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Federal agency finds home prices still rising
Third quarter prices up 1.1 percent from second quarter
Generally, when the price of something goes up it isn't considered good news. The exception to that -- at least at this point in our economic history -- is the price of residential real estate. Homeowners, Realtors and economists all cheer when that happens.
Lately there has been a lot of cheering. Home prices have been rising steadily since the beginning of the year. The latest evidence to suggest that trend is continuing is today's report from the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), which notes U.S. home prices ticked up 1.1 percent from the second quarter to the third quarter of this year.
When measured year-over-year, the increase is even more impressive -- 4.4 percent. The calculation was made using data from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgages.
Continuing a trend
“With significant growth in home prices during the quarter and a modest inventory of homes available for sale, house price movements in the third quarter were similar to what we observed in the spring,” said FHFA Principal Economist Andrew Leventis. “The past year has seen consistent price increases, but a number of factors continue to affect the recovery in home prices such as stagnant income growth, high unemployment levels, lingering uncertainty about the macroeconomy and the large number of homes in the foreclosure pipeline.”
As prices rise, homeowners who have been underwater since the 2008 housing collapse are a little less so. Those who have been on the line between equity and no equity are getting in a position where they may soon be able to refinance their mortgages, or sell their homes. Millions of people in that situation have been unable to take advantage of record low mortgage rates because they have been unable to refinance.
Reason for optimism
That's why economists cheer the news of rising home prices. If an increasing number of homeowners are able to lower their monthly payments, more money will be available to spend in the economy and pay down other debt.
As measured with purchase-only indexes for the 25 most populated metropolitan areas in the U.S., third quarter price increases were greatest in the Phoenix-Mesa- Glendale, AZ, Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). That area saw prices increase by 7.2 percent between the second and third quarters.
Prices were weakest in the Edison-New Brunswick, NJ, metropolitan division, where prices fell 2.2 percent over that period.
The monthly seasonally adjusted purchase-only index for the United States has increased for eight consecutive months. FHFA said it believes much of the recent price gain is attributable to decreases in the share of distressed sales in the latest quarter.
Generally, when the price of something goes up it isn't considered good news. The exception to that – at least at this point in our economic history ...
IBISWorld: holiday spending to grow 3.7 percent in 2012
'Fiscal cliff' concerns are expected to shake consumer confidence and curb overspending
Consumers are expected to get deeper into the holiday mood as we approach Christmas.
Industry research firm IBISWorld (pronounced eye-biss-world) predicts holiday spending will rise 3.7 percent from last year -- to total $69.2 billion. Higher disposable income levels will allow consumers to spend more freely on food, decorations and gifts during the holiday shopping season, from Nov. 1 to Dec. 25.
At the same time, though, 2012 holiday spending will grow at a lower rate than the 4.9 percent rise in 2011 due to the approaching “fiscal cliff.” Many crucial financial decisions await a new deficit-reduction deal, and unstable consumer confidence is making Americans hesitant to overspend. Nonetheless, retailers are forecast to see expanding holiday sales.
Aggregate Spending ($mil)
Cards and Postage
How we spend
IBISWorld expects consumers to spend a total of $50.8 billion on gifts in 2012 -- up $1.8 billion from last year. The fastest-growing gift segments will continue to be electronics and jewelry, with electronics forecast to grow 7.2 percent to $7.7 billion, and jewelry projected to rise 6.3 percent to $5.1 billion.
“Tablet computers in particular are expected to be popular gifts, with electronics sales accounting for 15.1 percent of total holiday gift spending,” says IBISWorld industry analyst Olivia Tang. A surge in new products has helped this segment capture much holiday spending, with new releases like Apple’s new iPad and iPad Mini, Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD, Google’s Nexus 7 and Microsoft’s Surface. Even Leapfrog’s LeapPad2 for children is already on parents’ radars due to retailers’ early promotions.
Ultra-luxury items are forecast to perform particularly well this holiday season. High-end jewelry, in particular, is an expensive but sentimental gift that forms a major sector of the quickly growing luxury market.
The lion's share
Clothing will remain the largest gift category at 17.6 percent of total gift expenditures due to its practicality for all recipients, and is anticipated to grow 2.9 percent to $9.0 billion in 2012. Most clothing gift purchases will be high-end brand names due in part to the convenience of shopping at luxury retailers’ online stores.
Although home and garden gifts are forecast to increase only 0.9 percent in 2012, the $5.9 billion estimated spending for the category represents about 11.6 percent of total gift expenditures. The slight increase will be somewhat in line with the housing recovery, which remains sluggish.
Total Sales of Christmas Related Gifts ($mil)
Electronics (TVs, computers, gadgets)
Jewelry and Accessories
Toys, sporting goods, hobbies etc.
Personal Care and Cosmetics
Home and Garden (incl. appliances)
Consumers are expected to get deeper into the holiday mood as we approach Christmas. Industry research firm IBISWorld (pronounced eye-biss-world) predicts...
Here are some tips for making it easier, and maybe cheaper, to get there
Unfortunately, the holiday season requires many of us to travel. Sure, we'll enjoy being with family and friends once we get there, but the getting there seems to get harder and more stressful every year.
So in the interest of removing some of that stress, here are a few ideas for making travel around the holidays simpler and easier, courtesy of the experts at the Ryerson University School of Hospitality and Tourism Management.
First, don't overspend. Give yourself plenty of time to shop for the best travel and vacation deals. Don't use just one Website. Check them all, if possible.
Timing can be everything
Also, be very careful that when you book travel, you fully understand the terms. Many third-party sites have little flexibility if plans change. The price may seem low but if you have to make even a slight change in plans, it will end up costing a lot more.
While you want to give yourself plenty of time to shop you don't want to take too much time. If you are trying to travel around Christmas or New Years, for example, your options are more limited. The earlier you book, the better the chances of securing your preferred dates.
If possible, try to book one of your travel dates on Christmas Day or even New Year’s Day. Flights and trains will be less busy and wait times should be shorter.
The more flexible you can be the more travel options are at your disposal. If your plans include others, obviously you have to narrow your choices. But if you and your family are going away for a holiday, try to consider other options.
If you can go away for a week in January, for example, you might want to wait to book so you can take advantage of last-minute deals.
Leave presents unwrapped
Heightened security has made holiday travel harder. If you’re travelling with gifts, leave them unwrapped. Remember that Christmas gifts may be opened and checked by security.
Try to pack lightly, especially when you’re bringing gifts, to avoid excess baggage charges, which could push the envelope on your holiday budget. Consider shipping your gifts in advance to make travelling easier and to avoid your loved ones’ gifts ending up in the lost luggage abyss. Avoid sending everything in one box, just in case.
If you’re travelling with someone, pack some necessities in each other’s bag. This way, you’ll both be covered in case one your suitcases gets misplaced during the holiday rush.
Some of the stress of holiday travel is just getting to the airport. To avoid the parking hassle at the airport consider taking a taxi or airport limousine. This way, you can relax and start your hard-earned vacation on the right foot.
Unfortunately the holiday season requires many of us to travel. Sure, we'll enjoy being with family and friends once we get there, but the getting there se...
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Travelzoo fined for violation of code-share disclosure rules
The online ticket agency failed to provide full disclosure about flight operators
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has slapped online ticket agent Travelzoo with a $50,000 penalty for failing to tell consumers when flights were being operated under a code-sharing arrangement. It also ordered the company to cease and desist from future violations.
“Passengers deserve to know which airline will be operating their flight before they purchase their tickets,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “We will continue to take enforcement action against airlines and ticket agents when they fail to comply with our code-sharing disclosure rules.”
Airline identity disclosure
Under code-sharing, an airline will sell tickets on flights that use its designator code but are operated by a separate airline. DOT rules require airlines and ticket agents to disclose to consumers -- before they book a flight -- if the flight is operated under a code-sharing arrangement. The disclosure must include the corporate name of the transporting carrier and any other name under which the flight is offered to the public. When tickets are purchased on the Internet, code-share information must be easily viewable on the first display of a Website following a search for flights corresponding to a desired itinerary.
An investigation by the Department’s Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings revealed that for a period of time this year, Travelzoo failed to properly disclose on its Website the existence of code-sharing arrangements when advertising code-share flights operated on behalf of a major air carrier by a regional air carrier.
Travelzoo did not display the corporate names of the carriers operating the flights or any other names under which those flights were sold to the public on its flight itinerary pages. As a result, consumers were unable to learn, at an early stage of the booking process, the identity of the airline that would actually operate the aircraft on which they would be flying.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has slapped online ticket agent Travelzoo with a $50,000 penalty for failing to tell consumers when flights wer...
Part of a crackdown on operations that sell counterfeit goods
International law enforcement used the occasion of Cyber Monday in the U.S. to announce the take-down of 132 Websites they say were illegally selling counterfeit goods to unsuspecting consumers.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations joined law enforcement agencies from Belgium, Denmark, France, Romania, the United Kingdom and the European Police Office (Europol) in the action.
Authorities say these Websites were set up to dupe consumers into unknowingly buying counterfeit goods as part of the holiday shopping season. The operation was coordinated by the ICE HSI-led National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center) in Washington, D.C.
Third year for crackdown
It's a never-ending project. In fact, this is the third year that the IPR Center has targeted Websites selling counterfeit products online in conjunction with Cyber Monday.
The operation -- known as “Cyber Monday 3” -- seized 101 Websites and yielded one arrest. Additionally, recognizing the global nature of Internet crime, this year the IPR Center partnered with Europol, who, through its member countries, executed coordinated seizures of foreign-based top-level domains such as .eu, .be, .dk, .fr, .ro and .uk. This effort is titled Project Transatlantic and resulted in 31 domain name seizures.
"This operation is a great example of the tremendous cooperation between ICE and our international partners at the IPR Center," said ICE Director John Morton. "Our partnerships enable us to go after criminals who are duping unsuspecting shoppers all over the world. This is not an American problem, it is a global one and it is a fight we must win."
On one hand the action might appear to benefit producers and intellectual property holders more so that consumers. After all, some consumers might not mind that the Gucci bag is a knock-off, as long as it's a good knock-off and is cheap.
How it hurts consumers
But authorities say the poor quality of counterfeit goods always harms consumers in the end. Also, they say some counterfeit products might be dangerous since they are not produced to the same standards as the real thing.
For their coordinated crackdown, the IPR Center and Europol received leads from various trademark holders regarding the infringing websites. Those leads were given to eight investigating HSI field offices in Baltimore, Buffalo, Denver, El Paso, Newark, San Antonio, San Diego and Ventura (Calif.), and to the investigating Europol member countries including Belgium, Denmark, France, Romania and the United Kingdom.
The domain names seized are now in the custody of the governments involved in these operations. Visitors typing those domain names into their Web browsers will now find a banner that notifies them of the seizure and educates them about the federal crime of willful copyright infringement.
International law enforcement used the occasion of Cyber Monday in the U.S. to announce the take-down of 132 websites they say were illegally selling count...
Haiku Deck: PowerPoint's younger, cooler and more rebellious sibling
Will the presentation app be Gen Y's way to express ideas, stories and business plans?
If you think about it, we’ve been using the same old Microsoft Office programs for quite some time. Word and Outlook haven’t really changed all that much, and Microsoft Access hasn’t blown anyone’s socks off in recent memory either.
But probably one of the most surprising Microsoft programs to remain stagnant is PowerPoint, and you would think this wouldn’t be the case since the need to wow a person through a visual presentation is still very important in everyday life, not to mention business.
That’s where three Seattle buddies stepped in and created an app called Haiku Deck that could possibly rival PowerPoint in the area of presentations or at the very least be a hipper alternative to the serious no-nonsense -- and, let's face it, somewhat dull -- PowerPoint.
Simply put, if Microsoft PowerPoint is all charcoal grey suits and wingtips, then Haiku Deck is t-shirts and sneakers, which basically means the company is trying to bring a more youthful and playful approach to putting presentations together.
However, before reading farther, take note: this is an iPad app. If you don't have an iPad, maybe the Haiku people think you're not cool enough to use their app. But anyway, for whatever reason, it's only available for the iPad. You can, however, export completed slide shows to other types of devices.
A perfect example of the visual differences between Haiku Deck and other presentation programs like Prezi or SlideRocket is in the gallery section of the company’s website, where colorful and inviting photos are used to draw the audience into the presentation.
In addition, slides are able to move a lot quicker and in a much slicker fashion than PowerPoint, and fonts are bolder, making words seem more pronounced.
What's also different is that users are able to put together extremely professional and creatively designed presentations without being a graphic designer or a PowerPoint expert.
The creators say they want to change people’s perception of visual presentations from something one has to sit through to something they're eager to experience. The company certainly has its work cut out for it in that regard, but the sheer ambition has to be admired.
Ideal for tablets
As noted earlier, Haiku Deck is an iPad app. CEO Adam Tratt says consumers are using their tablets for everything nowadays so it makes perfect sense to create programs that cater to that everyday use.
“The tablet began as a media consumption device,” he said in an interview with GeekWire. We are currently experiencing a “seismic shift in how people are using tablets, from content consumption to content creation.”
Tratt also says the program will attract other users besides the usual boss in the boardroom type.
“I think early adopters will include entrepreneurs who are always pitching, marketing types who are telling stories and creating narratives for brands, leaders/organizers who are promoting a movement, teachers/students who want to deliver impact,” he explained.
The company says it doesn’t only want to provide a fresh alternative to programs like PowerPoint, it wants to completely change the way presentations are thought about.
Business as usual
“Presentation software hasn’t changed very much over the years,” the company said on its site. “It’s been business as usual since the invention of the Internet and mass adoption of mobile devices. We set out ... to change the game. With our product, anyone can create a stunning deck and share it.”
It seems that most presentation programs set out to provide content in a professional and uniformed way, but few companies have really tried to make presentations beautiful, entertaining and fun to watch.
Haiku Deck clearly seeks to be the first company to provide this service, and since it heavily associates itself with both the younger generation and the way mobile devices are used today, the company could eventually be looked at as Gen Y’s official way to present an idea, business plan or a solution to a problem.
The app is also perfect for organizers and companies that want to market their products and services in a youthful, cool and stylish way.
The color photos users will have access to are from the photo-sharing site Creative Common, and since every Internet photo seems to be going the Pintrest route these days with bold imaging, audiences of the presentation should be able to pay closer attention to what’s being shown.
The company also wants to increase the fun factor for the person putting the presentation together and by viewing the online video for Haiku Deck, it’s clear that easy use for the presenter is a big part of the this program.
Whether the app will eventually rival PowerPoint or similar programs is yet to be determined, but the Haiku has already received its fair share of attention, especially among those who are looking for the next generation of visual and presentation tools.
If you think about it, we’ve been using the same old Microsoft Office programs for quite some time.Word and Outlook haven’t been improve...
Black Friday Diary: Inventory problems, price disputes leave shoppers peeved
It's pretty much the same story every year -- stores overpromise and underdeliver
As expected, millions of consumers trooped to the nation's big box stores this year for the annual shopping extravaganza known as Black Friday and its new predecessor, Black Thursday.
Although there were scattered protests about stores opening on Thanksgiving night, retailers said the promotion was a success. Walmart alone said it counted 22 million customers on Thanksgiving.
Not everyone chose to fight the crowds in person. Online Black Friday sales topped $1 billion for the first time this year, comScore Inc said on Sunday, up 26% over last year. ShopperTrak estimated Black Friday sales at $11.2 billion, down 1.8% from last year.
With this many consumers determined to buy something -- anything! -- it's not surprising to find a growing reservoir of hard feelings over pricing, delivery, out-of-stock items and warranty issues, not to mention a little roughhousing.
Here are some of the more representative postings to ConsumerAffairs memorializing Black Friday 2012.
Bea of Hondo, Texas, is still fuming about her attempt to buy some sale items at Walmart. Here's her story:
Advertisement clearly reflected the three sale events, starting at 8pm thanksgiving night, 10 pm and 5 am the next morning. Two of the items I wanted were on the 10 pm sale event. I got to the store before 8pm thinking I might like some of the sale items at that time slot too. Right away I asked where I could find the 10 pm item so that I could stand in line or do whatever I needed to do to be ready for when it went on sale at 10. I was told that particular item was already sold out. Well, come to find out people were allowed to fill their carts at 6 pm with items that were not going on sale until 10.....four whole hours before the sale time! I thought that was just plain wrong, very bad misadvertisement.
Bea went back to the store the next day and spoke with a manager who told her that store personnel would sometimes sell items before they went on sale "if the crowd began looking like they might fight for a certain item."
This is probably understandable from a self-preservation standpoint but Bea thinks it's just plain wrong.
"So basically,Walmart caters to the violent people who don't respect the Walmart store environment nor their Black Friday sale events time and the honest customer gets the shaft," she said. "I for one will not bother to go again if they can't control their violent troublemakers and treat the good, loyal customer with more consideration."
Walmart confirms that it sold out of three of its heavily-advertised electronics specials -- an iPad 2, a 32-inch Emerson television and an LG Blu-ray player. But the giant retailer said that shoppers who were waiting in line for the deals will stil be able to buy them at the advertised price and will be able to pick them up at stores before Christmas.
Whether that word made it to all the consumers who missed out on sale items is open to question.
It wasn't just electronics causing problems. Fernando of Cocoa, Fla., would be loaded for bear if only he had gotten his shotgun.
"The Walmart Black Friday ad had listed a Savage Model 320 shotgun [but] in all of Brevard County, Florida, Walmart had none of this item," Fernando complained.
Christine of Cochranville, Pa., went to the Kmart in Lancaster at 7 a.m. on Black Friday to pick up an Eagle Talon Castle for her grandson.
"Scanned it on red laser and it said that it was $44.97 on-line or local, but when she rang it up it came up as $59.99. I showed her the red laser result from scanning the bar code and she called the manager," Christine said. "He said that was just the online price and I asked why it said local also. He said that was only if ordered online and picked up at the store."
"I said the was deceiving and he said too bad,"Christine said. "I went to Walmart got the same item , showed the the red laser and the gave it to me for that advertised price. That is why Kmart is losing customers and Walmart is growing. I will not shop Kmart any more."
Samuel of Loma Linda, Calif., bought an HP laptop online on Black Friday and was told to go to the store to pick it up.
"A day later, I received another email telling me that they are out of the laptops and they are 'sorry.' They are giving me a $50 credit towards my next purchase but the discount on the laptop was $200. In other words, I will have to spend an extra $150 on the laptop.
"If they don't have it anymore and still sold it, they should allow me to purchase a similar laptop with a $200 discount or tell me I can get it as soon as they come in," Samuel said.
Jorge of Boca Raton, Fla., placed an online order with Sam’s Club for the 65” Vizio LED that they had on promotion for the Black Friday week, he told us.
"Their online ad said that they would start selling online at 11 PM on Wednesday 11/21/12. The item became available about 5min before 11PM and I placed the order online. The order was processed successfully, I received the confirmation by email and they took the money from my bank account," he said.
But to his surprise, Jorge received an email Friday morning saying his order had been canceled because of high demand and low inventory.
"I went to the store but it was too late since they only had 6 units per store. Not only that, but once I got home I saw that the money was still not returned to my account. So not only I lost Black Friday [but] I also cannot even try to buy another TV because Sam’s Club still have my money," Jorge said.
"I went Black Friday shopping hoping to get the 5n1 blender," Emily of Boca Raton Fla., said. "I arrived at the store 30 minutes before and there was no one waiting. Once it got closer to the time more and more people arrived.
"They opened the doors and I went upstairs to get a blender and noticed there was only about 10 in the piles which was immediately gobbled up by people. I think that's a little ridiculous for a department store Black Friday. I definitely won't be shopping there on Black Friday anymore," Emily vowed.
Today should be busiest online shopping day of the year
More consumers are doing their shopping online
Black Friday is yesterday's news. Today is "Cyber Monday," a serious, and perhaps more civilized day for bargain-hunting.
Cyber Monday, of course, is the Monday after after Thanksgiving, when online retailers put out their bargains for online shoppers. Since the tradition began it has turned into one of the busiest shopping days of the year, rivaling Black Friday.
Actually, holiday shopping online is already off to a big start. Online Black Friday sales topped $1 billion for the first time this year, comScore Inc said on Sunday, up 26% over last year. ShopperTrak estimated Black Friday sales at $11.2 billion, down 1.8% from last year.
And unlike Black Friday, which often gets a black eye from consumers unhappy with crowded stores, sold-out items and price disputes, shoppers are highly positive about Cyber Monday. We conducted a computerized sentiment analysis of about 580,000 consumer postings to social media sites over the last year and found very positive sentiments, as reflected in this chart:
Compare that to the rather dismal 27% positive sentiment for Black Friday we reported earlier and one might conclude that online shopping is fast becoming the people's choice.
If there's any doubt online shopping is growing, a new survey from CouponCabin.com shows 47 percent of Cyber Monday shoppers will spend more money online today than they will in-store the during the rest of the holiday season.
The holiday has gone mobile as well. More than one-quarter of smartphone and tablet owners plan to shop online on Cyber Monday on their devices. Some of those embracing mobile Cyber Monday shopping started scoping out items in-store on Black Friday. More than four-in-ten smartphone owners who plan to shop online on Cyber Monday said they "showroomed" certain products on Black Friday with the intention to buy them on Cyber Monday.
Spending is expected to rise this year. Fifty-four percent of those surveyed said they plan to spend between $101 and $500 today. Six percent will spend more than $500.
"Cyber Monday's popularity has grown year after year," said Jackie Warrick, President and Chief Savings Officer at CouponCabin.com. "For some people, it's even eclipsed Black Friday as the top day for saving, likely due to its convenience. Plus, Cyber Monday shoppers can access deals from anywhere, whether they're on the go, at home or at work."
Bosses may not approve, but a lot of these purchases today will be made by people who are on company time. Thirty-seven percent of employed shoppers report they plan to browse the Cyber Monday deals while they're at work, up from 24 percent last year.
No matter where you'll do your Cyber Monday shopping, Warrick offers the following tips to maximize the busiest online shopping day of the year:
Bookmark, subscribe to and follow your favorites. In the week leading up to Cyber Monday, take some time to bookmark web pages, subscribe to email alerts and follow your favorite stores on various channels so you're in the know about their savings specials. It will save you precious shopping time when Cyber Monday rolls around!
Read reviews. Nobody likes to return items or get stuck with something that's low quality. Figure out which items are good fits for your needs ahead of time by reading reviews online. Don't be swayed to buy lesser quality items or ones that don't have what you want just because they're cheap.
Start your shopping on a coupon site. The sheer volume of deals on Cyber Monday can be overwhelming, so start your shopping on a coupon site. They do all the homework for you and you can easily search for your favorite stores and brands.
Black Friday is yesterday's news. Today is "Cyber Monday," a serious, and perhaps more civilized day for bargain-hunting.Cyber Monday, of course, is the ...
The automaker is taking aim at Toyota as it rolls out five new hybrids
Do you think of Ford as the leader in fuel economy? Didn't think so. Neither does anyone else that we know of but that's not stopping Ford from blowing its horn about the rising mpg ratings of its expanding hybrid fleet.
With three new hybrids already on the market and two more on the way, Ford is going after Toyota, which currently holds the top spot among most mileage-minded consumers. Hyundai had the title for a little while but has now admitted it overstated mileage claims for nearly 1 million cars in the 2011-13 model years.
"Ford has eight products that deliver 40 mpg or more. We can beat Toyota in every segment where they compete," C.J. O'Donnell, Ford marketing manager for electrified vehicles, said at the San Francisco launch of the C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid, Automotive News reported. "We're not going to be shy about pointing out those advantages to customers."
Ford may have its work cut out for it, at least when it comes to raising consumers' awareness of its hybrid offerings. We conducted a computerized sentiment analysis and found only 1,700 consumer postings about Ford hybrids to social media sites over the last year. That's the bad news.
The good news is that the sentiments were highly positive, hitting the 100% mark several times throughout the year. This is partly a result of the small sample size but should nevertheless bring a little holiday cheer to Ford.
Ford is taking an aggressive edge in a series of new ads, comparing the C-Max to the Toyota Prius, claiming the 2013 C-MAX Energi is America’s "most fuel-efficient plug-in hybrid" – certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to offer the equivalent of 105 miles per gallon (MPGe) combined – 5 MPGe more than Prius Plug-in.
“Ford’s strategy to deliver the power of choice for leading fuel economy across our lineup seems very well timed as our customers and dealers are showing significant interest in vehicles such as the C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid,” O’Donnell said in an earlier press release. “C-MAX Energi joins C-MAX Hybrid to help Ford take on Prius for the first time, with great early signs as the hybrid outsold Prius v in its first full month of sales in October.”
Five models in 2013
By early 2013, Ford says it will be the first automaker to sell three plug-in electrified vehicles when the Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid arrives. In total, Ford is launching five new electrified vehicles, including:
C-MAX Hybrid: C-MAX Hybrid delivers EPA-certified 47 mpg city, highway and combined – up to 7 mpg better than Prius v – plus 50 more horsepower and 15 exclusive technologies, according to Ford.
C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid: Ford’s first production plug-in hybrid delivers 108 MPGe city EPA rating, 21 miles of all-electric range that’s more than triple Prius plug-in’s six miles, and 620 miles of overall range on a tank of gas, Ford said. The vehicle’s “real car” performance includes 195 horsepower (versus Prius plug-in’s 134 horsepower), engaging driving dynamics and a quiet interior – all with a leading EV-only speed of 85 mph, 20 mph above the Prius plug-in
Fusion Hybrid: EPA-rated 47 mpg city, highway and combined, up to 6 mpg better than the Toyota Camry Hybrid combined.
Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid (will begin production by the end of this year): Aims to be the most fuel-efficient midsize car in the world with more than 100 MPGe, according to Ford.
Focus Electric: America’s most fuel-efficient five-passenger car, with an EPA-certified 110 MPGe city rating and 105 MPGe combined, beating Nissan Leaf by 6 MPGe while offering more motor power and more standard features, the automaker claims.
Ford is not allowing just any dealer to sell the C-Max and its other electrified cars. So far it has more than 200 dealers certified to sell its lineup of plug-in electrified vehicles.
The first 67 certified dealers were in California, New York and New Jersey and have been selling the Focus Electric since spring. By early 2013, Focus Electric and C-MAX Energi will be joined by Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid – expected to be the world’s most fuel-efficient sedan by achieving more than 100 MPGe in electric mode – and available at certified dealers nationwide.
To become certified to sell the plug-ins, dealers first had to satisfy a list of requirements, including:
One of the two required charging stations at the dealership must be in the customer area and the other must be in the service area
At least one Focus Electric and C-MAX Energi must be available at all times for demonstrations and events
Of the sales consultant, sales manager, service advisor and service manager jobs at each location, 80 percent must meet specific electric vehicle training certification requirements that cover topics including advanced knowledge of electrification
Each showroom will have point-of-purchase display materials including digital assets and window signage
Participation in a Ford Go Green Dealer Onsite Facility Assessment to identify energy- and cost-saving opportunities with a goal of facilitating energy efficiency, lower operating expenses and carbon footprint reduction.
Photo credits: Ford Motor Co.
Do you think of Ford as the leader in fuel economy? Didn't think so. Neither does anyone else that we know of but that's not stopping Ford from blowing its...
The Stellaris Launch Pad: A $13 single-board computer
First it was the Raspberry Pi for $25 and now comes the Stellaris which also helps with computer design
We recently reported on the $25 Raspberry Pi computer that teaches people computer design, which has been the rave among those interested in coding and learning how a computer works from the inside out.
Well, now the folks at Texas Instruments have released their version of the single-board computer by way of the Stellaris Launch Pad, which is similar to the Raspberry Pi in shape and function but only costs $13, which has made techies who are interested in fiddling with the inside of computers extremely happy.
As electronic gear becomes more and more ingrained into our everyday lives, many believe schools have done a poor job teaching children how to design computers and build hardware from the ground up.
The Stellaris Launch Pad helps you do just that, and although it’s only a single-board computer and doesn’t come with a screen or keyboard, it can still be connected to a desktop or laptop by its USB port to take on some of the functions of a regular computer, but it doesn’t allow you full computer use like the Raspberry Pi.
But to use the Launch Pad like a traditional computer isn’t really the point here, as the main purpose of the device is to give people an inexpensive way to experiment and conduct a good bit of trial and error while learning computer design.
The specs of the Launch Pad include an onboard USB in-circuit debug interface, a Micro AB USB device port, and 3 user LEDs among other features. There’s also a software application that shows users how to code and program the Launch Pad from a Linux box.
The $13 computer comes with a series of tutorials, like how to start a new Code Composer Studio project, and an introduction to Stellaris’ Data Sheets and User’s Guides. The tutorials also show you how to import certain codes if you happen to be a novice at computer design.
Not for everyone
Now of course the Stellaris Launch Pad won’t be for everybody, as everyday device users probably won’t care much for a computer that doesn’t really function like a full-fledged computer, but many in the hacking world should be excited over this release, as the Launch Pad is yet another instrument like the Cubieboard and the Mini X that appeals to the group of consumers who may want to build their own computers one day.
The era of the single-board computer has also given opportunities for those children or nations that may not be able to afford high-end electronics and may be able to build their own device at a cheaper cost.
Now before you go and purchase the Launch Pad as a holiday gift--especially for a child--you should make sure they’re interested in computer design first, and want to use the board for that purpose. Just buying the Stellaris because its $13 and trying to get regular computer use out of it, shouldn’t be your primary motivation.
But if you do pick one up they shouldn’t be too hard to find, as the Stellaris, can be purchased at both online and retail stores.
We recently reported on the $25 Raspberry Pi computer that teaches people computer design, which has been the rave among those interested in coding and lea...
But customers have to be in their home to use the service
Trailing a few steps behind Cablevision and Time Warner, Verizon is making 75 channels available to its FiOS TV and Internet customers via their iPad. But unlike Cablevision and Time Warner, the service doesn't include local TV channels.
Comcast, meanwhile, has added the ability to download content from some premium channels which were previously available only through on-demand.
Verizon's iPad app went on sale last week in the Apple iTunes App Store.
To use the feature, customers must subscribe to both FiOS Internet and TV service, and must use a Verizon-provided router. Live TV on the iPad is accessible only within a customer’s home over Wi-Fi.
Comcast has updated its service for mobile devices. Besides on-demand streaming of premium channels, subscribers can no download some content for offline viewing. Arriving simultaneously on iOS and Android, the Xfinity TV Player apps support downloads from premium channels Showtime, Starz, Encore, and MoviePlex.
The 75 networks available through the FiOS iPad app -- available to customers based on their TV subscription package -- are: TNT, TBS, Spike TV, USA Network, FX, HGTV, Food Network, Travel Channel, DIY, Style, History, National Geographic Channel, TLC, Discovery, H2, Military History, NatGeo Wild, Science, ID, Animal Planet, Military Channel, TV Land, AMC, TCM, Hallmark Channel, Nick, Nick Jr., TeenNick, Nicktoons, Sprout, The Hub, Disney Channel, Disney Junior, Disney XD, Boomerang, Cartoon Network, MTV, MTV2, CMT, MTV Jams, VH1, VH1 Soul, Fox News, CNN, HLN, Fox Business Network, CNBC, MSNBC, BBC World News, Galavision, TV One, BET, Centric, Comedy Central, truTV, ABC Family, A&E, Syfy, Bravo, E!, G4, BBC America, TV Guide Network, HBO, HBO2, Cinemax, Epix, IFC, ESPNews, NFL Network, Lifetime, Lifetime Movie Network, OWN, Oxygen and We TV.
Trailing a few steps behind Cablevision and Time Warner, Verizon is making 75 channels available to its FiOS TV and Internet customers via their iPad. But ...
They're getting more sophisticated and harder to avoid
The Internet has become more sophisticated over the years and so have the threats to users. Today, hackers are doing more than sending out infected spam emails -- they're exploiting the system's vulnerabilities to threaten consumers.
Experts at Georgia Tech -- the Georgia Tech Information Security Center (GTISC) and the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) -- constantly work to stay one step ahead of the hackers. They say the coming year will pose some steep challenges.
Here are some threats they say consumers should be aware of:
The ability to create vast, virtual computing resources will further persuade cyber criminals to look for ways to co-opt cloud-based infrastructure for their own ends. For example, attackers can use stolen credit card information to purchase cloud computing resources and create dangerous clusters of temporary virtual attack systems.
Search history poisoning
Cyber criminals will continue to manipulate search engine algorithms and other automated mechanisms that control what information you see when you do a search. Moving beyond typical search-engine poisoning, researchers believe that manipulating users’ search histories may be a next step in ways that attackers use legitimate resources for illegitimate gains.
Mobile browser and mobile wallet vulnerabilities
This, unfortunately, may be a fertile growth area for scammers. While only a very small number of U.S. mobile devices show signs of infection, the explosive proliferation of smartphones will continue to tempt attackers in exploiting user and technology-based vulnerabilities, particularly with the browser function and digital wallet apps.
Unfortunately, your anti-virus software may prove less effective against emerging threats. The developers of malicious software will employ various methods to hinder malware detection, such as hardening their software with techniques similar to those employed in Digital Rights Management (DRM), and exploiting the wealth of new interfaces and novel features on mobile devices.
"Our adversaries, whether motivated by monetary gain, political/social ideology or otherwise, know no boundaries, making cyber security a global issue,” said Bo Rotoloni, director of GTRI’s Cyber Technology and Information Security Laboratory. “Our best defense on the growing cyber warfront is found in cooperative education and awareness, best-of-breed tools and robust policy developed collaboratively by industry, academia and government.”
The bottom line, say the Georgia Tech experts, is users must keep their guard up in the coming year.
The Internet has become more sophisticated over the years and so have the threats to users. Today, hackers are doing more than sending out infected spam em...
That ratings category combines vehicle performance in frontal and side-impact crash tests and a resistance to rollover evaluation. Ford said it believes the Focus was helped by improvements in its airbags and electronic stability control.
The driver's airbag uses a specially designed curve-shaped tether system that pulls in the lower section to create a "pocket" to help lessen the impact of the airbag on the driver's chest and ribs in frontal crashes.
New seat mounted side airbags feature shoulder vents designed to line up with the shoulder area of a larger occupant keeping the side airbag from venting. On smaller passengers, the effect is just the opposite. Because the occupant's shoulder is below the vent, the gas vents out of the airbag.
"The new Focus is another example of Ford's commitment to safety and NHTSA's NCAP program has recognized this fact," said Steve Kenner, global director of the Automotive Safety Office. "The Focus is built with technologies from bumper to bumper to help reduce occupant injury risk when a crash is unavoidable."
Ford said its AdvanceTrac with electronic stability control helps the vehicle maintain its intended path by measuring side-to-side skidding, by monitoring the vehicle's speed, throttle position and steering wheel angle, and when wheel slip is sensed, reduces engine torque and applies selected brakes.
Ford said its SYNC voice recognition technology allows customers to bring digital media players and Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones into their vehicles and operate the devices via voice commands or with the steering wheel's supplemental audio controls, thus reducing driver distraction.
For novice drivers, a feature called MyKey allows parents to program any key through the vehicle message center to limit the volume on the stereo, top speed, block incoming phone calls and texts and make sure a child is buckled up before using the audio system.
Ford said improvements can even reduce the number of scraps and dents collected while parallel parking. Active park assist uses an ultrasonic-based sensing system and electric power-assisted steering (EPAS) to position the vehicle for parallel parking, calculate the optimal steering angle and quickly steer the vehicle into a parking spot.
The 2013 Ford Focus starts at $16,200, according to automotive site Edmunds.com.
Ford Motor company says its 2013 Ford Focus received a top safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), earning a five-st...
Standard mileage rates to rise one cent-per-mile in 2013
The new rates will apply for business, medical and moving travel
Another penny from Uncle Sam.
The Internal Revenue Service has announced the 2013 optional standard mileage rates used to calculate the deductible costs of operating an automobile for business, charitable, medical or moving purposes. It works out to an additional penny-per-mile.
Beginning on Jan. 1, 2013, the standard mileage rates for the use of a car (also vans, pickups or panel trucks) will be:
56.5 cents per mile for business miles driven
24 cents per mile driven for medical or moving purposes
14 cents per mile driven in service of charitable organizations
Fixing the rate
The standard mileage rate for business is based on an annual study of the fixed and variable costs of operating an automobile. The rate for medical and moving purposes is based on the variable costs.
Taxpayers always have the option of calculating the actual costs of using their vehicle rather than using the standard mileage rates.
A taxpayer may not use the business standard mileage rate for a vehicle after using any depreciation method under the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS) or after claiming a Section 179 deduction for that vehicle. In addition, the business standard mileage rate cannot be used for more than four vehicles used simultaneously.
These and other requirements for a taxpayer to use a standard mileage rate to calculate the amount of a deductible business, moving, medical, or charitable expense are in Rev. Proc. 2010-51.
Notice 2012-72 contains the standard mileage rates, the amount a taxpayer must use in calculating reductions to basis for depreciation taken under the business standard mileage rate, and the maximum standard automobile cost that a taxpayer may use in computing the allowance under a fixed and variable rate plan.
Another penny from Uncle Sam. The Internal Revenue Service has announced the 2013 optional standard mileage rates used to calculate th...
Perhaps obscured in the Thanksgiving festivities and the shopping frenzy that followed, the last-ditch effort to save Hostess Brands failed last week. A bankruptcy court has approved its emergency interim motion for the orderly wind-down of its business and sale of its assets.
Judge Robert Drain approved the motion after the company and the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco and Grain Millers Union (BCTGM) were unable to reach an agreement during an 11th-hour mediation yesterday.
Twinkies will be missed, at least for a little while. We conducted a computerized sentiment analysis of about 310,000 consumer comments on social media over the last year.
Not surprisingly, most of the comments were made in recent weeks, as Twinkies' plight became known -- and it was apparently news consumers were not happy to hear.
Oddly, consumers seem most impressed by Twinkies' purported ability to survive nuclear devastation or other apocalyptic event.
Hostess says it has no option other than liquidating, blaming the bakers' union strike for crippling it at a time when it was attempting to reorganize under bankruptcy to continue operating. More than 18,000 employees will eventually be laid off.
Hostess Brands said it intends to retain approximately 3,200 employees to assist with the initial phase of the wind down. Employee headcount is expected to decrease by 94 percent within the first 16 weeks of the operation. The entire process is expected to be completed in one year.
Hostess blames its demise on “an inflated cost structure that put the company at a profound competitive disadvantage.” Hostess said the biggest part of its costs was its collective bargaining agreements that covered 15,000 of 18,500 employees.
Among other provisions, the court order allows Hostess Brands to return excess ingredients and packaging; provides liquidity through an amended debtor-in-possession financing agreement and consensual use of cash collateral; and authorizes the Company to implement a non-executive employee retention plan to ensure the Company has the necessary personnel to implement the wind down.
Brands for sale
Hostess produces more than 30 brands, including the iconic Twinkies, Cupcakes and Wonder Bread product lines. But just because the company is going out of business doesn't mean those products will disappear from the marketplace.
Hostess said it fully expects to sell those brands to other food companies, who will continue to produce them. However the winddown will mean the closure of 33 Hostess bakeries, 565 distribution centers, approximately 5,500 delivery routes, 570 bakery outlet stores and the loss of 18,500 jobs.
Hostess brands was founded in 1930 and was based in Irving, Tex.
Perhaps obscured in the Thanksgiving festivities and the shopping frenzy that followed, the last-ditch effort to save Hostess Brands failed last week. A ba...
Lots of free shipping offers from online retailers this weekend
Survey finds most retailers offering promotions, discounts, free shipping -- or all three
As surely as Black Friday follows Thanksgiving, Cyber Monday follows the weekend sales orgy.
And whether they are affiliated with brick-and-mortar stores or are standalone online stores, merchants are doing everything imaginable to grab their share of the holiday shopping rush.
According to Shop.org’s eHoliday survey conducted by BIGinsight, 97.3 percent of online retailers will offer special promotions at some point during the Thanksgiving weekend, up from 90.2 percent last year. Specifically, 45.7 percent will offer specific online deals on Thanksgiving Day, and a record 85.0 percent will offer special promotions on Cyber Monday, up from 78.4 percent last year.
"Consumers are increasingly shopping and buying both online and in-store this holiday season,” said Shop.org Executive Director Vicki Cantrell. “Savvy retailers are getting the word out to customers about in-store offers and events using online vehicles such as Facebook, email, Twitter, and mobile alerts."
Cantrell says retailers are "integrating their digital and in-store promotions, working to create that seamless shopping experience that they know consumers demand and expect."
Not always trouble-free
Of course, things don't alway turn out as cheerily as the blizzard of press releases, ads ad promotions would lead us to believe.
Azhar of Indianapolis bought a laptop during Best Buy's Cyber Monday promotion last year and was none too happy with the outcome.
"I bought laptop online on Cyber Monday, just got an email about back order," he said in a ConsumerAffairs posting last year. "Then called three times, each time wait to talk with somebody, same answer -- back order or you can cancel your order. My nine-year-old son is asking with me everyday about his laptop."
Sam of Spring, Texas, had a disappointing experience with a Kohl's order.
"Kohl's canceled my Cyber Monday order due to NO reason (except incompetency. ... I have been chasing them for two weeks but their customer service is running me around with all kind of excuses but no solution," Sam said. "Now I don't have a Christmas gift for my wife and no more Cyber Monday deals anywhere. If you will Google 'kohl's order canceled' you will find hundreds of these incidents."
Laura of Elkhart, Ind., had a similar experience with Target.com.
"On Cyber Monday I ordered a Wii bundle from the Target.com site. The item was listed as 'In stock' and I received a confirmation email and number saying my item would be shipped to me. At that point, I thought it was a done deal and waited to receive my item," Laura said. "I do not check my email more than once every few weeks. Today was the day and discovered I had recieved a Cancellation of order email from Target on Dec. 2 telling me the item was no longer available and I would not be getting it.
"I called the number for online order customer service and spoke with 2 different people. The only thing I was offered as compensation was an apology and a $10 gift card,"Laura said.
Slews of offers
Retailers are offering gifts of coupons/percentage off their purchases (47.1%), limited time promotions (26.5%), and other online specific promotions (29.4%).
However, the biggest draw is expected to be free shipping without conditions: 44.1 percent of retailers polled will offer the customer favorite on Cyber Monday, up significantly from the 12.5 percent who said so last year. Another 29.4 percent will offer free standard shipping with conditions.
“There’s no question that one of shoppers’ favorite deals is free shipping—in fact, many expect it— and retailers are responding,” said BIGinsight Consumer Insights Director Pam Goodfellow. “The free shipping ‘savings’ plus any additional discount or promotion should pique online shoppers' interest from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday this year.”
Cyber Monday, a term coined by Shop.org in 2005, began after retailers noticed a trend of shopping online the Monday after Thanksgiving when people returned to work.
Today, Cyber Monday is viewed as the online equivalent to Black Friday – the ceremonial kickoff to the online holiday shopping season when shoppers flood retailers’ websites expecting robust promotions such as deep discounts and free shipping offers.
Photo credits: National Retail Federation (top), Target.com (bottom)
As surely as Black Friday follows Thanksgiving, Cyber Monday follows the weekend sales orgy. And whether they are affiliated with brick-and-mortar stores o...
The all-electric car's latest model goes farther on a single charge
Nissan is trying to recharge sales of its Leaf electric car. The company says its latest model can travel farther on a charger and how has a gauge that tells drivers how much battery life is left.
The changes were based on feedback from owners whose biggest worry was running out of electricity while driving, company officials said at a Tokyo unveiling of the newest model, which also featues a slightly lower price. The base model now starts at $31,000, down from $37,000.
The Leaf is the world's most popular electric vehicle, accounting for more than half of all electric car sales worldwide. Nissan sold 43,000 Leafs last year, about half of them in Japan.
All-electric cars have had a harder time winning acceptance in the United States, where commuting distances tend to be longer than in Europe and Asia. Although consumers have no trouble charging their cars at home, finding an outlet on the road is another matter.
Everyone admit that worries about being able to recharge -- commonly known as "range anxiety" -- must be dealt with if electric vehicles are to take off in the U.S.
"People who try out the Leaf are moved," Senior Vice President Masaaki Nishizawa said, the Detroit Free Press reported. "But they are worried about cruise range."
Photo credits: Nissan (top) & staff (bottom)
Nissan is trying to recharge sales of its Leaf electric car. The company says its latest model can travel farther on a charger and how has a gauge that tel...
Study: Losing your job could lead to heart disease
According to researchers, it's just not your bills that will suffer from unemployement, it's your health
There's no doubt that joblessness hurts a lot of different areas of life.
Obviously, household bills are slow to be paid if they’re able to be paid at all, savings accounts have to be tapped into and made into primary accounts and spending on things like eating out, going to the movies or just making a frivolous purchase seem to dramatically decrease.
But what are the health ramifications attached to unemployment? Of course one could easily associate the lack of health coverage to poorer health, but how else does not having gainful employment affect one’s level of well-being?
According to a recent study, unemployment can lead to heart attacks, particularly among the older portion of the work force. This was determined after researchers from Duke University surveyed both men and women since 1992 on a bi-annual basis, to establish a correlation between joblessness and heart disease.
The participants consisted of 13,000 men and women who were questioned about their level of health as well their employment status, and it was determined that Americans between the ages of 50 and 75 had a 35 percent higher chance of developing a heart attack if unemployed, compared to others who had similar health issues but still had their job.
The findings proved to researchers that not having a job could be the one factor that pushes a person over the edge of proper health and causes them to have a heart attack when declining health was already an issue.
This supports the findings of a 2009 Harvard study that showed heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes can develop quickly after someone is laid off from a job, as opposed to quitting.
In the Duke study it was never revealed how the unemployed participants lost their jobs, but researchers said losing a position to no fault of their own was most likely the main contributor of becoming less healthy and ultimately becoming heart attack victims.
“The [size] of the impact was striking to us,” said Dr. Eric Peterson head author of the study in an interview. “There is this compounded effect of multiple job losses on an individual’s health. I think that was interesting and unique to see.”
The researchers also documented the health state of each respondent and took heart disease contributors like smoking, high-blood pressure and poor diet into account to determine heart attack risks. But after considering all of these factors, the study still showed that joblessness was a leading cause in the participants declining health.
And although it wasn't determined if unemployment was the sole cause of the respondents getting a heart attack, researchers saw it was a primary factor, especially for those who previously showed signs of heart disease before losing their job.
And during the study, 69 .7 percent lost their jobs at least one time, 7.9 percent suffered a heart attack, and 14 percent of the participants didn’t have a job at the start of the research.
Additionally, researchers learned that losing a job also led to behaviors that may add to the risk of heart disease like smoking, developing high blood pressure through stress and other things linked to being abruptly let go from a position.
“The risks of heart attacks associated with multiple job losses were of the magnitude of other established risk factors, such as smoking, hypertension and diabetes,” said Duke study author Dr. Matthew E. Dupree.
And the fact the health of older Americans seem to be more impacted by a job loss could be because younger workers may already expect their employment may be for a short while, as staying with one company until retirement is far from the norm nowadays, and the younger generation has seemed to except this.
Although losing a job is extremely unfortunate for a person of any age, younger workers may be prepared for it a little bit more since the word “job-security” doesn’t really apply these days, as companies and employers are continually cutting back and downsizing, while choosing to carry on with a smaller staff to spend less money.
Dupre says the findings weren’t at all a shock to the researchers, but the fact that joblessness seemed to have as heavy as an impact as other factors associated with heart disease, was extremely troubling for them.
“We weren’t surprised to find the association, but we were surprised to find that the effects were so large, on par with classic risk factors such as hypertension and diabetes,” he said.
There's not doubt that joblessness hurts a lot of different areas of life.Obviously, household bills are slow to be paid if they’re able to be paid...