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    Can You Trust CarFax?
    By Maryalene LaPonsie

    "Show me the Carfax."

    Remember when those commercials first hit the airwaves? It was only a matter of time before dealerships everywhere started touting a Carfax report with every used car.

    The reports promised an almost crystal-ball view into the history of a vehicle. Sellers could no longer hide accidents, major repairs or faulty odometers. It's all in the Carfax!

    Or is it?

    How Trustworthy Is Carfax?

    Certainly, we don't want to imply Carfax is a bad thing. However, we do think used-car buyers need to realize a Carfax report isn't the last word. It can be a useful tool, but it has limitations.

    Carfax reports glean data from a number of sources. Among others, these include:
    • U.S. and Canadian motor vehicle agencies.
    • Collision repair and service facilities.
    • Insurance companies.
    • Auto auctions, salvage auctions and auto recyclers.
    • Fire and law enforcement agencies.
    • Manufacturers, dealers and import/export companies.
    The data are then compiled into reports that disclose title transfers, odometer readings, manufacturer recalls and whether the vehicle has been reported stolen. In theory, it also should say whether a vehicle has been in an accident or needed significant repairs.

    However, this last point is where the Carfax report may fall short. Carfax might not know about the time the car went into the ditch or backed into a tree. It won't be aware of repairs made by someone at home or at a shop that doesn't report fixes.

    We will let Consumer Reports explain some of the limitations of car history reports:

    We found that the reports were most likely to be incorrect for vehicles that had serious damage but for various reasons were not declared a total loss.

    "Salvage," or similar branding on the vehicle title, is required by many states for vehicles with extensive damage. Wrecks can maintain clean titles if the vehicle doesn't have collision insurance, is self-insured as with many rental and fleet vehicles, or has damage falling below the "total loss" threshold, which can vary by state.

    Clean-title wrecks, especially those with clear history reports, are popular at auctions because buyers can repair the vehicles and then resell them to unsuspecting consumers.

    4 Ways to Protect Yourself

    If Carfax isn't 100 percent reliable, how can you protect yourself when buying a used car?

    We suggest the following:

    1. Check multiple services. Carfax isn't the only game in town. Go ahead and use its report, but double-check the findings with other reports that may get data from different sources. Could it cost you a little money? Sure, but it beats dropping $15,000 on an unsafe vehicle.

    Here are a few other sites that provide vehicle reports and vehicle identification number, or VIN, checks. 2. Get it inspected. Have a trusted mechanic test-drive and check a used vehicle before purchase to rule out any obvious problems.

    3. Get it in writing. Before forking over any money, ask the seller to provide a written statement outlining the vehicle's condition at the time of sale. Some states -- North Carolina, for example -- require sellers to disclose many types of damage in writing. Sellers who balk at such requests may have reason to believe there is something wrong with the vehicle. Also ask for the manufacturer's repair history if it's available.

    4. Don't forget about buyback options. Finally, if you end up with a dud, see if you are eligible for a refund from one of the VIN check services. Both Carfax and AutoCheck have buyback guarantees if you later discover the vehicle actually has a branded title rather than a clean title. Branded titles include those issued for salvage vehicles, flood damage or inaccurate odometer readings.

    These buyback programs can be rather limited, and they won't give you any cash if you later discover the car had been in an accident or had extensive repairs that didn't require a branded title.

    However, they are perks that shouldn't be overlooked. After you buy a vehicle, register it with Carfax and/or AutoCheck immediately so you will be eligible to make a claim if needed.

    For further reading on the subject, head over to our articles on the "6 Things You Should Check Before Buying a Used Car, but Don't" and "8 Tips for Buying Your Next Car for Less."

    Have you had a bad experience buying a used vehicle? Share your thoughts in our Forums. It's a place where you can swap questions and answers on money-related matters, life hacks and ingenious ways to save.

    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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    Hand and shopping coupons emerging from laptop
    Getty Images
    By Louis DeNicola

    With coupon and deal sites continuing to sprout, Cheapism.com has updated its roundup of the best coupon and deal sites for 2015. Use this guide to fight the flood of emails promoting one thing or another. Discover discount codes that actually work and real money-saving coupons and deals.

    Best Coupon Sites

    Coupons.com. The coupon pioneer and perennial favorite remains a top pick this year because of its wide selection. As one of the biggest sources of online coupons, Coupons.com feeds into many affiliates and other coupon sites. It's especially useful for grocery trips: Search, "clip," and print coupons before shopping.

    Money Saving Mom. The recipes and frugal-living blog at Money Saving Mom are extras atop a comprehensive coupon database. Coupons are listed along with the associated retailer, item, expiration date, and coupon source. This site draws from other major aggregators such as Coupons.com, as well as individual retailers such as Target, so users can search thousands of coupons in one place. The database is a little messy (tested with Internet Explorer and Chrome), but with more than 6,000 coupons, it's hard to complain.

    The Krazy Coupon Lady. The Krazy Coupon Lady's coupon database is easy to read and sort, making it easy to find an applicable coupon. Search by keyword and coupon type (printable, newspaper, or mobile). Visitors can also browse curated deals for the day, read money-saving tips, learn how to coupon, or post a "brag" about a recent bargain-filled shopping trip. The main page features recent deals, including a number of money-making opportunities that result from combining coupons with cash-back apps.

    Best Daily Deal Sites

    Yipit. Instead of combing through dozens of different daily deal sites such as Groupon, LivingSocial, and Google Offers, sign up for Yipit, a daily deal aggregator that works much like Kayak does for travel deals. Bargain hunters can view hundreds of daily deals sorted by category and location on a single site. Narrow the deals to see only what's most interesting -- say, restaurant deals or spa discounts.

    Amazon Gold Box Deals. The ecommerce giant's daily deal section features limited-time and limited-quantity deals throughout the day. Gold Box listings come from Amazon's many categories and include anything from an infrared thermometer to a diaper bag. Shoppers can browse upcoming items that will be on sale, but the size of the discount is hidden until the deal goes live.

    Woot. Amazon acquired Woot in 2010, but there's little evidence of the corporate parent aside from being able to check out using Amazon payment information (although some former fans assert that the site has gone downhill under new management). Woot features daily deals in nine categories, such as home, computers, sport, and kids, and a special sellout section features last-chance deals. The site's T-shirt section is especially popular. Members submit and vote on unique designs.

    Best Coupon Code Sites

    Retail Me Not. Before pressing the online "submit order" button or getting in line at a retail store, check Retail Me Not for promotional codes and coupons. This site has made Cheapism's list of best coupon sites for five years running. It organizes coupon codes and specials for thousands of stores in a format that's easy on the eyes. Users can give each code a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, to let others know if a coupon works or not, and post comments on the specifics of a promotion. The mobile app has location services to make it easy to find coupons while shopping offline. Save favorite stores and coupons to pull them up quickly.

    DealNews. The editors at DealNews faithfully scour the web to collect each day's best sales and deals. A daily newsletter keeps subscribers in the know about the latest flash sales and several good buys in categories such as travel, clothing, and electronics.

    Brad's Deals. Another source for deals curated by frugal editors, Brad's Deals lets visitors quickly switch between viewing the newest or the most popular deals while a "top deals" slide show scrolls across the top. The editors also compile seasonal shopping guides, such as back-to-school deals. Visitors can search for deals by category or store, and there's also a section with printable and online coupons. Consumers who create a free account can comment on and save deals for later.

    Best Deal Sites

    Slickdeals. Always-active forums are the highlight at Slickdeals. Promo codes are shared among members before they show up on other sites. Forum members are quite savvy, on the whole, and the site has a tight-knit community feel. Members report their success when trying out coupon codes and often collaborate to help others get the best deal available. The site doesn't have a particular product focus; members post everything from electronics promotions to half-off underwear sales and even money-making deals such as a $100 gift card for $82. The front page spotlights the hottest current deals as voted on by members. This page is sometimes criticized for highlighting the promotions that make money for Slickdeals.

    FatWallet. FatWallet is another deal site with a forum filled with devoted deal-finding members. During busy seasons such as the holidays, more than 300,000 active users visit the site each day. In addition to the forum, FatWallet features online coupon codes and deals from around the web. It's also a cash-back site, meaning members can use links on the site to earn rebates when shopping at hundreds of online stores.

    Tech Bargains. Consumers looking specifically for electronics have found Tech Bargains an excellent resource. Although the site posts deals on all sorts of items, it focuses on finding and sharing coupon codes for computers, phones, cameras, TVs, and other electronics.

     

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    Prices Of Existing Home Sales Rise In June, Signaling Housing Market Recovery Continues
    Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
    By Richard Leong

    NEW YORK -- Single-family home prices rose a bit faster from a year ago in June, suggesting resilience in the housing sector as the Federal Reserve has stuck to a near-zero interest rate policy, a closely watched survey said Tuesday.

    The S&P/Case Shiller composite index of 20 metropolitan areas in June gained 5 percent year over year, a bit quicker than the 4.9 percent rate in May. Economists polled by Reuters had projected a 5.1 percent gain.

    The price gains have been consistent as the unemployment rate declined with steady inflation and an unchanged Fed policy.

    Denver, San Francisco and Dallas again experienced the biggest year-over-year home appreciation among the 20 cities with price increases of 10.2 percent, 9.5 percent and 8.2 percent, respectively.

    "The price gains have been consistent as the unemployment rate declined with steady inflation and an unchanged Fed policy," David Blitzer, chairman of the index committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices, said in a statement.

    Housing activities have picked up in recent months. Home resales rose to an annualized rate of 5.6 million units in July, the strongest reading since 2007. Housing construction reached an annualized pace of 1.2 million units with almost two-thirds of the total in single family homes.

    While a series of Fed rate increases and a "full blown bear market" for stocks would hurt the housing market, one rate hike and a stock market correction will unlikely damage the housing sector, Blitzer said.

     

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    Discovery Communications 2015 Winter TCA
    Richard Shotwell/Invision/APDiscovery Communications' David M. Zaslav was the highest paid CEO among S&P 500 companies last year.
    By Ross Kerber

    BOSTON -- Popular consumer brands Discovery Communications (DISCA), Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) and CVS Health (CVS) pay their chief executive officers more than a thousand times what they pay their typical worker, giving them the biggest internal pay gaps among S&P 500 companies, according to a study released Tuesday.

    The research from job-hunting website Glassdoor.com provides an early glimpse of data that publicly traded companies will be required by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to report starting in 2017. On average, the research showed that a CEO of an S&P 500 company makes 204 times as much as the company's median worker.

    I don't think most people are aware of the inequality of payrolls within a firm.

    "I don't think most people are aware of the inequality of payrolls within a firm," Glassdoor's chief economist, Andrew Chamberlain, said.

    The study used CEO compensation figures reported by 441 S&P 500 companies through Aug. 14 and Glassdoor.com user reports about salaries at those companies. Only companies for which Glassdoor had 30 or more worker salary reports were included. The data could be skewed if workers under-counted tips or bonuses, Glassdoor said.

    Cable network operator Discovery had the biggest pay gap. Its CEO, David Zaslav, was the highest paid among S&P 500 companies last year, at $156 million. That was 1,951 times the amount paid to Discovery's median worker, Glassdoor found.

    In second and third place were restaurant chain Chipotle and drugstore operator CVS, whose CEOs in 2014 received $28.9 million and $32.4 million, respectively, both more than 1,000 times their median workers, according to the study.

    CVS spokeswoman Carolyn Castel said its employees have opportunities to be promoted and receive higher pay, while its CEO is paid in line with industry standards. Discovery and Chipotle representatives didn't return messages requesting comment.

    The Glassdoor study found the average CEO received $13.8 million, while the median worker at those CEO's companies made an average of $77,800.

    Glassdoor's findings were in line with other studies, said Todd Sirras, managing director of compensation consulting firm Semler Brossy. He said the new reporting requirements could add pressure on companies to change their executive pay plans.

    "It will be one more arrow to sling at companies," he said.

    In a few cases workers made more than their CEOs, such as at Google (GOOG) where CEO Larry Page got $1 in 2014. His median worker got $153,150, Glassdoor said.

     

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    New Home Sales
    Mark Humphrey/AP
    By Lucia Mutikani

    WASHINGTON -- Consumer confidence hit a seven-month high in August and new single-family home sales rebounded in July, suggesting underlying strength in the economy that could still allow the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates this year.

    Other data released Tuesday showed moderate gains in house prices in June, which should support consumer spending and keep home purchasing affordable, especially for first-time buyers.

    This is evidence of the 'some further improvement' in the economy that the Fed is waiting for to raise rates.

    "This is evidence of the 'some further improvement' in the economy that the Fed is waiting for to raise rates. They are so close, they need just a little more confirmation," said Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at MUFG Union Bank in New York.

    The Conference Board said its consumer index jumped 10.5 points to 101.5 this month, the highest reading since January, amid optimism over the labor market. The survey, however, was conducted before a global equity markets sell-off that began last week, which has diminished the chances of a U.S. rate hike next month.

    Although sentiment could retreat in September, economists said any decline was likely to be modest, with U.S. stock markets appearing to stabilize Tuesday. A strong labor market, lower gasoline prices and an improving housing market also are seen supporting consumer confidence.

    The survey's so-called labor market differential, which closely correlates to the unemployment rate in the employment report, was the most favorable since January 2008.

    The share of consumers expecting an increase in incomes slipped, but fewer anticipated a decline.

    "If this upbeat sentiment is sustained, then it could potentially provide a strong platform for a sustained upswing in consumer spending activity, which could provide a strong tailwind for the economic recovery going forward," said Millan Mulraine, deputy chief economist at TD Securities in New York.

    In a separate report, the Commerce Department said Tuesday new home sales increased 5.4 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 507,000 units. Those sales, which account for 8.3 percent of the market, were up 25.8 percent compared to July of last year.

    The reports, which added to a steady stream of data that have painted an optimistic picture of the U.S. economy, helped stocks on Wall Street to stage their sharpest rally of the year. Market sentiment was also boosted by China's second interest rate cut in the past two months.

    The dollar jumped against a basket of currencies, while prices for U.S. Treasuries fell.

    Gaining Steam

    The prospects of a U.S. rate hike next month already had been dealt a blow before the recent global markets turmoil, with the minutes of the Fed's July 28-29 policy meeting highlighting policymakers' concerns about persistently low inflation.

    "We think that the Fed will not raise rates in September, they need a little time to digest what has happened and we think they will raise in December," said Chris Christopher, an economist at IHS Global Insight in Lexington, Massachusetts. "Prior to Friday, we thought that the Fed would raise rates in September."

    New home sales rose in three of the four U.S. regions last month, touching a 14-month high in the Northeast.

    The housing market is gaining steam, with data last week showing home resales jumped to a near 8½-year high in July and groundbreaking on new home building climbing to its highest level since October 2007.

    The recovery in the sector, which touches almost all spheres of the U.S. economy, is being driven by the tightening labor market. A third report showed the S&P/Case Shiller composite index of 20 metropolitan areas gained 5 percent in June year-over-year compared to a gain of 4.9 percent in May.

    "If the pace of appreciation stabilizes around current levels, it could provide enough incentive to encourage homeowners to put their homes on the market, while encouraging potential homebuyers back into the market," said Lewis Alexander, chief economist at Nomura in New York.

    The sturdy housing market is boosting homebuilders. Toll Brothers (TOL), the largest U.S. luxury home builder, said on Tuesday that orders had risen 16 percent so far in the quarter started in August, outpacing the 12 percent rise in the company's third quarter.

    The Commerce Department said the stock of new houses for sale increased 1.9 percent to 218,000 last month, the highest level since March 2010. Still, supply remains less than half of what it was at the height of the housing boom.

    At July's sales pace it would take 5.2 months to clear the supply of houses on the market, down from 5.3 months in June.

    -Richard Leong and Rodrigo Campos contributed reporting from New York.

     

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    Dice calculator and financial document
    Getty ImagesA properly diversified portfolio can better withstand the whims of the stock market.
    By Jeff Rose

    Imagine approaching retirement and watching your portfolio be cut in half. Maybe you don't have to imagine, because it happened to you in 2008. While there are no surefire ways to avoid a stock market crash, there are some things you can do to reduce the likelihood that you will suffer the consequences of one in the future. Here's how to protect your savings from a significant downturn in the financial markets.

    1. Don't invest in the stock market. The best way to avoid a crash isn't to get involved in the stock market in the first place. However, you aren't likely to get a decent return without putting at least some of your money into equities. And few people can save enough to retire comfortably without the help of compounding investment returns. However, there are some relatively safe ways to invest without losing your money to a crash.

    2. Play it safe with money market accounts. While money market accounts typically don't have a great return on investment, they can be a safe haven for your portfolio if you can't afford to take much risk. The good news is that money market accounts will usually provide better returns than a certificate of deposit and are easy to set up online.

    3. Get a guaranteed return with annuities. If you want to avoid stock market volatility, still make a return and are willing to hand over a chunk of cash to an insurance company, an annuity will provide fixed payments for a set period of time or even the rest of your life. I usually don't recommend annuities, but sometimes fixed annuities can make sense. If you're looking for guaranteed returns, and don't want anything to do with the risk of the stock market, annuities might be a good option for you. For example, if you find a five-year fixed annuity paying 3 percent, at least you are able to offset inflation.

    4. Get an insured high-yield savings account. There's nothing like an old-fashioned savings account. In the United States, many savings accounts are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation or National Credit Union Administration up to $250,000. If you're looking for the best protection for your money, this is it. There are some great high-yield online savings accounts with this protection. While you may not make as much money as in the stock market, at least your funds will be safe. It's unfortunate that less volatile investment vehicles typically don't have great returns, but it's important to take advantage of accounts less prone to losses.

    5. Invest with peer-to-peer lending websites. Peer-to-peer lending is a relatively new form of borrowing and lending where individuals lend money to each other for a profit. Peer-to-peer lending websites make it easy to invest your money in other people and track the status of your loans, and they offer pretty good rates of return. But you also take on the risk of whether the person you are lending money to will pay you back.

    6. Diversify your portfolio. While equities make up an important component of the portfolio of most investors, it's seldom a good idea to have all of your wealth tied up in the stock market. Depending on your risk tolerance and proximity to retirement, remember to temper your risky investments with bond funds and even cash.

    If you're afraid of a stock market crash, don't stuff cash under your mattress. It's important to keep at least some of your savings in the stock market to take advantage of the historic gains. For the rest of your savings, there are stock market alternatives that can yield a decent return with little risk.

    Jeff Rose is a certified financial planner, U.S. combat veteran and the founder of GoodFinancialCents.com.

     

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    Iran Deal Congress
    Andrew Harnik/APTreasury Secretary Jacob Lew
    By ALAN FRAM


    WASHINGTON -- An unforeseen flood of revenue is shrinking federal deficits to the lowest level of President Barack Obama's tenure, Congress' nonpartisan budget adviser said Tuesday. But in a report that will fuel both parties in their autumn clash over spending, the analysts also warned that perilously high shortfalls will roar back unless lawmakers act.

    Two weeks before Congress returns from recess, the Congressional Budget Office said it expects this year's federal deficit to fall to $426 billion. That's $60 billion less than it expected in March, thanks to greater-than-expected individual and corporate income tax collections, and less than a third of the record $1.4 trillion gap of 2009 as the government tried fighting off the Great Recession.

    White House spokesman Eric Schultz said Congress should prevent cuts in agency budgets and fund highways and other projects, saying, "We need to stay focused on this route and avoid self-inflicted wounds" like a government shutdown.

    Annual deficits should fall to $414 billion next year before an aging population and swelling health care costs ignite shortfalls that should sail past $1 trillion in 2025, the budget office said. That would push the government's accumulated debt that year to $21 trillion, or 77 percent the size of the country's economy, threatening higher interest rates, surging government debt costs and other problems.

    "That's 77 percent and growing," budget office director Keith Hall told reporters. "This is an unsustainable path here for federal debt."

    Republicans said the report underscored the need to curb spending. Congress has already approved a blueprint claiming a balanced budget in a decade by squeezing savings from Medicare and Medicaid, and they want to retain caps on agency spending enacted in a 2011 budget deal.

    "Without control over spending, our nation will lose control over its own future," said House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price, R-Ga.

    Democrats say such cuts are unneeded. Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, top Democrat on the budget panel, said lawmakers should make "necessary investments" in education and other programs and said "serious negotiations" will be needed to avoid a government shutdown this fall.

    Though GOP leaders have said they won't let the budget clash spark a government closure as the 2016 elections approach, they may have a tough time winning conservative votes to pass needed spending bills.

    One major complication is conservatives' demands to halt federal spending on Planned Parenthood, whose officials were secretly captured in videos describing how they provide medical researchers with fetal tissue. Blocking that money would lead to likely clashes with Democrats and Obama.
    The budget office lowered its projection for 2015 economic growth to a modest 2.3 percent, down from its 2.8 percent forecast in January and reflecting a weak first quarter. It projected that growth will return to around 3 percent annually in 2016 and 2017 before dropping again.

    Those numbers, locked in last month, didn't reflect the steep world financial market drops of recent days. Hall said those reductions hadn't yet weakened the world's economy, adding, "I don't feel too worried about it."

    This year's $426 billion projected deficit would be the smallest since the $161 billion budget gap of 2007. The fiscal year runs through Sept. 30.

    If the projection proves accurate, this year's shortfall would be 2.4 percent the size of all U.S. economic activity, a proportion that many economists consider acceptable. On average over the last 50 years, annual deficits have been 2.7 percent of the economy's size.

    The analysis also said that though the government has reached its legal borrowing limit, this year's unexpected extra revenue means the Treasury Department should be able to use accounting maneuvers to free up cash and avoid breaching that ceiling until mid-November or early December.

    Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew told Congress last month that he can use bookkeeping moves to prevent exceeding the borrowing limit until late October or early November. Those include temporarily taking cash from certain federal pension funds that is restored once Congress enacts a new debt ceiling.

    Congress often tries using the debt limit fight as leverage with the White House. Wary of angering voters, GOP leaders want to avoid an unprecedented federal default, which could result should the parties deadlock.

     

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    Leftover-Free Labor Day
    Labor Day is the perfect holiday to throw a barbecue bash, but stocking up on food can quickly eat up your budget. Luckily, there are a few ways you can throw a barbecue without your savings going up in smoke.

    First, it's important to make sure you know how many people are coming. Counting your RSVPs will help make sure you don't waste money on food that won't be eaten.

    Once you know who's coming, think about which foods will be more popular, but don't feel pressured to buy everything. Just stick to the rule of two, like hotdogs and hamburgers for proteins or chips and pasta for sides.

    A good rule of thumb is to provide about 1 pound of food per person. That works out to roughly 6 ounces of meat, 6 ounces of sides and 4 ounces of dessert. Measuring out serving sizes will help tighten the belt on your expenses.

    Finally, if you need a little extra help with your cookout calculations, go online to BBQPlanner.com. Simply enter how many adults and children are coming, and what their favorite foods are. You'll immediately get a menu and budget tailored just for you.

    As you get ready for your Labor Day cookout, remember these tips. You'll find that with a little preparation, you can throw a great party without grilling your budget.

    View Poll

     

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    US Markets Open After Extremely Volatile Monday Sent Stocks Soaring Downward
    Spencer Platt/Getty Images
    By Noel Randewich

    NEW YORK -- A strong rally on Wall Street evaporated Tuesday and stocks ended with deep losses as concerns about China's economy outweighed lower valuations that some saw earlier as bargains.

    In a dramatic trading session, major indexes turned negative in the final minutes of trading after previously climbing almost 3 percent.

    People are still nervous about overseas and what might happen tonight. Nobody wants to sit around and see what happens.

    Investors cited more worries that a slowdown in China could hobble global growth, even after the country's central bank cut interest rates Tuesday for the second time in two months. The move came after Chinese stocks slumped 8 percent Tuesday, on top of an 8.5 percent drop Monday.

    "People are still nervous about overseas and what might happen tonight. Nobody wants to sit around and see what happens," said Paul Nolte, portfolio manager at Kingsview Asset Management in Chicago.

    Tuesday's drop followed steeper losses Monday, when the Dow Jones industrial average fell more than 1,000 points at its lows and the S&P 500 recorded its worst day since 2011.

    In the past week, the S&P has lost 11 percent.

    "Investors are still concerned about exogenous growth and shifting Fed policy, and both of those are still on the table," said Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott in Philadelphia.

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) fell 204.91 points, or 1.3 percent, to end at 15,666.44. The Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) lost 25.59 points, or 1.4 percent, to finish at 1,867.62 and
    the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) dropped 19.76 points, or 0.4 percent, to 4,506.49.

    Earlier, the S&P rose as much 2.9 percent, the Dow as much as 2.8 percent and the Nasdaq as much as 3.6 percent.

    JPMorgan (JPM) cut its year-end target for the S&P 500 to 2,150 from 2,250.

    All of the 10 major S&P sectors were lower, with the utilities index's 3.2-percent drop leading the decline.

    Legal Blow

    Pepco Holdings (POM) fell 16.5 percent after a District of Columbia regulator denied Exelon's (EXC) $6.8 billion bid for the power utility, possibly delivering a knockout blow to the deal.

    Monday's pummeling pushed the S&P 500's valuation down to about 15 times expected earnings, compared to around 17 for much of 2015 and just above a 10-year average of 14.7, according to Thomson Reuters StarMine.

    Data released Tuesday showed consumer confidence rose to a seven-month high in August. New single-family home sales rebounded in July, adding to evidence of underlying strength in the economy that could allow the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates this year.

    Best Buy (BBY) jumped 12.6 percent after the owner of the biggest U.S. electronics chain reported an unexpected increase in quarterly sales.

    Decliners outnumbered rising stocks on the NYSE by 1,721 to 1,384. On the Nasdaq, 1,480 issues fell and 1,379 advanced. The S&P 500 index showed just one new 52-week high and 47 new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded seven new highs and 125 new lows.

    Volume was heavy, with about 10.4 billion shares traded on U.S. exchanges, far above the 7.5 billion average this month, according to BATS Global Markets.

    -Tanya Agrawal, Saqib Iqbal Ahmed and Sinead Carew contributed reporting.

    What to watch Wednesday:
    • The Commerce Department releases durable goods for July at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time.
    Earnings Season
    The following companies are scheduled to report quarterly financial results:
    • Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF)
    • Chico's FAS (CHS)
    • Express (EXPR)
    • Guess (GES)
    • Williams-Sonoma (WSM)
    • WPP (WPPGY)

     

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    Hawaii-Off the Grid
    Caleb Jones/APSolar panels on the roof of a home in Honolulu. Hawaii is looking to reduce the state's dependence on fossil fuels.
    By 2045, Hawaii would like to be the first state in the U.S. getting all of its energy from renewable sources. It's a lofty goal, but one that could keep $5.1 billion in the Hawaiian economy instead of it being spent on foreign oil.

    It's a transformation that's already taking place in the state, which has the highest cost of electricity in the country. How Hawaii handles the renewable revolution could lay the foundation for a greener energy infrastructure throughout the U.S. -- while saving each of the state's residents thousands each year.

    Hawaii's Dependence on Fossil Fuels

    As an island state, Hawaii is dependent almost entirely on imported coal and oil for its electricity generation. This has resulted in rising energy costs as oil prices have risen, leading to electricity prices that are nearly three times the national average, at 30.2 cents a kilowatt-hour compared to 12.9 cents a kwh nationwide.

    Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration
    The solution to this problem is generating more energy in-state and reducing energy imports. With residential rooftop systems now available for 15 cents a kwh or less -- less than half of the cost of electricity in Hawaii -- it makes sense for most homeowners to go solar. And with utility-scale wind and solar projects being built for 6 cents a kwh, it seems like a natural time to make a massive commitment to renewable energy.

    The potential cost savings for customers is what's really amazing about Hawaii's goal: The $5.1 billion in projected savings would work out to $3,591 a resident a year if it were spread out evenly.

    Challenges in Getting to 100 Percent Renewable

    Of course, getting to 100 percent renewable energy can't be done by simply flicking a switch. Even if Hawaii could generate enough wind, solar, and wave energy on an absolute basis to power its state, there would be the issue of timing. For example, the sun isn't always out and the wind isn't always blowing. So, a network of energy storage and smart devices would have to be built out to keep the lights on.

    Hawaiian Electric (HE), the state's publicly traded utility, has a plan to install up to 200 megawatts of energy storage on Oahu by 2018. And regulators are now pushing to advance these kinds of technologies even faster -- but there's a lot of work to be done.

    If Hawaii can create a grid infrastructure through which there's enough renewable energy to power the state, a large amount of energy storage, and enough demand response to make supply and demand balance, it could create a framework for the grid that could be copied around the country.

    Renewable Energy Could Save Billions

    The cutting edge of renewable energy isn't as costly as it was even a year or two ago, and for Hawaii, setting a goal such as 100 percent renewable energy by 2045 isn't as crazy as it seems. In fact, it could be a big money-saver for the state's residents.

    And if Hawaii does renewable energy right, it could show the rest of the country how to make renewable energy work on a grand scale. The country's island state could actually show us the future of energy, on the way to saving billions of dollars on oil imports every year.

    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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    APTOPIX Financial Markets Wall Street
    Richard Drew/AP
    Saying that the market's been volatile lately is an understatement. Stocks are going through some wild price swings and investors are getting rightfully nervous. Wall Street's tired, but one thing that could change that is the infusion of new market darlings.

    There are a few privately held companies that could breathe new life into the stock market by going public. Let's go over a few of the potential game changers that could really bring enthusiasm back to the market if they went the IPO route.

    Uber

    Turning cars into cottage industries has given vehicle owners a new way to make money. As the leading peer-to-peer taxi service, Uber also provides consumers with a cheaper alternative to cabs. The company's meteoric rise hasn't gone unnoticed. It completed a round of financing earlier this summer that valued it at a cool $51 billion.

    It hasn't been smooth sailing for Uber. Cab companies and unions have fought against the platform, and the protests got testy earlier this year in France. Some municipalities closer to home have argued that Uber should be paying its drivers as employees and not independent contractors, something that would dramatically increase its operating costs. However, the revolutionary company would really turn heads if it were to file to go public.

    Airbnb

    Another tech upstart making waves in the asset-sharing market is Airbnb, the popular website that lets folks rent out their homes or even individual rooms within their homes. Airbnb's valuation was recently pegged at $25 billion.

    Airbnb has also had its setbacks. Some rentals have ended badly, leading many to wonder if Airbnb should be more accountable for the actions of its renters and property owners. However, with travelers looking for economical choices for lodging that don't involve hostels or pitching a tent, Airbnb has emerged as a trendsetter in travel.

    Snapchat

    It's been two years since Snapchat shot down Facebook's (FB) offer to snap up the photo messaging platform for $3 billion. Naysayers argued that Snapchat would come to regret its decision, but with its reported market value popping fivefold to $15 billion, we know that Snapchat is the one laughing now.

    Xiaomi

    There's a rising star in the smartphone market. Xiaomi has emerged as China's hometown darling, growing quickly as it outfits the world's most populous nation with cheap yet feature-rich devices. It sold 61 million smartphones last year, and its prospects grow as the company expands to new markets.

    Xiaomi is establishing a presence in the U.S. this year, but it's not selling phones here just yet. It's marketing its other consumer electronics, but establishing its brand is the first step to inevitably taking on the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy here. Xiaomi raised money last year at an implied valuation of $46 billion.

    Spotify

    The leading premium streaming music service has succeeded where tech giants and record labels have failed by getting folks to pay for music. Spotify has more than 20 million paying customers, with tens of millions more enjoying its limited ad-based offering.

    We're no longer buying CDs or MP3s. Streaming is where music consumption is at these days and Spotify -- with its estimated $8.5 billion valuation -- is leading the way. If the market's singing a sad tune, Spotify could help it change that.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns and recommends Facebook. 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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  • 08/25/15--22:00: 20 Fall Essentials Under $50
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    Multi-generational family collecting autumn leaves in garden
    Getty Images
    By Raechel Conover

    Fall isn't far off, and with it comes a temptation to buy host of cold-weather gear for the kitchen, the yard and everything in between. Frugal consumers can get all they need for a fun and cozy fall on a budget. These items cost less than $50 each and some even save money over time.

    Space Heater. A space heater can go a long way toward keeping the place warm without turning up the thermostat. The best space heaters chosen by Cheapism.com cost about $30. The Vornado VH101 boasts quiet operation and the Lasko 754200 can heat a room surprisingly fast for its compact size.

    Electric Blanket. On a chilly fall night, throw an electric blanket on the bed instead of blasting the heat. Sunbeam makes a few that earn good reviews, including a fleece heated throw on sale for $40, plus 20 percent off with the coupon code LABORDAY. Users particularly like this model because it's very soft and heats well even on the low setting.

    Firewood. Another way to avoid cranking up the heat is to make use of a wood-burning fireplace (assuming it's not just ornamental). Buy firewood cheap from a local seller -- in bulk to save cash, if the fireplace will get a lot of use. Or cozy up around an outdoor fire pit on a chilly evening and roast some marshmallows with the kids.

    Thermostat. If turning on the heat is necessary, a programmable thermostat can save $180 a year, according to the federal Energy Star program. How? These nifty tools -- some of which cost less than $40 -- can be programmed to use less energy while residents are sleeping or not at home.

    Slow Cooker. Getting tired of burgers off the grill and already dreaming about roasts and soups? A slow cooker is the way to go with fall cooking -- it's convenient, delicious, and cheap. The Hamilton Beach 33155, a Cheapism top pick, is on sale at Walmart for about $17. At 5 quarts, this slow cooker can feed a family, and reviewers say the heat settings are accurate and food turns out perfect nearly every time.

    Fall Produce. What goes in the slow cooker is up to the chef, but it's easiest on the wallet to buy fruits and vegetables that are in season. Fall produce is abundant in most parts of the country from late September through early December. Choices include apples, asparagus, beets, broccoli, cabbage, cantaloupes, cauliflower, celery, cranberries, eggplants, figs, grapes, honeydew melon, kale, leeks, lettuce, mushrooms, oranges, pears, plums, spinach, squash, sweet potatoes, and yams.

    Fall Beer. Okay, maybe it's not an essential, but seasonal beer is a fun tradition. Many distributors come out with specialty brews that incorporate fall flavors. According to Gayot, Abita Brewing's Pecan Harvest Ale is a good, budget-friendly brown ale to try, and many a local pub will no doubt have specials on fall brews.

    Coffee. Say goodbye to iced coffee and welcome back a hot cup o' joe in the morning. It's common knowledge that the savings from skipping the coffee shop on the way to work add up, and coffee at home can easily cost less than $10 a pound. Folgers Black Silk, starting at about 31 cents an ounce, ranked high with a panel of Cheapism.com taste testers. The bold flavor gave it depth without the burnt taste common in cheap coffees.

    Coffee Maker. Get a coffee maker to go with that caffeine addiction. The Black & Decker DCM18S Brew 'n Go Personal Coffeemaker can be found for just $16 and comes with a travel mug. Users like the convenience of the timer, the permanent filter and the short brewing time.

    Hot Chocolate Mix. Hot chocolate is a cold-weather staple. In a Cheapism taste test, classic Swiss Miss Milk Chocolate was the judges' favorite. It costs about 11 cents per serving and panelists recognized a taste they remembered fondly from childhood. For a bolder, darker chocolate flavor, try Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Premium, starting at less than 40 cents a serving.

    Apple Cider. Coffee, hot chocolate -- add another fall beverage to the list. Apple cider is a traditional autumn treat that won't break a grocery budget. Look for Trader Joe's Spiced Cider ($3 for two quarts) in the store's October flier and drink it warm or cold, spiked or not.

    Cookware. As summer winds down, chances are some home-cooked food sounds good. Solid cookware is vital for making meals at home and cutting dining-out costs. A Cook N Home 12-piece stainless steel set, available online for about $50, claims high praise from users and the distinction of best cheap stainless steel cookware from Cheapism.com. Reviewers report that the pots and pans are lightweight and easy to clean.

    Pharmacy. One downside to fall: Colds and flus begin to make the rounds. Some families will need a good, affordable pharmacy on speed dial. When Consumer Reports compared generic drug prices at more than 200 pharmacies, Costco came out the cheapest, with no membership required. A Cheapism pharmacy comparison found that grocery and big-box stores have lower prices than pharmacy chains.

    Leaf Blower. A leaf blower is a must in the fall for a yard with a lot of trees. Homeowners can find electric leaf blowers under $50 with sufficient power to clean up a small lawn or some flower beds. For $25 more, pick up Cheapism's choice of best cheap electric leaf blower, the Toro 51609 Ultra. Reviewers appreciate that the machine is powerful but relatively quiet and weighs just 7.5 pounds, which makes it easy to carry around and use.

    Rake. While a leaf blower will save back strain and hours of time compared with clearing a whole yard manually, having a rake on hand for smaller jobs is a necessity. Pick one up at any home improvement store for less than $20.

    Yard Waste Bags. Ordinances about bagging yard waste vary by community, so be sure to check what is required locally. If yard waste bags are needed, buying them in bulk is the way to go. Home Depot sells a pack of five for less than $2.

    Rain Boots. Splurging on high-end, high-priced Hunter Boots isn't necessary. Search places such as Amazon and Zappos for options under $50. A highly rated pair from Target with Hunter-like treads and buckles on the sides costs $35.

    Hiking Shoes. Outdoor types who plan to spend time checking out fall foliage will find good hiking shoes worthwhile. Watch for this year's models and color schemes to go on sale at the end of the season. A $100 budget buys the tried-and-true Merrell Moab Ventilator, a perennial Cheapism top pick that boasts countless stellar reviews.

    Halloween Costume. Trick or treat! The kid in all of us wants a good costume for Halloween, and making a costume saves a lot of money. Depending on what you want to be, most of the necessary supplies are probably on hand. A quick browse on Pinterest and other sites should provide plenty of inspiration.

    Denim. Autumn calls for jeans and sweaters, but don't buy new ones right away. As soon as the back-to-school rush is over, denim prices dip. September is the time to stock up on jeans that will get plenty of wear through the spring.

     

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    Worried Woman Doing Finances
    Getty Images
    By Nancy Mann Jackson

    These days, one isn't such a lonely number. Singles make up a larger percentage of U.S. households than ever before.

    But while staying unattached is a choice that may fit more people's lifestyle goals, it isn't necessarily helping with their money goals.

    A new study from Mintel shows that only 51 percent of unattached people in the U.S. have a retirement savings account. Which puts singles way behind couples when it comes to building a nest egg.

    Nearly 7 in 10 (68 percent) of those living with a partner are saving for retirement -- and the figure jumps to 84 percent among married couples.

    Granted, singles can face particular savings challenges like missing out on some tax breaks or not having the safety net of a second income. But that also makes it all the more important that they're prepared to go it alone in their golden years.

    This serious lack of savings is only going to become a bigger problem as the ranks of American singles continue to swell.

    Millennials, in particular, should take notice, as they're most likely to stay single longer, according to Robyn Kaiserman, financial services analyst at Mintel.

    "Because they are young, however, they may be hesitant to start saving for retirement. By postponing saving they are losing the benefit of time, which allows their savings to accumulate and grow," she notes.

    If you're looking for some inspiration, follow the lead of these three singles who are successfully saving for retirement on their own.

     

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    girls coloring with mother
    Getty ImagesColoring is one way to relieve stress.
    By Jon Lal

    There's plenty to do in these waning summer days to melt away stress and anxiety. Heading to the beach or the pool on the weekend with a good book works well, and you can even take your lunch outside on the workday if it's not too hot. Fresh air and sunshine can work wonders on your mental health.

    With the busy school season and cooler temperature headed our way, you may want to think about how you can continue to make time for yourself during fall and winter. You might have to be indoors more often, but that doesn't mean you can't find your inner bliss.

    Here are a few suggestions for new, relaxing hobbies you can adopt without shelling out a lot of cash:

    Coloring

    Who would have thought one of your favorite childhood pastimes is now a new hot trend for those looking to relieve stress? Many adults claim that coloring is a mindless activity that can help them relax and find quiet time for themselves. There are now many adult coloring books on the market, with intricate, beautiful designs and themes. Luckily, this hobby won't cost you too much to start -- many adult coloring books go for less than $10 on Amazon. You can take your hobby a step further and get together with coworkers or friends for group coloring.

    Hiking

    What better time to take up hiking than during the autumn foliage season? Even if you don't live near mountainous terrain, you can find walking trails or nature preserves in almost every community. Hiking can keep you active even as it gets colder, and when the snow starts to fall you can continue your adventures with a good pair of hiking boots or snowshoes. Just search the sales and look for coupons to make sure you get a discount on a good brand of shoes -- you shouldn't skimp and buy a cheap version that might fall apart quickly or hurt your feet. Boots are one place it can make sense to spend a little more, especially if you're wearing them to engage in an activity as thrifty as hiking. You can even pack your lunch and have a picnic, too.

    Learning a Language

    You might think learning a language requires expensive software or signing up for a pricy course. Thanks to the Internet, you can now learn languages for free. Websites like Duolingo and Memrise have countless hours of free resources and courses to help you learn whatever language you want, at no cost to you. You can even compete with others and earn points to stay motivated. If you start now, you might be able to impress your relatives in time for your annual holiday party!

    Listening to Podcasts

    There is an abundance of free podcasts available right on your mobile device. You can find stations and series on current events, happiness and well-being, sports, health, money, comedy -- you name it and it's there. It's an incredible free resource and it already exists in your pocket or on your computer. Take some time to browse around different options or ask friends for their recommendations. It's also a great way to pass time when you're sitting in traffic or commuting to and from work.

    Exploring Genealogy

    A fun winter hobby to pursue is discovering your own genealogy. Assembling your family tree can be challenging as you get to the far-reaching limbs, but it can also be a fun journey of discovery. Use the project as an opportunity to reach out to relatives that you haven't spoken with in a while. Get together with these relatives and hear stories from their childhood. If you need help piecing things together, there are also resources available to use. Online family history websites typically come at a price for a subscription, but if you subscribe on a month-by-month basis and put a time limit on your project, you can keep the cost under budget.

    Hobbies don't have to require expensive equipment, classes or supplies. Hopefully these ideas can improve your mental health and help keep the stress at bay as your work or family life becomes busy over the next few months!

    Jon Lal is the founder and CEO of coupons and cash back website BeFrugal.com, which saves shoppers an average of $27 an order thanks to coupons plus an average of 7 percent cash back at more than 4,000 stores.

     

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    Depressed Senior Adult Man With Stacks of Papers and Envelopes
    Getty Images
    By Martha Lynn Craver

    Retirees, adjust your budget: Double-digit price hikes for Medicare Part B premiums are coming next year.

    The actual rates for Part B (which covers the costs of doctor visits and outpatient care) will be announced in October and take effect Jan. 1. The boost may be 15 percent for all participants or a whopping 52 percent for some, depending on whether Social Security recipients see a cost-of-living raise for 2016.

    If Social Security checks are increased, everybody will pay more for Part B, bumping the monthly premium to $120.70 from $104.90 to cover higher expenses. That's the scenario for a 15 percent increase in costs.

    But without a raise in Social Security benefits, higher Medicare fees couldn't be charged to most folks. So the larger increase would apply to about 30 percent of Medicare beneficiaries:
    • Those who enroll in Part B in 2016
    • People who don't have their premiums deducted from Social Security payments
    • Individuals with annual incomes above $85,000
    • People eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid
    For the last group, known as "dual eligibles," Part B premiums are paid by the state where they live.

    Medicare beneficiaries in these groups would see bills jump to $159.30 a month unless the Obama administration took steps to lessen the pain. That's possible, but not certain.

     

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    Durable Goods Up 2% in July

    By MARTIN CRUTSINGER

    WASHINGTON -- Orders to U.S. factories for long-lasting manufactured goods rose for a second month in July, and demand in a key category that tracks business investment plans jumped by the largest amount in 13 months.

    The Commerce Department said Wednesday orders for durable goods -- items expected to last at least three years like refrigerators and cars -- increased 2 percent in July after a 4.1 percent gain in June.

    The result adds to a string of recent economic data that indicate the U.S. economy is on solid ground even in the face of various global headwinds. Deepening concerns about China's economy have sent shock waves through the world's financial markets in recent days.

    "As global equities continue to be roiled by uncertainty in China, we can be grateful that at least the heavyweight in the developed world is growing," said Jennifer Lee, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets, of the United States. "We already had a string of very positive data. And now, the weak link also known as business investment appears to be turning the corner."

    Orders in a category that serves as a proxy for business investment expanded 2.2 percent in July following a 1.4 percent rise in June. These orders had fallen in four of the previous five months, reflecting the soft patch that manufacturing has faced this year.

    Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, called the gain in business investment "really good news." He described the result as a solid indication that the big cutbacks in investment spending by oil companies were starting to taper off.

    The July increase in orders for durable goods was bigger than economists had been forecasting. They rose even though demand for commercial aircraft fell 6 percent during the month following a 69.7 percent surge in June.

    Orders for machinery rose by 1.5 percent, and demand for communications equipment increased 1.8 percent. Orders for computers and primary metals such as steel both fell.

    While the July durable goods report is encouraging, U.S. manufacturers must still contend with a host of risks that could set them back in the months ahead, including turbulence in China, a strong dollar and falling oil prices.

    The higher value of the dollar against foreign currencies makes U.S. goods more expensive and less competitive in major export markets. The lower oil prices have led energy companies to scale back their investment plans.

    The overall economy, as measured by the gross domestic product, grew at an annual rate of 0.6 percent in the January-March quarter before reviving to a growth rate of 2.3 percent in the April-June period.

    Many economists believe the second quarter figure will be revised higher to above 3 percent when the government issues its second look at GDP in the spring Thursday.

     

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    Earns McDonalds
    Don Ryan/AP
    By CANDICE CHOI

    NEW YORK -- This probably isn't what the United Nations had in mind when it established the International Day of Peace: Burger King is asking McDonald's to join forces to create a "McWhopper."

    In full-page newspaper ads Wednesday, Burger King said it's calling for a truce with McDonald's so that they can create a mashup of their most famous burgers -- the Big Mac and the Whopper. Burger King says it wants to serve the concoction for a single day at a popup location in Atlanta, a midway point between the headquarters of the two chains.

    Burger King is tying the publicity stunt to a nonprofit called Peace One Day, which says it promotes Peace Day. The United Nations created the International Day of Peace in 1981 to coincide with its annual opening session in September. It then designated Sept. 21 as the annual "day of non-violence and cease-fire" in 2001.

    This photo provided by Burger King shows a 'McWhopper.' In full-page newspaper ads Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015, Burger King said it's calling for a truce with McDonald's so that they can create a mashup of their most famous burgers, the Big Mac and the Whopper.   Burger King is tying the publicity stunt to a nonprofit called Peace One Day, which says it promotes Peace Day. (Burger King via AP)
    Burger King via AP
    In a response posted on its Facebook page, McDonald's CEO Steve Easterbrook said the proposal was inspiration for a good cause, and that he thinks the two companies could do "something bigger to make a difference." Then he took a dig at the ploy by Burger King.

    "Let's acknowledge that between us there is simply a friendly business competition and certainly not the unequaled circumstances of the real pain and suffering of war," Easterbrook said.

    He added "P.S. A simple phone call will do next time."

    The proposed mashup of the Big Mac and Whopper would include elements of each, such as flame-broiled beef patty and a middle bun, according to a website Burger King set up. Burger King notes on the site that it's open to discussing the proposal, but that details would have to be worked out in time for Peace Day.

    "Proposals like McWhopper make noise," Burger King says in a video on the site.

    Burger King said the ads asking McDonald's (MCD) about the proposal were to run Wednesday in The New York Times and Chicago Tribune, the latter of which is based near McDonald's headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois.

    Burger King, based in Miami, is owned by Restaurant Brands International (QSR), which also owns Tim Hortons.

     

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    Americans Financial Health
    Richard Drew/APA screen above the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange shows Tuesday's closing number for the Dow Jones industrial average.
    By JOSH BOAK

    WASHINGTON -- Many Americans have just absorbed a financial beating -- at least as measured by their stock holdings. It's the kind of blow that can feed a sense of helplessness about retirement, college savings and higher-than-expected bills.

    But take a look at other gauges of Americans' financial health, and a more nuanced picture emerges:

    Hiring and home values are up. Gas prices and mortgage rates are down. Inflation is low. The pace of layoffs has dwindled.

    Add it up, and the evidence suggests that many Americans -- though certainly not all -- are doing comparatively well.

    Even the stock-market swoon can be put in perspective: Yes, the Standard & Poor's 500 stock index (^GSPC) has tumbled 10.7 percent over the past five days of trading. Since the end of 2008, though, the S&P index remains up about 120 percent.

    For some, the stock sell-off has been an occasion to take a breath, recall previous down markets that eventually recovered and summon the patience to wait for their investments to rebound.

    "Hell, yes, I am worried," said Shannon Miller, a 27-year old digital content manager in St. Louis. "But what goes down ... will probably go back up."

    Here's a look at key measures of Americans' financial well-being:

    Jobs. This is a clear bright spot. Employers have added a total of 11.5 million jobs over the past 58 months. All that hiring has helped cut the unemployment rate to 5.3 percent from a peak of 10 percent in 2009. And just about everyone who has a job is getting to keep it: Applications for unemployment aid, which reflect the pace of layoffs, has hit a 15-year low.

    The surge in hiring is not concentrated in dead-end McJobs.

    It's true that the solid hiring has yet to provide meaningful pay raises for most people. Average hourly earnings are up a subpar 2.1 percent over the past 12 months.

    But there's evidence that the job market is being retooled for occupations and college graduates who command higher pay. Nearly 44 percent of the jobs added during the recovery paid a median income of more than $53,000, according to a report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. The economy includes a greater proportion of these jobs now than in 2008, after having shed "middle-wage jobs" -- those that paid $32,000 to $53,000.

    "The surge in hiring is not concentrated in dead-end McJobs," the report concluded.

    Investments. No doubt the latest stock market plunge has dealt a setback to many retirement accounts.

    But plenty of people have diversified their portfolios, as they should, so that stocks don't represent an outsized portion of their holdings. And many individuals have richly profited from the most recent bull market. A thousand dollars invested in an S&P 500 index fund at the end of 2008 would now be worth roughly $2,200.

    The investment company Vanguard reported in June that clients with retirement accounts at the end of 2009 had enjoyed a median gain of 137 percent over five years, reflecting both market returns and additional contributions.

    Consider: An Associated Press analysis last week found that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump would have multiplied his fortune more by investing in a generic stock index than in heavily-branded luxury real estate.

    Gas prices. Prices at the pump haven't been this low at this time of year since 2004, according to the American Automobile Association. The average price for a gallon of regular gasoline is $2.58 a gallon, down from $3.44 at this point in 2014. Analysts expect prices to fall further after summer.

    The price decline has slowed economic growth because energy companies have slashed their drilling activity and equipment orders to manufacturers.

    Yet for individual Americans, falling gas prices are a windfall: Families have more cushioning in their household budgets and can direct some of their gas savings to pare debt, invest or spend.

    Home values. The housing market has solidly recovered from the depths of the recession, when defaults on subprime mortgages caused a crushing wave of foreclosures and depressed prices.

    The S&P/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index is up 5 percent from a year earlier. And the National Association of Realtors said last week that sales of existing homes in July reached an annual rate of 5.59 million, the strongest pace since 2007.

    Homeowners are also behaving more prudently: Mortgage debt remains about $1.3 trillion below the 2008 peak, according to the Federal Reserve.

    "While the stock market can fluctuate wildly, real estate is slow and steady and has returned to very healthy conditions," said Jonathan Smoke, chief economist at Realtor.com.

    Mortgage rates. The Fed's low-rate policies have kept mortgage rates near historic lows for much of the recovery. And even as stocks have tumbled, it's become cheaper for homebuyers to borrow. The average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage slipped to 3.93 percent last week from 4.09 percent in mid-July, according to mortgage firm Freddie Mac.

    The low rates have benefited many homeowners who have adjustable-rate mortgages from before the recession. Mortgage rates tend to track the yields on long-term Treasurys. The declining stock market has held those yields low -- welcome news for homeowners such as Conal Crawley, a 49-year-old sales rep from Boston.

    "It'll keep my interest rate down as long as the economy doesn't get overheated," he said.

    -AP business writer Marley Jay contributed to this report from New York.

     

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    APTOPIX Financial Markets Wall Street
    Richard Drew/AP
    This has been a rough month -- and a rough year -- for the stock market. Some may argue that it's hard to make money in this climate, but some investors have actually made a lot of it.

    Let's go over a few of the stocks that have more than doubled in 2015 as of the Aug. 25 market close.

    Skechers (SKX) -- Up 139 percent

    The athletic-footwear maker is on fire, blowing Wall Street profit targets away in each of this year's first two quarters. Sales clocked in at a record $2.4 billion last year and they're already surging 39 percent higher through the first half of 2015.

    The company that was once known for cheap sneakers has evolved into its own brand. Skechers recently announced a 3-for-1 stock split, which will take place in October.

    Eldorado Resorts (ERI) -- Up 124 percent

    The house always wins, but that doesn't always play out for casino operators. Things have certainly panned out for Eldorado. It's been seeing improving performance metrics at most of its five properties, and a recent deal to acquire Circus Circus Reno and MGM's 50 percent interest in Silver Legacy Resort Casino in Reno will bring its casino count up to seven.

    Sector consolidation has helped boost the shares of small regional players with domestic assets. Eldorado certainly fits the bill, and with buyouts likely to continue, it will keep drawing interest from more than just gamers.

    LendingTree (TREE) -- Up 117 percent

    Low interest rates and a booming housing market have been beneficial to lead providers for the mortgage industry and LendingTree has been one of them. Interest in refinancing has been sluggish since it's been a low-rate environment for so long, but demand for financing home purchases continues to grow.

    The biggest driver in LendingTree's top-line growth has been its push into personal loans. It's a volatile niche, but it's also a logical expansion market for the company.

    Wayfair (W) -- Up 113 percent

    The online furniture retailer didn't seem to live up to the initial hype in its first year as a public company. Wayfair went public at $29 last October, and even though it opened at $36, it wound up losing ground by the end of 2014.

    It's been a different story this year. Investors have applauded the heady sales growth at Wayfair, forgiving its shortcomings on the bottom line. It helps that the losses are shrinking as its sales expand. A few years ago, some would have argued that furniture was a bust for e-tailers. Customers like to kick the ottoman, so to speak. Shipping is too cost-prohibitive. However, it's working for Wayfair.

    Netflix (NFLX) -- Up 108 percent

    The most valuable company to double this year in terms of market cap is Netflix. The leading premium video service grows more popular with every passing quarter. Its global base of streaming subscribers has grown to 65.55 million from 50.05 million over the past year.

    Magnetic original content and strong acquisitions overseas -- where most of its growth has been coming from over the past year -- continue to make Netflix the undisputed top dog, serving billions of hours of content a month.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Netflix. The Motley Fool owns and recommends Netflix. 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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    Oscar Mayer, Turkey Bacon
    JeepersMedia/Flickr
    NEW YORK -- Kraft Heinz Foods Co. (KHC) is recalling more than 2 million pounds of turkey bacon products that may be unsafe because they could possibly spoil before the "Best When Used By" date.

    The US. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service said that it has received reports of illness tied to individuals eating the items.

    The turkey bacon products included in the recall were produced between May 31 and Aug. 6. They were shipped across the U.S. and exported to the Bahamas and St. Martin.

    Consumers with questions about the recall can contact the Kraft Heinz Consumer Relations Center at 800-278-3403.

    The recall includes:
    • 56-ounce cardboard boxes (containing four plastic wrapped packages) labeled as Oscar Mayer "Selects Uncured Turkey Bacon." The plant number is P-9070, the line number is RS19 and the Product UPC 0 4470007633 0. It has "Best When Used By" dates of 24 AUG 2015 through 26 OCT 2015.
    • 36-ounce cardboard boxes (containing three plastic wrapped packages) labeled as Oscar Mayer Turkey Bacon "Smoked Cured Turkey Chopped and Formed." The plant number is P-9070, the line number is RS19 and the Product UPC 0 7187154874 8. It has "Best When Used By" dates of 28 AUG 2015 through 20 OCT 2015.
    • 48-ounce cardboard boxes (containing four plastic wrapped packages) labeled as Oscar Mayer Turkey Bacon "Smoked Cured Turkey Chopped and Formed." The plant number is P-9070, the line number is RS19 and the Product UPC 0 7187154879 3. It has "Best When Used By" dates of 3 SEPT 2015 through 30 OCT 2015.

     

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