You Bacon Believe It! It’s Getting A Lot More Expensive; Tesla’s Going Through Some Changes – Whether You Care or Not; Hip-Hop Mogul Takes Rap for Debit Card Glitch;

This little piggy…

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Image courtesy of artur84/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Savor that bacon while you can. Or rather the price of it. The price of pork belly increased 20% just in the first three weeks of January. It seems the supply of frozen pork belly, which is essentially bacon, is shrinking. Rapidly. In fact, according to U.S. agricultural data, pork belly levels are at a fifty year low, having fallen from 53.4 million pounds in December of 2015 to 17.8 million pounds in December of 2016. But what’s weird is that pig farmers are actually producing more pigs.  Apparently, supply is dwindling because demand is pretty big, not just in the U.S., but also outside the U.S., as pig farmers here find themselves exporting 26% of their product. Bon appetite!

Say my name…

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Image courtesy of pakorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A Tesla by any other name might not be a Tesla. Or might it? Hmmm. According to a regulatory filing, Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk changed the name of his company from Tesla Motors to…wait for it… Tesla Inc. Really. That’s it. Anti-climactic, huh? Musk decided to drop the word “Motors” lest people think the company only makes cars. Because it doesn’t. It also has a whole big solar power business too. If you recall, Musk brought in his other company, SolarCity, into the Tesla family back in November, to the tune of $2 billion. It was undoubtedly a big bonus for Musk that he already owned 20% of both companies, which probably helped the deal close more swiftly. He wants Tesla to be the known as a one-stop shop for products that utilize clean, renewable energy.  And he’s well on his way towards achieving that goal.

No need to rush…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Hip hop mogul Russell Simmons is making some headlines today in the finance world. It seems the debit card company he founded called “RushCard” was just slapped with a very nasty $3 million fine following a 2015 outage that left its customers unable to access their cash.  But RushCard, together with its payment processor, MasterCard, also has to pay about $10 million in restitution to the customers who were left in a very big lurch because of the system failure.  The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau explained that back in 2015, RushCard wanted to switch its payment processor to MasterCard which would require a simple software upgrade. Except it didn’t work out so simply and the system went down leaving thousands of RushCard holders unable to access their cash, make deposits or get their balance information. What’s worse is that because many RushCard holders tended to be in a low-income bracket, and they couldn’t even afford to buy basic necessities nor access their money for days, or in some cases, weeks.  Of course, nobody should point the finger at Russell Simmons because it’s not like he was the one installing the software. But that hasn’t stopped him from taking personal responsibility and even using his own funds to help out some of the affected RushCard customers. Affected customers will receive awards based on the transactions they made, deposit delays, returned deposits and incorrect balance information.  In the meantime, RushCard has since been scooped up by pre-paid debit card company GreenDot for $147 million. And no, GreenDot will not be paying any of  RushCard’s fees and fines.

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Forbes/Trump Smackdown; Getting Chip-py With It; Ralph Lauren Preps New CEO

Donald Donald Donald…

Image courtesy of ponsulak/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of ponsulak/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

To take your mind off the fact that we have yet to find a cure for cancer and AIDs, or that people all over the world are living in abject poverty, we now turn our attentions to the Donald Trump vs. Forbes magazine smack down. The two entities are going head to head over Donald Trump’s estimated net worth, with Trump insisting that Forbes has its facts all wrong. “I’m a private company […] I like the people at Forbes but they don’t really know my assets very well,” the Donald said during an interview for CNBC. Forbes says that The Donald’s real estate fortune can be pegged at $4.5 billion, a figure that has the Republican presidential candidate in a snit because he is convinced that the magazine is trying to paint him “as poor as possible.” As if that were possible. Trump insists he’s worth more than $10 billion, questioning Forbes arithmetic skills. Common core, perhaps?  Forbes, in its calculations, doesn’t place a value on brand and that irritates the real estate mogul because the Trump brand, according to Trump, is very valuable and might have led Forbes to a far different fiscal outcome. Maybe. Donald Trump apparently does not take comfort in the fact that he was ranked as the 19th richest American, or that he is by far the wealthiest of the presidential candidates. He’s also miffed that Forbes had the nerve to say that he has a paltry cash stash of just $327 million (forget the research that went into computing that amount) “But I have a lot of cash,”  he insists in a CNBC interview, explaining away that his cash bank account is bursting from the $793 million sitting in it, all green and crispy.

Chipped off…

Image courtesy of sscreations/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of sscreations/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Today marks the dawn of a new -and hopefully less fraudulent-riddled – era, as business owners large and small now become liable for fraudulent activities. If a consumer’s info gets swiped, the business from which the offense originated eats the cost and not the bank that issued the card. Consumers, many who are now armed with credit cards containing EMV chips –  as in Europay, MasterCard and Visa (what you thought it was going to stand for some obscure tech jargon?) will now be able to conspicuously consume using new terminals intended to reduce exposure to fraud. In order for the chip to be really secure, a pin number should be used with it. Otherwise, don’t come crying to EMV. I say reduce, because sadly, it does not completely obliterate the cold, callous felonious act. It’s estimated that about 32 million consumers had their credit card info swiped last year, nearly triple that of 2013. The chip creates a unique code for every transaction. But if you have yet to receive your chip card, rest assured that your magnetic stripe-outfitted cards can still be used. Sorry to say but the chip cards won’t be of much use for your cyber-shopping excursions. So make sure the site with which you transact is legit. American Express is getting their chip-action going on October 16 while gas stations get until 2017 to upgrade their terminals.  So far more than 200 million cards with chips in them have been sent out.

Movin’ on up-market…

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A new king has been crowned over at Ralph Lauren, as its namesake CEO, Ralph Lauren himself, “stepped up.” That is not a typo but rather a direct quote from the preppy American style icon, who also happens to be the largest shareholder and intends to maintain his creative input at the company. The new CEO is none other than Stefan Larsson, CEO extraordinaire to fast-fashion brands Old Navy and H&M. His resume actually had some haters doubting the dude who has a lack of luxury goods experience. But Wall Street doesn’t seem to mind as it sent shares of Ralph Lauren up a much needed 12% on Wednesday while also taking a 6% chunk off of shares of Gap Inc for losing its rock star executive. The haters apparently aren’t paying enough attention to the fact that under Larsson’s leadership, Old Navy saw three consecutive years of growth and was the only one of the Gap Inc. brands to show growth at all, 5% just this year. In the meantime, Ralph Lauren had some quarters that were anything but, shall we say, fashion-forward, and is down a dismal 37% for the year.

Expedia Challenges Priceline With its Latest Acquisition; Retail Sector: Where Have All the Shoppers Gone? Costco Breaks Up With Amex

Book it…

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Priceline look out! And you too, William Shatner. Expedia just announced its lofty plans to buy Orbitz Worldwide Inc.for $1.34 billion, which squares out to about $12 a share at a 25% premium. The folks at Expedia feel it’ll help them give Priceline Group Inc. a real run for its money – and reservations, I suppose. Orbitz already picked up Travelocity a while back for $280 million and now the online travel booking service also gets CheapTickets, and ebookers as part of this latest deal. As you may recall (and it’s perfectly fine if you don’t), Priceline itself made a few purchases itself last year when it scooped up a stake in ctrip.com International and OpenTable Inc. Apparently, mergers and acquisitions in the online booking arena are all the rage right now but let’s just see how it pans out fiscally for the consumers booking all those services.

Show me the money…

Image courtesy of stockimages/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of stockimages/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Will the retail sector get it right already? January proved to be a colossal fiscal bummer as the Commerce Department announced that sales in the retail sector fell, yet again, to 0.8%. Economists forecasted it would only drop 0.4% and it’s the second straight month to drop after December’s dismal 0.9% plunge. So what gives? After all, gas prices are low, employment numbers are rockin’ and even wages are coming up…a smidge. Apparently, Americans have been more inclined to actually pay down some of their debt and even save up some cash for a rainy day. The nerve of those fiscally responsible Americans, I tell you. But economists, the same ones who predicted those retail numbers would only fall to 0.4% instead of the 0.8% it did fall, are predicting that those numbers should come right back up to a more respectable level, if we give it some…space. Let’s just hope they’re right this time.

While we’re on the topic of retail…

Image courtesy of photoraidz/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of photoraidz/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Costco shoppers rejoice. Next year when you go shopping at the wholesale warehouse you needn’t bother whipping out your Amex card anymore. The world’s second largest retailer and the charge card company just couldn’t work things out and thus an exclusive relationship between Costco and American Express is coming to an end March 31, 2016. The exclusive agreement allowed for Costco to pay a much smaller rate than other companies but alas, all good things must come to an end. The rate was so low , in fact, that it explains why the deal even lasted as long as it did. And thus, a sixteen year relationship has thrown in its fiscal towel. Sniff sniff. In Canada, a similar deal also came to an unfortunate demise last year. Oh Canada!  On Wall Street shares of American Express, took a bit of a hit while Costco shares actually went up. Perhaps next year, as you find yourself stocking up on a year’s supply of toilet paper and deodorant, you might just get to use your Visa or Mastercard, two cards that have so long yearned to be a part of the Costco magic.

United Sues Resourceful Computer Whiz; Twitter Is Making A Follower Out of You; California’s Bagged Out

Hide and seek the city…

Image courtesy of anankkml/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of anankkml/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

United Airlines and Orbitz are suing a 22 year old computer whiz for doing something that isn’t necessarily illegal. The very resourceful and industrious Aktarer Zaman found a nifty little way to score some reasonably priced seats on airlines and runs a website called Skiplagged.com. Dubbed the “hidden city” strategy, you simply purchase a ticket that happens to have a layover in your destination city and then just skip the last leg of the flight. But you need to make sure it’s a one-way ticket and don’t check bags, since the bags will most definitely end up in the final destination even if you have no intention of ever going there. While others call the idea genius, United Airlines and Orbitz have, no doubt, other choice words for Zaman and are seeking $75,000 in lost revenue. (Even though airlines are reporting record profits, but I digress). Zaman, however, alleges he hasn’t made any profit from the website and argues that all he did was expose an “inefficiency.” United and Orbitz call it unfair competition and “strictly prohibited travel” (boohoo), even though the airlines are well aware of “hidden cities” which have been around for many years now.

I’m a leader, not a follower!

Image courtesy of Master isolated images/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Master isolated images/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Twitter started a new experiment by selling ad space on your timeline. But Will Shatner doesn’t like it. Not one single bit. All the hoopla began when the Star Trek legend noticed a MasterCard ad appearing on his “following” list.  This peeved the actor and Priceline sheller quite a bit, especially because he wasn’t following MasterCard’s account. Shatner then tweeted, “Why am I following MasterCard when I didn’t add them? I do not appreciate this.” Here here, Captain Kirk. Mr. Shatner, and presumably others, don’t like that it might be assumed that they are promoting and endorsing brands just because Twitter put those brands on their “following” lists. Shatner, it appears is not the only celebrity who seems to have brands appearing in their following lists.  Non-celebrities have this issue too, but who cares about them. While Twitter has been engaging in this practice since 2013, there is no word yet on how the micro-blogging website will proceed with Mr. Shatner’s complaints. And those of regular people, as well.

I’m bagging you to please stop…

Image courtesy of winnond/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of winnond/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Looks like Californians weren’t digging the plastic bag ban, after all. Opponents of the plastic bag ban collected a whopping 800,000 plus signatures to force a referendum on the issue, an especially impressive feat since only 504,000 signatures were actually needed. The American Progressive Bag Alliance (I swear I could not make that up if I tried) which is made up of several business groups and plastic bag manufacturers said that Senate Bill 270, aka the plastic bag ban, has less to do with helping the environment than it does with money. The APBA said “SB270” was basically a “back room deal” since stores make money by getting consumers to purchase reusable bags from them. Californians Against Waste are hearing none of that, arguing that the culprit-y bags not only pollute the environment but then have the nerve not to bio-degrade on top of it. The group also says that plastic bag manufacturers profit by selling $200 million worth of bags so it’s in their best interest to keep those bags around. In any case, once the signatures are validated, the fate of the bags, reusable and otherwise, will rest in the hands of California voters.