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Michael Gillis

Michael Gillis
701 W. Market Street  Perkasie  PA 18944
Phone:  215-469-0213
Office:  215-453-7653
Fax:  267-354-6911

My Blog

Americans Warming Up to Summer Travel in 2012

May 16, 2012 9:10 am

Compared to 2011, more Americans are planning to kick-off the summer with a Memorial Day weekend excursion this year; however, they are conscientious about travel expenses, according to a new Deloitte survey.

The survey shows a notable increase in anticipated Memorial Day travel, as nearly one-third (31 percent) of respondents plan on taking a leisure trip, compared to the 24 percent who say they traveled over the Memorial Day weekend last year. For the remainder of the summer travel season, the majority (54 percent) expect to take a trip between June 1 and Labor Day, which is slightly more than those who say they ventured out during the same time period in 2011 (52 percent). Furthermore, of those respondents who expect to travel between June 1 and Labor Day, one in four (24 percent) plan to spend more money on this year's summer trips than they did last year, while over half (56 percent) anticipate spending the same amount.

While the cost of air travel remains a top concern, it will not cause most consumers to cancel their plans altogether. Among the two-thirds (66 percent) of respondents who have noticed an increase in airfare, only 16 percent changed their summer travel destination or decided not to book a trip that involved flying. However, measures by airlines to increase revenue with additional fees appear to influence the behavior of leisure travelers.

Air travel is not the only area where consumers are seeking value, as leisure travelers admit they are looking to cut costs throughout their trips. About a third (31 percent) of respondents admit to not tipping hotel staff on a frequent basis because they are no longer using services such as a bellman, a direct result of fliers using carry-on sized bags. However, hotel businesses overall can likely expect an increase in business revenues this summer, with only about one in four (21 percent) of respondents who expect to travel between June 1 and Labor Day willing to spend less on lodging to cut overall travel costs, down from 35 percent last year. Instead, value-conscious consumers will likely be looking for more in services and added amenities, including complimentary breakfast, free wireless Internet access and free parking. Additionally, only one-sixth (16 percent) of respondents feel they are receiving more personal attention and/or individual tailored services during hotel stays.

Fuel costs will likely be less of a roadblock for consumers hitting the roads over Memorial Day weekend, with more than half of respondents (54 percent) saying rising gas prices will not affect their travel plans, compared to the 41 percent who indicated the same in 2011. However, rising fuel costs may significantly influence travel plans for lower income households. For those respondents who expect to travel between June 1 and Labor Day and with a total annual income of $99,000 or below, one quarter (25 percent) indicate they would cancel a summer trip if gas prices were to increase one dollar, whereas only 11 percent of those earning more than $100,000 per year say the same.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Survey: Economic Optimism Increases Among U.S. and Europe CFOs

May 16, 2012 9:10 am

Chief Financial Officers still see a tough road ahead, but are demonstrating a strong outlook, according to the most recent survey of CFOs conducted by Financial Executives International (FEI) and Baruch College's Zicklin School of Business. CFOs in Europe and the United States have increased optimism in the global economy and their businesses, with fewer concerns over inflation, oil and hiring than last quarter. U.S. CFOs are showing a brighter outlook in particular and half now believe that the country is in the midst of a recovery.

Respondents to the quarterly "CFO Outlook Survey," which polls CFOs of public and private businesses in the U.S., Mexico and Europe (Italy and France) on their economic and business confidence, expressed a higher level of optimism compared with the previous quarter. European CFOs' optimism in the global economy increased over two points (from 51.80 to 54.00), but it still remains below the survey high one year ago (58.9). Their level of confidence in their own companies also increased slightly to 58.30 (from 57.60 in Q4), although it remains below where it stood a year ago (66.1). U.S. CFOs' confidence also experienced increases this quarter. Their optimism in the global economy increased more than five points to 51.9 (from 46.10 in Q4), and their optimism in their own companies saw a three point increase to 70.60 (from 67.60 in Q4). The CFO Optimism Index for the U.S. economy had a similar increase to 60.60 (from 57.10 in Q4). This quarter, net earnings, capital spending, revenue and technology spending remained the top areas where CFOs across the board are expecting positive increases over the next 12 months. U.S. CFOs are expecting a 20 percent increase in their net earnings, compared with 13 percent last quarter.

Despite their climbing optimism, CFOs, on average, continue to believe that the unemployment rates will remain at high levels for the next six to 12 months. Although the U.S. CFOs believe the rate will slightly decline from 8.3 to 8.1 percent, European CFOs think their countries' unemployment rates will climb from 8.6 to 9 percent. While 59 percent of U.S. CFOs have seen wage levels rise, the majority of those responding in Europe (63 percent) report that they have stayed the same. Still, the majority of U.S. CFOs (62 percent) plan to hire additional employees at their companies in the next six months, compared with only a third of European CFOs (35 percent).

CFOs forecast the inflation rate in the U.S. to be at 2.5 percent six months from now, rising to three percent a year from now, and European CFOs forecast their inflation rates to come in at 2.8 percent six months from now, rising to 3.1 percent a year from now. On average, CFOs have a moderate to low concern about inflation, and when asked to rank their concern on a scale of one to five, 39 percent of EU CFOs and 36 percent of U.S. CFOs expressed a "three," with a near even split on either side.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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U.S. Housing Market Finally Reaches a Turning Point

May 16, 2012 9:10 am

Home valuations will start to climb again while adjacent consumer industries will capture significant new growth opportunities in 2012 and beyond as the U.S. housing market finally turns the corner, concludes a major new study released today by The Demand Institute. According to the study, the recovery of the housing market will have far-reaching impacts in the coming years across the United States and international markets as U.S. consumers increase their spending on buying, renovating, furnishing and maintaining their homes.

Launched in February 2012 and jointly operated by The Conference Board and Nielsen, The Demand Institute is a non-profit, non-advocacy organization with a mission to illuminate where consumer demand is headed around the world.

The new report, “The Shifting Nature of U.S. Housing Demand,” predicts that average home prices will increase by up to 1 percent in the second half of 2012. By 2014, home prices will increase by as much as 2.5 percent. From 2015 to 2017, the study projects annual increases between 3 and 4 percent. This recovery will not be uniform across the country, and the strongest markets could capture average gains of 5 percent or more in the coming years.

Between 2006 and 2011, some $7 trillion in American wealth was wiped out when home prices dropped 30 percent after dramatic climb in valuations during the housing bubble. Looking forward, the moderate growth expectations for coming years suggest a return to normalcy. As home prices continue to drop and interest rates fall further, first-time buyers and others who remained relatively cautious will be drawn back into the housing market. And, as the market recovers, so too will consumer spending.

In addition to the projected gains in home prices, the report discusses in detail the dynamics at work in the U.S. housing market and the impacts across industries. Here are further highlights from the report:
  • Rental demand will help to clear the huge oversupply of existing homes for sale. In 2011, some 14 percent of all housing units were vacant, while almost 13 percent of mortgages were in foreclosure or delinquent—increases of 12 and 129 percent respectively over 2005 levels. It will take two to three years for this oversupply to be cleared, and at that point homeownership rates will rise and return to historical levels.
  • The housing market recovery will not be uniform across the country. Some states will see annual price gains of 5 percent or more. Others will not recover for many years. The deciding factors will include the level of foreclosed inventory and rates of unemployment.
  • The average size of the American home will shrink. Many baby boomers who delayed retirement for financial reasons during the recession will downsize. They will not be alone. The majority of Americans have seen little or no wage increase for several years, and many will scale back their housing aspirations. The size of an average new home is expected to continue to fall, reaching mid-1990s levels by 2015.
  • Consumer industries including financial services, home furnishings, home remodeling will all experience shifts in demand and new growth opportunities. Part of this spending is linked to increases in wealth from improving home valuations, while an even bigger part is tied to the "transaction" of buying or selling the home which sets in motion increased demand for a wide range of products and services.
  • Despite the number of Americans who have been hurt financially by the housing crash, the desire to own a home remains strong. We do not expect to see a long-term drop in ownership rates. Indeed, one survey has revealed that more than 80 percent of Americans recently thought buying a home remained the best long-term investment they could make.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Do Judge a City by Its Sandwich

May 15, 2012 3:08 am

It probably comes as no surprise that the most expensive club sandwich in America can be had in New York City. According to the Hotels.com Club Sandwich Index (CSI), the price of this classic sandwich serves as a universal measure of affordability for travelers thanks to its reputation as standard lunch fare among hotel restaurants worldwide since the 1800s.

The CSI average price has been calculated by taking the real prices paid by guests for a club sandwich within 1,000 five, four and three-star hotels located in popular travel destinations across 26 countries, with 10 U.S. cities measured.

"The CSI is a quirky way for travelers to estimate the cost of living in the destinations they are visiting for their vacations," explains Taylor L. Cole, director, public relations and social media, North America at Hotels.com. "The CSI is a fun metric which provides an average cost travelers can use to estimate lunch budgets for daily expenses away from home."

This standard lunch fare is known for its popularity among hotel restaurants worldwide where it has been a staple since the 1800s. Although the exact origin of the club sandwich has not been proven, popular myths point it to an exclusive gambling club in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., where it became popular before spreading to the rest of the world.

The following top U.S. destinations are ranked here according to the average price of their club sandwich:
  • New York City $17
  • Orlando $15
  • San Francisco $14
  • Washington $14
  • Las Vegas $13
  • Chicago $12
  • Houston $12
  • New Orleans $12*
  • Los Angeles $11
  • San Diego $10
*Club sandwiches were very hard to find on New Orleans hotel restaurant menus; this price represents the average price of a Po'Boy.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Remodeling Homeowners Choosing Style Over Profit

May 15, 2012 3:08 am

Even as new and existing home sales and prices climb, homeowners are prioritizing aesthetics before profit, according to a recent Houzz & Home Survey. Houzz is a leading online platform for home design and remodeling, with more than four million unique users each month.

Among homeowners planning to build, remodel or decorate in the next two years, 86 percent cited "improving the look and feel of the space" as an important driver for remodeling projects, while only 47 percent cited "increasing home value." The gap between these priorities was consistent across all income levels and demographic groups.

Homeowners say they are more likely to cut back in other areas, such as vacations and other big-ticket purchases, than to delay or decrease the budget for their home improvement plans.

Seventy percent of respondents said they'd rather cut back elsewhere or do some of the work themselves than take out a loan to finance their home improvement. Even upscale homeowners are taking a hands-on approach to building, remodeling and decorating projects. The survey found that while 45 percent of homeowners at upper income levels ($150,000+) are choosing to hire an architect, interior designer, general contractor or another remodeling or decorating professional to complete a project in its entirety, an equal number of them are combining professional help and DIY efforts, a proportion only slightly smaller than the 49 percent taking this combination approach in lower income brackets.

Kitchens and bathrooms are the most popular remodeling projects among Houzz users, with 48 percent of respondents planning a bathroom remodel, and 45 percent redoing a kitchen in the next two years.

Other interesting findings from the survey include:
  • In the next two years, 72 percent of homeowners surveyed plan to decorate or redecorate, 40 percent plan to remodel or construct an addition, while 10 percent are planning to build a custom home.
  • 57 percent of Houzz homeowners planning to complete a project in the next two years will hire a general contractor, 35 percent a kitchen or bath professional and 32 percent will hire a carpet or flooring professional. Thirty percent are planning to hire an architect, 26 percent an interior designer and 24 percent a landscape architect or designer.
  • About half—52 percent—say they will save money by completing some projects themselves.
  • The largest projects in terms of average spend in the last five years were custom home builds ($577,000), complete home remodels ($193,000), pool additions or replacements ($34,000) and kitchen remodels ($25,000).
Source: Houzz.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Majority of Refinancing Borrowers Choose Fixed-Rate Mortgages

May 15, 2012 3:08 am

In the first quarter of 2012, fixed-rate loans accounted for more than 95 percent of refinance loans, based on the Freddie Mac Quarterly Product Transition Report released today. Refinancing borrowers clearly preferred fixed-rate loans, regardless of whether their original loan was an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) or a fixed-rate.

Of borrowers who refinanced during the first quarter of 2012, 31 percent reduced their loan term by paying off a 30-year loan and replacing it with a 20-year, 15-year, or other shorter-term loan. In addition, 66 percent of borrowers kept the same term as the loan that they had paid off.

Sixty-eight percent of borrowers who had a hybrid ARM chose a fixed-rate loan during the first quarter, the highest share since the first quarter of last year, while the remaining 32 percent chose to refinance into the same type of product.

According to Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac vice president and chief economist, "Fixed mortgage rates averaged 3.92 percent for 30-year loans and 3.19 percent for 15-year product during the first quarter in Freddie Mac's Primary Mortgage Market Survey ®, well below long-term averages.”

“For borrowers motivated to refinance by low fixed-rates, they could obtain even lower rates by shortening their term,” adds Nothaft. “Further, under the enhanced Home Affordable Refinance Program—HARP—announced by FHFA on October 24, 2011, certain risk-based fees are waived for HARP borrowers who refinance into shorter-term loans."

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Crazy Reasons to Quit

May 14, 2012 3:04 am

A stronger economy often gives workers greater courage to change jobs, but the excuses offered for jumping ship can leave many employers perplexed. A new OfficeTeam survey reveals the wackiest reasons job seekers have given for handing in their notice. Here are some examples:
  • "Someone left because her boss lost the dog she had given him."
  • "Our employee said he was joining the circus."
  • "One person left because she lost her cellphone too many times at work."
  • "We had someone quit to participate in a reality show."
  • "An employee said it was his routine to change jobs every six months."
The survey was developed by OfficeTeam and conducted by an independent research firm; it is based on telephone interviews with more than 1,300 senior managers at companies with 20 or more employees in the United States and Canada.

Some individuals simply had to follow their true calling:
  • "One worker left to become an apple farmer."
  • "A staff member quit to climb Mount Everest."
  • "There was an individual who left to play the trombone."
  • "An employee wanted to enter a beauty contest."
  • "One worker quit to join a rock band."
It may be hard to fault these professionals for their honesty:
  • "A guy said he was making too much money and didn't feel he was worth it."
  • "One person left because she didn't want to work so hard."
  • "An individual said he was bored."
  • "Someone quit because she was going to live off her trust fund."
  • "An employee said work was getting in the way of having fun."
  • "A person quit because informal dress was not allowed."
  • "The worker told us he just couldn't get up in the morning."
OfficeTeam offers five tips for leaving a job on good terms:
  1. Give proper notice. Tell your boss about your departure first so he or she doesn't hear it through the grapevine. Providing two weeks notice is standard, but if your schedule is flexible, offer to stay longer to train a replacement.
  2. Get things in order. Supply written instructions to team members on projects and make sure they have access to the tools and information needed to complete assignments.
  3. Stay positive. Take the time to say goodbye and thank you to colleagues. Provide your contact information and reach out to those with whom you'd like to keep in touch.
  4. Don't slack off. Use your last weeks on the job to complete as much work as possible on outstanding projects. You want to be remembered as a strong contributor to the end.
  5. Talk before you walk. Participate in an exit interview if it's offered. Be honest with your feedback, but keep it constructive and professional. Your comments and suggestions could potentially help to improve the workplace.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Most Consumers Expect More from Technology

May 14, 2012 3:04 am

What people want most from their smartphones, tablets, home theater and home appliances is simplicity, according to the new Ketchum Digital Living Index, conducted by global communications firm Ketchum. The study showed that 76 percent of consumers said they are not very satisfied with technology's ability to make their life simpler. Responses from 6,000 consumers in six countries revealed more prefer technology to be easy to use (54 percent) and simplify their life (46 percent) than entertain them (35 percent) or signal who they are to the world (11 percent).

"The most surprising finding in the study is the overwhelming desire for simplification. It seems counter-intuitive when technology is always about being bigger or better or faster, but the data show that what people really want is to understand how all of these devices can get them to their desired experience easily," said Esty Pujadas, partner and director of Ketchum's Global Technology Practice. "Manufacturers need to use less so-called jargon monoxide and communicate more about the human experience, not just about the object."

This is particularly true considering that the sheer volume and pace at which new technologies are brought to market can make it hard for people to keep up.

The Index reveals that there are four kinds of Digital Living natives:
  • The largest group are the Enthusiasts (37 percent of the study's global population), who are passionate about technology and willing to sacrifice simplification for empowerment.
  • The next largest are Infomaniacs (25 percent), who value getting information and discovering new experiences even more than relating better to other people.
  • Pragmatists (22 percent) are less likely to love technology, but value it as very helpful in relating better to others, getting things done, and managing health and wellness.
  • Disconnects (16 percent) are noticeably unemotional about technology; they place a high value on simplification instead of empowerment or enrichment.

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Consumer Sentiment Reaches a Post-Recession High

May 14, 2012 3:04 am

According to a recent Marketwatch report, the preliminary reading of the University of Michigan-Thomson Reuters index rose to 77.8 from 76.4 in April. This figure represents the highest reading since January 2008, one month after the recession began. Additionally, the current economic conditions index jumped to 87.3, the best reading since January 2008, from 82.9 in April. That said, consumer expectations also fell.

According to the Marketwatch report, this picture could be explained by the combination of falling gasoline prices along with April’s report of slowing jobs growth, which could be weighing on expectations.

“That is good news, and is thematically consistent with the view that the softening in recent labor data has more to do with seasonal pay back than a shift lower in underlying job demand,” said Eric Green of TD Securities.

Source: Marketwatch

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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Your Lawn May Look Good, but How’s Your 'Hardscaping?'

May 11, 2012 2:56 am

Spring sets all homeowners in motion to make sure their landscaping is up to par and ready for warm-weather entertaining. But while landscapes and lawns require ongoing maintenance, your home’s “hardscape” usually represents a one-time investment.

According to BobVilla.com, more and more homeowners are investing bigger dollars in their outdoor area’s hardscape by adding outdoor kitchens, fire pits and seating areas. Creating a more comfortable and aesthetically pleasing outdoor space enhances both your quality of living and your home’s resale value. According to a Clemson University study, homes with an excellent outdoor environment can anticipate a sale price that is about 6 - 7 percent higher than expected.

Installing decks and pavers are popular hardscaping projects that pay immediate dividends, says Vila. But before you dive into your hardscaping project, make sure you have a long-term plan that realistically fits your budget. Outdoor kitchens are difficult to move once installed. When choosing a location for your fire pit, take gas and water line locations into consideration.

If you aren’t ready to commit to a hardscape plan, says Vila, then start slowly and get that grill you’ve been wanting and that portable fire pit that you can try out in different spots around your yard.
Source: Bobvila.com

Published with permission from RISMedia.

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