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    Gas Prices
    Gene J. Puskar/AP
    By Jarrett Renshaw

    NEW YORK -- The average price of a gallon of gasoline in the United States fell 11 cents in the past two weeks, pulled down by the ongoing slump in crude oil prices, according to the Lundberg survey released Sunday.

    Regular grade gasoline fell to an average price of $2.71 a gallon, according to the biweekly survey dated Aug. 7, down 11 cents from the previous survey on July 24.

    Gasoline is down 81 cents a gallon from the same year-ago period, according to the survey.

    "This is a continuation of dynamics that have been building in the past several weeks, as both U.S. and global benchmarks are down steeply again," said survey publisher Trilby Lundberg in Camarillo, California.

    Brent, the global crude benchmark, touched a six month low of $48.45 a barrel Friday before settling at $48.61. The price has fallen by 23 percent in the past six weeks.

    U.S. crude hit a four-month low Friday of $43.80 before settling at $43.87. The U.S. benchmark slid 7 percent on the week and lost 26 percent in the last six weeks.

    The low pump prices has led to a surge in demand and is enticing refiners to ramp up production, resulting in large stockpiles of gasoline. The build in gasoline stocks have helped keep prices low, Lundberg said.

    "U.S. refiners are cranking up the volumes, running at high rates and we are more than meeting the strong demand for gasoline," Lundberg said.

    The highest-priced gasoline in the survey area of the 48 contiguous U.S. states was in Los Angeles at $3.80 a gallon, thanks in large part to a refinery outage. The lowest price was in Charleston, South Carolina, at $2.19 a gallon.

    Pump prices should continue to fall, Lundberg said, as there is no clear end to the ongoing rout in oil prices.

    "Unless there is some change in the crude oil market, we will probably be seeing more of the same in the next few days," she said.

     

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    Squawk Box - Season 20
    Lacy O'Toole, CNBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty ImagesBillionaire investor Warren Buffett
    By JOSH FUNK

    OMAHA, Neb. -- Warren Buffett is making the biggest bet of his long investment career, a $32.36 billion buyout of Precision Castparts in a deal that will continue to reshape his Berkshire Hathaway conglomerate.

    The acquisition of the aerospace and industrial company would top Buffett's $26.7 billion deal for BNSF railroad in 2010. It also follows several huge deals outside of the core insurance companies Buffett built his investment empire on that included manufacturing, railroads, utilities and food companies.

    Buffett said Monday that Berkshire will pay $235 a share in cash for Precision Castparts' outstanding stock. The deal is valued at about $37.2 billion, including debt.
    Precision Castparts, based in Portland, Oregon, has been hit hard by tumbling crude and natural gas prices, but Buffet told CNBC that he would have bought the company even if he knew that commodities were in the midst of a multiyear slump.

    "We're going to be in this business for 100 years, so it doesn't really make any difference what oil and gas does in the next year," Buffett said.

    Author and investor Jeff Matthews, who wrote "Warren Buffett's Successor: Who It Is and Why It Matters," said he doesn't think Berkshire is getting a good price on Precision Castparts, so he's not sure it will be good for shareholders, especially since Precision's business is tied to the airline industry.

    "I'm not crazy about buying a cyclical business like this with the stock market at an all-time high," said Matthews, who also holds Berkshire stock.

    But other analysts said the price appeared fair.

    KBW analyst Meyer Shields said Precision Castparts Corp. may be a cyclical business, but Berkshire already owns a number of those and doesn't mind uneven profits in the short term. Shields said Precision Castparts stock had traded as high as $280 in recent years.

    "From the Berkshire perspective, they're getting a good company on sale," Shields said.

    Precision Castparts will keep its name and will remain in Portland.

    The boards of Precision Castparts and Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRK-B) unanimously approved the transaction, which is expected to close in the first quarter of next year.

    Shares of Precision Castparts (PCP) surged 19 percent, or $37, to $230.88 in early trading.

     

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    Inside Six Flags Magic Mountain Amusement Park Ahead Of Earnings Figures
    Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
    A day at the park has never been more popular. North America's 20 largest amusement and theme parks attracted 138.1 million guests last year -- up 2.2 percent since the prior year -- according to industry tracker Themed Entertainment Association. Last year's record showing should be shattered this year given the improving economy and consumer confidence.

    Summer is peak travel season for the country's amusement and theme parks. If you haven't been to one yet, you may very well find yourself at one before long. Most visitors will come in expecting to buy a single-day pass, ideally snagging a discount along the way. However, many wind up buying a season pass instead, swayed by savings, perks or just shrewd industry marketing.

    Amusement Park Math

    Regional amusement parks know that they have to price their season passes aggressively. Outside of teens and select thrill-seeking adults, many guests arrive with the intention of making it their only visit of the year.

    Six Flags (SIX) is the country's largest amusement park operator and it makes sure that its annual passes are reasonably priced. The pass typically costs less than two single-day tickets, and in case that's not enough of an incentive to upgrade, Six Flags sweetens the deal by including hundreds of dollars' worth of coupons, including ones for days when pass holders can bring a friend for free.

    An important thing to remember is that parking often isn't included in the standard annual pass. That is true for many of the regional park operators. Repeat visitors don't tend to spend as much at the park as day visitors, so the parks may as well make that back through parking charges. However, the parks often offer premium annual passes that include parking and other perks. Cedar Fair's (FUN) flagship park -- Cedar Point in Ohio -- offers a standard annual pass for $139, but there's also a platinum pass for $210 that includes parking, in-park discounts, early entrance times and access to the adjacent water park.

    Many of the annual passes also offer access to other parks owned by the same company. Six Flags passes can be used across the entire chain. Cedar Point's platinum pass is good at Knott's Berry Farm in California, Canada's Wonderland and the rest of the Cedar Fair-owned properties.

    If you plan on traveling this summer to a place that's near one of the parks affiliated with your hometown park, that would be one more reason to get an annual pass at either location.

    Theme Park Math

    Things get more complicated with year-round theme parks, largely because they tend to be far more expensive. Outside of SeaWorld (SEAS), which offers the cheap "Fun Card" at its SeaWorld and Busch Gardens parks, offering admission through the end of the year for the price of a single-day ticket, theme parks can get pricey.

    Comcast's (CMCSA) cheapest pass offering access to Universal Orlando every day of the year is the $335 Preferred Pass. If you think that's a lot, Disney (DIS) annual passes for Disney World start at $529 a year.

    That may seem like an outrageous sum, but if you're planning a weeklong stay at either resort, it may be worth the consideration. It's not just about admissions or complimentary parking: Both passes offer steep discounts at the growing number of on-site resorts. Trip planner site Touring Plans recently broke down the math in consideration of a Disney World annual pass.

    Even if you don't plan to stay at one of the Universal Orlando or Disney hotel properties, if you make annual pilgrimages to the theme park capital of the world, you could time your trips so an annual pass covers two of those trips (one at the beginning of the year and the other at the end).

    Annual passes aren't cheap, but in many instances they are the right call.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of SeaWorld Entertainment and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Looking for a winner for your portfolio? Check out The Motley Fool's one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.

     

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    Pepsi Co. Products Ahead Of First Quarter Earnings Results
    Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
    By CANDICE CHOI

    NEW YORK -- A revamped Diet Pepsi without aspartame is popping up on store shelves. So will people start flocking back to the soda?

    PepsiCo (PEP) says its new Diet Pepsi should be available nationally this week. In response to customer feedback, the company said earlier this year that it would replace the aspartame in the drink with another artificial sweetener that has less baggage.

    The rollout will test the theory that the sweetener is to blame for fleeing customers, or if other issues might be at play. Other diet sodas that still have aspartame include Diet Coke, Diet Dr Pepper and Fanta Zero.

    It's the No. 1 thing that our customers have been calling about.

    Sales of traditional diet sodas have been falling. Industry executives blaming the freefall on unfounded concerns people have about aspartame. Two years ago, Coca-Cola (KO) even tested ads in select newspapers defending the safety of the sweetener.

    "It's the No. 1 thing that our customers have been calling about," said Seth Kaufman, a senior vice president at PepsiCo.

    At least in the short term, Diet Pepsi sales are likely to see bump from the marketing push around the new formula, which will include in-store sampling and discounting in coming weeks.

    In terms of taste, Kaufman said it's not identical but that the drink should still be familiar to fans of Diet Pepsi.

    It's not the first attempt by PepsiCo Inc. to lift flagging sales of Diet Pepsi. In 2012, the company tried improving the drink by combining aspartame with acesulfame potassium, often called ace-K, another artificial sweetener that helps prevent the taste from degrading over time. The latest version of Diet Pepsi will also have ace-K in addition to sucralose, best known by the brand name Splenda.

    Cans and bottles of the new Diet Pepsi have been making their way through the distribution in recent weeks. Stores that don't do a lot of business may still have the old versions stocked. This weekend, for instance, a store in New York City had the old and new versions side by side.

    The new cans will be marked with the words "Now Aspartame Free" above the Pepsi circle logo.

     

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    Gov't Labor Report Shows Economy Added 280,000 Jobs In May
    Spencer Platt/Getty ImagesA U.S. Postal Service employee working in lower Manhattan in June.
    WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Postal Service on Monday reported a net loss of $586 million this spring, a big improvement for the cash-strapped agency compared to a nearly $2 billion loss during the same period last year.

    Postal officials said the loss was mitigated largely because interest rates, which are associated with worker' compensation expenses, swung in the agency's favor. Operating expenses outside the Postal Service's control dropped by $1.6 billion during the same period last year to $389 million this spring.

    The Postal Service is an independent agency that receives no tax dollars for its day-to-day operations but is subject to congressional control. The latest financial statement covers April through the end of June, a time period when the Postal Service says it typically experiences lower revenues.

    Joseph Corbett, the Postal Service's chief financial officer, said increased package revenue and productivity gains weren't quite enough to offset inflation and a decline in mail volume, even though operating revenue of $16.5 billion was roughly the same as last spring and shipping and package revenue increased by 10.6 percent. He blamed increases in certain operating expenses, including wages, benefits and transportation.

    "This underscores the need for a combination of continued sales growth, productivity gains and legislation to ensure the Postal Service can return to financial health and meet its public service obligations," he said in a statement.

    Fredric Rolando, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, said the results represent an impressive "turnaround continuing in full force." The group cites the $1.2 billion in "controllable" net income for the first three-quarters of the year. Controllable income excludes certain factors including a requirement that the Postal Service prefund retiree health benefits.

    The operating losses during the third quarter aren't unusual, and "it doesn't change the fact that 2015 is turning into one of the USPS' most impressive annual performances since the Great Recession," he said in a statement.

     

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    Dow Drops Sharply As Oil Drops Below $50 A Barrel
    Andrew Burton/Getty Images
    By Caroline Valetkevitch

    NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks climbed Monday, giving the S&P 500 its biggest gain since May as indexes bounced back sharply from last week's losses, buoyed by gains in commodity-related shares and optimism over Warren Buffett's latest deal.

    Copper rebounded from six-year lows while oil prices also rallied, helping push the S&P 500 energy index up 3.1 percent and the materials index up 2.5 percent.

    Disappointing economic data in China boosted hopes for additional stimulus from Beijing, lifting Chinese stocks. Adding to investor optimism, Greece and international creditors could wrap up a multibillion-euro bailout accord by Tuesday.

    We've had a whole lot of M&A throughout the year, and that's positive because it means businesses are upbeat on the prospects for the economy.

    Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway said it would buy Precision Castparts in a deal valuing the company at $32.3 billion. Precision Castparts (PCP) shares jumped as much as 19.1 percent to $230.92, while Berkshire Class B shares (BRK-B) slipped 0.1 percent to $143.42.

    "We've had a whole lot of M&A throughout the year, and that's positive because it means businesses are upbeat on the prospects for the economy," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital in New York.

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) rose 241.79 points, or 1.4 percent, to 17,615.17, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) gained 26.61 points, or 1.3 percent, to 2,104.18 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) added 58.25 points, or 1.2 percent, to 5,101.80.

    The S&P 500 registered its biggest daily percentage gain since May 8.

    Rate Hike Expected

    On Friday, the Dow closed down for the seventh straight day after solid July jobs data pried the door open a little wider for a rate hike in September.

    With U.S. interest rates near zero for nearly a decade, debt has been cheap. But with the Federal Reserve widely expected to hike rates later this year, merger and acquisition activity has increased.

    July was the seventh-strongest month for global deal activity since 1980. Through July, cross-border M&A activity totaled $913.5 billion, up 23 percent from a year earlier, according to Thomson Reuters (TRI) data.

    In other deal news, ammonia-maker CVR Partners' deal to buy Rentech Nitrogen Partners for about $533 million sent Rentech (RTK) soaring 28.6 percent to $13.25. CVR (UAN) shares were down 2.9 percent at $10.38.

    Twitter (TWTR) shares jumped 9.1 percent to $29.50 after CEO Jack Dorsey joined other insiders in buying more shares, while the company also clinched a multiyear partnership with the National Football League.

    Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 2,329 to 734, for a 3.17-to-1 ratio on the upside. On the Nasdaq, 1,937 issues rose and 856 fell for a 2.26-to-1 ratio favoring advancers. The benchmark S&P 500 index posted 35 new 52-week highs and three new lows; the Nasdaq composite recorded 58 new highs and 85 new lows.

    -Tanya Agrawal contributed reporting from Bangalore.

    What to watch Tuesday:
    • The Labor Department releases second-quarter productivity data at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time.
    • The Commerce Department releases wholesale trade inventories for June at 10 a.m.
    Earnings Calendar
    These selected companies are scheduled to release quarterly financial results:
    • Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC)
    • Symantec (SYMC)
    • Towers Watson (TW)

     

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    Alphabet Google
    Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP
    By BRANDON BAILEY

    SAN FRANCISCO -- Google, which has been expanding far beyond its original business of Internet search advertising, is changing its operating structure by creating a new holding company called Alphabet.

    The company says its new structure will give more independence to many of its wide-ranging and ambitious projects.

    Under the plan announced Monday, Alphabet will be comprised of the core Google business -- including Internet search, mapping and YouTube -- along with newer businesses that will be managed separately, such as Google Fiber, Nest and the investment arm Google Ventures.
    Google CEO Larry Page will become CEO of the new entity, with his co-founder Sergey Brin serving as president. Longtime Google executive Sundar Pichai, who has taken on increasingly important roles at the company in recent years, will be CEO of the core Google business.

    The change may give investors a clearer picture of how much Google is spending on some of its newer ventures, like its effort to build a self-driving car, develop a glucose-sensing contact lens or install high-speed Internet fiber networks in a number of U.S. cities, said Colin Gillis, an investment analyst at BGC Partners.

    But it may not signal much change in the current management structure, since Pichai has already been overseeing many of Google's core operations, Gillis said.

    Google Inc. said its new chief financial officer, Ruth Porat, will hold the same title for both Google and Alphabet. Once the reorganization is complete, the company says its two existing classes of publicly traded stock will continue to trade on the Nasdaq exchange under the ticker symbols "GOOG" and "GOOGL."

    The Mountain View, California, company's stock was up about 5 percent in after-hours trading following the announcement Monday afternoon.

    -Tali Arbel contributed reporting from New York.

     

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    Credit card and dollars
    Getty Images
    By Kimberly Lankford

    Q. I'm leaving my job in the middle of the year and will have spent more from my flexible spending account than the amount I will have contributed by then. Do I need to pay back the extra money? --M.F., Coal Valley, Ill.

    A. One special benefit of flexible spending accounts is that you can use all of the money you plan to contribute for the year starting on Jan. 1. Even if you leave your job before contributing that much, you generally don't need to pay back the extra money you spent, says Jody Dietel, chief compliance officer for WageWorks, which administers FSAs for employers.

    In rare cases, the plan documents specify that any remaining contributions must be taken from your last paycheck when you leave your job, says Dietel. Ask your employer about its rules.

    Got a question? Ask Kim at askkim@kiplinger.com.

     

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    Disney's Star Wars Celebration 2015
    Kevork Djansezian/Getty ImagesOscar Isaac, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega of 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' wave to fans at the kick-off event during Disney's Star Wars Celebration 2015 last April.
    This is going to be a big year for Star Wars. Disney (DIS) is about to announce major Star Wars attractions being added to some of its theme parks, and we can't forget that "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" -- the seventh installment in the franchise -- opens in theaters come December.

    Knowing Disney, it's a safe bet that a ton of Star Wars toys and branded consumer products will also roll out in time for this juicy holiday shopping season. It will be a dark force on your pocketbook. In short, you're going to be seeing a lot more Star Wars in the future.

    However, what if Star Wars wasn't just an iconic sci-fi fairy tale? What if the movies -- some great and all blockbusters -- offered up lessons that can be applied to the way you manage your money?

    Humor me, if you will. Let's go over how some of most popular quotes from the first six movies can be useful in the art of investing.

    'Your Eyes Can Deceive You. Don't Trust Them.'

    One of the biggest investing traps -- no offense, Admiral Ackbar -- is confirmation bias. Investors tend to read positive articles on the stocks they own and gravitate to bullish discussions. It gives investors an inflated upbeat perspective, and that is dangerous.

    Seek out the bearish arguments of every stock you own. Don't just dismiss the naysayers as they short the stock (just as you wouldn't dismiss the bullish opinion of someone who is long the stock). There are two sides to every story, and the more open-minded you are, the less likely you are to get blindsided when something goes wrong with your investing thesis.

    'Judge Me by My Size, Do You?'

    Yoda's sharp comeback also applies to investing. A lot of investors like to categorize their investments by their market values. Many identify themselves as large cap or small cap investors, as if there's some material difference beyond just the product of a company's stock price and the number of shares outstanding.

    We know for a fact that many seemingly safe blue chip stocks have imploded despite their once-mammoth market caps. History shows us that there are plenty of steady and low-beta small caps. Judge a stock based on its growth potential and fundamentals. Don't limit your investing universe to all large caps or all small caps. Small stocks can play big and vice versa.

    'You Can't Stop Change Any More Than You Can Stop the Suns From Setting.'

    You can't assume that your investments will thrive in every climate. Fundamentals change, and companies are forced to adapt. We saw this play out at Apple (AAPL), which introduced the iPod when Mac sales were on the ropes. The iPod opened a new opportunity for the company, and the iPod's success -- as well as that of the subsequent iPhone and iPad -- actually helped breathe new life into Apple and its flagship computer business.

    Things can also go the other way. Coach (COH) was once the undisputed top dog in premium handbags. Fashion can be fickle, though. Shoppers no longer crave the Coach logo, and the company has struggled to reinvent itself in today's marketplace.

    You can't always "use the force," so to speak. Sometimes other actions force you into changing your course.

    There's wisdom in Star Wars. You just need to know how to apply it to your investing.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Apple, Coach and Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Looking for a winner for your portfolio? Check out The Motley Fool's one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.

     

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    Inheritance note
    Getty Images
    By Susan B. Garland

    Many retirees hold both a tax-free Roth IRA and a tax-deferred account, such as a traditional IRA or a 403(b). And it's now a mantra among many financial advisers that the Roth is the better account to leave to your children because they can take tax-free withdrawals over their lifetimes.

    But this may not always hold true. Your children could end up with a bigger inheritance if you tap the Roth for your own expenses and leave your traditional IRA to them, even though they will pay income tax on each withdrawal. The deciding factor: your tax rate versus your beneficiary's rate, according to a recent study in the Journal of Personal Finance.

    The general rule of thumb, the researchers found, is that a child who has a lower tax rate than the parent will get a bigger pot of money if he gets most or all of the inheritance from the traditional IRA. If the child has a higher tax rate than the parent, the heir will do better getting most or all from the Roth. "The widow and heir can maximize their joint after-tax amount by having the person with the lower tax rate pay tax" on the traditional IRA, says William Reichenstein, professor of investment management at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. (He is a co-author of the study with Tom Potts, a professor of financial planning at Baylor.)

    Say the mother has $100,000 in a traditional IRA and $100,000 in a Roth IRA. She needs $60,000 in after-tax income to meet her spending needs. Assume she dies after she pays her expenses.

    Also assume that the mother has a 40 percent combined federal and state tax rate, while the son's rate is 15 percent. She takes the $60,000 tax free from the Roth for expenses. She leaves her son the $40,000 Roth balance, plus the $100,000 in the traditional IRA. His after-tax take on the traditional IRA is $85,000 -- for a total after-tax inheritance of $125,000.

    If instead the mother taps her traditional IRA for expenses, she must withdraw the entire $100,000 to get $60,000 in after-tax income. Her son's take: the $100,000 tax-free Roth.

    The son fares much better with the first strategy -- getting the bulk of his inheritance from the traditional IRA. That's because the funds in the traditional IRA are "being taxed at the son's 15 percent tax rate instead of the mom's 40 percent tax rate," Reichenstein says.

    What happens if the tax rates are reversed, with the son at 40 percent and the Mom at 15 percent? The son will inherit $100,000 in after-tax money if his mother takes her expenses from the Roth, according to Reichenstein. He gets close to $124,000 if she taps her traditional IRA to live on and pays just 15 percent tax on her withdrawal.

    When There's More Than One Heir

    The calculations can be even more complex if a parent has two or more children with different tax rates. Giving each child an equal share of each account will lead to unequal after-tax inheritances, the study found. To equalize the inheritances, the parent should give the kid with the lowest tax rate a bigger share of the traditional IRA and the kid with the higher rate a larger share of the Roth.

    Say a widower has a $100,000 Roth and a $100,000 traditional IRA that he wants to leave to his daughter and son. Assume the son pays a 15 percent tax rate, and the daughter pays a 40 percent tax rate.

    Dad leaves half of each account to each child. Each child gets $50,000 tax free from the Roth. But the son, at his 15 percent tax rate, gets an after-tax $42,500 from his $50,000 share of the traditional IRA, while the daughter, at 40 percent, gets an after-tax $30,000.

    To even out the legacies, Dad gives his son $7,500 in tax-free money from the Roth, plus the $100,000 traditional IRA. Taking into account his 15 percent tax tab when he withdraws from the traditional IRA, his after-tax inheritance is $92,500. The daughter inherits $92,500 tax free from the Roth. Because the IRA owner won't know how much will be in the accounts when he or she dies, the owner can leave the children percentages: 7.5 percent of the Roth to the son and 92.5 percent to the daughter, Reichenstein says.

     

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    detail of several social...
    Shutterstock
    By Emily Brandon

    President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act on Aug. 14, 1935. Regular monthly payments to retirees began in 1940 and have continued ever since. But there have been several important adjustments to the program, including changes in the retirement age and increases in benefits to keep up with inflation. Here's how the Social Security program has changed over 80 years.

    Electronic payments. "When we first started 80 years ago, we were mostly providing face-to-face service," says Carolyn Colvin, acting commissioner of the Social Security. "Over the years we have moved to our 800 number, and we are gradually offering additional products online." Retirees can now sign up to receive Social Security payments online. "There is waiting time on the phone and wait time in the office. On the Internet it is immediate," Colvin says. The Social Security Administration no longer mails paper checks to most retirees. A 2013 law requires all beneficiaries to receive payments electronically via direct deposit to a bank account or loaded onto a prepaid debit card

    Online statements. Workers can create an account to view their Social Security statement online, which includes their earnings history, taxes paid and a personalized estimate of their future Social Security benefit. "We introduced the earnings statement so people could check the accuracy of the statement before they retired," Colvin says. She recommends that workers sign in to check their statements once a year. Paper Social Security statements are mailed to most workers who don't opt into online statements about once every five years.

    Automatic cost-of-living adjustments. Social Security payments were initially increased only by special acts of Congress. When payments began in 1940, workers received the same amount for 10 years until Congress decided to boost payments, and further increases were implemented on an ad hoc basis. "A lot of those increases occurred in election years," says John Palmer, a Syracuse University professor and former public trustee for the Medicare and Social Security programs. Congress passed a law in 1972 creating automatic cost-of-living adjustments to Social Security payments based on the annual increase in consumer prices. These annual increases in payments, which were first paid out in 1975, have ranged from zero in 2010 and 2011 to 14.3 percent in 1980.

    Changes to the retirement age. The original age to claim Social Security payments was 65. A 1961 law allowed workers to begin claiming permanently reduced Social Security payments as early as age 62, but they still needed to wait until the full retirement age, 65, to receive the entire payment they qualified for. "Anytime from 62 on you could claim, but the benefit was reduced proportionally to how much earlier you did start to claim," Palmer says. "Now a majority of people opt to start claiming at 62." A 1983 law raised the full retirement age to 66 for most baby boomers and 67 for people born in 1960 or later and increased the reduction in monthly payments for people who sign up before their full retirement age. Provisions were also added to increase payments for retirees who delay claiming benefits past their full retirement age up until age 70.

    Elimination of the earnings test. A 2000 law eliminated the earnings test for people at their full retirement age or older, meaning they can work and claim Social Security benefits at the same time without penalty. However, if you work after signing up for Social Security prior to your full retirement age, part of your payments will be temporarily withheld. Beneficiaries under age 66 can earn up to $15,720 in 2015, after which $1 in benefits is withheld for every $2 earned above the limit. Retirees who turn 66 in 2015 can earn $41,880 before one benefit dollar is withheld for each $3 earned above the limit. However, after you reach your full retirement age, there is no limit on earnings, and Social Security payments are recalculated to factor in the temporarily withheld benefits. "If you are 66 or older, now you can work full time and collect Social Security benefits," Palmer says. "It's meant to put much more emphases on work incentives for people to both be able to collect Social Security and still be able to work at least part time."

    Taxation of benefits. Part of Social Security benefits became taxable for people who earn above a certain amount beginning in 1984. If the sum of your adjusted gross income, nontaxable interest and half of your Social Security benefit exceeds $25,000 for individuals and $32,000 for couples, up to 50 percent of your Social Security benefit becomes subject to income tax. And if these sources of income top $34,000 for individuals and $44,000 for couples, 85 percent of your Social Security payments may be taxable. "The thresholds that are set up aren't indexed to inflation, so more people will have some portion of their Social Security income be subject to taxation," Palmer says.

    Addition of spousal and child payments. Amendments were made to the Social Security program in 1939 that added payments to the spouse and minor children of retired workers and benefits for survivors of prematurely deceased workers. Spouses continue to be eligible for up to 50 percent of the higher earner's benefit, if it's greater than the payments they are due based on their own work record. Dependent children under age 19 can also claim payments. "Participating in Social Security provides core protection for all of our children," says Eric Kingson, a professor of social work at Syracuse University. "It's life insurance, in effect."

    Addition of disability payments. Disability payments for older workers were first added to the program in 1956. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a law in 1960 extending disability payments to workers of all ages and their dependents. Within a year, half a million people were receiving disability payments that averaged $80 per month. "Social Security is really the underpinning of economic security it the country," Colvin says. "It was a security program designed to help people in periods of transition."

    Tax rate. The original Social Security contribution rate was 1 percent of pay, which was matched by employers. The tax rate grew to 1.5 percent in 1950 and gradually increased to top 5 percent by 1978. The current tax rate of 6.2 percent has been in effect since 1990. However, some workers don't pay Social Security taxes on all of their income. The Social Security tax applied only to earnings of $3,000 or less in 1950 and earlier. The tax cap has increased over time to $51,300 in 1990 and $118,500 in 2015. Earnings above this amount aren't subject to the Social Security payroll tax or factored into benefit payouts.

    Payouts. The first monthly retirement check was paid to Ida May Fuller of Ludlow, Vermont, in 1940 for $22.54. The average monthly payment for retired workers has since climbed to $1,335 in June 2015.

    Emily Brandon is the senior editor for Retirement at U.S. News. You can contact her on Twitter @aiming2retire, circle her on Google Plus or email her at ebrandon@usnews.com.


    Get Your Due from Social Security

     

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    Family with For Sale sign outside of house
    Getty Images
    By Bob Sullivan

    I had a depressing conversation recently with someone who does big housing construction deals for a big bank. There's only two types of deals that work, he said: 1) Building pricey, premium, granite-countertop homes for well-off folks, or 2) Building affordable housing with government subsidies. Roughly speaking: There is construction for the rich or the poor. Nothing in between.

    Most important, nothing for that apartment-dwelling couple with a toddler and a baby on the way. That's the lament I hear from all my urban friends around the country. Where can I start my family? Where is my starter home?

    It's gone. Builders and banks just can't make money off humble homebuilding, or at least they think they can't.

    If he's right, my banking friend solved a riddle that has been at the heart of The Restless Project: Why do middle class folks feel so lost, even if they have decent jobs? I set about trying to confirm my friend's sentiment, and it was harder than I thought. There's little agreement on what a starter home is. He blamed demanding millennials, who refuse to live in a house without granite. While that's partly true, I think the problem is much deeper.

    In fact, you could argue -- and I will -- that starter homes are basically disappearing. They aren't being built, and those that exist are either falling into functional disrepair (they are old), or more likely, being snapped up by investors to rent to young families.

    First, a little housing lesson. Back in the postwar boom, America's housing industry was on fire. Single-family housing starts jumped an incredible 400 percent during the decade. According to this great housing history, in 1950, the average price was $11,000. For perspective, median income, in real dollars, was about $3,300.

    But here's the number to watch: the average home was 963 square feet. A majority of homes had two bedrooms and one bathroom.

    By 1972, prices had jumped to $30,000 while family income was nearly $10,000. Homes, which typically had three bedrooms and at least a bath and a half, now averaged 1,600 square feet. That kind of house can pretty comfortably shelter a family with 2.3 children.

    Today, families are smaller -- from 1970 to 2014, family size shrunk by about half a person. What's the average square footage of a home? About 2,500. More space, fewer people.

    That's progress, of course. Now homes have central air and finished basements and man caves and spa tubs and, yes, granite countertops. But all those things are useless to young families who have no idea where to find the $500,000 they have to pay to live in a place with decent schools that's within 50 miles of their workplace.

    A healthy housing market would provide a wide spectrum of housing -- the $200,000 tiny place, the $400,000 step-up home, the $700,000 dream home. I promise you that plenty of my apartment-dwelling friends would love a two-bedroom starter home on a cozy lot. But they don't seem to exist. Why?

    This BuilderOnline.com story, "Are new starter homes history," offers a tidy explanation. For now, let's peg $200,000 as the price of a starter home. (For a fun fact, $30,000 in 1970 has the spending power of $185,000 today. But I'm going with round numbers). It begins with a tale I've told in other places -- if a builder can construct homes that cost 2.5 times median household income in a neighborhood, the homes will sell like hotcakes. Two-and-a-half times? Median household income is roughly $50,000 in America today. See a lot of $125,000 homes sprouting up?

    No. You don't even see $200,000 homes sprouting up. In fact, only 46,000 sub-$200,000 new homes were sold in 2014. Anywhere.

    And here's why, according to BuilderOnline:

    Making a $200,000 home work as a homebuilder is junior-high-level arithmetic. Solving for profit -- say, 20 percent -- land and building direct costs can not exceed $160,000. Problem is, a 20 percent margin on a sub-$200,000 house has become frighteningly elusive in the past decade.

    The lowest build cost is around a $50 a foot, says David Goldberg, a homebuilding and building products manufacturers analyst for UBS, New York. "If you do a 2,000-square-foot house, which is what you'd have to do to compete with existing stock, that leaves you with $100,000 of sticks-and-bricks cost. The maximum cost on the land would be $60,000."

    The catch to all this is that it's not just one problem. No single culprit is killing the new starter home. A stream of factors -- land, operational risk, labor, material costs, entitlement fees -- converge at a single, all-too-real vanishing point where affordability becomes unaffordability.

    Even if land can be secured at a reasonable cost, cash-thirsty localities heap fees upon fees that weigh more and more heavily on final home price tags. Chris Cates, co-owner of Fayetteville, North Carolina-based Caviness & Cates Communities, estimates that regulations that stipulate he has to convert stormwater ponds to permanent ponds and bond items such as street lights, sidewalks, landscaping and retention ponds have doubled his development costs.

    So the numbers just don't work. But left unsaid is another obvious factor, typical in all industries: every business strives to sell premium, high-margin goods. Your coffee shop wants to sell you pour-over brews at twice the price. You bar wants you to buy microbrews. Your car dealer wants you to buy a Ford Expedition, not a Ford Focus.

    The low end of the market is for suckers, or Walmart. At least until demand becomes overwhelming in that segment. But even then, housing isn't like hamburgers. Even if builders today decided America needed 5 million new midrange affordable homes, it would take years for projects to take shape, get approvals, get financing, etc. Housing is very slow to react to demand.

    But that's why there's "used" homes, right? Young families are supposed to buy a needs-TLC place in their 20s, fix it up and trade up to their dream home later.

    The problem is that cheaper, older starter homes are nearly as hard to find. Here's one piece of evidence: The folks at RealtyTrac ran the numbers for me, and it turns out that year-to-date sales of sub-$200,000 homes is down this year compared to the last three years. That's strange, given that sales above $200,000 are up. For example, two years ago, there were 395,000 sub-$200,000 homes sold from January to May. This year, there were only 343,000. Rising prices can't account for more than a fraction of that drop.

    Worse yet, families who would buy cheaper homes are being edged out by investors who buy the homes and rent them out. Nonoccupant buyers of single-family homes hit a record last quarter, according to RealtyTrac.

    Worst of all, that's even more true in hot, affordable communities where families are fleeing to avoid New York City and San Francisco prices.

    Among metropolitan statistical areas with a population of at least 500,000, Memphis, Tennessee, posted the highest share of institutional investor purchases of single family homes in the first quarter of 2015 -- 14.1 percent -- followed by Charlotte, North Carolina (12.1 percent), Atlanta, Georgia (9.6 percent), Jacksonville, Florida (8.5 percent), and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (7.6 percent).

    Of course investors are buying in those places. At a time when it's very hard to make money by saving, and the stock market appears fragile, renting to stable families is a great way to make a return on investment.

    Housing expert and loan officer Logan Mohtashami talks about the "cracked equilibrium" that has led to this state of affairs: Dual-income parents with decent jobs shut out of the housing market because there's nothing but luxury homes to buy, trying to stick it out in their one-bedroom apartment. I keep saying that average people with average jobs can't afford average homes in America, and that's the source of untold strife.

    There's no law of nature that says buying a home is superior to renting one. There are plenty of logical reasons that young folks might choose to rent instead of buy, and more power to them. It's been good for America to shed the idea that housing is a guaranteed investment/retirement plan. But Mohtashami warns about the potential long-lasting social consequences of an all-renter/landlord society.

    "Are we at the beginning of a sociological movement away from middle-class home ownership and towards a cultural split between the investment property landlords and their renters both of whom may have less personal investment in neighborhood security, local schools and shared public facilities compared to primary homeowners?"

    Buying has one huge advantage over renting -- fixed monthly payments. In all but the most unusual situation, that means housing really becomes cheaper as time passes, thanks to inflation. That is not true of renting, and certainly not now. Rents are rising at record rates around the country.

    That puts families who want a place to live between a rock and ... no place, really.

    Like this article? Sign up for our newsletter and we'll send you a regular digest of our newest stories, full of money saving tips and advice, free!

     

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    Man in front of a display with the website of the internet search engine Google.
    Ulrich Baumgarten via Getty Images
    By Lehar Maan

    Google's overhaul of its operating structure is an acknowledgement of the lack of transparency surrounding its disparate businesses and projects, analysts said, but it remains to be seen how much more the company will actually disclose.

    Analysts and investors have long sought more granular detail on Google's capital spending and cash flow, as well as the financial performance of YouTube and Android.

    Google said Monday it would split into two reporting companies under a new holding company called Alphabet.

    One will hold its core search and Web advertising business, and the other its newer ventures such as driverless cars and Internet-connected thermostats made by its Nest business.

    Google (GOOGL) shares were up 5.4 percent at $698.74 Tuesday in early trading as investors anticipated -- as MKM Partners analyst Rob Sanderson put it -- "a new era of shareholder friendliness."

    Still, Google didn't say what details it would disclose.

    "Should Google move to 'segment reporting' as referenced in its filing, we would expect to get revenues and expenses for the core and non-core businesses, which should help bring clarity to any profitability drag caused by its non-core assets and their trajectory," said Goldman Sachs (GS) analyst Heather Bellini.

    J.P. Morgan (JPM) analysts said fuller disclosure could make the market more accepting of Google's heavy non-core investments.

    Some analysts also expect the split to mark the start of a more aggressive approach to expense management.

    'Much Nimbler and Aggressive'

    "While there are many details to be worked out, this could lead to a much nimbler and aggressive Google that can take on additional risks to compete with upstarts and existing Internet platform companies," Mizuho Securities analysts wrote in a client note, raising their rating to "buy" from "neutral."

    Pivotal Research Group analyst Brian Wieser said capital expense and cash flow were particularly critical for Google. But he noted that companies with multiple reporting segments usually didn't break out such detail.

    He also said it was "highly unlikely" that Google would end up as two publicly trading companies.

    At least 14 brokerages reiterated their top ratings on the stock. Apart from Mizuho Securities, Stifel Nicolaus and Monness, Crespi, Hardt & Co. also raised their ratings to "buy."

    Several analysts likened Google's decision to break into two reporting entities to Amazon.com's (AMZN) move to start reporting revenue from its cloud-computing unit. Amazon's shares have risen by about a third since the company first broke out results for its cloud business in April.

    Of 50 analysts covering Google, 43 have a "buy" or higher rating on the stock and seven rate it "hold." The median price target is $750.

     

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    Economy GDP
    Lynne Sladky/APNatasha Portuondo, center, sifts flour over baskets as she and Adina Robles, right, make bread at Zak the Baker, in Miami.
    By Lucia Mutikani

    WASHINGTON -- U.S. nonfarm productivity rebounded in the second quarter, but a weak underlying trend suggested inflation could pick up more quickly than economists have anticipated.

    Productivity increased at a 1.3 percent annual rate in the April-June period, the Labor Department said Tuesday. But productivity, which measures hourly output per worker, rose only 0.3 percent from a year ago.

    What it means is that inflation could be more problematic down the road, but we haven't seen it yet.

    In line with annual revisions to gross domestic product published last week, first quarter productivity was revised to show it falling at a 1.1 percent rate instead of the previously reported 3.1 percent pace of decline.

    "What it means is that inflation could be more problematic down the road, but we haven't seen it yet. It's something to think about long term," said Gennadiy Goldberg, an economist at TD Securities in New York.

    Productivity is one of the metrics the Federal Reserve is watching as it contemplates raising interest rates for the first time in nearly a decade. Economists had forecast productivity rising at a 1.6 percent rate in the second quarter. The economy grew at a 2.3 percent annual pace in the period.

    U.S. financial markets were little moved by the data, with investors focused on China's devaluation of its currency. U.S. Treasuries prices were trading higher, while U.S. stocks and the dollar fell.

    Annual revisions showed productivity was unchanged in 2013, the weakest annual reading since 1982. Productivity in 2013 was previously reported to have increased at a 1.2 percent rate.

    The average annual rate of productivity growth from 2007 to 2014 was revised down to 1.3 percent a year from 1.4 percent, well below the long-term rate of 2.2 percent a year from 1947 to 2014.

    Output Gap Shrinking Faster?

    Growth in productivity is an important determinant of the economy's non-inflationary speed limit. The downward revisions suggested the economy's growth potential could be lower than the 1.5 to 2 percent pace that economists have been estimating.

    That would imply the spare capacity in the economy is being squeezed out more quickly than thought and that inflation pressures may take hold a bit faster than had been anticipated.

    "We are growing much faster versus potential than we had previously thought. So the output gap over the more recent time frame looks like it is closing at a faster rate than we had thought prior to GDP benchmark revisions," said Jacob Oubina, senior U.S. economist at RBC Capital Markets in New York.

    "The faster you close the output gap, the faster you get to that threshold where you start to see inflationary pressures."

    But inflation remains benign for now. Unit labor costs, the price of labor per single unit of output, rose at only a 0.5 percent rate in the second quarter after advancing at a downwardly revised 2.3 percent pace in the first quarter.

    They were previously reported to have increased at a 6.7 percent rate in the January-March period. Unit labor costs rose 2.1 percent compared to the second quarter of 2014.

    Compensation an hour increased at a 1.8 percent rate in the second quarter after rising at a downwardly revised 1.1 percent pace in the first quarter.

    Compensation was previously reported to have increased at a 3.3 percent rate in the first quarter. It was up 2.4 percent compared to the second quarter of 2014.

    A separate report from the Commerce Department showed wholesale inventories increased 0.9 percent in June, higher than the 0.7 percent rise the government had forecast in the advance second-quarter GDP estimate.

    June data on factory inventories and imports published last week suggested the GDP growth estimate could be revised to as high as a 3 percent rate.

     

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    Save on Back to School Supplies
    The final weeks of summer are here, and that means it's back-to-school season. Unfortunately, it can also mean more money out of your budget. Luckily, you don't have to pull an all-nighter to learn how to save a few bucks.

    To start, check your supply closet. You might be surprised to find you have plenty of school supplies lying around already. Take what you find and simply gather them in a central location. Then make a list of what you have. This way, when you go to the store, you won't waste money on things you don't need.

    Next, when it comes to timing, waiting a little can pay off big. Since most people will rush out to buy in August, but if you can hold out until September, you can find discounts of up to 75 percent off. Try waiting to buy that new backpack for just a few more months.

    One last place to get more school supplies for less is at the dollar store. You'll find a lot things like pens, pencils and even tissues at super low prices, so go ahead and stock up for the whole school year.

    As we head into back to school season, remember these tips. They'll help you can ace the back-to-school season without failing your budget.

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    Burger King Chicken Fries
    JeepersMedia/Flickr
    By CANDICE CHOI

    NEW YORK -- Fans of Burger King's chicken fries may have the boy band One Direction and the website BuzzFeed to thank for the return of the skinny fried sticks.

    At an event to hype a spicy version of the chicken fries coming out this week, Burger King said it decided to resurrect the fries last year after seeing the enthusiasm they generated on social media.

    Eric Hirschhorn, chief marketing officer for Burger King North America, said the company noticed a spike in chicken fry mentions in January 2014 that was traced to a BuzzFeed post titled "35 Foods From Your Childhood That Are Extinct Now."

    One of the items on the list was chicken fries, which Burger King sold between 2005 and 2012.

    A few months later, Hirschhorn says there was an even bigger surge when a One Direction member mentioned them. The company pointed to a tweet by Liam Payne that reads: "I'm so fulllllll!!! Think I just ate my body weight in chicken fries and sides owwwwww."

    The tweet -- which has more than 94,000 retweets -- is confusing because Burger King hadn't yet brought back chicken fries. That raises the possibility that Payne just left out a comma, and meant to say he ate chicken and fries -- not chicken fries.

    A preceding tweet also made it appear that Payne was eating at KFC, noted business news outlet Entrepreneur. That tweet included an image of Colonel Sanders and the words "the kernel god bless you and your original recipe."

    A representative for Payne said the singer wasn't available for comment. A Burger King representative said in an email: "Whatever he meant, it certainly helped catapult 'Chicken Fries' into pop culture consciousness as a follow up to the BuzzFeed story."

    Even if Burger King misinterpreted Payne's tweet, it worked out for the company. The return of chicken fries as a limited-time offer last summer was successful enough that Burger King added them to its permanent menu this March. A nine-piece box costs around $3.

    Hirschhorn said people tend to get them as an extra, which drives up the amount people spend. Last month, Burger King's parent company Restaurant Brands International said sales rose 7.9 percent at established stores in the U.S. and Canada for the latest quarter.

    Burger King may have brought back chicken fries even without the social media encouragement.

    Since being taken over by investment firm 3G Capital, the chain has leaned heavily on its past for ideas. In addition the King and Subservient Chicken characters, it has resurrected its Big King sandwich and Yumbo ham sandwich.


     

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    pasadena  ca usa   september 1  ...
    Shutterstock
    DETROIT -- Discount Tire and America's Tire chains are recalling nearly 80,000 light truck and SUV replacement tires because the tread can separate.

    The recall affects certain Pathfinder tires made between August 2013 and May 2015. Affected tires weren't sold after May 19.

    Discount Tire says it noticed premature separations on Pathfinder tires in February and started testing them. It found that the rubber coating between the two steel belts in the tire wasn't thick enough. If the steel belts crack, the tread could separate, increasing the risk of a crash.

    Discount Tire says there are no reports of deaths or injuries due to the defect.

    Stores will notify owners and will either replace the tires for free or offer refunds.

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration posted the recall Tuesday.

     

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    FBI NYC Boss
    Bebeto Matthews/APDiego Rodriguez, assistant FBI director in charge of the New York field office.
    By Noeleen Walder and Jonathan Stempel

    NEW YORK -- An alliance of U.S.-based stock traders and computer hackers in Ukraine made as much as $100 million in illegal profits over five years after stealing confidential corporate press releases, U.S. authorities said Tuesday.

    The charges mark the first time that U.S. prosecutors have brought criminal charges for a securities fraud scheme that involved hacked inside information, in this case 150,000 press releases from distributors Business Wire, MarketWired and PR Newswire.

    This is the story of a traditional securities fraud scheme with a twist -- one that employed a contemporary approach to a conventional crime.

    "This is the story of a traditional securities fraud scheme with a twist -- one that employed a contemporary approach to a conventional crime," FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Diego Rodriguez said in a statement.

    Prosecutors said that hackers based in Ukraine infiltrated press releases before they were due to be released by the distributors. They included those that traders had put on "shopping lists" of releases that they wanted, prosecutors said.

    The hackers created a "video tutorial" to help traders view the stolen releases, and were paid a portion of the profits from trades based on information contained there, prosecutors said.

    Nine people were indicted by grand juries in Brooklyn, New York, and in Newark, New Jersey, on charges that they made $30 million in illegal profits over five years starting around February 2010. Separately, a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission civil lawsuit charged many others and said that thefts of inside information resulted in more than $100 million in illegal profits.

    "This case illustrates how cybercriminals and those who commit securities fraud are evolving and becoming more sophisticated," Paul Fishman, the U.S. attorney for New Jersey, said at a news conference. He called the hackers relentless and patient.

    The distributors weren't charged with any wrongdoing. Fishman said authorities received "fabulous cooperation" from them.

    Representatives with PR Newswire, a unit of UBM, MarketWired and Business Wire couldn't immediately be reached or declined immediate comment.

    Sensitive Company Information

    The indictments said the news releases included sensitive corporate information such as financial results that would later become public. The news was passed to the traders, who made illegal trades in stocks and options based on the stolen information, and foreign shell companies were used to share the rewards, the indictments said.

    Authorities said the scheme resulted in illegal profits on such companies as Acme Packet, Align Technology (ALGN), Caterpillar (CAT), Dealertrack Technologies (TRAK), Dendreon, Edwards Lifesciences (EW) and Panera Bread (PNRA).

    The indictment in Brooklyn charged four traders: Vitaly Korchevsky, 50, a former hedge fund manager from Pennsylvania; Vladislav Khalupsky, 45, of Brooklyn and Odessa, Ukraine; and Leonid Momotok, 47, and Alexander Garkusha, 47, of the U.S. state of Georgia.

    A separate indictment made public in New Jersey charges Ivan Turchynov, 27, and Oleksandr Ieremenko, 24, two purported computer hackers who live in Ukraine; Pavel Dubovoy, 32, a trader from Ukraine; and Arkadiy Dubovoy, 51, and his son Igor Dubovoy, 28, traders from Georgia.

    One indictment quotes online chats in which Ieremenko told Turchynov on March 25, 2012, that he had "bruted" the log-in credentials of 15 Business Wire employees, and told an unidentified recipient in Russian on Oct. 10, 2012, that "I'm hacking prnewswire.com."

    Charges brought against the various defendants include securities fraud, and conspiracies to commit securities fraud, wire fraud and money laundering.

    Five of the defendants were arrested early Tuesday, prosecutors said: Arkadiy and Igor Dubovoy, Momotok and Garkusha at their homes in Georgia, and Korchevsky at his home in Pennsylvania. International arrest warrants were issued for the other four, prosecutors said.

    The SEC lawsuit charged 32 people and corporate entities with civil fraud. The lawsuit seeks civil penalties and has already resulted in a court-ordered freeze of assets, the SEC said in a statement.

    The securities regulator has brought a handful of civil lawsuits in the past against individual hackers tied to insider trading. But they were all smaller than the case unsealed on Tuesday and none previously resulted in criminal charges.

    -Joseph Ax, Nate Raymond and Mica Rosenberg contributed reporting.

     

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    Financial Markets Wall Street
    Richard Drew/AP
    By Caroline Valetkevitch

    NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks fell Tuesday as China's surprise devaluation of the yuan currency hit companies with a big exposure to the country and added to worries about the global economic outlook.

    Apple fell 5.2 percent to $113.54 in its biggest daily percentage decline since late January 2014, and the stock was the biggest drag on all three major indexes. Jefferies raised concerns about the demand for the iPhone, primarily in China.

    Obviously this devaluation seems to suggest there's a lot of weakness, and we're in thinly traded markets right now.

    Among other companies with a big exposure to China, Caterpillar (CAT) was down 2.6 percent at $78.04. Yum Brands (YUM) fell 4.9 percent to $83.54. General Motors (GM) shares fell 3.5 percent to $30.83, though it said the devaluation of the yuan would have a "limited and manageable" impact on its business.

    The currency move by the world's top metals consumer pushed copper and aluminum to six-year lows, and the S&P materials index dropped 1.9 percent, leading sector declines for the S&P 500. Freeport-McMoRan dropped 12.3 percent to $10.22.

    "Obviously this devaluation seems to suggest there's a lot of weakness, and we're in thinly traded markets right now," said Eric Kuby, chief investment officer at North Star Investment Management in Chicago.

    "To a certain extent, the stocks that have propped up the market this year have slowly fallen out of favor, so I think that you're seeing a little bit of a flight to safety."

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) fell 212.33 points, or 1.2 percent, to 17,402.84, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) lost 20.11 points, or 1 percent, to 2,084.07 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) dropped 65.01 points, or 1.3 percent, to 5,036.79.

    'One-Off Depreciation'

    The yuan fell to its lowest against the dollar in almost three years following what China's central bank described as a "one-off depreciation."

    Alibaba (BABA) shares fell 3.9 percent $77.34.

    The day's stock market declines followed a rally Monday that gave the S&P 500 its biggest increase since May.

    Google (GOOG) rose 4.3 percent to $660.78 after it said it would overhaul its operating structure. The stock gave the biggest support to the Nasdaq and the S&P 500.

    Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,932 to 1,152, for a 1.68-to-1 ratio; on the Nasdaq, 1,967 issues fell and 848 advanced, for a 2.32-to-1 ratio favoring decliners. The S&P 500 posted 10 new 52-week highs and 17 new lows; the Nasdaq recorded 40 new highs and 104 new lows.

    -Sweta Singh contributed reporting from Bangalore.

    What to watch Wednesday:
    • The Labor Department releases job openings and labor turnover survey for June at 10 a.m. Eastern time.
    • The Treasury Department releases federal budget for July at 2 p.m.
    Earnings Season
    These selected companies are scheduled to release quarterly financial results.

     

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    dollars
    Getty ImagesKeep more cash in your wallet when you use online tools like the BillGuard app and search social media for the best travel and retail deals.
    By Kimberly Palmer

    Whether you track every penny you spend or can't remember your last purchase, there are always ways to improve your spending habits. Being more in control of when and how you spend can help cut overall costs, which means more money can go toward savings and other goals. The strategies below are designed to help you exert greater control over your​ finances.

    1. Make use of comparison apps for smarter shopping. Apps such as RedLaser, PriceGrabber and RetailMeNot allow you to easily compare prices and store coupons. You don't even have to worry about organizing and carrying around paper coupons; just hold up your smartphone at the register to scan stored codes. If you shop online a lot, also consider PriceBlink, a browser add-on that lets you know if there's a lower price elsewhere on the Web. Other useful tools include Coupons.com, the Favado app and Slickdeals, which is both a website and an app.

    2. Use online tools to manage money. If you want new ways to track your money, technology is here to help. For example, the BillGuard app makes it easy to stay on top of bills and be aware of any potential fraud. Key Ring stores all of your loyalty card information so you can leave the stack of plastic at home. Mint shows you where your money is going and helps you stay on budget with reminders and suggestions.

    3. Sign up for recall alerts. Since the federal government issues hundreds of recalls each year, it can be hard for consumers to keep track of them all -- and get their money back for faulty products. Sign up for alerts at recalls.gov or cpsc.gov so you can make sure the products you have around your house are safe, and get refunds or replacement products when they're not.

    4. Talk to companies on Twitter. If you feel like you got a bad deal on a product because it broke shortly after you took it home or it just isn't performing the way you expected, consider communicating your displeasure over Twitter. It might be a way to get a refund or replacement more quickly. Banks, cable companies and other service providers are ramping up their Twitter accounts. Sometimes, the easiest way to lodge a complaint or get attention for a problem is by tweeting at the company in question. Any personal information or details should be restricted to direct messages or taken offline, but Twitter can be a good place to start.

    5. Let social media lead you to the best deals. Companies are increasingly interacting with consumers on Twitter and other social media platforms, which means you can often find the best deals there, too. Retailers often release discounts to their fans and followers first.

    To avoid overcrowding your Twitter account, consider creating a separate account dedicated to following retailers, so you can stay on top of upcoming sales. This strategy also works well for cutting travel costs, since many airlines post last-minute discounts on Twitter. You can always ignore the stream when you're not in shopping mode.

    6. Embrace online fundraising. Kickstarter lets people launch creative projects online and collect funds for them. Successful fundraisers often rely on social media to help drum up support for their idea, and many seek relatively modest amounts (most projects aim to raise less than $10,000). If you're looking for a way to fund a specific goal that you think can generate public support, like traveling to volunteer overseas, then it could be a great place to start working toward that savings goal without putting the rest of your budget at risk.

    7. Buy and sell online. Craigslist, eBay and clothing exchange sites like Tradesy make it easy to sell your unwanted items. You can make extra cash and also buy gently used items at a discount. PayPal can facilitate the payment process when you're not making the exchange in person.

    8. Avoid Facebook-fueled spending. It's easy to see photos on Facebook and think all your friends are indulging in five-star meals and trips to exotic locations, but if you let those selfies influence your behavior, you could end up spending far more than your budget allows. Instead, plan activities with friends that don't cost a lot, such as potlucks and game nights.

    Kimberly Palmer is a senior editor for U.S. News Money. She is the author of the new book, "The Economy of You." You can follow her on Twitter @alphaconsumer, circle her on Google Plus or email her at kpalmer@usnews.com.

     

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