Fed's comfort level still making everyone uncomfortable
Recapping the day's news and newsmakers through the lens of CNBC.
Federal Reserve officials may be getting closer to tapering the central bank's controversial bond-buying program, but minutes from the most recent meeting show some hesitation remains.
The Fed notes showed that all participants said they were broadly comfortable with the characterization of the contingent outlook for asset purchases that was presented in the June post-meeting press conference and in the July monetary policy testimony, and were satisfied that investors had come to understand the data-dependent nature of the Fed's thinking.
"The latest FOMC minutes suggest the Fed wants to keep us on tenterhooks over the timing of tapering its bond-buying appetite."—Andrew Wilkinson, chief market economist at Miller Tabak
Higher loan rates encourage home sales, for now
Existing home sales rose to their highest level in three years in July. The performance is especially impressive given that the peak three years ago was driven by the looming expiration of a buyer's credit. The numbers seem to confirm the theory that consumers, though jittery about ordinary spending, will go for big-ticket purchases like cars and homes, to beat higher loan rates down the road.
For now, the housing market is shoring up the broader economy, with the median price for a previously owned home up 13.7 percent in the past year. The recent increase in credit availability as mortgage rates rise is good news that could also be reason for concern.
"As mortgage rates rise, credit availability is easing, and that's no coincidence. ... Mortgage lenders have to be more aggressive. ... The increase was primarily driven by increases in cash-out refis, which had been very much a no-no during the housing crash."—CNBC's Diana Olick
Most high school grads not ready for empty office cubes
We know millions of people are looking for work, but, sadly, that doesn't mean there's a glut of top-quality job applicants. In fact, just a quarter of high school graduates who took the ACT tests this year are considered qualified to succeed in college or careers, the testing company says.
And keep in mind that the test takers may be the cream of the crop —46 percent of seniors don't take the test, though some of those take the rival SATs. ACT's measure of potential "success" is pretty lenient, defined as a 75 percent chance of earning C's in college, or a 50/50 chance of Bs.
"There is a group that's on the fence. With a little further instruction or motivation, perhaps some additional remediation or refreshing some of their past skills, they may be able to achieve that benchmark."—Jon Erickson, president of ACT's education division
Target: Another retailer to worry about?
Adding to worries about consumers' ordinary spending, Target on Wednesday warned that the rest of the year may not be that rosy. Annual earnings, the company said, may be at the low end of its forecast. Second-quarter profit met expectations, but sales fell short. Still, Target did better than Wal-Mart.
"Wal-Mart and others made it crystal clear that it is a little bit tougher out there, so that shouldn't be a surprise to anyone."—Shawn Kravetz, president of Esplanade Capital, which owns Target shares
Obamacare worries employers, and options do, too
The looming requirements of the Affordable Care Act are giving big companies the jitters, with 40 percent of those surveyed saying they plan to adjust their health-care plans to minimize cost increases. Among the biggest concerns is the excise tax on high-end plans, a Towers Watson survey found. While hoping to cut costs, big companies realize good health plans help attract good employees.
"Most companies very much still see health-care benefits as a core offering. It's a very visible benefit."—Ron Fontanetta, a senior health-care consultant at Towers Watson