Stock futures lower despite fall in U.S. jobless claims

U.S. stock-index futures fell early Thursday, while investors sift through economic data including the weekly jobless benefit claims report, after the stock market posted one of its best daily gains in weeks on Wednesday.

How are equity indexes performing?

Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average


were off 22 points, or 0.1%, at 29,069; those for the S&P 500 index


were off 16.20 points at 3,563, a decline of 0.5%; Nasdaq-100 futures


were down 140.50 points, or 1.1%, at 12,271.

On Wednesday, Dow

surged 454.84 points, or 1.6%, ending at 29,100.50, or 1.5% away from its Feb. 12 closing high of 29,551.42. The S&P 500 index

climbed 54.19 points, or 1.5%, to settle at a record 3,580.84, its 22nd record close this year. The Nasdaq Composite Index

advanced 116.78 points to close at a record 12,056.44, a gain of 1%, and its 43rd record close of the year.

What’s driving the market?

After a day of records for the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq Composite and the rapid of approach of the Dow to its own record, investors watched U.S. weekly jobless benefits claims data on Thursday morning.

Total new applications for unemployment benefits in the latest weekly period ending in Aug. 30 fell 130,000 to a seasonally adjusted 881,000 or lower than the consensus estimate of 940,000. This comes after the Labor Department said it tweaked its seasonal adjustment method amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In other data, a revised reading of U.S. second-quarter productivity rose 10.1%, while the trade deficit widened to $63.6 billion.

Read: ADP says private sector added a less-than-expected 428,000 new jobs in August

Investors will also be watching a reading on the purchasing managers index in services from IHS Markit at 9:45 a.m. ET, and a survey by the Institute of Supply Management on activity in the service sector at 10 a.m. ET.

Market participants have been contending with a nearly incessant climb higher, with the focus on remedies for COVID helping to partially buttress the recent run-up. That said, Wednesday’s climb for stocks came even as large-capitalization technology-related stocks staged a pullback that didn’t disrupt the upward momentum of the broader equity market. Tech-related names have led the rebound of the market from coronavirus-lows but some strategists spotted encouraging signs that other areas beyond tech-related names were starting to rise.

“The more broad based this becomes, the more it signals a turning of the tide as far as the economic outlook is concerned, at least among those on Wall Street,” wrote Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at Oanda, in a daily research note.

However, there are concerns that market has climbed too far and too fast and that optimism over a vaccine for coronavirus is misplaced. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged states to speed up approval for vaccine distribution sites by Nov. 1, which is just days before the presidential election.

Meanwhile, doubts about traction for further fiscal stimulus from Washington lawmakers has continued to haunt investors. Investors have been betting on Republicans and Democrats striking a deal later this month to offer additional relief to American consumers and businesses, after talks stalled in August. On Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democrats and Republicans still have “serious differences,” following a brief phone call.

Separately, tensions flared up between Beijing and Washington as the Trump administration signaled plans to impose new restrictions on Chinese diplomats in the U.S., citing Beijing’s use of similar measures on American envoys. The Chinese embassy in Washington responded by accusing the U.S. of violating international conventions.

Which stocks are in focus?
  • Michaels Cos. Inc. shares

    soared 6.7% in premarket trade, after the arts and crafts retailer blew past estimates for the second quarter as stores reopened after being closed during the pandemic.

  • Shares of Sanofi

    gained 0.4% before the bell after the drugmaker and GlaxoSmithKline

    said their COVID-19 vaccine candidate has entered a Phase 1/2 clinical trial.

  • Arconic Corp.

    said Thursday it restored the salaries and 401K match for all of its U.S. salaried employees, including executives on Sept. 1, after cutting them earlier this year to counter the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

  • Shares of Designer Brands Inc.

    plummeted 19% in premarket trading Thursday, after the parent of the DSW Designer Shoe Warehouse retail chain reported a wider-than-expected fiscal second quarter

  • Facebook

    slipped after announcing Thursday it will ban new political ads from running in the week before the Nov. 3 presidential election.

How are other markets trading?

The 10-year Treasury note yield

edged 0.3 basis point higher to 0.653%. Bond prices move inversely to yields.

The ICE U.S. dollar index

, which tracks the performance of the greenback against its major rivals, was up 0.2%.

Gold futures

were down 0.4% to trade at $1,936.80 an ounce, on the New York Mercantile Exchange. U.S. benchmark crude futures

fell 2.2% to a one-month low of $40.61 a barrel.

The Stoxx Europe 600 index

rose 0.4%, while the U.K.’s benchmark FTSE

as up 0.5%. In Asia, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index

fell 0.5% and China’s CSI 300

closed 0.6% lower. The Nikkei

rose 0.9%.

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The Fed takes new approach to inflation: What it means for your savings, credit-card interest — and mortgage rate

The Federal Reserve is shaking things up — which is both good and bad news for consumers.

The Fed made some of the biggest changes to its policy in years following an extended review. The central bank has revised its approach to inflation and the labor market in a move that could usher in an extended period of low interest rates.

But the new approach won’t mean that consumers will save money across the board. “The Federal Reserve’s new strategy could divide the landscape for the various financial products important to consumers,” said Lynn Reaser, chief economist at the Fermanian Business & Economic Institute at Point Loma Nazarene University.

Here’s how the Fed’s new policy will affect Americans’ finances:

What did the Fed change?

The Fed is now officially less concerned about high inflation. Moving forward, central bankers will target inflation that averages 2% over time. This means that following a stretch with low inflation, the Fed might allow inflation to run above 2% for a period of time.

Along these lines, the Fed will concern itself less with the strength of the labor market. “A tight labor market is no longer correlated to inflation,” said Dan Geller, a behavioral economist and founder of consulting firm Analyticom.

In the past, the Fed’s official view was that a strong labor market could cause inflation to jump — as a result, the central bank would move to raise rates even if higher levels of inflation had yet to materialize when the job market was especially strong.

The new policy will allow the Fed to keep rates low even if the job market rebounds and inflation picks up. As a result, some have suggested that it may be many, many years before the central bank hikes rates again.

Americans will save on credit-card interest because of the Fed’s new policy

The good news for any Americans with credit cards is that the annual percentage rate on your cards should go down — or remain low — for the foreseeable future.

“Card APRs are still high, but they’re actually the lowest they’ve been in years, largely thanks to the Fed,” said Matt Schulz, chief credit analyst at LendingTree
“Their latest announcement means that rates are likely to stay at low levels for some time.”

The same is true for other forms of shorter-term debt, including home equity lines of credit and some personal loans. On short-term loans like these, the bulk of the movement in interest rates is tied to changes in the federal funds rate, which is the interest rate commercial banks used to borrow or lend reserves to each other.

The federal funds rate is the benchmark for these forms of debt. Earlier this year the Fed cut the federal funds rate twice, prompting a drop in interest rates on many forms of consumer debt.

“The Fed isn’t the only factor that affects credit card interest rates, but in recent years, it has definitely been the biggest one,” Schulz said. “The truth is that for most of the last decade, credit card APRs haven’t moved all that much, except for when the Fed raised or lowered rates.”

In the case of credit cards, a lower rate doesn’t necessarily mean an affordable one though. The average credit card APR currently stands at 16.03%, well above the rates seen for other loan products like mortgages or auto loans. That is down from 17.68% a year ago, said industry analyst Ted Rossman, but it only amounts to $8 a month in savings for someone making minimum payments toward the average credit card debt (which is $5,700 according to the Fed.)

“This is why credit card debtors shouldn’t expect the Fed to ride to their rescue,” Rossman said. “It’s really important to pay down credit card debt as soon as possible, since rates are so high.”

Your savings account may not generate as much income in the future

The interest earned via high-yield savings accounts and certificates of deposit is dependent on the Fed’s interest rate policy. As such, these savings vehicles won’t generate major amounts of interest income so long as the Fed maintains its low rate stance amid low inflation.

If inflation picks up though, banks could move the interest on these accounts higher though, Geller said.

Mortgage rates could actually rise even if the Fed keeps rates low

“Long-term interest rates will be much less affected by this policy change,” Reaser said. And that includes mortgage rates.

Mortgage rates don’t respond directly to moves on the Fed’s part because the Fed only controls short-term interest rates. Instead, the rates on mortgages ebb and flow in response to movements in the long-term bond market, particularly the yield on the 10-year Treasury note

. Therefore, mortgage rates are more subject to the whims of bond investors.

“If investors fear that the Federal Reserve might be too late in responding to any buildup in inflation pressures, long-term rates could be higher,” Reaser said. This logic doesn’t just apply to 30- and 15-year mortgages though, but also to longer-term personal loans and student loans.

The Fed can take certain actions that would keep mortgage rates down though.

“The Fed being more accommodative might mean that they are purchasing more mortgage-backed securities and treasuries which could counter the inflationary effect on the longer rates for things like mortgages,” said Tendayi Kapfidze, chief economist at LendingTree.

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Fed’s new policy may have ushered in a new era of uncertainty on Wall Street

Wall Street is still weighing the implications of the Federal Reserve’s most substantive shift in the way it thinks about monetary policy in years.

In essence, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell on Thursday emphasized the primacy of the labor market in its mandate, even if it means that inflation rises above an annual 2% target that the central bank has traditionally deemed as indicative of a healthy, well-functioning economy.

Powell’s new policy framework comes after 18 months of review by the interest rate setting Federal Open Market Committee and marks a subtle tweak from targeting 2% inflation to now allowing for undershoots and overshoots that would see inflation average 2% over time.

“This change may appear subtle, but it reflects our view that a robust job market can be sustained without causing an outbreak of inflation,” Powell said in his webcast speech as a part of the annual Jackson Hole symposium on Thursday.

Indeed, the shift is a big deal experts say, and not just because of the defenestration of decades of central-bank orthodoxy centered on the relationship between the labor market and price pressures, but because it expresses policy that may be far removed from a policy such as advocated by Stanford University economist John Taylor, who has championed a mathematical approach to setting interest rates

The Fed’s new approach, instead, may raise more questions than answers about implementation and crucially how it achieves inflation targets that have thus far remained elusive over the past decade.

“How much inflation is the Fed comfortable with?” asked Aneta Markowska, chief economist at Jefferies in a Friday research note.

“The FOMC was surprisingly vague with respect to its inflation averaging framework, saying merely that it will aim to achieve inflation ‘moderately above 2 percent for some time’ following periods of undershoots. What does that mean in practical terms? We simply don’t know,” the economist wrote.

After Powell’s Jackson Hole speech, some Fed officials did attempt to provide some sense of the degree to which inflation might be allowed to rise above the central bank’s target before raising alarms.

“To me, it’s not so much the number, whether it’s 2.5% or 3%,” Philadelphia Fed President Patrick Harker, a voting member of the FOMC, told CNBC in a Friday interview. “It’s whether it’s reaching 2%, creeping up to 2.5% or shooting past 2.5%,” he said.

St. Louis Fed President James Bullard, who is not currently a voting FOMC member, said on Friday that inflation could remain at around 2.5% “for quite a while.”

Inflation plays a key role in Fed policy because too-low inflation can lead to a weaker overall economy, as it can encourage consumers, the main driver of the U.S. economy, to delay purchases, as well as amplify expectations for even lower prices, fostering a potentially vicious cycle. As the Fed has put it, “if inflation expectations fall, interest rates would decline too.”

And receding interest rates make it difficult for the Fed to use its main tool for managing monetary policy: the federal funds rate. The Fed lowers its benchmark interest rate to stimulate economic activity and raises it to slow it.

It is worth noting that he Fed has raised interest rates nine times between 2015 and 2018.

However, from at least 2009 prices pressures have been nowhere seen, based on 5-year, 5-year forward inflation break evens, which are at 1.6%. That measure of inflation calculates the expected pace of price increases over the five-year period that begins five years from now.

A lack of clarity on the specifics around its altered policy could inject more uncertainty into the market over the longer term, experts said.

“When it comes to the shift in how the Committee views its inflation objective, much was left unsaid, and careful consideration suggests that the new approach may actually complicate the policy process in terms of both implementation and communication,” Robert Eisenbeis, chief monetary economist at Cumberland Advisors, in a Friday note.

Eisenbeis says that the Fed didn’t immediately specify which inflation measure it would use. Traditionally, the central bank’s preferred inflation gauge, is the PCE price index, or personal-consumption expenditures price index, but the commonly referenced gauge on Wall Street is the CPI, or consumer-price index.

“Finally, the elephant in the room is the fact that the [Fed] has pursued a 2% inflation target since January 25, 2012, but has continually undershot that level,” The Cumberland analysts wrote.

What’s the outlook?

“The Fed will now need to really explore this new regime change in the FOMC meetings, as it is great telling us they plan but how they enact is what the market really needs to learn,” wrote Chris Weston, research analyst at broker Pepperstone.

Lara Rhame, chief U.S. economist at FS Investments, says that the implications of the Fed’s moves may not play out until after this COVID-19 crisis is over.

” The real issue for investors will be what comes after this economic crisis,” the economist wrote.

“Many hope that over the coming year or two, the economy will continue its recovery. This could happen even faster should a vaccine or more effective treatments help suppress the pandemic,” the FS Investments analysts said.

“But [Thursday’s] announcement has made clear that even a return of steady, potential growth would mean the Fed would likely leave rates where they are—at zero,” the economist said.

The Fed’s coming Sept. 15-16 policy meeting may fill in some of the blanks for market participants.

Implications for markets

So what does this all mean for financial markets ?

It implies a regime of potentially lower interest rates but market expectations for volatility may increase, without more guidance on how the Fed’s policy will play out.

In the short term, stocks could continue to rise or at least be inclined to hold steady with the Fed more explicitly indicating no intention to raise interest rates soon.

“One of the few things that could have knocked the market down was the Fed could start to raise rates…I don’t know if this [policy shift] is going to lead to a further meltup, but I certainly thing it does put a more secure foundation under the market,” Brad McMillan, chief investment officer at Commonwealth Financial Network, told MarketWatch.

On Friday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average

closed about 3% from its Feb. 12 record closing high, while the S&P 500

and the Nasdaq Composite Index

both finished at records.

“It’s hard to bet against the equity market right now,” said David Donabedian, chief investment officer of CIBC Private Wealth Management, in emailed comments.

Commonwealth’s McMillan also said that the growth stocks, which have notably been on a tear, are likely to continue to benefit in the short-term low-interest rate regime. “Future cash flows will be worth more in the present for those companies which can generate it,” he noted.

“Those companies with pricing power, such as commodity stocks, will benefit. Banks will finally enjoy a steepening yield curve. For those without pricing power and thus have to eat rising cost pressures, profit margins will get squeezed and that won’t be a good thing,” wrote Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer, at Bleakley Advisory Group, in a Friday note.

“Cheap stocks, the so called value side, have already inherently built in low expectations so they would be more immune. Interesting times,” he said.

Analysts at BofA Global Research, including Michelle Meyer, said they don’t expect a broad run-up in the U.S. dollar

after Powell’s statement.

The analysts wrote in a Thursday report that “a broad USD rally may ultimately be contained absent another bout of risk aversion, as USD shorts have been concentrated in the typically less price-sensitive asset manager community.” 

In theory, a longer-run of lower interest rates and higher inflation should provide support for gold and silver prices, which have already drawn considerable safe-haven flows as investors have fretted about the economic implications of the coronavirus on business activity world-wide.


and silver

to a lesser extent are viewed as hedges against uncertainty and rising inflation. Weakness in the U.S. dollar, or at least a stable greenback, could also help buttress prices for precious metals.

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Home prices continued to rise in June, Case-Shiller index finds — as Americans face a growing affordability crunch

The numbers: Home-price appreciation continued at a steady clip in June as many states began reopening businesses from shutdowns related to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a major price barometer released Tuesday. But recent data suggests price appreciation should gain steam in the latter half of the year.

The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller 20-city price index posted a 3.5% year-over-year gain in June, down from 3.6% the previous month. On a monthly basis, the index increased 0.2% between May and June.

What happened: The separate national index released with the report noted a 4.3% increase in home prices across the country over the past year, unchanged from the rate of price growth in May.

Phoenix continued to lead the all other markets nationwide with a 9% annual price gain in May, followed by Seattle with a 6.5% increase and Tampa, Fla., with a 5.9% uptick. “As has been the case for the last several months, prices were particularly strong in the Southeast and West, and comparatively weak in the Midwest and (especially) Northeast,” Craig Lazzara, managing director and global head of index investment strategy at S&P Dow Jones Indices, wrote in the report.

Overall, the pace of price growth increased in five of the 19 cities Case-Shiller analyzed — the 20-city list again didn’t include Detroit this month because transaction records for Wayne County, Mich., were unavailable, the report noted.

The big picture: Since June, home price growth has only accelerated as buyers’ fervor has been met with a historically-low supply of homes.

Median home list prices rose 10.1% year-over-year for the week ending Aug. 15, according to a recent report from, marking the fastest growth in listing prices since January 2018. It’s a significant turnaround from the start of the pandemic when listing price appreciation slowed to the lowest level since at least 2013, per’s calculations.

Record-low mortgage rates are boosting not only demand among buyers, but home prices as well, since on the surface they expand how much a home buyers can afford to buy. But a recent report from UBS Financial Services questioned how affordable buying a home really is right now.

The report looked at the affordability index put out by the National Association of Realtors. UBS recalculated the index to account for lower down payments (rather than a 20% down payment) and additional costs such as taxes and insurance.

“The vast majority of home buyers buy on monthly payment as opposed to price,” Jonathan Woloshin, a real estate and lodging analyst at UBS, wrote in the report. “However, our concern is that many are only considering the principal and interest component of their monthly payment as opposed to the ‘fully loaded’ monthly payment associated with ownership.”

When the full cost of owning a home is added up, owning a home is a much less affordable proposition. Meanwhile, apartment rents have flattened or declined across much of the country as home prices have continued to rise. Woloshin’s calculations found that it is cheaper to own than rent in one-third of markets nationwide. But that could change. “If rents continue to flatline or decline and home prices continue their upward trajectory of the past several months, renting is likely to become more attractive for a greater number of markets,” he wrote.

Ultimately, if many buyers are priced out, that could throw some cold water on the buying frenzy across the country’s housing market right now.

What they’re saying: “Recently, Case Shiller price metrics have been weakest in Northeastern metros, but there are signs that the economies in these areas are recovering well from the coronavirus. As these economies bounce back, so do their housing markets,” said Danielle Hale, chief economist at

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‘The housing market is on a sugar high’: Home sales are soaring, but is it a good time to buy? Here’s what the experts say

Americans are rushing to buy homes right now. But should you be one of them?

Sales of previously-owned homes in the U.S. rose 24.7% between June and July to a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 5.86 million, the National Association of Realtors reported Friday. Not only did the percentage increase represent a record, but the sales volume was the highest the U.S. has seen since 2006.

It’s a stunning turnaround from just a few months earlier when the coronavirus pandemic caused record-breaking decreases in sales as Americans were staying home to avoid getting sick.

To a large extent, the bumper demand for housing is an indication that Americans are aiming to make up for lost time. Many economists believe that what we’re seeing now is essentially a postponed spring home-buying season.

“The housing market is on a sugar high brought on by government stimulus and a pandemic-fueled rush to low density housing,” said Daren Blomquist, vice president of market economics at, a real-estate website for foreclosure sales.

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“Prospective buyers will be better positioned for success as homeowners if they understand that this sugar high will not last and make sure their decision to buy is grounded in longer term factors that will affect their ability and willingness to commit to paying down a sizable amount of debt over the next 30 years,” Blomquist added.

But even with home-sales activity reaching record levels, many Americans remain unsure of whether now is the right time to make the biggest financial decision of most people’s lives. The home purchase sentiment index from Fannie Mae

decreased in July, as people’s view of home-buying conditions worsened in tandem with rising coronavirus cases across much of the country.

Here are the factors that experts say you need to consider:

Interest rates remain near all-time lows

From a financing perspective, buying a home is something of a no-brainer right now. And indeed, record-low interest rates helped spur much of the rise in home sales.

“No matter what you’re looking for, this is a great time to buy since the current low interest rates can stretch your spending power,” said Bill Banfield, executive vice president of capital markets at Quicken Loans
“With interest rates in the two’s available, a buyer can afford much more home than they could have just a few years ago.”

While many economists expect interest rates to remain roughly this low for a while, they likely won’t get a whole lot lower. Mortgage rates have fallen in response to the pandemic and the effect it had on the economy. So if a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19 were to be discovered, rates would likely shoot upward.

“There are no guarantees,” said Tendayi Kapfidze, chief economist at LendingTree
“So affordability could decline going forward.”

There aren’t many homes for sale

As the adage goes, you can’t buy what’s not for sale. And right now, well, there’s not much for sale across most of the country.

“Now is a great time to buy because of incredible mortgage rates, but a terrible time to buy because of inventory,” said Ralph McLaughlin, chief economist and senior vice president of analytics at financial-technology company Haus.

As McLaughlin put it, buyers are going to face a tough choice right now: Do you lock in a low rate and settle for whatever’s on the market, or do you wait for your dream home and risk a higher interest rate.

“If you plan on finding your dream home, it’s probably better to wait,” McLaughlin said. “But if you plan on trading up in a few years now isn’t a terrible time, other than low inventory, of course.”

Competition is driving faster sales and higher prices

The tight inventory of homes for sale right now is being met with a large swathe of eager buyers. And that’s a recipe for rising prices and bidding wars.

Median home list prices were up 10.1% year-over-year for the week ending Aug. 15, according to a recent report from That’s the fastest growth in listing prices since January 2018. Low-interest rates allow prices to rise more quickly.

And homes are coming off the market at a rapid pace. Over two-thirds of the homes sold in July were on the market for less than a month, the National Association of Realtors reported. “That quick-decision environment may challenge some buyers, especially first-timers who are new to the process,” said Danielle Hale, chief economist at

The good news is that high prices might coax some sellers into the market, said Holden Lewis, housing and mortgage expert at personal-finance website NerdWallet. More inventory on the market would keep prices and competition in check.

Falling prices aren’t necessarily something buyers should hold out for. “If prices fall significantly and inventory rises dramatically, that means the economy has taken a hard turn for the worse and you may have other priorities than housing,” said Robert Frick, corporate economist at Navy Federal Credit Union.

Also see:Mortgage rates are going back up — just as home prices begin to skyrocket

Where you live and the lifestyle you lead are important

As any real-estate agent will tell you, all real estate is local. So what’s happening one town over or at the national level may have little bearing on what you’ll encounter in the housing market.

“Are you an owner moving from a fast-paced real estate market…to a housing market where the pace is a bit less frenzied? If yes, then this may be a good time for you,” Hale said.

For instance, if you own a home in a suburb of New York City but would like to live closer to the action, say in Manhattan, now may be a great time to buy. A recent Zillow

report threw cool water on the common wisdom that people are fleeing to the suburbs — with some exceptions. Zillow found that in most parts of the country suburban markets have not strengthened at a disproportionately faster rate than urban markets.

But in Manhattan, home values are indeed down 4.2% from last year and properties are staying on the market longer.

Yet he biggest factor for most people in deciding whether to buy will be their lifestyle. Traditionally, most home-buying decisions revolve around milestones like getting married, having kids or retiring. Millennials are growing their families and reaching their peak home-buying years. And with more people working from home, the need for more space is a factor for many would-be buyers.

If you find yourself in that position, then experts suggest not hesitating. If you have enough in savings to afford the down payment and ancillary costs of buying a home, fetch yourself a low rate and look for a home that suits your needs.

On the other hand, if you are “in between jobs or working in an industry that’s been particularly hard-hit by the recession, it may be a better time to wait,” Hale said.

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