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Some Libor laughs

The Libor Scandal is no laughing matter. London bankers' practice of reporting false interest rates misrepresented the health of the British banking industry and has caused ripple effects in everything from mortgages and student loans to derivatives and a myriad of financial products.

But if it bums you out to know how casually this sort of thing goes on, take a look at it from the lighter side.



Scams and consumer help.

From Business Today:


Attorney General Eric T.Schneiderman has warned consumers of two scams that are making the rounds and victimizing people via the Internet and telephone. One scam has criminals impersonating bank or government officials claiming to offer mortgage settlement assistance as a way to gain access to personal or financial information. The other scam involves consumers lured into making deposits on fake rental properties advertised on Craigslist.


Want to see the reasons your property and casualty insurer gave for increasing your premium? You'll be able to find out online, thanks to the actions of the state Department of Financial Services.  The state insurance regulators are posting documents online submitted by insurance companies to support rate increases, introduce new products or change existing offerings. You can find them here. The Department of Financial Services did the same thing last fall with health insurance.


In observation of Financial Literacy Month, Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Buffalo is hosting four free financial seminars at its office in West Seneca, 40 Gardenville Parkway, suite 300. They are: "Money in Motion," at 5:30 p.m. today; "Dollars and Sense," at 10 a.m. Saturday; "Credit Counts," at 6 p.m. April 19 and "Credit Reports Review Express," at 9 a.m. April 28. For more information, call 712-2060.


A career fair will be held today from 12:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Walter J. Mahoney State Office Building, 65 Court Street. Job listings are posted here. For more information, call (888) 4-NYSDOL or visit the Department of Labor's Web site.

Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?

Here's more on that common Craigslist scam:


Solar Liberty extends reach.

From Business Today:


College students looking for off-campus housing are warned to read leases carefully and not succumb to high-pressure sales tactics. One UB student's experience with a misleading salesman is indicative of a larger problem around campuses in Western New York and across the nation, experts said. Critics said housing students is such a lucrative business that some for-profit companies take advantage of inexperienced teenagers.


Solar Liberty was recently named the largest solar power installation company in New York State for 2011, based on its number of systems installed and kilowatt capacity. But the thriving business was actually created out of the owners' desire to bring power to developing nations. The business allows its owners to donate equipment and funds to the Solar Liberty Foundation, a nonprofit serving developing countries.


Benjamin Lawsky is the first superintendent of the New York State Department of Financial Services, tasked with regulating banking and insurance. Business reporter Jonathan D. Epstein was able to sit down with him and ask some pressing questions about his new role in Sunday's BizTalk Q&A.

Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?

From MoneySmart:


Prepaid debit cards are the single fastest-growing non-cash method of payment. But many of them come with so much fine print, even the savviest customers may have a hard time figuring out what the real costs are to use them. In a recent story, Consumer Reports magazine warns of hidden fees that can nickel and dime a user to death.

Happy Dyngus Day!


The seaway is open!

From Business Today:


The St. Lawrence Seaway kicked off its 54th navigation season Thursday. The Welland Canal bypasses Niagara Falls to connect Lake Erie and Lake Ontario and is an important part of the Seaway. An opening ceremony celebration was held at the canal, during which the captain of the first vessel to enter the waterway was honored with a beaver pelt top hat. The captain and his chief engineer signed the hat, which will be kept in a nearby museum, per tradition. The Seaway is expecting a 3 percent increase in the cargo that passes through this year. You can follow the ships in the seaway at this site.


In response to consumer concerns, several national grocers have taken ground beef with the so-called "pink slime" filler off store shelves. So who in Western New York is still using it, who is not and who never has? Pink slime refers to "lean finely textured beef," beef tissue that is treated with ammonia as part of the harvesting process and added to ground beef to get a leaner product at a lower cost.


Profits were down 70 percent at Ecology & Environment during the second quarter. The drop is attributed to higher administrative costs, higher indirect staffing costs and a loss on foreign exchange rates. Profits were $504,000, or 12 cents per share, from $1.8 million, or 42 cents per share, a year earlier. The company's revenues were down just 4 percent. Ecology & Environment is an environmental consulting firm in Lancaster.


The Communications Workers of America union is pressuring Verizon to extend its FiOS fiber-optic service to the City of Buffalo. Verizon has proposed a deal to purchase wireless spectrum from cable companies for $3.6 billion and cut deals with some cable companies, which has raised anti-trust concerns. The CWA wants the Senate antitrust subcommittee that is looking into the situation to put conditions on the deal that would make bringing FiOS to Buffalo possible.

Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?

Happy Friday:


LaFalce may head ECIDA board

From Business Today:


County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz has appointed three new but not unfamiliar faces to the Erie County Industrial Development Agency board. Retired Rep. John J. LaFalce, Buffalo Urban League President Brenda McDuffie and World Trade Center Buffalo Niagara President Christopher Johnston have all been appointed spots. Reports say LaFalce may become the next chairman and McDuffie the next vice chairman.


Two more Canadian companies will relocate operations to Western New York, thanks to a little help from Buffalo Niagara Enterprise.

Avanti Advanced Manufacturing, a plastic injection molding company and Blockbuster Costumes, which distributes costumes and party supplies, will relocate to Buffalo and Sloan, respectively. The BNE helped bring a third Canadian company, Nutrablend Foods, in 2009 and helped it commit to expanding here in November. All three are expected to invest more than $1 million and create 35 jobs.



Scores of banking customers have become victims of credit and debit card fraud, after computer hackers in Orleans County broke security at stores and transaction-processing firms on Black Friday. All of Medina Savings & Loan Association's customers were hit, as were customers at M&T Bank Corp. and HSBC Bank USA.


Sen. Charles E. Schumer wants to know whether oil producers and refiners have engaged in price fixing, and he's asking the Federal Trade Commission to hurry up and figure it out. The FTC launched an investigation last summer at the urging of New York Democrats. If price fixing is happening, it needs to be uncovered soon, as gasoline prices rise, he said. In Buffalo Niagara, gas is selling for an average of 45 cents more per gallon than it was at this time last year.

Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?

Happy Friday!



Car buyers take a breather

From Business Today:


Local new car sales were down in January, according to the Niagara Frontier Automobile Dealers Association. Auto sales dropped 5.1 percent compared to the same month last year. Dealers reported selling 2,810 units during the first month of 2012. That's down from the 2,964 with which they kicked off 2011. Ford sold the most cars--688 of them--followed by Toyota, Honda and Jeep.


New York State is getting ready to examine health care insurance premium rates in the state. Regulators will conduct an audit to make sure the data insurance companies use to calculate rates are accurate. Regulators will be looking to make sure insurers are allocating administrative costs and commissions properly, among other things, and look for ways costs might be better controlled.


Moog Inc. is getting a piece of a new jet being built by China's state-owned aircraft company. The Elma motion-control equipment maker will supply major flight-control systems for Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China's Comac C919 jetliner. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Moog said the contract represents a key opportunity for the company.


Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, a Syracuse biker hangout turned food pilgrimage destination, may soon open its doors in Buffalo. The restaurant's CEO said Wednesday that he is looking for a spot within the city of Buffalo for his next location. Deals haven't been finalized, so CEO John Stage was mum on details, but he did say he has been trying to make a Buffalo location happen for the past two years.

Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?

Here's a little taste of Dinosaur BBQ winning "Best BBQ in America" on "Good Morning America":


Business leaders need to lead

From Business Today:


The Buffalo News' 20th annual Prospectus issue was delivered Sunday. The special, expanded business magazine looks at what 2012 has in store for Western New York companies. What does the Buffalo Niagara Enterprise have in mind for $1 billion in promised state money? Wondering what decor trends will be hot for interior designers and home stores? Want to check in on Niagara Falls' progress as it makes over downtown? Want to see First Niagara CEO John Koelmel deliver a fantastic keynote speech at the Prospectus premiere dinner? It's all here.


The Elmwood Village will get a new fitness center. Best Fitness is set to open at 2001 Elmwood Avenue, in the site of the former Buffalo Wild Wings. The 24-hour gym plans to open its doors by late spring or early summer. It's the second Best Fitness location in Western New York, owned by a private New Hampshire company that has a total of 10 gym sites in New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.


If you don't think the assessment on your home is fair, you have options.

Experts suggest making sure your municipality has the correct information about your home, research what comparable homes in your neighborhood have sold for and make sure you file your grievance by your town's deadline.

 From MoneySmart:

Thieves never stop thinking up new ways to steal and scam. MoneySmart outlines what the FBI and the Better Business Bureau call the latest and most prevalent scams and tells you how to identify them, avoid them and keep yourself protected.

Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?

TEDxBuffalo brings ideas, CUBRC wins multi-million-dollar contract, Whistleblower speaks at UB and Uniland is denied more time to create jobs for grant

From Business Today:


Buffalo held a local version of the national TED conference Tuesday. TEDxBuffalo, held at the Canisius College Montante Cultural Center, was a daylong conference where innovators shared ideas in business, education, technology and other fields. A diverse group of speakers gave presentations on "ideas worth spreading," including a dairy farmer who talked about returning to small-scale production, a beer enthusiast who thinks Buffalo can return to its great brewing past, a business owner who talked about converting plastic waste to clean alternative fuel and an organizer who created an eBay-type marketplace for ideas.


A local research institution has been tapped to develop a therapeutic drug to treat respiratory diseases caused by biodefense and antibiotic-resistant organisms. CUBRC, on Genesee Street in Cheektowaga, has won a five-year contract from the National Institutes of Health which could be worth up to $36 million.



The woman who blew the whistle on Enron's fraudulent practices spoke to students at the University at Buffalo Tuesday. Sherron Watkins said Web sites such as WikiLeaks are a key tool for whistle blowers of the future. She said having whistleblower offices at the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission won't amount to much, believing regulators there will not diligently follow up on the tips they receive.


Uniland Development will have to pay back a $490,339 federal grant if it doesn't meet a job creation requirement by March. The developer is having trouble finding a tenant for its vacant industrial park in Lancaster.

Uniland offered to donate land to the town for a new police and courts building if it would get behind the company on a 12 to 24 month deadline extension, but it was turned down.

Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?

Happy Wednesday!


Health insurance costs 'A runaway train'

  Big biz news out front today, and deserves to be:

- 'A runaway train' of soaring costs - Jonathan D. Epstein/The Buffalo News
  If you felt sticker shock when you opened up your health insurance packet from your employer, you were not alone.
  Western New York workers will see their insurance premiums rise by as much as 20 percent next year. And there's no sign of it getting better soon.
   "It's getting worse," said Gregory D. Leifer, director of life insurance and employee benefits at Scott Danahy Naylon Insurance Brokers. "It's a runaway train, and people don't see it ending." ...
  Nationwide, employers expected their health insurance costs to rise by 10.1 percent in 2011, if they made no changes to their plans, but by just 5.9 percent after adjustments, according to a survey by Mercer Health & Benefits. A similar survey by Towers Watson said plan changes would lower the expected increase to 8.2 percent.
   Locally, rates will rise by up to 20 percent for Independent Health and HealthNow and by up to 12.5 percent for Univera. Employers are growing less willing to absorb those increases, as the cost of benefits comprises more than 10 percent of payroll, according to Compdata Surveys. ...

- ‘Obamacare’ not the cause of Colorado rate hikes - Colorado Independent
- Five strategies to tame health care spending - St. Louis Post-Dispatch
- Why Employers Aren't Rooting for Health Care Reform to Die - The Atlantic
- Why I will stay far away from cliffs from now on - The Huffington Post 
- Nearly 59 million lack health insurance: CDC - Reuters
- Employers plan for hikes in health insurance rates - Rochester Business Journal
- Connecticut Doctors To Oppose Anthem's Proposed Rate Increases - Hartford Courant
- Online information on health insurance rates readily available to Californians - Los Angeles Times

   Not everything's going up:
Mortgage rates again decline to record lows - AP/Buffalo News
   The mortgage rate bar is even lower, but few homebuyers are making the jump.
   Rates on fixed mortgages again fell to their lowest levels in decades this week, Freddie Mac said Thursday, after the Federal Reserve unveiled a massive bond-buying program to help spur economic growth.
   That marked more than a half-year of record lows. But housing activity has still faltered.

- Battle for shoppers' dollars pushes convenience, discounts - AP/Buffalo News
   From Sears stores open on Thanksgiving for the first time to free shipping from Wal-Mart, the battle for holiday shoppers' dollars has begun in earnest. ...
   Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving that typically kicks off holiday shopping, is not only being marketed as "Black Friday week," but for a growing number of stores, "Black Friday month."

- Retailers offering early discounts, so late shoppers could lose out - AP/Buffalo News

   Speaking of "sticker shock":


- George Pyle/The Buffalo News 

Tax breaks ... and more

   In Business Today, Verizon gets its tax breaks, and is still hungry. While a company that makes cardboard wants its cut.

Verizon granted tax break for center - Thomas J. Prohaska/The Buffalo News
   Verizon Communications was granted a 20-year tax break for its $4.5 billion data center in Somerset on Wednesday, but the company is trying to use the project as leverage to obtain changes in state regulations and defeat of a piece of state legislation it opposes.
   “We still have what we consider some unfinished business,” Verizon spokeswoman Maureen Rasp-Glose said after the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency unanimously approved the tax package.
   The deal involves sales and property tax abatements totaling $518 million over 20 years and would result in the company paying about 15 percent of its tax liability. Verizon also has secured a commitment from the New York Power Authority for 25 megawatts of discounted hydropower that would save the company an estimated $96 million over 15 years.
   The company’s plan is to create 200 jobs, paying an average of $85,000 a year, on 158 acres of land on Lake Road next to the AES Corp. power plant. AES would sell the land to Verizon. The total value of the package — $614 million — is the largest subsidy deal offered a company in Western New York and works out to nearly $3.1 million per job. ...
  State and local officials have lobbied hard for the project, but the company also has some concerns about putting a project in New York. Rasp-Glose said Verizon wants the State Legislature to defeat a bill that would require the company to rebate 40 percent of the proceeds from any sale or merger of its New York operations, either in cash to ratepayers or by means of infrastructure investments in New York.
   Rasp-Glose said the Legislature also needs to loosen Public Service Commission regulations on its business, which she said the company considers “antiquated.” ...
  The rebate bill Verizon opposes was passed by the Assembly on July 1 under the sponsorship of Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky, a Westchester County Democrat. Assembly cosponsors included Erie County Democrats Sam Hoyt, Dennis H. Gabryszak and Mark J. F. Schroeder, while Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes signed on later.
   However, the bill is stalled in the Senate, where lame-duck Sen. William T. Stachowski, D-Lake View, was among the cosponsors.
   Brodsky told The Buffalo News on Wednesday that the bill involves property Verizon owned before the deregulation of the telephone industry. He called the company’s attempt to tie it to the data center project “an elegant form of blackmail.”

Cardboard plant seeks tax break - Thomas J. Prohaska/The Buffalo News
  A Canadian company that operates a Niagara Falls cardboard plant applied Wednesday for a 20-year tax break on a new paper mill in the Falls.
   The Niagara County Industrial Development Agency expects to vote Dec. 15 on the deal with Norampac’s [in English] newly formed subsidiary, Greenpac Mill.
   The company plans to invest $407.5 million to demolish an abandoned mill next to its active plant on Packard Road and erect a new one on the same site, creating 110 new jobs in the process.
   The 120 jobs in the existing Norampac plant will stay put, and its operations will continue, General Manager Luc Nadeau said.
   A public hearing on the payment- in-lieu-of-taxes, or PILOT, arrangement is to be held at 4 p.m. Dec. 14 in Niagara Falls City Hall. ...

   This Verizon deal may be getting more complicated:


-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

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