Don't count out the desktop just yet, though; computer-based shoppers drove more sales and spent a bit more, on average, than mobile shoppers.
Monday, December 29, 2014
Friday, December 26, 2014
Led by global Web and data services provider U.S. Internet, the Twin Cities' super speeds are effective immediately.
Posted by CAMACOL at 7:06 AM
Wednesday, December 24, 2014
(Reuters) - U.S. stocks edged higher on Wednesday, extending a five-day winning streak that pushed the Dow and S&P 500 to new closing records and on the latest piece of economic data indicating the U.S. economy is strengthening.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 9,000 to a seasonally adjusted 280,000, its fourth straight week of declines, and below the forecast of 290,000.
"Economic data has been consistently positive," said Peter Kenny, chief market strategist at Clearpool Group in New York.
"We are positioned well into the close of the year and we have all sorts of validation that the economy, the corporate earnings story and markets are on the most solid footing they have been on in quite some time."
The Dow closed above 18,000 for the first time ever on Tuesday and the S&P 500 ended at its 51st record of the year after an unexpectedly strong report on U.S. economic growth. The 51 new closing highs are the most since 1995 and fourth best in history.
Equity markets will operate on a shortened trading schedule Wednesday, closing at 1 p.m. EST (1800 GMT) ahead of the Christmas Day holiday on Thursday. Volume is expected to be light, which could exacerbate volatility.
The benchmark S&P index has risen 5.5 percent in its latest rally, the best 5-day run since December 2011, fueled by a commitment by the U.S. Federal Reserve last week to take a "patient" approach toward raising interest rates amid solid economic data.
The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI rose 38.42 points, or 0.21 percent, to 18,062.59, the S&P 500 .SPX gained 2.78 points, or 0.13 percent, to 2,084.95 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC added 9.72 points, or 0.2 percent, to 4,775.15.
Adamas Pharmaceuticals Inc (ADMS.O) jumped 22.6 percent to $17.96 after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a drug developed with Actavis Plc (ACT.N) to treat dementia in Alzheimer's patients. Actavis shares rose 0.3 percent to $256.67.
U.S. surgical implant maker Stryker Corp (SYK.N) is planning to make an offer for British medical device maker Smith & Nephew Plc (SN.L) that may come within weeks, Bloomberg reported, citing sources. U.S.-listed shares of Smith & Nephew (SNN.N) were down 2.5 percent to $37.10 while Stryker edged up 0.2 percent to $96.63.
Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 1,429 to 1,232, for a 1.16-to-1 ratio on the upside. On the Nasdaq, 1,203 issues rose and 976 fell for a 1.23-to-1 ratio favoring advancers.
The benchmark S&P 500 index posted 59 new 52-week highs and 5 new lows. The Nasdaq Composite recorded 36 new highs and 9 new lows.
(Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jeffrey Benkoe)
Posted by CAMACOL at 7:48 AM
Tuesday, December 23, 2014
|Maduro’s popularity is rapidly eroding amid an economic crisis marked by widespread shortages, runaway inflation, and a currency that’s quickly depreciating.|
President Nicolás Maduro says there’s a foreign conspiracy at work against Venezuela. In a Dec. 13 speech on state television, he lashed out at the international credit-rating companies that assigned junk ratings to his country’s foreign currency bonds, accusing them of orchestrating “a vulgar, immoral financial blockade.”
The reality is more mundane. A 40 percent plunge in oil prices this year is raising concerns that Venezuela is running out of dollars to pay its debts. The worries have pushed up yields for the country’s bonds to levels not seen since the 1998 Russian financial crisis spurred a selloff in emerging-market debt. Credit-default swaps—financial contracts that insure investors against nonpayment—peg the likelihood of a default at more than 90 percent.
Maduro’s popularity is rapidly eroding amid an economic crisis marked by widespread shortages and runaway inflation. Gross domestic product contracted 3 percent this year and will shrink 1.5 percent in 2015, according to the median estimate of 15 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. The Central Bank of Venezuela hasn’t published inflation data since August, when it reported prices were up 63 percent in the previous 12 months—the fastest pace for any country. “I just spent the last three hours looking for medicines,” says Alicia Gonzalez, a retired civil servant living in Caracas. “I can’t even begin to think about Christmas presents this year.”
In a November poll by the Caracas-based consulting firm Datanalisis, more than 70 percent of respondents said Maduro shouldn’t be allowed to finish his term, which ends in 2019. “Unless the government is able to generate a significant improvement in economic conditions during the coming year, it could lose its parliamentary majority and face a recall referendum in early 2016,” wrote Bank of America (BAC) economist Francisco Rodríguez in a note to clients.
Venezuelan crude has dropped below $60 a barrel, following OPEC’s decision not to rein in production to counter slumping prices. (Maduro’s government had lobbied for a reduction in output at the cartel’s November meeting.) Venezuela needs oil to average $85 a barrel to keep up debt payments and pay for imports, even assuming it cuts handouts to regional allies and reschedules loans from China, says Siobhan Morden, head of Latin America strategy at Jefferies Group (LUK).
Prices of Venezuelan bonds fell to a 16-year low on Dec. 15 after Maduro said he had no plans to curb the domestic gasoline subsidies that eat up more than $15 billion of the budget each year. A reduction in cut-rate oil exports to Cuba and other Caribbean nations is not on the table either. Maduro has also resisted pressure from within his own cabinet to devalue the currency: The official exchange rate ranges from 6.3 bolívars to 50 bolívars per U.S. dollar, depending on the type of transaction. On the streets of Caracas, a dollar fetches 180 bolívars.
Marco Santamaria, a money manager at New York’s AllianceBernstein (AB), says Venezuela’s creditworthiness will remain in doubt even if oil rebounds. The government had been running a deficit and depleting its stock of foreign currency when crude was at $100 per barrel. International currency reserves are at their lowest levels in a decade and cover only about 40 percent of the debt due over the next five years. The Ministry of Finance didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Maduro has declared that he has no intention of halting debt payments because it would not be consistent with the course charted by his predecessor and mentor, Hugo Chávez. “There is no possibility of default, unless we would decide to not pay anymore as part of an economic strategy for development,” he said in the Dec. 13 speech.
Analysts at London-based Capital Economics think otherwise. “The writing is on the wall for Venezuela,” they wrote in a Nov. 28 report. “We continue to think that a default is more likely than not in the next two years.”
With Andrew Rosati
Crooks is Caracas bureau chief for Bloomberg News
Posted by CAMACOL at 6:11 PM
Monday, December 22, 2014
From Robin Williams to Flappy Bird, here's what we Googled in 2014.
Google clocked trillions of searches worldwide in 2014, but one man managed to steal the spotlight: The late Robin Williams landed the No. 1 spot in the global trends charts.
The comedian and actor passed away in August, prompting folks around the world to search for more information and remember the star. Williams's untimely death led people to revisit some of his most iconic film and TV roles, but also inspired many to research depression and mental health, according to Google.
Sports were again a hot topic in 2014: From the Winter Olympics in Sochi to the World Cup in Brazil, Web users came together over the Internet to keep up with their favorite athletes and events.
They also assembled online to participate in one of the most viral awareness campaigns in the history of the Web. This year, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, better known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's Disease, reached what Google called an all-time high around the world, thanks to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.
A sensation among everyday people and celebrities alike, dumping cold water on people managed to wake the world up to finding a cure for ALS; donations reached almost $100 million.
But it wasn't all fun and games this year: Ebola, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, and ISIS also dominated Google's search box, as people looked for answers and comfort on the Internet.
In short, "we were struck by the death of a beloved comedian, and watched news unfold about a horrific plane crash and terrifying disease," Amit Singhal, senior vice president of Search, wrote in a blog post. "We were captivated by the beautiful game, and had fun with birds, a bucket of ice, and a frozen princess."
Visit Google's Year in Search page for in-depth coverage of the top stories of 2014—from the rise of the selfie "to understanding if we search for 'how' more than 'why,' each chapter shares a glimpse into the people and events that drove this year forward," Singhal said.
Among the tech- and science-related searches were those in hunt for Oscar winner Jared Leto's Instagram account, queries about a real-life Hoverboard and how to teleport, Flappy Bird cheats, and the Rosetta spacecraft.
The search giant also made some changes over the past 12 months, most notably making it easier to find this year's trending topics directly from Google Search. Type "google 2014" for a look at the top trending lists from around the world, or keep up with the #YearInSearch hashtag.
"So take a moment to appreciate what this year had to offer," Singhal wrote. "It'll be 2015 before you know it."
For a look back, see what we searched for in 2013, and check out our roundup of the top Google Search tips in the slideshow above.
Posted by CAMACOL at 5:25 PM
Friday, December 19, 2014
Thursday, December 18, 2014
Tuesday, December 16, 2014
By Alex Howard December 15, 2014,
Regulation and the "sharing economy" was the topic of a recent panel discussion in the U.S. House of Representatives. Alex Howard summarizes the highlights.
(L to R) David Hantman, John Breyault, Alex Howard, Adam Thierer, Arun Sundararajan at the regulation and sharing economy panel convened by the Internet Caucus.
"Congress should care, but forbear." That was the conclusion of a panel of an academic, a researcher, a consumer advocate, and a tech executive convened by the Internet Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives in DC last week to consider regulation and the "sharing economy." I was proud to moderate the discussion. It's a timely topic: startups that develop platforms that match the supply of goods and services with demand from mobile consumers are attaining multi-billion dollar valuations and shaking up markets for lodging, transportation, and more.
Three of the participants, Arun Sundararajan, a professor at the NYU Stern School of Business, Adam Thierer, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, and David Hantman, the head of global public policy for Airbnb, all made a case for why legislators and regulators need to take great care in enacting laws and policies that govern companies and startups, lest entrepreneurs be stifled and genuine benefits to consumers be snuffed.
That came as no great surprise: Sundararajan has previously written that government shouldn't regulate the sharing economy, in 2012, and, more recently, about trusting the sharing economy to regulate itself. Thierer just co-authored a paper on the sharing economy and consumer protection regulation (PDF) in which he and his co-authors argue that, "coupled with the Internet and various new informational resources, the rapid growth of the sharing economy alleviates the need for much traditional top-down regulation."
These recent innovations are likely doing a much better job of serving consumer needs by offering new innovations, more choices, more service differentiation, better prices, and higher-quality services. In particular, the sharing economy and the various feedback mechanism it relies upon helps solve the tradition economic problem of "asymmetrical information," which is often cited as a rationale for regulation. We conclude, therefore, that "the key contribution of the sharing economy is that it has overcome market imperfections without recourse to traditional forms of regulation. Continued application of these outmoded regulatory regimes is likely to harm consumers."
John Breyault, vice president of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud at the National Consumers League, made arguments for consumer protection within the services using existing statutes and posited that thetechnological innovation that various startups are deploying benefit consumers. Hantman, for his part, recounted the steps that Airbnb now takes to protect both hosts and users of its services in the event of disputes and issues.
One narrative of the sharing economy has often been that these platforms enable ordinary people to earn income renting a room or driving for a car service in their spare time, and others to rent part of a good or service, as opposed to having to own it. A countervailing narrative is that the business tycoons of Airbnb, one of the most well-known examples of the sharing economy, are professional operators, not amateurs, and that other markets for goods and services will have similar dynamics. Hantman argued that their data shows the majority of the 700,000 or so Airbnb listings in New York City alone are offered by individuals, not businesses.
As anyone who has used a mobile device to request on-demand transportation to those who have found flexible accommodation knows, these kinds of services can offer improved services at lower prices. (I've used Uber around the US, and we were Airbnb hosts for a few months.) The question of where liability rests, however, is an important legal matter that came up during the discussion. The consensus answer was that "it depends," but one emerging approach is to make sure operators of vehicles and hosts carry sufficient insurance.
Given that the forum was held in Washington, DC, it was no surprise to hear the question of taxes and the sharing economy also came up. (Once something exists, it seems people in DC will inevitably wonder if it's taxable.)
In this land of lawyers and lobbyists, the issue of legal liability is never far away. In the sharing economy, the question is often unresolved. For instance, if the operator of a vehicle used in a sharing economy startup kills someone while driving, who is liable? I asked the panel this question, along with the related issue of whether the people on these platforms provide means of "public accommodation," which in turn would mean that some vehicles or residences would need to be accessible. No clear answers there, either, but again, there are existing statutes, like the Americans with Disabilities Act, on the books to apply if violations are found.
A clear tension point is how and where data showing compliance with existing laws and regulations can and should be disclosed. The companies involved aren't sitting idly by on the sidelines, either: as WAMU reported in November 2014, Uber is actively lobbying the municipal government of the District of Columbia toseek changes to a wheelchair-accessible taxi bill, the For-Hire Vehicle Accessibility Amendment Act (PDF). Uber holds that disclosing the data about the numbers of wheelchair-accessible trips that are requested and provided to passengers would pose an "undue regulatory burden" upon the startup.
There's also the issue of discrimination in the sharing economy. On the one hand, "Ubering while black," as Jenna Wortham wrote in Medium and Latoya Peterson described at Racalicious, canenable people of color to order transport when cabs do not stop. While it may cost more to use the premium towncars, an UberX is currently cheaper than a taxi and does not carry any emotional overhead.
On the other hand, as Wortham noted, creating platforms and leaving people using them to self-regulate commercial activity there without oversight could be problematic in the long term.
Michael Luca, an assistant professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, told me that the one clear downside to marketplaces that rely on reputation and build social features like personal information into business transactions is that they can have unintended side effects. "The social nature of the sharing economy is more vulnerable than a traditional economy," he said.
In January, Luca co-published a paper on digital discrimination that surveyed thousands of listings on Airbnb. The study compared black and non-black hosts who had similar apartments, photos, and ratings, and found that the non-black hosts tended to earn 12 percent more than their black peers, suggesting that those black Airbnb hosts were susceptible to some form of social selection and internal biases.
One of the final questions that I brought up regards privacy and trust in the sharing economy, a matter I explored at Wired in November 2014. Information transactions around services, objects, and resources have existed in humanity for thousands of years, from people sharing shelter and food to neighbors borrowing tools to housemates borrowing cars to colleagues and classmates sharing networks, servers, and printers.
Today, these interactions and transactions are rapidly becoming digitized: if an entrepreneur can create a marketplace for a given commodity or service, someone will try to do so. That means there's going to be data generated where there was none before, which will give the owner of the platform strategic insight and business intelligence about the dynamics of the market, and its users.
As sharing economy startups become larger parts of local economies, embedded into how people work, travel, recreate, and shop, the digital exhaust from those actions creates associations and patterns that may be mined for insight, efficiencies, or more nefarious purposes. Location data is powerful, in context. As The Washington Post reported, when access to Uber's internal analytics was granted to a job applicant, he was then able to use it to look up the relative of a politician in DC. Uber now says that it's monitoring and auditing user data access much more robustly, as is Lyft, the ridesharing startup's chief competitor.
These kinds of issues around user data privacy will lead more people to worry about whether they can trust companies like Uberand other players in the sharing economy.
One approach to that issue could be what Zeynep Tufekci, an assistant professor at the School of Information at the University of North Carolina, and Brayden King, an associate professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, suggested in an editorial in The New York Times: information fiduciaries, or "independent, external bodies that oversee how data is used, backed by laws that ensure that individuals can see, correct and opt out of data collection."
Given a 113th Congress that did not pass surveillance reform, a national data breach law, digital due process, or Freedom of Information of Act reform, it's unlikely that such a body will be created soon, but in the vacuum left behind, the Federal Trade Commission has placed many tech companies under privacy audits. If platform operators in the sharing economy aren't responsible about designing their platforms and applications to deliver security and "privacy by design," they may face the same attention.
Down the road, if discrimination, disability, civil rights, and consumer protections aren't also baked into these services from the start, more members of Congress and parliaments around the world might also start to care about sharing -- and stop forbearing from legislative action.
Posted by CAMACOL at 9:08 AM