Saturday, August 31, 2013

Wireless markets and foreign ownership

Verizon High Speed Internet
Verizon High Speed Internet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Bell Atlantic logo, 1984-1997
Bell Atlantic logo, 1984-1997 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
If the federal government really wants healthy competition in the wireless market, it should just do away with the limits on foreign ownership and other regulations, a new report says.
The analysis published Monday by the right-of-centre Fraser Institute is the latest input into the heated debate on the upcoming auction of valuable wireless spectrum.
The big three Canadian providers — Bell, Telus and Rogers — are furious that current rules might allow an American giant like Verizon to bid at the auction.
- Industry minister strikes back on telecoms' wireless rhetoric.
As the system works now, the government limits how much of the spectrum the big "incumbent" companies can buy up, in order to encourage smaller players to come to the table. That theoretically would stimulate competition across Canada and ultimately keep prices down.
But those smaller players — Wind Mobile or Mobilicity for example — could be bought up by a firm like Verizon, which would theoretically have an easy time snapping up the spectrum that is off limits to the incumbents. Because those big Canadian firms aren't allowed to bid on all the spectrum available, that could drive down the size of auction bids and give Verizon a potentially good deal.
The report, written by senior Fraser Institute fellow Steven Globerman, argues there is no evidence that handicapping the incumbent companies does anything to improve efficient competition.
"By setting up rules that handicap the three large Canadian telecoms and favour small or new players in the marketplace, the federal government is effectively subsidizing new entrants and promoting inefficient competition. This could make most consumers worse off, rather than better off," Globerman says.
"Given conclusive evidence that the wireless sector in Canada is workably competitive, there would be clearly no conceptual case for competitive handicapping," writes Globerman.
He says that getting rid of the remaining barriers to foreign entrants in the Canadian marketplace would create fears of hostile takeovers of the big three companies, thus creating an incentive for them to be more efficient.
But since many telecom firms are in the broadcasting business, the report says that would mean also getting rid of the limits in that industry — a foray into the cultural realm that no Canadian government has wanted to make.
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Friday, August 30, 2013

Fiat Industrial (FI.MI) said on Monday its Chief Operating Officer Richard Tobin would run CNH Industrial

Fiat Industrial
Fiat Industrial (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Fiat Industrial (FI.MI) said on Monday its Chief Operating Officer Richard Tobin would run CNH Industrial, the new company that will be formed CNH in the autumn.
The appointment, which was widely expected, completes top management appointments at the new group which is expected to be created at the end of September.
"Rich will be assuming the position of Chief Executive of CNH Industrial upon completion of the merger," Fiat Industrial and CNH Chairman Sergio Marchionne said in a statement.
Tobin, CFO at Switzerland's SGS Group in Geneva before joining CNH in 2010, is currently also CNH's CEO.
Fiat Industrial and CNH also said in a joint statement that Massimiliano Chiara will take over as chief financial officer of the new company from Pablo Di Si, who was leaving the group.
After the merger Fiat Industrial will move its corporate headquarters to the Netherlands. The new CNH Industrial group will have a primary stock listing in the U.S.
Marchionne, who is also CEO of Fiat (FIA.MI), has previously said the Fiat Industrial-CNH merger "is one of the technical blueprints" for a future Fiat-Chrysler marriage".

The Turin-based Fiat, Italy's biggest private employer, is in talks with Chrysler's minority shareholder VEBA to buy the 41.5 percent stake it does not already own.
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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Orders for long-lasting U.S. manufactured goods recorded their biggest drop

Orders for long-lasting U.S. manufactured goods recorded their biggest drop in nearly a year in July and a gauge of planned business spending on capital goods tumbled, casting a shadow over the economy early in the third quarter.
The Commerce Department said on Monday durable goods orders dropped 7.3 percent as demand for goods ranging from aircraft to computers and defense equipment fell. That was the biggest decline since last August and snapped three consecutive months of gains
Orders for these goods, which range from toasters to aircraft, had increased 3.9 percent in June.
Economists polled by Reuters had expected durable goods orders to fall 4.0 percent.
Non-defense capital goods orders excluding aircraft, a closely watched proxy for business spending plans, fell 3.3 percent, breaking four straight months of gains. It was the biggest fall since February.
Orders for these so-called core capital goods increased by a revised 1.3 percent in June.
Economists had expected this category to increase 0.5 percent after a previously reported 0.9 percent gain in June.
The decline in orders for both durable and capital goods suggested manufacturing will probably not bounce back as quickly as many economists had expected after hitting a speed bump early in the year.
That, combined with a slowdown in residential construction and new home sales, implies the economy might not accelerate much from the second quarter's 1.7 percent annual pace.
Last month, durable goods orders were held down by a 19.4 percent plunge in bookings for transportation equipment. That reflected a 52.3 percent drop in orders for civilian aircraft.
Boeing received orders for 90 aircraft in July, down from 287 aircraft the prior month, according to information posted on its website. Orders for motor vehicles gained 0.5 percent after rising 0.2 percent the prior month.

Even excluding transportation, demand for long-lasting manufactured goods was weak almost across the board. Orders excluding transportation fell 0.6 percent.
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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

small-business optimism is the highest it has been

found photo: business leaders
found photo: business leaders (Photo credit: squareintheteeth)
While it's well below pre-recession levels, the latest Wells Fargo/Gallup Small-Business Index, conducted at the end of July, reveals small-business optimism is the highest it has been since the third quarter of 2008, in large part because small-business owners said they feel more optimistic about their ability to access credit over the next year.
In the survey, 28 percent of small-business owners said they expect credit to be very or somewhat easy to obtain in the next 12 months, up from 24 percent in the second quarter of 2013 and the highest percentage since 2009. In addition, 30 percent said they expect credit to be difficult to obtain in the next 12 months, down significantly from the 36 percent recorded last quarter and the lowest this measure has been in five years.
Improved access to credit was a major driver of improvement in small-businesses optimism, helping push overall sentiment 9 points since the second quarter and 36 points since the fourth quarter of 2012, to a positive 25. The survey gauges small-business owners’ perceptions of their present situation over the past 12 months and future expectations for the next 12 months in six key areas: financial situation, cash flow, revenues, capital spending allocation, hiring and credit availability.
In the most recent survey, 25 percent of small-business owners reported an increase in capital spending in the past 12 months. Additionally, more than one-quarter (26 percent) of business owners said they are planning to increase spending in the next 12 months. The No. 1 reason business owners cited for not making a capital investment was continued concern about the overall state of the economy (64 percent) followed by uncertainty in the future of their business (57 percent).
"For 10 years, the Small-Business Index has taken the pulse of small-business owners in America," Doug Case, Wells Fargo small-business segment manager, said in a statement. "The survey has shown a slow and uneven recovery for small businesses, and this quarter we continue to see business owners express cautious optimism as economic trends improve, such as a strengthening housing market."
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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Shawnigan Files Appeal to Stop South Island Aggregates Toxic Soil Dump

Shawnigan Residents Association Files Appeal to Stop South Island Aggregates Toxic Soil Dump

sra-media-releaseAugust 26th, 2013
By: Shawnigan Residents Association (SRA)
Shawnigan Lake, BC: Today the SRA has filed a Notice of Appeal with the BC Environmental Appeal Board in opposition to the Ministry of Environment's decision to grant South Island Aggregates a permit to dump contaminated soil in the Shawnigan Lake drinking watershed. Sean Hern and Robert Anderson QC of Farris LLP are representing the SRA on this matter.
The SRA is profoundly disappointed that the Ministry of Environment has disregarded the will of the community and is jeopardizing the health, safety and well-being of the people of Shawnigan Lake.
The SRA will argue that the risks of the landfill failing to contain the contaminents and poisoning the watershed and lake are far too high.
"We expect this to be a tough fight given government's support of this project, but on our side we have the overwhelming support of a community opposed to this facility. Our concern is that this high-risk decision was not made with the interests of our community in mind, and that inevitably there will be leakage into our drinking water, the health and economic impact of which will be devastating" states Calvin Cook, SRA Director.
The SRA is calling on support from the community and people across British Columbia to help us stop this permit. Please visit our website www.thesra.ca to sign our petition, get involved and contribute to our legal action fund. We are pleased the CVRD has retained legal counsel to appeal the permit and look forward to working with them on this matter.
Media Contact:
Jason Walker
SRA Director Administration and Communications
250 588 7973
www.thesra.ca
info@sramail.ca
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Central banks should coordinate

English: The Marriner S. Eccles Federal Reserv...
Central banks should coordinate to avoid unwanted side effects as they exit from ultra-easy monetary policies that have left the world awash in cheap money, top policymakers were told on Saturday.
Opening the second day of an annual monetary symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, after a week in which several top emerging markets suffered steep losses, a former Bank of France deputy governor painted a grave picture of the problem.
"The main challenge will be to manage the consequences of monetary policies, and their evolutions, on cross-border liquidity movements," Jean-Pierre Landau concluded in a paper he presented to an audience that included top central bankers from advanced as well as emerging market economies.
"Amplifications, feedback loops and sensitivity to risk perceptions will complicate the task of exit and necessitate very close and constant dialogue and cooperation between central banks," said Landau, now a professor at Princeton.
But he lamented that the necessary coordination on monetary policy was unlikely, and warned of the potential for the "fragmentation" of global capital markets.
Stocks and currencies plunged in India, Indonesia, Brazil and Turkey this week as investors fretted over a looming reduction in the U.S. Federal Reserve's monthly bond purchases.
Turkish Central Bank Governor Erdem Basci was attending the conference, although his Brazilian counterpart, Alexandre Tombini, canceled to stay home and deal with the crisis.
The Fed's bond buying, or so-called quantitative easing, has been at the heart of its aggressive efforts to revive U.S. economic growth after it cut interest rates to nearly zero in 2008. Interest rates in Europe and Japan are also ultra-low.
However, the purchases have spurred massive capital inflows into faster growing emerging economies, which are now suffering as investors anticipate an end to the easy money.
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Monday, August 26, 2013

Ministry of Environment approves permit for toxic site dump in Shawnigan Lake watershed

Ministry of Environment approves SIA permit

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By Don Bodger - Cowichan News Leader Pictorial    Published: August 21, 2013 4:00 PM Updated: August 21, 2013 4:26 PM
South Island Aggregates has received the green light from the Ministry of Environment to establish a soil remediation facility within the Shawnigan Lake watershed.

But the Shawnigan Residents Association vows to put a stop to it yet.

A Ministry of Environment press release indicated a statutory decision-maker, kept independent from the political process, approved the permit application.

"The decision-maker looked at the proposed project, including associated environmental concerns and concluded that the proposal adheres to legislation and appropriately manages health and environmental concerns,'' the release states.

SIA is naturally pleased with the decision, allowing treatment and waste soil to be put in a landfill at its Stebbings Road facility.

"The issuance of this permit reflects the rigourous environmental and technical assessment that SIA has undertaken over the past two years, demonstrating that waste can be safely treated and landfilled at this location, within the constraints of an engineered, permitted facility,'' said president Michael Kelly in a statement.

"We appreciate the feedback and comments received during the past year or so of consultation with the public and other stakeholders, and have incorporated this feedback into our final design and monitoring program.''

Upon hearing of the decision, the Shawnigan Residents Association quickly announced it's not done fighting.

"We are deeply troubled by this decision,'' said SRA director Calvin Cook in a media release.

"The short and long term impact on our environment and drinking water has the potential to cripple our community. Clearly the best interests of the people of Shawnigan Lake were not the top priority in this case. We will fight this decision.''

The SRA has retained Robert Anderson and Sean Hern to oppose the permit in front of the Environmental Appeal Board.

Kelly says SIA will now be proceeding with construction and intends to be operational in the near future.

"We look forward to ongoing, meaningful dialogue with stakeholders and other interested parties,'' he said.

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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Netflix signs exclusive with Weinstein

Image representing Netflix as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase
Netflix Inc obtained a multi-year deal that makes the video streaming company the exclusive U.S. subscription TV provider for new movies from The Weinstein Company starting in 2016, the companies announced on Tuesday.
The agreement for first-run rights to Weinstein films after they appear in theaters will bring new content to Netflix to help the company gain subscribers and compete with cable channels such as HBO and Showtime. Financial terms were not disclosed.
The Weinstein Company is known for releasing awards season contenders, including Oscar winners "The Artist" and "The King's Speech". Netflix already had a deal to stream Weinstein documentaries and foreign films.
Netflix shares rose 3.4 percent to $268.59 in afternoon trading on Nasdaq.
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Saturday, August 24, 2013

Windows XP will face not only a support cutoff

Image representing Windows as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase
Come April 2014, organizations that are still running Windows XP will face not only a support cutoff, but a security nightmare, cautions Microsoft. And the company's warnings are growing louder. "There is a sense of urgency because after April 8, Windows XP Service Pack 3 (SP3) customers will no longer receive new security updates, non-security hotfixes, free or paid assisted support options or online technical content updates," explained Tim Rains, director of Microsoft Trustworthy Computing, in an Aug. 16 Microsoft Security Blog post. In essence, enterprises with Windows XP machines in their PC fleets will be left to fend for themselves, and given XP's continued popularity, a good number of PC users may be at risk. According to the latest desktop operating system market statistics (July 2013) from Net Applications, Windows XP commands 37.19 percent of the market, second only to Windows 7 with 44.49 percent. Next year, unless XP's share of the market drops considerably, hackers and malware coders will be setting their sights on a big new target. IBM Security Services Cyber Security Intelligence Index 100% "One risk is that attackers will have the advantage over defenders who choose to run Windows XP because attackers will likely have more information about vulnerabilities in Windows XP than defenders," Rains said. XP stands to lose a major defender in April, namely the Microsoft Security Response Center (MSRC). To combat vulnerabilities across several versions of the company's software, MSRC typically releases security updates that encompass multiple products simultaneously. This tactic lessens the chances that malware creators will exploit underlying similarities between Microsoft's operating systems and applications. Next year, Windows XP will be left out of the loop. "Since a security update will never become available for Windows XP to address these vulnerabilities, Windows XP will essentially have a 'zero-day' vulnerability forever," stated Rains.
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Friday, August 23, 2013

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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Ecuador approves Yasuni park oil drilling in Amazon rainforest

Ecuador approves Yasuni park oil drilling in Amazon rainforest




People took to the streets to protest against the decision to allow oil drilling

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Ecuador has abandoned a conservation plan that would have paid the country not to drill for oil in previously untouched parts of Yasuni National Park in the Amazon rainforest.
President Rafael Correa said rich nations had failed to back the initiative, leaving Ecuador with no choice but go ahead with drilling.
The park is one of the most biodiverse areas in the world.
Hundreds of people gathered in Quito to protest against Mr Correa's decision.
Oil exploitation has been taking place in parts of the Yasuni National Park, which covers nearly 10,000 sq km (3,860 sq miles), since the 1970s.
Map
Oil is Ecuador's main export. Exploitation of the new area is expected to start in the coming weeks.
Rafael Correa
It was not charity that we sought from the international community, but co-responsibility in the face of climate change”
End Quote Rafael Correa Ecuador's president
The UN-backed scheme to attract donations to forego drilling in the east of the park was launched by Mr Correa in 2010.
The aim was to raise $3.6bn (£2.3bn), 50% of the value of the reserves in the park's Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) oil field, over 13 years.
But in a televised news conference on Thursday, Mr Correa said the initiative had attracted only a fraction of the cash it had aimed to raise.
With only $13m so far in actual donations, he said he had not other option but to abandon the fund as "the world has failed us".
"I have signed the executive decree for the liquidation of the Yasuni-ITT trust fund and through it, end the initiative," the president said in a televised address.
He called the decision one of the most difficult he had had to take as president.
"It was not charity that we sought from the international community, but co-responsibility in the face of climate change," he said.
The president added that the oil exploration would leave most of the park untouched, affecting less that 1% of its area.Yasuni-ITT trust fund says one hectare in Yasuni contains more tree species than are native to the whole of North America. Environmentalists protested about the president's announcement. According to the Yasuni-ITT trust fund, 78% of Ecuadorian are against drilling in the park.Measuring 10,000 sq km, it supports a huge variety of wildlife, including unique species of birds, monkeys and amphibians.Mr Correa said only $13m of the $3.6bn due to be raised by 2023 has been raised, which he felt was not enough.Environmental activists demonstrated outside the presidential palace in the capital, Quito, about the announcement.According to the Yasuni-ITT trust fund, 78% of Ecuadorian are against drilling in the park, which is also home to indigenous communities, including the Tagaeri and the Taromenane.
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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

District Judge Jed Rakoff wrote in a recent decision disposing of Dreier’s $33 million personal art collection

Now, though, Dreier can claw back some notoriety by dint of the fact that the remnants of his prosecution have produced one of the great lines in modern American jurisprudence. “Fraud is the dysentery of crime,” U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff wrote in a recent decision (pdf) disposing of Dreier’s $33 million personal art collection. “Even after the infection is contained, the unpleasant after-effects linger interminably.”
Rakoff approved the transfer of 15 art works to Heathfield Capital, a successor-in-interest to one of Dreier’s main victims, financier Paul Singer’s Elliot International. The pieces, which once adorned Dreier’s Manhattan home (itself auctioned off several years ago for $8.2 million), bear such famous names as Lichtenstein, Rothko, and Warhol. Dreier had pledged the art as collateral in an elaborate scheme involving the sale of fake promissory notes. On Aug. 12, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan said U.S. Marshals had made the hand-off to Heathfield Capital.
Certain other parties claiming Dreier had preyed on them objected to Heathfield’s claim on the art, prompting Rakoff to observe ruefully: “Even after a confidence man has been convicted, the victims of his fraud are often reduced to fighting among themselves over what assets remain.”
As part of the distribution of Dreier’s assets, Heathfield Capital will pay $1.65 million to the government for distribution to other victims. One hopes that sum will purchase at least some relief from remaining gastrointestinal and pocket-book symptoms.
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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sued to shut down a lender called Western Sky Financial

In the carnival that is the U.S. financial services industry, a product has to be pretty rickety before it is shut down by regulators. After all, any schmoe with a couple of Benjamins to rub together can still sign up for some Bitcoins, a timeshare, or an adjustable rate mortgage.
So our interest was piqued this week when New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sued to shut down a lender called Western Sky Financial. The legal battle promises to be complex and interesting because Western Sky claims to be owned by a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and thus not subject to U.S. laws. Schneiderman, in turn, argues it’s simply a corporation registered in South Dakota.
So how rickety are Western Sky loans? Very, according to a quick Web search this morning.
Its $10,000 loan has a listed annual interest rate of 89.68 percent; 89 percent of the gangsters watching the Whitey Bulger verdict yesterday would likely give better terms. If a borrower were to pay it off over the seven-year period Western Sky prescribes, they would fork out $62,453 for the $10,000. (Well, for the $9,925 loan, once the $75 processing fee is factored in.)
That’s the company’s “best” offer. Its smallest listed loan carries a 343 percent annual interest rate. Under Western Sky’s terms—and once a $350 processing fee is factored in—borrowers would pay $2,159 for $500 up front.
In comparison, New York’s interest rate cap is 25 percent. Here’s the sad thing: People are taking these terms. Schneiderman’s filing says at least 17,970 New Yorkers have borrowed of $38 million from Western Sky. In total, they owe $185 million. Schneiderman, however, is looking to cancel those debts and even claw back all interest payments over 16 percent.
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Monday, August 19, 2013

Powerex, the electricity trading subsidiary of BC Hydro will pay $273 million US settlement

Powerex, the electricity trading subsidiary of BC Hydro will pay $273 million US in cash and offer California electric utilities a credit worth $477 milion US to settle claims against it related to allegations that it helped inflate the California power market during that state's electricity market crisis in 2000/01, the company announced this morning.
The settlement, Powerex said, relieves it of a potential $3.2-billion liability from the ongoing actions of the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission against the 60 electricity trading companies that sold power into the California market during that period.
California suffered rolling blackouts and record-high electricity prices during the crisis in a market that FERC concluded had become dysfunctional. The agency has since ordered refunds from the trading companies that sold power into that market and the province said the majority of its settlement will provide refunds as previously mandated.
In unveiling the settlement, the province, in a press release, said the agreement "expressly recognizes that Powerex admits to no wrongdoing," pointing to a 2003 review of Powerex by the regulatory body concluded there was no evidence Powerex engaged in illegal practices and were a reliable supplier during the crisis.
However, Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett said that government does not want to risk a different outcome from a trial.
Bennett said the decision to settle was not a happy one but it was the right thing to do. He said the money is already on the books, with the bulk coming from money owed from California.
"There is no immediate impact on the taxpayer," he said at a morning news conference at Canada Place. "This will not increase (power) rates."
Earlier, Bennett had said in a press release, "We have learned that the U.S. court system can be unpredictable. When you weigh this settlement versus a potential $3.2 billion legal liability, we determined it was in the best interest of taxpayers to settle and put this long standing dispute behind us."
Powerex will run a net loss of $101 million this fiscal year as a result of the settlement, according to the press release.
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Sunday, August 18, 2013

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Saturday, August 17, 2013

Nestle taking British Columbia water for free

Nestle KitKat
Nestle KitKat (Photo credit: HowardLake)
The price of a litre of bottled water in B.C. is often higher than a litre of gasoline.
However, the price paid by the world’s largest bottled water company for taking 265 million litres of fresh water every year from a well in the Fraser Valley — not a cent.
Because of B.C.’s lack of groundwater regulation, Nestlé Waters Canada — a division of the multi-billion-dollar Switzerland-based Nestlé Group, the world’s largest food company — is not required to measure, report, or pay a penny for the millions of litres of water it draws from Hope and then sells across Western Canada.
According to the provincial Ministry of Environment, “B.C. is the only jurisdiction in Canada that doesn’t regulate groundwater use.”
“The province does not license groundwater, charge a rental for groundwater withdrawals or track how much bottled water companies are taking from wells,” said a Ministry of Environment spokesperson in an email to The Province.
This isn’t new. Critics have been calling for change for years now, saying the lack of groundwater regulation is just one outdated example from the century-old Water Act.
The Ministry of Environment has said they plan — in the 2014 legislature sitting — to introduce groundwater regulation with the proposed Water Sustainability Act, which would update and replace the existing Water Act, established in 1909. But experts note that successive governments have been talking about modernizing water for decades, but the issue keeps falling off the agenda.
This time, many hope it will be different.
“It’s really the Wild West out here in terms of groundwater. And it’s been going on for over 20 years, that the Ministry of Environment, the provincial government has been saying that they’re going to make these changes, and it just hasn’t gone through yet,” said Linda Nowlan, conservation director from World Wildlife Fund Canada.
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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Musk's Tesla Motors (TSLA) reported a surprise second-quarter profit

English: Elon Musk at the panel Tribeca Talks:...
English: Elon Musk at the panel Tribeca Talks: Revenge of the Electric Car, for the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Elon Musk's hot streak continues.

Musk's Tesla Motors (TSLA) reported a surprise second-quarter profit on Wednesday, blowing past estimates on sales. The electric car maker reported earnings of 20 cents a share, excluding special items, after analysts predicted a loss of 17 cents. The stock surged 13% in after-hours trading.
The company attributed its strong performance to record deliveries of its Model S plug-in sedan and improved margins.
Tesla is still expanding aggressively and said turning a profit at this point is "not our primary mission." Net income nonetheless increased 70% versus the previous quarter, with 5,150 Model S's delivered to customers.
The company improved production in the second quarter from 400 to almost 500 vehicles per week, and said further production gains are its "primary focus" going forward.
"The increasing rate of production and margin are even more compelling than the overall revenue and profit numbers," Kelley Blue Book senior analyst Karl Brauer said. "Tesla has clearly found an unmet market niche that's capable of supporting the company, at least in the near term."
Tesla said it plans to open "several more" dealerships this year, including its first in China. The company began deliveries to Europe this week, and said that if the demonstrated demand there and in North America is matched in Asia, the annualized Model S sales rate could surpass 40,000 by late 2014.
Tesla shares have been on a tear in 2013. After starting the year around $35, they closed at $134.23 on Wednesday, and pushed past $150 in after-hours trading.
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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Under New Standards, Students See Sharp Decline in Test Scores

The number of New York students passing reading and math exams dropped drastically this year, education officials reported on Wednesday, unsettling parents, principals and teachers, and posing new challenges to a national effort to toughen academic standards.

In New York City, 26 percent of students in third through eighth grade passed the state exams in English, and 30 percent passed in math, according to the New York State Education Department.
The exams were some of the first in the nation to be aligned with a more rigorous set of standards known as Common Core, which emphasize deep analysis and creative problem-solving. Last year, under an easier test, 47 percent of city students passed in English, and 60 percent in math.
City and state officials spent months trying to steel the public for the grim figures, saying that a decline in scores was inevitable and that it would take several years before students performed at high levels.
Statewide, 31 percent of students passed the exams in reading and math. Last year, 55 percent passed in reading, and 65 percent in math.
Some educators were taken aback by the steep decline and said they worried the figures would rattle the confidence of students and teachers.
Chrystina Russell, principal of Global Technology Preparatory in East Harlem, said she did not know what she would tell parents, who will receive scores for their children in late August. At her middle school, which serves a large population of students from poor families, 6.8 percent of students were rated proficient in English, and 9.5 percent in math. Last year, those numbers were 31 percent and 44 percent, respectively.
“Now we’re going to come out and tell everybody that they’ve accomplished nothing this year and we’ve been pedaling backward?” Ms. Russell said. “It’s depressing.”
Even with large numbers of students failing, New York City still outperformed the state’s other large school districts. In Rochester, for example, only 5 percent of students passed in reading and math.
Still, the results galvanized critics of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who has often pointed to improvements in test scores as evidence that his stewardship of city schools has been a success, and has bristled in the past at suggestions that the tests were too easy, and too easy to prepare for, to be considered an accurate measure of student ability.
Mr. Bloomberg, at a news conference at Department of Education headquarters, called the city’s test results “very good news,” noting that the city came close to matching state averages. He chided the news media for focusing on the drop in scores, and he called the decision to toughen standards “gutsy and necessary.”
At their peak, in 2009, 69 percent of city students were deemed proficient in English, and 82 percent in math, under less stringent exams. After concluding the tests had become too easy, the state made them harder to pass in 2010, resulting in score drops statewide. This year, New York State revamped the tests even more radically.
“There may be some who try to use today’s results to attack principals and teachers,” said John King, the state education commissioner, at a news conference in Manhattan on Wednesday morning. “That would be wrong.”
He added, “The changes in scores do not mean that schools have taught less or that students have learned less.”
State education officials said, however, that they were concerned about the persistent gap between the performance of black and Hispanic students and their white and Asian counterparts. Statewide, 16 percent of black students and 18 percent of Hispanic students passed English exams, compared with 40 percent of white students and 50 percent of Asians.
Disadvantaged students performed particularly poorly on the exams this year. Across the state, 5 percent of students with disabilities passed in English, and 7 percent passed in math. Among English language learners, 3 percent passed in English, and 10 percent in math. Some teachers had complained that special-needs students struggled with the length of the new exams; critics called the exams endurance tests that did not accurately measure the skills of students.
Politicians vying to succeed Mr. Bloomberg, who leaves office at the end of the year, latched onto the dreary numbers, even before specifics had been released.
William C. Thompson Jr., a Democrat, said teachers needed to be more thoroughly trained in the Common Core standards.
John C. Liu, the city comptroller and a Democratic candidate for mayor, went a step further, accusing Mr. Bloomberg of “cooking the books” during his three terms as mayor.
“Mayor Bloomberg had 12 years to advance his so-called reforms and pad his educational legacy,” Mr. Liu said in a statement. “He failed. He cannot spin these results.”
Anticipating the outcry, the city and state arranged for the United States secretary of education, Arne Duncan, to participate in a conference call with reporters on Tuesday. In his remarks, Mr. Duncan said the shift to Common Core was a necessary recalibration that would better prepare students for college and the work force.
“Too many school systems lied to children, families and communities,” Mr. Duncan said. “Finally, we are holding ourselves accountable as educators.”
The Common Core standards, which were embraced by the Obama administration as one of the most significant changes to education in modern history, have been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia.
New York was one of the first states to develop tests based on the standards. In April, when the exams were introduced, some teachers and principals said they were too difficult, and there were scattered reports of students with anxiety attacks. Some parents, exhausted by the city’s testing regimen, had their children sit out the exams in protest.
More states are scheduled to introduce Common Core exams in the 2014-15 school year. But there have been signs of turbulence in recent weeks, with several states, including Georgia, Indiana and Oklahoma, halting efforts to roll out exams. Several public officials cited financial concerns, while others said they remained skeptical of the idea of national standards.
Mr. Duncan said he understood there might be some resistance to the standards in New York after the drop in test scores. But he said the public should look toward the long term. “None of this is easy, and none of this will happen overnight,” he said. 
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