Mixed earnings reports and mixed data set the tone for the day, making it a difficult task to forecast what the Federal Reserve will make of recent economic data at the conclusion of its meeting tomorrow.
The Dow rose 90 points to end a five-session losing streak, with 24 of its 30 components advancing; the S&P 500 Index gained 10; and the Nasdaq was up 14. Advancers led decliners by three to one on the NYSE and two to one on the Nasdaq. The prices of Treasuries strengthened. Gold futures fell $12.60 to close at $1,250.80 an ounce, and the price of crude oil gained $1.69 to settle at $97.41 a barrel.
In Earnings News:
- Ford Motor Co.’s net income jumped 90% in the fourth quarter to $3.04 billion, while revenue was $37.6 billion, up 4%. Results were strong in North America, Asia, and Europe, although Ford cited concerns about South American economies, particularly Argentina and Venezuela. For the 2014 year, Ford expects slightly reduced full-year pre-tax operating profit of $7 billion to $8 billion, from $8.6 billion in 2013, due to the costs associated with numerous vehicle rollouts and the increased competition from Japan’s automakers in the wake of a weaker yen. Ford’s shares (F) gained 0.06%.
- Apple Inc.’s shares (AAPL) plunged almost 8% after the company reported flat fourth-quarter profit and offered a 2014 full-year revenue forecast of $42 billion to $44 billion, which came in under expectations. For the quarter, net income was $13.1 billion, the same as the prior-year quarter, while revenue rose 5.7% to $57.6 billion. Apple sold 51 million iPhones during the quarter, missing consensus estimates of 54.7 million.
In Other Business News:
- Durable goods orders unexpectedly fell 4.3% in December, according to the Commerce Department. Orders for long-lasting goods had risen 2.6% in November, and average analyst forecasts had been for another increase. The biggest decrease came from transportation orders, which fell 9.5%. For more on the report, see the analysis today from Dr. Brian Jacobsen about whether the weak durable goods report could figure into the Federal Reserve’s thinking at its meeting this week.
- Despite other signs of a slowdown in the economy, consumer confidence continued to rise in January, according to the Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index. The index rose from a downwardly revised 77.5 in December to 80.7 in January. Respondents reported increased optimism about the labor market, with 12.7% saying jobs are “plentiful,” a higher percentage than at any time since August 2008, prior to the onset of the financial crisis.
- According to the Case-Shiller 20-City Home Price Index, home prices increased 13.7% in November from the prior year, the biggest annual increase since the height of the housing boom in February 2006. Month over month, prices declined 0.1% from October, in part, due to the typical winter slowdown of housing activity. Case-Shiller economists said they expect the pace of home-price gains to slow in 2014.
Internet users are learning. Sort of. SplashData, a company that makes software that helps people manage the many passwords that clog our brains, released its latest data on the most popular passwords used to guard extremely sensitive personal and financial information on the web. The data comes from lists of hacked passwords that have made their way to the darker corners of the internet, and the results are mixed.
When SplashData first analyzed the data in 2011 and 2012, the most popular password was a very discouraging “password.” Yes, when many people were asked to create a password, they tended to enter the first thing that came to mind, which just happened to be the word staring at them on the screen: password. I want to invent some larger sociological reason for this sad state of affairs that’s a prescient commentary on our modern age, but really this password laziness is probably more due to the “Register new account” page popping up on every single website followed by the user’s primal scream that enough is enough: I shouldn’t have to register a new account with a username and a new password I’ll never remember just so I can check the weather online because I’m too lazy to stick my head outside.
Encouragingly, in 2013, “password” was only the second-most-common password. Not so encouragingly, the password that took the top spot is “123456.” Coming in third is the infinitely more complex “12345678,” followed by the alphabetical curveball, “qwerty,” which could only be guessed by hackers who have ever encountered a keyboard.
So that my faith in humanity isn’t destroyed, I need to believe that everyone, by now, knows that these are extremely weak passwords that can easily be broken and that they’re using them only for throwaway accounts they don’t care to visit again or for accounts for which (they think) there’s no sensitive information stored. Those still aren’t good strategies because you never know what an enterprising hacker can do with all sorts of different information.
Here’s an idea: Let’s all pick one really-hard-to-guess password with numbers and ampersands and even the weird “^” key, and because we’ll all be using the same one, we’ll always be able to ask our neighbor what it is when we inevitably forget it. I can’t imagine what would go wrong with this scheme. Oh, before I forget: If the hackers ask, tell them it’s “password.” (And then we’ll laugh because secretly it will be “pass^word@1,” which they’ll never guess in a million years or about 10 seconds, whichever comes first.)
Do you still use weak passwords because you’re sick of keeping track of all the ones you already have? Wait. Don’t say that in an open forum. Instead, is it understandable that these passwords are still so common? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.