Morning Business Memo:
Welcome to September. For retailers, the countdown to the holiday shopping season has begun. Toys R Us is making it easier for shoppers to use its layaway program. Starting today, America's top toy retailer is waiving the service fee and minimum-purchase requirement. Last month, Walmart said it was expanding its own layaway program after seeing high customer demand. But there is still a minimum purchase requirement and a $15 fee for an open account. Since the 2008 recession, retailers have seen increased interest in layaway programs from stressed-out consumers who might have been refused credit cards or found it difficult to pay for holiday gifts. More emphasis on layaway is also the latest effort by brick-and-mortar stores facing increasingly tough competition from online retailers.
After a steady rise in gasoline prices in the past two months, the worst might be over. Oil and gas production is slowly coming back to life in the Gulf of Mexico. About 800,000 barrels of daily oil production remain offline, the government says. But at the height of Hurricane Isaac, 1.3 million barrels per day of oil production was suspended. With the cutoff, average gasoline prices rose more than a dime a gallon last week. Most analysts expect a steady drop in the next two months.
Several days of rain brought some relief to Midwest farmers as they deal with the worst drought in decades. The rain was too late to make much of a difference for corn growers. Most have already started harvesting. Soybean farmers, however, are hoping the showers will help their crops, and ranchers are grateful for a break from hauling water for their cattle.
If you have money in the market, your gains for the year might be fairly strong. On this first day of stock trading for September, the S&P 500 is up almost 12 percent for the year. The mostly high-tech Nasdaq has gained 18 percent. But there are still many worries, especially from overseas. The European Central Bank might be just a few days away from announcing a new bond-buying program to help Spain, Italy and other weak economies. China's economic growth is weaker. The main Shanghai stock index is down to a three-year low.
Richard Davies, business correspondent, ABC NEWS Radio, ABCNews.com, twitter.com/daviesabc