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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.


November 27, 2012

Cyber Monday starts early this year

Filed under: Uncategorized, term — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 6:28 am

Post-Thanksgiving online discounts were once relegated to Cyber Monday — but these days, websites are launching deals even before Black Friday. And the resulting shopping frenzy is expected to set records.

IBM Benchmark reported total online sales for Black Friday were up nearly 21% from last year. On Thanksgiving, sales rose more than 17% compared to 2011. Black Friday was the stronger of the two days, eclipsing Thanksgiving by 4:10 p.m. ET.

And a long list of retailers — including , Fortune 500), , Fortune 500), , Fortune 500) and ) — unveiled “pre-Black Friday deals” even before Thanksgiving. , Fortune 500) posted its one-day online shopping discounts on Black Friday, as did beauty brand MAC Cosmetics.

“We’ve absolutely seen this whole weekend turn into one big promotional event,” said Jay Henderson, strategy director for IBM Smarter Commerce. “Black Friday deals are no longer just for the [brick-and-mortar] store, and Cyber Monday deals are no longer just for Monday.”

Cyber Monday’s original appeal, as the first weekday after Thanksgiving, was access to quick Internet speeds while at work. But now broadband at home is ubiquitous, and consumers can also shop on a slew of mobile devices.

And so retailers’ online deals stretch well ahead of Cyber Monday — in some cases, nearly a full week before.

“Retailers are trying to draw consumers in earlier, and one way to do that is to stagger the deals: Pre-Thanksgiving, some on Thanksgiving Day, another set over the weekend, and finally the big bang to close it out on Cyber Monday,” Henderson said.

Mobile devices have become increasingly important during that week before Cyber Monday creditreport. The number of consumers using their mobile device to make a purchase on Black Friday this year increased by nearly two-thirds from 2011, IBM data show.

Apple’s iPad made up nearly 10% of online shopping traffic on Black Friday this year, according to IBM, while the iPhone brought in almost 9% and Android devices comprised 5.5%.

And IBM said shoppers are taking advantage of the technology to find better deals. Despite spending more overall, the average online order fell 4.7% to $181.22, and the number of items in each order decreased 12% to 5.6.

Retailers are taking note. Companies like , Fortune 500) and , Fortune 500) developed special Black Friday mobile apps featuring exclusive deals and store maps.

Still, despite the expanded schedule, Cyber Monday itself remains an important part of the holiday shopping season.

Andrew Lipsman, an industry analyst at data tracking firm ComScore, said he expects sales for the one-day Cyber Monday shopping event to be around $1.5 billion this year. That’s up from his calculations of $1.3 billion in 2011.

It will be a few weeks before full details on Thanksgiving week’s sales are made clear, but last year both Black Friday and Cyber Monday broke records. Total spending over the four-day weekend after Thanksgiving 2011 reached a record $52.4 billion, according to the National Retail Federation.

Black Friday 2012 was shaping up to be robust, with shoppers turning out even on Thanksgiving Day at stores including Toys R Us and , Fortune 500).


October 9, 2012

California gas prices hit record

Filed under: Uncategorized, canada — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 5:56 pm

Gas prices across California have soared to record highs, shooting up 50 cents a gallon in just the last week.

But even as prices are expected to rise slightly before falling, the spike is not likely to spread to other parts of the United States, experts say.

The average price of a gallon of regular gas in California edged up another 0.3 cent Tuesday, according to AAA’s latest reading, setting a record at $4.671.

It stood at around $4.17 on Oct. 1 but has risen every day since then. The biggest increase was a 17-cent spike Friday, followed Saturday by a 13-cent increase.

On Sunday, California environmental regulators, acting on a request from Gov. Jerry Brown, agreed to allow refineries to start making a cheaper, winter blend of gasoline as soon as possible — a move that could solve shortages of the more expensive summer blend that sparked the price spike.

Normally, refineries wouldn’t start making the winter blend until the end of October.

Most of the country makes the transition from the cleaner summer blends of gasoline to the cheaper winter blends on Sept. 15. California, with warmer average temperatures and the nation’s strictest air pollution rules, makes the transition six weeks later.

The cleaner gasoline is used in the summer to mitigate against the smog that accompanies warmer temperatures.

The switchover can often cause shortages of the summer blend and a temporary rise in prices. Refineries and stations don’t want to have an inventory of the more expensive gas when it is time to start selling the cheaper gas.

Refining capacity is also an issue. Tom Kloza, chief analyst at the Oil Price Information Service, which compiles prices for AAA, said a major refinery in Richmond, Calif., owned by , Fortune 500), still hasn’t returned to operation since an August fire.

More recently, California refineries owned by , Fortune 500) and , Fortune 500) were also off line for maintenance, although the Exxon refinery came back Friday, while Gov. Brown said the Tesoro refinery is due back in operation this week.

But Kloza said supplies are so tight that those latest disruptions caused wholesale gas prices to spike by $1.12 a gallon to $4.15 a gallon between Sept. 25 and Oct. 4.

He said the wholesale prices have already started to fall, dropping 47 cents on Friday and 10 cents Monday.

“I don’t want to say the coast is clear but there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” Kloza said. California retail prices are likely to top out at about $4.75 a gallon and then start to decline, he said.

The spike in California comes while gas and oil prices have remained relatively stable in the rest of the country. The national average for a gallon of regular gas has kept to a narrow range of between $3.78 and $3.82 during the last week. It edged 0.3 cent lower Tuesday, remaining around $3.82 a gallon.


September 28, 2012

Fiscal cliff: Payroll tax cut may not survive

Filed under: Uncategorized, loans — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 9:56 am

For all the uncertainty over how lawmakers will handle the expiring tax cuts under the fiscal cliff, there seems to be growing clarity surrounding at least one measure: the temporary 2% payroll tax cut.

Bottom line: It’s likely toast.

“Nobody is a champion for it,” said Sean West, the U.S. policy director for the Eurasia Group.

That isn’t necessarily surprising, since the payroll tax cut — worth 2% of one’s wages up to $110,100 — was intended to be a temporary way to boost the economy. It was put in place for one year in 2011 but was then extended for this year.

During that time, the measure has saved most of the country’s 160 million workers anywhere from $700 to $1,800 a year.

The payroll tax funds Social Security. The tax cut costs roughly $120 billion a year, but rather than let Social Security funding suffer, the Treasury Department has made the program whole with money from general funds. Translation: It’s adding to the country’s deficit.

At the same time, letting it expire will take money out of workers’ paychecks while the economic recovery is still tempered.

The Congressional Budget Office has noted that the payroll tax cut’s expiration, in combination with the end of extended unemployment benefits, would represent “significant sources of fiscal tightening” next year. (Related: CBO warns of fiscal cliff recession)

And a majority of economists recently surveyed by the National Association for Business Economics indicated they do favor another year-long extension Online payday loans.

But on Capitol Hill, no one from either party has really pushed for another year of the tax cut.

And the White House has been noncommittal. “We’ll evaluate the question of whether we need to extend it at the end of the year when we’re looking at a whole range of issues,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said in early September.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi did allow last week that she won’t advocate for an extension and said it’s time to think about reforming the tax code.

But, she added, “I could be convinced if [a payroll tax cut extension] was part of something that advanced our economy down the road.”

As big a tax break as the payroll tax cut may represent to individuals, it pales in political magnitude to the pending expiration of the Bush tax cuts, which promise once again to suck up most of the oxygen when Congress returns to work in mid-November.

“Perhaps there’s a small chance [President] Obama would take a payroll extension as a sweetener in a deal where he gets re-elected with a weak mandate and can’t get other things he wants,” Eurasia Group’s West said. “But that’s a lot of ifs.”


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