Archive for Common Cents

The small break gets slightly larger

From a couple of months ago:

[A]fter some third-grade arithmetic I determined that the escrow shortage would have been cleared with a mere $80 a month, but there’s no arguing with the bank on these matters. Perhaps, I figured, they will drop it next year after they’ve taken a few dives into the vault, à la Scrooge McDuck.

Comes the notification. Payment is dropping by $75 a month.

Further notification received. Payment is dropping by $12 more, and they sent me a check for $250.

I mean, I’m generally pretty happy with this bank, but there are times I wonder whether their fecal matter is properly aggregated.

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The lease you can do

Leasing a car, say the experts, is a bad deal; you should always buy instead.

Bark M. says this is a load of dingo’s kidneys:

You’re seriously telling me that you’re not better off paying $189/month to lease your Accord than paying $583/month to buy it? That’s exactly what the difference would be if you financed a base Accord over 36 months at 1.9% versus a 36 month lease.

“Yeah, but at the end, I own it, dude.” Congrats! You own something that is absolutely, positively going to continue to depreciate, and you paid $20,000 to do it. Alternatively, you could have paid less than $7,000 to enjoy the same car for the same amount of time, and at the end, you can walk away from it, scot-free, into another new car with updated technology. So what if you don’t own it? Do you really want to own a three-year old car with 36,000 miles on it? Or would you rather bank that $400/month and get another new car?

I’m the wrong person to ask this, inasmuch as I own a 16-year-old car with 163,000 miles on it. And apparently I have finally worn out one of the fobs for the door locks: you have to push it twice to get the control module to acknowledge it even once. (And yes, I’ve changed the battery. I also have a spare fob which doesn’t do this. “Updated technology,” indeed.)

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Crowdfunding rokks

Freezepop’s Sean T. Drinkwater, musing on the success of the band’s recent Kickstarter, now at about 2.5 times its original goal:

A year and a half ago, when the idea of crowdfunding a record came up, I also voiced objection to this. “Let’s shop the record,” I said, confident that some reasonably intelligent label would get it and want to put the album out and save us a ton of work. We might not see very much cash from it, as such, but it would be handled by people who are more adept at getting records out into the world and promoting them. I was soundly outvoted (come to think of it there never was a vote, and since I have realized in recent years that I am, in fact, stupid, I usually acquiesce to the will of the other band members). I didn’t want to be seen as begging, or as being too pathetic to be signed to a “real” record deal.

In other news, some labels are believed to be reasonably intelligent.

We reached our initial goal in 48 hours and we’re still just completely shocked and overwhelmed by this. I am personally still processing the situation and I’m somewhat emotional about it. We started the band in 1999, and of course one wants some sense of validation that it hasn’t been a complete waste of 17 years. Well, more than the cash (NOT TO DISCOUNT THE CASH) I feel like we got this. It’s inspiring.

What’s also been so lovely to us are all the beautiful comments and stories that people have left on the Kickstarter page. It’s nice to think that we have been a part of these people’s lives, especially since the music business is no longer particularly lucrative or a warm and welcoming place. When I’m crawling into the coffin I would love to think “hey well that mattered to some people and wasn’t just us dorking around endlessly.”

Thirteen hundred backers so far (myself and Roger Green included).

I suspect Mr Drinkwater has come around quite a bit in the two weeks since he put this out:

Not to discount the beach.

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Not so bouncy

Last check I bounced, if I remember correctly, was about 1983. So I had to look up my current bank’s overdraft-protection scheme:

Overdraft Protection provides convenient automatic transfers from your linked savings or money market account to your checking account to cover transactions, should your checking account balance drop too low.

Simple enough. I don’t have a money-market account with these guys, but I do keep some savings there. There’s a fee — $12.50 maximum — though this is only a third of what you’d pay for the dreaded Insufficient Funds items.

Not everyone is copacetic with this idea, though:

While offering an overdraft protection plan that links to a secondary account might be convenient for consumers, Rebecca Borne, senior policy counsel for Center for Responsible Lending, tells Consumerist the best approach would be for banks to simply stop charging high overdraft fees.

Instead, banks could decline point of sale transactions that would create a negative account balance.

At 42nd and Treadmill, those declined POS transactions end up on my desk; the only redeeming social value comes from the customer-service crew passing on the sob stories from the SOBs. For sheer effrontery, you can’t beat the guy who closes his checking account — or for some reason has it closed involuntarily — but continues to try to use the debit card linked to that account. These are identified with a very specific code (52) which invariably inspires staff mirth.

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The Enucleator

Sounds like a straight-to-video semi-thriller, doesn’t it?

Oh, it doesn’t? Well, never mind then.

One thousand dollars Canadian

Pinicola enucleator, the pine grosbeak, is a Very Big Finch, and this is a very high-value banknote, as seen in a Guardian article on, um, high-value banknotes. Says the caption to this picture:

A Canadian $1,000 dollar note (£499), issued in 1988. It stopped being printed in 2000, but despite requests to return them to banks, nearly 1m of them are still unaccounted for.

“It stopped being printed.” Imagine the cry of the grosbeak: “Stop printing me!” The actual story is more humdrum:

The Bank of Canada will no longer issue $1,000 bills as of this Friday [29 September 2000] in an effort to fight organized crime and money laundering.

The bill’s extinction was made official Monday after formal approval from the federal government. It was the final step in a February proposal by the the Finance Department, the central bank and the RCMP to get rid of the bills which are favoured by criminals.

Nicknamed “pinkies” for their reddish-purple hue, $1000 bills were an easy way for criminals to hide and carry their earnings.

Of course, you’re looking at the back of the bill: Queen Elizabeth is on the front.

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Dollars to Harare

In 2009, Zimbabwe essentially gave up on its existing currency, inasmuch as even the highest denominations were worth more as toilet paper than as an actual medium of exchange. And I don’t think any of us were quite visionary enough to ship those bills to Venezuela.

To replace that failed dollar, Zimbabwe came up with the idea of officially recognizing certain stable foreign currencies. Among them: the US dollar. Now where do you get US dollars in Zimbabwe? They’ll be printed in Zimbabwe:

Zimbabwe is set to print its own version of the US dollar in order to ease a cash shortage in the country.

Central bank governor John Mangudya said the cash, known as bond notes, will be backed by $200m (£140m) support from the Africa Export-Import Bank.

The specially-designed two, five, 10 and 20 dollar notes will have the same value as their US dollar equivalents.

Except the $20 probably won’t have Andrew Jackson on it.

(Via Fark, which thought of the Jackson joke before I did.)

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It’s all about the Tubmans

Occasional media hype notwithstanding, I have yet to encounter any serious objections to putting Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill; I certainly don’t have any. I have seen some studied indifference, though:

This makes me no never mind. I rarely use cash any more and I can’t remember the last time I had a twenty in my wallet. If the government wanted an African-American in that slot, I would have opted for Martin Luther King or even Jackie Robinson. Say what you want, both men changed this country for the better.

Do you want to keep Andrew Jackson around? Put him on the half-dollar coin which the US still insists on minting for some reason; the only reason Kennedy’s on there is because he got his brains blown out in Dallas back in ’63.

The half-dollar exists mostly, I believe, as a unit of measure for hail: it neatly splits the difference between quarter-size hail and ping-pong ball-size hail. I haven’t actually seen a half-dollar actually being used as money, such as it is, in years.

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Sideways reading

I paid the phone bill the day before I got it, because I’m just that way. (They send me an email notification, which usually arrives before the paper bill shows up.) A week later, in comes a nastygram, wondering when I’m going to take care of my balance due.

I checked with my bank, and yes, they’d paid the bill as I’d specified. Armed with this assurance, I logged into the Death Star’s Web site, loaded for bear, or at least cub, and discovered that I’d screwed up: the bill was so many dollars and 62 cents, and I’d paid that many dollars and 26 cents. So I had 36 cents due.

Dyslexia can warn without striking, I thought to myself, and posted a $15 payment via American Express, just to screw with them. The machine did balk for a moment — “This amount exceeds the amount due” — but I’m not going to charge 36 cents to anything if I can possibly help it.

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Security on the cheap

Too often, it turns out to be no security at all:

Rudimentary security procedures at Bangladesh Bank are being blamed for the massive online banking heist that saw the country’s central bank lose $80 million in unauthorised wire transfers.

In early February hackers tried to transfer around $1 billion from Bangladesh Bank’s account with the NY Fed, successfully stealing more than $80 million.

According to a report from Reuters, police investigating the attack say the central bank was vulnerable to hackers because it did not have a firewall and used second-hand, $10 routers to network computers connected to the Swift payment network.

Swift was apparently appalled, albeit after the fact:

A spokesman for Bangladesh Bank said Swift officials told the bank to upgrade the switches only when their system engineers from Malaysia visited after the heist.

It isn’t ransomware, technically, but the effect is pretty much the same.

(Via @SwiftOnSecurity [no relation].)

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Trail remix

By a considerable margin, this is the best comment I’ve yet seen on the new twenty-dollar note, with Harriet Tubman on the face and Andrew Jackson relegated to the back:

As the Instant Man is wont to say, “Heh. Indeed.”

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Gotta have a comma

Liquid. Everything that matters is liquid:

Nice as it is, having a higher salary might not be the key to happiness. An even more important figure linked to life satisfaction is the number sitting in your checking account, according to a new study published in the journal Emotion.

In the study, researchers looked at data from 585 customers at a U.K. bank. That included survey information, like how stressed they were about their finances and how satisfied they were with their lives, along with the balances of their checking and savings accounts.

Yeah, but what we want to know is: “How much?”

When the researchers looked at how life satisfaction changed with the amount of cash in the accounts, they saw that the link tapers off after balances climb to a couple thousand dollars. “That first $1,000 is more important than the next $9,000. The hedonic benefits to your happiness will be experienced once you save enough to feel comfortable with your finances, but saving above that point buys you relatively little in terms of wellbeing.”

Hmmm. Anyone remember this?

Approximately 62% of Americans have less than $1,000 in their savings accounts and 21% don’t even have a savings account, according to a new survey of more than 5,000 adults conducted [in 2015] by Google Consumer Survey.

So that’s the key: maintaining a minimum balance of $1,000, which back in the pre-Too Big To Fail days was more than enough to get free checking.

(Via Fark.)

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Frugal crook

As thieves go, this guy was remarkably unambitious:

I got a call from my credit card provider. They were questioning certain transactions made in California last month: to wit, a charge for gas at a Shell station, and a purchase from In n Out Burger. The two together were less than $50.

At least he’s picking name brands. Still:

I’m struck by the modesty of their desires. Why not buy an expensive camera or a set of tires? (These are the items a thief bought on my credit card last time I was robbed.) Why would anyone risk getting a criminal record for a hamburger?

So if you’re planning to steal a credit-card account — skimmers were found at a Circle K in Edmond this week, so clearly somebody is — you may as well spend big; the jail looks the same regardless.

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You must be this flush to buy this car

Ford will apparently not sell its new GT to just anyone:

Ford estimates the price of the 2017 GT as being in the low- to mid-$400,000 range (USD), but money probably isn’t a huge consideration if you’re actually considering a GT purchase.

The cumbersome ordering process is meant to weed out the reputable buyers from the shifty hoi polloi, with special consideration given to buyers of the first-generation (2004-2007) GT.

“Ford is conducting this application process to identify from a host of deserving candidates those individuals who will be invited to discuss a potential Ford GT purchase,” the automaker states on its application webpage. “Completing an application does not guarantee that you will have the opportunity to purchase a Ford GT.”

Not that this is particularly unusual: makers of high-end Italian exotica, and of some other cars that compete in this price range, long ago let it be known that you had a better chance of getting to own one of their Special Editions if you’d already owned one or three or a dozen of their previous models.

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A small break

Last year, the bank declared that I somehow had way too little in escrow, and duly commanded me to fork over an extra $130 a month to bridge the gap — or send them a check for a rather large sum I didn’t happen to have at the time. I did some calculations, because that’s what I do, and after some third-grade arithmetic I determined that the escrow shortage would have been cleared with a mere $80 a month, but there’s no arguing with the bank on these matters. Perhaps, I figured, they will drop it next year after they’ve taken a few dives into the vault, à la Scrooge McDuck.

Comes the notification. Payment is dropping by $75 a month. In response, I spent rather a long time in Told You So mode, though it didn’t seem useful at the moment to tell them so.

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From the “It could be worse” files

You think Oklahoma’s budget woes are terrible? Well, yes, they are, no question about it. But we got nothing on the Sportsman’s Paradise:

Before the special session began, Louisiana had a 4-cent state sales tax, which, when combined with about 5 cents of local sales taxes, gave Louisiana the country’s third-highest overall average sales tax rate at 9 percent. At the same time, 196 separate transactions were exempt from being charged the 4-cent state sales tax.

Needing to raise money quickly to close a record budget gap, legislators and Gov. John Bel Edwards turned to sales taxes during the 25-day special session that ended March 9.

Beginning April 1, Act 26 [pdf] raised the state sales tax by a penny — giving Louisiana the highest combined local and state sales tax rate in the country — and provided a bewildering list of exemptions to paying that extra penny.

Beginning April 1, Act 25 [pdf] eliminated numerous exemptions to the existing 4 cents of sales tax for three months and then only for 2 cents for the next two years, in another bewildering list of exemptions.

For both acts, sales tax exemptions drop off or come back at different times, adding to the confusion.

Soonerland residents will note that the Oklahoma state sales tax is 4.5 percent, and that various city and county levies bring it up to 8 to 10 percent. (Perhaps the worst is the section of Clinton that lies in Washita County: 4.5 state + 2.0 county + 4.5 city = 11 percent.) And yes, we have a bewildering list of exemptions.

(Via Fark.)

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One of the basic corollaries of economics — just downstream from the theories — is that insiders are never looking to recruit others: fewer pieces of the pie mean bigger pieces of the pie. This suggests that when you do get offers, you should be very suspicious. An example of how this works in real life:

[I]n the last 6 months I have started hearing radio commercials again urging folks to get into the house-flipping business and make their fortune. Whenever institutions start selling investments to you, the average Joe, rather than just investing themselves, that should be taken as a signal that we are approaching a top. About 12-18 months before oil prices tanked, I started getting flooded with spam calls at work trying to sell me various sorts of oil exploration investments.

To explain the dynamic at work:

In 2010, when house prices were low and some were going for a song in foreclosure, there were no house flipping commercials on radio. That is because Blackstone and other major institutions were too busy buying them up. Now that these companies see less value, you are hearing house flipping commercials. You know that guy who has a book with his fool-proof method for making a fortune? So why is he wasting his time selling books for $2 a copy in royalties rather than following his method?

Unless, of course, his method involves extracting dollars from rubes in two-dollar increments.

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Enjoyably broke

So saith The New York Times:

Whatever problems are associated with having too much money, a vast majority of New Yorkers do not have them: 87 percent of the city’s households reported wages under $100,000 in 2013, according to tax data released on Tuesday [pdf] by the city’s Independent Budget Office.

The average household had wage income of $51,876. Half the city’s 3.6 million households reported wages at or under the city median of $24,239.

Well, yeah, that’s what “median” means: half over, half under. Maybe the tricky word here is “wages,” because out here in the middle of Soonerland, where the living is breezy and housing can be afforded by mere mortals, the median household income [2014] is $47,004.

Disclosure: I am a mere mortal.

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Down in the boondocks

“People put me down,” sang Billy Joe Royal, “’cause that’s the side of town I was born in.” And maybe that’s good for his existing romantic relationship, given the problematic nature of relationships with wealthy guys:

Turns out, if you give a man some money, he’ll think his partner is less attractive.

Researchers based out of Beijing Normal University in China invited 182 heterosexual college students (121 women, 61 men) in committed relationships into the lab and primed them to feel either rich or poor using two different forms of a questionnaire about financial status. Afterwards, participants rated their satisfaction with their romantic partners across various attributes, including job prospects, family background, and physical attractiveness. The ratings were completed on a 1 to 9 scale (1 = does not match my ideal at all, 9 = completely matches my ideal). Subjects also answered demographic questions about gender, age, and monthly income.

When the researchers examined the subjects’ answers, they found that men primed to feel wealthy were less satisfied with their partners’ physical attractiveness than men primed to feel poor. The difference was highly significant, a full point on the 9-point scale.

The women? They displayed no differences. None.

The only explanation I can think of for this is Miss Cellania’s: “With a few more bucks, they think they can do better.”

Source: Li YM, Li J, Chan DK-S and Zhang B (2016) When Love Meets Money: Priming the Possession of Money Influences Mating Strategies. Front. Psychol. 7:387. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00387

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Plastic victorious

Cash is king, and regicide is on some people’s minds:

My kids don’t carry cash, they use debit cards for everything. I use cash for most small stuff, stuff that is going to get consumed. Does the government / big business really need to know about the box of donuts I bought this morning? Also, I don’t want to have to keep track of all my purchases, you know, save the receipts, mark them off against the monthly statement, which is what you are supposed to do, or at least that used to be what you were supposed to do.

But does it do any good? After years of struggling to keep track of my expenses I find it is more likely that I would lose a receipt than the bank would post a bogus charge against my account. And how would you know if they did? You aren’t going to have a receipt for a charge you didn’t make, and if it’s something ordinary, like gasoline or a cheeseburger, how sure are you going to be that you didn’t make that charge?

So maybe cards are the way to go. Cash is kind of a nuisance, especially change. I stopped in a 7-11 the other day and the penny tray by the cash register was overflowing. Admittedly it was a small tray so there was only about 25 cents in there, but still. Pennies are absolutely more trouble than they are worth. We could probably dispense with coins entirely. Okay, maybe we’d want to hang onto quarters. Four of those can still get you a cup of coffee. Some places. I think.

About six hundred pennies pile up here in half a decade.

As a general rule, if it’s under $20 — used to be $15 — I pay cash. My usual supermarket requires, for some arcane reason, that hot foods purchased in the deli section must be paid for in the deli section; most weeks I spend about $10 there, and swipe the card for the rest of the cart. And efforts at hair control are cash only: my barber charges $18, I pay him $22.

And I do save receipts for four or five weeks, because I’m just that way.

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Canned coins

The classic Tootsie Roll bank can still be had, though the most recent version is only four inches tall, exemplifying what Consumerist calls the Grocery Shrink Ray. My own version, once possessed by a sibling, is around forty years old and stands a full seven inches tall. As an experiment, I’ve been feeding it nothing but pennies for the last few years, and at some point last week, it would accept no more.

There once was a time when I’d wrap all those coins. This is no longer that time. Saturday morning I hauled the little tube off to the bank, eliciting a grin from the teller, who apparently was familiar with the breed. We dumped the contents into a proper bank bag, I tagged it with one of my deposit slips, and I was advised that it would be a day or two before the cash vault downtown was able to credit it. Not a problem, said I; it’s not like I’m utterly dependent on this, oh, five-fifty or so.

Apparently the cash vault got to it late on Tuesday; Wednesday I observed that a credit was posted to the tune of $5.87. Not a bad guess, if I say so myself. I duly moved it to passbook savings, along with fifty bucks I’d somehow managed not to spend in February.

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Like Lazarus, but with department stores

Consumerist follows up on a chap we’ve mentioned before, named Ellia Kassoff:

[Kassoff has] been battling Macy’s for several years over a slew of trademarks for stores Macy’s acquired and shut down. Today, Kassoff says he’s reached a deal with the department store giant that will allow him to try to breathe new life into several long-dead retail brands.

Kassoff has a knack for researching defunct brands and taking a risk on claiming trademarks that he believes are up for grabs because the most recent owners of those marks have not used them.

One of those is Foley’s, a Houston-based department-store chain founded in 1900, which Macy’s absorbed in 2006; there were four Foley’s stores (formerly Sanger Harris) in Oklahoma.

“After over five hours of negotiating with Macy’s, we finally hammered out a deal that we’re really happy with,” says Kassoff, who hopes to bring these stores back to the markets where they are remembered fondly.

“Consumers noted the current shopping experience is quite drab, as there is no localized marketing or buying for the regional stores anymore,” he says of his research into retail habits. “People want to go back to the days when shopping was a real experience at their local department store. They really miss that.”

It may take a while; one of Kassoff’s other ventures, the return of Hydrox cookies, is so far limited to a few of the major grocery chains.

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As prices continue to rise

You want to see a serious Consumer Price Index, as opposed to the fudge-factory product of the US?

Or we can go even farther back:

If there’s a lesson here, it’s got to be “Don’t go to war with Napoleon.”

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Not your father’s retail

Received in email, a letter from a mediocre CEO.

No, wait. Received in email, a letter from Mediocre CEO Matt Rutledge, on behalf of Mediocre Laboratories, which operates Money quote:

THE RULES: Sell one thing a day. Repeat.

Not terribly complex. But the Meh project is the heart of what we are building at Mediocre. As wholesalers by trade, we shun the traditional retailer role. Success for us here is to grow an intelligent, informed community that eschews superfluous services in favor of making shit cheaper. You could call it “anti-retail”: an experiment in selling without marketing hype or bias. But maybe the term “anti-retail” is itself marketing hype.

Which may even be true, given how many people today have antiheroes for their heroes.

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Change and hope

Most American coins, I can recycle into the vending machines at the shop. Pennies, though, pile up in a cardboard tube that used to be a collection jar for a charity forty years ago. And right about now, it’s getting full, so it’s time to go through this process:

[C]hange is just the drippings from money already spent; the sawdust from your logs of liquidity. Few would be willing to separate the coins and pack them into tubes as was the case in the Ancient of Days. Fewer still maintain their own change counting machines. It’s just not worth it since the dollar became the new quarter sometime between 2008 and now.

Coinstar is the answer. For a mere 10.9% of your money it will convert your change into a strip of paper which can be redeemed for groceries and real currency at the cash register. Coinstar is also a very entertaining store machine, one of the few that gives you back something for your effort. It’s a kind of reverse slot machine (with similar sound effects) in which you win every time, minus 10.9%. In addition it shows its work on the screen. You tilt up the slide and let the coins shuffle in to a satisfying series of clinks, clunks, and clacks, interrupted every so often with a clunk as the Coinstar spits out an item it cannot accept. In front of you the screen shows the actual ascending numbers of pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, half-dollars (rare), and silver dollars (hunted to extinction). Then you get your voucher and off you go to shop with … “FREE MONEY!”

I have long believed that the only reason the half dollar continues to exist is to back up an entry on the Hail Size Table.

My little cardboard tube holds a bit over $6 in pennies. I suspect it’s holding about $5.99 for now.

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Needful markup

J. Random Dullard, whom you’ve seen all over the Interwebs complaining about huge — nay, yuge — corporate profits, is of course full of it:

When a random sample of American adults were asked the question “Just a rough guess, what percent profit on each dollar of sales do you think the average company makes after taxes?” for the Reason-Rupe poll in May 2013, the average response was 36%! That response was very close to historical results from the polling organization ORC’s polls for a slightly different, but related question: What percent profit on each dollar of sales do you think the average manufacturer makes after taxes? Responses to that question in 9 different polls between 1971 and 1987 ranged from 28% to 37% and averaged 31.6%.

How do the public’s estimates of corporate profit margins compare to reality? Not surprisingly they are off by a huge margin. According to this Yahoo! Finance database for 212 different industries, the average profit margin for the most recent quarter was 7.5% and the median profit margin was 6.5% (see chart above). Interestingly, there wasn’t a single industry out of 212 that had a profit margin as high as 36% in the most recent quarter.

Nor can you assume that Dullard is a left-leaning, gun-fearing Pajama Boy, either:

The seller had a wildly optimistic $485 on the tag but allowed as how he’d let it go for $425 out the door. Considering a brand new one retails at our shop for $499.95, Glock’s minimum advertised price, that was a less than attractive deal.

I did look around for a new one at the show, because retail profit margins on new base model Gen 3 Glocks are so razor thin that even my employee discount only saves me ten bucks or so, which would have been outweighed by instant gratification.

Most people have no idea how thin the margin on new guns is. I’m not aware of any similarly-priced consumer good that sells at retail for so little markup.

Truth be told, I wasn’t aware of the margin on new guns, though if you’d asked me cold a couple of days ago I’d probably have said “Maybe 10 to 15 percent.” Certainly nowhere in the 30s.

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Unearned earnings

Believe it or not, there are those who will simply not accept such things:

I expect some readers to have to tweak their Suspension of Disbelief glands to be able to grasp all this.

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Competition intensifies

In the summer of ’14, the New York Post mocked the rival Daily News for increasing its newsstand price to $1.25; the Post was holding at $1.00.

This week, the Daily News struck back:

The weekday print edition of the Daily News will drop from $1.25 to $1 in all five boroughs of New York City beginning Monday.

New York’s hometown paper will roll back its cover price while maintaining the city’s best coverage of national and local news, sports and entertainment.

“As New York’s hometown paper, we look for every opportunity to bring our loyal readers the news they need at a lower price point,” Daily News CEO William Holiber said in a statement.

The key here is “weekday”: Saturday and Sunday editions will remain at a buck and a quarter.

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Metered perplexity

I opened up the water bill, and there, for the first time ever, was a reported usage of 4,000 gallons; I’d never before used more than 3,000 in a month. The details revealed the most likely reason why: the readings, usually 30 days apart, were this time 36 days apart.

Okay, fine, no big deal. Then I look at the actual return slip, and the bill is about half what it usually is. I comb through the details again, and here are two adjacent lines:

REFUSE W/90 GA — $20.42

They’re refunding two months’ worth of trash pickup? Why? Is this some form of atonement for still not having picked up the late-November storm debris?

Very late addendum: I had tweeted this mystery earlier today, and right before hitting the Publish button, I went back to check the feed. Lo and behold:

Well, I’ll be durned.

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Fashion that conceals

I will never quite understand why InStyle handles its subscriptions this way. From the renewal form:

Please send me another year of InStyle (13 issues) at the insider’s per issue rate of ONLY $2.29 plus $0.30 postage and handling. That’s a savings of 48% off the $4.99 newsstand price.

I mean, why is it necessary to break out postage and handling separately? The only other Time Inc. magazine I buy — Entertainment Weekly — doesn’t do that. And 30 cents can’t possibly be a realistic figure: even the smallest issues of InStyle run close to 200 pages, and the Big Fashion Issues (March and September) are well over 500 pages.

Or maybe it’s the thought that nobody will bother to calculate the total ($33.67) to put on the check: instead, they’ll do it online, where they can get your credit-card number and then just automagically renew you every year whether you like it or not.

(Yes, I wrote them a check. Because.)

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How now, Dow Pont?

Dave Schuler doesn’t think much of the Dow Chemical/DuPont merger:

How do two poorly run companies justify their CEOs’ eight figure compensation plans?

Step 1: Merge

Step 2: Make the combined company look better on paper by firing a lot of people.

Step 3: Divvy the company into three components: the stable, profitable agricultural business (see here), the doomed commodity chemicals business, and the highly competitive “specialty chemicals” business

Step 4: Profit!

Not as efficient as the Underpants Gnomes, who might have been able to pull this off in three steps.

That plan is clearly trolling for speculators’ dollars. The WSJ calls it “a merger made in Washington”. I think it’s a B-school grad’s fantasy. My alternative plan would be no merger, divest some brands, cut top management’s compensation commensurate with performance, hire some researchers, and actually grow the companies the old-fashioned way. In the history of the world no company has ever cost-controlled its way to greatness.

(Emphasis added.)

And doesn’t this sound a lot like The Company Formerly Known As Hewlett-Packard?

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