After a big day for the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) yesterday, with new highs and solid earnings in the headlines, the tides have turned just as quickly. News from Motor City has the nation concerned about the future, and tech stocks have investors worried about the direction of some former giants. But the week has been filled with good news for the economy as a whole, and some Dow components, in particular.
This week, the markets finally started to realize what Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has been saying all along: Tapering of stimulus policy actions will not begin until later in the year, and timing will continue to be based on the improvement of economic indicators. The Fed will remain accommodating, as necessary, and the Fed Funds Rate will not be increased until benchmarks are met.
Great news for investors who have been trying to weather the stormy seas created by Fed-speculation. The ups and downs since Bernanke's first true statements in late May have stunted the Dow's record gains for the year, with the index only marching 1.58% higher since then. For reference, the index had added 14.73% up til that point in 2013.
Though speculation is always a threat to the markets, the panic induced by the Fed's mixed commentary may now be subsiding -- at least until the next round of Federal Open Market Committee meetings.
This week's jobless claims report was better than expected. Though the month of July is often hard to adjust for seasonal shutdowns at manufacturing plants that retool during the month, the significant drop in new claims for unemployment benefits gave signs that hiring is back at work. The economy has been sluggish to gain momentum, though job losses are slowing -- the main culprit is a lack of hiring. Companies had been making do with their current workforce instead of hiring new employees, so while the slowdown in firings was helping squelch the rising unemployment rate, the number of people actively looking for work has risen.
With more people at work, consumer spending is next in line to be on the rise. The increase in personal income reported for the month of July was encouraging for personal finance companies, including American Express (NYSE:AXP). The credit card provider has benefited from its focus on the higher-income demographic, which has returned to a relatively normalized rate of spending. When the overall rate of consumer spending rises, AmEx, and other credit card providers, will have ample opportunities to generate higher revenue.
This week marked some new highs for the housing market, as homebuilders reiterated the strong gains we've seen by reporting higher confidence in the current and future sales outlooks. With the companies that build new homes in such great spirits, it's only natural that investors would get excited for other business that will benefit from new buyers entering the market.
Though both Bank of America and JPMorgan noted slowdowns in their mortgage originations, a new influx of buyers to the table would be a welcomed sight. Currently, a low inventory of available homes is driving up prices -- a win for the banks that are happy to underwrite higher-balance loans. Though the recent uptick in interest rates may have killed off the refinancing boom we've seen in recent months, the rates are still near historic lows for new mortgages, giving buyers plenty of incentive to buy now and lock in that low rate.
And of course, once you've bought a house you need insurance. Traveler's Companies (NYSE:TRV) is the No. 6 provider in home insurance, with a 4.3% market share. As the rate of new homeowners rises, a greater need for insurance will allow Traveler's and its competitors to fight for more market share.