09/22/2014 (9:52 am)

Maple Leafs the worst? Where ESPN got it right and where ESPN got it wrong

Filed under: USA, economics |

Had a chance to take in ESPN’s annual rankings of North America’s 122 sports franchises where the Maple Leafs managed to finish 122nd.

Now, this was a survey of fans, and what Leaf fan is going to be happy with anything about his or her team after the way it finished last season?

COACHING

Fans are asked if they’re happy with the coach? Are you kidding me? Randy Carlyle finished a shocking 113th, ahead of the coaching situations in Pittsburgh (replaced), Carolina (replaced), New York Islanders (retained), Vancouver (replaced), and Florida (replaced).

BANG FOR THE BUCK

No shock really about bang for the buck (122nd), which marks wins per fan dollar. They could probably win all 82 games and still finish in the bottom half in that category.

FAN RELATIONS

Fan relations (117th), low in my books, probably the result of the spillover effect from such a horrible finish to the season. The amenities at the Air Canada Centre are quite good compared to a lot of rinks. The team does quite a bit of promotional and charitable work, much of it not covered in the media. Their rink refurbishing program and visits to hospitals are admirable. Their problem may be they’re in so much demand it’s hard to please everybody.

I know there were problems with long lines and the price point of the recent fan fest, but give the team credit for trying. And more gamee tickets will be available to the general public this year.

OWNERSHIP

Ownership came in at 105th, the highest ranking. Yikes. This Bell-Rogers partnership is going to be a disaster and with Tim Leiweke leaving, there isn’t going to be a referee to end the feuds and set direction. It could well turn out that fans will pine for the “good old days” when the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan owned them.

AFFORDABILITY

Dead last. That’s 122nd, if you’re counting. No argument here.

PLAYERS

Players (120th) based on effort and likability. On the surface, this would sting. But if you think about the Leafs, who comes to mind first? Phil Kessel? Dion Phaneuf? Nazem Kadri? Jonathan Bernier? Hard to say, really. Kessel’s a singular talent, but not good in front of cameras and that hurts his image. (Let’s not forget the “Thank You, Kessel” cheers that rained down on him in the 2013 playoffs.) Phaneuf seems stilted while he and the more affable Kadri are both polarizing figures, with fans demanding they shore up the parts of the game that are flawed. Bernier’s a nice dresser and all, but he supplanted a fan favourite — James Reimer.

Toronto historically has loved its fighters and grinders and on-ice menaces, especially if they can score a bit. Think Wendel Clark. Tiger Williams. Tie Domi. Even a Darcy Tucker.

Who could be popular Leafs?

Colton Orr? Not a chance, especially since the age of the enforcer is passing. Leo Komarov? Maybe if he plays in Toronto for consecutive years. Morgan Rielly? It would be something if the fans oohed and aahed at his talent. William Nylander? Get back to us in five years. My money’s on Kessel if the team turns it around.

TITLE TRACK

Title track put the Leafs at 121st, in front of only the Minnesota Timberwolves. That’s the fans’ way of saying they don’t like the direction of the team. Most likely that’s a shot at GM Dave Nonis. The core of players are his. The core has let the fan-base down in spectacular fashion three years in a row. You can’t blame the fans for how they feel.

STADIUM EXPERIENCE

Stadium experience is an interesting one. Leafs come in at 109th, ahead of Calgary, Edmonton and the New York Islanders. That the Isles are last, with the shoestring budget and the oldest arena in the NHL, is no surprise. The fans of the Leafs, Flames and Oilers truly haven’t had much to cheer about in recent years.

But there’s no doubt, the Leafs stadium experience could be better. For one, copy Montreal’s use of the big screen. At the Air Canada Centre, any stoppage in play is a reason for some in-game host to yammer on about some lame contest, or for some ad to blare. By contrast, the screen in the Bell Centre shows commercials — but without sound. The sound of the game — be it an organ or a chant — continues.

The Leafs are aware their in-game experience is lacking. Changes are coming this season. Let’s hope they get it right.

MLSE REACTION

“The Toronto Maple Leafs is one of the most historic teams in sports, with one of the strongest fan bases, and we obviously don’t think this list accurately reflects that. Our focus though is on building a winning club and continuing to create even more access for Leafs Nation, not for the sake of a ranking on a list, but for our fans.” –Dave Haggith, MLSE senior director of communications.

SIZE MATTERS

How about this tidbit from the IIHF’s website that points out that the average goalie is four centimetres — or about an inch and a half — taller this season, compared to 20 years ago.

The IIHF measured the 1994 Olympians, who played at 181.9 centimetres (5-foot-11). Back in that era, goalies that were 5-foot-8 were fairly common and Curtis Joseph (5-foot-9) and Ed Belfour (6-foot) would be considered undersized by today’s standards.

At the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, the IIHF said the average height of the 36 participating goaltenders was 185.9 centimetres (a little more than 6-foot-1). Within the NHL, the average height of goaltenders league-wide during the 2013-14 season was 186.2 centimetres.

AROUND THE WORLD

The Champions Hockey League resumes play this week. It’s basically European hockey’s version of soccer’s champions league where the best teams from the European league’s play off for a champion, taking small breaks from their league games.

Leafs prospect Andreas Johnson (Frolunda) is second in CHL scoring. Here’s a YouTube compliation of a recent six-point game.

AROUND THE NHL

Thought by many to be washed up, Dany Heatley is getting an audition on the top line with the Anaheim Ducks. He is practising with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.

Looking for health insurance? Find a variety of affordable medical insurance plans.

09/18/2014 (10:44 pm)

Home Depot breach affected 56M debit, credit cards

Filed under: Finance, legal |

NEW YORK (AP) — Home Depot said that 56 million debit and credit cards are estimated to have been breached in a data theft between April and September at its stores in the U.S. and Canada. That makes it the second-largest breach for a retailer on record.

The nation’s largest home improvement retailer, based in Atlanta, also confirmed Thursday that the malware used in the data breach has been eliminated. The retailer said there was no evidence that debit PIN numbers were compromised or that the breach affected stores in Mexico or customers who shopped online at Homedepot.com. It said it has also completed a “major” payment security project that provides enhanced encryption of customers’ payment data in the company’s U.S. stores.

The disclosure puts the data breach behind TJX Cos.’s theft of 90 million records, disclosed in 2007 and ahead of Target’s pre-Christmas 2013 breach which compromised 40 million credit and debit cards.

Home Depot confirmed its sales-growth estimates for the fiscal year and said it expects to earn $4.54 per share in fiscal 2014, up 2 cents from its prior guidance. The company’s fiscal 2014 outlook includes estimates for the cost to investigate the data breach, providing credit monitoring services to its customers, increasing call center staffing and paying legal and professional services.

However, the profit guidance doesn’t include potential yet-to-be determined losses related to the breach. The company said it’s not yet able to estimate costs beyond those included in the guidance issued Thursday. Those costs could include liabilities related to payment card networks for reimbursements of credit card fraud and card reissuance costs. It could also include future civil litigation and governmental investigations and enforcement proceedings installment payday loans.

“We apologize to our customers for the inconvenience and anxiety this has caused, and want to reassure them that they will not be liable, for fraudulent charges,” said Frank Blake, chairman and CEO in a statement. “From the time this investigation began, our guiding principal has been to put our customers first, and we will continue to do so.”

The breach at Home Depot was first reported on September 2 by Brian Krebs of Krebs on Security, a website that focuses on cybersecurity. Krebs said multiple banks reported “evidence that Home Depot stores may be the source of a massive new batch of stolen credit and debit cards” that went on sale on the black market earlier Tuesday. Later that day, Home Depot said it was working with both banks and law enforcement to investigate “unusual activity” that would point to a hack.

The next day it said that it had hired security firms Symantec and FishNet Security to help it investigate the possible hacking

Unlike Target’s breach, which resulted in falling sales as shoppers worried about security, Home Depot’s business appears to remain intact.

The reason? Customers appear to be growing accustomed to breaches, following a string of them this past year, including Michaels, SuperValu and Neiman Marcus. Home Depot might have also benefited in the timing in another way— the disclosure came in September, months after the spring season, which is the busiest time of year for home-improvement chains.

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09/17/2014 (3:36 pm)

Daily Wrap: Dow sets record close following Fed pledge to keep rates low

Filed under: Uncategorized, online |

TODAY’S INDEXES                 Dow industrials  17,156.85   + 24.88   S&P 500   2001.57    + 2.59   Nasdaq   4,562.19   + 9.43

STOCKS RIDE WAVE: The Dow Jones industrial average set a new record today after the Federal Reserve said it would keep interest rates low for a “considerable time.” Policy makers said the economy is expanding at a moderate pace and inflation is below its goal, according to Bloomberg News. Officials also raised their median estimate for the federal funds rate at the end of 2015 by 25 basis points. “This doesn’t change the path for expected Fed rate increases,” Chad Morganlander, a money manager at St. Louis-based Stifel, Nicolaus & Co., which oversees about $160 billion, said in a phone interview with Bloomberg. “The message was right down the middle. The market is taking that in stride and sighing in relief that they’re not going to move in a hawkish manner. You’ll continue to get additional dollar strength from the forward-looking guidance going into 2017.” The Fed also tapered its monthly bond buying by $10 billion for a seventh time, with plans to end the program next month.

U.S. STEEL RALLIES: Shares of U.S. Steel, the parent of local mill Granite City Works, surged more than 10 percent today after the company announced late Tuesday that its Canadian unit had sought creditor protection in Canada and that the Pittsburgh-based steelmaker would cancel more than $800 million worth of U.S. capital investments. U.S. Steel also said its third-quarter adjusted earnings will be higher than Wall Street expectations; analysts polled by Bloomberg expected the steelmaker to earn 88 cents a share.

IPAD READY FOR THE HOLIDAYS: Word is that Apple will be introducing its newest version of its IPad tablet around mid October to get ahead of the holiday shopping season. Bloomberg News attributes the news to a person with knowledge of Apple’s plans. The company is trying recapture market share that’s been lost this year as consumers have been switching to smartphones with larger screens. Apple last introduced a new iPad in October 2013. The Cupertino, Calif.,-based company is about to launch its own larger-screen smart phones, the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus.

DOLLAR ON HOLD: Family Dollar Stores is blaming antitrust hurdles for its decision to reject a $9.1 billion takeover by Dollar General Corp. And a small bit of research by Bloomberg Intelligence, which looked at two Family Dollar Stores in New Jersey, seems to support that contention. The survey found that prices were lower at the Family Dollar Store located near a Dollar General store than they were at a Family Dollar operating without nearby competition. “There’s definite antitrust risk,” said Poonam Goyal, a senior retail analyst for Bloomberg Intelligence who oversaw the research.  Instead of the merger with Dollar General, Family Dollar’s board has recommended accepting a lower offer from Dollar Tree Inc. The deal is seen as an easier sell to regulators, since the two chains do not compete directly.

LOCAL INDEX: The Bloomberg St. Louis Index rose 0.3 percent, performing slightly better than the Dow, which rose 0.15 percent.

   STL STOCKS                GAINERS                                          LOSERS                           SunEdison Semiconductor  3.3%     Allied Healthcare Products   -3.3% Huttig Building Products  3.0%      FutureFuel Corp.  -2.5% Panera Bread Co.  2.1%      Perficient Inc.  -2.4%

LOCAL GAINER: Panera Bread Co. received a boost Wednesday after BofA/Merrill Lynch analyst Joseph Buckley toured two of the recently converted Panera 2.0 cafes and reiterated a buy-rating. 

ANALYST’S INSIGHTS:  “The bias is toward a bit more easing, but the steps are still relatively measured. Growth will slow further in the fourth quarter, dragged down by further property construction weakness. That will bring about more policy support,” said Wang Tao, chief China economist at UBS in Hong Kong. Tao was addressing a recent injection of capital into China’s largest banks in response to that nation’s economic slowdown.

THE DAY AHEAD: We’ll see whether August can continue July’s strong rebound in home construction. The Commerce Department will release its monthly housing starts survey. July saw housing starts hit a 1.09 million annualized rate, the strongest since November 2013. Analysts expect August’s number to come in at 1.04 million. 

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09/14/2014 (9:44 am)

One man dead, one in critical condition after Scarborough shooting

Filed under: Mortgage, UK |

One man is dead and another is in critical condition after a shooting in Scarborough near Markham Rd. and Lawrence Ave. E., Toronto EMS said.

Toronto EMS responded to a call around 12:12 a.m. and found two men with gunshot wounds. One was without vital signs and pronounced dead on the scene. A second man in his 50s was rushed to Sunnybrook Hospital in critical condition.

The Toronto Police homicide squad is investigating.

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09/05/2014 (8:40 pm)

Regulators may put stricter oversight on MetLife

Filed under: management, money |

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. regulators are proposing to label insurer MetLife Inc. as a potential threat to the financial system, a designation that brings stricter government oversight.

New York-based MetLife says it “strongly disagrees” with the decision by the Financial Stability Oversight Council on Thursday to propose designating the company as “systemically important.” If the designation becomes final, MetLife would have to increase its cushion of capital against losses, limit its use of borrowed money and submit to inspections by examiners free 3-in-1 credit report. The company would come under the supervision of the Federal Reserve. Its primary regulator now is the state of New York.

The regulators’ council, created by Congress after the 2008 financial crisis, is led by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and includes other top regulators such as Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen.

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09/04/2014 (4:08 pm)

Fastest Services Growth Since 2005 Lifts U.S. Expansion: Economy - Bloomberg

Filed under: UK, marketing |

Service providers such as retailers and construction firms expanded in August at the fastest pace in nine years, pointing to greater momentum in the economy that

08/29/2014 (1:52 am)

U.S. bank earnings up 5.2 percent in the second quarter

Filed under: Business, money |

WASHINGTON • U.S. banks’ earnings rose 5.2 percent in the April-June quarter from a year earlier, as banks reduced their expenses and lending marked its fastest pace since 2007.

The data issued Wednesday by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. showed a robust picture as the banking industry continues to recover from the financial crisis that struck six years ago. The improving economy has brought greater demand for loans and stepped-up lending.

The FDIC reported that U easy to get unsecured personal loans.S. banks earned $40.2 billion in the second quarter of this year, up from $38.2 billion in the same period in 2013.

The number of banks on the FDIC’s problem list fell to 354 in the second quarter, the lowest number in more than five years and down from 411 in the January-March period.

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08/19/2014 (3:00 am)

Filed under: money, technology |

FERGUSON, MO.—An unarmed black teenager fatally shot by police suffered a bullet wound to his right arm that may have occurred when he put his hands up or when his back was turned to the shooter, “but we don’t know,” a pathologist hired by the teen’s family said Monday.

An independent autopsy conducted on 18-year-old Michael Brown determined that the teen was shot at least six times, including twice in the head, according to the pathologists and the family’s attorneys. Brown was shot by a police officer Aug. 9 in Ferguson, touching off a week of rancorous protests in the St. Louis suburb where police have used riot gear and tear gas.

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Gov. Jay Nixon ordered the National Guard to Ferguson to restore order.

Brown’s death heightened racial tensions between the predominantly black community and the mostly white Ferguson Police Department. Civil rights activists have compared the shooting to other racially charged cases, especially the 2012 death of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black teenager shot by Florida neighbourhood watch organizer who was later acquitted of murder. Both cases have fueled nationwide debates on the treatment of young black men in America.

Police have said little about the encounter between Brown and the white officer, except to say that it involved a scuffle in which the officer was injured and Brown was shot. Witnesses say the teenager had his hands in the air as the officer fired multiple rounds.

Forensic pathologist Shawn Parcells, who assisted former New York City chief medical examiner Dr. Michael Baden during the autopsy, said a graze wound on Brown’s right arm could have occurred in several ways. The teen may have had his back to the shooter, or he could have been facing the shooter with his hands above his head or in a defensive position in front of his face.

“But we don’t know,” Parcells said.

Baden said one of the bullets entered the top of Brown’s skull, suggesting his head was bent forward when he suffered the fatal injury. The pathologists said Brown, who also was shot four times in the right arm, could have survived the other bullet wounds.

Baden said there was no gun-power residue on Brown’s body, indicating he was not shot at close range. However, Baden said he did not have access to Brown’s clothing, and that it was possible the residue could be on the clothing payday lenders.

A grand jury could begin hearing evidence Wednesday to determine whether the officer, Darren Wilson, should be charged in Brown’s death.

Family attorney Benjamin Crump said the family wanted the additional autopsy because they feared results of the county’s examination could be biased. Crump declined to release copies of the report to the media, and the county’s autopsy report has not been released.

“They could not trust what was going to be put in the reports about the tragic execution of their child,” he said during Monday’s news conference with Parcells and Baden. “It verifies that the witness accounts were true: that he was shot multiple times.”

He said Brown’s mother “had the question any mother would have: Was my child in pain. Dr. Baden shared with her in his opinion, he did not suffer.” He also noted that Brown had abrasions on his face from where he fell to the ground, but “otherwise no evidence of a struggle.”

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has ordered a federal medical examiner to perform another autopsy.

The Justice Department already had deepened its civil rights investigation into the shooting. A day earlier, officials said 40 FBI agents were going door-to-door gathering information in the neighbourhood where Brown was shot.

Nixon called in the National Guard — a reserve military force that can be called upon by state governors in emergencies — after clashes erupted Sunday night between protesters and police, well ahead of a curfew imposed by the governor.

Police said the fired tear gas to disperse protesters in response to gunfire, looting, vandalism and protesters who hurled Molotov cocktails.

Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol, who is command in Ferguson, said at least two people were wounded in shootings by civilians.

“These violent acts are a disservice to the family of Michael Brown and his memory and to the people of this community who yearn for justice to be served and to feel safe in their own homes,” Nixon said in a statement.

Ferguson police waited six days to publicly reveal the name of the officer and documents alleging Brown robbed a convenience store shortly before he was killed. Police Chief Thomas Jackson said the officer did not know Brown was a robbery suspect when he encountered him walking in the street with a friend.

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08/12/2014 (5:52 pm)

RadioShack’s comeback effort ‘highly in doubt,’ UBS says

Filed under: marketing, technology |

NEW YORK • RadioShack’s turnaround attempt is “highly in doubt” and new remodeled stores are unlikely to change the electronics chain’s tarnished reputation, according to a report from UBS.

The company’s effort to revamp its shops and product lineup “has been akin to throwing things against the wall to see what sticks,” Michael Lasser, a UBS analyst in New York, said in the report on Monday.

Since taking over last year, Chief Executive Officer Joe Magnacca has struggled to stem losses and sales declines at the Fort Worth, Texas-based retailer. Creditors blocked a plan to close 1,100 underperforming stores earlier this year, and the company is now in danger of being delisted from the New York Stock Exchange.

RadioShack fell 3.5 percent to 62 cents as of 1 p.m. Tuesday in New York. The shares have lost more than three-quarters of their value this year. Lasser, who recommends selling the stock, expects it to drop to 50 cents over the next 12 months.

The company also faces a credit crunch, he said. At the end of last quarter, RadioShack had almost $62 million in cash and about $362 million available under a credit line that comes due in 2018, compared with total debt of $614.5 million, he said.

“The company is running in a perilous position with dwindling financial flexibility,” Lasser said.

Andrea McCauley, a RadioShack spokeswoman, declined to comment.

Magnacca is working on what he calls “five pillars” to rejuvenate the retailer, including revamping products and stores and boosting efficiency. On the product side, the company has added merchandise such as Beats headphones and announced a partnership with PCH International to help startups design goods for the chain.

The company is promoting new interactive features at its remodeled stores, including a speaker wall and headphone demonstrations where shoppers can test items. Even if those stores perform better, “we don’t think it will be enough to impact the entire chain,” Lasser said. “We are skeptical that the refreshed locations will provide a halo benefit to those stores that haven’t been touched.”

RadioShack is in danger of running out of cash in 2015, according to Moody’s Investors Service.

“We haven’t seen any evidence of any positive impact from the turnaround plan yet,” Mickey Chadha, a Moody’s analyst in New York, said in an interview.

While Magnacca has cut cash needs by pruning inventory, the company is still in a tough spot because more than half of its sales come from mobile phones, Chadha said.

“That is a very, very competitive space, and the margins are very thin, and you have no pricing power,” he said.

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08/01/2014 (4:16 am)

Argentina Unopposed to Bank Deal With Hedge Funds as Bonds Sink - Bloomberg

Filed under: Finance, technology |

Argentina said it doesn

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