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Five Things You Need to Know: Target Confirms What We Already Knew; All Real Estate is Local; BlackRock Cash Fund Downgraded; The "Delinquency Budget"; Daily Deflation Datapoint: Reverse Shoplifting?


What you need to know (and what it means)!


Kevin Depew's daily Five Things You Need to Know to stay ahead of the pack on Wall Street:

1. Target Confirms What We Already Knew

Late on Christmas Eve, when few were looking, Target (TGT) confirmed what we already knew, that retail sales will likely decline in December as consumers cut back on shopping.

  • Target said same-store sales may post anywhere from a 1% decrease to a lower-than-expected 1% increase.
  • For perspective, Target had previously predicted a gain of as much as 5%.
  • Meanwhile, retailers left with perhaps more inventory than anticipated are busy slashing prices in the days after Christmas.
  • Price cuts of 50% to 75% are being promised by retailers such as Macy's (M), Kohl's (KSS), Bloomingdales and Saks Fifth Avenue (SKS).
  • On one bright note, however, not all retailers are slashing all prices.
  • According to the Wall Street Journal, Williams-Sonoma (WSM) and Limited (LTD) are debuting some new, full-priced merchandise.

2. All Real Estate is Local

Home prices fell in October by the most in at least six years, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller home-price index.

  • Home prices fell 6.1% in October year-over-year after dropping 4.9year-over-year in
    September, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller home-price index.
  • That's the biggest decline since the group began tracking year-over-year records in 2001.
  • Compared with a month earlier, home prices dropped 1.4%, the biggest one-month decline since records began.
  • All real estate is local, however, which may explain why all 20 local areas covered showed a drop in prices from September.
  • Barring a bizarre surprise in November or December, home prices will have fallen every month in 2007 for the first time ever.

3. BlackRock Cash Fund Downgraded

An institutional cash fund from BlackRock Inc. has been downgraded to "junk" status by Moody's Investors Service, according to the Wall Street Journal.

  • Moody's downgraded the fund to "junk" after it suspended daily fund redemptions.
  • It previously carried Moody's top Aaa rating.
  • According to a letter to investors, the fund has been unable to keep up with redemption requests because many of the securities in the fund have become harder to trade.
  • The BlackRock Cash Strategies Fund is not a money market fund, but a "cash enhanced" fund that essentially served the same purpose for institutional investors hoping to squeeze a little higher yield out of their short-term cash investments.
  • For now, the fund's net asset value per-share remains at its target $1.

4. The "Delinquency Budget"

Americans are increasingly being forced to prioritize among their bills by creating a "delinquency budget" to determine which bills get paid, according to a survey by Online Resources Corporation (ORCC).

  • The ORCC survey of 1,000 U.S. households and billers regarding the effect of the current mortgage crisis on bill payment and collection patterns reveals a handful of interesting datapoints:
    - 25% of households report being delinquent on at least one bill by 30 days or more
    - 98% say they would pay their mortgage first, if forced to choose
    - Credit card, phone, healthcare and utility payments are among the bills that are least likely to be paid
  • Among more than 2,000 banks, credit unions, utilities, healthcare companies, card issuers, receivables management and mortgage companies, 84% expect to spend more in 2008 on collections.

5. Daily Deflation Datapoint: Reverse Shoplifting?

How do you know when the supply of retail goods has reached the maximum point of over-saturation? When people stop stealing stuff from stores and instead start trying to leave stuff in stores.

  • An interesting article in the New York Times looks at the growing phenomenon of "shopdropping."
  • Otherwise known as reverse shoplifting, shopdropping involves surreptitiously putting things in stores, rather than illegally taking them out, the article explained.
  • "Anti-consumerist artists slip replica products packaged with political messages onto shelves while religious proselytizers insert pamphlets between the pages of gay-and-lesbian readings at book stores," the Times reported.
  • Of course, this isn't exactly new.
  • According to the Times, one of the first reported incidents of shopdropping occurred back in 1989 when a group called the Barbie Liberation Organization sought to make a point about sexism in children's toys by swapping the voice hardware of Barbie dolls with those in GI Joe figures before putting the dolls back on store shelves.
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