Finance news. My opinion.

July 26, 2014

Embattled grocery chain weighs proposal to buy it

Filed under: house, prices — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 10:39 am

WEST BRIDGEWATER, Mass. (AP) — Board members of the beleaguered Market Basket grocery store chain say they will “seriously consider” a proposal from its fired chief executive to buy the company as the chain faces a workers’ revolt that has paralyzed the stores.

The board issued a statement Friday after meeting to discuss the company’s future as thousands of employees protested the firing of a popular chief executive, Arthur T. Demoulas.

For more than a week, warehouse workers have refused to make deliveries to the chain’s 71 stores in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine us fast cash. Many customers have boycotted the stores in support of the workers.

Arthur T. Demoulas was fired last month by a board controlled by his cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas.

The board said it will evaluate Arthur T’s offer, as well as prior offers and future offers.


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July 24, 2014

Breitburn buying QR Energy in $1.46 billion deal

Filed under: house, prices — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 7:36 pm

HOUSTON (AP) — Breitburn Energy is buying QR Energy LP in a deal worth about $1.46 billion.

QR unitholders will receive approximately 72 million common units of Breitburn Energy Partners LP, or 0.9856 of a Breitburn unit, for each unit of QR Energy that they own. The consideration to be received by QR unitholders is valued at $22.48 per unit, a 19 percent premium to Wednesday’s closing price of $18.87.

Shares of Houston’s QR Energy rose more than 8 percent before the opening bell Thursday.

The companies put the transaction’s value at approximately $3 billion, including QR’s existing debt and outstanding convertible preferred units.

The senior management team at Breitburn Energy Partners LP will lead the combined business. Once the transaction, closes Breitburn will add a new director to its board that is mutually agreed upon by both companies.

The boards of both companies unanimously approved the deal, which is targeted to close later this year or in early 2015. It still needs approval from QR unitholders.


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July 23, 2014

Canada Border Services review finds 19,000 outdated lookout warnings

Filed under: Uncategorized, debt — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 5:04 am

OTTAWA—An internal review has revealed that Canada’s border agency had more than 19,000 outdated electronic notices warning officers to be on the lookout for suspicious travellers.

The Canada Border Services Agency discovered the old notices earlier this year following the review of about 117,000 active lookouts to ensure each contained up-to-date information, says a new federal report.

Accuracy and timeliness are vital because the border agency is supposed to use lookouts to intercept suspected terrorists, organized criminals and others of concern attempting to enter Canada.

An outdated or inaccurate lookout could also mean a traveller is stopped at the border and subjected to unnecessary scrutiny.

The notices are based on intelligence information, past customs seizures, immigration violations and known national security risks.

Last fall, federal auditor general Michael Ferguson found the border agency was not consistently monitoring the results of lookouts and lacked a consistent process for recording the results when someone was intercepted. Ferguson noted the agency had made little progress on its monitoring of immigration lookouts since a 2007 study.

“Given the seriousness of the threats that lookouts are designed to address, even one missed lookout is cause for concern,” the auditor general said. “Without relevant performance data, the agency does not have information on whether lookouts are working as intended or how it can improve on results.”

The border agency’s own study confirmed problems with the lookout system.

In response to a request from the House of Commons standing committee on public accounts, the government recently issued an update on the border agency’s efforts to improve the management and effectiveness of the lookouts program.

The agency also made a number of changes to its computer systems to make it easier to find possible matches associated with a lookout and to provide partners with more timely information.

In his fall report, Ferguson also expressed concerns about information the border agency receives from airlines with the aim of zeroing in on suspected security threats.

Air carriers are required to provide the border agency with advance information about passengers entering Canada to allow for screening of travellers before they arrive. Complete and accurate information helps the agency identify people who might need closer examination once their plane lands.

Ferguson found the border agency did not receive all of the necessary information about passengers, and recommended it take steps already developed to fix the problems.


July 16, 2014

Minimum wage in 2013 same as 1975 in constant dollars: Statistics Canada

Filed under: legal, lenders — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 5:12 pm

Statistics Canada says the average minimum wage in 2013 was almost identical to the 1975 minimum wage, in constant dollars.

The agency says the average minimum wage was $10.14 in 2013 and the 1975 wage, expressed in 2013 dollars, was $10.13.

Between 1975 and 2013, however, the minimum wage in 2013 dollars, varied, slipping to $7.53 in 1986 before rising to $8.81 in 1996.

Up to 2003, the real minimum wage remained stable at around $8.50.

The report says 6.7 per cent of all paid employees earned the minimum wage in 2013, up from 5.0 per cent in 1997.

It says young employees, less-educated employees, part-timers and people in service industries were most likely to be paid minimum wage


July 3, 2014

Gross Says Slow Wage Growth Outweighs Jobs for Fed Policy - Bloomberg

Filed under: Uncategorized, house — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 5:37 pm

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July 2, 2014

Waffle House calls for Belgian waffle boycott in support of U.S. soccer

Filed under: debt, online — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 2:33 am

The breakfast of champions is anything but a Belgian waffle today as the U.S. soccer team prepares to take on Belgium this afternoon at the World Cup.

Waffle House is on board with a boycott of the fluffy breakfast food, too.

“We don’t believe in Belgium (sic) waffles,” the company’s official Twitter feed said.

The Georgia-based company sells “American waffles,” spokesman Pat Warner said. American waffles are round, while Belgian waffles are square, he said, and American waffles also have smaller and shallower indentations, which allows for better syrup distribution.

Warner said he didn’t expect the social media explosion when the public conversation began a few days ago.

“One of our fans asked us on Twitter about Belgian waffles,” Warner said. “We responded and said ‘We will dominate them.’ It really kind of surprised us how quickly it spread. It kind of gives a nod to how impactful social media is.”

The idea to boycott Belgian waffles came from Waffle House Twitter followers, he said.

Midwesterners eat the largest share of waffles in the U.S. with 28 percent of total consumption, according to the NPD Group. They also eat 40 percent of the French toast consumed in the U.S.

Waffle House has served more than 877 million waffles since it opened in 1955. It currently has 1,700 locations in 25 states, but the only Illinois locations are near St. Louis.

The U.S. soccer team plays Belgium today at 3 p.m. If the U.S. loses its round-of-16 game, it will be knocked out. Chicago is hosting a viewing party at Soldier Field, where officials expect 10,000 to 20,000 people.

“We’re just supporting team USA hoping they come through with a victory today,” Warner said. “We think we have a good shot this year.”

About that “Belgium waffle” tweet? The chain attributed the misspelling to a “blonde moment” on its Twitter feed.


June 14, 2014

Grain higher, livestock higher

Filed under: money, mortgage — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 6:25 am

CHICAGO (AP) — Grain futures were higher Friday on the Chicago Board of Trade.

Wheat for July delivery rose .75 cent to $5.86 a bushel; July corn was 3 cents higher at 4.47 a bushel; July oats were 2.75 cents higher at $3.4725 a bushel; while July soybeans advanced 10.50 cents to $14.2575 a bushel.

Beef and pork were higher on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange free business cards.

August live cattle rose 1.57 cents to $1.4662 a pound; August feeder cattle was 2.30 cents higher at $2.0815 a pound; while July lean hogs rose 1.08 cents to $1.2 a pound.


April 25, 2014

Minding the tax bite in fund investing

Filed under: Uncategorized, uk — Tags: , , , — Professor @ 8:29 pm

NEW YORK (AP) — How painful was tax season for you?

For many investors with mutual funds in a taxable account, it was tougher this year than last. That’s because the best year for stocks since 1997 pushed many funds to make capital gains distributions to their shareholders, and those got taxed even if the shareholder didn’t sell any shares. Investors who make the biggest incomes got a double whammy: They paid a higher percentage of their capital gains distributions in taxes than a year before.

Now that April 15 has passed, investors have a chance to reflect on what drove their tax bills and rejigger their portfolios. For most retirement investors, the answer is simple: Keep your mutual funds in a tax-advantaged account, whether that’s a 401(k), individual retirement account or Roth IRA. For those with funds in taxable accounts, other avenues are available for tax-smart investing, and experts say they’re growing in importance.

During the ’80s and ’90s, when markets were booming, many investors were making so much money that they didn’t mind paying big tax bills, says Fran Kinniry, a principal in the investment strategy group at Vanguard. Now that many don’t expect the returns they got during the boom years, there’s more interest in keeping costs and taxes low.

“Investors are taking 100 percent of the risk of their investments, and the goal should be to capture as much as 100 percent of that return,” Kinniry says.

First, a reminder on the taxes mutual-fund investors can incur: Funds that own dividend-paying stocks distribute those payments to shareholders, which can be taxable. Each year, funds also tally the gains booked from selling stocks and bonds. From that, funds subtract the losses they incurred from trading and pass along the remainder to shareholders. These are called capital gains distributions, and the tax rate on long-term gains for the very top earners rose to 23.8 percent last year from 15 percent.

Here’s a look at what investors can do to minimize those payments:

—REMEMBER THE POWER OF TAX-ADVANTAGED ACCOUNTS. If you own a mutual fund in a 401(k) or IRA, you also get dividend and capital-gains distributions. But you don’t need to worry about taxes until you withdraw money. Investors with funds in a Roth IRA don’t need to worry about taxes on those distributions at all, under some conditions.

Tax-advantaged accounts are particularly useful for mutual funds that produce more distributions than others, such as ones focused on bonds, dividend-paying stocks or real-estate investment trusts used car warranty. Actively managed stock mutual funds - ones run by stock pickers looking to beat an index - also can have bigger gains distributions because they do more buying and selling than index funds.

— SOME MUTUAL FUNDS ARE BUILT TO MINIMIZE TAXES. Tax-managed mutual funds use several methods to limit their shareholders’ tax bills. They can be biased toward stocks with lower dividend yields, looking to limit dividend payments, for example. They also try to hold off on selling stocks to minimize potential capital gains distributions.

Generally, only investors who have already maxed out their annual contributions to tax-advantaged accounts like IRAs would consider tax-managed funds. Because their audience is so narrow, they tend to have fewer assets under management, says Michael Rawson, a fund analyst at Morningstar.

Their smaller size means tax-managed funds don’t benefit from the economies of scale that large mutual funds do, which can mean higher expense ratios, Rawson says.

— INDEX FUNDS AND ETFs CAN MEAN SMALLER TAX BILLS. The capital-gains distributions that funds make are a result of buying and selling stocks. So one way to limit those distributions is to limit buying and selling.

Big index mutual funds and ETFs do just that. Unlike actively managed funds looking to beat the market, index funds are merely trying to match an index’s performance. That means they’re content to own the same stock as long as it stays in the index. Index funds also tend to have lower expenses than actively managed funds.

But “just because a fund is an index fund doesn’t mean that it’s tax efficient,” says Vanguard’s Kinniry. Indexes that cover smaller swaths of the market tend to change more often than large, broad-market indexes. So a small-cap value index fund will likely see more turnover than a broad-market index fund, which can trigger more gains distributions.

— MUNICIPAL BONDS OFFER TAX-FREE INCOME. The interest paid by bonds issued by cities, water and sewer authorities and other local governments is generally free from federal income taxes. That means investors can more comfortably keep muni-bond funds in a taxable account.

They come with their own risks, of course: Worries flare periodically about the financial strength of local governments, which can cause their prices to swing sharply.


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.


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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