The toy industry and the nation’s leading standardization group released a plan Thursday that hopes to make sure toys manufactured around the world are safe.
The much-awaited proposal comes from the Toy Industry Association (TIA) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).
"This effort is a preventative plan to anticipate and discover hazards going forward," said Lane Hallenbeck, Chair of the ANSI Steering Committee that helped develop the plan.
The TIA/ANSI report contained three main recommendations:
Mandatory design hazard analysis
The groups proposed that toy companies test their products for design defects, the leading cause of recalls. Sue DeRegon, safety expert who was on the TIA/ANSI working committee, said the tests can be carried out by the companies themselves or by third-party laboratories.
Industry analysts say a majority of recalls come from careless designs that use dangerous small parts. Only a small percentage of recalls are due to hazards related to chemicals like lead paint.
The new safety proposal recommends that factories worldwide submit to regular manufacturing and quality audits in order to be certified under the new toy safety initiative quick payday loan. DeRegon said the audits would "most likely" be conducted by third party firms.
Mandatory Safety Testing
TIA-ANSI recommended that toy companies, including those that use overseas factories, perform mandatory safety checks by accredited labs to make sure their products meet current federal regulations pertaining to chemical, mechanical and other hazards.
Toy companies are currently not required to prove that their products have been tested for safety issues.
The recommendations will be available for public review on ANSI’s Web site for one month. Following the public comment period, a final proposal will be presented to the TIA Board for adoption and implementation.
Top U.S. electronics retailer Best Buy Co (BBY.N: Quote, Profile, Research), facing stagnant sales at home, said on Friday it would ramp up its expansion in China but would not grow through partnerships with local rivals.
Best Buy will invest substantially and open a large number of stores in China in the next five years, and will launch online sales in the country in the next 24 months, Bob Willett, chief executive officer of Best Buy International, said in an interview. He declined to give specific figures.
Willett denied Chinese media reports that Best Buy was in talks on a possible share swap with GOME Electrical Appliances Holdings Ltd (0493.HK: Quote, Profile, Research), China’s top electronics retailer.
“(We are) not in the process of having any talks with GOME or other Chinese retailers on cooperation,” he said.
Last week, Best Buy cut its full-year outlook, citing a softer U.S. economy, but remained ambitious in its expansion plans, aiming to increase the number of its stores in China by about 20 percent to as many as 193 in its 2009 fiscal year, which ends on March 1 next year.
The new stores planned in China include 20 to 25 Five Star stores and five to eight self-branded stores credit report. All new Best Buy-branded stores will be based in or around Shanghai, where the company opened its first and only such store in China in early 2007.
Best Buy, which bought a majority stake in Jiangsu Five Star Appliance Co in 2006, will boost its ownership of the company to 100 percent by the end of 2010 as part of the purchase agreement, Willett said.
Best Buy faces tough competition in China from GOME and Suning Appliance Co 002024.SZ, the country’s second-largest electronics retailer.
Defying the gloom that many retailers are feeling, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. expects a more profitable year selling to penny-pinching shoppers after its renewed focus on low prices paid off over the holidays with a 4 percent rise in fourth-quarter profit.
The world’s largest retailer, emerging from a yearlong turnaround effort after sales stumbles in 2005 and 2006, said Tuesday that aggressive holiday discounts and improvements in its more than 4,000 U.S. stores boosted sales despite consumer worries.
"No one has a crystal ball to look into the economic future, but we know the economy will be a critical factor this year," Chief Executive Lee Scott said in a recorded call after releasing results.
Scott said Wal-Mart’s decision to re-emphasize low prices last year came at the right time and added: "In a volatile economy, I believe we are well positioned to succeed."
Chief Financial Officer Tom Schoewe told The Associated Press that Wal-Mart expects a spending boost as consumers receive federal income tax rebates under the $168 billion economic stimulus plan.
"When those checks have been issued in the past, we’ve experienced (spending) either equal to or indexed a little bit higher than our overall market share," Schoewe said free credit report and score.
Analysts said Wal-Mart has several unique factors, including the scale of its grocery business that can bring in traffic for other areas of the store, so that its optimism for the year ahead is not necessarily an indicator for the broader retail sector.
"If I was grading them, I would give Wal-Mart a B. Unfortunately, the rest of retail is getting a C-minus," said Patricia Edwards from investment manager Wentworth Hauser and Violich.
As major U.S. retailers report their fourth-quarter earnings results, the industry is bracing for its bleakest times since the 1991 recession.
Other merchants have closed stores, laid off thousands of employees, scaled back store expansions or pared inventories as consumer spending screeches to a halt.
Office supply retailer Staples Inc (SPLS.O: Quote, Profile, Research) made an unsolicited 2.5 billion euro ($3.7 billion) bid for Corporate Express (CXP.AS: Quote, Profile, Research) on Tuesday after unsuccessful attempts to hold friendly merger talks with the Dutch office supply company.
Corporate Express rejected the offer, saying it undervalued the company.
A deal, which has been rumored for months, would allow Staples to cut costs and expand its market share and product line in the United States, where Corporate Express generates around 50 percent of its revenue, analysts said.
“Strategically, the acquisition would provide Staples with (a) significant increase in scale in North America, as well as a new contract platform in the (European Union), Australia and New Zealand markets,” said Colin McGranahan, an analyst with Sanford Bernstein.
Hedge funds and investors have pressed Corporate Express, one of the world’s largest office products wholesalers, to seek a buyer or break apart the company due to problems with shrinking sales and margins in the United States, its key market.
Yet the company recently added new management and said earlier this month that it had reversed slumping U.S payday loans. sales in the last quarter of 2007. It also reiterated its desire to continue as an independent firm.
Earlier this month, Corporate Express denied it was in talks with Staples.
In a letter to Corporate Express, Staples wrote: “Over the last several months, we have made repeated attempts to engage in discussions with you concerning a business combination, and we have been disappointed that you have not been willing to do so.
Home prices have plunged by 10 percent or more in some parts of the United States and interest rates on mortgages are at enticing levels, but many potential buyers are waiting for prices to fall further.
This psychology is helping prevent the hard-hit home market — suffering one of its worst downturns in history — from recovering, just as the spring, the peak home buying season, gets underway.
Rochelle Getzler, a housewife in Nassau County, outside New York city, and her husband, Abraham, have been on the fence for nearly a year, waiting for an opportune time to buy.
“I think it is too risky to buy right now,” she said payday loan cash advance loan. “Yes, prices have come down, but they have come down from extremely high levels.”
As is the case with a growing number of Americans, the Getzlers are also feeling the pinch of a weak U.S. economy: Abraham lost his job of over 20 years as a computer technician due to his company’s efforts to cut costs.
Sharply higher gas and oil prices are also taking a toll on their monthly expenses.
“We have little wiggle room right now,” she said.
But for the Getzlers, patience is a virtue.
The Securities and Exchange Commission aims to increase the transparency of Wall Street’s disclosures and has more than 3 dozen investigations underway amid the fallout from the subprime mortgage crisis, Chairman Christopher Cox said on Thursday.
Investors have been “deeply affected” by market chaos unleashed by subprime lending and securitization practices, Cox told a Senate Banking Committee hearing on the state of U.S. financial markets.
“Because these law enforcement investigations are underway, specific details remain confidential. It has not yet been determined in any particular case whether or not securities laws were broken,” Cox said.
Separately, the FBI said on Thursday it had recently opened two more investigations for a total of 16 corporations now being probed as part of its crackdown on subprime mortgage industry fraud.
Cox said the SEC is reviewing the accounting treatment of securitized subprime loans, capital adequacy at big investment banks, the “quality of issuer disclosure” by companies involved in structured finance and the role of credit rating companies in subprime valuations bad credit payday loan.
Cox said the SEC is also keeping a close eye on money market funds, which have been hit by a devaluation in their assets.
“While we have seen some instances of funds requiring infusions of capital from the corporate parents of fund advisers, we are not aware of any money market fund that is threatened with having to re-price below $1,” Cox said.
Money market funds are normally considered very safe short-term investments but several of them have come under pressure over the past few months because of the credit crisis and their exposure to securities related to subprime mortgages.
Dell Inc. said Friday that it will limit online sales of computers using Advanced Micro Devices Inc. chips.
The company will continue to sell its Inspiron AMD-based systems through its retail partners and over the phone. But only one consumer desktop, the Energy Star 4.0 Inspiron 531, will be available on the company’s popular Web site.
David Frink, a Dell spokesman, said the decision was part of regular adjustments that the company makes concerning what products it offers and how they are made available.
"We are committed to AMD as a long-term partner," Frink said.
An outside spokeswoman for AMD said the two companies "continue to enjoy a strong partnership."
David Wu, an analyst who follows AMD for Global Crown Capital, said Dell’s decision is "irrelevant" for the chipmaker same day payday loans.
"Dell changes these things all the time," he said. He added that the change in distribution "will have no impact on AMD at all."
Shaw Wu, an analyst who covers Dell for American Technology Research, said the decision was not surprising because Dell and AMD are somewhat mismatched.
"We had expressed reservations that Dell’s demographics didn’t really fit AMD," he said.
Wu points out that AMD’s strength is traditionally in the consumer market and internationally, while Dell is stronger in sales to corporations in the domestic market.
Shares of AMD (AMD, Fortune 500) fell more than 3% Friday. Dell (DELL, Fortune 500) shares finished flat.
Strained by war, recently discharged veterans are having a harder time finding civilian jobs and are more likely to earn lower wages for years due partly to employer concerns about their mental health and overall skills, a government study says.
The Veterans Affairs Department report, obtained Thursday by The Associated Press, points to continuing problems with the Bush administration’s efforts to help 4.4 million troops who have been discharged from active duty since 1990.
The 2007 study by the consulting firm Abt Associates Inc. found that 18% of the veterans who sought jobs within one to three years of discharge were unemployed, while 1 out of 4 who did find jobs earned less than $21,840 a year. Many had taken advantage of government programs, such as the GI Bill, to boost job prospects, but there was little evidence that education benefits yielded higher pay or better advancement.
The report blamed the poor prospects partly on inadequate job networks and lack of mentors after extended periods in war, and said employers often had misplaced stereotypes about veterans’ fitness for employment, such as concerns they did not possess adequate technological skills, or were too rigid, lacked education or were at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder.
It urged the federal government to consider working with a private-sector marketing firm to help promote and brand war veterans as capable employees, as well as re-examine education and training, such as the GI Bill.
"The issue of mental health has turned into a double-edged sword for returning veterans. More publicity has generated more public awareness and federal funding for those who return home different from when they left. However, more publicity - especially stories that perpetuate the ‘Wacko Vet’ myth - has also made some employers more cautious to hire a veteran," said Joe Davis, spokesman for Veterans of Foreign Wars.
"The federal government needs to accelerate its hiring and training of these young veterans to fill the ranks of the retiring Boomer generation," he said.
A VA spokesman declined to comment, saying the report spoke for itself. Last November, the VA announced the initial hiring of 10 full-time staff as part of an effort to help veterans find jobs at the department.
Separately, a Labor Department report obtained by the AP showed that formal job complaints by reservists remained high, citing concerns about denied jobs or benefits after they tried to return to their old jobs after extended tours in Iraq. Reservists filed 1,357 complaints with the department in 2006, the latest figures available, down from nearly 1,600 in 2005, when complaints reached the highest level since 1991.
While complaints declined in 2006, the Labor Department report noted for the first time that figures in the previous years might have been inflated cash advance flexible payments. That’s because in some cases a single complaint was double counted after the case was closed in one state and then reopened in another state.
"The military has worked on assisting service members in completing and translating their skills to match equivalent civilian job descriptions; however, training for marketability may require much more preparation than having the ability to improve a resume," the VA study said.
"The federal government may need to reevaluate how it serves the needs of returning service members," it said.
Charles Ciccolella, the Labor Department’s assistant secretary for veterans’ employment and training, said the department provides a wide variety of services to veterans seeking jobs, including workshops that focus on resume writing and interview skills. Staff also are educating reservists about their job rights as well as seeking to connect veterans to new jobs, he said.
"The Department of Labor is constantly working to better assist transitioning service members and veterans as they enter or re-enter the civilian work force," Ciccolella said.
The two reports come as Congress and the Bush administration seek ways to improve veterans’ healthcare and benefits in light of a protracted Iraq war.
A Pentagon survey of reservists released last year found increasing discontent among returning troops about the government’s performance in protecting their legal rights after taking leave from work. Some legal experts have said those numbers may grow once the Iraq war winds down and more troops come home after an extended period in combat.
In recent weeks, some veterans groups and lawmakers have called for an overhaul of the GI Bill, which provides veterans with money to help them further their education.
The difficulty that veterans have had in finding jobs at higher wages has been going on for some time.
The latest VA study, numbering 199 pages, tracked a statistical sample of 1,941 veterans between the ages of 17 and 61, more than half of whom served in the Army. It found that from 1991 to 2003, about 9.5% of recent veterans were unemployed within two years of separation from active duty, compared with 4.3% for non-veterans of comparable age, gender and education.
The veterans also tended to have lower wages, although total income was often similar when factoring in disability pay and other government benefits, and to be in low-income families (under $29,000) for up to eight years after separation.
President Bush prodded Congress to pass an economic stimulus package Friday, pointing to "troubling signs" in a new report that ended a 52-month streak of national job growth.
Bush was in the nation’s heartland pressuring Congress to boost the sagging economy with a plan of tax rebates for millions of people and tax breaks for companies. The White House-backed economic rescue deal in the House has hit roadblocks in the Senate.
"Inflation’s low. Productivity’s high, but there are certainly some troubling signs, serious signs that the economy is weakening and that we’ve got to do something about it," said Bush, who spoke just hours after the Labor Department reported that employers cut 17,000 jobs in January.
It was the first such reduction in more than four years and a fresh sign that the economy might be stalling. And it ended Bush’s repeated claim - made most recently in his State of the Union address - that "America has added jobs for a record 52 straight months."
On Friday, at Hallmark Cards Inc., Bush said, "A serious matter is that for the first time in 52 months we didn’t create jobs."
"And so the question is, what do we do about it? … I do think government has a responsibility. I think government can take decisive action to help us deal with this period of uncertainty," he said.
Bush said the economy was going through "a rough patch."
Trying to get an economic growth package through the Senate, he gave perhaps the gentlest push of his administration, in a shift in rhetoric.
"I appreciate the fact that the Senate is trying to work through this as quickly as possible," he said. "I’m just urging them to get it done - because the sooner this package makes it to my desk … the better off our economy is going to be."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the troubling jobs report "is yet more evidence that President Bush’s assessment of the state of our economy is greatly misguided."
The president’s speech on the economy capped three days of travel to highlight themes in his State of the Union address and raise an estimated $4.7 million for the Republican Party and its candidates in California, Nevada, Colorado and Missouri low rates payday advance. After visiting Hallmark, Bush went to raise money for Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., who is in a tough re-election race.
There have been numerous signs that the economy is tough shape.
The Commerce Department reported Thursday that consumer spending was up just 0.2 percent in December, the weakest in six months. Also, the Labor Department reported that the number of laid-off workers filing applications for unemployment benefits increased by 69,000 last week.
And overall, the economy nearly stalled in the fourth quarter of last year with a growth rate of just 0.6 percent, capping its worst year since 2002.
Both the president and Congress are anxious to show some action to a frustrated public.
The House quickly adopted a $161 billion economic stimulus plan this week that would send $600-$1,200 rebates to more than 100 million Americans in hopes they would spend the money quickly and give the flagging economy a shot in the arm.
Senate Democrats are pushing to add elements to the House plan that they say will add a bigger boost, including smaller rebates that would go to more people such as low-income older Americans, wealthier taxpayers and disabled veterans, plus heating aid for the poor. The Senate plan, estimated to cost $204 billion, also would extend unemployment benefits.
Bush spoke after taking a tour of Hallmark, which is based in Kansas City. He stepped in a veritable kids’ dream - an interactive playhouse filled with art supplies and colorful props. The president seemed to love it.
As kindergartners buzzed from station to station, Bush patted the kids on their heads and leaned way over so he could talk to them face to face. When he sat down to make his own card with a red marker, Bush looked at reporters and asked, "Who deserves a valentine?"
Later, when Bush took the podium, he appeared to have a little glitter on his face, the product of his visit to the children’s center. "I am still trying to recover from the kindergarten experience," Bush said. "You talk about sapping your energy."
NEW YORK — Stocks fell for the first time this week on Wednesday as concern that bond insurers guaranteeing $2.4 trillion in securities will lose AAA credit ratings erased a rally spurred by the Federal Reserve’s half-point interest-rate cut.
Ambac Financial Group Inc. and MBIA Inc., the largest U.S. bond guarantors, led declines after Fitch Ratings revoked its top ranking on Financial Guaranty Insurance Co. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index had climbed as much as 1.7 percent after the Fed’s decision to lower its benchmark lending rate to 3 percent from 3.5 percent.
The S&P 500 retreated 6.49, or 0.5 percent, to 1,355.81 and is down 7.7 percent this year. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 37.47, or 0.3 percent, to 12,442.83. The Nasdaq composite index fell 9.06, or 0.4 percent, to 2,349.
An analyst’s report forecasting $70 billion of losses for banks should bond insurers face debt downgrades helped extend the S&P 500’s worst monthly decline in five years.
Ambac tumbled $2.08, or 16 percent, to $10.85. MBIA declined $2.02, or 13 percent, to $13.96.
Citigroup Inc., the largest U.S. bank by assets, gave up an advance of as much as 4.4 percent to close down 3 cents at $27.88. JPMorgan Chase & Co., Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch & Co. also erased rallies.
Financial Guaranty, a unit of New York-based FGIC Corp., was cut two levels to AA, jeopardizing ratings on securities the insurer guarantees and limiting the company’s ability to generate new business.
Oppenheimer & Co cash advance. analyst Meredith Whitney said banks may write down an additional $70 billion if bond insurers lose their top credit ratings. Whitney downgraded Merrill to "underperform" from "perform" and said it could face writedowns of as much as $10 billion.
Merrill Chief Executive John Thain said the firm’s potential maximum losses from bond insurers are only $3.5 billion.
Financial shares may slide again today. S&P said after the market’s close that it lowered or may cut ratings on $534 billion of residential mortgage securities and collateralized debt obligations.
Profits excluding some items at the 239 companies in the S&P 500 that reported quarterly results so far have declined 33 percent on average.
Baker Hughes Inc. dropped $6.17 to $67.27. The world’s third-largest oilfield-services provider reported a smaller-than-estimated 23 percent increase in profit as drilling for natural gas in North America slowed.
Sprint Nextel Corp. fell 44 cents to $10.36. Clearwire Corp. lost $2.85 to $12.49.
Merck & Co. declined $1.32 to $46.69.
Centex Corp. fell $2.60 to $26.40. The second-largest U.S. house builder posted a net loss of $7.94 a share in its fiscal third quarter.
Boeing Co. climbed $1.91, or 2.4 percent, to $82.87 for the top gain in the Dow average.
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