Morning Business Memo:
Have you looked at your 401(k) lately? Go ahead, you might be in for a pleasant surprise. Despite a great deal of worry about the U.S. economy and the financial crisis in Europe, the big stock S&P 500 index closed above 1,400 for the first time in three months. It's up 12 percent so far this year. The technology dominated Nasdaq index logged its first close above 3,000 since early May. As for the Dow, it was up 51 points to 13,169. It is now just 996 points shy of its record reached in October 2007, before the financial crisis hit. The rise in the past month has been fueled largely by speculation about what could happen in the coming weeks. Investors are betting that central banks in the United States and Europe will take fresh steps to boost their economies.
U.S. homeowners are getting better about keeping up with their mortgage payments, driving the percentage of borrowers who have fallen behind to a three-year low. Credit reporting firm Transunion says 5.49 percent of mortgage holders were at least 60 days behind in their payments during the spring quarter. That's the lowest level since the first quarter of 2009. But the number is still well above normal levels. Before the housing bust, mortgage delinquencies were running at less than 2 percent.
Cautious consumers: The Federal Reserve says American consumers cut back on credit card use in June. Card debt fell 5 percent. But auto and student loan borrowing rose. "Consumers are still watching what they spend, saving money clipping coupons and trying to stay within budget," says Pam Goodfellow, who follows consumer spending at BIG Insight. She calls it the new normal. "I think the last four years have given consumers a lot to think about." The spendthrift days are gone, says Goodfellow, and many people do less impulse buying: "Focusing on what we really need rather than on what we want and making targeted purchases and thinking about them before hand."
The Labor Department says employers posted the most job openings in four years in June. It's a sign the jobs market might be improving. But many economists still warn the jobs market won't pick up until Congress takes action to avoid the "fiscal cliff" at the end of this year.