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Housing stocks fall, Facebook jumps on Wall Street

MATTHEW CRAFT / AP Business Writer

The Associated Press | July 25, 2013


NEW YORK (AP) — Disappointing results from PulteGroup, D.R. Horton and other home builders left major stock indexes with only tiny gains in afternoon trading. Technology stocks rose after Facebook’s earnings blew past analysts’ estimates.

Even with plenty of news from big companies, the broader market was mixed. Of the 10 industry groups in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index, five rose and five fell.

D.R. Horton, the country’s largest builder, and PulteGroup said orders for new houses jumped in the second quarter, but their results still fell short of what analysts had expected. PulteGroup also posted a 14 percent decline in profits

D.R. Horton dropped $1.77, or 8 percent, to $19.45. PulteGroup lost $1.95, or 11 percent, to $16.49.

‘‘Housing is taking it on the chin,’’ said JJ Kinahan, chief derivatives strategist at TD Ameritrade. ‘‘I think what you’re seeing a bit of today is people questioning what higher mortgage rates mean for housing.’’

Technology companies fared better. Facebook jumped 27 percent after reporting earnings late Wednesday that easily beat analysts’ forecasts thanks to higher revenue from advertisements on mobile devices. Facebook’s stock rose $7.16 to $33.68.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index was up two points, or 0.1 percent, to 1,688 as of 2:30 p.m.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose two points, or 0.01 percent, at 15,543. The Dow was held back by Caterpillar, which warned of sagging sales on Wednesday.

The Nasdaq composite index rose 17 points, or 0.5 percent, to 3,596.

It’s nearly halfway through the second-quarter earnings season, and the overall trend looks good, but not great, said Tyler Vernon, chief investment officer of Biltmore Capital in Princeton, NJ. ‘‘There have been some big disappointments, like Caterpillar yesterday, but we’re seeing better and better numbers coming out.’’

Analysts forecast that companies in the S&P 500 index will report earnings growth of 4.3 percent over the same period last year, according to S&P Capital IQ. At the start of July, the forecast was for growth of 2.8 percent. More than six out of every 10 companies have cleared analysts’ earnings targets so far.

Eventually, improving profits should help push the S&P 500 index above 1,700 in the coming weeks, Vernon said.

In the market for U.S. government bonds, the yield on the 10-year Treasury note climbed to 2.62 percent from 2.59 percent the day before. Late last week, it was trading at 2.48 percent.

The 10-year yield acts as a benchmark rate for most mortgage loans. A sharp increase in the rate drives up mortgage costs and could slow down sales in the housing market.

It’s still very low by historical standards thanks in large part to the Federal Reserve’s massive bond-buying program. The yield hit a recent low of 1.63 percent on May 3. By contrast, it was trading around 4 percent in the summer of 2008, shortly before the worst days of the financial crisis.

Among other stocks making big moves:

— Las Vegas Sands, a major casino operator, fell $1.25, or 2.3 percent, to $53.69 after it posted lower revenue and income than financial analysts had expected.

— Harley-Davidson rose 40 cents, or 1 percent, to $56.27 following news that the Milwaukee-based motorcycle maker’s earnings rose 10 percent in the second quarter, driven by an aggressive expansion abroad and revamped production.

— Visa rose $8.06, or 4 percent, to $194.78. Visa returned to profitability in its third fiscal quarter and reported strong revenue growth as the company processed more transactions worldwide.

© Copyright 2013 Globe Newspaper Company.

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Biltmore Capital Advisors’ Tyler Vernon is named a New Jersey Five Star Wealth Manager by New Jersey Monthly Magazine!

Press Release: Biltmore Capital Advisors – Thu, Apr 11, 2013 9:00 AM EDT

PRINCETON, N.J., April 11, 2013 /PRNewswire/ — Biltmore Capital Advisors president and CIO, Tyler Vernon, receives ranking among New Jersey Monthly Magazine’s 2013 Top Wealth Managers.

The list recognizes the efforts and success of financial professionals across the state. The award is presented by New Jersey Monthly Magazine that engaged Five Star Professional, an independent research company, to perform research and rankings of Wealth Managers in New Jersey.

“It is a tremendous honor to be ranked as a Five Star Wealth Manager,” says Vernon. “My team and I strive to consistently deliver outstanding service and investment advice, and this award underscores our ongoing efforts.”

Mr. Vernon is president and Chief Investment Officer at Biltmore Capital Advisors. Mr. Vernon founded the Princeton, NJ-based firm after spending nearly a decade working on Wall Street. Biltmore Capital Advisors specializes in investment planning and management, with a particular focus on alternative investment strategies. Mr. Vernon is often featured by the national media, including on CNBC, Fox Business, Bloomberg, and in the Wall Street Journal.

Vernon was featured in the January 2013 issue of New Jersey Monthly Magazine. Vernon was also recognized on the 2011 list.

About Biltmore Capital Advisors
Biltmore Capital Advisors is a SEC-registered investment advisory firm headquartered in Princeton, NJ. Tyler Vernon is Chief Investment Officer of the firm, which employs “family office” services and fiduciary oversight for high net worth clients, endowments and foundations.

For more information on Biltmore Capital Advisors and its offerings, please visit

CONTACT: Marissa Foy for Biltmore Capital Advisors at 610-228-2104 or

Award candidates were then evaluated against 10 objective eligibility and evaluation criteria associated with wealth managers who provide quality services to their clients such as client retention rates, client assets administered, firm review and a favorable regulatory and complaint history. Five Star Professional finalized the list of Five Star Wealth Managers to be no more than 7% of the wealth managers in the area.
• Wealth managers do not pay a fee to be considered or placed on the final list of Five Star Wealth Managers.
• The Five Star award is not indicative of the wealth manager’s future performance.
• Wealth managers may or may not use discretion in their practice and therefore may not manage their client’s assets.
• The inclusion of a wealth manager on the Five Star Wealth Manager list should not be construed as an endorsement of the wealth manager by Five Star Professional or the magazine.
• Working with a Five Star Wealth Manager or any wealth manager is no guarantee as to future investment success, nor is there any guarantee that the selected wealth managers will be awarded this accomplishment by Five Star Professional in the future.
For more information on the Five Star award and the research/selection methodology, go to www.fivestarprofessional.com

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First-Time Home Buyers Missing Out on Housing Recovery

By David Francis, US News & World Report’s

US News & World Report | December 10, 2012


Tougher lending standards squeeze out potential borrowers

As the housing market continues to show improved signs of strength, many first-time home buyers are failing to benefit from the broader recovery.

The Campbell/Inside Mortgage Finance HousingPulse Tracking Survey, released last week, found that first-time home buyers were purchasing only 34.7 percent of the homes sold in October. That’s down from 37.1 percent in September, and is the lowest percentage ever recorded by the survey.

This decline surfaces as purchases of non-distressed homes—houses that are not in foreclosure—have increased dramatically in 2012. The report shows that the vast majority of the homes being sold are regular purchases—accounting for 64.7 percent of all houses sold in October, up from 55.7 percent in February. The increase is a sign of strength in the housing market, as fewer people are buying homes in foreclosure.

But according to the survey, first-time buyers are the only group that has not purchased more non-distressed properties in the last five months. Meanwhile, current homeowners are picking up an increasing number of properties, purchasing 54.4 percent of all homes in October, up from 50 percent in June.

Thomas Popik, research director for Campbell Surveys, says these trends in the disparity of who is purchasing homes are due in part to increasingly tough mortgage standards by banks. But the real obstacle for first-time buyers is the Federal Housing Authority (FHA), according to Popik. At the depths of the housing crisis, the FHA loosened lending standards in an attempt to kick-start a housing recovery. Now that the recovery has begun, standards for FHA mortgages that require a 3.5 percent down payment are tightening.

“The basic problem is that about half of owner-occupant homebuyers rely on low down payment loans. FHA is now under significant financial pressure,” Popik says. “They’ve tightened their underwriting, and weeded out a lot the lenders that have poor lending practices.” He adds that, in the process, FHA has restrained access for first-time buyers who can’t make the traditional 20 percent down payment.

Lack of access to mortgages for first-time buyers has broad consequences. Without these buyers, the housing recovery will be difficult to sustain. It also robs first-time buyers, many of whom are young (the National Association of Realtors estimates an average age of 31 for first-time buyers) of the opportunity to cash in on the recovery and build wealth.

Behind the FHA’s tightening. As the housing market failed to gain traction following the explosion of the real estate bubble, the Obama administration decided to loosen standards for home loans—giving borrowers who would not qualify for a typical bank loan a chance to enter the housing market. At the same time, FHA extended lifelines to underwater homeowners, allowing them to refinance mortgages to keep their homes and avoid foreclosure.

These programs required FHA to take on large amounts of debt, Popik says: “FHA really picked up these low down payment loans in the second half of 2008 and 2009, even going into 2010 and 2011.”

To service this debt, FHA had to rely on people who wouldn’t have been able to qualify for a traditional loan and people who had homes that were underwater. As payments on these loans have slipped in recent years, FHA now finds itself $16.3 billion short in its insurance fund.

This has forced FHA to tighten lending standards, limiting loan options for many first-time buyers, says Tim Ralph, portfolio manager and chief operating officer at Biltmore Capital Advisors. FHA is now “looking for three years of steady income, understanding what’s outside of your income in terms of debt, and you investment portfolio,” Ralph says. “Rates might be at 2.75 percent, but that’s not happening for someone with a 650 credit score who can’t put 10 percent down. If there’s a slight downturn in the housing market, this buyer would be immediately underwater.”

According to Robert Simons, a professor of urban planning at Cleveland State University, FHA is now behaving like the big banks by avoiding borrowers who give the slightest hint that they might not be able to keep up with payments.

“Their taste for risk is complicated by how their overall portfolio is doing,” Simons says, referring to the $16.3 billion shortfall. “If they have a lot of defaults, they will continue to have an unacceptable level of capital.”

Changing attitudes toward housing. Simons says first-time buyers might be avoiding the housing market because of the hangover from the housing crisis. He says they are turned off by the unpredictability of the investment. “People are disillusioned. They don’t see appreciation like they once did,” he says. “There’s a false hope of growing wealth in a house. People are being more selective about where they buy.”

Simons also believes the culture of foreclosure that persisted throughout the crisis has negatively influenced attitudes toward the housing market. “People who went through it themselves, or know people who went through it, are definitely turned off. People who defaulted will not buy quickly,” he says.

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Refinancing near retirement can be smart

By Amy Hoak, MarketWatch

Marketwatch | December 10, 2012


CHICAGO (MarketWatch)—Tempting low interest rates continue to make headlines, making refinancing your mortgage look attractive. But when retirement isn’t far off, the decision to refinance can get more complicated.

After all, most pre-retirees are trying to reduce debt before their last day of work, not extend the amount of time they’ll be on the hook for payments.

Still, for some homeowners with retirement on their minds, it makes sense to trade their higher mortgage rate for one near record lows, said Keith Gumbinger, vice president of HSH.com, a publisher of mortgage and consumer loan information. The money saved each month on your mortgage can be poured into other investments that could pay off in retirement, “whether that’s a 401(k) or IRA or cleaning up other debts,” he said.

If you haven’t refinanced in the past few years, your monthly savings can be substantial. The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.34% for the week ending Dec. 6, while the 15-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 2.67%, according to Freddie Mac’s weekly survey of conforming rates. For those with a current mortgage rate near 5%, refinancing could mean significant improvement to their monthly cash flow.

Consider this: A homeowner who’s 52 today and who wants to retire at 70 bought a home in 2002 with a $250,000 mortgage. He refinanced at 5% in 2003. If he refinanced again into a 3.49%, 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, his payment would go down $415 a month, according to Gumbinger’s math.

The downside is the loan wouldn’t be retired until he is 82, and it would cost $3,432 more in interest over its lifetime than if he didn’t refinance.

To make that kind of trade-off work for you, it’s critical to ensure the increased cash flow is used productively.

“You have to be determined to save the money and invest it in something that would yield a higher rate of return than the interest rate you’re paying,” said Rich Arzaga, founder of Cornerstone Wealth Management in San Ramon, Calif. Conservative vehicles including corporate or municipal bonds—held long term—are a good option, he said. Money market accounts and certificates of deposit probably won’t cut it right now, with the paltry returns they’re paying out.

For others, the monthly cash flow may not be worth the hassle or the cost of a refinance, especially if the homeowner is close to the end of the mortgage term. At that point, the bulk of the payment is going to principal, said Tyler Vernon, president of Biltmore Capital Advisors in Princeton, N.J.

“Banks do that because they know that most people don’t have a mortgage for more than six years, so basically they’re paid mostly interest up front,” he said. But by the time the homeowner has five to 10 years left on a mortgage, he or she is paying much less interest, he said.

It’s helpful to talk out your own personal scenario with a financial planner before deciding to pull the trigger. But here are a few factors to consider prior to making a decision.

Your personal time frames

When doing your calculations, it’s important to consider how long you’ll stay in the home and when you plan on retiring. Knowing your goals is essential in making this financial decision.

For instance, if your goal is simply to increase cash flow and owning your home free and clear isn’t a priority, perhaps refinancing makes sense. Some people plan on downsizing when they retire or trading in their home for something more suitable, Gumbinger said. If you’re one of those people, the idea of refinancing might not be as frightening—you’ll be paying off that mortgage anyway when you sell your home.

But the time you’re planning on staying in the home shouldn’t be too short, since you’ll want to be there long enough to recoup the closing costs on the refinancing.

That said, if you’re planning on remaining in the home for good, with a goal of paying it off, you’ll have to seriously think about how you’ll pay the mortgage when you’re no longer bringing home a paycheck. And you may have no interest in lengthening the mortgage term into retirement.

How old you are will also be a big factor. “If you’re closer to 65, that’s a different scenario than if you’re 55 or 52,” Gumbinger said.

Time left on the existing mortgage

Regardless of your personal time frame, if you have 10 years or more left on the existing mortgage, there’s a chance it may make sense to refinance. With more than a decade to go, you’re not yet applying as much payment to principal, said Bill Losey, president of Bill Losey Retirement Solutions, based in Wilton, N.Y.

For those with less than 10 years on the loan, it’s a different situation, since more of your mortgage payment goes toward principal.

Furthermore, while lenders might offer a refinance product with a 10-year term, it will be difficult finding a mortgage with a shorter term than that, Gumbinger said. And if you’re near retirement, it’s unlikely you want to add another 20 years to your mortgage through a 30-year fixed product.

Risk tolerance

In the end, only you can decide how much risk you’re comfortable with.

“I always say, you want to enter retirement completely debt free, with the only exception potentially being your mortgage,” Losey said. “No one should have a mortgage past 70 tops, even at these historic low rates.”

Others see some upside to extending your mortgage. With a mortgage paid off in retirement, you may have more control of your expenses but it could be more difficult to tap home equity if you need it. For instance, there’s no guarantee reverse mortgage products will be available at some future date, Gumbinger said.

And you may not want to go that route anyway. Investments such as bonds and stocks that refund dividends are more liquid than your home equity, which could be helpful when those on a fixed income need cash—whether the reason is unexpected or not.

Either way, take a pass on mortgage life insurance, Gumbinger said. That’s a policy that offers more protection to the lender, who will receive funds in the event of your untimely demise, he said. You’re better off considering a standard term life policy instead; that way, the beneficiary has the freedom to do what he or she wishes with the proceeds—including, if he or she wishes, paying down the mortgage.

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To buy or re-fi: Is now the time?

by Kathryn Tuggle, Personal Finance Editor

Dimespring | November 21, 2012


Interest rates may be at record lows, but that doesn’t mean you should pull the trigger on a major purchase before you’re ready. Whether you’re looking to buy a home or refinance the one you’ve got, it’s always best to put pen to paper and consult with experts before making a change. With that said, it’s unclear how long rates will remain below 4 percent, and nobody wants to miss the boat. We checked in with interest rate and mortgage experts to find out if now is really the best time to make a move.

Will interest rates ever be this low again?

“It’s certainly a generational low — no one has ever seen this before,” says Tyler Vernon, president and CIO of Biltmore Capital Advisors in Princeton, NJ. “There’s a camp who thinks we’ll enter a Japanese deflationary cycle, in which case we could see much lower rates. In our opinion that is not a very likely outcome, especially during a time when our Fed Chairman Bernanke has studied the Great Depression and seems to rely heavily on monetary policy, primarily the printing of more dollars.”

Vernon says that he does not think rates will go much lower, and that it’s likely that this will be the last time “our generation” sees these kind of rates.

It’s likely that interest rates will stay low until the economy is back in full swing and unemployment is down to at least 5 percent, says Joe Gross, marketing expert and president of Joe Gross Marketing in New York.

In the near future, interest rates will remain low due to the Fed’s commitment to purchase bonds, says Robert Luna, CEO of SureVest Capital Management in Phoenix, Ariz.

“Longer term I fear that this game can only last so long and will eventually lead to much higher rates,” Luna says. “I am much more concerned with rates rising looking three to five years out than I am in the shorter term. “

Should you move now on that purchase you’ve been debating?

“If you are referring to a home, yes,” says Vernon. “In our view, it’s quite clear that the housing market is coming back on a national basis. By instituting Operation Twist, the Fed has been intentionally buying long term bonds in attempts to drive down mortgage rates which are tied to bond prices. They have succeeded!”

Vernon says the historical lows we are seeing on mortgage rates is helping the housing market by making loans cheaper — leading to a win-win for both first time and existing home buyers.

“Consumers should certainly move now if they are considering a big-ticket purchase because interest rates are about as low as they’re going to get,” says Odysseas Papadimitriou, CEO and founder of Evolution Finance and CardHub.com. “The credit card data we monitor on an ongoing basis shows that 0 percent offers have plateaued as of late, with the average introductory period lasting right around 10 months. Failing to pull the trigger now could therefore cost you a lot of money down the road when rates rise and finance charges become a bigger factor.”

If you’re considering a major life-changing purchase like a house or a car, etc. should low interest rates even influence such a significant purchase in your life?

“Yes, low rates should certainly influence your timing,” says Vernon. “Make sure, however, that you can afford this kind of property and don’t just buy it because rates are low. If the timing is right and you find a home or car you like, assuming you need it, it certainly is the time to buy.”

Vernon cautions that if it’s a car you want to buy, you may have to negotiate a bit as companies can make a lot of money by charging you a higher rate.

Luna says he feels this is the “ideal environment” in which to be borrowing, as “outside of rising rates, all of the monetary stimulus we have witnessed will lead to much higher inflation.”

Overall, it’s okay to let lower rates influence your buying and borrowing decisions because at the end of the day, it’s your monthly payment that dictates whether or not you can live comfortably, says Gross.

“The lower the rate the lower the payment and that means you can afford things that you couldn’t afford before or otherwise,” Gross says.

How do you know when you should make your move and when you should sit on the sidelines?

“You need to have a need,” says Vernon. “Don’t just buy to buy.”

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Brawling Politicians: Bad for Your Portfolio?

By Richard Satran           September 7, 2012

The love fest of the political convention season ended almost as soon as it began, when the first prime-time speaker, House Speaker John Boehner, set a Republican agenda that “starts with throwing out the politician who doesn’t get it, and electing a new president who does.” Since then, the two parties have launched into a brawl in which few rules apply, and flame-throwing and facile lies are standard gear.

The loser could well be you and your stock portfolio over the next two months. Much of the heated rhetoric will consist of Republican claims that President Obama mishandled the economy or Democrats saying how they believe Mitt Romney’s programs would hurt people more.

In that kind of environment, investor confidence, already low, could sink further, say some analysts. Fund company T. Rowe Price said in its recently monthly report, “investors are focused on an apparently never-ending eurozone crisis and the campaign rhetoric emanating from both major political camps in the U.S.”

Good-time elections now history. Historically, election years have been good times for investors. But over the past five elections, the Dow has fallen an average of 3.72 percent, and declined in four out of five September-to-November election day periods.

“The past several presidential elections, and politics in general, just keep getting more nasty,” says Tyler Vernon, chief investment officer and co-founder of Biltmore Capital Advisors in Princeton, N.J. “It’s not the way things were 25 years ago. Over the past few cycles, it has become much more negative. With Democrats and Republicans, the attack ads are questioning leadership more and more. It hurts investor confidence.”

The perception that advertising is growing more negative is borne out by numerous studies. A recent one by the Wesleyan Media Project showed negative ads rising by a staggering amount—accounting for 70 percent of all presidential advertising in the early few months of this year, compared with just 9 percent in the 2008 period (although other factors, including fewer positive ads run by groups supporting Obama in this cycle, caused some of that shift.)

The big difference over the past four years is that so-called Super PACs have been freed from spending limits, or even listing contributors, and the Big Money advertising has been overwhelmingly negative, the Wesleyan study showed.

Politicians have always had a penchant for painting a negative picture of their opponents—some remember President Johnson’s vivid black-and-white television ad showing a girl picking a flower as a nuclear mushroom cloud appeared behind her, a slap against his opponent Barry Goldwater’s strident anti-Communism, or George H.W. Bush’s ads accusing Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis of furloughing a convicted murderer, Willie Horton, who embarked on a violent crime spree.

Those negative campaigns, though memorable, were not the norm. The LBJ ad was quickly withdrawn. And ads were often about “finding prosperity,” rather than slamming the economy, Vernon says. From 1900 to 1988, the market scored nearly twice as many gains as losses in the September-through-November election span. The Dow gained in 15 of the years and declined in eight. The average September-to-election gain was 1.7 percent, exactly in line with the average gain for all two-month periods since 1900.

Impact of financial crisis. The most recent election losses can be blamed at last partly on the crash of 2008, which was an election year event, although election years of the past also had some ugly Octobers, including the 1932 pre-election period in which stocks plunged 20 percent.

But the rising importance of the economy as an election factor and a surge in negative advertising are also playing a critical role, studies show. It’s not just your imagination; things really have gotten uglier since the days of Ike and Adlai, or even since Bill Clinton and George Bush the First.

The Google Ngram tool, which measures and displays keywords in publications going back to 1800, shows a dramatic “hockey stick” upswing in the term “negative political advertising” after 1988. It also shows the steady rise of the phrase “the economy” in the national dialogue. Social issues and foreign policy have faded, in relative terms.

The issue-oriented negative ads might be even more effective at swaying voters than obvious personal attacks, suggested one study by two Rutgers professors and one from George Washington, “The Effects of Negative Campaigning, A Meta-Analytic Reassessment.” They saw significant potential for the practice to undermine public sentiment.

“When that happens, people spend less, they don’t hire, they don’t buy homes,” says Vernon.

The focus on business issues likely reflects the fact that many of the Super PAC contributors are wealthy and tend to be most interested in issues affecting their financial standing. Supreme Court rulings in 1976 and 2010 affirmed a free-speech right to spend one’s money on political campaigns without limit, freeing wealthy contributors and candidates of key post-Watergate campaign reforms. Many politicians began shunning matching funds to give them more fund-raising freedom.

What investors are doing. “A lot of people are just incredibly confused about the economy, and they are like deer caught in the headlights,” says Vernon. “The campaign promises and attacks are not helping. There is always uncertainty about elections, but it is really magnified this time. The leadership, both Democrat and Republican, acts like they are in kindergarten when it comes to getting things done. They prefer to do things that are right for the party, not for the country,” citing the near shut-down of the federal government over the disagreement on extending the debt ceiling.

Still, the market responds to influences well beyond the scope of any election, and there’s no doubt it’s been surprisingly strong in the August through early September period with the S&P returning to prerecession highs. But economic indicators, like the latest ugly jobs report, are still weak. “It’s hard to get really excited about the market when all that really gets it going is the chance for easier Fed policy,” says Vernon.

He is advising his own clients “to stay long, but stay hedged.” He advises a balanced portfolio and a long-term view. Studies in the past have shown that the market does worst during the first two years of a presidential term, and tends to do better the second two years.

While stocks have performed poorly in recent pre-November periods, bonds have been generally stronger, gaining in price and offering steady yield.

“From now to the election, bonds will be a fairly good place to be,” Vernon says. “People do not want to invest in riskier things when there is a high level of uncertainty. And there is a lot of that out there now.”


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Stocks edge higher on bank earnings, economic news

By CNNMoney staff @CNNMoneyMarkets January 19, 2012: 12:16 PM ET

u.s. stocks

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — U.S. stocks advanced for a third straight session Thursday, as investors welcomed a slew of positive news on both the earnings and economic fronts.

The Dow Jones industrial average (INDU) added 35 points, or 0.3%, the S&P 500 (SPX) rose 7 points, or 0.5%, the Nasdaq composite (COMP) increased 23 points, or 0.9%.

A 5% spike in shares of Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500) led the Dow higher. The Charlotte, N.C., bank posted fourth-quarter net income of $2 billion, reversing a year-earlier loss, and revenue that topped expectations

Morgan Stanley (MS, Fortune 500) posted a loss, but it wasn’t as deep as analysts had expected, and shares of the bank surged almost 6%.

“The positive bank results were really unexpected,” said Tyler Vernon, chief investment officer at Bilmore Capital. “The past six months have been a terrible environment for banks, but it looks like things are getting better, which is generally better for the economy, too.”

Meanwhile, the government released an onslaught of economic data, including reports on housing, unemployment claims and inflation. Investors were encouraged as initial jobless claims fell to their lowest level in nearly four years, in another sign of improvement in the long-suffering labor market.

However, concerns that the sharp drop may be one-time blip rather than a start of a new trend kept a lid on gains, said Vernon.

“Traders are concerned about seasonality factors, and worried that claims could return to the status quo over the next coupe of weeks, so they’ll wait to see what happens,” he said.

Is trading dead?

U.S. stocks advanced to finish at six-month highs Wednesday, as investors welcomed the International Monetary Fund plan to boost its bailout fund and contain Europe’s debt crisis.

Investors remain focused on Europe’s crisis this week. Early Thursday, Spanish and French bond auctions drew solid demand, calming some fears about Europe’s ability to fund its debt.

Greek officials will continue talks with the group representing private-sector investors and banks Thursday in an attempt to reach an agreement on the size of the writedown these creditors will take. No accord has yet been announced, but the creditors’ representative says one may come in the days ahead.

World markets: European stocks finished higher. Britain’s FTSE 100 (UKX) ticked up 0.7%, the DAX (DAX) in Germany rose 1% and France’s CAC 40 (CAC40) added 2%.

Asian markets ended notably higher. The Shanghai Composite (SHCOMP) and the Hang Seng (HSI) in Hong Kong both climbed 1.3%, while Japan’s Nikkei (N225) gained 1%.

Economy: The government released December data on inflation, building permits and housing starts, as well as its latest tally of weekly jobless claims.

The Labor Department reported that 352,000 people filed for initial unemployment benefits last week, down sharply from a revised reading of 402,000 claims in the previous week. It is also the fewest number of people filing for jobless claims since the week ending April 19, 2008.

Is Romney’s effective tax rate lower than yours?

Consumer prices held steady last month, largely due to declining gas prices. The government’s key measure of inflation, the Consumer Price Index, showed prices were virtually unchanged from November to December.

The index for items minus food and energy rose 0.1% in December, after rising 0.2% in November.

Housing starts fell 4.1% in December, to an annual rate of 657,000 units. Building permits slipped 0.1% to an annual rate of 679,000.

The Philadelphia Fed Index showed that manufacturing activity continued to improve in January in the mid-Atlantic area, rising to 7.3 from 6.8 in December.

Companies: Bank stocks gained traction in early trading, with shares of Goldman Sachs (GS, Fortune 500) rising more than 2%, a day after the firm reported earnings that beat estimates.

Citigroup (C, Fortune 500) and JPMorgan Chase (JPM, Fortune 500) both filed disappointing results in the past week, while Wells Fargo (WFC, Fortune 500) reported solid earnings.

Eastman Kodak (EK, Fortune 500) filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Thursday. Once a component of the Dow Jones industrial average, the company was recently trading around 39 cents a share.

UnitedHealth Group (UNH, Fortune 500) reported fourth-quarter earnings that beat forecasts.

Some of the nation’s biggest tech firms will report their corporate results after the closing bell Thursday, including Google (GOOG, Fortune 500), IBM (IBM, Fortune 500), Intel (INTC, Fortune 500) and Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500).

Google is expected to post robust earnings of $10.49 a share, up from $8.75 a year earlier. Microsoft’s earnings are expected to remain essentially flat compared to the prior year, at 76 cents a share. IBM’s earnings per share are projected to climb from $4.18 a year earlier to $4.62.

Currencies and commodities: The dollar fell against the euro and British pound, but edged higher against the Japanese yen.

Oil for February delivery added 41 cents to $101 a barrel.

Gold futures for February delivery ticked down $3.90 $1,656 an ounce, losing momentum from earlier gains.

Bonds: The price on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury fell, pushing the yield up to 1.98% from 1.90% late Wednesday.  To top of page

First Published: January 19, 2012: 9:39 AM ET

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Taking Charge of Money and Investments in the New Year

Princeton Patch

Biltmore Capital offers wealth management and financial solutions for life.

Taking charge of one’s financial situation ranks right up there with getting in shape as one of the top new year’s resolutions.

Tyler Vernon’s goal is to give his clients the best financial advice he can and give them the peace of mind that comes with knowing they have the time and money to enjoy their families and the good things in life.

Vernon is the founder and chief investment officer at Biltmore Capital Advisors, located on Witherspoon Street in Princeton.  Previously, he was a financial advisor at Merrill Lynch for almost a decade and was a vice-president in the private client group.

Just a little over 10 years ago, on 9/11, he was sitting in his office at Merrill Lynch on the 40th floor of the World Financial Center, when he saw the first plane go into the World Trade Center. Because he saw the impact firsthand, he knew immediately just how bad it was. He grabbed his cell phone and wallet, yelled at people to get away from the window, and then ran outside. He made it onto the last ferry from the World Financial Center to Hoboken before the second plane hit.

Merrill Lynch relocated Vernon to the office in Livingston in Morris County, but about a year later, reopened its financial district location. It was hard returning after 9/11, but there was more to Vernon’s dissatisfaction with working in the Wall Street milieu.

“I was starting to see some of the things now evident in hindsight and many of the large firms imploded for various reasons,” he said. “I saw the conflicts of interest and how sometimes what was right for the client wasn’t what was right for the firm.  I decided that if you always put client interest first, it would be a much better platform and revenues would follow.”

In 2007 after years of thinking about it, he and his wife, Molly, decided to move out of New York City. Compounding their desire to leave the city was the birth of their first child.

“Molly and I both grew up on farms and we both knew we did not want to raise our own children in a big city,” Vernon said. “Having grown up in Princeton, Molly still had a lot of connections here and we decided it was the perfect place to raise our family.”

It was also the perfect place for them both to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams. His wife owns Luxaby Baby and Child, a clothing store in Palmer Square, and he set up shop with his own independent financial services firm. 

“Because we are independent, we can shop around and find the best products from all different firms and decide what best suits our clients needs,” Vernon said. “We saw the value of what we were building with an independent structure and environment.”

Besides financial advice, Vernon thinks outside the box and offer services not ordinarily offered by traditional firms.

“We understand that money is valuable but time with family is also precious and limited, which is why we try to make our clients’ lives more simple with something we call the Biltmore concierge,” Vernon said. “For example, you can call and have a gift wrapped and mailed out or let us know that your car needs to be serviced and we can do that.”

Vernon believes in having a close relationship with his clients and to have meaningful conversations to understand their real goals.

“What are you trying to achieve? What do you really need in retirement? What is going to let you sleep at night? These are the kinds of questions that help us understand what our clients’ needs are,” Vernon said. “Maybe our client is awake at 2 a.m. because of worries about an elderly mother. For some people, it’s the ability to help other family members; for others it’s the ability to live a certain type of lifestyle. Ninety percent of clients will tell me that family time is one of the best investments you can make.”

Vernon’s own life reflects that same sense of priority, and one of the things he loves about his job is that it’s close enough to home that he can take his two daughters to school every day at Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart.

“We love to sing and we love the Beatles, so we blast Yellow Submarine on the way to school,” he said. “I know how long it takes to get to school by how many times we play Yellow Submarine and that’s three and half times.”

His wife, who also went to Stuart, is on the school’s board and Vernon serves on the board of Trinity Counseling Service in Princeton.  

Although Biltmore Capital serves a national clientele and also has offices in Atlanta and Dallas, Vernon loves the idea of being the hometown financial advisor for Princeton and he’s thrilled that Biltmore Capital is growing locally.

“Clients who know we are here stop by and we have people who have been
referring some of their friends,” he said. “The best reputations spread by word of mouth and we want people to know we are here and looking out for them.”

It helps that Vernon has been a spokesman in the financial services industry and his firm has received media coverage on CNBC, the Wall Street Journal and the Fox Business Report, among others. He is often tapped to serve as a guest analyst on the business news broadcasts, especially when there is breaking news in the financial sector.

But Vernon’s main priority is his firm’s clients and managing and growing their assets even in these tough economic times.  

“Our big value-add is to take dependence on the stock market out of the equation, given the high level of volatility there over the last few years,” he explained.

Vernon believes that with the roller coaster economy, many people are in positions where they need to take a good look at their money and put their financial house in order no matter how painful that may be.

“A lot of people have been nervous about opening their statements because they are so worried about what has been going on with the wildly fluctuating markets,” he said.

“People who were laid off may have their 401ks floating around, without a proper strategy for rolling them over and maximizing their opportunities,” he said. “So our job is to say ‘let’s get eyes on this’ and ask is there anything you should be doing differently. And January is a great month to do that. Our goal is for our clients to leave here saying, ‘their service was impeccable, they really do have a different approach to handling assets; nobody else is like that.’”

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Stocks End Mixed; Fed Urges Action on Housing

By Kaitlyn Kiernan 01/04/12 – 04:20 PM EST

NEW YORK (TheStreet) — The Dow Jones Industrial Average shot into positive territory Wednesday as commentary from the Federal Reserve on plans to shore up the U.S. housing market overshadowed European debt crisis concerns.

The Dow rose 21 points, or 0.2%, to close at 12,418, after falling 0.5% earlier in the day. The S&P 500 climbed less than a point to 1,277, while the Nasdaq slid less than a point to 2,648.

The turn higher came after the central bank sent a white paper to Congress calling for the federal government to take more action to stabilize the still-floundering U.S. housing market. The paper suggests “redeploying foreclosed homes as rental properties” as a possibility for combating an expected flood of foreclosures hitting the market and prompting another pricing swoon.

“Continued weakness in the housing market poses a significant barrier to a more vigorous economic recovery,” the paper said. In a letter to lawmakers on the Senate Banking and House Financial Services committees, Fed chairman Ben Bernanke wrote, “Restoring the health of the housing market is a necessary part of a broader strategy for economic recovery.”

Concerns about Europe’s sovereign debt crisis resurfaced Wednesday with early declines underlined by fresh worries that the situation in Spain is worsening. The Iberian country is considering applying for loans from the eurozone bailout fund and the International Monetary Fund to help the restructuring of its banking industry, the Spanish newspaper Expansion reported, citing anonymous sources.

Also, overnight deposits of commercial lenders hit a record high at the European Central Bank, suggesting that Europe’s banks remain incredibly cautious about lending to each other. Shares of UniCredit, Italy’s largest bank, sank 14.5% after the lender said it will sell $9.8 billion worth of new shares to boost capital.

Investors are also sensitive to rising borrowing costs in the eurozone with a France holding a bond auction on Thursday, and Italy and Spain about to sell debt next week.

Germany’s DAX lost 0.89% while London’s FTSE was down 0.55%. Overnight, Japan’s Nikkei Average settled 1.24% higher, and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng was down 0.8%.

“We are holding very neutral until we get some better volume trading and a better sense of what investors are going to do,” said David Ader, rates strategist at CRT Capital Group. “On the surface we have mixed to bearish technicals, better data and some degree of calm in Europe.”

The U.S., however, received another piece of positive economic data. The Commerce Department reported that U.S. factory orders rose 1.8% in November after a 0.4% fall in October, slightly beating the 1.7% forecast of economists polled by Thomson Reuters. Meanwhile, General Motors(GM_), Ford Motor(F_) and Chrysler Group beat analysts’ estimates for December car sales, with sales getting a boost from increasing consumer confidence and ads around the holiday season.

GM said that its December sales rose 5%, led by a 9% gain at Chevrolet. For the full year, GM sales rose 14%, to more than 2.5 million vehicles, and GM gained market share. Ford said that its car sales rose 10% last month and 11% for the year. Meanwhile, Chrysler’s sales jumped 37% in December. GM traded 0.5% higher while shares of Ford rose 1.5% on Wednesday.

In other corporate news, Yahoo!(YHOO_) tapped PayPal President Scott Thompson, who runs eBay’s (EBAY_) online payments unit. Yahoo! had been without a permanent CEO since firing Carol Bartz in September. Shares fell 3.1% to $15.78.

A big mover in afternoon trades was Eastman Kodak(EK_) following a report that the 132-year old company is preparing to file for bankruptcy in the “coming weeks if it fails to sell its patents. The report from The Wall Street Journal, which cited anonymous sources, comes after months of speculation that the company was preparing to take this step. Kodak shares tumbled 28% to 47 cents.

Jefferies Group’s(JEF_) executives and other employees at the company’s prime-brokerage unit threatened to leave the firm in a dispute over issues including a recent restructuring and year-end compensation, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

Jefferies executives and its global head of prime brokerage, Glen Dailey, reportedly held meetings Tuesday to discuss the issues but Dailey said that no one was leaving, adding that the “family affairs are now in order.” Jefferies in recent weeks has seen its stock under attack over its European exposure. Shares slipped 2.6% to $13.64.

Acme Packet(APKT_), a networking-equipment maker, lowered its outlook for the fourth quarter. The company, whose products include both hardware and software, now sees non-GAAP earnings of 26 cents to 28 cents a share for the three months ended Dec. 31 on revenue ranging from $84 million to $86 million. The current average estimate of analysts polled by Thomson Reuters is for a profit of 37 cents a share in the quarter on revenue of $93.4 million. Shares plunged 19% to $25.70.

With most of the day’s trading in negative territory stocks barely hung on to Tuesday’s strong New Year’s rally, which saw the S&P 500 index finish at its highest level since late October. The Dow, up 1.5%, closed at its highest since July 2011.

Analysts think that the S&P 500 will gain 6.6% by the year’s end, compared with a flat finish for 2011, according to polls by Reuters. Investors are now looking carefully at how stocks perform the first days into the new year, as track records show that positive momentum in January often translates into a bullish year overall.

“Transports and technology stocks could help the market in the beginning of the year,” noted Tim Ralph, portfolio manager at Biltmore Capital Advisors. Both sectors benefited from online shopping in the holiday, explained Ralph. “We could see strength here later this month and in early February.”

February oil futures settled up 26 cents to $103.25 a barrel, while February gold futures gained $12.20 at $1611.90.

The dollar index was up 0.5%. The benchmark 10-year Treasury was down 12/32, pushing the yield to 1.991%.

– Written by Kaitlyn Kiernan in New York.

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Stocks trim gains on euro jitters

By Hibah Yousuf @CNNMoneyMarketsDecember 13, 2011: 11:55 AM ET

u.s. stocks

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — U.S. stocks pared earlier gains Tuesday following reports that German Chancellor Angela Merkel rejected the idea of increasing Europe’s bailout fund.

At midday, the Dow Jones industrial average (INDU) was up just 59 points, or 0.5%, and the S&P 500 (SPX) gained 5 points, or 0.4%. The Nasdaq briefly drifted into the red, but recovered to rise 2 points, or 0.1%. All the major indexes started the day about 1% higher.

The pullback came after a Dow Jones report said that Merkel has rejected suggestions to raise the funding limit for the European Stability Mechanism, or ESM, which currently stands at €500 billion. The fund goes into effect next year and may run alongside the €440 billion European Financial Stability Facility.

U.S. stocks started the day with solid gains thanks to an initial void of bad news out of Europe. Though political leaders have been taking steps toward a resolution for the region’s debt problems, the details have yet to be worked out.

“All eyes are still on Europe,” said Tim Ralph, portfolio manager at Biltmore Capital. Official meetings and statements will be minimal as the year come’s to a close, but Ralph said that the market remains vulnerable to headline risks.

Investors are on watch for possible downgrades on European country credit ratings from Standard and Poor’s, which warned last week that it may strip some of Europe’s biggest economies, like Germany and France, of their AAA-rating.

Investors are also waiting to hear what the Federal Reserve will say at the end of its policy-making meeting.

U.S. stocks tumbled in a broad sell-off Monday, amid growing investor doubt that Europe’s debt crisis will be resolved, and a sales warning from chipmaker Intel.

Europe debt saga far from over

World markets: European stocks finished mixed. Britain’s FTSE 100 (UKX) ticked up 1%, while the DAX (DAX) in Germany fell 0.3% and France’s CAC 40 (CAC40) edged down 0.8%.

Asian markets ended lower. The Shanghai Composite (SHCOMP) lost 1.9%, the Hang Seng (HSI) in Hong Kong shed 0.7% and Japan’s Nikkei (N225) declined 1.2%.

Companies: Former MF Global (MFGLQ) CEO Jon Corzine is back to testify before Congress Tuesday, this time flanked by two former colleagues from the brokerage’s parent company, MF Global Holdings: Chief operating officer Bradley Abelow and chief financial officer Henri Steenkamp.

Seeking shelter in FDIC banks

Shares of electronics retailer Best Buy (BBY, Fortune 500) got slammed after the company reported earnings that fell far short of forecasts.

Intel warned that it will badly miss its sales forecast for the current quarter on Monday, because of the worldwide hard drive shortage caused by massive floods in Thailand. Shares of Intel (INTC, Fortune 500) dropped nearly 4% in trading Monday, and continued to slip on Tuesday.

Will Verizon Buy Netlix?

Netflix’s (NFLX) continued to rise, on chatter that the company could be acquired by Verizon (VZ, Fortune 500). On Monday, a spokesman for Netflix said the company doesn’t comment on speculation.

Economy: Retail sales for the month of November rose 0.2%, which was lower than expected, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. But the disappointing report had little impact.

Sales were expected to have increased by 0.6%, after a 0.5% increase the month prior.

Investors are also awaiting news from the Federal Reserve, which is expected to hold interest rates at 0.25% for the month of December.

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