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    Angry businesswoman holding phone at desk
    Getty Images
    By Brian O'Connell

    NEW YORK -- Americans don't like so-called "robocalls" -- telemarketing calls from companies looking to pitch products and services, some of them with fraudulent intentions.

    According to Consumer Reports, U.S. consumers have placed 217 million numbers do-not-call requests since the agency began tracking them, while telemarketing fraud costs Americans $350 million annually.

    Still, companies manage to slip through the cracks and make robocalls, anyway. According to the Federal Trade Commission, the FTC receives between 250,000 and 300,000 consumer complaints a month against telemarketers, 60 percent of them directly linked to robocalls.

    Shel Horowitz, a green business profitability expert, is one of those consumers who have a big problem with robocallers. "I especially get annoyed to see my own name and phone showing up as the call originator on my own caller ID, meaning they are probably poisoning the world against me by masquerading as me to others too," he says.

    Other consumers say it's an uphill battle to block all robocallers, but there are some effective ways to keep annoying telemarketers at arm's length. "There really is no pro-active way to protect your home from robocalls," says Larry Peck, a consumer who is constantly battling robocallers. "Most companies who do them ignore the Do-Not-Call list anyway, and I'll call them back and get them to take me off their list."

    "If they don't, I block them via Comcast's call blocking feature," he added. "I can also block their number on my actual landline phone too. As far as my cell phone, Verizon lets me block up to five numbers on a rotating basis. But the problem is, you're always dealing with robocalls on a reactive basis."

    Job one for consumers looking to block robocallers is to sign up for the federal Do-Not-Call List which will prevent legitimate telemarketers from calling you, says Steven J.J. Weisman, an attorney and consumer fraud specialist based in Amherst, Mass. "Even if you are on the Do-Not-Call List, the law still permits you to receive robocalls from charities, politicians and polltakers," Weisman says. "However, whenever you receive any call, particularly a robocall, you have no way of knowing who is really calling you. So the best thing to do is to not bother to pick up the phone if you don't recognize the number - let legitimate callers leave a message and return their calls."

    Consumers can download some handy mobile apps that can steer them clear of aggressive telemarketers, advises Keeon Rudder, a motivational speaker and global business consultant. "The easiest way to avoid spam calls is to download an app to hang up on such incoming calls," Rudder says. "I've found Mr. Number to be quite effective in thwarting unwanted callers."

    Clair Jones, a home automation, Internet, and phone service expert with Localinternetservice.com, says the best thing you can do if you receive a robocall is to hang up immediately. "If you speak or push any buttons on your phone you are inadvertently indicating interest and signaling that you are a good target for future calls," Jones says. "To stop these annoying calls entirely, you can sign up for free services like Nomorobo, which automatically block unwanted robocalls while still allowing you to receive the ones that originate from trusted sources, like pharmacy refill reminders or Amber Alerts."

    It takes extra effort, and a little help from Uncle Sam, your telecom provider and some good mobile apps, but you can go on the offensive against rude, unwanted telemarketers. Otherwise, those robocallers will keep pouring it on, day and night.

     

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    Asia-Pacific Trade Deal
    Manuel Valdes/AP
    By Jason Lange

    WASHINGTON -- The U.S. trade deficit widened in May, fueled by a drop in exports that could heighten concerns over weak overseas demand and a strong U.S. dollar.

    The Commerce Department reported Tuesday that the trade gap grew $1.2 billion to $41.9 billion. That was less than the $42.6 billion deficit expected by analysts and suggests Wall Street economists may slightly raise their forecasts for economic growth in the second quarter.

    But the drop in exports in May highlights a change in the tenor of economic growth since the United States exited the 2007-2009 recession. The economy relied more on export-led industries such as manufacturing early in the recovery, but growth is increasingly coming from domestic drivers like construction and services as the economic cycle matures.

    Exports fell $1.5 billion, or 0.8 percent, to $188.6 billion in May, led by a drop in overseas sales of U.S.-made capital goods. Imports fell by about $300 million, or 0.1 percent, to $230.5 billion.

    Prices for U.S. Treasuries rose after the data, while U.S. stock index futures were unchanged. The dollar gained against a basket of currencies.

    Since the middle of last year when the Federal Reserve made clear it was planning to raise interest rates to keep the economy from eventually overheating, the dollar has strengthened, making U.S. exports less competitive.

    Since that time, Europe's economy also has been on shaky ground and the European Central Bank has eased monetary policy, causing the euro to weaken against the dollar. European policymakers are currently fighting a debt crisis in Greece that threatens to rip apart the continent's monetary union.

    Exports of goods to Germany fell 6 percent in May from the prior month, according to non-seasonally adjusted figures. Sales fell 4.2 percent to France, 2.1 percent to Mexico and 3 percent to Japan.

    The U.S. economy contracted at a 0.2 percent annual rate in the first quarter, hit by bad weather, a strong dollar, spending cuts in the energy sector and disruptions at West Coast ports.

    Other economic data, including figures on hiring and consumer spending, have pointed to a rebound during the second quarter, and a firming domestic economy could encourage the Fed to raise rates later this year.

    In May, the drop in imports came as purchases from China rose 9.5 percent. That could fan further criticism from U.S. manufacturers that Chinese firms are using a cheap currency and unfair subsidies to gain market share in America.

    At the same time, U.S. net imports of oil fell to $5.8 billion in May, the lowest level since 2002.

     

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    Toyota Motor's First Female Executive Julie Hamp Press Conference
    The Asahi Shimbun via Getty ImagesFormer Toyota executive Julie Hamp
    By YURI KAGEYAMA

    TOKYO -- The American Toyota executive who was arrested in Japan last month on suspicion of drug law violations is expected to be released Wednesday without being prosecuted, according to Japan's Kyodo News service.

    Kyodo didn't identify the source of its information. Tokyo prosecutors declined to comment Tuesday. Toyota Motor (TM) said it had no information.

    Julie Hamp, 55, who was the highest-ranking female executive at the Japanese automaker, was arrested June 18 on suspicion of bringing oxycodone, a narcotic pain killer, into Japan. The drug is tightly controlled here.

    Hamp, who resigned from Toyota last week, hasn't been available for comment. But police say she has denied trying to import an illegal drug. Toyota Chief Executive Akio Toyoda has said he believes Hamp had no intention of breaking the law.

    The drug was found by Japanese customs in a package that was sent to Hamp by mail from the U.S., police said.

    Her appointment as head of communications in April had been highlighted by Toyota as a step toward promoting diversity.

    Japan has among the poorest records in the industrialized world for gender equality in business and politics.

    Hamp, who joined Toyota in 2012, worked in its U.S. operations until her latest promotion. Before that, she worked for PepsiCo (PEP) and General Motors (GM).

    Hamp had been in the process of moving to Japan, the first foreign executive of Toyota to be permanently stationed in Japan. Toyoda has acknowledged the company should have done more to help her relocation.

    She was arrested at a Tokyo hotel, where she had been staying while house-hunting.

    Japanese media said the drugs were hidden in a package containing jewelry, and 57 pills were found. Police have refused to comment on such reports.

    Police raided the automaker's headquarters in Toyota city, central Japan, as well as its Tokyo and Nagoya offices last month.

    It is not unheard of for foreigners to be detained in Japan for mailing or bringing in medicine they used at home. Such drugs may be banned in Japan or require special approval. In Japan, suspects can be held in custody for up to 23 days without formal charges.

     

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    The Pentagon
    mindfrieze/Flickr
    The United States Department of Defense is one of the biggest departments in the U.S. government. Fortunately, it's also one of the most transparent of government agencies, posting every contract it awards (aside from the penny-ante stuff -- there's a $6.5 million threshold for reporting) for public review on its website, and within mere hours of its being awarded.

    Given the effort the Pentagon goes to in order to keep us informed of its spending, it would almost seem impolite not to take a look. And so that's what we just did over the holiday weekend. We tallied up all Pentagon contracts awarded in the month of June. And what did we find?

    Aside from expenditures on servicemembers' salaries, health care and similar recurring "overhead," the Pentagon awarded $31.3 billion worth of contracts to defense contractors in the month of June.

    Here are a few of the things they got for their (read: your) money...

    20th-Century Technology

    June was a month dominated by big-budget mega-contract awards. One of the biggest went to Boeing (BA), not coincidentally America's largest defense contractor by market cap. For $466.5 million, Boeing has been hired to repair guidance systems on U.S. Air Force Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles. This contract will run through June 2, 2021.

    22nd-Century Technology, Too

    Smaller in size by far, but with potentially greater potential in years to come, were a quartet of contracts awarded early in the month to defense contractors Leidos Holdings (LDOS) and Ball Corp. (BLL). Leidos will receive $15 million on two contracts to conduct "laser interaction testing" and "target vulnerability assessments and data analysis" for the U.S. Air Force. Ball Corp will do similar but more extensive work, receiving a total of $32 million. Both companies will be researching the effects of high-power "continuous-wave (up to MW Class) and high energy pulsed (kJ) lasers interacting with individual materials, multi-material subsystems, and/or fully functional targets."

    If successful, this work could accelerate the development of a whole new class of weapons for the U.S. military, potentially rendering the rest of the world's arsenal of explosives-based weapons obsolete.

    Meanwhile, Back in the 21st Century ...

    Somewhere between the realms of Cold War nukes and Buck Rogers laser weapons lie the more mundane parts of the Pentagon arsenal -- and these got plenty of funding as well. The U.S. military is preparing a wholesale makeover of its Air Force, replacing most of its planes with a new type of stealth fighter jet, the F-35 Lightning II. And in preparation for this, Lockheed Martin (LMT) was awarded $920 million last month to fund the purchase of "long lead time" parts needed to build 94 F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter jets for U.S. and foreign buyers. These will include:

    o. 44 "standard" configuration F-35A fighters for the U.S. Air Force
    o. 8 more for the Royal Australian Air Force
    o. 6 for the Royal Norwegian Air Force
    o. 2 each for the air forces of Italy and Turkey
    o. and 16 more for unidentified "various foreign military sales customers"
    o. 9 short take-off/vertical landing F-35B fighters for the U.S. Marine Corps
    o. 3 F-35Bs for Britain
    o. and 2 for Italy
    o. and finally, 2 carrier-variant F-35Cs for the United States Navy.

    And an Aircraft Carrier to Carry Them

    Speaking of those carrier variants, they're going to need ships to fly from -- and Huntington Ingalls (HII) has that covered. On June 5, the Pentagon awarded the company two separate contracts, worth a total of $4.3 billion combined, to complete design and construction work on the new nuclear aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy by June 2022. Once entered into service, the Kennedy will be the second of the new Gerald R. Ford-class supercarriers, of which four are expected to be built.

    $4.3 Billion?! I Need an Aspirin...

    If the volumes of dollars being thrown around at the Pentagon are giving you a headache, McKesson (MCK) has got you covered -- with an even bigger contract. In fact, weighing in at $6.1 billion, this company's 30-month award to supply "replenishment pharmaceuticals to furnish the Tricare pharmacy supporting 9.5 million active-duty service members, retirees and their dependents" was the single largest contract awarded by the Pentagon in the month of June.

    A renewal of a smaller, $2.6 billion award granted to McKesson back in December 2012, this contract may be renewed as many as two more times over the coming seven and a half years. Ultimately, it could last as long as a decade, and be worth as much as $12.3 billion to McKesson.These contracts represent only a small sampling of the hundreds of awards your tax dollars funded last month. To see the rest, check out the U.S. Department of Defense contracts website here.

    Think $4.3 billion is a lot to spend on an aircraft carrier? Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith recently read that Americans spend about $1 billion a year on fireworks for July Fourth, New Year's, and other holidays. And those don't even blow stuff up. (At least, not intentionally.) Follow him on Facebook for more defense news.

    Rich owns none of the stocks mentioned above, but The Motley Fool recommends McKesson. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days and check out our free report on one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.

     

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    Pending Sales Of U.S. Homes Rose More Than Forecast In February
    Matthew Busch/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesA new home for sale stands in the Andalucia neighborhood of The Dominion gated community in San Antonio, Texas.
    By Diana Olick

    A limited supply of listings continues to push home prices higher across the nation -- so much higher that 10 states and the District of Columbia hit new home price peaks in May. Including sales of distressed homes, prices increased 6.3 percent nationally from a year ago, according to CoreLogic (CLGX).

    "Mortgage rates on 30-year fixed-rate loans remained below 4 percent through May, helping to fuel home purchase activity," said Frank Nothaft, chief economist for CoreLogic. "Our homes-for-sale listing data shows that markets with high demand and limited supply, such as San Francisco, are recording double-digit appreciation rates over the past year."

    Thirty-three states are now at or within 10 percent of their price peaks, going back to January 1976, when CoreLogic began tracking. Ten states -- Alaska, Colorado, Iowa, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Vermont -- reached new price peaks.

    These new prices are likely behind a surge in the number of homeowners who think now is a good time to sell. Fifty-two percent of homeowners surveyed by Fannie Mae in June said as much, a new high for the monthly gauge, and the first time that metric surpassed 50 percent. Not surprisingly, the number of those who think it's a good time to buy a house fell to 63 percent, matching a survey low.

    A complementary rise in the good-time-to-sell measure suggests that limited inventory, which is putting upward pressure on house prices, gives an increasing advantage to sellers.

    The share who said they expect home rental prices to go up in the next year also rose to an all-time survey high. The expectation of higher rents is likely due to more new renter households being formed, as more people get jobs and move out on their own, either out of family or group homes.

    "A complementary rise in the good-time-to-sell measure suggests that limited inventory, which is putting upward pressure on house prices, gives an increasing advantage to sellers," said Doug Duncan, Fannie Mae's chief economist. "Together, these results point to a healthier home purchase market, with more renters likely to find owning to be more cost effective than renting and more sellers likely to put their homes on the market."

    Sentiment, however, is one thing; ability is another. More renters may want to become buyers because in the end it is more cost effective, but credit still stands in the way for some. Mortgage credit availability fell in June, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association, giving back the gains seen in May.

    "Despite recent signs of improvement in housing markets, mortgage credit availability stalled in June," said Lynn Fisher, the association's vice president of research and economics. "Increases driven by higher availability of cash-out-refinance loans were more than offset by reduced availability of other types of loans this month, resulting in a decline in the index from May."

    The biggest tightening was seen in the most popular category -- conventional loans, which are those backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. That could be due in part to lenders preparing for new regulations going into effect this fall. These rules are designed to create more transparency and accountability in lending.

     

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    Food and Farm Tainted Eggs
    Seth Perlman/AP
    By STEVE KARNOWSKI

    MINNEAPOLIS -- Food-maker General Mills announced a major move toward cage-free eggs Tuesday as part of an updated animal welfare policy that now extends throughout its global supply chain.

    The Golden Valley-based company committed itself to 100 percent cage-free eggs for its U.S. operations, a move several other large companies also have taken recently. The company didn't set a deadline but said it will work with its suppliers to determine a "reasonable timeline," given the disruption that bird flu has caused to the U.S. egg supply.

    Eggs are an important ingredient in many products for General Mills (GIS), whose brands include Betty Crocker, Pillsbury, Progresso soups, Yoplait yogurt and Hamburger Helper. Some of its products, such as Haagen-Dazs ice cream made in Europe, already go beyond cage-free and use only free-range eggs.

    General Mills' announcement is a major victory to improve the lives of farm animals.

    "General Mills' announcement is a major victory to improve the lives of farm animals," said Josh Balk, senior director of food policy for the Humane Society of the United States, which worked with the company to develop the policy. For such a large food company to make the switch "is another indicator that the future of egg production in this country has to be cage free," he said.

    The new policy is based on the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare, a set of principles developed by the British government. They include freedom from hunger, thirst and malnutrition; freedom from discomfort; freedom from pain, injury and disease; freedom from fear and distress; and freedom to engage in normal patterns of animal behavior.

    Walmart Stores (WMT), the company's biggest food retailer, adopted a similar policy based on those principles in May.

    While General Mills was already applying those principles with its dairy suppliers, the new policy extends them to all animals in its worldwide supply chain, said Steve Peterson, the company's director of sustainable sourcing. The policy encourages but doesn't require dairy suppliers to move away from de-horning milk cows, following the example of the beef industry. It also encourages the elimination of tight confinement for pregnant sows by 2017; better pain relief for and the potential elimination of castration and tail docking for piglets; and more study of animal welfare problems associated with fast-growing breeds of broiler chickens and turkeys.

    Peterson said it will take time to work with suppliers to ensure adequate supplies of ingredients raised in conformance with the new policy.

    "You just don't make these transitions quickly," he said.

    The animal welfare changes follow General Mills' announcement last month that it's dropping artificial colors and flavors from its cereals. Spokeswoman Shannon Heine said both moves reflect the company giving consumers what they want.

     

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    APTOPIX Burts Buzz
    Robert F. Bukaty/AP
    By Curtis Skinner

    SAN FRANCISCO -- Burt Shavitz, co-founder and namesake for natural care product company Burt's Bees, has died, the company said Sunday. He was 80.

    Shavitz, a "a wild-bearded and free-spirited Maine man" and beekeeper, co-founded the company with artist Roxanne Quimby in 1984, the company said in a statement.

    The pair started off making candles from beeswax before developing a few years later the lip balm that exploded the company's popularity and remains its best selling product, it said.

    "It is with broken hearts that we must convey the saddest news: Burt Shavitz, our co-founder and namesake, has left for greener fields and wilder woods," the company said in a statement on Facebook.

    A company spokeswoman told USA Today that Shavitz died Sunday of respiratory issues surrounded by family and friends in Bangor, Maine.

    The company was acquired by Clorox Co. (CLX) in 2007.

     

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    Cheap Tips for Booking a Summer Trip
    Between the warm weather and school letting out, summer is the perfect time to go on vacation. If you haven't booked anything yet, though, don't worry. You can still find a great deal this summer by following these simple tips.

    To start, save money by taking a trip at end of August. According to FareCompare, flying after August 20 can save you up to 22 percent off the average price of airline tickets. The same goes for finding a place to stay. According to Orbitz, the cheapest time to book a room is between August 24 and August 30.

    Next, with ever-changing plane ticket prices, find out when to book your flights by using an app named Hopper. It starts by asking you where you want to fly and when. From there the app shows you a color-coded calendar that helps you spot "good deal" days and avoid the expensive ones.

    Once you select the dates, your prediction pops up and lets you know when prices might start to rise. You can also select the app's "watch flight" option, and Hopper will tell you when it thinks it's the right time to book your flight.

    Finally, another great way to figure out when to book a flight is through a service called FLYR. This website works a bit differently, since it predicts prices for specific flights. Since you may want to want a non-stop flight, earn points with a specific airline, or fly at a certain time of day, FLYR waits for you to pick an exact itinerary before it makes a recommendation.

    After that, a graph will pop up and show you how prices may change over the course of the week. This will help you decide whether to buy right away, or wait to see if the price goes down. Currently, it only predicts prices for flights in the U.S., so keep that in mind if you're looking to fly internationally.

    If you're still looking to book a summer trip, just follow these tips. You'll still be able to go on vacation without overworking your budget.

    View Poll

     

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    McDonalds Workers
    APMcDonald's and Starbucks have already implemented price increases. Who's next?
    By Brian Sozzi

    NEW YORK -- U.S. consumers will have to dig a little deeper into their pockets to pay for their regular latte, burger or burrito. Burdened by higher minimum wages that went into effect nationwide in January, rising health care costs and nagging food inflation, major restaurant chains are opting to pass along some of those costs to their diners.

    On Monday, Starbucks (SBUX) said it will lift prices nationwide by about 1 percent. The coffee brewer faces rising costs to open new stores globally, provide employee health care and fund its new tuition reimbursement program.

    The cost of most affected drinks will increase about a nickel to 20 cents, according to the company. A large brewed coffee would increase 10 cents to about $2.45 in most U.S. stores, and the company's new "mini" iced frappucino, which is a mere 10 ounces, will rise to $3.60 from about $3.40.

    The Seattle-based coffee chain's price increase comes in spite of Arabica coffee bean prices plunging roughly 43 percent since hitting a five-year high in October last year, according to Bloomberg data. Pricier drinks also arrive several weeks before the end of Starbucks' quarter, a maneuver that could help to pad second-quarter profits and bolster a stock price that has surged 33 percent year to date.

    In the first quarter, McDonald's (MCD) implemented a price increase to counter beef inflation and higher minimum wages, especially the lofty hikes imposed in California. The Golden Arches' pricing in the U.S. rose 2 percent year over year in the first quarter, which was still less than the Consumer Price Index's overall "food away from home" inflation measure of 3 percent. McDonald's uses this CPI measure to benchmark its menu prices.

    McDonald's may have to increase prices again in the second quarter, but nothing has been announced yet and the company didn't immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

    TheStreet takes a look at three other big restaurant chains preparing to boost prices.

    1. Chipotle Mexican Grill

    The popular burrito chain is preparing a nationwide price increase of 4 to 6 percent to go into effect by the end of the third quarter. Chipotle's (CMG) price increase will mostly be targeted to steak and barbacoa items on the menu. Chipotle has said the increase will offset price inflation for its responsibly raised beef, as well as for avocados from California that become more in demand during the warm summer months.

    "We're just not charging the going rate -- we actually lose money anytime somebody comes in thinking about getting chicken and instead gets steak, for example -- so we'd like to fix that," said Chipotle CFO Jeff Hartung on the company's first-quarter earnings call on April 21.

    Meanwhile, food isn't the only thing taking a bite out of Chipotle's bottom line. In January, the company began to offer medical coverage to its full-time hourly employees. Over 10,000 hourly employees were eligible for medical coverage based on service length and actual hours worked. As of February, 1,000 of those employees had enrolled for coverage, and Chipotle expects more workers will be added each month as employees reach the required service time.

    The company estimates that the added medical coverage will cost the company $4 million to $8 million this year.

    2. Buffalo Wild Wings

    At wing and beer destination Buffalo Wild Wings (BWLD), the signature wings have been under siege from skyrocketing costs, in part due to decreased supply as more restaurants add wings to their menus. Buffalo Wild Wings expects the price of wings to rise 25 percent in the second quarter, following a 41 percent spike in the first quarter.

    Wing price inflation stands to abate later in the year, as the company's new supply arrangement for its wings moderates price volatility. But increases are still looming.

    Buffalo Wild Wings pushed through a 3.8 percent menu price increase in the second quarter and plans to raise prices 3.5 percent in the third quarter and another 2 percent in the fourth quarter.

    However, prices in the fourth quarter could end up jumping more than 2 percent, because the company is implementing a "refreshed" menu in October. The refresh consists of efforts to keep the design of the menu visually appealing, and to introduce some new products. The cost to develop the new items and market them to customers will likely trigger price increases north of 2 percent.

    3. Olive Garden

    As it tries to win over customers with a new menu at Olive Garden, Darden (DRI) will ask its diners to fork over a little more to compensate for higher costs for wages and ingredients like beef. Darden expects overall inflation of 1.5 to 2 percent this year, with commodity price inflation of 0.5 to 1 percent. Wage inflation for the company is pegged in the range of 2 to 3 percent.

    On the company's June 23 earnings call, the company projected that it will price its food at the "low end of the overall inflation range," which suggests a price increase this year of at least 1.5 percent.

     

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    Financial Markets Wall Street
    Seth Wenig/AP
    By Noel Randewich

    NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks ended higher after a choppy session Tuesday, as a rebound in U.S. oil prices helped offset concerns about a slowdown in China and the Greek debt crisis.

    The S&P energy index reversed course to trade up 0.9 percent as U.S. crude oil rose 0.7 percent after trading as much as 3.7 percent lower earlier in the day.

    Oil markets have been keeping a close eye on negotiations between Iran and six major powers over a nuclear deal. A source close to the talks said there must be an agreement soon if there is to be an accord to end sanctions in exchange for curbs on Tehran's atomic program.

    Energy stocks bounced, and when that happened it helped the indices move higher.

    "The decline in oil ended," said Stephen Massocca, chief investment officer at Wedbush Equity Management in San Francisco. "Energy stocks bounced, and when that happened it helped the indices move higher."

    Concerns about China's economy and its sliding stock market have weighed recently on an already ravaged global commodity sector, with prices of copper, coal, natural gas and iron ore falling towards their 2015 lows.

    Eurozone leaders held an emergency meeting Tuesday in Brussels and could hold another summit Sunday to approve a plan to aid Greece if creditor institutions are satisfied with a Greek loan application and reform plan, two senior EU sources said.

    Greece is expected to submit a formal request for a medium-term assistance program from the European Stability Mechanism rescue fund within hours and eurozone finance ministers have said they will hold a conference call Wednesday morning to consider that request.

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) rose 93.33 points, or 0.5 percent, to end at 17,776.91. The Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) gained 12.58 points, or 0.6 percent, to 2,081.34 after briefly falling below its 200-day moving average. The Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) added 5.52 points, or 0.1 percent, to 4,997.46.

    Nine of the 10 major S&P 500 sectors finished higher. The utilities index jumped 2.48 percent while the materials index was down 0.3 percent.

    Rate Rise on Hold?

    Some investors believe the storm clouds over Greece and China may give the Federal Reserve reason to hold off raising U.S. interest rates, or at least slow the pace of their rise.

    "The U.S. economy should benefit from lower interest rates and lower oil prices that are a result of a slower China and the Greek crisis," said Paul Zemsky, chief investment officer at Voya Investment Management.

    A warning from chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) about weak demand for personal computers pushed its shares 15.4 percent lower and hurt peers such as Nvidia (NVDA) and Intel (INTC).

    Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 1,837 to 1,248, for a 1.47-to-1 ratio on the upside; on the Nasdaq, 1,636 issues fell and 1,150 advanced for a 1.42-to-1 ratio favoring decliners.

    The benchmark S&P 500 index posted 14 new 52-week highs and 48 new lows; the Nasdaq composite recorded 46 new highs and 166 new lows.

    About 8.6 billion shares traded on all U.S. platforms, according to BATS exchange data, well above the average of 6.9 billion in the past five sessions.

    -Tanya Agrawal contributed reporting.

    What to watch Wednesday:
    • The Federal Reserve releases minutes from its June interest-rate meeting at 2 p.m. Eastern time.
    • The Federal Reserve releases consumer credit data for May at 3 p.m.

     

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    close up of woman hand holding...
    Shutterstock
    By Alexis James*

    I've always been the kind of person who believed in taking hold of my happiness -- a conviction that led me to leave a comfortable career for more artistic pursuits. Three years ago I quit my $87,000-a-year job at an educational nonprofit in San Francisco to pursue the theater life.

    I'd dreamed of writing and acting in plays since I was in high school, and with 30 fast approaching, I felt like the time was right to make my move.

    So I applied to a Master of Fine Arts program on the East Coast, and once I got in, I made it official by announcing it on social media.

    If only Facebook "likes" equaled dollars -- because, unfortunately, I didn't have too many of those. Despite my high salary I'd never made saving a priority, so within two months of starting school, I bulldozed through what little I had stashed away.

    On top of food and rent, there were school-related expenses I hadn't factored in, like networking events, audition travel and developing an online portfolio.

    And it didn't help that I still spent as if I had a salary. Old habits, such as dining out when I was stressed, telling myself I needed those shoes, and splurging on a daily Oprah Chai tea latte from Starbucks -- how does one channel her inner greatness without it? -- were hard to shake.

    As a result, I racked up $10,000 of credit card debt -- and that was on top of my $30,000 in student loans.

    Who knew pursuing your dreams could be so expensive?

    The good news is that I graduated in December and landed a gig as a production assistant in New York quickly, so I didn't have to go for long without income.

    But my debt weighs on me heavily. That's why I called up Timothy M. Hayes, a certified financial planner with Landmark Financial Advisory Services in Pittsford, New York, for help.

    Given my current budget, I wanted to know if it would be possible to pay off that $10,000 -- ideally, within a year -- so I can start digging out from the financial mess I feel like I'm in.

    Since my grad school days, I've basically cut out frivolous spending -- my current budget is about as bare bones as I've ever lived.

    I really felt the toll my debt had taken on my finances a couple of months ago, when I realized I couldn't afford to be in a friend's wedding. It was hard to tell her no because of my money situation. After all, what's the point of working if you can't enjoy life's moments?

    My hope is that discipline now will lead to greater happiness later, although I'm at a loss as to how my current situation will allow me to chip away significantly at my debt.
    "My monthly expenses run about $2,450 a month, but that exceeds my income in certain months. I can take home between $1,760 and $2,760 each month -- a wide disparity."
    Part of the issue is that my monthly expenses run about $2,450 a month, including a hefty $1,200 I try to put toward paying down my credit card.

    But that exceeds my income in certain months. Between my production assistant job, acting gigs and random freelance voice-over work I pick up, I can take home anywhere between $1,760 and $2,760 each month -- a wide disparity.

    As a result, I sometimes end up adding back credit card debt I've worked to pay off. This situation will only get worse once my student-loan deferral ends in the fall -- and I have another $200 expense to contend with.

    The lack of progress is the most frustrating part, but perhaps Hayes has some bright ideas to help me hack away at my debt.

    What the Financial Expert Says About My Debt ...

    The first thing Hayes tells me is that my financial situation isn't a unique one -- and that it is surmountable, which gave me some hope.

    "It's common for people to rely on credit cards while going through life transitions," he says. "But the key is to stop the reliance, pay them down, and stick to a strict budget."

    The challenge, of course, is that I'm already frugal, which means the biggest and most immediate debt help will come from potentially optimizing my debt payments.

    One way I could do that is by seeing if I qualify for a credit card that doesn't charge interest on balance transfers for the first 12 to 18 months. "Often, companies will offer a teaser rate to get you to consolidate debt with them," Hayes says.

    Doing this could help me pay down my debt faster. Although he cautions that, once the introductory period ends, I'd ideally want a card that offers a lower interest rate than what I've been paying for my current cards.

    Plus, I'd have to watch for transfer fees and be diligent about making my payments on time. Otherwise, the credit company might charge me retroactive interest.

    Another option could be working with a consumer credit counseling service certified by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

    "They can help people restructure a credit card repayment plan," Hayes says. "Sometimes that includes renegotiating your debt with lenders."

    To free up cash, Hayes asks me to do a strict review of my expenses to see which can be negotiated down, like my cable and Internet package or my auto insurance, which I could also lower by opting for a higher-deductible policy.

    "We may be able to squeeze a little more blood out of the rock, especially if you're paying for [a service] you may not need," he says.

    Then he suggests something I'd never considered before -- reviewing my taxes.

    If I take too few federal exemptions, I could end up withholding too much, which means I'd wind up with a huge tax refund at the end of the year.

    But considering I'm in bigger need of that cash today, Hayes advises checking whether I need to amend my W-4 in order to bank more of my paychecks.

    Finally, Hayes suggests finding other sources of income -- a move that could really help me pay down my debt faster.

    So instead of buying lattes from Starbucks, I may need to work at Starbucks in my free time. Or maybe I can leverage my skills from the nonprofit world to snag a part-time gig. Why let that experience go to waste?

    In a parting note, Hayes mentions that despite my focus on debt, it would be wise to start an emergency fund, no matter how small.

    "Saving while paying down debt looks, outwardly, like a 'zero-sum' maneuver, inasmuch as whatever you're setting aside for savings could instead go toward more rapidly paying down debt," he says. "But both are important."

    After all, it only takes a broken-down car or a chipped tooth to get deeper into debt.

    We ended our conversation much like it started, with Hayes encouraging me to stay the course.

    "I don't see you in some sort of debt spiral," he says. "Depending on how close to the bone you live, I think you can do this in a year."
    "It's entirely possible that I'm paying too much for auto insurance. Since my car is paid off, and my driving record is fairly clean, chances are I can bring down that cost."
    What I Think About the Financial Planner's Advice ...

    Hayes is right. I can do this.

    I realize that most of his tips are things I can enact immediately. For starters, I'm going to look into my withholdings to see if I can get even a few bucks back into my pocket -- every little bit helps.

    I also think it's entirely possible that I'm paying too much in auto insurance. When I signed up for my policy back in 2010, I didn't really read the fine print -- I just wanted to get coverage.

    But since my car is paid off, and my driving record is fairly clean, chances are I can bring down that cost -- then funnel any savings toward debt repayment.

    My biggest question mark is around debt consolidation. I don't have a good credit score (540, anyone?) thanks to having missed payments on my cards during some of the leaner months. So qualifying for those zero percent interest cards seems out of the picture.

    But I would consider looking into credit counseling if it means being able to lower my payments -- and not having to juggle payments for 10 separate cards.

    As far as bringing in more income goes, I'd be willing to lose a few hours of sleep if it means getting rid of my debt faster. I'm already tweaking my non-acting resume and submitting it to my network to see if I can land a side gig.

    Overall, I'm glad Hayes isn't asking me to cut off my Internet or quit the gym, because having a couple small things I enjoy allows me to maintain some mental balance.

    But I am committed to freeing up cash to pay down my debt, and sticking to my strict budget. I really want to see that debt load drop month after month and work toward my ultimate goal of being debt-free -- perhaps with a $5,000 emergency fund, to boot.

    Pursuing my ambitions may have cost me a lot up front, but with discipline and perseverance, I know I can make my career and financial dreams come true.

    *Names and some identifying details have been changed.

     

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    Car Salesman Assisting Customers
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    Does it make sense to save up and pay cash for your new car?

    For years, most personal-finance experts have said, "Of course it does!" It seems like a no-brainer: Car loans add interest payments and fees to the principal, and those can add up to big bucks over the life of the loan.

    But in today's environment, when interest rates are low and cheap financing deals are common, the answer is a little less clear. Does it still make sense to buy a car the old-fashioned way?

    The Argument for Paying Cash: It Has Become Very Tempting to Overspend

    Personal-finance experts have long argued that paying cash is the best way to go when buying a new car or truck. By paying cash instead of taking out a loan, you'll avoid interest charges and financing fees, which can add thousands of dollars to a car's purchase price.

    That's true even at today's low interest rates. On a loan of $30,000 with a 60-month term at 4 percent interest, the interest payments add up to $3,149.68 over the life of the loan. If there are fees associated with the loan, you might pay even more.

    That extra $3,000-plus is a big part of why many advisers suggest paying cash for a car if you can. And there's another reason to consider the save-up-and-pay-cash approach: Simply put, it's a lot harder to overspend.

    That's important, because the swift pace of technology has made it tempting to spend more for a more lavishly equipped model. And many consumers have been giving in to that temptation.

    The Argument for Financing: New Cars and Trucks Have Become More Expensive

    If it seems like cars and trucks have become more expensive in recent years, that's because they have. The average transaction price for a new "light vehicle" -- a car, SUV, or pickup truck -- in the U.S. has risen quite a bit. According to Kelley Blue Book, the average transaction price for a light vehicle sold in the U.S. rose to $33,340 in June. That's up 2.5 percent from a year ago.

    Some vehicles have risen even more sharply. Ford (F) said that the average transaction price for a new F-Series pickup was over $44,000 in June. Surprised? If so, it's easy to understand. After all, the base model F-150 starts at under $26,000. But Ford -- like just about every other automaker -- offers plenty of desirable options and packages that can add tens of thousands to the basic truck's sticker price.

    That strategy has been great for Ford's profit margins. But it has led many consumers to feel like new-car prices have outpaced inflation -- and like they need a loan to be able to afford a new car at all.

    It has also led to financial innovations intended to help consumers "afford" ever-more-expensive cars and trucks, like longer-term auto loans. Longer loans help make monthly payments more affordable, but at an obvious cost: You'll be making those payments for five years or more.

    Many people are happy to make the trade-off. The average term for a new-vehicle loan rose to 67 months in the first quarter of 2015, according to credit bureau Experian. That's over five years. And lots of loans are even longer: Experian reported that almost 30 percent of new-vehicle loans in the first quarter were between 73 and 84 months -- or six to seven years.

    Are all those people crazy?

    Understand the Costs Before You Choose

    When it comes to paying cash for a new car, the good reasons that experts have been giving us for years are still good reasons. But it's also true that low interest rates have made longer loans much more affordable. Many buyers who take longer loans aren't crazy at all -- they're just willing to pay extra over time for the convenience of being able to buy the car or truck they want, right now.

    As always, the right advice is to choose an option that you can comfortably afford. If paying cash feels like the right way to go, there's nothing wrong with that. But a low-interest loan that gives you a manageable payment on a new car that you plan to keep for a long time is also a reasonable option. Just do the math before you sign.

    Motley Fool contributor John Rosevear owns shares of Ford. The Motley Fool recommends Ford. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days, and click here to check out our free report for one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.

     

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    United States currency
    Getty Images
    By Stacy Johnson

    I'm now financially independent. I didn't get this way overnight, nor did I do it by selling books or advice. I did it the same way you can: one paycheck at a time over many years.

    One of my young staffers recently asked if I could condense everything I've learned into 10 simple ideas that would serve as a guide to those starting out, starting over, or maybe beginning to realize they're not where they'd like to be. While certainly a challenge, it's a worthy one. So here goes: the 10 commandments of achieving financial independence and being happier while you do it.

    1. Live like you're going to die tomorrow, but invest like you're going to live forever. The ease of making money in stocks, real estate, or other risk-based assets is inversely proportional to your time horizon. In other words, making money over long periods of time is easy -- making money overnight is the flip of a coin.

    Money is like a tree: Plant it properly, care for it occasionally, but not obsessively, then wait.

    Stare at a newly planted tree for 24 hours and you'll be convinced it's not growing. Fixate on your investments the same way, and you could miss out on a game-changer.

    The biggest winner in my IRA is Apple (AAPL). I don't remember exactly when I bought it, but I'm guessing it was in 2002 or 2003. My split adjusted price is around $1 a share: As I write this, Apple's trading at around $126 a share. Had I been listening to CNBC or some other outlet promoting constant trading, I almost certainly wouldn't still own it.

    The lesson? Enjoy your life to the fullest every day -- live like you're going to die tomorrow. But since you're probably not going to die tomorrow, plant part of your money in quality stocks, real estate or other investments; then hold onto them. Don't ignore your investments entirely -- sometimes fundamental things change indicating it's time to move on -- but don't act rashly. Patience pays.

    2. Listen to your own voice above all others. My job as a consumer reporter has included listening to countless sad stories about nice people being separated from their money by people who weren't so nice. While these stories run the gamut from real estate deals to working from home, they all start the same way: with a promise of something that seems too good to be true.

    And they all end the same way: It was to good to be true.

    If someone promises they can make you 3,000 percent in the stock market, they're either a fool for sharing that information or a liar. Why would you send money to either one? When you hear someone promising a simple solution to a complex problem, stop listening to them and start listening to your own inner voice. You know there's no pill that's going to make you skinny. You know the government's not handing out free money for your small business. You know you can't buy a house for $300. Stop listening to infomercials and start listening to yourself.

    3. Covet bad economic times. Wealth is realized when the economy is booming, but that's not when it's created. Wealth is created when times are bad, unemployment is high, problems are massive, everybody's freaking out, and there's nothing but economic misery on the horizon.

    Would you rather buy a house for $400,000, or $200,000? Would you rather invest in stocks when the Dow is at 12,000 or 7,000?

    Nobody wants their fellow citizens to be out of work. But the cyclical nature of our economy all but assures this will periodically happen. If you still have a job, this is the time you've been saving for. Stop listening to all the Chicken Littles in the media: The sky isn't falling. Get busy -- put your cash to work and create some wealth.

    4. Work as little as possible. A friend of mine, Liz Pulliam Weston, once wrote a great story called Pretend You Won the Lottery. She asked her Facebook fans to describe what they would do if they won the lottery. From that article:

    Most of the responses had a lot in common. People overwhelmingly wanted to:

    • Pay off all their debts.
    • Help their families.
    • Donate more to charity.
    • Pursue their passions, including travel.
    Note these goals are largely achievable without winning the lottery. And that was her point: Listing what you'd like to do if money is no object puts you in touch with the way you'd really like to spend your life.

    My philosophy takes this concept a step further: When it comes to work, you should try to do something that you regard as so fulfilling that you'd do it even if it didn't pay anything. In other words, the word "work" implies doing something you have to do, not something you want to do. You should never "work."

    If you're going to spend a huge part of your life working, don't fill that time with what makes you the most money. Fill it with what makes you the most fulfilled.

    5. Don't create debt. I'm always getting questions about debt. "Should I borrow for this, that, or the other?" "What's an acceptable debt level?" "Is there such a thing as good debt?"

    There's way too much analysis and mystery around something that isn't at all mysterious. Paying interest is nothing more than giving someone else your money in exchange for temporarily using theirs. Rule of thumb: To have as much money as possible, avoid giving yours to other people.

    Don't ever borrow money because you want something you can't afford. Borrow money in only two circumstances: when your back is against the wall, or when what you're buying will increase in value by more than what you're paying in interest.

    Debt also affects you on a level that can't be defined in dollars. When you owe money, in a very real way you're a slave to that lender until you pay it back. When you don't, you're much more the master of your own destiny. There are two ways to achieve financial freedom: Have so much money you can't possibly spend it all (something exceedingly difficult to do) or don't owe anybody anything. Granted, since you still have to eat and put a roof over your head, living debt-free doesn't offer the same level of freedom as having massive money. But living debt-free isn't a matter of luck or even hard work. It's a simple choice, available to everyone.

    6. Be frugal -- but not miserly. The key to accumulating more savings isn't to spend less -- it's to spend less without sacrificing your quality of life. If going out to dinner with your significant other is something you enjoy, not doing it may create a happier bank balance, but an unhappier you: a trade-off that is neither worthwhile nor sustainable. Eating an appetizer at home, then splitting an entree at the restaurant, however, maintains your quality of life and fattens your bank account.

    Finding ways to save is important, but avoiding deprivation is just as important.

    Diets suck. Whether they're food-related or money-related, if they leave you feeling deprived and unhappy, they're not going to work. But there's a difference between food diets and dollar diets: It's hard to lose weight without depriving yourself of the foods you love, but it's easy to reduce spending without depriving yourself of the things you love.

    Cottage cheese isn't a suitable substitute for steak, but a used car is a perfectly acceptable substitute for a new one. And the list goes on: watching TV online rather than paying for cable, buying generics when they're just as good as name brands, using house-swapping to get free lodging, downloading books from the library instead of Amazon. No matter what you love, from physical possessions to travel, there are ways to save without reducing your quality of life.

    7. Regard possessions not in terms of money, but time. You go to the mall and spend $150 on clothes. But what you spent isn't just $150. If you earn $150 a day, you just spent a day of your life. Almost every resource you have, from physical possessions to money, is renewable. The amount of time you have on this planet, however, is finite. Once used, it can never be replaced. So when you spend money -- especially if you earned that money by doing something you had to do instead of what you wanted to do -- you're spending your life.

    This doesn't mean you should never spend money. If those clothes are all that important to you, by all means, buy them. But if it's really not going to make you that much happier, don't. Think of it this way: If you can live on $150 a day, every time you forgo spending $150, you get one day closer to financial independence.

    8. Always consider opportunity cost. This is related to the commandment above. Opportunity cost is an accounting term that describes the cost of missing out on alternative uses for money.

    For example, when I said above that not spending $150 on clothes puts you $150 closer to independence, that was a gross understatement. Because when you save $150, investing those savings gives you the opportunity to have more savings. If you're earning 10 percent, $150 invested for 20 years will ultimately make you $1,000 richer. If you can live on $150 a day, ignoring inflation, you can now retire nearly a week sooner, not just a day.

    One of the exercises in my book, Life or Debt, is to go around your house and identify things you bought but probably didn't want or need. A quick way to do this is to find things you haven't touched in months. These were probably impulse buys. Add up the cost of these things, multiply them by 7, and you'll arrive at the amount of money you could have had if you'd invested that money at 10 percent for 20 years rather than wasting it.

    And when you do this, consider the stuff in your closet, the stuff in your garage, the rooms of your house that you heat and cool but don't use, the new cars you've bought when used would have worked. The truth is that most of us have already blown the opportunity to achieve financial independence much sooner. Maybe now's the time to stop.

    9. Don't put off till tomorrow what you can save today. Shortly after I began my television career in 1988, I went on set with a pack of smokes, a can of soda, and a candy bar. I explained that these things represented the kind of money most of us throw away every day without thinking about it; at the time, about $5. But compound $5 daily at 10 percent for 30 years, and you'll end up with about $340,000. That's why learning to save a few bucks here and there and investing it is so important.

    Fortunes are rarely made by investing big bucks, nor are they often made late in life. Wealth most often comes from starting small and early.

    There are limited ways to get rich. You can inherit, marry well, build a valuable business, successfully capitalize on exceptional talent, get exceedingly lucky -- or spend less than you make and consistently invest your savings over time. Even if you're on the road to any of the former, why not do the latter?

    10. Envy is your enemy. You can either look rich or be rich, but you probably won't live long enough to accomplish both. I've lived both ways, and trust me: Being rich is way better than using debt to appear rich. Most of us will admit that, when on the verge of making a purchase, we're often thinking of what our friends will say when they see it. Normal human behavior? Sure, but it's not in your best interest, or theirs. Making your friends jealous isn't nice and feeling envy for other people's possessions is silly. Possessions have never made anyone happy, nor will they.

    Decide what really makes you happy, then spend -- or not -- accordingly. When your friends make an impressive addition to their collection of material possessions, be happy for them.

    One of the stupidest expressions ever coined was: "The one who dies with the most toys wins." When you're on your death bed, you won't be thinking about the things you had -- you'll be thinking about the times you had.

    Like this article? Sign up for our newsletter and we'll send you a regular digest of our newest stories, full of money saving tips and advice, free!

     

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    Horseshoe Mesa from Grandview Trail - Grand Canyon - South Rim
    Al_HikesAZ/Flickr
    By Robert McGarvey

    NEW YORK -- Every year, millions of us make the same predictable vacation mistakes: we go where everybody else is going, we pay too much and we complain about the crowds. But there are some places -- wonderful destinations at other times of the year -- that are truly awful in the summer, kind of a Hall of Fame of really bad destinations and, yes, very probably on your list. Read on to know what to delete, right now.

    And, no, the Hamptons isn't on the list. Sure, it's wildly over-popular there, not to mention ridiculously expensive ($5,000 a week for a decent house is normal). But, listen, for the right people, just being in the Hamptons is as critical as oxygen. People will be impressed back home when you let drop, "Last week, when we were in East Hampton ..."

    Ditto for Martha's Vineyard.

    But then there are the places that don't get a pass.

    Orlando, Florida. Break the kids' hearts, tell them no Orlando, no Disney World not this or any summer. Sriram Srinivasan, who blogs at Upgrd.com, told why. "I've had plenty of experience with Orlando in the summer," he said. "The main reason not to go is simply the weather. It's very hot and humid to be walking around outside at a place like Disney World during the day."

    He added: "To make matters worse, you're all but guaranteed a 30-60 minute interruption or two each afternoon for thunderstorms. It all adds up to kids complaining constantly first about being hot, then not being able to go on the rides because of the rain." Did we mention the lines? Peak attractions can involve a wait of a couple hours. In the heat and humidity.

    Northern Arizona -- Grand Canyon. In July and August last year, over 600,000 flocked each month to the Grand Canyon. Go in April, and only 320,000 did. Go in October, and 411,000 did. Here's one other number to seal the deal: 105 degrees. That was the lowest high temp predicted for the first week of summer. The highest high was 109 degrees. What you do at the Grand Canyon is hike. Get the drift?

    Traveler Ted Sindzinski, who blogs at theunseenside, agreed. "The Grand Canyon is a place I'd go to every year, but going back in summer?" he said. "No way. Just driving in feels like a visit to Disneyland with parking lots that go forever but crowds are hardly the worst part; what really does in a summer visit is the heat. Walking and hiking into the canyon is the experience you come for and at 100+ degrees, that's just not a fun adventure."

    Oh, many of the prime Grand Canyon hotels, such as El Tovar, are already booked for much of the summer, the area's busiest season.

    Jersey Shore. We know: half of New Jersey, much of Philadelphia, and parts of New York (namely Staten Island) power "down the shore" from Memorial Day to Labor Day. A Jersey oddity: many of the beaches are private and involve fees, typically $4 or $6 a head a day just to walk on the sand. It gets worse. Popular beaches are overrun early on prime days (most weekends and holidays). Screaming about towel placement -- and louder curses about sand kicked into a face -- are frequent. Good beach houses and many local motels are already sold out for prime summer days. Better luck next year.

    The Jersey Shore can be beautiful in the off-season, even on some mid week days in summer (when some beaches that charge on weekends waive the so called "badge fees"). Go then.

    San Francisco. The weather is why Baghdad by the Bay is a no-go in the summer: the town is just cold. In July the average high is 66 degrees. In August it's 67 degrees. Those temps may be welcome by residents of hot towns such as Phoenix and Houston -- but much of the country just chatters its teeth in a San Francisco summer, which -- supposedly -- is why Mark Twain famously quipped that the coldest winter he ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.

    Insiders know the best time to visit San Francisco is September through November when rain is unlikely, hotels have slashed their summer rates, and it just is easier to get around the city center because tourists are fewer. September, by the way, is also the hottest month with an average daily high of 70 degrees.

    Bonus: Don't Go: Rome. "No one goes to Rome in the summer," said travel expert Joe Brancatelli, himself a frequent visitor to Rome who blogs at JoeSentMe.

    The problem of course is precisely the opposite: just about everybody goes to Rome in the summer, and long lines to get into the attractions such as the Colosseum and the Sistine Chapel are common.

    Added Brancatelli about Rome in the summer, "It's hot and humid, and the old stone buildings hold the heat at night." He also noted that if you go in August, you won't see any Romans, because they are all out of town.

    Go in late November, early December. Crowds are thin. Hotel prices have tumbled. Weather is mild. Experience Rome like a Roman.

    Add it up: go to many prime places anytime but the summer, and you pay less. There are no lines. And people, generally, just are nicer. That makes the decision easy.

     

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    Verizon Store Stocks Shelves With New Apple iPhone 6
    George Frey/Getty ImagesThe Apple iPhone 6 Plus, shown in gold, debuted last September.
    It's awfully tempting to buy one of Apple's (AAPL) hottest products these days. The consumer tech giant is selling millions of Apple Watches and tens of millions of iPhones in any given month, and that's likely to continue this summer.

    However, history tells us that a new iPhone is now just a couple of months away. There's also chatter about bar-raising features in the next Apple Watch, a smartwatch that may hit the market sooner than you might think. These rumblings should be enough to have you rethink jumping into a new Apple smartphone or smartwatch right away.

    If you can wait, you will probably be rewarded with either a better product or perhaps the same product at a lower price.

    Let's Talk iPhone 6S

    Apple has released a new iPhone in September for three consecutive years, making it a good bet that we'll get the next iconic wireless device in two months. That's usually good news for those willing to wait. Apple's updated iPhones tend to stick to existing prices, and the model it replaces is typically available for about $100 less than before.

    The next iPhone may not be called the iPhone 6S. It sounds too much like "success" and that kind of self-back-patting may jinx the release. However, like all Apple releases, it will introduce improvements. Apple fan site 9to5Mac is hearing that the next iPhone could double the data speeds and incorporate the Force Touch display with haptic feedback that's now available in the Apple Watch. Naturally there will also be an upgraded camera.

    Even if the new features don't wind up seeming like game changers, that's not the point. Today's iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus will likely stick around at slightly lower prices, so why not hold back from buying one now if that's an option?

    Watch This Space

    Sources are beginning to get chatty with 9to5Mac on the features of the second generation of Apple's smartwatch. Adding a video camera to make Apple Watch the latest gadget to offer FaceTime makes sense, and so does a new Wi-Fi chip that will make it more functional when a Web-tethered iPhone isn't around.

    The biggest knock on the Apple Watch -- the weak battery life that calls for daily recharging -- is something that may not be addressed with the next generation.

    Most signs point to Apple rolling out the next smartwatch early next year, but it's always possible that waning demand could lead to an earlier release. The Apple Watch appears to be selling briskly, but there are some signs that demand is slowing for the original model.

    Pacific Crest analyst Andy Hargreaves, one of the market's biggest bulls on Apple, recently scaled back his Apple Watch forecasts. He now sees Apple moving just 10.5 million of the high-tech timepieces this fiscal year, down from an earlier projection of 11 million. His target for next year is going from 24 million to 21 million. Anecdotal evidence is leading Hargreaves to believe that demand is slowing, and slowing quickly. If so, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Apple push out its updated smartwatch sooner rather than later.

    Obviously, fans of the tech giant's products can't hold back on buying Apple's products forever, but with improvements coming and possibly soon, it seems to be the best strategy at the moment.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Check out our free report on one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.

     

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    Microsoft Layoffs
    Eric Risberg/APMicrosoft CEO Satya Nadella
    By Devika Krishna Kumar and Abhirup Roy

    Microsoft said Wednesday it would cut 7,800 jobs, or nearly 7 percent of its workforce, and write down about $7.6 billion related to its Nokia phone business.

    Most of the job cuts will be in the phone hardware business, underscoring the company's shift in focus to software and cloud from hardware.

    About a third of the layoffs will be in Finland, where Microsoft will shut down a product development unit, according to Finland's national broadcaster YLE.

    This is the second round of job cuts since Satya Nadella took over as chief executive in February 2014. Microsoft said last July it would slash up to 18,000 jobs.

    Overall, we believe Nadella's proactive approach at cleaning up the Nokia acquisition is a positive 'tipping of the hand' around Microsoft's future focus on software.

    Nadella has played up Microsoft's cloud and enterprise software capabilities, but investors have been concerned that the transition to cloud wasn't offsetting weakening sales of Windows and Office and a bleeding phone business.

    Microsoft was widely expected to write off all or part of the $7.2 billion it paid for Nokia's handset unit in 2014, a deal that left the company with a struggling business and only 3 percent of the smartphone market.

    The company announced last month that Stephen Elop, the former top boss at Nokia, would leave.

    "Overall, we believe Nadella's proactive approach at cleaning up the Nokia acquisition is a positive 'tipping of the hand' around Microsoft's future focus on software," FBR Capital Markets analyst Daniel Ives wrote in a note.

    Microsoft (MSFT) shares rose as much as 1.4 percent Wednesday.

    Cross Research analyst Shannon Cross said she expects more cost cutting in the next couple of years as Microsoft needs to become more competitive in the smartphone market.

    The company, which had more than 118,000 employees worldwide as of March 31, said Wednesday it would take a restructuring charge of about $750 million to $850 million in its fourth quarter ended June 30.

    RBC Capital Markets analyst Ross MacMillan said he estimates the latest layoffs to reduce operating expenses by more than $1 billion on an annualized basis.

    Microsoft shares have risen about 22 percent since Nadella took over in February last year.

    -Sabina Zawadzki contributed reporting from Copenhagen.

     

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    Auto Show Jaguar Land Rover
    AP
    DETROIT -- Jaguar Land Rover is recalling about 65,000 SUVs in the U.S. because the doors may not latch properly and could open while being driven.

    The recall covers certain 2013 to 2016 Range Rover and 2014 to 2016 Range Rover Sport models.

    The British automaker says in documents filed with U.S. safety regulators that it traced the problem to a software glitch in the keyless entry system. The company began looking into the problem in October after getting customer complaints. No crashes or injuries have been reported.

    Dealers will update the keyless entry software at no cost to owners. The recall is expected to begin Aug. 7.

     

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    United Airlines Flights Resume After Computer Glitch

    By DAVID KOENIG and SCOTT MAYEROWITZ

    NEW YORK -- United Airlines temporarily grounded flights across the country for part of Wednesday after experiencing computer problems, causing more than 800 delays.

    A White House spokesman said President Barack Obama was briefed on the glitch and that it appeared unrelated to an outage hours later at the New York Stock Exchange.

    There is no indication at this point either that there is malicious activity involved.

    "There is no indication at this point either that there is malicious activity involved," said the spokesman, Josh Earnest.

    A United spokeswoman confirmed that the glitch was caused by an internal technology issue and not an outside threat.

    Spokeswoman Jennifer Dohm said that a router problem reduced "network connectivity" for several software applications. "We fixed the router issue, which is enabling us to restore normal functions," she said around midday.

    The Federal Aviation Administration lifted a ground-stop order after nearly two hours, allowing United planes to fly again.

    United said more than 800 flights were delayed and about 60 were canceled because of the technology problem. It said that delays could linger throughout the day.

    United, the nation's second-biggest airline, has suffered similar technology problems before, also leading to mass delays and cancellations.

    The airline briefly halted all takeoffs in the U.S. on June 2 because of a problem in its flight-dispatching system. United said then that about 150 flights were affected.

    United also struggled through a series of computer outages in 2012 after switching to the passenger-information system of Continental Airlines after that carrier merged with United. Those outages caused hundreds of flights to be delayed. High-paying business travelers were outraged; United CEO Jeff Smisek apologized for failing to provide good customer service.

    Merger Woes

    After a 2010 merger, United elected to combine many computer systems and frequent-flier programs all at once. Executives believed that any disruptions would thus be short-lived. By contrast, Delta and Northwest integrated their systems in stages after a 2008 merger, and American Airlines is taking Delta's same go-slow approach now as it absorbs US Airways.

    Other airlines, however, have also been hit by computer problems. In April, more than 50 American flights were delayed when a software glitch prevented pilots from seeing some airport maps on their tablet computers.

    After Wednesday's problems, United apologized to customers and said they could change travel plans without being charged the usual $200 reservation-change fee. In some cases, the airline said it would also waive any difference in fare for the rescheduled trip.

    "We don't know everything behind this morning's issues yet, but today's incident underscores the sense that something is very wrong at United," said Gary Leff, co-founder of frequent-flier website MilePoint.

    "How could a router bring down one of the world's largest airlines?" asked Henry Harteveldt, a travel analyst at Atmosphere Research Group, who said it appeared that United lacked enough redundancy in its technology systems.

    Still, Harteveldt said he doubted that United would lose many business-travel customers because technology hiccups could happen to any carrier.

    Shares of Chicago-based United Continental Holdings (UAL) fell $1.43, or 2.6 percent, to $52.88 in afternoon trading.

    -Koenig reported from Dallas. Michelle Chapman in New York, Matt Small in San Francisco and Joan Lowy in Washington contributed to this report.

     

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    Technical Error Halts NYSE Trading

    By John McCrank

    The New York Stock Exchange suspended trading in all securities on its platform Wednesday for what it called an internal technical issue, and canceled all open orders as investors shifted activity to other venues.

    The exchange, a unit of Intercontinental Exchange Inc., said the halt, which occurred shortly after 11:30 a.m. Eastern time, wasn't the result of a cyberattack. Other exchanges were trading normally.

    UPDATE: Trading on the New York Stock Exchange resumed late Wednesday afternoon, more than three hours after a technical outage halted activity on its own venues.

    Trading resumed around 3:10 p.m. Eastern time.

    Investors had been able to continue trading in NYSE-listed stocks throughout the outage as orders were routed to other exchanges.

    Original story continues below...

    "We will be providing further updates as soon as we can, and are doing our utmost to produce a swift resolution, communicate thoroughly and transparently, and ensure a timely and orderly market reopen," an exchange spokeswoman said.

    There are 11 U.S. stock exchanges, and NYSE-listed stocks continued to trade on other venues, such as those run by Nasdaq OMX Group and BATS Global Markets.

    "This is one of the rare cases where the fragmented markets we live in actually serve a purpose," said Dave Nadig, director of exchange-traded funds at FactSet Research Systems. "If this
    happened at [the London Stock Exchange], you would just be sitting staring at a blank screen."

    Technology Concerns

    The issues at NYSE came on the same day that computer problems led United Airlines (UAL) to ground all its flights for about two hours and the home page of the Wall Street Journal's website temporarily went down.

    The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said there were no signs that the problems at NYSE and United Airlines stemmed from "malicious activity," CNN reported.

    Nearly all U.S. trading is done electronically, and the NYSE outage again raised questions about the technology at exchanges after major glitches in recent years.

    A technical problem at NYSE's Arca exchange in March caused some of the most popular exchange-traded funds to be temporarily unavailable for trading. And in August 2013, trading of all Nasdaq-listed stocks was frozen for three hours, leading U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Mary Jo White to call for a meeting of Wall Street executives to insure "continuous and orderly" functioning of the markets.

    The SEC said Wednesday that it was closely monitoring the situation at NYSE. The White House said President Barack Obama had been briefed on the matter.

    The New York Stock Exchange accounted for about 13.4 percent of all equities volume last month and 12.5 percent Tuesday according to BATS Global Markets data.

    -Rodrigo Campos and Caroline Valetkevitch contributed reporting.

     

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    Financial Stability
    Andrew Harnik/APTreasury Secretary Jacob Lew
    By MARTIN CRUTSINGER

    WASHINGTON -- Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew is sticking with his plan to replace Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill with a woman.

    Lew announced last month that as part of a redesign of the $10 note, he hoped to put a woman on the bill. The department called for the public to weigh in on who should be honored. He said he expects a final decision soon.

    "I think we have waited long enough," Lew said of the move to put a woman on U.S. paper currency for the first time in 100 years. He made his remarks Wednesday during an appearance at the Brookings Institution.

    The initial announcement to remove Hamilton triggered a public outcry.

    Critics of the decision complained that Hamilton, the nation's first Treasury secretary, should be left on the $10 bill. Instead, they argued, a woman should be featured on the $20 bill in place of Andrew Jackson, who many historians view less favorably because of his treatment of Native Americans.

    Former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke wrote in a blog post that he was "appalled" by Lew's plans to replace Hamilton, calling him "without doubt the best and most foresighted economic policymaker in U.S. history."

    Asked about all the controversy, Lew said that he wanted to move quickly to honor a woman and that the next bill scheduled for redesign to improve anti-counterfeiting features is the $10 bill.

    Lew said that Hamilton's image would be retained in some way on the redesigned bill. But his position has drawn fire from Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, who said a woman should not have to share the $10 bill with a man.

    Treasury has said that once a woman is selected, it will aim to complete the redesign by 2020, the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote.

    -AP Business Writer Marcy Gordon contributed to this story.

     

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