Economy, Markets Outperform Expectations

by Anirban Basu 12. April 2013

Anirban BasuA Record-Setting First Quarter

Simply put, the first quarter of 2013 was a fabulous one for U.S. equity investors. The S&P 500 Index, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DIJA), and the Nasdaq all ended the first quarter of 2013 on a resounding note. The Dow Jones was up 11 percent during the first quarter to 14,578.58– its best first-quarter performance in 15 years. The S&P 500 rose 10 percent to 1,569.19 while the Nasdaq rose 8.2 percent to 3,267.52. Both the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones surpassed previous record closing highs in March.

The national economy has also outperformed expectations thus far in 2013. Real gross domestic product tracked at roughly 2 percent on an annualized basis during the first quarter, far better than the 0.4 percent increase registered during the fourth quarter of 2012. Despite a disappointing employment report for March, which indicated that the U.S. added just 88,000 jobs, the jobless rate fell to 7.6 percent, a post-recession low. During the first three months of the year, monthly job growth averaged 168,000 jobs according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (+148,000 in January; +268,000 in February).

Improvement in the broader economy continues to support recovery in the nation’s housing market. According to the National Association of Realtors, total existing-home sales in February rose 0.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.98 million units. That was up from 4.94 million in January and represented one of many pieces of information indicating that the housing market remains on an upward trajectory. On a year-over-year basis, existing home sales are up more than 10 percent – impressive given overall economic growth nationwide in the range of 2 percent. Home prices are also on the rise. The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $173,600 in February, up 11.6 percent from February 2012. That represents the 12th consecutive month of year-over-year price increases and the strongest gain since November 2005.

Perhaps most remarkably, higher stock prices working in conjunction with recent increases in home prices have allowed Americans to collectively recoup the roughly $16 trillion in wealth that was lost during the Great Recession and its aftermath. According to the Federal Reserve, net worth for U.S. households reached $66.1 trillion during the fourth quarter of last year, representing the highest level in five years and more than 98 percent of the pre-recession peak of $67.3 trillion achieved in Q3:2007. First quarter Federal Reserve data are likely to indicate that collective household wealth is now at all-time high, though it remains true that much of the gain has been concentrated among a relatively small proportion of households (i.e., those that own significant amounts of financial assets).

Corporate earnings continue to expand. The Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that corporate profits rose to $2.013 trillion during the fourth quarter of 2012. That represents an increase of 2.3 percent from the previous quarter and 3.1 percent compared to one year ago. According to the New York Times, corporate profits as a percentage of GDP are now at their highest level since 1950.

US Corporate Profits

 

Looking Ahead

It has been a long time since circumstances appeared so promising. But we are not out of the proverbial woods. The U.S. economy could slow significantly during the next few months as federal spending cuts begin to take hold. The Congressional Budget Office projects that $1.2 trillion in federal spending cuts could lead to approximately 750,000 job losses in 2013 alone. The March employment data provided us with a taste of things likely to come.

The second quarter should be very interesting. Both certain macroeconomic and corporate factors suggest that the financial market rally could persist, but there is a sea of potential hazards, including N. Korea, the eurozone, another debt ceiling debacle in Washington, Iran, Syria, Egypt, a sharp rise in oil prices and unanticipated inflation. While investors will likely want continued exposure to equities, there are many reasons to remain somewhat guarded. As always, financial diversification appears to be the most reasonable investment strategy to pursue.

 

Anirban Basu is Chairman & CEO of Sage Policy Group, Inc., an economic and policy consulting firm in Baltimore, Maryland. Basu is one of the Mid-Atlantic region's most recognizable economists, in part because of his consulting work on behalf of numerous clients, including prominent developers, bankers, brokerage houses, energy suppliers and law firms. On behalf of government agencies and non-profit organizations, Basu has written several high-profile economic development strategies, including co-authoring Baltimore City's economic growth strategy. His opinions do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of 1st Mariner Bank.

4 Free Money Saving Apps

by Andrew Schreiber 9. April 2013

Mobile PhonesWe could always use new ideas to help us save money on a daily basis. With the popularity of smartphones and the availability of hundreds of thousands of smartphone applications, there are many new ways to save money. We all know the popular game apps like Angry Birds, Temple Run, and Words with Friends, but there are plenty of money saving apps.

GasBuddy (Available for iPhone, Android, Windows, Blackberry)

Those of us that do a substantial amount of driving can save a significant amount of money by finding the cheapest gas price. GasBuddy allows you to search by city, zip code, or your current location to find the cheapest gas in your location. GasBuddy relies on its users to report the most up to date gas prices. When you report gas prices you earn points which can earn you opportunities to win gas money. Not only is this a money saving app, it also gives its active users a chance for it to become a money earning app!

ShopSavvy (Available for iPhone, Android, Windows)

The primary use of the ShopSavvy app is to scan barcodes and compare prices between stores. You simply scan the barcode of any product and it will search retailers to find you the best price available. It lists online availability separate from local store availability which can help you to decide if it’s worth buying a product in stores or if you should purchase it online. The app also includes coupons to a variety of retail stores including Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, Best Buy and Ace Hardware.

CouponSherpa (Available for iPhone, Android)

Couponing is one of the oldest and most common ways to save money. With the growing popularity of smartphones and online shopping, couponing has evolved with these trends. CouponSherpa is a great example of the new way to use a coupon. This money saving app uses your current location to show you which stores near you have coupons available. You can then pull up the coupon at the register and the cashier can scan it or enter the coupon number for your purchase. Not all merchants will accept a coupon on a smartphone and will require a printed version, so CouponSherpa allows you to email a coupon to yourself which you are then able to print out.

1st Mariner Bank Mobile Banking App (Available for iPhone, Android)

Of course we had to throw in our Mobile Banking app! Having your current account balance at your fingertips can help you make smart purchasing decisions and help you to avoid overdrawing your account. In addition, you can pay your bills through the app. In case you suddenly realize that you have a bill due and you are on the go, you can avoid those pesky late fees. Also, the ATM and Branch Locator will help you find a nearby ATM in our network so you can avoid fees from other banks and ATMS outside of our network.

Although cutting coupons from your Sunday paper is still a great way to save some money, smartphone technology has one again gone above and beyond to help us save money and shop smarter!

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The Future of Technology and Banking

by Andrew Schreiber 25. March 2013

Future Banking Technology

Technology is continuously changing the world we live in and how we as humans interact with others. For better or for worse, technology is continuously changing our everyday lives. I want to focus on how future technology could potentially change the way we interact with our bank. Two highly anticipated and talked about products expected to be released in the near future are the iWatch from Apple and Google Glass from Google. These two products have the potential to revolutionize the way we live our lives, including how we interact with our bank, handle payments and track our spending.

iWatch

Apple is developing a wrist watch that will be able to connect to and interact with your smartphone. Text messages, phone calls, appointments and alerts could all be displayed on your watch and you would never have to remove the phone from your pocket. So how can this innovation revolutionize the way we bank? Well, let’s think about it...

We have seen the use of Near Field Communication (NFC) technology in smartphones before, but never in a wrist watch! As you step into a checkout line and go to pay the merchant, you could simply wave your watch over a reader to pay. No fumbling with a wallet necessary. Current NFC technology still requires you to use your phone; this new technology will make the process much more convenient and natural.

But the technology won’t necessarily stop there! After you make your payment, you could have a receipt sent to your watch to confirm the transaction. If you want to be alerted when your balance drops below a certain threshold, this alert could be sent right to your watch. With many of us starting to use personal finance management tools, we could receive an instant update on our current budget after a purchase. The more informed we are about our money, the more comfortable we can feel about our financial security.

Google Glass

The potential of the iWatch is exciting, but in my opinion, not nearly as exciting as Google Glass! Google Glass is a new type of wearable technology that Google has been testing for the past several months. It is a pair of eyeglasses that have the ability to display an augmented reality to the individual wearing the glasses. Like the iWatch, the glasses would connect with your phone and interact with the technology in your phone (i.e. weather updates, text messages, internet browsing, driving directions, etc.) while still maintaining an interpersonal connection to the people around you.

How can this change the way we bank? Well, envision asking the device to show you the nearest ATM and then seeing that ATM right in front of your eyes. As you turn your head, it could show you the ATMs or branches in that direction and the distance they are from you.

Imagine using an ATM at a remote location and communicating with a bank employee through your Google Glass. The functionality of an ATM could possibly be expanded to include transactions and services that you would normally complete in person. Using ATMs this way would be much like a video conference, with bank tellers providing support on an individual basis.

In recent years, personal finance managers that allow you to track spending and set goals have become popular tools. Imagine going to a store and just by looking at the barcode of a product you could see how purchasing it would affect your monthly budget.

This same concept could be applied to large purchases that must be financed. When you are discussing how much you can afford for a new house or car, you could virtually see what your budget would look like with the new obligations. You glasses would show you what your cash flow would look like if you decided to take on the new debt. Seeing this visual aid right in front of your eyes could go a long way to help you make the most informed decision before making a major purchase.

Tools as convenient and interactive as the iWatch and Google Glass could greatly alter the spending habits of consumers. The final decision obviously rests with the consumer himself, but if we get to the point where we have insights and information literally right in front of us, it gets easier and easier to make smart financial choices.

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