FedEx Brings Back 401K Matching

Federal Express (FDX) reported strong earnings and raised earnings guidance for the next quarter. Unlike many reports that continue to tout tight controls over hiring and labor costs as a path to profits, FedEx announced it would reinstate the matching component of its 401K program. This announcement is in-line with an earlier report from Hewitt Associates predicting that the majority of companies that dropped 401K matching during the recession would bring these programs back this year.


The Tuition Bubble

Carpe Diem argues that there is a bubble in the cost of higher education, and the bubble will soon burst. He posts a dramatic chart showing the rapidly growing divergence of the cost of a higher education and the CPI AND housing over the past thirty years.

This author believes that the bubble in government debt will burst first but given that government debt partially helps support the spiraling costs of education through support for ballooning student debt, the timing may be close enough. Note well that rising home equity helped many middle-class families scrape together enough money to pay for college for their kids – that prop will not likely return anytime soon.


A surge in supply drives down UK property monthly prices for first time in 2010

CNBC International interviews Miles Shipside from Rightmove to discuss the health of the UK property market. Asking prices fell month-over-month in July by 0.6%. This small drop was the first decline of the year as supply overwhelmed demand. Click here for the video.


Apartment vacancies decline; rents rise

Bloomberg:

Apartment vacancies in the U.S. dropped in the second quarter from the previous three months, the first quarterly improvement in two years, as private-sector job growth boosted demand for rental housing, Reis Inc. said.

The vacancy rate for apartment properties was 7.8 percent, down from a 30-year high of 8 percent in the first quarter and up from 7.7 percent a year earlier, according to a report today by the real estate research firm. First-quarter vacancies were the highest since 1980, when Reis began tracking the data.

“The apartment sector is on the path towards recovery,” Victor Calanog, director of research at New York-based Reis, said in today’s report…

Landlords’ asking rents rose 0.4 percent from the first quarter and were down 0.7 percent from a year earlier. Effective rents, or what tenants actually paid, climbed 0.7 percent from the prior quarter and were unchanged from a year earlier.

This won’t come as a surprise to those of you who have been watching residential REIT stocks during the past year or so.


Manhattan rental market heats up

Reuters reports that Manhattan landlords are faring much better than last year:

The Manhattan apartment rental market strengthened in the second quarter as landlords drew confidence from a more robust sale market, but it is still softer than it had been in the past decade.

The average rent per square foot in the second quarter was $49.60, according to a report from brokerage Prudential Douglas Elliman. That is 12.3 percent higher than last year but 7.6 percent lower than the 10-year inflation-adjusted average of $53.67, Elliman said.

Likewise, the number of listings on the market fell 31.8 percent to 4,972. But the average for the 10 years through 2008, when investment bank Lehman Brothers collapsed and sent Manhattan’s real estate market into a tailspin, was nearly 16 percent lower at 4,193.

“What you have is a noticeable improvement from the landlord’s perspective in the second quarter,” said Jonathan Miller of appraisal firm Miller Samuel, who writes the Elliman report. “The perception is that things are not as dire as they were a year ago. That’s causing them to be more firm in their asking rents.”

Also, the article quotes an analyst saying that “Owner-paid concessions are becoming a thing of the past.”

Related: “In Manhattan, most apartments aren’t sitting empty for long: A flurry of lease signings pushed the quarterly vacancy rate below 1% for the first time in nearly three years, leaving few choices for apartment seekers during the prime leasing season.”


Passport fees to rise 35 percent

CNN:

Get ready to open your wallet a little wider to satisfy your travel bug: It is soon going to cost more to apply for a new U.S. passport or renew an old one — a move criticized by the public and some lawmakers.

Starting next Tuesday, adults applying for their first passport book will have to pay $135 — a 35 percent increase from the current $100 fee.


U.S. Postal Service Proposes Price Increases

The cost of mailing a letter will likely go up soon. The U.S. Postal Service announced yesterday that it wants to increase the price of a first class postage stamp by another 2 cents or 4.5% as of January, 2011. The Postal Service cites on-going and worsening financial difficulties as the main force driving prices ever upward:

“Faced with plummeting mail volume traced to the recession and increased use of the Internet, the Postal Service is projecting a deficit of nearly $7 billion for the next fiscal year. Despite eliminating millions of work hours and reducing expenses by more than $1 billion every year since 2001, a budget gap remains….
….’There is no one single solution to the dire financial situation that the Postal Service faces…These proposed rate adjustments are moderate and part of a fair and balanced approach to insuring mail service for all Americans well into the future.'”


Costs of Manufacturing in China Likely Heading Up Soon

The New York Time reports in “Supply Chain for iPhone Highlights Costs in China” that manufacturing costs in China are likely heading upward soon:

“Soaring labor costs caused by worker shortages and unrest, a strengthening Chinese currency that makes exports more expensive, and inflation and rising housing costs are all threatening to sharply increase the cost of making devices like notebook computers, digital cameras and smartphones…
…Wages in China have risen by more than 50 percent since 2005, analysts say, and this year many factories, under pressure from local governments and workers who feel they have been underpaid for too long, have raised wages by an extra 20 to 30 percent.”

Manufacturers in China are already moving production away from the traditional electronic hub in Shenzhen to lower-cost regions in the country.

The article goes on to reveal that the lowest cost components on the iPhone come from the manufacturing and assembly of the various electronic components. This low-margin business is getting tougher and tougher and growing out of favor:

“…there is growing skepticism about China’s manufacturing model after years of pressing workers to toil six or seven days a week, 10 to 12 hours a day.”

Expect soon to pay more for Chinese-made goods at a store near you.