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News in March 2017

Wise travel planning = fewer mistakes

Book ahead and be ready for bad weather and unexpected delays

On our first trip to Europe, we relied on books and friends to plan our trip. Before the internet, these were the best options besides a travel agent. Just like any planning method, ours had its pitfalls.

A big goof – not making all our hotel arrangements until we arrived in Europe. Friends suggested we do Europe their way -- make two nights’ hotel reservations at each end of the trip and then see how it goes. If we liked one place better than another we wouldn’t be locked in.

We made hotel reservations for Paris for five nights while in London. We loved Paris and attempted to book two additional nights, but our hotel was fully booked. Instead, they put us up at a sister hotel, literally on the other side of the railroad tracks. It was half the price and we had their day-old croissants for breakfast. Spontaneity may work for some people, but not me. I’ve learned never to leave home without having all lodging booked.

No matter how often we travel, we make mistakes. Some make for a good story, but others are frustrating. Here are some planning tips we’ve learned to avoid disappointments:

Plan your days. Sure, you can leave a day or two open for spur-of-the-moment activities, but if you have places and activities you’d like to do, draft an itinerary.

Check museums and attractions of interest for the days and times they’re open.

Do some of your sightseeing at night to fit in all you’d like to see; museums are often less crowded and the city and countryside look entirely different when the sun sets and the lights go on. You can find wonderful concerts at historic churches and synagogues in the evening.

Explore restaurants located near your hotel with an app like Yelp, and then read reviews. It’s always helpful to have a few restaurants in mind; check to see what dates and times they are open, especially holidays. We got stuck in New Zealand on New Year’s Day without a reservation; the restaurants, except in hotels, were all closed.

Find out if the city, town, or museums of interest have special celebrations, exhibits, or tours while you are in town. For example, the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C., or the Floral Carpet in Brussels, Belgium.

Determine if you need to pre-purchase tickets. Some popular museums, like the Uffizi Gallery in Florence and the Borghese Gallery and Museum in Rome, can become fully booked. Reserve your admission tickets to save time and ensure you’ll get in.

Check online to see what performances will be in town during your visit. It’s a lot of fun to view a performance venue, like the Opera House, by way of a performance.

If you want to attend a specific show, know what days it is available and whether you need to pre-purchase tickets.

If you are near a body of water, find out whether there are ferry boats or cruises and their schedules. Everything looks different viewed from the water and some require pre-booking.

Don’t let bad weather spoil your vacation. Plan for it and have several things you can do indoors on rainy/snowy/overcast days.

--

Editor's note:  The author of this story has no financial interest in the companies, products or services discussed and has accepted no gratuities, payments or free merchandise. Any samples provided for research purposes were returned immediately upon conclusion of the research.

On our first trip to Europe, we relied on books and friends to plan our trip. Before the internet, these were the best options besides a travel agent. Just...

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    McDonald's to use fresh beef over frozen patties by mid-2018

    The company is going back to basics and improving its burger game

    McDonald’s has been attempting to go back to the basics to rework its fast food image. Earlier this month, the company announced that it would be catering to existing customers by focusing on hamburger sales, instead of selling wraps and other healthier products to draw in new customers.

    Now the chain is doubling down on its burger approach. In an announcement made Thursday, the company said that it would be transitioning from using frozen patties to fresh beef in the majority of its restaurants by mid-2018. The change will augment other modernization efforts, such as using ordering kiosks and providing mobile payment options.

    “Today’s announcement is part of a continuing food journey for McDonald’s,” said McDonald’s U.S. President Chris Kempczinski.

    Fresh beef

    This isn’t the first time that McDonald’s has talked about using fresh beef to make its burgers. About a year ago, the company started testing the idea in 14 restaurants in the Dallas area, saying that if consumers liked it then they would consider rolling it out nationally.

    That program eventually expanded to hundreds of restaurants in the Dallas area, and consumers were happy to see that the change did not overly affect prices, according to the New York Times. While McDonald’s spokeswoman Becca Hary pointed out that prices will ultimately be set by franchise owners, she stated that the company did not expect consumers to feel much burden.

    “We do not anticipate there will be any significant impact on price when this sandwich rolls out nationally,” she said.

    Catering to customers

    While they may be responsible for setting future prices, some franchise owners have expressed concerns about switching from frozen patties. They point out that freezing their product is a good way of killing pathogens like E. coli, and that using fresh beef increases the risk of possible contamination.

    Despite that risk, McDonald’s seems to be running with its new identity of giving the customers what they want. Hary said that if the fresh beef change goes well, then changes to other items could be just around the corner.

    “[McDonald’s will] continue to look at the rest of the menu based on what the customers are asking for,” she said. 

    McDonald’s has been attempting to go back to the basics to rework its fast food image. Earlier this month, the company announced that it would be catering...

    Samsung seeking a reset with the Galaxy S8

    New phone said to offer greater speed and safer battery

    After last year's traumatic withdrawal of the Galaxy Note 7 smartphone, which turned out to be a fire hazard, Samsung is hoping to turn the page with the release of the Galaxy S8. The company this week began releasing details about the device.

    The Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ will be the company's flagship smartphones, designed to go head to head with the Apple iPhone, which got a huge break last year as its rival struggled with the Note 7.

    Samsung is touting the S8's Infinity Display, as well as the introduction of new services and apps. It promises the new phone will bring a new level of functionality and convenience.

    'Regaining your trust'

    “The Samsung Galaxy S8 ushers in a new era of smartphone design and fantastic new services, opening up new ways to experience the world,” said DJ Koh, President of Mobile Communications Business, Samsung Electronics. “The Galaxy S8 is our testament to regaining your trust by redefining what’s possible in safety and marks a new milestone in Samsung’s smartphone legacy.”

    The reference to safety obviously has to do with the fact that the company's most recent smartphone offering had the distressing tendency to catch fire. It occurred in dozens of instances when the lithium ion battery overheated and exploded.

    In one high-profile case, captured on a video that went viral, it occurred on a commercial aircraft moments before take-off. It prompted airlines to ban the device from flights.

    Performance boosting

    In praising the new device's other attributes, Samsung says the S8 raises the level of performance, equipped with a 10 nm chip, boosting speed and efficiency. The camera features an 8MP F1.7 smart autofocus front camera and 12MP F1.7 dual pixel rear camera.

    Samsung says the new device is optimized for video viewing, providing much richer colors than in previous models. It's graphic technology is optimized for gaming and comes with Game Pack, which includes a variety of popular games.

    In its review, Tech site CNET focuses on improvements in Bluetooth technology. It says the phone's Bluetooth 5 short range networks send data twice as fast or four times as far. It also says Samsung spent a lot of time and effort on developing a battery that doesn't overheat.

    The phone is available for pre-order at many retailers, including Sam's Club, which is also offering members who order the phone by April 12 a free Samsung Gear VR and controller plus $50 in Oculus content.

    After last year's traumatic withdrawal of the Galaxy Note 7 smartphone, which turned out to be a fire hazard, Samsung is hoping to turn the page with the r...

    Santander settles subprime auto loan suit with Massachusetts

    Bank will pay $22 million to state and affected consumers

    During the housing bubble, millions of homebuyers with iffy credit got stuck with subprime mortgages that, in many cases, turned out to be unaffordable.

    In the end, it nearly brought down the financial system.

    Subprime mortgages are less common now, but subprime loans have not disappeared. They're increasingly common in auto lending.

    In Massachusetts, one subprime auto lender, Santander Consumer USA Holdings Inc., will pay $22 million to settle charges from an investigation into its lending in the state.

    Unfair and unaffordable

    “After years of combating abuses from subprime mortgage lenders, these practices are unfortunately familiar,” said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy. “We found that Santander, a leading player in the business of packaging and reselling subprime auto loans, funded unfair and unaffordable auto loans for more than 2,000 Massachusetts residents.”

    Healy says Massachusetts is the first state to reach a settlement relating to subprime auto loans. She said the settlement will provide relief to affected consumers and make future abuses less likely.

    Much like the subprime mortgage fiasco, Healy said her investigation found that loans were being made to consumers without a reasonable basis for belief they could be repaid.

    Healy alleges that Santander actually predicted that many of the loans would default, and also realized that financial information submitted by applicants was fictional, or at best inflated.

    How it worked

    Here's how it worked: a consumer found a car at a dealer they wanted to buy. The dealer offered financing, even though the buyer's credit was bad. Regardless, non-dealer institutions like Santander bought the loan and repackaged it, selling a bundle of these loans as securities to investors.

    In 2008, when thousands of subprime mortgages went into default, it destroyed the value of those securities and nearly brought down investment banks, while drastically reducing the value of real estate.

    Could subprime auto loans be as big of a systemic risk? Economists say it's unlikely, since repossessed vehicles are more easily resold than houses. But it certainly is a financial catastrophe for the consumers who lose their cars.

    Healy faulted Santander for what she termed a lack of oversight. She said the bank's own internal audit raised warning flags, concluding that its oversight of the dealers making these subprime loans was inadequate.

    During the housing bubble, millions of homebuyers with iffy credit got stuck with subprime mortgages that, in many cases, turned out to be unaffordable....

    Consumers overpaying for gasoline, study finds

    GasBuddy finds widest price gap within markets when prices are low

    The price of gasoline has been relatively low for nearly two and a half years. The drop, which began in late 2014, followed 11 years of near record high prices at the pump.

    But while consumers are far better off than they were in 2012, Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy, says right now is when consumers are in greatest danger of overpaying for fuel. He says GasBuddy conducted a study that demonstrates just how much we're overpaying.

    Think of it this way. When prices are sky-high, you probably search out the cheapest gas station in your area before filling up. Now, when prices are relatively low, just about any station will do.

    But DeHaan says stations tend to charge closer to the same amount for gas when prices are high. When they're low, there can be a wide variation in the same city.

    Tranquility and affordability

    “We're in a relative period of tranquility and affordability at the pump, and so the data suggests Americans are at particular risk right now of overspending on gasoline,” DeHaan said. “And we expect that to continue for some time.”

    To prove the point, DeHaan says GasBuddy looked at the last seven years of gas price data. In 2012, the national average was $3.61 a gallon. However, the price spread between the 5% of stations with the highest price and the 5% with the lowest price was only 95 cents a gallon.

    But last year, when the national average was a much more affordable $2.13 a gallon, the spread increased to $1.13 a gallon.

    Price complacency

    Prices are not only still low, but they are also lower than expected for this time of year, due to the unexpected drop in oil prices. DeHaan says it could mean motorists have gotten a little complacent about the price they pay.

    In Washington, DC, he notes, the spread between highest and lowest stations is $1.21 a gallon. In Los Angeles and San Francisco, the spread is around $1.

    In some large metros, DeHaan says consumers can pocket $60 a month just by being selective about where they fill up.

    The price of gasoline has been relatively low for nearly two and a half years. The drop, which began in late 2014, followed 11 years of near record high pr...

    Personal income and spending on the rise in February

    Consumers tucked more away in their savings accounts

    Both personal incomes and spending rose in February -- the former more than the latter.

    The Commerce Department reports incomes climbed $57.7 billion, or 0.4%, last month following a $63 billion gain in January. Disposable personal income (DPI) -- what's left after taxes are extracted -- was up 0.3%, or $44.6 billion.

    The incomes increase was due largely to advances in wages and salaries and rental income of persons.

    Personal consumption expenditures (PCE) -- consumer spending -- inched up 0.1%, or $7.4 billion. When adjusted for inflation, it was actually down 0.1%.

    The PCE price index rose just 0.1% and was up 0.2% when the volatile food and energy categories were stripped out; the PCE price index increased 0.2%.

    The decrease in inflation-adjusted spending reflected cutbacks in spending that were partially offset by an increase in spending for nondurable goods.

    Personal saving in February totaled $808.0 billion – up $4.3 billion from January, for a rate -- personal saving as a percentage of disposable personal income -- of 5.6%.

    The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.

    Both personal incomes and spending rose in February -- the former more than the latter.The Commerce Department reports incomes climbed $57.7 billion, o...

    Mercedes-Benz recalls model year 2017 E300s and E300 4Matics.

    The front passenger airbag may not deploy properly

    Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 65 model year 2017 E300s and E300 4Matics.

    The front passenger airbag may not deploy properly if a passenger is sitting on the edge of the seat or is lying in the seat with the seat reclined.

    As such, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 208, "Occupant Crash Protection."

    Failure of the airbag to deploy as intended could increase the risk of occupant injury.

    What to do

    MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will update the air bag control module software, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in April 2017.

    Owners can contact MBUSA customer service at 1-800-367-6372.

     

     

     

    Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 65 model year 2017 E300s and E300 4Matics.The front passenger airbag may not deploy properly if a passenger is s...

    Feds deny bid to ban agricultural pesticide

    Environmentalists say chlorpyrifos poses hazard to consumers and farm workers

    As environmentalists are learning, the Trump administration takes a very different approach to environmental matters than its predecessor.

    At midweek, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) denied a petition to ban the use of chlorpyrifos, a widely used pesticide in agriculture. Under the Obama administration, the EPA had planned to impose a rule that would have effectively banned its use, citing research linking it to damage to the central nervous system.

    Because of a court order, the current administration said it had until the end of this week to decide whether or not to ban the chemical, as environmental groups had filed suit to force it to do. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced the agency would not ban the pesticide as he issued an EPA Order.

    “In this Order, EPA denies a petition requesting that EPA revoke all tolerances for the pesticide chlorpyrifos under section 408(d) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and cancel all chlorpyrifos registrations under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act,” Pruitt wrote. “The petition was filed in September 2007 by the Pesticide Action Network North America (P ANNA) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).”

    The petition was never formally acted upon during Obama's two terms, but in 2015 the administration announced its intentions to impose rules that would not allow for any trace residues of the chemical on food. In announcing his decision to deny the petition, Pruitt said it was based on science rather than “pre-determined results.”

    Environmental groups react

    “EPA turned a blind-eye to extensive scientific evidence and peer reviews documenting serious harm to children and their developing brains, including increased risk of learning disabilities, reductions in IQ, developmental delay, autism and ADHD,” said Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, Senior Scientist at NRDC.

    Kristin Schafer, policy director at PANNA, accused the EPA of caving to corporate pressure and of failing “to follow overpowering scientific evidence of harm to children’s brains.”

    According to a pesticide information network, established by Cornell and several other universities, Chlorpyrifos is known as a broad spectrum insecticide. It was introduced in 1965 and used primarily to kill mosquitoes, but it's no longer approved for that use.

    It is effective at controlling a variety of insects and is currently used on both food and non-food agricultural products.

    The network also notes the chemical is “moderately toxic to humans.” It says studies have show that poisoning from chlorpyrifos may affect the central nervous system, as well as the cardiovascular system, and the respiratory system.

    As environmentalists are learning, the Trump administration takes a very different approach to environmental matters than its predecessor.At midweek, t...

    Amazon proposes brands bypass brick-and-mortar retailers and bring their products online

    The company has invited executives to a meeting to discuss the possibility

    In a move that would secure its place in the $800 billion food and packaged goods market, Amazon is trying to convince some of the world’s biggest brands to start shipping their products directly to online shoppers and bypass notable chain stores like Wal-Mart, Target, and Costco.

    The company has sent invitations to the executives of prominent packaged goods makers, asking them to come to its headquarters in Seattle in May to hear its proposal, according to a Bloomberg report.

    “Times are changing. . . Amazon strongly believes that supply chains designed to serve the direct-to-consumer business have the power to bring improved customer experiences and global efficiency. To achieve this requires a major shift in thinking,” the invitations read.

    Delivering straight to doorsteps

    If successful, Amazon would topple the current structure that packaged goods makers have with brick-and-mortar retailers and completely change the way that many products are designed, made, packaged, and shipped.

    Manufacturers would no longer have to worry about making sure the product stands out on a grocery aisle shelf, since consumers would no longer have to stroll those aisles. The Bloomberg report points out that many items could be packaged according to new shipping needs; laundry detergent could come in sturdier, leak-proof containers and food items could come in durable and simpler packaging. Supply could also be controlled by plants that produce items based on individual needs instead of just filling trucks with inventory.  

    Experts have pointed out that online grocery sales have mostly floundered in recent years, but such a drastic move could represent a big change in the way that manufacturers sell their products and consumers shop for their essentials.

    “Most of these people haven’t been interested in e-commerce because e-commerce has been such a small piece of their overall sales,” says Melissa Burdick, vice president of e-commerce at The Mars Agency marketing firm. “But we’ve reached a tipping point. We’re at a time when companies are ready to start figuring this stuff out.”

    Fear of missing out

    So, how likely is it that packaged goods companies will be onboard with the idea? While it might be understandable to think that companies might want to retain the status quo, many might be loath to dismiss Amazon and then miss out on any future success.

    "There was a big perceived penalty for missing the boat, fear of missing out on growth," says Jim Hertel, senior vice president at the marketing firm Inmar Inc. "Fear, more than anything else, may compel these companies to pay attention," adds analyst Ken Cassar.

    Of course, brick-and-mortar retailers aren’t likely to go down without a fight. Many chains have already elected to provide online shopping options to blunt the impact of online shopping sites like Amazon, and it’s easy to point out that the proposal hasn’t yet addressed who will ship all of items (though Amazon does have the means of fulfilling those services.)

    Regardless of how the plan shakes out, it’s at least worth noting that the idea of innovation in the industry isn’t dormant. What that means for shoppers remains to be seen. 

    In a move that would secure its place in the $800 billion food and packaged goods market, Amazon is trying to convince some of the world’s biggest brands t...

    Volkswagen to pay $157 million to 10 states to settle dirty diesel claims

    It's the first time states have won environmental penalties against an automaker

    Volkswagen will pay $157 million to 10 states that sued the company for its secret use of unlawful "defeat device" software to enable their diesel-powered cars to pass emissions inspections.

    It's the first time the states have won environmental penalties against an automaker on their own. Previously, such cases were handled soley by the federal government.

    “Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche tried to pull off an extraordinarily cynical corporate fraud – deceiving hundreds of thousands of consumers, pumping thousands of tons of harmful pollution into our air, and flouting New York and federal environmental laws designed to protect public health,” said New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman. “This went on for nearly a decade, for no other reason than their bottom line, so the companies could avoid the expense of engineering cars that would actually meet our environmental standards."

    "Adding insult to injury, they marketed these dirty vehicles as environmentally-friendly and technologically-advanced – not only deceiving consumers and harming our environment, but also undercutting the sales of their law-abiding competitors,” Schneiderman said.

    States follow California

    The lawsuits that led to the settlement were filed last summer by New York and Massachusetts. All of the states joining in the action have adopted California's stringent vehicle emission standards. The other states are Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.

    Schneiderman said that setting the precedent of states enforcing emission laws is important because of President Trump's vow to defund federal environmental enforcement, leaving states like New York and California as the first line of defense in environmental matters.

    "New York will continue to enforce the tough auto emission and greenhouse gas standards established by California, and intends to oppose any effort by the federal government to roll back EPA emission standards currently in place," a statement from Schneiderman's office said.

    Electric cars

    As part of today’s settlement, Volkswagen has agreed to substantially increase its commitment to New York’s emerging electric car market. The agreement requires Volkswagen to – by 2020 – at least triple the number of electric car models its Volkswagen, Porsche, and Audi brands offer to New Yorkers from one model to three, including two electric SUVs.   

    “Volkswagen was caught – and today’s settlement means we’ve now held them to full account,” Schneiderman continued. “No company – however large or powerful – is above the law in New York.  As we’ve made clear, if the federal government fails to do its job, I will continue to enforce our state’s environmental laws and hold accountable anyone who violates them – to ensure New Yorkers’ public health and environment are protected.”

    Volkswagen will pay $157 million to 10 states that sued the company for its secret use of unlawful "defeat device" software to enable their diesel-powered...

    Old and the young increasingly call the shots in Hollywood

    Today's young adult seems to prefer to stay in and watch Netflix

    Movie box-office numbers have been falling in recent years as theaters have had to compete with expanding entertainment choices.

    But the make-up of the audience filling the smaller number of seats has also been shifting. Increasingly, they are children and older adults.

    Just look at the most recent box-office numbers. Disney's “Beauty and the Beast,” which shattered records its opening weekend, remained a far-and-away leader in its second week. It was followed by “Saban's Power Rangers,” another kid's movie that placed second on its opening weekend.

    “CHIPS,” a comedy aimed at young adults, debuted in seventh place, grossing a disappointing $7.3 million. If you look back to the start of the 2000s, children have had a lot of box-office pull with films like “Shrek 2,” “Toy Story 3,” and the Harry Potter series.

    With movie ticket prices climbing higher, not to mention the cost of concessions, young adults struggling economically are more inclined to stay in and watch Netflix. It's young families who are flocking to movie theaters, along with their grandparents.

    Growing impact of seniors

    AARP has released a study showing more than 30% of all motion picture theater customers are age 50 and up. The report found older audiences are driving drama revenue and providing niches that don't rely on huge budgets and foreign distribution.

    These films are also providing steady work for older actors like Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine, who star in the new film “Going In Style.” (see trailer below)

    But the study found films don't have to have an older cast to be a hit with seniors. It said 51% of consumers who saw “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back,” “Taken 3,” and “A Walk Amongst The Tombstones” were over 50.

    AARP says older consumers were also a significant contributor to the success of some recent blockbusters like “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

    Do today's young adults not like the current Hollywood fare? It could be more a matter of economics. Many who are single are struggling. 

    Young families, meanwhile, may be more inclined to splurge on a treat for the kids. Many seniors have the disposable income to enjoy movies in today's less-crowded theaters.

    Movie box-office numbers have been falling in recent years as theaters have had to compete with expanding entertainment choices.But the make-up of the...

    U.S. economy continues growing at a so-so rate

    Initial jobless claims were lower last week

    The final tally of economic performance for the past year is in and the results are not encouraging.

    The Commerce Department reports that for all of 2016, real gross domestic product (GDP) increased 2.0%, compared with an increase of 1.9% the previous year.

    Many economists consider between 2-3% to be the “ideal” annual GDP growth rate.

    For the final quarter of last year, GDP expanded at an annual rate of 2.1%, up a tad from the 1.9% reported in the second look at the numbers. In the third quarter of 2016, real GDP increased 3.5%.

    Personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index, an inflation gauge tied to GDP, rose 2.0%. Excluding food and energy prices, the “core” PCE price index was up 1.3%.

    Corporate profits with inventory valuation adjustment and capital consumption adjustment rose $11.2 billion in the fourth quarter, following a surge of $117.8 billion in the third quarter.

    For all of 2016, profits were down $2.3 billion, compared with a plunge of $64.0 billion in 2015.

    The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.

    Jobless claims

    The number of people applying for state unemployment benefits for the first time was lower last week.

    The Labor Department (DOL) reports initial jobless claims for the week ending March 25 totaled a seasonally adjusted 258,000, down 3,000 from the previous week's unrevised level.

    The 4-week moving average, which is less volatile and considered by economists to be a better reflection of the labor market, rose 7,750 during the same week to 254,250.

    The full report may be found on the DOL website.

     

     

    Photo (c) z amir - FotoliaThe final tally of economic performance for the past year is in and the results are not encouraging.The Commerce Depart...

    Juratoys recalls toy trolleys

    The toy trolleys can tip backwards

    Juratoys U.S. of Fairfield, N.J., is recalling about 10,300 Bricolo by Janod Push toy trolleys sold in the U.S. and Canada.

    The toy trolleys can tip backwards, posing an impact injury hazard to children.

    The company has received two reports of trolleys falling backwards, both resulting in ER visits. One involved a tooth extraction the other a laceration to the child’s nose.

    This recall involves four Bricolo by Janod-push toy trolleys. The French Cocotte Cooker trolley is red with orange wheels and includes a cooktop with fried egg shapes, an oven and eight accessories, including pots and pans “Janod” printed on the side and front of the trolley and J06544 printed on the base of the toy.

    The DIY-Magnetic trolley is gray and black with red wheels with work station and tools. “Bricolo” is printed on the front of the DIY-Magnetic trolley and J06505 is printed on the base of the toy.

    The Redmaster-Magnetic DIY trolley is black and gray with red wheels and 21 accessories, including three magnetic tools and a set of gears. J06493 is printed on the base of the toy.

    The Barbecue trolley is brightly colored and comes with a magnetic spatula, magnetic barbecue fork, one piece of pork, two sausages, one fish, one piece of beef, and three tomatoes. J06523 is printed on the base of the toy. The trolleys measure approximately 17 inches tall and have a 1 foot by 1 foot base.

    Item Number

    Description

    Years Sold

    J06493

    Janod Redmaster –Magnetic DIY Trolley

    2015–2017

     

    J06505

    Janod DIY – Magnetic Trolley

    2014–2017

    J06544

    Janod French Cocotte Cooker Trolley

    2015–2017

    J06523

     

    Janod Barbecue Trolley

    2012–2014

    The trolleys, manufactured in China, were sold at various toy stores nationwide including Giggle and Saks Fifth Avenue, and online at Zulily.com from September 2012, to March 2017, for about $100. The Janod Barbecue trolley sold for about $70.

    What to do

    Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled trolleys and keep them out of the reach of young children until they have installed a repair kit. Contact Juratoys for a free repair kit that includes instructions, tools, and footers to prevent the toy from tipping backwards.

    Consumers may contact Juratoys toll free at 877-277-1663 from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday, or online at www.janod.com and click on “Product Recall” under the “Janod Express” tab at the top of the page for more information.

     

     

    Juratoys U.S. of Fairfield, N.J., is recalling about 10,300 Bricolo by Janod Push toy trolleys sold in the U.S. and Canada.The toy trolleys can tip bac...

    Target recalls magnetic tic tac toe games

    The magnets can come off the game pieces

    Target Corp., of Minneapolis, Minn., is recalling about 19,000 magnetic tic tac toe games.

    The magnets can come off the game pieces, posing a choking hazard. In addition, when two or more magnets are swallowed, they can link together inside the intestines and clamp onto body tissues, causing intestinal obstructions, perforations, sepsis and death. Internal injury from magnets can pose serious lifelong health effects.

    The company has received one report of the magnets falling off the game piece. No injuries have been reported.

    This recall involves a magnetic tic tac toe 10 x 10 inch plywood board with nine “X” and “Heart” game pieces. The game pieces have a magnet on the back. Model number “234-25-1089” is printed on the bottom right corner of the product.

    The games, manufactured in China, were sold exclusively at Target stores nationwide from December 2016, through February 2017, for about $5.

    What to do

    Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled tic tac toe game and return it to any Target store for a full refund.

    Consumers may contact Target at 800-440-0680 from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. (CT) any day or online at www.target.com and click on “Recalls” at the bottom of the page, then on “School/Stationery/Seasonal” for more information.

     

     

    Target Corp., of Minneapolis, Minn., is recalling about 19,000 magnetic tic tac toe games.The magnets can come off the game pieces, posing a choking ha...

    Wells Fargo agrees to pay $110 million to settle fake account scandal

    The company continues to be hit hard by both regulators and consumers

    Last year, officials found that Wells Fargo employees, fueled by sales incentives, had opened approximately two million accounts under customers’ names and signed them up for various financial products without authorization. In September, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) imposed its largest fine ever on the company, ordering it to pay a $100 million fine, restitution to victims, and a combined $85 million to two other agencies.

    Now, the company is looking to settle a class-action lawsuit connected to the scandal. Per the Washington Post, Wells Fargo agreed on Tuesday to pay $110 million to consumers who had accounts opened without their permission, or were signed up for a product they did not agree to.

    Pending court approval, the settlement would cover affected customers going all the way back to January 1, 2009. The bank said that the settlement should resolve a total of 11 class-action suits brought against it connected to the fake account scandal.

    Settlement terms

    Wells Fargo has also agreed not to use third-party arbitration under the settlement – a right that it has contentiously maintained allows it to take complaints to a private mediator instead of to court. The company had been invoking the right up until its announcement on Tuesday, and the change of direction was welcomed by the plaintiffs.  

    “We believe this is an outstanding result obtained for the benefit of a proposed nationwide class, notwithstanding Wells Fargo’s effort to block the class action with an arbitration clause,” said Derek Loeser, partner of a firm that filed one of the class-actions against Wells Fargo.

    Under the terms of the settlement, the $110 million will first go towards any out-of-pocket losses or fees that customers faced because of the unauthorized accounts. The remaining money will then be split up between all impacted customers.

    “Significant harm” to consumers

    In addition to the settlement news, Wells Fargo also announced on Tuesday that its rating had been lowered from “outstanding” to “needs to improve” under the Community Reinvestment Act -- a law designed to help monitor and promote banking practices to low-income and minority communities.  

    The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which made the decision, stated that the fraudulent sales practices were one reason for the downgrade. The effects of the move will limit Wells Fargo from opening more branches or making acquisitions in certain areas, and will open the bank up to fines or sanctions if patterns of discriminatory behavior are found in the future.

    One regulator said that the deceptive sales practices that employees used already qualify as deceptive and unfair behavior, and that consumers have suffered because of it.

    “These findings reflect an extensive and pervasive pattern and practice of discriminatory and illegal practices across multiple lines of business within the bank, resulting in significant harm to large numbers of consumers,” he said.

    Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan said that he was disappointed by the Comptroller's decision, but that the settlement represents “another step in our journey to make things right with customers.”

    Last year, officials found that Wells Fargo employees, fueled by sales incentives, had opened approximately two million accounts under customers’ names and...

    Consumer groups ask feds to ban meat and poultry from Brazil

    Corruption and unsanitary practices in the meatpacking industry raise health concerns

    Consumer groups want the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ban meat and poultry products from Brazil following an investigation that found widespread corruption and unsanitary practices there, but the USDA has so far refused to do so.

    The Safe Food Coalition said many U.S. trading partners have already implemented total or partial bans, including Canada, Mexico, the European Union, Japan, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, and Uruguay.

    Unsavory practices uncovered by the probe include company officials dictating the placement of health inspectors, health certificates being falsified, the use of cancer-causing chemicals to disguise rotting meat, and the shipment of contaminated meat to Europe.

    Instead of banning Brazilian meat until conditions improve, the USDA has elected to re-inspect shipments of Brazilian beef and subject them to more rigorous pathogen testing. These half-measures “will expose American consumers to unnecessary risks, and American taxpayers to unnecessary costs,” the coalition said.

    May be too late

    Safe Food Coalition members worry that U.S. officials will not adequately review whether Brazil’s food safety inspection system is actually “equivalent” until it is too late. They're urging the Administration to take action before American consumers begin getting sick.

    The Safe Food Coalition is made up of consumer, public health, and victim groups who work on issues related to food, and organizations representing labor in the food industry.

    Consumer groups want the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ban meat and poultry products from Brazil following an investigation that found widespread corru...

    FTC sets out to prune occupational licensing

    The proliferation of licensing hampers job growth, raises prices for consumers, the agency says

    When you think of the Federal Trade Commission, you expect to hear of a new consumer protection measure or perhaps a corrective action taken against a company that short-changed consumers in some way.

    So it may come as a surprise to learn that the FTC's newest initiative is something called the Economic Liberty Task Force, which Acting Chairman Maureen K. Ohlhausen said is her first major policy initiative for the agency.

    To many consumers, "economic liberty" may sound like a license to plunder, but Ohlhausen says she's trying to address regulatory hurdles to job growth, including what she said is "the proliferation of occupational licensing."

    Nearly 30 percent of American jobs require a license today, up from less than five percent in the 1950s, Ohlhausen said. For some professions, occupational licensing is necessary to protect the public against legitimate health and safety concerns. But in many situations, the expansion of occupational licensing threatens economic liberty, she said.

    “This is an important moment for economic liberty. Governors, state legislators, and many other stakeholders want to move forward to remove or narrow occupational licensing regulations and open doors to opportunity, enhancing competition and innovation,” said Ohlhausen.

    Obama was concerned too

    It may sound outrageous, but Ohlhausen is not alone. Last year, the Obama Administration made $7.5 million in grants to organizations working to prune licensing requirements, which one federal report said not only retard job growth but also cost consumers more than $100 billion per year in higher prices.

    The Defense Department has also weighed in on the issue, noting in a 2012 report that military spouses are often hampered in finding employment because of widely differing licensing requirements from one state to another.

    "About 35 percent of military spouses work in professions that require state licenses or certification. They move across state lines far more frequently than the general population. These moves present administrative and financial channels," said one DoD report cited by Reason Magazine.

    Ohlhausen's task force has set up a website that she said "will gather many existing resources, from the FTC and elsewhere, into a central repository for stakeholders." 

    The website features FTC testimony before Congress on occupational licensure, as well as blogs on the topic, and selected speeches and articles by FTC officials and staff. 

    When you think of the Federal Trade Commission, you expect to hear of a new consumer protection measure or perhaps a corrective action taken against a comp...

    Survey suggests being funny at work can boost your career

    But be careful, humor in the office is a double edge sword

    The headline on the press release resulted in raised eyebrows: "survey says a sense of humor is an important part of company culture."

    Really? Even in this day and age of hyper-sensitivity, when any innocent attempt at humor in the office could cause offense to someone, somewhere?

    But a new survey by Accountemps found that 78% of chief financial officers believe an employee's sense of humor is at least some contributing factor to his or her success.

    When asked, 22% said it was very important while 56% of CFOs rated it as somewhat important.

    Boost moods and improve connections

    "A sense of humor can boost moods and improve connections among colleagues," said Mike Steinitz, executive director of Accountemps. "Creating a positive and friendly work environment can lead to higher levels of employee engagement and productivity."

    Maybe, but don't mistake your office for open mic night at the Improv. In the age of political correctness, humor is in the ear and sensitivity of the listener.

    "The problem, most would say, is that humor is subjective: What you find amusing or side-splittingly hilarious, Mary in marketing and Amir in accounting most certainly do not," writes Alison Beard, in the Harvard Business Review.

    But Beard notes there is a growing body of research suggesting humor in the workplace is worth the risk -- that a good belly laugh once in a while or a playful pun does wonders for productivity and morale.

    Indeed, a Google search of "humor at work" reveals dozens of articles suggesting that people who are funny on the job tend to get ahead. There weren't all that many warning of the pitfalls, of which there are undoubtedly many.

    A little levity

    "Not all business matters are funny, but a little levity can go a long way, particularly when it comes to defusing tension or recovering from a minor mishap," Steinitz said. "There's nothing like a joke to put people at ease."

    But Steinitz offers a few rules for workplace humor to keep you out of trouble. First, consider the circumstances. A chuckle might diffuse a tense situation but cracking a series of one-liners during a serious business meeting will be frowned upon.

    Be careful where you express your humor. Emails and instant messages are dicey, since they are subject to misinterpretation. They're also permanent.

    Self-deprecating humor is always safer. Getting a laugh at someone else's expense never works out well, as George Costanza learned in this scene from Seinfeld.

    Finally, keep it G-rated. Anything off-color is bound to offend someone, and will probably result in a meeting with HR. When in doubt, save the material for open mic night at the Improv.

    The headline on the press release resulted in raised eyebrows: "survey says a sense of humor is an important part of company culture."Really? Even in t...

    Cost of treating neurological diseases exceeds $800 billion annually in U.S.

    Researchers say the cost will likely increase in the coming years due to an aging population

    Last month, we reported the findings of a study conducted by RTI International and the American Heart Association found that the cost of treating cardiovascular disease would top $1 trillion by 2035. The researchers warned that if the disease went unchecked, 131.2 million Americans -- or 45% of the country’s population -- would be affected by the disease by then.

    Unfortunately, cardiovascular disease isn’t the only costly condition that consumers need to be worried about. A new study published in the Annals of Neurology finds that spending on nine of the most common neurological diseases currently exceeds $811 billion annually.

    "Although society continues to reap the benefits of the dramatic research investments in heart disease and cancer over the last few decades, similar levels of investment are required to fund neuroscience research focused on curing devastating neurological diseases such as stroke and Alzheimer's, both to help our patients and also to avoid costs so large they could destabilize the entire health care system and the national economy," said lead author Dr. Clifton Gooch.

    The researchers say the cost of treating neurological diseases will likely get worse in the coming years as the U.S. population ages. Statistics show that the elderly segment of the population will double between 2011 and 2050, with these individuals being the most at risk of suffering from a neurological condition. The report notes that the cost of treating only two conditions – dementia and stroke – will exceed $600 billion by 2030.

    "The findings of this report are a wake-up call for the nation, as we are facing an already incredible financial burden that is going to rapidly worsen in the coming years," concluded Gooch.

    Last month, we reported the findings of a study conducted by RTI International and the American Heart Association found that the cost of treating cardiovas...

    Mortgage applications dip

    Contract interest rates were down significantly

    Mortgage applications fell for the second time in a row, edging down 0.8% in the week ending March 24.

    The Mortgage Bankers Association also reports the Refinance Index was down 3% from the previous week with the refinance share of mortgage activity dropping 1.1% to 44.0% of total applications -- the lowest level since October 2008.

    The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity slipped to 8.5% of total applications; the FHA share inched down 0.1% to 10.8%; the VA share rose to 11.0% from 10.1%; and the USDA share of total applications increased to 1.0% from 0.9% the week before.

    Contract interest rates

    • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRM) with conforming loan balances ($424,100 or less) plunged 13 basis points -- from 4.46% to 4.33% -- with points increasing to 0.43 from 0.41 (including the origination fee) for 80% loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
    • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs with jumbo loan balances (greater than $424,100) fell to 4.26% from 4.40%, with points decreasing to 0.26 from 0.37 (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 was down nine basis points to 4.24%, with points decreasing to 0.36 from 0.40 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
    • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs went from 3.68% to 3.57%, with points increasing to 0.43 from 0.37 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
    • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs fell 11 basis points to 3.30%, with points increasing to 0.28 from 0.25 (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 for the second time in a row, edging down 0.8% in the week ending March 24.The Mortgage Bankers Association also reports the...

    Low inventory sends pending home sales tumbling in January

    Home shoppers face numerous obstacles despite an improving economy

    A lull in contract activity in the Midwest and West due to insufficient supply dragged pending home sales in January down to their lowest level in a year.

    The National Association of Realtors reports its Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI) fell 2.8% last month to 106.4. While that reading is 0.4% above a year ago, it's the lowest since then.

    But lower inventories wasn't the only problem home shoppers face.

    "The significant shortage of listings last month along with deteriorating affordability as the result of higher home prices and mortgage rates kept many would-be buyers at bay," said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. "Buyer traffic is easily outpacing seller traffic in several metro areas and is why homes are selling at a much faster rate than a year ago. Most notably in the West, it's not uncommon to see a home come off the market within a month."

    Interest in buying a home is the highest it has been since the Great Recession, according to Yun. Households are feeling more confident about their financial situation, job growth is strong in most of the country and the stock market has seen record gains in recent months.

    While these factors bode well for increased sales in coming months, buyers are dealing with challenging supply shortages that continue to run up prices in many areas.

    "January's accelerated price appreciation is concerning because it's over double the pace of income growth and mortgage rates are up considerably from six months ago," said Yun. "Especially in the most expensive markets, prospective buyers will feel this squeeze to their budget and will likely have to come up with additional savings or compromise on home size or location."

    Regional showing

     

    • The PHSI in the Northeast rose 2.3% to 98.7 in January, and is now 3.6% above a year ago.
    • In the Midwest the index was down 5.0% to 99.5, and is now 3.8% lower than January 2016.
    • Pending home sales in the South inched up 0.4% to a reading of 122.5 and are now 2.0% higher than they were a year earlier.
    • The index dropped 9.8% in the West to 94.6, for a year-over-year decline of 0.4%.

    Looking ahead

    Existing-home sales this year are projected to rise 2.2% from 2016 to around 5.57 million. The national median existing-home price the point at which half the homes sell for more and half for less this is expected to rise around 4%. Last year, sales were up 3.8% and prices jumped 5.1%.

    "Sales got off to a fantastic start in January,” said Yun, “but last month's retreat in contract signings indicates that activity will likely be choppy in coming months as buyers compete for the meager number of listings in their price range." 

     

     

    A lull in contract activity in the Midwest and West due to insufficient supply dragged pending home sales in January down to their lowest level in a year....

    Look Cycle recalls Aerostems and road bikes

    The stainless steel clamp securing the stem to the handlebars can corrode and break

    Look Cycle is recalling about 800 road bikes and Aerostems.

    The stainless steel clamp that secures the stem to the handlebars can corrode and break, posing a fall and crash hazard.

    The firm has received one report of the stainless steel clamp on an Aerostem breaking. No injuries have been reported.

    This recall involves Look Cycle Aerostems sold either as an after-market component or installed as original equipment on Look Cycle model 695 and 795 road bikes for model years 2014 through 2017.

    The Look Aerostems are made of black carbon fiber material with a black steel clamp around the handlebars. Recalled models have either no number or the number 380706 printed in white on the bottom of the clamp.

    The stems and bikes, manufactured in France and Switzerland, were sold at independent bike stores nationwide from July 2013, through December 2016, for about $500 for the stems sold individually and for between $5,500 and $16,000 installed as original equipment on Look Cycle road 695 and 795 road racing bicycles.

    What to do

    Consumers should immediately stop using bicycles with the recalled Aerostems and return them to the place of purchase for a free repair. Consumers unable to return their bicycles should contact Look Cycle for instructions on receiving a free repair.

    A complete list of photos of the recalled stems and bike models can be found on the firm’s website at http://www.lookcycle.com/en/safety-notice.  

     

     

    Look Cycle is recalling about 800 road bikes and Aerostems.The stainless steel clamp that secures the stem to the handlebars can corrode and break, pos...

    New urgency in the Takata airbag recall

    Southern California civic leaders say too many unrepaired vehicles are still on the road

    It was nearly two years ago that some automakers began recalling cars equipped with defective Takata airbags that are in danger of spraying metal fragments through the passenger compartment when they deploy.

    Since then, more than 42 million vehicles from 19 different automakers have been recalled and at least 11 people in the U.S. have been killed by the flying metal fragments.

    California civic leaders, alarmed that millions of unrepaired recalled vehicles are still on state highways, have banded together to add urgency to the recall.

    They say Southern California leads the nation in defective airbag deaths. They say the risk is especially high in that region because of warm weather, which is a factor that increases the defect in the airbag inflator. The initiative, called Airbag Recall: Southern California, is trying to spread the word in Southern California that if you are driving a car with one of these airbags, you need to take advantage of the free repair.

    Putting lives at risk

    "Airbags save lives, but defective ones are a hazard that puts our loved ones at risk," said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. "We have to give people the information they need to protect themselves and their families."

    Federal transportation officials say the airbags with the greatest risk are in certain 2001-2003 Hondas and Acuras, with as high as a 50% chance of exploding upon deployment.

    The affected models include the 2001 and 2002 Honda Civic, the 2001 and 2002 Honda Accord, the 2002 and 2003 Acura TL, the 2002 Honda Odyssey, the 2002 Honda CR-V, the 2003 Acura CL, and the 2003 Honda Pilot.

    The Honda risk

    Honda is participating in the initiative, releasing a statement urging drivers of its affected models to check their vehicle identification number (VIN). If it's a recalled vehicle and the repair has not been made, the company says consumers should go to a Honda dealer for the free recall repairs immediately. The company says replacement parts, which were in short supply early in the recall, are now plentiful.

    Owners of these vehicles may also schedule a repair by calling Honda at 1-888-234-2138.

    Honda says consumers driving certain 2001-2003 Honda and Acura models originally equipped with Takata's older "Alpha" inflators, are at an even higher risk. It says there is a 50% chance an "Alpha" inflator will rupture in a crash.

    Honda says these vehicles should not be driven, except to a dealer for the repair.

    It was nearly two years ago that some automakers began recalling cars equipped with defective Takata airbags that are in danger of spraying metal fragments...

    Apple releases its latest upgrade, giving a boost to storage

    The upgrade uses a new file system which packs more data into the same space

    If you have an iPhone or iPad, it's time to download and install the latest upgrade, officially known as iOS 10.3. Perhaps the most interesting feature is that the upgrade frees up space on your device.

    That's because it replaces Apple's 31-year-old Hierarchical File System (HFS) with a new system dubbed Apple File System (APFS). HFS was originally designed for floppy discs whereas APFS is written with iPhones and other modern devices in mind.

    To update your iPhone or iPad, go to Settings, General, and then Software Update. Can't be bothered? You can simply wait and Apple will eventually download the update to your phone automatically and ask you to accept it.

    Do a backup

    However you download the file, before you click the Install button, you should back up your existing data (learn how here), since it's possible the conversion to a new file system will result in some data loss. The device should also be plugged in, since the conversion can take quite a while.

    The primary advantage of the new file system -- which is completely invisible to the average user -- is that it makes better use of the space available on your hard drive. Also, it automatically encrypts all data, making it harder for prying eyes to eavesdrop or make off with your private information.

    The new software also includes a feature that helps you find lost AirPods, the wireless earphones that are used with the iPhone 7. 

    If you have an iPhone or iPad, it's time to download and install the latest upgrade, officially known as iOS 10.3. Perhaps the most interesting feature is...

    Cookbooks fall short when it comes to food safety, study finds

    Researchers say many recipes don't ensure that foods are cooked to optimal internal temperatures

    Late last year, we reported that TV cooking shows often fell short of the mark when it came to promoting food safety. In fact, a study showed that 70% of all episodes displayed practices that were out of compliance with current standards, a worrying statistic.

    However, television isn’t the only medium where food safety information is lacking. A new study conducted at North Carolina State University shows that many cookbooks also detail processes which don’t ensure that a dish has reached a safe internal temperature.

    “Cookbooks aren’t widely viewed as a primary source of food-safety information, but cookbook sales are strong and they’re intended to be instructional,” said senior author Ben Chapman, an associate professor of agricultural and human sciences. “Ideally, cookbooks can help us make food tasty and reduce our risk of getting sick, so we’d like to see recipes include good endpoint cooking temperatures.”

    Cookbooks fall short

    For the purposes of the study, Chapman and his colleagues analyzed nearly 1,500 recipes from 29 cookbooks that were featured on the New York Times best sellers list for food and diet books. Included recipes all featured the handling of raw animal ingredients, such as meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs.

    Each recipe was judged on three criteria which asked:

    • Does the recipe tell readers to cook the dish to a specific internal temperature?
    • If it does include a temperature, is that temperature one that has been shown to be safe?
    • Does the recipe perpetuate food-safety myths – such as saying to cook poultry until the juices “run clear” – that have been proven unreliable as ways of determining if the dish has reached a safe temperature?

    Out of the 1,497 recipes analyzed, the researchers found that only 123 – or 8% -- answered all their questions, and some of those weren’t safe in other ways. The findings are dangerous, says Chapman, because many of the recipes did not guarantee a high enough internal temperature to reduce the risk of foodborne illness.

    "Very few recipes provided relevant food-safety information, and 34 of those 123 recipes gave readers information that wasn't safe," Chapman says. "Put another way, only 89 out of 1,497 recipes gave readers reliable information that they could use to reduce their risk of foodborne illness."

    Ensuring food safety

    The researchers say that many of the cookbooks relied on vague language to let consumers know when their food was ready, such as references to color, texture, or directions to “cook until done.”

    Consumers should keep in mind that officials for food safety have detailed which internal temperatures should be reached for a large array of foods. That information can be found here, and the researchers say that referencing it is extremely important.

    “This is important because cooking meat, poultry, seafood and eggs to a safe internal temperature kills off pathogens that cause foodborne illness,” explains lead author Katrina Levine. “These temperatures were established based on extensive research, targeting the most likely pathogens found in each food.”

    “A similar study was done 25 years ago and found similar results – so nothing has changed in the past quarter century,” adds Chapman. “But by talking about these new results, we’re hoping to encourage that change.”

    The full study has been published in the British Food Journal.

    Late last year, we reported that TV cooking shows often fell short of the mark when it came to promoting food safety. In fact, a study showed that 70% of a...

    Consumer confidence hits a 16-year high

    The Conference Board found optimism in nearly every area

    After posting a solid increase a month earlier, The Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index moved sharply higher in March.

    The index shot up 9.5 points to 125.6, with the Present Situation Index moving from 134.4 to 143.1 and the expectations Index increasing to 113.8 from 103.9 last month.

    The index now stands at its highest point since December 2000.

    “Consumers’ assessment of current business and labor market conditions improved considerably,” said Conference Board Director of Economic Indicators Lynn Franco. “Consumers also expressed much greater optimism regarding the short-term outlook for business, jobs and personal income prospects.”

    “Thus,” she added, “consumers feel current economic conditions have improved over the recent period, and their renewed optimism suggests the possibility of some upside to the prospects for economic growth in the coming months.”

    Consumer perceptions

    The appraisal by consumers of current conditions improved considerably in March. The percentage saying business conditions are “good” increased from 28.3% to 32.2%, while those who said they are “bad” fell to 12.9% from 13.4 percent.

    Consumers’ assessment of the labor market was also more positive, as the proportion of consumers who think jobs are “plentiful” rose from 26.9% to 31.7%; those who believe jobs are “hard to get” slipped from 19.9% to 19.5%.

    There also was significantly more optimism about the short-term outlook. More than 27% of consumers expect business conditions to improve over the next six months -- up more than 3% from February, while those expecting conditions to worsen dropped from 10.5% to 8.4%.

    Consumers’ outlook for the labor market also was more upbeat. The proportion expecting more jobs in the months ahead increased from 20.9% to 24.8%, while those anticipating fewer jobs declined from 13.6% to 12.2%.

    The percentage of consumers expecting their incomes to increase improved to 21.5% from 19.2%, while the proportion looking for a decrease dropped from 8.1% to 7.0%.

    The monthly Consumer Confidence Survey, based on a probability-design random sample, is conducted for The Conference Board by Nielsen around what consumers buy and watch. The cutoff date for the preliminary results was March 16.

     

     

    After posting a solid increase a month earlier, The Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index moved sharply higher in March.The index shot up 9.5 po...

    Annual gain in home prices sets 31-month high

    January prices were also up from December's level

    Home price gains continued in January on both a year-over-year and month-over-month basis.

    According to the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Indices, the National Home Price NSA Index, covering all nine U.S. census divisions, jumped 5.9% from a year earlier, setting a 31-month high.

    The 10-City Composite was up 5.1%, and the 20-City Composite reported a rise of 5.7%.

    Seattle, Portland, and Denver had the highest year-over-year gains among the 20 cities over each of the last 12 months. Seattle led the way in January with an 11.3% year-over-year price increase, followed by Portland (+9.7%) and Denver (+9.2%).

    Twelve cities reported greater price increases in the year ending January 2017 versus the year ending December 2016.

    “Housing and home prices continue on a generally positive upward trend,” said David M. Blitzer, managing director and chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices.

    “The recent action by the Federal Reserve raising the target for the Fed funds rate by a quarter percentage point is expected to add less than a quarter percentage point to mortgage rates in the near future. Given the market’s current strength and the economy, the small increase in interest rates isn’t expected to dampen home buying. If we see three or four additional increases this year, rising mortgage rates could become a concern."

    Month-over-month

    Before seasonal adjustment, the National Index posted a month-over-month gain of 0.2% in January. The 10-City Composite was up 0.3% and the 20-City Composite inched ahead 0.2%.

    After seasonal adjustment, the National Index recorded a 0.6% month-over-month increase, while both the 10-City and 20-City Composites each reported a 0.9% advance. Thirteen of 20 cities reported increases in January before seasonal adjustment; after seasonal adjustment, 19 cities saw prices rise.

    “While prices vary month-to-month and across the country, the national price trend has been positive since the first quarter of 2012,” said Blitzer. “Tight supplies and rising prices may be deterring some people from trading up to a larger house, further aggravating supplies because fewer people are selling their homes. At some point, this process will force prices to level off and decline -- however we don’t appear to be there yet.” 

    Home price gains continued in January on both a year-over-year and month-over-month basis.According to the S&P; CoreLogic Case-Shiller Indices, the Nat...

    Venmo, other p2p systems eclipsing banks, which are planning to fight back

    Big banks are launching Zelle, a Venmo-like service, later this year

    If you're a person of a certain age then you may not be familiar with Venmo, but chances are your younger friends and family members know it well. It's perhaps the most popular of the peer-to-peer payment systems that are replacing bank transfers, mailed checks, and even cash.

    Big banks have long had their own systems, but they tend to be clunky if you're sending money to an account at a different bank. And online giants like Google, Facebook, and PayPal all have their own systems. (PayPal owns Venmo, by the way). But for the most part, their transfers are not as intuitive and hassle-free as Venmo's, which works as a simple app on iPhones and Androids or on any other platform you can think of.

    Millennials tend to be the biggest users of Venmo, often using it to split bar tabs and pizza bills while their parents perhaps are still using bank transfers to make their child's rent payment.

    All of that may start to change later this year as a coalition of big banks introduce Zelle, a p2p payment system that can transfer money from your account to anyone who has a debit card. 

    “We are always looking for opportunities to make it easier for our customers to bank with us,” said Diane Morais, CEO and president, Ally Bank, one of the first banks to commit to Zelle. “Transferring money via payment services is among the digital banking activities growing in popularity with consumers.”

    A larger pond

    You might think Zelle's entry would be bad news for existing services, but a recent Los Angeles Times report finds them feeling confident that the banks' big marketing push will attract more consumers to app-based payments, growing the market for everyone.

    “We don’t see it as a winner-take-all scenario,” Josh Criscoe, a spokesman for Venmo owner PayPal, told the Times. “We welcome any effort to move folks to more digital payments and move toward the smartphone as the central point of financial life. The common enemy is cash.”

    One competitive advantage Venmo brings to the fray is its low and sometimes nonexistent fees. Transfers between friends through a major debit card or checking account are free. Credit card transfers incur a 3% fee. 

    Banks are generally not shy about piling on fees, charges, and penalties, but they may have to restrain themselves if they want Zelle to be successful.

    Besides its no-fee approach, Venmo, despite a nearly nonexistent advertising budget, has managed to join the exclusive club of companies whose names become verbs. Drop by any coastal city coffee shop and you'll hear phrases like, "OK, your share is $8.35. You wanna' Venmo that to me?"

    While the big banks will no doubt spend millions on advertising, it may be a while before you hear anyone say, "Could you Zelle me $20 until Friday?"

    If you're a person of a certain age then you may not be familiar with Venmo, but chances are your younger friends and family members know it well. It's per...

    Will your credit card company waive your late fee?

    Chances are, it will if you'll just ask

    Consumers hate fees, whether they are levied by a bank or credit card company. Overdraft fees were such a major bone of contention a few years ago that Congress passed legislation to reduce them.

    But fees don't always have to be paid. Sometimes, if you ask, a credit card company will waive them. And it happens a lot more than you might think.

    CreditCards.com reports its latest research which shows that 87% of consumers who asked a credit card company to waive a late fee were successful. It also found that 69% of the time, if a customer asked a credit card company to lower the interest rate, the answer was "yes."

    While it is true that banks and credit card companies depend more on fees than ever these days, it is also true that they are in a very competitive industry. Consumers have lots of options.

    Competition works in your favor

    In many cases, a credit card company would rather waive a fee once than possibly lose a customer. If a customer has a good credit score, he or she can open a new credit card account and transfer a high interest balance, often getting more than a year of 0% interest. Credit card companies know this.

    That said, CreditCards.com found that only 25% of credit card customers ever asked for a waived fee or a lower interest rate. That means consumers are spending money needlessly.

    There's even wiggle room when it comes to annual fees. Many rewards credit cards charge as much as $100 or more for the privilege of using their cards. But CreditCards.com found more than half of credit card customers in the U.S. were able to persuade the company to drop the fee altogether. Thirty-one percent were able to negotiate a lower fee.

    More power than you realize

    "People have far more power with their credit card company than they realize," said Matt Schulz, CreditCards.com's senior industry analyst. "Competition among card issuers is incredibly high these days and customer retention is a priority."

    Schulz says you can't be afraid to ask for an exception because, very often, you're likely to get it.

    That also holds true for credit limits. Of those customers who simply asked their credit card company to raise the card's credit limit, 89% got what they asked for.

    As we have previously reported, this also works in other highly competitive services, such as insurance. If you have been with your insurance carrier for several years, chances are you can get a discount by saying you are shopping for a new policy.

    If you are a senior citizen, or getting close to being one, you can get a discount almost anywhere. But, you have to ask for it. Again, surveys show most people don't.

    Consumers hate fees, whether they are levied by a bank or credit card company. Overdraft fees were such a major bone of contention a few years ago that Con...

    Scientists tout high-tech and low-tech ways to detect cancer

    Progress reported in dianosing the disease through blood tests

    Much of the progress towards treating cancer in recent years has come in early detection. Being able to diagnose cancer in the early stages of the disease usually improves the odds of beating it.

    So, the news from the University of California is creating excitement among oncologists. Researchers there say they have created a blood test called CancerLocator that not only tells doctors that a patient has cancer, but tells them where the cancer is in the body.

    The test works by identifying DNA from cancer that is circulating in the blood stream.

    "Non-invasive diagnosis of cancer is important, as it allows the early diagnosis of cancer, and the earlier the cancer is caught, the higher chance a patient has of beating the disease,” Jasmine Zhou, co-lead author from UCLA, told the London Telegraph.

    Zhou concedes the technology is only beginning to be understood and has a long way to go before it can be usefully deployed.

    Other research

    Other scientists are also working on this technique. As we reported in 2015, researchers at the Mayo Clinic announced progress on a blood test that could diagnose cancer. As in the UCLA study, the technology centers around identifying cancer DNA in blood samples.

    “What’s exciting about our discovery is that it allows us to stop thinking about screening organs and start thinking about screening people,” Mayo Clinic's Dr. John Kisiel said at the time. “As far as we are aware, this is the first series of experiments that has ever shown this concept.”

    At the other end of the technology spectrum, the French news agency AFP reports researchers have trained dogs to detect breast cancer by sniffing bandages that touched a breast.

    Remarkably, the researchers report the dogs have been 100% accurate. AFP quotes Isabelle Fromantin, who leads the project, as saying the system could be useful in developing countries where there is limited access to mammograms.

    Fromantin said breast cancer cells have a unique smell that German shepherds, with their keen sense of smell, can be trained to detect.

    Much of the progress towards treating cancer in recent years has come in early detection. Being able to diagnose cancer in the early stages of the disease...

    Later Easter could mean record retail spending

    The NRF is forecasting a 6% surge over last year

    With Easter nearly three weeks later this year than last, the National Retail Federation (NRF) is forecasting that consumers will spend more than ever to celebrate.

    NRF’s annual survey, conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics, projects spending will reach $18.4 billion -- 6% more than last year’s record $17.3 billion. That works out to an average of $152 per person -- up 4% from last year’s record of $146.

    More time means more spending

    “Most consumers have almost an entire extra month to shop for Easter this year, and by the time the holiday comes the weather should be significantly warmer than last Easter,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “That should put shoppers in the frame of mind to splurge on spring apparel along with Easter decorations. With the economy improving, consumers are ready to shop and retailers are ready to offer great deals whether they’re buying Easter baskets or garden tools.”

    Consumers, the survey finds, will spend $5.8 billion on food (purchased by 87% of shoppers), $3.3 billion on clothing (50%), $2.9 billion on gifts (61%), $2.6 billion on candy (89%), $1.2 billion on flowers (39%), $1.1 billion on decorations (43%), and $788 million on greeting cards (48%).

    Discount stores are still king

    Fifty-eight percent of would-be shoppers say they'll be heading for discount stores, 46% will go to department stores, and 26% shop at local small businesses. Additionally, 27% will shop online, up 6% from last year. Among smartphone owners, 28% will research products on their devices while 18% will actually use them to make a purchase. Another 9% will use apps to do their research or purchase products.

    “Easter continues to be a traditional holiday for consumers of all ages, especially young families who are planning to spend a bit more for this celebration,” Prosper Principal Analyst Pam Goodfellow said. “With the later timing of Easter, we will see more consumers shopping for special deals, especially on apparel and decorations.”

    The survey, which asked 7,411 consumers about their Easter Sunday plans, was conducted March 1-9 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.2 percentage points.

    With Easter nearly three weeks later this year than last, the National Retail Federation (NRF) is forecasting that consumers will spend more than ever to c...

    BMW recalls model year 2017 X5 vehicles

    The passenger front airbag inflators may not vent properly

    BMW of North America is recalling 36 model year 2017 X5 sDrive35i, X5 xDrive35i, X5 xDrive50i, X5 xDrive35d, and X5 xDrive40e vehicles.

    The recalled vehicles are equipped with passenger front airbag modules using certain air-bag inflators that may not vent properly in the event of a crash necessitating deployment of the passenger frontal air bag.

    If the inflator cannot vent properly, the inflator may rupture, resulting in metal fragments striking the vehicle occupants and causing serious injury or death.

    What to do

    BMW has notified owners, and dealers will replace the air bag modules, free of charge. The recall began on March 20, 2017.

    Owners may contact BMW customer service at 1-800-525-7417.

     

     

    BMW of North America is recalling 36 model year 2017 X5 sDrive35i, X5 xDrive35i, X5 xDrive50i, X5 xDrive35d, and X5 xDrive40e vehicles.The recalled veh...

    Chlorofields recalls Asian Microgreens

    The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

    ChloroFields of Lawrence, Kan., is recalling 20 cases of Asian Microgreens that may be contaminated with Salmonella.

    No illnesses have been reported to date.

    The recalled product comes in a 1.5-oz. clamshell, and is identified as Asian Mix Microgreens with a sell by date of 3/26/2017 located on a white sticker on the bottom of the container. The UPC number of the product is 853763007096.

    It was distributed throughout Colorado, Kansas and Missouri, and through retail grocery stores.

    What to do

    Customers who purchased the recalled product should not consume it, but return it to the place of purchase for a full refund.

    Consumers with questions may call ChloroFields at 785-304-3226 Monday through Friday 8AM-5PM (CDT).

     

     

    ChloroFields of Lawrence, Kan., is recalling 20 cases of Asian Microgreens that may be contaminated with Salmonella.No illnesses have been reported to...

    Whiskey Hill Smokehouse recalls beef, venison and ostrich jerky products

    The products contain soy, an allergen, which not declared on the label

    Whiskey Hill Smokehouse of Hubbard, Ore., is recalling approximately 22,466 pounds of beef, venison and ostrich jerky products.

    The products contain soy, an allergen, which not declared on the label.

    There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

    The following heat-treated, shelf stable items, produced and packaged from March 3, 2016, through March 10, 2017, are being recalled:

    • 3.2-oz plastic packages containing “Bakke Brothers Brand HONEY GLAZED BEEF JERKY” with “Lot Number” and “Best by” dates of:
      • 069161 and best by date 3/11/17
      • 127161 and best by date 5/10/17
      • 194161 and best by date 7/14/17
      • 228161 and best by date 8/17/17
      • 264161 and best by date 9/22/17
      • 293161 and best by date 10/21/17
      • 341161 and best by date10/21/17
      • 362161 and best by date 12/29/17
    • 3.2-oz plastic packages containing “Bakke Brothers Brand CHILI ‘LICIOUS BEEF JERKY” with “Lot Number” and “Best by” dates of:
      • 104163 and best by date 4/15/17
      • 010171 and best by date 1/12/18
    • 3.2-oz and 7-oz plastic packages containing “Bakke Brothers Brand SCORPION PEPPERED BEEF JERKY” with “Lot Number” and “Best by” dates of:
      • 068163 and best by date 3/10/17
      • 076161 and best by date 3/18/17
      • 106162 and best by date 4/19/17
      • 172161 and best by date 6/22/17
      • 207161 and best by date 7/27/17
      • 221161 and best by date 8/10/17
      • 271164 and best by date 9/29/17
      • 309162 and best by date 11/8/17
      • 348163 and best by date 12/15/17
      • 038172 and best by date 2/9/18
      • 048171 and best by date 2/22/18
    • 3.2-oz and 7-oz plastic packages containing “Bakke Brothers Brand CAROLINA REAPER PEPPERED BEEF JERKY” with “Lot Number” and “Best by” dates of:
      • 068164 and best by date 3/10/17
      • 076162 and best by date 3/18/17
      • 106163 and best by date 4/19/17
      • 131161 and best by date 5/12/17
      • 172162 and best by date 6/22/17
      • 197162 and best by date 7/20/17
      • 207162 and best by date 7/1/17
      • 244161 and best by date 9/2/17
      • 258161 and best by date 9/10/17
      • 265162 and best by date 9/23/17
      • 289162 and best by date 10/18/17
      • 309163 and best by date 11/8/17
      • 335162  and best by date 12/2/17
      • 010172 and best by date 1/12/18
      • 037172 and best by date 2/8/18
      • 048172 and best by date 2/22/18
    • 3.5-oz plastic packages containing “PAINTED HILLS GRASS-FED BEEF JERKY Sweet Honeycomb” with “Lot Number” and “Best by” dates of:
      • 349161 and best by date 2/16/18
      • 305161 and best by date 11/3/17
    • 3.2-oz plastic packages containing “Mt. Shadow Foods, LLC Peppered Beef Jerky” with “Lot Number” and “Best by” dates of:
      • 046171 and best by date 2/17/18
    • 3.2-oz plastic packages containing “Mt. Shadow Foods, LLC Honey Jalapeño Beef Jerky” with “Lot Number” and “Best by” dates of:
      • 046172 and best by date 2/17/18
    • 3.0-oz plastic packages containing “WHISKEY HILL SMOKEHOUSE TROPHY SERIES OSTRICH JERKY” with “Lot Number” and “Best by” dates of:
      • 271161 and best by date 9/29/17
    • 3.0-oz plastic packages containing “MAUINUI VENISON GOURMET JERKY” with “Lot Number” and “Best by” dates of:
      • 084161 and best by date 3/28/17
      • 204161 and best by date 7/26/17
      • 267161 and best by date 9/28/17
      • 282161 and best by date 10/12/17
      • 344161 and best by date 12/13/17
      • 009171 and best by date 1/11/18
    • 8-oz and 4-oz plastic packages containing “The Jerky Hut PEPPERED GOLDEN NUGGETS BEEF JERKY” with “Lot Number” and “Best by” dates of:
      • 088162 and best by date 3/30/17
      • 133161 and best by date 5/16/17
      • 181161 and best by date 7/1/17
      • 229161 and best by date 8/18/17
      • 320162 and best by date 11/17/17
      • 342161 and best by date 12/8/17
      • 004171 and best by date 1/6/18
      • 067172 and best by date 3/10/18
    • 4-oz and 8-oz plastic packages containing “HOT The Jerky Hut GOLDEN NUGGETS Sweet & Tender BEEF JERKY” with “Lot Number” and “Best by” dates of:
      • 062161 and best by date 3/4/17
      • 078162 and best by date 3/22/17
      • 096161 and best by date 4/7/17
      • 111162 and best by date 4/22/17
      • 133162 and best by date 5/16/17
      • 153162 and best by date 6/3/17
      • 211162 and best by date 8/2/17
      • 229162 and best by date 8/18/17
      • 253162 and best by date 9/13/17
      • 263162 and best by date 9/21/17
      • 289164 and best by date 10/18/17
      • 313161 and best by date 11/10/17
      • 333162 and best by date 11/30/17
      • 347161 and best by date 12/14/17
      • 004171 and best by date 1/6/18
      • 033171 and best by date 2/7/18
      • 040171 and best by date 2/13/18
      • 058172 and best by date 3/1/18
    • 3.2-oz plastic packages containing “Bakke Brothers Brand HONEY JALAPEÑO BEEF JERKY” with “Lot Number” and “Best by” dates of:
      • 104162 and best by date 4/15/17
      • 144163 and best by date 5/25/17
      • 159163 and best by date 6/9/17
      • 176162 and best by date 8/5/17
      • 216163 and best by date 6/9/17
      • 228163 and best by date 8/17/17
      • 264162 and best by date 9/22/17
      • 293162 and best by date 10/21/17
      • 319161 and best by date 11/6/17
      • 362163 and best by date 12/29/17
      • 024172 and best by date 1/26/18
    • 3.2-oz plastic packages containing “Bakke Brothers Brand PEPPERED BEEF JERKY” with “Lot Number” and “Best by” dates of:
      • 104161 and best by date 4/15/17
      • 159161 and best by date 6/9/17
      • 194162 and best by date 7/14/17
      • 216172 and best by date 8/5/17
      • 271162 and best by date 9/29/17
      • 341162 and best by date 12/8/17
      • 362162 and best by date 12/29/17
    • 3.2-oz plastic packages containing “Bakke Brothers Brand GHOST PEPPERED BEEF JERKY” with “Lot Number” and “Best by” dates of:
      • 106161 and best by date 4/19/17
      • 197161 and best by date 7/20/17
      • 235162 and best by date 8/24/17
      • 271163 and best by date 9/29/17
      • 348162 and best by date 12/15/17
      • 038171 and best by date 2/9/18
    • 3.2-oz plastic packages containing “Bakke Brothers Brand GARLIC LOVERS BEEF JERKY” with “Lot Number” and “Best by” dates of:
      • 095163 and best by date 4/6/17
      • 141163 and best by date 5/25/17
      • 176161 and best by date 6/28/17
      • 202161 and best by date 7/20/17
      • 223163 and best by date 8/12/17
      • 236162 and best by date 8/25/17
      • 319161 and best by date 11/16/17
      • 365161 and best by date 1/4/18
      • 052171 and best by date 2/23/18
    • 4-oz and 8-oz plastic packages containing “The Jerky Hut SWEET WITH HABANERO BEEF JERKY” with “Lot Number” and “Best by” dates of:
      • 078163 and best by date 3/22/17
      • 124162 and best by date 5/5/17
      • 181162 and best by date 7/1/17
      • 229163 and best by date 8/18/17
      • 294163 and best by date 10/22/17
      • 320163 and best by date 11/17/17
      • 004173 and best by date 1/6/18
    • 4-oz and 8-oz plastic packages containing “The Jerky Hut GOLDEN NUGGETS Sweet & Tender BEEF JERKY” with “Lot Number” and “Best by” dates of:
      • 062161 and best by date 3/4/17
      • 078161 and best by date 3/22/17
      • 088161 and best by date 3/30/17
      • 111161 and best by date 4/22/17
      • 124161 and best by date 5/5/17
      • 153161 and best by date 6/3/17
      • 169161 and best by date 6/21/17
      • 211161 and best by date 8/2/17
      • 217161 and best by date 8/8/17
      • 253161 and best by date 9/13/17
      • 263161 and best by date 9/21/17
      • 273161 and best by date 10/3/17
      • 295161 and best by date 10/26/17
      • 320161 and best by date 11/17/17
      • 333161 and best by date 11/30/17
      • 343161 and best by date 12/12/17
      • 363161 and best by date 12/30/17
      • 034171 and best by date 2/7/18
      • 039171 and best by date 2/13/18
      • 058171 and best by date 3/1/18
      • 067171 and best by date 3/10/18

    The recalled products, bearing establishment number “EST. 4993 or P-4993” inside the USDA mark of inspection, were shipped nationwide including distribution through wholesale and internet/catalog sales.

    What to do

    Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but throw them away or return then to the place of purchase.

    Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Jerry Bowman at (503) 981-2915.

     

     

    Whiskey Hill Smokehouse of Hubbard, Ore., is recalling approximately 22,466 pounds of beef, venison and ostrich jerky products.The products contain soy...

    Nissan recalls model year 2013-2014 Muranos

    The power steering hose clamp may not secure the hose adequately

    Nissan North America is recalling 56,766 model year 2013-2014 Muranos.

    The power steering hose clamp may not secure the hose adequately, allowing the hose to detach and leak power steering fluid.

    If the power steering fluid leaks onto a heat source such as hot engine or exhaust components, there could be an increased risk of a fire.

    What to do

    Nissan will notify owners, and dealers will install a power steering high pressure hose kit, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

    Owners may contact Nissan customer service at 1-800-647-7261.

     

     

    Nissan North America is recalling 56,766 model year 2013-2014 Muranos.The power steering hose clamp may not secure the hose adequately, allowing the ho...

    Virgin America to take the name of its new mate, Alaska

    It may be a modern merger, but the two shall soon be known by a single name

    Well, you knew this was going to happen. Alaska Airlines has teased and tantalized Virgin America's loyal followers, saying it might let Virgin keep its name after the two were joined together as one. 

    But it turns out that was just honeymoon talk. The kindly looking old fellow whose visage adorns Alaska's tails has turned grumpy and exercised the patriarch's prerogative. In other words, Virgin America will soon be no more. In its place will be a lot more Alaska Airlines planes, Alaska made clear this week.

    "After months of research and in-depth conversations with fliers, we’ve made the difficult decision to retire the Virgin America name and logo likely sometime in 2019," the company said in a press release. "However, many of the elements you love about Virgin America will live on, paired with Alaska’s unbeatable performance and top-rated customer service." 

    Virgin America was beloved by many of its regulars. Maybe it was the mood lighting, the nifty entertainment system, the snacks and meals you could order whenever hunger struck, the leather seats. Whatever it was, it was brilliantly executed.

    Not that there's anything wrong with Alaska, of course. Besides being the biggest state in the country, it's a perfectly fine airline. It just doesn't have the zing that Virgin America created.

    Shazaming and such ...

    But Alaska is determined to change all that and its press releases are sounding more like Virgin's all the time. 

    "Imagine arriving at the airport and immediately feeling welcomed to a fresh, modern experience.

    You know you’ll reach your destination on time with minimal hassle, and the airline you’ve chosen offers consistently low fares and more nonstop flights to more destinations from the West Coast than any other. At your gate, you can’t help Shazaming every song on the upbeat playlist, and the overhead announcements tell you what you need to know with a healthy dose of fun."

    This might sound like your old uncle trying to be one of the cool guys, but Alaska deserves some credit for trying. It is, after all, now the fifth largest airline in the country and trying to keep that youthful vibe is a worthy goal.

    Alaska says it will be making upgrades to both Alaska and Virgin aircraft over the next few years, including faster wi-fi, expanded first class and premium sections, and an integrated awards program. 

    Well, you knew this was going to happen. Alaska Airlines has teased and tantalized Virgin America's loyal followers, saying it might let Virgin keep its na...

    Motorists getting an unusual break this spring

    The annual seasonal price rise hasn't happened so far

    In a famous Sherlock Holmes story, the key clue was the dog that did not bark. When it comes to gasoline prices, the key victory for consumers, it seems, is the price that did not rise.

    By all accounts, the national average gasoline price should have risen about a dime a gallon over the last two or three weeks. It hasn't.

    The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows today's average price of self-serve regular is $2.29 a gallon. That's what it was the day before, and a week ago. If you go back a month, the price was only a penny a gallon more.

    Premium gasoline averages $2.81 a gallon and has a nearly identical pricing pattern to regular.

    The normal pattern is that prices at the pump begin rising in early March as oil refineries begin regular maintenance and start switching over to the production of summer grade fuel blends. The reduced output almost always sends prices higher.

    Oil prices are in reverse

    So what's different about this year? Chances are, it's the price of oil. After breaking through the $55 a barrel level, prices have dropped below $50.

    Oil prices started rising last fall when the OPEC producers, led by Saudi Arabia, decided to reduce production in order to boost oil prices, which had been low for two years. The market assumed OPEC would be successful and traders began bidding up the price of oil, making gasoline more expensive than it was the previous year.

    But in the last few weeks it has become clear that OPEC faces a big challenge in raising oil prices. As the price rose, it became more profitable for U.S. shale producers to increase production, which they have done.

    U.S. stockpiles of oil have become so large that it has weakened the market -- bad for traders and speculators but very good for consumers.

    Saudis cut exports to U.S.

    MarketWatch reports U.S. stockpiles have now hit a record, prompting the Saudis this week to "dramatically" cut oil exports to the U.S. OPEC, it seems, is desperate to reduce the U.S. stockpile of oil. Otherwise, it won't be able to ratchet oil prices higher.

    For consumers, there's some stability at the gas pump this spring. Even in California, one of the most expensive places in the U.S. to fill up, the statewide average has fallen a bit in the last week, remaining below $3 a gallon for regular and at $3.23 for premium.

    The West and upper Midwest has the most expensive fuel this week. The cheapest gasoline is in the Southeast, where the statewide average in South Carolina is $2.02 a gallon for regular and $2.59 for premium.

    In a famous Sherlock Holmes story, the key clue was the dog that did not bark. When it comes to gasoline prices, the key victory for consumers, it seems, i...

    Temkin rates Discover number one among credit card companies for customer experience

    The industry as a whole rates higher with consumers

    Some credit cards are better for some specific purposes. There are cards that pay generous cash back or offer travel rewards.

    But what about the credit card company itself? The Temkin Experience Ratings looked at credit card issuers and named Discover as the card offering the best customer experience.

    It made that assessment after surveying 10,000 consumers in the U.S.

    Discover made it to the top of the heap of 11 credit card lenders, earning a 78% score and placing 28th overall out of 331 companies competing in 20 different industry segments.

    American Express and USAA were right behind, tying for second place at 73%. Wells Fargo, still losing customers after last year's unauthorized accounts scandal, remained in last place with a score of 64%. Most of its competitors, meanwhile, moved higher.

    Double-digit increases

    "Quite a few credit card issuers saw double-digit increases from last year, bringing up the average quality of customer experience in this industry," said Bruce Temkin, managing partner of Temkin Group.

    As a whole, the credit card industry improved its standing among consumers. It moved up seven percentage points, rising from 62.8% to 69.7%.

    According to the ratings, Capital One was the only credit card issuer that lost ground year-over-year, while HSBC earned most improved card honors.

    Here's the 2017 Temkim list:

    1. Discover: 78%
    2. American Express: 73%
    3. USAA: 73%
    4. Barclaycard: 72%
    5. U.S. Bank: 71%
    6. Chase: 70%
    7. HSBC: 69%
    8. Citigroup: 68%
    9. Bank of America: 67%
    10. Capital One: 66%
    11. Wells Fargo: 64%
    Some credit cards are better for some specific purposes. There are cards that pay generous cash back or offer travel rewards.But what about the credit...

    House prices flat in January

    Prices were up, though on an annual basis

    Housing prices across the U.S. were unchanged in January, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) seasonally adjusted monthly House Price Index (HPI).

    This is just the second month since early 2012 that the HPI has failed to increase. The other occurrence was in November, 2013. The previously reported December HPI increase of 0.4% was unrevised.

    On a year-over-year basis -- from January 2016 to January 2017 -- house prices were up 5.7%.

    The FHFA monthly HPI is calculated using home sales price information from mortgages sold to, or guaranteed by, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

    Regional performance

    For the nine census divisions, seasonally adjusted monthly price changes from December, 2016 to January, 2017 ranged from -2.0% in the East South Central division to +0.6 percent in the Pacific division.

    The 12-month changes were all positive, ranging from +3.5% in the East South Central division to +8.3% in the Mountain division.

    The complete report may be found on the FHFA website

    Housing prices across the U.S. were unchanged in January, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) seasonally adjusted monthly House Price In...

    Haibike recalls electric bicycles

    The fork on the front wheel of the bicycles can rupture or break

    Haibike of Denver, Colo., owned by Accell North America, is recalling about 267 electric bicycles sold in the U.S. and Canada.

    The fork on the front wheel of the bicycles can rupture or break while the bike is in use, posing a fall hazard to the rider.

    No incidents or injuries are reported.

    This recall involves Haibike XDURO Urban, Race and Superrace models of electric bicycles. The recalled bicycles have an aluminum frame, hydraulic disc brakes, and a lithium battery.

    They contain a letter/number combination (‘HAERA’ followed by at least three numbers and characters) printed on the front of the frame. Remove the battery to locate the letter/number combination on the frame.

    The following models are included in the recall:

    Model

    Model Year

    Color

    Letter/Number

    Haibike XDURO Urban

    2014, 2015

    Gray

    ‘HAERA’ followed by three numbers and characters

    Haibike XDURO Urban RC

    2016

    Gray

    Haibike XDURO Race

    2014, 2015

    Black

    Haibike XDURO Superrace

    2014, 2015

    Black

    Haibike XDURO Race S RX

    2016

    Gray

    Haibike XDURO Urban S RX

    2016

    White

    The bicycles, manufactured in Germany and Taiwan, were sold at independent bicycle dealers nationwide from January 2014, through February 2017, for about $4,000.

    What to do

    Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled bicycles and contact Accell North America for a free repair.

    Consumers may Contact Accell North America at 800-222-5527 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (PT) Monday through Friday or online at www.haibike.com and click on “Current recalls” on the right side of the page for more information.

     

     

    Haibike of Denver, Colo., owned by Accell North America, is recalling about 267 electric bicycles sold in the U.S. and Canada.The fork on the front whe...

    Model year 2017 Ford Mustangs recalled

    The driver's door may unlatch in a side impact crash

    Ford Motor Company is recalling 5,470 model year 2017 Ford Mustangs.

    The return spring for the driver side interior door handle may come loose, allowing the driver's door to unlatch in a side impact crash.

    As such, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 206, "Door Locks and Door Retention Components."

    A door unlatching in a crash can increase the risk of injury.

    What to do

    Ford will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the driver-side interior door handle and repair the return spring, as necessary, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin April 24, 2017.

    Owners may contact Ford at 1-866-436-7332. Ford's number for the recall is 17C04.

     

     

    Ford Motor Company is recalling 5,470 model year 2017 Ford Mustangs.The return spring for the driver side interior door handle may come loose, allowing...

    NFL proposes changes to improve the pace of games

    Changes to commercials, replays, and clock management could keep the action moving

    Watching a football game can be very exciting with its punishing tackles and various acrobatics, but that excitement is often punctuated by periods of inactivity and commercial breaks as teams change possession, take timeouts, and officials take extended looks at replays.

    NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is now seeking to address these pace-of-game problems by proposing several changes, according to the Washington Post. The changes could address how video replays are conducted and introduce several clock management tweaks, cutting down on the number of commercial breaks taken and hastening the action.

    “I watch a lot of football as a fan and as commissioner. I see when I am watching on TV or at a stadium that there are opportunities to make the game more compelling from a fan standpoint,” said Goodell in a statement to the Associated Press.

    Changing the pace of games

    Under Goodell’s proposal, video replays would no longer require a referee to examine a replay under the hood on the sidelines. Instead, the head official would have a tablet brought on the field and they would consult with league headquarters to determine a final call.

    This is a big change since final determinations have historically been left up to the head official on the field, but under the new rules the final decision would be made by league officials in New York.

    The new rules would also place a time clock on PATs, ensure the game clock is properly restarted after a player has gone out of bounds, and standardize the length of halftimes. Offending teams who aren’t ready on time for the third quarter kickoff may even see a 5-yard delay-of-game penalty.

    Fewer commercial breaks

    Perhaps one of the biggest changes under the proposal would concern the number and length of commercial breaks. Currently, many fans who watch from home are shown commercials after a touchdown and again right after the ensuing kickoff.

    Under the rule changes, the number of commercial breaks would be reduced to four per quarter and would last 2 minutes and 20 seconds, up from 1 minute and 50 seconds. Goodell cites league surveys that show fans wouldn’t mind the extra 30 seconds if it meant fewer total commercial breaks. However, the proposal states that “natural breaks” that are part of the game would still be included to build drama.

    “In most cases, fans won’t know the breaks are longer,” he said. “I find it unattractive when we see doubling-up on commercials. . . We’re addressing interruptions and just trying to move things along.”

    The proposal will need to be approved by 75% of the 32 team owners at next week’s annual meetings for passage of proposals, which will take place in Phoenix. 

    Watching a football game can be very exciting with its punishing tackles and various acrobatics, but that excitement is often punctuated by periods of inac...

    Wells Fargo making ATM accessible with smartphones

    Bank also rolls out new campaign to win back customers

    Next week, if you need to withdraw money from a Wells Fargo ATM, you won't need your debit card. You can use your smartphone.

    The bank ran a pilot program on the technology in several areas of the country and is now ready to roll it out nationwide. To use the new system, Wells Fargo customers who have the bank's mobile app will be able to request a code that they will enter, along with their PIN.

    In an interview with Reuters, Jonathan Velline, Wells Fargo's head of ATM and branch banking, said the new system enhances safeguards against fraud.

    "Security certainly was a big aspect of the cardless feature and the two-step identification helps reduce the risk of fraud," Velline told the wire service.

    The ATMs will still take debit cards, but Velline says the digital access prevents thieves from installing skimmers that intercept and steal data from the inserted cards.

    Repairing customer relations

    The new system is being introduced as Wells Fargo continues its mission to repair relations with customers in the wake of last year's unauthorized accounts scandal. The bank got a black eye when it was revealed thousands of employees had opened checking and credit card accounts for customers without their permission, in a bid to increase fees.

    In Orlando this week, Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan hosted a company-wide town hall meeting to inform employees about efforts to win back trust.

    “We’re making things right for our customers and our team members," Sloan said. "We are fixing problems, and we’re building a better bank for the future.”

    New ad campaign

    Employees also got a sneak peak at a new national advertising campaign with the theme “Building Better Every Day.” The advertising campaign will begin in mid-April across multiple channels.

    Business Insider reports the bank has faced strong headwinds as it tries to reassure consumers, experiencing a pronounced decline in new accounts and an increase in closed accounts since the scandal broke last fall.

    Citing company data, the publication notes that new checking accounts dropped 43% and new credit card accounts fell by 55% in February.

    Next week, if you need to withdraw money from a Wells Fargo ATM, you won't need your debit card. You can use your smartphone.The bank ran a pilot progr...

    Continued strength for new-home sales in February

    Initial jobless claims head higher

    Following a strong start for 2017 a month earlier, new-home sales rose again in February.

    The Commerce Department reports sales of single-family houses were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 592,000 last month -- 6.1% above January and up 12.8% from February of last year.

    At the same time, the government revised its January report to show sales at a rate of 558,000, versus the 555,000 initially reported.

    "February's increase in new home sales is consistent with builders' growing confidence in the housing market," said National Association of Home Builders Chairman Granger MacDonald. "Builders are encouraged by heightened consumer activity and by the expectation that regulatory costs will decline in the year ahead."

    Pricing and supply

    The median sales price of new houses sold in February -- the point at which half the house sold for more and half for less -- was $296,200. That's down $15,100 from a year earlier and a loss of $12,000 from the month before.

    The average sales price of  $390,400 is a year-over-year gain of $41,000 and up $35,100 from a month earlier.

    The seasonally-adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of February was 266,000, representing a supply of 5.4 months at the current sales rate.

    The complete report may be found on the Commerce Department website.

    Jobless claims

    Also from the government, word that first-time applications for state unemployment benefits were on the rise.

    According to the Department of Labor (DOL), initial jobless claims jumped by 15,000 in the week ending March 18 to a seasonally adjusted 258,000. The previous week's claims level was adjusted upward by 2,000.

    The less volatile four-week moving average came in at 240,000 – up 1,000 from the previous week's average, which was revised higher by 1,750.

    The full report is available on the DOL website.

    Following a strong start for 2017 a month earlier, new-home sales rose again in February.The Commerce Department reports sales of...

    EuroCan Manufacturing recalls pig ears pet products

    The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

    EuroCan Manufacturing is recalling individually shrink-wrapped, 6-pack, 12-pack and 25-pack bags of Barnsdale Farms, HoundsTooth and Mac's Choice Pig Ears pet products.

    The products may be contaminated with Salmonella.

    No illnesses of any kind have been reported to date.

    The pig ears, lot number 84, were distributed throughout the U.S. and Canada.

    What to do

    Customers who purchased the recalled products should return them to the place of purchase for a refund.

    Consumers with questions may contact the company Monday – Friday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm (ET) at (888) 290-7606.

     

     

    EuroCan Manufacturing is recalling individually shrink-wrapped, 6-pack, 12-pack and 25-pack bags of Barnsdale Farms, HoundsTooth and Mac's Choice Pig Ears...

    Wellpet recalls one canned topper product for dogs

    The product may contain elevated levels of naturally occurring beef thyroid hormone

    WellPet is recalling a limited amount of one canned topper product for dogs.

    The product may contain elevated levels of naturally occurring beef thyroid hormone.

    The company has received no reports of any health problems to date.

    The the following product, a mixer or topper is intended for intermittent or supplemental feeding only, is being recalled:

    • Wellness 95% Beef Topper for Dogs – 13.2 oz, Best-By Dates of 02 FEB 19, 29 AUG 19 and 30 AUG 19, located on the bottom of the can.

    The recalled product was distributed at pet specialty retailers throughout North America and online.

    What to do

    Customers who purchased the recalled product may contact the company at 1-877-227-9587 or by email at wecare@wellpet.com. 

     

     

    WellPet is recalling a limited amount of one canned topper product for dogs.The product may contain elevated levels of naturally occurring beef thyroid...

    Report names top cities for Millennials

    Salt Lake City, Miami, and Orlando rank in the top three

    Millennials may increasingly be settling down in the suburbs, but a new report finds several major U.S. cities have also caught the attention of those between the ages of 25 and 34.

    According to research from Realtor.com, the top cities for Millennials are Salt Lake City, Miami, Orlando, Seattle, Houston, Los Angeles, Buffalo, Albany, San Francisco, and San Jose.

    To come up with its ranking, the online real estate website analyzed the 60 largest markets in the U.S. and compared the share of Millennial page views in each area to the national average.

    What's pumping Millennials into these metro areas? Job prospects and affordability, says Realtor.com.

    Job growth and affordability

    Low unemployment rates and affordable home prices have first-time home buyers flocking to Salt Lake City, Buffalo, and Albany, the study found.

    In Buffalo, the main draw for the demographic was affordability. At 23%, Buffalo was found to have the most affordable home prices relative to salary. Albany came in second for affordability, where people only use 27% of their income on a home.

    Salt Lake City had the lowest unemployment rate at 2.9%, well below the national unemployment rate of 4.7%. Other cities with low unemployment rates included San Francisco, where the tech-fueled job market is drawing Millennials into the area, and San Jose, where job opportunities in Silicon Valley await.

    Rising Millennial populations

    “High job growth in markets such as Orlando, Seattle, and Miami, and the power of affordability in places like Albany and Buffalo are making these markets magnets for millennials,” said Javier Vivas, manager of economic research for realtor.com.  

    “But what really stands out is that all these markets already have large numbers of millennials, which translates into strong populations of millennial home buyers," Vivas said.

    The top markets in the report already have a significant Millennial population, Realtor.com noted. The average share of Millennials in the U.S. is 13%, but the top cities for Millennials were found to have an average share of 14%.

    At nearly 16% of its total population, Salt Lake City had the highest share of Millennials. The population of Millennials was similarly high in Seattle (15.2%), Los Angeles (15%), and San Francisco (15%), despite the difficult-to-afford nature of the latter two locations. 

    Millennials may increasingly be settling down in the suburbs, but a new report finds several major U.S. cities have also caught the attention of those betw...

    Housing inventory hits post-recovery record low

    Lack of homes putting upward pressure on prices

    Real estate marketplace Trulia has confirmed what most would-be home buyers have long known. There just aren't that many homes for sale these days.

    Trulia's quarterly Inventory and Price Watch found home values gained the most since 2012, but buyers are facing an increasingly tight supply of homes on the market. In the first three months of this year, Trulia says national housing inventory fell to a record low.

    The number of homes for sale fell for the eighth consecutive quarter, falling 5.1% over the past year.

    The report, which breaks down the market into starter, move-up, and premium homes, found inventory is tightest among starter homes. It's down 8.7%, while the inventory of move-up homes is down 7.9%. On the other hand, there appears to be plenty of premium, more expensive homes. The inventory is down just 1.7% -- the same as last year.

    Rising prices and falling inventory

    Rising prices and declining inventory is hitting the entry-level home buyer the hardest. As prices rise, affordability becomes a bigger issue. At the same time, fewer available homes simply complicates the problem. And increasing competition for the fewer available homes puts upward pressure on prices.

    According to Trulia, the typical entry-level buyer now needs to dedicate 38.3% or his or her monthly income to buy a home. That's a 2.9% rise from last year. Affordability remains less of an issue for those in the move-up and premium housing segments.

    Double-edged sword

    "Recovering home values have proven to be a double-edge sword," said Trulia chief economist Ralph McLaughlin. "While homeowners across the country are thrilled to regain equity in their homes, many have not been in a hurry to trade up. This has added to the inventory gridlock that ties up would-be starter-home inventory from ever coming on to the market, further constraining supply and decreasing affordability."

    Some can't move up because they remain underwater on their mortgages. While they have regained significant equity in the last few years, home values still need to be above what they paid for their homes in order to sell and have enough cash for a down payment on another home.

    The nation's home builders, who were very active during the housing bubble, have cut their production by nearly 50% since the bubble popped, making inventory even tighter.

    McLaughlin says saving for a down payment is still one of the biggest obstacles for first-time buyers. He says this is hitting Millennials the hardest, as they struggle to save while having to paying increasingly higher rents.

    Real estate marketplace Trulia has confirmed what most would-be home buyers have long known. There just aren't that many homes for sale these days.Trul...

    Sears raises doubt about its ability to survive

    The company says it may go under unless it finds a way to compete with other retailers

    Sears Holdings, the company that operates Sears and Kmart stores, is voicing doubts about its long-term ability to stay in business.

    In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the company said there is "substantial doubt" about its viability unless it can raise additional capital.

    The retailer has struggled, along with many other brick-and-mortar retailers, as more consumer purchases have shifted to online channels like Amazon. At the same time, overall retail sales have flattened in recent years due to demographic trends.

    'Materially adversely affected'

    In a 10-K filing with the SEC, Sears Holdings candidly warned that unless it found a way to compete effectively in the increasingly competitive retail sector, its business could be "materially adversely affected." In the document, it summed up the problem.

    "The retail industry is highly competitive with few barriers to entry," the company said in the 10-K filing. "We compete with a wide variety of retailers, including other department stores, discounters, home improvement stores, appliances and consumer electronics retailers, auto service providers, specialty retailers, wholesale clubs, online and catalog retailers and many other competitors operating on a national, regional or local level."

    The company notes that some of its competitors are actively engaged in new store expansion while online and catalog businesses, which handle similar lines of merchandise, are often not required to collect sales tax.

    "We also experience significant competition from promotional activities of our competitors, and some competitors may be able to devote greater resources to sourcing, promoting and selling their products. In this competitive marketplace, success is based on factors such as price, advertising, product assortment, quality, service, reputation and convenience," the company said.

    Problems are not new

    Earlier this year Sears Holdings announced plans to transform its retail operations and possibly sell some of its assets, such as its Kenmore appliance and Die Hard battery brands, to raise much-needed cash.

    As we reported in late December, Sears targeted about 30 Sears and Kmart stores for closing and announced it had secured a $500,000 line of credit to help it transform to meet the new retail realities.

    Sears, meanwhile, has not been alone in its predicament. Just last month J.C. Penney announced it is closing around 130 of its stores in a bid to remain competitive.

    It, like many other older, established retailers, announced it would shift more focus to selling online, a space currently dominated by Amazon.

    Sears Holdings, the company that operates Sears and Kmart stores, is voicing doubts about its long-term ability to stay in business.In a filing with th...

    A February retreat for existing home sales

    Prices, meanwhile, continued to rise

    Sales of previously-owned homes fell in February after hitting the fastest pace in nearly10 years during July.

    The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports total existing-home sales -- completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums, and co-ops -- were down 3.7% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.48 million.

    Even with that decline though, the February sales pace is 5.4% ahead of a year ago.

    Supply and affordability take a toll

    Closings on home sales were the result of too few properties for sale and weakening affordability conditions.

    “Realtors are reporting stronger foot traffic from a year ago, but low supply in the affordable price range continues to be the pest that's pushing up price growth and pressuring the budgets of prospective buyers,” said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. “Newly listed properties are being snatched up quickly so far this year and leaving behind minimal choices for buyers trying to reach the market.”

    Yun also noted that a growing share of homeowners in NAR's first quarter home survey said now is a good time to sell, but added that, “until an increase in listings actually occurs, home prices will continue to move hastily.”

    Pricing and inventory

    The median existing-home price for all housing types was $228,400 last month -- up 7.7% from February 2016. That increase was the fastest since last January, marking the 60th consecutive month of year-over-year gains. The median is the point at which half the house sold for more and half for less.

    Total housing inventory at the end of February was up 4.2% to 1.75 million existing homes available for sale, but down 6.4% from a year ago. It now has fallen year-over-year for 21 straight months. At the current sales pace, unsold inventory is at a 3.8-month supply.

    Sales by region

    • Existing-home sales in the Northeast plunged 13.8% in February to an annual rate of 690,000, but are still 1.5% above a year ago. The median price rose 4.1% from the same period a year earlier to $250,200.
    • In the Midwest, sales were down 7.0% to an annual rate of 1.20 million. Still, they're up 2.6% from February 2016. The median price was $171,700 -- up 6.1% from a year ago.
    • The South saw existing-home sales rise 1.3% to an annual rate of 2.34 million -- 5.9% above the previous February. The median price shot up 9.6% from a year ago to $205,300.
    • Sales in the West fell 3.1% to an annual rate of 1.25 million, but are 9.6% above the year-ago level. The median price came in at $339,900, a year-over-year gain of 9.6%.
    Sales of previously-owned homes fell in February after hitting the fastest pace in nearly10 years during July.The National Association of Realtors (NAR...

    Honda CR-V earns IIHS TOP SAFETY PICK+ award

    The vehicle's crash avoidance system was rated superior

    The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has selected the redesigned Honda CR-V as the latest recipient of its 2017 TOP SAFETY PICK+ award.

    The 2017 CR-V, like the previous generation of the small SUV, earned across-the-board good crashworthiness ratings. In addition, it's available with an optional front crash prevention system that earns a superior rating and acceptable-rated headlights.

    When equipped with front crash prevention, the vehicle avoided collisions in the Institute's 12 mph and 25 mph track tests. The system also has a forward collision warning system that meets National Highway Traffic Safety Administration criteria.

    The LED headlights that come with the CR-V's Touring trim received an acceptable rating. The halogen lights on the model's other trim levels are rated marginal.

    To earn the 2017 TOP SAFETY PICK+ award, a vehicle must have good ratings in the small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength, and head restraint tests.

    It also must have an available front crash prevention system with an advanced or superior rating and headlights that earn an acceptable or good rating.

    The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has selected the redesigned Honda CR-V as the latest recipient of its 2017 TOP SAFETY PICK+ award.The...

    Mortgage applications post first decline in four weeks

    Contract interest rates were mixed

    After rising for three consecutive weeks, mortgage applications have moved lower.

    The latest survey from the Mortgage Bankers Association shows applications were down 2.7% in the week ending March 17.

    The Refinance Index was also lower, dropping 3% from the previous week, pushing the refinance share of mortgage activity down to 45.1% of total applications from 45.6% the week before.

    The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity rose to 9.0% of total applications -- the highest level since October 2014.

    The FHA share dipped to 10.9% from 11.1%, the VA share of total applications fell 1% to 10.1%, and the USDA share of total applications was unchanged at 0.9%.

    Contract interest rates

    • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($424,100 or less) was unchanged at 4.46%, with points increasing to 0.41 from 0.37 (including the origination fee) for 80% loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The effective rate was unchanged from last week.
    • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs with jumbo loan balances (greater than $424,100) fell four basis points -- to 4.40% from 4.44% -- with points increasing to 0.37 from 0.28 (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 from 4.29% to 4.33% -- its highest level since January 2014, with points increasing to 0.40 from 0.39 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
    • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs inched up two basis points to 3.68%, with points decreasing to 0.37 from 0.45 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate was unchanged from last week.
    • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs slipped to 3.41% from 3.45%, with points increasing to 0.25 from 0.24 (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.

    After rising for three consecutive weeks, mortgage applications have moved lower.The latest survey from the Mortgage Bankers Association shows applicat...

    One more recall expansion for Vulto Creamery cheeses

    The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

    Vulto Creamery of Walton, N.Y., is recalling all lots of Ouleout, Miranda, Heinennellie, and Willowemoc soft wash-rind raw milk cheeses.

    Testing results from the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) found Ouleout lot # 617 positive for Listeria monocytogenes, and New York Department of Agriculture and Markets found possible contamination of Ouleout lot #623.

    In the first expansion earlier this month, the company disclosed that testing results have identified Ouleout product contamination, similar to the strain isolated from a cluster outbreak of Listeriosis responsible for six illnesses and two confirmed deaths.

    The soft raw milk cheeses were distributed nationwide, with most being sold at retail locations in the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic States, California, Chicago, Portland and Washington, D.C.

    What to do

    Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but return them to the purchase location for a refund.

    Consumers with questions may contact the company at 607-222-3995 Monday – Friday 9:00 am – 4:00 pm ET) or by email at vultocreamery@gmail.com.

     

     

    Vulto Creamery of Walton, N.Y., is recalling all lots of Ouleout, Miranda, Heinennellie, and Willowemoc soft wash-rind raw milk cheeses.Testing results...

    Polaris Recalls Sportsman 850 and 1000 ATVs

    The right side panel heat shield can melt, posing burn and fire hazards

    Polaris Industries of Medina, Minn., is recalling about 19,200 Sportsman 850 and 1000 all-terrain vehicles (ATVs)

    The right side panel heat shield can melt, posing burn and fire hazards to riders. In addition, in 2015 Sportsman 1000 ATVs, the exhaust springs can stretch and damage the exhaust seal, which can result in exhaust leaks and pose burn and fire hazards.

    The company has received at least 793 incidents, including reports of warped, melted or burned side panels, 47 fires and four minor burn injuries.

    This recall involves all model year 2015 and 2016 Polaris Sportsman 850 and 1000 model all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). “Polaris” is printed on the front grill and “Sportsman 850” or “Sportsman 1000” is printed on the side of the steering column. The ATVs were sold in several colors. The model number is located on the fuel tank cover.

    The following models are being recalled:

    Model Year

    Model Number

    Model/Color

    2015

    A15SXA85AJ

    Sportsman 850 White Lightning

    2015

    A15SXA85AA

    Sportsman 850 Sage Green

    2015

    A15SXA85AC

    Sportsman 850 Polaris Pursuit Camo

    2015

    A15SXE85AS

    Sportsman 850 SP Sunset Red

    2015

    A15SXE85AM

    Sportsman 850 SP Titanium Matte Metallic

    2015

    A15SYE85AS

    Sportsman Touring 850 SP Sunset Red

    2015

    A15SYE85AV

    Sportsman Touring 850 SP Blue Fire

    2015

    A15SXE95AW

    Sportsman XP 1000 Matte White Le

    2015

    A15SXE95AK

    Sportsman XP 1000 SP Black Pearl Metallic

    2015

    A15SXE95AC

    Sportsman XP 1000 Polaris Pursuit Camo

    2015

    A15SYE95AX

    Sportsman Touring XP 1000 Bronze Mist

    2015

    A15SXL95AM

    Sportsman XP 1000 Titanium Matte Metallic

    2015

    A15SYL95AP

    Sportsman XP 1000 Touring White Pearl Metal

    2016

    A16SXA85A2

    Sportsman 850 White Lightning

    2016

    A16SXA85A1

    Sportsman 850 Sage Green

    2016

    A16SXA85A9

    Sportsman 850 Polaris Pursuit® Camo

    2016

    A16SXE85AB

    Sportsman 850 SP Velocity Blue

    2016

    A16SXE85AS

    Sportsman 850 SP Sunset Red

    2016

    A16SXN85A3

    Sportsman 850 High Lifter Edition

    2016

    A16SXE85AM

    Sportsman 850 SP Titanium Matte Metallic

    2016

    A16SYE85AS

    Sportsman Touring 850 SP Sunset Red

    2016

    A16SXE95AG

    Sportsman XP 1000 Matte Sagebrush Green

    2016

    A16SXE95AR

    Sportsman XP 1000 Havasu Red Pearl

    2016

    A16SXD95A9

    Sportsman XP 1000 Hunter Edition

    2016

    A16SYE95AK

    Sportsman Touring XP 1000 Black Pearl

    2016

    A16SXM95AL

    Sportsman XP 1000 High Lifter Edition

    2016

    A16SYE95AP

    The ATVs, manufactured in the U.S., were sold at Polaris dealers nationwide from May 2014, through March 2017, for between $8,500 and $15,000.

    What to do

    Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled ATVs and contact Polaris to schedule a free repair. Polaris is contacting all known purchasers directly.

    Consumers may contact Polaris at 800-765-2747 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday or online at www.polaris.com and click on “Off-Road Safety Recalls” for more information. In addition, check your vehicle identification number (VIN) on the “Product Safety Recalls” page to see if your vehicle is included in any recalls.

     

     

    Polaris Industries of Medina, Minn., is recalling about 19,200 Sportsman 850 and 1000 all-terrain vehicles (ATVs)The right side panel heat shield can m...

    U.S. bans electronic devices from airline cabins on some Mid-East flights

    Rule covers direct flights to the U.S. from 10 airports in the Middle East and North Africa

    A new U.S. Transportation Department rule taking effect today prohibits passengers from carrying electronic devices aboard commercial aircraft flying directly to the U.S. from certain Middle Eastern countries.

    A number of news outlets reporting the ban have quoted “senior U.S. officials” providing details of the new rule.

    The devices – including smartphones, laptops, and tablets – may be packed in checked baggage.

    The ban is said to be limited to flights departing 10 airports from the Middle East and North Africa and is based on security concerns. Officials told The Washington Post that intelligence continues to pick up on terrorist interest in targeting commercial aviation. The concern is that electronic devices can be modified to contain explosives.

    According to Reuters, the affected cities include Cairo; Istanbul; Kuwait City; Doha, Qatar; Casablanca, Morocco; Amman, Jordan; Riyadh and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; and Dubai and Abu Dhabi in United Arab Emirates.

    Reuters quotes Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Gillian Christensen as saying the U.S "did not target specific nations. We relied upon evaluated intelligence to determine which airports were affected."

    The affected airports are served by nine airlines that have non-stop flights to the U.S. The carriers include Royal Jordanian Airlines, Egypt Air, Turkish Airlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Kuwait Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Qatar Airways, Emirates, and Etihad Airways.

    A new U.S. Transportation Department rule taking effect today prohibits passengers from carrying electronic devices aboard commercial aircraft flying direc...

    Blue Buffalo recalls dog food product

    The product may contain elevated levels of naturally- occurring beef thyroid hormones

    Blue Buffalo Company is recalling one production lot of BLUE Wilderness Rocky Mountain Recipe Red Meat Dinner Wet Food for Adult Dogs.

    The product may contain elevated levels of naturally- occurring beef thyroid hormones. Dogs ingesting high levels of beef thyroid hormones may exhibit symptoms such as increased thirst and urination, weight loss, increased heart rate and restlessness.

    These symptoms may resolve when the use of the impacted food is discontinued. However, with prolonged consumption these symptoms may increase in severity and may include vomiting, diarrhea, and rapid or difficulty breathing.

    There have been no reports of illness.

    The following item is being recalled:

    Product NameUPC CodeBest Buy Date

    BLUE Wilderness Rocky Mountain 
    Recipe Red Meat Dinner Wet 
    Food for Adult Dogs 12.5 oz can

    840243101153

    June 7, 2019 (found 
    on the bottom of the can)

    The recalled product was distributed nationally through pet specialty and on-line retailers.

    What to do

    Customers who purchased the recalled product should dispose of it or return it to the place of purchase for a full refund.

    Consumers with questions may contact Blue Buffalo at 866-201-9072 from 8 AM – 5 PM(ET) Monday through Friday, or by email at CustomerCare@bluebuffalo.com for more information.

     

     

    Blue Buffalo Company is recalling one production lot of BLUE Wilderness Rocky Mountain Recipe Red Meat Dinner Wet Food for Adult Dogs.The product may c...

    Saks Fifth Avenue left customer info lying around in plain sight

    The unencrypted data was publicly available on the web

    The latest consumer privacy slip-up is courtesy of Saks Fifth Avenue, which has left personal information on tens of thousands of its customers basically lying around in plain sight.

    The unencrypted, publicly available text information included the email addresses and product codes of items customers had expressed an interest in buying, according to a report in BuzzFeed.

    “This is as bad as security gets,” said Robert Graham, a cybersecurity expert and owner of Errata Security, to BuzzFeed News. “Everyone is vulnerable.”

    Saks' online shopping site is operated by its corporate parent, Hudson's Bay Company of Canada. The company said it is "taking this matter seriously" and insisted that the unsecure data did not include credit card numbers or passwords.

    Hudson's Bay has recently been in takeover talks with Neiman Marcus and Macy's. It is the oldest continually operating retailer in North America, having been founded in 1670.

    The latest consumer privacy slip-up is courtesy of Saks Fifth Avenue, which has left personsal information on tens of thousands of its customers basically...

    The secret to success: high salaries and low housing costs

    Zillow and LinkedIn try to identify the sweet spots

    To enjoy a good standard of living, you need to find a job that pays reasonably well and housing that doesn't cost an arm and a leg.

    Increasingly, that's harder to do.

    Take Silicon Valley, for example. Tech jobs in the region pay fabulous salaries, but because so many people are earning so much money, home prices are out of sight. Even apartment rents have hit the stratosphere.

    Go to the Rust Belt, on the other hand, and you can get a great deal on a house or apartment. But you may have trouble finding a good paying job.

    High-paying jobs and affordable homes

    Real estate marketplace Zillow and professional networking site LinkedIn have teamed up to find that sweet spot -- locations at the intersection of high-paying jobs and affordable homes.

    The two firms combined housing and employment data, using job listings, salaries, and the percentage of workers hired in the past year in health care, technology, and finance. They identified the markets in the U.S. where workers have the largest share of their paycheck left after paying the rent.

    For tech workers who rent their home, Seattle was the top market, followed by Austin and Pittsburgh. Surprisingly, San Francisco was number four, thanks in large part to the generous tech salaries in the region. But if you aren't working in the tech industry, you might find it less than affordable.

    People who work in finance will do best in Charlotte, followed by Dallas-Fort Worth and Phoenix. For people working in the healthcare industry, the sweet spot lies in Phoenix, Indianapolis, and Boston.

    West Coast affordability challenges

    Despite Seattle's presence on the lists, West Coast housing affordability is the worst in the nation. Zillow reports that both renters and home owners in West Coast housing markets can spend nearly half their income on housing.

    In the interior of the country, meanwhile, it's a different story. There, the typical worker spends about 25% of his or her income on housing.

    The report underscores the fact that relocating to accept a new job requires some careful thought, and maybe a little research.

    "High demand and inventory shortages have driven up housing prices in some markets so much that even if you land a great job, the salary might not cover living within commuting distance," said Zillow Chief Economist Dr. Svenja Gudell. "On the other hand, the nation's most affordable housing markets don't always offer plentiful employment opportunities."

    To enjoy a good standard of living, you need to find a job that pays reasonably well and housing that doesn't cost an arm and a leg.Increasingly, that'...

    Disney agrees to provide $3.8 million in back pay

    Labor Department says thousands of employees were paid less than mimimum wage

    The Walt Disney Co. had a very big weekend, raking in $170 million at U.S. box offices with the nationwide release of its live action fairy tale remake, "Beauty and the Beast."

    The numbers perhaps show that the audience for movies these days is families, not young people, who perhaps can no longer afford them, and would who prefer to watch Netflix anyway.

    Disney will need $3.8 million of that haul to settle a matter with the U.S. Labor Department. The money will go to 16,339 employees of the Disney Vacation Club Management Corp. and the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts U.S. Inc., two Florida-based entities.

    The Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division hit Disney with alleged violations of minimum wage, overtime, and recordkeeping provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

    Employees charged for costumes

    According to the complaint, the Disney operations had charged employees for the costumes they were required to wear as part of their jobs. The charge was deducted from their paychecks.

    The resorts also allegedly did not provide pay for performances during a pre-shift period before the designated start of their shifts. The performers were also sometimes required to work after their shifts, again allegedly without pay. The government also said the Disney resorts failed to maintain proper payroll records.

    Not uncommon

    “These violations are not uncommon and are found in other industries, as well,” said Daniel White, district director for the Wage and Hour Division in Jacksonville. Fla.

    White says employers may not make deductions from employees paychecks that take them below the minimum wage for the work they perform. Also, time on the job must be carefully tracked, including time before and after official shifts.

    The Labor Department said Disney resorts cooperated with the investigation and "worked with the division to ensure employees received the pay they earned.”

    The Walt Disney Co. had a very big weekend, raking in $170 million at U.S. box offices with the nationwide release of its live action fairy tale remake, "B...

    Model year 2016 Range Rovers and Range Rover Sports recalled

    The passenger front airbag inflator initiator may fail to ignite

    Jaguar Land Rover North America is recalling 205 model year 2016 Land Rover Range Rovers and Range Rover Sports.

    The passenger front airbag inflator initiator may fail to ignite during a crash.

    If the airbag inflator initiator fails to ignite, the passenger front airbag will not deploy, increasing the risk of injury in the event of a crash.

    What to do

    Land Rover will notify owners, and dealers will replace the front passenger airbag, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin May 1, 2017.

    Owners may contact Land Rover customer service at 1-800-637-6837. Land Rover's number for this recall is N026.

     

     

    Jaguar Land Rover North America is recalling 205 model year 2016 Land Rover Range Rovers and Range Rover Sports.The passenger front airbag inflator ini...

    Advanced Fresh Concepts recalls Edamame

    The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

    Advanced Fresh Concepts Franchise Corp. (AFC) of Rancho Dominguez, Calif., is recalling its Edamame (soybeans) -- UPC 0-23012-00261-9, dated between January 3, 2017, and March 17, 2017.

    The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

    No illnesses have been reported to date.

    The recalled product was packaged by AFC Franchisees and sold under refrigeration in 8.0-oz. (227-g) packages and identified as “Edamame – Soybeans in Pods.”

    The packed Edamame was sold at designated retail sushi counters within grocery stores, cafeterias and corporate dining centers in Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Hampssire, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming.

    What to do

    Customers who purchased the recalled product should not consume it, but return it to the place of purchase for a full refund.

    Consumers with questions may contact the company at 1-866-467-8744 Monday - Friday, 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM (PT) or by email at recall@afcsushi.com.

     

     

    Advanced Fresh Concepts Franchise Corp. (AFC) of Rancho Dominguez, Calif., is recalling its Edamame (soybeans) -- UPC 0-23012-00261-9, dated between Januar...

    Volkswagen recalls model year 2007-2010 Touaregs

    The fuel filter flange may crack and allow fuel to leak out

    Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 20,908 model year 2007-2010 Touaregs.

    The fuel filter flange may crack and allow fuel to leak out.

    A fuel leak in the presence of an ignition source can increase the risk of a fire.

    What to do

    Volkswagen will notify owners, and dealers will inspect and replace the fuel filter flange if cracks are found. A protective cover will be applied to the fuel filter to prevent oxidization cracks from forming. These repairs will be made free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in May 2017.

    Owners may contact Volkswagen customer service at 1-800-893-5298. Volkswagen's number for the recall is 20Z4.

     

     

    Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 20,908 model year 2007-2010 Touaregs.The fuel filter flange may crack and allow fuel to leak out.A fuel le...

    Model year 2017 Audi A5 Cabriolets and S5 Cabriolets recalled

    The seat belt retractor pretensioners may malfunction

    Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 1,676 model year 2017 Audi A5 Cabriolets and S5 Cabriolets.

    A component within the front, rear, and rear center seat belt retractor pretensioners may detach after the seat belt retractor pretensioner is deployed in the event of a crash.

    Although, the seat belt will operate as intended in the event of a crash, the pretensioner component may be a projectile within the vehicle cabin, increasing the risk of injury.

    What to do

    Audi will notify owners, and dealers will replace the safety belt retractors/pretensioners, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in May 2017.

    Owners may contact Audi customer service at 1-800-253-2834. Volkswagen's number for the recall is 69O8.

     

     

    Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 1,676 model year 2017 Audi A5 Cabriolets and S5 Cabriolets.A component within the front, rear, and rear center...

    Rare Frank Zappa albums to be re-released

    A new generation will get a taste of the pioneering rock artist

    During his life and career, rock musician Frank Zappa was not exactly a mainstream artist. And that's part of what made him cool.

    He leaned heavily on rock, pop, and jazz, but also tossed in intriguing bits of jazz fusion, orchestral, and works that used various eclectic sounds. He and his band, The Mothers of Invention, had an extremely devoted following in the late 1960s.

    Now, the Zappa Family Trust and Universal Music Enterprises (UMe) are teaming up to release 24 Zappa albums, some of them rare, later this month. The music will be available on CD, digital downloads, and streaming on March 24.

    "For more than two decades, the only place to get exclusive Frank Zappa albums was through our mail order and website," said Ahmet Zappa, son of the late artist and the Trust's executor. "We are thrilled to be able to make these titles available to fans across the globe with the help of our friends at Universal."

    According to UMe, nine of the albums in the collection, including Zappa's 100th release, "Dance Me This," and the cult favorite live disc, "Roxy By Proxy," have never been made available for download or for streaming.

    The collection also includes a recording from a 1971 performance at Carnegie Hall and a 1974 recording made at KCET-TV studios in Los Angeles, which ended up being used in a number of different Zappa projects.

    Zappa died in 1993 after a long battle with cancer. He was 53.

    During his life and career, rock musician Frank Zappa was not exactly a mainstream artist. And that's part of what made him cool.He leaned heavily on r...

    20 jobs women are paid less for than men

    Working as a financial advisor tops the list

    There's been much discussion of pay inequities among men and women. Women have pointed out they tend to earn less than men for doing the same work and for assuming the same level of responsibility.

    The financial news site 24/7 Wall St. has taken it a step further, conducting an analysis, using government data, to pinpoint the occupations where the pay inequity is greatest. It came up with "The 20 Worst-Paying Jobs for Women in America."

    Here's the list:

    1. Personal financial advisors

    2. Insurance sales agents

    3. Physicians and surgeons

    4. Real estate brokers and sales agents

    5. Securities, commodities, and financial services sales agents

    6. Marketing and sales managers

    7. Administrative services managers

    8. Sales representatives, services, all other

    9. Other teachers and instructors

    10. Financial managers

    11. Credit counselors and loan officers

    12. Inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers

    13. Retail salespersons

    14. Property, real estate, and community association managers

    15. Accountants and auditors

    16. Bartenders

    17. Lodging managers

    18. Financial analysts

    19. Designers

    20. First-line supervisors of food preparation and serving workers

    Some surprises

    The analysis found that women working as first-line supervisors in food service earn 72.8% of what men in those jobs do. But that's better than working as a personal financial advisor, the editors say. There, women earn just 55.6% of what a man does.

    You might be surprised to see some of the occupations on the list, especially near the top of the list. But the report notes that the jobs where pay inequity is greatest tend to be the highest-paying jobs. Women earn a nice salary but men tend to earn an even nicer one.

    The 24/7 Wall St. report comes on the heels of University of Chicago research, which we reported earlier this week, noting that women financial advisors -- the occupation where the pay gap is widest -- are fired for violations of policy more often than men.

    There's been much discussion of pay inequities among men and women. Women have pointed out they tend to earn less than men for doing the same work and for...

    Leading economic indicators on a roll

    February's gain was the sixth in a row

    There's a good chance that the nation's economy will continue to chug along in the months ahead.

    The Conference Board reports its Leading Economic Index (LEI) rose 0.6% to 126.2.

    “After six consecutive monthly gains, the U.S. LEI is at its highest level in over a decade,” said Ataman Ozyildirim, director of Business Cycles and Growth Research at The Conference Board. “Widespread gains across a majority of the leading indicators points to an improving economic outlook for 2017, although GDP growth is likely to remain moderate,” he added, pointing out that “only housing permits contributed negatively to the LEI in February, reversing gains over the previous two months.”

    The LEI, a closely watched forecast of economic activity, is a composite average of several individual leading indicators. It's constructed to summarize and reveal common turning point patterns in economic data in a clearer and more convincing manner than any individual component -- primarily because it smooths out some of the volatility of individual components.

    The ten components of the LEI include:

    • Average weekly hours, manufacturing
    • Average weekly initial claims for unemployment insurance
    • Manufacturers’ new orders, consumer goods and materials
    • ISM Index of New Orders
    • Manufacturers' new orders, nondefense capital goods excluding aircraft orders
    • Building permits, new private housing units
    • Stock prices, 500 common stocks
    • Leading Credit Index
    • Interest rate spread, 10-year Treasury bonds less federal funds
    • Average consumer expectations for business conditions
    There's a good chance that the nation's economy will continue to chug along in the months ahead.The Conference Board reports its Leading Economic Index...

    Job openings edge higher January

    Hiring was also up a bit

    Job openings edged up slightly during January, according to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

    On the final business day of the month, there were 5.626 million job openings, compared with 5.539 million in December, for a job openings rate of 3.7%.

    The number of job openings was up a bit for the private sector -- from 5.065 million to 5.173 million, with most of them in professional and business services, and down for government -- to 452,000 from 474,000.

    Hires

    Hires during the month went from 5.303 million in December to 5.440 million, with a hires rate of 3.7%. There were 5.104 million private sector hires and 336,000 for government. Other services (+54,000) and finance & insurance (+41,000) led hiring in the private sector. The number of hires was little changed in all four geographic regions.

    Separations

    Total separations includes quits, layoffs and discharges, and other separations, and is referred to as turnover. There were 5.258 million total separations in January, versus 5.084 in December. The total separations rate was 3.6%. The number of total separations was little changed in all four regions.

    Net employment change

    Over the 12 months ending in January, hires totaled 63.1 million and separations totaled 60.7 million, yielding a net employment gain of 2.4 million.

    This includes workers who may have been hired and separated more than once during the year.

    The full report may be found on the BLS website.

    Job openings edged up slightly during January, according to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).On the final business day of the month, t...

    Builder confidence at 12-year high in March

    However, challenges remain

    The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI) is at its highest point since June 2005.

    The HMI, a measure of builder confidence in the market for newly-built single-family homes, shot up six points during the month to a level of 71.

    “While builders are clearly confident, we expect some moderation in the index moving forward,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “Builders continue to face a number of challenges, including rising material prices, higher mortgage rates, and shortages of lots and labor.”

    Still, “builders are buoyed by President Trump’s actions on regulatory reform,” said NAHB Chairman Granger MacDonald, “particularly his recent executive order to rescind or revise the waters of the U.S. rule that impacts permitting.”

    The HMI uses a monthly survey to gauge builder perceptions of current single-family home sales and sales expectations for the next six months as “good,” “fair,” or “poor.” Builders are also asked to rate traffic of prospective buyers as “high to very high,” “average” or “low to very low.”

    Scores for each component are then used to calculate a seasonally adjusted index where any number over 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as good than poor.

    A strong March showing

    All three HMI components posted robust gains during the month. The component gauging current sales conditions was up seven points to 78, while the index charting sales expectations in the next six months rose five points to 78. Meanwhile, the component measuring buyer traffic jumped eight points to 54.

    Looking at the three-month moving averages for regional HMI scores, the Midwest rose three points to 68 and the South rose one point to 68. On the other hand, the West dipped three points to 76 and the Northeast inched down a point to 48.

    The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI) is at its highest point since June 2005.The HMI, a measure of b...

    RBR Meat Company recalls frozen pizza product

    The product may be adulterated with Listeria monocytogenes

    RBR Meat Company of Vernon, Calif., is recalling approximately 21,220 pounds of frozen pizza product that may be adulterated with Listeria monocytogenes.

    There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

    The following item, produced on February 23, 2017, is being recalled:

    • 50.6-oz. corrugated box containing 1 shrink wrapped 16” pizza labeled as “Marketside Extra Large Supreme Pizza,” with lot code 20547.

    The recalled product, bearing establishment number “EST. 1821” inside the USDA mark of inspection, was shipped to retail distribution centers in California, Nevada, Utah and Washington.

    What to do

    Consumers who purchased the recalled product should not consume it, but throw it away or return it to the place of purchase.

    Consumers with questions regarding the recall may contact Eunice Wu at (323) 826-2144 Ext. 190.

     

     

    RBR Meat Company of Vernon, Calif., is recalling approximately 21,220 pounds of frozen pizza product that may be adulterated with Listeria monocytogenes....

    Advanced Sports International recalls Fuji bicycles

    The rear wheel freehub can slip during pedaling

    Advanced Sports International of Philadelphia, Pa., is recalling about 650 Fuji bicycles.

    The rear wheel freehub can slip during pedaling, posing a fall hazard.

    The company has received four reports of freehub slipping while pedaling. No crashes or injuries have been reported.

    This recall involves Advanced Sports International’s 2017 Fuji bicycles with Oval Concepts Rear Wheels. The aluminum or carbon fiber bicycles come in a variety of colors. The bicycle model name is printed on the frame of the bicycle. The wheel model number is printed on the rim of the wheel. The hub model number is printed on the drive-side hub flange.

    Recalled models include:

    Bike Model

    Wheel Model

    Hub Model

    Fuji Altamira CX 1.1

    Oval 950 Disc

    3LLR

    Fuji Altamira CX 1.3

    Oval 723 Disc

    Fuji Brevet 1.1 Disc

    Fuji Cross 1.1

    Fuji Gran Fondo 1.1 Disc

    Fuji Gran Fondo 1.3 Disc

    Fuji SL 1.3 Disc

    Fuji Gran Fondo Elite Disc

    Oval 924 Disc

    Fuji SL 1.1 Disc

    Fuji Norcom Straight 1.1

    Oval 980

    3NVR

    Fuji Norcom Straight 1.3

    Fuji SL 1.1

    Oval 935

    Fuji SL 1.3

    Fuji Transonic Elite

    Oval 950

    The bicycles, manufactured in China and Taiwan, were sold at Fuji Bicycle and Authorized Oval Concept dealers from April 2016, through October 2016, for between $2000 to $8000.

    What to do

    Consumers should immediately stop riding the recalled bicycles and contact Advanced Sports International to receive a free replacement freehub body.

    Consumers may contact Advanced Sports International toll‐free at 888-286‐6263 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday or online at www.fujibikes.com or www.ovalconcepts.com and click on “Recall Notice” at the bottom of the page for more information.

     

     

    Advanced Sports International of Philadelphia, Pa., is recalling about 650 Fuji bicycles.The rear wheel freehub can slip during pedaling, posing a fall...

    Bill would impose privacy restrictions on drones

    Congressmen say consumers are vulnerable to uncontrolled snooping

    Privacy advocates have been pushing for protecting consumers from overhead drones, and now a Congressional bill aims to do just that. The Drone Aircraft Privacy and Transparency Act of 2017 was introduced yesterday by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.).

    "Drones flying overhead could collect very sensitive and personally identifiable information about millions of Americans, but right now, we don't have sufficient safeguards in place to protect our privacy," said Markey. The lawmakers introduced similar legislation in the last Congress but no action was taken.

    The measure would set standards for informing the public about the location, timing, and ownership of unmanned aerial vehicles. It would also require privacy protection provisions relating to data collection and minimization, disclosure, warrant requirements for law enforcement, and enforcement measures in the licensing and operation of drones.

    Privacy & transparency

    The FAA estimates that as many as 2,700,000 commercial unmanned aircraft systems will be sold each year in the United States by 2020.

    “As the presence of drones in our airspace becomes more commonplace, Americans are rightly growing concerned about their privacy,” said Rep. Welch in a statement. “Drones are a valuable tool for commerce, law enforcement, and public safety as well as a fun hobby. Our statutes must be updated to reflect the emergence of this soon-to-be ubiquitous technology to ensure privacy and transparency in their operation and use.”
     
    The measure would: 

    • Prohibit the FAA from issuing drone licenses unless the license application includes a data collection statement that explains who will operate the drone, where the drone will be flown, what kind of data will be collected, how that data will be used, whether the information will be sold to third parties, and the period for which the information will be retained.
    • Require law enforcement agencies and their contractors and subcontractors to include an additional data minimization statement that explains how they will minimize the collection and retention of data unrelated to the investigation of a crime.
    • Require that any surveillance involving drones by law enforcement agencies must be accompanied by a warrant or collected under extreme exigent circumstances.
    • Require the FAA to create a publicly available website that lists all approved licenses and includes the data collection and data minimization statements, any data security breaches suffered by a licensee, and the times and locations of drone flights.
    Privacy advocates have been pushing for protecting consumers from overhead drones, and now a Congressional bill aims to do just that. The Drone Aircraft Pr...

    January -- a tough month for air travelers

    A security incident in Florida caused massive tarmac delays

    Getting off the ground was a major challenge in some areas if you were flying anywhere during January.

    According to the Transportation Department's (DOT) Air Travel Consumer Report (ATCR), airlines reported 30 tarmac delays of more than three hours on domestic flights and 12 delays of more than four hours on international flights.

    Fourteen of those long domestic delays and eight of the delays on foreign flights international were at occurred at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida on January 6 because of a security incident. That may have had a ripple effect at other airports on this date. DOT is investigating all reported extended tarmac delays.

    During the same month, carriers posted an on-time arrival rate of 76.0%. While that's not as good as the 81.3% on-time rate a year earlier, it is a bit better than December's 75.6% mark.

    The airlines also report canceling 2.0% of their scheduled domestic flights in January, an improvement over the year-ago rate of 2.6%, but worse than the 1.6% rate chalked up a month earlier.

    The ATCR, which is found on the DOT website, also includes data on chronically delayed flights, and the causes of flight delays, and other problems with baggage, reservation and ticketing, refunds, customer service, disability, and discrimination. 

    Getting off the ground was a major challenge in some areas if you were flying anywhere during January.According to the Transportation Department's (DOT...

    New home construction gets a February bump

    Initial jobless claims headed lower last week

    Home builders took advantage of the warm spell the country enjoyed last month as housing starts rose 3.0% from the revised January level to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.288 million.

    At the same time, the Commerce Department revised the previous month's report to a rate of 1.251 million from 1.246 million.

    Construction of new single-family homes were up 6.5% to a rate of 872,000, with gains posted in all regions but the South. The rate for apartment buildings dropped 7.7% to 396,000.

    Building permits

    Although the February construction numbers were encouraging, the outlook for the next few months isn't.

    Building permits were issued last month at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.213 million -- down 6.2% below the revised January rate of 1.293 million.

    The decline came primarily in authorizations for multi-unit buildings, which plunged 26.9% to a rate of 334,000. Permits for single-family homes were up 3.1% to a rate of 832,000.

    Only the Midwest showed an increase in overall permits issued.

    The complete report may be found on the Commerce Department website.

    Jobless claims

    Initial applications for state unemployment benefits were lower in the week ending March 11 after rising a week earlier.

    The Department of Labor (DOL) reports new claims totaled 241,000, a drop of 2,000 from the previous week's unrevised level.

    The four-week moving average rose 750 from the previous week to 237,250. Because of its relative lack of volatility, this tally is seen by many economists as a more accurate gauge of the labor market.

    The full report is available on the DOL website.

    Home builders took advantage of the warm spell the country enjoyed last month as housing starts rose 3.0% from the r...

    Whole Foods Market expands recall of Vulto Creamery cheeses

    The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

    Whole Foods Market is expanding its recall of cheese products made by Vulto Creamery to include Andes, Hamden and Walton Umber cheeses sold in eight stores in Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York.

    The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

    While Vulto has reported six illnesses and two deaths, Whole Foods Market has not received any reports of illnesses or injuries from consumers who purchased the recalled products.

    The recalled products, cut and packaged in clear plastic wrap with scale labels beginning with PLU codes 0200307, 0201357 or 0206308 and "sell by" dates from January 2, 2017, to April 2, 2017, were sold at the following Whole Foods Market stores:

    • 94 Derby Street, Hingham, Mass.
    • 1255 Raritan Road Unit 150, Clark, N.J.
    • 300 Bergen Town Center, Paramus, N.J.
    • 238 Bedford Ave, Brooklyn, N.Y.
    • 1095 Avenue of the Americas. New York, N.Y.
    • 270 Greenwich Street, New York, N.Y.
    • 4 Union Square South, New York, N.Y.
    • 575 Boston Post Road, Port Chester, N.Y.

    What to do

    Customers who purchased the recalled products should bring their receipts to the store for a full refund.

    Consumers with questions may call 607-222-3995 Monday-Friday, 9:00 am - 4:00 pm (ET) or email vultocreamery@gmail.com.

     

     

    Whole Foods Market is expanding its recall of cheese products made by Vulto Creamery to include Andes, Hamden and Walton Umber cheeses sold in eight stores...

    Hyundai recalls nearly a million Sonatas and Sonata Hybrids

    The front seat belts may detach from the anchor pretensioners

    Hyundai Motor America is recalling 977,778 model year 2011-2014 Sonatas and model year 2011-2015 Sonata Hybrids.

    The seat belt linkages for both front seat belts may detach from the seat belt anchor pretensioners, increasing the risk of injury in a crash.

    What to do

    Hyundai will notify owners and dealers will inspect the connection between the seat belt linkages and the seat belt anchor pretensioners, repairing them as necessary, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin April 7, 2017.

    Owner's may contact Hyundai customer service at 1-855-371-9460. Hyundai's number for the recall is 160.

     

     

    Hyundai Motor America is recalling 977,778 model year 2011-2014 Sonatas and model year 2011-2015 Sonata Hybrids.The seat belt linkages for both front s...

    Chrysler recalls model year 2017 Fiat 500X vehicles

    The tire pressure monitoring system warning light may not illuminate

    Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 278 model year 2017 Fiat 500X vehicles.

    When the vehicle has a tire with low tire pressure, the tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) warning light may not illuminate.

    As such, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 138, "Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems."

    Driving a vehicle with an underinflated tire may result in tire failure and increase the risk of a crash.

    What to do

    Fiat will notify owners, and dealers will update the instrument panel software, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin April 21, 2017.

    Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is T16.

     

     

    Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 278 model year 2017 Fiat 500X vehicles.When the vehicle has a tire with low tire pressure, the tire pressure monitor...

    Bird flu suspected at Alabama poultry farms

    The farms are across the state line from a Tennessee farm where the virus was detected

    State agriculture officials and executives at a major poultry operation have announced thousands of chickens at three farms have been euthanized over the suspected presence of bird flu.

    The company, Aviagen, said it found the presence of virus antibodies in a flock, even though none of the chickens displayed symptoms of the disease. Officials were on high alert because the operation in Northern Alabama is just across the state line from a Tennessee farm where bird flu was detected last month.

    According to Reuters, the company euthanized the flock and destroyed the eggs that had been collected from the chickens. Reuters quotes Alabama State Veterinarian Tony Frazier as saying about 15,000 chickens, out of a flock of around 153,000, were killed.

    Alabama.com, a local news website, reports Frazier has issued a "stop movement" order for some poultry in the affected area. Officials so far believe the suspected outbreak is confined to a limited area.

    Preliminary test results

    Preliminary test results have confirmed bird flu at three sites, but further testing by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will determine the strain of flu and its severity.

    Last week the USDA completed testing on bird flu samples from Lincoln County, Tenn., confirming the strain as H7N9 HPAI. All eight gene segments of the virus show that the virus originated among North American wild birds.

    USDA took pains to point out the strain is different from the severe H7N9 virus that impacted poultry and caused illness among humans in Asia.

    "USDA continues to work with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture on the joint incident response," the agency said in a release. "Birds on the affected premises have been depopulated, and burial is in progress. An epidemiological investigation is underway to determine the source of the infection.

    Bird flu spreads quickly among animals but so far can only be transmitted to humans who come in contact with an infected bird. There have been no confirmed cases of human to human transmission of the virus.

    State agriculture officials and executives at a major poultry operation have announced thousands of chickens at three farms have been euthanized over the s...

    U.S. researchers say e-cigarettes not a gateway to tobacco

    Study said it looked for evidence but didn't find it

    When electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) appeared in the marketplace a few years ago, it caught anti-smoking advocates by surprise.

    Cigarette smoking was on the decline. Now there was another product that looked like a cigarette, delivered nicotine, but contained no tobacco. Was it safe? Would it lead to a resurgence of smoking?

    Since then, opposition to e-cigarettes among these groups has hardened. The devices are said to deliver harmful chemicals and serve as a gateway to cigarettes, hooking young people on nicotine.

    Questioning conventional wisdom

    While the health effects of e-cigarettes are still being studied, new research calls into question the contention that they are a gateway to tobacco. Researchers from the University at Buffalo (UB) and University of Michigan flatly assert the evidence isn't there.

    “The national trends in vaping and cigarette smoking do not support the argument that vaping is leading to smoking,” said Lynn Kozlowski, the paper’s lead author and a professor at UB.

    Kozlowski says that existing research shows that as use of e-cigarettes has increased, overall smoking rates in the U.S. have declined. Kozlowski says the research team looked for the link between e-cigarettes and tobacco but didn't find it.

    Questioning previous research

    But what about previous studies that contend there is a link? Kozlowski and his colleagues say these studies have flaws. In particular, he says these studies don't clearly define what "smoking" is.

    “Measures of ‘at least one puff in the past six months’ can mean little more than the experimenting vaper was curious how cigarettes compared,” Kozlowski said.

    Kozlowski says the study only looked at the risks associated with moving from vaping on an e-cigarette to becoming a regular cigarette smoker. Critics of e-cigarettes, meanwhile, have worried that young people are increasingly vaping, and will develop a nicotine dependency that will eventually only be satisfied with tobacco.

    Different ideas across the Atlantic

    As we noted in 2015, the UK and U.S. have different ideas about e-cigarettes. Public health officials in the UK had just released a report saying e-cigarettes were 95% less harmful than cigarettes.

    "My reading of the evidence is that smokers who switch to vaping remove almost all the risks smoking poses to their health," said Professor Peter Hajek of Queen Mary University, a co-author of the report.

    The report also concluded there was no evidence that people who used e-cigarettes later took up smoking. Kozlowski says efforts in the U.S. should focus more on product safety.

    “The public deserves accurate information on the health risks of e-cigarettes versus cigarettes,” Kozlowski said. “From the best evidence to date, e-cigarettes are much less dangerous than cigarettes. The public has become confused about this.”

    When electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) appeared in the marketplace a few years ago, it caught anti-smoking advocates by surprise.Cigarette smoking w...

    Are workplace mistakes more costly for women?

    Study contends female financial advisors are more likely to be fired than men

    When focusing on the workplace, women's rights advocates usually point out the difference in pay that men and women receive for the same work and responsibility.

    But researchers at three major business schools point to what they say is another troubling discrepancy. After analyzing the financial services industry, the researchers contend that men and women working as financial or wealth advisors are often treated differently for the same types of transgressions or violations of policy.

    Men often get off with a reprimand, they say. Women get fired.

    Gregor Matvos of the University of Chicago, Stanford’s Amit Seru and University of Minnesota’s Mark Egan collaborated on the paper, “When Harry Fired Sally: The Double Standard in Punishing Misconduct.”

    They acknowledge the issue tends to get less attention because it is often difficult to quantify. Sometimes, charges of wrongful termination are without merit.

    Hard to ignore the numbers

    However, Matvos says it's hard to ignore the numbers. On average, he says, male financial advisors are not fired for similar transgressions. The study found that after an incidence of misconduct, female financial advisors were 20% more likely to be fired and 30% less likely to find a new job when compared to their male colleagues.

    The research turned up something else. The researchers say men are far more likely to be found guilty of misconduct than women.

    “Although men commit misconduct at a rate that is three times higher than women, women face substantially harsher punishments both by the firms that employ them, and other potential employers in the industry,” the authors write.

    Women less likely to get a second chance

    As an example, the study contends that if a woman is fired for violating a confidentiality agreement, she will have a more difficult time getting rehired than a man in similar circumstances.

    “The financial advisory industry is willing to give male advisers a second chance, while female advisors are likely to be cast from the industry,” the study concludes.

    The researchers say they were unable to identify the reason for the alleged discrimination. At first they suspected that women tended to commit transgressions that were more costly to the firm. That turned out not to be the case.

    A follow-up study might ask women in the industry what they think is behind the phenomenon. The researchers site a survey in which nearly 88% of women in finance believe that discrimination exists within the industry. Nearly half said that gender discrimination exists at their firm, and 31% said that they have experienced discrimination.

    When focusing on the workplace, women's rights advocates usually point out the difference in pay that men and women receive for the same work and responsib...

    Retail sales inch upward in February

    Sales were generally soft across the board

    Retail sales turned in an anemic performance in February, totaling $474.0 billion -- an increase of 0.1% from a month earlier but up 5.7% from a year earlier.

    The Commerce Department report shows there were few, if any, stellar showings last month. Building material & garden equipment & supplies dealers led the way with a sales advance of 1.8%, followed by nonstore retailers (+1.2%), health & personal care stores (+0.7'%), and furniture and home furnishing stores (+0.7'%).

    On the losing end were electronics & appliance stores, where sales plunged 2.8%. Department store sales fell 1.1%, miscellaneous store retailers were off 0.8%, and gas stations sales dipped 0.6%. Sales at auto dealerships were down 0.1%.

    The full report is available on the Commerce Department website.

    Retail sales turned in an anemic performance in February, totaling $474.0 billion -- an increase of 0.1% from a month earlier but up 5.7% from a year earli...

    Consumer prices post tiny gain in February

    Falling gas prices offset increases elsewhere

    The Department of Labor's (DOL) Consumer Price Index (CPI) posted its smallest advance since last July -- rising just 0.1% in February. That put the gain over the last 12 months at 2.7%.

    The slight monthly increase came as gasoline costs fell, partially offsetting increases in other categories including food, housing, and recreation.

    Energy down, food on the rise

    Energy prices fell 1.0%, in February, its first decline since last July, with gasoline costs down 3.0%. Other major components were up, with natural gas rising 1.5% and electricity increasing 0.8% -- its first advance in four months. Over the past year, energy costs are up 15.2% with all of its major components rising.

    Food costs were up 0.2% following January's 0.1% increase. Grocery prices, or food at home, rose 0.3% -- the sharpest advance since June 2015. Four of the six major grocery store food groups were higher: nonalcoholic beverages (+1.5%), dairy and related products (+0.8%), fruits and vegetables (+0.7%), and meats, poultry, fish & eggs (+0.2%). Cereals and bakery products and other food at home both fell 0.4%. Over the last 12 months, grocery prices are down 1.7%.

    Food away from home (restaurant prices) rose 0.2% last month after an increase of 0.4% in January. Over the last 12 months, food away from home is up 2.4%, leaving the overall price of food unchanged.

    Core inflation

    Prices for all items, excluding the volatile food and energy categories, were up 0.2% in February, with the costs of housing, recreation, clothing, airline fares, motor vehicle insurance, education, and medical care among those that increased. Decliners included communication, used cars & trucks, new vehicles, and household furnishings and operations.

    For the 12 months ending in February, this “core” rate of inflation was up 2.2% -- the 15th straight month it's been in the range of 2.1-2.3 percent. 

    The complete report is available on the DOL website.

    The Department of Labor's (DOL) Consumer Price Index (CPI) posted its smallest advance since last July -- rising just 0.1% in February. That put the gain o...

    Mortgage applications up for third week running

    Contract interest rates rose to three-year highs

    Another increase in applications for mortgages -- the third straight.

    Data from the Mortgage Bankers Association show applications were up 3.1% from a week earlier in the week ending March 10.

    There was even better news for the Refinance Index, which rose 4%, increasing the refinance share of activity to 45.6% of total applications from 45.4% the previous week.

    The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity was the highest since October 2014 at 8.2% of total applications; the FHA share fell to 11.1% from 11.8%; the VA share dropped from 11.6% to 11.1%; and the USDA share was unchanged at 0.9%.

    Contract interest rates

    • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($424,100 or less) jumped 10 basis points -- from 4.36% to 4.46% -- its highest level since April 2014, with points decreasing to 0.37 from 0.44 (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 $424,100) soared 17 basis points to 4.44%, its highest level since April 2014, with points increasing to 0.28 from 0.26 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
    • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA rose to its highest level since January 2014 -- 4.29% from 4.18% -- with points increasing to 0.39 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 from 3.57% to 3.66%, with points increasing to 0.45 from 0.36 (including the origination fee) for 80 % LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
    • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs dipped three basis points to 3.45%, with points increasing to 0.24 from 0.20 (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.

    Another increase in applications for mortgages -- the third straight.Data from the Mortgage Bankers Association show applications were up 3.1% from a w...

    Picone Meat Specialties recalls pork products

    The products contain non-fat dry milk, an allergen not declared on the label

    Picone Meat Specialties of Mamaroneck, N.Y., is recalling approximately 5,750 pounds of salami products.

    The products contain non-fat dry milk, an allergen not declared on the label.

    There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

    The following dry fermented salami items, produced from April 1, 2016, through January 18, 2017, are being recalled:

    • 115-lb. Box containing 6 – 20-24 lb. vacuum-packed packages of “Uncle Guiseppe’s Spicy Dry Salami” bearing the case code P11.
    • 209-lb. Box containing 12 – 20-24 lb. vacuum-packed packages of “Uncle Guiseppe’s Sweet Dry Salami” bearing the case code P17.
    • 192-lb. Box containing 9 – 20-24 lb. vacuum-packed packages of “Uncle Guiseppe’s Spicy Soppressata Salami” bearing the case code P11.
    • 327-lb. Box containing 13 – 20-24 lb. vacuum-packed packages of “Uncle Guiseppe’s Sweet Soppressata Salami” bearing the case code P17.
    • 1,120 -lb. Box containing bulk 20-24 lb. vacuum-packed packages of “Uncle Guiseppe’s Sweet Soppressata Salami.”
    • 658-lb. Box containing bulk 20-24 lb. vacuum-packed packages of “Uncle Guiseppe’s Spicy Soppressata Salami.”
    • 1,203-lb. Box containing bulk 20-24 lb. vacuum-packed packages of “Uncle Guiseppe’s Sweet Dry Salami.”
    • 525-lb. Box containing bulk 20-24 lb. vacuum-packed packages of “Uncle Guiseppe’s Spicy Dry Salami.”
    • 300-lb. Bulk box containing vacuum-packed packages of “Giorgio’s Cacciatorino Piccante.”
    • 300-lb. Bulk box containing vacuum-packed packages of “Giorgio’s Cacciatorino Dolce.”
    • 400-lb. Bulk box containing vacuum-packed packages of “Giorgio’s Hot Soppressatta”
    • 400-lb. Bulk box containing vacuum-packed packages of “Giorgio’s Sweet Soppressatta”

    The recalled products, bearing establishment number “EST. M4445” inside the USDA mark of inspection, were shipped to retail locations in New York.

    What to do

    Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but throw them away or return them to the place of purchase.

    Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Anthony Picone at (914) 381-3002.

     

     

    Picone Meat Specialties of Mamaroneck, N.Y., is recalling approximately 5,750 pounds of salami products.The products contain non-fat dry milk, an aller...

    For-profit schools riding high under Trump regulation rollback

    Education Department delays Obama-era rules cracking down on money-making schools

    With the founder of Trump University in the White House, for-profit education is riding high once again. After years of increasing federal oversight, the for-profit college industry sees President Trump's regulation rollback as its ticket to renewed growth.

    The Education Department last week announced it would delay enforcing the "gainful employment" rules drafted by the Obama Administration to crack down on schools that leave their students with huge debts and scant job opportunities.

    “This action is taken to allow the Department to further review the GE regulations and their implementation,” the agency said.

    The rules cut off access to taxpayer funds for colleges and vocational training institutions if their graduates spend at least 20% of their discretionary income, or 8% of their total earnings each year, paying off student debt.

    Regulations challenged

    Schools have challenged the data used to make the determinations. 

    The industry's lobbying group, Career Education Colleges and Universities, has taken the position that all schools -- public, private, and for-profit -- should be treated equally.

    Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is an advocate of private education and said during her confirmation hearings that she would work to promote trade schools as an alternative to four-year colleges. 

    President Trump's now-defunct Trump University claimed to offer training in real estate and finance but closed after a series of lawsuits and challenges from regulators and former students who said they got little for their money but sales pitches.

    In November 2016, Trump agreed to pay $25 million to settle a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of about 7,000 former students. 

    One of the named plaintiffs in the case, Sonny Low, said he still had $9,000 in credit card debt and had to take a job at Home Depot to try to finally pay off the remainder, attorney Rachel Jensen said.

    With the founder of Trump University in the White House, for-profit education is riding high once again. After years of increasing federal oversight, the f...

    Young workers most likely to feel 'vacation shamed' for taking time off

    New research finds that less than half of workers use all of their paid vacation days

    The majority of working Millennials feel shamed for taking time off work, according to new research from Alamo Rent A Car.

    “Vacation shame” was a familiar feeling for around half (49%) of U.S. workers, but young workers were most likely to report feeling shamed for planning and taking vacations from their jobs.

    Last year, 59% of Millennials who responded to Alamo’s Family Vacation Survey said they felt vacation shamed. This year, the number rose to 68%. 

    Millennials are more likely than non-Millennials to say that vacation shaming would keep them from planning or going on a vacation (40% compared to 17%). But across the board, feelings of guilt surrounding time off translate to unused paid vacation days.

    Unused vacation days

    Findings from the study showed that less than half of all workers (47%) are using all of their paid vacation days, compared with 60% in the 2015 study and 57% in the 2016 study.

    Millennials were the least likely age group to say they used all of their vacation days, with 60% opting to leave unused vacation days on the table.

    What’s more, nearly half (48%) of employees said they have felt the need to justify to their employer why they are using their vacation days. Of those who do muster up the emotional fortitude to use their paid time off, just one in five will actually go on a vacation. The majority choose to spend time staying home and running errands.

    Forgoing rest and relaxation

    "Our research shows roughly one in four U.S. workers say the biggest benefit of vacation is feeling less stressed at work -- yet, the majority still choose to limit their vacation days and forgo some much-needed rest and relaxation," said Rob Connors, vice president of brand marketing for Alamo Rent A Car.

    "This year's survey suggests that American workers are putting a lot of pressure on themselves in workplaces when it comes to planning and taking vacations, especially in vacation-shaming environments,” he added.

    Additional findings from the study showed that, overall, 54% of workers feel their colleagues are serious when they engage in vacation-shaming activities.

    Interestingly, the generation most likely to feel vacation shamed is also the generation most likely to inflict guilt upon others. Millennials were more likely than non-Millennials to say they vacation shame their colleagues all of the time or sometimes (33% vs. 14%).

    The majority of working Millennials feel shamed for taking time off work, according to new research from Alamo Rent A Car. “Vacation shame” was a famil...

    Your chance of getting a job may be improving

    Forecasting firm finds growing optimism among employers

    The latest employment report from the Labor Department was cause for optimism if you're looking for a job. There was a big jump in job creation and the jobless rate dropped to 4.7%.

    Here's more reason for optimism: a report by The Manpower Group projects U.S. employers will increase their hiring in the second quarter of the year.

    The survey covered 11,000 U.S. employers, with 22% saying they plan to increase staff from April through June. Only 3% said they plan to reduce the workforce. That, The Manpower Group says, suggests a stable employment scene through the middle of 2017.

    What's particularly encouraging for job seekers is data showing employers in all 13 industry sectors expecting to increase headcount during the period. The leisure and hospitality industry plans to expand by 28% – the most of any industry. Wholesale and Retail Trade expects to increase hiring by 21% and transportation and utilities by 20%.

    Thinking positive

    Michael Stull, senior vice-president, Manpower North America, says employers seem to have a positive outlook as they wait to see how Trump administration policies play out.

    “We are also seeing an emerging positive outlook from manufacturing employers who are reporting some of their strongest hiring plans since the end of the recession," Stull said. "The sector is showing signs of entering a renaissance period, transforming itself to be higher tech and data driven, stepping up to the increased global competitiveness.”

    But unlike in the past, Stull says this rebirth of American manufacturing is not taking place in the rust belt, but in the “brain-belt,” areas where there is a powerful mixture of education and technology.

    But the rust belt shouldn't lose any ground. The report shows a stable hiring outlook in the Midwest and South, with much of the increase occurring in the West.

    Broken down by states, job seekers in Montana, Colorado, Maine, Alaska, Hawaii, and Michigan may see the most opportunities over the next three months. Nashville, Provo, Utah, Colorado Springs, Fresno, Calif., and Raleigh, N.C., may offer plenty of new employment opportunities as well.

    The latest employment report from the Labor Department was cause for optimism if you're looking for a job. There was a big jump in job creation and the job...

    Consumers even less optimistic now about retirement

    Survey finds we want to save but most of us are weak on the follow-through

    The stock market is at record highs, in the eighth year of a bull market, but consumers contemplating retirement aren't sharing in the confidence.

    Capital One Investing's latest Financial Freedom Survey, which measures sentiment, found only 62% of participants think they're saving enough for a comfortable retirement. It's part of a downward trend, with 64% feeling confident last year and 72% the year before that.

    Despite the declining confidence, even fewer are doing something about it. The survey found only 49% of participants have set up a long-term financial plan.

    Specifically, the survey found that people thinking about their retirement years want to sock money away but aren't doing much to accomplish it. About 65% of consumers who are still working say they are putting away some money for retirement, but fewer than half are following a financial plan.

    Big disconnect

    For example, 39% have embraced the idea they should be saving 15% or more of their income for retirement but only 13% are actually doing it. More distressing, about one-third aren't saving at all.

    According to the Labor Department, fewer than half of Americans have calculated how much money they need in retirement. It found that in 2014, 30% of workers in private industry, with access to a defined contribution plan such as a 401(k), did not participate.

    Government economists say the first step is to start saving money each month, but soon after it is important to put together a plan. They say retirement is more expensive than most people think – that they will need about 70% of their current income to get by.

    Individual retirement accounts

    If your employer doesn't offer a retirement savings plan, you can set up an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) and contribute up to $5,500 a month into it, providing not only retirement savings but tax advantages.

    Contributions to a traditional IRA are tax deductible and any money the contributions earn while in the account are not taxed. When money is withdrawn from the account, it's taxed as ordinary income.

    Contributions to a Roth IRA are not tax deductible, but the earnings aren't taxed either. There is no tax liability when the money is withdrawn.

    If you aren't sure which is the better option for you, talk with a trusted and objective financial advisor.

    A new type of Roth IRA is called myRA, a retirement account created by the Treasury Department to help you save for retirement if you don’t have access to a plan at work. For more information, visit myra.gov.  

    The stock market is at record highs, in the eighth year of a bull market, but consumers contemplating retirement aren't sharing in the confidence. Capit...

    NYC sues Verizon over FiOS roll-out

    Mayor Bill de Blasio says the company has broken its promises

    There was a time when Verizon saw fiber in its future. It had a plan to lay fiber optic cable in major cities and use it to deliver broadband services at speeds not previously available to the residential market. It called its service FiOS and it has become a prized but increasingly rare commodity as Verizon and other telecoms switch their focus to wireless services.

    New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is tired of waiting for Verizon to finish wiring his town and has sued the company, saying it "broke the trust of 8.5 million consumers" when it promised they would have FiOS service by 2014.

    “It’s 2017, and we’re done waiting,” the mayor said, noting that Verizon had promised to install fiber in "every residential building" in the city. “No corporation – no matter how large or powerful – can break a promise to New Yorkers and get away with it.”

    For its part, Verizon says it is still laying cable and expects to spend an additional $1 billion in New York over the next four years. A spokesman said the company would "vigorously fight" the lawsuit and said de Blasio's claims were driven by "political self-interest."

    “The de Blasio administration is disingenuously attempting to rewrite the terms of an agreement made with its predecessor and is acting in its own political self-interests that are completely at odds with what’s best for New Yorkers,” spokesman Raymond McConville said. 

    The suit seeks a judgment declaring that Verizon is in breach of its agreement and ordering it to get back on schedule.

    There was a time when Verizon saw fiber in its future. It had a plan to lay fiber optic cable in major cities and use it to deliver broadband services at s...

    Underwater homeowners still struggling to get to the surface

    Those still underwater may stay there a while longer, but there have been improvements

    The housing market has recovered to the point that many homes now cost more than they did at the height of the housing bubble.

    But real estate varies from market to market, and there are quite a few homes that were purchased during the bubble days and are nowhere near to those once heady values. And that's bad news for the consumers who purchased them.

    While each quarter there are fewer homeowners who owe more on a mortgage than their home is worth, the latest data from Zillow shows many of those underwater homeowners have a long way to go. The numbers show about half of those who are still underwater owe at least 20% more than their homes are worth.

    At the end of last year, 10.5% of homeowners with a mortgage were underwater, an improvement from the 13.1% who were underwater the year before. At the height of the housing crisis, in the first quarter of 2012, 31.4% owed more than their homes were worth.

    Big improvements

    Zillow reports homes in the New York metro area have made a big improvement over the last year. So have homes in the Los Angeles area. There, only 5.5% of homeowners are still underwater.

    But in the Chicago metro, more than 16% still owe more than their homes are worth. It's 14% in Baltimore.

    When a homeowner is underwater on a mortgage, it means he or she can't sell their home without having to make a very large cash payment to the lender at settlement. That keeps a lot of houses from coming on the market, leading to the very tight inventory situation we now have in many parts of the country.

    Persistent reminder

    "Negative equity is one of the most persistent reminders of the long-term losses suffered when the housing market collapsed," said Zillow Chief Economist Dr. Svenja Gudell. "Accelerating home value appreciation over the past few months was a blessing to owners who have been underwater since the housing bubble burst, but not all underwater owners were able to ride that wave to positive equity.”

    The bad news for distressed homeowners? Gudell says they aren't going to get their heads above water any time soon. She predicts “a long wait before returning to a positive balance on their home loans."

    CoreLogic, meanwhile, is a bit more optimistic. Analyzing the same data, it finds that fewer than 8% of mortgaged homes are still underwater.

    “Average home equity rose by $13,700 for U.S. homeowners during 2016,” said Frank Nothaft, chief economist for CoreLogic.

    In addition to price appreciation, Nothaft says a decade of mortgage payments have reduced principal amounts. He says about 25% of all outstanding mortgages have a term of 20 years or less, which amortize more quickly than 30-year loans and contribute to faster equity accumulation.

    The housing market has recovered to the point that many homes now cost more than they did at the height of the housing bubble.But real estate varies fr...

    The rate of wholesale inflation slows in February

    Energy costs played a big part in the increase

    The cost of living one step shy of the consumer level -- referred to by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) as the Producer Price Index (PPI) for final demand -- rose at a seasonally adjusted rate of 0.3% last month.

    For the 12 months ended February 2017, wholesale prices were up 2.2%, the largest advance since an increase of 2.4% in the 12 months ended March 2012.

    Services and goods on the rise

    Over 80% of the February advance was due to a 0.4% increase for services, the sharpest since last June. A major factor in the increase was the 4.3% surge in the price of traveler accommodation services. Costs for chemicals and allied products wholesaling; legal services; apparel wholesaling; health, beauty, and optical goods retailing; and architectural and engineering services also moved higher.

    Offsetting those increases was a 10.0% plunge in the price of automotive fuels and lubricants retailing, along with declines in the costs of wireless telecommunication services and for securities brokerage, dealing, and investment advice.

    Prices for goods were up 0.3%, the sixth consecutive rise. Over half of that was due to energy costs, which were up 0.6% with electricity prices surging 1.6%.

    Prices for fresh and dry vegetables, jet fuel, liquefied petroleum gas, pharmaceutical preparations, and residual fuels also rose.

    Gasoline costs were down 2.5%, while prices for beef and veal, and for search, detection, navigation & guidance systems, and equipment also decreased.

    The core rate of inflation, which excludes the volatile food and energy categories, rose 0.3%.

    The complete report is available on the BLS website.

    The cost of living one step shy of the consumer level -- referred to by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) as the Producer Price Index (PPI) for final de...

    Vulto Creamery expands raw milk cheese recall

    The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

    Vulto Creamery of Walton, N.Y., is expanding its earlier recall of raw milk cheeses.

    The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

    All lots of four additional cheeses have been added to the recall: Andes, Blue Blais, Hamden & Walton Umber.

    In all, Vulto has recalled the following eight cheese items: Heinennellie, Miranda,, Willowemoc, Ouleout , Andes, Blue Blais, Hamden & Walton Umber.

    Testing results have identified Ouleout product contamination, similar to the strain isolated from a cluster outbreak of Listeriosis responsible for six illnesses and two confirmed deaths.

    The recalled products were distributed nationwide, with most being sold at retail locations in the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states, California, Chicago Ill., Portland Ore., and Washington, D.C.

    What to do

    Customers who purchased the recalled products should return them to the place of purchase for a refund.

    Consumers with questions may contact Vulto at 607-222-3995 Monday-Friday 9:00 am - 4:00 pm (ET) or by email at vultocreamery@gmail.com.

     

     

    Vulto Creamery of Walton, N.Y., is expanding its earlier recall of raw milk cheeses.The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.Al...

    Model year 2017 Infiniti QX30s recalled

    The driver-side curtain airbag may not deploy in a crash

    Nissan North America is recalling 79 model year 2017 Infiniti QX30s.

    The recalled vehicles have a driver-side curtain airbag inflator initiator that may fail to ignite during a crash, preventing the airbag from deploying, increasing the risk of injury.

    What to do

    Nissan will notify owners, and dealers will replace the driver-side curtain airbag assembly, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in March 2017.

    Owners may contact Infiniti customer Service at 1-800-662-6200.

     

     

    Nissan North America is recalling 79 model year 2017 Infiniti QX30s.The recalled vehicles have a driver-side curtain airbag inflator initiator that may...

    Air travelers prepare for the latest winter storm to hit the Northeast

    Airliners expect heavy delays and many cancellations over the next few days

    For some parts of the country, the winter season has been fairly mild. However, it seems that Mother Nature has at least one more storm up her sleeve before we usher in the spring.

    Winter storm Stella has already begun making its way through the Midwest, and it is projected to dump at least a foot of snow throughout the Northeast. The National Weather Service has stated that New York City could see as much as two feet of snow and has issued a blizzard warning for affected areas.

    “Falling and blowing snow with strong winds and poor visibilities are likely. This will lead to whiteout conditions. . . making travel extremely dangerous. Do not travel. If you must travel. . . have a winter survival kit with you,” the organization warned.

    Airline cancellations and delays

    Airliners certainly seem to be taking the warnings to heart. Although the storm isn’t projected to really hit the Northeast until Monday night, FlightAware shows that nearly 1,700 U.S. flights have been delayed today, with another 1,400+ being canceled.

    Tomorrow, the numbers turn even worse. Nearly 4,000 flights have been canceled thus far, with more expected to be announced in the coming hours. Many major airlines have already canceled hundreds of flights in preparation and are offering waivers and chances to rebook. Some of those options can be found below:

    American Airlines – American is waiving the change fee for travelers who: bought a ticket by March 12, 2017, are scheduled to travel March 12-15, can travel March 12-17, don’t change their origin or destination city, or rebook in the same cabin or pay the difference. Customers may also be able to change their trip under certain circumstances. More information can be found here.

    Delta Air Lines – Travelers flying with Delta through any affected airports on March 14 or 15 will be able to rebook through March 17 without paying any additional fee.

    JetBlue – JetBlue is offering a full refund to customers who experience a canceled flight. However, travelers also have the option to rebook flights from affected areas Monday through Thursday.

    Southwest – Southwest is allowing travelers to rebook or fly standby within 14 days of their original flight date without paying any additional charges.

    United –  United travelers flying through affected cities have the option of rebooking their flights through March 17 without incurring an additional fee.

    Travelers flying with these or other airlines should be sure to check on their flight status and options before getting to the airport to see if policies or offerings have changed.

    For some parts of the country, the winter season has been fairly mild. However, it seems that Mother Nature has at least one more storm up her sleeve befor...

    A non-sports fan's guide to filling out a March Madness bracket

    Filling out a good bracket requires a little knowledge and a lot of luck

    March Madness has arrived, as the field of NCAA college basketball teams is set for the annual championship tournament.

    It's a month-long event -- these days extending into early April -- and is the subject of office pools across America as participants fill out their brackets, predicting which teams will advance during the elimination tournament and which one will ultimately be crowned champion.

    Maybe you'd like to participate, but you don't follow sports. Well, that doesn't mean you can't fill out a bracket and maybe even upstage some of the bigger sports fans in your office. Just keep two things in mind -- this tournament is usually both unpredictable and predictable.

    Unpredictable early

    The unpredictability takes place the first weekend, as the field of 64 is winnowed down to the Sweet 16. This is when upsets occur, with maybe a 15 seed knocking off a two seed. It happened last year when Middle Tennessee upset Michigan State, a team many sports pundits predicted would make it to the Final Four.

    This year Middle Tennessee is a 12 seed, taking on Minnesota, and will be taking no one by surprise. None of the 15-2 seed match-ups are all that interesting this year and -- keep this in mind -- in the history of the tournament no 16 seed has ever bumped off a one seed. Probably won't happen this year either.

    Going with your heart

    Northwestern, out of the Big Ten, has a lot of sentiment behind it as this is the school's first ever NCAA tournament appearance, and famous alumni like Stephen Colbert have come out of the woodwork to cheer on their team.

    It plays another school known for academics more than sports, Vanderbilt, in the first round. Should Northwestern win, it would likely face number one seed Gonzaga. A victory would be a huge upset.

    Teams that get hot at tournament time are usually safe bets to go deep into the tournament. This year, Michigan and Duke are red hot.

    After a mediocre season, Michigan's team had a scary mishap on its way to the Big Ten tournament when its plane skidded off the runway. No one was hurt, but it appears to have galvanized the Wolverines, who upset team after team en route to winning the Big Ten trophy.

    Good timing

    Duke, a pre-season favorite, suffered injuries and distractions throughout the season but has gotten hot at the right time, winning four games in four days to claim the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) tournament. In fact, the ACC is without a doubt the most competitive conference, and ACC teams this year may be safe choices, when in doubt.

    While a small, Cinderella school may knock off a major conference team in the early going, once you get to the Sweet 16, things become a little more predictable. The major basketball powers -- Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, Kentucky, Villanova, and UCLA -- usually have the advantage.

    That said, here's a final observation. The four number one seeds rarely all advance to the Final Four. A couple undoubtedly will but there's usually a two, and maybe even an eight in the final grouping.

    So don't be intimidated in filling out a bracket for bragging rights around the office. Winning at March Madness takes just a little knowledge and a whole lot of luck.

    You can download the official NCAA bracket here.

    March Madness has arrived, as the field of NCAA college basketball teams is set for the annual championship tournament.It's a month-long event -- these...

    Study finds big spread between low and high interest savings

    NerdWallet analysis finds savers are leaving a lot of money on the table

    When the Federal Reserve meets later this week the odds are it will boost the Federal Funds rate for the second time since December.

    Yields on government bonds have already moved higher, so what are you earning on your savings account? Probably not very much.

    Most banks have yet to catch up to the interest rate curve, yet there are opportunities for savvy savers.

    The personal finance site NerdWallet has looked at a wide range of data to gauge the spread between the lowest rates on savings and the highest. It estimates that if every saver got the best rate currently available, the cumulative gain in interest would total $5.6 billion. Put another way, consumers with savings accounts are leaving that much money on the table.

    $274 more per year

    Here's what the analysis found: a savings account with the highest yield pays $274 more per year than a low-interest account on savings of $25,000.

    Even with pathetically-low interest rates, consumers are socking more money away than they did a decade ago. In 2007, savings amounted to 2.95% of disposable income. By last year, the Bureau of Economic Analysis found it had nearly doubled. Still, the NerdWallet analysts say consumers should be saving more of their income.

    A way to boost savings is to save most or all of any income tax refund. The average refund is $3,120, which would go a long way toward covering an emergency expense, so you don't have to put it on a high-interest credit card.

    So, what constitutes high-yield on a savings account these days? It's not what it used to be. Believe it or not, 1.10% today is considered a high rate of return on a federally insured savings account. It only looks big when compared to the paltry offerings of most passbook savings accounts, which are well below 1%.

    You can find higher-yielding savings accounts by shopping around. For example, Ally Bank currently offers 1% interest on its online savings account.

    Generous interest on some checking accounts

    Your bank may also pay a relatively generous return on certain checking accounts. These accounts usually require you to make a certain number of debit purchases each month and have at least one direct deposit, but they can pay in excess of 2% on at least a portion of your checking account balance.

    Still not impressed? Well, just wait. NerdWallet predicts rates are just beginning to go up.

    “As interest rates increase, banks will want to lend more money, which means they need to incentivize consumers to deposit more money in checking and savings accounts,” said Sean McQuay, NerdWallet’s credit and banking expert. “As a result, soon banks will be competing for your money by offering increasingly high-interest yields.”

    So start saving now. The more you have in savings when rates get attractive, the more interest you'll earn.

    When the Federal Reserve meets later this week the odds are it will boost the Federal Funds rate for the second time since December.Yields on governmen...

    Nissan recalls model year 2012 Versas

    The curtain and seat-mounted airbags may deploy unexpectedly

    Nissan North America is recalling 54,751 model year 2012 Nissan Versas.

    Degradation of the side impact sensor connector pins may cause the curtain and seat-mounted airbags to deploy unexpectedly if the door is slammed, increasing the risk of injury.

    What to do

    Nissan will notify owners, and dealers will install a new jumper harness, and replace the side impact satellite sensors, free of charge. The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

    Owners may contact Nissan customer service at 1-800-647-7261.

     

     

    Nissan North America is recalling 54,751 model year 2012 Nissan Versas.Degradation of the side impact sensor connector pins may cause the curtain and s...

    WikiLeaks offers to help tech companies block CIA spying

    But tech companies appear dubious the problem is real

    Among this week's revelations in the release of thousands of purported CIA files is the contention that some flawed computer security software is going unrepaired because U.S. intelligence agencies find them useful.

    The files, code-named Vault 7, contend that the CIA knows about various security flaws but hasn't alerted the manufacturers because it wants to keep using them to spy on its targets.

    On the heels of the document release, The Daily Mail reports that WikiLeaks director Julian Assange is offering to provide details of the defects to the appropriate companies. The information was redacted from the document release so that it would not be distributed any further among hackers than it already has.

    A lot more information

    Assange told reporters that he has access to "a lot more information" that he is willing to make available to companies so they can make their consumer products more secure.

    "After considering what we think is the best way to proceed and hearing these calls from some of the manufacturers, we have decided to work with them to give them some exclusive access to the additional technical details that we have, so that fixes can be developed and pushed out, so people can be secured," Assange said in a video posted on The Daily Mail website. "And then once this material is effectively disarmed by us, by removing critical components, we will publish additional details about what has been occurring."

    The documents published by WikiLeaks claim the CIA has penetrated the operating systems of iPhones and Android devices to intercept messages. Some documents alleged the spy agency is able to use Samsung smart TVs to listen in when the set is believed to be turned off.

    Silicon Valley skepticism

    But another British newspaper, The Guardian, reports tech companies appear to be in no rush to take Assange up on his offer. In fact, The Guardian quotes Ryan Kalember, a senior executive at Proofpoint, as finding "nothing earthshattering" in the documents. He says some of the systems mentioned in the documents are old and are either no longer used or have been updated.

    In other words, he says it really isn't clear how many of the vulnerabilities highlighted in the documents are real. Another anonymous security researcher dismissed the documents as "unimpressive," saying they show a lack of technical sophistication at the CIA.

    Writing on Sophos Software's Naked Security blog, John E. Dunn also seems to classify the document dump as old news.

    "The significance of Samsung TV hacking is not that the CIA will do this to the average citizen – CIA target lists are tiny – but that they can do that at all," Dunn writes. "As we know from numerous IoT vulnerability stories, these devices have a security problem."

    The same is true, he writes, for vulnerable smartphone messaging programs. The big news, he concludes, is the CIA somehow lost control of these documents. If WikiLeaks can get its hands on them, so can a lot of other people.

    Among this week's revelations in the release of thousands of purported CIA files is the contention that some flawed computer security software is going unr...

    Walmart promises to save customers time with new app updates

    'Express lanes' let customers forgo traditional lines altogether

    Earlier this year, Walmart rolled out free two-day shipping with no membership fee in an effort to compete with the Prime service offered by its rival Amazon.

    Now, the retail giant is once again striving to improve the customer experience by adding several new capabilities to its mobile app. Walmart’s updated app promises to “create a faster, easier, and more convenient experience for pharmacy and money services customers.”

    Shoppers looking to expedite the in-store shopping experience can skip the lines at Walmart altogether by using "express lanes," which require customers to scan their Walmart app, pay using Walmart Pay, and receive an electronic receipt.

    Pharmacy updates

    Shoppers using the store’s pharmacy may be able to obtain prescription refills more easily. Through the app, customers can quickly refill medications, track the status of their order, and view pricing and pickup details.

    “What our pharmacy business is likely most well-known for is our $4 prescription program that has saved our customers nearly $5 billion,” said Paul Beahm, senior vice president for Walmart Health and Wellness Operations.

    Now, he says, patients who use the pharmacy can save more than just money.

    “By developing and combining the best of our app with a service that our customers depend on daily, we’re driving change that makes living better easier.”

    Going paperless

    The retailer has also made a few eco-friendly updates to its money services department. Instead of filling out paperwork in person, customers can enter their information securely in the Walmart app first.

    To complete a transaction, users can simply open the Walmart app, tap “money ready to send,” then enter a PIN or use Touch ID to activate a phone camera. Then, customers scan the code displayed at the register to verify information and make a payment.

    “These capabilities are the latest example of how we’re bringing together all of the conveniences of Walmart -- great stores, convenient pickup, easy checkout and a top-notch app -- to deliver one seamless shopping experience for customers,” said Daniel Eckert, senior vice president for Walmart Services.

    “We’re delivering a new and better experience in areas of our business that are essential for busy families. By making them faster and easier, we’re living up to our promise -- to save customers money and time.”

    Walmart says its expanded services should be available in nearly all 4,700 stores by Fall.

    Earlier this year, Walmart rolled out free two-day shipping with no membership fee in an effort to compete with the Prime service offered by its rival Amaz...

    Domino's settles New York wage theft suit for $480,000

    The company will remain a defendant in similar cases across the state

    Last May, the state of New York sued Domino’s pizza for allegedly underpaying its workers by an estimated $565,000. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman had said that the wage violations were the result of franchisees using a computer system called “PULSE,” which had been known to undercalculate gross wages and overtime pay.

    “At some point, a company has to take responsibility for its actions and for its workers’ well-being. We’ve found rampant wage violations at Domino’s franchise stores. And, as our suit alleges, we’ve discovered that Domino’s headquarters was intensely involved in store operations, and even caused many of these violations,” said Schneiderman in a statement.

    The case quickly attracted attention because it was the first time that New York had held a corporation liable for actions taken by its franchisees. However, it seems that three franchisees will ultimately be footing the bill for the suit. Shueb Ahmed, Anthony Maestri, and Matthew Denman, the owners of the three franchisees comprising ten restaurants, will pay back $150,000, $240,000, and $90,000, respectively, to affected employees.

    Under the proposed agreement, Domino’s will remain a defendant in the case because of further allegations of wage theft across the New York. Schneiderman says that similar wage theft accusations and labor law violations have been resolved throughout the state, with money going back into workers’ pockets.

    "The Attorney General has now settled investigations into labor law violations at 71 Domino's franchise locations in New York State, owned by fifteen individual franchisees. These locations comprise more than half of the franchise stores and over a third of the total number of Domino's stores in New York. . . The Attorney General's office has secured nearly $2 million in total restitution for Domino's workers statewide through these settlements," the Attorney General’s office stated in a release.

    “My office will continue with our lawsuit against Domino’s Pizza to end the systemic violations of workers’ rights that have occurred in franchises across the State. We will not allow businesses to turn a blind e to blatant violations that are cheating hard working New Yorkers out of a fair day’s pay,” said Schneiderman.

    Last May, the state of New York sued Domino’s pizza for allegedly underpaying its workers by an estimated $565,000. New York Attorney General Eric Schneide...