Saving Money in the US Depends on Where You Live

Los Angeles is the hardest city to save in the US. Photo by By Thomas Pintaric
Los Angeles is the hardest city to save in the US. Photo by By Thomas Pintaric

Everyone knows how important it is to save money. There is no question that everyone would like to save, but in some US towns, it is simply not so easy. How much people can save is not only dependent on how much income is rolling in, but how much it costs to live. took a look at several parameters to create a list of the easiest (and most difficult) cities in which to save. They took the price of gas from GasBuddy, home prices and rent data from Zillow, and unemployment rates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The last parameter was income, which was garnered from the Census Bureau. Together they came up with a general idea of how hard saving money is throughout many of the county’s cities.

The web site created an interactive map to illustrate where the best and worst cities are. Not surprisingly, East Coast and West Coast cities are the most expensive places to live, while smaller cities further away from central hubs of commerce and industry are actually easier to save.

The top five cities for saving money are:

1.    Anchorage, Alaska
2.    Portland, Oregon
3.    Boise, Idaho
4.    Madison, Wisconsin
5.    Lincoln, Nebraska

The worst five are:

1.    Los Angeles, California (100 of 100)
2.    New York, NY (99 of 100)
3.    San Francisco, California (98 of 100)
4.    Long Beach, California (97 of 100)
5.    Oakland, California (96 of 100)

Moore Capital Backing US Companies, Dropping Chinese

"Alibaba Binjiang Park" by Danielinblue - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons
“Alibaba Binjiang Park” by Danielinblue  Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Moore Capital Management, Louis Bacon’s investment firm,  increased its stake in US consumer and financial industries during the fourth quarter of 2014. Moore also reduced its bet on index funds that track Chinese shares.

Bacon’s firm, which has $14.8 billion under management, invests mostly macro-economically. During the last quarter of 2014 Moore Capital bought shares of Financial Select Sector SPDR Fund to bring its stake to $98.9 million by December 31. Moore’s largest new investment was in an exchange-traded fund that tracks retail companies, to the tune of $105.1 million. Now Moore’s largest holding is in the SPDR S&P Retail ETF.

In addition, equity investments at Moore Capital decreased by 24 percent, down to $2.25 billion.  The firm sold off 3.62 million shares of iShares China Large-Cap ETF, but retained 1.2 million shares, valued at about $50 million. Bacon’s firm also lowered its bets on Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, selling off 1.38 million shares.

New Study Reveals ETF Risks Greatly Exaggerated

Leveraged ETFs, or exchange-traded funds, have been getting a bad rap from certain quarters of the finance world. Larry Fink of BlackRock Inc is quoted as saying that ETFs could “blow up the whole industry, while others say they are not appropriated for most investors. Also known as Geared ETFs, these funds are created to reward investors with some multiple, such as 2x or 3x, of the positive (and also negative) daily payoff of a referenced index. The two big hesitations many observers have about these investment vehicles are that they are not a good fit for investors who prefer to buy and hold their stocks over the long haul; and on the macro level, the effects these vehicles could have on markets have the potential of being destabilizing.

A new study investigating these issues asserts that these fears are most likely exaggerated.  Co-authored by Ivan Ivanov and Stephen Lenkey, and entitled “Are Concerns About Leveraged ETFs Overblown?” the study concludes that the money going in and out of the funds “diminish the potential for leveraged and Inverse ETFs to exacerbate volatility.”

According to the research, the extreme ETF volatility created by the compounding effects of a factor of three ( or negative three) times the day’s return of an index can indeed make the ordinary investor sweat, the overall effect on the market, the supporting stocks and underlying index, is controlled.

A leveraged exchange fund still might not be for ordinary investors. One major issuer of ETFs, Michael Sapir explained that “the understanding in the market for these products has matured significantly,” since they first came on the market. Sapir added that geared investment risk might not be for everyone. “But institutions and financial professionals can use them to enhance return and manage risk.”

Beijing Hosts China-Israel Cooperation

At the end of last month, Liu Yandong (China’s Vice Premier) and Avigdor Lieberman (Israel’s Foreign Minister) hosted the first China-Israel Joint Committee on Innovation Cooperation in Beijing. At the meeting, a three-year action plan on cooperating in innovation was signed between the two countries on issues such as: culture, education, healthcare and technology.

In addition, the Hobart Group – founded by Professor Shlomo Ben-Haim – with the China-Israel Rehabilitation Center for Autistic Children, signed a contract with the Park and will also be operating there. The Hobart Group is a medical group with top business operations experts, engineers and scientists, working in the fields of cardiac disease, diabetes, oncology, neurology and rehabilitation. Simultaneously the China-Israel Changzhou Innovation Park was established which marks the “official start of the construction of China and Israel’s first experimental zone for innovation cooperation.”

According to an English translation of the original article:

“Li Keqiang said in his congratulatory message that scientific technology is not bound by national borders, and innovation calls for cooperation. He hopes that the China-Israel Joint Committee on Innovation Cooperation will establish tight connections between the scientists of both countries, take full advantage of various resources of innovation, strengthen innovation cooperation, and contribute to both nations’ development in innovation and benefits for the people, achieving mutually beneficial and win-win results.”

Over the last two-and-a-half years, around 25 hi-tech Israeli companies have brought their operations to the China-Israel Changzhou Innovation Park. A China-Israel Collaboration Science and Technology Innovation Fund has been established, offering “an innovative and enterprising environment for Israeli projects and talents.”

Last year at a conference leaders from both China and Israel agreed to continue with collaboration on the above-mentioned industries, signing three economic cooperation agreements. Learn more from the original article in Chinese.

Investors Cautious as Stock Market Continues Decline

Where is the market heading? photo by Rafael Matsunaga
Where is the market heading? photo by Rafael Matsunaga

During the week between January 8 and January 15 the stock market fell five sessions in a row, losing over 3 percent in its value. Whether that downturn is the much anticipated correction investors have been alert for, or it’s just a regular speed bump on the highway to more profits, is the question of the hour.

The last time the S&P shed 10 percent or more was over three years ago. Since December 29 that index has dropped by 5 percent up until last Thursday’s closing bell. What to make of these indicators is practically anyone’s guess at the moment. The downturn has made shares less pricey, with the price/earnings ratio of the S&P down to 16 on Friday. At the end of 2014 the P/E figure stood at 20.

American investors are also wary of the fall in commodities, not knowing if that collapse is telling them to buy or sell. Oil prices have also been tumbling, selling at under $50/barrel, a six-year low. The drop in gas prices as sparked a rise in consumer spending, creating a great mood for shoppers expressed in an 11-year high this month.

Other indicators, from the strength of the dollar to the price of copper, have left investors at a loss for interpreting the data. Some seem to believe it is just a bump on the road, and are buying some shares that look like bargains now.

“We’re in buying mode now, and are absolutely pleased to be able to pick up some stocks we’re excited about while investors are putting them on sale,” said Lamar Villere, a portfolio manager at Villere & Co, which has about $3 billion in assets under management.

Ed Keon, portfolio manager at Quantitative Management Associates, agrees with Villere.

“I believe it’s more likely to be noise than part of a broader correction,” said Ed Keon, a portfolio manager at Quantitative Management Associates, a Prudential Financial company, where he helps manage more than $60 billion.

US Severing Its Dependence on Oil, Domestic and Otherwise

Shepard's Flat Wind Farm, Oregon by Steve Wilson
Shepherd’s Flat Wind Farm, Oregon by Steve Wilson

According to data collected from several sources, the United States seems to be reducing its reliance not only on foreign sources for oil, but for oil all together.

A sign of the new abundance of oil which is reducing our dependence on foreign oil is the drastic decline in the price of oil since the middle of the year, falling to price which has not been seen in five years. In concert with this development is the increase in shale boom which has boosted US oil production to the most it has been in 30 years.

In spite of the ready availability of abundant, cheap oil, consumption has not gone up. Instead the US is consuming the smallest amount of oil per dollar of GDP in over forty years. Whereas the US GDP and oil consumption used to go up and down together, today they seem to move independently. The fact that they are not linked is a sign that the US is severing its dependence on oil to fuel the economy. How did that happen?

For one thing, cars are highly fuel efficient and getting better every day. As baby boomers retire, they use fuel less and less. Young people are moving into the cities where cars are used less and public transportation is used more. Renewable energy sources are becoming ever more important sources fuel.

With the increase in production and decrease in consumption, imports to the US of oil resources have declined. Today we purchase almost no oil from countries like Russia and Nigeria, and our dependence on OPEC oil has also been in decline. In addition, the US is exporting its own supplies of crude oil, skyrocketing in the middle of 2014.

Almost 90 percent of the energy consumed in 2014 was produced right at home, bringing the US closer to 100 percent energy independence.

Inger Loftheim Rood: Shopping Insurance Plans

Head-shot-of-Inger-Loftheim-RoodChoice is the buzzword these days in health insurance plans. Since there are so many from which to choose, companies such as Florida Blue, Allegiance Life and Health Insurance Company, Guardian Life Insurance Company of America and others, have to provide exceedingly attractive plans for their customers. Right now is a particularly important time to do this, since it is enrollment time.

One focus of Inger Loftheim Rood, VP and Chief of Staff for the Office of the CEO at Florida Blue, has been ensuring efficiency at the firm, in order to provide the best health plans to customers. Florida Blue today offers a wide array of affordable plans, to meet varying needs. As well, from November 15, the company is assisting with subsidy applications to the Health Insurance Marketplace.

For Montana citizens, Allegiance Life and Health Insurance Company also offers a variety of plans. These include: deductibles with limited, deductibles with co-pays, a high deductible health plan and more.

In addition, the US Health Insurance Guide is a useful review for customers shopping for health insurance plans, with break-ups for each individual state.

Margaret Keane Head of Synchrony Financial

Margaret Keane
Margaret Keane

One of only two women running independently traded US banks valued at over $10 billion, Margaret Keane, 55, knows what it feels like to be unique.

She explained why she follows sports news, even though sports are not a real interest of hers:

“A lot of times I’m the only woman in the room,” said Keane, who leads Synchrony Financial. “If the Yankees won last night, you should know because it’s going to come up. You need to be able to banter with your male colleagues — you can fight that or you can get in the middle.”

Keane has been climbing the corporate ladder for thirty years, learning to build relationships and the ins and outs of finance. Starting in the call center at Citicorp, she managed to make it to the rarefied atmosphere of top level management where women are conspicuously absent. Now she is faced with a new and exciting challenge. Her company, Synchrony, until recently, was a part of General Electric. As of last July, however it has spun off as its own financial lending institution, becoming the largest bank in the US that is run by a woman.

The other woman in this special club is Beth Mooney of KeyCorp. Even though women hold about half the job in financial services, when you examine the upper echelons of executive positions women are only represented 12.4 percent of the time.

“There’s an enormous responsibility that comes with being a diverse leader,” Keane said in an interview at the firm’s Stamford, Conn., headquarters. “My job is to figure out how to get more women in leadership across our industry.”

Hackers Wreaking Havoc on Financial Records

If there were 2 million bank robberies in just one day in the United States, it is likely that someone would sit up and take notice. According to the FBI, the equivalent of that number of bank robberies is taking place every day in cyberspace. In only the past half year computer hackers have made off with 2.4 million financial records, on average, every single day. According to USA Today 439 records were stolen and 500 million were compromised during the past year.

“We’re in a day when a person can commit about 15,000 bank robberies sitting in their basement,”

said Robert Anderson, executive assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Cyber Response and Services Branch.

Some of the better known businesses that have been targets of cyber-thievery are Target, Home Depot and JP Morgan Chase. Tim Pawlenty, president of the Financial Services Roundtable and former Republican governor of Minnesota, said that around half of all adult Americans, or about 110 million people, have had their financial data compromised one way or another during the past year. The vast majority of businesses who have been hacked don’t even realize their accounts have fallen into the wrong hands until financial institutions or customers tell them, according to a study conducted by Verizon.

Barrett Wissman: A Modern Medici

Barrett Wissman
Barrett Wissman

One could make an excellent case for saying that what the Medici family did for art and architecture in the 16th century, Barrett Wissman is doing for refined music and fine arts in the 21st century. A successful Los Angeles, California-based entrepreneur and patron of the arts, Barrett Wissman began with an idea and turned it into a movement.

Wissman’s idea was to give a new meaning to performance arts by bringing prestigious music performances to out-of-the-way venues, in contrast to the well-worn art hubs like Milan, London or Edinburgh. From the early stages of Wissman’s project his vision was to create an arts festival. He began with a small performance in Tuscany in an 18th century abandoned opera house. Within a short time this acorn grew into the mighty oak of the now globally praised “Tuscan Sun Festival.”

It did not take long before other arts lovers sought Barret Wissman’s unique abilities to help them create their own arts festivals. For instance, in Northern California Wissman was called upon to help launch the “Napa Valley Festival del Sole.”

As Wissman himself put it,

“It’s a mission in my life to have more and more people enjoy and love the arts.”

As a philanthropist, financier, Principal and Co-Chairman of IMG Artists, a performing arts management company with offices in Los Angeles, California, New York, Paris and London, Barrett Wissman seems to fit the description of “Medici of the 21st century” quite well.