Don’t Rush to Judgment on Last Night’s Presidential Debate

The first draft of history often turns out to be wrong once more facts and details come to light. That’s worth keeping in mind after Monday night’s first debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

The initial consensus of pundits is that Clinton had a better debate but didn’t come close to throwing a knockout punch. And she clearly knew how to bait Trump to keep him off balance and on the defensive.

Continue reading “Don’t Rush to Judgment on Last Night’s Presidential Debate”

Is Self-Insurance a Viable Option for Small Employers?

Once a strategy pursued only by big companies, self-insuring is being used by a growing number of smaller employers to provide health care coverage to their employees. According to a report by the nonprofit Employee Benefit Research Institute, from 2013 to 2015 the percentage of employers with fewer than 100 workers that offered at least one self-insured plan increased from 13.3% to 14.2%. The share of employers with 100 to 499 employees offering a self-insured plan rose from 25.3% to 30.1%.

Firms that self-insure bear the financial risk of employees’ health care themselves. That means they pay for each claim as it’s incurred, instead of paying a fixed premium to an insurance company. Since these employers are assuming the risk, they must have the cash flow to pay the claims. So, it may not be for everyone. But firms with as few as 15 employees can make it work.

Continue reading “Is Self-Insurance a Viable Option for Small Employers?”

For Clinton and Trump, Big Debate, Small Target

Keep this number in mind if you watch Monday night’s first presidential debate: 20%. That’s the slice of the American electorate that isn’t supporting either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump at the moment and, thus, the segment most likely to be swayed by what they see and hear.

Here’s my math: Approximately 40% of likely voters responding to polls in September say they will support Clinton and a similar number say they’re backing Trump. To the degree that those numbers change–a tick or two either way–the support seems to come from the one in five folks who seem to have plans that don’t include either of the mainstream candidates.

Continue reading “For Clinton and Trump, Big Debate, Small Target”

Update on Oil Prices, Plus Reader Feedback on Heating With Wood

Five months ago, a prominent commodities expert told me that oil prices would move higher. The market has been extremely volatile since then, but that prediction has in fact panned out. So I sat down with him again to get his take on the outlook for oil prices and the economy in general. Also, readers weigh in with their tips and observations on woodstoves as a follow-up to my last issue, which discussed heating with wood.

Oil Prices: Grinding Higher

Back in April, I sat down with Jason Schenker, president of Prestige Economics of Austin, Texas. At the time, benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude oil was trading at $40 per barrel, after rallying from about $26 per barrel during the winter. Jason predicted that while the U.S. energy industry would continue to suffer from depressed oil prices, WTI would gradually head higher as production fell. Flash forward five months, and that is about what has happened: U.S. oil output is down from about 8.9 million barrels per day in April to roughly 8.5 million barrels per day now. A slew of firms have gone bankrupt. And after some big spikes and swoons, the price of crude has climbed from $40 per barrel to about $44.

Continue reading “Update on Oil Prices, Plus Reader Feedback on Heating With Wood”

Can a Rural Congressional District Make Trump President?

What if the presidential election comes down to a congressional district that’s so rural that, as The Almanac of American Politics puts it, “some valleys have more moose than people”? It’s not a fantasy. There’s a plausible path that could make voters in northern Maine’s 2nd Congressional District kingmakers on Election Day.

Maine and Nebraska are the only states that award one electoral vote to the candidate that carries each congressional district. The distinction usually doesn’t matter, but this year it’s not such a longshot bet to think that one of Maine’s electoral votes could go to Donald Trump and put him in the White House.

Continue reading “Can a Rural Congressional District Make Trump President?”

Billions’ Worth of Merchandise Stranded at Sea

The collapse of one of the world’s largest ocean carriers has marooned more than half a million cargo containers in international waters. As much as $14 billion worth of cargo is stuck in limbo awaiting the fate of bankrupt Hanjin Shipping, with dozens of vessels anchored offshore filled with toys, shoes, computers, couches, dishwashers, etc. Port operators and cargo handlers refuse to unload the ships until they are paid.

Hanjin’s global creditors have impounded at least eight vessels, and about 80 are still at sea until captains are assured ships and cargo won’t be seized. It isn’t clear whether Hanjin’s parent company will be able to secure the $90 million it pledged to ease the carrier’s financial woes, or whether that will be enough to dent Hanjin’s $5.5-billion debt. The company has resorted to selling off ships from its 149-vessel fleet, after signs that the South Korean government won’t bail out its largest ocean carrier.

Continue reading “Billions’ Worth of Merchandise Stranded at Sea”

Computer intelligence: more ‘humanlike,’ ‘trustworthy’? Plus other tech updates

This week, an update on artificial intelligence software, the outlook for tech and telecom costs, an interview with the CEO of a drone start-up, bargain tech stocks with solid dividends and more.

Federal and state governments will step up the use of artificial intelligence tools in coming years. Recent breakthroughs by commercial companies such as Facebook and Alphabet, along with other promising commercial success stories, are gaining the attention of government officials. Helping to pave the way: Computer intelligence that is more humanlike and trustworthy, qualities that make it easier to spur adoption. Chicago-based Narrative Science, for instance, uses software to turn unwieldy data in massive spreadsheets into plain English. The result is well-written news stories, financial reports and more. “The machine will actually be a device that can explain itself,” says Kris Hammond, chief scientist of the company.

Continue reading “Computer intelligence: more ‘humanlike,’ ‘trustworthy’? Plus other tech updates”

Webinar-On-Demand Series

Four times a year, Kiplinger Alerts members will be invited to participate in interactive business forecasting webinars. Business and financial experts will share the latest Kiplinger outlooks, in-depth analysis and practical advice, and answer your personal questions about the issues at hand. Each event will be saved as an audio-video file, viewable at your convenience in your member area online.

Continue reading “Webinar-On-Demand Series”

Will oil exporting countries curb production?

Here we go again? New speculation that major oil exporting countries will agree on a deal to curb production is once again giving oil traders a reason to buy. But is this latest bout of bullish optimism justified or just a rumor that’s destined to fade?

The Production Freeze: Groundhog Day for Oil Markets?

The recurring talk of a move by OPEC to reduce oil exports might remind fans of Bill Murray’s role in the 1993 film Groundhog Day, in which a disgruntled TV weatherman finds himself stuck in Punxsutawney, Pa., covering the annual ritual of learning whether the resident groundhog sees his shadow on Feb. 2. Murray’s character finds himself trapped in a surreal loop of reliving the day over and over until he finally overcomes his curmudgeonly cynicism and becomes a stand-up guy.

Continue reading “Will oil exporting countries curb production?”

IRS Audit Red Flags

16 Reasons You Might Get Audited

Ever wonder why some tax returns are eyeballed by the Internal Revenue Service while most are ignored? Short on personnel and funding, the IRS audited only 0.84% of all individual tax returns in 2015. So the odds are pretty low that your return will be picked for review. And, of course, the only reason filers should worry about an audit is if they are fudging on their taxes.

That said, your chances of being audited or otherwise hearing from the IRS escalate depending upon various factors, including your income level, the types of deductions or losses claimed, the business in which you’re engaged and whether you own foreign assets. Math errors may draw IRS inquiry, but they’ll rarely lead to a full-blown exam. Although there’s no sure way to avoid an IRS audit, these 16 red flags could increase your chances of drawing unwanted attention from the IRS.

Continue reading “IRS Audit Red Flags”