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August 31, 2012

Stocks: Good news is bad news

Filed under: loans, technology — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 8:56 am

U.S. stocks fell Thursday as a string of positive economic reports dimmed hopes that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke would announce new stimulus on Friday.

The Dow Jones industrial average, the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq lost between 0.8% and 1%.

Analysts said a steady string of positive economic indicators this week — including a report that the U.S. economy grew slightly faster than initially reported as well as signals that the housing market is recovery — is dashing expectations that Bernanke will come out strong on support for new economic stimulus during his Jackson Hole, Wyo., speech tomorrow.

Although Thursday’s jobless claims report wasn’t as good as economists expected, the news wasn’t as bad as it could have been, either. A separate report showed that both personal income and spending rose in July.

“Jackson Hole is the elephant in the room today, as the market is starting to adjust its expectations that QE3 might not happen,” said Doug Cote, chief market strategist at ING Investment Management. “Investors aren’t digesting that the economic fundamentals are strong and that we don’t need it. Instead, they’re focusing on the fact that they don’t want the punchbowl taken away.”

Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta President Dennis Lockhart further cooled stimulus expectations, telling CNBC Thursday that he sees “limited benefits from more action.” However, he added that there “wouldn’t be much of a question about policy” should the climate worsen.

Europe remained in focus Thursday, following an auction of 5- and 10-year Italian bonds. Italy’s borrowing costs fell, signaling that investors are more confident that the European Central Bank will stage a major intervention in the bond market.

A Wednesday op-ed by ECB president Mario Draghi added to that optimism, as he reiterated that “exceptional measures” are justified to stabilize financial markets. The ECB will hold its next policy meeting on Sept. 6 and investors are keen to hear Draghi’s plans.

World Markets: European stocks closed in the red Thursday. Britain’s FTSE 100 shed 0.4%, the DAX in Germany fell 1.6% and France’s CAC 40 edged lower 1%.

The European Commission’s Economic Sentiment Indicator fell in August, as European consumers continue to lose confidence in the eurozone, particularly when it comes to retail trade and construction managers.

The Business Climate Indicator, however, edged higher, helped by an improvement in managers’ assessments of exports and past production Same day payday loans.

Meanwhile, Asian markets ended lower Thursday. The Shanghai Composite was flat, while the Hang Seng in Hong Kong lost 1.2%, and Japan’s Nikkei fell 1%.

Economy: The U.S. Labor Department reported that number of Americans filing for first-time unemployment claims totaled 374,000 during the week ending August 25, unchanged from the previous week’s revised figure. Claims were expected to total 370,000, according to a survey of analysts conducted by Briefing.com.

The Bureau of Economic Analsysis said personal income increased $42.3 billion, or 0.3%, in July, in line with Briefing.com’s consensus.

Personal consumption expenditures increased $46 billion, or 0.4%, for the month. That was slightly below the 0.5% increase expected by economists polled by Briefing.com.

Companies: The Nasdaq and S&P 500 were being dragged lower by , Fortune 500), which is getting kicked out of the S&P 500 next week. ), which manufactures chemicals and refines crude oil, will replace Sears, when it leaves the S&P 500 after the closing bell on Sept. 4.

) shares jumped 14%, as the music streaming service said it broke even in its most recent quarter.

) named Antony Jenkins as the bank’s new chief executive Thursday morning. Jenkins currently leads Barclays retail and business banking business. Former Barclays CEO Bob Diamond resigned in July amid a scandal over the manipulation of Libor rates. Shares of the bank were edged lower.

Same-store sales data from several leading retailers, including , Fortune 500), , Fortune 500), , Fortune 500) and , Fortune 500), exceeded expectations.

A voluntary recall of Mr. Coffee Single Cup Brewing System Units prompted ) to clarify that the recall will not have an impact on its Keurig brewers. Despite the fact that the recall will not affect Green Mountain’s brand, shares of the company fell by 3.4% Thursday.

Shares of network equipment maker ) fell 19.5% following disappointing second-quarter earnings.

Currencies and commodities: The dollar rose against the euro, but lost ground against the British pound and the Japanese yen.

Oil for October delivery fell by 94 cents to settle at $94.62 a barrel.

Gold futures for December delivery lost $5.90 to end at $1,657.10 an ounce.

Bonds: The price on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury rose, pushing the yield down to 1.61% from 1.65% late Wednesday.

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August 27, 2012

Facebook launches speedy new mobile app

Filed under: canada, legal — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 5:56 am

Heads down, keep focused. Hack, hack, hack. Done is better than perfect.

These are all mantras painted on the walls of Facebook’s Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters.

On Tuesday, we visited the company to check out their latest creation: an overhaul of Facebook’s iOS app for iPhones and iPads. It’s intended to fix the complaint heard around the world: the app’s glacially slow loading time.

“The app is actually a complete re-write of Facebook for iOS,” product manager Mick Johnson told us as he scrolled through the new version. “It’s up to twice as fast as what’s out there on the marketplace.”

Beginning Thursday, users can upgrade. The , Fortune 500) app is the first to launch; Facebook wouldn’t comment on when its Android and other mobile apps might get a revamp.

We tested out the new iPhone version. It looks very similar, but its loading time is noticeably faster on three fronts: when you initially open it, when you scroll through the newsfeed, and when you open a photo from the newsfeed.

There are also updated design features, including a ripple effect when you “like” a post. Comments, status updates and a map that displays check-ins appear in real time. The Facebook crew created a shortcut for swiping through pictures and comments, and integrated Facebook’s standalone messenger application.

Facebook has always had a “users first” mentality — the company hates to change its interface in ways that will clutter up or reduce the experience. That approach helped Facebook grow to nearly 1 billion users. As a newly public company, though, it’s now feeling intense pressure from shareholders to grow its advertising revenue.

) has 543 million monthly mobile users, and it makes almost no money from them. That has to change.

“We believe the future is mobile,” Facebook product director Peter Deng told CNNMoney. “The way we think about this idea of monetization is similar to how we approached it on the website, where ever since the beginning, our goal has been to add value to the world.”

Facebook’s executives wouldn’t get into specifics, beyond some vague nods toward the “value in letting businesses connect with their customers,” as Deng put it.

Facebook’s time as a public company has been rocky, but a visit to the company’s new Menlo Park headquarters shows that its hacker ethos is still firmly in place.

Stop off at one of the campus’s coffee shops and you’ll see buckets of markers near the register for anyone who feels like drawing on the walls. Vending machines are filled with keyboards, power chargers, and any other device a tech geek might need.

In Facebook’s Hacker Square, CEO Mark Zuckerberg strolled past with a colleague, chatting intently. It’s the same place where three months ago he rang Nasdaq’s opening bell, kicking off one of the largest — and most problematic — IPOs in Internet-business history.

Ask around at Facebook and insiders at Facebook will say that IPO and falling stock price are rarely talked about.

Some of that stems from a gag order: Engineers have been warned to steer clear of any comments or speculation. But it’s also cultural. Tall blue chairs in the office have the word “hack” emblazoned across the back, and Zuckerberg’s hacker manifesto echoes throughout the campus.

As one sign on the wall puts it: “Good things come to those who work their asses off and never give up.”

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August 21, 2012

State unemployment rates rise in 44 states

Filed under: canada, mortgage — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 6:56 am

The state unemployment picture worsened last month, with jobless rates creeping higher in 44 states, according to a government report released Friday.

Only two states and the District of Columbia saw unemployment rates edge lower in July, while four states saw no change in rates, according to the Labor Department’s monthly report on state unemployment.

That’s worse than the previous month, when far fewer states recorded increases in unemployment rates. In June, jobless rates rose in 27 states, while 11 states and the District of Columbia reported rate declines and 12 states had no change.

Nevada, a swing state in the upcoming presidential election, posted the highest unemployment rate last month, at 12%. Rhode Island and California followed, with rates of 10.8% and 10.7%. North Dakota, where an oil boom has led to a flurry of new jobs, had the lowest unemployment rate in the country last month, at 3%.

Among key swing states this election, six states reported that their unemployment rates rose last month: Virginia, Florida, Colorado, Nevada, New Hampshire and Iowa low fee payday loans. Ohio’s unemployment rate was unchanged at 7.2%.

Wisconsin, which CNN moved into the toss-up column Thursday, posted a rise in unemployment to 7.3% from 7%.

Compared to the same month a year ago, only three states have jobless rates of 10% or higher, down significantly from 10 states and the District of Columbia last year. Overall, 44 states and the District of Columbia have lower jobless rates than a year ago.

Earlier this month, the government’s widely watched monthly jobs report showed that employers added 163,000 jobs in July, but the jobless rate increased to 8.3%. According to the state unemployment report released Friday, 23 states posted rates below that national rate last month, while 8 states had higher rates.

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August 14, 2012

How YouTube escaped Google’s anti-piracy search crackdown

Filed under: management, news — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 5:56 pm

In a new campaign that started Monday, Google is cracking down on copyright violators that show up in its search results. But at least one site that hosts a mother lode of pirated material won’t see much of a change: Google’s own YouTube.

As part of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, copyright holders can request that Google take down search links to URLs that point to pirated material. , Fortune 500) is adjusting its search algorithm to factor in the number of take-down requests it receives.

“Sites with high numbers of removal notices may appear lower in our results,” Amit Singhal, Google’s head of engineering, said in a blog post. “This ranking change should help users find legitimate, quality sources of content more easily.”

The websites most likely to be ranked lower in Google’s search are sites like FilesTube and torrentHound, which topped Google’s take-down request list last month. Both sites give users ways to download copyrighted material for free. They’re pretty blatant — torrentHound even advertises pirated copies of in-theaters movies like The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spider-Man.

YouTube also hosts a huge amount of pirated material and receives numerous take-down requests; Google wouldn’t discuss the exact number. However, YouTube is expected to emerge unscathed from Google’s search change.

Google insists there’s nothing nefarious going on. The company puts each website it crawls through about 200 different filters, and both YouTube and torrentHound are subjected to the same exact screening. YouTube’s heft — and the fact that millions rely on it for completely legal video-swapping — will keep it from sinking in the search rankings.

Google wouldn’t detail how its various ranking tests work, but a company spokesman said the intent is to promote the sites that users want to go to, including YouTube and other popular, user-generated content sites like ), Tumblr and , Fortune 500)’s IMDB.

Google is being especially cautious about this subject, since the company is the target of ongoing antitrust investigations in both the United States and Europe. Those probes are looking at whether Google unfairly promotes its own content above its rivals.

That may be one reason why Google is holding its own sites, including YouTube and Blogger, to extra-strict standards.

When tallying up the number of take-down requests for its own sites, Google is counting both the search-related take-down requests it receives as well as YouTube and Blogger’s own, separate copyright-related take-down requests. That’s something Google can’t do for sites like Facebook or Tumblr, since it doesn’t have access to take-down requests sent to those companies.

Even with that exaggerated number, Google said YouTube’s search results rankings shouldn’t appear much different than they have in the past.

“It’s not because we’re hand-picking anything,” a Google spokesman said. “Generally speaking, we’re about promoting what’s relevant to our users.”

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August 7, 2012

Visas come up short for entrepreneurs

Filed under: economics, term — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 9:28 am

Even as the economy has slowed, the nation’s visa system remains a high hurdle for foreigners who want to start businesses and create jobs in the United States.

Few viable options exist for entrepreneurs eager to come to America, and those that do offer little predictability.

For example, the investor visa carries a $1 million price tag — too high for most aspiring small business owners. And the so-called executive visa requires immigrants to start a firm abroad and create a U.S. subsidiary.

For those who want to launch in the United States, the principal route is through E-2 visas. But they’re available only to people in certain nations, prohibiting entry from the world’s most promising countries, such as Brazil, India and China. Also, they must be renewed every few years and offer no path to permanent residency.

Related: Immigrants file most patents at top schools

The U.S. policies are at odds with other countries that are opening doors for entrepreneurs. They have the ideas, build the companies, create the jobs. Why not invite them in?

Chile does it by offering $40,000 of equity-free capital and temporary visas. Singapore sets a low bar for "EntrePasses" and creates an avenue for residency.

Meanwhile, the U.S. immigration system can be openly hostile, say business owners, advocates and lawyers.

For a British couple who came in 1995 to manage a hotel and restaurant in Missouri, it might mean soon sending their eldest daughter back to a country she barely knows.

Ali and Ian Gray came on E-2 visas, and the program allowed them to bring Lauren, then four years old. She grew up on the flat plains, was a cheerleader in high school and studied dance at a nearby women’s college.

But she will no longer be able to stay on her parents’ visa as of Wednesday, when she turns 21. She can try and get her own visa but she’s been on that list since she was 12. The U.S. immigration system is so backlogged she’s still in line.

"It’s just not right and not fair. I am an American," Lauren said. "I had so many plans here, so many options, so many connections. I’m going to have to learn an entire new culture.

No consideration is given to her family’s economic contribution to the tiny Midwestern town of Trenton, where they’ve doubled the staff at the Lakeview Motor Lodge and Restaurant to 30.

In a last-ditch effort, Lauren and her mother traveled to Washington, D.C., last week to meet with congressional staffers to plead for a solution. They faced resistance.

"It’s so frustrating," Lauren Gray said. "They know the system is broken, but they still enforce it. No one seems to think anything can be changed, so they’ve given up."

The family is trying to get an exemption, but it’s still uncertain.

For entrepreneurs with an eye toward the United States, it’s an ominous warning: You can come here and hire Americans, but expect no gratitude.

Another problem with the E-2 visa is that renewals aren’t guaranteed.

A married couple from Ireland that owns a restaurant in New England experienced that first hand earlier this year.

In February, they returned to Ireland to renew their visas, as they had done every two years for almost a decade. While there, U.S. immigration officials denied the renewal and wouldn’t let them back in to shut their business. The restaurant, which had three employees, eventually closed.

It took six weeks and creative legal moves to get them in temporarily and reunite them with their children. They’ve asked to remain unnamed, fearing retribution in a system without recourse.

Related: Cinnabon is first U.S. franchise in Libya

Still, the E-2 visa program is popular. Since 2009, at least 33,000 applications have been filed every year; on average, 25,926 visas were issued annually. But its narrow options "discourage investment," said Brent Renison, a Portland, Ore., immigration attorney representing the Grays.

"People need to be assured that if they’re putting all this money into the United States, they can stay here," Renison said.

The U.S. State Department, which issues visas, told CNNMoney it can only follow orders from Congress.

A proposal that seeks to change that was introduced in a House bill in late July by Rep. John Conyers, a Democrat. It would offer green cards to business owners here on E-2 visas who hire at least five Americans.

The bill’s Republican co-sponsor, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, said it starts to chip away at a system that is broken "top to bottom."

"If we fix legal immigration, the country will be better off," Chaffetz said. "It’s good for our economy, and it’s good for our vitality."

However, it’s doubtful whether Congress can come together to address an issue as divisive and complex as immigration, especially during an election year. 

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August 6, 2012

Romney promises 12 million jobs in four years

Filed under: canada, mortgage — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 5:56 am

Mitt Romney’s economic advisers issued a rosy set of projections Thursday that predict 12 million new jobs and a sharp economic expansion if the Republican candidate were to capture the White House.

The paper, authored by four conservative economists, projects that the Romney plan would add between 0.5% and 1% per year in gross domestic product growth over the next decade.

The estimates, the economists write, are "conservative." Growth could be even stronger if hard-to-model gains from more effective regulation and decreased policy uncertainty could be captured.

Yet 12 million new jobs over just four years would be one of the strongest periods of employment growth in recent history, and require the economy to consistently add 250,000 jobs every 30 days for 48 straight months.

According to the position paper, the quick turnaround would be spurred by the lower tax rates and drastic spending cuts that are the hallmark of Romney’s plan.

The implementation of Romney’s plan will of course require the cooperation of Congress, and it should be noted that presidential campaigns often make promises that fail to materialize.

The paper’s authors — Glenn Hubbard of Columbia, Greg Mankiw of Harvard, John Taylor of Stanford and Kevin Hassett of the American Enterprise Institute — also include a boilerplate critique of the Obama administration’s policies.

"America took a wrong turn in economic policy in the past three years," the authors write. "The United States underperformed the historical norm shown in the administration’s own forecasts, and its policies are to blame."

Much of the critique is focused on what the authors characterize as a pursuit of short-term patches — such as the stimulus — that failed to address deep-seated structural problems like an overly complicated tax code cheapest personal loan rates.

The paper criticizes Obama’s housing policies, for example, saying the administration "ignored" the weak market. But Romney has not offered a detailed alternative — and the paper does not shed any light on the candidate’s plan for the housing market.

And while the projections are spelled out in detail, the paper does not address any of the bubbling criticisms of Romney’s economic plan.

Related: Mitt Romney’s other tax secret

According to a study released Wednesday by the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, Romney’s plan would provide large tax cuts to the very wealthy, while increasing the tax burden on the lower and middle classes.

Romney’s tax cuts would produce a $360 billion revenue loss in 2015, and offsetting that would require a reduction of 65% of all available tax expenditures, according to the study.

The end result is that individuals who make less than $200,000 would actually have to pay $500 more, on average, in taxes — a 1.2% decrease in after-tax income. Meanwhile, the after-tax income of individuals who make more than $1 million would increase by 4.1%.

The campaign disputed the Tax Policy Center’s conclusions, arguing that increased growth resulting from corporate tax reductions was not included.

The Tax Policy Center, meanwhile, said it could not score the plan directly, as "certain components of [Romney’s] plan are not specified in sufficient detail."

The notable lack of detail is a critique that has dogged the campaign for months.

On the spending side of the government ledger, for example, Romney has promised to reduce federal spending from 24% of gross domestic product to 20%. But has not offered a comprehensive list of programs he would cut. 

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August 1, 2012

Manchester United IPO ranks team world’s most valuable

Filed under: Uncategorized, loans — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 10:28 am

The British soccer team Manchester United has filed for an initial public offering that would cement the team’s standing as the world’s most valuable sports franchise.

The IPO would trade at $16 to $20 a share and value the team at $2.6 billion to $3.3 billion. Overall, the IPO would value the team well above the $1.47 billion paid by its owners in a debt-financed takeover battle that concluded in 2005.

Shares are expected to start trading next week on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol MANU.

Despite the team’s popularity and success, the company was not very profitable last year. The stock would trade at a valuation even pricier than the IPO of Facebook ().

One expert, Francis Gaskins, president IPOdesktop.com, called the IPO price tag "awfully high" considering that the company’s revenue is growing only 6% annually in recent years. He said the valuation is one commonly associated with a fast-growing tech company.

"I wouldn’t buy it," he said.

The values of sports franchises are often inflated by owners willing to overpay for the glory of controlling a team.

The Los Angeles Dodgers, which Forbes estimated was worth $1.4 billion, was recently bought out of bankruptcy for $2.15 billion. ManU is already the world’s most valuable sports team, estimated to be worth $1.9 billion, just ahead of a $1.85 billion estimates for both the New York Yankees and the Dallas Cowboys high quality business cards.

And the few teams that have been publicly traded in the past have not been great investments. The stocks of the Boston Celtics, the Cleveland Indians and the Florida Panthers all performed badly during their brief runs in public markets.

ManU is already taking steps to increase revenue and profits. On Monday it signed a seven-year deal with General Motors (, Fortune 500) to have its players wear the Chevrolet logo on their uniforms for a reported £27 million a year, starting in 2014, up from the £20 million annually that insurer Aon (, Fortune 500) is paying for the current deal.

SI.com’s soccer coverage

The team intends to use much of the proceeds it expects to raise in the IPO to reduce its debt, which are one of the biggest drags on a company’s earnings.

But only about half the shares are being sold by the club; the other half are being sold by the Glazer family, the American owners of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers who bought ManU in a debt-financed takeover battle 2005.

ManU’s American owners are very unpopular with many of the team’s fans. That has made the IPO, especially the decision to trade in New York rather than London, extremely unpopular with fans as well. 

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