Monthly Archives: October 2009

Monday’s Stocks Slide as Rising Dollar Hits Oil Prices

Dow now at 9,882, down 90 points. Rachel Pritchett

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks gave up early gains Monday as a rising dollar stalled a rally in commodities.
Oil and other commodities had risen in early trading, pushing up shares of energy and materials companies, but by midmorning those gains were gone as the dollar turned higher against other currencies.
Changes in the dollar frequently push commodity prices up or down, since a higher dollar makes oil and other basic materials, which are priced in dollars, more expensive to non-U.S. investors.
The Dow Jones industrial average swung in a 200-point range, surrendering an early advance for a loss of as much as 100 points. By early afternoon, the Dow was down 70 points.
Oil fell $1.16 to $79.34 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, having given up earlier gains.
Technology shares fared somewhat better than other parts of the market after Marvell Technology Group Ltd., which makes chips used in phone networks, raised its fiscal third-quarter revenue forecast. That helped the technology-focused Nasdaq composite index limit its losses.
RadioShack Corp.’s third-quarter sales topped expectations, giving a boost to retailers.
Richard Ross, global technical strategist at Auerbach Grayson in New York, said the direction of the dollar as well as volatility continues to drive trading.
“You’re seeing this sort of waltz between the dollar and volatility and stocks,” he said.
In early afternoon trading, the Dow fell 72.86, or 0.7 percent, to 9,899.32. The index had been up 100 points in early trading.
The broader Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 7.54, or 0.7 percent, to 1,072.06, while the Nasdaq fell 5.95, or 0.3 percent, to 2,148.52.
Two stocks fell for every one that rose on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 703.5 million shares compared with 598.7 million shares traded at the same point Friday.
The Dow fell 0.2 percent last week, while the S&P 500 index fell 0.7 percent.
Bond prices slipped as the government prepared to auction more than $120 billion in debt this week. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, rose to 3.54 percent from 3.49 percent late Friday.
The dollar rose against most other major currencies, while gold fell.
David Hefty, CEO at Cornerstone Wealth Management, said the market’s recent gains would give investors reason to be cautious. Last week major indexes hit new highs for the year.
“Anytime you’re flirting with the top, it’s hard to push through,” he said.
Traders looked to another busy week of earnings reports. Investors will look for clues about a possible pickup in consumer spending when companies including Kellogg Co., Procter & Gamble Co. and Visa Inc. report earnings.
The energy and insurance industries also will be in focus throughout the week with ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil Corp. as well as Aetna Inc. and MetLife Inc. scheduled to release quarterly results.
Marvell rose 58 cents, or 3.9 percent, to $15.16, while RadioShack rose $2.38, or 15.2 percent, to $18.04.
The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies fell 2.92, or 0.5 percent, to 597.94.
Overseas markets fell after U.S. stocks dropped. Britain’s FTSE 100 fell 1 percent, Germany’s DAX index and France’s CAC-40 each fell 1.7 percent. Japan’s Nikkei stock average rose 0.8 percent.

Palliative Care Makes Kitsap Debut

By Rachel Pritchett
He is elderly, fighting cancer and back in the hospital. The prognosis is one, maybe two years left of his life.
What to do for this hypothetical patient?
The medical profession’s traditional response would be to heroically pull out all stops and call on every treatment available, but with the same inevitable ending — death.
Now, another option is being brought to the table.
Harrison Medical Center, in partnership with Hospice of Kitsap County, has introduced a new “palliative care” program that can include that traditional approach as one choice. But it also moves to the front burner the wishes of the man and his family when it comes to how he wants to spend his final days.
That might mean saying no to dangerous last-ditch surgeries that might buy a bit more time. It might mean helping him manage his pain so he can go fly-fishing at his favorite river a couple more times. Or it might mean helping to put him in a living situation where he can maintain his independence, such as hospice care.
“My role is to help you determine what that course is,” said Dr. Beverly JeffsSteele, the medical director heading the program at Harrison.
The new palliative care program is the only one in Kitsap County. The trend is huge. In the past 10 years, the number of hospitals offering palliative care has jumped from 600 to 1,455, according to the Center to Advance Palliative Care. In Washington, 22 of the 34 major hospitals offer it.
With good reason. Many more will be facing end-of-life decisions as baby boomers grow gray. Between 2010 and 2030, the size of the nation’s population that’s 65 or older will expand by 70 percent, according to The Urban Institute.
Here’s how it works.
Even though the man in the hospital might have several specialists, no one doctor has the overall picture. The man probably hasn’t been asked about how he wants to proceed, or he may be too ill to tell them.
The doctors call JeffsSteele, who then meets with the man and his family. A conversation they’ve probably never had takes place. JeffsSteele talks with them about the disease and the outlook. She helps the man and family examine all the alternatives, in their language. Is he looking for a cure, or would he rather be at home spending time with family?
“I would focus on the process of the disease, and the decisions that are coming up for you,” she said.
JeffsSteele makes recommendations to the attending doctor. A plan is put in place.
“Of the ultimate importance to me is to honor the patient’s wishes,” JeffsSteele said.
Though the program has been around for only a few weeks, JeffsSteele already is busy, and one day she anticipates it will be offered outside the hospital.
Local health leaders say a palliative-care program is long overdue.
“We’ve always spent a lot of time on the birth end. On the death end, we’ve never done anything, nothing,” said Jim Pledger, director of Hospice of Kitsap County.
Harrison President Scott Bosch agrees.
“Our whole health-care system needs to look at the issues around end of life.”
Most physicians are trained to cure, he said, but palliative care encompasses “a totally different viewpoint than many of them have.”
While palliative-care groups point to potential cost savings for hospitals, Bosch said it’s too early to tell for Harrison.
Retired physician Mel Belding, the former chief medical officer at Harrison and former medical director of Hospice of Kitsap County, agreed.
Hospitals get reimbursed for all those last-ditch surgeries, after all. But prolonged hospitalizations can eat up hospital resources and still not offer a good outcome for patients.
“And that’s not good for the hospital and it’s not good for the patients,” Belding said.
So palliative care is now on the table.
“It’s giving them more of a chance to think about what they want to do with the time they have left,” Belding said.
Added JeffsSteele: “It’s just one more level of help.”

The word “palliative” comes from the Latin root “palliare,” which means to cloak or blanket.
Even though 70 percent of Americans would prefer to die at home, only 25 percent of them actually do, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
For more information about the new palliative-care program offered by Harrison Medical Center in partnership with Hospice of Kitsap County, call (360) 744-5618.

U.S. Business Highlights: Bank Closures Reach 100 Today


Every afternoon, the Associated Press sends us a digest of the top U.S. business stories of the day. I’ve included today’s below. If you’d like me to post this daily, let me know. I like it because it’s a good way to stay abreast fast. Let me know.

Rachel Pritchett, 475-3783,

Bank closings hit 100 for year; most since 1992
WASHINGTON (AP) — Bank closings for the year hit 100 on Friday when regulators shut down Partners Bank in Florida. Financial institutions nationwide have collapsed under the weight of soured real estate loans and the Great Recession.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. took over Partners Bank, a small bank in Naples, with $68.7 million in assets and $63.4 million in deposits. Stonegate Bank, based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., agreed to buy the deposits and assets of Partners Bank. The 100 failures are the most in a year since 1992 at the height of the savings-and-loan crisis. They have cost the federal deposit insurance fund about $25 billion so far this year, and hundreds more bank failures are expected to raise the cost to around $100 billion through 2013.

Home sales rise 9.4 percent in Sept., beat forecast
WASHINGTON (AP) — Racing to complete their purchases before a tax credit for first-time owners expires, homebuyers pushed sales up last month by the largest amount in more than 26 years. After jumping 9.4 percent in September, home resales are up nearly 24 percent from the bottom in January, the National Association of Realtors said Friday. But the housing market’s momentum could easily peter out if Congress doesn’t extend the credit of up to $8,000 for first-time buyers beyond its current Nov. 30 deadline.
Nationwide sales rose to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.57 million last month, from a downwardly revised pace of 5.1 million in August. It was the strongest month two years and beat economists’ forecast of 5.35 million, according to Thomson Reuters. Sales, however, are still down 23 percent from their peak four years ago.

Microsoft sales fall; cost cuts please investors
SEATTLE (AP) — Microsoft said Friday its revenue kept falling and its net income dropped 18 percent in the last quarter, partly due to the hesitation of businesses, which are more profitable for the company than consumers are. Big cost cuts at Microsoft made a difference, though, helping it deliver earnings well above analysts’ expectations. Its stock surged $1.29, nearly 5 percent, to $27.88 in afternoon trading. Earlier in the day, the stock reached a 52-week high of $29.35. But while the quarterly results looked good to Wall Street, they also showed how much Microsoft is still wrestling with a PC industry that remains much weaker than a year ago. In the past year the software maker resorted to its first wide-scale layoffs, and in July it said its annual revenue had fallen for the first time since the company went public in 1986.

Bernanke urges Congress to act now on overhaul
WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke prodded Congress Friday to enact legislation overhauling the nation’s financial regulatory system to prevent a repeat of the banking and credit debacles that had thrust the country into crisis. For its part, the Fed has been taking steps to strengthen oversight of banks, sharpen consumer protections and on Thursday unveiled a sweeping proposal to police banks’ pay policies to make sure they don’t encourage top executives and other employees to take reckless gambles.
But Congress needs to step in and close regulatory gaps and make other changes that only lawmakers have the power to do, Bernanke said.

Crude rally stalls but gasoline nears summer high
NEW YORK (AP) — Oil prices surged 25 percent in less than a month, dredging up memories of last year’s spike and gas prices could soon eclipse summer highs. Crude is being tugged higher for different reasons this time, rising primarily as the dollar gets weaker. Oil is traded in the dollar, which allows investors holding euros or other strong currencies to buy more as the dollar falls.
The dollar hit an annual low on Friday, and anyone holding a euro could trade it in for more than $1.50.
By Friday, even the plunging value of the dollar could not push prices higher as it had throughout the week, most likely because there is little to suggest that all of that oil will be used.

Dole shares fall following IPO that priced low
NEW YORK (AP) — Shares of Dole Food Co. edged below their starting point Friday after the fruit and vegetable producer’s initial public offering priced below what it had previously expected.
The stock, which trades on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker “DOLE,” declined 17 cents to $12.33. The company, which is controlled by businessman and investor David H. Murdock, was most recently publicly traded in 2003. After the new public offering, Murdock, who is also Dole’s chairman, will own 59 percent of the company. Murdock took the company private in March 2003 in a transaction valued at $2.5<\n>billion.

Industry halts food label program over FDA concern
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Smart Choices nutrition labeling
program, created voluntarily by nine large U.S. manufacturers, is halting after federal regulators said such systems could mislead consumers, officials with the labeling group said Friday. Industry leaders launched the program this year to highlight foods that meet certain nutritional standards with a green label on package fronts.
The Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday that such programs may mislead consumers about the health benefits of certain foods, and it told manufacturers it will crack down on inaccurate labeling. It did not criticize specific products or label programs<\n>or give a timeline for enforcement.

House panel’s probe targets big mortgage lenders
WASHINGTON (AP) — A House panel is investigating the role of mortgage lenders in the financial crisis and is seeking information from some of the biggest U.S. companies to determine if they used deceptive practices to lure borrowers into the housing boom. Rep. Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said Friday the panel also is issuing a subpoena to Countrywide Financial Corp. — now owned by Bank of America Corp. — for records related to its so-called “VIP” program that provided mortgages to several senators and other officials with preferential terms. Documents provided in response to the subpoena will go to the House ethics committee.

Sources: Fisker to build plug-in cars in Delaware
DOVER, Del. (AP) — Fisker Automotive, a California-based startup manufacturer of luxury electric vehicles, plans to build plug-in electric cars at a former General Motors assembly plant in Delaware, people with knowledge of the situation said Friday. Henrik Fisker, the company’s co-founder and chief executive, said Tuesday that an announcement about the location of a manufacturing facility was in the works. He declined to elaborate on the site but appeared to rule out a California facility where Toyota plans to halt production in March 2010. A person who has knowledge of the situation but didn’t want to be identified because an announcement has not been made, confirmed that Fisker has settled on GM’s Boxwood Road facility in Wilmington.

Friday Stocks Slide as Railroads, Oil Lose Ground

Dow now at 9,949, down 131 points.

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks retreated Friday after cautious forecasts from railroads stirred unease about the economy and a slide in oil hit energy stocks.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 125 points after the comments from railroad CEOs raised worries over how long it would take for a recovery to take hold. Union Pacific’s CEO Jim Young said he expects the economy to “limp along” until unemployment starts to fall. Burlington Northern also issued a tepid forecast.
Railroads are seen as an early indicator of economic activity because of the key role they play in shipping goods to manufacturers and markets.
A rising dollar also hit the market by pushing prices for commodities such as oil lower. That weighed on energy and materials stocks.
Investors looked past a sharp rise in home sales and strong profits at key technology companies as traders found little reason to buy into the market after a strong rally on Thursday.
A big jump in sales of existing homes last month was seen as an aberration. The National Association of Realtors said sales rose 9.4 percent as buyers raced to complete purchases before a tax credit expires at the end of November. The pace of the gain was the strongest in two years and nearly double what analysts had expected.
Profits at and Microsoft sailed past expectations and helped lift the tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index. A poor outlook and sharp profit drop from chipmaker Broadcom Corp. late Thursday dented some of the enthusiasm over Amazon and Microsoft.
Linda Duessel, equity market strategist at Federated Investors, didn’t see a cause for worry in the downturn, saying the market needed to pause after the massive surge it has made over the past seven months. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index is up 61.6 percent from a 12-year low in March.
“The run-up has been too fast,” she said. “You need to consolidate.”
In late afternoon trading, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 126.66, or 1.3 percent, to 9,954.65. The S&P 500 index fell 13.61, or 1.3 percent, to 1,079.30. The Nasdaq composite index fell 8.40, or 0.4 percent, to 2,156.89.
Stocks posted big gains Thursday, sending the Dow up 132 points. Investors snapped up financial shares after several banks said they weren’t seeing as many loans go bad. The market also extended its gains after Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said it expects sales to grow this year and increase at a faster pace next year.
Bond prices fell, sending their yields higher. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note rose to 3.48 percent from 3.42 percent late Thursday.
Crude oil fell 69 cents to settle at $80.50 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Oil was below $70 when October began.
Among companies posting earnings, Union Pacific said its profit was off 26 percent, while revenue fell 24 percent. The stock fell $3.81, or 6.2 percent, to $57.31.
Burlington reported a 30 percent drop in third-quarter earnings, while revenue fell 27 percent. That sent its shares down $5.70, or 6.7 percent, to $78.92.
Amazon jumped $24.92, or 26.7 percent, to $118.37 after its third-quarter earnings jumped 68 percent. The stock logged a high of $119.65. The online retailer forecast more than 20 percent growth for the current quarter.
Microsoft’s earnings fell 18 percent largely because it deferred revenue when it let buyers of PC’s over the summer get free upgrades to Windows 7, which the company released this week. Earnings would have risen otherwise and the company continued to cut costs. The stock rose $1.48, 5.6 percent, to $28.07.
Broadcom fell $1.96, or 6.4 percent, to $28.77 after the company said after the end of trading Thursday that its third-quarter earnings fell by half from a year ago. President and CEO Scott A. McGregor disappointed investors with a murky forecast on a conference call. “There’s a little concern about whether Santa’s coming this year or not,” he said.
Energy stocks fell. Oilfield services company Schlumberger Ltd. fell $3.88, or 5.7 percent, to $64.72, while Devon Energy Corp. fell $2.22, or 3.2 percent, to $68.14.
Three stocks fell for every one that rose on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 892.2 million shares compared with 943.2 million shares traded at the same point Thursday.
Overseas, Britain’s FTSE 100 climbed 0.7 percent, Germany’s DAX index fell 0.4 percent and France’s CAC-40 lost 0.3 percent. Japan’s Nikkei stock average rose 0.2 percent.

Leading U.S. Indicators Signal Growth, but Jobs Scarce

NEW YORK (AP) — A private forecast of economic activity rose for the sixth straight month in September, a sign the economy may keep growing early next year despite rising unemployment.
The number of new claims for jobless benefits jumped more than expected last week. Claims had fallen in five out of the previous six weeks, and most economists expect that trend to continue but at a slow pace, with employers still reluctant to hire.
The Conference Board said Thursday that its index of leading economic indicators rose 1 percent last month after a 0.4 percent gain in August, beating economists’ expectations.
The group said the indicators’ 5.7 growth rate in the six months through September was the strongest since 1983, but joblessness is weighing on the rebound. Dips in manufacturing hours worked and building permits, a gauge of future construction, were the only two measures out of 10 that weighed down the index. It is meant to project economic activity in the next three to six months.
The six-month rate is consistent with annual economic growth of about 8 percent, said Paul Dales, U.S. economist at Capital Economics. It’s unlikely the rebound will be that strong, however, as the index may be “distorted” by the Federal Reserve’s rock-bottom interest rates and market liquidity measures, he said.
The government will report on third-quarter economic growth next week. Many economists think gross domestic product — the value of all goods and services produced in the United States— grew about 3 percent after falling for a record four straight quarters. But many wonder if that pace can continue in the current quarter and next year as unemployment rises and consumers remain hesitant to spend.
Lack of job growth is a major problem. The Labor Department said the number of newly laid-off workers filing claims for jobless benefits rose to a seasonally adjusted 531,000 last week, from an upwardly revised 520,000 the previous week. Wall Street economists had expected only a slight increase, according to Thomson Reuters.
Economists consider jobless claims a gauge of layoffs and a sign of companies’ willingness to hire.
The four-week average of claims, which smooths out fluctuations, fell to its lowest level since mid-January. But claims remain well above the 325,000 that economists say is consistent with a healthy economy.
The report is “slightly disappointing,” Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, wrote in a note to clients. “But it does not change the core story, which is that … a clear downward trend in claims has emerged” over the past two months.
On Wall Street, stocks zigzagged as investors sorted through the disappointing jobs data and uneven earnings reports. The Dow Jones industrial average added about 75 points in afternoon trading, while broader indices were mixed.
A rebound in the housing sector and manufacturing is helping drive economic activity higher, aided by government stimulus programs and demand from overseas.
Caterpillar was among companies signaling that emerging markets like China and India would be leading the global recovery. The heavy equipment maker said Asia is its best-performing region. Drugmaker Pfizer and handbag maker Coach also said sales are picking up in Asia, and they’re rushing to add salespeople and open new stores.
Still, manufacturing won’t add jobs in the U.S. Hiring by the nation’s restaurants, shops, banks and other service providers is needed for that to happen. Consumer spending powers those businesses, and as long as unemployment is rising and credit tight, shoppers likely will remain wary of big spending.
Profits and sales were down for another quarter at UPS. The world’s largest package delivery company said this week that customers are shipping fewer and lighter packages. In some cases, they’re choosing slower and cheaper shipping options.
The government also said Thursday that people continuing to claim unemployment benefits dropped to 5.9 million for the week ended Oct. 10, the fifth straight weekly drop.
Recipients filing for aid for the government’s extended benefit programs dropped about 50,000, to 8.8 million in the week ended Oct. 3. The federal government is funding up to 53 extra weeks of benefits on top of the 26 weeks states usually provide. But economists say that decline is likely due to jobless benefits running out, rather than people finding jobs.

Changes in Store for Wal-Mart?

NEW YORK (AP) — Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s Sam’s Club, the nation’s ninth-largest chain store, hopes to beat back the recession by cutting prices on specific items, offering more everyday goods like food and health and beauty items and paring its assortment of general merchandise like furniture and clothes, the company said Thursday.
“We’re well positioned for growth in today’s consumer environment,” said Brian Cornell, president and CEO of the warehouse operator.
Cornell was addressing investors on the second of two days of analyst meetings in Roger, Ark., near the company’s headquarters in Bentonville, Ark. The meetings were broadcast online.
Sam’s Club generated $47 billion in sales last year, almost 12 percent of Wal-Mart’s overall $400 billion in revenue.
Sam’s Club officials told investors that it wants to steal customers from rivals — including grocery chains and warehouse stores like Costco Wholesale Corp. — by focusing on fewer but bigger initiatives.
The chain is testing these changes in a few stores this fall and says its revamped stores will be less expensive to run. They’ll offer more variety and more brands of items from take-home meals to baked goods. The categories Sam’s Club is expanding have higher sales and gross profit returns per square foot than the overall average for Sam’s Club, company officials said.
In addition to cutting furniture and clothing, the new breed of stores will have less space for large appliances, sporting goods and DVDs.
The new format also requires workers to stack merchandise one pallet high instead of two, which makes it easier to restock stores. Sam’s Club estimates that such efficiencies can cut worker hours between 6 percent and 8 percent over the next five years, which will cut the chain’s costs.
Sam’s Club’s plan to cut prices on specific items mirrors a move unveiled Wednesday by the Wal-Mart chain, which plans to cut prices of top selling items each week through the end of the holiday season.
Cornell called the price cuts “strategic” and surgical.” Sam’s Club is also testing a new tool that calculates how much a shopper is willing to pay for an item — known as the item’s price elasticity — and has used the information in choosing which products’ prices to cut.
Sam’s Club also plans to improve its products, particularly the food it sells and has introduced a new quality process that better tests merchandise. Linda Hefner, executive vice president of merchandising at Sam’s Club, said its boneless spiral ham, for example, sells for $2.86 per pound but compares in freshness and quality with a key competitor’s product that sells for $7.49 per pound.

OC Progressing Toward Accreditation for Four-Year Degrees


An accreditation team was at Olympic College last week, and word could come as soon as January on OC receiving accreditation for four-year degrees. Even then, it would take a year or two for OC to offer its own four-year degrees beyond the bachelor of science in nursing degree it offers now. Look for my story soon.

Rachel Pritchett, 475-3783

Thursday Dow at an Even 10,000

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are mixed as investors sort through a disappointing reading on the job market and a pile of uneven earnings reports.
The government says Thursday workers filing for unemployment benefits for the first time rose more than expected last week. Reports from McDonald’s and eBay are signaling that parts of the economy are recovering but others remain weak.
A rising dollar is hurting commodity prices and, in turn, energy and materials stocks.
Investors are cautious after stocks fell Wednesday on worries about the pace of the market’s advance since March.
At midday, the Dow Jones industrial average is up 58 at 10,008. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index is up 1 at 1,082, and the Nasdaq composite index is down 8 at 2,143.