Category: Business

Could there be a Future for Brick and Mortar?

brickandmortarIn recent times, it has seemed like online shopping is slowly pushing in-store shopping out of the picture. There are a lot of reasons why switching to online shopping makes sense. It doesn’t involve leaving the house and driving to a store, and sometimes sales tax is eliminated or the product is sold at a lower price than in-store. But brick and mortar stores might not be going the way of the dodo.

This week, Amazon opened its first retail store ever. In an ironic twist of fate,the online company that is so often credited with killing brick and mortar bookstores
is now looking to expand by opening its own physical location. Books sold in the store are offered at online prices, and they even come with customer reviews printed on cards. Located in Seattle, the new store primarily appears to be an experiment. As of yet, there are no firm plans to build more stores, but if this one goes well, Amazon hopes to open more locations.

It’s not quite clear what Amazon is hoping to achieve with this store, but it is probably safe to assume that they have legitimate reasons for venturing into the physical realm. Business News Daily reported on a study that found consumers still prefer to purchase in person. Many who participated in the study said they will often use the internet to research and browse before purchasing, but they prefer to make their actual purchases in a physical store.

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Earnings Stagnation: How Will People Cope?

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Since the Great Recession of 2008, the U.S. economy has struggled to regain full momentum. This is most evident when you examine the earnings of most middle-class Americans. And a recent report by the U.S. Department of Labor seems to suggest that this trend shows little sign of abating.

The findings of this employment cost index report suggest that paychecks of U.S. workers grew at a very tepid rate this summer, rising a paltry 0.6% during the July-September period, compared to the April-June period. Overall during the past 12-months, pay and benefits have risen only 2%; well below the 3.5% to 4% that most labor economists feel is indicative of a healthy economy.

What all of this signifies is that there’s still an ample supply of workers for businesses to hire at much lower pay rates; an indication that the job market has yet to return to full health. Over the past year, employers have added 2.2 million new jobs which has resulted in a decline in the unemployment rate from 5.9% to a seven-year low of 5.1%. Nevertheless, wage advancement remains sluggish.

There is also the issue of the 6.5 million (at last count) Americans working part-time who really wish to work full-time. That accounts for about 2 million more workers than prior to the recession. And it is important to keep in mind that the unemployment figures have been skewed even further because millions more Americans have ceased looking for work altogether, even though they would take a job if offered one.

Federal Reserve officials view wages and salaries as the key metric in assessing the economy’s true health, because a sustained uptick in wages would signify a leveling out of the unemployment rate. As unemployment drops, businesses are often forced to increase their pay in order to attract and retain talent.

Unfortunately, according to many economic analysts, there are no signs of this trend occurring in the foreseeable future.

Upping The Minimum Wage: Help or Hindrance?

There has been a ton of media chatter this year about efforts by several states to boost the minimum wage. And for good reason, since wages are a hot issue, particularly among those Americans working in service-related jobs.

Unfortunately, the collateral damage is starting to rear its ugly head in states that have recently boosted the legal minimum wage. Take Seattle for example, which has been a hotbed of talk on this issue. According to the St. Louis Federal Reserve, which has been monitoring this development, the Emerald City began to experience declining numbers of restaurant employees around the first of the year, when the minimum wage increased to $9.47 per hour. This represents the highest minimum wage in the nation. The reported loss of 1,300 jobs between January and June is the largest drop off since the Great Recession of 2008. Moreover, 1,000 restaurant jobs were lost in May, following the minimum wage increase in April, the largest one-month job decline since a 1,300 drop during that recessionary period. This is in contrast to a national increase in restaurant jobs to the tune of 130,700, an overall 1.2% increase in employment in the Seattle area and a 3.2% restaurant employment increase in the State of Washington (excluding Seattle) – all during this recent period.

The bottom line is that small businesses like mom-and-pop restaurants and coffee houses lack the greater profit margins needed to withstand the expenses associated with a minimum wage increase. So they resort to cutting staff and reducing hours, paying fewer workers more money. Even well-funded enterprises like McDonald’s are reportedly pondering labor-saving methods like self-checkout kiosks, robots on the food production line and robots to manage expenses, all of which would lead to an overall reduction in staff numbers.

Patent Laws Take a Bite Out of Apple

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UPDATE 10/17/15:

The Daily Mail reported the actual cost of the suit to be ruled at $234 Million.

Apple was charged with patent infringement this week, says PC Mag. The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, or WARF, is the body behind the charges. WARF manages patents for The University of Wisconsin-Madison (UWM). The cost of the patent suit they are pursuing against the tech giant could reportedly reach $862 million.

WARF previously settled out of court with Intel, who they also sued over their Core 2 Duo processor back in 2008. In this case, the jury has already ruled that Apple was guilty

The Auto is “On Auto”

google-driverless_3147440bOver the better part of the last seventy-plus years, passing the driver’s license exam was a rite of passage. Teens longed for the day when they could get behind the wheel of Dad’s old Mustang and leave behind a cloud of dust as they raced towards the horizon. Sitting in the driver’s seat with a parent alongside yelling “Hands 10 and 2… eyes on the road… use your turn signal!” became quite the typical family outing. Eventually, that driver’s license brought you freedom and responsibility – road signs for an ‘Adult Life Ahead’. 

Tech Trifecta

Investing_moneyThe first question one must ask when looking to invest some money is, where to put it? This is true whether you are hoping to make a lot of money, to do something valuable with the money you have in savings while you’re not using it, or looking to support a business you believe in. It turns out that there may be a way to fulfill each of those three desires simultaneously: a tech trifecta, if you like. Investing in the tech industry might be just the thing for you. There are certainly lots of great technological ideas worth getting behind purely to support, but it’s also common knowledge that there is a lot of money to be made in the industry as well.

Last year, Facebook bought Oculus Rift for $2 billion. Oculus Rift famously raised over $2 million in crowdfunding through a Kickstarter campaign. The tech startup was not a publicly traded company so when they were bought by Facebook,

Patience Tames the Beast

 stock market crash illustration with graph going down and bear As a child, I often recall adults saying “Patience is a virtue,” or “Good things come to those who wait.” Living in a society whose zeitgeist revolves around the individual and instant gratification, patience tends to fall by the wayside. While there is inherent importance in risk-taking in order to achieve greatness, sometimes simply biding your time is the best thing to do. One of the caveats of playing the stock market is its incredibly volatile nature; you mess with the bull, you get the horns. To become a wise investor, you need an equal measure of risk-taking and knowing when to be patient. 

What Causes Volatility?

In terms of a volatile market, we have to look at both the short and long-term fluctuations of market value. The simplest way to address short and long-term volatility comes with an understanding of supply and demand. Prices are driven up when demand is higher than the amount being sold; inversely, prices drop when more people want to sell than buy. The effects of supply and demand on the market can be seen daily in the market’s closing numbers.

Many believe that a company’s valuation largely determines the stock price, but many are wrong! A company’s value (price multiplied by outstanding shares) does not determine the stock price; rather, it is the opposite. Another important key concept is a company’s earnings. In theory, earnings should be the limiting factor for why a stock rises or falls. Au contraire, mon frère. The earnings determine the ability for the company to turn a profit, while the stock price is determined by the interest placed in the stock by investors.

Long-term stock fluctuation (positive or negative) relies on supply and demand principles, as does short-term stock fluctuation. However, there can be factors outstanding as to why a market would go through a period of intense highs or lows. During times of war, low economic prosperity due to unemployment, or periods where foreign trade decreases, the market (usually) tends to take a decline due to investors not putting money back into the market. On the flip side, periods of intense prosperity seem to drive market values higher, due to investors having more money to spend.

How Do We Counteract Volatility?

Short-term volatility really has no way of being stopped or counteracted. The market will always undergo some type of decrease, increase and leveling out, stemming from fickle investors just like ourselves. We all try to increase our profit margins in the long term through wise investing, but short-term money can be made through incremental buying. If you don’t have a broker and rely solely on your own wisdom and whatever you can glean from your TV financial news channel, incremental buying should be the ace up your sleeve. As the market ebbs and flows from hour to hour, buying one-hundred shares per hour (more or less, depending on the current price) allows you to increase your chance of making larger gains. Buying stocks hourly allows you to decrease the overall money spent per stock when price decreases and increase overall profit per stock when price increases.

Incremental buying works nicely for the long-term effects of a volatile market as well. However, the best tool you can use to curb the effects of long-term volatility is patience. When experiencing a difficult market similar to the one we have now, sometimes the best thing to do is just wait. I would personally advise taking the incremental route, primarily as a mid-risk/high-reward option. There’s always the chance of catching the stock at a low point, right before the soar. But patience is one of the greatests tools in a good investor’s arsenal. I stress the importance of patience for two reasons. First, history shows that markets trend toward stability. Second, rash decision-making backed by poor market understanding makes you no money. Riding the wave to shore works better than fighting the current.

When Will It Stop?

BlackRock Inc. has called for a halt on the market if volatility increases. A halt on the market would cause a temporary cessation of trading in order for investors and companies to get things figured out and back on a stable track. This would include a ‘limit-up/limit-down’ clause where the market would be halted if securities drop or rise above a certain threshold. Experts are saying that the market should calm down once the Federal Reserve raises interest rates. An increase in interest rates would benefit those so-called thoroughbred stocks due to the sense of surety that investors attribute to them. The market beast may be wild right now, but it won’t stay that way forever. Starting this fourth quarter and looking towards the end of the year, keep an eye open for the market to be tamed.