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    Wells Fargo ups bogus account count to 3.5 million

    Independent investigators found 1.4 million more

    It was almost a year ago that Wells Fargo revealed its employees had created checking and credit card accounts for a million or so customers without their knowledge or consent.

    Since then, the bank has fired thousands of employees and brought in a third party investigative team to provide an independent account of what happened. The investigators have now turned in their report, revealing that there may have been as many as 3.5 million unauthorized accounts, 1.4 million more than originally reported.

    Consumer groups are saying the revelation is further evidence that consumers should not be forced to give up their right to sue when dealing with financial institutions.

    “Congress now has 1.4 million more reasons to protect the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s arbitration rule," said Allied Progress executive director Karl Frisch in an email to ConsumerAffairs. "Eliminating the arbitration rule, as some Republicans in Congress are calling for, would allow big banks and other financial institutions to continue these and other illegal and damaging practices unchecked."

    Frisch said customers affected by banking scandals and errors "should be allowed to exercise their constitutional right to have their day in court, rather than being forced into a secret arbitration tribunal where big banks call the shots and individuals hardly stand a chance."

    The additional unauthorized accounts turned up when investigators expanded their search back to 2009, a time period not covered by the bank's initial report. The new report, long anticipated, is part of Wells Fargo's nearly year-long effort to put the scandal behind it.

    'Unacceptable sales practices'

    “We apologize to everyone who was harmed by unacceptable sales practices that occurred in our retail bank,” said Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan. “To rebuild trust and to build a better Wells Fargo, our first priority is to make things right for our customers, and the completion of this expanded third-party analysis is an important milestone."

    The bank has faced class action lawsuits and has already settled with U.S. regulators, paying $185 million in fines.

    In recent weeks, the bank had telegraphed to employees and Wall Street that the independent investigation would likely result in more negative news for the San Francisco-based bank. While consumers might be upset with the new disclosure, it isn't going over very well on Wall Street either.

    Harsh reaction

    Today's disclosure moved CNBC's Jim Cramer, co-host of "Squawk On The Street," to be especially harsh in his characterization of Wells Fargo, appearing dumbfounded that the bank had discovered an additional 1.4 million unauthorized accounts.

    "A million extra? I mean that's not a rounding error," Cramer said on the broadcast.

    CNBC said it reached out to Wells Fargo to respond to Cramer's comments but had received no reply.

    In the meantime, Wells Fargo said it will take "significant steps" in the coming weeks to compensate the latest group of consumer and small business customers who may have been harmed when accounts were set up in their name.

    It was almost a year ago that Wells Fargo revealed its employees had created checking and credit card accounts for a million or so customers without their...

    Pending home sales down again

    Only the West saw an increase in July

    For the fourth time in five months, pending home sales have moved lower.

    The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI) -- a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings -- dipped 0.8% in July to 109.1.

    The index, which has fallen on an annual basis in three of the past four months, is now 1.3% below a year ago.

    Inventory and pricing raise concerns

    According to analysts, it's inventory woes throughout the country that are stalling contract activity. “The housing market remains stuck in a holding pattern with little signs of breaking through'” said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. “The pace of new listings is not catching up with what’s being sold at an astonishingly fast pace.”

    Affordability is another concern. Yun says that in the past five years, the national median sales price has risen 38%, while hourly earnings have increased less than a third of that (12%).

    This unsustainable trend, he says, is putting considerable pressure on affordability in some markets -- especially for prospective first-time buyers -- and is pricing out some households who would otherwise be looking to buy a home.

    Regional breakdown

    • The PHSI in the Northeast slipped 0.3% in July to 97.7%,, but is still up 2.4% from a year ago.
    • In the Midwest the index dipped 0.7% to 103.3, and is now 2.8% percent lower than in July 2016.
    • Pending home sales in the South were down 1.7% to a reading of 123.1 and are now 0.2% below last July.
    • The only increase was in the West where the PHSI inched up 0.6% to 102.3, but is still 4.0% below a year ago.  
    For the fourth time in five months, pending home sales have moved lower.The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports Pending Home Sales Index (PH...

    Personal incomes and spending climb in July

    First-time jobless claims edged a bit higher

    Consumers found a bit more in their paychecks in July.

    According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), personal income rose 0.4%, or $65.6 billion last month, while disposable personal income (DPI) -- what's left after taxes are taken out -- was up $39.6 billion, or 0.3%.

    The increase in personal income was due largely to higher wages and salaries, and personal income receipts on assets.

    Spending and saving

    Personal consumption expenditures (PCE), or consumer spending, was up 0.3%, or $44.7 billion, with outlays for goods -- primarily furnishings and durable household items -- up $18.7 billion.

    Spending for services -- mostly food services and accommodations -- rose $11.8 billion.

    Personal saving totaled $510.2 billion in July, with the personal saving rate -- personal saving as a percentage of disposable personal income -- at 3.5%, down 0.3% from June.

    The complete report is available on the BEA website.

    Jobless claims

    A slight uptick last week in initial jobless claims.

    The Labor Department (DOL) reports first-time applications for state unemployment benefits totaled 236,000 in the week ending August 26 -- up 1,000 from the previous week's level which revised by 1,000.

    The 4-week moving average, which because of it's lower level of volatility is considered a more accurate gauge of the labor market, fell by 1,259 to 236,750. The previous week's average was revised up by 250.

    The full report may be found on the DOL website.

    Photo (c) Stuart Miles - FotoliaConsumers found a bit more in their paychecks in July.According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), persona...

    An August surge in job cuts

    The retail sector is in a quandary

    After falling in July to the lowest total since late 2016, the number of job cuts has snapped back.

    Outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas reports employers across the country announced plans to trim their payrolls by 33,825 in August -- a surge of 19.4% from the previous month and 5% higher than August of last year.

    Until August, cutbacks had fallen every month since March, for a total of 289,132 terminations -- down 26.1% from the first eight months of 2016.

    A mixed tale in retail

    “Although we have seen high layoffs in retail with store closings and some companies filing for bankruptcy, there has also been increased hiring in new areas of the sector as retailers build out their e-commerce platforms,” said Challenger, Gray & Christmas CEO John Challenger. “Shipping and technology jobs are expanding and going unfilled. We are seeing a labor market in which skilled technical and logistics/supply chain talent is in high demand.”

    Retail continues to lead all sectors this year, with 67,596 announced cuts -- 3,607 of them in August. Retail job cuts are up 51.4% this year than through the same point in 2016.

    "Retail is pivoting, and with the holiday rush just around the corner, a big jump in seasonal jobs is imminent,” Challenger noted, adding “An increasing number of these jobs will involve new technologies and be more customer-centric, as brick-and-mortar retailers seek to create experiences that consumers cannot find online.”

    The construction industry announced the highest number of pink slips in August, with 4,332, followed by the financial sector (-3,414), for an eight-month total of 10,799. The services industry announced 3,039 cuts in August, bringing its total for the year to 21,061.

    After falling in July to the lowest total since late 2016, the number of job cuts has snapped back.Outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christma...

    Gas prices at 2017 high in Harvey's wake

    Price escalation will likely extend into the Labor Day weekend

    Retail gasoline prices have begun to react in more dramatic fashion to supply interruptions caused by Hurricane Harvey along the Texas Gulf Coast.

    The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of regular gasoline today is $2.40 a gallon, up nearly three cents from the day before and six cents higher than a week ago, before the storm took about 25% of Gulf Coast refineries, producing 2.5 million barrels of gasoline a day, offline.

    The national average price of premium gasoline rose more slowly, gaining a penny a gallon from yesterday to $2.90. The price of diesel was largely flat.

    Market confusion

    The market was confused in the days before and immediately after Harvey made landfall, with gasoline futures rising only about 4% and oil prices actually going down. Analysts said it wasn't clear what impact the storm would have, but most agreed that any price spikes will probably be temporary. However, it could be weeks before all refineries are back to normal operations.

    So far this week, the biggest price increases have been in the Southeast, a region that normally enjoys the nation's lowest and most stable fuel prices. According to AAA, the statewide average for regular gas in Texas is about $2.22 a gallon, up about three cents from yesterday and about nine cents higher than a week ago.

    Big impact in South Carolina

    South Carolina, which normally has the lowest gasoline prices in the U.S., no longer holds that distinction. The statewide average there is $2.18 a gallon, up nearly five cents from the day before and 13 cents more than a week ago.

    The average price at the pump in Tennessee is now $2.20 a gallon, up three cents in the last 24 hours and nearly seven cents higher than last week. Price increases have been less dramatic in Mississippi, Alabama, and Arkansas.

    West of the Rockies, Harvey is having a much less dramatic impact on fuel prices. However, motorists in the West are paying higher prices this week than last. AAA says the influx of people into the Pacific Northwest last week to view the solar eclipse led to a significant increase in gasoline demand.

    When hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf of Mexico in late 2005, the national average price of gasoline surged 40 cents a gallon. Few are predicting prices will get that high this time, although the longer the Gulf Coast refineries remain offline, the worse supply shortages will get.

    Retail gasoline prices have begun to react in more dramatic fashion to supply interruptions caused by Hurricane Harvey along the Texas Gulf Coast.The A...

    For traditional media, the times they are a changin'

    Newspapers, radio, and movies face a brave new world

    Just a few years ago, you probably pored over the morning paper while you drank your coffee.

    You kept up with the latest popular songs on your way to work, tuned in to your favorite local radio station.

    On the weekend, you and your significant other might have taken in the latest Hollywood blockbuster at your neighborhood theater.

    Now you get your news from Facebook, or have it read to you by a virtual assistant. You get just the music you want from Spotify, Apple Music, or Pandora. And on weekends, you'd much rather "Netflix & chill" instead of go out.

    The disruptive internet

    The common thread here, of course, is the internet, and how it's disrupting nearly everything -- most notably traditional media.

    A recent report from the Pew Research Center noted that last year's jump in newspaper sales, triggered by the presidential election, was largely attributed to digital subscriptions.

    Meanwhile, a Pew analysis shows that total weekday circulation for U.S. daily newspapers – both print and digital – fell 8% in 2016, marking the 28th consecutive year of declines. Yes, newspapers have been failing for a long time but the internet has given the industry a shove in the last decade.

    Hollywood, meanwhile, is having a horrible summer. ComScore, which tracks box office sales, predicts the summer movie season will close out this weekend with a nearly 16% decline in revenue, worse even than last summer.

    Radio challenges

    The outlook may be most dire, however, for radio -- one of the oldest of the traditional media. In a report Larry Miller, who heads the Steinhardt Music Business Program at New York University, says radio is hemorrhaging audience.

    "Terrestrial radio is facing monumental challenges as streaming continues on its path to becoming the go-to place for current and future generations to enjoy and discover music," Miller said.

    But with so many online choices, Miller says radio has lost much of its relevance to the younger generation, which is projected to account for 40% of all consumers in the U.S. by 2020.

    He says even listening in cars is eroding as more vehicles are capable of streaming music. By 2020, Miller predicts 75% of new cars are expected to be "connected," breaking radio's monopoly on automotive entertainment.

    What's it mean for consumers? Younger consumers may not even notice. But for older consumers, some of the traditional media forms they grew up with may drastically change, or even disappear.

    Just a few years ago, you probably pored over the morning paper while you drank your coffee.You kept up with the latest popular songs on your way to wo...

    Is there hope for first-time homebuyers?

    Genworth Financial report sees more first-timers getting into the market

    As we have consistently noted over the last few months, home prices continue to increase, causing some housing economists to worry that both prices and rents are becoming unaffordable.

    Recently, it's been the first-time homebuyer who has been the object of that concern. Currently paying rent that goes up each year, they have to save enough for a down payment for a house that is also rising in price.

    On Tuesday the S&P CoreLogic Case-Schiller National Home Price Index hit an all-time high, rising nearly 6% in June.

    But if you are a potential first-time buyer, there may be hope. Others like you are apparently active in the marketplace.

    Surge in first-time buyers

    Genworth Mortgage Insurance, part of Genworth Financial, reports first-time buyers purchased 570,000 single-family homes in the second quarter of this year, up from 426,000 in the first quarter. That's the largest number since 1999, just as the housing bubble began to inflate.

    Genworth reports purchase mortgage originated by 5% while sales and mortgages made to first-time homebuyers increased by 8%. It suggests the first-time buyer segment is stronger than a lot of people think.

    First-time buyers were responsible for 36% of all single-family homes sold during the second quarter, rising from 34% a year ago. In the mortgage market, they made up 57% of all purchase mortgages originated, slightly higher than a year ago. Both are in line with historical norms.

    Shrinking inventories

    First-time buyers, like everyone looking for a home, have lately had to deal with shrinking inventories of homes for sale. Market professionals have noted that fewer existing homes are going on the market and fewer new homes are being built.

    The new homes that are being built tend to be more expensive, often out of the price range of first-time buyers. But Genworth analysts have noted a shift.

    While the median priced new home sells for around $313,000, Genworth says builders have begun increasing construction of homes that sell for $200,000 to $250,000. That price range, says Genworth, accounted for 36% of all new homes purchased in the second quarter. The problem, however, is there is still more demand in that price range than supply.

    Long-term, Genworth says it believe housing supply and demand will get back in balance. But it probably won't happen, its analysts say, until at least 2019.

    As we have consistently noted over the last few months, home prices continue to increase, causing some housing economists to worry that both prices and ren...

    How to choose the right checking account

    Find an account with the fewest fees for the services you want

    Keeping your money in a checking account is a useful and handy way to access it when you need it. But increasingly, you pay for that convenience.

    A new study from personal finance site WalletHub has found that checking accounts can have as many as 49 different fees. The average checking account has around 22 fees and the average checking account consumer pays close to $200 a year in fees.

    Since not all banks charge the same fees, the authors suggest consumers can save money simply by choosing the right checking account and avoiding the wrong one. Consumers who fall into the "Cash Strapped" category can save the most -- up to $387 per year.

    So how can you find the right checking account? It starts with widening your search.

    Consider a wider selection of banks

    Don't limit yourself to the large national banks. They will tend to have the most, and highest, fees. Consider small community banks and credit unions, a significant number of which still offer free checking.

    The WalletHub study suggests you'll find the best deal on checking accounts by shopping among credit unions and online-only banks. But the right checking account is going to vary, depending on the type of banking customer you are.

    WalletHub breaks consumers down into five distinct groups:

    • Old School
    • Young
    • Cash Strapped
    • Everyday Joe
    • International

    Top choices

    For Old School, a traditional user who prefers to do business in a branch, WalletHub recommends the Navy Federal Credit Union Flagship Checking. However, like any credit union, there are eligibility requirements.

    Young customers are those who pay bills online and make heavy use of ATMs. For them, USAA Bank Cashback Rewards may be a good fit.

    For Cash Strapped consumers, the study recommends the Charles Schwab Bank High Yield Investor checking account.

    Everyday Joe is your average bank customer, who has about $3000 a month in direct deposits, pays bills online and uses ATMs, both in and out of network. The Charles Schwab Bank High Yield Investor checking account is also a good fit for this consumer, the authors say.

    And the Navy Federal Credit Union Flagship Checking is again the pick for the International customer, who has family overseas and travels frequently to visit them.

    To find the best checking account for your needs, you should check each institution's website for information about fees. WalletHub said it found not all institutions are equal when it comes to clearly laying of information about fees.

    In fact, while credit unions often have the most attractive terms on checking accounts, they are among the least transparent when it comes to disclosing fees.

    Keeping your money in a checking account is a useful and handy way to access it when you need it. But increasingly, you pay for that convenience.A new...

    Job creation powers ahead in August

    The construction and manufacturing sectors made big contributions

    August was another good month for job creation.

    According to the ADP National Employment Report, produced by the ADP Research Institute, in collaboration with Moody's Analytics, private sector employment increased by 237,000 jobs.

    The report, which is derived from ADP's actual payroll data, shows that while the services sector was the major contributor, there was strong activity by goods producers.

    “The job market continues to power forward,” said Moody's Analytics Chief Economist Mark Zandi. “Job creation is strong across nearly all industries, company sizes.”

    Where the jobs are

    Within the goods-producing sector, which created 33,000 new jobs, construction accounted for 18,000 positions, while there were 16,000 hires by manufacturers. Natural resources/mining lost 1,000 jobs.

    Of the 204,000 new payroll positions in the services sector, 56,000 came in trade/transportation/utilities, followed by leisure/hospitality (+51,000), education/health services(+45,000), health care/social assistance (+42,000) and professional/business services (+39,000). Information lost 3,000 jobs.

    Large businesses, with 115,000 hires, accounted for the bulk of the new jobs, followed by medium-sized firms (+74,000) and small concerns (+48,000).

    “The goods-producing sector saw the best performance in months with solid increases in both construction and manufacturing," said Ahu Yildirmaz, vice president and co-head of the ADP Research Institute. “Additionally, the trade industry pulled ahead to lead job gains across all industries, adding the most jobs it has seen since the end of 2016.”

    August was another good month for job creation.According to the ADP National Employment Report, produced by the ADP Research Institute, in collaboratio...

    A head of steam for the nation's economy

    A second look shows things got a lot better in the second quarter

    Government analysts have taken their second of three readings on how the U.S. economy was doing in the second quarter and the results are encouraging.

    According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), real gross domestic product (GDP) increased at an annual rate of 3.0% rather than the 2.6% reported in the advance look.

    By way of comparison, the economy grew at a 1.2% annual rate percent in the first three months of the year.

    This latest estimate is based on more complete source data than were available earlier. Increases in personal consumption expenditures (PCE) -- consumer spending -- and in nonresidential fixed investment were larger than previously estimated. They were partly offset by a larger decrease in state and local government spending.

    What made the difference

    The second-quarter increase in real came from contributions from PCE, nonresidential fixed investment, exports, federal government spending, and private inventory investment. Offsetting those gains in part were declines in residential fixed investment and state and local government spending. Imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, increased

    The acceleration in real GDP I came from upturns in private inventory investment and federal government spending and a pickup in PCE that were partly offset by downturns in residential fixed investment and state and local government spending and a slowdown in exports.

    GDP inflation

    The price index for gross domestic purchases rose 0.8 percent in the April – June quarter, compared with an increase of 2.6 percent in the first quarter. The PCE price index inched ahead 0.3%, versus an increase of 2.2%. Excluding the volatile food and energy categories, the “core” PCE price index was up 0.9%; it jumped 1.8% in the first quarter.

    Corporate profits rose $26.8 billion in the second quarter after falling $46.2 billion in the first quarter.

    The complete report may be found on the BEA website.

    Government analysts have taken their second of three readings on how the U.S. economy was doing in the second quarter and the results are encouraging.A...

    Mortgage applications drop for second straight week

    Contract interest rates were mixed

    For the second time in as many weeks, applications for mortgages have moved lower.

    According to the weekly survey conducted by the Mortgage Bankers Association, applications were down 2.3% in the week ending August 25.

    Although the Refinance Index dipped 2% from the previous week, the refinance share of mortgage activity rose to 49.4% from 48.7% the week before.

    The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity increased to 6.9% of total applications, the FHA share slipped to 9.7% from 10.1%, the VA share was down to 10.0%, and the USDA share of total applications declined to 0.7% from 0.8% a week earlier.

    Contract interest rates

    • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($424,100 or less) dipped from 4.12% to 4.11% -- its lowest level since last November, with points increasing to 0.43 from 0.39 (including the origination fee) for 80% loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The effective rate remained unchanged from last week.
    • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs with jumbo loan balances (greater than $424,100) inched up one basis point -- to 4.00% from 3.99%, with points decreasing to 0.20 from 0.26 (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 unchanged at 4.02%, with points increasing to 0.41 from 0.37 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
    • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs dropped to its lowest level since last November -- 3.36%, from 3.40%, with points steady at 0.38 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
    • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs was down one basis point to 3.26%, with points increasing to 0.35 from 0.31 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.

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

    For the second time in as many weeks, applications for mortgages have moved lower.According to the weekly survey conducted by the Mortgage Bankers Asso...

    Mountain Equipment Co-op recalls Aquanot Rolltop 20 L panniers

    The pannier strap could become momentarily entangled in bicycle spokes

    Mountain Equipment Co-op of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, is recalling about 2,600 Aquanot Rolltop 20 L bicycle panniers.

    The stud projecting from the body of the Aquanot pannier may detach and cause the pannier strap to become momentarily entangled in bicycle spokes, posing an injury or fall hazard.

    The company has received no reports of incidents or injuries.

    This recall involves Mountain Equipment Co-op Aquanot Rolltop 20 L bicycle panniers with model number 5035-441 available in two colors: indigo/cobalt and black.

    The panniers are made of 600-denier polyester and contain a top pocket, sleeves for a lock and a pump, and a zippered hanging pocket for keys, phone or wallet.

    The paniers, manufactured in the Philippines, were sold from September 25, 2015, to July 6, 2017, throughout Canada.

    What to do

    Customers who purchased the recalled product should immediately stop using it and inspect it for any loosened bolts. If any of the bolts specified to be secured with Loctite are coming loose, tighten them or bring the pannier to any Mountain Equipment Co-op store to have them tightened.

    Consumers with questions may contact Mountain Equipment Co-op's service center toll-free at 1-888-847-0700 Monday – Friday from 6:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m. (PST), Saturday from 6:00 a.m. – 7:00 pm (PST), Sunday from 7:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. (PST) or by email at info@mec.ca. 

    Mountain Equipment Co-op of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, is recalling about 2,600 Aquanot Rolltop 20 L bicycle panniers.The stud projecting fro...

    Gas prices creep higher as Harvey's impact is assessed

    But prices could jump by the end of the week

    So far, the U.S. has not seen a huge spike in gasoline prices caused by the supply interruption from the hurricane battered Gulf Coast.

    But that could change at any time, experts say.

    On Monday the Oil Price Information Service reported that about a quarter of the oil refineries lining the Texas coast were offline, mostly due to flooding from Hurricane Harvey. That works out to about 2.5 million barrels of gasoline a day missing from the supply chain.

    Most of that fuel would have eventually been delivered to the southeastern states, where gasoline prices are lowest anyway. A sizable portion would have been exported to South America. Very little would have been used to supply gas stations west of the Rocky Mountains, where gasoline prices are highest.

    Only a penny higher than yesterday

    The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of regular gasoline today is $2.37 a gallon, up a penny from Monday and only four cents higher than a week ago. In Texas, the average price of gasoline is $2.19 a gallon, two cents higher than Monday and six cents higher than seven days ago.

    In a Tweet, Patrick DeHaan, senior analyst for Gasbuddy, said there could be a surge in the national average fuel price by the end of the week, possibly reaching $2.43 a gallon, which would be the highest level in nearly two years. But DeHaan says predictions of a $1 per gallon spike aren't very realistic.

    Still, some motorists are seeing fairly dramatic price increases at some stations. The Baltimore Sun reports some stations in Maryland were posting prices as high as $2.33 a gallon Monday. An AAA spokeswoman was quoted as saying that the prices weren't really justified, since the state is mostly supplied by refineries in neighboring Delaware.

    Whatever Harvey's impact on gasoline prices, CNBC predicts it will be temporary. But for right now, there are a lot of unknowns. Experts say major damage to Houston area refineries could be a game-changer, and so far conditions haven't yet allowed a thorough assessment.

    So far, the U.S. has not seen a huge spike in gasoline prices caused by the supply interruption from the hurricane battered Gulf Coast.But that could c...

    IRS extends filing deadline for some Harvey victims

    Taxpayers who filed for an extension will have until Jan. 31 to file their return

    The Internal Revenue Service is extending the filing deadline for Hurricane Harvey victims who had earlier filed for an extension. 

    This includes an additional filing extension for taxpayers with valid extensions that run out on Oct. 16, and businesses with extensions that run out on Sept. 15.

    "This has been a devastating storm, and the IRS will move quickly to provide tax relief to hurricane victims," said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. "The IRS will continue to closely monitor the storm's aftermath, and we anticipate providing additional relief for other affected areas in the near future."

    The IRS is now offering this expanded relief to any area designated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), as qualifying for individual assistance. Currently, 18 counties are eligible, but taxpayers in localities added later to the disaster area will automatically receive the same filing and payment relief.

    The tax relief postpones various tax filing and payment deadlines that occurred starting on Aug. 23, 2017. As a result, affected individuals and businesses will have until Jan. 31, 2018 to file returns and pay any taxes that were originally due during this period. This includes the Sept. 15, 2017 and Jan. 16, 2018 deadlines for making quarterly estimated tax payments.

    For individual tax filers, it also includes 2016 income tax returns that received a tax-filing extension until Oct. 16, 2017. The IRS noted, however, that because tax payments related to these 2016 returns were originally due on April 18, 2017, those payments are not eligible for this relief.

    The Internal Revenue Service is extending the filing deadline for Hurricane Harvey victims who had earlier filed for an extension. This includes an add...

    New York City raises cigarette prices and restricts where tobacco products can be sold

    Seven pieces of legislation aim to further reduce smoking rates in the city

    Mayor Bill de Blasio has signed a series of seven bills that will raise the price of tobacco products and restrict where they can be sold. The pieces of legislation aim to reduce the number of smokers in New York City by 160,000 by 2020.

    The move followed dramatic decreases in smoking rates for the city in recent years; the number of smokers has declined by 14.3% since 2015 and is down 21.5% since 2002. Despite these victories, de Blasio made it clear that anti-smoking efforts are among the city’s top priorities.

    “Even though tobacco is a leading cause of premature death across the country, Big Tobacco will stop at nothing to hook people on these deadly products,” he said. “We are sending a loud and clear message that we will not let their greed kill any more New Yorkers without a fight. These new laws will not only help reduce the number of smokers in our City, but also save lives.”

    Increasing prices and reducing availability

    The seven pieces of legislation were drafted by five New York City Council members and were first heard by de Blasio on August 25. Below is a summary of each measure:

    • Int. 1544 stipulates that the minimum price of cigarettes and little cigars be raised to $13 per pack from $10.50 and sets the first-ever price floor and tax for a variety of tobacco products. Lawmakers estimate that the bill will lead to a 6.4% decrease in adult cigarette smoking and will generate $1 million annually that will be dedicated to public housing.
    • Int. 1547 reduces the number of stores that can sell tobacco products by capping the number of tobacco retail dealer licenses to 50% of the previous allowance. Lawmakers say that no new licenses will be issued in communities until they have decreased to fit the new standard. The bill also updates retail licenses for selling cigarettes to include all types of tobacco.
    • Int. 1532 requires e-cigarette retailers to have a license to sell their products and caps the number of licenses that can be distributed to 50% of their previous allowance. The bill also prohibits pharmacies from selling e-cigarette products.
    • Int. 1471 increases the biennial fee for obtaining a new tobacco retail dealer license, which includes all types of tobacco sales, to $200 from its previous cost of $110.
    • Int. 1585 requires owners of residential buildings to create a policy on smoking and to disclose it to all current and prospective residents. The bill would apply to all residential buildings with three or more units and extends to rentals, condominiums, and cooperatives. Owners will also be required to prominently post the building’s policy on an annual basis and any time the policy changes.
    • Int. 484 prohibits smoking or the use of any e-cigarette products in common areas in residential buildings with three units or more. The bill expands on previous laws which prohibited smoking in residential buildings with 10 units or more.
    • Int. 1131 bans pharmacies, or retail stores that contain pharmacies, from selling tobacco products. Lawmakers say this prohibition would go into effect after current licenses expire in 2018.

    Rise in unregulated cigarettes?

    Critics of the price increases and new regulations say that the new measures will lead many smokers to start buying untaxed and unregulated cigarettes on the black market, according to the Washington Post.

    “There should be concern that this ordinance will most likely only further exacerbate the illicit trade of cigarettes in New York City, which already has the highest percentage of contraband cigarettes in the country,” said spokeswoman Brittany Adams of RAI Services Company.

    “These measures will destroy the business investment of retailers who have been leading the effort to prevent youth access to tobacco products, and the result will be lost revenue, lost jobs and an increasing number of sales in unregulated and illegal settings,” added Jim Calvin, president of the New York Association of Convenience Stores.

    However, regulators and health advocates applauded the sweeping legislation as a decisive move in the interest of public health.

    “These new laws will undoubtedly improve the health of City residents and help prevent another generation of youth from becoming addicted to these deadly products,” said Jeff Seyler, Executive Vice President of the Northeast Region of the American Lung Association. “Tobacco use remains a major public health issue, but thanks to the efforts of our elected officials here today it will endanger an even smaller percent of public than ever before.”

    “For far too long, tobacco has been both persistent and pervasive in some of our most vulnerable communities,” said Deidre Sully, Director of NYC Smoke-Free. “We know that high tobacco use rates are linked to widespread availability of the product. This bold move will now save more lives and protect our youth from a lifetime of addiction.”

    Mayor Bill de Blasio has signed a series of seven bills that will raise the price of tobacco products and restrict where they can be sold. The pieces of le...

    Domino's, Ford testing self-driving pizza delivery

    Customers will have to walk outside to retrieve their orders

    The kid racing up and down the block in a battered old car with a Domino's Pizza sign on the roof may soon be a thing of the past. Ford and Domino's are working on a self-driving pizza delivery vehicle.

    Of course, the pizzamobile won't be able to deliver the pizza to your door. Instead, what would normally be the right rear passenger window will open to a storage compartment containing your pizza.

    A prototype pizza wagon, using a Ford Fusion hybrid, will soon be deployed in Ann Arbor, Michigan. There will be a Ford engineer driving the car but customers will have to dash out and get the pizza themselves, just as though there was no human driver.

    Domino's says the test isn't so much to prove the concept of a self-driving delivery car but rather to see how customers react to the idea. Randomly selected pizza eaters in Ann Arbor will soon be able to specify automated delivery when they place their order.

    Last 50 feet

    "We're interested to learn what people think about this type of delivery," said Russell Weiner, president of Domino's USA, according to Automotive News. "The majority of our questions are about the last 50 feet of the delivery experience. For instance, how will customers react to coming outside to get their food?"

    Weiner said Domino's wants to be sure that self-driving pizza delivery is "as seamless and customer-friendly as possible."

    In the Ann Arbor test, customers will be able to track their orders through GPS and will receive a text message with instructions on unlocking the storage compartment and retrieving their pizza.

    The idea certainly has promise. Besides eliminating the often-cited problem of exuberant young drivers speeding through neighborhoods, it would also eliminate the equally annoying problem of pizza delivery workers being held up at gunpoint. 

    It also eliminates the question of how much to tip. 

    The kid racing up and down the block in a battered old car with a Domino's Pizza sign on the roof may soon be a thing of the past. Ford and Domino's are wo...

    August finds further improvement in consumer confidence

    Things today are looking pretty good, consumers say

    Consumers appear to have regained their sense of confidence in the economy.

    The Conference Board reports its Consumer Confidence Index was up for a second straight month in August following two months of declines.

    This month's Index reading was 122.9 -- up from 2.9 points from July. The Present Situation Index jumped to 151.2 from last month's reading of 145.4, and the Expectations Index rose one point to 104.0.

    “Consumers’ more buoyant assessment of present-day conditions was the primary driver of the boost in confidence, with the Present Situation Index continuing to hover at a 16-year high," said Conference Board Director of Economic Indicators Lynn Franco. "Consumers’ short-term expectations were relatively flat, though still optimistic, suggesting that they do not anticipate an acceleration in the pace of economic activity in the months ahead.”

    The consumers' view

    There was further improvement in August in the way consumers see current conditions.

    Those who think business conditions are “good” rose from 32.5% to 34.5%, while those who believe they're “bad” slipped from 13.5% to 13.1%.

    The assessment of the labor market was also more upbeat. The percentage of people saying jobs are “plentiful” went to 35.4% from 33.2%; while those who think jobs are “hard to get” fell from 18.7% to 17.3%.

    Consumers’ optimism about the short-term outlook was relatively flat, with the percentage of consumers expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months declining from 22.4% to 19.6%. At the same time, though, those expecting business conditions to get worse also went down -- to 7.3% from 8.4%.

    The outlook for the labor market was also mixed. The proportion expecting more jobs in the months ahead dropped from 18.5% to 17.1%, while those anticipating fewer jobs slipped to 13.0% from 13.2%.

    When it comes to short-term income prospects, the percentage of consumers expecting an improvement rose a tad -- to 20.9% from 20.0% -- while the proportion expecting a decline fell from 9.5% to 7.8%.

    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 August 16.

    Consumers appear to have regained their sense of confidence in the economy.The Conference Board reports its Consumer Confidence Index was up for a seco...

    Sue's Jerky brand Sweet Sesame Pork Jerky recalled

    The product contains fish, an allergen not declared on the label

    Soo Jerky Ltd., of Ottawa, Canada, is recalling Sue's Jerky brand Sweet Sesame Pork Jerky, which is sold individually or in a Variety Pack.

    The product contains fish, an allergen not declared on the label.

    There have been no reported reactions associated with the consumption of these products.

    The following product, sold in British Columbia and Ontario, is being recalled:

    Brand

    Product

    Size

    UPC

    Codes

    Sue's Jerky

    Sweet Sesame Pork Jerky

    40 g

    0 65717 61053 9

    778085, 775687

    Sue's Jerky

    Variety Pack

    12 x 40 g

    0 65717 62005 7

    776382, 777186, 778086, 776087, 776287, 777288

    What to do

    Customers who bought the recalled products and have an allergy to fish, should not consume the products, but throw them away or return them to the store where purchased.

    Consumers with questions may contact the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) at 613-773-6600

    Soo Jerky Ltd., of Ottawa, Canada, is recalling Sue's Jerky brand Sweet Sesame Pork Jerky, which is sold individually or in a Variety Pack.The product...

    Uber gets a new CEO

    Expedia chief Dara Khrosrowshahi is the reported choice

    If you're waiting for an Uber driver to pick you up, the identity of the company's CEO is probably the farthest thing from your mind. But selection of a CEO to replace the ousted Travis Kalanick could be a vital element in how the company fares in the future.

    Kalanick, you'll recall, quit under pressure in June following various allegations of sexual harrassment in the ranks. The board of the high-flying on-demand ride service has been searching for a replacement ever since.

    Various well-known names have been floated publicly but today, press reports say the final choice is Dara Khrosrowshahi, since 2005 the head of Expedia. While not exactly a household name, Khrosrowshahi is credited with turning Expedia around, pulling it out of a sales slump and repositioning it to deal with intensifying competition.

    Service providers

    Seen in that light, Khrosrowshahi's selection becomes more understandable. Both Expedia and Uber are, after all, transportation service providers. Neither owns large fleets of airplanes or cars but both manage millions of trips per year, taking a small slice of each transaction.

    The selection process -- which at times included Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman, GE Chairman Jeff Immelt, and numerous others -- was particularly chaotic because of internecine warfare in the board room, where one group of investors led Kalanick's ouster while other directors objected and pursued their own agendas.

    Khrosrowshahi's selection, reported by today's Wall Street Journal, had not at last word been publicly confirmed and it was not known whether he had formally accepted the job.

    If you're waiting for an Uber driver to pick you up, the identity of the company's CEO is probably the farthest thing from your mind. But selection of a CE...

    There may be an answer to those autoplay videos

    New Chrome feature may let you permanently mute a website

    Auto-play videos can be pretty annoying. You're trying to read an article when suddenly, somewhere on the page, a video starts to play.

    Even if you aren't looking at the video, the sound can be distracting. Now, Google developers may have come up with a way to end the nuisance once and for all.

    Developer Francois Beaufort has posted the news that the Chrome team is engaged in an experiment of sorts, creating a setting that will allow users to turn a website's sound off and on within the browser. When you visit that particular site in the future, the video may automatically roll, but you won't hear it.

    "This will give you more control about which website is allowed to throw sound at you automatically," he writes.

    True, you can already mute the sound on your video player, but that requires you to turn the sound back on when there is something you want to hear. The Chrome feature would disable the sound only on individual sites.

    An ongoing battle

    This has been an ongoing battle between consumers and some web publishers. When browsers started adding tools to allow consumers to turn off Flash videos from autoplaying, PC World reports they simply switched to a new platform, HTML5, requiring browsers to play "whack a mole," coming up with new tools to defeat autoplay in the new format.

    But in an note of irony, the PC World web page containing this interesting information about autoplay videos, alas, has an autoplay video.

    So why do publishers do it? Tech site TheNextWeb.com says it's all about money. Websites think they have a better chance of capturing your attention for a sponsor if they make you watch a video, instead of letting you decide if you want to watch -- or hear it.

    Auto-play videos can be pretty annoying. You're trying to read an article when suddenly, somewhere on the page, a video starts to play. Even if you aren...

    Blossom Foods recalls frozen beef, chicken and pork

    Blossom Foods recalls frozen beef, chicken and pork

    Blossom Foods of Oakland, Calif., is recalling approximately 15,092 pounds of beef, chicken and pork.

    The products contain soy and wheat, allergens not declared on the label.

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

    The following items, produced from August 23, 2016, to August 23, 2017, bearing an expiration date that is one year from the date of packaging, are being recalled:

    • 6.6-lb. case of “Barbequed Beef, Corn, Baked Beans”
    • 5.5-lb. case of “Barbeque Beef”
    • 10-lb. case of “Savory Beef”
    • 5.5-lb. case of “Sesame chicken
    • 10-lb. case of “Spanish Beef”
    • 5.5-lb. case of “Barbeque Pork”
    • 5.5-lb. case of “Breakfast Sausage”
    • 10-lb. case of “Beef”
    • 6.5-lb. case of “Chicken and Dumplings, Peas, Rutabaga”

    The recalled products, bearing establishment number “EST. 51200” or “P-51200” inside the USDA mark of inspection, were shipped to institutional locations in California and Ohio.

    What to do

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

    Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Sue Adams, CEO at (510) 893-3244.

     

    Blossom Foods of Oakland, Calif., is recalling approximately 15,092 pounds of beef, chicken and pork.The products contain soy and wheat, allergens not...

    Ronald A. Chisholm, Ltd. recalls pork bellies

    The products did not undergo import inspection

    Ronald A. Chisholm, Ltd., of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, is recalling approximately 12,169 pounds of skinless pork bellies.

    The products were not presented at the U.S. point of entry for inspection. Without the benefit of full inspection, a possibility of adverse health consequences exists.

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

    The following products, produced and packaged from June 27 – July 20, 2017, are being recalled:

    • Approximately 40-lb. cardboard box containing “FLANC PORC, PORK BELLY.”

    The recalled products, bearing case code “815157” and establishment number “10” inside the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) mark of inspection, were shipped to restaurants in Hawaii.

    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 Steve Needham at (818) 770-3903. 

    Ronald A. Chisholm, Ltd., of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, is recalling approximately 12,169 pounds of skinless pork bellies.The products were not presente...

    BMW recalls C650 GT and C Evolution scooters

    The front wheel rim may not be marked with the rim size and the DOT designation

    BMW of North America is recalling 37 model year 2017 BMW C650 GT and BMW C Evolution scooters.

    The front wheel rims may not be marked with the required rim type and the DOT designation.

    Thus the vehicles do not conform to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 120, "Wheels and rims-other than passenger cars."

    If the rim is not marked with the rim size and the DOT designation, a tire of the incorrect size may be installed on this rim, affecting the handling of the scooter and increasing the risk of a crash.

    What to do

    BMW will notify owners, and dealers will replace any rims that are not correctly marked, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin September 15, 2017.

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

    BMW of North America is recalling 37 model year 2017 BMW C650 GT and BMW C Evolution scooters.The front wheel rims may not be marked with the required...

    DiLuigi Foods recalls chicken breakfast sausage

    The product contains soy lecithin, an allergen not declared on the label

    DiLuigi Foods of Danvers, Mass., is recalling approximately 3,448 pounds of chicken breakfast sausage.

    The product contains soy lecithin, an allergen not declared on the label.

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

    The following item, produced and packaged from August 10 – 24, 2017, is being recalled:

    • 1-lb. vacuum-sealed packages containing 5 pieces of “TRADER JOE’S CHICKEN BREAKFAST SAUSAGE.”

    The recalled product, bearing establishment number “P-4398” inside the USDA mark of inspection, was shipped to Trader Joe’s stores in Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington D.C..

    What to do

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

    Consumers with questions about the recall may contact John Carroll at (978) 750-9700 ext. 5805. 

    DiLuigi Foods of Danvers, Mass., is recalling approximately 3,448 pounds of chicken breakfast sausage.The product contains soy lecithin, an allergen no...

    Book your Thanksgiving holiday travel now

    Expedia says booking in the sweet spot could save you 10%

    The Thanksgiving holiday weekend each year is one of the most heavily traveled periods of the year.

    The day before Thanksgiving is among the busiest days of the year at airports and train stations and the following Sunday is not far behind. Airlines know this and can charge premium fares.

    However, it is possible to save on fares if you book at the right time, and according to travel website Expedia.com, today is the day you should book your Thanksgiving holiday travel. But Expedia says 85% of travelers wait too long and miss out.

    Airlines are constantly adjusting their fares, usually with costlier tickets long before the flight leaves as well as those purchased within the last week.

    "Timing is a big factor in getting a good deal on airfare," said Sarah Gavin, vice president of global communications for Expedia. "People typically know pretty far in advance whether they're going to travel for the holidays, so it's a good idea to keep an eye on prices months out. Even with holiday travel, a general rule of thumb applies: If you find a fare that seems like a good deal, buy it."

    61 to 90 days before departure

    After looking at the data from past years, Expedia projects the best time to book Thanksgiving travel is 61 to 90 days before departure. In the past, it says travelers who did that saves up to 10% on fares. Those who waited until the last minute paid a 20% premium.

    According to Expedia, the sweet spot for booking travel during the Thanksgiving holiday extends from today through September 23.

    It's probably not too early to start thinking about Christmas and year-end holiday travel as well, but you have a lot more time to choose the best fare. Expedia predicts the best deals will be 14 to 20 days in advance of departure.

    The Thanksgiving holiday weekend each year is one of the most heavily traveled periods of the year.The day before Thanksgiving is among the busiest day...

    Sears to close another 28 Kmart stores later this year

    The company continues its 'transformation' effort to return to profitability

    It’s been a year full of downsizing and cost cutting for Sears Holdings. In January, the company announced that it would be closing 150 Sears and Kmart locations. A couple months later, officials said in an SEC filing that there was “substantial doubt” that the business could continue unless it found a way to raise additional capital.

    Only one month later, Sears opted to close another 50 auto center locations and 92 Kmart pharmacy operations, with CEO Edward S. Lampert saying that the company would “continue to take difficult yet necessary actions,” and “closely evaluate the longer-term viability of stores where a clear path to return to profitability is not in sight.”

    On Thursday, the downsizing efforts continued with yet another batch of store closings. In a quarterly earnings report, Sears Holdings announced that it would be closing another 28 Kmart stores as part of its transformation effort.

    Store closings

    The company says that 27 of the planned closings will happen in mid-November, with one store in North Miami Beach, Florida staying open until mid-December. Officials say that all eligible associates working at these locations will receive severance and have the opportunity to apply at other nearby Kmart and Sears Stores.

    Below is a complete list of the stores that will be shutting down:

    • 1445 S Power Road, Mesa, Arizona
    • 23222 W Valencia Blvd, Valencia, California
    • 10500 Wichlow Way, Jackson/Martell, California
    • 10400 Rosecrans, Bellflower, California
    • 16968 Main Street, Hesperia, California
    • 15200 E Colfax Avenue, Aurora, Colorado
    • 200 W Belleview, Englewood, Colorado
    • 100 Main Street North, Southbury, Connecticut
    • 900 N Miami Beach Blvd, North Miami Beach, Florida
    • 5590 Mableton Pkwy, Mableton, Georgia
    • 4101 W 95Th St, Oaklawn, Illinois
    • 7230 Westfield Plaza Dr, Belleville, Illinois
    • 265 S Illinois Rte 83, Elmhurst, Illinois
    • 1740 Sw Wanamaker Road, Topeka, Kansas
    • 7601 23 Mile Road, Utica / Shelby Township, Michigan
    • 4001 N Euclid Avenue, Bay City, Michigan
    • 545 West Sanilac, Sandusky, Michigan
    • 401 Route 38, Moorestown, New Jersey
    • 808 Route 46, Parsippany, New Jersey
    • 810 Paul Road, Rochester (Chili), New York
    • 10 Cobblestone Court Drive, Victor, New York
    • 374 Windsor Hwy, Rte 32, Vails Gate (New Windsor), New York
    • 2600 Lincoln Way E, Massillon, Ohio
    • 2470 Mission Se, Salem, Oregon
    • 2620 Moreland Road, Willow Grove, Pennsylvania
    • 4701 Tilghman Street, Allentown, Pennsylvania
    • 296 Garfield Ave, Cranston, Rhode Island
    • 1610 Church St, Conway, South Carolina
    It’s been a year full of downsizing and cost cutting for Sears Holdings. In January, the company announced that it would be closing 150 Sears and Kmart loc...

    Expresco Foods recalls chicken skewers

    The products may be contaminated with with Listeria monocytogenes

    Expresco Foods of Montréal, Québec, Canada, is recalling approximately 20,446 pounds of imported chicken skewer products that may be adulterated with Listeria monocytogenes.

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

    The following fully-cooked items, packaged on August 9 and 15, 2017, are being recalled:

    • 1.31-lb. packages of “WEST END CUISINE GRILLED MEDITERRANEAN STYLE CHICKEN SKEWERS HAND-MADE WITH CHICKEN BREAST” containing the UPC code 621588314947 with lot codes: 172562, 172640, 172571 and 172704.
    • 1.09-lb. packages of “EXPRESCO GRILLED Garlic & Herb CHICKEN SKEWERS” containing the UPC code 621588315555 with lot codes: 172563, 172668, 172669 and 172670.

    The recalled products, bearing establishment number “36” inside the Canadian Food Inspection Agency mark of inspection, were shipped to retail locations in Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan and Texas.

    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 regarding the recall may contact Garry Arpin of Expresco Foods at (514) 843-2353.

    Expresco Foods of Montréal, Québec, Canada, is recalling approximately 20,446 pounds of imported chicken skewer products that may be adulterated with Liste...

    Arc’teryx recalls ski mountaineering boots

    The axis pin located at the rear of the boot can dislodge

    Arc’teryx Equipment of Vancouver, Canada, is recalling about 4,400 pair of Arc’teryx Procline boots sold in the U.S. and Canada.

    The axis pin located at the rear of the boot can dislodge, resulting in damage to the boot and posing a fall hazard.

    The firm has received 18 reports of the axis pin dislodging. No injuries have been reported.

    This recall involves Arc’teryx Procline ski mountaineering boots sold in the following models:

    • Procline carbon support boot, Procline carbon lite boot. The boots were sold in one color, cayenne (orange)/black and in men’s sizes 7½ to 14 and women’s sizes 6 to 10½ (MONDO sizes 23-30.5). “Arc’teryx” is located on the front of the boot.
    • Men’s Procline support boot, and Men’s Procline lite boot. The boots were sold in one color, grey/black and in sizes 7½ to 14 (MONDO sizes 25-30.5). “Arc’teryx” is located on the front of the boot.
    • Women’s Procline lite boot, and Women’s Procline support boot. The boots were sold in one color, euphoria (yellow)/black and in sizes 6 to 10½ (MONDO sizes 23 – 27.5). “Arc’teryx” is located on the front of the boot.

    Only the models of boots listed above that do not have a colored dot on the inside of the spoiler (the upper portion of the rear of the boot) are included in the recall.

    The boots, manufactured in Romania, were sold at ski and outdoor specialty stores such as Moosejaw and REI nationwide and online at Arcteryx.com and retailer websites such as Moosejaw.com and REI.com from April 2016, through March 2017, for between $750 and $1,000.

    What to do

    Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled boots and return them to an authorized Arc’teryx dealer for a free repair.

    Consumers may contact Arc’teryx Equipment toll-free at 866-458-2473 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (PT) Monday through Friday, by email at productrecall@arcteryx.com or online at Arcteryx.com and click on the recall banner located at the bottom of the page for more information.

     

    Arc’teryx Equipment of Vancouver, Canada, is recalling about 4,400 pair of Arc’teryx Procline boots sold in the U.S. and Canada.The axis pin located at...

    Products with more reviews win out among consumers

    Researchers believe that consumers will often choose the more 'popular' product

    Before going to buy a product online or at a brick-and-mortar store, many consumers will search around for reviews of certain brands to make sure they’re getting what they want. But one recent study shows that many of us are actually being ill-served by the information we find.

    Researchers from Stanford University have found that consumers often put too much stock in the number of reviews a product has when making a purchasing decision, especially when choosing between similarly low-rated items.

    "It's extremely common for websites and apps to display the average score of a product along with the number of reviews. Our research suggests that, in some cases, people might take this information and make systematically bad decisions with it," said lead author Derek Powell. "We found that people were biased toward choosing to purchase more popular products and that this sometimes led them to make very poor decisions.”

    Judging the number of reviews

    Powell and his colleagues conducted two studies on this phenomenon, both of which gauged how people used review and rating information to choose between low-rated products. They found that participants often chose a poor product based on the number of reviews it had.

    This was counterproductive, the researchers said, because the large number of reviews should have indicated that the product was probably worse.

    "We found that, faced with a choice between two low-scoring products, one with many reviews and one with few, the statistics say we should actually go for the product with few reviews, since there's more of a chance it's not really so bad," explains Powell. "But participants in our studies did just the opposite: They went for the more popular product, despite the fact that they should've been even more certain it was of low quality."

    Popularity matters

    The researchers believe that many consumers equate the number of reviews a product has with its popularity. They say that more popular brands will almost always be chosen over those that are less well-known, and that it is up to both retailers and consumers to alter their behavior to ensure that better products are coming out ahead.

    "Consumers try to use information about other people's experiences to make good choices, and retailers have an incentive to steer consumers toward products they will be satisfied with," said Powell. "Our data suggest that retailers might need to rethink how reviews are presented and consumers might need to do more to educate themselves about how to use reviews to guide their choices."

    The full study has been published in Psychological Science.

    Before going to buy a product online or at a brick-and-mortar store, many consumers will search around for reviews of certain brands to make sure they’re g...

    'Clean meat' start-up corrals some big-time investors

    Food industry behemoth Cargill sees the potential to produce meat without killing animals

    Mempis Meat isn't in Memphis and the meat it manufactures doesn't come directly from animals, but that hasn't stopped it from landing $17 million from such well-known investors as Bill Gates, Richard Branson, and food industry giant Cargill. 

    The beefy investment was announced yesterday, setting off a burst of excitement in "clean meat" circles. 

    "Today is a watershed day for our environment, for sustainable food production, for global health, and for animals," said Bruce Friedrich, executive director of the Good Food Institute.  

    What is this clean meat anyway? It's sort of a way to have your meat and eat it too -- it's meat that has the same chemical composition as dead-animal meat. The difference is that instead of being raised on the hoof, so to speak, clean meat is made in the lab, using self-reproducing cells identical to those found in living animals.

    The process is touted as beneficial because it reduces the pollution produced by large herds of animals. Also, in a world increasingly populated by consumers who want to promote kindness to animals, it doesn't require raising and slaughtering living creatures. Of course, it also means that fewer animals will get to experience life on earth, but that's perhaps a question for another day. 

    “We’re going to bring meat to the plate in a more sustainable, affordable and delicious way,” said Uma Valeti, M.D., co-founder and CEO of Memphis Meats, in a press release. “The world loves to eat meat, and it is core to many of our cultures and traditions.

    "Meat demand is growing rapidly around the world. We want the world to keep eating what it loves. However, the way conventional meat is produced today creates challenges for the environment, animal welfare and human health," Valeti said.

    "Protein market"

    For its part, Cargill says the investment "is an exciting way for Cargill to explore the potential in this growing segment of the protein market."

    You won't find clean meat at the supermarket quite yet, though. Memphis Meats is very much a start-up and is still working towards bringing down the price of its product and clearing regulatory hurdles.

    Valeti says it now costs the company less than $2,400 to make a pound of meat -- still a pretty hefty price but a lot less than the $18,000 it cost last year.

    Both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Agriculture Department will have to sign off on the process. Before doing that, they'll need to be convinced that clean meat is fit to eat.

    Mempis Meat isn't in Memphis and the meat it manufactures doesn't come directly from animals, but that hasn't stopped it from landing $17 million from such...

    New home construction isn't helping the housing shortage

    For many first-time buyers, new homes are out of their price range

    Real estate professionals will tell you there just aren't enough homes to meet demand. Buyers are frustrated at the lack of choices as inventory levels seem to fall each month.

    There may be several reasons for this but Realtors have long complained that builders aren't putting up enough new homes. The pace of homebuilding is about half of what it was during the housing bubble.

    But there may be a bigger problem, and one that will be more difficult to overcome. The evidence is contained in Wednesday's report showing a sharp decline in new home sales.

    Sales of new homes plunged 9.4% in July, down nearly 9% from the same month a year ago, while the inventory of unsold new homes went up slightly. But if there is a shortage of homes for sale, why aren't frustrated buyers snapping up these new homes?

    Simple. They can't afford them.

    Average new home is expensive

    The new home sales report shows the median sale price of a new home in July was $313,700 -- up more than $2,000 from June and a staggering $18,000 from July 2016.

    However, housing demand is being driven largely by first-time buyers, who must come up with a down payment and closing costs without the benefit of selling an existing property. Even with a 3.5% FHA down payment, a first-time buyer would need around $11,000 and an income to qualify for a $302,000 mortgage to purchase the median priced new home.

    In April, The New York Times reported the average first-time home buyer is 32 years old, earns $72,000 a year and -- this is the important part -- paid $182,500 for a home. This buyer is probably not a candidate for a new home costing more than $300,000.

    Why not build cheaper homes?

    So if the market is not for $300,000 homes, why are contractors building so many of them? Why aren't they building more $182,000 homes?

    "Homebuilders are feeling slightly better about their business lately, but they continue to complain about the costs of land, labor, materials and regulation," writes Diana Olick, CNBC's real estate reporter. "They claim that is why they cannot build cheaper homes. Unfortunately, the lower end of the market is where most of the demand is and where supply is weakest."

    And since a large percentage of homebuilders are national, publicly-traded companies, there is pressure to increase profit margins to keep shareholders happy. The profit margin is much higher on a $300,000 home than a $180,000 home.

    So that leaves most first-time homebuyers competing for the shrinking inventory of existing homes, where prices are significantly cheaper. But sales of existing homes also fell in July, mainly because of a lack of inventory. The supply of homes was down 9% from a year ago.

    And in bad news for first-time buyers, the median price of an existing home was $258,300, up over 6% from a year ago, pushed higher, Realtors say, by the shortage of homes for sale.

    Real estate professionals will tell you there just aren't enough homes to meet demand. Buyers are frustrated at the lack of choices as inventory levels see...

    Existing-home sales post second straight decline

    Inventory was down while prices were up

    Large declines in the Northeast and Midwest outweighed sales increases in the South and West, pushing sales of previously-owned homes lower in July.

    The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports sales last month dropped 1.3% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.44 million. At the same time, the June performance was revised to show a sales decline to 5.51 million instead of the 5.52 million initially reported.

    Still the July sales pace for existing homes -- completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops -- is 2.1% above a year ago, but the lowest of 2017.

    “Buyer interest in most of the country has held up strongly this summer and homes are selling fast, but the negative effect of not enough inventory to choose from and its pressure on overall affordability put the brakes on what should’ve been a higher sales pace,” said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. “Contract activity has mostly trended downward since February and ultimately put a large dent on closings last month.”

    Inventory and pricing

    In fact, total housing inventory at the end of last month was down 1.0% to 1.92 million existing homes available for sale, and is now 9.0% lower than a year ago. That puts unsold inventory is at a 4.2-month supply at the current sales pace, compared with 4.8 months a year ago.

    Unsold inventory has now fallen year-over-year for 26 consecutive months.

    The median existing-home price for all housing types in July was $258,300, up 6.2% from July 2016, marking the 65th straight month of year-over-year gains. The median is the point at which half the homes sold for more and half for less.

    “Home prices are still rising above incomes and way too fast in many markets,” said Yun. “Realtors continue to say prospective buyers are frustrated by how quickly prices are rising for the minimal selection of homes that fit buyers’ budget and wish list.”

    Sales and pricing by region

    • Sales in the Northeast plunged 14.5% in July to an annual rate of 650,000, and are now 1.5% below a year ago. The median price in was $290,000, up 4.1% from a year earlier.
    • In the Midwest, existing-home sales were down 5.3% to an annual rate of 1.25 million, and are now down 1.6% from July 2016. The median price was up 5.9% on a year-over-year basis to $205,400.
    • The South saw a sales gain of 2.2% to an annual rate of 2.28 million in July; sales are now 3.6 percent higher than they were a year ago. The median price in the South was $227,700 -- up 6.7% from a year ago.
    • Existing-home sales in the West jumped to an annual rate of 1.26 million up 5.0% on both a month-over-month and annual basis. The median price in the West rose 7.6% from July 2016 to $373,000. 
    Large declines in the Northeast and Midwest outweighed sales increases in the South and West, pushing sales of previously-owned homes lower in July.The...

    Mortgage applications post first decline in three weeks

    Contract interest rates were mixed

    A drop in mortgage applications last week following two consecutive increases.

    The Mortgage Bankers Association reports applications were off 0.5% for the week ending August 18, 2017.

    The Refinance Index inched up 0.3%, taking the refinance share of mortgage activity up to 48.7% of total applications from 47.8% a week earlier.

    The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity dropped 6.4% percent of total applications, the FHA share of total edged down to 10.1% from 10.2%, the VA share of total applications fell to 10.2% from 10.5% the prior week and the USDA share of total applications was unchanged at 0.8%.

    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 from the previous week at 4.12%, with points increasing to 0.39 from 0.38 (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) dipped five basis points -- to 3.99% from 4.04%, with points decreasing to 0.26 from 0.27 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
    • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA rose to 4.02% from 4.01%, with points decreasing to 0.37 from 0.40 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate was unchanged from last week.
    • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs slipped one basis point to 3.40%, with points increasing to 0.38 from 0.35 (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 dropped to 3.27% from 3.34% with points increasing to 0.31 from 0.29 (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.

    Jobless claims

    Initial jobless claims rose last week, but stayed well below the Briefing.com forest of 240,000.

    According to the Labor Department (DOL), first-time applications for state unemployment benefits rose by 2,000 in the week ending August 19, to a seasonally adjusted 234,000 from the previous week's unrevised level.

    The 4-week moving average, seen by many economists as a more accurate barometer of the labor market due to it's relative lack of volatility was down 2,750 from a week earlier to 237,750.

    The complete report is available on the DOL website.

    A drop in mortgage applications last week following two consecutive increases.The Mortgage Bankers Association reports applications were off 0.5% for t...

    Sunrise Growers recalls frozen organic dark sweet pitted cherries

    The product may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

    SunOpta subsidiary Sunrise Growers is recalling frozen organic dark sweet pitted cherries that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

    No illnesses related to the consumption of the product have been reported.

    Ninety cases of Great Value Organic Dark Sweet Pitted Cherry products distributed from Sunrise Grower’s facility in Edwardsville, Kansas on August 10, 2017, are being recalled.

    The product is packaged in 32-oz. printed plastic zip top bags and marked with a Best By Date of 08/10/19 on the back, with the UPC code 078742126166 and the lot code FED722211 or FED722212.

    These recalled product was distributed to a customer distribution center in Louisiana and may have been redistributed to stores in Louisiana and Mississippi.

    What to do

    Customers who purchased the recalled product should not consume it, but return it to the store where purchased for a refund, or simply discard it.

    Consumers with questions may email the firm at contactus@sunopta.com or call 1-800-854-1988 Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (PT).

    SunOpta subsidiary Sunrise Growers is recalling frozen organic dark sweet pitted cherries that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.No illne...

    BMW recalls various vehicles with airbag inflator issue

    The driver's front airbag inflator may have been improperly welded

    BMW of North America is recalling 6,785 model year 2012-2013 BMW X3 xDrive28i, X3 xDrive35i, and M6 Convertible vehicles and 2model year 013 M6 Coupe vehicles.

    The vehicles have a driver's front airbag inflator that may have been improperly welded.

    In the event of a crash necessitating deployment of the driver's front air bag, the inflator housing could separate from the base plate and result in metal striking the vehicle occupants, potentially resulting in serious injury or death.

    What to do

    BMW will notify owners, and dealers will replace the driver's front airbag module, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin October 9, 2017.

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

    BMW of North America is recalling 6,785 model year 2012-2013 BMW X3 xDrive28i, X3 xDrive35i, and M6 Convertible vehicles and 2model year 013 M6 Coupe vehic...

    Solar eclipse blamed for salmon farm bust-out

    Thousands of farmed fish escaped, putting native Washington State salmon at risk

    The solar eclipse didn't cause the mass havoc some had feared. There were no massive traffic pile-ups, unruly sun-watchers, or epidemics of damaged retinas. Ah, but then there are those salmon.

    Washington State officials are urging the public to catch as many salmon as they can after it was discovered that high tides resulting from the eclipse damaged a net pen holding 305,000 farm salmon at a Cooke Aquaculture fish farm near Cypress Island, allowing an unknown number to escape, the Seattle Times reported.

    The prison pen bust-out was discovered by fishermen over the weekend when they pulled up spotted, silvery salmon instead of the chinook they were expecting.

    No one knows how many fish made the big break, but officials from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) say it's at least 4,000 to 5,000. The fish are about 10 pounds each. 

    "High tides and currents"

    Cooke is blaming the escape on “exceptionally high tides and currents coinciding with this week’s solar eclipse” although the pen apparently collapsed on Saturday, a few days before the eclipse.

    “It appears that many fish are still contained within the nets,” Cooke said in the statement. “It will not be possible to confirm exact numbers of fish losses until harvesting is completed and an inventory of fish in the pens has been conducted.”

    Fishermen and wildlife officials are worried about the effect the farmed salmon will have on the native Atlantic salmon that inhabit the waters in the area.

    WDFW officials are urging licensed fishermen to catch as many of the farmed salmon as they can. 

    “Catch as many as you want,” the WDFW's Ron Warren said. “We don’t want anything competing with our natural populations. We have never seen a successful crossbreeding with Atlantic salmon, but we don’t want to test the theory.”

    The solar eclipse didn't cause the mass havoc some had feared. There were no massive traffic pile-ups, unruly sun-watchers, or epidemics of damaged retinas...

    How to help your child navigate peer pressure at a new school

    Now is a good time to talk with kids about substance use and abuse, experts say

    Trading the comfort and familiarity of an old school for a new school can feel scary for many students. In addition to navigating new hallways, kids who are starting at a new school have to find a new social circle.

    In an effort to fit in with a new clique, some students may feel compelled to make bad decisions. But parents can help keep their children on the right track by talking to them now about managing peer pressure, especially around the use of drugs and alcohol.

    "Negative peer pressure is always a big concern for young people, but may be more so when your child is starting a new school or even a new school year," said Rachel Uslan, program coordinator from Aurora Mental Health Center.

    Combating peer pressure

    "The desire to 'fit in' can cause students to make unhealthy decisions about who they befriend and in what activities they choose to engage,” Uslan said. “It's especially important for parents to help their kids navigate this stressful time by discussing strategies to help them stay drug and alcohol free.”

    The key, says Uslan, is talk about issues like drugs and alcohol at various stages of a child’s development, not just once.

    "This is crucial because your kids will face decisions regarding drugs and alcohol for years to come; they need a strong foundation from which to make healthy choices, and to know that they can talk to a supportive adult if they have any questions,” she said.

    Conversation starters

    For parents who may not be sure how to kick off a conversation on these tough issues, Speak Now Colorado, an online resource that aims to support parents in their effort to keep kids drug and alcohol free, offers advice and conversation starters.

    Here’s when conversations about the dangers of substance use and abuse should occur and what they should consist of, according to Speak Now Colorado:

    • Ages 9-13. At this age, it’s important for parents to set the stage for future discussions on topics like alcohol and marijuana and the misuse of prescription drugs and other drugs. Setting the tone early can help ensure your child feels comfortable discussing these topics later on.
    • Ages 14-17. As your child enters high school, their risk of encountering drugs and alcohol increases. For tips on what to say and when, check out these tips and techniques for talking to teens about underage drug and alcohol use.
    • Ages 18-20. Their time living under your roof may be coming to a close, but your child will still need you as they enter adulthood. Continue to guide them as they navigate the challenges of life as a young adult.
    Trading the comfort and familiarity of an old school for a new school can feel scary for many students. In addition to navigating new hallways, kids who ar...

    American Express pays redress to Spanish-language customers

    The company discriminated against consumers in Puerto Rico and elsewhere, feds say

    American Express is paying $96 million in redress to Spanish-speaking consumers in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and elsewhere as part of an agreement with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

    The bureau said that two American Express banking subsidiaries discriminated against the Spanish-language consumers by providing them with credit and charge card terms that were inferior to those available in the 50 states.

    “Consumer financial protections are not confined within the 50 states,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “American Express discriminated against consumers in Puerto Rico and the U.S. territories by providing them with less-favorable financial products and services."

    Cordray said that no civil penalties were being assessed because American Express discovered the problem, reported it, and "fully cooperated" with the CFPB's investigation.

    Over the course of at least ten years, more than 200,000 consumers were harmed by American Express’ discriminatory practices, which included charging higher interest rates, imposing stricter credit cutoffs, and providing less debt forgiveness, the CFPB said.

    American Express has already paid approximately $95 million in consumer redress and today’s order requires it to pay at least another $1 million to fully compensate harmed consumers.

    The full text of the CFPB’s consent order is available here.

    American Express is paying $96 million in redress to Spanish-speaking consumers in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and elsewhere as part of an agreem...

    Walmart shoppers can soon order on Google Assistant

    Retailer seeks to counter Amazon voice ordering through Alexa

    In the world of retail, Walmart is viewed as the most formidable challenger to Amazon, and that company has just made another move on the retail chess board.

    In an obvious answer to Amazon's voice ordering capability through the Echo device, Walmart has signed a deal for voice ordering through the Google Assistant.

    What makes this deal unique -- other retailers have the ability to take voice orders through Google -- for the first time Google will sync up with Walmart accounts. This could make reordering much easier, since Google Assistant will know what products consumers purchased in the past.

    Marc Lore, CEO of Walmart U.S. eCommerce, says the partnership integrates Walmart's Easy Reorder feature into Google Express. With it, he says consumers can build a basket of previously ordered items. Because of Google's technology, Lore said it just made sense to team up with the tech giant.

    'Transparent shopping universe'

    "They’ve made significant investments in natural language processing and artificial intelligence to deliver a powerful voice shopping experience," Lore wrote in the company blog. "We know this means being compared side-by-side with other retailers, and we think that’s the way it should be. An open and transparent shopping universe is good for customers."

    He also hinted that Walmart plans additional features and services related to voice shopping -- plans that leverage Walmart's brick and mortar stores and fulfillment network.

    Consumers currently can use Google Assistant to order from Costco and Target, but Walmart says it is the first to make account histories accessible.

    "If you’re an existing Walmart customer, you can choose to link your Walmart account to Google and receive personalized shopping results based on your online and in-store Walmart purchases," said Sridhar Ramaswamy, Google's senior vice president for ads & commerce. "For example, if you order Tide PODS or Gatorade, your Google Assistant will let you know which size and type you previously ordered from Walmart, making it easy for you to buy the right product again."

    The Walmart-Google connection will start in late September.

    In the world of retail, Walmart is viewed as the most formidable challenger to Amazon, and that company has just made another move on the retail chess boar...

    New home sales down sharply in July

    The decline follows two straight months of advances

    July was a tough month for developers trying to sell newly-constructed homes.

    The Commerce Department reports sales of new single-family houses plunged 9.4% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 571,000, pushing sales 8.9% below the same month a year ago.

    However, as the government issued its July report, it revised its June estimate of sales to 630,000 from the initially reported 610,000.

    Regionally, the Midwest -- with a gain of 6.2% -- was the only area where sales rose. They were down 4.1% in the South, 21.3% in the West and 23.8% in the Northeast.

    “Some pull back in new home sales this month is not surprising after strong May and June readings,” according to National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Chairman Granger MacDonald, who added that “builders must continue to manage construction costs to ensure houses remain affordable.”

    Pricing and inventory

    The median sales price of new houses sold last month was $313,700, up $2,100 from June and a gain of $18,700 from July 2016. The median is the point at which half the houses sold for more and half for less.

    The average sales price was $371,200 a month-over-month gain of $1,200 and up $16,200 from the same month a year earlier.

    The seasonally-adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of July was 276,000, which translates to a supply of 5.8 months at the current sales rate, versus a supply of 5.4 months in June.

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

    July was a tough month for developers trying to sell newly-constructed homes.The Commerce Department reports sales of new single-family houses plunged...

    Back-to-school shopping on the back burner

    Many parents still have a lot of purchases to make

    Even though a lot of kids are already back in the classroom, the annual survey conducted for the National Retail Federation (NRF) by Prosper Insights & Analytics shows many families still have a lot of shopping left to do.

    According to the survey, the average family with children in grades K-12 had completed only 45% of their shopping as of early August compared with a peak of 52% at the same time in 2013 and 48% last year.

    “Parents this year have been taking longer than usual to finish buying the clothing and supplies their children need for school,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “Many kids are already getting on the bus and millions more will be back in class in another week or two, so anybody who hasn’t finished shopping by now is cutting it close.”

    The art of putting it off

    Of parents surveyed August 1-9, only 13% had completed all their shopping, and 23% hadn't even started. These results come despite the fact that 27% of parents had said they planned to start shopping at least two months before the start of the school year, an increase from last year's 22%.

    NRF projects families will spend $83.6 billion on back-to-school this year -- including $29.5 billion on K-12 and $54.1 billion on college.

    K-12 shopping

    Among K-12 parents, 79% said they still needed to buy basic supplies such as pencils and paper, followed by 75% who need to buy apparel and 58% who still need to buy shoes.

    To wrap up their buying, 55% planned to head to department stores, 49% to discount stores, 39% to clothing stores, 35% to office supply stores, and 33% online.

    According to the survey, 61% of school supply purchases were influenced by school requirements, while 41% of electronics purchases were dictated by what schools required.

    “Similar to recent years, some of the big-ticket items are being significantly influenced by school requirements,” Prosper Principal Analyst Pam Goodfellow said. “That is why we are seeing many parents take their time in tackling their lists so they can take advantage of any special promotions that can help them save on items such as laptops and computers.”

    Shopping for college

    Overall results for college students were largely the same, with students and their parents saying they, too, had completed 45% of their shopping, down 3% from last year and the lowest level since the 44% reported in 2011.

    Sixty-one percent of those surveyed said they still needed to purchase school supplies, followed by clothing (51%) and shoes (33%).

    The survey, which asked 7,248 consumers about both back-to-school and back-to-college shopping plans, was conducted August 1-9 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.2 percentage points.

    Even though a lot of kids are already back in the classroom, the annual survey conducted for the National Retail Federation (NRF) by Prosper Insights & Ana...

    Model year 2017 Dodge Challengers and Chargers recalled

    The engine oil cooler hoses may fail

    Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 1,207 model year 2017 Dodge Challengers and Chargers equipped with Hellcat engines.

    The engine oil cooler (EOC) hoses may fail resulting in a rapid loss of engine oil.

    If an EOC line fails, oil may spray onto the windshield or contact a hot surface, impairing driver visibility and increasing the risk of a crash or fire.

    What to do

    Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will replace the EOC lines, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin September 22, 2017.

    Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is T48.

    Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 1,207 model year 2017 Dodge Challengers and Chargers equipped with Hellcat engines.The engine oil cooler (EOC) hoses...

    Polaris Recalls GENERAL ROVs

    Inconsistent tire pressure information can result in improperly-inflated tires

    Polaris Industries of Medina, Minn., is recalling about 1,600 GENERAL recreational off-highway vehicles (ROVs).

    Inconsistent tire pressure information can result in improperly-inflated tires, posing a crash hazard.

    No incidents or injuries have been reported.

    This recall involves all model year 2017 Polaris GENERAL Base and GENERAL Hunter two-seat, side-by-side recreational off-highway vehicles (ROVs).

    The GENERAL Base was sold in red and the GENERAL Hunter was sold in camo. “Polaris” is printed on the front grill, “GENERAL” is printed on the rear panel and “1000” is printed on the front panel.

    The VIN is printed on the left rear vehicle frame below the cargo box.

    The ROVs, manufactured in the U.S. and Mexico, were sold at Polaris dealers nationwide from June 2016, through July 2017, for between $16,300 and $19,000.

    What to do

    Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled vehicles and contact Polaris for a new tire pressure label and addendum to the owner’s manual. All known purchasers are being contacted directly by the firm.

    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, consumers may check their vehicle identification number (VIN) on the “Product Safety Recalls” page to see if their vehicle is included in any recalls.

    Polaris Industries of Medina, Minn., is recalling about 1,600 GENERAL recreational off-highway vehicles (ROVs).Inconsistent tire pressure information c...

    Fair Oaks Farms recalls pork sausage patties

    The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

    Fair Oaks Farms of Pleasant Prairie, Wis., is recalling approximately 1,134 pounds of pork sausage patties.

    The products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

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

    The following fully-cooked item, produced on August 8, 2017, is being recalled:

    • 2-lb. plastic sleeve packages containing “BREAKFAST Best FULLY COOKED ORIGINAL PORK SAUSAGE PATTIES,” with a sell-by date of 05/15/2018.

    The recalled product, bearing establishment number “EST. 17479T” above the sell by date, was shipped to distribution and retail locations in Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin.

    What to do

    Customers 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 Laura Villarreal at 800-528-8615 ext. 4116.

    Fair Oaks Farms of Pleasant Prairie, Wis., is recalling approximately 1,134 pounds of pork sausage patties.The products may be contaminated with Lister...

    Report finds subprime credit cards not effective at boosting credit scores

    There are lots of fees and users tend to max out their accounts

    Consumers faced with the task of rebuilding damaged credit are often told to follow a few simple steps.

    In addition to paying all their bills on time, they are urged to apply for a credit card as a means toward building a new credit history.

    Nerdwallet, a personal finance website, says it works in theory, but its new study suggests consumers who try to rebuild their credit with one of the many subprime credit cards are often disappointed.

    "We examined internal and external data to determine the aggregate cost of subprime credit cards, the ways consumers with subprime credit may be held back from improving their credit, and the direction the subprime market is going," the authors write.

    $150 a year in fees

    What the study found is that cards targeted to consumers with poor credit -- a segment of the market known as subprime specialist issuer (SSI) -- are expensive, costing consumers an estimated $150 a year in mandatory fees.

    That might make sense, however, since the cards are unsecured and the consumers using them are considered higher risk. Credit card companies generally charge higher fees and interest rates to compensate them for the added risk.

    And that might be okay if using the cards helped a subprime consumer build up a prime credit score. But Nerdwallet says that's not what's happening.

    Part of the formula for your credit score is "credit utilization," or how much of the card's spending limit you are using. Using half or less can help improve your score.

    94% of available credit

    But the report's authors say the average subprime cardholder is using 94% of the allowable credit, meaning they have nearly tapped out the account. The average superprime cardholder -- those with credit scores of 780 and above -- uses only 11% of their allowable credit. So instead of helping their credit score, the average subprime cardholder finds it actually drags the score down.

    “Subprime credit cards are the fake metal jewelry of the credit card world: They might look like the real thing, but in the end, they can end up hurting you,” said Kimberly Palmer, NerdWallet’s credit card expert.

    What you can do

    So what's the alternative? Palmer says there are cheaper, more effective ways to go about creating good credit history. You can apply for a secured credit card. That's less expensive because the card is secured by a deposit the cardholder puts up -- usually the same amount as the credit limit.

    You can also become an authorized user on a family member's prime card. They, in effect, are co-signing for you, so it requires you to make timely payments -- otherwise, you could damage their credit.

    Probably the fastest and easiest way to rebuild credit is to pay all of your bills on time, every month. Cellphone companies and some public utilities report payment information to the credit bureaus. That quickly rebuilds your credit and costs nothing.

    Consumers faced with the task of rebuilding damaged credit are often told to follow a few simple steps.In addition to paying all their bills on time, t...

    DriveShare sees big market in exotic car rentals

    Network matches classic car owners with car enthusiasts

    The sharing economy is usually offered as a win-win for a two distinct parties.

    In the case of Airbnb, the owner of a house makes a few extra bucks renting out a spare room and a traveler gets a cheap place to stay, in a residential neighborhood instead of a hotel.

    When it comes to sharing cars, Uber and Lyft fill that niche, with a car owner working a side hustle, giving total strangers a ride somewhere, filling basic transportation needs.

    But there may be car sharing beyond basic transportation. People who love exotic cars but can't afford one, and people who own exotic cars but need some income from them, are now getting together.

    Hagerty, a company that operates a network for people who are really into cars, has acquired Classics&Exotics, a peer-to-peer online marketplace for classic cars. It's relaunching the business under a new name, DriveShare by Hagerty.

    Connecting car enthusiasts and owners

    "DriveShare gives people an easy way to get behind the wheel of cars they've always wanted to drive," said McKeel Hagerty, CEO of Hagerty. "Our goal is to provide a common platform that connects enthusiasts and owners to expand the community of people who love cars."

    It works a lot like Airbnb. Suppose you have a vintage Corvette, immaculately restored at great cost. You might be willing to rent it to someone for a special event, assuming that party were carefully vetted and they paid a lofty fee.

    Classics&Exotics founder Peter Zawadzki says there are plenty of people who love the thrill of driving a classic car but simply can't afford to buy one. Or, don't want to be tied down to a single model by owning one.

    "I started this company so people could try out these amazing vehicles and owners could make a little money to defray the cost of ownership, and that's still the mission today for DriveShare," Zawadski said.

    And sometimes, he says, people who rent a classic car two or three times end up buying one.

    How it works

    Owners and renters connect online and arrange for the drop-off and pick-up locations. Security deposits start at $500.

    To rent one of these classic cars, drivers submit drivers license information so that DriveShare can check the driver's history. The minimum age to become a renter is 30 -- five years older than a normal car rental. Only the approved driver is allowed to be behind the wheel during the rental.

    This could well serve as a model for future car sharing, as autonomous vehicles hit the market with huge price tags.

    The sharing economy is usually offered as a win-win for a two distinct parties.In the case of Airbnb, the owner of a house makes a few extra bucks rent...

    Facebook vows to crack down on clickbait

    Videos using fake play buttons or static images will be demoted in the News Feed

    If you’re a Facebook user, then you may be all too familiar with clickbait videos on the platform. While some of these videos may be annoying because of their relatively low pay-off, others can actually lead to malicious websites that can compromise personal information.

    To combat the problem, Facebook has announced that it will be cracking down on clickbait videos that feature a fake video play button or static image meant to lure in users. In a blog post, a team of engineers say that the effort will help stop the spread of low-quality content in the News Feed and help protect users.

    “People want to see accurate information on Facebook, and so do we. When people click on an image in their News Feed featuring a play button, they expect a video to start playing," they said.

    The authors point out that both forms of clickbait are harmful because they often trick people into clicking on something that provides a “low quality experience.” In the coming weeks, they say that Facebook will be demoting stories that use these devices to disguise themselves in the News Feed.

    While most Facebook users shouldn’t see significant changes because of the move, the company says that publishers should refer to its best publishing practices to make sure they are complying with the platform’s rules.

    “Publishers that rely on these intentionally deceptive practices should expect the distribution of those clickbait stories to markedly decrease,” the authors said. “Authentic communication is one of our core News Feed values, and we know our community values it.”

    If you’re a Facebook user, then you may be all too familiar with clickbait videos on the platform. While some of these videos may be annoying because of th...

    Beverage industry lobbies for more bottled water at national parks amid attempts to curb plastic waste

    The Park Service says that national parks can't stop concession providers from selling bottled water.

    The bottled water industry is celebrating a National Park Service decision to end a program that encouraged park visitors to carry their own reusable water bottles rather than buy more plastic. 

    “The International Bottled Water Association applauds this action,” the water bottle industry trade group says in a news release, claiming that reversing the environmental measure “recognizes the importance of making safe, healthy, convenient bottled water available to the millions of people from around the world who want to stay well-hydrated while visiting national parks.”

    Under a voluntary measure that the National Park Service introduced in 2011, individual parks could apply for permission to stop selling disposable water bottles.  Over the years, beverage companies like Coca-Cola, which owns the water bottle brand Dasani, had aggressively lobbied against efforts to keep bottled water out of national parks. The 2011 program was ultimately not nearly as ambitious as earlier proposals to curb disposable water bottle sales that the beverage industry successfully faught off.  

    Even voluntary program was too much

    The bottled water industry remained adamant that any ban on disposable water bottles, even one that allowed visitors to drink water for free if they brought their own bottle, was a threat to public health. “Visitors to all of America’s national parks will have better access to the healthiest packaged beverage now that the U.S. National Park Service has rescinded a policy that allowed individual national parks to ban the sale of bottled water in single-serve plastic containers,” the International Bottled Water Association adds.

    The National Park Service also frames the reversal as a public health decision. “The ban removed the healthiest beverage choice at a variety of parks while still allowing sales of bottled sweetened drinks,” the agency said in their announcement. 

     A spokesman at one park said that they do not know how this decision will actually be enforced and referred  questions back to Washington, D.C.

    Water bottle companies lobbied Department of Interior 

    National Park superintendents have long identified plastic water bottles as a major source of waste. Under the 2011 program, officially called a memorandum, parks that wanted to participate were instructed to install water-filling stations, create an education program and explain how banning bottles would affect sales at concession stands, among other requirements.

    Only 23 parks had participated in the program and the application process was somewhat cumbersome, according to a spokesman with environmental advocacy group Stop Corporate Abuse. "I think had there been no industry pushback it would have been a much easier process,” spokesman Jesse Bragg tells ConsumerAffairs.

    The International Bottled Water Association initially lobbied Congress about the issue and this year moved onto the Department of Interior.

    “It would be more accurate to say: During the past several years, IBWA has reached out to the Department of the Interior and members of congress to explain the problems with the National Park Service bottled water sales ban policy and seek to have it rescinded,” International Bottled Water Association spokesman Jill Culora responds to ConsumerAffairs.

    An empty announcement?

    It is not clear that individual national parks necessarily needed this program or any other sort of headquarter permission to eliminate water bottles in the first place. The park system is decentralized and parks form their own contracts with concession companies. 

    Zion National Park in Utah banned water bottles in 2008, well before any so-called “water bottle ban” was implemented nationally, and reported reducing waste the following year by 60,000 bottles. 

    National Park spokesman Jeremy Barnum tells ConsumerAffairs via email that “parks can no longer prohibit concession providers from selling plastic water bottles.” The decision is “effective immediately,” he writes. But Barnum did not answer questions about how this decision would apply to cases in which parks and concession companies may have agreed with each other under contract not to carry plastic water bottles. 

    The bottled water industry is celebrating a National Park Service decision to end a program that encouraged park visitors to carry their own reusable water...

    Maple Lodge Farms recalls chicken frankfurters

    The products may contain bone fragments

    Maple Lodge Farms is recalling Maple Lodge Farms and Zambia Halal chicken frankfurters that may contain bone fragments.

    There has been one reported injury associated with the consumption of these products.

    The following products, sold throughout Canada, are being recalled: 

    Brand NameCommon NameSizeCode(s) on ProductUPC
    Maple Lodge Farms

    Big Original

    Chicken Frankfurters

    450 g

    2017.

    AU.27

    06771

    4004205

    Zabiha

    Halal

    Big Original

    Chicken Frankfurters

    450 g

    2017.

    AU.27

    06771

    4004236

    What to do

    Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but throw them away or return them to the store where they were purchased.

    Consumers with questions may call 613-773-6600.

    Maple Lodge Farms is recalling Maple Lodge Farms and Zambia Halal chicken frankfurters that may contain bone fragments.There has been one reported inju...

    High-intensity interval training helps reduce risk of Type 2 diabetes in women

    Researchers say the results are good for all women, regardless of insulin resistance

    Consumers who have high levels of insulin resistance are characterized by their body’s inability to properly process glucose, a sign that doctors often see as a precursor to Type 2 diabetes.

    But a recent study shows that women who participate in high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can protect themselves from developing the disease, regardless of their level of insulin resistance or prior level of activity. In a study of 40 sedentary adult women, researchers from Chile, Colombia, and Spain found that this type of exercise had positive effects on cardiometabolic health.

    “This research demonstrates the protective effect of HIIT against cardiometabolic disease progression in a sedentary population,” the study authors said.

    Reduced risk of diabetes

    For the purposes of the study, participants were split into two groups based on their insulin resistance and underwent ten weeks of a HIIT exercise program. During that time, the researchers closely monitored their cardiometabolic health.

    At the end of the ten-week period, the researchers compared participants’ responses to the exercise program and found that both groups were positively affected by the activity. However, they say that women who were at higher risk for type 2 diabetes gleaned the greatest benefits, especially regarding their blood pressure and the levels of insulin and glucose found in their blood.

    Based on the results, the researchers believe that HIIT exercise can allow at-risk adult women to improve their cardiometabolic health and reduce the chances of becoming diabetic. However, they caution that further studies will need to be conducted to determine how the activity affects different types of consumers.

    The full study has been published in Frontiers in Physiology.

    Consumers who have high levels of insulin resistance are characterized by their body’s inability to properly process glucose, a sign that doctors often see...

    It's increasingly expensive to put a roof over your head

    Both home buyers and renters are feeling the pain

    Economists tell us that inflation is low and has been for sometime. Officially, that's true.

    When you look at the things that go into the Consumer Price Index, prices aren't going up much at all. But an index is an average, and low prices for some things can offset high prices for others. If you happen to need the high-priced stuff, inflation might not seem so low.

    Housing is a case in point. Unless you live under a bridge, chances are you are paying more to put a roof over your head.

    Higher home prices

    A report by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) notes the continued imbalance between the number of homes for sale and the demand for those homes continued to push home prices higher in the second quarter of the year.

    That's good if you were trying to sell a home, bad if you were a buyer.

    After crunching the numbers, NAR found the national median price for an existing single-family home rose to $255,600 in the second quarter, up 6.2% year-over-year. And that's on the heels of a 6.9% increase in the first quarter.

    Unlike during the housing boom, prices are not rising because cheap and easy money is allowing anyone to buy a home. Actually, it's harder than ever to qualify for a mortgage.

    NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun says prices are going up because there is more competition for the smaller number of available homes.

    "The 2.2 million net new jobs created over the past year generated significant interest in purchasing a home in what was an extremely competitive spring buying season," Yun said. "Listings typically flew off the market in under a month – and even quicker in the affordable price range – in several parts of the country.

    That's not about to change, he predicts, because new inventory is not even coming close to keeping up with demand.

    Rising rents

    You don't have to be a home buyer to feel the pain. Another report shows rents in many markets are rising a lot faster than incomes, especially in the nation's largest market, where salaries are typically high.

    The latest StreetEasy rent affordability report shows rent increases are going up twice as fast in New York City than paychecks. The report shows rents have increased by 33% since 2010, an average of 3.9% per year. Meanwhile, median wages have risen just 1.8% during the same time.

    StreetEasy Senior Economist Grant Long says the disparity between rents and incomes is hitting the city's lowest income households the hardest. He says rents for the bottom 20% of apartments increased the most since 2010.

    Economists tell us that inflation is low and has been for sometime. Officially, that's true.When you look at the things that go into the Consumer Price...

    Google adds new editing features to its suite of productivity apps

    Users can now stay more organized when using Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides

    Business professionals and consumers alike have long used Google’s suite of productivity apps to collaboratively work on projects with others. Now, the company is giving Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides a bit of an update to make that even easier.

    In a blog post released Wednesday, Google product manager Birkan Icacan detailed a host of new editing features and improvements meant to help users stay organized and track progress.

    “Today, we’re introducing new updates to better help with ‘version control,’ to customize tools for your workflows, and to help teams locate information when they need it,” the blog post reads.

    New features and functionality

    Google says that many of the new changes will vastly improve how teams work on complex documents and agreements that go through several iterations and require multiple edits. Icacan says users will now be able to:

    • Name versions of a Doc, Sheet, or Slide. Users will now be able to add a custom name to a version of a document, which will help track progress that has been made. Teams can organize and track changes by looking under the “Version history” tab on web-based versions of the apps.
    • Preview “clean versions” of Docs. This new tool will allow users to see what their Doc looks like without comments or suggested edits muddling the screen. To use the feature, go to “Select Tools,” “Review suggested edits,” and click on “Preview accept all” or “Preview reject all.”
    • Accept or reject all edit suggestions at once. Going through a document and manually accepting or rejecting all edits can take time. Users who want to implement changes more quickly can now choose to accept or reject all edits by going to “Select Tools,” “Review suggested edits,” and clicking on “Accept all” or “Reject all.”
    • Add suggestions from an iPhone, iPad, or Android device. Users have long complained that they could only add suggestions from a desktop or laptop. Now, making suggestions can be done on the go with a variety of different mobile devices. Just click on the “…” menu on the bottom right of the screen, turn on “Suggest changes,” and toggle “suggestion mode” to get started.

    Among the other changes, users will now be able to take advantage of new built-in templates that integrate with outside services like DocuSign and LegalZoom. The company has also created a new feature called Google Cloud search that will allow G Suite Business and Enterprise customers to integrate Docs and Slides via the Explore feature.

    To learn more about the changes, check out Google’s blog post here.

    Business professionals and consumers alike have long used Google’s suite of productivity apps to collaboratively work on projects with others. Now, the com...

    Would repealing Net Neutrality hurt small businesses?

    An analysis by a business outplacement firm says it would

    An analysis of internet rules by the outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas concludes that rolling back Net Neutrality rules would not just hurt consumers, but small businesses as well.

    In 2015 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted a set of guidelines that bars Internet service providers like Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast from speeding up, slowing down, or blocking any content, applications, or websites. In other words, all content must be treated equally.

    The reasoning behind Net Neutrality is one company's content shouldn't get preferential treatment, just because the company pays a big fee to the ISP.

    ISPs have argued that they spend a lot of money building and maintaining their networks, and it's only fair that companies like Netflix, which requires huge amounts of bandwidth, pay extra for the use of that capacity.

    Pre-Net Neutrality actions

    Challenger, Gray & Christmas said it reviewed internet policies prior to 2015 and found many ISPs, both domestic and foreign, engaged in actions that unfairly affected smaller companies.

    It points to the period of 2011 to 2013, when it says AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon blocked Google Wallet, which happened to compete with a service in which the ISPs held a stake.

    In 2012, it says AT&T announced plans to disable the FaceTime video-calling app on its customers' iPhones unless they subscribed to more bandwidth, at a higher price.

    Internet Privacy Bill

    The 2015 Net Neutrality Rule prevents those kinds of actions, but from the start the new chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, has targeted Net Neutrality for reversal. John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, notes that President Trump recently signed the "Internet privacy bill," which he says will repeal vital internet-related consumer protections. In the end, he says that hurts businesses.

    "The slicing up and selling of the Internet will make it vastly more difficult for companies to remain innovative,” Challenger said. “Not to mention the cost to small businesses and entrepreneurs to have access to the Internet."

    Challenger also maintains there is no demand, except from big ISPs, to rollback Net Neutrality. He says polls consistently show that a large majority of people, both Republicans and Democrats, support the concept of Net Neutrality.

    
     
    An analysis of internet rules by the outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas concludes that rolling back Net Neutrality rules would not just hurt co...

    Another positive performance for the economic crystal ball

    Initial jobless claims were down sharply last week

     

    The Conference Board's Leading Economic Index (LEI), seen by economists as a forecaster for the performance of the nation's economy, rose in July for the eleventh month in a row.

    The LEI was up 0.3% in July to 128.3 following gains of 0.6% in June and 0.3% in May.

    The improvement, according to Conference Board Director of Business Cycles and Growth Research Atman Ozymandias, suggests “the U.S. economy may experience further improvements in economic activity in the second half of the year.”

    “The large negative contribution from housing permits, a reversal from June,” he noted, “was more than offset by gains in the financial indicators, new orders and sentiment.”

    The LEI, a composite average of several individual leading indicators, is 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 Lei’s components 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, non defense 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

    Jobless claims

    The number of people filing applications for first-time state unemployment benefits was down sharply last week.

    The Labor Department (DOL) reports initial jobless claims were down by 12,000 in the week ending August 12, to a seasonally adjusted 232,000.

    What many economists consider a more accurate gauge of the labor market due to a lower level of volatility-- the 4-week moving average -- came in at 240,500, a drop of 500 from the previous week.

    The complete report is available on the DOL website.

    Photo (c) tashatuvango - FotoliaThe Conference Board's Leading Economic Index (LEI), seen by economists as a forecaster for the performance of the na...

    Missa Bay recalls Chicken Caesar Salads

    The product contains wheat, an allergen not declared on the label

    Missa Bay of Swedesboro, N.J., is recalling approximately 1,719 pounds of Chicken Caesar Salads.

    The product contains wheat, an allergen not declared on the label.

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

    The following item, produced on August 1, 2017, is being recalled:

    • 9.95 oz. plastic salad bowls containing “Cumberland FARMS CHICKEN CAESAR SALAD with ROMAINE LETTUCE, ROASTED CHICKEN, PARMESAN CHEESE, BACON, MULTIGRAIN CROUTONS & CREAMY CAESAR DRESSING and bar code: 042704 034301, with a use by date of August 16, 2017.

    The recalled product, bearing establishment number “P18502B” on the front of the product label, was shipped to Cumberland Farms retail locations in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont.

    What to do

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

    Consumers with questions about the recall may contact Kel Kelly, at (781) 690-3213 or by email at kel@kelandpartners.com.

    Missa Bay of Swedesboro, N.J., is recalling approximately 1,719 pounds of Chicken Caesar Salads.The product contains wheat, an allergen not declared on...

    Ways to ease the back-to-school transition for kids with special needs

    It's important to talk about the changes that are soon to come, experts say

    Many children have a hard time transitioning from one activity to another, but transitions are often much more difficult for children with autism. Parents of children with special needs may be feeling anxious about the upcoming back-to-school transition, but experts say there are a few ways to ease the transition for children.

    “Every parent has concerns about the back-to-school transition, whether it’s re-establishing a routine or anxiety if their child is going to a new school or getting a new teacher,” said Dr. Jennifer Kilgo, professor of early childhood special education in the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Education.

    “Now think about how much more intensified those concerns might be if you have a child with a disorder, like autism, and the child has communication, friendship or behavioral issues."

    What to do before the first day

    "Any kind of preparation you would do for a typically developing child is multiplied when you have a child with special needs," Kilgo added.

    Parents can help their special needs child prepare for the new school year by talking about the changes that lie ahead, she says. Here are a few ways to ease back into the school routine:

    • Visit the school. Give your child an opportunity to get familiar with the school environment by scheduling a few visits, especially if they didn’t attend the same school last year. Kilgo also suggests reaching out to the staff members your child will interact with the most. To familiarize adults with your child’s unique communication style or behavior plan, you can create a graphic organizer or a one-sheet questionnaire about them.
    • Talk about school. Talk about the events that will take place when school days are once again a regular occurrence. It can be helpful to use social stories that include photographs, says Kilgo. She also suggests playing up anything familiar, such as a good friend or favorite activity.
    • Get back to the school routine. Kilgo's colleague, Dr. Robin Ennis, advises parents to get kids back on their school schedule (with regular bedtime and morning routines) as soon as possible.
    • Read books about school. Get your child excited about the new school year by reading books about school. For younger children, Ennis recommends “Teachers Rock” by Todd Parr or “The Night Before First Grade” by Natasha Wing. For older children, visit the library and ask the librarian to help you locate books set in the school environment.
    • Talk about behavior expectations. Talk about what constitutes good school behavior. You can even have them act it out at home by sharing, being a good friend to a sibling, and listening to instructions. When you see good behavior, be sure to acknowledge and reinforce it by telling them that is exactly how they should behave for their teacher.
    Many children have a hard time transitioning from one activity to another, but transitions are often much more difficult for children with autism. Parents...

    Traffic deaths slightly lower than at this time last year

    But that's compared to a huge increase in 2016

    Traffic deaths have leveled off in the first half of 2017, but the National Safety Council says they are still running 8% higher than the same period two years ago.

    Traffic deaths spiked last year, at a time when they should have been going down, considering new cars have many more safety features than they did just a decade ago.

    In 2016, deaths rose at the fastest rate since 1964, before seatbelts were mandatory equipment in all cars.

    "The price of our cultural complacency is more than a hundred fatalities each day," said Deborah A.P. Hersman, president and CEO of the National Safety Council.

    Getting to the point where there are no traffic deaths, says Hersman, will require accelerating improvements in technology, engaging drivers and investing in our infrastructure.

    Driver distraction

    It may also require doing something about driver distraction. There are more things in the cabin to distract someone behind the wheel, including ever-more-sophisticated infotainment systems. Then, there are smartphones.

    A recent study by State Farm Insurance reports auto accidents are increasing, and the authors suggest drivers using their smartphones is a big contributor. The survey found that 36% of drivers admitted to texting while driving and 29% said they sometimes browsed the internet while driving, a significant increase over previous surveys.

    A year ago, a Liberty Mutual survey uncovered an even more disturbing trend: teens aren't just texting behind the wheel, they're engaging on Facebook and other apps.

    Talking the talk

    “Teens as a whole are saying all the right things, but implicitly believe that using their phone while driving is safe and not a stressor or distraction behind the wheel,” Dr. Gene Beresin, senior advisor on adolescent psychiatry with Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD) said at the time.

    Earlier this year the National Safety Council estimated as many as 40,000 people were killed on U.S. roads in 2016, 6% more than in 2015. To bring that number down, the Council suggests renewed efforts against the use of alcohol or drugs behind the wheel, driving while fatigued, and limits on the use of smartphones.

    Traffic deaths have leveled off in the first half of 2017, but the National Safety Council says they are still running 8% higher than the same period two y...

    Housing starts drop in July

    The outlook for future construction dimmed as well

    A decline in construction of single-family homes and multi-unit buildings sent overall housing starts lower in July.

    The Commerce Department reports ground-breakings fell 4.8% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,155,000. As it released the July figures, the government revised its June estimate downward to 1,213,000 from the initially reported 1,215,00.

    Construction of single family homes slipped 0.5% last month to a rate of 856,000. Starts on buildings with five units or more plunged 17.1% for a rate of 287,000.

    Overall construction was up 0.6% in the South, and was down 1.6% in the West, 15.2% in the Midwest and 15.7% in the Northeast.

    “New-home production numbers this month are in line with our forecast for a slow and steady recovery of the housing market,” said National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “We saw multifamily production peak in 2015, and this sector should continue to level off as demand remains solid.”

    Building permits

    The outlook for construction in the months ahead leaves something to be desired.

    Issuance of building permits fell 4.1% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,223,000. Single-family authorizations held steady at at a rate of 811,000, while permits issued for multi-unit buildings plunged 12..% to a rate of 377,000.

    Permits shot up 19.2% in the Northeast, but fell 1.4% in the South, 7.9% in the West, and 17.4% in the Midwest.

    “The overall strengthening of the single-family sector is consistent with solid builder confidence in the market,” said NAHB Chairman Granger MacDonald. “The sector should continue to firm as the job market and economy grow and more consumers enter the housing market.”

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

    A decline in construction of single-family homes and multi-unit buildings sent overall housing starts lower in July.The Commerce Department reports gro...

    The rise in mortgage applications continues

    Contract interest rates were mostly lower

    Another increase in mortgage applications -- the second in as many weeks.

    The Mortgage Bankers Association reports its Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey showed applications edged up 0,1% during the week ending August 11.

    The Refinance Index was up 2% from the previous week increasing the refinance share of mortgage activity 47.8% of total applications -- the highest level since February -- from 46.7% a week earlier.

    The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity fell to 6.6% of total applications, the FHA share was unchanged at 10.2%, the VA share slipped to to 10.5% from 10.7% the previous week and the USDA share of total applications held firm at 0.8%.

    Contract interest rates

    • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($424,100 or less) inched down two basis points -- from 4.14% to 4.12%, its lowest level since November 2016, with points unchanged at 0.38 (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) dipped to 4.04% from 4.07%, with points increasing to 0.27 from 0.26 (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 one basis point to 4.01%, with points increasing to 0.40 from 0.38 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate remained unchanged from last week.
    • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs was unchanged at 3.41%, with points decreasing to 0.35 from 0.41 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
    • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs rose three basis points to 3.34%, with points increasing to 0.29 from 0.21 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.

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

    Another increase in mortgage applications -- the second in as many weeks.The Mortgage Bankers Association reports its Weekly Mortgage Applications Surv...

    Dan Post Boot Company recalls safety boots

    The boots and shoes can fail to protect feet from heavy or sharp objects

    Dan Post Boot Company of Clarksville, Tenn., is recalling 7,200 pair of safety boots and shoes.

    The boots and shoes can fail to protect feet when heavy or sharp objects fall on them, posing an injury hazard to consumers.

    The firm has received one report of a tire falling onto a consumer’s foot while he was wearing his safety boots, resulting in a broken foot.

    This recall involves McRae Industrial brand steel toe boots, static dissipative shoes and composite boots. There are seven styles of the McRae Industrial brand shoes included in the recall.

    The model numbers are MR85300, MR85394, MR47321, MR47616, MR87321, MR43002, and MR83310 printed on a tag on the lining of the boot or the tongue of the shoe.

    The following boots and shoes are being recalled::

    Style

    Color

    Style Description

    Safety Attributes

     Price

    MR85300

    Brown

    Men’s pull-on waterproof boot with rubber foot

    Steel toe, EH

    $120

    MR47321

    Brown

    Women’s hiker shoe

    Composite toe, met guard

     $103

    MR47616

    Brown

    Lad hiker shoe

    Composite toe, met guard

     $107

    MR87321

    Brown

    Men’s hiker shoe

    Composite toe, met guard

     $104

    MR85394

    Brown

    Men’s pull-on waterproof boot

    Steel toe, EH

     $127

    MR43002

    Grey/
    Purple

    Women’s hiker shoe

    Composite toe, met guard, static dissipative

     $92

    MR83310

    Black

    Men’s hiker shoe

    Composite toe, static dissipative

     $82

    The boots and shoes, manufactured in China, were sold at Gerler and Son Inc., Grainger Inc., Safety Solutions Inc., Standup Rancher and other independent safety stores nationwide and online at Kohls.com, Steel-Toe-Shoes.com, Thewesterncompany.com, Workboots.com, from October 2013 through June 2017 for between $80 and $130.

    What to do

    Consumers should immediately stop wearing the recalled boots and shoes and return to firm to receive a full refund.

    Consumers may contact Dan Post Boot Company return department toll-free at 866-301-4488 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. (ET) Monday through Friday, by email at dpreturns1@danpostboots.com or online at www.danpostboots.com and click on the recall tab located at the middle of the page for more information.

    Dan Post Boot Company of Clarksville, Tenn., is recalling 7,200 pair of safety boots and shoes.The boots and shoes can fail to protect feet when heavy...

    Entertainment landscape shifting to consumers' benefit

    More streaming content, cheaper movies the result of ongoing disruption

    The disruption that has occurred in the entertainment industry in the last weekend shows no signs of slowing down. Consumers stand to gain.

    Last week, Disney announced it was setting up its own streaming services and would pull its content from Netflix. This week, Netflix responded by signing a huge content deal with producer Shonda Rhimes to produce shows for the streaming service.

    Daily Variety reports Netflix may also reach an agreement with Disney for rights to Lucasfilm’s “Star Wars” and Marvel Entertainment titles after 2019. At the same time, it says the approximately $200 million it had been paying Disney for content will be plowed back into creating new movies and series for the streaming site.

    CNN has added up all the Netflix commitments and estimates the streaming service will spend nearly $16 billion on new content in the coming years, as it fights off an increasing number of competitors.

    Netflix model at the movies

    Meanwhile, entertainment start-up MoviePass has more or less adopted the Netflix model as a way to help Hollywood's sagging box office numbers.

    The company has announced on its website that for a reduced monthly membership fee of $9.95, members can go to as many movies they want, as long as the theater accepts debit cards. The theaters get reimbursed the full price of the ticket.

    It works on the same principal as Netflix. Instead of charging a movie-goer for each ticket, the monthly subscription allows them to watch as many movies as they want, limited to one movie per day. Some screens, such as IMAX, are excluded.

    Lifeline for theaters?

    Still, it may be a hopeful sign for movie theaters, which have seen audiences decline over the summer. Last weekend, ComScore reported the top grossing movie in the U.S. was Annabelle: Creation, which brought in just $35 million, followed by Dunkirk at $11.4 million.

    During the same weekend in 2014, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles raked in $65 million and Guardians of the Galaxy followed at $42 million.

    Last December, MoviePass co-founder Stacey Spikes said the company's research showed a subscription model for theaters would help small, independent films find an audience faster since consumers were more likely to wait for these films to show up on streaming services if they had to pay for each movie theater ticket.

    The disruption that has occurred in the entertainment industry in the last weekend shows no signs of slowing down. Consumers stand to gain.Last week, D...

    A resurgence of builder confidence

    Shortages and rising costs continue to be a concern, though

    After falling in July to its lowest level since last November, builder confidence in the market for newly-built single-family homes is on the rise again.

    The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI) shot up four points in August for a reading of 68.

    “The fact that builder confidence has returned to the healthy levels we saw this spring is consistent with our forecast for a gradual strengthening in the housing market,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “GDP growth improved in the second quarter, which helped sustain housing demand. However, builders continue to face supply-side challenges, such as lot and labor shortages and rising building material costs.”

    The builders' view

    The NAHB/Wells Fargo HMI, which is derived from a monthly survey, gauges builder perceptions of current single-family home sales and sales expectations for the next six months as “good,” “fair,” or “poor.”

    In addition, the survey asks builders 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.

    August saw all three HMI components post gains. The component gauging current sales conditions was up four points to 74, while the index charting sales expectations in the next six months jumped five points to 78. The component measuring buyer traffic inched up a single point to 49.

    A look at the three-month moving averages for regional HMI scores shows the Northeast rose one point to 48, while the West, South and Midwest were unchanged at 75, 67 and 66, respectively.

    “Our members are encouraged by rising demand in the new-home market,” said NAHB Chairman Granger MacDonald. “This is due to ongoing job and economic growth, attractive mortgage rates, and growing consumer confidence.”

    After falling in July to its lowest level since last November, builder confidence in the market for newly-built single-family homes is on the rise again....

    Retail sales rise in July for second straight month

    The June report was revised to show a gain rather than a decline

    It's now two increases in a row for retail sales.

    The Commerce Department reports sales in July, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, came to $478.9 billion -- up 0.6% from June and a surge of 4.2% from the same month a year earlier.

    And, as it released its July figures, the government revised its June report to show an advance of 0.3% instead of the 0.2% drop initially reported.

    July's increase was led by a sales gain of 1.8% by miscellaneous store retailers, followed by non-store retailers (+1.3%), motor vehicle & parts dealers (+1.2%), building material & garden equipment & supplies dealers (+1.2%), and food and beverages stores (+0.4%).

    Sales declines were seen at electronics & appliance stores (-0.5%), gas stations (-0.4%) and clothing & clothing accessories stores (-0.2%).

    The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.

    It's now two increases in a row for retail sales.The Commerce Department reports sales in July, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading...

    Consumers spending more on travel insurance

    The rise coincides with an increase in the cost of travel

    A report by Squaremouth, a travel insurance comparison site, shows U.S. consumers are spending more for travel insurance. The authors suggest there's a simple explanation: it costs more to travel these days and consumers are taking more expensive trips.

    The report says that for the first time since 2013, U.S. consumers spent more per trip from one year to the next. The average amount consumers spent on a trip last year was close to $4,000, with the most expensive trip insured in Squaremouth costing over $146,000.

    South Carolina consumers spent the most per trip, with an average of just over $5,000. Arkansas consumers spent the least per trip -- $2,351.

    Since travel costs more, and consumers are taking more expensive trips, Squaremouth says more people are seeking protection through travel insurance. Consumers in nine states spent 30% or more on travel insurance last year than the year before.

    What it covers

    Before buying travel insurance, consumers should understand what it covers and what it doesn't. According to Investopedia, there are five main areas where travel insurance may prove useful. It will cover trip cancellation, though the reasons for covered cancellation may vary from company to company.

    Many travel policies will pay if the traveler has a sudden business conflict and is unable to travel; there is a delay in processing needed paperwork; the traveler is injured or gets sick; or if there is a weather-related delay. Some policies even pay if the traveler changes their mind.

    Most policies will provide extensive medical coverage for injury or illness while on a trip. This can be important for international travel, since many healthcare policies don't cover their policyholder outside the U.S.

    Other common areas of coverage include emergency medical evacuation insurance, which covers ambulance services, and accidental death and flight accident insurance. It pays a benefit to surviving beneficiaries, just as life insurance does.

    There are also different terms of coverage. Most policies are sold on a per-trip basis, but multiple trip policies are also available for frequent travelers, covering travel made during a 12-month period.

    A report by Squaremouth, a travel insurance comparison site, shows U.S. consumers are spending more for travel insurance. The authors suggest there's a sim...

    Kenosha Beef International recalls beef patties

    The products may contain milk and bacon not declared on the label

    Kenosha Beef International of Kenosha, Wis., is recalling approximately 3,960 pounds of beef patties.

    The products may contain milk, in the form of cheddar cheese, an allergen, and bacon, which are not declared on the label.

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

    The following items, produced on June 14, 2017, are being recalled:

    • 4-lb retail carton containing 12, 1/3 pound burgers of “JP O'REILLY’S, PUB BURGER, FAMILY PACK, MADE FROM BEEF CHUCK,” with a sell-by date of 01-10-18.
    • 24-lb cases of “JP O’REILLY’S, BACON & CHEDDAR BEEF PATTIES” with sell-by date of 01-10-18 and case codes of 0614KS42065, 0614KS42066, 0614KS42067, 0614KS42068 and 0614KS42070.

    The recalled products, bearing establishment number “EST. 425B” printed adjacent to the sell-by date on the retail carton and inside the USDA mark of inspection on the shipping case, were shipped to retail locations in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.

    What to do

    Customers who purchased these 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 Peter Policastro at (732) 515-9314. 

    Kenosha Beef International of Kenosha, Wis., is recalling approximately 3,960 pounds of beef patties.The products may contain milk, in the form of ched...

    Judge turns aside pleas for cheaper phone calls for prisoners

    Nothing gives prisoners the right to reasonably priced calls, the court finds

    Back in the last millennium, Congress tried to increase competition in the telephone industry and passed a gigantic bill that, a few decades later, has created a patchwork in which some types of consumers enjoy plenty of companies competing for their business while others enjoy nearly none.

    Residents in affluent areas, for example, often have multiple broadband carriers offering high-speed fiber connections at competitive prices while rural consumers are stuck with slow-speed telephone lines.

    But of everyone affected by the legislation, no one has fared worse than prisoners and their families. Local and state governments, seeing an opportunity to make a few bucks off the backs of prisoners, have cut deals with private providers who operate the jailhouse phone systems, charging exorbitant rates to those unlucky enough to place or get a call from prison.

    You might think the courts would outlaw the practice, but despite a few limited actions, that hasn't been the case so far. Just yesterday, a federal judge in California pitched four lawsuits challenging the price-gouging, according to a Courthouse News Service report. 

    "Grossly excessive" rates

    Plaintiffs had charged that Alameda, Contra Costa, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties had contracted with Global Tel Link Corp. and Securus Technologies, allowing them to charge "grossly excessive" rates to inamtes and their families.

    The plaintiffs had argued the Ninth Circuit has recognized a First Amendment right to telephone access, and that the commissions amount to unconstitutional taxes on that right.

    But U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers granted a motion by the counties to dismiss the suits.

    “That the commissions charged may result in higher phone rates, which, in turn, may reduce the frequency and length of phone calls made, does not constitute a governmental restriction on plaintiffs’ constitutional rights,” Gonzalez Rogers wrote in a 26-page order.

    Gonzalez Rogers said the Ninth Circuit ruling applied to prisoners who were denied access to a telephone and did not deal with pricing issues.

    The judge also turned aside the claim that the counties were in violation of antitrust laws, noting that state law bars antitrust action against governmental units.

    Back in the last millennium, Congress tried to increase competition in the telephone industry and passed a gigantic bill that, a few decades later, has cre...

    Why your online messages might not be as secure as you think

    Researchers say many users don't take advantage of important security options

    Many people who use popular messaging services like Facebook Messenger, What’sApp and Viber take for granted that their conversations are private because they are encrypted.

    But a recent study from Brigham Young University shows that these messages are still vulnerable to hacking attempts because users don’t take advantage of other important security options. The researchers say that although these three messaging services encrypt messages by default, they also require an “authentication ceremony” to ensure that conversations stay private.

    Ph. D. student Elham Vaziripour says that unfortunately many consumers aren’t aware of these ceremonies, which means that “a malicious party or man-in-the middle attacker can eavesdrop on their conversations.”

    Guaranteeing privacy

    In basic terms, an authentication ceremony allows users to confirm the identity of the person they’re communicating with on one of these messaging services. Those who take advantage of this security option guarantee that no other party – not even the company providing the messaging application – can intercept the messages.

    To see which steps typical users took to protect their privacy, the researchers asked a group of people to participate in a multi-phase experiment. In the first phase, the participants were asked to share a credit card number with another person in the study while keeping in mind that information should be kept confidential.

    The results showed that only 14% of users successfully authenticated the recipient of the messages, with most resorting to ad-hoc security measures like asking the recipient to reiterate details of a shared experience.

    In the second phase, participants were once again asked to share a credit card number, but this time the researchers accentuated how important authentication ceremonies were for maintaining privacy. The results showed that this extra direction led to 79% of participants authenticating their partner. However, the researchers found that completing this extra security step tended to take some time – around 11 minutes on average.

    Automatic authentication

    While the study shows that many users are able to conduct authentication ceremonies to maintain privacy, it is not necessarily at the forefront of their mind when using these messaging apps. The researchers hope that these services will adapt to make authentication ceremonies more automatic so that consumers don’t leave themselves exposed.

     "If we can perform the authentication ceremony behind the scenes for users automatically or effortlessly, we can address these problems without necessitating user education," said Vaziripour.

    "Security researchers often build systems without finding out what people need and want," added researcher and professor Kent Seamons. "The goal in our labs is to design technology that's simple and usable enough for anyone to use."

    Many people who use popular messaging services like Facebook Messenger, What’sApp and Viber take for granted that their conversations are private because t...

    A hint of consumer inflation in July

    A rise in food prices was a factor

    Inflation on the consumer level as measured by the Department of Labor's (DOL) Consumer Price Index (CPI) inched up a seasonally adjusted 0.1% in July as the costs of food, housing, and medical care all headed higher.

    For the last 12 months, prices are up 1.7%.

    Food prices on the rise

    The cost of food rose 0.2% last month following no change in June. Grocery store prices (food at home) were up 0.2%, thanks to rising costs for fish and eggs (both +0.7), fruits & vegetables (+0.5) and dairy & related products (+0.3%).

    On the other hand, cereals & bakery products were down 0.4% and nonalcoholic beverage costs fell 0.3%. So-called “other food at home” was unchanged. For the year ending in July, grocery store prices are up 0.3%, the first 12-month increase since the period ending November 2015.

    The food away from home category -- which includes restaurant prices – rose 0.2% in July and 2.1% over the past year.

    The overall cost of food has gone up 1.1% in the 12 months ending in June.

    Energy costs slip

    Energy prices were down for a third straight month in July, dipping 0.1%. The main reason for that was a 2.3% decline in the cost of natural gas -- the sharpest since April 2015. Gasoline prices were unchanged, while the cost of electricity ticked up 0.4%.

    Energy prices are up 3.4% over the last year.

    Core inflation

    The cost of living for all items excluding the volatile food and energy categories, rose 0.1% in July, the fourth month in a row it increased by that amount.

    Within that category, costs were up for housing (+0.1%), medical care (+0.4%), recreation (+0.3%), clothing (+0.3%), and airline fares (+0.7%).

    In contrast, declines were posted for new vehicles (-0.5%) -- the largest decline since August 2009 -- wireless phone services (-0.3%), used cars and trucks (-0.5%), and household furnishings and operations (-0.2%).

    Over the past 12 months, this “core” rate of inflation is up 1.7%.

    The complete July inflation report is available on the DOL website.

    Inflation on the consumer level as measured by the Department of Labor's (DOL) Consumer Price Index (CPI) inched up a seasonally adjusted 0.1% in July as t...

    Home-price affordability edged downward in the second quarter

    A dip in mortgage rates was offset by rising house prices

    Housing affordability dipped in the second quarter as rising home prices offset a quarter-point drop in mortgage interest rates, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index.

    Between the beginning of April and end of June, 59.4% of new and existing homes that were sold were affordable to families earning the U.S. median income of $68,000. Three months earlier, 60.3% of homes were affordable to median-income earners in the first quarter.

    “The job market continues to gain steam and this is boosting housing demand,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “Meanwhile, growing incomes and attractive mortgage rates are helping to keep housing affordable by partially offsetting ongoing home price appreciation. Home prices will continue to rise as inventory remains tight. NAHB expects the housing market will continue to make gradual gains in 2017.”

    The national median home price rose to $256,000 in the second quarter of 2017, up from $245,000 in the first quarter. At the same time, average mortgage rates fell 25 basis points in the second quarter to 4.08%.

    Most affordable

    For the third consecutive quarter, Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, Ohio-Pa., was rated the nation’s most affordable major housing market, with 93.3% of all new and existing homes sold in the second quarter being affordable for families earning the area’s median income of $54,600.

    Kokomo, Ind., was rated the nation’s most affordable smaller market for the second straight quarter, with 96.9% of homes sold in the second quarter being affordable to families earning the median income of $62,500.

    Rounding out the top five affordable major housing markets in respective order were Syracuse, N.Y.; Dayton, Ohio; Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, N.Y.; and Scranton-Wilkes Barre-Hazleton, Pa.

    Smaller markets joining Kokomo at the top of the list included Davenport-Moline-Rock Island, Iowa-Ill.; Glen Falls, N.Y.; Watertown-Fort Drum, N.Y.; and Monroe, Mich.

    The least affordable

    San Francisco-Redwood City-South San Francisco, Calif., was the nation’s least affordable major housing market for the 19th consecutive quarter. There, just 7.6% of homes sold in the second quarter were affordable to families earning the area’s median income of $113,100.

    Other major metros at the bottom of the affordability chart were located in California. In descending order, they included Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale; Anaheim-Santa Ana-Irvine; San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara; and Santa Rosa.

    All five least affordable small housing markets were also in California. At the very bottom of the affordability chart was Salinas, where 12.4% of all new and existing homes sold were affordable to families earning the area’s median income of $63,100.

    Other small markets at the lowest end of the affordability scale included -- in descending order -- Santa Cruz-Watsonville; San Rafael; Napa; and San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles-Arroyo Grande.

    “While builder confidence remains solid and sales and starts are running at a healthy clip above last year’s levels, housing continues to confront persistent headwinds,” said NAHB Chairman Granger MacDonald. “Rising material prices, particularly lumber, along with chronic shortages of buildable lots and skilled labor are putting upward pressure on home prices and impeding a more robust housing recovery.”

    Housing affordability dipped in the second quarter as rising home prices offset a quarter-point drop in mortgage interest rates, according to the National...

    Kawasaki recalls all-terrain vehicles

    The fuel tap can leak, posing a fire hazard

    Kawasaki Motors Corp. U.S.A., of Foothill Ranch, Calif., is recalling about 15,000 all-terrain vehicles (ATVs).

    The fuel tap can leak, posing a fire hazard.

    The firm has received 18 reports of leaks from the fuel tap. No injuries have been reported.

    This recall involves 2013-2017 KFX50 and 2012-2017 KFX90 Kawasaki all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). The recalled ATVs have four wheels and seating for one person and were sold in a variety of colors.

    The model name is printed on the right and left front fender. The vehicle identification number (VIN) is located on the front of the steel frame behind the bumper.

    Model Year

    Model

    VIN Range

    2013

    KFX50

    RGSWA04A8DB100101-RGSWA04A3DB800110

    2014

    KFX50

    RGSWA04A6EB100101-RGSWA04A1EB800110

    2015

    KFX50

    RGSWA04A4FB100101-RGSWA04A3FBA00106

    2016

    KFX50

    RGSWA04A2GB100101-RGSWA04A6GBA00120

    2017

    KFX50

    RGSWA04A0HB100101-RGSWA04AXHB800112

    KFX50

    RGSWA04A4HB180101-RGSWA04A7HB180352

    2012

    KFX90

    RGSWE07AXCB100101-RGSWE07A1CB100827

    2013

    KFX90

    RGSWE07A8DB100101-RGSWE07A3DB800110

    2014

    KFX90

    RGSWE07A6EB100101-RGSWE07A7EB800130

    2015

    KFX90

    RGSWE07A4FB100101-RGSWE07A0FB500110

    2016

    KFX90

    RGSWE07A2GB100101-RGSWE07A8GB800110

    2017

    KFX90

    RGSWE07A9HBC10101-RGSWE07A2HBC11171

    KFX90

    RGSWE07A0HBD20101-RGSWE07A6HBD20166

    The ATVs, manufactured in Taiwan, were sold at Kawasaki dealers nationwide from October 2011, through May 2017, for between $2,000 and $2,600.

    What to do

    Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled ATVs and contact Kawasaki for a free repair.

    Consumers may contact Kawasaki toll-free at 866-802-9381 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (PT) Monday through Friday or online at www.Kawasaki.com and click on “Recalls” for more information.

     

    Kawasaki Motors Corp. U.S.A., of Foothill Ranch, Calif., is recalling about 15,000 all-terrain vehicles (ATVs).The fuel tap can leak, posing a fire haz...

    Disney reveals two new streaming services in challenge to Netflix

    The services will cover sports content from ESPN and original movies and shows from Disney and Pixar

    In recent years, cable and TV providers have slowly lost subscribers as consumers have cut cords and turned to online streaming services like Netflix. Faced with the reality of the situation, some companies have tried to expand their online presence, and now it looks like one of the biggest players is making a bid for a larger piece of the online market.

    On Tuesday, the Walt Disney Company revealed that it would be creating two of its own streaming services, one based around sports content under its ownership of ESPN and the other based around Disney and Pixar movies and TV shows. The move follows a recent decline in revenue and will undoubtedly put the company in direct competition with Netflix.

    “I would characterize this as an extremely important, very, very significant strategic shift for us,” said Disney chief executive Robert A. Iger in a quarterly earnings conference call.

    Two new streaming services

    The New York Times reports that the two streaming services will be powered by BamTech, a tech company in which Disney owns a 75% share. Iger says that the ESPN streaming service is scheduled to arrive in 2018 and will include programming for baseball, hockey, tennis, and college sports, as well as 10,000 regional and national events.

    Users will be able to access this content through an updated version of the ESPN app, which is available to online users and those who pay for ESPN through their cable or satellite provider.

    Its second unnamed streaming service will arrive in 2019 and provide exclusive access to new and old Disney films and a wide array of content from the Disney Channel, Disney Junior, and Disney XD. Iger said that the company has not yet decided if it will include films from its Marvel and Lucasfilm labels or if it will continue to let other services pay to use them.

    “It’s possible we will continue to license them to a pay service like Netflix, but it’s premature to say,” said Iger. “There has been talk about launching a proprietary Marvel service and ‘Star Wars’ service,” he added, saying that Disney would move cautiously when it came to stand-alone services for film brands since they would require a large amount of content to satisfy subscribers.

    A changing landscape

    While Iger didn’t address how much these streaming services would cost, he said that Disney’s goal was to make the price low enough to draw subscribers while not upsetting traditional cable and satellite subscriptions. The executive hinted at the possibility that subscribers may eventually pay by how much content they watch.

    So, what does all of this mean for other streaming services like Netflix? While Disney’s competitors would lose out on access to original Disney and Pixar movies and ESPN channels, Iger intimated that he had “all the confidence in the world” that Disney would be able to maintain favorable deals with them.

    “No one is better positioned to lead the industry into this dynamic new era,” Iger concluded, adding that the company’s base of loyal viewers would drive the streaming services’ success.

    In recent years, cable and TV providers have slowly lost subscribers as consumers have cut cords and turned to online streaming services like Netflix. Face...

    Facebook wants you to watch Watch, its new video channel

    Instead of cat videos, Watch will be professionally produced content

    There is apparently a dire shortage of video in the world today, but don't worry -- big companies are rushing to fill the imagined void with, you guessed it, even more video.

    The latest light and nimble entrepreneurial venture to wade into video is none other than Facebook. It's starting something called Facebook Watch -- clever, no? 

    Watch will be just what you expect -- a video distribution platform that we're told will be chockfull of scintillating, original video. And, of course, like everything else these days, it will be "personalized," meaning you'll be shown videos that Facebook thinks you want to see. Or, to be a bit more precise, videos that Facebook's advertisers want you to see.

    Like everything else on Facebook, it will also be driven at least partly by what your friends -- and your "Friends" -- are watching and raving about. We're told you will find it on the Facebook menu bar, replacing the tab that currently says "Video."

    "Watch is personalized to help you discover new shows, organized around what your friends and communities are watching," said Daniel Danker, Facebook Director of Product. "For example, you’ll find sections like 'Most Talked About,' which highlights shows that spark conversation, 'What’s Making People Laugh,' which includes shows where many people have used the 'Haha' reaction, and 'What Friends Are Watching,' which helps you connect with friends about shows they too are following."

    Professional content

    It's important to note that, unlike videos of cute cats and bouncing babies posted by your supposed friends, Watch will be the real thing -- you know, professional content: movies, series, and even sports. Facebook says it will live-streaming one Major League Baseball game each week and has several other attractions up its sleeve.

    Not everyone will have Watch right away. It's being rolled out, in usual Facebook fashion, on a staggered basis. So let's just say you'll be seeing it soon -- and, Facebook hopes, watching it ever after.

    There is apparently a dire shortage of video in the world today, but don't worry -- big companies are rushing to fill the imagined void with, you guessed i...

    A dip in July wholesale prices

    First-time jobless claims were on the rise

    The cost of the things we buy edged lower on the wholesale level.

    What the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) calls the Producer Price Index (PPI) for final demand inched down a seasonally adjusted 0.1% in July after rising 0.1% in June and holding steady in May.

    For the 12 months ended in July, the PPI is up 1.9%.

    Services and goods prices drop

    The cost of services dropped 0.2% last month, accounting for over 80% of the decline in the July PPI. It's the first decrease since February.

    On the other hand, prices for traveler accommodation services, apparel wholesaling, and hospital outpatient care also increased.

    Goods prices were down 0.1% last month after rising 0.1% in June.

    Gasoline prices were down 1.4% leading to an overall decline of 0.3% in energy costs. Food costs were unchanged, as declines in the costs of beef and veal outweighed increases in pork and grain prices.

    The “core” rate of wholesale inflation -- less the volatile food and energy categories -- declined 0.1%. It's up 1.8% for the year ending in July.

    The complete report may be found on the BLS website.

    Jobless claims

    Initial jobless claims rose last week for the first time in five weeks.

    The Department of Labor (DOL) reports first-time applications for state unemployment benefits totaled a seasonally adjusted 244,000 in the week ending August 5. That's an advance of 3,000 from the previous week's level, which was revised higher by 1,000.

    What economists see as a more accurate gauge of the labor market for its relative lack of volatility -- the four-week moving average -- fell by 1,000 from the previous week to 241,000.

    The full report is available on the DOL website.

    The cost of the things we buy edged lower on the wholesale level.What the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) calls the Pro...

    Polaris recalls Scrambler all-terrain vehicles (ATVs)

    The throttle release switch can fail, posing a crash hazard

    Polaris Industries of Medina, Minn., is recalling about 2,800 Polaris Scrambler all-terrain vehicles (ATVs).

    The throttle release switch can fail, posing a crash hazard.

    The company has received nine reports of the throttle release switch failing, including two minor injuries.

    This recall involves all model year 2014 through 2017 Scrambler XP 1000 all-terrain vehicles. “Polaris” is stamped on the front grill and rear panel, and “Scrambler XP” on the center panel.

    The ATVs were sold in black, lime, red and white. Model numbers A14GH9EAW, A15SVE95AW, A16SVE95AM, A16SVE95AA and A17SVE95AM are included on this recall. The model number is located on the fuel tank cover.

    To check for recalled vehicles by vehicle identification number (VIN) visit www.polaris.com.

    The ATVs, manufactured in the U.S., were sold at Polaris dealers nationwide from April 2013, through June 2017, for about $13,300.

    What to do

    Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled ATVs and contact Polaris to schedule a free repair.

    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” at the bottom of the page for more information.

    Polaris Industries of Medina, Minn., is recalling about 2,800 Polaris Scrambler all-terrain vehicles (ATVs).The throttle release switch can fail, posin...

    The Comfy Cow recalls pints of ice cream

    The product may be contaminated with E. coli

    The Comfy Cow is recalling pints of Banana Puddin Y’all, Chocolate Squared2, Cookies and Cream, Cow Trax, Double Fold Vanilla, Georgia Butter Pecan, Intense Dark Chocolate, Salted Caramel, Strawberry Fields Forever.

    The product may be contaminated with E. coli or have high counts of coliform.

    No illnesses have been reported to date.

    The following products are being recalled:

    ProductSizeUPCUse By Dates

    Banana Puddin

    Y’all

    PINT –

    473 mL

    852009-

    005353

    4/7/18

    Chocolate

    Squared2

    PINT –

    473 mL

    852009-

    005261

    3/30/18

    Cookies and

    Cream

    PINT –

    473 mL

    852009-

    005049

    3/31/18
    Cow Trax

    PINT –

    473 mL

    852009-

    005032

    4/4/18

    Double Fold

    Vanilla

    PINT –

    473 mL

    852009-

    005315

    3/31/18

    Georgia Butter

    Pecan

    PINT –

    473 mL

    852009-

    005285

    3/14/18

    Georgia Butter

    Pecan

    3 gal bulk

    container

    n/a3/14/18

    Intense Dark

    Chocolate

    PINT –

    473 mL

    852009-

    005148

    3/23/18
    Salted Caramel

    PINT –

    473 mL

    852009-

    005216

    4/13/18

    Strawberry Field

    Forever

    PINT –

    473 mL

    852009-

    005308

    3/21/18

    The recalled products were sold between June 13 and July 21, 2017, in retail stores in Kentucky, Missouri, Indiana and Tennessee.

    What to do

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

    Consumers with questions may contact the production facility at 502-384-2556, Monday – Friday, 9am – 3pm (EST).

    The Comfy Cow is recalling pints of Banana Puddin Y’all, Chocolate Squared2, Cookies and Cream, Cow Trax, Double Fold Vanilla, Georgia Butter Pecan, Intens...

    Model year 2017 Jeep Renegades recalled

    Malfunction indicator lamps may falsely illuminate on the instrument panel

    Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 3,002 model year 2017 Jeep Renegades.

    Due to a software issue, multiple malfunction indicator lamps may illuminate on the instrument panel when no malfunction exists.

    As such, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 101, "Control and Displays."

    If the malfunction indicator lamps illuminate at incorrect times, the driver may be unaware when a true malfunction occurs, increasing the risk of a crash.

    What to do

    Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will update the Instrument Panel Control software, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin September 16, 2017.

    Owners may contact Chrysler customer service at 1-800-853-1403. Chrysler's number for this recall is T50.

    Chrysler (FCA US LLC) is recalling 3,002 model year 2017 Jeep Renegades.Due to a software issue, multiple malfunction indicator lamps may illuminate on...

    Taylor Farms Retail recalls coleslaw kits

    The product contains milk, an allergen not declared on the label

    Taylor Farms Retail of Salinas, Calif., is recalling 293 cases of Taylor Farms Creamy Homestyle Coleslaw Kits.

    The kit's dressing packet contains milk, an allergen not declared on the label.

    There are no reports to date of adverse reactions due to consumption of this product.

    The recalled item was produced on July 31, 2017, and has a “Best If Used By Date” of 08-16-17 with the lot code: TFRS212A07C on the front of the bag.

    What to do

    Consumers with questions about the recall may contact the firm's consumer hotline at 855-455-0098.

    Taylor Farms Retail of Salinas, Calif., is recalling 293 cases of Taylor Farms Creamy Homestyle Coleslaw Kits.The kit's dressing packet contains milk,...

    Four ways companies can help their employees retire

    Encouraging people to work longer and providing ways to save would help

    Retirement planning is a hot button issue, with survey after survey showing that more people worry they won't be able to do it.

    A constant refrain from people in their pre-retirement years is they are unable to sock money away because of pressing current expenses -- such as supporting adult children and aging parents, or meeting their current living expenses.

    The Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies (TCRS) has just released its 2017 Retirement Survey, which quizzed employers about their views on their employees' retirement future. It found 69% believe their employees could work to age 65 and still not have enough money to retire comfortably.

    The survey also identified four ways employers can help their employees do a better job of saving for their post-career years.

    Aging friendly

    The first recommendation is for companies to become "aging-friendly" workplaces. They can do this by by adopting inclusive practices, programs and benefits that recognize age with other demographic factors, says TCRS President Catherine Collinson.

    "With Generation Z's coming of age, we will soon have five generations in the workforce, an exciting and extraordinary opportunity to foster innovation through inter-generational collaborations with exchanges of knowledge, experience, and ideas," Collinson said.

    Longer careers

    Since people are living longer, why shouldn't they work longer? Generations ago people generally retired at 65 and died at 66. That's no longer the case.

    Collinson says many people want to work past age 65 and that would help them be better prepared financially when they eventually stop working. She says companies that make it easier to stay in the workforce are helping with the retirement situation.

    The good news is, the TCRS survey shows four out of five employers are supportive of employees staying on the job past age 65.

    Flexible retirement program

    People in their late 60s may be ready to step back but not leave the job market altogether. TCRS says company policies that allow or encourage older employees to slowly transition to full retirement are helpful.

    "Flexible retirement can be a win-win solution for workers and employers," said Collinson. "Today's workers need the ability to transition into retirement and have the flexibility to continue earning income until they are ready to fully retire. These types of phased retirement programs can help employers optimize workforce management and succession planning - while also generating good will among employees."

    Seamless savings

    Employees need to be encouraged to save for retirement and have an easy way to do that. TCRS says enhanced employee retirement savings programs not only provide an excellent benefit, they are critical to individual retirement planning success.

    These plans, such as company-sponsored 401(k) plans, are widespread but TCRS believes they should be expanded to include part-time workers. After all, since the financial crisis there has been a large increase in part-time positions.

    Currently, only 21% of companies have automatic retirement plan enrollment, which could make retirement saving seamless and relatively painless. TCRS says companies could also help their employees by offering pre-retirees education and advice on managing their retirement savings in retirement.

    Retirement planning is a hot button issue, with survey after survey showing that more people worry they won't be able to do it.A constant refrain from...

    Mortgage applications rebound

    Contract interest rates were moving lower

    Mortgage applications have bounced back following their first decline in three weeks, rising 3.0% in the week ending August 4, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

    The Refinance Index jumped 5%, with the refinance share of mortgage activity increasing to 46.7% of total applications from 45.5% the previous week.

    The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity rose to 6.8% percent of total applications, the FHA share inched down to 10.2% from 10.3%, the VA share of total applications went from 11.1% to 10.7%, and the USDA share of total was unchanged from a week earlier at 0.8%.

    Contract interest rates

    • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($424,100 or less) dipped three basis points -- to 4.14% from 4.17 -- with points increasing to 0.38 from 0.36 (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 from 4.11% to 4.07%, with points increasing to 0.26 from 0.25 (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 five basis points to 4.02%, with points increasing to 0.38 from 0.35 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
    • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs slipped to 3.41% from 3.45%, with points decreasing to 0.41 from 0.44 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
    • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs inched up one basis point to 3.31%, with points decreasing to 0.21 from 0.29 (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 have bounced back following their first decline in three weeks, rising 3.0% in the week ending August 4, according to the Mortgage Ba...

    Nissan Titan Crew Cab and Titan XD Crew Cab vehicles recalled

    The rear seatbelt assembly may not adequately protect the occupant's head

    Nissan North America is recalling 44,264 model year 2016-2017 Nissan Titan Crew Cab and Titan XD Crew Cab vehicles.

    In the event of a crash, the rear seatbelt assembly may not adequately protect the occupant's head, allowing it to contact the D-ring bolt trim cap.

    As such, these vehicles fail to conform to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 201, "Occupant Protection in Interior Impact."

    If the occupant's head contacts the D-ring bolt trim cap during a crash, there is an increased risk of injury.

    What to do

    Nissan will notify owners, and dealers will install energy absorbing material to the C-Pillar Finishers and replace the seatbelt bolt and bolt cap, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin September 26, 2017.

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

    Nissan North America is recalling 44,264 model year 2016-2017 Nissan Titan Crew Cab and Titan XD Crew Cab vehicles.In the event of a crash, the rear se...

    Freshtex Produce recalls Valery Brand Maradol Papayas

    The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

    Freshtex Produce of Alamo, Texas, is recalling Valery brand Maradol Papayas grown and packed by Carica de Campeche.

    The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

    No illnesses have been reported to date.

    The recalled product, containing the Valery name on the box and label and grown and by Carica de Campeche, was distributed in Illinois from July 10 – 13, 2017, but may have been further distributed outside Illinois.

    What to do

    Customers who purchased the recalled product should dispose of them.

    Consumers with questions may contact Freshtex Produce at 956-322-4817 from Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. (CT).

    Freshtex Produce of Alamo, Texas, is recalling Valery brand Maradol Papayas grown and packed by Carica de Campeche.The product may be contaminated with...

    Good Food Concepts recalls raw intact and non-intact beef

    The products may be contaminated with E. coli O26

    Good Food Concepts of Colorado Springs, Colo., is recalling approximately 1,290 pounds of raw intact and non-intact beef.

    The products may be contaminated with E. coli O26.

    The following items, processed and packaged on August 3 – 4, 2017, are bring recalled:

    • Various weights of individual packages of “CALLICRATE BEEF, Celebrate goodness, Celebrate life, Filet Mignon,” with lot code 170731CC.
    • Various weights of individual packages of “CALLICRATE BEEF, Celebrate goodness, Celebrate life, Brisket Flat,” with lot code 170731CC.
    • Various weights of individual packages of “CALLICRATE BEEF, Celebrate goodness, Celebrate life, Sirloin Tip,” with lot code 170731CC.
    • Various weights of individual packages of “CALLICRATE BEEF, Celebrate goodness, Celebrate life, Ribeye,” with lot code 170731CC.
    • Various weights of individual packages of “CALLICRATE BEEF, Celebrate goodness, Celebrate life, Stew Meat,” with lot code 170731CC.
    • Various weights of individual packages of “CALLICRATE BEEF, Celebrate goodness, Celebrate life, New York Strip,” with lot code 170731CC.
    • Various weights of individual packages of “CALLICRATE BEEF, Celebrate goodness, Celebrate life, Skirt Steak,” with lot code 170731CC.
    • Various weights of individual packages of “CALLICRATE BEEF, Celebrate goodness, Celebrate life, Top Sirloin,” with lot code 170731CC.
    • Cases of 14.60-lb of “RANCH FOODS DIRECT GROUND BEEF 80/20 BEEF,” with lot code 170804.
    • Cases of 6.40-lb of “RANCH FOODS DIRECT GROUND BEEF 80/20” BEEF, with lot code 170803.
    • Cases of 6.40-lb of “RANCH FOODS DIRECT PHILLY MEAT BEEF,” with lot code 170803.
    • Cases of 6.40-lb of “RANCH FOODS DIRECT TOP SIRLOIN STEAK 8oz BEEF,” with lot code 170803.
    • Cases of 40-lb of “RANCH FOODS DIRECT GROUND CHUCK BEEF,” with lot code 170804.
    • Cases of 6.40-lb of “RANCH FOODS DIRECT GROUND BEEF (73/27),” with lot code 170803.
    • Cases of 40-lb of “RANCH FOODS DIRECT FLAT IRON BEEF,” with lot code 170804.
    • Cases of “FAMILY BUNDLE, 4-GROUND BEEF 80% LEAN 20% FAT, 1-LONDON BROIL, 2-PKGS CUBE STEAKS, 6-FLATIRON STEAKS, $91.99” with lot code 170804.
    • Cases of “STEAK BUNDLE, 4-RIBEYE STEAKS, 4-NEW YORK STRIP STEAKS, 4-TOP SIRLOIN STEAKS, 4-FILET MIGNON $174.99” with lot code 170804.
    • Cases of “RIBEYE STEAK BUNDLE, 10-RIBEYE STEAKS, $117.99” with lot code 170803.
    • Cases of “COLORADO BUNDLE, 4-SKIRTS STEAKS, 4-CHUCK EYE STEAKS, 4-TOP SIRLOIN, 2-CHUCK ROAST, 15-GROUND BEEF 80% LEAN 20%FAT, $199.19” with lot code 170804.
    • Cases of 20-lb of “GROUND BEED, 90% LEAN, 10% FAT $125.99” with lot code 170804.
    • Packages of “ALL NATURAL CALLIGRATE BEEF, Celebrate goodness, Celebrate Life, GROUND BEEF.”

    The recalled products, bearing establishment number “EST. 27316” inside the USDA mark of inspection, were shipped to retail locations, wholesale locations, and restaurants in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

    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 regarding the recall may contact Dave Anderson, at (719) 473-2306.

    Good Food Concepts of Colorado Springs, Colo., is recalling approximately 1,290 pounds of raw intact and non-intact beef.The products may be contaminat...

    New dating site aims to connect dog lovers

    The creators of Hotdiggiddy believe dog people are usually warm, loving individuals

    Whether you’re looking to meet someone who shares your political views or hates the same things you hate, there’s likely a dating app out there to help you find your ideal match.

    Now, there’s a dating site specifically geared toward those who love dogs. Hotdiggiddy, the new "Social Dating Site" for Dog Lovers, is centered around the idea that those who care for dogs are usually warm, loving, and responsible people.

    The creators of the site say finding romance or friendship with a dog lover won’t only be a boon to your happiness, it’ll be a positive influence in the life of your four-legged friend as well.

    Romantic or platonic relationships

    "Have you ever invited someone over for a visit and as soon as they walked in the door your dog immediately reacted to them? Not in a nice way. Well, we have time and again,” said Scott Murray, CEO of Hotdiggiddy.

    “We find that the people who our dogs like are usually people who we can trust and get along with; even if they are not dog owners themselves. These people just seem to give off good vibes that you and your dog can feel."

    But you don’t have to own a dog to use the Canadian based dating site and app -- a love of dogs is all that’s required.

    Dog lovers in relationships

    In addition to giving off good vibes, dog lovers may also be better communicators. According to a University of Buffalo study, couples with pets have closer relationships and interact more than couples without pets.

    The researchers explained that dogs make people want to seek out more social contact. As a result, they tend to form stronger and longer-lasting relationships.

    Another potential perk of dating a dog lover: they may be more empathetic. A 2014 study found that dog owners are more engaged with their communities, likely as a result of being tapped into their empathetic, understanding side from all the hours spent caring for their pet.

    Hotdiggiddy says it’s looking for people who are living life to the fullest. And while you only need to be over the age of 18 to use the site, its key demographic is 30 years of age and older.

    Whether you’re looking to meet someone who shares your political views or hates the same things you hate, there’s likely a dating app out there to help you...

    Job openings on the rise in June

    Employment is up slightly over the past 12 months

    There was a sizable increase in the number of job openings in June.

    Figures released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics show there were 6.163 million vacancies at the end of the month, up 461,000 from May's upwardly revised estimate of 5.702 million. That raised the job openings rate to 4.0% from 3.8% a month earlier.

    The number of job openings increased for both the private (+417,000) and government (+44,000) sectors. Industries with the largest increases were professional & business services (+179,000), health care & social assistance (+125,000), and construction (+62,000). Other services reported a decline of 62,000. The number of job openings increased in the Midwest and West regions.

    Hires

    There were 5.356 million hires in June, 103,000 fewer than the month before for a hires rate of 3.7% -- roughly the same as May. The number of hires was little changed for total private and for government as hires fell by 29,000 in educational services and showed little change in all other industries. Hires declined in the Northeast.

    Separations

    Total separations, which includes quits, layoffs & discharges, and other separations and is referred to as “turnover,” totaled 5.224 -- down by just 21,000 from the previous month. That kept the total separations rate at 3.6%. Total separations was little changed for total private industry and government, dipping by 19,000 in state and local government, excluding education. The number of total separations was little changed in all four regions.

    Net employment change

    Net employment change results from the relationship between hires and separations. When the number of hires is higher, employment rises. On the other hand, when the number of hires is less than the number of separations, employment declines.

    Over the 12 months ending in June, hires totaled 63.4 million and separations totaled 61.1 million for a net employment gain of 2.3 million.

    The complete report is available on the BLS website.

    There was a sizable increase in the number of job openings in June.Figures released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics show there were 6.163 million vac...

    Hahn Brothers recalls ready-to-eat ham

    The product contains malted barley, an allergen not declared on the label

    Hahn Brothers of Westminster, Md., is recalling approximately 115,773 pounds of ready-to-eat ham.

    The product contains malted barley, an allergen not declared on the label.

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

    The following item, produced from December 17, 2015, to July 27, 2017, with a 70-day sell-by date, is being recalled:

    • 1.75-lb. of vacuum-packed mini ham packages containing “Lou's Garrett Valley Natural, All Natural black forest seasoned uncured ham nugget, FULLY COOKED WOOD SMOKED” with a case code 74045.

    The recalled product, bearing establishment number “EST. 2000” inside the USDA mark of inspection, was shipped to a distributor in New Jersey and distributed further to retail locations.

    What to do

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

    Consumers with questions may contact Barry Blevins at (443) 375-7762.

    Hahn Brothers of Westminster, Md., is recalling approximately 115,773 pounds of ready-to-eat ham.The product contains malted barley, an allergen not de...

    Model year 2016-2018 Infiniti Q50s and 2017 Infiniti Q60s recalled

    The fuel level in the main tank to fall too low to supply fuel to the engine

    Nissan North America is recalling 14,192 model year 2016-2018 Infiniti Q50s and model year 2017 Infiniti Q60s equipped with a 2.0L engine.

    Incorrect Fuel Pump Control Module (FPCM) software may allow the fuel level in the main tank to be too low to supply fuel to the engine, causing the engine to stall while driving, increasing the risk of a crash.

    What to do

    Nissan will notify owners, and Infiniti dealers will reprogram the Fuel Pump Control Module (FPCM) with corrected software, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin August 21, 2017.

    Owners may contact Infiniti customer service at 1-800-662-6200.

    Nissan North America is recalling 14,192 model year 2016-2018 Infiniti Q50s and model year 2017 Infiniti Q60s equipped with a 2.0L engine.Incorrect Fue...

    Agroson’s recalls Cavi brand Maradol Papaya

    The product may be contaminated with Salmonella

    Agroson’s of Bronx, N.Y., is recalling 2,483 boxes of Cavi brand Maradol Papaya, grown and packed by Carica de Campeche.

    The product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

    No illness have been reported to date.

    The recalled product, with PLU sticker cavi MEXICO 4395 and product codes 3044, 3045 and 3050, was distributed to wholesalers in NewYork, Connecticut and New Jersey from July 16 – 19, 2017 and was available for sale until July 31, 2017

    What to do

    Customers who purchased the recalled product should not consume it, but dispose of it.

    Consumers with questions reach Agroson’s at (917) 801-1495 Monday through Friday, 9:00 am – 4:00 pm (EST).

    Agroson’s of Bronx, N.Y., is recalling 2,483 boxes of Cavi brand Maradol Papaya, grown and packed by Carica de Campeche.The product may be contaminated...

    Why checking Facebook can be so addictive

    Researchers say just seeing the logo can change some users' frame of mind

    You might think that checking in on your Facebook profile is just something to do to pass the time, but two new studies from Michigan State University show that disconnecting from social media can be more than a little challenging for some consumers.

    Researcher and assistant professor Allison Eden says that many users compulsively check their Facebook feed because they’re addicted to the positive feelings they associate with the site. She says that this learned reward response can be especially hard to overcome for some people.

    "People are learning this reward feeling when they get to Facebook," she said. "What we show with this study is that even with something as simple as the Facebook logo, seeing the Facebook wall of a friend or seeing anything associated with Facebook, is enough to bring that positive association back."

    Facebook cravings

    In the first study, Eden and her team exposed participants to a Facebook-associated image – such as the site’s logo or a profile page – and immediately followed it with an image of a Chinese symbol. Each person was asked to judge whether they thought the symbol was pleasant or unpleasant.

    The results showed that heavy Facebook users were more likely to rate the Chinese symbol positively when compared to less frequent users; the researchers say th