Finance news. My opinion.

April 11, 2014

Sweetie Pie’s restaurant to open location on Beale Street in Memphis

Filed under: finance, news — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 1:16 pm

ST. LOUIS • Sweetie Pie’s, the soul food restaurant with two locations in St. Louis, will be opening a restaurant on Beale Street in Memphis.

Sweetie Pie’s signed a lease on March 28 for a location at 349 Beale, in the eastern border of the city’s entertainment district, according to a Tweet from Paul Morris, the president of the Downtown Memphis Commission.

“I recommend the soul food and the hug from Ikette and TV Star Miss Robbie,” he Tweeted, referring to the owner, Robbie Montgomery, who is featured with her family in the reality show “Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s” on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network poor credit personal loans.

Officials with the restaurant itself and the network would not confirm the news. OWN released this statement from Tim Norman, co-manager of Sweetie Pie’s: “We’re excited to be here in Memphis and are exploring options for a new restaurant and will have news to share soon.”

The restaurant is at 4270 Manchester Road in The Grove and 3643 Delmar Boulevard in Grand Center in St. Louis.


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April 5, 2014

Gas-plant scandal exposes Liberal rifts

Filed under: mortgage, technology — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 1:44 am

Tensions are high, relationships fractious, nerves frayed.

While Premier Kathleen Wynne and her predecessor, Dalton McGuinty, are publicly civil toward one another, behind the scenes, the gas-plants scandal has exposed a schism within the Liberals.

Wynne’s camp is furious that police allegations against‎ McGuinty’s former top aides threaten the survival of her minority government, insiders say.

At the same time, some loyalists of the ex-premier, now a fellow at Harvard University, grouse that she is squandering a dynasty they spent a decade building.

These pessimists privately fear her Liberals might finish third behind Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives and Andrea Horwath’s New Democrats in an election that could come in June — despite public opinion polls suggesting the Grits could be re-elected.

Wynne has stopped mentioning McGuinty by name — he is “the former premier” and his staffers now under the cloud of an OPP probe are dismissed as “the former premier’s office.”

She boasts far less than she once did about his achievements during 10 years in power — such as improving health care and education by reducing class sizes, introducing full-day kindergarten and cutting medical wait times and boosting access to doctors.

Her underlying message, which is not discouraged by her aides, is that she and her team are different — read, more honest and transparent — than the McGuinty crew.

“That is not the way government should operate. That is not the way a premier’s office should conduct itself and it is not the way my office operates,” Wynne said March 27.

Her comments came hours after the latest developments in the saga swirling around McGuinty’s cancellation of gas-fired power plants in Oakville and Mississauga before the 2011 election.

Rattled by local outcry over the electricity-generating facilities his government had approved, the then-premier and his inner circle scrambled to scuttle them.

Although the Liberals won the five nearby ridings, the tally for relocating the plants could be up to $1.1 billion over 20 years, according to the auditor general.

The political fallout has also been costly for the governing party.

Ontario Provincial Police are investigating David Livingston, McGuinty’s last chief of staff, for breach of trust, alleging he obtained a special password that enabled a non-government employee to scrub politically sensitive government documents from as many as 24 computer hard drives in the premier’s office.

Police suspect the cleaning was done by computer expert Peter Faist, the boyfriend of Livington’s then deputy chief of staff Laura Miller. (She is now executive director of the British Columbia Liberal Party under B.C. Premier Christy Clark.)

Faist’s retainer with the Ontario Liberal Party was abruptly cancelled last Sunday. Sources say Wynne’s office didn’t know he even had a contract with the party to provide computer services.

The OPP allegations, detailed in a 111-page application for a search warrant to obtain the 24 hard drives, have not been tested in court and no charges have been laid as the OPP investigation continues. Livingston and Faist deny any wrongdoing.

But with an election looming, opposition parties have been taking full advantage of events to slam the Liberals.

“This is now clearly more Kathleen Wynne’s scandal than Dalton McGuinty’s,” crowed Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak.

The former premier is watching from the sidelines.

“There’s not a lot I can say,” McGuinty told the Star on Monday from Cambridge, Mass., when asked about the police probe.

“All my staff who worked in my office were hard-working, dedicated, always committed to the highest standard of public service,” he added, acknowledging he had phoned Livingston to “check up on him” and emailed Miller.

“These are obviously difficult matters for individuals and their loved ones to deal with,” said McGuinty, who is writing a book on what he considers the 10 keys to effective leadership.

It’s unclear if his forthcoming tome will discuss the gas-plants debacle that sparked his Oct. 15, 2012 resignation announcement.

Wynne has not disguised her frustration at being tarred with the dark side of the McGuinty legacy, which includes a separate OPP probe into questionable financial dealings at the scandal-plagued ORNGE air ambulance service.

“If true, these serious allegations are very disturbing,” the premier said, noting she has nothing to do with Livingston.

“I want to be clear — this individual does not work in my office nor in my government. Nor has he ever worked in my government,” she said.

“Since my first day as premier, I have been committed to getting all the facts out about the Mississauga and Oakville gas plant relocations. I promised to open up the government completely, and have done so to an unprecedented degree.”

Horwath said Wynne doth protest too much, given that police have been “wandering these halls” at Queen’s Park interviewing former McGuinty staffers who now work in the Wynne administration.

They include Lauren Ramey, who is now press secretary to Education Minister Liz Sandals. Police claim her computer was the first to be wiped by Faist on Feb. 7, 2013, just days before Wynne took power on Feb. 11.

“All the while, the premier is claiming she knew nothing about any of this until the reports came out in the paper. I find this hard to believe,” Horwath told reporters.

“There are a lot of answers that remain out there to be uncovered,” added the NDP leader, who must decide whether to allow Finance Minister Charles Sousa’s May 1 budget to pass or join Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak in defeating it, plunging Ontario into an election.

OPP Det.-Const. Andr

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April 1, 2014

Marois says report on husband is payback for corruption crackdown

Filed under: debt, online — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 7:36 pm

DRUMMONDVILLE, QUE—Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois suggested someone upset about her party’s crackdown on corruption is behind a damaging report that suggests her husband solicited political donations on her behalf that were illegal.

The French-language broadcaster Radio-Canada reported Monday that two representatives of Quebec engineering firms say they were asked by Claude Blanchet to give money to Marois’ leadership campaign in 2007 and to her provincial election campaign in 2008.

A sworn affidavit from one of those individuals says Blanchet received a series of cheques totalling $25,000 in the spring of 2007 and the hope was that the engineering firm would have “privileged access to Madame Pauline Marois.” Two employees of that same firm said in the Radio-Canada report that the company later reimbursed them for the expense.

Allegations of improper political fundraising for the Parti Quebecois by Pauline Marois’ husband show that the party’s ethical standing is tarnished, says Quebec Liberal leader Philippe Couillard.

“The last two or three years apparently the PQ was without any stain. That’s obviously not the case,” said Couillard, recalling how members of the PQ made a show of wearing white scarves outside the provincial legislature to demand an inquiry into government corruption in May 2010. The Liberal’s Jean Charest was premier at the time.

“Remember the white scarf,” Couillard told reporters Tuesday. “The white scarf is stained, and even ripped.”


Pauline Marois’s husband denies collecting illegal political donations

Liberals accuse PQ of ‘despicable’ ploy to spark Quebec referendum

he names of the four individuals cited in the report were not published and the Star has not been able to independently verify the information, which has been firmly denied by Marois, Blanchet and the PQ.

“I can’t say who these people are . . . but I am certain that there are people who have an interest in the Parti Quebecois not returning to power because the work we have done has been exemplary,” Marois said Tuesday morning.

“There are people who have gone before the Charbonneau commission, who have lost their jobs and have been profoundly affected by what we have learned at the Charbonneau commission and who hold us, in part, responsible because we asked for the inquiry.”

The fundraising scheme laid out in the Radio-Canada report would have been illegal under Quebec’s election laws, which until recently had limited donations to $3,000. But such manoeuvres have been documented in detail at the ongoing Charbonneau corruption inquiry as a way for large companies to fund municipal and provincial political parties faxless pay day loans. The expectation is that those firms will in turn have preferential access to lucrative government contracts and sway over legislation that may affect its business interests.

The bulk of the revelations about illegal political financing thus far have focused on funds raised by the Quebec Liberal party but witnesses at the corruption inquiry have testified that they also gave money to the PQ.

The allegations concerning Marois’ husband are significant because they come in the final days of an election campaign in which she has been sharply critical of the Liberal party’s ethical record and called on current party leader Philippe Couillard, who was elected leader just last year, to denounce the past actions of his party.

The PQ leader said while Blanchet has at times been a fundraiser for the party, she was “certain” that her husband never raised money for the leadership campaign in 2007.

She said that “like all parties” the PQ asks for financial contributions from “people we know, friends, supporters and citizens.” When the party receives a donation by cheque, it tries to assure the account can be traced back to a real person with a bank account and a verifiable residential address.

“Even our tax system presumes that people are acting in good faith and respect the law,” Marois said.

How the province’s political parties raise money has been a dominant issue in the province for months — including how construction and engineering firms fill party coffers in return for lucrative public projects — as a public inquiry probes government corruption. The commission was put on hold in March for the duration of the provincial election campaign.

Speaking Tuesday before an appearance at the Montreal Chambre of Commerce, Couillard said Blanchet still has questions to answer about the alleged fundraising scheme for his wife. “I don’t assume culpability,” he added.

When Marois came to power with a minority government in 2012, the PQ changed the maximum individual contribution limit, axing it from $3,000 to $100.

Couillard said the rules of the game have therefore changed in recent years, and that the current campaign shows elections can be carried out without “large amounts of money that circulates.”

“We have to remember that changes have already occurred, both before and after the election of September 2012,” said Couillard.


March 31, 2014

Dimitri Soudas, Conservative Party executive director, resigns over nomination spat

Filed under: money, prices — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 5:04 am

OTTAWA—Conservative sources say the party’s executive director Dimitri Soudas has resigned amid a controversy over his fianc

March 14, 2014

Amazon increases price of Prime

Filed under: economics, technology — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 11:28 pm

, Fortune 500) announced the annual membership will now cost $99 a year, up from $79. A student membership will cost $49 annually.

In February, Amazon said it was considering raising the price to $119 a year.

Prime members get two-day shipping on a large number of Amazon items at no extra cost, plus the ability to borrow Kindle books and stream movies and television shows.

The company said blamed the increase on increase fuel and shipping costs. While gas prices are lower than they were a year ago, the company said the price of Amazon Prime hasn’t changed since it started nine years ago.

The company also said that it has increased the benefits of the program, now offering free shipping on 19 million items, up from only 1 million nine years ago. It also introduced its video streaming service in 2011 and recently launched Amazon-produced shows.

Amazon’s quick, free delivery and wide product offering is causing major problems for traditional brick and mortar retailers. There are risks that some Prime members will drop the service with the higher fee. But Prime membership might still make sense at the higher rate, depending on how often they take advantage of the free two-day shipping option payday loans for bad credit.

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The company says that the Prime offering has become so popular, with tens of millions of members, that it limited new Prime membership sign-ups during peak periods in December.

The price increase has the potential to bring in hundreds of millions of dollars of additional revenue for Amazon. Meanwhile, the company is looking to start same-day delivery and is moving into new areas, such as online grocery sales.

Amazon has a grocery delivery service, Prime Fresh, in the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas. The service includes Prime membership and will continue to cost $299 a year.


March 6, 2014

U.S. agency to probe health exchanges

Filed under: legal, technology — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 8:52 pm

The investigative arm of Congress on Wednesday agreed to look into problems with state health exchange websites around the country.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office accepted an initial request from a group of House Republicans seeking an audit on how $304 million in federal grants were spent on the Cover Oregon website, which has yet to enroll a single person online without special assistance.

The agency said due to similar requests from several members of Congress and congressional committees related to the rollout of online health care exchanges, it would broaden the investigation and issue several separate reports on its findings.

GAO spokesman Charles Young said just which states will be included with Oregon will be determined as the investigation goes forward. But 14 states and the District of Columbia opted to create their own exchanges and accepted federal funding to do so.

Republicans have been stepping up their attacks on troubled health exchanges during this election year, but Rep. Greg. Walden, R-Ore., said it was a non-partisan issue.

He noted Oregon Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley made their own requests for the GAO to investigate a day after the Republicans — Walden, House Committee on Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton of Michigan, and Reps. Joe Pitts and Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania — filed theirs last month.

“The politics will play out where they may, good or bad,” Walden said. “That doesn’t mean you don’t ask questions. We need to get answers.”

Merkley said in a statement that he looked forward to the GAO’s recommendations “about how to fix the system and avoid this happening in the future.”

Cover Oregon spokesman Michael Cox said, “We will participate fully with the GAO as they conduct their work.”

Walden added that the probe of state websites would “piggyback nicely” on another GAO look at the federal health exchange website, which has already begun.

Separately, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has asked for an inspector general’s investigation into problems with the rollout of the health care law.

Some of the state exchanges have outperformed the federal exchange website, but others have trailed behind and faced significant challenges, including expensive fixes to glitches and lower projected enrollments.

In addition to Oregon, where residents on their own still can’t sign up for coverage in one sitting, the exchanges in Maryland, Hawaii, Massachusetts and Minnesota have faced major problems.

Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, called the investigation a political stunt.

“With House Republicans voting today for the 50th time to repeal the Affordable Care Act, it is disappointing but not surprising that Republicans are now using federal government resources to investigate state health exchanges instead of finding a productive way to help Americans access health care,” Schatz said in an emailed comment payday loans no faxing.

States with successful exchanges include Connecticut, Rhode Island, Kentucky and New York. Connecticut, which has far exceeded its enrollment goals for the open enrollment period, is setting up a consulting business and marketing an “exchange in a box” to other states.

Cover Oregon’s online enrollment system was supposed to launch in October, allowing individuals and small businesses to compare insurance plans and qualify for federal tax credits to subsidize the premiums. It wasn’t ready, however, forcing people to fill out a lengthy paper application that would have to be processed by hand. Pieces of the website are now working and some portions of the processing are automated, but significant problems still exist.

Republicans have contended problems were known for months before the launch. Gov. John Kitzhaber, a Democrat, has acknowledged mistakes were made but denies having prior knowledge of problems that kept the website from launching on time.

Other questions raised by the Republican request, crafted in consultation with the GAO, include:

— What capability does the federal government have to reclaim those funds if Oregon abandons the state-run exchange and joins the federal one?

— What other costs has Oregon incurred because of the website’s failure?

— Did Cover Oregon’s status as a state organization play a role in its failure?

— What steps could federal agencies have taken to assure state and federal oversight of projects like this in the future.

The Wyden-Merkley request asks more questions:

— How were the federal funds used, including job creation, public and private contractors, software developers, and consumer education?

— What efforts to enroll people outside the website have been successful, and what can be done to expand enrollment ahead of the March 31 deadline?

— If taxpayer funds were mismanaged, can the federal government reclaim grant funds from contractors?

— Was there anything in the Affordable Care Act that Cover Oregon did not respond to in its creation?

— What can Oregon do to most quickly and efficiently overcome Cover Oregon’s problems and enroll more people?


March 1, 2014

Volatility will keep Bitcoin on the fringes of finance

Filed under: Uncategorized, house — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 11:56 pm

For anyone who’s fascinated by investment fads, bitcoin has been one for the ages.

It has no intrinsic value, and yet it rose nearly 90-fold last year, inviting comparisons to Dutch tulip bulbs and dot-com stocks. Now it’s down by 50 percent after a series of blows, including last week’s failure of a major bitcoin exchange.

Yet it’s too soon to declare bitcoin a failure. Fans still claim it can catch on as a virtual currency that’s widely accepted as payment for goods and services. Even skeptics concede that it might have a place in the financial markets of the future.

“I have my doubts that it could be a good currency,” says David Andolfatto, a St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank economist who’s hosting a public discussion on bitcoin later this month, “but I can see some modest value if a growing number of merchants start accepting bitcoin.”

Of course, bitcoin could also go the way of or Semper Augustus, the most prized tulip bulb in the 17th century. That’s why the collapse of Mt. Gox, once the largest exchange for converting bitcoin to other currencies, poses a big test. The Tokyo-based exchange filed bankruptcy last week amid reports that more than $400 million worth of bitcoins had gone missing.

The world of virtual currencies already seemed like a dark and secretive place to most people. Bitcoin was used by Silk Road, an illicit drug trading site that authorities shut down last year. Apple has banned bitcoin-related apps from its App Store, apparently out of concern over the currency’s legal status.

Now, on top of those problems, we have the disappearance of about 6 percent of all the bitcoins in the world. Could that be enough to send bitcoin’s price spiraling toward zero? Andolfatto doesn’t think so.

“It’s like a bank robber going to the Bank of America and stealing all the money in the vault,” he said. “You don’t lose faith in the U.S. dollar just because somebody stole it.”

Vance Crowe, who owns the Articulate Ventures communications firm in University City, still has faith in bitcoin. He accepted $3,000 worth from a client last November and still holds some of the virtual currency.

“The way I look at it, this is a sad but important step for bitcoin,” he said. “Maybe it will make the bitcoin system stronger.” He pointed out that bitcoin’s underlying software — a shared ledger system that keeps track of all transactions — hasn’t been implicated in the Mt. Gox failure.

Kevin LaFata, who runs software firm High Orbit in Fenton, has advertised that he’ll accept bitcoin. No one has paid him that way yet, but he thinks some foreign clients could reduce transaction costs by using the virtual currency.

LaFata isn’t deterred by the Mt. Gox collapse, either. “It’s probably a good thing if somebody who had a bad reputation is finally getting out of the game,” he says.

With the support of true believers like Crowe and LaFata, bitcoin should be able to survive. Its volatility, though, will probably consign it to the fringes of finance.

“Bitcoins are not going to be very good money because their purchasing power is going to fluctuate wildly,” Andolfatto said. “If you got paid in bitcoins and then you discovered your paycheck would buy just half as much bread as the one before, it would be really frustrating.”


February 25, 2014

Labor talks stumble at Harris-Stowe

Filed under: house, term — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 3:24 am

Unionized faculty at Harris-Stowe State University say administrators have declared impasse in labor negotiations and are giving the professors a final, take-it-or-leave it offer.

Professors and their organized labor allies say they are planning a “silent stand-in” to protest the move when the university’s board of regents meets tomorrow.

Union members will “take additional action” if the administration’s position doesn’t change, said Mark Abbot5, president of Harris-Stowe’s chapter of the National Education Association union. He wouldn’t specify the action. Missouri law prohibits state university employees from striking.

Contacted by the Post-Dispatch this afternoon, a university spokeswoman asked for questions in writing. The university had not responded by 4:07 p.m.

Abbott, a professor of history and urban studies, said the union’s 45 full-time faculty members haven’t had a general raise in six years although some have received salary bump-ups when promoted no fax cash loans.

The union and the university have agreed on a two-percent raise for this year, followed by a 1 percent raise next year, Abbot said. They’ve agreed to keep current benefits.

But non-financial issues still divide the negotiators. For instance, the school wants faculty members to spend 12 hours a week in their offices, where students can visit them, instead of the current four-hour requirement.

The university also wants to end the current practice of naming instructors to assistant professor posts when they earn their doctorates.

Full-time faculty voted to unionize last October. Harris-Stowe also has about 60 part-time faculty.


February 21, 2014

Winklevoss twins launch the ‘Winkdex,’ a new Bitcoin site

Filed under: economics, house — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 9:08 pm

It is the latest foray into the world of Bitcoin for Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, twin investors known for their legal battle over the creation of Facebook.

Winkdex “blends” the going price of a Bitcoin at the three largest exchanges. It’s something you can already find on websites like Preev and Coindesk, but those don’t have the Winklevii brand name behind them.

The point of the Winkdex? It will provide the price for the twins’ planned Bitcoin-related investment fund, according to a Tuesday filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The brothers are launching their own exchange-traded fund, called the Winklevoss Bitcoin Trust, to provide everyday investors a way to dip their feet into Bitcoin investing.

The price of a single Bitcoin is anything but stable. Since December, it’s been as high as $1,163 and as low as $382. It’s now at about $595. Lots of things weigh heavily on its value, because it’s a new currency that’s under close review by regulators, sometimes tied to online black markets like Silk Road and often the target of hackers looking for flaws in the digital network.

The Winklevoss brothers did not respond to requests for comment.

Winkdex got hounded for having a ludicrous sounding name that reminds everyone of Windex or Pokédex.

But those who hope to see the digital currency flourish welcomed its creation. The prevailing view is that having legitimate investors gives the currency some more credibility.


February 15, 2014

U.S. stocks edge mostly higher in early trading

Filed under: house, management — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 9:40 am

NEW YORK • Stocks were edging mostly higher in early trading on Friday, keeping the market on track for a second week of gains. Investors assessed more company earnings and the government reported a steep drop in factory output in January.

KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose two points, or 0.1 percent, to 1,832 as of 10:12 a.m. Eastern Time. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 28 points, or 0.2 percent, to 16,057. The Nasdaq composite fell three points, or 0.1 percent, to 4,237.

MEN’S WEAR BATTLE: Men’s Wearhouse dropped $3.94, or 9 percent, to $42.62, after Jos. A. Bank Clothiers, which Men’s Wearhouse had been pursuing, announced a deal of its own. Jos. A. Bank said that it was buying the parent company of Eddie Bauer. Jos. A. Bank’s stock also fell, dropping 95 cents, or 1.7 percent, to $54 as investors judged an acquisition was now less likely.

FEELING THE SQUEEZE: Weight Watchers International plunged $7.91, or 25 percent, to $22.67 after it reported a big drop in earnings that was worse than analysts’ had been forecasting and issued weak earnings guidance for this year personal business card. The company said that 2014 would be a “very challenging year.”

FACTORY SLUMP: Harsh winter weather led to a steep drop in U.S. factory output in January. Manufacturers made fewer cars and trucks, appliances, furniture and carpeting, as the recent cold spell ended five straight months of increased production. The Federal Reserve says factory production plunged 0.8 percent in December, reversing gains of 0.3 percent in both December and November.

TREASURYS AND COMMODITIES: The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.75 percent from 2.73 percent Thursday. The price of oil dropped 23 cents, or 0.2 percent, to $100.11 a barrel. Gold gained $15.80, or 1.2 percent, to $1,316.10 an ounce.


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