Tuesday, December 31, 2019

New year, new budget - how to make your household finances really work

Don’t let 2020 be a repeat of 2019. But you said that last year, didn’t you?

Every January we rue the purchases of December, but now is the time to focus on making 2020 the year you finally break free of the hold your finances have over you.



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A couple who may run a business or department in work, who are fantastic at managing budgets, purchases and accounts can find it all seems to fall apart at home.

A 2012 longitudinal study in the United States found that couples were more likely to split up when money was the main source of friction compared with other problems. Science Journal ‘PLOS One’ revealed it was the perceived unfairness in pooling finances that had a more damaging effect on marital harmony than arguments over sex, housework or child-rearing.

It can lead, at worst, to what researchers call ‘financial infidelity’. She hides the receipt for the new pair of shoes; he has a secret bank account she doesn’t know about. She rips open the credit card bill when it arrives; he hides it in a drawer until creditors call.

People are marrying later in life and by your mid-30s financial habits are already well entrenched, so merging finances and assuming it will all work out is rarely the case.

“Issues with money are common,” says clinical psychotherapist Stephanie Regan. “Often it is simply that one is much more conscious of money and the imperative of saving and the other is a little more impulsive and inclined to spend once the money is there.

“It’s often indicative of a different approach to life, or it may be something that has been passed down in the parental system and the messages that have been received from home.

“If spending has become debt, the matter is not only a difference between each other in terms of style or approach, but an issue of being irresponsible with money, which has an impact on both parties. The factor then is one of financial infidelity, with the same potential to break a relationship as one person feels disrespected as the other has taken risks with their mutual bond.”



“First you must recognise and acknowledge that you have a different approach and where that different approach emanates from,” says Ms Regan.

“Like all the issues in relationships it is not about who is right and who is wrong, but rather about accommodating both sets of needs.”

Practically speaking, there are ways to approach this. If the money runs out before the month on a regular basis, you have a budgeting problem. If your money disappears servicing loans, you have a debt problem.



The worst way to budget is to take your cue from the Minister for Finance. He’s a smart man, but if households only sat down on one day in the year to decide all the spending, they’d soon run adrift. Budgets are organic; monthly or even weekly tracking is far more valuable.

To find out your outgoings, calculate your spend by period: weekly (groceries, train, petrol, parking, lunches), monthly (anything on direct debit, mortgage and so on), and, where it really gets sticky, irregulars (medical/dentistry, hairdressing, vet bills, car repairs, summer holidays, back to school, and, yes, Christmas). Because these ‘appear’ suddenly (although we all know they’ll arrive), we tend not to budget in advance, and that’s the trick.

Make a list of all irregular spending you can think of – calendarise if it helps – and then add it up, divide by 12, and that’s the amount you need to budget every month in a special account for household bills.

If you do this, I promise, it will revolutionise your financial life.



Not all debt is bad. We couldn’t buy a house without a loan, but when you borrow for day-to-day spending, it becomes a problem. Alarm bells include putting your groceries on credit card, contactless tapping on credit, treating your debit and credit card as interchangeable and buying new when you don’t need to.

List your debts in order, low to high. Pay off one as soon as you can and move the payments saved to the next one in line. This creates a ‘snowball’ effect. Your mortgage is at the end – if you can free up all the other debt payments, you can choose to overpay your home loan or start saving properly.



Budgeting apps are great. N26, Revolut, AIB and KBC are the best for this.

N26 says: “Automatic spending categorisation sorts purchases into broad categories such as ‘food and groceries’ or ‘shopping’, presented as a simple pie chart”. You can change the name, add a hashtag and make it individual to you.

A study of people using the personal finance app Money Dashboard found that where people used the budgeting function, they significantly reduced their spending. Just seeing your spending pattern creates a psychological barrier to tipping into debt.

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The NYC neighborhoods that will boom in 2020

Peripatetic New Yorkers are always looking for the next big thing. As rents and sales prices rise in many affordable neighborhoods across the city, that mission hits close to home — especially for those on the hunt for a good deal in an up-and-coming area.

If a move is on the horizon in 2020, consider one of the city’s enclaves poised for major change this year. Real estate data startup Localize.city ran the numbers to find out which New York neighborhoods are home to the most new condos and rentals opening to occupants this year.

The eight neighborhoods that are expecting the most almost-complete apartments span Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn, running the gamut from the towering Financial District to recently rezoned East New York. Alongside all the new real estate development, though, parks and other amenities have popped up or are in the pipeline.

So no matter where you live in New York, there’s always something to look forward to.

Long Island City

Long Island City is poised to get the largest number of new apartments in 2020 of any neighborhood in the city — with 2,022 — but most will arrive via a few major projects. Chief among them is the two-towered rental on the site of the now-razed graffiti mecca 5Pointz, which will bring 1,122 units to the neighborhood by summer.

Prices have risen in step: According to StreetEasy, the median asking sales price has risen from $645,000 in 2010 to $1.2 million in 2019. But the formerly industrial area retains a tranquil air. A quick stint in Midtown turned Gaia Bellia, 30, off.

“Manhattan was too crowded, too noisy, not my cup of hectic,” says Bellia, a native of Italy who moved stateside from Sudan to continue working for UNICEF. Colleagues recommended the slower pace and smaller scale of Long Island City. With the help of Mary V. Torres at Modern Spaces, Bellia moved into a furnished one-bedroom apartment with skyline views asking $3,470.

“It’s not exciting,” adds Bellia of Long Island City, “but it feels like a normal neighborhood to me.”

Financial District

Once a neighborhood of worker bees that was a ghost town after 5 p.m., FiDi has seen a residential surge over the last decade.

Median asking rents ballooned from $3,100 in 2010 to $3,808 in 2019; median asking prices from $980,000 to $1.4 million. Among the new projects debuting this year are the blockbuster office-to-566 condo conversion of Ralph Walker’s iconic One Wall Street (above).

Towers by architectural heavyweights — David Adjaye’s 130 William St. and Rafael Viñoly’s 125 Greenwich St. — will bring 515 condos to the neighborhood this summer, with prices averaging $2.5 million and $2.8 million, respectively.

The former site of J&R Music and Computer World along City Hall Park has sprouted 110 condos that will open in early 2020 at 25 Park Row. The residential influx spurs amenities, too: Alamo Drafthouse will open a 10-screen movie theater at 28 Liberty, where a 35,000-square-foot complex with food and live music is also underway.


Tove Hermanson, 41, and partner Jeffrey Leib, 49 (above), bought a house in Flatbush last year — which they are now renovating — after 10 years of renting in Boerum Hill.

Hermanson, an interior designer with Leroy Street Studio, and Leib, a nonprofit fundraising technology consultant, paid $910,000 for a Flatbush townhome with Compass’ Chamberlin Syrett Team.

It delivered on their square footage needs and desire for historic character while also staying within their price range. The duo likes the liveliness of their street, especially in summer when sidewalk barbecuing is common. They also found an unexpected pleasure in the kindness of neighbors.

“In Boerum Hill, people would steal our Amazon boxes all the time,” Leib says. “No one steals anything here.”

Flatbush, home to the beautifully restored Kings Theatre, also has three major new-development projects — The Lois, Hello Nostrand and Crystal Apartments — poised to open.


Four large developments will bring nearly 1,000 apartments to the central Queens area this year, with more than half coming in The Crossing at Jamaica Station (above), a massive mixed-use development adjacent to the AirTrain and Long Island Rail Road stations.

Pricing hasn’t been announced, but the area’s median asking rent hovers around $2,200, per StreetEasy.

Given its reasonable median asking sales price of $609,000 and exceptional access to public transit — it’s bisected by the E, J, Z and F trains — StreetEasy also saw it rise in listings search popularity during 2019.

Downtown Brooklyn

A 2004 upzoning of Downtown Brooklyn reshaped the area surrounding the Brooklyn Bridge’s ramps into a warren of high-rise rental and condo towers.

Over the last five years, the area’s witnessed a parade of new developments that battled over the title of Brooklyn’s tallest. That distinction now belongs to Extell’s Brooklyn Point, a 483-condo tower set to debut in early 2020 at 138 Willoughby St.

It’s 720 feet tall with a mind-boggling rooftop pool. Another skyline-denting building, Studio Gang’s 620-foot-tall 11 Hoyt (above), will also open its 481 condos to buyers in 2020.

And this procession of new skyscrapers has come with neighborhood perks like an Alamo Drafthouse, a Target, a Century 21 and the buzzy Dekalb Market food hall.

The neighborhood’s also geared up to get a long-awaited 1.15-acre public green space called Willoughby Square Park by late 2021.


Brownstone-filled Bed-Stuy will welcome a whopping 59 new developments this year, the most of any neighborhood on the list.

Most are smaller four- to eight-apartment buildings, but larger openings like the 182-unit building at 1134 Fulton St. are on the docket, too. “Construction follows the blueprint” of a 2012 rezoning, according to Localize.city urban planning analyst Dan Levine.

”The avenues, especially Myrtle, Bedford and Nostrand, will see five- to seven-story buildings — and a few as tall as 10 stories. Smaller buildings are going up almost everywhere across the rest of the neighborhood.”

The rezoning also led to an uptick in pricing: Median asking prices rose from $462,000 in 2012 to $1.2 million in 2019. Median asking rents went from $1,650 to $2,639.

East Harlem

A 2017 rezoning hasn’t led to much concrete change yet, but there are still new developments to watch: The Carolina at 1465 Park Ave. will bring 400 affordable apartments to the neighborhood in 2020.

And noted architect Bjarke Ingels’ 149 E. 125th St. is set to debut 233 rentals. Pricing hasn’t been unveiled, but the area’s average median asking rent is $2,400.

(Also keep an eye out for the 390 mixed-income and affordable apartments planned for Lexington Gardens II at 127 E. 107th St., which would span almost the entire block between Lexington and Park avenues.)

Joining the 6 train, the Second Avenue Subway’s Q line will extend to East Harlem in another decade.

Three new stations are expected to open by 2029, granting easier access to the stock of affordable and market-rate apartments — as well as its lovely brownstones.

In Central Park’s northern reaches, a $150 million project to buff up the Harlem Meer and rebuild the Lasker Rink and Pool is slated to wrap up by 2024.

East New York

Developer The Arker Companies is opening its major mixed-use affordable housing development in East New York this year.

Dubbed The Fountains, it will bring 1,163 affordable apartments to the neighborhood by early 2021, with most of the units opening to tenants this year.

The apartments are reserved for New Yorkers who make less than $58,000 a year for a family of three.

The development will also bring new retail shops, community facilities and a public plaza to the neighborhood. Another two-building affordable development, Van Sinderen Plaza, is also on the way.

The first part of 407-acre Shirley Chisholm State Park debuted in 2019 with strolling and biking pathways. The next portion will open in 2021.

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Cole Valley, San Francisco: Where High Prices Meet Low Inventory

Devang Bhatt and his wife, Lamisa Parkar, were living in Boston in 2013 when he landed a job in San Francisco with Genentech, a biotechnology company. Ms. Parkar temporarily stayed back in Boston while Mr. Bhatt settled in corporate housing in San Francisco and went out alone each weekend to scope out condos for around $1 million.

They wanted at least two bedrooms, with a backyard for their Shetland sheepdog, Duke, as well as parking and nearby public transportation. From Boston, Ms. Parkar would make a list of open houses she wanted her husband to attend, and Mr. Bhatt would spend Saturdays driving to check them out.

Oak St.

Haight St.

1/4 mile

Stanyan St.


Golden Gate


Masonic Ave.

Clayton St.

Frederick St.

Carl St.

Belvedere St.





Parnassus Ave.

17th St.

San Francisco

Market St.

Forest Knolls

Higher Grounds

Coffee House

By The New York Times

Cole Valley, a small, charming San Francisco neighborhood that borders Golden Gate Park with leafy streets lined with Victorian homes, initially felt out of their price range. So when he wandered into the three-bedroom, top-floor unit of a classic Victorian row home, built in 1904 and having survived two major earthquakes, he knew he had gotten lucky. Despite its beauty, the property’s age showed, and it needed upgrades. But after sitting on the market for months, the condo’s price had been slashed, putting it within the couple’s budget.

“Back then the good properties were selling so quickly, for all cash at 30 percent over the offering price,” said Mr. Bhatt, 40. “But this one had been on the market before and the competition was low.”

Ms. Parkar, 38, flew to San Francisco, and they quickly offered $1.035 million. They did an additional $200,000 worth of renovations, breaking down walls to create an open living room, and adding central heating, a half bathroom and new floors. In six years, their family has expanded: A son was born in 2018, and another baby is on the way. Cole Valley, Mr. Bhatt said, has been the right place for their family.

“There are lots of kids in the neighborhood and we can walk to three different parks, which is great,” he said. “People are so friendly here. Our stroller is big and we also have a dog, so we take up the entire sidewalk when we are walking, but people are quite understanding and they give us space. It’s a family-oriented neighborhood.”

Ms. Parkar, who also works in the health care industry, takes the N Judah line of the Muni Metro light-rail line, which makes two stops in Cole Valley, directly to her job in downtown San Francisco. Mr. Bhatt rides the Genentech shuttle bus, which collects employees in the morning and deposits them at the company’s South San Francisco headquarters.

Living in Cole Valley, he said, has made the difference for their happiness in the city. “Every neighborhood in San Francisco has its own character and vibe, but Cole Valley is really a small village within itself,” said Mr. Bhatt. “The dry cleaners know us by name. At the pet store, they give treats to our dog.”

Kimberly Rosania purchased her Cole Valley home in 2018, while she was doing her doctoral training in child psychology. She had gotten used to taking BART from Hayes Valley, where she and her husband were previously renting, to an internship at Children’s Hospital Oakland. When she completed her degree, she found a teaching position at Stanford — a plum job, but one that forced her to abandon the ease of public transportation and drive to work instead.

She commutes by car three days a week, and spends two days a week at home with her 2-year-old daughter. And while she admits she hates the 35-mile drive to Palo Alto, she loves her days in the neighborhood. “Cole Valley is a friendly, safe neighborhood that feels almost suburban, but you’re still connected to all the things I love about the city,” she said.

Ms. Rosania, 35, jogs through Golden Gate Park with her daughter in the stroller, pops into the local grocery for croissants and coffee, and takes advantage of the many playgrounds scattered around the neighborhood. “I feel very welcomed as someone with a little person with me,” he said. “There are so many restaurants I can walk into where they have crayons and high chairs for my daughter, and also good food.”

Her husband works at a tech company in downtown San Francisco, and the N Judah train makes his commute easy. On the weekends, he gardens in the backyard of their three-bedroom home, which they bought after an intense bidding war for $3.95 million.

“We wanted to find a house where the three of us could easily spend time together at home,” said Ms. Rosania. “All the other stuff, the neighborhood — it was the icing on the cake.”

What You’ll Find

Cole Valley wraps around the southeast corner of Golden Gate Park, just below Haight-Ashbury. Cole Street, its commercial thoroughfare, has a number of quaint mom-and-pop shops, including Cole Hardware and the gourmet spot Say Cheese.

There are also a number of popular restaurants, including Zazie, a French bistro whose weekend brunch has become something of an institution; upscale Mexican Padrecito; and Beit Rima, a newcomer with Palestinian cuisine. At The Ice Cream Bar, an Art Deco-style soda fountain with a 1930s vibe, employees wear bow ties and all the sweets are made from scratch.

The N Judah Muni Metro light rail line has stops at Carl Street and Cole Street, as well as at Carl Street and Stanyan Street.

What You’ll Pay

With classic Victorian rowhouses and less than a fifth of a square mile of land, Cole Valley has high prices and limited inventory. But following a trend seen across San Francisco, home values are cooling.

“Cole Valley is very expensive because, for one thing, very little comes on the market. People who are there are there to stay,” said Marc Dickow, a partner at Core7 Real Estate and the 2020 president of the San Francisco Association of Realtors. “And it’s beautiful. I haven’t gone into a single house in Cole Valley that wasn’t, like, wow.”

In 2019, the median price for single-family homes and condos in Cole Valley was $1.55 million, down from a median of $1.8 million in 2018 and $2.43 million in 2017, according to the San Francisco Association of Realtors.

Renters will pay upward of $2,000 for a studio, and as much as $5,000 for a two-bedroom apartment.

The Vibe

Steve Silberman has lived in Cole Valley since 1981. Seven years ago, when a major storm caused flooding and a neighborhood blackout, he went to Say Cheese on Cole Street. Cash registers were down and electricity was out, and the owner, Roger Soudah, had put out cured meats, cheeses and breads for locals to take on the honor system.

It hardly surprised him. “People are good to each other here,” said Mr. Silberman, 62, a science writer. “There’s a kind of awareness among neighbors, of being concerned and earnest about one another’s lives, but not intrusive.”

Mr. Silberman, the author of the 2015 book “NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity,” said the community vibe is what prompted him to start a Cole Valley Community Facebook group, which today has nearly 6,000 members. He has watched over the years as those members have become younger and wealthier.

“When I moved here there were many more older people, and now I myself am an older person,” he said. “The prices have increased so much that basically the only people who can afford to buy here are working at Facebook or Google or Apple, or in the financial district.”

Mr. Silberman rents his home, as does his mother, who moved to the neighborhood 12 years ago after his father died.

“It’s a very charming neighborhood,” he said. “The downside, of course, is that the median home price is many times the national average. I wrote a book that became an international best seller, but I will never be able to buy a house here. I’m renting and hanging on by the skin of my teeth.”

The Schools

San Francisco Unified School District operates on a lottery system, meaning children are not guaranteed placement in the school nearest to their home. The system, officially called the SFUSD Student Assignment System, was created 18 years ago in a bid to desegregate classrooms.

Nevertheless, many families with young children choose Cole Valley because of Grattan Elementary, where 56 percent of third-graders taking the California Smarter Balanced Assessment Exam during the 2018-19 school year met benchmarks for English language arts, compared with 52 percent in the school district and 49 percent across California. In math, 60 percent met benchmarks, compared with 58 percent across the school district and 50 percent statewide. (According to the California Department of Education, students with scores at or above benchmark levels on these tests are ready for higher-level coursework).

There are no public middle or high schools within Cole Valley’s boundaries. The Ashbury Campus of the Lycée Français de San Francisco, a multicampus private school with French immersion classes, sits just outside the neighborhood and welcomes students from preschool through fifth grade.

The Commute

On the N Judah line, the ride to downtown San Francisco from Cole Valley takes about 20 minutes. Shuttle buses from several of the city’s major tech companies, including Google and Facebook, have pickups in the neighborhood. For drivers, the ride to South San Francisco at rush hour will take about 35 minutes; Silicon Valley will take more than an hour.

The History

The spot at Carl and Cole Streets where commuters now catch the N Judah line was once a streetcar stop, which helped turn the neighborhood into a transit hub. It slowly evolved from farmland into what it is today, and during the 1990s dot-com bubble, many tech millionaires, including Craig Newmark of Craigslist, called the area home.

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Monday, December 30, 2019

'Living and breathing' mini cities: The changing face of the humble warehouse

In an industrial business park tucked away in Mascot near Sydney airport, is a place that every teenager would love to pay homage to.

It is called the Hemi Anechoic Room, and is designed to "completely absorb reflections of either sound or electromagnetic waves".  To the lay person, it helps in the manufacture and improvement of noise-cancelling head phones, the must-have accessory when being told to clean one's room.

PhD student Tong Xiao at the industrial shed leased to UTS.Credit:James Brickwood. SMH

The small space is covered completely in pyramid-shaped sound absorbing foam and is just one of the many testing areas in the new UTS Tech Lab that is run out of an off-site campus-style warehouse.

It is these new and varied business operations within a warehouse that is making the once-humble shed a must-have for property landlords.

Chicago-based Rich Thompson, who leads the global Supply Chain & Logistics Solutions team at real estate services group JLL, said selecting a distribution centre site selection and the design of the building was not always so complicated.

"(It used to be) Put down a concrete slab, tilt up four walls, throw in some racking and hire some people to start moving boxes in and out. Simple, right?" Mr Thompson said.

"But not today. The world of supply chain management has changed significantly with the rapid advances of both e-commerce and technology. This in turn is impacting the way companies look at their distribution networks, as well as industrial building design."

At the Sydney UTS facility, tertiary students who are looking to help change the world with new inventions – who in the past would be stuck in the basement of a high-rise office tower – can roam free and have space to spread out with the latest technology at their fingertips and then discuss it at lunch together in a state-of-the-art breakout space.

Within a small room onsite the team from the Photonics department, including 9iPL, University of NSW (UNSW) and the UTS Tech Lab, achieved a world first of making optical fibre from a 3D printer.

Mark Cuddy, the head of listed property group Dexus' industrial portfolio, said the UTS tech lab is a working model of how the simple warehouse of the past that just had stacked pallets and racks from the floor to the ceiling has transformed into a "living and breathing" mini city.

In the UTS tech lab, there is a “shake table” to test, not just how a building would withstand an earthquake, but also for seat turbulence in cars.Credit:James Brickwood

"UTS has demonstrated a first mover strategy with their new hi-tech lab in Botany, thinking beyond the shed and reinforcing the diversity and capability of uses that can be incorporated into what is simply a warehouse at the end of the day," Mr Cuddy said.

Mr Cuddy added that traditionally, the tertiary education sector has conducted research and development, medical and engineering orientated faculties and learning environments within traditional office buildings such as UTS previously did at Ultimo.

"Commercial office tower built forms are somewhat inappropriate solutions for what is essentially Industrial operational technology, plant and equipment,"Mr Cuddy said.

The UTS lab covers six floors and includes a "shake table" to test, in part, how a building would withstand an earthquake. Additionally, as well as the acoustics lab, there is a Structural Testing Facility which includes Australia’s strongest floor structure and NSW’s only reaction wall, which are used to test simulated weight load.

The Multimedia Data Analytics Lab houses Australia’s only dedicated facilities for applications in multimedia and video surveillance.

Mr Cuddy said equipped with advanced systems and a range of cameras, "the lab set up allows research for video-based applications and projects including human action recognition, detection and counting of people, human re-identification and human gait recognition".

There is even an algae-growing machine that glows in the dark and is run 24/7 by robots.

A far cry from shelves stacked with pallets

Mr Thompson said the rapid advances of both e-commerce and technology is impacting the way companies look at their distribution networks, as well as industrial building design.

(It used to be) Put down a concrete slab, tilt up four walls, throw in some racking and hire some people to start moving boxes in and out. Simple, right? But not today.

On the investment front, JJL director research Australia Sass J-Baleh said while demand for Australian industrial property close to key transport hubs was relatively high, the availability of key investment-grade stock was low.

“As the major developing economies of the world become more urban, the requirements from these countries’ consumers begins to change – in particular, the demand for food, which is increasingly being met by trade,” she said.

Ms J-Baleh said high-consumption and non-discretionary spending in the grocery sector would continue to push the need for industrial floor space, especially as the emphasis from both consumers and suppliers shifted to online supermarket shopping.

"The combined food and grocery sectors of Australia’s online shopping spend – now topping $173 billion per year – is projected to rise 12 per cent annually over the next five years," she said.

"Demand pressures for industrial space will be felt by transport, logistics and retail sector users, especially for cold storage facilities and purpose-built warehousing."

To cater to the demand for these "living cities" where supply is tight, tenants are opting for a co-sharing model.

Colliers International national director, logistics and supply chain, Monica Velez, says the shortage of industrial land and low vacancy across major Australian cities is fuelling businesses to look at alternative solutions.

"Co-warehousing also referred to as the warehouse marketplace, on-demand or digital warehouse, is driven by the promise of ultra-flexible on-demand engagements between entities in need of storage and fulfillment capability in strategic locations where parties have space and resources available service operations," Ms Velez said.

Amazon’s Melbourne fulfilment centre in Dandenong South.

"This concept is not limited to filling empty sheds; it extends to storage, receiving, fulfilment, inventory management and value-add services."

Luke Crawford, associate director of industrial research at Colliers International, believes continued growth in online retail will help underpin the co-warehousing phenomenon in Australia, spurred on by the need for industrial occupiers to service their last mile logistics function.

"While online retail has grown at a rapid rate in Australia, it remains well under the US and UK markets where it is as high as 20 per cent highlighting the growth potential in Australia,," Mr Crawford said.

"Coupled with fluctuating demand levels, this will result in businesses looking outside the box to meet their space and operational requirements."

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Elon Musk proves there is no such thing as bad publicity

As Elon Musk is fond of pointing out, Tesla has never spent a cent on advertising. But then again, he provides the sort of publicity money can't buy.

Earlier this month, Musk – a man who runs four companies and whose net worth is calculated at over $US26 billion  ($37 billion) – spent two days in a Los Angeles courtroom defending himself in a libel lawsuit after a wholly unnecessary Twitter row with a British cave expert.

Elon Musk has never shied away from the cameras.Credit:Bloomberg

A few weeks earlier, the launch of Tesla's latest vehicle, the hulking Cybertruck, had descended into slapstick when a botched demonstration of the vehicle's durability actually resulted in two broken windows.

And in the same month, Musk had stoked controversy by blaming Brexit for Tesla’s decision to build its giant European “gigafactory” in Germany rather than Britain (in all likelihood, Brexit had almost nothing to do with it).

It says a lot that this was an improvement on the previous year, in which Musk smoked marijuana on a live internet stream, attempted to save a group of trapped children from a Thai cave with an improvised submarine and caused stock market chaos with the claim that he had “funding secured” for an $US82 billion deal to take Tesla private (he did not).

On the face of it, one might wonder why a man as clearly gifted as Musk manages to wander from catastrophe to ever-more entertaining catastrophe – or indeed, how he has the time.

Another way of looking at it might be to interpret Musk's actions as a variation of Donald Trump's playbook of internet theatre: attention is a valuable asset, regardless of its quality.

Musk would probably not embrace the comparison, but there are certainly parallels: both have hordes of dedicated fans who are willing to proselytise on their behalf, for example.

Perhaps this is overly cynical. Musk's knack for attention may be by accident rather than premeditated. And in a world of practiced and polished tech bosses such as Mark Zuckerberg and Google's Sundar Pichai, one with a little rough around the edges at least keeps things interesting.

Still, it is hard to imagine Tesla receiving the publicity, and the sales that inevitably follow, if it were to put a run-of-the-mill car industry executive in charge. But a real-life Tony Stark who drives an armoured truck around and wants to turn us into cyborgs? Who wouldn't want to buy a car from him?

And yet, in 2019 Musk demonstrated a different side. After years of selling a vision of a battery-powered revolution, Tesla is now well on its way to making it a reality – and not just in eco-conscious pockets of society but globally.

In the first nine months of this year, Tesla sold some 255,500 cars, up from 154,500 in the same period a year earlier. Analysts expect it to reveal quarterly sales of above 100,000 for the first time when the company reveals fourth-quarter numbers next week. The figure is still a fraction of what its bigger rivals are selling, but unlike many of them, Tesla's figures are going in the right direction.

The company is now swiftly boosting production capacity. After an arduous process of building its first "gigafactory" in Nevada, it has taken less than a year to do the same in China, the world's largest electric vehicle market, and one that will be crucial to Tesla's future. The European gigafactory near Berlin will reportedly have capacity for up to 750,000 cars a year.

The bear case for Tesla, however, has always had less to do with what the company itself does, and more to do with its rivals.

On the face of it, one might wonder why a man as clearly gifted as Musk manages to wander from catastrophe to ever-more entertaining catastrophe – or indeed, how he has the time.

The thinking was that as soon as people actually started to want electric cars, major manufacturers would start to take them seriously, and take advantage of their much more advanced supply chains and dealership networks to eliminate Tesla's advantage.

But while it is still early days, that seems far from inevitable. Sales of Jaguar's I-Pace and Audi's e-tron have been less than stellar, and Mercedes recently delayed the US launch of its first electric vehicle.

Tesla's head start, meanwhile, seems to be paying dividends. Early production of its mass-market Model 3 was characterised by delays and widespread reports of sub-par workmanship, but the company now seems to have put that behind it.

It is becoming harder to be cynical about the company's prospects. Analysts at Credit Suisse, who have been long-time sceptics, recently admitted that Tesla was well ahead of its rivals in battery technology. Earlier this month shares hit an all-time high, and short-sellers betting against the company have thinned out in recent months as they lose millions.

There are still questions about the future. The space-age Cybertruck, a steel monster that is pegged to go on sale in 2021, will probably not generate the sales to match the attention it has received. Musk's claim that its cars will be fully self-driving at some point in the coming year, to the extent that they can act as robot taxis, is ambitious to put it kindly.

But while we can scoff at its chief executive's antics, his achievements with Tesla no longer seem in doubt.

Telegraph, London

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New York Mayor Announces Measures To Combat Anti-Semitic Attacks

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced groundbreaking crime prevention measures to combat hate and anti-Semitism in the wake of a mass stabbing incident targeting Jews in the city in the weekend.

The knife-wielding attacker burst into the house of a rabbi’s house in Monsey, north of New York City, during a Hanukkah celebration on Saturday. Five people, including the rabbi’s son, were injured in the knife attack.

“We as New Yorkers have the ability to stop the hatred. We’ve done it before — and in solidarity with our beloved Jewish brothers and sisters, we will do it again,” De Blasio said on Twitter after the attack.

“What we’re seeing is a growth of anti-Semitism in this country that is profoundly dangerous”, he told Fox News in an interview.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he considers this as an act of domestic terrorism.

Sunday, Bill de Blasio announced the creation of new multi-ethnic interfaith Neighborhood Safety Coalitions increased NYPD presence at Jewish community locations, and new Department of Education lesson plans and curriculum.

The Neighborhood Safety Coalitions will have physical presences in the community with neighborhood safety walks and corner watches.

The coalitions will meet Jewish community members where they are — in schools, on street corners, in religious institutions — to be a regular presence to deter acts of hate.

The NYPD will increase resources and patrols to precincts in Borough Park, Midwood, Crown Heights, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Williamsburg. Each precinct will have an additional 4 to 6 officers per tour.

In addition to an increased NYPD presence at houses of worship and during local events, six new light towers will be posted in Borough Park and additional security cameras will be installed throughout these neighborhoods.

The NYPD has established a new unit to focus on racially and ethnically motivated extremism to find where these groups are and stop them before they can act.

Citywide, the DOE will distribute resources to facilitate important conversations in the classroom in January. The annual Respect for All week in February will focus on preventing and addressing hate crimes.

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Sunday, December 29, 2019

Labour leader: Starmer the front runner as Corbyn allies cast doubt over Long-Bailey

Ms Long-Bailey has been ripped as the favourite to replace the outgoing Jeremy Corbyn, who will quit the party over the coming weeks after leading the Labour Party to its worst general election result in 35 years. The Shadow Business Secretary is one of a new generation of MPs on the left of the party, and is a close ally of Mr Corbyn, as well as outgoing Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell. She was chosen to represent Labour in a live television debate during the general election campaign, and also spearheaded the party’s plans for a green jobs revolution.

But according to The Sunday Times, doubts over Ms Long-Bailey’s candidacy emerged at a meeting in the Parliamentary office of Mr McDonnell on December 18 – six days after the general election.

A source who was present at the meeting told the newspaper: “She’s hardly a hero of our movement.

“It would be a betrayal of Corbynism if we accepted her as a shoo-in and we are just not sure she can win.’

Another said: “It wasn’t bitter. The concern is we just don’t know anything about her.”

Sir Keir now appears to be the frontrunner in the race to become the next Labour leader, and according to The Sunday times, has already won the support of dozens of MPs, with 21 required to make it on to the ballot paper.

One “soft left” MP told the newspaper his rival for the pro-EU vote – Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry – had been attempting to ramp up support for her candidacy over recent days, but that it was falling on deaf ears.

They said: “Thornberry called and texted several times.

“I had to pick up out of politeness, but for me it was always going to be Keir.

“Her tone bordered on passive-egressive. I think she is desperate.”

Other potential rivals who have already declared their interest in running for the Labour leadership include Shadow Treasury Minister Clive Lewis.

Ian Lavery, the former miner and pro-Brexit chairman of the party, has told friends he may run for the leadership but is waiting until Ms Long-Bailey sets out her vision first.

But Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner has ruled herself out of the running, and is instead throwing her support behind Ms Long-Bailey.

Piers Morgan reveals who he voted for in the general election [COMMENT]
George Galloway unleashes scathing attack on Labour’s David Lammy [OPINION]
How Gordon Brown oversaw ‘biggest wealth transfer from poor to rich’ [ANALYSIS]

Former defeated Labour MPs have also called for “fundamental change” at the top of the party in the wake of its humiliating general election defeat.

In a letter to The Observer, the 11-strong group have called for an “unflinching” review into what led to Labour’s causing election loss.

The letter said: “We have been horrified by the damage that Tory government austerity has wreaked in our communities, crippling our NHS, starving our struggling schools and transport networks, normalising street sleeping and failing to keep our streets safe.

“Yet sadly, when it came to polling day, Labour was led to its biggest defeat since 1935.

“We lost seats in every region and nation with a swing against us in every social class – with the biggest swing against us from the poorest people.”

A recent BMG poll for The Independent also revealed traditional Labour voters want a decisive break from Mr Corbyn’s agenda.

The survey of 1,506 UK adults from December 17-20 found almost half of voters believe Labour should ditch its current plan to focus on tax rises on the richest five percent of the British population, with just over a quarter (27 percent) in favour of keeping the policy.

Just under half (45 percent) want Labour to get rid of its policies on public spending and nationalisation, while in both cases, close to a third did not.

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Saturday, December 28, 2019

My dying friend wants to marry me so I can have his Social Security — should I do it?

Dear Moneyist,

Please do not hammer me for presenting this idea. I understand many people feel strongly about the meaning of marriage. I dated a guy for a couple of months, but we agreed to just be friends. He wanted to continue to date, but respected my choice.

Over a couple of years, we have gotten together monthly for dinner and have enjoyed a great friendship. He is a major introvert, has a long career at the National Security Agency, has few friends and has never been married (no kids).

This past November he was diagnosed with Stage IV lung disease, which has metastasized throughout his body. He has been told the median time frame for him to live is 6 months. I have helped him with doctors, went to an appointment with him, and remain as a close support.

He has asked me to be his estate trustee and I agreed to that. He is upset that the portion of his pension that the government contributed to over the last 30-plus years will be “lost.” He asked me to marry him, so I would receive this, in addition to his health-care benefits. He is clear-eyed about this and has made the case to me over several meetings.

Also see: I’m 65, my mortgage is paid off and I have $370,000 in savings, so why I am still worried about money?

I am 62, work hard at a modest career with a huge commute, put away 30% each paycheck into retirement, and have been divorced and have never intended to remarry for any reason. My financial independence has been hard fought. I have job security for at least five more years, but my retirement will be quite simple and a bit of a struggle.

He has always tried to help me, but I have not wanted to muddy the waters of our relationship. I continue to date other men, and he has dated other women, some of whom I have met, but I do not have a boyfriend.

Recommended: My husband asked me to file a joint tax return without telling me he owes back taxes

Is this ethical receiving government benefits in an arranged marriage? What if he recovers ? If I were to accept, is this money-grabbing on my part? Is this just his way to bring me closer? What other parts of this dilemma am I missing?

I have shared this with a couple of close friends and they have made strong arguments for both sides. The proponents feel that this is just a financial decision. Those against feel it is unethical to essentially marry for money.

I am leaning towards not doing this.


Dear Unsure,

You wouldn’t be the first person to marry for money, and you won’t be the last. When people do marry for money, they tend to keep it to themselves. People marry for all kinds of reasons, for companionship, passion, children, or because they just don’t want to be alone. Some people marry even when they don’t love the person, maybe because he or she is beautiful or well connected, the person would make a good mother or father or — I’m clearly exaggerating here — has a low 18-hole handicap and would be a good partner to win the coveted prize at the country club’s “husband and wife” golf competition.

Other people marry for love and end up hating each other, and remain tied together because of money — perhaps because one person has health insurance with their job, or because they share a home and neither wants to give it up, or they simply can’t afford to split it. Maybe they just got used to having each other around. Many couples who no longer live together or love each other — they may even loathe each other! — remain married “for the sake of the children.” That may or may not be a good idea, depending on how well they get along. Some people, of course, even end up living happily ever after. Just like in the movies.

Don’t miss: Before I give my fiancée a $7,000 diamond engagement ring, I want her to promise to bequeath it to my daughter

And so to you: You both dated and now share a valuable friendship. There are all kinds of love. You can dislike a person and still love their humanity. You can love a friend who used to be a boyfriend or girlfriend, but in a different way. You can love the idea of making someone financially secure and giving them a gift that will ensure their peace of mind or bring financial stability after they’re gone. There are complications to his plan: You would, however, have to be married for nine months and/orhe would have “reasonably expected to live for 9 months” to legally claim widow’s benefits. Here are the other conditions. Ask a lawyer about any exceptions for federal employees.

See also: My brother borrowed $50,000 from my dad and never paid it back — what can we do?

I tend not to listen to the Greek Chorus of friends, frenemies or family when making important personal decisions. Sure, I have my trusted sources, but everyone brings their own political, personal and ideological views to your predicament. I don’t see this arrangement as unethical. On the contrary, it’s an act of love for a dying man to make this his last wish. Maybe it’s not an act of romantic love, but it’s an act of love nonetheless. Many arranged marriages are very successful. In fact, all marriages are — in one way or another — arranged. If anything, there are more accounts that you, if you were his widow, could benefit from.

Some of your friends may even feel resentful that you would also be his beneficiary to (I’m guessing) a very healthy pension, retirement plan, thrift savings plan (similar to a 401(k) or 403 (b)) and/or civil servant retirement system (if you were designated a surviving beneficiary). You may, if you were his widow, benefit from his health insurance even after he dies. This goes far beyond just Social Security, and it could help you have a retirement free from worry and financial instability. Think carefully about all of these possibilities and talk them through with your friend.

You are the very opposite of money grabbing. I’ve received a lot of letters from people who have indulged in all sorts of shenanigans over money, some legal, some involving stolen money and altered wills; some letter writers have even accused family members of murder. All for money, money and more money. Sometimes, there is a difficult moral problem where the social contract has been irrevocably broken — and for what? To settle an old score that goes all the way back to childhood or cut a sibling out of a will. You are the last person I would want to “hammer,” even if it was my style, which it’s not. Please, be kind to yourself.

I’m not telling you to marry him, and I’m not telling you not to marry him. If you are not comfortable with marrying him, maybe you have your answer. If you feel like it puts you in a spot, proceed cautiously. If it would make you feel like you’re not a good person, think twice. If this offer is made in good faith based on a loving friendship, however, give it some thought. If he wants a beloved friend to benefit from his Social Security after he dies, money that he has earned during his lifetime, that’s actually a beautiful thing. You don’t seem sure that you will live comfortably on your existing income. He is your friend and he may have found a way to help.

Whatever you decide, it’s a thoughtful and generous offer. If you go ahead with this, you could always get a second opinion from a doctor and, of course, a lawyer regarding his medical bills and other financial details, and hope that your friend has more time than six months or a year, for his sake. If he or she says your friend can only expect to live six months or he only lives six months, of course the ethical and moral quandary you find yourself in may be moot, given the nine-month rule. Marriage may deepen your friendship and enrich your life in ways you did not expect. Are you saying no for the wrong reasons? Sometimes, it’s hard for people to ask or receive help.

One final thought: Your friend has both the luxury and difficulty of knowing when he is likely to leave this planet. It’s rare that we have the ability to choose how we die. If you look at it that way, you would be doing him a great service too.

Also see: My fiancé’s father is custodian of his IRA — how can I get him to relinquish control?

Do you have questions about inheritance, tipping, weddings, family feuds, friends or any tricky issues relating to manners and money? Send them to MarketWatch’s Moneyist and please include the state where you live (no full names will be used).

Would you like to sign up to an email alert when a new Moneyist column has been published? If so, click on this link.

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VAT will have more ‘leeway’ and ‘flexibility’ when we leave EU, says tax expert

Campaign Manager for the TaxPayers’ Alliance, Duncan Simpson, spoke to Express.co.uk about the “freedom” that the UK will have to control VAT rates post-Brexit. The standard rate of VAT in the UK is currently 20 percent and this is the rate charged on most purchases. Reduced rate VAT is charged on sanitary products, energy-saving measures and children’s car seats and is charged at five percent. Mr Simpson called for a “simplification” of the system and an “eventual lowering” from the 20 percent rate.

He told Express.co.uk: “Relatively speaking, VAT is probably the main tax on consumption which will have more leeway when we leave the EU.

“For example, there are certain elements of how VAT is instituted at the moment, particularly on domestic heating prices.

“There’s a different band at the moment compared to the standard 20 percent rate which has to be applied.

“But, relatively speaking, I think it’s important, particularly with VAT, that a lot of the exemptions and lower rates and zero-rated bands for a lot of products should be eliminated.”

Mr Simpson continued: “What should be the priority for VAT is the eventual lowering of the rate from 20 percent, but a simplification of the system.

“For example, the castigating saga from George Osbourne about six or seven years ago.

“There are these really weird iniquities around how VAT is charged.

“For example, Jaffa Cakes don’t have VAT, but other types of biscuits do. But not all chocolate biscuits have the standard rate of VAT. There’s no reasonable explanation as to why that’s the case.”

The tax campaigner added: “If you look through the guidance from HMRC, it’s a massive amount of categorisation and de-categorisation.

“So yes there will be a degree of more flexibility on how VAT can be levied in the UK once we leave the EU

“But the priority is for any government, whether we would have been staying in the EU or not, should be a focus on simplification rather than a further salami-slicing approach of how it’s implemented.”

Labour’s socialism would take Britain back to 1970s ‘suffering’ [EXCLUSIVE]
Labour’s plans to increase income tax could lose ‘£22.5 billion’ [INTERVIEW]
Labour’s plan to hike corporation tax is ‘dangerous’, warns expert [EXCLUSIVE]

Mr Simpson also spoke about the “very unpopular” inheritance tax.

Inheritance Tax is paid when a person’s estate is worth more than a certain amount when they die. A YouGov poll found that 59 percent of British people thought it was “unfair”.

The tax expert agreed with the poll’s assessment, adding that it was “very cruel” to grieving families and could only be resolved by being abolished.

He told Express.co.uk: “I think it’s fundamentally a very unfair tax. You’re demanding of families who are, one, having an understandably very difficult time grieving for relatives.

“But additionally are already dealing with a lot of elements of bureaucracy and changes which the government are forcing upon them, such as probate, arranging land registry fees, death certificates, various items which have to be dealt with upon the death of a loved one, and then, lo and behold, there’s this rather large inheritance tax bill.”

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Friday, December 27, 2019

Apple Will Lead FAANG Performers Again Next Year, Loup Says

Apple Inc. is likely to continue outperforming its mega-cap tech peers next year, according to Loup Ventures, which wrote that the iPhone maker could chase its 80%-plus rally in 2019 with another 20% gain in 2020.

Analyst Gene Munster cited a number of tailwinds for the shares over the coming 12 months, including continued growth for the Apple Watch and other “wearables,” and excitement over 5G technology. The expected launch of 5G iPhones in the second half of 2020 is a positive catalyst, particularly given “easy” sales comparisons from 2019.

Loup calculated that if Apple was valued similarly to other tech giants, “fair value” would be between $350 and $400, compared with its Thursday close of $289.91. The base-case valuation of $350 is “achievable in 2020,” the firm wrote, suggesting upside of nearly 21%. Loup said a $400 share price is within reach “sometime in 2021.”

In 2020, “investors will begin to recognize Apple’s combination of hardware and services as a high-visibility and sticky business,” warranting a higher valuation, Munster wrote to clients. He predicted that Apple would again be the top performing FAANG stock in 2020, referring to a group of long-time tech leaders that also includes Facebook, Amazon.com, Netflix, and Google-parent Alphabet.

Apple has climbed about 86% thus far this year, putting it on track for itsbiggest annual percentage gain since 2009. It has easily outperformed FAANG peers this year; other returns range from Facebook’s jump of nearly 60% to Netflix rising less than 25%.

Shares of Apple rose as much as 1.2% Friday, extending record levels in its fourth straight positive session.

Recent gains in Apple shares have come on the growing expectation that a 5G iPhone will be a blockbuster product. Wedbushearlier this week cited 5G when it raised its 12-month price target on the stock to $350, the highest among analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.

The 5G version “will be the biggest iPhone upgrade cycle” since 2015, Loup wrote, adding that the cycle “can deliver two years of 10% iPhone revenue growth, compared to our expectation of iPhone revenue essentially flat in CY20.”

Apple’s smartphone is by far its most important product line, accounting for about 55% of its 2019 revenue, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That is down from 62.1% in 2018, as other revenue streams — including its services business and “wearable” products like the Apple Watch or AirPods — have seen strong growth.

“Next year, wearables will be bigger than Mac,” Loup wrote, seeing “significant room to grow,“ for the Apple Watch given its international potential.

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Apple Sued by New York Doctor Over Watch’s Heart Technology

A New York University cardiologist claimsApple Inc.’s Watch uses his patented heartbeat-monitoring invention and he wants compensation.

Dr.Joseph Wiesel, who teaches atNYU School of Medicine, filed a suit Friday against the tech giant, in federal court in Brooklyn. Wiesel claims the Apple Watch infringes his patent for a method to detect an irregular heartbeat.

Applepromotes a feature in the watch that can measure the wearer’s heart rate and can provide notifications of an irregular pulse. The Wearables segment, which includes the Apple Watch, Apple TV and Beats headphones, is the company’s fastest-growingcategory and generated more than $24 billion in sales in the fiscal year that ended in September.

Wiesel said his invention covered “pioneering steps” in atrial fibrillation detection by monitoring “irregular pulse rhythms from a succession of time intervals.” He said he first contacted Apple in September 2017, giving the Cupertino, California-based company detailed information about the patent.

Apple has “refused to negotiate in good faith to avoid this lawsuit,” Wiesel contends in the suit. He wants the court to order Apple to pay him royalties and, barring that, to block the company from using his invention without permission.

Representatives of Apple, who don’t normally comment on litigation, didn’t immediately respond to a query about the suit.

The case is Wiesel v. Apple Inc., 19-7261, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn).

— With assistance by Chris Dolmetsch

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Oil prices extend climb to 3-month peak, and poised for weekly gain of at least 2%

Oil prices edged higher Friday morning as investors awaited a batch of reports on rig counts and inventories in the U.S. which have been delayed due to the Christmas holiday.

Market participants also digested a report signaling that the group known as OPEC+, including members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies like Russia, may consider ending a pact to reduce global production next year.

“As far as the production cuts are concerned, I repeat once again, this is not an indefinite process. A decision on the exit should be gradually taken in order to keep up market share and so that our companies would be able to provide and implement their future projects,” said Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak, according to Reuters on Friday, citing Russia broadcaster Rossiya 24 TV.

The report comes days after Novak was quoted as saying that OPEC+ may consider easing output restrictions at a meeting in March.

Earlier this month, OPEC and its allies agreed to officially cut production by 500,000 barrels per day on top of its current reduction agreement, beginning in January. Those additional reductions were meant to take total output cuts for OPEC+ to 1.7 million barrels day, including the current cuts of 1.2 million barrels a day from October 2018 levels that was put into place in January 2019.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg News, citing a report from JBC Energy, is forecasting that oil production outside of OPEC and the U.S. next year is set to rise by the most in about 15 years.

Against that backdrop, West Texas Intermediate crude for February delivery US:CLF20, the U.S. benchmark grade, edged 6 cents, or 0.1%, higher at $61.73 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, after rising 0.9% on Tuesday. That settlement marked the highest for the benchmark since Sept. 16, according to Dow Jones Market Data.

February Brent crude BRNG20, +0.00%, meanwhile, added a penny, or less than 0.1%, at $67.93 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe, following a 1.1% gain in the prior session. The international benchmark also finished at a more than three-month high on Thursday.

For the week, WTI has gained 2.1%, while Brent is poised for a 2.7% weekly gain, based on last Friday’s settlement of the most-active contract.

Looking ahead, investors are watching for weekly inventory reports from The Energy Information Administration on natural-gas stores at 10:30 a.m. Eastern Time and a separate EIA report on petroleum inventories due at 11 a.m., with a forecast for a decline in crude stockpiles of 1.1 million barrels, a gain of 2.5 million barrels of gasoline and distillates estimated to climb by 1.5 million barrels, for the week ended Dec. 20, according to Econoday.

A report on rigs drilling for natural gas and oil is due at 1 p.m. from Baker Hughes, with data last week reflecting a second straight pick up in oil rigs.

That data would come after the American Petroleum Institute late Tuesday reported that U.S. crude supplies fell by 7.9 million barrels for the week ended Dec. 20, more than analysts’ consensus expectations for a draw of draw of 1.83 million barrels, according to Reuters.

Meanwhile, January natural gas NGF20, -3.53% was off 8 cents, or 3.6%, at 2.211 per million British thermal units, a day after surging 5.6% to mark its largest one-day gain since Oct. 29, according to Dow Jones Market Data. For the week, natural-gas futures have lost 5%.

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Thursday, December 26, 2019

Mortgage rates hold steady to close out 2019 — here’s what the next year may hold

Interest rates on home loans by and large remained unchanged over this last week and will close out 2019 much lower than they were at the year’s beginning.

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.74% during the week ending Dec. 26, up one basis point from the previous week, Freddie MacFMCC, +0.33%reported Thursday.

Similarly, the 15-year fixed-rate mortgage held steady at 3.19%, according to Freddie Mac. The 5/1 adjustable-rate mortgage stood out this week, rising eight basis points to an average of 3.45%.

Mortgage rates roughly follow the direction of the 10-year Treasury noteTMUBMUSD10Y, +0.01% , which was bolstered over the past week by positive economic data including strong home-building activity and consumer spending.

Overall, mortgage rates averaged 3.9% this year, which was the fourth lowest annual average level since 1971, Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s chief economist, said in the report.

“Heading into 2020, low mortgage rates and the improving economy will be the major drivers of the housing market with steady increases in home sales, construction and home prices,” Khater said.

Most economists expect that 2020 will present a continuation of the low-rate environment that has dominated this year. Economists predicted that the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage will average between 3.60% and 3.85% next year, which could even represent a slight decrease from its current levels.

But the low-rate environment won’t necessarily mean that buying a home will be a cheap proposition. Low interest rates allow for home prices to rise more steadily, so affordability concerns are expected to persist.

“While the outlook for the housing market is bright, worsening housing affordability is no longer a coastal phenomenon and is spreading to many interior markets and it is a threat to the continued recovery in housing and the economy,” Khater said.

Read more: These cities have the toughest laws for home builders — and the highest property prices

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Gift card sales soar as Australians ditch 'useless' Christmas presents

Indecisive and time-poor Australian shoppers have bought up big on gift cards this holiday season, in what could be a welcome boost to the country's ailing retail sector.

Antony Karp, the chief executive of major online gift card seller Prezzee, told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald he'd witnessed a 246 per cent increase in sales for the month of December.

Prezzee chief executive Antony Karp says there’s been a “quantum leap” in the number of gift cards sold.

"It's been phenomenal. There's a real shift towards it this year … it's been a quantum leap in terms of uplift," he said.

A corresponding spike in pre-Christmas gift card purchases was also recorded at Australia's largest shopping centre, Chadstone, with sales up over 20 per cent according to centre manager Michael Whitehead. Similarly, gift card sales at department store Myer were also up significantly on last year.

While gift cards were once viewed as the coward's option for Christmas presents, experts believe the movement away from traditional physical gifts has seen them surge back to relevance.

Mr Karp, a former David Jones executive, attributed the bump to Australians moving away from buying "useless presents", referring to a recent survey which suggested $400 million was spent on unwanted gifts last Christmas.

They've woken up on Christmas morning, realised Aunty Agnes is coming over and they haven't got her a gift.

"The great thing about gift cards is that the recipient is going to be able to buy something they actually want," he said.

Prezzee also recorded a 300 per cent rise in purchases on Christmas Day itself, suggesting an increase in the number of time-poor consumers could also be contributing to the growing popularity of gift cards.

"They've woken up on Christmas morning, realised Aunty Agnes is coming over and they haven't got her a gift or the online delivery didn't arrive in time," he said. "It's those people who were caught short."

But beyond being a good choice for picky shoppers, gift cards are also a boon for retailers, with any unredeemed value on gift cards flowing straight through to their bottom lines after a certain period of time, under an accounting convention known as "breakage".

JB Hi-Fi is a popular choice for gift cards.Credit:AAP

Electronics retailer JB Hi-Fi, a perennially popular choice for gift cards, recognised $253.3 million in current and non-current deferred revenue in its 2019 annual report, much of which relates to unredeemed gift cards.

Similarly, Wesfarmers, which owns Officeworks and Bunnings, reported $83 million of deferred gift card revenue for 2019. At Australia's biggest department stores, such as David Jones and Big W, it's understood around 10 to 20 per cent of sales occur through gift cards.

Recent changes to consumer law have moderated some of the breakage rates for retailers, with gift cards now required to have a minimum three-year expiry period.

But Gary Mortimer, a retail expert and associate professor at the Queensland University of Technology, noted retailers can also benefit even when customers remember to spend their gift cards.

"If you've got a $30 gift card, you buy a $25 item and $5 remains, they're not going to give you change and most people won't go back to redeem that final $5," he said.

"So the company just keeps that money."

A survey by comparison website Finder in 2018 estimated a total of $148 million per year is wasted by Australians on unredeemed or partially redeemed gift cards, or around 6 per cent of the $2.5 billion we're estimated to spend on the sector each year.

And as shopkeepers face weak spending conditions and GFC-like consumer confidence, many would be crossing their fingers that these particular Christmas gifts remain forgotten.

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Japan Display discussing factory sale to Apple, Sharp: Report

TOKYO (REUTERS) – Japan Display Inc is discussing the sale of its key smartphone screen factory to Apple Inc and Sharp Corp for 70 billion to 80 billion yen (US$730 million to US$820 million), the Nikkei business daily reported on Friday (Dec 27).

The cash-strapped company had said earlier this month that financial support of US$200 million promised by “a customer”, which sources said was Apple, may come in the form of purchasing equipment at the plant.

Those discussions appear to have switched to the sale of the entire factory, the Nikkei said. Japan Display owes Apple more than US$800 million for the US$1.5 billion cost of building the plant four years ago.

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PayPal and Microsoft's employee holiday gift is a game changer for working parents

  • PayPal, Microsoft and others are giving the gift of child care this holiday season so working parents can attend the holiday office party, shop after hours and work during the school break.
  • The online payments company and tech giant have teamed up with Bright Horizons, a provider of employer-sponsored child care.
  • Microsoft and PayPal believe this initiative will raise productivity and create stronger relationships at the office.

Holidays are stressful in general, with everyone trying to shop, tick things off their to-do list and attend holiday outings, but they can be especially taxing for working parents of young children who need to find child care in order to free up their time to get things done and enjoy the season. As part of their health and wellness initiatives, companies such as PayPal and Microsoft offer ways to relieve some of this burden.

The online payments company and tech giant have teamed up with Bright Horizons, a provider of employer-sponsored child care, to hire and pay for babysitters so employees can attend the holiday party or work during the break when the kids are off from school.

For Dijana Kvakic and Kasey De Goey, both customer solutions specialists in PayPal's Omaha office, this was the perfect holiday gift.

Kvakic had at first declined when the email came around the office last month notifying PayPal employees of this year's annual holiday party. As a single mother of two children, she said it was just too costly to hire child care for the evening.

De Goey hesitated to respond at all until the news. Having moved to Omaha a year earlier, she has no family nearby and often struggles to find child care for her 18-month-old son beyond the typical working hours. "Hiring a babysitter during those hours would have been too [cost]-prohibitive," she said.

PayPal's announcement that they were teaming up with Bright Horizons and paying for babysitters in employees' homes or at the hotel where the party was being held was a game changer.

"Having this option is one less stressful thing to worry about," said De Goey. "It lets us know that PayPal is a company that cares about its employees. I'm not just another employee that works in the call center but an individual that needs time to themselves to relax, go out and have fun."

Kvakic agreed: "It's a huge weight off my shoulders, and now I'll be able to enjoy my time with my colleagues [and] network with new co-workers. It would have been a lost opportunity for me if I couldn't attend," she said.

Indeed, the office holiday party is not just a social event but a good career move, as it is a prime time to network with executives you might not otherwise have access to," said recruiting and career consultant Abby Kohut. "Going to the party enhances the view that you are a team player."

There are other benefits to the holiday party as well: A recent Gallup poll reports that workers with close friendships experienced improved employee satisfaction by 50% and make them more engaged team members.

According to PayPal's senior benefits program manager Kelli Dickeson, about 300 employees take part in the service. "Wellness is one of our core values, and we were hearing we could provide more support to our employees so they could attend holiday parties. It's a busy time of the year, and it's difficult to find a sitter, and there's a financial burden that goes along with that, too."

A growing trend

Hiring babysitters to reduce employee stress, especially around the holidays, is a growing trend, said Bright Horizons' CEO Stephen Kramer. "Thirty years ago we wouldn't have dreamed of an employer stepping in to help out at the holiday party. It really is reflective at how times have changed and companies are recognizing the need to integrate work and life," he said.

Watertown, Massachusetts-based Bright Horizons currently serves 1,200 clients, 800 of which provide backup care for their employees, said Kramer, especially around the holidays. Although the employee child-care provider has 1,000 offices worldwide, Kramer said the U.S. has been the most progressive in providing backup care beyond working hours.

"Employers in the U.S. recognize that the holidays are busy for everyone, but especially for working parents. The workplace is especially busy at the end of the year, so companies are trying to have additional support so employees can focus on their job," said Kramer.

For a number of years now, Microsoft has been providing child care to its employees over the holiday break and other times of the year when they need to meet a business commitment when kids are off from school.

A gift that gives back

In truth, hiring child care is not only a boon for the employee but for the employer as well, Kramer explained.

According to a study conducted by Finder.com, workers spend about 1.7 hours of the day shopping online. Overall, 57% of employed Americans confessed to shopping while on the clock, the personal finance site said, totaling some 234 million hours a day browsing the internet.

This adds up to millions of hours of lost productivity.

This year sales on Cyber Monday hit a record record $9.4 billion, up 19.7% from a year ago, according to data released by Adobe Analytics, solidifying it now as the busiest shopping day in America. The peak time? Between 11 a.m. and noon, with 25- to 34-year-olds making up the second largest portion of shoppers, at just over 18%.

Employers such as PayPal believe that providing in-home babysitters or child care on weekends leading up to the holidays so working parents can run errands, or renting out a Bright Horizons center in the evening so parents can shop, can offset that. And offering babysitting during the holiday party increases attendance and fuels better relationships at work.

Bright Horizons' Kramer said that with the lines between work and personal life increasingly blurring, multitasking at work during the holidays — shopping online and planning a family vacation — has become commonplace, but "employers are working really hard to try to get employees not to do online shopping and keep the workforce productive."

For more on tech, transformation and the future of work, join CNBC at the @Work Summit in New York on April 1–2, 2020.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Microsoft offers backup child care year-round for its employees.

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Wednesday, December 25, 2019

What petrol stations are open on Christmas Day? Here’s where you can fill up – The Sun

MILLIONS of Brits will be hitting the road this Christmas to visit family and friends.

But before heading off, it's important to check if you've got enough fuel to make it to your destination.

Are motorway service stations open on Christmas Day?

All motorway service stations must remain open for fuel, parking and toilets 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

The reason these stations must stay are open is that they're regulated to do so as a part of their licence.

This includes Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.

During some very quieter times, such as Christmas Day, some food and drink options may be limited in the stations.

Are petrol stations open on Christmas Day?

Unlike motorway service station, petrol stations on A-roads do not need to be open on Christmas Day, Boxing Day or over New Years.

Many large supermarket chains including Sainsburys, Asda and Tesco will be closed on Christmas Day and re-open on Boxing Day, but this may vary from store to store.

Oil majors and independent petrol stations are also able to decide for themselves if they open over Christmas, so it may vary depending on where you're travelling.

What are the opening hours for stations over the festive period?

Before setting off on your Christmas break, it is a good idea to check with your local petrol station when they will be open.

Like Bank Holiday weekends, hours are likely to be reduced on Christmas Eve, Boxing Day and over New Years Eve.

Most major and supermarket petrol stations will have a store locator online, which allows you to check their seasonal opening hours.

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