Jun 26th

Whole Foods Fines $800k for Overpricing in California

By Kelly Curtis
Whole Foods Fines $800k for Overpricing in California

Whole Foods Market Inc., the nation's largest retailer of natural and organic foods, has agreed to pay $800,000 in penalties after officials in California determined that the store was overcharging customers in the state. The charges were initially made by city attorneys in San Diego, Santa Monica and Los Angeles, accusing the retailer of inaccurate pricing practices. Among the charges is that Whole Foods was selling bulk items without subtracting the weight of containers, and was selling many items by item that should have been sold by weight. In addition to the fines, the company has agreed to hire pricing accuracy managers, and each of its 74 stores in California will be subject to random audits for the next five years. The company issued a statement declaring it had cooperated with the investigation and will take steps top ensure more accurate pricing moving forward. 
Jun 26th

Bing and Yahoo Sending More Engaged Visitors to Websites than Google

By Dave Simmons
Bing and Yahoo Sending More Engaged Visitors to Websites than Google
 
With more and more companies conducting a larger share of their business on the Web, the importance of driving traffic to websites has increased dramatically in the last few years.  The primary method used to drive traffic has always been search engines like Google and Bing, but other avenues such as social media outlets Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter have become viable alternatives.  As a result, the share of website visitors coming from search engines has declined, according to a study conducted by Internet data research firm Shareholic, which did extensive analysis on traffic to some 300,000 websites over the last six months.  What the study revealed is that while Google still dominates the market for driving traffic to websites by a search engine, its dominance is declining.  Even more telling, perhaps, is that the study shows that Google is slipping where it counts, as Google-directed website visitors are spending less time on the websites and viewing fewer pages.
Jun 17th

The Seven Most Improved US Housing Markets

By Mike Goldman
The Seven Most Improved US Housing Markets
Since the recession, the US housing market has been in a constant state of recovery, and some markets have even seen prices rebound to pre-recession levels.  Most of these county-level markets are small communities where the housing boom and crash did not have a major impact.  Prices in these communities didn't rise as high, or fall as low, but have been steadily improving from whatever fluctuations did occur.  Perhaps the best performing market in the country, however, is the San Francisco market, where prices have soared to record levels this summer.  Prices have risen so dramatically in San Francisco, in fact, that some economists have begun to express concern that the market will undoubtedly crash in the coming months.
Jun 12th

Accuracy of Zillow "Zestimates" Called Into Question

By Kelly Curtis
Accuracy of Zillow "Zestimates" Called Into Question
The real estate market has changed drastically over the last decade or so as technology has advanced, forever changing the way that homes are bought and sold.  In fact, more than 90 percent of US homebuyers began their search online last year, according to the National Association of Realtors, and the Internet is now flooded with websites offering home search tools, advice and information aimed at helping educate consumers about the complexities of the market.  One of these online tools is an automated valuation model, which allows consumers to get an idea of what their home is worth without hiring an appraiser.  The accuracy of these tools has come into question recently, however, including the so-called “Zestimate” tool offered by the biggest name in online real estate, Zillow.
May 29th

America Remembers Maya Angelou

By Betty
America Remembers Maya Angelou

Beloved American poet, author and television personality Maya Angelou passed away this week, leaving the hearts of millions of fellow Americans to grieve the loss.  She was 86 years of age.  Born as Marguerite Ann Johnson on April 4th, 1928, Angelou rose to fame in the late 60s with her debut autobiography "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," going on to write another six books about her life, several books of poetry and three boks of essays.  Perhaps her biggest contribution to American society came, however, in her work for the Civil Rights movement, during which she worked closely with Martin Luther King, Jr, who ironically was assasinated on Angelou's 40th birthday.  During her life, Angelou spoke at many important events, including the inauguration of President Bill Clinton, and she is still one of the most oft-quoted American personalities of the 20th century.  One of her most famous quotes: "The truth is, no one of us can be free until everybody is free," has been adopted by civil and human rights organizations all over the world.  The image below pictures Angelou receiving the Medal of Freedom from President Obama at a White House ceremony in 2010.


maya-angelou-obama-medal-of-freedom.jpg 
May 29th

Anonymous Real Estate Developer Sparks California Frenzy with Hidden Cash Scavenger Hunt

By Kelly Curtis
Anonymous Real Estate Developer Sparks California Frenzy with Hidden Cash Scavenger Hunt
An anonymous California real estate developer has been in the news for the last few days for his innovative way of giving back to the community.  The generous millionaire has been stuffing envelopes with between $50 and $150, hiding the envelopes and posting clues to their whereabouts on a Twitter account set up for the scavenger hunts.  Appropriately named @Hidden Cash, the Twitter page is also serving as a place for those who found one of his drops to post pics of themselves holding the loot.  While the man has spoken with several media outlets, the only clues he offered as to his identity is that he is a real estate developer between the ages of 35 and 45, and that he is indeed a millionaire.  The @Hidden Cash Twitter account now has more than 70,000 followers, and the scavenger hunt story has made it into the news all over the country.
May 29th

US Economy Shrunk in 1st Quarter, Economists Not Concerned About Recession

By Ronnie
US Economy Shrunk in 1st Quarter, Economists Not Concerned About Recession
The US Commerce Department reported Thursday that the world's largest economy shrunk in the first quarter, but the news didn't cause panic among economists, who predict that the downturn will prove to be temporary.  The report showed that US gross domestic product shrunk by a 1 percent annualized rate from the beginning of the year through March, marking the first contraction since the first quarter of 2011, when the economy shrunk at a 1.3 percent annual rate.  Economists attributed the poor performance to a decline in corporate investment, a larger trade deficit and a disappointing spring selling season for the housing market due top harsher than normal winter weather, particularly in the Northeast.  Economists expect a sharp recovery in the current quarter, however, as the nation moves forward from the extreme weather seen during the first quarter.
May 28th

CNBC's Jim Cramer Cautions Bull Market May End Soon

By Betty
CNBC's Jim Cramer Cautions Bull Market May End Soon
CNBC stock market analyst Jim Cramer suggested this week that the current bull market may be nearing an end, and the market could be in for a pullback in the next few months.  On his CNBC televsion show “Mad Money,” Cramer cited research from Mark Sebastian of Swan Wealth Advisors because Sebastian had been dead on in the past.  Cramer  noted that Sebastian had correctly predicted the current bull run for the market back in April 2012 after analyzing the VIX, an index used to track volatility in the stock market.  Sebastian noted that between 2002 and 2007, the years leading up to the last major crash, the VIX routinely spiked, then fell to new lows.  Just before the crash, Sebastian noted, the VIX began hovering at higher levels, getting nowhere near its prior lows after spiking.  This overall rise in the VIX, Sebastian suggests, served as an omen that the S&P 500, which almost always moves in the opposite direction as the VIX, was about to crash, which it did.
 
May 28th

Mortgage Demand Jumps as Interest Rates Hit 2014 Lows

By Mike Goldman
Mortgage Demand Jumps as Interest Rates Hit 2014 Lows

 
The Mortgage Bankers Association reported Thursday that demand for home loans rose 1.2 percent in the week ended May 23rd thanks to a surge in purchase applications.  According to the group's Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey, requests for purchase loans gained 1 percent, offsetting an identical 1 percent slide in applications for refinancing loans.  The boost in purchase loan demand came just as average mortgage rates reached their lowest levels this year.  


Mortgage insurer Freddie Mac reported last week that the average rate for a 30-year, fixed-rate home loan, the mortgage type most utilized in home purchases, fell to 4.13 percent.  Despite last week's gain in demand for home purchase loans, however, the MBA's mortgage purchase index is still down about 15 percent on a year-over-year basis.  The group's refinancing index, meanwhile, has plunged 73 percent from a year ago as interest rates have been rising steadily since the government began unwinding stimulus programs that were launched at the height of the recession. 
May 28th

Demand for VA Loans Has More than Tripled Since Recession Began

By Frank Galvano
Demand for VA Loans Has More than Tripled Since Recession Began
 
When the housing market crashed in 2007, the entire landscape of mortgage lending changed, increasing the popularity of alternative lending programs such as those offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs.  As property values across the nation plummeted, traditional lenders began tightening up the purse strings, raising the amount they required as a down payment while also increasing the credit score it required for borrowers to qualify.   As a result, the popularity of VA loans has skyrocketed.  In 2007, the year the recession began, the VA backed just 133,000 loans.  That number has more than tripled since then, as the agency insured more than 630,000 VA loans in 2013.  The popularity of VA loans is not likely to decline any time soon, either, as lenders are still requiring larger down payments (20 percent is standard) and pristine credit scores.  At the same time, the downsizing of the military is also increasing the number of veterans, thus increasing the pool of those eligible for VA backing.

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