Positive housing news and a decision by the Bank of Japan to significantly boost its monetary easing program lifted stocks today.
The Dow gained 13 points, with 19 of its 30 components gaining ground; the S&P 500 rose 1; and the Nasdaq was higher by 4. Advancers led decliners by three to two on the NYSE, and decliners narrowly edged advancers on the Nasdaq. The prices of Treasuries strengthened. Gold futures gained 50 cents to close at $1,771.70 an ounce, while the price of crude oil fell $3.32 to settle at $92.30 a barrel.
In Other Business News:
- Existing home sales rose 7.8% in August to an annualized rate of 4.82 million homes sold, the highest rate since May 2010, according to the National Association of Realtors. The median price of homes, meanwhile, rose 9% year over year to $187,400, helped by fewer short sales and foreclosures as a percentage of total sales.
- Housing starts rose 2.3% in August, according to the Commerce Department. The gains came from a 5.5% jump in new construction for single-family homes. Apartment construction starts fell 4.9%. Building permits, meanwhile, fell 1%.
- Attempting to fight potential deflation and a strong yen, the Bank of Japan expanded its bond-buying, monetary easing program by $126 billion and extended its expiration by six months, raising it from 70 trillion yen to 80 trillion yen (about $1 trillion). The program will now run until the end of 2013.
- Crude oil inventories jumped 8.5 million barrels last week, according to the Energy Information Administration's weekly inventory report. The supply increase was much greater than expected, causing the price of light, sweet crude on the New York Mercantile Exchange to fall $3.32, settling at $92.30 a barrel. It was the third-straight day of sizable losses for oil. Last Friday, crude oil settled at $99 a barrel. The commodity has also been affected by Saudi Arabia's recent pledge to keep oil prices low.
- Groupon Inc., the battered daily deals company, announced a new mobile payments venture called Groupon Payments. Merchants who accept transactions through Groupon's mobile payment system will be charged 15 cents per transaction and a 1.8% fee for MasterCard, Visa, and Discover transactions (3% fee for American Express). Groupon's shares (GRPN) jumped 13%. Google, PayPal, and Square, as well as the traditional credit companies, are all competitors in the growing mobile payments space.
Welcome to the latest issue of "Beer and movies: The international edition."
- With Oktoberfest right around the corner, some German breweries are in trouble, according to CNBC, particularly those in Munich, home of the world's most famous Oktoberfest party. The problem isn't a shortage of beer but instead a lack of bottles. Germans apparently had a bit more fun than usual this summer--I will mention, but not blame, the ongoing European debt crisis in this regard in which Germans are expected to play a hefty and expensive role--and many cases of bottles and even kegs haven't been returned yet. Faced with the September 22 start of the festival, Munich's breweries are thus left with plenty of beer but not enough places to put it. I hope they don't have to resort to the American college student tradition of keg stands (or, because they don't have enough kegs, brewery stands).
- While a New Yorker paying $2,000 a month for a 500-square-foot studio might not believe it, New York is not the most expensive city in the world. It's not even in the top five. According to a new UBS report on the world's most expensive cities, the world's most expensive city is Oslo, followed by Zurich, Tokyo, Geneva, Copenhagen, and then New York in sixth place. Coincidentally, these are all places that fit in the category, "Places I will never, ever live, barring some unforeseen lottery win." UBS compared the cost of a basket of 122 goods (such as Big Macs and iPhones) and then divided that by the average hourly wage in 15 different sectors of the economy, adjusted for currency fluctuations. It takes the average citizen of Oslo 18 minutes of work to afford a Big Mac at a McDonald's in Oslo and 36 hours to afford an iPhone. Compare that with New York, where it takes only 10 minutes to afford a Big Mac and 27.5 hours to afford an iPhone. UBS did not say, unfortunately, how many minutes of exercise it would take to work off the calories from the Big Macs, but I suspect it's more than how many it took to afford them in the first place.
- And finally, if you're traveling to Oslo or Munich or anywhere by plane, hope that your flight will be showing the classic 1980 movie Airplane! Movie subscription firm LOVEFiLM has concluded that Airplane! is the funniest movie of all time, generating an average of three laughs per minute, with Leslie Nielsen accounting for a good 1.5 of those laughs per minute, in my opinion (the LOVEFiLM panel used numbers and even advanced long-division to determine this, so it's all very scientific). "But surely you can't be serious," some might say. "The last movie you want to watch on a flight is one about a plane in trouble." To which I would respond, channeling Nielsen, "I am serious, and don't call me Shirley."
Worried about Munich's beer? Did LOVEFiLM choose the right movie? Leave your thoughts in the comments area below. We're also taking a poll on whether investors followed the adage of "Sell in May and go away" or if they stuck with the markets all summer long. You can take the poll here.