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September 11, 2014

Ameren overearnings complaint fails to sway Missouri regulators

Filed under: online ads, technology — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 6:24 am

Ameren Missouri customers won’t be seeing lower bills anytime soon after an overearnings complaint from its largest customer failed to sway state utility regulators.

In a Wednesday hearing, Missouri Public Service Commissioners said they did not agree with an overearnings complaint filed by Noranda Aluminum, which had accused the utility of making $50 million in excess profits. That could have led to lower bills for Ameren customers, who have seen electric bills rise by about 40 percent since 2006.

While the PSC still must issue a final ruling, the commissioners said Noranda did not convince them that Ameren was consistently earning above the profit level they set.

“Noranda had to meet the burden of proof,” Commissioner Stephen Stoll said. “I don’t believe they did prove that Ameren’s rates were unjust and unreasonable.”

Noranda had contended that Ameren overearned by $50 million last year, half of which it attributed to an allowed rate of return that was too high. While the PSC staff agreed that Ameren appeared to have earned about $25 million above its rate of return last year, it maintained that earnings flatten out over time and a more comprehensive study was needed first no fax payday loan. PSC commissioners agreed.

“This system envisions that revenues, expenses and profits will fluctuate, sometimes significantly … but will even out over time,” Commissioner Daniel Hall said.

The PSC ruling against Noranda is the second loss at the commission this year for the Missouri aluminum smelter, which also sought to lower its rates with a concurrent PSC action filed in February. That request would have lowered its rates at the expense of other Ameren customers, who would have likely seen rate increases.

Noranda filed the overearnings complaint at the same time, which won the support of consumer groups that regularly fight against higher utility rates. The commission denied Noranda’s rate request last month, and Noranda said last week it would lay off 125 to 200 people as a result of the decision.

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September 6, 2014

New Town residents fight plan for conventional subdivision

Filed under: legal, technology — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 1:24 pm

ST. CHARLES • Bob and Cindy Messmer moved to the New Town area three years ago, drawn by modern homes of various sizes and price tags on an old-style street grid with easy walking to shops, restaurants and recreation.

Now the Messmers and many of their neighbors are fighting a suburban-style subdivision proposed for New Town’s southeast edge along Boschertown Road.

The City Council would have to remove the 93-acre tract from the “new urbanist” district it authorized in 2003.

“To diminish that vision at this point … would be a big step backward,” Bob Messmer, an architect, told the council Tuesday night.

Another resident, Lindsay Sutton, was more blunt. “Please don’t let our land be sold off to make another everyday ordinary subdivision,” she said.

The proposed builder, Tom Hughes, says New Town is a wonderful place but not for everyone. He says there’s also consumer demand for a more conventional, lower-density development in the immediate vicinity.

“We believe folks need to have a choice of a different type of lifestyle” in the area served by Orchard Farm public schools, he said. A current suburban-type subdivision nearby, Charlestowne, will be sold out in a few months, he added.

He pointed out that several hundred other lots in other parts of New Town will still be available through two other builders.

The Hughes project, Charlestowne Crossing, would have 234 single-family homes plus a new elementary school planned by the Orchard Farm district.

New Town has about 1,300 dwellings with approximately 3,000 residents. The original New Town developer, Greg Whittaker of Whittaker Builders, had envisioned as many as 5,700 homes going up there over 15 to 20 years.

Home building has continued although the pace slowed with the recession that took hold in 2008.

After Whittaker Builders encountered financial difficulties in the recession, a consortium of banks — WBI Resolution LLC — took over ownership of much of New Town as well as the Whittaker firm’s role as overseer of the New Town plan.

Greg Whittaker is still involved in the project through NT Home Builders, a company he manages and that bought some New Town land from WBI Resolution, said NT attorney Brad Goss.

Goss also represents Hughes’ group, which last year purchased 305 acres from WBI Resolution, including the 97 it now wants removed from the city’s New Town zoning rules.

Last month WBI removed the tract from its internal New Town regulations and said it no longer considered the area to be part of the development.

Opponents worry that allowing the conventional subdivision could set a precedent.

“In the next few years, you’re going to find more young families that want to build and there’s not going to be any more room in New Town,” said resident Ariane Cameron.

Goss said, however, that Hughes had made no decision on what to do with the rest of the New Town land his group bought.

“He’s willing to sit down and talk to people” about it, Goss said.

Hughes said the 234 lots he wanted to remove from New Town were offset by the addition last year of 236 residential lots on land originally slated for warehouse-type uses.

Critics also say that removing the tract would reduce the potential pool of homeowner fees that fund some New Town amenities and hurt current and future residents. Fewer areas for businesses in the mixed-use development also will be available, they warn.

More than 100 people, most of them opponents of the plan, packed into the council hearing on the issue. A vote is expected on Sept. 23.

Kim Higgins, who lives in the conventional Stable Ridge area nearby, was among a handful attending who supported Hughes’ request.

“I hate to see it sit empty year after year and no progress,” she said, referring to the vacant tract. She added that people in her area have a strong sense of community just as New Town residents do.

“We walk our dogs, too; we talk to our neighbors,” Higgins said. “We watch out for our children just the same.”

Supporters of Hughes’ request may have the upper hand politically, because six of the 10 council members are listed as co-sponsors. Seven votes are needed for passage.

A two-thirds majority is required because the city’s planning and zoning commission voted 6-2 last month to recommend against council approval.

A commission report said some members believed removing the tract would have a negative impact on New Town. The report also cited “incompatibility” of the Charlestowne Crossing home design with those in New Town.

Mayor Sally Faith, a planning commission member, was among those voting against Hughes’ proposal. However, she hasn’t said if she would veto or sign the bill if the council passes it. Veto overrides require seven votes.

Council President Dave Beckering, the bill’s sponsor, told the crowd Tuesday night that the vote was about the best use of the land.

“Nobody else wanted to buy it to build anything on it, let alone New Town-style homes,” he said.

Moreover, he said, it’s St. Charles’ only viable option for large-scale residential development inside the city limits. He said there was also little land available for annexation.

Councilman Rod

Herrmann, whose ward includes New Town, sides with opponents. He said the original developer “had a dream and a vision, and these folks here believed in it.”

“They know it could take 15 or 20 years, and they’re willing to wait,” he said.

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August 31, 2014

How to keep your college freshman from going broke

Filed under: finance, term — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 12:28 am

Sending kids off to college is about more than decorating the dorm room.

Parents also need to school their children about budgeting, the risks of using credit cards and other money issues, financial advisers say. Habits they form now can help — or hurt — in the long run.

Often, people in their late 20s and early 30s who are recovering from credit problems can trace them back to their college days, says Ken Chaplin, senior vice president at TransUnion, a credit reporting agency. “The decisions they made they were 18 and 19 impacted them and their ability to obtain credit,” he says.

Students should avoid blunders that could leave scars on their credit reports, he says. That includes paying their bills such as their rent and credit card bills on time. It’s also important to pay their credit card balance in full every month, he adds. Since many of the cards offered to college students come with low credit limits, it can be easy to go over it. Even approaching the limit can hurt your credit score, he says.

Parents talking to their children about money should also research the bank accounts, debit and credit cards being pitched to students to make sure they don’t end up with a bad deal. Some other things to keep in mind when talking about money with your college freshmen:

Budget for food. Rising tuition and living costs can make it hard for students to afford pricey meal plans. Some schools are opening food banks and introducing food vouchers as a way to help students who are skipping meals and working multiple jobs in order to afford groceries.

Find a good bank. At many schools, student IDs are now doubling as prepaid cards that are loaded with financial aid. That convenience can be costly as the cards are often riddled with fees, including a charge on purchases that require a PIN instead of a signature payday advances. What’s more, schools often get millions of dollars in kickbacks for the arrangements. Parents may want to set students up with a separate bank account that may charge fewer fees.

Go over budgeting and fees. Parents should talk to their children to make sure they understand how bank accounts work, personal finance columnist Michelle Singletary says. That means knowing how to balance a checkbook and understanding when overdraft fees may be charged. Other things to go over: budgeting, ways to save money on books and the total cost of college, down to every single fee.

Consider a mobile bank. Tech-savvy freshmen may get help tracking their spending by using mobile-based bank accounts offered by startups such as Moven and Simple that require a smartphone. The startups, which offer basic banking services, such as deposits, bill pay and savings, typically charge fewer fees because they don’t face the same overhead costs as traditional banks. Apps also make it easy for people to set up alerts to know when they’ve exceeded spending limits.

Save on textbooks. The average college student spends $1,200 a year on books and supplies, according to the College Board. Students may save hundreds of dollars a semester by renting textbooks instead of buying them. Chegg, Amazon and Barnes & Noble all rent out college textbooks. At least one startup, Packback, lets people borrow digital copies of textbooks.

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August 17, 2014

Second autopsy ordered on body of Missouri teen Michael Brown

Filed under: mortgage, online — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 9:08 pm

FERGUSON, MO.—U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Sunday ordered a federal medical examiner to perform another autopsy on the body of a black Missouri teenager whose fatal shooting by a white police officer has spurred a week of rancorous and sometimes violent protests in suburban St. Louis.

Department of Justice spokesman Brian Fallon cited a request by family members and the “extraordinary circumstances” surrounding the case of 18-year-old Michael Brown in explaining decision.

“This independent examination will take place as soon as possible,” Fallon said in a statement. “Even after it is complete, Justice Department officials still plan to take the state-performed autopsy into account in the course of their investigation.”

The Justice Department already had deepened its civil rights investigation of the shooting. Officials said a day earlier that 40 FBI agents were going door-to-door gathering information in the Ferguson, Missouri, neighbourhood where an unarmed Brown was shot to death in the middle of the street on Aug. 9.

David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor who supervised the criminal civil rights section of Miami’s U.S. Attorney’s office, said a federally conducted autopsy “more closely focused on entry point of projectiles, defensive wounds and bruises” might help that investigation, and that the move is “not that unusual.”

He also said federal authorities want to calm any public fears that no action will be taken on the case.

Holder’s latest announcement followed the first night of a state-imposed curfew in Ferguson, which ended with tear gas and seven arrests after police dressed in riot gear used armoured vehicles to disperse defiant protesters.

Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson said protesters weren’t the reason for the escalated police reaction early Sunday morning after the midnight curfew took effect, but a report of people who had broken into a barbecue restaurant and taken to the roof, and a man who flashed a handgun in the street as armoured vehicles approached the crowd of protesters.

Also overnight, a man was shot and critically wounded in the same area, but not by police; authorities were searching for the shooter. Someone also shot at a police car, officials said.

The protests have been going on since Brown’s death heightened racial tensions between the predominantly black community and mostly white Ferguson Police Department, leading to several run-ins between police and protesters and prompting Missouri’s governor to put the Highway Patrol in charge of security.

Ferguson Police waited six days to publicly reveal the name of the officer and documents alleging Brown robbed a convenience store before he was killed, though Chief Thomas Jackson said the officer did not know Brown was a suspect when he encountered him walking in the street with a friend.

Scott Olson / GETTY IMAGES

People wait for reaction from police after they refused to honour the midnight curfew on Aug. 17.

Gov. Jay Nixon, who imposed the curfew after declaring a state of emergency as protests turned violent to start the weekend, said Sunday morning on ABC’s “This Week” that he was not aware the police were going to release surveillance video from the store where Brown is alleged to have stolen a $49 box of cigars.

“It’s appeared to cast aspersions on a young man that was gunned down in the street. It made emotions raw,” Nixon said.

In announcing the curfew, Nixon said many protesters were making themselves heard peacefully but the state would not allow looters to endanger the community. Johnson, the Highway Patrol captain, had said police would not enforce the curfew with armoured trucks and tear gas and would communicate with protesters and give them ample opportunity to leave. Local officers faced strong criticism earlier in the week for their use of tear gas and rubber bullets against protesters.

As the curfew deadline arrived early Sunday, most protesters left the streets, but those who remained protesters refused to leave the area as officers spoke through a loudspeaker: “You are in violation of a state-imposed curfew. You must disperse immediately.”

As officers put on gas masks, a chant from the distant crowd emerged: “We have the right to assemble peacefully.”

A moment later, police began firing canisters into the crowd. Highway Patrol Spokesman Lt. John Hotz initially said police only used smoke, but later told The Associated Press they also used tear gas canisters.

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August 16, 2014

Skateboarding legend Jay Adams dies of heart attack at age 53

Filed under: canada, news — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 6:12 am

LOS ANGELES, CALIF.—Jay Adams, the colorful rebel who helped transform skateboarding from a simple street pastime into one of the world’s most spectacular sports — with hair-raising stunts and an outsized personality to match — has died at age 53.

Adams died of a heart attack Thursday during a surfing vacation in Mexico with his wife and friends, his manager, Susan Ferris, said Friday.

With his flowing, sun-bleached hair, explosive skating style and ebullient personality, Adams became one of the sport’s most iconic figures during the years it moved from empty backyard swimming pools to international competition.

“He was like the original viral spore that created skateboarding,” fellow skateboarder and documentary filmmaker Stacy Peralta told The Associated Press on Friday. “He was it.”

But at the height of his fame in the early 1980s, Adams was convicted of felony assault, launching a string of prison stints over the next 24 years.

The member of the Skateboarding Hall of Fame, who had proudly been clean and sober for the past several years, blamed his troubles in part on the sport’s early years, when seemingly any outrageous behaviour was tolerated.

“We were wild and acting crazy and not being very positive role models,” he told The New York Times shortly after being released from prison for the last time in 2008.

He had rocketed to fame while still a teenager as a founding member of the Zephyr Skate Team, a group of surfers turned skateboarders who came together in a rundown, dicey neighbourhood known as Dogtown that straddles Los Angeles’ Venice Beach and the city of Santa Monica payday loan.

Peralta, another member, would memorialize the group in his 2001 documentary “Dogtown and Z-Boys.”

“Watching him when he was 14, 15, 16 was pure entertainment,” the filmmaker recalled Friday. “It was like watching energy itself evolve. You never knew what he was going to do, and no matter how great he was at something, he never repeated it.”

Although he wasn’t technically the best skater out there, Peralta said, Adams’ influence on the sport was as great as that of X Games gold medallist Tony Hawk.

Adams never became quite the household name Hawk is, perhaps in part because of his repeated brushes with the law.

When “Dogtown and Z Boys” premiered in 2001, he was in jail again, this time doing time on a drug charge.

About the time the 2005 feature film “Lords of Dogtown” would hit theatres, Adams, who was played by actor Emile Hirsch, was being busted for drugs again.

Upon his release, he vowed to stay out of trouble — and he did.

Peralta said he last saw Adams at a dinner gathering about six weeks ago.

“He was the first person to show up at the dinner table, which was remarkable, and he was drinking hot tea, which was even more remarkable,” he said. “He had really turned a corner.”

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August 8, 2014

Milos Raonic survives Rogers Cup thriller

Filed under: online, online ads — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 4:48 am

Milos Raonic wasn’t perfect, but he’s still alive at the Rogers Cup.

Raonic had his serve going amid some erratic shots as he came back to beat American Jack Sock 4-6, 7-6 (2), 7-6 (4) on centre court Wednesday night at Rexall Centre.

Fans chanted “Let’s go Milos” between points, cheering on the last Canadian left in the field. On Tuesday, all four men who played singles were eliminated, and Eugenie Bouchard bowed out in Montreal.

Raonic stunted that momentum with 15 aces that helped offset some struggles to return Sock’s serve. He won 79 per cent of his first-serve points but was broken in the first set to cause the 23-year-old to fall behind.

In the second set, Raonic held serve before blowing Sock out in the tiebreak. He needed another tiebreak to finish off the match.

Raonic will face Julien Benneteau of France on Thursday night. Benneteau upset 11th-seeded Ernests Gulbis Wednesday after beating former world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt in the first round.

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July 29, 2014

Waste Management selling subsidiary for $1.94B

Filed under: finance, online — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 3:04 pm

HOUSTON (AP) — Waste Management is selling a subsidiary to Energy Capital Partners for $1.94 billion as part of its effort to focus on its core business.

It is selling Wheelabrator Technologies Inc., which owns or runs 17 waste-to-energy facilities and four independent power-producing plants in the U.S. The business also has four ash monofill landfills, three transfer stations and an ongoing development and construction project in the U.K. Wheelabrator’s 2013 revenue totaled about $845 million.

Houston-based Waste Management Inc. said Tuesday it plans to use proceeds from the sale to buy assets related to its core business and for stock repurchases.

The deal is targeted to close later this year. It still needs approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

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July 28, 2014

Even Yakuza Can

Filed under: marketing, money — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 12:04 am

Orient (8585) Corp., the Japanese lender at the center of a scandal over loans to gangsters that engulfed Mizuho Financial Group Inc., sold debt at about a fifth of the premium global companies pay, as investors search for yield.

The consumer lender, an affiliate of Mizuho, offered 10 billion yen ($98 million) of five-year notes at 18 basis points over yen swaps earlier this month, in its first public straight bond. That compared with the average spread of 11 basis points for Japanese company debt and 98 for global corporates, according to Bank of America Merill Lynch data.

Unprecedented Bank of Japan stimulus has cut local corporate bond spreads to a seven-year low, prompting investors to seek riskier debt to boost returns. Two top executives at Mizuho resigned posts this year after Japan

July 26, 2014

Nevada gambling revenue jumps 14 percent in June

Filed under: business, technology — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 5:20 am

LAS VEGAS • Nevada officials say casino revenues shot up more than 14 percent in June thanks to a banner month on the Las Vegas Strip.

The state Gaming Control Board reported Friday that Nevada casinos brought in about $907 million in June.

Las Vegas Strip casinos pulled in $532 million in June, up more than 22 percent from the same month a year ago. Downtown Las Vegas casino revenues of $41million were up 12 percent.

Reno casino revenues of $48 million were down 3 percent compared with June 2013, while South Lake Tahoe casinos brought in $12 million and were down 2 percent payday loans.

The state collected $44 million in taxes based on the June winnings, which is up less that 1 percent compared with a year earlier.

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July 24, 2014

Wal-Mart names new CEO of US discount division

Filed under: online ads, technology — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 1:08 pm

NEW YORK (AP) — Wal-Mart Stores Inc. says U.S. discount-store chief Bill Simon is stepping down.

The world’s largest retailer has named the head of its Asian business as his replacement.

The Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer says that Greg Foran, 53, president and CEO of Wal-Mart Asia, will succeed Simon.

Simon helmed the Wal-Mart U.S. division since June 2010. The changes will take effect Aug. 9. The company says Simon will be available on a consulting basis for the next six months to ensure a seamless transition Internet Payday loans.

Foran will report directly to Doug McMillon, who took over as president and CEO of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in February.

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