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DailyFinance.com

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    Financial Markets Wall Street
    Richard Drew/AP
    By Noel Randewich

    NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks ended lower Friday after solid job growth data for July pried the door open a little wider for a potential interest rate hike by the Federal Reserve in September.

    Wall Street took the latest signs of an improving economy as a fresh reason to sell shares in a market that has remained range-bound for much of 2015 in anticipation of the Fed's first rate hike in nearly 10 years.

    U.S. nonfarm payrolls increased 215,000 last month, less than the 223,000 forecast by economists, but the unemployment rate held at a seven-year low of 5.3 percent.

    It's enough to keep the Fed on track to raise rates in September but it's not enough to end the debate.

    U.S. overnight indexed swap rates rose after the jobs data, suggesting traders were pricing a 52 percent chance that rates would be raised in September rather than December, up from 47 percent prior to the data, according to John Briggs, head of cross-asset strategy at RBS Securities in Stamford, Connecticut.

    "It's enough to keep the Fed on track to raise rates in September but it's not enough to end the debate," said Briggs.

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) fell 0.3 percent to end at 17,373.38. The Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) lost 0.3 percent to 2,077.57 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) finished 0.3 percent lower at 5,043.54.

    For the week, the Dow lost 1.8 percent, the Nasdaq slipped 1.7 percent and the S&P edged down 1.2 percent. After hitting a record high in May, the S&P 500 is now up less than 1 percent for the year.

    On Friday, seven of the 10 major S&P sectors were lower, with the energy index's 1.9 percent fall leading the decliners as oil prices headed for a sixth week of losses.

    Exxon Mobil's (XOM) 1.6 percent drop weighed the most on the S&P 500.

    2Q Earnings Wrapping Up

    With second-quarter earnings season almost over, S&P 500 companies' aggregate profits are estimated to have increased 1.6 percent, while revenues are projected to have fallen 3.4 percent, according to Thomson Reuters (TRI) data.

    With many U.S. companies boosting their earnings per share by cutting costs and buying back stock instead of by growing their businesses, stock valuations remain a concern. The S&P 500 trades at 16.6 times expected earnings, which is pricier than the 10-year median of 14.7.

    Cablevision Systems (CVC) shares fell 2.7 percent after the company managed to stem video subscriber losses, but at the cost of margins.

    Nvidia (NVDA) shares surged 12.4 percent a day after the chipmaker reported a surprise rise in quarterly revenue, helped by strong demand for its graphic chips for high-end video game computers.

    Decliners outnumbered advancers on the NYSE by 1,800 to 1,262. On the Nasdaq, 1,701 issues fell and 1,088 advanced. The S&P 500 index chalked up four new 52-week highs and 20 new lows; the Nasdaq composite saw 27 new highs and 161 new lows. About 6.7 billion shares changed hands on all U.S. exchanges, under an average 7 billion in the past five sessions, according to BATS Global Markets data.

    -Tanya Agrawal contributed reporting.

    What to watch Monday:

    Earnings Season

    These selected companies are scheduled to release quarterly financial results:
    • AES Corp. (AES)
    • Hertz Global Holdings (HTZ)
    • Kraft Heinz Co. (KHC)
    • Sysco (SYY)

     

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    Gas Prices
    Gene J. Puskar/AP
    A year ago, oil prices plunged from over $100 a barrel to a low of less than $50. Now, after hovering around $60 a barrel for a couple of months, prices again fell to around $50 a barrel in mid-July, and there are emerging signs that cheap oil is here to stay.

    For drivers across the U.S., that's great news because it means gasoline prices are falling as well. Gas as low as $2.25 can be found in South Carolina, and if the price of oil continues to fall, we could break the $2-a-gallon barrier once again. Here are the three biggest reasons to think gas prices won't spike anytime soon.

    Maybe a Nuclear Deal With Iran Isn't a Bad Thing?

    On July 14, the U.S. and five other nations agreed to lift sanctions on Iran in return for limitations on the country's nuclear program. For energy markets -- and your wallet -- that's a huge deal.

    Iran holds the fourth-largest reserves of oil in the world, and in the late 1970s it produced as much as 5.5 million barrels of oil a day. Since then, sanctions and underinvestment have crushed the country's energy sector, and in 2014 it produced just 2.8 million barrels of oil a day -- but that amount could rise quickly. As recently as 2011, Iran's production was 3.7 million barrels of oil a day; lifting sanctions could increase oil production again, significantly, flooding the market with oil.

    A few hundred thousand barrels of oil in additional supply can have a big impact on oil prices, so if Iran adds a million barrels or more of oil to the market over the next few years, as it plans to, now that sanctions are being lifted we could see supply pressure on oil prices for a long time.

    The U.S. Isn't Giving Up on Shale Drilling

    Another supply challenge to watch is shale drilling in the U.S. Despite the plunge in oil prices, drillers have been stubborn about cutting production. In fact, U.S. oil production is up nearly 1 million barrels a day (or 11.2 percent) since this time a year ago.

    From a supply standpoint, that's putting more pressure on oil prices than Iran or OPEC's resistance to cutting supply. And with the number of rigs drilling for oil in the U.S. actually on the rise this summer, there could be an oversupply of oil for many years to come.

    China's Economy Could Be Oil's Biggest Driver

    The two biggest things that kept oil prices high over the past decade were increasing demand and periodic supply disruptions (think Iraq, Libya, Iran). I talked about supply additions above; on the demand side, China alone is responsible for about half of the increase in global oil demand over the past decade, so it's an incredibly important factor. If China's growth falters or more fuel-efficient vehicles become more popular in the region, there could be a dramatic impact on prices. And there are some signs that the Chinese economy may be ready to take a breather.

    Commodity prices have plunged this year (which will hurt China's GDP), stock markets in China lost $3 trillion in value at one point this month, and real estate has actually been in decline there over the past year.

    Among market watchers, there's a lot of concern that China is overstimulating its economy to keep growth high, and eventually a slowdown will be needed to sort the market out. If that happens, oil demand could stop growing, which would be bad for the oil industry -- but could be great for your wallet.

    Cheap Gasoline Is Here to Stay

    Add up all of these factors and you get a formula for cheap gas for a very long time. Given the trajectory oil is on, $2 a gallon at the pump isn't even out of reach before the summer is out.

    I wouldn't go out and buy a gas-guzzler now, though, because low oil prices will eventually subside -- and you don't want to be stuck with a gas-guzzler if prices rise, even if that's not until a few years from now. For now, it's good to know that energy prices will remain low for the foreseeable future. You can thank the strange mix of factors above for that.

    Travis Hoium is a Motley Fool contributor. 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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    Wall street sign in New York city.
    Eric Carr/Alamy
    By Lou Carlozo

    Last month's accounting scandal at Toshiba Corp. (TOSBF) -- which left the company facing as much as $3 billion in charges -- is an ongoing soap opera. The investigation is widening; Toshiba CEO Hisao Tanaka and seven other senior officials are out. And yet could it be, as with so many contradictory happenings in the investment world, that bad news is good news for investors?

    "My college-age son has an internship at Toshiba this summer and called me last week to ask if Toshiba's stock was tanking," says Bennett Gross, investment strategist with EP Wealth Advisors in Torrance, California. "I told him that I lived in a perverse world where sometimes good news is bad, and bad news is good." Indeed, the stock was up 8 percent on a recent day, a possible reaction to Tanaka's departure.

    The fact is, stock market investors do not want to see a great, flourishing economy.

    To be sure, Toshiba's stock price has taken a short-term hit. It's down nearly 25 percent since news of the scandal emerged in mid-April. Yet Gross likens the latest ousters to "a cancer surgery. Going forward, Toshiba's accounting is likely to be cleaner and more transparent than it's ever been."

    Yes, bad news can be good news -- not only for Toshiba but for any company not so much crashing and burning, but riding out shaky turbulence. For starters -- and as any savvy analyst will tell you -- bad news can create plenty of buying opportunities.

    Citing the last four pullbacks of the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC), "all of these were caused by an overreaction to seemingly bad news: an uptick in unemployment, fiscal cliff concerns, the Ebola scare and the Chinese market rout," says Randy Frederick, managing director of trading and derivatives at the Schwab Center for Financial Research. "Yet they all turned out to be excellent buying opportunities."

    Closer to home, consider the U.S. economy. It may lead to all sorts of finger-pointing on Capitol Hill, but on Wall Street, fingers are poised to hit the "buy" button.

    "The fact is, stock market investors do not want to see a great, flourishing economy," says Cary Greenspan, director of investments at PNC Wealth Management in the District of Columbia. "Great, flourishing economies eventually lead to inflation, higher rates to borrow and market peaks. Now, this type of activity is all part of a business or economic cycle. It does not happen overnight. But for now, a plodding economy or economic malaise is stock market heaven."

    Thus, it follows as sure as stock market daylight turns into night -- good news can be bad. Really.

    "Good news in the form of stronger economic data will be interpreted negatively by the market insofar as it may increase the trajectory and timing of rate increases," says Katie Nixon, chief investment officer for Wealth Management at Northern Trust.

    Which Way Is Up?

    So if good news is bad, bad news is good, an epic scandal means opportunity and an improving economy leads to jitters, then which way is up? Is Ebola a better market indicator than earnings? In the end, is the stock market as volatile as a spurned lover?

    Well, not really -- and often, it's more complex than that.

    "I've always been fascinated with how markets digest news, both good and bad," says Jeffrey Mortimer, director of investment strategy for BNY Mellon Wealth Management in Chicago. He's dedicated his career to studying market cycles that date back to 1969.

    Here's what he found: Sometimes the market is irrational in a way that's actually ... predictable.

    Confused? Read on.

    "The middle stages of a bull market are commonly known in the media as 'wall of worry' stages," Mortimer says. "I define 'wall of worry' by an adage: If you give the market bad news, it goes up, and if you give the market good news, it goes up substantially. Thus, during this stage of a bull market, an investor can utilize bad news with great confidence, knowing that markets generally move higher after generally small pullbacks."

    The Long View

    If you're throwing your hands in the air by this point, take heart. An overwhelming number of market watchers will tell you that in the long run, numbers don't lie, although emotions often do.

    And here's the truly good news: Patience often pays off.

    "Creating a long-term investment plan is far more beneficial to accomplishing your financial goals than looking to buy at the bottom or sell at the top," Greenspan says. "If you're focused on short-term nuances, you are likely to miss the long-term opportunity."

    And here's the truly bad: Gut feelings and guesswork are a recipe for loss.

    "Investors need to avoid catching the proverbial 'falling knife,'" Nixon says. "It's never a good idea to be on the wrong side of negative stock price momentum, as this can, and does, continue for some time."

    So goes your starring role in the stock market's soap opera. True, you can never tell when irrational exuberance or irrational anxiety will rear their heads -- or just irrationality altogether. But if you keep following the plot and hold out for the long-term happy ending, you'll be fine.

    Sigh. Or not. Gross quotes famed economic guru John Maynard Keynes for his parting shot: "The market can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent."

     

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    Strawberries at Union Square farmer's market.
    Getty Images
    By Elizabeth Sheer

    The first sign of summer, to me, is strawberries. I don't eat fruit out of season, and come April I am thoroughly sick of oranges. By the time the first week of June rolls around, I have a strawberry jones so great that I would pay a fortune for a basket of fresh, red beauties.

    But I don't have to do that. All I have to do is go to the farmers market, where the first harvest this year set me back $7 for a quart basket. I can easily eat a quart in one sitting, and I ate half on the way to the car. By contrast, strawberries in the supermarket at that time were $6 a quart, with a special for a second quart at half price. Yes, the farmers market was more expensive, but there's no comparison in taste between those grown locally and those shipped thousands of miles from California.

    Going local is one of the main reasons people frequent farmers markets. The food is often fresher and tastier than the fare at most grocery stores. Sometimes it's more expensive, as with the strawberries, although not always. Still, it pays to be selective about what you buy at the farmers market. Some foods seem to taste the same whatever their origin.

    I frequent four different farmers markets, and rarely skip a week between Memorial Day and Thanksgiving. Those in Hudson, New York, and Great Barrington, Massachusetts, are located in farm country. The super-fresh produce is often picked the day before. At the Union Square Greenmarket in Manhattan and one in Brooklyn, prices are usually higher than in the country.

    Prices at any farmers market reflect the cost of a display table, growing and harvesting the crop, and bringing the stuff to market. One farmer at the Manhattan market, who trucks his produce from six hours away, charges $9 a quart for strawberries, which is at the low end of the price range for Union Square. Most farmers charge $5 to $6 a pint.

    Aside from freshness, an advantage of shopping at the farmers market is buying things you won't find anywhere else, either because they don't ship well or because they're too unfamiliar. Garlic scapes are a popular late-spring crop priced at $2 a bunch in Hudson and $3 a bunch in Manhattan. Maybe you could find them at Whole Foods for some exorbitant cost, but you won't find them at a traditional supermarket. The Union Square Greenmarket is a mecca for unusual greens, which I am always eager to try. This year I found perilla, for $2.50 a bunch, whose very strong taste put me off trying it again, although I don't consider the purchase a waste of money.

    Sugar snap peas make a very short appearance -- about two weeks -- and I rarely see them at a supermarket. When they are on offer, they're never as crispy and fresh as at the farmers market, where I pay $6 a pound at Union Square, $5 a pound in Brooklyn, and $4 a pound in Hudson. Vegetables such as zucchini blossoms, Romanesco broccoli, and purple cauliflower are difficult to find in the grocery store but in abundance at the farmers markets.

    Some things at the farmers market are worth a splurge and some aren't. At Great Barrington, a pig farmer sells a pate that my fat-loving husband adores. I was shocked to learn that a "large" jar for $13 contains only 5 ounces, which he could polish off in two sittings. Then again, it's a unique treat, so I'm happy to oblige. At the same market I bought myself a quart of gazpacho for $13. Sure, I could have made it myself for about one-quarter the price, but tomatoes were nowhere near ripe yet, and that week in mid-June the farmers market variety offered a taste of summer that I craved.

    Specialty cheeses at most cheese stores and supermarkets run about $20 to $25 a pound. Ditto at farmers markets, but sometimes a cheese maker offers a unique variety you won't find elsewhere. One Connecticut farmer who sells her wares in Brooklyn has an aged "woman-chego" for about $20 a pound. An aged manchego at the supermarket costs about the same but pales in the flavor department. On the other hand, a Massachusetts creamery sells its own very delicious ice cream at the market for $4 a scoop. I can find the same flavors at the local supermarket for $6 a pint, so a farmers market purchase isn't worth it to me.

    Perhaps I'm not a vegetable connoisseur, but to my palate, there's not much difference flavor-wise between farmers market greens and supermarket offerings. Salad-green mixes from the farmers market run about $6 for a bag that's equivalent in size to the clamshell packages of greens sold at the grocery store for about $5. The only variant is the freshness. We've all had supermarket lettuce turn to mush after a few days, whereas leafy greens straight from the farm last close to a week. In summer I eat a lot of salad, so it's a matter of convenience where I buy it.

    Broccoli, chard, and cauliflower also seem to taste the same regardless, so I choose the cheapest option. Cucumbers are cheaper at the farmers market (75 cents each vs. 99 cents) and also much fresher. Carrots are way more expensive at the market: $2.95 for a large bunch (although the price drops as summer progresses) compared with 99 cents a bag at the grocery store. But I opt for the vibrant yellow and purple carrots at the farmers market, especially when I'm entertaining.

    At the time of writing, the summer harvest is coming in, and I am looking forward to peaches, plums, melons, tomatoes, and corn. I could practically live on corn once it ripens. It usually costs about $1 for five ears at the market, but the supermarket in Massachusetts sells local corn for about the same price; again, it's a question of convenience where I buy it. At the height of summer, it really doesn't matter to me how much tomatoes cost; there is such a difference between the fresh fruit of the farmers market and the hard, tasteless specimens at the chain groceries.

     

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    ABC's
    Michael Desmond/ABC via Getty Images
    By Lauren Lyons Cole

    NEW YORK -- When it comes to negotiation, certain guiding principles can make the process more effective and less painful.

    To really master the art, it pays to develop a personal style that works best for you. The cast of ABC's "Shark Tank" has done just that, turning negotiation into entertainment television watched by millions of people. We asked each of the sharks to share his or her fail-proof negotiation tactics, they answers came back mirroring the unique personalities on the show. Keep reading to find out their default approach to negotiating. It just might give you some ideas.

     

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    pencil with the statement of...
    Shutterstock
    By Carleton English

    NEW YORK -- As the market examined new job data for July on Friday, analysts at investment bank Goldman Sachs (GS) focused more on wage growth.

    And basically, it has stalled, even though unemployment has fallen to about 5 percent from a high of 10 percent during the financial crisis, Goldman said in a report. Not only was growth lackluster through June, salaries have largely been flat since the late 1970s, according to data pulled from Pew Research.

    July did little to change that: Wages grew a modest 0.2 percent from the month before, the Labor Department reported Friday. Hiring was largely in line with analysts' estimates, with 215,000 jobs added, while the unemployment rate was flat at 5.3 percent.

    Those two data points may be good omens for wages, whose lackluster performance is shown in the graph below, Goldman Sachs says.

    "Each incremental decline in labor-market slack should have a larger positive effect on wage growth as the economy gets closer to full employment, which we would expect in the first half of 2016," analyst Kris Dawsey wrote in the report.

    Stagnant wages have been particularly troubling for Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen, even though the Fed's dual mandate is focused specifically on employment and inflation. The rate of wage gains can can be an indicator of underlying economic challenges, including what the Fed terms "slack," or the gap between current performance level and potential.

    A large number of underemployed workers or discouraged workers who have stopped seeking work would indicate a large amount of slack in the economy which could push wages down. As underemployed and discouraged workers don't figure into the headline unemployment number, it's possible for an unemployment rate to make the economy look stronger than it is. Indeed, Friday's report said the rate that accounts for discouraged workers is 10.4 percent, significantly higher than the overall unemployment figure.

    "The relationship between wage and price inflation is tenuous at best in the short term," Dawsey wrote. "However, we think that Fed officials view wage growth as a useful cross-check on the amount of slack remaining in the labor market, which is difficult to observe directly. In the past, we demonstrated that focusing on wage growth could help the Fed better meet its objectives in terms of inflation and unemployment over time."

     

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    The Walt Disney Company's Coverage Of The D23 Expo 2013
    Jordan Murph/Disney Enterprise via Getty Images
    From the leading theme park operator hosting a festival for fans to reveal upcoming projects to the top dog in Android smartphones unveiling its latest mobile gadgetry, here are some of the things that will help shape the week that lies ahead on Wall Street.

    Monday -- Making a Bundle

    Regulators let AT&T (T) acquire DirecTV last month, and we'll see the first fruit of that union Monday when the first bundle combining AT&T's wireless connectivity and DirecTV's satellite television hits the market.

    The first bundled package offers new DirecTV and U-verse customers basic pay-TV service that includes four DVR-equipped receivers as well as four wireless lines with unlimited talk and text and 10 gigabytes of shared data for $200. That's actually a pretty reasonable price in light of what AT&T charges for its wireless plans, but there are big penalties to be paid for those canceling any pieces of the bundle early. Shop around, and always read the fine print when it comes to termination policies.

    Tuesday -- Your Pet Is So Cool

    Freshpet (FRPT) refrigerators continue to pop up at supermarkets and pet supply stores, offering fresh pet food for cats and dogs. Freshpet had to combat online chatter earlier this year after a couple of customers complained of finding mold in food before its expiration date, but it never evolved into something that warranted a recall.

    Freshpet reports quarterly results Tuesday. Sales have been growing briskly, but consistent profitability has been a problem. Analysts see another small deficit on strong top-line growth.

    Wednesday -- Panic at the Cisco

    It was a long time ago, but networking-gear giant Cisco Systems (CSCO) was once the the country's most valuable company. Just before the dot-com bubble popped, Cisco shares were bid higher. It made sense at the time. The Internet was the future, and Cisco's routers and switches were the hardware that made it possible. Cisco crashed and it has never returned to those highs from 15 years ago.

    Cisco reports Wednesday. It's a slower-moving company these days. Analysts see revenue and earnings per share climbing at a mere 2 percent clip since the prior year's quarterly report.

    Thursday -- These Are Not the Androids You Are Looking For

    Fans of Android smartphones and tablets will want to pay attention Thursday to the Samsung Unpacked event taking place in New York. Samsung is widely expected to unveil the Galaxy Note 5 tablet and Galaxy S6 Edge Plus smartphone.

    Samsung has been leading the way for the open-source Android mobile operating system, but Apple's (AAPL) iPhone continues to be the market darling in the smartphone space. We'll see if Samsung can raise the bar enough to convert folks smitten by Apple's latest iOS update.

    Friday -- Making the World a Better Place

    Disney's (DIS) D23 Expo kicks off Friday at the Anaheim Convention Center. The three-day festival -- a stone's throw from Disneyland -- showcases the latest projects that the family entertainment giant is working on. After spending billions to acquire Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm over the past decade, it's safe to say that there's a lot going on at Disney these days.

    One of the more interesting presentations will take place Saturday afternoon when Disney offers up an update on its theme parks. Will Disney's Hollywood Studios finally be rebranded as Disney's Hollywood Adventure? How many new Star Wars, Pixar and Marvel attractions will the theme park leader unveil? There should be many interesting announcements at D23.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends Apple, Cisco Systems, and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days and check out our free report for one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.

     

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    Young Family with Real Estate Agent in Front of New House
    Getty ImagesBefore purchasing a home, young homebuyers should plan for all the extra costs of homeownership.
    By Kimberly Palmer

    As a newlywed in his mid-20s, Andrew McFadden lived in an apartment in Fresno, California, with his wife, but they soon felt ready to move into a bigger place. "It met our needs, but as a finance guy, I thought we could get into a home and build equity in something as opposed to just paying out a monthly rental payment," says McFadden, a certified financial planner. So at age 26, he purchased his first home. Six years and one daughter later, his family still lives in it.

    Despite millennials' reputation as a transient generation that's not ready to settle down, McFadden's experience is more common than you might think. The National Association of Realtors 2015 report on generational trends found that millennials, who are currently between ages 25 and 34, make up the largest share of homebuyers at 32 percent. Even more striking, millennials now constitute 68 percent of first-time homebuyers. That percentage might soon grow even more: A survey of 1,002 adults by TD Bank released in July found that just under half of millennials will be looking to buy their first home over the next two years.

    It's surprising because all we keep hearing is that [millennials] don't want to buy homes, that they're the renter generation, but that's just not true.

    "It's surprising because all we keep hearing is that [millennials] don't want to buy homes, that they're the renter generation, but that's just not true. They are the most optimistic that their home purchase is a good investment," says Jessica Lautz, NAR's director of survey research and communications. She notes that most millennials did not experience the housing crash firsthand, although they may have seen parents or older siblings go through it.

    Millennials also appear more willing to purchase properties that need work and to invest their time and money into making improvements. A June 2015 report from Houzz, a home remodeling and design platform, found that millennial homeowners are just as likely to renovate their home as older age groups. Among millennial homeowners, 79 percent said they have decorated, 62 percent said they renovated and 58 percent made repairs to their homes.

    "Millennials are embarking on projects because they're likely to have recently purchased a home and are customizing it to their needs," says Nino Sitchinava,​ principal economist at Houzz. The younger generation also tends to be drawn to DIY projects, which can make remodeling more affordable.

    Dennis Delaney,​ partner at the law firm Hemenway & Barnes in Boston, says buying a home can be a smart choice for millennials, as long as they are ready to settle down in it for more than a few years. "Having a home base or an anchor in your life is good to ground you," he says, in addition to having a monthly payment to build net worth.

    One way to figure out if you're ready, he says, is to ask yourself if you've been able to consistently make progress toward your financial goals during the last year and a half. "Have you been putting more money into savings? Have you refrained from impulse purchases?" Once you've saved enough to make a down payment, then you're probably ready to go house shopping, he adds.

    Millennials who are still figuring out their careers and relationships might be smarter to wait. "If you like freedom and you don't want to handle the maintenance and upkeep of a home, then you ought to delay the purchase," says Tim Steffen​, director of financial planning for Robert W. Baird & Co., a financial services firm in Milwaukee. Homeowners often spend their free time on the weekends mowing the lawn and dealing with repairs, he warns.

    Steffen has also seen single people buy one-bedroom condos only to find they soon get married and need a bigger place, or unmarried couples jointly purchase a home only to break up. "If neither of them can afford it on their own, then they're forced to sell," he says.

    Here are more lessons that homeowners, and potential homeowners, can learn from the millennial homebuying generation:

    1. Aim to put down 20 percent. McFadden, who is also the founder of the firm Panoramic Financial Advice​, encourages clients to make a down payment of 20 percent of the home's price. That means slow and steady savings for several years, at least, before making a home purchase. If the market drops and the home's value goes down, there's a buffer to protect against the mortgage being higher than the value of the home​, he says. It also reduces the monthly mortgage payment.

    2. Plan for all the extra costs of homeownership. As soon as you become a homeowner, there's no landlord to call if the dishwasher breaks or the roof starts leaking. You'll need to prepare for the physical burden of handling some repairs yourself, and McFadden recommends setting aside a portion of​ your monthly budget to handle unexpected costs​. Between mortgage payments, taxes, insurance, maintenance and utilities, he says homeowners should plan to spend between 10 and 20 percent of the value of the home every year.

    3. Don't underpurchase. While it's smart to stay within budget, Steffen says, it also makes sense not to buy a home that you will quickly outgrow, which is a risk, especially for millennials. "At the beginning stages of your career, you're probably at your lowest earning point, and your income will continue to rise," he says. If you buy a home at the outer edge of what you can afford, then you'll grow into it without feeling the need to upgrade to a new house in a few years.

    4. Build your credit. Cathy Derus​, financial planner and founder of Chicago-based Brightwater Financial​, says strengthening credit by checking credit reports annually and paying monthly bills on time can make it easier for even young homeowners to secure a reasonable mortgage. When she was 27, she bought her first home with her husband, which they were able to do in part because they had excellent credit. She says they have plans to pay off the mortgage in the next 10 years, even though they have a 30-year mortgage. "That means we'll be financially independent that much sooner," she says.

    5. Take the plunge. Several millennial financial planners interviewed for this article pointed out that like the decision to have children, you might never feel really ready to buy a home. ​Brandon Marcott,​ a 30-year-old financial planner and founder of Edify Financial Planning in Waukesha, Wisconsin​, says he didn't feel like he was ready to buy a home when he and his wife purchased their house a year and a half ago.

    "We felt pressure from multiple sides telling us, 'Now is the time!' " he says. Still, the father of two says he is glad to have a fixed monthly mortgage payment that can't go up, as rent can. "This is by far my favorite benefit," he says.

    Kimberly Palmer is a senior editor for U.S. News Money. She is the author of the new book, "The Economy of You." You can follow her on Twitter @alphaconsumer, circle her on Google Plus or email her at kpalmer@usnews.com.

     

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    New York City Board Of Health Approves Bloomberg's Over Sized Sugary Drink Ban
    Mario Tama/Getty Images
    By Gina Martinez

    Soft drinks, coffees and teas are key money makers for most restaurants. Marked up significantly to maximize revenues, beverages manage to drain customers' wallets at the same time. Most cheap guides to dining out recommend that you stick to tap water, but if you're at an establishment that offers free refills, a relatively pricey order instantly turns into a value buy.

    Taco Bell. In the 1970s Taco Bell was bought by PepsiCo and by the 1980s the chain had announced it would offer free soda refills, making it, according to some sources, the first eatery to declare an official bottomless beverage policy. Today, diners can refill fountain drinks an unlimited number of times while inside one of the chain's outlets. Drive-thru customers aren't eligible for no-charge refills, and once dine-in customers leave, they forfeit the right to more.

    Chipotle. To many people's dismay, Chipotle's prices rose in 2014 and there are rumors another price hike may be on the horizon. Not surprisingly, the blogosphere is awash in musings about how to get the best value for the money. One idea: Buy a fountain drink and refill at the self-serve stations to your heart's content.

    Starbucks. This is a bit of a secret perk: If you join (for free) the Starbucks loyalty program, refills of hot coffee, iced coffee or tea are free as long as you're in the store. One catch: The loyalty card must be used five times within 12 months at any Starbucks or Teavana, thereby reaching "green level" status, to be eligible. To join the rewards program, pick up a Starbucks card in a store or download the Starbucks app, free for iPhone and Android.

    Five Guys Burgers & Fries. This fast-food chain has mushroomed during the past few years and now boasts almost a cult following and more than 1,000 locations across 47 states. Go there for the food, which consistently ranks among the best in its class, but stay for the unlimited beverage refills from the Coca-Cola Freestyle Soda Fountain, which offers more than 100 options, including many hard-to-find Coke, Sprite, Fanta, Dasani, Minute Maid and Powerade flavors.

    Panera Bread. This national chain offers bakery items as well as salads, soups and sandwiches, and garners high praise from Zagat and other critics. Dining in (free Wi-Fi makes Panera a popular place to do work) means just one size drink option, but refills at the fountain are unlimited. Some franchises also offer unlimited coffee and tea refills while sitting at a table.

    McDonald's. For years many McDonald's stores were known for unlimited free fountain drink refills, even after leaving but presenting a McDonald's cup on a return visit. Now, free refills seem limited to that first visit. There's plenty of online chatter about this, but the policy on freebies is always up to the discretion of the franchise owner. Ditto for coffee, and some customers are reporting bans on breakfast hour refills.

    TGI Fridays. This casual, sit-down restaurant is generous with the freebies, such as "endless appetizers" and a free burger for a friend (accessible through a code on social media) when one is ordered in the restaurant. Fountain drinks are no exception: Expect free fill-ups for soft drinks, iced tea and coffee throughout the meal. Sometimes TGI Fridays runs promotions for refills on other beverages, too, such as fruit slushes.

    Friendly's. A chain of family-friendly diners, famous for ice cream and ice cream concoctions, is suffering a bit financially but still operates more than 350 locations throughout the East Coast. The menu promises free refills on Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite, Fanta, Barq's Root Beer, Minute Maid Lemonade and iced tea.

    Olive Garden. Another dine-in chain that boasts about never-ending appetizers and even pasta entrees, Olive Garden servers offer complimentary refills on soft drinks, raspberry lemonade, teas, fruit juices and "Caffe la Toscana" when requested.

    Chili's Grill & Bar. Chili's casual dining restaurants advertise bottomless drinks on the house, including fountain drinks, brewed tea, flavored teas, regular and flavored lemonades, Arnold Palmers (virgin) and coffee. No dice on complimentary refills on alcoholic beverages, though.

    Fuddruckers. Diners at this custom-burger chain enjoy unlimited refills on a fountain drink or tea. The policy doesn't apply to coffee, milk or beer. All-you-can-eat fries are sometimes on offer, depending on the franchise owner and individual store policies.

    AMC Theaters. Here is another under-the-radar freebie: Buy a large fountain drink (or a large popcorn) at an AMC movie theater and get one free refill at the concession stand. The official limit is one.

     

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    401k - Nest Egg
    Getty Images
    By Kimberly Lankford

    Q. I have a 401(k) and a 457 plan from jobs I left many years ago. How old do I need to be to withdraw the money without a penalty?

    A. You generally must wait until age 59½ to withdraw money from a 401(k) or 403(b) employer-sponsored retirement plan without a 10 percent early withdrawal penalty, but there is an exception: You can take penalty-free withdrawals before then if you were age 55 or older when you left your job.

    And 457 plans, which are generally available to public-sector workers, have an especially generous rule: You can tap the money without the 10 percent early withdrawal penalty anytime after you leave your job, regardless of your age.

    Keep these rules in mind if you're thinking about rolling the money over into an IRA. You can roll money from a 401(k), 403(b) or 457 plan into an IRA after you leave your job, and there are benefits to IRA rollovers: You'll have more investing choices; you can choose the administrator; and you may be able to simplify your finances by consolidating several old plans into one account. But when the money is in a traditional IRA, you'll have to pay a 10 percent penalty if you take the money before age 59½.

    Got a question? Ask Kim at askkim@kiplinger.com.

     

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    Weight Watchers - Strawberry Smoothie Bar
    frozenfoodjournal/Flickr
    Plenty of stocks go up and down in any given week. The gainers inspire us to keep investing. The decliners keep greed in check while reminding us about the risks of the equity markets.

    Let's go over some of last week's best and worst performers.

    Weight Watchers (WTW) -- Up 49 percent last week

    The biggest winner on the New York Stock Exchange last week was Weight Watchers, putting on weight after raising its guidance for all of 2015. The provider of weight-loss management plans did post a sharp year-over-year drop in revenue and earnings. It's in a funk and there's a reason that even with last week's pop the stock has still shed a whopping 76 percent of its value this year. However, boosting its earnings outlook shows that it's making headway in controlling costs even as it tries to win back customers.

    Stamps.com (STMP) -- Up 23 percent last week

    We're relying on Stamps.com more than we used to for online postage and shipping solutions. Revenue at the company soared 41 percent in its latest quarter relative to last year. Wall Street can't seem to keep up with the success at Stamps.com. It has consistently beaten analyst quarterly profit targets over the past year.

    Build-A-Bear Workshop (BBW) -- Up 19 percent last week

    The turnaround at Build-A-Bear continues. The retailer that offers plush animal toys that are stuffed at the store came through with another strong quarter. Comparable-store sales rose 8.7 percent since the prior year, and this is the 10th quarter in a row of operating improvement at Build-A-Bear.

    We can call this the rise and fall and rise of Build-A-Bear. The chain was all the rage a decade ago when it was a popular hub for birthday parties, but then it fell on hard times. It's bouncing back now.

    Lumber Liquidators (LL) -- Down 38 percent last week

    The downward spiral for one of this year's biggest disappointments continues. Things have gone from bad to worse for the country's largest stand-alone seller of hardwood flooring products since a "60 Minutes" report called out safety concerns of its China-sourced laminates.

    Last week it was another lousy quarter leading to another wave of analyst downgrades. The stock has shed 82 percent of its value this year. It just goes to show that you can make selling floors your business, but sometimes there's no floor to your stock price.

    Shutterstock (SSTK) -- Down 37 percent last week

    A lousy quarter, weak guidance and the resignation of its CFO combined to blur the picture at Shutterstock. Jeffries and RBC Capital Markets were among the analysts that downgraded the seller of stock photography.

    Etsy (ETSY) -- Down 36 percent last week

    The online marketplace for arts and crafts may be losing its touch. The stock took a hit after posting another quarter of decelerating growth. Gross merchandise sales clocked in nearly 25 percent higher than a year earlier. That may seem like a strong gain, but it used to be growing faster. There are concerns that competition is looming. Etsy is now trading below April's IPO price of $16.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Lumber Liquidators, Shutterstock, and Stamps.com. The Motley Fool owns shares of Lumber Liquidators. 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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    Gas Prices
    Gene J. Puskar/AP
    By Jarrett Renshaw

    NEW YORK -- The average price of a gallon of gasoline in the United States fell 11 cents in the past two weeks, pulled down by the ongoing slump in crude oil prices, according to the Lundberg survey released Sunday.

    Regular grade gasoline fell to an average price of $2.71 a gallon, according to the biweekly survey dated Aug. 7, down 11 cents from the previous survey on July 24.

    Gasoline is down 81 cents a gallon from the same year-ago period, according to the survey.

    "This is a continuation of dynamics that have been building in the past several weeks, as both U.S. and global benchmarks are down steeply again," said survey publisher Trilby Lundberg in Camarillo, California.

    Brent, the global crude benchmark, touched a six month low of $48.45 a barrel Friday before settling at $48.61. The price has fallen by 23 percent in the past six weeks.

    U.S. crude hit a four-month low Friday of $43.80 before settling at $43.87. The U.S. benchmark slid 7 percent on the week and lost 26 percent in the last six weeks.

    The low pump prices has led to a surge in demand and is enticing refiners to ramp up production, resulting in large stockpiles of gasoline. The build in gasoline stocks have helped keep prices low, Lundberg said.

    "U.S. refiners are cranking up the volumes, running at high rates and we are more than meeting the strong demand for gasoline," Lundberg said.

    The highest-priced gasoline in the survey area of the 48 contiguous U.S. states was in Los Angeles at $3.80 a gallon, thanks in large part to a refinery outage. The lowest price was in Charleston, South Carolina, at $2.19 a gallon.

    Pump prices should continue to fall, Lundberg said, as there is no clear end to the ongoing rout in oil prices.

    "Unless there is some change in the crude oil market, we will probably be seeing more of the same in the next few days," she said.

     

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    Squawk Box - Season 20
    Lacy O'Toole, CNBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty ImagesBillionaire investor Warren Buffett
    By JOSH FUNK

    OMAHA, Neb. -- Warren Buffett is making the biggest bet of his long investment career, a $32.36 billion buyout of Precision Castparts in a deal that will continue to reshape his Berkshire Hathaway conglomerate.

    The acquisition of the aerospace and industrial company would top Buffett's $26.7 billion deal for BNSF railroad in 2010. It also follows several huge deals outside of the core insurance companies Buffett built his investment empire on that included manufacturing, railroads, utilities and food companies.

    Buffett said Monday that Berkshire will pay $235 a share in cash for Precision Castparts' outstanding stock. The deal is valued at about $37.2 billion, including debt.
    Precision Castparts, based in Portland, Oregon, has been hit hard by tumbling crude and natural gas prices, but Buffet told CNBC that he would have bought the company even if he knew that commodities were in the midst of a multiyear slump.

    "We're going to be in this business for 100 years, so it doesn't really make any difference what oil and gas does in the next year," Buffett said.

    Author and investor Jeff Matthews, who wrote "Warren Buffett's Successor: Who It Is and Why It Matters," said he doesn't think Berkshire is getting a good price on Precision Castparts, so he's not sure it will be good for shareholders, especially since Precision's business is tied to the airline industry.

    "I'm not crazy about buying a cyclical business like this with the stock market at an all-time high," said Matthews, who also holds Berkshire stock.

    But other analysts said the price appeared fair.

    KBW analyst Meyer Shields said Precision Castparts Corp. may be a cyclical business, but Berkshire already owns a number of those and doesn't mind uneven profits in the short term. Shields said Precision Castparts stock had traded as high as $280 in recent years.

    "From the Berkshire perspective, they're getting a good company on sale," Shields said.

    Precision Castparts will keep its name and will remain in Portland.

    The boards of Precision Castparts and Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRK-B) unanimously approved the transaction, which is expected to close in the first quarter of next year.

    Shares of Precision Castparts (PCP) surged 19 percent, or $37, to $230.88 in early trading.

     

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    Inside Six Flags Magic Mountain Amusement Park Ahead Of Earnings Figures
    Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
    A day at the park has never been more popular. North America's 20 largest amusement and theme parks attracted 138.1 million guests last year -- up 2.2 percent since the prior year -- according to industry tracker Themed Entertainment Association. Last year's record showing should be shattered this year given the improving economy and consumer confidence.

    Summer is peak travel season for the country's amusement and theme parks. If you haven't been to one yet, you may very well find yourself at one before long. Most visitors will come in expecting to buy a single-day pass, ideally snagging a discount along the way. However, many wind up buying a season pass instead, swayed by savings, perks or just shrewd industry marketing.

    Amusement Park Math

    Regional amusement parks know that they have to price their season passes aggressively. Outside of teens and select thrill-seeking adults, many guests arrive with the intention of making it their only visit of the year.

    Six Flags (SIX) is the country's largest amusement park operator and it makes sure that its annual passes are reasonably priced. The pass typically costs less than two single-day tickets, and in case that's not enough of an incentive to upgrade, Six Flags sweetens the deal by including hundreds of dollars' worth of coupons, including ones for days when pass holders can bring a friend for free.

    An important thing to remember is that parking often isn't included in the standard annual pass. That is true for many of the regional park operators. Repeat visitors don't tend to spend as much at the park as day visitors, so the parks may as well make that back through parking charges. However, the parks often offer premium annual passes that include parking and other perks. Cedar Fair's (FUN) flagship park -- Cedar Point in Ohio -- offers a standard annual pass for $139, but there's also a platinum pass for $210 that includes parking, in-park discounts, early entrance times and access to the adjacent water park.

    Many of the annual passes also offer access to other parks owned by the same company. Six Flags passes can be used across the entire chain. Cedar Point's platinum pass is good at Knott's Berry Farm in California, Canada's Wonderland and the rest of the Cedar Fair-owned properties.

    If you plan on traveling this summer to a place that's near one of the parks affiliated with your hometown park, that would be one more reason to get an annual pass at either location.

    Theme Park Math

    Things get more complicated with year-round theme parks, largely because they tend to be far more expensive. Outside of SeaWorld (SEAS), which offers the cheap "Fun Card" at its SeaWorld and Busch Gardens parks, offering admission through the end of the year for the price of a single-day ticket, theme parks can get pricey.

    Comcast's (CMCSA) cheapest pass offering access to Universal Orlando every day of the year is the $335 Preferred Pass. If you think that's a lot, Disney (DIS) annual passes for Disney World start at $529 a year.

    That may seem like an outrageous sum, but if you're planning a weeklong stay at either resort, it may be worth the consideration. It's not just about admissions or complimentary parking: Both passes offer steep discounts at the growing number of on-site resorts. Trip planner site Touring Plans recently broke down the math in consideration of a Disney World annual pass.

    Even if you don't plan to stay at one of the Universal Orlando or Disney hotel properties, if you make annual pilgrimages to the theme park capital of the world, you could time your trips so an annual pass covers two of those trips (one at the beginning of the year and the other at the end).

    Annual passes aren't cheap, but in many instances they are the right call.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of SeaWorld Entertainment and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Looking for a winner for your portfolio? Check out The Motley Fool's one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.

     

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    Pepsi Co. Products Ahead Of First Quarter Earnings Results
    Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
    By CANDICE CHOI

    NEW YORK -- A revamped Diet Pepsi without aspartame is popping up on store shelves. So will people start flocking back to the soda?

    PepsiCo (PEP) says its new Diet Pepsi should be available nationally this week. In response to customer feedback, the company said earlier this year that it would replace the aspartame in the drink with another artificial sweetener that has less baggage.

    The rollout will test the theory that the sweetener is to blame for fleeing customers, or if other issues might be at play. Other diet sodas that still have aspartame include Diet Coke, Diet Dr Pepper and Fanta Zero.

    It's the No. 1 thing that our customers have been calling about.

    Sales of traditional diet sodas have been falling. Industry executives blaming the freefall on unfounded concerns people have about aspartame. Two years ago, Coca-Cola (KO) even tested ads in select newspapers defending the safety of the sweetener.

    "It's the No. 1 thing that our customers have been calling about," said Seth Kaufman, a senior vice president at PepsiCo.

    At least in the short term, Diet Pepsi sales are likely to see bump from the marketing push around the new formula, which will include in-store sampling and discounting in coming weeks.

    In terms of taste, Kaufman said it's not identical but that the drink should still be familiar to fans of Diet Pepsi.

    It's not the first attempt by PepsiCo Inc. to lift flagging sales of Diet Pepsi. In 2012, the company tried improving the drink by combining aspartame with acesulfame potassium, often called ace-K, another artificial sweetener that helps prevent the taste from degrading over time. The latest version of Diet Pepsi will also have ace-K in addition to sucralose, best known by the brand name Splenda.

    Cans and bottles of the new Diet Pepsi have been making their way through the distribution in recent weeks. Stores that don't do a lot of business may still have the old versions stocked. This weekend, for instance, a store in New York City had the old and new versions side by side.

    The new cans will be marked with the words "Now Aspartame Free" above the Pepsi circle logo.

     

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    Gov't Labor Report Shows Economy Added 280,000 Jobs In May
    Spencer Platt/Getty ImagesA U.S. Postal Service employee working in lower Manhattan in June.
    WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Postal Service on Monday reported a net loss of $586 million this spring, a big improvement for the cash-strapped agency compared to a nearly $2 billion loss during the same period last year.

    Postal officials said the loss was mitigated largely because interest rates, which are associated with worker' compensation expenses, swung in the agency's favor. Operating expenses outside the Postal Service's control dropped by $1.6 billion during the same period last year to $389 million this spring.

    The Postal Service is an independent agency that receives no tax dollars for its day-to-day operations but is subject to congressional control. The latest financial statement covers April through the end of June, a time period when the Postal Service says it typically experiences lower revenues.

    Joseph Corbett, the Postal Service's chief financial officer, said increased package revenue and productivity gains weren't quite enough to offset inflation and a decline in mail volume, even though operating revenue of $16.5 billion was roughly the same as last spring and shipping and package revenue increased by 10.6 percent. He blamed increases in certain operating expenses, including wages, benefits and transportation.

    "This underscores the need for a combination of continued sales growth, productivity gains and legislation to ensure the Postal Service can return to financial health and meet its public service obligations," he said in a statement.

    Fredric Rolando, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, said the results represent an impressive "turnaround continuing in full force." The group cites the $1.2 billion in "controllable" net income for the first three-quarters of the year. Controllable income excludes certain factors including a requirement that the Postal Service prefund retiree health benefits.

    The operating losses during the third quarter aren't unusual, and "it doesn't change the fact that 2015 is turning into one of the USPS' most impressive annual performances since the Great Recession," he said in a statement.

     

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    Dow Drops Sharply As Oil Drops Below $50 A Barrel
    Andrew Burton/Getty Images
    By Caroline Valetkevitch

    NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks climbed Monday, giving the S&P 500 its biggest gain since May as indexes bounced back sharply from last week's losses, buoyed by gains in commodity-related shares and optimism over Warren Buffett's latest deal.

    Copper rebounded from six-year lows while oil prices also rallied, helping push the S&P 500 energy index up 3.1 percent and the materials index up 2.5 percent.

    Disappointing economic data in China boosted hopes for additional stimulus from Beijing, lifting Chinese stocks. Adding to investor optimism, Greece and international creditors could wrap up a multibillion-euro bailout accord by Tuesday.

    We've had a whole lot of M&A throughout the year, and that's positive because it means businesses are upbeat on the prospects for the economy.

    Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway said it would buy Precision Castparts in a deal valuing the company at $32.3 billion. Precision Castparts (PCP) shares jumped as much as 19.1 percent to $230.92, while Berkshire Class B shares (BRK-B) slipped 0.1 percent to $143.42.

    "We've had a whole lot of M&A throughout the year, and that's positive because it means businesses are upbeat on the prospects for the economy," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital in New York.

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) rose 241.79 points, or 1.4 percent, to 17,615.17, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) gained 26.61 points, or 1.3 percent, to 2,104.18 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) added 58.25 points, or 1.2 percent, to 5,101.80.

    The S&P 500 registered its biggest daily percentage gain since May 8.

    Rate Hike Expected

    On Friday, the Dow closed down for the seventh straight day after solid July jobs data pried the door open a little wider for a rate hike in September.

    With U.S. interest rates near zero for nearly a decade, debt has been cheap. But with the Federal Reserve widely expected to hike rates later this year, merger and acquisition activity has increased.

    July was the seventh-strongest month for global deal activity since 1980. Through July, cross-border M&A activity totaled $913.5 billion, up 23 percent from a year earlier, according to Thomson Reuters (TRI) data.

    In other deal news, ammonia-maker CVR Partners' deal to buy Rentech Nitrogen Partners for about $533 million sent Rentech (RTK) soaring 28.6 percent to $13.25. CVR (UAN) shares were down 2.9 percent at $10.38.

    Twitter (TWTR) shares jumped 9.1 percent to $29.50 after CEO Jack Dorsey joined other insiders in buying more shares, while the company also clinched a multiyear partnership with the National Football League.

    Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 2,329 to 734, for a 3.17-to-1 ratio on the upside. On the Nasdaq, 1,937 issues rose and 856 fell for a 2.26-to-1 ratio favoring advancers. The benchmark S&P 500 index posted 35 new 52-week highs and three new lows; the Nasdaq composite recorded 58 new highs and 85 new lows.

    -Tanya Agrawal contributed reporting from Bangalore.

    What to watch Tuesday:
    • The Labor Department releases second-quarter productivity data at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time.
    • The Commerce Department releases wholesale trade inventories for June at 10 a.m.
    Earnings Calendar
    These selected companies are scheduled to release quarterly financial results:
    • Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC)
    • Symantec (SYMC)
    • Towers Watson (TW)

     

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    Alphabet Google
    Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP
    By BRANDON BAILEY

    SAN FRANCISCO -- Google, which has been expanding far beyond its original business of Internet search advertising, is changing its operating structure by creating a new holding company called Alphabet.

    The company says its new structure will give more independence to many of its wide-ranging and ambitious projects.

    Under the plan announced Monday, Alphabet will be comprised of the core Google business -- including Internet search, mapping and YouTube -- along with newer businesses that will be managed separately, such as Google Fiber, Nest and the investment arm Google Ventures.
    Google CEO Larry Page will become CEO of the new entity, with his co-founder Sergey Brin serving as president. Longtime Google executive Sundar Pichai, who has taken on increasingly important roles at the company in recent years, will be CEO of the core Google business.

    The change may give investors a clearer picture of how much Google is spending on some of its newer ventures, like its effort to build a self-driving car, develop a glucose-sensing contact lens or install high-speed Internet fiber networks in a number of U.S. cities, said Colin Gillis, an investment analyst at BGC Partners.

    But it may not signal much change in the current management structure, since Pichai has already been overseeing many of Google's core operations, Gillis said.

    Google Inc. said its new chief financial officer, Ruth Porat, will hold the same title for both Google and Alphabet. Once the reorganization is complete, the company says its two existing classes of publicly traded stock will continue to trade on the Nasdaq exchange under the ticker symbols "GOOG" and "GOOGL."

    The Mountain View, California, company's stock was up about 5 percent in after-hours trading following the announcement Monday afternoon.

    -Tali Arbel contributed reporting from New York.

     

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    Credit card and dollars
    Getty Images
    By Kimberly Lankford

    Q. I'm leaving my job in the middle of the year and will have spent more from my flexible spending account than the amount I will have contributed by then. Do I need to pay back the extra money? --M.F., Coal Valley, Ill.

    A. One special benefit of flexible spending accounts is that you can use all of the money you plan to contribute for the year starting on Jan. 1. Even if you leave your job before contributing that much, you generally don't need to pay back the extra money you spent, says Jody Dietel, chief compliance officer for WageWorks, which administers FSAs for employers.

    In rare cases, the plan documents specify that any remaining contributions must be taken from your last paycheck when you leave your job, says Dietel. Ask your employer about its rules.

    Got a question? Ask Kim at askkim@kiplinger.com.

     

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    Disney's Star Wars Celebration 2015
    Kevork Djansezian/Getty ImagesOscar Isaac, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega of 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' wave to fans at the kick-off event during Disney's Star Wars Celebration 2015 last April.
    This is going to be a big year for Star Wars. Disney (DIS) is about to announce major Star Wars attractions being added to some of its theme parks, and we can't forget that "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" -- the seventh installment in the franchise -- opens in theaters come December.

    Knowing Disney, it's a safe bet that a ton of Star Wars toys and branded consumer products will also roll out in time for this juicy holiday shopping season. It will be a dark force on your pocketbook. In short, you're going to be seeing a lot more Star Wars in the future.

    However, what if Star Wars wasn't just an iconic sci-fi fairy tale? What if the movies -- some great and all blockbusters -- offered up lessons that can be applied to the way you manage your money?

    Humor me, if you will. Let's go over how some of most popular quotes from the first six movies can be useful in the art of investing.

    'Your Eyes Can Deceive You. Don't Trust Them.'

    One of the biggest investing traps -- no offense, Admiral Ackbar -- is confirmation bias. Investors tend to read positive articles on the stocks they own and gravitate to bullish discussions. It gives investors an inflated upbeat perspective, and that is dangerous.

    Seek out the bearish arguments of every stock you own. Don't just dismiss the naysayers as they short the stock (just as you wouldn't dismiss the bullish opinion of someone who is long the stock). There are two sides to every story, and the more open-minded you are, the less likely you are to get blindsided when something goes wrong with your investing thesis.

    'Judge Me by My Size, Do You?'

    Yoda's sharp comeback also applies to investing. A lot of investors like to categorize their investments by their market values. Many identify themselves as large cap or small cap investors, as if there's some material difference beyond just the product of a company's stock price and the number of shares outstanding.

    We know for a fact that many seemingly safe blue chip stocks have imploded despite their once-mammoth market caps. History shows us that there are plenty of steady and low-beta small caps. Judge a stock based on its growth potential and fundamentals. Don't limit your investing universe to all large caps or all small caps. Small stocks can play big and vice versa.

    'You Can't Stop Change Any More Than You Can Stop the Suns From Setting.'

    You can't assume that your investments will thrive in every climate. Fundamentals change, and companies are forced to adapt. We saw this play out at Apple (AAPL), which introduced the iPod when Mac sales were on the ropes. The iPod opened a new opportunity for the company, and the iPod's success -- as well as that of the subsequent iPhone and iPad -- actually helped breathe new life into Apple and its flagship computer business.

    Things can also go the other way. Coach (COH) was once the undisputed top dog in premium handbags. Fashion can be fickle, though. Shoppers no longer crave the Coach logo, and the company has struggled to reinvent itself in today's marketplace.

    You can't always "use the force," so to speak. Sometimes other actions force you into changing your course.

    There's wisdom in Star Wars. You just need to know how to apply it to your investing.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Apple, Coach and Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Looking for a winner for your portfolio? Check out The Motley Fool's one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.

     

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