Market Wrap-Up for Jan.24 (MCD, BTU, TRV, KMB, COH, more)

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Lots of big-name earnings were out today, but were somewhat overshadowed by a bit of weakness in the European markets.

Speaking of the earnings, luxury goods maker Coach ( COH ) saw shares rise to near all-time highs after their report . On the flipside, coal producer Peabody Energy ( BTU ) moved back toward 52-week lows following their results. Other well-known names saw a bit of selling following earnings results out today include Travelers ( TRV ) ( read their report here ), Kimberly-Clark ( KMB ) ( report here ), and McDonald's ( MCD ) ( report here ).

Fast Food and Expensive Handbags: The State of the Union

As we get set to hear the President's "State of the Union" address this evening, I'd like to take a realistic view of things I'm seeing in the economy, both good and bad. Just looking at today's news, McDonald's ( MCD ) announced it would break ground on over 1,300 new locations in 2012. Meanwhile, Coach ( COH ) continues to see strong demand for their designer goods. So, eating hamburgers and carrying fancy bags are certainly themes that have been holding up well in a mostly stagnant economy.

Are these trends positive signs for the overall economic picture, though? It's difficult to say, but one thing is for sure: fast food is more popular than ever. The health effects of eating junk all the time are well-documented, so many people will pay a price down the line if they indulge too much. Not all fast food is bad, of course. But given the option, most kids would pick something they're familiar with and enjoy: pizza, burgers, fries, etc. It's our job as parents and grandparents (or aunts and uncles if you don't have kids of your own) to try and stem this tide and prevent bad habits from taking hold.

Turning to luxury goods, the desire to have the latest handbags, shoes, clothes, etc. is also a common theme we see everywhere we turn. The "gotta have it" syndrome runs rampant, but many economists will label it as a characteristic of a strong economy. If you ask me, running up credit card bills on expensive items one can't afford will not be beneficial to the economy in the long term.

Normal is the New Abnormal

This past holiday season, I traveled up north to New York to my parents' house, as is the tradition. I hadn't seen many of my relatives in several months, a period in which I'd lost a considerable amount of weight. You see, I've been following a strict diet and conditioning program that has brought my weight down to the "normal" range for my height.

Many of my relatives were in shock when they first saw me. Coming from an Italian background, food is obviously a huge deal. Several of my loved ones actually thought I was wasting away - they were concerned I was sick or something!

This same attitude applies to a lot of the "hot" material items that consumers crave these days. Tell someone you don't own an iPhone, or an Xbox, or a 70″ TV, and they'll likely respond with confusion. "How can you still not have one of those?" they'll ask. "And why are you so skinny now?" My answer: "Willpower."

As investors, we need to pay close attention to societal trends, whether good or bad. Always be cognizant of how you approach the path of building wealth. The results from dividend investing will be maximized by those who can display a bit of discipline in other aspects of their lives. For those who are already retired, it may simply become a question of budgeting. Remember, people are living longer than ever nowadays, and will continue to do so. Planning to spend every last penny before your final day is a big mistake.

So whether it concerns food, the latest gadgets, or investing, willpower is a key element of success. Focus on building up your income streams, and you'll be able to afford to spend more later down the line.

Savings Rate Falls to 2007 Levels

It appears America's brief rendezvous with saving for a rainy day may be coming to an end. The latest data from the U.S. Commerce Department shows the amount of money that Americans are saving has fallen back to its lowest level since December 2007.

Rising food and energy costs are being fingered as the culprits in Americans' struggles to put precious money aside for their retirement, along with other large financial outlays such as paying for college or buying a home.

According to MSNBC, Consulting firm Aon Hewitt is set to release data showing Almost a third of 401(k) plan participants currently have a 401(k) loan outstanding. All the recent chatter about money coming out of equity funds may certainly be a result of individuals needing to gain access to savings or to address other financial issues.

This data only reinforces my beliefs that you must remain aggressive when it comes to working as much as your current opportunities allow. Taking any job for granted these days is a foolish move.

Look for the trend of multiple generations living under one roof to continue as financial struggles grip families across the country. For recent college graduates, the reality of a tough job market and mounting school debt leaves little options but to return to the nest for the time being. It used to be that each generation could break free and plan on their own financially, but more and more it is becoming a "team" process where those who are stable financially and professionally are relied upon to carry the load for longer time than originally anticipated.

Now this doesn't mean your can't enjoy life. It just means that staying financially organized is more important than ever.

Income, Income, Income

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The NASDAQ OMX Group, Inc.

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This article appears in: Investing , Stocks

Referenced Stocks: BTU , COH , KMB , MCD , TRV

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