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    MetLife ruling may affect life insurance premiums

    The company says it will be more competitive if it is no longer judged to be "too big to fail"

    MetLife is the largest life insurance company in the United States. About 100 million consumers worldwide rely on it for life insurance, annuities, and other safety net products. But is it too big to fail?

    A federal judge says it isn't and yesterday struck down the U.S. government's determination that MetLife needs to build up its capital reserves and submit to tight regulation to ensure its financial well-being.

    "From the beginning, MetLife has said that its business model does not pose a threat to the financial stability of the United States," the company's chief executive, Steven Kandarian, said in a statement.

    The decision is seen as a victory for big business, and it was quickly followed by a report that General Electric, which owns Genworth, might be next in line to challenge its designation as "systemically important" to the U.S. economy. Wall Street is also pressing AIG and Prudential to respond. 

    Dodd-Frank

    The "too big to fail" test was created by the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010. Instituted after the financial crisis of 2008, it was initially aimed at banks but was later extended to other major companies who were so important to the economy that their collapse could trigger another crisis.

    MetLife is one of the few financial powerhouses that did not receive any government assistance during the financial crisis. 

    Kandarian has argued that life insurance companies don't carry the same risks as other financial institutions, since in most cases, funds are not subject to immediate withdrawal. Most life insurance policies, for example, pay out only when the policyholder dies.

    Kandarian also contends that insurance companies are adequately supervised at the state level. That argument may not sit well with consumer advocates, who just this week formed organizations in Connecticut, Colorado, Florida, Ohio, and Virginia. They plan to pressure insurance commissioners, attorneys general, and state lawmakers to hold public hearings on the proposed mergers of health insurers, such as Aetna with Humana and Anthem with Cigna.

    A U.S. Treasury spokesman took issue with the decision by U.S. District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer, saying regulators had conducted "a rigorous analysis of MetLife, including extensive engagement with the company, and determined that material financial distress at MetLife could pose ... a threat to the financial system." 

    Effect on consumers

    What does all this mean for the consumers who buy insurance? To hear Wall Street tell it, it means that MetLife will be able to price its products more competitively, since it will not be held to tighter capital rules. It would also be more easily able to return more money to shareholders and sell off parts of the company, according to analysts quoted by Insurance Journal.

    MetLife's Kandarian has indicated a desire to "separate" one or more retail units, most likely the variable annuity product line. Variable annuities are closely tied to stock market fluctuations and are thus more volatile.

    The issue came up at Wednesday's White House briefing, where spokesman Josh Earnest declined to respond to the specific ruling but said that "one core component of Wall Street reform legislation that was passed early in President Obama’s presidency included giving regulators the tools that they need to regulate non-bank financial institutions."

    "This is one of the lessons that we’ve learned from the Great Recession — that it’s not just banks on Wall Street that could potentially shake the foundation of our financial system if they make a bunch of risky bets that go bad without proper oversight.  Worse yet, it could also put taxpayers on the hook for bailing them out," Earnest said.

    MetLife is the largest life insurance company in the United States. About 100 million consumers worldwide rely on it for life insurance, annuities, and oth...
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    DraftKings, FanDuel, reportedly ending college games

    Voluntary action follows discussions with NCAA

    Under fire from seemingly all sides, daily fantasy sports (DFS) enterprises DraftKings and FanDuel are reportedly dropping all college games and will go pro.

    Sports network ESPN quotes statements from both companies, saying that extensive discussions with the NCAA led them to take this voluntary action. Statements to ESPN by the two companies say the last college games they will offer will be the men's NCAA Final Four and Championship, played this weekend and Monday.

    ESPN quotes a statement from FanDuel, saying it reached its decision after months of conversations with the NCAA, member schools, and various state legislators.

    "It is clear that this is an issue that matters to a variety of constituencies and we feel that the best path forward is to suspend offering these contests pending resolution on the issue within state legislatures," said FanDuel in a statement to ESPN.

    DraftKings issued a similar statement, agreeing that suspending college games from its lineup is the "best path forward for the industry at this time."

    After both companies' burst of high-profile success in the second half of a large year, a number of states have questioned the legality of the games, which were classified as games of skill under federal gambling statutes.

    But several states, most notably New York, have accused DraftKings and FanDuel of operating games of chance in violation of state laws against gambling. Since then, both companies have stepped up their lobbying efforts, seeking state laws that would make their games an exception.

    Virginia passed such a law earlier this year. Other states are considering similar action.

    Under fire from seemingly all sides, daily fantasy sports (DFS) enterprises DraftKings and FanDuel are reportedly dropping all college games and will go pr...
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    First quarter gas prices lowest in 12 years

    But what do the next three months hold?

    When it comes to gasoline prices, consumers generally ask, “what have you done for me lately?” It's fine that fuel prices these last three months have been the lowest in 12 years.

    But what about the next three months?

    According to AAA, consumers have pocketed nearly $10 billion in gasoline savings in the first quarter of 2016, compared to the same period last year. And if you'll recall, gasoline prices were relatively low then.

    The next three months should see a steady rise in prices at the pump, but AAA says it shouldn't be anything that will overly stress motorists. It says prices may go up another 25 cents a gallon by Memorial Day, when traditionally prices start to go down again.

    But the good news for consumers is the huge oil stockpile the U.S. is currently sitting on. The Department of Energy reported this week that U.S. oil supplies are the largest in 80 years. That suggests plenty of gasoline, as long as the nation's refineries work near capacity.

    Refinery runs surging

    Analysis by Platts shows refineries are staying busy, with refinery runs surging above 16 million barrels a day. So the outlook for motorists over the next three months, despite the seasonal rise in fuel prices, is pretty good.

    Oil prices have rallied off their recent lows and hit $40 a barrel. However, there is no shortage of analysts who think prices will have trouble maintaining that level, as long as supply continues to build and the economy grows only modestly, if at all.

    Today, AAA says some 59% of U.S. gas stations are selling gas for less than $2 per gallon. The most common price across the country is $1.999 per gallon. On average, consumers are paying about 36 cents per gallon less than a year ago.

    Gasoline prices began their decline in late 2014, and since then consumers have rediscovered the open road. According to AAA, Americans drove 3.1 trillion miles last year – an all time record. The government estimates gasoline consumption is up 5% over a year ago, with hardly any effect on gasoline prices.

    When it comes to gasoline prices, consumers generally ask, “what have you done for me lately?” It's fine that fuel prices these last three months have been...
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      Citi unveils Costco Go Anywhere credit card

      New card offers more rewards, including 4% cash back on gas

      In early March, Costco announced it had entered into a new credit card agreement with Citi to replace its current co-branded American Express card. Now, Citi has announced that the launch date for its new Costco card will be June 20.

      Once issued, the Citi Visa Costco Go Anywhere credit card will serve as the Costco membership card, while providing rewards to users in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

      Citi says the new Costco Visa cards will be mailed in May. Costco members should follow the directions for activating the card but should keep using their current American Express card until the switch-over on June 20.

      Rewards

      Citi says its new Costco card will allow users to earn 4% cash back on eligible gasoline purchases, including at Costco pumps. The 4% reverts to 1% after $7,000 in gas purchases in a given year.

      The card will pay 3% cash back at restaurants and eligible travel purchases. It pays 2% cash back on Costco purchases and 1% everywhere else.

      Citi says Costco members who currently use the American Express card do not have to apply for the new Visa card. It will automatically be sent to members, who should destroy the Costco American Express card on June 20.

      Current points

      But what about any rewards that members may have piled up from American Express? Citi says customers won't lose them.

      “Rewards that were not previously distributed to you will be transferred automatically to your new card on June 20, 2016, so you won’t lose any of the rewards you’ve already earned,” Citi said on its website. “Your February 2017 cash back rewards coupon from Citi will include cash back rewards earned on your Costco card from American Express during 2016 that were not previously distributed to you by American Express.”

      However, if your Costco card from American Express earned Membership Rewards points, they will not transfer to your new card.  

      In early March, Costco announced it had entered into a new credit card agreement with Citi to replace its current co-branded American Express card. Now, Ci...
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      Time running short for many to take required retirement plan distributions

      First-timers must act quickly

      If you turned 70½ during 2015 you'd best get a move on.

      Seniors who have reached that age must -- in most cases -- start receiving required minimum distributions (RMDs) from Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) and workplace retirement plans by tomorrow, Friday, April 1, 2016.

      Under Internal Revenue Service (IRS) regulations, owners of traditional (including SEP and SIMPLE) IRAs but not Roth IRAs, are affected by the deadline. It normally applies to those with various workplace retirement plans, including 401(k), 403(b) and 457(b) plans.

      What to do

      Keep in mind, the April 1 deadline applies only to the required distribution for the first year. For all subsequent years, the RMD must be made by Dec. 31. So, if you turned 70½ last year (born after June 30, 1944 and before July 1, 1945) and receive the first required distribution (for 2015) on April 1, 2016, for example, you must still receive the second RMD by Dec. 31, 2016.

      Affected taxpayers who turned 70½ during 2015 must figure the RMD for the first year using the life expectancy as of their birthday in 2015 and their account balance on Dec. 31, 2014.

      The trustee reports the year-end account value to the IRA owner on Form 5498 in Box 5. Worksheets and life expectancy tables for making this computation can be found in the appendices to Publication 590-B.

      Though the April 1 deadline is mandatory for all owners of traditional IRAs and most participants in workplace retirement plans, some people with workplace plans can wait longer to receive their RMD. Usually, employees who are still working can, if their plan allows, wait until April 1 of the year after they retire to start receiving these distributions.

      Employees of public schools and certain tax-exempt organizations with 403(b) plan accruals before 1987 should check with their employer, plan administrator or provider to see how to treat these accruals.

      More information on RMDs, including answers to frequently asked questions, can be found on IRS.gov.

      If you turned 70½ during 2015 you'd best get a move on.Seniors who have reached that age must -- in most cases -- start receiving required minimum dist...
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      Improvements earn Toyota Prius top safety award

      An improved front crash prevention system made the difference

      Acing the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's (IIHS) small overlap front test has helped the 2016 Toyota Prius earn the organization's TOP SAFETY PICK+ award. Additionally, the small hybrid's optional front crash prevention system has improved to earn a superior rating.

      To qualify for the top IIHS award, vehicles have to get good ratings in the small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests, and must have an available front crash prevention system that earns an advanced or superior rating.

      The previous generation of the Prius had good ratings in four of the five crashworthiness tests, but rated only acceptable for small overlap protection because its structure didn't hold up well in the test.

      Significant improvements

      In contrast, the 2016 Prius had maximum intrusion of just two inches at the upper door-hinge pillar and at the brake and parking brake pedals. The dummy's movement was well-controlled, and measures taken from the dummy showed a low risk of injury in a crash of the same severity.

      The optional front crash prevention system has improved over what was available on the previous model. The new Prius avoided collisions in both the 12 mph and 25 mph IIHS track tests. It also has a forward collision warning component that meets National Highway Traffic Safety Administration criteria.

      Acing the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's (IIHS) small overlap front test has helped the 2016 Toyota Prius earn the organization's TOP SAFETY PICK...
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      Pace of job-cutting falls in March

      Much of the increase in cuts was in energy and retail

      The number of people who found they no longer had their jobs fell in March from the mark set the month before.

      Outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas reports that U.S.-based employers announced plans to trim payrolls by 48,207 in March -- the second month in a row that job cuts have declined. The March pace was 21.7% lower than the 61,599 terminations in February and the lowest monthly total since December.

      “Job cuts have slowed since surging in the first two months of the year, but the pace is still well above that of 2015,” said John Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

      First-quarter surge in cuts

      Even with the decline, the March figure was up 31.7% from the same month a year ago, making it the fourth consecutive year-over-year increase.

      Through the first three months of this year, employers have announced 184,920 job cuts, up 31.8% from the 140,241 cuts tracked the first quarter months of 2015, and 75.9% more than in the final quarter of 2015.

      Twenty-seven percent of the first-quarter job cuts can be directly tied to falling oil prices, slightly higher than a year ago. While there were fewer oil-related job cuts a year ago, they represented a larger portion of total job cuts, accounting for 34% of first-quarter termination announcements.

      It's not just the energy sector that is seeing heavier job cuts, though. The retail sector has also tallied significant gains in job cuts. To date, it has recorded the second highest number of job cuts, with 31,832 -- up 41% from the first three months of 2015.

      Meanwhile, the 17,002 job cuts in the computer sector are 148% higher than a year ago.

      “What these sectors share in common is that they are all going through transformational changes,” said Challenger. “We, as a nation, and really as a global community, are changing the way we produce and consume energy. We are also changing the way we buy goods and services. Technology is in a constant state of change, and, currently, we are shifting away from computing at our desks to computing on our phones and tablets."

      But, while jobs are being lost in some areas, Challenger points out that they are being created in others, including renewable energy, online retailing, and mobile computing.

      Initial jobless claims

      From the Department of Labor (DOL), word that first-time applications for state unemployment benefits rose for a fourth consecutive week.

      On a seasonally adjusted basis, initial claims rose 11,000 in the week ending March 26 to 276,000, but have remained below 300,000 for 56 straight weeks -- the longest streak since 1973.

      The four-week moving average inched up 3,500 to 263,250. Because it lacks the volatility of the weekly headcount, the moving average is considered a more accurate gauge of the labor market.

      The complete report is available on the (DOL) website.

      The number of people who found they no longer had their jobs fell in March from the mark set the month before.Outpl...
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      Mortgage applications drop led by refinancings

      Contract interest rates were mixed

      Mortgage applications fell last week for the third week running.

      The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) reports its Market Composite Index -- a measure of mortgage loan application volume -- was down 1.0% on a seasonally adjusted basis in the week ending March 25.

      The Refinance Index was down 3% from the previous week, taking the refinance share of mortgage activity to 52.4% of total applications from 53.9% the previous week.

      The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity was unchanged at 4.9% of total applications, the FHA share slipped to 11.5% from 11.8%, the VA share inched up to 12.9% from 12.6%. and the USDA share held steady at 0.9%.

      Contract interest rates

      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) edged up one basis point -- to 3.94% from 3.93%, with points increasing to 0.36 from 0.35 (including the origination fee) for 80% loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs with jumbo loan balances (greater than $417,000) dropped from 3.85% to 3.82%, with points increasing to 0.28 from 0.27 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA rose two basis points to 3.76%, with points decreasing to 0.30 from 0.32 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs went to 3.19% from 3.18%, with points decreasing to 0.30 from 0.34 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate remained unchanged from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs fell six basis points to 3.07%, with points increasing to 0.38 from 0.36 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.

      The survey covers over 75% of all U.S. retail residential mortgage applications.

      Mortgage applications fell last week for the third week running. The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) reports its Market Composite Index -- a measure ...
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      Toshiba recalls laptop computer battery packs

      The lithium-ion battery packs can overheat

      Toshiba America Information Systems of Irvine, Calif., is recalling about 101,000 Panasonic battery packs used in Toshiba laptop computers in the U.S. and Canada.

      The lithium-ion battery packs can overheat, posing burn and fire hazards to consumers.

      The firm has received four reports of the battery packs overheating and melting. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves Panasonic lithium-ion battery packs installed in 39 models of Toshiba Portege, Satellite, and Tecra laptops. The battery packs were also sold separately and also installed by Toshiba as part of a repair.

      Battery packs included in this recall have part numbers that begin with G71C (G71C*******). Part numbers are printed on the battery pack. A complete list of battery pack part numbers included in this recall can be found on the firm’s website at http://go.toshiba.com/battery.

      The battery packs, manufactured in China and Japan, were sold at Office Depot, Staples and other electronics stores nationwide, and online at Toshibadirect.com and other websites from June 2011, through January 2016, for between $500 and $1,000 for the laptop and between $70 and $130 for the battery pack.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately go to the firm’s website and click on the battery pack utility link in the first shadowed box on the page. Consumers can also perform a manual check using the laptop and battery pack’s model, part and serial numbers. If it is part of the recall, consumers should power off the laptop, remove the battery and follow the instructions to obtain a free replacement battery pack. Until a replacement battery pack is received, consumers should use the laptop by plugging into AC power only.

      Consumers may contact Toshiba toll-free at 866-224-1346 any day between 5 a.m. and 11 p.m. (PT), or online at http://go.toshiba.com/battery or at www.us.toshiba.com and click on “Consumer Notices” under the Support heading at the bottom of the page.

      Toshiba America Information Systems of Irvine, Calif., is recalling about 101,000 Panasonic battery packs used in Toshiba laptop computers in the U.S. and...
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      Cancer fundraising sham derailed; bilked donors out of $187 million

      The charities are being dissolved and their founder is banned from working for non-profits

      Two nationwide sham cancer charities are being closed and their leader is banned from working for non-profits under a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and 49 states.

      Cancer Fund of America Inc. (CFA) and Cancer Support Services Inc. (CSS) and their leader, James Reynolds, Sr., claimed to help cancer patients, but, instead, the overwhelming majority of $187 million in donations benefitted the sham charity operators, their families and friends, and fundraisers, prosecutors said.

      “The FTC and our state enforcement partners have ended a pernicious charity fraud that syphoned hundreds of millions of dollars away from well-meaning consumers, legitimate charities, and people with cancer who needed the services the defendants falsely promised,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Today’s settlement, along with those announced earlier, shut down the sham charities once and for all and banned the individual perpetrators for life.”

      News reports

      The Cancer Fund's irregularities were highlighted in 2013, when it came in at No. 2 on the Tampa Bay (Fla.) Times list of America's Worst Charities, following a joint investigation with The Center for Investigative Reporting and CNN to find the most wasteful charities in the country.

      Here's what the newspaper said about it back in 2013: 

      "While Cancer Fund provides care packages that contain shampoo and toothbrushes, the people in charge have personally made millions of dollars and used donations as venture capital to build a charity empire. Less than 2 cents of every dollar raised has gone to direct cash aid for patients or families, records show."

      Under the settlement order announced today, CFA and CSS will be permanently closed and their assets liquidated.  Reynolds is banned from profiting from charity fundraising and nonprofit work, and from serving as a charity’s director or trustee.

      The order imposes a judgment of $75 million, which will be suspended after Reynolds surrenders personal property including artworks, a pontoon boat and two pistols. 

      A CFA officeTwo nationwide sham cancer charities are being closed and their leader is banned from working for non-profits under a settlement with the...
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      Wells Fargo to pay $8.5 million for not disclosing that consumer calls were recorded

      The state considers the suit a victory for consumer privacy

      If you’ve ever called a customer service line, then you may be all too familiar with the initial spiel or automated message that you hear before talking to a human: “This call may be recorded for quality assurance purposes.”

      While companies certainly do use these recordings for training purposes, the statement is also important because it provides a warning for consumers. Wells Fargo may be learning that lesson the hard way. The company has been fined $8.5 million for violating California’s state law which requires that all companies disclose that a call is being recorded.

      The suit was filed back in February when the state accused Wells Fargo of violating sections 632 and 632.7 of its penal code. The lion’s share of the $8.5 million will be split up amongst five California counties, with $7.6 million going to Los Angeles, Riverside, Venture, Alameda, and San Diego. Wells Fargo will also pay $250,000 to two organizations – the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse and the Consumer Protection Prosecution Trust Fund.

      Victory for consumer privacy

      The state considers the suit a victory for consumer privacy, saying that it is more important than ever that consumers feel safe in an increasingly technological world.

      “This settlement holds Wells Fargo accountable for violating the privacy of its customers by recording calls without providing adequate notification, and ensures that the bank makes the changes necessary to protect the privacy of its customers,” said California Attorney General Kamala Harris.

      In addition to the payment, Wells Fargo has stated that it will create an internal compliance program so that calls are no longer recorded without consent. 

      If you’ve ever called a customer service line, then you may be all too familiar with the initial spiel or automated message that you hear before talking to...
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      Credit cards can help insure your rental car

      We highlight three that provide primary coverage at no extra charge

      When you travel, your credit card may offer a number of rewards, ranging from miles to cash back. A very useful reward is insurance coverage at the car rental counter.

      Most consumers have been confronted with the question – do you want the rental car company's coverage? It's pricey, often costing $25 or more a day.

      Actually, it isn't even insurance. It's technically a “collision damage waiver (CDW),” meaning the rental car company will assume liability, up to a certain amount of money. Usually it's enough money to cover most accidents.

      Credit card protection

      Most credit cards will offer some level of protection, usually secondary protection – meaning it would pay if the costs exceed the primary coverage – either the CDW or the consumer's personal auto insurance.

      If you want primary insurance coverage at no extra charge, then it may be to your advantage to pay for the car rental with a card that provides it, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.

      “Decline the rental company's collision insurance and charge the entire rental cost to your card,” Chase says on its website. “Coverage is primary and provides reimbursement up to the actual cash value of the vehicle for theft and collision damage for most rental cars in the U.S. and abroad.”

      As a bonus, you can earn two Ultimate Rewards points for every dollar spent on travel.

      Two other options

      The Discover Escape Card also provides primary rental car coverage. Discover says all you have to do is use the card to pay for the rental car and you're covered for damage to the car.

      A third option is the Fairmont Visa Signature Card. It provides an Auto Rental CDW benefit that will reimburse for damage due to collision or theft up to the actual cash value of most rental vehicles.

      It is also primary coverage, which means you do not have to file a claim with your personal insurance carrier.

      There is one big caveat, however, to all of these options. As you may have noticed, they all address damage, not personal injuries. Should you be in a rental car accident resulting in injuries, you will need to rely on your personal auto insurance policy.

      Before renting a car, it's a good idea to review your policy to see if there are any exclusions that apply to rental cars.

      When you travel, your credit card may offer a number of rewards, ranging from miles to cash back. A very useful reward is insurance coverage at the car ren...
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      Economy adds another 200k private sector jobs in March

      As usual, it was smaller companies that contributed the most

      March was another good month for job creation, according to the ADP National Employment Report.

      Produced by ADP in collaboration with Moody's Analytics, the report says private sector employment increased by 200,000 jobs from February to March, with small to medium-sized companies carrying most of the weight.

      "The job market continues on its amazing streak,” said Moody's Analytics Chief Economist Mark Zandi. “The March job gain of 200,000 is consistent with average monthly job growth of the past more than four years. The only industry reducing payrolls is energy as has been the case for over a year. All indications are that the job machine will remain in high gear."

      Job creators

      Businesses with 49 or fewer employees saw their payrolls increase by 86,000 in last month, while employment at companies with 50-499 employees increased by 75,000 jobs.

      Large companies -- those with 500 or more employees -- created just 39,000 jobs, about half the number they cranked out in February which is about half of February's 77,000. Companies with 500-999 employees added 20,000 jobs, and firms with over 1,000 employees fell from 63,000 jobs added in February to 18,000 this month.

      Nearly all the new jobs -- 191,000 -- were in the service-providing sector. Professional/business services contributed 28,000, trade/transportation/utilities grew by 42,000, and financial activities added 14,000 jobs.

      Employment in goods-producing industries rose by just 9,000 jobs in March, with the construction industry adding 17,000 jobs and manufacturing hiring 3,000 new workers.

      March was another good month for job creation, according to the ADP National Employment Report.Produced by ADP in collaboration with Moody's Analytics,...
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      IIHS: Time to turn on the headlights

      New ratings show most need improvement

      The headlights are probably the last thing you think about when deciding which new car to buy.

      However, a new report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) suggests you may want to move that up on your list of priorities

      According to the first-ever headlight ratings conducted by the IIHS, the Toyota Prius v is the only midsize car out of 31 evaluated to earn a good rating. The best available headlights on 11 cars earn an acceptable rating, while nine only reach a marginal rating. Ten of the vehicles can't be purchased with anything other than poor-rated headlights.

      "If you're having trouble seeing behind the wheel at night, it could very well be your headlights and not your eyes that are to blame," said David Zuby, IIHS executive vice president and chief research officer.

      More doesn't always mean better

      The car's price tag is no guarantee of decent headlights. Many of the poor-rated headlights belong to luxury vehicles.

      Among the 44 headlight systems earning a poor rating, the halogen lights on the BMW 3 series are the worst. A driver with those headlights would have to be going 35 mph or slower to stop in time for an obstacle in the travel lane. A better choice for the same car is an LED curve-adaptive system with high-beam assist, a combination that rates marginal.

      Curve-adaptive systems don't always lead to better ratings. The Cadillac ATS, Kia Optima, and Mercedes-Benz C-Class all earn poor ratings even when equipped with adaptive low and high beams.

      In the case of the Optima, a big problem is glare. Its curve-adaptive system provides better visibility than its non-adaptive lights, but produces excessive glare for oncoming vehicles on all five low beam approaches.

      How headlights are evaluated

      Headlights are evaluated on the track after dark at the IIHS Vehicle Research Center. A special device measures the light from both low beams and high beams as the vehicle is driven on five different approaches: traveling straight, a sharp left curve, a sharp right curve, a gradual left curve, and a gradual right curve.

      Glare for oncoming vehicles is also measured from low beams in each scenario to make sure it isn't excessive.

      How they did

      2016 midsize cars 
      Best available headlight system for each model

      (Graph via IIHS)

      The headlights are probably the last thing you think about when deciding which new car to buy.However, a new report from the Insurance Institute for Hi...
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      2016 -- a banner year for teen summer employment?

      Teen employment is at an all-time high

      If you're a teen who wants a job this summer, 2016 may be your year.

      According to the Challenger, Gray & Christmas (CG&E) annual teen summer job outlook, teenagers seeking summer employment should continue to have more and more opportunities.

      “The economy is the strongest it’s been since the recovery began in 2010,” said CG&E chief executive officer John A. Challenger. “The only area that is suffering right now is the energy sector, which was not a fertile sector for teen job seekers, to begin with.”

      While the job market may be more welcoming to teenagers, recent trends suggest that may not necessarily translate into increased summer job gains. Last year, 1,160,000 16- to-19-year-olds found employment from May through July, down 11% from the 1,297,000 finding summer jobs in 2014.

      That was the third consecutive year in which teen summer job gains declined from the previous year. However, even as summer job gains decline, overall teen employment is still on the rise. And, despite the decline in summer job gains last year, teen employment reached a July peak of 5,696,000, the highest total since 2008.

      Teen job-seekers

      The numbers suggest that more teenagers are finding employment at other times of the year. “After all, we are approaching full employment,” said Challenger. “Many metropolitan areas are already struggling with labor shortages. This environment opens doors for teen job seekers, as those who may have relegated to retail and restaurant jobs are moving up, which leaves a void that can be filled by teens.”

      The percentage of teenagers participating in the labor force has been declining since the 1970s. Currently, only about one-third of teens participate in the labor force (meaning they are working or actively seeking employment).

      However, Challenger says this does not mean that teenagers have gotten lazier over the last two decades. “They are simply engaged in more activities that fall under the radar of standard employment measures,” he said. “Many are volunteering. More are participating in summer education programs or in summer sports leagues. Others are in unpaid internships. Many simply may be doing odd jobs, such as baby sitting or lawn mowing.”

      Much of this, he believes, is in pursuit of college admissions goals and broader career goals beyond college. “As colleges become more competitive, teens are trying to find activities that stand out on applications,” Challenger concluded, adding, “In this environment, typical summer jobs have fallen out of favor,” he added.

      If you're a teen who wants a job this summer, 2016 may be your year.According to the Challenger, Gray & Christmas (CG&E) annual teen summer job outlook...
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      Cooper recalls Roadmaster RM234 tires

      The tires may have a pin-sized hole in the sidewall

      Cooper Tire & Rubber is recalling 577 Roadmaster RM234 tires, size 295/75R22.5, manufactured August 6, 2015, to September 5, 2015 (weeks 3115-3515).

      The recalled tires may have a pin-sized hole in the sidewall that can result in a loss of air which can cause sudden tire failure, increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Cooper will notify owners, and dealers will replace the tires including the mounting and balancing, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Cooper customer service at 1-800-854-6288. Cooper's number for this recall is 4Y.

      Cooper Tire & Rubber is recalling 577 Roadmaster RM234 tires, size 295/75R22.5, manufactured August 6, 2015, to September 5, 2015 (weeks 3115-3515). ...
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      Justice Department withdraws court order that would force Apple to bypass its own security

      The action comes after a successful attempt to access information on the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters

      After an extended period of protest from privacy advocates and Apple, it looks like the FBI won’t be needing the tech company’s assistance in unlocking the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters. According to a Reuters report, the agency reported on Monday that it had successfully gained access to the phone.

      The successful hacking attempt brings to an end a legal battle that had been escalating in the privacy community. Until Monday, Apple had strongly denounced a court order that would have forced engineers to create a backdoor so that the feds could access the phone.

      “From the beginning, we objected to the FBI’s demand that Apple build a back door into the iPhone because we believed it was wrong and would set a dangerous precedent. . . As a result of the government’s dismissal, neither of these occurred. This case should never have been brought,” said Apple in a statement.

      Privacy concerns

      Unfortunately, the dismissal of this case does not necessarily put consumer fears about privacy to rest. A clear line has been drawn in the sand between law enforcement and tech industry experts; the former believes that not having access to encrypted data will hamper criminal investigations, while the latter believe that undermining security features puts everyone at risk.

      Members of the tech industry also believe that giving in to such demands would give the judicial system too much power. In essence, the courts would be able to turn private companies into their agents in order to obtain information.

      This isn’t to say that tech companies are completely unwilling to help police investigate crimes – they just aren’t comfortable with lowering their own security features in order to give agencies like the FBI the level of access that it wants.

      “We will continue to help law enforcement with their investigations, as we have done all along, and we will continue to increase the security of our products as the threats and attacks on our data become more frequent and more sophisticated,” said Apple.

      After an extended period of protest from privacy advocates and Apple, it looks like the FBI won’t be needing the tech company’s assistance in unlocking the...
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      Federal Reserve backing away from interest rate hikes

      Fed Chair Janet Yellen says the economy has softened since December

      What a difference three months makes.

      In December, the Federal Reserve announced a modest quarter-point increase in the Federal Funds interest rate and strongly suggested as many as four additional rate hikes could come in 2016.

      The Fed had held rates at near 0% since late 2008, and with employment rising the Fed policymakers said it was time to get rates back to normal.

      But in a speech Tuesday to the Economic Club of New York, Fed Chair Janet Yellen backed away from that aggressive move, saying the U.S. economy, while resilient, remains weak and there is no immediate threat of inflation.

      Mixed reading on the economy

      “Readings on the U.S. economy since the turn of the year have been somewhat mixed,” Yellen said in her speech. “On the one hand, many indicators have been quite favorable. The labor market has added an average of almost 230,000 jobs a month over the past three months.”

      But on the other hand, she noted, manufacturing and net exports have continued to be hard hit by slow global growth and the significant appreciation of the dollar since 2014. These same global developments have also weighed on business investment by limiting firms' expected sales, she said.

      Translation: the economy is barely growing, and raising interest rates – normally something the Fed does only when inflation begins to emerge as a threat – doesn't make sense. It especially doesn't make sense when the rest of the world is lowering rates.

      The rates that matter

      As several pundits have pointed out in the wake of the speech, the Federal Funds rate is the only interest rate the Fed really controls. The bond market sets the rates that really matter, and since December's Fed hike, bond rates have all been going lower – suggesting the market's belief that the economy is slowing, not heating up.

      Bond rates tend to affect consumers most – from long-term rates on mortgages to shorter term rates on auto loans.

      For investors, the Fed action is much more significant. The stock market loves low interest rates, which make it cheaper for companies to buy back their stock, pushing stock prices higher.

      With rates staying where they are, current stock valuations may hold up a while longer. The Fed not raising rates can also be expected to boost the price of gold, which has rallied off its lows in recent weeks.

      And if the dollar continues to soften because rate hikes have been taken off the table, it will probably lift the price of oil, and in turn make it more expensive for consumers to fill-up at the pump.

      What a difference three months makes.In December, the Federal Reserve announced a modest quarter-point increase in the Federal Funds interest rate and ...
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      Car insurance companies worried about self-driving cars

      Fewer accidents could be a threat to the insurance business

      Car insurance companies are worried about self-driving cars -- and it's not because they're afraid the self-drivers will cause more accidents. Quite the opposite. They're worried about the long-term effect on the insurance industry if autonomous cars turn out to be as safe as everyone expects.

      Sure, insurers will be rolling in extra cash for a few years if self-driving cars cause a sharp reduction in accidents. But over the longer term, what would that mean for the insurance industry?

      The answer is pretty obvious: if the accident rate declines and stays low, insurers will be under severe pressure to lower their premiums. 

      Raises questions

      “Widespread adoption of self-driving cars is still decades off, but it raises questions of what an auto insurer’s role will be in a world with far fewer accidents,” Moody's analyst Jasper Cooper said in a statement quoted by Automotive News. “Regulators, lawmakers and courts will have to determine how liabilities are shared among insurers, automobile manufactures and technology companies.”

      Even before the transition to autonomous cars is complete, safety features like automatic braking and lane departure prevention are likely to reduce accidents markedly. Any savings could be counter-balanced, though, by the higher cost of repairing today's more complicated vehicles.

      Cooper doesn't expect auto insurance to go away completely. There will still be accidents caused by mechanical failures, storms, and the occasional driver who insists on using manual controls. 

      Also, if ride-sharing increases as expected, the market for commercial insurance could grow, he said.

      Car insurance companies are worried about self-driving cars -- and it's not because they're afraid the self-drivers will cause more accidents. Quite the op...
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