It was a busy week as Hurricane Sandy pounded the East Coast, securities exchanges were forced to close on Monday and Tuesday, and a slew of economic reports were released. Stocks ended the shortened week with a selloff Friday, erasing gains made earlier, and finishing basically flat. For the week, the S&P gained 0.16 percent and the Dow climbed 0.12 percent, while the Nasdaq trimmed 0.19 percent. Although the economic impact of Hurricane Sandy won't be known for weeks or months, the true cost of a disaster like this is always the human suffering. It is painful to see beautiful homes and townships devastated by natural forces, and our thoughts go out to all those impacted. If you or someone you love has been affected in any way, and if there is anything we can do, please don't hesitate to let us know.On the bright side - without making light of this disaster - it should be noted that major storms rarely have a lasting impact on the U.S. economy. Generally, even large disasters like this one aren't costly enough to damage the enormous economic machine that is the U.S. economy. Insurance companies may be stuck footing a large bill, and the government may have to pay for relief efforts, but economic snags of this type are usually temporary. The major exception to this general rule was Katrina, which devastated New Orleans and caused over $100 billion in estimated damages. One of the major reasons Katrina was so expensive was because of the area's economic importance as a major shipping port and oil and gas hub. Although the effects of Sandy are widespread, the storm would have had to shut down major cities for weeks to achieve similar effects. Fortunately, it passed somewhat quickly, and major recovery efforts are under way.One note of positive news could be found in last week's Labor Department report showing that employers added 171,000 new jobs last month. Although the unemployment rate ticked slightly upwards to 7.9 percent, the increase was attributed to discouraged workers restarting job searches, which is a positive sign for the economy. This good news combined with recent consumer confidence highs indicate that we may be able to expect consumer spending to increase during the holiday season, which would be excellent for retailers.As earnings season continued last week, markets responded positively to some solid results. Consumer discretionary stocks edged higher as several well known travel companies and luxury retailers beat estimates. Overall, the corporate earnings picture has improved as more companies have reported; according to Nov. 2 data, of the 378 S&P 500 companies that have reported so far, 61.9 percent have beat expectations, which is in line with the 62 percent average since 1994. While we may see additional volatility in the weeks ahead, solid earnings and upbeat economic reports mean that investors have a lot to be pleased about right now. Headlines• Consumer confidence rises to four-year high. The Conference Board Consumer Confidence index rose in October to the highest level since February 2008. Despite tough economic conditions, Americans were more confident about their finances and expected the job market to improve in the next six months. • Planned layoffs jump to five-month high. The number of planned employee layoffs by U.S. firms jumped 41.1 percent to the highest level since May. While the last three months of the year historically see the largest number of layoffs, analysts believe that the deteriorating situation in Europe and worries about the fiscal cliff are leading companies to cut back on staffing. • Long-term shifts in retail may hinder employment growth. The retail sector is a key provider of employment. As consumer confidence grows, and mortgage refinances put money back in consumers' pockets, retailers are beginning to increase hiring. However, structural shifts towards self-checkout and online sales may limit the pace of hiring increases. Mark Ballenger is an investment and financial planning consultant offering services to individual investors and business owners. His company, Ballenger Asset Management, is located in Avon and can be reached at 970-471-9962. This report has been created with the cooperation of Platinum Advisor Marketing Strategies LLC. Securities offered through Cambridge Investment Research, a broker/dealer, member FINRA/SIPC. Ballenger is an investment adviser representative for Cambridge Investment Research Advisors Inc., a registered investment adviser. Ballenger Asset Management and Cambridge are not affiliated.
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