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September 29, 2014

New Zealand dollar sinks after central bank sells

Filed under: Uncategorized, business — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 5:16 am

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The New Zealand dollar sank Monday after the central bank disclosed it conducted its biggest sell-off of the currency in seven years to lower an exchange rate that is squeezing exporters.

Data released by the Reserve Bank showed it sold 521 million New Zealand dollars ($410 million) during August. That came after the central bank governor, Graeme Wheeler, said the currency was too strong.

The disclosure pushed the currency known as the Kiwi down nearly 2 percent against the U.S. dollar to its lowest level in over a year before it recovered slightly to trade at $0.78. The currency has dropped 12 percent since July, when the central bank announced it was suspending its program of interest rate hikes.

The bank had earlier been the first among developed nations this year to begin hiking interest rates. It raised the benchmark rate four times to 3.5 percent as it tried to cool the economy, which had been growing at a relatively fast clip of 4 percent.

Even as rates were rising, farmers who play a key role in the economy were facing tougher times personal loans for people with bad credit. Wholesale dairy prices have fallen by more than 40 percent since February, prompting dairy giant Fonterra to last week announce a big cut in projected payouts to farmers over coming months.

Those farmers will be hoping for a boost from the central bank’s actions as a weaker dollar makes New Zealand exports more attractive abroad.

Wheeler has repeatedly said he believes the Kiwi is too high. He went further last week by releasing a statement saying conditions would justify intervention.

“The exchange rate has yet to adjust materially to the lower commodity prices,” he said. “Its current level remains unjustified and unsustainable. We expect a further significant depreciation, which should be reinforced as monetary policy in the U.S. begins to normalize.”


September 27, 2014

The Syrian Civil War has destroyed a family’s past

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


September 21, 2014

Toronto lowering its sights in mayoral search: James

Filed under: Uncategorized, mortgage — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 12:04 am

Remember that idea about electing a mayor we love, one who loves us, one who is prepared to engage the city in an adult conversation about a glorious future, one who’d emerge following a year-long examination that is a municipal election?

Forget it. Not happening. Not this time. Too much division. Too much distrust. Too much angst. Too much of too much.

On Oct. 27 Toronto will be electing a mayor who can get us beyond the most exhausting, debilitating, divisive and demoralizing period of our civic history. We may grow to love each other, mayor and people; but survival, not romance, is what’s driving this relationship.

That’s the painful reality less than six weeks from election day. This election is not about a vision for Toronto’s future; it’s about washing away the recent past. It’s not about policy and the public good; it’s about politics and public cleansing.

Then, after the healing, the city can look to dream again.

Even that undertaking will be strained and extremely difficult. So much had transpired for so long between the guardians of our democracy and the disenfranchised masses that neither side care to talk about the genesis of the fracture. And, more recently, so much has happened in so short a time that neighbours wonder if they know each other at all; families view each other with distrust, unable to fathom divergent perspectives on what was thought to be bedrock values and issues.

Just to mention names and issues is to break open raw wounds, so let’s keep it generic as much as possible and not point fingers.

Transportation is such a pressing and critical issue that nothing could keep it off the agenda. But just about everything else fades into feeble talking points. There’s a civic restlessness that mutes real and vigorous wrestling of the issues of our time — lack of housing, poverty, joblessness among youth, the excruciating marginalization of so many communities and demographics. Even the most ardent advocates have taken pause.

People are not stupid. Sometimes they are selfish and vote for their own personal self-interest. Mostly, they don’t pay attention. And yes, they do seem to want it both ways — subways for nothing, increased services but no tax hikes.

But stupid, they are not. Forced to pay attention, they get it — even if they don’t let on. Probe below what seems like selfishness about taxes and government and a complex construct emerges.

Just before the last election, a little-known opinion poll showed the complexity of the voting public. Asked what should be done with any savings found in the city budget, respondents chose “pay down the debt, fund more services, build infrastructure, cut taxes” in almost equal increments.

Yes, they want to stop government waste, but that is not fuelled by some anti-tax, anti-government movement no fax payday loans. Faced with cutbacks and a jobs squeeze and a cash crunch in their own lives, they want the fiscal behaviour at city hall to reflect their everyday reality. Upon further review, really, it seems like they would pay, if they somehow felt the person asking for added taxes has taken good care of the taxes already paid.

Everything depends on fiscal credibility.

Several elections ago, a city administration looked for ways to spend money and — placed in the most positive light — to improve city services. That was replaced by the current regime that looked for ways to curtail spending. One regime, in effect, spawned the other.

I don’t detect any desire to countenance another debate about waste. The raw anger of four years ago has dissipated. But there is no desire to splurge. With the history of the last 10 years, fiscal discipline is the essential starting point. A first principle. Prove that and citizens will travel with you down the road to more taxes. But they must be convinced. And once they are, this big adult discussion — all the wonderful stuff about a livable metropolis — can take place.

Focus groups tell the campaign managers that voters want attention to infrastructure — build something, subway, LRT, just get on with it. They are not aching for a grand vision for a great city by the lake.

They do not relish a campaign message promising more taxes; and it’s not that they want to be lied to. It’s more complex than that. Give them the unvarnished truth and you won’t get elected. But, get elected; show fiscal responsibility; earn credibility; and they’ll consider taxes you recommend.

How do we know?

The current mayor promised subways without taxes. He levied a subway tax. And nobody revolted. There was barely a peep of protest because citizens felt he saved them money so if he is levying taxes it must be unavoidable in order to deliver something the citizens desire.

As such, on October 27 we are electing a mayor that gives us a general comfort that he or she understands our angst about the cost of government. And someone who understands the second inviolable requirement: a mayor who can govern the city and lead city council — without the drama.

People aren’t stupid. Essentially, they want a mayor with three basic characteristics: fiscal credibility, personal integrity, and ability to unite suburb and downtown, left and right, rich and poor in constructing a great city. Current circumstances prevent them from getting past the first two.

That’s all this election is about. The vision will have to wait.


September 19, 2014

Pay hike on its way for SSM Health employees

Filed under: Uncategorized, legal — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 9:08 am

The holiday season could be a happy one for a vast majority of SSM Health’s employees across the health system’s four-state footprint.

The Creve Coeur-based nonprofit health care provider says it will increase eligible employees’ salaries by 2 percent starting this November, crediting the success of a cost-cutting initiative that began last fall.

In a letter sent to employees Sept. 12, CEO Bill Thompson wrote: “We are committed to providing fair and market-competitive salaries and benefits to our employees. It is also one of the reasons we have been working so hard to achieve our budget and end the year with strong financial performance. ”

The customary annual raises were temporarily suspended for eligible employees in 2014 as the health system tried to steer its finances back to black. Employees who missed their scheduled pay raise period (for most, that would have been in May), they’ll receive a lump sum come November to make up for the lost wage hike.

SSM employs 30,000 individuals, and those eligible for the pay increase include part-time employees, clinicians, managers and executives. New hires are excluded.

The boost in take-home pay comes on the heels of SSM’s success with a $150 million cost reduction plan that was implemented late last year to improve finances heading into fiscal 2014. Last year the health system posted a $74.3 million loss.

“To state the obvious, we exceeded our plan’s goals,” said Kris Zimmer, senior vice president of finance for SSM, said of the wage increase.

Through the six months ended June 30 operating income was $82.3 million, compared with a $1.3 million operating loss during the same period last year, a financial statement shows.


A big chunk of the cost-cutting plan revolved around reducing overhead costs, which included eliminating 586 positions last October, restructuring management and reevaluating outsourced services.

One of the larger changes under the umbrella of cutting overhead costs was the decision to bring the legal team in-house. That represented a $4 million savings across its entire system throughout Illinois, Wisconsin, Missouri and Oklahoma this year alone, Zimmer said payday loan lenders.

Locally, bringing legal in-house meant Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale lost some of its business with SSM. Greensfelder spokesman Steve Houston said no jobs were cut as a result of SSM’s move. Zimmer said SSM will use Greensfelder on an as-needed basis for “highly specialized” cases.

Other gains were made by improving the way payments are collected, which Zimmer said stemmed from better documentation of the care that was provided to improve reimbursement from payers like federal and state governments.


Also, this year SSM began offering patients interest-free loans in partnership with Commerce Bank to better collect unpaid medical bills.

The health system is also working to better predict staffing needs to reduce overtime pay. And the health system is working to better align the physician practices they’ve acquired over the years, a move that helps cut costs as those independent businesses can utilize the economies of scale the health system has to offer.

Earlier this month, the Post-Dispatch reported the health system had decided to change its name to SSM Health; dropping the “care” from its name. Currently, the entire system has more than 100 names, logos and brands. Rolling out one name and one logo for the entire system will eventually reduce marketing costs, Zimmer said.


September 14, 2014

Anti-euro party polls well in German state votes

Filed under: Uncategorized, canada — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 2:52 pm

Updated at 11:44 a.m.

BERLIN • An exit poll indicates that an upstart anti-euro group has won seats in two more German state legislatures in regional elections.

The ARD television exit poll put support for the Alternative for Germany, or AfD, party at 10 percent or more in Sunday’s elections in the eastern states of Thuringia and Brandenburg. It won its first seats in a state legislature two weeks ago.

AfD advocates ending the euro in its current form but also has appealed to protest voters with tough talk on crime and immigration.

Other parties say they won’t govern with AfD.

It wasn’t clear whether a three-party alliance led by the Left Party, which has ex-communist roots, would have enough support to oust Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives from the governor’s office in Thuringia.


September 9, 2014

Stormy fall weather in southern Ontario forecast

Filed under: Uncategorized, news — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 7:16 pm

As a lukewarm summer draws to a close in the GTA, The Weather Network is warning people to brace for the “rollercoaster” of fall temperatures ahead.

The Canadian forecaster’s fall outlook said southern Ontario can expect a typical “transitional” fall weather pattern characterized by stretches of warm weather and sudden bouts of cold temperatures.

But Chris Scott, The Weather Network’s chief meteorologist, said the turning point in autumn weather patterns, around mid-October, could mark the start of a stormy couple of months for the GTA.

“Watch for more blasts of chilly air and potential for big fall storms,” Scott said. “We do think it’s going to be an active fall.”

The fall outlook cites a developing El Nino in the tropical Pacific Ocean combined with a cooler summer as cause for the potential for dips in the average temperature over the next couple of months.

Scott said southern Ontario residents can still expect to enjoy stretches of warm weather through Thanksgiving weekend, and are not in danger of seeing winter storms until the tail end of the season.

“We’re not in any danger of heading into mixing with snow or anything like Alberta’s getting anytime soon,” he said.

According to The Weather Network, Calgary was hit with between 5 and 15 cm of snow on Monday. Scott called Toronto’s fall forecast “tame” in comparison.

Unlike Sudbury, Barrie or areas north of the Oak Ridges Moraine, southern Ontarians can expect to be protected from early winter storms because of the “insulation factor” the Great Lakes provide. But if enough cold air sweeps through, it could mean snow is in the mix for storms in late November.


September 1, 2014

Markets drift as Wall Street has day off

Filed under: Uncategorized, legal — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 2:04 pm

LONDON (AP) — Ahead of a raft of economic developments this week, financial markets started the week on a lackluster note Monday as Wall Street was closed for the Labor Day holiday.

KEEPING SCORE: In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares closed up 0.1 percent at 6,825.31 while Germany’s DAX rose the same rate to 9,479.03. The CAC-40 in France ended a tad lower at 4,379.73. Earlier in Asia, China’s Shanghai Composite rose 0.8 percent to 2,235.51 points and Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 added 0.3 percent to 15,476.60. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng was marginally higher, adding 0.04 percent to 24,752.09.

UKRAINE: In Europe, the crisis in Ukraine remains a key source of interest for traders. On Monday, there were signs that a breakthrough may be in the offing as pro-Russian rebels appeared to soften their demand for full independence, saying they would respect Ukraine’s sovereignty in exchange for autonomy. The insurgents’ platform, released at the start of Monday’s negotiations in Minsk, the Belarusian capital, represented a significant change in their vision for the future of Ukraine’s eastern, mainly Russian-speaking region.

GLOBAL MANUFACTURING: There were some worrying signs however that the global manufacturing sector is waning. Two surveys showed China’s manufacturing growth slowed in August as export demand and investment weakened, raising expectations Beijing might launch more stimulus. HSBC Corp. said its purchasing manufacturers index fell to 50.2 from July’s 18-month high of 51.7 on a 100-point scale on which numbers above 50 show an expansion. An official industry group, the China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing, said its separate PMI declined to 51 no fax pay day loan.1 from 51.7. A similar picture emerged for the 18-country eurozone, with the August PMI from financial information company Markit down at a 13-month low of 50.7. On Tuesday, the Institute for Supply Management publishes its estimate for the U.S. economy.

EUROPE: Whether the weak economic indicators coming out of the eurozone will prompt the European Central Bank to enact further stimulus measures at its monthly policy meeting on Thursday remains open to question. Bank chief Mario Draghi called in a speech last month for fiscal policies to support growth, a departure from the ECB’s implicit support for austerity. No immediate steps are expected but the bank has begun work on a program to buy asset-backed securities.

EURO IN RETREAT: The crisis in Ukraine and weak eurozone economic data have combined to hurt the euro currency over the past few months. On Monday, it fell to a near year-low of $1.3119.

U.S. ECONOMY: After Thursday’s ECB meeting, traders will be fully focusing on the U.S. nonfarm payrolls report for August. The release often setts the market tone for a week or two after its release as traders try and work out when the Federal Reserve will start raising interest rates. Investor confidence over the U.S. economy has risen following several months of strong growth in hiring and corporate profits and a series of major corporate acquisitions.

ENERGY MARKETS: U.S. benchmark crude for October was down 25 cents at $95.71 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.


August 27, 2014

Why the Tim Hortons-Burger King deal boosted the Canadian dollar today

Filed under: Uncategorized, technology — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 7:48 pm

The Canadian dollar was higher Wednesday, benefitting from the major deal struck that will see American fast-food giant Burger King buy Canadian coffee-and-doughnut chain Tim Hortons for $12.5 billion.

The loonie rose 0.41 of a cent to 91.72 cents US.

The cash-and-stock deal will see the parent of the U.S. firm, 3G Capital, own 51 per cent of a new company, which will be the world’s third-largest quick service restaurant company.

The loonie has been pushed higher in the past by big corporate deals. That’s because a foreign buyer acquiring a Canadian company will need Canadian currency to close the deal, boosting demand for the loonie on financial markets.

Our double-doubles better not start tasting like double-singles: editorial

Traders also anticipated a strong economic growth update Friday when Statistics Canada releases the June reading on gross domestic product. Economists expect that GDP grew by 0.2 per cent in June, which would translate into annualized growth of 2.6 per cent.

And next Wednesday, the Bank of Canada releases its next decision on interest rates.

On the commodity markets, October crude in New York was up 22 cents to US$94.08 a barrel.

December copper was down a cent to US$3.21 a pound, while December bullion gained $1.30 to US$1,286.50 an ounce.


August 9, 2014

Financial health can be a matter of time, not smarts

Filed under: Uncategorized, management — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 6:28 pm

Conventional wisdom says the more you know about personal finance, the better off you’ll be at managing your money.

But a new survey suggests that knowledge alone is not enough. For your finances to be in good shape, you also need to be aware of something else: your attitude toward time.

Dwell too much on the past, present or future, and you could make decisions that are bad for your financial health, even if you know to do otherwise.

“Ideally, we’d all have happy memories, take time out in the present and plan for the future. But if you get out of whack in any one of those, bad things can happen,” said Nick Clements, co-author of the study and co-founder of MagnifyMoney, which reviews credit cards and other bank products.

Survey participants had to complete a “time personality” quiz developed by Philip Zimbardo, a professor emeritus of psychology at Stanford University and co-author of the study.

Participants were also scored on their financial smarts (say, whether they could calculate compound interest) and the state of their finances (for example, had they ever filed for bankruptcy). In all, 3,000 people in six countries, including Brazil, Germany and the U.S., participated.

The results showed that, despite your financial know-how, your time personality has a lot to do with how well you manage your money. Someone, for example, whose personality skews toward living it up today is often financially sick. You may understand how compound interest works, but the knowledge doesn’t help if you habitually overspend your paycheck.

On the flip side, you may think primarily about the future. But people who are too goal-oriented are often so harried by career and other obligations that they have little time to think through their financial options.

“It may be on your to-do list to buy insurance or invest in your 401(k),” Clements said. “But because you don’t have enough time, you rush through and make bad decisions.”

You might assume that young adults would fall into the camp of people who think too much about the present, the so-called hedonists, according to the survey. But that was not the case.

In fact, 25.3 percent of millennials have a past-negative personality: This group came of age about the time of the 2007-09 financial crisis, and the experience, colored by home foreclosures, big stock market losses and high rates of unemployment, dominates their financial decision-making.

In comparison, only 16.5 percent of baby boomers (people born from 1946 to 1964) were past negative in the study.

To get a sense of what your time personality is, take the quiz at After answering the questions, you’ll see where you fall on the time personality spectrum.

What if the results show you’re past negative? According to the survey, most millennials don’t rate themselves as being money-savvy. But those who land in this group tend to be financially healthy because they’re not taking the kinds of risks that can lead to bankruptcy or other money catastrophes.

Just keep in mind that too much caution can be a bad thing.

Without some risk, you may never be hired for that dream job or grow your savings into a comfortable nest egg. (A fact that young adults might appreciate more if they had more financial knowledge.)

Similarly, you don’t want to be so financially conservative that you forgo having any fun today.

Said Clements: “Think of Ebenezer Scrooge, sitting on a pile of gold coins. He is financially healthy, but you probably don’t want to be him.”

Carolyn Bigda is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.


August 5, 2014

Funeral homes sues family of teen killed at parade

Filed under: Uncategorized, loans — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 12:12 am

The family of the Brampton teen killed during last year’s Toronto Caribbean Carnival is being sued by a funeral home for what it claims is an unpaid debt of more than $15,000 from his extravagant burial service.

The total bill for the funeral at Scott Funeral Home in Brampton was $28,856.62, including $2,725 for limousines and other vehicles in the funeral procession, a $3,995 casket, $4,400 in catering and almost $1,500 in flowers. The invoice also included a $199 fee for an online obituary DVD and $999 for custom printing.

The relatives, in a statement of defence, claim that days after Rueshad Grant’s accidental death, Scott Funeral Home “induced” them to spare no expense by telling them that a lawsuit would pay for everything.

Neither side’s allegations have been tested in court.

Arbor Memorial, which owns the funeral home, did not respond specifically to the Star’s questions.

“Options and choices are presented and families choose what is meaningful to them,” vice-president Gary Carmichael wrote in an email. “For privacy reasons we do not discuss the specifics of any family’s arrangements with the media.”

Grant was killed when he was pulled under a float during last summer’s grand parade. Because the incident was considered a motor vehicle accident and no one in Grant’s family had car insurance, the only money for funeral costs came from the float driver’s insurance company, said the family’s lawyer, Rishi Singh Bhasin.

The family paid the funeral home $13,300, according to Arbor Memorial’s statement of claim. The family says $6,000 of that was received from the insurance payout and the balance was put on Rueshad’s grandmother’s credit card.

“It’s still being paid off,” said the teen’s mother, Shaundel Ramessar, who hasn’t been able to return to her job cleaning rooms at the Radisson since her son’s death.

In the statement of claim filed in Brampton in April, Scott Funeral Home is demanding Grant’s stepfather and grandmother pay the outstanding $15,556.62, plus $2,537.66 in interest.

Arbor Memorial’s statement of claim asserts that the company “contracted with the defendant to provide funeral services for the late Rueshad Grant . . . (and) therefore claims against the defendant the sum of $18,094.28,” along with any further interest and Arbor’s legal costs.

“From our understanding, we would have time to pay it off,” Ramessar told the Star in an interview. “Then they started running us down for the payments. At that time we weren’t expecting all this to happen. It was just a shock to us.”

In the statement of defence, the family alleges that an employee of the funeral home “advised the mother of deceased, Shaundell Grant, and (his step father) Robert Grant, that he knew a lawyer that could obtain a very large settlement for the Grants with the Scotia Bank and the City of Toronto.”

It goes on to allege that, “The actions of (the employee) were extremely deceptive and constitute a fraudulent misrepresentation … (The relatives) were vulnerable due to the recent loss of their family member and as a result were more receptive to the statements.”

Even before the funeral, the family publicly expressed doubts that they would be able to afford it, and called on parade organizers for help.

At the time, Stephen Weir, a spokesperson for the Caribbean Carnival, said the organization was seeking to help the family. Last week, Weir would not say whether any money had been paid out.

Ramessar says they received no assistance and were soon inundated with calls from a collections agency.

“We paid what we had, and here it is — 28 per cent (interest) that they added onto the balance. It’s just crazy.”

In 2007, a man lost his leg in a similar incident when he fell from a float and was dragged under the truck.

“Caribana is supposed to be a fun event,” Ramessar said. “It shouldn’t be a tragedy for anyone.”

The Grant family has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the organizers of the parade for “several million dollars,” Bhasin said, but don’t expect to see any money for years. The final settlement is also likely to be far less, he said.


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