All posts by Michelle Grathers

About Michelle Grathers

Michelle Grathers is an international tax expert. She has consulted for a variety of firms and high net worth individuals on all tax- and legal-related issues. She also helps new companies develop payroll services, statutory audits and mergers and acquisitions. Contact Michelle at michelle[at]businessdistrict.com

Transitioning to Lab-Made Diamonds

The weather is warming up and the sun is finally shining. As engagement season approaches, there is generally a rise in sales in the diamond industry. With the increasing popularity of factory-made diamonds, however, authentic diamond sales have been slowing down.

Independent diamond industry analyst, Edahn Golan, explains that the number of engagement rings with a lab-made diamond sold in March increased by 63% compared to last year, while the amount of traditional engagement rings featuring a natural diamond decreased by 25%. Data from February showed an even larger increase in purchases of rings with manufactured diamonds, at 80% more than the previous year. Golan cautions, “The big fear in the natural diamonds industry is that consumers will start accepting lab-grown diamonds in engagement rings.” He continues, “Too late. It’s actually happening.”

Why the switch to man-made diamonds?

The most apparent reason is cost. With a one-carat round lab-made diamond retailing at $2,318, it’s equivalent natural stone would average at $8.740 – a difference of over 70%. This disparity enables couples to purchase larger stones without worry about compromising on clarify or perfection.

Aside from cost, manufactured diamonds are becoming more popular as the population learns more about them. Negative association connected to child labor in African diamond mines and “blood diamonds” used to finance conflict in war-torn areas leaves a bad taste to many. According to The Knot wedding planning website, the younger population is more conscientious about the background of natural diamonds and the ethical issues related. A lab-made diamond offers an appealing solution.

Large jewelry companies are accommodating these new concerns and the market trends. Zales and Kay Jewelers are producing more man-made bridal options. Pandora, the world’s largest jewelry company, made a drastic move last year, announcing the company’s plans to stop using natural diamonds altogether, and shift to manufactured diamonds only.

If the statistics from the past few months are telling, it seems that demand for manufactured diamonds will only continue to increase. As long as budget and ethics remain priorities for consumers, more jewelry companies are bound to follow the path some major ones have already taken.

Eighteen More Oil Rigs Bodes Well for Oil Economy

U.S. offshore natural gas production wells in the Gulf of Mexico and Southern California.

With the addition of two new oil rigs operating in the Gulf of Mexico 16 new ones across the US, there are now a total of 653 drilling for oil and gas.

It is good news for the oil industry, but those numbers are far below the number of rigs operating in 2014 and 2015. According to numbers released last week by the Houston-based oilfield-services company Baker-Hughes, this year’s number is lower by 47 since last year, and is still 65 percent lower than the 1,882 which were pumping out oil and gas at the end of 2014.

Of the 653 rigs working today, 129 are looking for natural gas and the remainder, 523, are bringing out oil.

The oil industry has been suffering as an oil glut continues to keep prices of oil low. Caused by a growing trend of drilling in US shale fields, combined with increased oil production by OPEC, the oil glut brought oil prices to half, and lower, than their mid-2014 high of $115 per barrel.

Lower oil prices froze exploration for new sources of oil and natural gas, and many people in the industry were laid off. The fact that the US rig count has been growing and now is higher than its been since January, could be a harbinger of better times for the industry.

Larger Women Growing as a Fashion Market Force

Armed with the knowledge that larger women control a large and growing chunk of the fashion sector pie, clothing retailers are beginning to understand how to lure this market and boost sales.

The first step is perhaps surprising: to eliminate the so-called “Plus-size” section of the women’s clothing department and mainstream sizes 16 and above into the center of the sales floor.

Meijer Inc, a Michigan-based retailer, has already made the switch in 15 of its 230 stores, placing the extended sizes on the same racks as the “straight sizes.” Their goal is to have the plus size section fully integrated into the straight sizes department in all of their stores by early 2017. The result will be that the majority of their fashion offerings will come in all sizes; from small to XXXL.

“We really felt all customers should have the exact same experience at Meijer,” said Annette Repasch, vice president of Softlines. “Not only by style, but by price and by location.”

Repasch added that until now the fast majority of plus-size fashion was conservative, and being relegated to the back of the store made the shopping experience less enjoyable for this sector of consumers.

The plus-size consumer is a growing segment of the market, according to a new study conducted by International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education. They found that the the average American woman wears a size 16-18, up from a size 14 not too long ago. The NPD Group says that spending on plus-size clothing will reach and estimated $20.4 billion this year. That is an increase of 17 percent from 2013 and is outpacing the overall US apparel market by twice. The NPD Group also estimates that the percentage of teens purchasing plus-size clothing will reach 34 percent. In 2012 that number was 19 percent.

Noble Group Selling Off US Energy Business to Calpine Corp.

In order to generate cash and improve liquidity, commodity trader Noble Group Ltd. Inked a deal to purchase its American energy business to US power generation company Calpine Corporation for $1.05 billion.

The deal is the latest action in a series of undertakings designed to lower its debt as well as improve its reputation. Shares of Noble have staggered badly since February 2015, when an anonymous research group accused it of questionable accounting methods. Noble insists it did nothing wrong, and even accelerated disclosures. Poor showing of commodity prices did not help the poor earnings experienced by the company.

Therefore, in order to create cash and ease liquidity, Noble announced a series of sales of assets and reduced expenditures.

In a statement released to the Singapore Exchange, Noble announced that it will receive $800 million for Noble Americas Energy Solutions. It will be paid an additional $248 million for the US unit’s working capital.

Calpine describes itself as America’s largest generator of electricity from natural gas and geothermal resources. In July it its third quarterly loss in a row.

McDonald’s Introduces the McFloat for First Time in USA

Grand Chicken Classic burger, fries & McFloat (McDonald’s) Photo by
Debbie Tingzon.

A drink that has proved popular in McDonald’s fast-food restaurants around the world, is finally making a debut appearance in a few select stores stateside. The McFloat is a combination of Dr. Pepper and soft-serve ice cream, and it will be selling for $1.99, at least for now, in the McDonald’s in Park Slope, Brooklyn and in San Francisco. The introduction of the McFloat is part of McDonald’s larger exploration into a more direct satisfaction of local tastes, such as offering garlic fries in San Francisco and Chobani Greek yogurt in 800 California branches.

“As part of our journey to build a better McDonald’s, our franchisees have more flexibility than before to offer new menu items like breakfast bowls, Gilroy garlic fries and yes, the Diet Dr. Pepper Float,” McDonald’s spokesperson Terri Hickey.

Across the globe the McFloat has taken on a variety of personas. Most international locations offer a Coke McFloat, but in the Philippines a thirsty customer can get a Green Apple Sprite McFloat. In Indonesia the locals love Iced Coffee McFloats.

McDonald’s is also considering the introduction of fresh beef, and is currently testing this item in 14 of its restaurants. If fresh beef is a hit, McDonald’s, floats or no floats, will never be the same.