Employers have plenty of cash, lack confidence
Recapping the day's news and newsmakers through the lens of CNBC.
The job front has two problems: Not enough jobs are being created, and too many of the new ones are not very good—they are either part-time or in low-paying industries such as retail, leisure and hospitality. Although the unemployment rate has fallen to 7 percent, the government's underemployment rate remains north of 13 percent, and private economists put it over 17 percent.
Happily, growing numbers of economists think 2014 could see more creation of better-paying jobs, like manufacturing, as companies, seeing economic improvement, get bolder about tapping into cash reserves, which are vast. Growth in higher-paying jobs is key to economic growth because those workers spend more.
"If we could maintain a 3 percent–plus pace next year … I'm thinking so far we have in the second half of this year ... then yes, jobs prospects for everyone should improve."—Joseph A. LaVorgna, managing director and chief U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank Securities
"What we do expect is that the recovery will shift gears … and as it does, we will see more of the better-quality jobs. If we do see stronger manufacturing conditions, if we do see a stronger housing market, exports, that suggest ... we see the types of jobs shifting from these low-paid part-time jobs that characterized the economy for the past couple of years into the better-quality, full-time jobs."—Sophia Koropeckyj, managing director for Moody's Analytics
Pro: Stocks could soar again in ‘14
What goes up must come down, except when it doesn't. So it's possible that stocks could turn in another stellar year in 2014. In fact, perennial optimist Thomas Lee, chief U.S. equity strategist at JPMorgan, thinks there's a 1 in 3 chance the S&P 500 could repeat this year's near–30 percent gain.
Looking at past bull markets, Lee finds that the sixth year matches the fifth about a third of the time. His more down-to-earth forecast calls for a 13 percent gain, assuming improving economic growth.
"I think a lot of the things that were supporting stocks this year are still going to support equities next year. ... I still feel comfortable that we've got at least a couple years of very good markets, and it's going to be driven by profit growth and some economic surprise."—Lee
Some tech stocks are frothy
Even if you share the optimism described above, it's hard to deny that some stocks are pretty pricey—tech stocks, in particular. The poster child is Twitter, which despite having no profits, is up about 145 percent since it went public in early November.
Twitter is trading at just over $60 a share. According to one analysis, a $50 price could be justified only if the company were to have $4 billion in revenue in 2017, quite a climb from its $630 million this year. Twitter's current market value is about one-third that of Facebook, which has five times as many users and 10 times the revenue.
Some traders don't bother to justify Twitter's price on fundamentals, arguing that demand alone will keep pushing the price up. Reliance on the greater Fool theory is, of course, a bubble hallmark.
"You're starting to hear it: 'It's a new world order.' Apparently, the sun is going to rise in the west because of Twitter. It's absolutely beyond ridiculous."—Timothy Connolly, a Queens money manager who teaches investment analysis
"Traders are going to drive up the price. The valuation doesn't actually matter at this point."—Max Ganik, a 16-year-old who trades Twitter options
Get a CEO? Gee, what a concept!
When it comes to Obamacare, it's fair to ask: Who, exactly, is in charge? Different government officials stand before the cameras at different times, and although people have been appointed to deal with specific issues, like the website problems, the whole enterprise lacks a CEO.
And some administration advisors are pushing for one. They want someone who can set rules for the insurance marketplace, coordinate with insurers and state regulators, supervise enrollment campaigns and oversee the complex technology.
Officially, the insurance marketplace is the responsibility of the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, administered by Marilyn Tavenner, but there's actually no single individual who runs the whole enchilada. So far, the administration hasn't warmed to the CEO idea, but advocates keep on pushing.
"It's the right thing to do. It's just two years late. The administration is confronted by a series of problems they cannot solve on their own. They do not possess internally the competencies or the exposure or the information."—former Utah Governor Mike Leavitt, Republican, Health and Human Services Secretary under President George W. Bush
—By Jeff Brown, Special to CNBC.com