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April 16, 2014

U.S. homebuilder confidence edges up in April

Filed under: loans, management — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 10:32 am

WASHINGTON • U.S. homebuilders’ confidence in the housing market rose modestly in April but remained at low levels for the third straight month, constrained by tight credit for home buyers and a shortage of workers and available land.

The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo builder sentiment index, which measures confidence in the single-family home market, edged up to 47 in April from 46 in March, the homebuilders group reported Tuesday.

Readings below 50 mean builders view sales conditions as poor. The index had been above 50 from June through January.

Builders recently have complained that they can’t find enough workers or lots to build on.

Many home buyers also have had trouble qualifying for mortgages. The homebuilders’ index of traffic by prospective buyers stayed at 32 in April.

The latest reading, based on responses from 301 builders, comes as the spring home-selling season gets going. The season typically sets the pattern for residential hiring and building construction in the ensuing months. The overall confidence index was below 50 in all four regions of the United States — 36 in the Northeast, 45 in the West and 48 in the Midwest and South.

“Builder confidence has been in a holding pattern the past three months,” said Kevin Kelly, chairman of the homebuilders association and a developer from Wilmington, Del. “Looking ahead, as the spring home buying season gets into full swing and demand increases, builders are expecting sales prospects to improve in the months ahead.”

The index measuring their confidence in home sales over the next six months rose to 57, highest since January.

Housing, while still a long way from the boom of the mid-2000s, has been recovering. Residential construction has grown at double-digit rates over the past two years and contributed about one-third of a percentage point to overall economic growth in both 2012 and 2013.

Though new homes represent only a fraction of the housing market, they have an outsize impact on the economy. Each home built creates an average of three jobs for a year and generates about $90,000 in tax revenue, according to data from the homebuilders association.


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April 13, 2014

Van sales rebound following recession-sparked decline

Filed under: marketing, news — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 4:24 am

One of the most critical decisions Chris Ott has to make is when to replace commercial vans that are the lifeblood of his business. Ott owns Area Wide Refrigeration, a St. Louis-based company that repairs ice machines, coolers and other equipment for restaurants and bars.

Area Wide, which has a fleet of six vans that typically get replaced after 35,000 miles, is among General Motors’ customers that scaled back its van purchases during the recession.

“I held off buying for a year or so, as bars and restaurants were hit the hardest during the recession,” Ott said. Area Wide resumed changing out its fleet in 2012, when it acquired two new vans.

This year, Area Wide is in the market for two more.

“I have to have them for my business,” Ott said.

Businesses, ranging from big corporations to small contractors, are again buying full-size commercial vans, which is a big business in the St. Louis region.

The recession, followed by a sluggish recovery, led many businesses to halt or slow down purchases of vans such as the Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana full-size vans that are built in General Motors’ assembly plant in Wentzville.

“Now we’re in a very nice recovery,” GM’s van product manager Joseph Langhauser said. “Businesses are opening their purse strings, and we’re starting to see the numbers trend back up.”

Wentzville has long been a major source of the country’s commercial vans. More than 2 million full-size vans have rolled off the GM assembly line since December 1995, when the plant switched from making passenger cars. No other GM plant builds them.

IHS Automotive forecasts that annual commercial van sales in the U.S. will grow to 400,000 by 2015, a 27 percent increase from 2013, and GM is positioning itself to take advantage of this growth despite new competition and recent troubles related to recalls.


GM commercial vans surpassed 150,000 in sales annually in the mid-2000s, according to automotive consumer research website But sales began to decline sharply in 2008 and 2009 as the financial crisis took hold and many companies began scaling back on expenses and buying fewer vehicles.

“A decade ago, vans were at an all-time high, and 2009 was a watershed year where it was half the number sold,” Langhauser said.

GM sold 153,168 Express and Savana vans in 2006, but sales fell the following three years, dropping to 66,466 in 2009, according That led GM to pare its workforce to a single shift.

“It was the whole truck segment, everything fell, not just vans,” said Gary Meteer, director of commercial solutions for IHS Automotive, an analytics firm based in Northville, Mich. “With the recession, there were no goods to be moved. People extended their buying cycles because they weren’t putting the mileage on the vehicles.”

Over the past three years, sales have rebounded, inching closer to the 100,000 mark once again. With sales flowing to sizable buyers, including U-Haul, AT&T, Comcast and DIRECTV, GM’s commercial van sales totaled 95,792 in 2013, down slightly from the 97,458 vans sold in 2012.

The Wentzville plant has been operating two shifts since January 2012, with a third shift for stamping operations. In addition to the vans, this year the Wentzville plant will begin producing the redesigned Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon midsize pickups.

About 60 percent of GM’s vans made in Wentzville are cargo, 25 percent are cutaways — which come with the front of the van built but the rear open so it can be customized — and 15 percent are passenger vans. Eighty-five percent of the vans that come off the line in Wentzville are white, and the next biggest seller is bright yellow, typically used for school buses business

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April 9, 2014

Durham police officers face discipline over YouTube video

Filed under: news, prices — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 10:40 pm

Two Durham Regional Police officers have been charged under the Police Services Act for their alleged involvement in a satirical video posted to YouTube in January.

The sworn police officers depicted in the video are both facing a charge of discreditable conduct.

Sgt. Mike Glennie’s disciplinary hearing has already started, according to a statement from the police service released Wednesday.

A second officer — referred to only as a Detective Constable in the news release — will face a hearing on April 15.

“At the commencement of the public hearing, his name can legally be released,” the statement said.

The police force’s longstanding policy has been to keep secret the names of officers charged under the act until they appear at a public hearing. In the event that the charged officer resigns, the defence is granted a publication ban, or an informal settlement is reached, the officer’s name would never be released.

The third is a civilian special constable, to whom the Police Services Act does not apply. “His discipline is being managed by internal policy and his name will not be released as he is not subject to the PSA,” the statement said.

Police officer Paul Grigoriou and special constable Harold Tasson appeared in the video alongside Glennie. The Durham force said at the time that the three officers in the video were the only members under investigation.

Durham Police Chief Mike Ewles triggered an internal investigation into the video after it showed up on YouTube, calling it “disrespectful” and “embarrassing.”

But Glennie, in an interview with Oshawa Express, said the video was meant to stay “in house.”

“It was designed to uplift and create humour to the employees of that unit,” Glennie told the Oshawa paper cash advance loans.

The goofy 64-second video, fashioned after a high-drama Hollywood trailer, depicted three officers stopping at nothing to get out of cellblock duty. They apply for transfers, only to have them denied, after which words flash across the screen: “3 officers on a quest for freedom/ Will discover there is no escape/ From cellblock.”

Toilet paper is meted out at a jail cell; a mask-wearing constable mops up what appears to be a blood-smeared bathroom.

“Forced to serve prisoners/ This summer/ How far will they go for freedom?” the text reads.

One officer runs down a hallway with what appears to be a Taser pointed at the camera. Another does snow angels on the hood of a car. They mimic Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s now-infamous imitation of a drunk driver. They appear to wave happily to a departing U.S. President Barack Obama.

The end credits list more than half a dozen Durham police officers as well as the force’s chief administrative officer and Ford in the “Rob Ford film” dubbed “Central Cells.” It also notes: “Not made on company time.”

It’s another in a series of high-profile public embarrassments for the Durham Regional Police Service, which Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin likened to National Lampoon’s Animal House last year after receiving obnoxious, anonymous tweets in the wake of the deadly police shooting of Sammy Yatim on a Toronto streetcar in July 2013.

It turned out those tweets were sent by a veteran Durham fraud investigator, then-detective Jeff Caplan, who used a parody account created for practical jokes within his unit.


April 6, 2014

Kathleen Wynne sues Tim Hudak, Tory MPP over gas-plant comments

Filed under: marketing, mortgage — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 4:48 pm

Premier Kathleen Wynne has followed through with a threat to sue Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak.

‎A notice of libel was served Friday night for comments Hudak and his MPP Lisa MacLeod (Nepean-Carleton) made about Wynne overseeing criminal activities. The comments followed allegations by the Ontario Provincial Police that the computer-expert boyfriend of Dalton McGuinty’s former deputy chief of staff wiped computers in the premier’s office.

Wynne on Sunday threatened legal action‎ against Hudak for what she calls ‎”false, misleading and defamatory allegations about me” after the latest bombshell revelation in the $1 payday loans guaranteed no fax.1-billion scandal over two cancelled gas-fired power plants.

Wynne sent an open letter to Hudak on Sunday, calling him out on remarks made after the Star revealed that the OPP are investigating David Livingston, the former chief of staff to McGuinty, for breach of trust in the alleged wiping of computer hard drives to remove politically sensitive documents.

The Conservatives at the time branded Wynne’s letter as an “attempt to threaten the opposition.”


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 29, 2014

Senate Advances Long-Term Unemployment Benefits Extension - Bloomberg

Filed under: Uncategorized, loans — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 2:16 pm

The U.S. Senate voted to advance legislation restoring benefits for the long-term unemployed that the Obama administration has sought to revive since they expired late last year.

By a vote of 65-34, with 60 required for approval, the Senate agreed to move toward taking up the measure, which is the product of a bipartisan agreement struck earlier this month by Rhode Island Democrat Jack Reed, Nevada Republican Dean Heller and eight other senators.

Ten Republicans joined with the chamber

March 27, 2014

U.S. wealth gap widens because of $1 trillion student loan debt

Filed under: economics, uk — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 11:20 pm

Every month that Gregory Zbylut pays $1,300 toward his law school loans is another month of not qualifying for a decent mortgage.

Every payment toward their student loans is $900 Dr. Nida Degesys and her husband aren’t putting in their retirement savings account.

They believe they’ll eventually climb from debt and begin using their earnings to build assets rather than fill holes. But, like the roughly 37 million others in the U.S. saddled with $1 trillion in student debt, they may never catch up with wealthy peers who began life after college free from the burden.

The disparity, experts say, is contributing to the widening of the gap between rich and everyone else in the country.

“If you graduate with a B.A. or doctorate and you get the same job at the same place, you make the same amount of money,” said William Elliott III, director of the Assets and Education Initiative at the University of Kansas. “But that money will actually mean less to you in the sense of accumulating assets in the long term.”

Graduates who can immediately begin building equity in housing or stocks and bonds get more time to see their investments grow, while indebted graduates spend years paying principal and interest on loans. The standard student loan repayment schedule is 10 years but can be much longer.

The median 2009 net worth for a household without outstanding student debt was $117,700, nearly three times the $42,800 worth in a household with outstanding student debt, according to a report co-written by Elliott last November.

About 40 percent of households led by someone 35 or younger have student loan debt, a 2012 Pew Research Center analysis of government data found.

Allen Aston is one of the lucky ones, having landed a full academic and financial-need scholarship at Ohio State University. The 22-year-old software engineer from Columbus estimates it let him avoid about $100,000 in debt.

Without loans to repay, Aston is already contributing 6 percent of his salary to a retirement fund that is matched in part by his employer and doesn’t have the same financial concerns his friends do.

“I’m making the same money as them, but they have student loans they’re paying back that I don’t. So, it definitely seems noticeable,” he said.

At the other end of the spectrum is Zbylut, an accountant-turned-attorney in Glendale, Calif. He’s been chipping away at nearly $160,000 in student debt since graduating in 2005 from law school at Loyola University in Chicago. Now 48, the tax attorney estimates he could have $150,000 to $200,000 in a 401(k) had the money he’s paid toward loans gone there.

“I’m sitting here in traffic. I’ve got a Mercedes behind me and an Audi in front of me and I’m thinking, ‘What did they do that I didn’t do?’” Zbylut said by cellphone from his Chevrolet. He’s been turned down twice for the type of mortgage he needs to buy a home big enough for himself, the fiancee he would have married already if not for his debts and her 10-year-old son.

“I have more education and more degrees than my father, as does she than her parents, and yet our parents are better off than we are. What’s wrong with this picture?” he said.

Student debt is the only kind of household debt that rose through the Great Recession and now totals more than either credit card or auto loan debt, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Both the number of borrowers and amount borrowed ballooned by 70 percent from 2004 to 2012.

Of the nearly 20 million Americans who attend college each year, about 12 million borrow, according to the Almanac of Higher Education cash advance payday loan. Estimates show that the average four-year graduate accumulates $26,000 to $29,000 in loans, and some leave college with six figures worth of debt.

The increases have been driven in part by rising tuition, resulting from reduced state funding and costlier campus facilities and amenities. Compounding the problem has been a trend toward merit-based, rather than need-based, grants as institutions seek to attract the higher-achieving students who will boost their standings.

“Because there’s a strong correlation in this country between things like SAT scores or ACT scores and wealth or income, the (grant) money ends up going disproportionately to students from wealthier families” who tend to perform better on those tests, said Donald Heller, dean of the Michigan State University College of Education.

Those factors, along with stagnating family incomes and declining savings, have made student loans a much bigger part of funding higher education, Elliott said.

Harvard Business School’s Michael Norton wonders whether greater public awareness of the widening wealth gap in the United States would hasten policy change. Norton conducted a 2011 survey that found that people tend to think wealth is more equally distributed than it is.

But with elected officials from President Barack Obama on down now talking about the wealth gap as an urgent public problem, a more complete picture seems to be emerging, he said.

“Both parties are now saying, perhaps inequality has gotten to the point where it’s not fair when people don’t have a chance to rise, and we need to do something about it,” Norton said.

Targeting the soaring cost of higher education, Obama in August proposed the most sweeping changes to the federal student aid program in decades. His plan would link federal money to new college ratings and reward schools if they help low-income students, keep costs low and have large numbers of students earn degrees.

Lawmakers in Congress also are debating how to address the issue, including proposals to allow graduates with high-interest loans to refinance at lower rates.

The American Medical Student Association supports expanding the National Health Services Corps, which provides loan forgiveness in exchange for service in underserved areas.

Nida Degesys, AMSA’s president, graduated in May 2013 from Northeast Ohio Medical University with about $180,000 in loans. The amount has already swelled with interest to about $220,000.

“There were times where this would make me stay up at night,” Degesys said. “The principal alone is a problem, but the interest is staggering.”

Yet, as costly as medical school was, Degesys sees it as an investment in herself and her career, one she thinks will pay off with a higher earning potential.

College degrees can pay off. College graduates ages 25 to 32 working full time earn $45,500, about $17,500 more than their peers with just a high school diploma, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of census data.

Elliott says the country needs to re-think college financing options to bring debt down and graduation rates up.

“We can’t,” he said, “let debt hinder a whole generation of people from beginning to accumulate wealth soon after graduating college.”


March 26, 2014

Walgreen Co. to close 76 unprofitable stores

Filed under: management, online — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 8:00 am

Walgreen Co. on Tuesday said it plans to close 76 unprofitable drugstores by August as part of a plan to save $40 million to $50 million per year beginning in its fiscal 2015.

The Deerfield-based drugstore chain, the nation’s largest, declined to specify the locations of the stores slated to close aside from saying they’re “spread across the country.” Walgreen said it will confirm the closures in the coming months after it notifies employees.

Most stores that will close either have had other Walgreens locations open in the same area or have seen real estate values decline since they’ve opened, the company said.

In a morning conference call with investors, Walgreen Chief Executive Greg Wasson said the move, which effects less than 1 percent of its locations nationwide, is part of an effort to “optimize our footprint and ensure our stores remain at the best corners of America.”

The majority of the stores that will shutter are located near other Walgreens locations, and most of their employees will be reassigned, Wasson said.

Including the closures, the company still plans to have a net increase in store count in 2014 of between 55 and 75 locations. It operates 8,210 drugstores nationwide, 138 more than a year ago.

Walgreen will take charges of between $240 million to $280 million in its third and fourth quarters related to the closures.

The company also on Tuesday said second quarter net income fell slightly to $754 million, or 78 cents a share, down from $756 million, or 79 cents a share, in the same period a year ago, as a slower cold and flu season and severe weather throughout much of the United States dragged on profits payday loans.

Profits also were hurt by the introduction of fewer new generic drugs, which are generally more profitable for pharmacies.

The Deerfield-based drugstore chain said sales rose 5.1 percent to $19.6 billion, with sales in stores open at least a year up 4.3 percent.

Adjusted for certain items, net income was 91 cents a share, down from 96 cents a year earlier, missing Wall Street estimates by a penny.

Despite a 1.4 percent dip in customer traffic, the average purchase size rose 3.4 percent.

Shares opened higher, rising nearly 5 percent to $67.48, in morning trading.

Wasson also said the company has no plans to stop selling tobacco products, despite the February decision by its primary competitor CVS Caremark to halt sales by Oct. 1.

“What we’re focused on is to help encourage our customers to make healthy choices, not just with cigarettes, but with their daily habits,” Wasson said. “We think we’re well-positioned to help folks change their behavior who want to quit … and I don’t think there’s anyone better positioned with our retail pharmacists” and smoking cessation programs and products to help people kick the habit.


March 24, 2014

US stock futures poised to start the week higher

Filed under: Uncategorized, term — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 5:28 pm

Wall Street looked ready to start the week with a slight gain as U.S. stock futures edged up Monday in pre-market trading.

KEEPING SCORE: Dow Jones industrial average futures were up 35 points, or 0.2 percent, to 16,256 as of 8:50 a.m. Eastern time. Standard & Poor’s 500 index futures were up five points, or 0.3 percent, to 1,862 and Nasdaq futures were up 13 points, or 0.3 percent, to 3,652.

CHINA WATCH: Asian stock markets got a boost on expectations of economic stimulus in China. A report showed that China’s manufacturing fell to an eight-month low in March in another sign of slowing growth in the world’s No. 2 economy.

TREASURYS AND COMMODITIES: The yield on the 10-year U fast cash advance.S. Treasury note climbed to 2.76 percent from 2.74 percent late Friday. The price of crude oil rose 59 cents to $100.05 a barrel. Gold sank $18.70 to $1,317.40 an ounce.

EUROPE: Major indexes were mostly lower in Europe. Both Germany’s DAX and France’s CAC-40 dropped 0.2 percent. Britain’s FTSE 100 slipped 0.1 percent.

ASIA: Hong Kong’s Hang Seng surged 2.8 percent. Japan’s Nikkei gained 1.8 percent.


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