Worries are mounting that the economic rebound is stalling out, but there are also some positive signs driving the economy higher.
The trucking industry is often considered a leading indicator of what's up the road for the economy, and the trucks are rumbling along. Bloomberg reports demand for big rigs is at an eight-year high and that pay for truck drivers is on the rise, because drivers are in short supply. The truck utilization rate has been above 99 percent since last November.
%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%A government agency has given preliminary approval to new rules to keep the Internet open to all content companies. The Federal Communications Commission plan would stop Internet providers from giving preferential treatment to some sites over others. At the same time it would allow content providers such as Netflix (NFLX) to pay more to move their Web traffic more quickly.
The plan would also classify Internet providers such as Comcast (CMCSA), Verizon (VZ) and AT&T (T) as utilities, which could mean more regulations for the industry. The FCC is trying to replace the so-called "Net neutrality" rules that were struck down by federal courts. The consequences for consumers are still unknown.
Meanwhile, Comcast says it may eventually require consumers to pay more if they exceed some undetermined limit on data use. But a company executive says "the vast majority" of customers wouldn't be affected.
Here on Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) slid 167 points on Thursday, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GPSC) fell 17, and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) dropped 31 points.
Once each quarter, hedge funds and other big time investors report on major changes in the portfolio of stocks the own. Warren Buffett's company, Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-B), bought a big stake in Verizon during the first quarter, and sold shares of General Motors (GM) and DirecTV (DTV).
Big moves by other heavy-duty investors include:
George Soros sold J.C. Penney (JCP), as well as banking giants JPMorgan Chase (JPM) and Citigroup (C).
David Tepper added to his Internet plays, Facebook (FB) and Expedia (EXPE).
Carl Icahn bought into eBay but sold shares of Netflix.
-Produced by Drew Trachtenberg.
10 Easy Ways to Pay Off Debt
Money Minute: Trucking Industry Leading Road to Recovery
"Your daily habits and routines are the reason you got into this mess," writes Trent Hamm, founder of TheSimpleDollar.com. "Spend some time thinking about how you spend money each day, each week and each month." Do you really need your daily latte? Can you bring your lunch to work instead of buying it four times a week? Ask yourself: What can I change without sacrificing my lifestyle too much?
Remove all credit cards from your wallet and leave them at home when you go shopping, advises WiseBread contributor Sabah Karimi. “Even if you earn cash back or other rewards with credit card purchases, stop spending with your credit cards until you have your finances under control,” she writes.
If you do a lot of online shopping at one retailer, you may have stored your credit card information on the site to make the checkout process easier. But that also makes it easier to charge items you don't need. So clear that information. "If you’re paying for a recurring service, use a debit card issued from a major credit card service linked to your checking account," Hamm writes.
Reward yourself when you reach debt payoff goals. "The only way to completely pay off your credit card debt is to keep at it, and to do that, you must keep yourself motivated," Bakke writes. Just make sure to reward yourself within reason. For example, instead of a weeklong vacation, plan a weekend camping trip. "If you aim to reduce your credit card debt from $10,000 to $5,000 in two months," Bakke writes, "give yourself more than a pat on the back."
“Establish a budget,” writes Money Crashers contributor David Bakke. “If you don't scale back your spending, you'll dig yourself into a deeper hole." You can use personal finance tools like Mint.com, or make your own Excel spreadsheet that includes your monthly income and expenses. Then scrutinize those budget categories to see where you can cut costs.
Sort your credit card interest rates from highest to lowest, then tackle the card with the highest rate first. "By paying off the balance with the highest interest first, you increase your payment on the credit card with the highest annual percentage rate while continuing to make the minimum payment on the rest of your credit cards," writes Mint.com spokeswoman Hitha Prabhakar.
To make a dent in your debt, you need to pay more than the minimum balance on your credit card statements each month. "Paying the minimum -– usually 2 to 3 percent of the outstanding balance -– only prolongs a debt payoff strategy," Prabhakar writes. "Strengthen your commitment to pay everything off by making weekly, instead of monthly, payments." Or if your minimum payment is $100, try doubling it and paying off $200 or more.
If you have a high-interest card with a balance that you’re confident you can pay off in a few months, Hamm recommends moving the debt to a card that offers a zero-interest balance transfer. "You’ll need to pay off the debt before the balance transfer expires, or else you’re often hit with a much higher interest rate," he warns. "If you do it carefully, you can save hundreds on interest this way."
Have any birthday gifts or old wedding presents collecting dust in your closet? Look for items you can sell on eBay or Craigslist. "Do some research to make sure you list these items at a fair and reasonable price," Karimi writes. “Take quality photos, and write an attention-grabbing headline and description to sell the item as quickly as possible." Any profits from sales should go toward your debt.
If you receive a job bonus around the holidays or during the year, allocate that money toward your debt payoff plan. "Avoid the temptation to spend that bonus on a vacation or other luxury purchase," Karimi writes. It’s more important to fix your financial situation than own the latest designer bag.