As 2012 comes to a close, the U.S. housing market remains one of the bright spots of the economy.
The interminable budget talks in Washington are causing oil prices to fluctuate this week and oil future contracts are trading lower Thursday morning as fiscal cliff negotiations stall. On Wednesday oil prices were headed higher after government data showed a decline in weekly inventories.
The U.S. economy grew at a 3.1% annual rate in the third-quarter, more than previous government estimates of 2% and 2.7%. The July to September quarter was the nation's fastest rate of growth since the fourth-quarter of 2011. Inventory investment was the main driver of economic growth in Q3 according to the Commerce Department. Stronger trade, increased consumer demand for durable goods and health care services as well as a rebound in local, state and federal defense spending also contributed to higher growth. The economy expanded at a 1.3% rate in the second-quarter.
2012 has been a tough year for investors and businesses alike. Elections, the fiscal cliff, the long-looming European debt crisis, and quantitative easing have shaped both news and markets. Businesses are holding off on IPOs or paying dividends early and investor's uncertainties have become palpable.
Both sides have given up ground in the "Fiscal Cliff" negotiations in Washington, but the surprise tactic of the Republicans to put forth a "Plan B" has suddenly thrown the whole deal into doubt.
Just days after a gunman killed 20 first graders and 6 teachers and administrators at a suburban Connecticut school, California Treasurer Bill Lockyer proposed that the state's two public pension funds divest themselves of gun makers.
The horrific slaughter of 7 adults and 20 children with an assault weapon last week has once again focused attention on America's permissive gun laws.
After a brief post-election swoon, stocks have been on a tear, with both the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) and the S&P 500 Index (GSPC) up more than 6% in the last four weeks. Entering Wednesday's session, the Dow and S&P were at their highest levels since Oct. 18 and pointing higher in early trading thanks, in part, to better-than-expected results Tuesday night from Oracle (ORCL).
Finally after weeks of on and off discussions, President Obama and House Speaker Boehner appear to be unifying on higher tax rates for wealthier Americans. Boehner has abandoned his resistance to raise rates on the wealthy (specifically for those making more than $1 million a year) and the president has moved up his target for the Bush-era tax cuts (from $250,000 to $400,000).