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April 15, 2014

Stocks open higher after a rough week; Citi gains

Filed under: Uncategorized, mortgage — Tags: , , , — ManInBlack @ 6:04 am

NEW YORK • Stocks are opening higher as investors are encouraged by a pickup in retail sales last month.

Citigroup rose 4 percent after reporting first-quarter earnings that were better than analysts were expecting.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 12 points, or 0.7 percent, to 1,827 in the first few minutes of trading Monday.

The index lost 2.7 percent last week, its worst weekly showing since January.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 86 points, or 0.5 percent, to 16,112. The Nasdaq composite rose 31 points, or 0.8 percent, to 4,030.

The Commerce Department reported that retail sales rose 1.1 percent in March, the best showing since September 2012.

Bond prices were little changed. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note held steady at 2.63 percent.

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April 11, 2014

Will Mad Men find its mojo in Season 7?

Filed under: finance, term — Tags: , , , — ManInBlack @ 11:28 pm

Spoiler alert: There are Season 6 spoilers ahead.

Don Draper has gone from intriguing to mysterious to unpleasant to repulsive.

It’s weird. Mad Men, which returns on Sunday to begin its seventh and final season (AMC, 10 p.m.) was once as easy to admire as The Sopranos.

It had atmosphere. It was poetic. It resonated. The characters had depth. Set in the turbulent ’60s, at a Madison Avenue advertising agency called Sterling Cooper, the writing, acting, direction, sets and costumes were dazzling.

The end of Mad Men and the era of ads: Salutin

Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks ‘crazy’ about final season

Then Season 6 came along.

And as it unfolded, something became clear: Mad Men has lost its mojo.

Maybe it was last year’s season premiere, which ended with the reveal that Don (Jon Hamm) was having yet another affair, this time with the wife of a neighbour. Maybe it was the bizarre subplot involving Pete’s (Vincent Kartheiser) elderly mother, who — what the? — is murdered off-camera on a cruise ship by her male caregiver? Or maybe it was just the gloom that pervades this dystopian universe, a mood so relentlessly depressing it makes Leaving Las Vegas seem like The Goonies.

By the midway point of Season 6, I found myself chain-smoking, pounding back Old Fashioned cocktails and praying for a time machine so I could go back to 2007. Once there, I’d break into the show’s production offices and, at gunpoint, force creator Matthew Weiner to write, “THEN HE SMILES” into at least a few scripts. Then I’d demand he promise to never repeat a plot point or I’d return from the future, strap him into a Barcalounger and compel him to watch John from Cincinnati for 40 days and 40 nights.

Did you notice how many scenes and plot points last season mirrored past seasons?

Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) has feelings for Don, her boss, in Season 1. Peggy has feelings for Ted (Kevin Rahm), her boss, in Season 6. Don takes a trip to Los Angeles and hangs out with oddball strangers in Season 2. Don takes a trip to Los Angeles and hangs out with oddball strangers in Season 6.

Sally (Kiernan Shipka) walks through a door and sees Roger (John Slattery) and Marie (Julia Ormond) engaged in a sexual act in Season 5 quick guaranteed personal loans. Sally walks through a door and sees Don and Sylvia (Linda Cardellini) engaged in a sexual act in Season 6.

Don’s brother commits suicide. Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) hangs himself. The agency is nearly bought by another firm. The agency merges with another firm. Peggy has a baby after fooling around with Pete. Joan (Christina Hendricks) has a baby after fooling around with Roger.

Everyone rides the elevators in silence.

Everyone stares out a window for no apparent reason.

Then there were moments that were really baffling.

What was that business with that little girl and her violin? How did Betty suddenly get skinny again? One second she was in prosthetics and a black wig, looking like an extra in Shallow Hal, the next she was blond and rail-thin. Did I miss something while downing more cocktails and burning my collection of pocket squares?

Also, Don’s life story as told in flashback? Are we done with the whole Dick Whitman slash assumed identity slash Korean War slash marriage-of-convenience to now-dead Anna stuff?

Is it all about the childhood brothel now?

From reading Dante on the beach in Hawaii to cheating on poor Megan (Jessica Par

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April 10, 2014

Toyota recalls 1.8 million vehicles in the U.S.

Filed under: technology, term — Tags: , , , — ManInBlack @ 9:04 am

Updated at 12:08 p.m.

TOKYO • Toyota Motor Corp. is recalling nearly 1.8 million vehicles in the U.S. for various safety problems, including air bags that may fail to deploy.

The Japanese automaker announced the U.S. recall Wednesday as part of a broader recall of 6.39 million vehicles — and 27 Toyota models — globally.

In the U.S., the recall includes:

• 1.3 million vehicles with faulty electrical connections that could cause the air bags to deactivate. Included are the 2009-2010 Corolla, 2009-2010 Matrix, 2008-2010 Highlander, 2009-2010 Tacoma, 2006-2008 RAV4, 2006-2010 Yaris and 2009-2010 Pontiac Vibe. If the air bags deactivate, they could fail to deploy after a crash.

• 472,500 small cars with defective springs in the front seat rails, which could prevent the seats from locking in place. Included are the 2006-2010 Yaris hatchback, 2007-2010 Yaris sedan and the 2008-2010 Scion XD.

Toyota said it is currently working on remedies for the problems. Dealers will replace the defective parts for free when replacement parts are available.

The Pontiac Vibe, which is made by General Motors Co., is included in the recall because Toyota designed and engineered it for GM when the two companies shared a factory in California. GM says 40,500 Vibes will be recalled, and says GM dealers will make repairs when Toyota sends them the parts.

The air bag issue is unrelated to a separate GM recall of 2 electronic check payday advance.6 million vehicles for an ignition switch defect that can also deactivate the air bags. The Vibe isn’t included in that recall.

Toyota said no injuries or crashes have been reported related to the recalls.

By region, the recall affects 2.3 million vehicles in North America, 1.09 million vehicles in Japan and 810,000 vehicles in Europe. Other regions affected by the recall include Africa, South America and the Middle East.

The recall is one of Toyota’s largest since 2009 and 2010, when the company issued a series of recalls totaling more than 10 million vehicles for various problems including faulty brakes, sticky gas pedals and ill-fitting floor mats.

Toyota is under pressure to announce recalls quickly after a U.S. government investigation found it hid information about past defects. Last month, the company agreed to pay $1.2 billion to settle that investigation. It also paid fines totaling $66 million to the U.S. government for delays in reporting unintended acceleration problems.

The company says it has “made fundamental changes to become a more responsive and customer-focused organization, and we are committed to continued improvements.”

AP Auto Writer Dee-Ann Durbin contributed from Detroit. 

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April 8, 2014

Railroads stress safety after deaths up in 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized, economics — Tags: , , , — ManInBlack @ 6:08 pm

OMAHA, Neb. • Railroads are launching a new campaign to highlight the dangers of being near train tracks after a spike in rail deaths last year.

At this time last year, the railroads were proudly calling 2012 their safest year ever as derailments and crossing accidents kept declining. But last year, the number of trespassing deaths rose by 47, or 11 percent, to 476, and the number of deaths in accidents increased nearly 8 percent to 250.

Although the rates vary from year to year and there are only theories to explain last year’s increase, it prompted federal regulators to develop a public campaign aimed at reducing accidents. Ads being released Tuesday are focusing on how people and vehicles stand no chance against a train.

“We need to make sure people understand the danger they’re putting themselves in on the rails,” said Joyce Rose, CEO of Operation Lifesaver, a nonprofit dedicated to educating people about railroad hazards.

It’s difficult to determine what was behind the death increase in 2013, but Rose believes it may be related to smartphones and other electronic devices.

“We’re a distracted population,” Rose said.

The main television commercial for the new campaign, dubbed “See Tracks? Think Train,” shows a young man walking on railroad tracks while wearing headphones and not realizing a train is coming.

Mark Kalina, who lost parts of both legs in a train accident, supports the message.

The 24-year-old said he knew he made a bad decision when he tried to walk around a stopped train to get to his apartment in Columbus, Ohio, after he’d been out with friends in October 2012. The train started moving, and Kalina’s shirt got caught. But after climbing aboard the train to free his shirt, Kalina fell under the train.

Kalina, who hopes to return to Ohio State in the fall to compete his degree, wants others to learn from his mistake.

“It just takes one bad time to possibly end your life,” Kalina said.

The effort is also backed by the Association of American Railroads trade group, major railroads and the Federal Railroad Administration.

Despite the increase in deaths in 2013, regulators note that railroad safety has significantly improved over the past decade by most measures. Between 2004 and 2013, for example, the number of trespassing deaths went up about 3 percent.

The Federal Railroad Administration said the number of injuries and deaths from trespassing fluctuates from year to year based on factors such as construction near train tracks or increased vehicle and pedestrian traffic.

Kansas City Southern railroad engineer Russ W. Fletcher said he hopes this campaign will help people make better decisions at railroad crossings and around train tracks. He noted that railroad employees involved in accidents, especially fatal ones, also are affected.

“The memories never go away,” said Fletcher, who lives in Joplin, Mo. “It’s horrific for everyone.”

The 58-year-old veteran railroad engineer said he has even had near misses with police officers who disobey train crossing signals.

“We have very intelligent people making a bad decision every day,” Fletcher said.

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April 7, 2014

Pope Francis gives faithful pocket-sized copies of the Gospels

Filed under: management, money — Tags: , , , — ManInBlack @ 3:12 am

VATICAN CITY—Tens of thousands of faithful in St. Peter’s Square have been treated to gifts from Pope Francis: pocket-sized copies of the Gospels which he hopes they’ll keep handy and read daily.

The scriptures were handed out by volunteers after the Pope’s traditional Sunday appearance to pilgrims and tourists in the square payday loan companies.

The Pope did ask for something in return, telling them: “In exchange for this gift, perform an act of charity.” He said such an act might be praying for an enemy, for example.

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April 2, 2014

Gov’t says new rule to make power-plant work safer

Filed under: Uncategorized, term — Tags: , , , — ManInBlack @ 5:48 am

WASHINGTON (AP) — The government is mandating new safety regulations that it says will help protect workers on electrical power plants and transmission lines.

Assistant Labor Secretary David Michaels says the update to 40-year-old safety standards could save nearly 20 lives and prevent 118 serious injuries each year. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration estimates that 74 workers die each year from accidents in these industries.

The agency says the new rules will require better fall protection for workers on poles and towers, protective clothing for some workers and training to avoid electrical hazards easy pay day loans.

OSHA announced Tuesday that the new rules will take effect 90 days after being published. Publication is scheduled for April 11.

OSHA has been working on the rules for about a decade.

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March 28, 2014

Average US 30-year mortgage rate rises to 4.40 pct

Filed under: online, small business — Tags: , , , — ManInBlack @ 9:48 am

WASHINGTON (AP) — Average U.S. rates on fixed mortgages rose this week in the wake of comments by Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen suggesting that the Fed could start raising short-term interest rates by mid-2015.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac says the average rate for the 30-year loan increased to 4.40 percent from 4.32 percent last week. The average for the 15-year mortgage rose to 3.42 percent from 3.32 percent.

A key home-price index showed Tuesday a robust 13.2 percent increase in January compared with 12 months earlier cash advance to savings account. But the Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller 20-city index was down from a 13.4 percent increase in 2013 and was the second straight decline.

There have been signs recently that the home-sales market could pick up in the coming months.

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March 8, 2014

Malaysian airlines missing plane: Vietnam spots oil slicks; Canadians on board named

Filed under: Uncategorized, legal — Tags: , , , — ManInBlack @ 10:32 pm

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA—Vietnamese air force planes on Saturday spotted two large oil slicks in the area where a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 vanished earlier in the day, the first sign that the aircraft carrying 239 people on board, including two Canadians, had crashed.

The air force planes were part of a multinational search operation launched after Flight MH370 fell off radar screens less than an hour after it took off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing early Saturday morning.

A Vietnamese government statement said the slicks were spotted late Saturday off the southern tip of Vietnam and were each between 10 kilometres and 15 kilometres long. There was no confirmation that the slicks were related to the missing plane, but the statement said they were consistent with the kinds that would be produced by the two fuel tanks of a crashed jetliner.

Two-thirds of the missing plane’s passengers were from China, while others were from elsewhere in Asia, North America and Europe.

Two Canadians, Muktesh Mukherjee, 42 and Xiaimo Bai, 37, have been confirmed by a Malaysia Airlines manifest as passengers on that flight. Both are listed as married on Bai’s Facebook page and have two small children.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper tweeted Saturday morning regarding the couple and all other missing from the flight, saying, “Our thoughts & deepest prayers are with those affected by the disappearance of the plane in Malaysia. #cdnpoli”

Our thoughts & deepest prayers are with those affected by the disappearance of the plane in Malaysia. #cdnpoli

March 2, 2014

Lampert seeks real estate sizzle by shearing Sears name

Filed under: Canada, uk — Tags: , , , — ManInBlack @ 10:12 am

Seritage Realty Trust’s website offers illustrations of gleaming retail properties featuring parking lots filled with cars and shoppers, promising locations “in virtually every major U.S. market.”

It’s not immediately obvious that Seritage is connected to Sears, the department-store chain struggling to attract shoppers and shake off a reputation for dilapidated locations.

The 200-plus Sears and Kmart stores listed on the Seritage website are part of an effort by CEO Eddie Lampert to turn around the Hoffman Estates, Ill.-based company.

Analysts value the real estate portfolio at $4 billion to $7 billion.

Sears established Seritage in March as a separate legal entity with headquarters in Greenwich, Conn.

Sears declined to say why the website doesn’t identify its parent. Another real estate website, set up before Seritage, makes clear that it belongs to the company.

Analysts  speculate that Sears may be planning to spin off Seritage into a real estate investment trust.

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February 28, 2014

Living wage for Toronto contains pitfalls, economists say

Filed under: loans, uk — Tags: , , , — ManInBlack @ 7:40 pm

Ontario’s minority Liberals recently unveiled a plan to hike the minimum wage to $11, in what would be the first increase to the hourly rate since a freeze was imposed four years ago.

New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath proposed a counterplan on Tuesday, saying her party would initially raise the wage from $10.25 to $11, followed by a jump to $11.50 on June 1, 2015, and $12 one year later.

But outside of provincial legislation, should Toronto adopt a living wage where municipal workers, and those contracted by the city, are paid even more? Or is the argument for raising the minimum wage/setting a living one misguided?

In a Feb. 15 Star Big Ideas piece, Trish Hennessy, director of Ontario’s Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, argued that Toronto should adopt a resolution to pay all city employees $16.60 an hour.

“$16.60 an hour is by no means extravagant, but it would lift a Toronto worker above the poverty line,” Hennessy wrote, adding “any employer could voluntarily decide to pay a living wage. It can lower staff turnover costs, because a happy worker is a loyal one.”

The $16.60 figure goes above and beyond the $14 minimum wage proposed by many poverty advocates, as well as a report released Thursday intended to address youth unemployment and underemployment.

But many economists take issue with minimum/living wage arguments based on the poverty line, saying the connection between the working poor and the base hourly rate is not so straightforward.

“Most people who earn the minimum wage don’t work full-time hours,” said Mike Moffatt, a business, economics and public policy professor at Western University’s Ivey Business School. As a result, raising their wages doesn’t necessarily have a large impact.

Moffatt added that many people who earn minimum wage — such as teenagers living at home and saving for college, or semi-retired people maintaining a job as a hobby — should not be considered “working poor.”

In her Star article, Hennessy referenced Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s plans for a $15 hourly wage for municipal employees. She also mentioned New Westminster, B.C., which became Canada’s first “living wage” city in 2011 at $19.62 an hour, nearly double the provincial rate.

Although Moffatt can see the benefits in such initiatives, he said a city cannot simply start budgeting more for wages without ramifications elsewhere.

“Either taxes have to go up, or less services have to be offered,” he said. “And in today’s political climate, we’re seeing it’s very difficult for municipal governments to significantly raise taxes.”

Seattle may be the exception, he said, if the population is willing to pay, but otherwise it’s reduced services: “There’s no free lunch here.”

For economist Stephen Gordon, the minimum-wage debate is a distraction, one effectively used by governments which cannot, or will not, create initiatives to directly address poverty.

“It doesn’t require raising taxes or making the case for using public money,” he said. “It doesn’t cost them anything, but it looks like they’ve done something.”

Gordon noted raising wages can help those who are poor, “but it’s a blunt instrument: some people get it but it’s not targeted very well.”

As for a City of Toronto living wage, Gordon argued “it’s extremely unlikely that these people are in poverty.”

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