Money Minute: Millions Stand to Lose Jobless Benefits; Money Pours into Mutual Funds

The haves and the have-nots in the economic recovery. That and more of the top money stories you need to know Monday.

Unemployment Benefits
Toby Talbot/AP
More than 2 million people could lose jobless benefits over the next few months if Congress doesn't extend an emergency aid program. Many jobless could end up receiving fewer weeks of benefits.

Meanwhile, a government report shows there are now more women in the job force than there were before the Great Recession began in 2008. That's not the case for men though. They are still nearly 2 million jobs below the peak level.

The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) and the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GPSC) start the week at record highs, and both have posted six straight weekly gains. Last week, the Dow gained 1.3 percent, the S&P rose 1.6 percent and the Nasdaq composite index (^IXIC) rallied 1.7 percent. All three major averages are closing in on milestone levels, including 16,000 for the Dow and 4,000 for the Nasdaq.

With stocks are record highs, mom and pop investors are pouring money into stock mutual funds. The research firm TrimTabs says stock funds took in more than $34 billion in new money over the past month.

Boeing (BA) shares are set to take off securing a series of big orders for its new 777X jet from Middle Eastern airlines. Those orders were valued at more than $100 billion, based on list prices, making it Boeing's best-ever product launch. This is significant for the whole U.S. economy, as Boeing is one of the nation's biggest exporters. But it's still not known where the new plane will be built. Workers in Washington State last week rejected a labor pact, and Boeing says it will look elsewhere for a manufacturing plant.

Sony (SNE) also reported strong demand for the rollout of the PlayStation4 video game console. It sold more than 1 million units Friday, the first day it was available. However, online forums suggested there may be serious technical problems with the new consoles. Microsoft (MSFT) rolls out its new Xbox this coming Friday.

-Produced by Drew Trachtenberg.

5 Less-Known Restaurant Chains You Should Eat At and Invest In
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Money Minute: Millions Stand to Lose Jobless Benefits; Money Pours into Mutual Funds

If investors are hungry for something a little more exciting, thankfully there's no shortage of faster growing publicly traded restaurant chains that are doing just fine.

So sorry, Olive Garden. You may still offer tasty breadsticks, but that's not the kind of rising dough that investors -- and diners -- crave these days.

One of this summer's hottest IPOs was for Noodles & Company (NDLS), a fast casual restaurant chain that specializes in all types of noodles. Olive Garden bashers will find plenty of Italian pastas on the menu, but diners can also be globetrotters by checking out Asian noodle bowls or come closer to home with the classic Americana comfort food of mac and cheese.

Unlike the many table service restaurants facing an alarming number of empty tables, Noodles & Company has delivered positive comps in 29 of the past 30 quarters. Revenue climbed 17 percent to $300.4 million last year, and it's on pace for similar growth through the first half of this year.  

Ignite Restaurant Group (IRG) owns and operates 134 Joe's Crab Shacks and 16 Brick House Tavern + Taps. The operator essentially doubled in size in April when it acquired smaller Olive Garden rival Romano's Macaroni Grill. The 186-unit Italian casual dining chain was once owned by Brinker, and it's a work in progress. Comps were positive at Ignite's two original concepts in its latest quarter, but the same can't be said for Macaroni Grill.

Then again, the sluggish performance at Macaroni Grill also led to an attractive acquisition price. With Macaroni Grill butting pasta bowls with Olive Garden and Joe's Crab Shack fishing against Red Lobster, we can possibly call Ignite a mini Darden. That's a good thing, especially since Ignite has a lot of room for any of its three concepts to grow before it saturates the market.

Casual dining and Mexican don't mix well over time. There's probably a shuttered El Torito, Chi Chi's or Chevy's somewhere near you.

However, Chuy's (CHUY) has raised the bar by creating a lively environment filled with Elvis shrines and customer-submitted dog photos, and it's winning over patrons with its extensive happy hour specials and a bargain-minded menu where nearly every entree costs less than $10.

Chuy's sales surged 23 percent in its latest quarter, and with just 45 locations across twelve states, there are still plenty more places for pooch snapshots and Elvis busts to go up.
As one of the largest franchisees of Buffalo Wild Wings (BWLD), Diversified's (BAGR) largest concept is no stranger to most sports bar enthusiasts. However, the reason that Diversified makes the cut is because it's in the process of rapidly expanding its proprietary Bagger Dave's Legendary Burger Tavern.

There were just 13 of the full-service, ultra-casual restaurant and bar units open by the end of June, but Diversified is hoping to open another six locations later this year. It may soon rival the nearly three dozen Buffalo Wild Wings eateries that it currently watches over. The genius here is that it's probably putting a lot of what it learned at Buffalo Wild Wings into practice at Bagger Dave's.

Revenue soared 61 percent in its latest quarter, propelled almost entirely by new restaurants, but there was still a healthy 7 percent spike in same-store sales during the period. 
Customers looking to trade up from fast food without shelling out more in time and money at a casual dining concept are flocking to fast casual chains that deliver quality ethnic dishes quickly.

Fiesta (FRGI) owns and operates 96 Pollo Tropical restaurants (primarily in South Florida) and 164 Taco Cabana eateries (mostly in Texas). The company also has dozens of franchised locations, especially overseas, as its Latin American-inspired Pollo Tropical rotisserie chicken has proven to be a potent export.

Revenue climbed 9 percent in its latest quarter, fueled by a healthy 6 percent spike in same-restaurant sales at Pollo Tropical.
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