Business & Real Estate

Fed action boosts stock market

With the economy showing signs of improvement, the Federal Reserve started its stimulus pullback and Wall Street investors went crazy, pushing up the Dow Jones industrial average nearly 300 points Dec. 18.

The Fed will trim its $85 billion monthly bond purchases by $10 billion beginning in January and keep long-term rates down. By keeping rates down, the Fed indicates its support of stocks that pay a much larger yield than bonds, including utilities and telecoms.

The stock market has enjoyed a wonderful 2013, fueled by the Fed’s low rate policy. Keeping rates low through bond purchases helps maintain low interest rates, which encourages borrowing and spending.

In his recent press conference, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said he could foresee the bond-purchasing program coming to an end altogether by late next year. However, we are hopeful the economy will continue to show progress. In an effort to keep market rates stable, the Fed will be in no hurry to raise short-term interest rates.

Two Town Crier “50” stocks made news recently.

• Intel Corp. (INTC; $25.18) was included in Barron’s “10 Favorite Stocks for 2014.” Barron’s reasoned that the chip giant could surprise Wall Street next year as concerns about personal computers begin to fade.

There are signs the PC market is bottoming, and Intel is moving aggressively into tablets and smartphone chips. Its manufacturing shift might pay off with chips that have faster processing speeds and lower power needs.

At $24, Intel stock trades for 13 times projected 2014 earnings of $1.90 a share and yields a dividend of 3.7 percent. Numerous analysts view Intel as a buy. Credit Suisse analyst John Pitzer sees Intel earning $2.50 in a few years, with a $30 price target.

• Safeway Inc. (SWY; $32.86) will get competition from Amazon, as the world’s largest online retailer plans to expand its grocery delivery business in Safeway’s backyard.

Safeway – a Fortune 100 company and one of the largest food and drug retailers in North America based on sales – operated 1,406 stores in the U.S. with annual sales of $37.5 billion in 2012.

Earlier this year, Safeway announced its decision to exit the Chicago market and redouble its efforts in operating areas where business is stronger. In November, Safeway reported that the company had completed the sale of assets of Canada Safeway to a wholly owned subsidiary of Empire Co. Ltd.

The Pleasanton-based company’s board of directors met recently and declared a regular cash dividend of 20 cents per share payable Jan. 9 for stockholders who owned the stock Dec. 19.

Deutsche Bank in September upgraded Safeway stock to a buy after a prior hold. The majority of analysts suggest a hold. The median target price for Safeway stock is $35, with a high of $45.

Clyde Noel is a Los Altos Hills resident and longtime investor in stocks.

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