Do you even (Obama) care?
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In case you haven’t heard, though judging by the media bombardment I don’t know how that would even be possible, today is the very last day to sign up for open enrollment of Obamacare…whoops! I meant affordable health care on Healthcare.gov. It should be duly noted, however, that after passing the Affordable Care Act, I have yet to speak to anyone who finds their health care remotely affordable. If you’re just now getting around to it then good luck. You’re going to need it. Earlier today the site was down for almost four hours. Fraught with a variety of glitches, Healthcare.gov enrollees encountered a “virtual waiting room” while others were told to leave their email addresses and would get “invited back” to enroll. I couldn’t make this up if I tried. Then there were lots more who couldn’t even log on to the site. Oh so many many jokes and so very little time. I would love to hear some of yours. If you think the tax penalty is way more affordable than the alleged affordable care – $95 per adult and $47.50 per child – just know that the penalty could also be 1% of your applicable income which can translate to a very unaffordable number for you.
The Stock Market’s what?!
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“Stock market’s rigged,” says author Michael Lewis, whose explosive new book “Flash Boys” accuses a group of Wall Street insiders of rigging the stock market. “Flash Boys” tells the story of how high-frequency traders make billions via computerized trading. But how is this trading different from all other trading? For instance, these flash traders, are able to manipulate the market by figuring out what you’re going to buy, drive the price up and then sell it to you. Kind of like fortune telling except the fortunes are real (and so is the telling, for that matter) and you’re not the one making the fortune. All this takes place in seconds – actually less. But is it legal? Yes, but only because it’s so complicated. If it weren’t so complicated, it probably wouldn’t be allowed. Go that? Neither did I.
Bring on the McBattle…
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It matters not how you feel about McDonald’s but rather how you feel about coffee since they are giving it away in April. It’s part of the first-ever National Free Coffee Event. It’s also probably part of the National Fast-Food Breakfast Wars (I made that one up) as McDonald’s and Taco Bell battle it out to feed you in the mornings. Taco Bell has a new breakfast menu that they’ve been heavily promoting and McD’s is a bit worried about it (not that they’ll ever admit that). So to take a big bite out of that south of the border momentum, McD’s is hoping to lure you with free coffee and then reel you in for breakfast. But you better hurry for your McD’s buzz as the promotion ends April 31.
Consumer spending…It’s electric…
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Oh consumers, how you’ve been spending. It’s always a good thing when Americans spend spend spend. The economy grows and everyone is happy…sort of. Yes, the economy did grow by a mere .3%. And that does make Wall Street spend-happy. But the big question is on what exactly have consumers been spending their hard earned money ? The answer: Services. Not services for your Tesla or on mud facials and goldfish pedicures but rather services that provide you with electricity and water. Yes, the bulk of consumer spending lately has gone toward paying utility bills. Not exactly riveting stuff but at least it’s something.
Say it isn’t so, Visa…
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Two of the biggest companies this side of the Atlantic are about to go at it and things will get ugly. Mega retailer Wal- Mart filed a $5 billion civil suit against credit card company Visa accusing it of all kinds of naughty things. Wal-Mart says Visa is guilty of violating anti-trust laws like conspiring with banks to illegally fix and inflate swiping fees. Back in 2012 Visa and MasterCard had to fork over $7 billion to settle similar allegations with other retailers. Don’t think this has nothing to do with you. Those fees get passed on to the consumers – and have been costing a mind-blowing $350 billion – none of which can go towards paying utility bills.
Remember the time we had those rally great BlackBerries?
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Maybe the only blackberries you’ve been into lately have come from the produce section but remember the smartphone BlackBerry? Remember how having one virtually guaranteed your place in the universe? Nowadays having a BlackBerry may still determine your place in the universe – only it’d be at the wrong end. My how the tide has shifted. Big news from the company, however. Wall Street predicted they’d lose $0.56 per share but wouldn’t ya know it – the company only lost $0.08 a share. Boom! And wouldn’t ya know it again? Shares of the stock started to go up because the analysts’ prediction was so far short of accurate. Double boom! CEO John Chen put in some new cost-cutting measures trying to morph BlackBerry into a software company while scrapping the smartphone component. Sadly, for BlackBerry anyway, it was the first time since 2007 that the company’s revenue fell under $1 billion.
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Shares of Citigroup fell 5% today because it failed the Federal Reserve’s “Stress Test.” The US government feels Citigroup has “a number of deficiencies” and wouldn’t be able to handle another economic downturn, like the one from 2008 that keeps rearing its ugly face. The Fed also doesn’t want to have to bail Citigroup out – again. The Fed has what they call “qualitative concerns” about Citigroup and some other banks that have over $50 billion in assets. For people like you and me that means they need more money on which to fall back should economic disaster strike and they need to up their business practices A game. They have ninety days to fix these problems. Or else….I don’t know what else. I guess they just get another deadline. Other banks that also failed the stress test include HSBC North America, RBS Citizens Financial Group and Santander Holdings USA.
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iPad users the world over can breathe a collective sigh of relief. Microsoft Office for the iPad has arrived. Phew! Microsoft chief Satya Nadella finally FINALLY made the big announcement today. But apparently Wall Street knew way before and was very excited because shares of Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) began climbing last week. Probably the $1.4 billion in projected revenue helped the Street’s enthusiasm. You can go to the Apple App store and get the free download. But if you actually want to create and edit, you’re going to have to purchase an Office 365 subscription.
These lemons aren’t so sour after all…
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Lululemon Athletica clearly has some great karma. Despite hitting a major snag this year with see-through yoga pants, the athletic wear company struck its best warrior pose and beat Wall Street’s fourth quarter estimates by going up 7%. Lululemon (NASDAQ:LULU) sales hit $521 million when it was expected to only reach $515 million. Newcomer CEO Laurent Potdevin, who also worked at TOM’s and Burton Snowboards, has big plans for bringing Lululemon to the rest of the world. Wall Street loves talk of expansion, especially global expansion. And it also loves it when companies beat expectations.
All is not certain in bitcoin EXCEPT taxes…
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Bitcoin, the hottest most talked about virtual currency since..well, ever, has been officially deemed NOT a currency. According to the taxman, bitcoins are property, for tax purposes anyway, and will be treated as such. Instead, the IRS defines crypto-currency as “convertible currency” which probably sounds a lot cooler than it actually is. Got a virtual stash of coins? You could – if you really wanted to – exchange them for US dollars and you wouldn’t have to worry about them being taxed as a foreign currency gain or loss. If you trade the coins, expect a capital gains tax. If your paycheck is being paid with bitcoins (I guess that’s a thing now), that information needs to be reported on your W-2. And if your accountant is not bitcoin savvy, then get a new accountant.
In the grand Ponzi scheme of things…
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It comes as no great surprise that Bernie Madoff did not single-handedly pull off one of the biggest Ponzi schemes in history. Yesterday five of his former employees were finally convicted of a very very very long list of offenses, including conspiracy to commit fraud. US Attorney Preet Bharara said “These defendants each played an important role in carrying out the charade, propping it up and concealing it from regulators, auditors, taxing authorities, lenders and investors.” Now it’s up to a judge to determine their prison sentences which could last decades. Something tells me they wont be missed.
It pay$ to read…
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There was a reason why you were always encouraged to READ READ READ and today that mantra might literally pay off for you – but only if you are a regular e-book subscriber. Turns out a court ruled that publishers were a tad bit greedy by inflating prices and taking advantage of avid e-readers like you. So to make it up to you, or rather reimburse you, you can expect a credit. Are you one of the lucky recipients of the $166 million settlement? Check your account and details of the settlement at www.sagsettlements.com.
Sweet sweet news…
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As you’re waiting to get some new lives on Candy Crush know that the New Stock Exchange is about to get a whole lot sweeter this week. King Digital, the maker behind the insanely popular game, Candy Crush Saga, is set to make its Wall Street debut on Wednesday. A single share – of the 15.5 million being offered – could fetch as much as $24. The company is expecting to net about $326 million off the IPO. King Digital made about $1.88 billion in 2013 – ten times more than it did the previous year. After you’re done reading today’s post, assuming you’re still waiting for those lives to kick in, check out King Digital’s new, equally addictive and very similar new game Cookie Jam. Sorry Android users, but you’ll have to wait a bit longer for that one to hit your marketplace.
In this week’s episode of the Herbalife saga…
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The smackdown continues between billionaire Carl Icahn and hedge fund manager Bill Ackman. Icahn nominated three new board members who “are made of a much harder metal and mettle than those being replaced,” according to Robert Chapman, Herbalife investor at Chapman Capital LLC. Ackman is convinced Herbalife is nothing short of a pyramid scheme and bet against it in 2012. Icahn disagrees. Vehemently. And now Mr. Icahn is toying with the idea of suing Mr. Ackman and his Pershing Square Capital Management for spreading not nice things that simply aren’t true, according to Mr. Icahn. The mood at the company has been described as a war zone. The FTC is involved. But today shares of the stock shot up anyway almost 7%. Go figure. To be continued…
Do computer clouds have silver linings too?
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Make way for Cisco who is plunking down a hefty sum to enter the constantly evolving cloud computing arena. The tech giant already offers cloud related services so developing Cisco Cloud Services is just a mere hop skip and $1 billion jump away. How convenient. Amazon is already one of the biggest players. “We’re absolutely not competing with AWS (Amazon Web Services),” said Mike Riegel, Cisco Cloud’s vice president of marketing. That’s because Cisco plans on being the biggest player in this field – so take that Amazon! Hey, go big or go home.
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Tiffany & Co. and their little blue boxes suffered a major blow to their bling today following a spectacular third quarter. Their pretty yellow diamonds and $1.3 billion in revenue weren’t enough to outshine the losses they suffered this quarter. Because what began as a $200 million profit quickly turned to a $100 million loss owing to a gigantic settlement with Swatch. Tiffany & Co. CEO Michael Kowalski said, “We are proud of our performance this past year. Sales and operating earnings (excluding the arbitration-related charge) rose to record levels.” Uh-huh. Back in 2007, the two companies started a joint venture that went south four years after. Swatch sued. Tiffany & Co. counter-sued. They went for arbitration. $473 million later, Tiffany & Co. has to pony up to Swatch. Talk about killing time.
Mt. Gox marks the spot?
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Don’t you just love it when you find an old wallet and there’s still money in it. The same thing happened with Mt. Gox recently and now the former bitcoin exchange is slightly less bankrupt today. 200,000 bitcoins were (not so) mysteriously “discovered” in disused electronic wallets. The coins, which were originally thought to be stolen are worth approximately $120 million. Now if they could just figure out where those other 650,000 coins went…
Barista or bartender? You decide…
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If you already love Starbucks now, you’re about to love it a whole lot more. Come for the coffee stay for the alcohol. The coffee seller is gearing up with a new concept called “Starbucks Evenings” where they will be offering a variety of alcoholic beverages and gourmet food to complement them. Spokesperson Lisa Passé explained, “The concept is a natural progression for Starbucks Corporation as we seek to create a new occasion for customers to gather, relax and connect with each other in the evenings.” That just might be the case but this new concept also has to do with the fact that Starbucks is aiming to hit the $100 billion mark in market value and offering up alcohol is sure to do the trick. Whatever the motive, I, for one, can’t wait.
What’s the value of values?
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You can feel a whole lot better next time you chow down your Fruit Loops knowing that Kellogg Co. was voted one of the world’s most ethical companies. I swear I did not make this up. The Ethisphere Institute is an independant research institute that promotes and recognizes business ethics. “Companies that truly go beyond making statements about doing business ethically and translate those words into action,” according to a statement by Ethisphere, make it onto the list. This is Kellogg’s sixth time on it. So break out a Pop Tart and celebrate. Some of the other companies that made the list include Google, Petco and Gap Inc. Now if they could only do something about those used car salespeople…
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At its annual shareholders meeting, HP CEO Meg Whitman said it’s “like watching ice melt.” Obviously, she was discussing the current batch of 3D printers that could and should be doing oh so much more. Good thing Ms. Whitman thinks she, and HP, of course, have found the solution. Unfortunately that solution won’t be presented until June. Rumor has it, though that HP plans to speed up the printing and improve the quality. To be competitive they will have to price the printers at the $5000 point. That’s great news – as long as your employer is footing the bill.
Not exactly music to your ears…
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If you’re still on the fence about getting that Pandora subscription now would be a really good time to make that decision. A federal judge just ruled that the streaming music service should be subject to a higher royalty rate than radio stations. Pandora One, the premium service from the music streamer, Pandora, is about to raise its price. They’re also scrapping their yearly subscription model. If you are already a subscriber, the price stays at $3.99. For now. Otherwise, procrastinators can expect to fork over another buck for the premium ad-free service. The new rate takes effect in May. Or you could just listen to your favorite music and your not so favorite ads for free.