Entries Tagged as 'Finance'

Sam’s Club Discover

I was at Sam’s Club on the first of this month, and they had a promotion going on that you’d get a $40 instant credit on $100 (or more) purchase if you applied for and were accepted for a Sam’s Club Discover Card.

It was a no brainer —  what I was going to buy was $120, and the $40 instant credit would pay the fee for renewing my Sam’s Club card (NOTE: the renewal fee was excluded from the $100 minimum purchase).

GE Money Bank (the issuer of the Sam’s Club and Walmart Discover cards) issued a stated on the second of the month (the day after the charges); and had my statement to me less than a week after I’d opened the account.  However, I just received the actual card today.

Like with most credit cards you needed to call a toll free number and enter just about every piece of personal and confidential information you’d provided when applying for the card — at what seemed like the end of the activation, I got a message to please hold that I was being transferred to customer service.

After almost five minutes on hold, a very cherry woman come on the line, ask me how my day was and immediately launched into a sales pitch — I cut her off and told her whatever it was she was trying to up-sell to me, I wasn’t interest… that their system had kept me on hold for nearly five minutes to just try and sell me something I wasn’t the least bit interested in, and then I told her I wanted to close my account.  She responded that I’d need to look on the back of the card for the number, and I told her I wanted the number from her.

She gave me the number, and I hung up and called.

The automated system answered immediately, forced me to hear all about my account balance and due date — presented a myriad of twisty little turns to finally get to a customer service representative.

I told her I wanted to cancel; I told her why — she started to sputter out some apology and ask me to reconsider and I told her I didn’t care about her time, but I was tired of wasting my time and I just wanted the account canceled now.  The call was disconnected.

I called back; and same thing, a very long hold.  By the time that I actually got to talk to a customer service representative I’d been at this for over half an hour — and I pointed this out to her, and told here that I was in none to good a mood — that she would cancel the account, and I didn’t want to hear anything but it was done.

I wrote an electronic message to Sam’s Club on their web site after all this was done telling them what a poor reflection GE Money Bank was on their reputation.  The reply I receive (almost immediately) was just an apology, and told me what a valuable customer I was.

Right — GE Money Bank had been telling me what a valuable customer I was all the time on their automated system… but the bottom line, they didn’t value me as a customer — they wanted to treat me like a schmuck who’s time was totally worthless.  Clearly a company that didn’t value my time — or value me as anything but a potential source of revenue.

I’ve always considered Sam’s Club as low rent compared to other warehouse clubs such as Costco — and they continue to reinforce that image time and time again.

Costco selects American Express (which I consider to be thieves and liars — but they at least do pretend to respect their customers) for their credit card; Sam’s Club chooses GE Money Bank (how much more low rent can you get).

I don’t do much business at Sam’s Club; and I certainly won’t be increasing the amount of business I do there… but I certainly won’t be doing any business with GE Money Bank — and personally I think they tarnish Discover Card’s exceptional customer service.

Originally posted 2010-09-16 02:00:55.

My Admiration

There are three (living) individuals who I have a great deal of respect and admiration for.

They all happen to be Americans, and they all happen to be male — but neither of those are really factors in why they have earned my respect and admiration.

The order below should not be considered random.


Jimmy Carter

Former president of the United States of America, a brilliant man with a deep rooted sense of honor and a desire to improve the human condition.  Quite possibly the last great president the US had; and he should definitely be considered the last to truly serve his country.


Warren Buffet

One of the wealthiest individuals in the world, money is not his defining characteristic.  He has a deep social conscience and has repeatedly displayed a desire to leave the world a better place.  An exemplary model for successful and sustainable business.


Bill Gates

A man I have met (and worked for).  Also one of the wealthiest individuals in the world.  For him, money is not nearly as important as his commitment to doing what he believes is right.  He’s far more of a man who wants to improve the world, than merely change it. Even to his detractors he is consider a man who has had profound influence on shaping the course of human kind.

Originally posted 2010-03-22 02:00:05.

It’s not our fault we went bankrupt…

I wasn’t sure it it was a new daytime sitcom or a hearing when former Lehman CEO Dick Fuld delivered his 1680 work prepared testimony.

Lehman was a strong company that had corrected it’s problems:

In retrospect, there is no question we made some poorly timed business decisions and investments, but we addressed those mistakes and got ourselves back to a strong equity position … There is nothing about this profile that would indicate a bankrupt company.

The market and the public were wrong to lose confidence in Lehman:

Lehman’s demise was caused by uncontrollable market forces and the incorrect perception and accompanying rumors that Lehman did not have sufficient capital to support its investments.

The government was at fault for not banning naked short selling or allowing Lehman to convert to a bank holding company or let it take deposits:

Each of those requests was denied at the time. Tellingly, though, each measure was later implemented in some form for other investment banks during the days and weeks following Lehman’s bankruptcy filing.

Lehman was the victim:

This loss of confidence, although unjustified and irrational, became a self-fulfilling prophecy and culminated in a classic run on the bank starting on September 10, 2008, that then led Lehman to file for bankruptcy four days later, in the early morning hours of September 15.

For more comedy (without my satire — and please don’t think I’m serious about anything I’ve written in this post) see the links below; and don’t laugh too hard.

Dick Fuld
Repo 105
Lehman bankruptcy attorney
New York Fed general counsel

Originally posted 2010-09-02 02:00:11.

CEO Pay Cut

I don’t think any of them need to worry about landing in the poor house, but here’s a list of the twenty largest pay cuts this year.  I guess the economy must be down — perhaps we can take up a collection to help them all out.


  1. Lloyd C. Blankfein, -$40.1 million
    Company: Goldman Sachs Group (GS)
    2009 salary: $600,000 (same as 2008)
    2009 bonus, options and other comp: $262,657 (down $40.1 million from 2008)
    Lloyd C. Blankfein
  2. Vikram S. Pandit, -$38.1 million
    Company: Citigroup (C)
    2009 salary: $125,001 (down $833,332 from 2008)
    2009 bonus, options and other comp: $3,750 (down $37.3 million from 2008)
    Vikram S. Pandit
  3. James Dimon, -$34.5 million
    Company: JPMorgan Chase (JPM)
    2009 salary: $1,000,000 (same as 2008)
    2009 bonus, options and other comp: $265,708 (down $34.5 million from 2008)
    James Dimon
  4. Robert A. Iger, -$29.5 million
    Company: Walt Disney (DIS)
    2009 salary: $2,038,462* (up $38,462 from 2008)
    2009 bonus, options and other comp: $19.5 million (down $29.5 million from 2008)
    Robert A. Iger
  5. David M. Cote, -$15.9 million
    Company: Honeywell International (HON)
    2009 salary: $1,800,000 (down $25,962 from 2008)
    2009 bonus, options and other comp: $11 million (down $15.9 million from 2008)
    David M. Cote
  6. Richard H. Anderson, -$15.7 million
    Company: Delta Airlines (DAL)
    2009 salary: $600,000 (same as 2008)
    2009 bonus, options and other comp: $1.2 million (down $15.7 million from 2008)
    Richard H. Anderson
  7. Louis C. Camilleri, -$12.4 million
    Company: Philip Morris International (PM)
    2009 salary: $1,500,000 (down $67,308 from 2008)
    2009 bonus, options and other comp: $23 million (down $12.3 million from 2008)
    Louis C. Camilleri
  8. Rupert Murdoch, -$12.1 million
    Company: News Corp. (NWSA)
    2009 salary: $8,100,000* (same as 2008)
    2009 bonus, options and other comp: $9.8 million (down $12.1 million from 2008)
    Rupert Murdoch
  9. Kenneth I. Chenault, -$11.3 million
    Company: American Express (AXP)
    2009 salary: $1,201,923 (down $48,077 from 2008)
    2009 bonus, options and other comp: $15.4 million (down $11.2 million from 2008)
    Kenneth I. Chenault
  10. Mark V. Hurd, -$9.8 million
    Company: Hewlett-Packard (HPQ)
    2009 salary: $1,268,750* (down $181,250 from 2008)
    2009 bonus, options and other comp: $22.9 million (down $9.6 million from 2008)
    Mark V. Hurd
  11. Kenneth D. Lewis, -9.0 million
    Company: Bank of America (BAC)
    2009 salary: 0* (down $1.5 million from 2008)
    2009 bonus, options and other comp: $32,171 (down $9.0 million from 2008)
    Kenneth D. Lewis
  12. Stephen A. Roell, -$8.4 million
    Company: Johnson Controls (JCI)
    2009 salary: $1,371,500* (up $46,500 from 2008)
    2009 bonus, options and other comp: $5.1 million (down $8.5 million from 2008)
    Stephen A. Roell
  13. James W. Owens, -$7.9 million
    Company: Caterpillar (CAT)
    2009 salary: $1,550,004* (same as 2008)
    2009 bonus, options and other comp: $5.2 million (down $7.9 million from 2008)
    James W. Owens
  14. John B. Hess, -$7.8 million
    Company: Hess (HES)
    2009 salary: $1,500,000 (same as 2008)
    2009 bonus, options and other comp: $12.1 million (down $7.8 million from 2008)
    John B. Hess
  15. John T. Chambers, -$6.0 million
    Company: Cisco Systems (CSCO)
    2009 salary: $375,000* (same as 2008)
    2009 bonus, options and other comp: $12.4 million (down $6.0 million from 2008)
    John T. Chambers
  16. Miles D. White, -$3.2 million
    Company: Abbott Laboratories (ABT)
    2009 salary: $1,852,319 (up $56,848 from 2008)
    2009 bonus, options and other comp: $20.1 million (down $3.2 million from 2008)
    Miles D. White
  17. Daniel R. Hesse, -$3.1 million
    Company: Sprint Nextel (S)
    2009 salary: $1,200,000 (same as 2008)
    2009 bonus, options and other comp: $11.1 million (down $3.1 million from 2008)
    Daniel R. Hesse
  18. Thomas M. Ryan, -$3.0 million
    Company: CVS Caremark (CVS)
    2009 salary: $1,400,000 (same as 2008)
    2009 bonus, options and other comp: $14.8 million (down $3.0 million from 2008)
    Thomas M. Ryan
  19. Ivan G. Seidenberg, -$2.9 million
    Company: Verizon Communications (VZ)
    2009 salary: $2,100,000 (same as 2008)
    2009 bonus, options and other comp: $14.9 million (down $2.9 million from 2008)
    Ivan G. Seidenberg
  20. Frederick W. Smith, -$2.7 million
    Company: FedEx (FDX)
    2009 salary: $1,355,028* (down $75,438 from 2008)
    2009 bonus, options and other comp: $6.4 million (down $2.6 million from 2008)
    Frederick W. Smith

Source: Equilar Inc.

Originally posted 2010-08-22 02:00:27.

What’s Happening to MY $700B?

Oh, that’s right, we all spend seven hundred billion dollars so often I should be more specific… that would be the $700B “we” Americans authorized under the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act

The October 29, 2008 report is up on the US Treasury Site now — you should take a look at it to see who’s getting your money.

Some comments:

  • You’ll notice the list includes several financial institutions who have purchased or are attempting to purchase the distressed assets of smaller banks; I guess we know where they’re getting the money.
  • It’s really convenient that they were able to get just the right number of mortgage instruments together to be valued at an even billion each (hell I can’t remember the last time my credit card bill was an even dollar).

If I sound a little leery of what the “usual suspects” are doing with my money — I am… I want to make sure I get it back (with INTEREST), and I certainly don’t want anyone to expect me to pay for any of these financial institutions mistakes and poor judgment — I’ve already lost 36% of my retirement account, and I haven’t seen any government bailout for that!

http://www.ustreas.gov/initiatives/eesa/transactions.shtml

Originally posted 2008-11-14 08:00:52.

Tea Party

The Tea Party has been holding a number of rallies to make people aware of how government is misusing their tax dollars…

Damn straight!

Remember, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were not in the budget; the wars were entered into based on lies told to the American people (and the House and Senate — which you would have hoped would have been a little more savvy than the average taxpayer and ask for proof).

So let’s start by getting that nearly trillion dollars that was misappropriated ack; from the defense budget (after all — gotta cut to pay, right Tea Party — and best to cut from the same programs that used misappropriated money than a program that didn’t).

Am I serious… well, I’m as serious as the Tea Party.

If you want to look for places to get money to help this country make ends meet; here’s the short list.

  • Wall Street
  • Banking
  • Oil & Gas Industry
  • Defense

Seems like these are the areas which have taken far more than they have put in for the past several years…


And honestly, no, this isn’t the way I’d try and balance the budget.

I’d look at fixing what’s broken…

Health Care — the Obama health care plan is a waste; let’s move to a single payer system (much like our neighbors to the North) that _all_ US citizens are a part of; and that government employees and elected officials have no option but to use (and have no special access).  Of course any business or individual could elect to pay for private insurance, but that would be using after tax dollars.  Medicare and medicaid would simply be a part of the national health system; and the only difference would be that very low income individuals would get at least some number of co-pay waivers per year.

Social Security — definitely needs to be looked into, but a program that many Americans over 50 have been expecting to be there when they retire cannot continue to change…  I’m not sure how to fix this, but we probably need to view all the different parts of the Social Security system separately and deal with solutions based on the needs of each.

Defense — definitely needs to be trimmed.  We simply cannot spend 20% of every tax dollar for defense (40% of what the world spends on arms — six times that of China)… and that money doesn’t need to be wasted on weapons programs that aren’t needed (or wanted by most Americans).  Let’s keep it in perspective, military spending is what caused the implosion of the Soviet Union, the US need not continue to escalate the arms race.

Taxes — there’s a simple solution, throw out the old tax code (and the IRS) and institute a simple code.  Something like: no tax on earnings to poverty level,  5% on everything above poverty level to say 2x poverty level; add 5% percent on each 1x poverty level beyond that to a maximum rate of 50%.  That’s it, no other Federal tax (everything comes out of one tax stream).  No American entity pays 50% of their earnings in tax; and very few pay anywhere near that.  If the tax rate is too high, just adjust the single 5% number on each band, and instantly the earnings amount the cap applies to goes up.  Plus, as poverty is eliminated, the tax bracket broadens.

Term Limits — any elected official needs to be bound by the same term limits as the President; no more than two terms in the same office.  And we need to make sure that these officials are paid the US median salary — after all, they should represent the views of an average American, and that they have the exact same safety net as the rest of America (Social Security)… no special retirement plan.  Now I would certainly agree that they could be considered government employees, and count their time in office toward a retirement — the same as the clerks in their offices do.

Education — we definitely need to consider education as a national issue, not a local one.  Standards need to be more consistent and graduates need to be functional in our society (if you don’t think education is closely tied to economics, you’re living in a cave).


None of this is what’s being talked about — the Tea Party is completely politically motivated, and are only interested in imposing their regressive (misguided) Christian ultra-right views on the process; and don’t want to work towards any real solution since they view failure as the way to gain control.

The first step to fixing the problem is change — and I subscribe that change starts by sending the signal that we as Americans just won’t put up with the way in which business has been done too long.

Perhaps the American Spring isn’t far off.

Originally posted 2011-09-26 02:00:49.

Senators Oppose DoD Reduction Plan

Defense Secretary Roberts Gates announced plans for reigning in the better than half trillion dollar budget of the Department of Defense, and immediately Senators from Virgina publicly opposed part of the plan.

Sen. Jim Webb released a statement saying getting rid of the Joint Forces Command “would be a step backward and could be harmful” to the military

Sen. Mark Warner said: “I can see no rational basis for dismantling” the Joint Forces Command.

You see, Gates plan included cutting nearly 3000 jobs in Virginia; so the Senators naturally wanted to protect their turf without any though of the impact to the nation… if everyone thinks like these senators, we’ll make no progress in reducing the huge deficit that defense spending is contributing to (and has been for a very long time).

Once again the solution is — vote out the incumbents — they’re clearly not part of the solution, they’re the problem.

In addition to the cut of the Joint Forces Command (which could save as much as $240 million), the plan also includes:

  • Eliminating some of the 65 military boards and commissions to cut the budget for them by 25 percent in fiscal year 2011;
  • A review of all Defense Department intelligence to eliminate needless duplication;
  • Eliminating the Defense Department’s Business Transformation Agency, which has day-to-day oversight of acquisition programs that would be handled by others in the department;
  • Reducing funding for service support contractors by 10 percent a year for each of the next three years;
  • Freezing the number of jobs in the Officer of the Secretary of Defense, the Defense Agencies and Combatant Commands at current levels;
  • Seeking to stop “brass creep,” a term former Sen. John Glenn used for situations when higher-ranking officers were doing jobs that lower ranking officers could handle. To address that problem, Gates is ordering a freeze on the number of generals, admirals and senior civilian officials at current levels.

Gates was adamant that the Pentagon must change it’s way of thinking about money, and stated:

The culture of endless money that has taken hold must be replaced by a culture of savings and restraint. Toward this end, I am directing that any new proposal or initiatives, large or small, be it policy, program or ceremony, come with a cost estimate. That price tag will help us determine whether what we are gaining or hope to gain is really worth the cost.

Whether the plan by Gates is the best way to reduce military spending or not is hard to say; but certainly I don’t think any senator could study and evaluate the plan as quickly as the the ones from Virginia did and make an informed recommendation.


Gates proposes cutting Joint Forces command from defense budget on CNN.com

INCUMBENTS

Originally posted 2010-08-23 02:00:21.

$100 Bill

There’s a new fancy high-tech $100 bill that will be hitting the streets.

Made for the US Treasury Department by Crane & Co, Dalton, MA, US (who also makes paper currency for a number of other world governments), the new bill features a number of new security innovations; amount them are a 3-D ribbon, an image of an inkwell that changes to a Liberty Bell, as well as other features introduced on earlier denominations.

Originally posted 2010-10-27 02:00:07.

The Nightmare Continues…

With the bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac continuing to drain tax coffers, the first quarter 2010 reported a substantial increase in home owners who missed at least one mortgage payment.

Below are three articles by The Associated Press (with complete links to NPR).


Mortgage Delinquencies, Foreclosures Break Records
by The Associated Press

The number of homeowners who missed at least one mortgage payment surged to a record in the first quarter of the year, a sign that the foreclosure crisis is far from over.

More than 10 percent of homeowners had missed at least one mortgage payment in the January-March period, the Mortgage Bankers Association said Wednesday. That number was up from 9.5 percent in the fourth quarter of last year and 9.1 percent a year earlier.

Those figures are adjusted for seasonal factors. For example, heating bills and holiday expenses tend to push up mortgage delinquencies near the end of the year. Many of those borrowers become current on their loans again by spring.

Without adjusting for seasonal factors, the delinquency numbers dropped, as they normally do from the winter to spring.

More than 4.6 percent of homeowners were in foreclosure, also a record. But that number, which is not adjusted for seasonal factors, was up only slightly from the end of last year.

Stocks slid Wednesday as investors remain concerned with the European debt crisis. The rising number of mortgages also drew some attention. The Dow Jones industrial average fell more than 160 points in early trading.

Jay Brinkmann, the trade group’s chief economist, said the foreclosure crisis appears to have stabilized. Seasonal adjustments may be exaggerating the change from the previous quarter, he added.

“I don’t see signs now that it’s getting worse, but it’s going to take a while,” he said. “A bad situation that’s not getting worse is still bad.”

The number of American homeowners who have missed at least three months of payments or are in foreclosure has surged to around 4.3 million, Brinkmann estimated.

The Obama administration’s $75 billion foreclosure prevention program has barely dented the problem. More than 299,000 homeowners had received permanent loan modifications as of last month. That’s about 25 percent of the 1.2 million who started the program since its March 2009 launch.

About 277,000 homeowners, or 23 percent of those enrolled, have dropped out during a trial phase that lasts at least three months.

Economic woes, such as unemployment or reduced income, are the main catalysts for foreclosures this year. Initially, lax lending standards were the culprit. But homeowners with good credit who took out conventional, fixed-rate loans are now the fastest growing group of foreclosures.

Those borrowers made up nearly 37 percent of new foreclosures in the first quarter of the year, up from 29 percent a year earlier.

The risky subprime adjustable-rate loans that kicked off the foreclosure crisis are making up a smaller share of new foreclosures. They made up 14 percent of new foreclosures in the January-March period, down from 27 percent a year earlier.


Fannie Mae Seeks $8.4B From U.S. After $13B Loss
by The Associated Press

Fannie Mae has again asked taxpayers for more money after reporting a first-quarter loss of more than $13 billion.

The mortgage finance company, which was rescued by the government in September 2008, said it needs an additional $8.4 billion from the government to help cover mounting losses.

Fannie Mae says it lost $13.1 billion, or $2.29 per share, in the January-March period. That takes into account $1.5 billion in dividends paid to the Treasury Department. It compares with a loss of $23.2 billion, or $4.09 a share, in the year-ago period.

The rescue of Fannie Mae and sister company Freddie Mac is turning out to be one of the most expensive aftereffects of the financial meltdown. The new request for aid will bring Fannie Mae’s total to $83.6 billion. The total bill for the duo will now be nearly $145 billion.

Late last year, the Obama administration pledged to cover unlimited losses through 2012 for Freddie and Fannie, lifting an earlier cap of $400 billion.

Fannie and Freddie play a vital role in the mortgage market by purchasing mortgages from lenders and selling them to investors. Together the pair own or guarantee almost 31 million home loans worth about $5.5 trillion. That’s about half of all mortgages.

The two companies, however, loosened their lending standards for borrowers during the real estate boom and are reeling from the consequences.

With the housing market still on shaky ground, Obama administration officials say it is still too early to draft any proposals to reform the two companies or the broader housing finance system.

But Republicans argue the sweeping financial overhaul currently before Congress is incomplete without a plan for Fannie and Freddie. They propose transforming Fannie and Freddie into private companies with no government subsidies, or shutting them down completely.

The legislation “touches nearly every corner of the economy,” Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby said in the GOP weekly radio and Internet address over the weekend. “But these major contributors to the crisis are left unscathed,” he added, singling out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.


Freddie Mac Seeks $10.6B In Aid After 1Q Loss
by The Associated Press

Freddie Mac is asking for $10.6 billion in additional federal aid after posting a big loss in the first three months of the year. It’s another sign that the taxpayer bill for stabilizing the housing market will keep mounting.

The McLean, Va.-based mortgage finance company has been effectively owned by the government after nearly collapsing in September 2008. The new request will bring the total tab for rescuing Freddie Mac to $61.3 billion.

Freddie Mac said Wednesday it lost $8 billion, or $2.45 a share, in the January-March period. That takes into account $1.3 billion in dividends paid to the Treasury Department. It compares with a loss of $10.4 billion, or $3.18 a share, in the first quarter last year.

The company, however, cautioned that new accounting standards make it difficult to compare the most recent quarter with the year-ago period. In the first quarter of this year, Freddie Mac was forced to bring $1.5 trillion in assets and liabilities onto its balance sheet, causing the company’s net worth to plunge by $11.7 billion.

Nevertheless, the company’s CEO Charles Haldeman said, “We are seeing some signs of stabilization in the housing market, including house prices and sales in some key geographic areas.”

He cautioned, though, that the housing market “remains fragile with historically high delinquency and foreclosure levels, and high unemployment among the key risks.”

Created by Congress, Freddie Mac and sibling company Fannie Mae buy mortgages from lenders and package them into bonds that are resold to global investors. As the housing bubble burst, they were unable to raise enough money to stay afloat, and the government effectively nationalized them.

Freddie’s new request will bring the total taxpayer tab for both companies to about $126 billion.

With the housing market still on shaky ground, Obama administration officials argue that it is still too early to draft any proposals to reform the two companies or the broader housing finance system.

But Republicans argue that the sweeping financial overhaul currently before Congress is incomplete without a plan for Fannie and Freddie. Senate Republicans propose transforming Fannie and Freddie into private companies with no government subsidies, or to shut them down completely.


The deficit was $1.2 – $1.3 trillion when Obama took the reigns; some projections put it to be as high as $10 trillion in 2020… and while I’m not a fan of Obama, much of that was set in motion before he tripped over his own feet.

Originally posted 2010-05-20 02:00:51.

The Gift of Giving

Every year I go through the same thing… I try to select a handful of charities to give something to… and every year I want to know how much of what I give will benefit those I want to help, and how much will be absorbed by the organization that manages the donation.

Remember, there’s been plenty of large philanthropic organizations that end up only getting about 10% of what’s donated to those they “help” and paid their executives huge salaries. [Greed — you’ll find it everywhere]  
This year I stumbled on the American Institute of Philanthropy (see the link below), and they’ve done a lot of the work for you — and even made a simple ratings page if you don’t want to invest lots of time into looking over the details.

For those of you who can afford to give a little back, I encourage you to make your gifts count.

     http://www.charitywatch.org/azlist.html

Originally posted 2008-11-10 14:18:25.