11/25/2014 (10:28 am)

Germany Relies on Consumers for Growth as Investment Declines - Bloomberg

Filed under: bank, real estate |

Germany relied on domestic consumers for economic growth last quarter as investment fell, putting the strength of the nation

11/09/2014 (7:00 am)

Illinois releases health insurance plan information for 2015 coverage

Filed under: mortgage, real estate |

Metro East consumers will have more options but will likely pay more for their HealthCare.gov insurance coverage next year, according to data released Friday by Illinois insurance officials. 

The Metro East counties of St. Clair, Monroe and Madison will have 40 plans from four carriers to choose from for 2015 coverage, up 10 from this year. The insurers selling in those counties are Coventry Healthcare, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Land of Lincoln Mutual Health Insurance Company and Time Insurance Company. 

“Increased competition has led to competitive pricing and individuals, families and small businesses will have access to an even wider selection of affordable health care options in 2015,” said Illinois Department of Insurance Director Andrew Boron in a statement announcing the rate information.

“There are more options available and our mission is to help consumers make a choice that works best for their budget,” said Get Covered Illinois Executive Director Jennifer Koehler.

Although officials released the general plan information, consumers won’t be able to compare plans yet. Federal health officials have said that specific rates and detailed plan information will be available on HealthCare.gov at some point this weekend, about a week before open enrollment starts on Nov. 15. 

The data from the insurance department show that premiums will rise an average of 2.6 percent throughout the state.

Premiums for the lowest cost bronze level plan, which has the highest cost-sharing for consumers, in the Metro East rose by 8 percent — to $144 payday loans.27 per month for a 21-year-old nonsmoker, from $133.63. Thirteen different bronze plans will be on the market.

The lowest cost silver plan’s premium, the next step from bronze in terms of cost-sharing, rose a more modest 5 percent for St. Clair, Monroe and Madison counties. There will be 15 silver plans to select from during open enrollment. 

Of the 217,000 Illinoisans who selected marketplace coverage last year, 56 percent chose a silver plan while 29 percent picked a bronze one. 

In a change from last year, one platinum level plan — the highest level of cost-sharing where an insurer pays at least 90 percent of medical bills — will be available in each of the three Metro East counties.

The upcoming enrollment period will also mark the launch of the online small business marketplace. There will be 12 plans available in the Metro East for 2015 small business coverage. 

Statewide, there will be 410 individual health plans available through 10 carriers although the majority of them are only in the Chicago area. There were 165 plans available for 2014 coverage.  

This report was prepared in collaboration with Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.


10/30/2014 (12:04 pm)

Solid third-quarter US economic growth is expected

Filed under: economics, real estate |

WASHINGTON (AP) — It’s taken years, but the U.S. economy may finally be reaching a sustainable cruising speed.

Many economists predict that overall growth, as measured by the gross domestic product, reached a healthy 3 percent annual rate in the July-September quarter, according to a survey by data firm FactSet.

The Commerce Department will release its first estimate of GDP growth in the third quarter at 8:30 a.m. EDT Thursday.

If the expectations prove accurate, it would be the fourth quarter in the past five in which the economy has reached at least a 3 percent growth rate.

For the April-June period, growth reached a sizzling 4.6 percent rate. But that marked a sharp bounce back from the first quarter, when the economy shrank at an annual rate of 2.1 percent — a contraction normally associated with recessions. The stumble reflected largely a harsh winter that closed shopping malls and disrupted much economic activity.

After the roller-coaster first- and second-quarter gyrations, most analysts think the economy is poised to achieve consistently stronger growth for the rest of this year and all of 2015.

Many think full-year growth for 2015 will hit 3 percent, giving the economy the best annual performance since 2005, two years before the Great Recession began.

Much of the optimism stems from the strength of job growth, which has lowered the unemployment rate to a six-year low of 5 Online payday loans.9 percent. In September, the economy added 248,000 jobs, extending a string of strong gains.

The additional workers should translate into more income and consumer spending, which accounts for 70 percent of economic activity.

The strength in the United States comes amid weakness overseas. Europe is on the brink of its third recession in seven years, Japan is faltering and China and Brazil are also struggling.

The Federal Reserve noted the brightening U.S. prospects as it ended a policy meeting Wednesday. It retained language in a statement saying it didn’t expect to raise its benchmark interest rate for a “considerable time.” But it also pointed to rising signs of strength, including job gains and lower unemployment.

Against that backdrop, the Fed ended its third round of bond buying. Over the past six years, the Fed has pumped more than $3 trillion into the economy through bond purchases designed to keep long-term rates low.

Most economists don’t expect the Fed to begin raising rates before June. But they viewed the Fed’s statement as a warning that if the economy strengthened more than expected in coming months, rate hikes could start occurring sooner than investors think.


10/28/2014 (9:32 pm)

Companies continue battle for Marvel superheroes

Filed under: finance, real estate |

DENVER (AP) — Spider-Man, X-Men and The Hulk will loom large in a federal appeals court Tuesday as a Colorado company battles with Disney for the rights to Marvel’s iconic comic book characters in a longtime dispute.

A panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments in an ongoing case involving Colorado-based Stan Lee Media and The Walt Disney Co.

A federal judge last year dismissed a lawsuit in which Stan Lee Media claimed the copyright to the characters and sought profits Disney made from movies and merchandise featuring them. Disney bought Marvel in 2009.

Stan Lee Media, which is no longer affiliated with comic book writer Stan Lee, appealed the judge’s order. Disney has argued that other courts have already ruled against Stan Lee Media on the same matter.

The appeal is the latest turn in a court battle between the companies that has spanned more than a decade.

Stan Lee Media has sued Marvel and others over the characters’ copyrights in at least six cases, all of which have been dismissed, according to court documents. In 2012, it sued Disney in federal court in Denver for the $5.5 billion it said Disney earned from movies and merchandise involving Spider-Man, Iron Man, The Fantastic Four and other characters.

Stan Lee Media says Lee signed over the rights to the characters he created to its corporate predecessor in 1998. But Lee sent Stan Lee Media a letter terminating the agreement because the company had breached the deal. He gave the same copyrights to Marvel, spawning the courtroom battles, court documents say.

In asking the judge to dismiss the case, Disney said there was no conceivable way Stan Lee Media could state a viable copyright claim.


10/01/2014 (8:08 am)

Photos, exhibits paint grisly picture in Magnotta murder trial: DiManno

Filed under: legal, real estate |

WARNING:Due to the nature of the trial, this column contains graphic content.

MONTREAL—“If you don’t like the reflection, don’t look in the mirror.”

Those were the words scrawled in red marker on the wall inside a closet in the studio apartment where Luka Magnotta resided and allegedly committed butchery of a human being.

But Magnotta was in thrall to mirrors.

As he was in thrall to his own beauteous image: the cherry-mouth pout a signature feature in autoerotic poses.

The sculpted cheekbones.

The arched eyebrow.

The seductive moue.

He lived in a house of mirrors, metaphorically, that reflected his own contrived creation.

“I don’t care,” the epigram on the wall continues.

Magnotta, who’s admitted — but pleaded not guilty — to the murder and dismemberment of Chinese exchange student Jun Lin, may or not be a head case, which is the “not criminally responsible” argument his lawyer has stated he will mount at trial here. But he was indisputably a vanity case, a walking hunk of narcissism.

The figments of his imagination were obliquely portrayed in court on Tuesday, in bizarre notes written on fuchsia paper, attached to gift bags containing parts of Lin’s mutilated body, sent through the mail to addresses across Canada.

The Conservative party offices in Ottawa received a foot and this communiqu

09/21/2014 (1:36 pm)

G-20 Sees Potential Excessive Risk in Markets on Low Rates - Bloomberg

Filed under: bank, real estate |

Group of 20 finance chiefs and central bankers said low interest rates are contributing to a potential increase in financial market risk, as major policy makers rely on monetary stimulus to bolster growth.

09/02/2014 (3:48 am)


Filed under: Stock market, real estate |

Swiss National Bank President Thomas Jordan said the ceiling on the Swiss franc remains vital as global economic risks have increased.

08/28/2014 (6:04 am)

Aussie Defiance of Iron Erodes on Fed Bets: Chart of the Day - Bloomberg

Filed under: finance, real estate |

Plunging iron ore prices and growing bets the Federal Reserve will tighten monetary policy suggest Reserve Bank of Australia Governor Glenn Stevens could gain relief from his strong-currency headache.

The CHART OF THE DAY shows a deepening divergence between an Australian dollar that remains above its 91.5 U.S. cent average since Stevens took office in September 2006, and a slide in prices for the country

08/20/2014 (2:28 am)

Private prison company pays $8M in back wages

Filed under: economics, real estate |

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The nation’s largest private prison company, Corrections Corp. of America, has paid more than $8 million in back wages and benefits to current and former employees guarding federal inmates at a prison in California City, officials with the U.S. Department of Labor said Tuesday.

The payments came after an investigation found that the federal prison subcontractor underpaid 362 employees at the California City Correctional Center under the terms of its contract, where pay rates are established by law.

In some cases, employees were paid 30 to 40 percent less than they were supposed to be paid, said Eduardo Huerta, assistant director of the department’s wage and hour division.

Many employees recouped more than $30,000 in back pay, benefits, overtime and holiday pay, officials said, and had worked at the lesser pay rate for up to five years.

The facility houses federal inmates being detained by the U.S. Marshal and federal immigration authorities, as well as state inmates. The back wages only applied to CCA employees working with federal inmates.

Jonathan Burns, a spokesman for the company, did not have an immediate comment.

“If somebody was supposed to be making $30 an hour, they were making $20 an hour instead,” Huerta said.

“The people that get these federal monies from a federal agency to get one of these contracts have to abide by the wage rates.”

The company also wasn’t making the required contributions to health and life insurance and retirement accounts, he said. The investigation also found record-keeping violations under the Fair Labor Standards Act, include inaccurate recording of breaks, lunches and overall hours worked.

Corrections Corp. of America — the fifth-largest prison system in the nation — has come under scrutiny before.

In Kentucky, it paid $260,000 last week to settle claims that it denied overtime to shift supervisors and forced them to work extra hours.

In Kansas, CCA and a group of collections officers, case managers and clerks settled in 2009 in federal court over allegations of unpaid overtime. CCA agreed to pay a maximum of $7 million but did not acknowledge fault in the case.

Idaho announced this year that it would not renew a $29 million-a-year contract with the private prison company and began the process of returning operations of the state’s largest prison, in Boise, to state control.

The facility was sued and plagued by accusations of violence, gang activity and understaffing after the private prison contractor took it over.

Corrections Corp. of America operates detention centers for federal, state and local governments in 20 states in the U.S. and houses nearly 80,000 inmates at 60 facilities.

California City is about 110 miles northeast of Los Angeles.


08/13/2014 (2:44 pm)

Urban living distracts us from driving: Hume

Filed under: management, real estate |

Oh dear. If Toronto’s much put upon drivers didn’t have enough to deal with, now they must worry about uppity BMXers.

Sunnyside Bike Park, which recently opened east of Ellis Ave. between Lake Shore Blvd. and the Gardiner Expressway, has received rave reviews from users — mainly teenage boys — but according to the Star’s esteemed Wheels editor and Motor Sport Hall of Fame inductee, Norris McDonald, the new facility is guaranteed to make a bad driving situation even worse.

“Visual distractions,” McDonald wrote last weekend, “are very dangerous because no matter how many times they are told not to, drivers will always take a gander and that . . . can create serious problems.”

That must be why whole stretches of our major highways are either lined with enormous barriers or built up with the most nondescript buildings imaginable. All that rear-lotting on the broad avenues of the postwar city is also for their benefit. Anything more interesting would be unnecessarily hard on drivers.

Lest drivers find themselves distracted, which, being human is beyond their control, the space through which they move should be pleasant but not overly so. Certainly it should not be exciting or engaging. Anything that catches the eye should be eliminated wherever possible.

McDonald didn’t address the issue of the countless billboards — digital, neon, LED, static and moving — that fill the drivers’ every view. It’s clear, however, that in the interests of vehicular safety they should go.

So what about that extraordinary white marble Hindu temple on the east side of Highway 400? Or the spectacular Ismaili Centre and Aga Khan Museum visible from the Don Valley Parkway at Eglinton? And how did all those condos next to the Gardiner get built — the ones with living rooms overlooking the highway?

They offer nothing but death, destruction and gridlock. These sorts of things should never have been allowed. Surely they could have been put somewhere out of view, on some hidden site where few would have noticed?

Of course, from a driver’s perspective the world is a place where the least distraction is welcome. As long as it’s not other cars, drivers are happy for any diversion, be it an accident, a truck with a flat tire, police activity or a beeping cell phone. Police say distracted driving happens more often now than drunk driving; so the last thing the city’s beleaguered drivers need is a biker park within view.

Perhaps it’s time city planners insist that invisibility be enshrined as a guiding principle for all future development. That would fit in nicely with the department’s fear of heights, architectural excellence and anything that isn’t a generic glass tower or a concrete box. In the name of driver safety, planners should insist that space surrounding new buildings be set aside as designated zones of emptiness, inactivity, blandness and/or strategically placed barriers.

That’s the sort of thing Toronto planners could get enthusiastic about. Look how successful that model has been in the inner suburbs. Besides, anything less would be irresponsible and unfair to drivers.

As McDonald points out, “drivers can’t help themselves . . .”

That’s also why bikes and pedestrians in general should be kept off the streets; they are distracting and make getting around unnecessarily difficult. After all, kids can ride their bikes pretty well anywhere. Cars, alas, are restricted to the roads.

Is it any wonder congestion has become such a pressing issue in Toronto? The way drivers are treated in this ungrateful burg, you’d think congestion was their fault. Whoever bears the blame, it’s certainly not them.


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