Australian dollar range-bound

On Monday morning, the dollar was trading at 93.77 US cents.

On Monday morning, the dollar was trading at 93.77 US cents.
Source: ThinkStock

THE Australian dollar is hovering below 94 US cents amid easing concerns over the health of Portugal’s biggest listed bank.

At 0630 AEST on Monday, the local currency was trading at 93.77 US cents, down from 93.87 cents on Friday.

The Australian dollar traded within a narrow range over the weekend, as Portuguese authorities moved to ease fears over the health of Banco Espirito Santo.

“There is no reason to doubt the security of the funds entrusted to the BES, and its savers have no need to be worried,” Portugal’s central bank said in a statement.

U.S. wants sick workers to stay home. Workers say ‘We can’t’

sick day struggle
Martin Ayala, who handles food, works even when he’s sick because he can’t take paid sick days off at his job in a supermarket.


“Stay home if you’re sick.”

That’s the message to food industry workers from the nation’s public health watchdog, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The problem is staying home isn’t an option for food industry workers — 70% of whom are low wage employees with no paid sick days.

The health agency last month issued a bulletin that said the worst food-borne illnesses originated from contaminated food handled by sick workers.

It includes norovirus, the nasty stomach bug that is notorious for causing vomiting and diarrhea in cruise ship passengers. The virus also causes 20 million Americans in land to get sick every year. And infected food industry workers cause 70% of the cases.

But for most workers, taking off when sick means no pay, and at worse a lost job.

Related: Paid sick days won’t hurt businesses

“If I don’t get paid I get behind on rent and I have to go to the food bank,” said Martin Ayala, a clerk in the meat department of a large Los Angeles supermarket that caters to a booming Hispanic market.

For Ayala, working sick is a way of life. The Mexican immigrant, who has been in the United States for 25 years, admits that he’s unintentionally sneezed and coughed on food and has seen his co-workers do the same even while sick.

But with an hourly wage of $11.36 with which he supports a family, he says he can’t afford to miss a day.

Poverty’s vicious cycle

“Yesterday and today I had the flu. It’s very simple for me with four kids – I have to work,” said the 47-year-old father, who has worked at the El Super food market for five years.

Related: Sick days: A luxury many hourly workers don’t have

El Super, which owns 46 stores in California, Arizona, and Nevada, is currently negotiating with Ayala’s union to include paid sick days in a new contract.

The supermarket told CNNMoney that it has put fourth several proposals — including paid sick days — but they have been rejected. The union has said there are too many pre-conditions, so the negotiations continue.

Right now only one state, Connecticut, has a paid sick day law. But Ayala’s home state of California has a measure winding its way through the legislature. Voters in Massachusetts have one on the ballot in November and 7 cities have adopted earned paid sick day policies. More are expected to follow.

Where the world’s billionaires go to play

Melinda and Bill Gates.

Melinda and Bill Gates.
Source: AFP

WELCOME to Sun Valley, Idaho. Population 1394.

Set within the spectacular vistas of Bald Mountain, it’s no wonder the tiny resort town has been a favourite of the rich and famous since Ernest Hemingway sang its praises almost 100 years ago.

For the last 30 years, Sun Valley has become synonymous with the annual media and finance conference hosted by investment firm Allen & Company, which happens at this time every July since 1983.

The attendees of this uber-exclusive hootenanny are minted members of the billionaire club. Or if they’re not, they’re running billion dollar companies.

And they’ve all brought their private jets.

Rupert, Sarah, James and Lachlan Murdoch.

Rupert, Sarah, James and Lachlan Murdoch.
Source: AFP

The gathering of media moguls and titans of the technology world is incredibly secretive, and few details escape from within the confines of the resort.

This year’s attendees include, but are not limited to, Warren Buffet, Mark Zuckerberg, Rupert Murdoch, Barry Diller, Sheryl Sandberg, Jeff Bezos, Netflix’s Reed Hastings, Bill and Melinda Gates, Samsung heir Jay Lee, Apple boss Tim Cook, PayPal founder Peter Thiel, Disney chief Bob Iger, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Harvey Weinstein, GoPro’s Nick Woodman and Google’s Eric Schmidt.

Mark Zuckerberg with his wife, Priscilla Chan.

Mark Zuckerberg with his wife, Priscilla Chan.
Source: AFP

The famous roll call also features loads of investors with deep, deep pockets.

The conference is famous for greasing the wheels of big business with huge deals negotiated and inked within the week. Last year, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos struck the deal to buy The Washington Post at the Sun Valley confab.

Wouldn’t we all like to be a fly on those walls?

CBS boss Les Moonves.

CBS boss Les Moonves.
Source: AFP

Allen And Company Annual Meeting Draws Top Business Leaders To Sun Valley, Idaho

GoPro founder Nick Woodman.
Source: AFP

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg with her husband, Survey Monkey chief Dave Goldberg.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg with her husband, Survey Monkey chief Dave Goldberg.
Source: AFP

Amazon boss Jeff Bezos.

Amazon boss Jeff Bezos.
Source: AFP

Hollywood mega producer Harvey Weinstein.

Hollywood mega producer Harvey Weinstein.
Source: AFP

Apple’s Tim Cook.

Apple’s Tim Cook.
Source: AFP

JPMorgan exec loves getting his hands dirty

bill eigen jp morgan


A check engine light went off inside Bill Eigen’s mind while listening to his auto and truck repair customers in 2007.

As Ben Bernanke assured lawmakers the U.S. would avoid an economic storm, Eigen’s clients were telling him the exact opposite. Truckers complained of slashed loads, canceled routes and delayed maintenance.

Those ominous conversations prompted Eigen, who oversees $38 billion at JPMorgan Asset Management, to get defensive ahead of many peers by moving heavily into cash heading into the financial crisis.

“It’s good to get your hands dirty and find a balance between what’s going on in the white collar world and the world of dirty hands and filthy fingernails,” Eigen told CNNMoney, while taking a break from changing the power steering pump on his 1995 Ford Bronco.

The Boston-based portfolio manager is a rare finance exec who spends his days off fixing up cars with mechanics and talking shop with truckers. In fact, Eigen believes his weekly conversations with truckers give him a leg up because they are among the most economically sensitive workers in the world.

“I don’t know why more people don’t do this stuff. So many people like proper historical charts. But you know what? We’ve never been in a period like this,” said Eigen, alluding to the trillions of dollars of artificial money the Federal Reserve has pumped into the economy.

Related: How a librarian taught herself to invest and retired early

Instant economic data: That’s why each Saturday Eigen and his seven-year-old son make a point to visit his Central Massachusetts repair shop, which has a staff of about 11 full-time employees, including a pair of managers who take care of the day-to-day operations.

“Those Saturday mornings are precious to me,” said Eigen, who has owned a majority stake in the profitable business for the past dozen years.

Related: I sold my startup to Cisco. Here’s why

They are also valuable to the clients in Eigen’s bond funds, including the Strategic Income Opportunities Fund (JSOAX), Eigen said clients are “fascinated’ by the on the ground insights he shares during monthly calls because “there’s nothing more valuable than real-time data.”

Open invitation to Janet Yellen: So what is Eigen’s side business telling him about the economy today?

“We saw business fall off a cliff in 2007. You have the complete opposite now. We’re booked solid,” he said, adding that the shop is enjoying its best year since 2003.

3 charts explain stocks’ bull run

Trucks are actually coming in ahead of schedule for maintenance, signaling they are running more frequent and heavier routes — a positive sign for the economy and likely stock prices.

“I’d love Janet Yellen to come into the shop one day and talk to these people instead of pooh-poohing how bad the economy is,” said Eigen, whose official title is chief investment officer for absolute return and opportunistic fixed income.

Related: From cancer survivor to millionaire

Check engine light is on’: The Fed chief’s recent comments suggest the easy money punch bowl fueling stock and bond prices isn’t going away just yet, despite healthier labor and inflation metrics.

That dynamic, coupled with low volatility and “awful” liquidity in the fixed income markets, has Eigen worried about a rapid rise in bond yields.

“The check engine light is on in the fixed income market, but no one wants to diagnose what the problem is. They continue to drive the car. That can lead to catastrophic failure,” he said.

Related: CNNMoney’s Fear & Greed Index signals greed

Unlike many on Wall Street, Eigen doesn’t feel the pressure to reach for returns because he is an absolute return manager. That means he’s focused on just generating positive returns and avoiding losses, compared with relative return fund managers who try to beat their peers or a given benchmark.

“I don’t want to run the world. I’m not trying to make history here,” said Eigen. “You have a lot of people stretching for yields — a lot of the same things you saw in 2007. But when you invest in fixed income, it should be preservation of capital first.”

Eigen said the rush to chase yields sometimes makes him feel like he’s the “only sane one in the room.”

Maybe. But he’s clearly one of the only ones in the conference room regularly sporting grease up to his biceps.

From nothing to billions in days

Who is behind the mysterious Cynk Technology?

Who is behind the mysterious Cynk Technology?
Source: Supplied

IT HAS no assets, no revenues and no business plan to speak of. But a company called Cynk Technology has seen its value soar as high as $5.09 billion.

Wall Street analysts have been at loss to explain the spectacular 24,000 per cent rise in Cynk, which trades on the lightly regulated over the counter (OTC) market. While its share price and market value fell at the close of trade, the company unknown in the technology or financial communities, for a time traded in the range of the value of firms such as Groupon, Pandora Media or Yelp.

“We must sadly conclude that the company is nothing but a fraud,” said the financial news website Zero Hedge.

“And it is nothing short of a testament to just how broken this excuse for a market is that a company with no assets, no revenues, no website and one employee can go from zero value to nearly $US5 billion in market cap in a few days.”

The stock trading at 6.3 cents on June 16 inexplicable surged to $2.39 the next day, and rose to as high as $17 on Thursday, before slipping to about $14.9 at the close — making its paper value still an eye-popping $4.26 billion or so.

The company avoided scrutiny until its disproportionate value drew the attention of Wall Street veterans.

Investors are gobsmacked over why Cynk’s stock soared by 24,000 per cent.

Investors are gobsmacked over why Cynk’s stock soared by 24,000 per cent.
Source: Supplied

The phone number listed on company documents was out of service. Richard Green of the market analysis firm examined the company’s regulatory filing, which indicated Cynk had no assets, no cash and an accumulated loss of $1.59 million.

Cynk calls itself a social network, based on its early incarnation as, which offered to put people in contact with celebrities like Angelina Jolie or Johnny Depp for $50.

“The company is no more of a functional business than your average college student’s entrepreneurial dream,” Mr Green said. “There was no news or other recognisable event to explain such stock trading activity.” Analysts note that the market value is merely on paper, based on trades of a small number of shares.

“We want to stop short of directly calling Cynk Technology a ‘scam operation’, as we have not yet been able to find a reason for the unusual trading, but it certainly has all the appearances of the typical ‘pump and dump’ scheme used to deceive ignorant investors into buying into ‘the next social media’ giant’,” Mr Green added.

One concern is that certain “momentum” investors who use algorithms to trade can be attracted to the stock simply because of its rise.

“There is no rational explanation for yesterday’s trading activity and the $US4 billion market capitalisation,” Mr Green said. “In short, Cynk has ‘stynk’ written all over it and we think the best approach to this stock is to avoid it entirely.”

Should you raid your retirement savings to slash debt?

Save a million before you retire


If dipping into your retirement savings to finally pay off that pesky credit card bill sounds like a good idea, you should probably think twice.

Taking a 401(k) loan can seem attractive for a few reasons: You don’t have to qualify. You can get the funds quite quickly. Plus the interest rate is typically around 4% to 5%, far below the typical credit card interest rate.

Most 401(k) plans allow you to borrow 50% of your balance up to $50,000, which you then must pay back (plus interest) through automatic payroll deductions. Typically, the loan must be repaid within five years.

Nearly half of all retirement savers who had taken a 401(k) loan said they had borrowed the cash to pay down debt, according to a recent survey from retirement provider TIAA-CREF.

But there are a lot of things that can go wrong.

“The 401(k) always appears to be a pretty good place to borrow from…” said Margaret Starner, senior vice president of financial planning at Raymond James & Associates. “But it’s a slippery slope.”

Related: The hidden cost of retiring early

Not only are you raiding your current savings balance, but you could also miss out on possibly higher compound returns those funds could have gained over time.

Plus, like any other kind of borrowing, a 401(k) loan isn’t tax free. You’ll pay the loan back with after-tax dollars and then pay taxes again when you withdraw the savings in retirement.

And if you lose your job or switch to a new one, the timeframe to pay back the loan shrinks to as little as 60 days. If you’re unable to repay it by that deadline, you could be hit with another tax bill and a 10% early withdrawal penalty if you’re younger than 59 1/2.

#YourEconomy: Share your biggest retirement mistake

If you’re still thinking of taking a loan to tackle debt, here are some things to consider.

What kind of debt is it? The only kind of debt you should even consider raiding your nest egg to pay down is extremely costly debt, such as high-interest credit card bills or a payday loan, said Bruce Cacho-Negrete, a certified financial planner who specializes in helping clients manage their debt.

That means that you wouldn’t want to use retirement savings to pay down loans with lower interest rates and longer time spans, such as student loans or mortgage debt.

Do you have other options? A 401(k) loan should be a “loan of last resort,” according to Cacho-Negrete. First consider your alternatives.

For example, if you have a good credit score, you might be able to pay down higher-interest credit card debt with a personal loan from a bank or credit union, said Sophia Bera, a Minneapolis-based certified financial planner.

Related: Should you drain your 401(k) to start a business?

Or if you think you’ll be able to tackle the debt in the next year, consider taking advantage of a 0% balance transfer offer to transfer the debt to a different credit card and pay it off without any additional interest payments.

Do you have a plan? Your retirement savings is not a piggy bank. So if you do take a loan, you’ll need a strategy to make sure you don’t make it a habit, said Dan Keady, director of financial planning for TIAA-CREF.

If it was overspending that forced you to raid your savings, for example, commit to a budget to make sure you don’t just run up the card all over again.

If possible, you should also try to continue contributing to your 401(k) plan up to at least your employer match, on top of paying back the loan.

Did you not start saving early enough? Or make a bad investment decision? E-mail with your biggest retirement mistake and what you learned from it.

Chelsea Clinton’s big speaking dollars

Former First Daughter Chelsea Clinton can command $80,000 for a speaking engagement.

Former First Daughter Chelsea Clinton can command $80,000 for a speaking engagement.
Source: AFP

LIKE her high-profile parents, Chelsea Clinton is becoming a draw on the speaking circuit, with some organisations shelling out as much as $80,000 per speech.

Attention to the younger Clinton’s speaking fees, first reported by The New York Times
, comes as her mother, Hillary Rodham Clinton, commands a reported $213,000 or more per speech while she considers another bid for the presidency.

The family’s finances have come under scrutiny in recent weeks after the former secretary of state said during her book tour that the family was “dead broke” and in debt when husband Bill Clinton left the White House in January 2001. She later called that description “inartful.” The Washington Post reported that the former president has earned more than $106 million in speaking fees since leaving the White House.

The Clintons in a selfie with Jimmy Kimmel.

The Clintons in a selfie with Jimmy Kimmel.
Source: Twitter

Student leaders at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, meanwhile, have protested the UNLV Foundation’s decision to pay the former first lady and New York senator $239,000 for a speech in October. The University of California, Los Angeles, paid Hillary Clinton $319,000 to speak in March. Mrs. Clinton has said she donates her university fees to the philanthropic Clinton Foundation.

The youngest Clinton has taken a leading role in the family’s foundation, and she and her husband, Marc Mezvinsky, are expecting their first child later this year. Her own compensation drew scrutiny when Politico reported that she earned $639,000 a year at NBC News, where she has infrequently appeared on camera as a special correspondent.

Bill and Chelsea watche on as Hillary Clinton is sworn in as Secretary of State.

Bill and Chelsea watche on as Hillary Clinton is sworn in as Secretary of State.
Source: AFP

The Clintons are represented by the New York-based Harry Walker Agency, which arranges paid speeches for political, business and media figures, including former Vice Presidents Dick Cheney and Al Gore, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and actor and former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Kamyl Bazbaz, a spokesman for Chelsea Clinton, said the majority of her speeches are unpaid and “all speeches organised by the Harry Walker Agency are on behalf of the Clinton Foundation and 100 per cent of the fees are remitted directly to the foundation.”

Some of Chelsea Clinton’s recent speaking engagements have included an address in March to the South by Southwest Festival in Texas and an event with female college student leaders at the University of Maryland.

Chelsea Clinton previously worked at McKinsey & Co and Avenue Capital Group but now devot

Chelsea Clinton previously worked at McKinsey & Co and Avenue Capital Group but now devotes her time to the philanthropic Clinton Foundation.
Source: AP

Kelly Krause, a SXSW spokeswoman, said the festival did not pay Clinton for the keynote address. Katie Broendel, a spokeswoman for the American Association of University Women, which organised the Maryland conference, said it typically offers a small honorarium to speakers but that Clinton did not accept it for the June speech.

London calling: World’s top travel spot

Taxi wars: NYC vs. London


A foggy day in London town is quite all right for 18.7 million people.

That’s how many will visit the British capital this year, making it the world’s top international travel destination.

MasterCard, which compiles the list, says London will have 8% more overseas visitors this year. As a result, it will wrest the top spot from Bangkok, where political unrest will cut tourism by 11%. Paris and Singapore are the next two cities.

Related: Vacation experiences of a lifetime

Visitors give a big boost to local economies. International travelers will drop some serious coin in London — spending more than $19 billion on hotels, meals, taxis and sightseeing. Only New York, where they will spend $18.6 billion, approaches that level.

Related: Best travel sites reward programs

New York, which finished sixth among global destinations with 11.8 million visitors, was the only place in the United States to make the top 20 list, which covered 132 different international cities.

Related: 50 states, 50 spots for 2014

Dubai, the hard charging city in the United Arab Emirates, flew past the Big Apple into fifth place with 12 million international visitors. It is a tourism magnet for the Arab world. Its seaside location is a big attraction with much of its Persian Gulf shoreline developed for water parks, yacht clubs and theme parks.

Expedia CEO: Leisure travel flying high

The city, which has a population of about 2.2 million, will receive more than 4.8 visitors per resident, easily the highest ratio among the cities surveyed. And there’s a huge economic benefit: Travelers will spend nearly $3,900 per resident.

Business travel to London’s booming financial industry helped buoy the city’s numbers. The visitor volume coming from New York grew strongly, up 15% year-over-year to 867,000. Many of these travelers work in the financial industry and as that industry recovers, the business travel from New York has grown.

Still, two-thirds of London’s visitors arrive from other European cities.

The currency to buy now

A Chinese clerk counts U.S. dollars in exchange for the Chinese renminbi at a bank in Hef

The Chinese yuan has more than doubled in use in the past year.
Source: AP

CHINA’S yuan is a growing force in global finance, more than doubling in use over the past year, according to a new study from the Institute of International Finance (IIF).

Although its use in the international payments system remains dwarfed by the dollar and euro, the yuan, officially known as the renminbi, grew to 1.4 per cent of total transactions.

That jump moved it ahead of the Hong Kong and Singapore dollars and even with the Swiss franc, the sixth most used currency in global transactions, the IIF study said.

In trade finance, overwhelmingly dominated by the US dollar, the yuan jumped into second place last year ahead of the euro and the Japanese yen, comprising eight per cent of transactions.

And despite Beijing’s still firm controls on its use, the yuan has become the ninth most-traded currency on foreign exchange markets, the volume hitting $US120 billion ($A129 billion) daily on average, compared with $US34 billion in 2010.

The study by the IIF, a global association of leading banks, said the gains have come as Beijing slowly frees up the currency for international use.

There are clearing banks for yuan transactions now in five international centres: Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Singapore and, since early this year, London, the world’s leading foreign exchange centre.

Yuan-denominated bonds, so-called dim-sum bonds, have jumped since the government first permitted their issue in Hong Kong seven years ago.

“While true internationalisation would require much greater capital account liberalisation, the Chinese government continues to take measured steps towards opening China’s financial markets.” “Further gradual steps to widen the currency trading band — and a more market-determined exchange rate — will help this process,” the IIF said.

The wrong folks get billions in tax dollars

money down drain
The government made about $106 billion in improper payments last year.


The federal government is continuing to dole out billions of dollars to people who shouldn’t get them.

A government watchdog agency said an estimated $106 billion in payments were made in error last year: meaning they were the wrong amount, went to the wrong person or lacked sufficient documentation.

These payments include tax refunds, unemployment benefits, Social Security benefits, and Medicare and Medicaid coverage.

The improper payments could be even higher since not all agencies reported to the Government Accountability Office.

The White House acknowledged that “the loss to the Federal Government is significant,” but it pointed to a declining overall error rate: Just 3.5% from 5% in 2009.

“[T]he Administration, working together with the Congress, has significantly reduced improper payments,” Beth Cobert, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, said in her testimony. “[W]e will continue to work closely with agencies to find the root causes of the improper payments.”

The Department of Agriculture’s School Breakfast program, which provides free or reduced-price meals to needy students — had the highest error rate in 2013, at 25%.

Other programs with error rates above 15% include the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Small Business Administration’s Disaster Assistance Loans program.

In congressional testimony Wednesday, government agencies said they have been working on better procedures and trying to recover improper payments already made.

The IRS said it is going to be challenging to make improvements, however, given its lack of adequate funding.

The agency says its 2014 budget of $11.29 billion is $850 million below the funding it received in 2010, despite the surging fraud and identity theft that is leading to many improper payments.

“I remain concerned about our ability to continue to make progress in all of these areas in light of our ongoing difficult budget environment,” IRS commissioner John Koskinen said in his testimony.