Smarts!

The major indexes staged a modest rebound following Wednesday’s decline. The Dow gained 46 points, the Nasdaq rose by 23, and the S&P 500 advanced 5. Twenty of the Dow’s 30 components gained ground, led by Procter & Gamble (PG), which rose 3%. Volume was light, and advancing issues outnumbered decliners by about five to two. The prices of Treasuries strengthened, and the price of gold futures gained 0.8% to $1,786.30 an ounce. The price of crude oil on the New York Mercantile Exchange gained 1.4% to $107.83 a barrel.

In Earnings News:

  • Kohl’s announced earnings increased from $1.66 a share a year ago to $1.81 a share in the latest quarter. However, same-store sales declined by 2.1%, and profit fell by 7.9% as discounting in the holiday season hurt performance. The retailer’s share buy-back program was large enough to offset these declines and boosted per-share earnings. The price of the stock (KSS) lost 5% in today’s session.
  • Sears reported earnings fell from $3.43 a share a year ago to a loss of $22.63 a share in the latest quarter. The company’s chairman called the results “unacceptable” and announced an aggressive plan to reduce inventory and costs, in part by selling 11 stores and its outlet “Hometown.” The price of the shares (SHLD) gained 18% on news of the plan.

In Other Business News:

  • New claims for unemployment benefits remained steady at 351,000 last week, according to the Labor Department. The four-week moving average of claims fell for the sixth consecutive week, reaching 359,000, the lowest level since 2008.
  • The president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, Richard Fisher, said the economy is improving sufficiently and that there will be no need for a third round of quantitative easing known as “QE3.” “Given the improvement in the data that we’ve seen, things are getting better, not worse. I don’t see any need personally for QE3 here,” Fisher said.
  • Greece’s parliament approved a new debt-reduction plan that would force holders of the nation’s sovereign debt to take losses of up to 53.5% on the bonds they hold.

*****

Soon I will drown. The tidal wave of “smart” stuff is coming to overwhelm me. Already I can’t really keep up with smartphones and social networks. I dabble a little. But when I use the latest generation of info tech, I remind myself of my aging grandmother swimming at the beach. She would stand up once or twice during a day at the beach, walk over to the ocean, wade in just enough to cover her toes in water, wave to her grandchildren getting bashed by the surf, and then go back to the blanket and sit down under the umbrella. She was cute but, well, you get the point: She was terrified, too.

That’s me in the surf of technology. I mean, consider these recent developments. What can I do with this wave? (Duck.)

  • Automakers are racing to make their cars “connected.” Mercedes will introduce a car that will tap drivers into Facebook and do Google searches on the open road. General Motors will have a touch-screen system that will also use voice recognition so drivers can tell it whatever they want it to do (including “go to Hades,” although I don’t think the word “Hades”  will “compute”). Toyota’s models will book restaurant reservations and buy movie tickets. Tesla’s electric car will have a 17-inch display with four USB ports for internet connections.
  • I can’t avoid all this whiz-bang by staying out of the car. Look what’s invading our homes. Samsung is coming out with a TV armed with facial recognition technology that will recognize the person flipping the channels. (“Hi, Peter, this is your TV speaking. Would you like me to tune into the opera broadcast on PBS or, since I see Kathy is not in the room, I can go straight to the extreme martial arts championship and then, if Kathy comes in, I’ll switch back to PBS. She’ll never know.”)
  • Whirlpool will soon have a washing machine that will notify smartphones that the wash is done and ready for the dryer. And LG is coming out with a refrigerator that notifies owners when, among other things, the milk has gone sour.
  • S.C. Johnson has come out with a home deodorizer called “Glade Sense & Spray” that detects me when I walk by and squirts me with a scent—just like the skunks in my neighborhood.
  • Finally, there is the “Fitbit Aria Wi-Fi Smart Scale,” which recognizes me by my weight and will track my weight and body fat and post it automatically to Fitbit.com on the internet. (Really? Is that wise? My body-fat measurements will be stored in the cloud? Good luck holding that, Cloud.)
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