Portfolio Investing Intelligence

Summer is winding down, and everyone will soon be coming back from vacation. But in the meantime, the world kept on going. From hurricanes to Hollywood, here's a brief recap of some this past week's more relevant events.

1. Ernesto fizzles out
What happened? The U.S. faced its first major storm of the 2006 season. But despite the media preoccupation, it wasn't the storm some people were expecting.

What does it mean for your portfolio? Oil inventories are at record highs, and refineries are on their way back to full efficiency. Barring unforeseen events, gas and energy prices should react to this glut and begin a steady decline into the winter. Can anyone say "cheap gas in time for election season"? Insurance companies that already raised premiums to protect against catastrophes, meanwhile, could turn tidy profits should no major storms materialize. But consider yourself warned: We have at least a month of storm season left.

2. The dragon needs to cool off
What happened? China revved up its original overall-economy growth estimate for 2005 from 9.9% to 10.2%. Despite two interest rate hikes this year and other measures to curb overheating, Chinese officials remain concerned about out-of-control growth.

What does it mean for your portfolio? Chinese leaders have been reining in their economy, but this wake-up call will likely redouble their efforts. And despite white-hot economic growth, many Chinese stocks have sizzled and then fizzled. But there's still growth to be had, especially for those willing to wait out the bumps. The safest move here might be the diversified one: A China-focused ETF, such as PowerShares' new Golden Dragon Halter USX China Portfolio.

3. Consumer confusion
What happened? Consumer confidence dropped sharply to its lowest level of the year by the end of August. Yet the just-released consumer spending numbers for July show the fastest consumer spending growth in six months. Are we in for a slowdown? It's a big question, given that consumers constitute two-thirds of the economy.

What does it mean for your portfolio? This situation -- good or bad -- will affect the obvious parties: big retailers such as Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT  ) and Lowe's (NYSE: LOW  ) , as well as car manufacturers and restaurants. Pay attention to gas prices. Though it's not always true, the rule of thumb is that for every cent gas prices rise, consumers pluck a billion dollars out of their spending. If gas prices continue to slide, consumers could treat the extra cash like a summer bonus.

4. Bernanke spares stocks . for now
What happened? At last month's Federal Reserve meeting, the minutes of which were released Aug. 29, the move to maintain the status quo 5.25% Fed funds rate was the topic of a hot debate. The matter was finally settled by a decisive 9-1 vote, but the dissent of one board member marked a first in Ben Bernanke's Fed career. Though the Fed thought the housing slowdown and high energy prices were slowing the economy enough to obviate an August rate increase, all eyes are on September.

What does it mean for your portfolio? The buzz is that Bernanke is content for now, but if rates rise, stocks could suffer. Although rate hikes often stem from sizzling corporate profits, higher rates might ultimately cool off economic activity. And interest rate hikes can have significant consequences for any bonds you might hold.

5. Back to school in style
What happened? Parents rang in the new school year this past week with the tradition of back-to-school shopping. In August, the National Retail Federation estimated that parents of college students will spend $36.6 billion getting their young scholars ready, with an additional $18 billion going to students heading to K-12 classes.

What does it mean for your portfolio? According to the NRF, the average household spends $527 on back-to-school items. Besides buying the pencils, paste, and clothing, parents are pouring out the dough on computers and cell phones these days. On average, they're spending 27.5% more this season on electronics alone. Companies such as Dell (Nasdaq: DELL  ) and Abercrombie & Fitch (NYSE: ANF  ) might benefit in this consumer boon, too. Fool writer Seth Jayson recently shared his own back-to-school thoughts.

6. Flying high in the Far East
What happened? Three big plane manufacturers -- Boeing (NYSE: BA  ) , Airbus, and Embraer (NYSE: ERJ  ) -- all have announced major deals in China and India. Most recently, Embraer announced a nearly $3 billion deal with HNA Group of China, a move that should mark the beginning of the commuter jet's presence in China's emerging market. Meanwhile, Boeing confirmed that it will build a $100 million facility in Nagpur, India, to maintain and repair its 68 planes with Air India. Euro-rival Airbus will be investing more than $2.5 billion in India over the next 15 years just in engineering and logistical support alone. Furthermore, Boeing analysts believe that in the next 20 years, India will require 856 planes, worth a reported $72.6 billion, to satisfy demand.

What does it mean for your portfolio? With demand leveling off in the United States for new planes and profits being squeezed in the European Union, plane manufacturers can, and should, make tremendous leaps and bounds in these emerging markets.

7. The empire strikes (Tom's) back
What happened? Paramount dumped Tom Cruise after 14 years, likely on concerns that his public antics and on-the-decline image were hurting box-office receipts.

What does it mean for your portfolio? Media giant Viacom (NYSE: VIA  ) , parent of Paramount, may have signaled a new era in the moviemaking business. Others in the movie industry -- an industry that has suffered financially in the past few years -- are probably also tired of catering to the outrageous contract demands and behaviors of superstar celebrities. If anything, severing the deal is likely to be a long-term boon to Viacom's reputation and financial integrity.

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Fool contributor Nick Kapur owns shares of Wal-Mart, which is aMotley Fool Inside Valuerecommendation. Embraer is aMotley Fool Stock Advisorpick. Dell is a recommendation of both newsletter services. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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