Stock Market Commentary
For the week of March 30, 2009
The major indexes ended in positive territory for the third consecutive week, despite a drawback on Friday as investors locked in profits and banks reported that March results did not match gains made in January and February. Among economic news this week, the Conference Board will release its Consumer Confidence Index report on Tuesday, and the Institute for Supply Management releases its manufacturing index for March on Wednesday. The Dow ended last week up 6.87 percent to 7,776.18. The S&P gained 6.21 percent to close the week at 815.94, and the NASDAQ rose 6.03 percent to finish the week at 1,545.20.
Home Sales Up – Sales of existing homes rose in February to an annualized 4.72 million units, a 5 percent increase over January’s 4.49 million. Economists had expected a decline to 4.45 million units. The increase has come as prices have declined. While February sales were down 5 percent from 2008 levels, prices have dropped 15.5 percent from a year ago.
Beware Buffett Claims – The Securities & Exchange Commission has taken action against a California company and its owners, one of whom is a prison guard, for defrauding investors. The allegations against International Realty Holdings (IRH) include that the company made claims that Warren Buffett was the firm’s “honorary chairman” and that Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway and global firm Credit Suisse were involved in the investment. The company is said to have taken money from selling preferred stock to investors and funneled it into offshore bank accounts.
Spending Up Slightly – Consumers pushed spending up 0.2 percent in February, meeting analysts’ expectation. The increase follows a 1 percent rise in January, adjusted upward from the initial 0.6 percent uptick originally reported by the Commerce Department. Conversely, incomes fell by 0.2 percent in February, the fourth drop in the past five months. Personal savings dropped slightly from 4.4 percent in January to 4.2 percent in February. Consumer spending accounts for about 70 percent of U.S. economic activity.
Looking Up – A Gallup poll conducted last week found that 29 percent of respondents think the economy is getting better – almost double the number with a rosy outlook two weeks ago. Those earning $90,000 a year or more had the most dramatic increase in optimism, which may be tied to the recent improvements in the stock market, as this group tends to be most likely to own stocks.
WEEKLY FOCUS – Congress Lessens COBRA Bite
Displaced employees have had the option since 1985 to continue on their former employers’ health insurance plan for up to 18 months, but many have passed on that
alternative because of the cost. Under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), employees had to fund the entire premium themselves, not just the portion they had paid while working. Some chose to purchase individual health coverage instead, while others simply went without coverage until they could qualify under a new employer’s plan.
When Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, it took some of the bite out of COBRA premiums for employees laid off between Sept. 1, 2008, and Dec. 31, 2009. Under the new law, employees who cannot get Medicare or other group coverage, such as through a spouse’s plan, can purchase COBRA insurance for 35 percent of the premium. The employer pays 65 percent and gets a tax credit for the same amount. To qualify, the employee must have adjusted gross income (AGI) of less than $125,000 ($250,000 for married couples filing jointly).
An important aspect of COBRA is its protection of coverage for pre-existing conditions. When your COBRA coverage has expired, insurers cannot deny you coverage because of conditions that had been covered under COBRA. By going without insurance, you may give up the opportunity to have pre-existing conditions covered by a future insurer.
Even with the government subsidy, COBRA may not be the best alternative for everyone. Young, healthy adults may be able to purchase individual coverage for less than they would pay under COBRA. Individual plans with higher deductibles and co-pays may also be an option. Because plans can vary widely, make sure you fully understand the coverage and its limitations before you sign a new policy.
Evaluating health plans can be complicated and overwhelming. If you or a loved one faces a job loss that threatens your health coverage, contact our office for help in determining your options for finding replacement health insurance.
* The Standard & Poor’s 500 (S&P 500) is an unmanaged group of securities considered to be representative of the stock market in general. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is a price-weighted index of 30 actively traded blue-chip stocks. NASDAQ Composite Index is an unmanaged, market-weighted index of all over-the-counter common stocks traded on the National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotation System. The Morgan Stanley Capital International Europe, Australia and Far East Index (MSCI EAFE Index) is a widely recognized benchmark of non-U.S. stock markets. It is an unmanaged index composed of a sample of companies representative of the market structure of 20 European and Pacific Basin countries and includes reinvestment of all
dividends. Written by Securities America. SAI# 296002