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Livestrong No More: Nike to Stop Making Livestrong Products

Livestrong No More: Nike to Stop Making Livestrong Products

 
Nike announced that it will cease making and selling products for the Livestrong Foundation at the end of this year.
 
The move to halt production of the Livestrong brand comes as no surprise, especially considering the clothing giant terminated its contract in the fall of 2012 with controversial cyclist Lance Armstrong, who was the founder and face of the Livestrong brand. 
 
Nike has been distancing itself from the notorious cyclist since the United States Anti-Doping Agency released a slew of information and reports in October outlining the extensive steroid use and doping allegations made against Armstrong when he won the Tour De France cycling events seven years in a row from 1999 to 2005. 
 
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency banned Armstrong from competing in cycling events for life and stripped the former champion of the titles he won during his 14-year career. 
Armstrong, a cancer survivor, founded the Livestrong brand in 1997, but stepped down as chairman of the charity shortly after the October reports were released. Armstrong claimed he was removing his name from the foundation to spare “the foundation from any negative effects as a result of the stigma and controversy surrounding my career.”
Nike has been a staunch supporter of the Livestrong Foundation, which provides free resources and support services, as well as an assortment of programs to help people with cancer. Over the last decade or so, with public support from Armstrong, Nike raised over $100 million for the charity and has sold roughly 88 million of the signature Livestrong yellow wristbands. 
 
Nike announced in a statement that this year’s holiday line will be its last offered under the Livestrong name; however, the company also claimed it will continue to support the foundation by providing funds to it in a direct manner. Besides Nike, other companies, such as Radio Shack and Anheuser-Busch, also terminated their relationship with Lance Armstrong. 
 
The Livestrong Foundation announced in a statement that it is grateful to Nike for their time, creative drive, and resources it brought to the longstanding partnership.  
 
 
Source: sec.gov

SEC Charges NASDAQ for Botching the Facebook IPO

SEC Charges NASDAQ for Botching the Facebook IPO

 
The S.E.C. charged NASDAQ with a securities laws violation resulting from its poor decision-making during the initial public offering and secondary trading of Facebook shares. In response to the charges, NASDAQ has agreed to settle and pay a $10 million penalty, which represents the largest fine filed against the market exchange. 
In the United States, exchanges have an obligation to guarantee that their processes, systems, and contingency plans are effective and adequate to manage an IPO without disrupting the market. According to the agency’s order, despite widespread anticipation that the IPO would be among the most prolific in history with regards to the number of investors participating, a design limitation in the exchange’s platform to match IPO sell and buy orders brought significant disruption to the IPO. Following the disruption, NASDAQ then undertook a series of poor decisions that ultimately led to the rules violations. 
 
According to the agency’s order, several members of the exchange’s senior leadership team undertook a “code blue” conference call and decided not to delay the start of secondary trading in Facebook with the exception that they had righted the system error by removing lines of computer code. However, the team did not understand the root of the problem, and the market’s decision to initiate trading before understanding the problem caused a series of violations, including the exchange’s fundamental rule governing the time/price priority for executing trade orders. This problem caused in excess of 30,000 Facebook orders to remain stuck in the exchange’s system for more than two hours when said shares should have been promptly cancelled or executed. 
“The action against NASDAQ describes how poorly designed systems not only disrupted one of the most significant IPOS in history, but produced pervasive and substantial violations of our market’s fundamental rules,” said George Canellos, the Co-Director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division. 
 
Additionally, NASDAQ further violated its rules when it took a short position in Facebook in an unauthorized account. The exchange’s rules do not allow it to use an error account for any reason; NASDAQ subsequently covered the short position for a profit of roughly $10.8 million, which is also in violation of its rules. The exchange further violated its rules in a few other ways during the opening of trading following the end of the display-only period for the company and following a substantial freeze in Zynga trading. 
 
 
Source: SEC.GOV

Rising Rapidly: Mortgage Rates are Highest in a Year

Rising Rapidly: Mortgage Rates are Highest in a Year

 
Mortgage rates in the U.S. have hit their highest level in more than a year, making homes more expensive for purchases who seek to finance their new abodes. 
The rates on 30-year-fixed mortgages jumped nearly .25 percent to 3.81 percent this week, according to mortgage lending giant Freddie Mac. This is an increase of 15 percent from the record low of 3.31 percent set during November of 2012 and the highest rate since May of 2012. The 30-year rate dropped as low as 3.35 percent in early May. 
 
The rates for 15-year fixed mortgages also spiked t0 2.98 percent, representing an increase of .21 percent. 
 
Prospective home buyers unhappy with these increased rates can blame it on Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve. According to Keith Gumbinger, an executive with a premiere mortgage information company, “Bernanke’s comments left the impression that the central bank’s stimulus policy might start to be pulled back, perhaps as early as this September,” said Gumbinger. “This announcement influenced the spike in interest rates as investors worked quickly to adjust their positions.”
The stimulus policy, in which the Federal Reserve purchases up as much as $85 billion a month in U.S. treasuries and mortgage backed securities, has kept interest rates close to zero by providing a willing buyer for loans. If the central bank pulls the reins on their purchases, buyers will likely demand higher yields to pick up the slack, which will push interest rates up.
 
Bond yields, which are utilized to track mortgage rates, have risen even faster than mortgage rates. The 10-year Treasury is currently at 2.12 percent or .45 percentage points above its April level. 
 
As rates continue to rise, the number of loan refinancings will invariably decline. Refinancing applications dropped by 12 percent week over week, representing the largest single-week drop in 2013. That said, mortgage rates will probably have to climb much righter to have a significant impact on buyers. 
 
Mortgage rate increases over the past month have only added roughly $20 to monthly mortgage payments for every $100,000 borrowed. However, the increase in rates ultimately limits how much buyers will bid on homes, which in turn, dampens home values. 
 
 
Source: whitehouse.gov

On the Brink: Federal Disability Trust Fund Disappearing Quickly

On the Brink: Federal Disability Trust Fund Disappearing Quickly

Roughly 11 million Americans depend on federal disability payments; however, the system is on the verge of running out of money.
According to a government report, the Social Security Disability Insurance program is expected to run out of money in its trust fund sometime in 2016, years before both the Social Security and Medicaid programs. If this happens, the revenues coming into the program would only be enough to cover roughly 80 percent of the payments owed to the disabled and their families.
The trustees of Medicare and Social Security will release an update on the status of the disability program later this week. The annual report will also offer new estimates for the exhaustion of Medicare’s hospital fund, and of Social Security’s retirement fund, which is currently set to run out of funds in 2035.
Although the disability program is the smallest of the three, it will be the first program that Congress has to address. That said, there is not much agreement regarding the entitlement reform in Washington these days. Attempts to cut Medicare spending have been nothing short of futile.
The Social Security actuaries have developed two ways to bring stability to the disability program. The easiest solution and one legislators have agreed to in recent years, is to divert a larger percentage of the Social Security payroll tax to the disability program and away from the general retirement initiative.
Currently, the combined rate paid by U.S. employers and workers is 12.4 percent. The disability program’s rate is 1.8 percent, and the retirement system’s rate is an overwhelming 10.6 percent. Congress has the ability to authorize a larger share moving toward disability to 2.6 percent for two years and slowly wane this figure to 1.8 percent by 2030. This increase would allow the disability fund to remain solvent until roughly 2033; however, it would cut the retirement system’s lifespan by two years.
The other means, which is highly controversial, would be to increase the disability portion paid by employers and workers by 0.2 percent each. This increase would keep the program running for 75 years; however, there is little desire among legislators to undertake a tax increase.
There are a variety of reasons why the number of Americans collecting disability payments has skyrocketed to roughly 11 million from 8.7 million in 2007. The aging of the baby boomers is one of the primary drivers, along with more women entering the workforce. That said, many argue that Americans are taking advantage of the system, claiming it is too easy to procure benefits under the program.
Regardless of how we got here if Congress does not take action, the disabled population will have to make due with smaller payments.
Source: Congresional Budget Office

SEC Charges Prominent Company for Accounting Mishaps

SEC Charges Prominent Company for Accounting Mishaps

The SEC today charged a Washington-based commercial truck manufacturer for a number of accounting deficiencies that clouded the company’s financial reporting to investors during the financial crisis. The SEC alleges that PACCAR’s accounting controls included ineffective policies and procedures that kept the business from adhering to various accounting laws and rules. The company failed to report the operating results of its aftermarket business separately from its truck sales business as mandated under segment reporting rules, which are established to ensure that investors procure the same insight into a business as its primary executives.

PACCAR and one of its subsidiaries also failed to offer complete information regarding their respective loan and lease portfolios, and the company also overstated some lease and loan originations and collections and two of its foreign subsidiaries in its statement of cash flows. Both PACCAR and its subsidiary agreed to settle these charges.

“Companies are required to diligently monitor their internal accounting systems to ensure that the information presented is consistent and accurate with the relevant accounting guidance,” said Michael Dicke, the Associate Regional Director of the agency’s San Francisco Office. “The deficient procedures and controls at PACCAR caused glaring inconsistencies in its reporting and kept regulators and investors from seeing the company through the eyes of the company’s management personnel.”

According to the complaint, PACCAR is a Fortune 200 company that manufactures, designs, and distributes trucks and aftermarket parts that are sold under the Kenworth, DAF, and Peterbilt nameplates. From 2008 through 2012, PACCAR did not report the results for its parts business as a separate entity from its truck sales business. For instance, the company’s 2009 annual report showed $68 million in income prior to taxation for its truck segment; however, board materials and documents reviewed by senior executives revealed that the trucks business encountered a $474 million loss and the parts business procured a $542 million profit. By at least 2008, the company should have been reporting its aftermarket business as a separate entity in its filings, but failed to do so until the 4th quarter of last year. 

 
Source: SEC.gov

SEC Comes Down on 61 Companies for Committing Fraud in the Over-the-Counter Market

SEC Comes Down on 61 Companies for Committing Fraud in the Over-the-Counter Market

The SEC today announced the second-largest trading suspension in U.S. history as the agency continues to conduct its “Operation Shell Expel” crackdown to thwart the manipulation of small or microcap shell companies that are susceptible to fraud as they lay stagnant in the over-the-counter market. 
The agency suspended trading activities of 61 empty shell businesses that are delinquent in their public filing and no longer in business based on an evaluation by the agency’s Microcap Fraud Working Group. Because microcap companies are rarely traded, once they become dormant they are susceptible to being taken over by fraudsters who falsely pump-up the stock to depict it as a healthy business and coerce investors into illegal pump and dump schemes.
In this review of microcap stocks, the SEC identified these shell companies in at least 17 states and one foreign nation. By suspending trading in these businesses, they are required to provide updated financial information to prove they are still up and running. This requirement essentially renders these businesses useless to fraudsters because they are no longer flying under the radar.
“Fraudsters crave empty shell companies that they use to conduct pump and dump schemes and procure illicit trading profits by defrauding unsuspecting investors,” said Andrew Cereseny, the Co-Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement. “The SEC will aggressively freeze trading in these shell companies to take away a crucial instrument of their trade and to rid our markets of fraudulent activities.”
Pump and dump schemes are common types of fraud involving these empty shell businesses. Perpetrators acting out these schemes will tout a thinly-traded microcap company through misleading and false statements regarding the company. Perpetrators then purchase the stock at a low price before driving the price higher by creating the appearance of activity and drawing investor interest. They then dump the stock for a significant profit by selling it to the market at a higher price once investors have bought into it.
“When a company ceases its filings and investors no longer have access to current information, there is no reason for that shell to remain exposed in our markets. Under this initiative, we are committed to identifying significant risks in the market and removing them to protect investors,” said Christopher Ehrman, the Coordinator of the agency’s Microcap Fraud Group.
Source: sec.gov

Experiment Time: The New Massachusetts Health Care Situation

Experiment Time: The New Massachusetts Health Care Situation

 
The fervent debate has lost most of its steam as the United States Supreme Court has rejected the premiere legal challenge and November’s presidential election snuffer out the opposition’s hopes for a late reversal. Come the New Year, every American in the country, will be required to carry health insurance or a pay a fine, as one of the last pieces of Obamacare falls into place. 
 
That said, for the 6 million residents of Massachusetts, the implementation of Obamacare will not mean a whole lot. In 2006 then-governor Mitt Romney signed a health-reform initiative that instituted a similar insurance mandate with strict rules for when employers must provide plans and the blueprint for a government online insurance exchange or marketplace. This plan, which was affectionately known as Romneycare, ultimately served the model for the national plan. 
 
Roughly six years into the Massachusetts healthcare experiment, residents have had substantial time and experiences to answer the kinds of inquiries you may be asking about the national plan: Will my premiums increase? Will my employer drop my insurance? Will my taxes increase? Will I face longer waits to schedule or see my doctor?
 
As a small state with a robust economy, the most doctors per resident in the nation, and above-average health care spending, Massachusetts is not a perfect indicator for the country. Moreover, the laws are far from uniform, and the state only recently began addressing the costs of care. However, the experiences of Massachusetts residents can still offer plenty of advice regarding what to expect on January 1st and what you should do to prepare for the new law change. 
 
Even before the law took effect in 2007, only 8 percent of Massachusetts residents were without insurance. The requirements, along with subsidies that make policies affordable, decreased the state’s uninsured population down to 3 percent, the lowest in the nation. The nation as a whole is expected to fall short of this milestone: by 2017, roughly an estimated 10 percent of Americans will still go without health insurance, down from 16 percent today. With less generous under Obamacare and some states reusing to expand Medicaid offerings, more impoverished Americans may go without insurance. 
 
Also, workers at large firms that offer generous health care packages will see no changes to their plans. In Massachusetts, companies that employ fewer than 11 full-time workers can refuse to provide health insurance, while larger firms can opt out of the requirements by paying a fine of $295 per employee. From 2005 to 2011, the percentage of businesses with three or more workers that provide insurance increased from 70 to 76 percent, according to a Massachusetts employer survey. 
 
 
Source: whitehouse.gov

SEC Proposes Money Market Fund Reforms

SEC Proposes Money Market Fund Reforms

The United States Securities and Exchange Commission unanimously agreed to propose new regulations that would alter the way that money market funds operate in order to make them less volatile and susceptible to fluctuations that would ultimately harm investors. 

The rules proposed by the federal agency include two principal reforms that may be adopted singularly or in combination. One alteration would require a floating net asset value for the prime institutional money market fund class, while the other alteration would permit the use of redemption gates and liquidity fees in times of distress. The proposal also includes additional disclosure and diversification measures that would be applied under either of the proposed regulations. 

The United States Securities and Exchange Commission started to evaluate the need for such reforms after the Reserve Primary Fund faltered at the height of the great recession in September of 2008.

“Our main priority is to implement sound and effective reform measures that decrease the susceptibility of money market funds to lengthy runs and to prevent events similar to the one that occurred in 2008,” claimed Mary Jo White, the chairwoman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. 

The public will be allowed to comment on these proposals for 90 days after the regulations are promulgated in the Federal Register. 

Source: sec.gov

Axed: J.C. Penney CEO Shown the Door

Axed: J.C. Penney CEO Shown the Door

 

 
The Ron Johnson tenure at J.C. Penney is official over. 
 
The troubled department store announced late yesterday that Johnson is stepping down as CEO and leaving the company after just 18 months at the helm. Johnson is being replaced by his predecessor, Mike Ullman, who led the corporation for seven years prior to Johnson’s hiring. 
 
J.C. Penney announced that Johnson’s departure is not the result of a conflict or disagreement with the Board of Directors or the company itself on any matter relating to operation, practices or policies. 
 
J.C. Penney char Thomas Engibous said via a statement that the company is fortunate to have new CEO Mike Ullman take the reins at the distressed retailer. 
 
Ullman said in a statement that J.C. Penney has traversed through choppy waters, but that the store remains a leader in American retailing and is an asset the can be leveraged and built upon. 
 
J.C. Penney shares surged following the news of Johnson’s departure, but dropped off after it was announced that Ullman would replace him. Ultimately the stock dipped 7 percent by Monday night. 
 
“The selection of Mike Ullman, puzzled a lot of people,” said William Frohnhoefer, an analyst with BTIG, noting that Johnson’s hiring two years ago was viewed as an attempt to change course following Ullman’s tenure. 
 
J.C. Penney shares have dropped more than 50 percent over the past year as Johnson, a former Apple executive struggled to drive a turnaround effort. 
 
Johnson offered a series of new initiatives, including redesigned store layouts, overhauled prices, and even free haircuts for children, in an effort to revitalize the company. Johnson ditched older brands and announced plans to terminate checkout counters in favor of self-checkout lanes and mobile devices. 
 
“Johnson tried to do too much too soon,” Frohnhoefer claimed. “Johnson had a slew of radical and bold ideas, and he attempted to execute them all at once.”
 
Johnson received a compensation package worth nearly $54 million for 2011, $53 million of which came as a special stock award. Johnson earned roughly $2 million in 2012, receiving only 44 percent of his target cash compensation in light of the company’s poor performance. 
 
New CEO Mike Ullman is scheduled to receive an annual base salary of $1 million, J.C. Penney announced on Monday. 
 

Ben Bernake Warns against Raising Interest Rates too soon

Ben Bernake Warns against Raising Interest Rates too soon

 

 
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke warned the American public of the risks associated with raising interest rates too soon. Mr. Bernanke also urged the U.S. Congress to do more to help the economy. 
 
The United States’ economy is doing far better than it was a year ago, but Bernanke wants to be cautious not to squash the recovery now. 
 
“A premature tightening of our monetary policy could cause interest rates to rise temporarily, but it would also carry a significant risk of slowing or ending our economy recovery and causing inflation to drop further,” Bernanke told the U.S. Congressional Joint Economic Committee on Wednesday. 
 
The Federal Reserve has maintained its fundamental short-term interest rate close to zero since December of 2008, and expects rates to stay at this level there for a “considerable amount of time” as the recovery continues to strengthen, Bernanke said. 
The Fed is also engaged in a controversial stimulus practice known as quantitative easing, where the central bank purchases $85 billion a month in Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities. This policy is meant to reduce long-term interest rates to stimulate the economy through a variety of avenues. 
 
Low mortgage rates, for example, have played a vital role in the housing recovery, enabling some homeowners to refinance or provide an incentive to prospective buyers to purchase a home. 
 
The housing recovery has provided a significant boost to the construction and real estate employment markets; since 2011, these industries have added roughly 420,000 jobs, according to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. 
 
That said, it is unclear how effective the policy has been in boosting the overall labor market. The economy lost roughly 8.7 million jobs following the financial crisis, and has since gained only about 6.2 million jobs back. 
 
As of last month, the unemployment rate was 7.5 percent, which is an improvement from the peak of 10% during the crisis, but still well below the pre-recession level. 
Bernanke cited his concerns about not just the labor market, but also underemployment—roughly 8 million Americans are working part-time even though they are willing to engage in full-time work. 
 
Meanwhile, the policy is widely credited for boosting stocks to record highs. 
The Federal Reserve is aiming to keep short-term interest rates close to zero until the unemployment rate dips back to 6.5 percent or inflation exceeds 2.5 percent per year. By the central bank’s own forecasts, this scenario is not likely to happen until at least 2015. 
 
 
Source: whitehouse.gov