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When Greece was granted a four month extension to its bailout agreement on February 20, just days before it was set to expire, there was hope that the extra time would allow the new government to find a way to both satisfy its creditors and also to fulfill its election promise of pushing back on the austerity measures imposed by the bailout.
 
After falling sharply ahead of the national election in January, stocks rallied in anticipation of new, less onerous terms that might allow the Greek economy more breathing room.
 
Unfortunately, the good feelings were short lived. Stocks peaked the day after the agreement and have fallen ever since. From the close on February 24, through last Friday, the Athens Stock Exchange General Index is down 22 percent. Bank stocks are down even more. The yield on Greek ten-year government bonds has climbed to 12.79 percent from 8.37. Shorter-term note yields are now quoted in the high-20s. And according to Bloomberg, the credit default swap market, in essence a bond default insurance exchange, is currently pricing in an 82 percent chance of default.
 



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Now that the March Fed minutes have been released, we are onto the data dependency phase of deciphering when interest rates might first be raised. And since the seemingly interminable winter of 2015 seems to have finally ended, we can look forward to data that is free of weather-related distortion.
 

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The value of the U.S. dollar has risen dramatically over the last nine months in comparison to many of the other major currencies across the globe. Different strategies by some of the world’s largest central banks have led to a miss-match of currency supply fundamentals and a rapid rebalancing of currency exchange rates. Most notably, since July 1, 2014, the U.S. Dollar Index has jumped 23 percent, its sharpest pace of appreciation in more than 30 years (see chart below). The Dollar Index is a measure of the U.S. dollar’s value in comparison to the world’s other major currencies.



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The much anticipated March jobs report was decidedly weaker than expected, adding to the already ample evidence of a sluggish first quarter. But investors have so far taken the softer data in stride, expecting growth to rebound now that winter is receding into memory. The jobs report seems to be an outlier. Although the unemployment rate remained unchanged at 5.5 percent, far fewer jobs were created than expected and the previous months’ totals were revised somewhat lower. But the 126,000 new non-farm jobs that were created in March was the lowest monthly total in over a year, and does suggest that weather played a role.



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The year’s first quarter ends this week, and as with last year, U.S. economic growth in the period is expected to have disappointed due to extenuating circumstances. It may be recalled that GDP fell at annualized pace of 2.1 percent in the first quarter of 2014, as growth ground to a halt in the grip of the Polar Vortex. That the quarter’s performance was clearly an aberration was highlighted by the fact that it followed two quarters of 4.5 and 3.5 percent, and preceded two quarters of 4.6 and 5.0 percent, even accounting for some catch up in lost activity.



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Stocks rallied last week, taking their cue from a rise in the price of oil. North Sea Brent crude climbed $4.81 to $57.80 a barrel, a gain of 9.1 percent. In response, the S&P 500 climbed 3 percent, its best weekly showing since mid-December, as the energy sector rose 5.7 percent. In fact, it was most of the cyclical sectors that led the way as investor confidence turned higher. Financials, materials, and consumer discretionary sectors were particularly strong, while consumer staples, healthcare, and telecom trailed the overall index, and only the utilities sector turned lower. The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 3.4 percent.

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Minneapolis(February 3, 2015) – A new study released today by Ameriprise Financial (NYSE: AMP), finds that more than three-quarters (76%) of baby boomers who retired within the past five years felt “in control” of their decision to retire. According to more than half of recent retirees, physical health (53%) and emotional preparedness (52%) are the main contributors towards this sense of control boomers are feeling. 
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Choosing to retire is the biggest financial decision most people will make during their lifetimes, and numerous factors influence how and when an individual chooses to pull the retirement trigger. The Retirement Triggers study, commissioned by Ameriprise Financial, examines the financial and emotional aspects of retirement preparation that recent retirees say led them to have the confidence to officially enter retirement.

We asked for input from the first wave of retiring baby boomers to understand how various actions, plans and life events played a role in making the decision to leave their primary profession. After hearing from 1,000 respondents who have been formally retired for five years or less, we learned more about the elements within their careers, families, social circles and bank accounts that led them to have the confidence to retire.

What we found is that, while financial preparation for retirement was a strong focus for these new retirees, emotional preparation is an equally important part of the retirement equation and can have an impact before, during and after one’s retirement date. We also found that most who prepare carefully for retirement feel in control of their decision to leave the workforce, but some still inevitably experience an unexpected event that causes an early or unplanned retirement.
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