Defunct Cambridge Analytica Under Investigation by Justice and CIA

The New York Times is reporting that the FBI and the US Justice Department are investigating the out-of-business political data company Cambridge Analytica. The company was recently implicated in a scandal over how it used the information it mined from Facebook users, bringing into question any ties it may have had with Russian agents engaged in meddling in the US elections.

Prosecutors from the US government have been questioning former employees and banks associated with Cambridge Analytica, said the Times, citing an American official and others familiar with the investigation.

The company already announced its intention to close by the end of this month since it lost many clients and faced growing legal fees as a result of reports that the company had taken personal data about millions of Facebook users without their knowledge, as far back as 2014.

The company is being accused of using the data of about 87 million Facebook users improperly. Cambridge Analytica was hired by the now President Trump’s 2016 election campaign. As a result several investigation were launched in the US and also in Europe.

New Iran Sanctions Disrupt US and Overseas Business

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin

The effect of the US pulling out of the Iran nuclear agreement will not only reverberate in Iran. US companies will also feel the bite of newly imposed economic sanctions on the regime of Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader.

The US withdrawal from the agreement will force the US government to revoke existing licenses allowing for US companies to do business with Iran. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Tuesday that licenses held by Boeing Company and Airbus Group, Boeing’s European competitor, will be nullified by the US withdrawal from the agreement.

“The existing licenses will be revoked,” Mnuchin said to reporters.

The company responded by saying it will consult with the government on what their next move should be.

“As we have throughout this process, we’ll continue to follow the U.S. government’s lead,” Boeing commented.

Airbus is also dependent on licensing from the US to sell its airplanes to Iran due to the US-made parts Airbus uses in its aircraft.

There will be waivers and exemptions made under certain conditions for certain products and countries, but those conditions were not discussed by Mnuchin.

Mnuchin added that the new sanctions will also seriously limit the sale of oil by Iran, which sells about 5 percent of the world’s oil, making it the fifth largest oil producer in the world. He said that there will be a 6-month grace period to allow countries to finish up existing contracts and implement “significant reductions” in the amount of crude oil they purchase from Iran.

The secretary said he does not believe the price of oil will rise by much since he expects other countries will respond to the new sanctions with increased oil production.
Mnuchin said that the goal of the new sanctions is to force Iran to come to the table to renegotiate the Iran nuclear deal.

Smyth Toys Buys European Divisions of Toys ‘R’ Us


Toys R Us Quioccasin Rd Richmond, VA. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Smyth Toys, a company based in Galway, Ireland, has agreed to purchase some of the European divisions of Toys ‘R’ Us. This is Smyth’s first time selling on the mainland of Europe. When the deal is implemented Smyth will run 93 brick and mortar shops and four online stores in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

The buyer was found by Lazard, an investment bank, which was employed to look for buyers for Toys ‘R’ Us international subsidiaries after the giant US retailer filed for bankruptcy in March.

Smyths was founded in County Mayo and is owned by four brothers from Galway; Tommie, Tony, Liam and Padraig Smyth. The brothers own 21 stores in the Republic of Ireland and an additional 90 or so in Britain and Northern Ireland. The company has been growing quickly since 2007 when it entered the UK market, and is planning on opening more shops in Luton and Dundee in the near future.

Toys ‘R’ Us announced in January that it was going to close about 20% of its US stores as part of its strategy to come out of one of the largest in history bankruptcies by a specialty retailer. The plan did not work out and the Toys ‘R’ Us subsidiary in Britain was forced to close all 100 shops after not finding a buyer.

A bid was made on the Canadian division of the toy retailer by Fairfax Financial Holdings for $300 million.

Timing Is Everything

The following is a guest article written by Brad Martin, Senior Vice President, Marketing, Mass Market Sales & Services of Genie Energy:

Small, medium and large business owners and managers can benefit from shopping around for commodities like electricity and natural gas. However, what many fail to consider, is that simply comparing today’s available rate to the utility’s current price to compare, may not be enough of an advantage to look for. Switching away from the utility to a supplier offers a host of rate structure options and terms, affording more control over your energy experience.

Many factors influence cost. Among the variables are some obvious items such as the commodity, geography, utility, status of natural gas reserves, and weather. Other not so obvious factors to the layman are transmission, capacity tags, and load factors. However, contract start date and term length are also critical and should not to be overlooked.

Consider this – Let’s say your business is evaluating a twelve versus eighteen month termed agreement for electricity, with the twelve month term set to end next April. Taking all the current market conditions into consideration, a twelve month rate lock for electricity may be more favorable versus an eighteen month term. Why? The eighteen month term would straddle two summer seasons, and because your total electricity consumption and spend often increases in the summer months (June through August), this could impact the hedge for your supply. On the contrary, if you are looking at an eighteen month natural gas contract beginning in November/December with it ending in the spring – the benefit could be favorable, with the hedge covering only one typically higher consumption winter heating season.

As they say, “…timing is everything…”

While a longer term “set it and forget it strategy” might appeal to some seeking budget certainty and those looking avoid market volatility by flattening out commodity market highs and lows, it should be noted that timing of contract end dates are important to consider. The spring and fall months are considered “shoulder seasons” due to their more mild temperatures. Contracts ending during the shoulder season may provide opportunities to lock in a better rate in the renewal term, since mild temperatures often mean a factor of less demand and better wholesale costs.

No matter how large or small your business, it’s important to weigh the benefits of securing your electricity and natural gas supply from a source other than your local utility company. It can be very much worth it to take a few minutes to shop around. Compare rates, plan structures, terms, and more.

Of course these examples illustrate just a few of the more straightforward scenarios. Your sweet spot could be a ‘typical’ 12/18/24/36 month plan, or it could be a more tailored fixed, index, block and index (Hybrid) or even variable with cap price plan. Some programs may even lead to a reduction in or elimination of peak demand charges.

But until you shop, you may never know.

Keep in mind, while no one can ever predict the future with certainty, it is important to work with a proven broker or supplier that will review your specific historical usage patterns, and provide options based on a true consumption profile.

Own or manage a business that uses energy or know someone who could benefit? Message me to get connected with an energy expert who will provide a complimentary commercial energy analysis with no obligation.

Apple and Tools for Parental Control

 JANA Partners – one of Apple Inc.’s biggest investors – earlier this year wrote to the multinational technology company about technology and children safety.  Apple Inc. only found out about JANA’s (and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) that co-wrote the letter request) sentiments, before the letter was publicized.

Apple Inc. claimed the letter was not a result of prior talks that had taken place with either JANA or CalSTRS but nonetheless immediately responded with a promise to upgrade its current child safety features – something it has been offering since 2008.

The letter publicly reported on the Think Differently About Kids website, included the following statement:

“In partnership with experts including Dr. Michael Rich, founding director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School Teaching Hospital and Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, and Professor Jean M. Twenge, psychologist at San Diego State University and author of the book iGen, we have reviewed the evidence and we believe there is a clear need for Apple to offer parents more choices and tools to help them ensure that young consumers are using your products in an optimal manner.”

The letter also offered initial steps for Apple to follow.