters most is that this works for our community – we will be collecting data and gathering feedback along the way.”

    Still keeping it brief

    This isn’t the first time that Twitter has made changes to its format. Last year, the company changed which characters contribute towards the maximum limit by saying that @names in replies and attachments like photos, videos, and polls would no longer count.

    While some users may worry that the expanded character limit will ruin any semblance of brevity on Twitter, the company says that tweets will still have to be straightforward and concise.

    “We understand since many of you have been Tweeting for years, there may be an emotional attachment to 140 characters – we felt it, too. But we tried this, saw the power of what it will do, and fell in love with this new, still brief, constraint,” said Rosen. “We are excited to share this…and we will keep you posted about what we see and what comes next.”

    Avid Twitter users frequently employ creative edits to get their tweets under the maximum character limit, but that might not be so difficult in the near f...

    Mortgage applications fall for second straight week

    Contract interest rates were mixed

    Another decline -- the second in a row -- for mortgage applications.

    The Mortgage Bankers Association’s latest weekly survey shows a slight decline – 0.5 percent – during the week ending September 22.

    The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index was up 3 percent from a week earlier, while the Refinance Index dropped 4 percent, pushing the refinance share of mortgage activity down to 50.8 percent of total applications from 52.1 percent the week before.

    The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity slipped to 6.5 percent of total applications, the FHA share fell to 9.6 percent from 9.9 percent a week earlier, the VA share of total applications edged down to 10.0 percent from 10.1 percent, and the USDA share held steady at 0.7 percent.

    Contract interest rates

    The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($424,100 or less) rose seven basis points -- to 4.11 percent from 4.04 percent -- with points unchanged at 0.40 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The effective rate increased from last week.

    The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs with jumbo loan balances (greater than $424,100) went from 3.99 percent to 4.06 percent, with points increasing to 0.26 from 0.23 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.

    The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA inched up one basis point to 3.98 percent, with points increasing to 0.50 from 0.34 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.

    The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs advanced to 3.38 percent from 3.35 percent, with points decreasing to 0.40 from 0.44 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.

    The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs jumped eight basis points to 3.38 percent, with points increasing to 0.45 from 0.34 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.

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

    Another decline -- the second in a row -- for mortgage applications.The Mortgage Bankers Association’s latest weekly survey shows a slight decline – 0....

    Home prices continue to post monthly and annual gains

    However, the housing market may be in for challenging times

    July showed a solid gain for the prices of U.S. homes, signaling encouraging trends for economic growth in cities across the country.

    According to the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index, (covering all nine U.S. census divisions) prices were 5.9 percent higher this year than July 2016.

    The 10-City Composite annual increase came in at 5.2 percent, while the 20-City Composite jumped 5.8 percent.

    The highest year-over-year gains among the 20 cities came in Seattle (+13.5 percent), Portland (+7.6 percent) and Las Vegas (+7.4 percent).

    Twelve cities reported greater price increases in the year ending July 2017 versus the year ending June 2017.

    “Consumers, through home buying and other spending, are the driving force in the current economic expansion,” said David M. Blitzer, managing director and chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices. “While the gains in home prices in recent months have been in the Pacific Northwest, the leadership continues to shift among regions and cities across the country.”

    He points out that Dallas and Denver are also experiencing rapid price growth. As noted above, Las Vegas – one of the hardest hit cities in the housing collapse – saw the third fastest increase in the year through July 2017.

    Month-over-month

    The National Index posted a month-over-month gain of 0.7 percent, before seasonal adjustment, in July. The 10-City and 20-City Composites reported increases of 0.8 percent and 0.7 percent, respectively.

    After seasonal adjustment, the National Index recorded a 0.5 percent month-over-month increase. The 10-City Composite posted a 0.4 percent increase, with the 20-City Composite up 0.3 percent. All 20 cities reported increases in July before seasonal adjustment; after seasonal adjustment, 17 cities saw prices rise.

    “While home prices continue to rise, other housing indicators may be leveling off,” Blitzer noted. “Sales of both new and existing homes have slipped since last March. The Builders Sentiment Index published by the National Association of Home Builders also leveled off after March.

    “Automobiles are the second largest consumer purchase most people make after houses. Auto sales peaked last November and have been flat to slightly lower since.”

    The housing market will face conflicting challenges during the rest of 2017 and into 2018, according to Blizter. “First, rebuilding following hurricanes across Texas, Florida and other parts of the south will lead to further supply pressure. Second, the Fed’s recent move to shrink its balance sheet could push mortgage rates upward."

    July showed a solid gain for the prices of U.S. homes, signaling encouraging trends for economic growth in cities across the country.According to the S...

    Consumer group defends current auto mileage standards

    Consumer Federation of America says rolling back ambitious standards would be costly for consumers

    In comments filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Consumer Federation Of America (CFA) is defending the 2021 fuel economy standards currently up for review.

    Current fuel economy standards are under review by the Trump Administration, which will set miles per gallon (MPG) targets that carmakers’ fleets must hit. CFA argues against any rollback, saying the standards currently on the books will save consumers billions of dollars in fuel costs.

    Mark Cooper, senior fellow at CFA, says the higher mileage standards are justified because there's already very strong evidence of the benefits. Every time the fuel standards have been raised, he says, consumers have saved money.

    The 2021 fuel economy standards, officially known as Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE), were put in place by the Obama Administration but are now under review after some automakers complained they were too ambitious.

    Popularity of SUVs a complicating factor

    In the latter years of the Obama Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set a 2025 mileage goal of 54.5 MPG, but admitted that would be hard to meet if consumers continue purchasing trucks and SUVs, which are less fuel efficient.

    For 2021, the current CAFE standards require automakers' fleet-wide average fuel economy to be about 41 MPG, and nearly 50 MPG in 2025. Final rules for the 2022-2025 model year rules will be completed by April 2018.

    In its comments, CFA argues that rolling back the 2021 standard and freezing the 2022-2025 standards would rob motorists of savings at the gas pump. In this case, CFA estimates the loss would be more than $3,500 per household.

    The group also estimates lower fuel standards would cut about $150 billion from economic growth, spike operating costs to an additional $150 billion, and lose more than $50 billion in environmental and public health benefits.

    While automakers would come out ahead, CFA estimates the companies would realize about $50 billion in savings, while the rest of the economy would lose $350 billion.

    Not that hard to achieve

    The real tragedy of rolling back the standards, CFA argues, is they can be achieved by automakers without a lot of expense or effort.

    "The extensive evidence in the record shows that the standards are quite moderate, and are well-within the bounds of feasibility,” Cooper said.

    Consider that in 1975, when CAFE standards were first established, most vehicles on the road had eight-cylinder engines and got about 12 to 15 MPG. Today, most four-cylinder vehicles get 30 MPG or more.

    "The standards are well within the technological frontier of the industry as analyzed not only by NHTSA/EPA, but also MIT and the National Academy of Sciences," CFA said in its comments.

    What's more, the group says the rate of mileage improvement is consistent with historical periods where standards were implemented. It says U.S. standards are also consistent with, or slightly below, other developed nations.

    In comments filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Consumer Federation Of America (CFA) is defending the 2021 fuel econ...

    New home sales slump for fourth consecutive month

    August sales declined in three of the four U.S. geographic regions

    The market for new homes continued to struggle in August.

    The Commerce Department reports sales of new single-family houses fell 3.4 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 560,000. On a positive note, the government revised its estimate of sales in July to an annual rate of 580,000 instead of the 571,000 initial reported.

    Nonetheless, the August sales pace is down 1.2 percent from the same period a year ago. Sales fell in all U.S. regions except the Midwest where they were flat. The sharpest decline was in the South (-4.7 percent), followed by the West (-2.7 percent) and the Northeast (-2.6 percent)

    Pricing and inventory

    The median sales price of new homes sold last month was $300,200, down $19,700 from July but up $1,300 from a year earlier. The median is the point at which half the houses sold for more and half for less.

    The average sales price was $368,100, a month-over-month loss of $3,200 but an annual gain of $13,000.

    The estimate of new homes for sale at the end of August was a seasonally-adjusted 284,000, representing a supply of 6.1 months at the current sales rate versus a 5.8 months supply at the end of July.

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

    The market for new homes continued to struggle in August.The Commerce Department reports sales of new single-family houses fell 3.4 percent last month...

    Consumer confidence dips in September

    The decline is the first in three months

    After posting increases for two consecutive months, The Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index, which measures consumers’ optimism related to the economy based on their saving and spending activity, lost ground in September.

    The reading of 119.8 is down 0.6 points from August, with the Present Situation Index falling 2.3 points from the previous month. However, the Expectations Index shot up 0.5 points to 102.2.

    Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which struck earlier in the month, had an effect on the readings.

    “Confidence in Texas and Florida, however, decreased considerably, as these two states were the most severely impacted by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma,” said said Lynn Franco, Conference Board Director of Economic Indicators.

    “Despite the slight downtick in confidence,” she added, “consumers’ assessment of current conditions remains quite favorable and their expectations for the short-term suggest the economy will continue expanding at its current pace.”

    How consumers see things

    There was a bit of moderation in September of consumers’ assessment of current conditions. Those who see business conditions as “good” slipped from 34.5% to 33.9%, while those who believe conditions are “bad” rose to 13.8% from 13.2%.

    Consumers’ appraisal of the labor market also lost ground. Those who said jobs are “plentiful” dropped from 34.4% to 32.6%. At the same time, those who think jobs are “hard to get” also went down from 18.4% to 18.1%.

    There was a bit more optimism for short-term outlook in this latest survey. The percentage of consumers expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months inched up to 20.2% from 19.8%. On the other hand, those anticipating conditions to worsen also increases -- from 8.0% to 9.9%.

    Consumers’ outlook for the labor market was more favorable than in August. The proportion expecting to see more jobs in the months ahead jumped to 19.5% from 16.8%. Still, the number of people who think there will be fewer jobs was also on the rise from 13.2% to 13.5%.

    As far as short-term income prospects are concerned, 20.5% expect there'll be some improvement, up 0.6% from August, while the proportion expecting a decline was virtually unchanged at 8.3%.

    The monthly consumer confidence survey, conducted for The Conference Board by Nielsen, is based on a probability-design random sample. The cutoff date for the preliminary results was September 18.

    After posting increases for two consecutive months, The Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index, which measures consumers’ optimism related to the eco...

    Common pet, pest allergens may ward off asthma

    Researchers say early exposure to certain allergens in dust can lower asthma risk

    Having dogs, cats, mice, and even cockroaches in your home may help guard your baby or toddler against asthma, a new study suggests. 

    After analyzing dust samples from the homes of 440 inner-city children, researchers found that higher concentrations of cat, mouse, and cockroach allergens were linked to a lower risk of children in those households developing asthma by age 7.

    Scientists say the findings could prompt new strategies to prevent asthma -- a condition which affects 8 percent of Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    Mother’s health and habits matter

    Previous studies have found that reducing allergen exposure in the home helps control symptoms of asthma, but these latest results suggest that early exposure to certain allergens may help ward off the disease altogether.

    "Our findings suggest that primary prevention strategies for childhood asthma in low-income urban communities should probably not focus on home allergen reduction," the authors wrote.

    The research team also found that a child’s asthma risk was significantly higher if their mom smoked or experienced stress or depression during pregnancy.

    “Interventions to reduce prenatal smoking and to reduce maternal stress and depression during pregnancy and infancy” could further help to lower the risk of asthma developing, the researchers surmised.

    Influence of microbiome

    While cat, mouse, and cockroach allergens in dust samples were linked to a lower risk of asthma in children, a weaker association was observed in levels of dog allergens. The study authors say the association may have been a coincidence, but children who had more exposure to all four allergens by 3 months of age had a significantly lower asthma risk.

    Additionally, a home’s bacteria population -- or “microbiome” -- was found to have an impact on the likelihood of asthma developing. Pets and pests affect the microbiome and can actually help lower kids’ odds for asthma, said study co-author Dr. James Gern.

    A 2016 study showed Amish children who were exposed to farm animal microbes in house dust had lower rates of asthma than children who were not exposed to those bacteria. Similarly, exposure to furry pets in infancy has been associated with a lower risk of allergy and asthma.

    While additional research is needed to confirm the roles of these microbial exposures in asthma development, Gern says that his team’s observations  “imply that exposure to a broad variety of indoor allergens, bacteria and bacterial products early in life may reduce the risk of developing asthma.”

    The full study has been published online in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

    Having dogs, cats, mice, and even cockroaches in your home may help guard your baby or toddler against asthma, a new study suggests. After analyzing du...

    Gas prices falling but still higher than normal

    National average price down five cents in the last week

    Gasoline prices are drifting lower from their post-Hurricane Harvey spike, but remain significantly higher than this time last year.

    The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of regular gasoline is around $2.57 a gallon, down five cents from a week ago but 37 cents higher than fall 2016.

    Prices rose quickly after Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas Gulf Coast last month, forcing many refineries to curtail production. That created supply shortages, raising the price of gasoline nationwide. After topping out close to $2.70 a gallon, gasoline prices have been going down over the last two weeks.

    "That downward momentum is starting to pick up steam," Gasbuddy senior analyst Patrick DeHaan told ConsumerAffairs. "Gasoline inventories are continuing to recover after hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and that's helping to put downward pressure on gas prices."

    Big drop in prices in Delaware

    Consumers in some states are seeing gas prices fall faster than the nation as a whole. DeHaan says prices seem to be falling faster in the Midwest and in the East; Delaware leads all states with a decline of around 10 cents a gallon in the last week.

    Prices remain higher than normal in the Southeast, which normally enjoys some of the lowest fuel prices in the nation.

    "We're still seeing some supply problems as a result of that temporary partial shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline after Hurricane Harvey," DeHaan said. "We're still getting back on our feet in the Southeast."

    Both Florida and Georgia have statewide gas price averages of $2.66 a gallon, the highest in the region. But inventory issues are still affecting prices in the Carolinas, Tennessee, and Virginia.

    South Carolina, normally the state with the cheapest fuel, has a current statewide average gasoline price of $2.46 a gallon. A month ago (before Hurricane Harvey), it was $2.07. Tennessee's average price of $2.50 a gallon is still 37 cents higher than a month ago.

    Most expensive gas is in the West

    In the West, California has the most expensive gasoline. The statewide average for regular is $3.12 a gallon -- but it's 13 cents higher at San Francisco area gas stations.

    Hawaii and Washington are seeing slightly lower gas prices this week and are the only states besides California where the average price has eclipsed the $3 per gallon mark.

    Autumn is normally a time when gasoline prices fall a bit faster, since oil refineries have switched to producing cheaper winter-grade gasoline.

    The EPA requires stations to sell summer blends between June 1 and September 15, but it has allowed earlier sale of winter grades because of the hurricanes. That may have helped bring down prices a bit, but DeHaan says there are other economic forces at work that may limit the benefit to consumers.

    "Oil prices are now $51 a barrel, so gasoline prices may not get as low as they were before the hurricanes, when oil was selling for around $47," he said.

    Gasoline prices are drifting lower from their post-Hurricane Harvey spike, but remain significantly higher than this time last year.The AAA Fuel Gauge...

    Delta recalls 'J is for Jeep' brand strollers

    The stroller leg brackets can break, causing a falling hazard

    Delta Enterprise Corporation has issued a recall for 28,000 units of its J is for Jeep brand cross-country all-terrain jogging strollers. The company says that the stroller leg bracket can break and pose a fall hazard to infants in the stroller. 

    The strollers have two wheels in the back and one smaller wheel in the front, and can be identified by a "J is for Jeep" printing on the side of the stroller sun canopy and a star with a circle around it logo printed on the front bottom of the seat on the side of the stroller.

    Affected model and lot numbers, which can be found printed on a Delta Children label with a blue heart at the left bottom frame support, can be viewed here.

    The strollers were sold nationwide at Target, Walmart, and other stores from August 2015 to August 2016 for between $130 and $160. Thus far, there have been four reported incidents of the stroller leg bracket breaking, including one case in which a child fell from the stroller and received cuts and bruises.

    Delta says that consumers who have puchased an affected stroller should stop using it immediately and contact the company for a free repair. Delta can be reached at 800-377-3777 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday.

    You can also contact the company by email at recall@deltachildren.com or online at www.deltachildren.com. Just click on the "Help Center" and then the "Recall Center" for more information.

    Delta Enterprise Corporation has issued a recall for 28,000 units of its J is for Jeep brand cross-country all-terrain jogging strollers. The company says...

    Uber's license to operate denied in London

    Transportation officials cite a 'lack of corporate responsibility' in dealing with public safety

    London's transportation authority has denied Uber's bid to renew its operating license, declaring it is not a "fit and proper" mode of transportation for London’s 8.7 million residents and visitors.

    Uber said it would challenge the decision in court, but it will have to move quickly to avoid disruption of service, as Uber's current license expires at the end of the month.

    In a statement, Transport For London said it concluded that Uber London Limited has "demonstrated a lack of corporate responsibility" in relation to public safety, namely its approach to reporting serious criminal offenses.

    Other reasons cited for denying Uber’s license include::

    • Uber's approach to obtaining medical certificates and Enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service checks.

    • Its use of Greyball - software that could block regulatory agencies from gaining full access to the app and/or undertaking regulatory or law enforcement duties.    

    Uber has 21 days to appeal the decision.

    No excuse for being unsafe

    Writing in the Guardian, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said Uber deserved to lose its license, appearing to agree with Transportation For London's assessment of Uber's safety standards.

    "Providing an innovative service is not an excuse for it being unsafe," Khan wrote.

    Uber in London General Manager Tom Elvidge suggests the decision was more a case of placating those "who want to restrict consumer choice”.

    He said if the decision stands, it would put 40,000 Uber drivers out of work.

    London's transportation authority has denied Uber's bid to renew its operating license, declaring it is not a "fit and proper" mode of transportation for L...

    SEC reveals details of 2016 data breach

    The agency said the hack may have led to 'illicit gains'

    The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has announced details of a 2016 hack of its computer system that may have led to “illicit gains” from stock trades.

    SEC officials learned in August that hackers had breached the agency’s EDGAR online database, which contains many companies’ securities filings and other highly sensitive information. SEC Chairman Jay Clayton issued a statement Wednesday evening explaining that the intrusion was the result of a software vulnerability that was “patched promptly after discovery.”

    “We believe the intrusion did not result in unauthorized access to personally identifiable information, jeopardize the operations of the Commission, or result in systemic risk,” Clayton said. “Our investigation of this matter is ongoing, however, and we are coordinating with appropriate authorities.”

    Must step up efforts

    Thus far, the SEC has investigated and filed cases against individuals who it alleges placed fake SEC filings connected to the breach. However, the agency’s announcement did not sit well with Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia).

    The lawmaker compared the breach with the recent hacking of credit reporting agency Equifax, which compromised sensitive personal details of 143 million people. Warner indicated that he would be questioning Clayton about the breach in an upcoming Senate Banking Committee meeting, according to the Los Angeles Times.

    “The SEC’s disclosure, which comes not even two weeks after Equifax revealed that it had been hacked, shows that government and business entities need to step up their efforts to protect our most sensitive personal and commercial information,” Warner said.

    Cybersecurity lapses

    This isn’t the first time that the SEC has had to deal with cybersecurity issues. In 2014, an internal review by the agency’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found that laptops containing sensitive, private information could not be located.

    In another instance, the OIG found that SEC employees had shared nonpublic information through non-secure personal email accounts.

    Interactions with outside vendors have been troublesome as well. In his statement, Clayton confirmed that certain vendor systems and software products have provided the means for threat actors to access SEC systems.

    Largely due to these incidents, the SEC has adopted an extensive cybersecurity detection, protection, and prevention program. However, Clayton says that the agency’s own limitations will require “additional expertise in this area.”

    The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has announced details of a 2016 hack of its computer system that may have led to “illicit gains” from stock tr...

    Toys 'R' Us to hire thousands for the Christmas shopping season

    Chapter 11 won't affect the company's holiday plans

    Toys “R” Us won’t let a little thing like bankruptcy get in the way of Christmas.

    The toy retailer, which filed for Chapter 11 protection earlier this week, has announced it's still accepting applications for holiday positions at stores and distribution centers across the country.

    Interestingly, the world's largest retailer, Walmart, is not hiring holiday help.

    “We are offering the extra hours available this time of year to our current associates rather than hiring thousands of seasonal workers,” said executive vice president and CEO Judith McKenna.

    She points out that the company took the same approach last year and got “great feedback” from customers and employees alike.

    Available positions

    As it beefs up its workforce, Toys “R” Us is adding a new position: Toy Demonstrator. The job appears to be perfect for big kids at heart, as it involves unboxing, playing with toys, and allowing kids and shoppers opportunities to test them out.

    Available holiday positions include: :

    • Cashier

    • Sales associate

    • Stock associate

    • Toy demonstrator (available in select stores nationwide)

    • Order fulfillment associate

    • Distribution center warehouse associate (daytime and overnight positions available)

    Perks and potential

    Toys “R” Us says it's offering incentives and competitive compensation packages for all hires in each local market, such as flex hours and varied shifts.

    Additionally, seasonal hires can take advantage of employee discounts and shopping events for their own holiday gift giving.

    The company says there also will be some opportunities for employment beyond the holidays as it has moved thousands of its holiday workforce to fill permanent roles.

    Where the jobs are

    Markets with the largest seasonal hiring needs include:

    • New York, N.Y. – more than 3,800

    • Los Angeles, Calif. – more than 2,400

    • Groveport, Ohio – more than 2,400 (DHL Supply Chain Fulfillment Center)

    • Philadelphia, Pa. – more than 1,400

    • Chicago, Ill. – more than 1,100

    • Boston, Mass. – more than 950

    In addition to its stores and distribution centers, the Toys “R” Us customer service partner -- Acticall Sitel Group -- is hiring over 900 dedicated seasonal Work@Home agents at its Virtual Call Centers in 25 states across the country.

    Not only does Work@Home eliminate a commute and provide convenience and flexibility with schedules, it also allows parents and caregivers more time with family.

    What to do

    To apply for positions at Toys “R” Us stores and distribution centers, interested candidates can visit Toysrusinc.com/HolidayJobs. The application is mobile-friendly and requires less than five minutes to complete.

    To apply for positions in Acticall Sitel Group call centers, interested candidates can visit Sitel.com/careers/work-home.

    DHL Supply Chain in Groveport, Ohio, which provides online fulfillment for Toys “R” Us throughout the holiday season, is hiring over 2,400 seasonal employees to help service online orders for Toysrus.com and Babiesrus.com.

    Available positions throughout the season include general labor, clerical, and forklift operators. To apply,  interested candidates can visit dhlsupplychainjobs.com or text “TOYS2017” to 31996 for job information.

    To apply for available daytime and overnight positions in Acticall Sitel Group call centers, interested candidates can visit Sitel.com/careers/work-home.

    Toys“R”Us won’t let a little thing like bankruptcy get in the way of Christmas.The toy retailer, which filed for Chapter 11 protection earlier this wee...

    Another gain for The Conference Board Leading Economic Index

    The August increase is the 12th monthly gain in a row

    Economic growth appears to be on course to continue for the rest of the year.

    The Conference Board reports its Leading Economic Index (LEI), seen by many analysts as a fairly reliable indicator of economic activity, rose 0.4 percent in August.

    The increase follows advances of 0.3 percent in July and 0.6 percent in June.

    “The August gain is consistent with continuing growth in the U.S. economy for the second half of the year, which may even see a moderate pick up,” said Conference Board Director of Business Cycles and Growth Research Ataman. “While the economic impact of recent hurricanes is not fully reflected in the leading indicators yet, the underlying trends suggest that the current solid pace of growth should continue in the near term.”

    The LEI is a composite average of several individual leading indicators constructed to summarize and reveal common turning point patterns in economic data in a clearer and more convincing manner than any individual component. It smooths out some of the volatility of individual components.

    The ten LEI components include:

    • Average weekly hours, manufacturing

    • Average weekly initial claims for unemployment insurance

    • Manufacturers’ new orders, consumer goods and materials

    • ISM Index of New Orders

    • Manufacturers' new orders, nondefense capital goods excluding aircraft orders

    • Building permits, new private housing units

    • Stock prices, 500 common stocks

    • Leading Credit Index

    • Interest rate spread, 10-year Treasury bonds less federal funds

    • Average consumer expectations for business conditions

    Economic growth appears to be on course to continue for the rest of the year.The Conference Board reports its Leading Economic Index (LEI), seen by man...

    Airbnb adds restaurant reservation feature to its app

    Users can book a table at nearly 650 restaurants

    Travel industry giant Airbnb is continuing to expand its reach with a new app feature allowing users to reserve a table at nearly 650 restaurants in 16 U.S. cities.

    "The ability to book reservations at a curated selection of restaurants is part of our ongoing commitment to focus on the entire trip, not just homes, and follows the launch of Experiences last year," the company said in a statement.

    So Airbnb, the app that matches lodgers with people renting a spare room, condo, or house, is taking what it calls the next logical step. Effective immediately, consumers can use the Airbnb app to reserve a table at nearly 650 restaurants in the U.S.

    Among the top-shelf restaurants included in the app are Thip Khao in Washington, D.C., Petit Crenn in San Francisco, Kismet in Los Angeles, and Bateau in Seattle.

    Especially handy for international travelers

    Airbnb says the restaurant feature will prove especially handy for international travelers. While in a different country, guests might not be familiar with local reservation sites or be able to translate online systems into their own languages, the company says.

    The new feature is powered by Resy, a restaurant booking app. There is now a dedicated restaurant tab on both the Airbnb website and app, allowing users to search by a number of different parameters. You can sort restaurants by the cuisine they serve, or break them down by which meal you want -- breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner.

    Resy picks the available restaurants, judging them on overall quality and making note of which ones are local favorites or have won awards or other recognition.

    Airbnb's Restaurant Spending Report shows its guests spent over $6.5 billion at restaurants last year in 44 markets around the world.

    Travelers' survey

    An accompanying survey shows nearly half of travelers from the U.S. prefer restaurants that have been recommended by the local population. More than half said they would like to have the option of dining out or cooking in when they travel.

    Thirty percent of U.S. travelers who have traveled outside the country said they find it difficult to find good restaurants that are favorites among locals -- not just tourists -- when they travel.

    Currently, about half of Americans who eat at restaurants when traveling say they usually choose a restaurant by asking the hotel concierge.

    Travel industry giant Airbnb is continuing to expand its reach with a new app feature allowing users to reserve a table at nearly 650 restaurants in 16 U.S...

    Home prices head higher, jobless claims on the downside

    Hurricanes Harvey and Irma were factors in the latter

    The prices of houses across the U.S. rose during July.

    The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) reports its seasonally adjusted monthly House Price Index (HPI) was up 0.2 percent following a gain of 0.1 percent in June.

    For the nine census divisions, seasonally adjusted monthly price changes ranged from a 0.5 percent decline in the West North Central and Pacific divisions to a gain of 0.6 percent in the East North Central division.

    The year-over-year performance was stronger, with prices up 6.3 percent from July 2016 to July 2017.

    The 12-month changes were all positive, ranging from a 4.2 percent increase in the West North Central division to a surge of 8.2 percent in the Mountain and Pacific divisions.

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

    The full report may be found on the FHFA website.

    Jobless claims

    In another week in which the count was affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, first-time applications for state unemployment benefits were lower.

    The Department of Labor (DOL) reports initial jobless claims fell by 23,000 in week ending September 16 to a seasonally adjusted 259,000. At the same time, the government said it revised the previous week's total downward by 2,000.

    On the other hand, the four-week moving average came in at 268,750 -- up 6,000 from the previous week and the highest level since June 4, 2016. The level reported for the week before was revised down by 500.

    The four-week moving average, which lacks the volatility of the initial claims report, is considered by many economists to be a more accurate reading of the labor market.

    The complete report is available on the DOL website.

    The prices of houses across the U.S. rose during July.The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) reports its seasonally adjusted monthly House Price Ind...

    Model year 2017 Dodge Durangos recalled

    The rear axle halfshafts may be too short

    Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling four model year 2017 Dodge Durangos that may have been assembled with rear axle halfshafts that are too short.

    If a halfshaft is too short, it may disengage from the differential causing a loss of drive and increasing the risk of a crash.

    What to do

    Chrysler has notified owners, and dealers will replace both halfshafts, free of charge. The recall began on September 18, 2017.

    Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is T55.

    Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling four model year 2017 Dodge Durangos that may have been assembled with rear axle halfshafts that are too short.If a h...

    Employers urged to help workers manage rising healthcare costs

    Survey suggests employees are unaware of some helpful tools

    Just because you have a good job with health benefits doesn't mean your healthcare costs aren't going up.

    In its Workplace Benefits Report Healthcare Supplement, Bank of America Merrill Lynch says employees are paying higher deductibles and more out-of-pocket costs that could affect their other long-term financial goals.

    Seventy-nine percent of employees said they saw their healthcare costs go up last year. That's up from 69% who reported higher costs in 2016.

    The findings are in line with a Kaiser Family Foundation report published last year, which found the cost of the average employer-sponsored healthcare plan rose 3% in 2015, with employee contributions rising to $5,277.

    Employees need help

    "I think employers are now recognizing that their employees need help," Bob Kaiser, a senior vice president at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, told ConsumerAffairs. "There's stress on the job. There seems to always be confusion over the amount of benefits that are offered -- which ones do I use, how do I use them?"

    Employees in the survey expressed some uncertainty over what steps they should be taking when it came to their healthcare benefits. Kaiser says focusing on the future and ensuring that you're using all of your benefits is a good place to start. He points out that one way employees can achieve both goals is by opening a health savings account (HSA).

    "If you put money in an HSA account, it is just as good as your 401 (k) money if you don't use it for medical," he said. "When you turn 65 and haven't used your HSA money, you can take it out for whatever purpose, just like a 401(k). You can take it out and treat it as ordinary income."

    Tax advantages

    Opening an HSA can be a solid financial investment, since the money is tax deductible when it goes in. If you need it to pay a medical expense, there is no tax when it comes out.

    But if you are 65 or older, you can withdraw the money for non-medical reasons. You'll have to pay taxes on the withdrawal, just like you would with a 401(k), but there are no minimum distributions you have to take, like with a retirement account.

    Kaiser says he thinks employees are under-using HSAs because they don't really know much about them. It's up to employers, he says, to educate employees about all the tools they can use.

    The survey suggests rising healthcare costs are putting a strain on long-term financial goals. Researchers found 56% of workers with rising healthcare costs reported spending less or contributing less to their financial goals. They were less likely to put money away for retirement or pay down debt.

    Bank of America Merrill Lynch offers a suite of online tools for managing HSAs and health benefits, geared to both employees and employers.

    Just because you have a good job with health benefits doesn't mean your healthcare costs aren't going up.In its Workplace Benefits Report Healthcare Su...

    DEMDACO recalls infant bib and bootie sets

    Rattles sewn into the booties can detach, posing a choking hazard

    DEMDACO of Leawood, Kan., is recalling about 1,500 infant bib and bootie sets.

    Rattles sewn into the booties can detach, posing a choking hazard.

    No incidents or injuries are reported.

    This recall involves the following Story Time bib and bootie sets for infants, ages 3 through 6 months:

    5004700491

     Dragon Bib & Bootie Set

    5004700492

     Sea Creatures Bib & Bootie Set

    5004700493

     Unicorn Bib & Bootie Set

    5004700494

     Princess Bib & Bootie Set

    5004700495

     Pirate Bib & Bootie Set

    5004700496

     Rocketship Bib & Bootie Set

     

    The multi-colored pastel sets were sold in six different child themes and have serial numbers ranging from 5004700491 to 5004700496. The serial number can be found on the side of the bib. The sets were sold under the brand name Nat & Jules.

    Rattle attachments sewn into the booties coordinate with the theme.

    The infant bib and bootie sets, manufactured in China, were sold at Christus Health Retail Systems, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, More Than Words, The Mole Hole of Peddlers Village & Eash Sales from June 2017, through August 2017, for about $25.

    What to do

    Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled bib sets, take them away from children and return them to any store that sells DEMDACO’s products for a full refund.

    Consumers may contact DEMDACO toll-free at 888-336-3226 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday or online at www.demdaco.com and click on Recall Info for more information.

    DEMDACO of Leawood, Kan., is recalling about 1,500 infant bib and bootie sets.Rattles sewn into the booties can detach, posing a choking hazard.No...

    Another decline for sales of previously-owned homes

    Rising prices and low inventory are blamed

    Once again -- for the fourth time in five months -- sales of existing homes are headed lower.

    The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports previously-owned home sales -- completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums, and co-ops -- fell 1.7% in August to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.35 million. Even with that decline, sales were 0.2% above the same time a year ago.

    Despite what the NAR calls “a solid level of demand for buying a home,” the sales slump stretched into August. "

    “Steady employment gains, slowly rising incomes and lower mortgage rates generated sustained buyer interest all summer long, but unfortunately, not more home sales," said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun.

    “What's ailing the housing market and continues to weigh on overall sales is the inadequate levels of available inventory and the upward pressure it's putting on prices in several parts of the country. Sales have been unable to break out because there are simply not enough homes for sale.”

    Pricing and inventory

    The median existing-home price for all housing types -- the point at which half sold for more and half for less -- was $253,500, up 5.6% from August 2016. The increase marks the 66th straight month of year-over-year gains.

    Inventory at the end of last month was down 2.1% to 1.88 million existing homes available for sale, and stands 6.5% lower than a year ago. That works out to a 4.2-month supply at the current sales pace, compared with 4.5 months in August 2016. Inventories have now fallen year-over-year for 27 months in a row.

    According to Freddie Mac, the average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage fell to 3.88% in August from 3.97% in July and is the lowest since November 2016 when it was 3.77%. The average commitment rate for all of 2016 was 3.65%.

    Sales by region

    Existing-home sales in the Northeast soared 10.8% in August to an annual rate of 720,000 and are now 1.4% above a year ago. The median price was up 5.6% to $289,500 from a year ago.

    In the Midwest, sales rose to an annual rate of 1.28 million, up 2.4% from July and 0.8% from the same time last year. The median price was $200,500 -- up 5.0%

    The West experienced a decline of 4.8% to an annual rate of 1.20 million, but sales are still 0.8% above a year ago. The median price shot up 7.7% to $374,700.

    Sales in the South dropped 5.7% to an annual rate of 2.15 million and are now 0.9% below the year-ago level. The median price was $220,400, up 5.4%.

    Yun also attributes some of the South's decline in closings to the devastation Hurricane Harvey caused to the greater Houston area. Sales, he said, will likely be affected the rest of the year in Houston, as well as in the most severely affected areas in Florida from Hurricane Irma. However, he adds, “nearly all of the lost activity will likely show up in 2018.”

    Once again -- for the fourth time in five months -- sales of existing homes are headed lower.The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports previou...

    Mortgage applications post first loss in three weeks

    Contract interest rates were mixed

    Mortgage applications fell last week, negating nearly all of the previous week's advance.

    After rising 9.9% previously, applications plunged 9.7% in the week ending September 15, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) latest survey. The previous week’s results had included an adjustment for the Labor Day holiday.

    The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index plunged 11% from a week earlier, while the Refinance Index was down 9%. The refinance share of mortgage activity rose to 52.1% of total applications from 51.0% the previous week.

    The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity accounted for 6.8% of total applications, the FHA share was unchanged at 9.9%, the VA share dropped to 10.1% from 10.3% the week before, and the USDA share remained at 0.7%.

    Contract interest rates

    The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($424,100 or less) inched up one basis point -- to 4.04% from 4.03% -- with points unchanged at 0.40 (including the origination fee) for 80% loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The effective rate increased from last week.

    The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs with jumbo loan balances (greater than $424,100) slipped to 3.99% from 4.00%, with points decreasing to 0.23 from 0.24 (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 three basis points to 3.97%, with points unchanged at 0.34 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.

    The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs jumped to 3.35% from 3.30%, with points increasing to 0.44 from 0.39 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.

    The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs shot up 13 basis points to 3.30%, with points decreasing to 0.34 from 0.36 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.

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

    Mortgage applications fell last week, negating nearly all of the previous week's advance.After rising 9.9% previously, applications plunged 9.7% in the...

    Model year 2017-2018 Chrysler Pacificas recalled

    The second-row left outboard seat belt can become unlatched inadvertently

    Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 47,927 model year 2017-2018 Chrysler Pacificas equipped with the 8-passenger seating option.

    In certain passenger seating and vehicle situations, the second-row center seating position seat belt buckle could cause the left outboard seat belt to become unlatched.

    Inadvertent unlatching of the left outboard seat belt can increase the risk of injury in the event of a crash.

    What to do

    Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will install a shorter second-row seat belt buckle, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin October 20, 2017.

    Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is T54.

    Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 47,927 model year 2017-2018 Chrysler Pacificas equipped with the 8-passenger seating option.In certain passenger sea...

    Florida victims of Hurricane Irma get tax filing relief

    The IRS is providing a variety of breaks for those affected by the storm

     

    Taxpayers in Florida who were hit by Hurricane Irma have more time to file certain individual and business tax returns and make certain tax payments.

    The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) says this includes an additional filing extension for taxpayers with valid extensions that run out on Oct. 16, as well as businesses with extensions that ran out on Sept. 15.

    Any area designated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as qualifying for either individual assistance or public assistance in Florida is covered by the extension.

    What it means

    The tax relief postpones various tax filing and payment deadlines that occurred starting on September 4, 2017 in Florida. Affected taxpayers will now have until January 31, 2018 to file returns and pay any taxes that were originally due during this period.

    This includes the September 15, 2017 and January 16, 2018 deadlines for making quarterly estimated tax payments. It also includes 2016 income tax returns for individual tax filers who received a tax-filing extension until October 16, 2017.

    However, because tax payments related to these 2016 returns were originally due on April 18, 2017, the IRS says those payments are not eligible for this relief.

    A break for businesses

    A variety of business tax deadlines are also affected by the decision, including the October 31 deadline for making quarterly payroll and excise tax returns.

    Several other groups will also benefit from the extended deadlines, including calendar-year partnerships whose 2016 extensions run out on September 15, 2017 and calendar-year tax-exempt organizations whose 2016 extensions run out on November 15, 2017. The disaster relief page has details on other returns, payments, and tax-related actions qualifying for the additional time.

    The IRS is also waiving late-deposit penalties for federal payroll and excise tax deposits normally due during the first 15 days of the disaster period. Check out the disaster relief page for the time periods that apply to each jurisdiction.

    What to do

    The IRS automatically provides filing and penalty relief to any taxpayer with an IRS address of record located in the disaster area. Thus, taxpayers need not contact the IRS to get this relief.

    However, if an affected taxpayer receives a late filing or late payment penalty notice from the IRS that has an original or extended filing, payment, or deposit due date falling within the postponement period, they should call the number on the notice to have the penalty abated.

    The IRS says it will work with any taxpayer who lives outside the disaster area but whose records necessary to meet a deadline occurring during the postponement period are located in the affected area.

    Taxpayers qualifying for relief who live outside the disaster area need to contact the IRS at 866-562-5227. This also includes workers assisting the relief activities who are affiliated with a recognized government or philanthropic organization.

    Those who suffered uninsured or unreimbursed disaster-related losses can choose to claim them on either the return for the year the loss occurred (in this instance, the 2017 return normally filed next year), or the return for the prior year (2016). See Publication 547 for details.

     

    Taxpayers in Florida who were hit by Hurricane Irma have more time to file certain individual and business tax returns and make certain tax payments.Th...

    New home construction down for second month in a row

    Authorizations for future building moved higher

    Another drop in housing starts in August -- the second decline in as many months.

    The Commerce Department reports groundbreakings for privately-owned housing starts in August totaled a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,180,000 – down 0.8% from July, which was revised down to 1,190,000. However, the August rate is still 1.4% above the same month a year ago.

    Construction of single-family homes rose 1.6% to an annual rate of 851,000, while the rate for structures with five units or more fell 5.8% to 323,000.

    The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) says the report shows single-family starts continue to move forward at a gradual, consistent pace.

    “The three-month average for single-family production has reached a post-recession high pace,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz, “but the months ahead may show volatility given that the building markets affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma represent about 14 percent of national production.”

    Building permits

    Building permits, a strong indicator of future construction plans, jumped 5.7% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,300,000 for a year-over-year gain of 8.3%.

    Permits for single-family homes were at a rate of 800,000 – down 1.5% from July, while multi-unit authorizations of units in buildings with five units or more rose 22.8% to a rate of 464,000.

    The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.

    Another drop in housing starts in August -- the second decline in as many months.The Commerce Department reports groundbreakings for privately-owned ho...

    Hyundai recalls model year 2017 Ioniq Electric Vehicles.

    Coolant may contact the Electronic Power Control Unit's circuit board

    Hyundai Motor Company is recalling 218 model year 2017 Ioniq Electric Vehicles.

    Manufacturing defects within the Electronic Power Control Unit (EPCU) may allow coolant to contact the unit's circuit board resulting in a stall, increasing the risk of a crash.

    What to do

    Hyundai will notify owners, and dealers will inspect and replace the EPCU, as necessary, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin September 29, 2017.

    Owners may contact Hyundai Customer Service at 1-800-633-5151. Hyundai's number for this recall is 166.

    Hyundai Motor Company is recalling 218 model year 2017 Ioniq Electric Vehicles.Manufacturing defects within the Electronic Power Control Unit (EPCU) ma...

    Over half of Millennials plan on making a major purchase by the end of the year

    One expert explains why choosing the right credit card is vital

    As the year comes to a close, younger Millennials will be looking to spend serious money on some major purchases, according to the results of a new Bankrate.com survey.

    The survey said that 68 percent of Millennials in the 18-26 age group are most likely to consider big purchases such as desktop computers, laptops, and tablets.

    The survey further added that nearly half of all Americans (49 percent) say they’re “very likely” to make a larger purchase before the end of 2017. In contrast, only 17 percent  of consumers responded that it was “not very likely” that they’d be making such a purchase in the next few months.

    “With the economy continuing on the right track and the holiday season quickly approaching, Americans are already anticipating purchasing big ticket items like airline tickets, televisions and computers,” said Bankrate.com analyst Robin Saks Frankel.

    Who’s spending?

    Gen Xers (37-52) came in a close second behind younger Millennials when it came to making plans for a big purchase (62 percent). These respondents said they were most likely to buy furniture or an airline ticket for the holidays.

    Overall, full-time workers, high earners (making more than $75,000 per year), college graduates, and Democrats were the most likely groups to report plans for making a big purchase. However, the lowest income households (making less than $30,000 per year) reported a somewhat or higher probability of buying a TV in the coming months.

    Choosing the right credit card

    Frankel says that responsible budgeters will need to plan ahead and shop around for the right card if they’re planning to make a big purchase in the coming months. Doing so, she says, will save them money in the long run.

    Among her suggestions, she says that consumers should check their travel rewards credit cards to see if they’ve accrued enough rewards points or miles to take the sting out of buying an airline ticket. Some of these cards may even save travelers money by eliminating checked bag fees.

    For consumers looking to buy appliances, furniture, or other products, she suggests using a cash-back rewards card that gives you 1-2 percent cash back on purchases. Consumers looking to sign up for a new card should also consider offers that include zero percent intro APRs.

    “One strategy that can help you budget for a bigger big-ticket item, like a top-of-the-line iPhone, is to use a credit card with a zero-interest offer so you can pay off the purchase over time without accruing any interest charges,” she said. “As long as you intend to pay the balance in full before the promotional period expires, it can be a great way to help ease the sting of paying a big bill all at once.”

    The Bankrate survey was conducted from August 17-20 and included a nationally representative sample of 1,003 adults.

    As the year comes to a close, younger Millennials will be looking to spend serious money on some major purchases, according to the results of a new Bankrat...

    Ford recalls model year 2017 F-150s and Mustangs

    The inflator in the passenger front airbag module may rupture

    Ford Motor Company is recalling 650 2017 F-150 and Mustang vehicles.

    The inflator in the passenger front airbag module may rupture in the event of a crash, resulting in metal fragments striking the vehicle occupants producing serious injury or death.

    What to do

    Ford will notify owners, and dealers will replace the passenger front airbag module, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin October 9, 2017.

    Owners may contact Ford customer service at 1-866-436-7332. Ford's number for this recall is 17S26.

    Ford Motor Company is recalling 650 2017 F-150 and Mustang vehicles.The inflator in the passenger front airbag module may rupture in the event of a cra...

    Housing market confidence takes a hit

    Builder confidence was spooked by recent hurricanes

    There's been a drop in builder confidence in the market for newly-built single-family homes -- and you can blame Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

    The Housing Market Index (HMI) calculated by the the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and Wells Fargo fell three points in September to a level of 64.

    At the same time, the August reading was revised down a point to 67.

    “The recent hurricanes have intensified our members’ concerns about the availability of labor and the cost of building materials,” said NAHB Chairman Granger MacDonald. “Once the rebuilding process is underway, I expect builder confidence will return to the high levels we saw this spring.”

    The survey

    The HMI is derived from a monthly survey that gauges builder perceptions of current single-family home sales and sales expectations for the next six months as “good,” “fair” or “poor.” Builders are asked to rate traffic of prospective buyers as “high to very high,” “average” or “low to very low.”

    Scores for each component are then used to calculate a seasonally adjusted index where any number over 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as good than poor.

    All three HMI components posted losses in September but remain at healthy levels. The component gauging current sales conditions fell four points to 70 and the index charting sales expectations in the next six months dropped four points to 74. The component measuring buyer traffic slipped a single point to 47.

    Looking at the three-month moving averages for regional HMI scores, the West was up three points to 77 and the Northeast rose one point to 49. The South dropped a single point to 66 and the Midwest fell three points to 63.

    “Despite this month’s drop, builder confidence is still on very firm ground,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “With ongoing job creation, economic growth and rising consumer confidence, we should see the housing market continue to recover at a gradual, steady pace throughout the rest of the year.”

    There's been a drop in builder confidence in the market for newly-built single-family homes -- and you can blame Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.The Housing...

    German Sausage Haus recalls various meat products

    The products may be contaminated wit staphylococcal enterotoxin

    German Sausage Haus of Camano Island, Wash., is recalling approximately 1,252 pounds of Heat Treated, Not Fully Cooked-Not Shelf Stable (HTNFCNSS) meat products.

    A possible processing deviation may have led to staphylococcal enterotoxin contamination.

    The following frozen items, were produced and packaged from June 14, 2017, to September 8, 2017, are being recalled:

    • Vacuum packed (1 each) “GERMAN SAUSAGE HAUS Smoked Bacon” with package code “72301” and a package date of “08/18/2017.”
    • Vacuum packed (1 each) “GERMAN SAUSAGE HAUS Smoked Shank” with package code “72501” and a package date of “09/07/2017.”
    • Vacuum packed (1 each) “GERMAN SAUSAGE HAUS Smoked Fat” with package code “72131” and a package date of “08/01/2017.”
    • Vacuum packed (1 each) “GERMAN SAUSAGE HAUS Smoked Pork Lion” with package code “72232” and a package date of “08/11/2017.”
    • Vacuum packed (2 each) “GERMAN SAUSAGE HAUS Danube Smoked Sausages” with package code “71951” and a package date of “07/14/2017.”
    • Vacuum packed (2 each) “GERMAN SAUSAGE HAUS Pituaros Smoked Sausages” with package code “72051” and a package date of “07/24/2017.”
    • Vacuum packed (2 each) “GERMAN SAUSAGE HAUS Cabaj Smoked Sausages” with package code “71651” and a package date of “06/28/2017.”
    • Vacuum packed (2 each) “GERMAN SAUSAGE HAUS Backi Petrovac Smoked Sausages” with package code “71652” and a package date of “06/28/2017.”
    • Vacuum packed (2 each) “GERMAN SAUSAGE HAUS Devil Dog Smoked Sausages” with package code “71653” and a package date of “06/28/2017.”
    • Vacuum packed (2 each) “GERMAN SAUSAGE HAUS Danube Smoked Sausages” with package code “71654” and a package date of “06/28/2017.”
    • Vacuum packed (2 each) “GERMAN SAUSAGE HAUS Christmas Smoked Sausages” with package code “71655” and a package date of “06/28/2017.”
    • Vacuum packed (2 each) “GERMAN SAUSAGE HAUS Donauschwaben Smoked Sausages” with package code “71656” and a package date of “06/28/2017.”
    • Vacuum packed (1 each) “GERMAN SAUSAGE HAUS Smoked Ribs” with the following package codes and package dates:

                -- Package code “72231” and package date “08/11/2017”

                -- Package code “72442” and package date “09/01/2017”

                -- Package code “72511” and package date “09/08/2017”

    The recalled products, bearing establishment number “Est. 45952” inside the USDA mark of inspection, were produced were distributed for institutional use and shipped to retail stores in Washington State.

    What to do

    Consumers questions about the recall may contact Jan Urbanovic at (360) 387-6932, or by email at germansausagehaus@gmail.com.

    German Sausage Haus of Camano Island, Wash., is recalling approximately 1,252 pounds of Heat Treated, Not Fully Cooked-Not Shelf Stable (HTNFCNSS) meat pro...

    Hate autoplay videos? Google has some good news for you

    The company says these ads will become less invasive and easier to control

    On the list of things that annoy consumers when browsing the web, autoplay videos -- which start playing on their own while you are reading an article or searching -- are near the top. After all, there’s nothing more frustrating than having to search through all of your browser tabs to find the source of a loud soft drink or foot cream video advertisement.

    Luckily, Google Chrome users may not need to worry about these intrusive ads much longer. Google announced that, starting with Chrome 64, autoplay videos will only be allowed to pop up if they won’t play sound or when a user has indicated that they have an interest in the media by clicking somewhere on the screen.

    “This will allow autoplay to occur when users want media to play, and respect users’ wishes when they don’t,” said Google software engineer Mounir Lamouri in a company blog post.

    In addition to the Chrome 64 changes, Lamouri announced a new feature for Chrome 63 that will allow users to completely disable audio for individual sites. Sites that have been muted will retain that status between different sessions, so users won’t have to worry about it every time they go to browse.

    “These changes will give users greater control over media playing in their browser, while making it easier for publishers to implement autoplay where it benefits the user,” Lamouri concluded.

    Developer recommendations

    Of course, consumers aren’t the only ones that will need to be apprised of these changes. On its Chromium Projects page, Google explains that developers will likely need to revise their use of autoplay videos to get the most out of them.

    In its developer recommendations, the company says that autoplay videos should be used sparingly to engage users, as unwanted video playback can often turn users off to a particular site.

    Additionally, the company says that developers who have shied away from autoplay might consider using muted content to warm users up to the idea of exploring additional content.  

    The new autoplay functions are slated to roll out in January 2018.

     

    On the list of things that annoy consumers when browsing the web, autoplay videos -- which start playing on their own while you are reading an article or s...

    Retail sales dip in August

    It's the first decline in three months

    After posting two decent advances in a row, retail sales moved lower in August.

    Figures released by the Commerce Department show sales last month totaled $474.8 billion, down 0.2% from July, but a gain of 3.2% from the same period a year earlier.

    Major contributors to the August decline were motor vehicle & parts dealers (-1.6%), nonstore retailers (-1.1%), clothing & clothing accessories (-1.0%), and electronics & appliance stores (-0.7%).

    Among businesses posting sales gains last month were gas stations (+2.5%), miscellaneous store retailers (+1.4%), furniture & home furnishings stores (+0.4%) and grocery stores (+0.3%).

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

    After posting two decent advances in a row, retail sales moved lower in August.Figures released by the Commerce Department show sales last month totale...

    How to help kids recover from the recent hurricanes

    Some kids may need extra nurturing and attention following a disaster

    In the wake of a devastating hurricane, helping hands are crucial in the effort to restore homes and families back to normal. But the impact of a hurricane isn’t always limited to physical destruction.

    Following a disaster, many children will have seen things they likely hadn’t before -- anxious parents, damaged buildings, lost toys and pets, or even severely injured people. As a result, their emotional state may temporarily become more fragile, says one child expert.

    "Compared to adults, children suffer more from exposure to disasters, including psychological, behavioral, and physical problems, as well as difficulties learning in school," said Jessica Dym Bartlett, a senior research scientist at Child Trends, in a recent blog post

    Reactions differ

    Patience, compassion, and sensitivity are key when it comes to dealing with children who may have been rattled by the recent hurricanes, says Dym Bartlett.

    "Understand that trauma reactions vary widely. Children may regress, demand extra attention, and think about their own needs before those of others -- natural responses that should not be met with anger or punishment," she said.

    Even simply seeing images on television or hearing about a disaster can cause some children to develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety, she explained.

    Helping kids cope

    “Psychological impacts on children are particularly likely to reverberate after a disaster,” she added. But with the aid of a nurturing adult, children can work through any negative response they may be experiencing in the aftermath of the recent hurricanes.

    Here are a few steps parents and caregivers can take to help children recover from the storms:

    • Create a safe environment. Make sure kids’ basic needs -- such as shelter, food, and clothing -- are met. Keep to regular schedules to provide kids with a sense of safety and predictability.

    • Keep kids busy. Boredom can intensify negative thoughts and behaviors, says Dym Bartlett, but having kids play and interact with others can help keep distress at bay.

    • Limit exposure to potentially jarring images. Media and adult conversation can sometimes include vivid images and/or descriptions of the disaster. Make an effort to shield children from these images.

    • Talk to them. Be available to talk with children about what they see and hear. Be sure to emphasize hope and positivity.
    • Find ways kids can help. "Find age-appropriate ways for children to help. Even very young children benefit from being able to make a positive difference in others' lives while learning important lessons about empathy, compassion, and gratitude," Dym Bartlett said.

    • Get professional help. If a child has been grappling with a negative response to the disaster for more than six weeks, seek professional help, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network recommends.

    In the wake of a devastating hurricane, helping hands are crucial in the effort to restore homes and families back to normal. But the impact of a hurricane...

    Target to hire 100,000 workers for the coming holiday season

    New employees will stock shelves at stores and pack and ship orders at fulfillment centers

    It’s only September, but retailers are already looking ahead and preparing for the coming holiday season. And luckily for seasonal workers, it looks like there may be a few more jobs for the taking.

    In an announcement on Wednesday, Target said that it would be hiring approximately 100,000 employees over the holiday season to work at its 1,816 stores across the U.S., with another 4,500 being hired in distribution centers and fulfillment facilities. That’s up 40% from the 70,000 workers that were hired last year.

    The company says that prospective employees at Target stores will stock shelves and help guests “find the perfect gifts” for the coming holidays, while those at distribution and fulfillment facilities will help pack and ship online orders. These latter employees should have their work cut out for them, as online orders have soared in popularity in recent years.

    Target chief stores officer Janna Potts says that the increase in hiring is all part of Target’s plan to serve its customers during the busiest time of the year. She says new team members will be provided training and benefits, including flexible schedules and competitive wages.

    “Target team members play such an important role in helping guests as they prepare to celebrate the holidays with their families,” she said. “As always, we will provide our seasonal team members with meaningful opportunities to build and develop skills, and offer great benefits, including a variety of schedules and team member discounts.”.

    Target has planned its second annual seasonal hiring events for Friday, October 13 through Sunday October, 15 at all of its stores. Consumers can view a full list of available positions by visiting the company’s site here.

    It’s only September, but retailers are already looking ahead and preparing for the coming holiday season. And luckily for seasonal workers, it looks like t...

    Consumer prices head higher in August

    Gasoline and housing costs were the main culprits

    Rising gasoline and shelter costs sent the Bureau of Labor Statistics's (BLS) Consumer Price Index (CPI) higher during August.

    The latest government tally shows the CPI was up 0.4% last month, and 1.9% on a year-over-year basis.

    Hurricane Harvey had a very small effect on survey response rates, according to DOL, with price collection late in the month disrupted in just two of the 87 collection areas.

    Soaring gasoline prices

    Energy costs jumped 2.8%, the largest monthly increase since January. The price of gasoline surged 6.3% after holding steady in July, while natural gas fell 0.5% on top of the previous month's 2.3% decline. Electricity was unchanged from the month prior.

    Over the past 12 months, energy prices have risen 6.4%, with gasoline up 10.4%, natural gas gaining 5.4%, and electricity advancing 2.3%.

    Food prices moderate

    Food prices inched up just 0.1% in August, with the “food at home” category -- groceries -- down 0.2%. Five of the six major grocery store food group indexes fell, with dairy & related products and nonalcoholic beverages both down 0.4%. Additionally, meats, poultry, fish, & eggs, and fruits & vegetables both dropped 0.2%, while the “other food” category was down 0.1%. The only major grocery store food group to rise -- cereal & bakery products -- was up 0.3%.

    For the year ended in August, grocery prices are up 0.3%.

    The “food away for home,” or restaurant prices, rose 0.3% last month, and are up 2.2% over the last year. Overall, food costs for the past 12 months have risen 1.1%.

    Core inflation

    Prices for all items excluding the volatile food and energy the so-called “core rate” of inflation rose 0.2% in August, with housing the main contributor with a rise of 0.5%. Other increases came in motor vehicle insurance, recreation, medical care, clothing, alcoholic beverages, and household furnishings & operations.

    On the other hand, airline fares, used cars & trucks, tobacco, education, wireless telephone services, and personal care all declined.

    New vehicle prices were unchanged.

    Over the past 12 months, the core rate of inflation is up 1.7%.

    The complete report is available on the BLS website.

    Jobless claims

    There was a sizable drop last week in first-time applications for state unemployment benefits.

    According to the Department of Labor (DOL), initial jobless claims were down by 14,000 in the week ending September 9 -- a week affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma -- to a seasonally adjusted 284,000. Claims soared by 62,000 the week before.

    The four-week moving average totaled 263,250, the highest level since August 13, 2016, an increase of 13,000 from the previous week.

    Many economists consider the four-week moving average a more accurate gauge of the labor market due to it's relative lack of volatility.

    The complete report is available on the DOL website.

    Rising gasoline and shelter costs sent the Bureau of Labor Statistics's (BLS) Consumer Price Index (CPI) higher during Augu...

    Michelin recalls Pilot Power 3 replacement sport motorcycle tires

    The tires are missing required maximum load and inflation pressure information

    Michelin North America is recalling 184 Pilot Power 3 replacement sport motorcycle tires, size 180/55ZR17 (73W), manufactured between April 17, 2016, and May 7, 2016.

    The tires are missing the required maximum load and corresponding inflation pressure information on the sidewall.

    As such, they fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 119, "New Pneumatic Tires-Other Than Passenger Cars."

    Without the required maximum load and corresponding inflation pressure information on the sidewall, improper use of the tire may result, increasing the risk of tire failure and a crash.

    What to do

    Michelin will notify owners, and dealers will replace the tires, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin September 25, 2017. 

    Owners may contact Michelin consumer care at 1-866-324-2835.

    Michelin North America is recalling 184 Pilot Power 3 replacement sport motorcycle tires, size 180/55ZR17 (73W), manufactured between April 17, 2016, and M...

    Job openings edge upward in July

    More hiring added to the employment gains seen in the past year

    Consumers looking for a job in July found there were more positions available than there were a month earlier.

    According to the Department of Labor (DOL), there were 6.170 million openings in July, versus the 6.116 million found in June.

    The slight increase put the job openings rate at 4.0% as the number of openings was little changed for total private and down by 58,000 for government.

    Industries looking for workers included other services (+111,000), transportation, warehousing, & utilities (+70,000), and educational services (+26,000).

    There were fewer postings in health care and social assistance (-72,000), state and local government -- excluding education -- (-46,000), and federal government (-21,000).

    The number of job openings was little changed in the regions.

    Hires

    Just over 5.05 million workers were hired during the month, pushing the hires rate up 0.1% from June to 3.8%. The number of hires was little changed for total private and for government, with federal government hires rising by 9,000.

    Little change was reported for all other industries and for all four geographic regions.

    Separations

    There were 5.332 million separations during July, compared with 5.309 million the month before, for a total separations rate of 3.6% -- the same as in June.

    Included were 3.164 million quits, 1.783 million layoffs & discharges and 384,000 other separations -- things like retirement, death, disability and transfers to other locations of the same firm.

    The number of total separations -- which includes quits, layoffs, & discharges and other separations -- was little changed in all four regions.

    Net change in employment

    Net employment change results from the relationship between hires and separations. When the number of hires is higher, employment rises. On the other hand, when the number of hires is less than the number of separations, employment declines.

    Over the 12 months ending in July, hires totaled 63.6 million and separations totaled 61.5 million, yielding a net employment gain of 2.1 million. 

    The complete report may be found on the DOL website.

    Consumers looking for a job in July found there were more positions available than there were a month earlier.According to the Department of Labor (DOL...

    Wholesale prices on the rise in August

    Rising energy costs were a major factor

    Inflation on the wholesale level, one step shy of what consumers pay for goods and services, edged higher in August.

    What the Department of Labor (DOL) calls the Producer Price Index (PPI) for final demand was up a seasonally adjusted 0.2% last month after declining 0.1% in July and rising 0.1% in June.

    For the 12 months ended in August, the PPI is up 2.4%.

    Goods and services

    A 0.5% increase in the cost of goods accounts for three-quarters of the advance in August, while services prices were up a tiny 0.1%

    Most of the rise in the price of goods came from a 3.3% surge in the cost of energy. In that category, gasoline prices shot up 9.5%.

    Food prices were down 1.3%, with meat costs down 3.4% and fresh vegetables also coming in lower.

    The “core rate” of wholesale inflation, which excludes the volatile food and energy categories, rose 0.2%

    The increase in prices for services can be laid to consumer loans (+1.7%) along with higher costs for outpatient care, machinery and equipment wholesaling, truck transportation of freight, and food retailing.

    On the other hand, declines were seen in fuels and lubricants retailing costs (-6.8%), along with prices for chemicals and allied products wholesaling, guestroom rental, and airline passenger services.

    The complete report is available on the DOL website.

    Inflation on the wholesale level, one step shy of what consumers pay for goods and services, edged higher in August.What the Department of Labor (DOL)...

    Mortgage applications post second straight advance

    Contract interest rates were mixed

    There was a surge in mortgage applications in the week ended September 8.

    The Mortgage Bankers Association reports applications jumped 9.9% during the week, which included an adjustment for the Labor Day holiday.

    The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index shot up 11%, while the Refinance Index rose 9%, pushing the refinance share of mortgage activity to 51.0% of total applications from 50.9% a week earlier.

    The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity slipped to 6.7% of total applications; the FHA share rose to 9.9% from 9.6% the week before, the VA share jumped to 10.3% from 9.7% the prior week; and the USDA share was unchanged at 0.7%.

    Contract interest rates

    • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($424,100 or less) was down three basis points -- from 4.06% to 4.03% -- with points increasing to 0.40 from 0.38 (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 $424,100) rose to 4.00% from 3.96%, with points increasing to 0.24 from 0.20 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
    • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA dropped four basis points to 3.94%, with points decreasing to 0.34 from 0.35 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
    • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs went from 3.44% to 3.30%, with points increasing to 0.39 from 0.38 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
    • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs inched up three basis points to 3.17%, with points increasing to 0.36 from 0.31 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.

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

    There was a surge in mortgage applications in the week ended September 8.The Mortgage Bankers Association reports applications jumped 9.9% during the w...

    Ford recalls model year 2017 Focus vehicles

    An insufficient weld may have reduced the strength of the rear left side seat back

    Ford Motor Company is recalling 698 model year 2017 Focus vehicles.

    The rear left side seat back frame may have an insufficient weld between the outboard pivot bracket and the pivot nut joint, resulting in the seat back having reduced strength.

    As such, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 207, "Seating Systems," and 210, "Seat Belt Assembly Anchorages."

    The reduced seat back strength may increase the risk of injury in the event of a crash.

    What to do

    Ford will notify owners, and dealers will inspect and replace the rear second left side rear seat back as necessary, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin October 16, 2017.

    Owners may contact Ford customer service at 1-866-436-7332. Ford's number for this recall is 17C13.

    Ford Motor Company is recalling 698 model year 2017 Focus vehicles.The rear left side seat back frame may have an insufficient weld between the outboar...

    Tesla announces plan to bring Supercharger stations into cities

    The new stations will be optimized for urban settings, the company said

    Consumers who own one of Tesla’s electric vehicles enjoy the advantage of not having to pay high prices at the pump, but critics have pointed out that it’s often hard to charge vehicles in urban settings since most of the time there’s no way to plug in at home or at work. However, that critique might not hold up for much longer.

    On Monday, the company announced that it would be expanding its network of Supercharger stations into city centers. The initiative is slated to start in downtown areas of Chicago and Boston, with stations being erected in various high-traffic locations.

    “Supercharger stations in urban areas will be installed in convenient locations, including supermarkets, shopping centers and downtown districts, so it’s easy for customers to charge their car in the time it takes to grocery shop or run errands,” Tesla said in its announcement.

    The company notes that the new Superchargers will use the same pricing as existing stations, which is “far cheaper than the cost of gasoline.” Officials say that the new stations will also employ a new post design that takes up less space and is optimized for highly populated, urban settings.

    “To increase efficiency and support a high volume of cars, these Superchargers have a new architecture that delivers a rapid 72 kilowatts of dedicated power to each car,” the company said. “This means charging speeds are unaffected by Tesla vehicles plugging into adjacent Superchargers, and results in consistent charging times around 45 to 50 minutes for most drivers.”

    More information about the initiative and a map of all U.S. Supercharger stations can be viewed here.

    Consumers who own one of Tesla’s electric vehicles enjoy the advantage of not having to pay high prices at the pump, but critics have pointed out that it’s...

    Mortgage delinquency rates fall in June

    The downward trend is expected to continue

    Roughly 4.5% of mortgages across the U.S. were in some stage of delinquency -- 30 days or more past due including those in foreclosure in June -- according to property information provider CoreLogic, down 0.8% from the same month a year earlier.

    Additionally, the foreclosure inventory rate -- which measures the share of mortgages in some stage of the foreclosure process -- came in at 0.7%, down 0.2 % from June 2016 and the lowest since July 2007.

    “After peaking at 3.6% in December 2010, June’s 0.7% foreclosure rate was the lowest in 10 years,” said CoreLogic CEO Frank Martell. “Across the 100 most populous metro areas, the foreclosure rate varied from 0.1% in Denver-Aurora-Lakewood to 2.2% in New York-Newark-Jersey City.”

    The breakdown

    The rate for early-stage delinquencies -- 30-59 days past due -- was 2.0% in June, down 0.1% from a year earlier in June 2016. The share of mortgages that were 60-89 days past due in June was 0.6%, also a year-over-year decline of 0.1%.

    Since early-stage delinquencies can be volatile, CoreLogic also analyzes transition rates. The share of mortgages that transitioned from current to 30 days past due was unchanged at 0.9%.

    By comparison, in January 2007, just before the start of the financial meltdown, the current-to-30-day transition rate was 1.2% and peaked in November 2008 at 2.0%.

    CoreLogic Chief Economist Dr. Frank Nothaft is projecting a 5.0% home-price appreciation rate and further job growth in the coming year which says will put, “renewed downward pressure on mortgage delinquency rates.”

    Roughly 4.5% of mortgages across the U.S. were in some stage of delinquency -- 30 days or more past due including those in foreclosure in June -- according...

    Bravo Produce recalls papayas

    The product has tested positive for Salmonella

    Bravo Produce of San Ysidro, Calif, is recalling Maradol Papaya, grown by Productores y Exportadores de Carica Papaya de Tecomán y Costa Alegre SPR of RL and packed by Frutas Selectas de Tijuana, S. de RL de CV.

    The product has tested positive for Salmonella.

    The recalled products contain the following codes on the side of the box:

    • 1222335215
    • 1222635220
    • 1222335216
    • 1223035223
    • 1223335227
    • 1223835233
    • 1222235215
    • 1222535220
    • 1222235216
    • 1222835223
    • 1223435230
    • 1222235216
    • 1222935223
    • 1222135214
    • 1222935223
    • 1222935223
    • 1222135214
    • 1222235216
    • 1222935223
    • 1223035223
    • 1222935221
    • 1223035223
    • 1223835233

    The recalled product was distributed to wholesale and retail customers in California from August 10 – 29, 2017, and were available for sale until August 29, 2017.

    What to do

    Customers who the recalled product should not consume it, but throw it away.

    Consumers with questions may call Bravo Produce at (844) 891-7782, Monday through Saturday from 7:00 am – 2:00 pm.

    Bravo Produce of San Ysidro, Calif, is recalling Maradol Papaya, grown by Productores y Exportadores de Carica Papaya de Tecomán y Costa Alegre SPR of RL a...

    Hurricane Irma likely to affect consumers in several states

    About seven million Florida consumers are without power

    Hurricane Irma's landfall in Florida was bad, but not quite the nightmare scenario that had been painted days in advance.

    The Category 4 storm veered west at the last moment, sparing Miami a direct hit but washing the west coast of the state with a relentless storm surge and howling, 100 miles per hour winds as it churned north.

    In its wake is widespread damage and nearly seven million Florida residents without power. Consumers hunkered down in their homes will have to cope with no electricity for days, and with limited supplies of food and gasoline.

    Even before the storm hit, Gasbuddy reported numerous stations in Florida had run out of fuel as evacuating motorists gassed up on their way north. Without electricity, some gas stations that still have fuel won't be able to pump it. As of this morning, Gasbuddy reported 53% of gas stations in Tampa/St. Petersburg were without fuel.

    Moving inland

    Though downgraded, Irma promises to be a literal force of nature as it moves inland. It will likely subject wide areas of the Southeast to high winds and drenching rainfall.

    Consumers in Georgia are now experiencing the remnants of Irma and Georgia Power says it is prepared to respond to widespread outages, when they occur. As of 8:00 am ET Monday, the company said more than 180,000 customers were without electricity in the state. There were also more than 1,500 individual cases of damage to poles and power lines that the company is working to repair.

    At this point, Irma's projected track will take the downgraded tropical depression to the Northwest, over northern Alabama, Mississippi, and the western end of Tennessee.

    Hurricane Irma's landfall in Florida was bad, but not quite the nightmare scenario that had been painted days in advance.The Category 4 storm veered we...

    Consumers piled on credit card debt in second quarter

    WalletHub study projects $60 billion in new debt by the end of the year

    Consumers are putting more spending on credit cards, which is fine if it's paid off in a reasonable timeframe. But when the balances are allowed to grow, that can be trouble.

    The folks at personal finance site WalletHub keep track of consumers' credit card habits and report we all did a pretty good job of paying down balances during the first three months of the year. After a record-setting year debt-wise, we paid off more than $30 billion in the first quarter.

    But in the second quarter, the plastic came out of our wallets again. WalletHub reports consumers charged $33 billion in new debt.

    "So it’s not a question of whether consumers are weakening financially, but rather how long this trend toward pre-recession habits will last and just how bad it will get," the authors write.

    $60 billion in new debt

    The report projects consumers will end up adding more than $60 billion in new credit card debt by the end of the year, pushing the total well past the $1 trillion level. This is a problem for three reasons.

    First, a lot of credit card purchases are for things that aren't lasting -- things like meals in restaurants or vacations. When these bills are not paid off completely and allowed to build up, you're spending today's and tomorrow's money for things you consumed yesterday.

    Second, debt cuts into your monthly cash flow so that you don't have as much money in your budget. If you are making $250 minimum payments on your credit card bill, you can't spend that $250 on things you need this month and you aren't making much progress on paying off your balance.

    That brings us to the third problem: the interest rate is-sky high. The average interest rate is over 16% and will go even higher if the Federal Reserve continues to hike interest rates.

    Staying out of trouble

    The best way not to get in trouble with your credit card is to pay off the balance in full when the bill arrives. That way you aren't adding to your total. If you don't think you can pay for everything in one month, don't charge as much.

    From time to time you might take two or three months to pay for a major purchase, like a new water heater, but make sure you pay for all the smaller purchases, plus a portion of your major expenses, with your monthly payments until the balance is back at zero.

    If you are already in trouble and struggling to pay off your credit card balance, apply for a balance transfer credit card with a generous introductory period in which you pay 0% interest. If you can avoid double-digit interest for a year or more, then 100% of your monthly payment goes against the balance.

    Just make sure you continue to pay for all your monthly purchases -- plus a payment on the balance -- each month.

    Consumers are putting more spending on credit cards, which is fine if it's paid off in a reasonable timeframe. But when the balances are allowed to grow, t...

    Gas prices stabilize after Harvey spike

    The average price has drifted lower over the last three days

    After Hurricane Harvey devastated the Texas Gulf Coast, interrupting gasoline supplies from some of the area's refineries, gasoline prices surged, especially in the southeastern states.

    But over the last three days, AAA's national average price of regular has actually gone down by a fraction of a cent per day, suggesting prices have leveled off, at least for now.

    The national average price of regular today is $2.66 a gallon, down about a penny over the last three days. It's up more than 30 cents a gallon from a month ago, however.

    Curtailed 25% of production

    At its worst, Harvey forced about a quarter of the Texas Gulf Coast refineries offline. That reduction in output forced Colonial Pipeline, a major supplier of fuel to the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic states, to shut down its lines running from Texas to Louisiana.

    By last week, both lines were back up and moving fuel, and consumers in many states are beginning to see prices end their steady rise.

    Florida, now being affected by Hurricane Irma, saw its average retail gasoline price jump 44 cents a gallon in the last month, with supply now being a major issue. A large number of Florida gas stations have run out of fuel in the last week as residents gassed up to evacuate. But even in Florida, AAA reports the average price dropped nearly a penny a gallon in the last 24 hours.

    Prices still rising in Georgia

    Georgia is bucking the trend of declining fuel prices. The AAA Fuel Gauge survey shows the average price of regular has risen nearly a penny since Sunday.

    South Carolina, which until a couple of weeks ago had the cheapest gas prices in the nation, saw the average price rise 45 cents a gallon after Harvey. But even in South Carolina, the average price appears to have now backed off its high of $2.56 a gallon.

    The distinction of cheapest gas in America now belongs to Oklahoma. The statewide average of regular is about $2.35 a gallon and slowly falling.

    The question many consumers may be asking is when prices will get back to their pre-Harvey levels. That's hard to say, but from all appearances the process has begun.

    After Hurricane Harvey devastated the Texas Gulf Coast, interrupting gasoline supplies from some of the area's refineries, gasoline prices surged, especial...

    Nantucket Distributing recalls patio set chairs

    The fabric seat on the chairs can tear, posing a fall hazard

    Nantucket Distributing is recalling about 45,200 chairs sold with Bimini patio sets.

    The fabric seat on the chairs can tear, posing a fall hazard to the user.

    The firm has received six reports of the fabric on the folding chair ripping or tearing, including one report of a hand and back injury.

    The recall includes Nantucket Distributing folding chairs sold with the Bimini patio set. The set includes four brown powder coated steel and fabric folding chairs, a square glass table, and an umbrella.

    The folding chairs, table, and umbrella were sold with hang tags with model number HYS0120.

    The chairs, manufactured in China, were sold at Christmas Tree Shops, andThat!, and Christmas Tree Shops andThat! stores nationwide from February 2015, to May 2017, for about $100 for the entire set.

    What to do

    Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled folding chairs and return the set or chairs to any Christmas Tree Shops, andThat!, or Christmas Tree Shops andThat! store to receive a full refund for items returned.

    Consumer may contact Christmas Tree Shops toll-free at 888-287-3232 anytime or online at www.christmastreeshops.com and click on “Product Recalls” at the bottom of the page for more information.   

    Nantucket Distributing is recalling about 45,200 chairs sold with Bimini patio sets.The fabric seat on the chairs can tear, posing a fall hazard to the...

    Studio Fun International recalls slap bracelets sold with children’s storybooks

    The metal band can wear through the fabric covering of the bracelet

    Studio Fun International of New York is recalling about 86,000 bracelets sold with storybooks sold in the U.S. and Canada.

    The metal band can wear through the fabric covering of the bracelet, posing a laceration hazard.

    There have been five reports of the metal bands wearing through the fabric covering of the bracelet resulting in cuts to hands or fingers.

    The recalled “slap bracelets” were included with "DreamWorks Trolls: It's Hug Time!" children's storybooks. The bracelet consists of an inner, flexible metal band wrapped in a purple fabric covering with a pink fabric flower. The ISBN for the book is 978-0-7944-3840-1 and is printed on the back of the book.

    The bracelets, manufactured in China, were sold at book and other retail stores nationwide, book fairs and clubs, and online at Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com, Walmart.com and other online retailers from September 2016, through August 2017, for about $13.

    What to do

    Consumers should immediately take the recalled bracelets away from children and contact Studio Fun International for instructions on discarding the bracelet and to receive a free Trolls book.

    Consumers may contact Studio Fun International at 800-489-3402 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday, or online at www.studiofun.com and click on “Product Recall” for more information.

    Studio Fun International of New York is recalling about 86,000 bracelets sold with storybooks sold in the U.S. and Canada.The metal band can wear throu...

    Volkswagen recalls Audi A3 Cabriolets and A3 Sedans

    An air/fuel mixture adjustment may result in an engine stall

    Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 8,383 model year 2017-2018 Audi A3 Cabriolets and A3 Sedans.

    The Engine Control Unit (ECU) software may misinterpret the flywheel rotation on engine start-up as a "knocking" condition, and the adjusted air/fuel mixture may result in an engine stall, increasing the risk of a crash.

    What to do

    Audi will notify owners, and dealers will reprogram the ECU software, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin September 29, 2017.

    Owners may contact Audi customer service at 1-800-253-2834. Volkswagen's number for this recall is 24DF.

    Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 8,383 model year 2017-2018 Audi A3 Cabriolets and A3 Sedans.The Engine Control Unit (ECU) software may misinte...

    Kawasaki recalls Brute Force 300 ATVs

    The fuel tap or carburetor can leak fuel, posing a fire hazard

    Kawasaki Motors Corp. U.S.A., of Foothill Ranch, Calif., is recalling about 20,00 Brute Force 300 all-terrain vehicles (ATVs).

    The fuel tap or carburetor can leak fuel, posing a fire hazard.

    The firm has received 260 reports of fuel leaking from the fuel tap or carburetor. No injuries have been reported.

    This recall involves all 2012 through 2017 model Kawasaki Brute Force 300 ATVs. The recalled ATVs have seating for one person and were sold in red, black, white and green. Brute Force is printed on the right and left front fender.

    The vehicle identification number (VIN) is located under the bumper. To check for recalled vehicles by VIN, visit www.kawasaki.com.

    The ATVs, manufactured in Taiwan, were sold at Kawasaki dealers nationwide from November 2011, through June 2017, for about $4,300.

    What to do

    Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled ATVs and contact Kawasaki to schedule a free repair.

    Consumers may contact Kawasaki toll-free at 866-802-9381 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (PT) Monday through Friday or online at www.Kawasaki.com and click on “Recalls” for more information.

    Kawasaki Motors Corp. U.S.A., of Foothill Ranch, Calif., is recalling about 20,00 Brute Force 300 all-terrain vehicles (ATVs).The fuel tap or carbureto...

    Is it too late to buy travel insurance for a Florida trip?

    Cancel For Any Reason policies may be an answer for a few

    After years without a major hurricane landfall in the U.S., travelers might have forgotten how a major storm can throw a money wrench into travel plans.

    If you have travel insurance, and you bought it well ahead of time, you may well be able to avoid losses on prepaid trips and deposits. But as we pointed out earlier this week, a traditional travel insurance policy only pays if you purchased it before a storm was named.

    The travel insurance agents at InsureMyTrip.com report a high volume of calls about any other options that might be available, and it turns out there is one. The agents say that it's too late to buy traditional insurance to cover trips sidelined by Irma, or even the two other named storms -- Jose and Katia -- but you still may be eligible for what's called a Cancel For Any Reason (CFAR) policy.

    Cancel For Any Reason

    A CFAR policy is an add-on to a traditional travel insurance policy, raising the cost, but it offers coverage if you cancel for reasons other than those covered in a traditional policy. According to InsureMyTrip, here are the requirements:

    • You usually have to purchase it within 10 to 30 days of your initial payment for your trip.
    • You have to cover all of your prepaid and non-refundable trip costs
    • The trip must be canceled within 48 to 72 hours of scheduled departure

    Typically, these plans will reimburse up to 75% of your trip costs, with some plans refunding less.

    Timing is everything

    If you purchased a traditional travel insurance policy weeks ago, before any of these hurricanes were named, your policy should take care of you if flights or cruises are canceled or your hotel or other accommodations are damaged or destroyed.

    According to InsureMyTrip, travelers who did not purchase travel insurance may still be able to recoup a small part of their losses if their trip is canceled. Some airlines will issue travel vouchers if a flight is canceled.

    Cruise lines may change itineraries or cancel with little notice but refund policies are typically limited. Also, some fare codes are non-refundable.

    The credit card you use to pay for the trip may offer some measure of protection. According to personal finance site WalletHub, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card covers trip cancellations for up to $10,000.

    After years without a major hurricane landfall in the U.S., travelers might have forgotten how a major storm can throw a money wrench into travel plans....

    Irma fear factor sparks run on East Coast gas stations

    Stations as far away as North Carolina are running dry

    Hurricane Irma is closing in on South Florida with deadly force and consumers are taking officials' warnings seriously.

    As a result, there has been a run on gas stations, not just in Florida but well up the East Coast. Stations are running out of fuel.

    Gasbuddy is keeping a running tally on stations that still have fuel and those whose tanks have run dry. As of Thursday afternoon, 195 stations in the Miami metro still had fuel and 188 did not.

    In the West Palm Beach metro, Gasbuddy reports 257 stations still had gasoline while 202 had run dry.

    The fuel shortage isn't limited to Florida, however. Gasbuddy reports 151 gas stations in Georgia are out of fuel. Some stations in South and North Carolina have also reported running out of gas.

    Gasbuddy provides a real-time gas availability tracker here.

    Hurricane Irma is closing in on South Florida with deadly force and consumers are taking officials' warnings seriously.As a result, there has been a ru...

    Study says most tap water contains plastic particles

    Researchers say the environment is now filled with plastic

    An international study has claimed that 83% of tap water samples tested contained tiny particles of plastic.

    The study, published by Orb Media, says the health implications are not clear, but probably aren't good. It notes that microplastics -- the name given to these tiny particles -- have been shown to absorb toxic chemicals linked to cancer and other illnesses, and then release them when consumed by fish and mammals.

    While the world-wide average of water samples containing plastic was more than 80%, the U.S. and Lebanon had the highest rate -- 94%. Europe was among the lowest, at 72%.

    How it gets in the water

    So, how does this plastic get into our water? The authors say it's not that surprising, given how prevalent plastic is in the world. They say synthetic clothing like fleece, acrylic, and polyester shed thousands of microfibers with every wash. An estimated million tons of these microfibers are discharged into waste water each year, the authors contend, making their way into the environment.

    And that's just one source. The researchers say styrene butadiene dust from rubber tires are constantly released into the environment as cars and trucks are driven. There are even microplastics in paint.

    And then there is all the plastic that is simply discarded. Plastic doesn't degrade but it does get smaller and, over time, can break down into smaller and smaller particles. The authors contend the world has produced more plastic in the last ten years than in the entire 20th century.

    Orb Media describes itself as an organization that produces journalism covering eight core issues, many of which are environmental in nature.

    An international study has claimed that 83% of tap water samples tested contained tiny particles of plastic.The study, published by Orb Media, says the...

    T-Mobile adds a free Netflix subscription to its plan to draw in customers

    CEO John Legere says the partnership brings together two industry disrupters

    Wireless providers are constantly trying to outdo each other with the deals they offer in order to draw in more customers. In an effort to stand out, T-Mobile has announced that consumers who sign up for at least two lines on an unlimited plan will also get a Netflix subscription, according to a Bloomberg report.

    The move was announced in a video Wednesday by T-Mobile CEO John Legere, who said the new partnership represents a coming together of video and mobile services.

    “You know, Netflix has totally disrupted entertainment and T-Mobile has totally disrupted wireless, and the world is about to find out what happens when you bring two disrupters together,” Legere said.

    "Growth over profitability"

    A standard Netflix video-streaming service currently costs consumers around $10 per month, but subscribers will be able to access it at no extra charge under the new offer. T-Mobile says that plans with two lines costing $120 per month, including taxes and fees, will be eligible for the promotion.

    The company did not disclose specific details of its deal with Netflix, but T-Mobile Chief Operating Officer Mike Sievert said that the carrier will receive a small discount off Netflix’s standard subscriber rate. Chief Financial Officer Braxton Carter added that the additional cost shouldn’t affect T-Mobile’s bottom line.

    However, experts say that the carrier's business approach could end up costing it in the long-run. Analyst Roger Entner with Recon Analytics LLC said that the carrier has been “prioritizing growth over profitability” and that the new giveaway is indicative of an industry that is currently more interested in adding more features to draw customers in rather than lowering prices.

    Good news for Netflix

    All of that won’t be any skin off Netflix’s nose, though, as it will most likely only gain from the deal, according to analyst Walt Piecyk of BTIG LLC.

    “With T-Mobile now paying the monthly bill, the risk of seasonal churn and hence higher revenue growth for Netflix is clear,” he said on Wednesday. “The marketing dollars that T-Mobile will spend promoting this offer will also be a clear benefit to cementing Netflix as one necessary source of content in the future of consumer consumption.”

    Consumers can learn more about the offer by visiting T-Mobile’s site here.

    Wireless providers are constantly trying to outdo each other with the deals they offer in order to draw in more customers. In an effort to stand out, T-Mob...

    Impact of Hurricane Harvey sends jobless claims surging

    The services sector continues to grow

    Hurricane Harvey smashed into Texas last week, helping produce an upward spiral in first-time jobless claims.

    The Department of Labor (DOL) reports initial applications for state unemployment benefits shot up 62,000 in the week ending September 2 to a seasonally asjusted total of 298,000.

    That's the highest level since April 18, 2015.

    The four-week moving average, considered a more accurate hauge of the labor market, jumped by 13,500 to 250,250 from the previous week.

    The full report is available on the DOL website.

    Non-manufacturing economy on the rise

    August was another month of growth of economic activity in the non-manufacturing - or services – sector for a total of 92 months in a row.

    The nation’s purchasing and supply executives, in the latest Non-Manufacturing Institute for Supply Management (ISM) Report On Business, say the non-manufacturing index (NMI) was up 1.4% last month registering 55.3%.

    A reading above 50 indicates growth, while anything below that suggests contraction.

    Looking inside the NMI, the Non-Manufacturing Business Activity Index came in at 57.5%, up 1.6% from July, reflecting growth for the 97th consecutive month, at a faster rate in August.

    The New Orders Index rose 2% to 57.1%, the Employment Index increased 2.6% to 56.2%, and the Prices Index increased added 2.2% for a reading of 57.9%, indicating prices increased in August for the third consecutive month.

    Industry performance

    The 15 non-manufacturing industries reporting growth in August were:

    1. Retail Trade;
    2. Information;
    3. Management of Companies & Support Services;
    4. Real Estate, Rental & Leasing;
    5. Other Services;
    6. Wholesale Trade;
    7. Utilities;
    8. Mining;
    9. Educational Services;
    10. Accommodation & Food Services;
    11. Finance & Insurance;
    12. Public Administration;
    13. Professional, Scientific & Technical Services;
    14. Construction; and
    15. Health Care & Social Assistance. 

    Two industries reported contraction:

    1. Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing & Hunting; and
    2. Transportation & Warehousing.
    Hurricane Harvey smashed into Texas last week, helping produce an upward spiral in first-time jobless claims.The D...

    Realtors alarmed as flood insurance expiration looms

    Congress urged to act quickly on package of reforms

    Hurricane Harvey caused widespread flooding that was only covered by flood insurance. And now Hurricane Irma is bearing down on Florida, where homeowners are bracing for flooding as well.

    Since homeowner's insurance does not cover flood damage, homeowners who want protection must purchase flood insurance through the government's National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). In fact, buyers of homes in flood-prone areas cannot get a mortgage unless they also purchase flood insurance.

    But the NFIP expires in another month and the National Association of Realtors (NAR) is expressing alarm that Congress does not appear to view the situation with urgency.

    'We've been here before'

    "The country has been here before, and we know what happens if the National Flood Insurance Program expires," said NAR President William Brown.

    Brown said homebuying activity would grind to a halt, with as many as 40,000 lost or interrupted sales each month.

    "Meanwhile, existing homeowners as well as commercial entities may find their largest asset unprotected if the Federal Emergency Management Administration can't renew NFIP policies that expire," Brown warned.

    Brown said the Realtors organization worked closely with the House Financial Services Committee to craft renewal legislation. The bill allows insured property to be grandfathered, so that the buyer receives roughly the same rate quote, and rate increases in general are reduced.

    "Consumers and homeowners alike deserve certainty," Brown said. "With Congress returning from August recess, extending the NFIP to avoid a lapse should be a top priority."

    Congressional action may only be one problem, however. The Congressional Budget Office has reported the NFIP is facing a financial shortfall of some $1.4 billion.

    Hurricane Harvey caused widespread flooding that was only covered by flood insurance. And now Hurricane Irma is bearing down on Florida, where homeowners a...

    Report says hackers have potential ability to shut down a power grid

    A group known as Dragonfly has increased its attacks this year

    Cybersecurity is a growing concern for both consumers and industry, but a new report from Symantec, a cybersecurity firm, is raising the alarm to a whole new level.

    The firm, which produces the Norton consumer security products, says a group of hackers now has the potential ability to take control of electric power grids in the U.S. and Europe.

    Symantec has identified the group as Dragonfly, saying it has been active in the last two years in attacks on electric power companies. Most recently it said the group was successful in taking down a power grid in Ukraine, resulting in widespread and prolonged power outages.

    Symantec said its power company clients are protected against the attacks, but that some grids lacking sophisticated protection could be vulnerable.

    Old school weapons

    Dragonfly operatives have used a number of different ways to plant malware in power company systems, including some that have been used against individual consumers. Symantec says the earliest campaign used emails disguised as invitations to a New Year's Eve party. When power company employees clicked on a link in the email to RSVP, they unleashed the malware that ultimately infected the company's network.

    Symantec said it also has evidence to suggest that files masquerading as Flash updates may be used to install malicious backdoors onto target networks. An email tries to convince the target to download an update for their Flash player.

    Symantec calls Dragonfly "an accomplished attack group." So far, it appears to be able to compromise organizations through a variety of methods, including stealing credentials to explore and even control systems and networks.

    Increased activity in 2017

    The group has been targeting energy networks since 2011 and, in an ominous sign, has stepped up its attacks this year.

    In April, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) issued a report taking a different view of the threat. The report said carrying out a cyberattack that successfully brought down grid operations would be very difficult, but conceded it would not be impossible.

    The CFR report concluded that the difficulty involved in taking control of a major power grid would likely mean the only players capable of doing it are national governments.

    Cybersecurity is a growing concern for both consumers and industry, but a new report from Symantec, a cybersecurity firm, is raising the alarm to a whole n...

    Researchers find way to help reduce stress and encourage healthy sleep

    Testing of a chemical called octacosanol shows positive signs

    Life is full of various stresses that can ultimately lead consumers to lose some sleep. Unfortunately, when these stresses aren’t handled properly, they can lead to health problems and diseases such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, depression, and anxiety.

    But researchers at a Japanese sleep institute say they may have found a way to relieve stress and help ensure that consumers sleep soundly. Study leaders Mahesh K. Kaushik and Yoshihiro Urade found that consuming octacosanol – which is found in many everyday foods such as sugarcane, rice bran, and wheat germ oil – helped reduced stress in mice models and return them to normal sleeping patterns.

    “For the first time, we demonstrated that octacosanol is a potent anti-stress compound with sleep inducing potential,” they said.

    Reducing stress and encouraging sleep

    The study focused on mice who were introduced to new cages before going to sleep to simulate a minor stress, which generally disturbed sleep for up to one hour. After administering octacosanol to these subjects, the researchers found that mice were able to sleep normally.

    Upon further examination, they found that the octacosanol lowered corticosterone levels – which has long been considered a stress marker -- in subjects’ blood plasma. They say that the effect was similar to natural sleep and physiological in nature.

    The results show that octacosanol has the potential to reduce stress and increase sleep, but the researchers note that it does not seem to affect sleep in normal animals. Octacosanol supplements are currently available for purchase, and the researchers say that the substance is considered safe for humans and has not showed any side effects.

    Kaushik and Urade hope to continue on to clinical trials with the chemical to test its limitations and investigate the mechanism by which it lowers stress.

    The full study has been published in Scientific Reports.

    Life is full of various stresses that can ultimately lead consumers to lose some sleep. Unfortunately, when these stresses aren’t handled properly, they ca...

    Mortgage applications rise for first time in three weeks

    Contract interest rates dropped to their lowest levels since November

    After falling for two consecutive weeks, applications for mortgages are headed higher.

    The Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey conducted by the Mortgage Bankers Association shows applications were up 3.3% during the week ending September 1.

    The Refinance Index shot up 5% from the previous week, pushing the refinance share of mortgage activity to 50.9% of total applications from 49.4% -- its highest level since January.

    The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity increased to 7.2% of total applications, the FHA share slipped to 9.6% from 9.7%, the VA share decreased to 9.7% from 10.0%, and the USDA share of total applications was unchanged at 0.7.

    Contract interest rates

    • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($424,100 or less) fell five basis points -- from 4.11% to 4.06%, its lowest level since last November -- with points decreasing to 0.38 from 0.43 (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 $424,100) dipped to its lowest level since last November -- 3.96% from 4.00% -- with points unchanged at 0.20 (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 was down four basis points to 3.98%, its lowest level since last November, with points decreasing to 0.35 from 0.41 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
    • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs inched down from 3.36% to 3.34%, its lowest level since last November, with points holding steady at 0.38 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
    • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs plunged 12 basis points to 3.14%, its lowest level since last November, with points decreasing to 0.31 from 0.35 (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.

    After falling for two consecutive weeks, applications for mortgages are headed higher.The Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey conducted by the Mortgage...

    Close, but no cigar for eight small pickups in IIHS safety tests

    None of the vehicles tested earned any safety awards

    Due to the lack of an automatic emergency braking system and poor-rated headlights, eight small pickup trucks tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) fell short of qualifying for either of the Institute’s safety awards.

    Still, four out of the eight did earn good ratings for occupant protection in all five crashworthiness evaluations.

    IIHS engineers evaluated two body styles of each pickup -- crew cab and extended cab. Crew cabs have four full doors and two full rows of seating. Extended cabs have two full front doors, two smaller rear doors, and compact second-row seats.

    To assess crashworthiness, the Institute rates vehicles as good, acceptable, marginal, or poor based on performance in five tests: moderate overlap front, small overlap front, side, roof strength, and head restraints. IIHS also rates the performance of front crash prevention systems and headlights.

    “This group of small pickups performed better in the small overlap front test than many of their larger pickup cousins,” said IIHS Chief Research Officer David Zuby. “The exception was the Nissan Frontier, which hasn’t had a structural redesign since the 2005 model year.”

    The small overlap test is the most challenging of the IIHS crashworthiness evaluations. It replicates what happens when a vehicle runs off the road and hits a tree or pole or clips another vehicle that has crossed the center line.

    How they fared

    The Toyota Tacoma crew cab, which Toyota calls the Double Cab, was the top performer in the small overlap test, earning a good rating due to good individual ratings for structure, restraints, and kinematics. It also received a good rating on all injury measures except the lower leg and foot, which was rated acceptable.

    The extended cab, which Toyota calls the Access Cab, had similar results, with the exception of an acceptable rating for structure due to some additional occupant compartment intrusion.

    The Chevrolet Colorado Crew Cab and its GMC Canyon Crew Cab twin also earn good ratings for occupant protection in a small overlap front crash. The extended cabs earn an acceptable rating.

    Both the Nissan Frontier King Cab and the Frontier Crew Cab earn marginal ratings. The side curtain airbag protected the dummy’s head from contact with side structure and outside objects in both the crew- and extended-cab tests. Its structure, however, allowed considerable intrusion into the occupant compartment, compromising driver survival space. In a real-world crash like this, the driver would likely sustain serious injuries to the lower legs and left foot.

    The Frontiers earn good ratings in the moderate overlap front, side, and roof strength test and acceptable ratings for head restraints.

    The extended-cab versions of the Colorado and Canyon earn good ratings in the moderate overlap front, roof strength, and head restraint evaluations and acceptable ratings in the side test.

    Headlights are a dim spot for all the small pickups evaluated. None are available with anything other than poor-rated headlights.

    “Headlights are basic but vital safety equipment. Drivers shouldn’t have to give up the ability to see the road at night when they choose a small pickup,” said Zuby.

    Models that earn good ratings in the Institute’s five crashworthiness evaluations and an advanced or superior rating for front crash prevention with standard or optional autobrake qualify for a 2017 TOP SAFETY PICK award.

    Models that also have headlights that earn a good or acceptable rating qualify for a 2017 TOP SAFETY PICK+ award.

    Due to the lack of an automatic emergency braking system and poor-rated headlights, eight small pickup trucks tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway...

    Country Fresh Orlando recalls various vegetables

    The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

    Country Fresh Orlando of Orlando, Fla., is recalling 5,999 cases of diced bell pepper, vegetable kabobs and creole & fajita mixed diced vegetables.

    The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

    No illnesses have been confirmed by public health authorities to date.

    The following products, shipped to retailers in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi, are being recalled:

    DescriptionStorePackagingUse by Date RangeStates
    Fajita Blend 12ozSouth eastern GrocersOverwrap8/12/178/18/17FL
    Stir Fry VegetableSouth eastern GrocersOverwrap8/12/178/18/17FL
    Vegetable Kabob 23ozSouth eastern GrocersOverwrap8/12/178/18/17FL
    Green Pepper Diced 6ozSouth eastern GrocersClamshell8/13/178/20/17FL, GA
    Creole Mix 6ozSouth eastern GrocersClamshell8/13/178/19/17AL, FL, GA, LA, MS
    Tri-Pepper Dice 6ozSouth eastern GrocersClamshell8/12/178/19/17AL, FL, GA, LA, MS
    Fajita Mix 6ozSouth eastern GrocersClamshell8/13/178/19/17AL, FL, GA, LA, MS
    Kabob Sensations Veggie Kabob 15ozPublix Super markets, Inc.Overwrap8/12/178/18/17AL, FL, GA
    Dice Tri-Pepper 7ozWal-Mart Stores Inc.Clamshell8/13/178/20/17AL, FL, GA
    Marketside Veggie Kabobs 23ozWal-Mart Stores Inc.Overwrap8/13/178/20/17AL, FL, GA

    The recalled products, with “BEST IF USED BY” dates between August 12 – 20, 2017, are in either a clear plastic container or in Styrofoam trays overwrapped with clear plastic film.

    What to do

    Customers who purchased the recalled products should return them to the place of purchase for a full refund.

    Consumers with questions may contact the company at 281-453-3305, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. (CDT).

    Country Fresh Orlando of Orlando, Fla., is recalling 5,999 cases of diced bell pepper, vegetable kabobs and creole & fajita mixed diced vegetables.The...

    Triangle recalls TR643 tires

    A manufacturing error could result in an air leak

    Triangle Tire USA is recalling 288 Triangle TR643 tires, size ST225/75R15.

    Due to a manufacturing process error, the tires may have a hole where the sidewall and the tread meet, resulting in an air leak.

    As such, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 109, "New Pneumatic and Certain Specialty Tires."

    If the tire does not stay inflated, it can increase the risk of a crash.

    What to do

    Triangle will notify owners, and dealers will replace the tires, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin September 15, 2017.

    Owners may contact Triangle customer service at 1-615-610-5050.

    Triangle Tire USA is recalling 288 Triangle TR643 tires, size ST225/75R15.Due to a manufacturing process error, the tires may have a hole where the sid...

    Lots of potential employers check out your finances first

    Survey shows about 25% of small and medium size businesses want to know how you manage money

    Job applicants, especially in certain industries, have become accustomed to potential employers running background checks.

    But some job-seekers might be surprised to learn that their potential employers could be looking into their financial history and current credit standing as well.

    A survey by the National Financial Educators Council (NFEC), which sampled opinion among small to medium-sized business owners and managers, found a little more than 25% had conducted a credit or financial background check on a job prospect.

    The reasons are not exactly clear, but the report authors suggest that employers are not just looking for knowledge, skills, education, experience, and cultural fit when they bring a new person on board. They are also interested in how the potential employee manages money.

    It's important to have a good credit score

    The takeaway is the increased importance of having a good credit score, which is indicative of good personal financial management. You don't have to have a lot of money, you just have to show that you can wisely manage what you have.

    Vince Shorb, CEO of the NFEC, says if you are experiencing difficult times financially, it could make it harder to get a good job. Improving your financial standing is as important as burnishing your job credentials.

    "With a quarter of employers checking financial backgrounds, we need to do better across the board so our nation's citizens can secure income sources, Shorb said. "Elementary, high school, and collegiate school systems have goals that include the career success of students – yet the majority of schools fail those students by not teaching financial education courses."

    The impact appears to fall heaviest on the youngest job applicants. The NFEC survey shows that about 5% of job applicants age 18 to 24 believe they lost a job or promotion because of a check into their financial background. Another 19% said they aren't sure.

    NFEC works with businesses and organizations to develop educational programs to promote financial literacy. Other organizations that can provide financial literacy education are non-profit credit counselors and many credit unions.

    Job applicants, especially in certain industries, have become accustomed to potential employers running background checks.But some job-seekers might be...

    Gas price rise slows as more fuel flows from Texas

    National average price is up just a penny a gallon in 24 hours

    After a series of dramatic daily spikes in gas prices since Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas Gulf Coast, prices at the pump seem to have leveled off.

    The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of regular rose just a penny a gallon in the last 24 hours, to nearly $2.65 a gallon. The price of premium rose two cents to $3.11, while the average price of diesel rose about a penny to $2.67.

    Colonial Pipeline has announced that Line 2, which carries diesel fuel from Texas to the East Coast, restarted on Sunday. The company said it is on schedule to restart Line 1, which carries gasoline, later today.

    "We have been working diligently and expeditiously to complete the repair work and restore service following Hurricane Harvey and the unprecedented flooding in the Gulf Coast last week," the company said in a statement.

    More refineries back online

    Fuel has continued to flow in Line 1 from Lake Charles, La., to points east, but the company had to shut down the segment of the pipeline from Port Arthur, Tex., to Lake Charles after the storm because so many refineries were offline. Over the long Labor Day holiday, more came back online.

    Valero Energy reports its Corpus Christi and Texas City refineries are back producing gasoline at pre-hurricane rates.

    "Three Rivers continues to ramp up operations and Houston will increase rates as transportation and logistics infrastructure becomes more available," the company said in a statement. "Port Arthur is in final stages of refinery assessment and making preparations to resume operations."

    Andy Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates LLC in Houston, told Bloomberg News that while a lot of gasoline production has come back online, there is still a significant amount in the Houston-Beaumont-Port Arthur that is down.

    Futures market will determine price at the pump

    How quickly the price of gasoline returns to normal levels would appear to be up to market traders, whose purchase of gasoline futures influences the wholesale price of fuel. On Monday, gasoline futures dropped more than 3% to their lowest level in more than a week as traders believed supplies were being restored to the market at a faster-than-expected pace.

    Regional price spikes, meanwhile, are mostly caused by supply interruptions. Gasoline prices today are much higher than normal in several Southeastern states like South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee.

    Price increases have been much less dramatic in other parts of the country that are less dependent on fuel from the Texas Gulf Coast.

    After a series of dramatic daily spikes in gas prices since Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas Gulf Coast, prices at the pump seem to have leveled off.The...

    New credit accounts growing faster than consumers' incomes

    Report warns growth in premium travel cards isn't sustainable

    A new report from Research and Markets finds consumers continue to sign up for new credit cards -- many offering generous rewards -- even though they already have very high levels of debt.

    The report is meant to be a warning to the credit card industry, but consumers should perhaps pay attention as well. Any purchases charged to the credit cards carry high interest and will have to be repaid at some point, along with other existing debt like auto and student loans.

    "Winning new customers and coming up with new payment tools is exciting, but issuers need to keep their eye on the ball particularly since the lending growth is outpacing household income growth," the authors warn the industry.

    Growth in prime accounts

    Much of the growth in new credit card accounts has occurred among consumers who, on paper at least, have the strongest ability to handle it. The report notes that many of the new accounts are for premium credit cards, with many offering rewards for travel spending.

    The report suggests the growth in new credit card accounts isn't sustainable, especially on the high end, when consumers find the rewards are less and the fees are more after the first year.

    Consumers who have heard their friends talk about their new rewards credit cards should also exercise some caution, since terms change all the time. It's possible that a a credit card promotion launched a few months ago is no longer valid.

    Rewards can change quickly

    Research and Markets says the top-tier issuers are already pulling back some of their reward offerings. Points per dollar spent can change from 100,000 to 50,000 quickly.

    The report also finds that the benefits in the second year are "nowhere near as attractive" as the benefits provided in the second year. That's another good reason for consumers to read the fine print before signing up.

    Signing up for a new credit card doesn't necessarily mean that you are going to increase debt levels, but invariably that's what happens. Credit cards tend to get used and if they are not paid in full each month, the balance, with double-digit interest, accumulates.

    The Federal Reserve recently reported that consumer revolving debt -- mostly made up of credit card debt -- hit a record $1.021 trillion in June. Not only does that money have to eventually be repaid, credit card interest is at a record high rate and likely to go even higher as the Fed continues its policy of normalizing interest rates.

    A new report from Research and Markets finds consumers continue to sign up for new credit cards -- many offering generous rewards -- even though they alrea...

    In largest cities, low-wage workers can't afford the rent

    Zillow reports rents are rising much faster than incomes

    One of the most persistent housing trends of the last decade has been steadily rising home prices.

    Since the housing crash of 2008, home values have rebounded and are now higher than they were at the height of the housing bubble. This has had the obvious effect of making it harder to buy a home, but it has also put increasing financial pressure on renters.

    Home prices have risen sharply because there are more buyers than there are homes for sale. Rents have risen because there are more renters who can't buy a home and are competing for rental properties.

    While it has placed a hardship on just about everyone, real estate marketplace Zillow reports the burden has fallen hardest on low income wage earners, who are finding themselves priced out of many of the nation's top rental markets. In the nation's largest metro areas, workers in the bottom third of the pay scale can't afford even the cheapest apartments.

    Rents rising more than incomes

    A Zillow analysis found that from 2011 to 2016, rents rose much more than incomes did, especially at the lower end of the market. In cities where low-wage workers saw bigger increases in pay, they were faced with even larger jumps in rental costs.

    In San Francisco, one of the most expensive housing markets, low-wage workers increased their pay by about $485 over a five-year period. Meanwhile, apartment rents rose by about $1,145.

    "Any renter can tell you how difficult it is to save up extra cash while spending an increasing portion of their income on rent, but it's much worse for those who make the least," said Zillow Chief Economist Dr. Svenja Gudell. "There are several factors at play here, including wage growth dampened by the recession and increased demand on the rental market. Without a long-term solution to affordable housing, the gap between the haves and have-nots will continue to widen."

    The 30% rule

    It's generally accepted that people shouldn't spend more than 30% of their income on housing. The reason for that is simple -- a household has lots of other monthly costs and should be able to save a little money each month for emergencies.

    But in the largest 25 metro areas, Zillow says the typical rent requires a much larger share of monthly income, leaving little left over for necessities, much less for savings. According to Zillow, 69% of low-wage workers don't have enough saved up to cover three months of living expenses.

    Gudell says the study suggests that income inequality is growing and that high housing costs are magnifying its effects.

    One of the most persistent housing trends of the last decade has been steadily rising home prices.Since the housing crash of 2008, home values have reb...

    Hallmark recalls plush baby stacking toys

    The toys have fabric hats and bows that can detach, posing a choking hazard

    Hallmark Marketing Company of Kansas City, Mo., is recalling about 6,000 itty bittys baby plush stacking toys sold in the U.S. and Canada.

    The toys have fabric hats and bows that can detach, posing a choking hazard.

    This recall involves the itty bittys baby Disney-licensed plush animal stacking toys with rattling rings. The toys measure 10 inches by 7.5 inches by 9.5 inches, have a yellow base stand with a post and four rattling rings that slide on and off the post.

    The red, blue, pink and purple rings have Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse, and Donald Duck and Daisy Duck characters attached to them. Three of the four Disney-licensed characters are wearing a small plush, fabric hat or bow.

    The Hallmark logo and “itty bittys” are printed on a sewn-on tag attached to the toy’s base.

    The toys, manufactured in China, were sold at Hallmark Gold Crown stores nationwide and online at Hallmark.com and Amazon.com from June 2016, through July 2017, for about $30.

    What to do

    Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled toys and take them away from children. Contact Hallmark to receive a prepaid shipping label for returning the recalled toy and for a $40 Hallmark Gold Crown gift card.

    Consumers may contact Hallmark at 800-425-5627 from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday or online at www.hallmark.com and click on Product Recalls at the bottom of the page for more information. 

    Hallmark Marketing Company of Kansas City, Mo., is recalling about 6,000 itty bittys baby plush stacking toys sold in the U.S. and Canada.The toys have...

    Western states lead home prices higher

    Overvaluing is a growing concern

    Home prices continued to push higher in July, with the CoreLogic Home Price Index (HPI) up strongly both year-over-year and month-over-month.

    On an annual basis, prices jumped 6.7% and rose 0.9% from June to July.

    Home price growth in the Pacific Northwest and mountain states led the nation with the highest appreciation rates. “The sharp increase in prices in Washington and Utah has been especially striking,” said CoreLogic Chief Economist Dr. Frank Nothaft, “with home price growth in both states accelerating by three percentage points since the beginning of this year.”

    Overvaluing

    In an analysis of the country’s 100 largest metropolitan areas, based on housing stock, CoreLogic Market Conditions Indicators (MCI) data found 34% of cities have an overvalued housing stock as of July.

    The MCI analysis categorizes home prices in individual markets as undervalued, at value, or overvalued by comparing home prices with their long-run, sustainable levels, which are supported by local market fundamentals, such as disposable income.

    Also as of July, 28% of the top 100 cities were undervalued, and 38% were at value. When looking at only the top 50 markets, based on housing stock, 46% were overvalued, 16% were undervalued and 8% were at value.

    An overvalued housing market is defined as one in which home prices are at least 10% higher than the long-term, sustainable level, while an undervalued housing market is one in which home prices are at least 10% below the sustainable level.

    “The combination of steadily rising purchase demand along with very tight inventory of unsold homes should keep upward pressure on home prices for the remainder of this year,” said CoreLogic CEO Frank Martell. “While mortgage interest rates remain low, affordability cracks are emerging as over a third of U.S. top cities are now overvalued.”

    On the horizon

    The CoreLogic HPI Forecast indicates home prices will increase by 5% on a year-over-year basis from July 2017 to July 2018, and on a month-over-month basis home prices by 0.4% from July 2017 to August 2017.

    The CoreLogic HPI Forecast is a projection of home prices using the CoreLogic HPI and other economic variables. Values are derived from state-level forecasts by weighting indices according to the number of owner-occupied households for each state.

    Home prices continued to push higher in July, with the CoreLogic Home Price Index (HPI) up strongly both year-over-year and month-over-month.On an annu...

    BMW recalls vehicles with seat belt issue

    The seat belt may not restrain the occupant in a crash

    BMW of North America is recalling 67 model year 2018 430i, 430i xDrive, 440i, 440i xDrive, and M4 convertible vehicles.

    The Emergency Locking Retractors (ELR) within the front seat belt assemblies may have been produced with incompatible vehicle-sensitive locking mechanism housings.

    If the vehicle has an incompatible vehicle-sensitive locking mechanism, the seat belt may not restrain the seat occupant in the event of a crash, increasing the risk of injury.

    What to do

    BMW will notify owners, and dealers will inspect and, if necessary replace, the front seat belt assemblies, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin October 9, 2017.

    Owners may contact BMW customer service at 1-800-525-7417.

    BMW of North America is recalling 67 model year 2018 430i, 430i xDrive, 440i, 440i xDrive, and M4 convertible vehicles.The Emergency Locking Retractors...

    Millions in private donations headed for Texas

    Social media helps consumers and corporations become first responders

    As the scope of the disaster that was falling on Houston became more clear last weekend, J.J. Watt decided to do something.

    The all-pro defensive end for the NFL's Houston Texans pledged some of his own money to help his city's residents recover, and started calling his friends to help as well. He set a goal of raising $200,000. He raised that in the first couple of hours.

    As of today, Watt's social media fundraising campaign has pulled in an estimated $13 million to help the storm ravaged area recover. He told CNN he and many of his teammates have rented tractor-trailer trucks to personally deliver much-needed supplies.

    Watt, of course, is a celebrity with lots of connections, but millions of lesser-known consumers are making much smaller donations of their own, primarily to the Red Cross, United Way, and Salvation Army. In fact, consumers should use discretion in making donations, giving only to these and other well established and vetted organizations.

    Big donations

    These and other sanctioned relief organizations are also receiving an outpouring of private money from corporations. The United Way of Houston reports it has received $2.5 million from ConocoPhilips and $1 million each from Macy's and TechnipFMC, an energy company. The McNair family, owners of the Houston Texans, has put up $2 million so far.

    One of the largest commitments is from Walmart and the Walmart Foundation, which together have pledged $20 million to relief efforts and the City of Houston's Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund.

    In fact, nearly every major consumer product company has pledged some level of support, either in the form of cash or much needed products, like food, clothing, and building materials.

    The federal government will eventually provide billions of dollars in aid to help the Texas Gulf Coast recover, but an army of private citizens and corporations have taken the first steps to meet the area's immediate needs.

    Role of social media

    Harvey is the first major disaster since Katrina, and what's changed since then is social media. In 2005, there were hardly any smartphones. Now everyone has one, and can follow Red Cross efforts on Facebook.

    Of course, leveraging the money into immediate assistance is a challenging job. The Red Cross and Salvation Army are on the ground providing food and shelter.

    Missouri-based Convoy of Hope operates a fleet of tractor-trailer rigs and has loaded the trucks with donated supplies and headed for the flood zone, setting up a distribution site in Victoria, Tex. As of mid-day Thursday, the organization said it had delivered over one million pounds of supplies.

    The federal response will no doubt be larger and focused on a major rebuilding effort. But to meet immediate humanitarian needs in the Houston area, individuals and corporations have so far provided some much needed help.

    Donate here

    Donate to the American Red Cross

    Donate to the Salvation Army

     

     

    As the scope of the disaster that was falling on Houston became more clear last weekend, J.J. Watt decided to do something.The all-pro defensive end fo...

    Labor Day gas prices the highest in two years

    National average price jumped seven cents a gallon in 24 hours

    With refineries offline and a major pipeline largely shut down, gasoline prices are soaring, meaning Labor Day travel may be a little more expensive.

    According to AAA, the national average price of regular gas jumped seven cents a gallon in the last 24 hours to $2.51. The average price of premium rose four cents to $2.97. The average price of diesel is $2.59 a gallon, about three cents higher than Thursday.

    Some of the sharpest increases are in the Southeast. According to Gasbuddy senior analyst Patrick DeHaan, among the top 25 markets registering the sharpest one week rise in prices at the pump, five are in South Carolina, usually the lowest priced state in the U.S. when it comes to gasoline.

    The average price rose nearly 38 cents a gallon in Greenville. It's up 30 cents in Spartanburg and Rock Hill, nearly 25 cents in Columbia, and 23 cents in Myrtle Beach. Nationally, gas prices are up around 16 cents a gallon, according to AAA.

    Tight supplies

    The issue, of course, is supply. Flooding from Hurricane Harvey forced several major Gulf Coast refineries to suspend production, reducing the flow of gasoline from this major refining area by 25%.

    The bottleneck forced Colonial Pipeline, a major supplier to the Southeast and East Coast to shut down shipments from Houston. That leaves wholesalers scrambling for supply and having to pay more for it. DeHaan says gasoline will likely get even more expensive, rising as much as another 20 cents a gallon next week.

    Meanwhile, fuel was in short supply closer to the storm zone -- in part because of supply disruptions and in part because of storm damage. As a result there were long lines reported at some stations that were still selling fuel.

    Colonial, meanwhile, has been shipping fuel from Lake Charles, La., and said it hopes to resume shipments from the Texas Gulf Coast as early as Sunday.

    Highest prices still in the West

    Consumers who plan to be on the road over the Labor Day weekend will encounter the highest gasoline prices in the West, though those states have been less impacted by the storm. Prices are rising in the West, but at a much slower pace than in the East.

    As of today, here are the states with the lowest gasoline prices:

    • Louisiana ($2.27)
    • Arkansas ($2.28)
    • Mississippi ($2.29)
    • Alabama ($2.30)
    • Arizona ($2.31)

    The states with the highest fuel prices are mostly in the West:

    • Hawaii ($3.09)
    • California ($3.03)
    • Washington ($2.96)
    • Alaska ($2.87)
    • Oregon ($2.85)
    With refineries offline and a major pipeline largely shut down, gasoline prices are soaring, meaning Labor Day travel may be a little more expensive.Ac...

    Young women are still struggling to get jobs

    New analysis finds Millennial women have yet to recover from the Great Recession

    In the wake of the Great Recession, Millennial women seem to be having a particularly tough time finding jobs. Although it’s been a decade since the start of the Recession, many young women are still feeling its effects.

    According to a new analysis by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), many young women (especially those ages 25 to 34), are experiencing unemployment at higher rates than in 2007.

    "While the overall unemployment rate for American workers is now lower than it was just prior to the Great Recession, Millennial women, especially Millennial women of color, have still not fully recovered from the recession," said IWPR Senior Research Scientist Dr. Chandra Childers.

    Skill development paused

    The analysis found that young Black women’s unemployment rates were higher in 2016 than young White women’s unemployment rates were at their peak in 2010 (8.8 percent compared to 7.7 percent).

    "These are women who were just entering the workforce or early in their careers when the recession hit, and the ensuing high unemployment paused the development of their skills and work experience,” Childers said.

    A separate report, titled “The lost generation: recession graduates and labor market slack,” says Millennials in general are struggling to get jobs.

    Effects longer lasting than average

    "Data on youth unemployment rates show a sharp rise during and after the 2008-09 recession – both on an absolute and relative basis," wrote Spencer Hill, economist at Goldman Sachs.

    Currently, Millennial unemployment rates stand at more than double the national average (12.7 percent compared to 5 percent as of September 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics).

    "While youth underperformance is typical of recessions, the effects of the most recent downturn appeared larger and more long-lasting than average," Hill added.

    Reasons for the trend

    In addition to stalled development of job-related skills, the trend may be driven by the generation’s high expectations for the type of job they hope to land. Millennials tend to look for “dream jobs” that afford them work-life balance, with flexibility, breaks and time to focus on personal development. 

    Statistics support the idea that Millennials are an overconfident bunch. But for those lacking experience, this quality may shrink the pool of potential jobs. It could also make the idea of continuing to live with mom and dad sound like a more appealing option than trudging onward with the job search.

    The high price of a college education might also be making it more difficult for Millennials to enter the job market. On the heels of the 2008 economic crash, Millennials may find it more difficult than ever to scrape together the funds to obtain a college degree and find an entry point into the job market.

    In the wake of the Great Recession, Millennial women seem to be having a particularly tough time finding jobs. Although it’s been a decade since the start...

    An August speedup in manufacturing

    Fourteen of 18 industries reported expansion

    There was further expansion of economic activity in the manufacturing sector of the economy in August.

    The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) reports its PMI (Purchasing Managers Index) came in at 58.8% -- up 2.5% from the July reading.

    A reading above 50 indicates growth while anything below that shows contraction.

    The overall economy grew for the 99th consecutive month.

    Within the PMI, the New Orders dipped 0.1% to 60.3 %, the Production Index was up 0.4% to 61% and the Employment Index shot up 4.7% to 59.9%.

    The Supplier Deliveries Index registered 57.1% an advance of 1.7%, while the Inventories Index registered jumped 5.5% to 55.5%.

    The Prices Index held steady at 62%, indicating higher raw materials’ prices for the 18th straight month.

    Industry performance

    Fourteen of the 18 manufacturing industries reported growth in August:

    1. Textile Mills;
    2. Petroleum & Coal Products;
    3. Machinery;
    4. Transportation Equipment;
    5. Fabricated Metal Products;
    6. Computer & Electronic Products;
    7. Paper Products;
    8. Electrical Equipment, Appliances & Components;
    9. Miscellaneous Manufacturing;
    10. Chemical Products;
    11. Nonmetallic Mineral Products;
    12. Plastics & Rubber Products;
    13. Printing amp Related Support Activities; and
    14. Food, Beverage & Tobacco Products.

    The three industries reporting contraction were:

    1. Apparel, Leather & Allied Products;
    2. Primary Metals; and
    3. Furniture & Related Products.
    There was further expansion of economic activity in the manufacturing sector of the economy in August.The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) reports...

    Job creation tapers off in August

    The unemployment rate ticked higher

    A bit of a slowdown in the number of new jobs created by the economy.

    According to the Labor Department (DOL), total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 156,000 last month, while the jobless rate inched up from 4.3% to 4.4%. The unemployment rate has been either 4.3 or 4.4% since April.

    There was no discernible effect on employment and unemployment from Hurricane Harvey as the data were collected earlier in the month.

    As it issued its August report, the government made some downward revisions in its figures for the last couple of months.

    The employment change for June was revised down from +231,000 to +210,000, and the change for July was lowered to +189,000 from +209,000. As a result, employment gains in June and July combined were 41,000 less than previously reported.

    Who's on the job

    The unemployment rates for adult men (4.1%), adult women (4.0%), teenagers (13.%), Whites (3.9%), Blacks (7.7%), Asians (4.0%) and Hispanics (5.2%) showed little or no change in August.

    The labor force participation rate was unchanged at 62.9% and has shown little movement on net over the past year. The employment-population ratio -- 60.1% -- was little changed over the month and thus far this year.

    Who's hiring and who's not

    Job gains last month were seen in manufacturing (+36,000), construction (+28,000), professional and technical services (+22,000), health care (+20,000) and mining ((+7,000).

    Other major industries, including wholesale trade, retail trade, transportation and warehousing, information, financial activities and government, showed little change over the month.

    So far this year, employment growth has averaged 176,000 per month; the average monthly gain in 2016 was 187,000.

    Average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls inched up 3 cents last month to $26.39, after rising by 9 cents in July. Over the past year, average hourly earnings have gone up 65 cents, or 2.5%.

    The complete report is available on the DOL website.

    A bit of a slowdown in the number of new jobs created by the economy.According to the Labor Department (DOL), total nonfarm payroll employment increase...

    Demakes Enterprises recalls chicken sausage

    The product contains milk, an allergen not declared on the label

    Demakes Enterprises of Lynn, Mass., is recalling approximately 32,228 pounds of fully cooked chicken sausage.

    The product contains milk, an allergen not declared on the label.

    There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of this product.

    The following item, produced and packaged between January 20, 2017, and August 10, 2017, is being recalled:

    • 10 oz. vacuum-sealed packages containing 5 pieces of “Thin ‘n Trim Fully Cooked Chicken Sausage Buffalo Style” and “Use By” dates from MAY:17-2017 through DEC: 06-2017.

    The recalled product, bearing establishment number “P-8891” inside the USDA mark of inspection, was shipped to retail locations in Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

    What to do

    Customers who purchased the recalled product should not consume it, but throw it away or return it to the place of purchase.

    Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Andrew Demakes at (781) 417-1127.

    Demakes Enterprises of Lynn, Mass., is recalling approximately 32,228 pounds of fully cooked chicken sausage.The product contains milk, an allergen not...