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$24 billion tobacco verdict: One down, 5,130 to go

Written By limadu on Selasa, 22 Juli 2014 | 14.44

NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. (RAI) -- maker of the Camel, Kool and Pall Mall brands -- still has about 5,130 cases to fight. They're the remnants of a Florida class action lawsuit from the 1990s that was dismantled but allowed to move forward as individual cases.

Plaintiff Cynthia Robinson argued that Reynolds failed to warn her husband, Michael Johnson, of the risks of smoking when he began at age 13. He died of lung cancer at age 36 in 1996.

Related: The lucrative business of cigarette smuggling

Nearly seventy such cases against the company have been tried, according to documents the company filed this spring with federal regulators. Reynolds has been ordered to pay victims $232 million, but most cases are tied up in appeal, so the company has only paid about $83 million so far.

The $23.6 billion award due to Robinson consists entirely of punitive damages, which are designed to punish companies for gross misbehavior. The jury also awarded Robinson $16 million in standard damages, such as lost wages and healthcare costs.

Reynolds has said it will appeal the multi-billion decision and believes it unconstitutional. At the very least, a judge could sharply reduce the dollar amount of the award.

Even if other verdicts against Reynolds aren't quite so humongous, the amounts could start to add up quickly. The company also faces lawsuits unrelated to that Florida class action.

Related: States call on pharmacies to stop selling tobacco

Juries in the remaining cases will likely continue to award damages for lost wages and similar costs, said Celene Humphries, a partner at Brannock & Humphries who was not involved in the Robinson case but has represented other alleged victims. But she said it's unlikely that any will award such outsized punitive damages.

About half of the tobacco cases that have gone to trial have resulted a significant award for the victim. The other half found the tobacco manufacturers were not at fault, ended in a mistrial or an award of less than $50,000.

First Published: July 21, 2014: 5:52 PM ET


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Netflix passes 50 million subscribers

oitnb phone Netflix recently premiered the second season of its hit series Orange Is The New Black.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

The streaming video service said Monday that it now boasts over 50 million members in 40 countries, including 36 million in the United States. That compares with 56 million U.S. households that had premium cable subscriptions of some kind as of July, according to Nielsen.

Netflix (NFLX, Tech30) growth slowed a bit in the second quarter, with the company adding just 570,000 U.S. streaming subscribers. That compares with 630,000 in the same quarter a year ago and 2.25 million in the first quarter.

In May, Netflix raised subscription prices for new members by $1, though the company said this change had "minimal impact on membership growth."

Netflix is continuing its push into original programming with shows like Orange Is The New Black, which launched its second season in early June, and Hemlock Grove, which premiered earlier this month. The fourth and final season of The Killing is due August 1. Netflix shows garnered 31 Emmy nominations this past year.

The company said it currently has a number of new shows in production, including Marvel's Daredevil, a partnership with Marvel Television. There's also Sense8, a new show from Matrix directors the Wachowski brothers, and an unnamed thriller from the creators of Damages featuring Kyle Chandler and Sissy Spacek.

Netflix turned heads last month with its announcement that it will produce a talk show featuring comedienne Chelsea Handler, a departure from the less topical, scripted content on which the company has focused so far. Speaking to analysts Monday afternoon, Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos this decision was driven in part by a change in viewing habits among talk show fans.

"They're not watching them at 11:30 -- they're watching them days, weeks, sometimes months later online," Sarandos said. "What we're hoping to do with Chelsea and her team is create a show that's built closer to the way people are going to watch it."

Related: Netflix partner says Verizon slows traffic

Netflix's revenue has been growing steadily in recent quarters, cracking $1 billion for the first time last year and hitting $1.3 billion in the second quarter. That was in line with analyst estimates, and the stock rose slightly in after-hours trading Monday.

Moving forward, Netflix is looking to strengthen its European presence, launching this September in Germany, France, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, and Luxembourg.

"There's nothing really different about our international businesses [such] that we can't achieve U.S.-like margins or better," Netflix chief financial officer David Wells said.

And for those of you who prefer doing your movie-watching online and but your shopping in person, Netflix announced that it will begin selling gift cards in retail stores later this year.

First Published: July 21, 2014: 4:49 PM ET


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Israeli tech talent tapped to fight in Gaza

israeli tech gaza Vaknin (center) with his army unit in 2009; Vaknin with Ido Aharoni, Consul General of Israel in New York

NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

Lior Vaknin, 27, is no exception. He served as a special forces paratrooper in the Israeli army from 2006 to 2009, and then ran a startup in Israel. But seven months ago, he moved to New York and launched Israeli Startups NYC, a Meetup initiative designed to unite the Israeli and New York startup communities.

Those from his squad, now reservists in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), await notice that they might soon join the fight in Gaza. Vaknin said many are "upset" they haven't been notified. Though far away, Vaknin has never felt more like a soldier.

On Monday, Vaknin learned that an active member of his old unit had been killed.

"Its difficult to be outside of Israel, to see what's going on and not be there," said Vaknin.

To date, 65,000 IDF reservists have been called up to serve in the ground offensive in Gaza.

But Israeli techies who've launched businesses in the U.S. don't feel lucky they aren't in Israel -- they feel a sense of remorse.

Related: Israeli startups flock to New York

"There's almost guilt that you're actually here and not there," said Eyal Bino.

Bino formerly served as part of Israel's esteemed Unit 8200, the technology intelligence unit of the IDF, akin to the NSA. He moved to New York twelve years ago and runs Worldwide Investor Network, an accelerator platform that helps foreign tech startups find mentors and funding in New York.

Guy Katsovich is the program manager of 8200 Entrepreneurship and Innovation Support, a startup accelerator in Tel Aviv for Israeli army alumni.

He said "a lot Israeli entrepreneurs" have been called by the Israeli army to serve.

CNNMoney contacted several tech entrepreneurs who are part of the 65,000 reservists; they declined to talk due to security concerns.

According to Katsovich, for many, the latest call to service is just business as usual.

"Israelis are used to [living] their life in a reality of environmental uncertainty," said Katsovich. "It makes the challenges of dealing with uncertainty while leading a startup much more easy to deal with."

Lior Prosor, who runs Elevator Fund, a VC fund for early-stage Israeli startups, agrees.

"People do [return on reserve] and also run a business. It's not something they can't handle," said Prosor.

In fact, Elevator Fund partnered with Tel Aviv-based startup Zoliro to launch ISupportIsrael.org just two days ago, even though several of Zoliro's employees have been drafted to Gaza.

The crowdfunding site collects money for basic grocery packages to support Israeli families who have been impacted by the rockets from Gaza. It's collected more than $17,000 in the last two days.

Bino said that if the war continues, the Israeli startup community could take a financial hit.

"If it's going to be an extended war, it could potentially impact investors investing in Israeli startups [who are] afraid of investing in companies where there's a warzone," said Bino.

First Published: July 21, 2014: 7:19 PM ET


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Wall Street reform law only half done

Written By limadu on Senin, 21 Juli 2014 | 14.44

dodd frank data Percentage of the 398 required rules that have been finalized.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

While regulators have sped up the pace of finalizing the complex batch of regulations required by Dodd-Frank, there's clearly a lot more work ahead.

According to law firm Davis Polk, 208 (52%) of the 398 total rulemaking requirements have been met so far. It's an improvement from 2012, when just 31% of the Dodd-Frank rules were in force, but still lacking.

Missed deadlines: "Progress will ultimately be measured based on whether we have implemented rules that create a strong and effective regulatory framework and stand the test of time under intense scrutiny in rapidly changing financial markets," SEC chair Mary Jo White said in a statement last week.

In the past year, regulators have made progress in a number of areas, including limiting in-house trading activities through the Volcker Rule, reforming the market for complex financial instruments called swaps, cutting back on the reliance for credit ratings firms and creating new rules for municipal advisers.

But it's clear regulators are not exactly moving at lightning speed, at least compared with the timeline set forth by Congress when Dodd-Frank was ushered into law in 2010.

Related: Banks won't lend? Use these guys instead

Out of 280 rulemaking deadlines that have passed, 127 (45%) of them have been missed by regulators, Davis Polk said. That's probably not a track record that your boss would appreciate.

Regulators have fallen behind in a number of key areas that were at the heart of the financial crisis, including asset-backed securities, credit ratings firms, derivatives and mortgage reforms. America is also still awaiting rules tied to consumer protection and the orderly wind-down of financial institutions (think: what to do in case of another Lehman Brothers).

What's the holdup? It's difficult to overhaul the world's largest financial system. That task was made even more complicated by the fact that Congress left many of the tough decisions up to the regulators, since they have more knowledge.

"The burdens that Congress put on regulators through Dodd-Frank are incredibly complex. It's really the largest change to the financial sector's regulation since the Great Depression. So it's going to take a long time," said Gabriel Rosenberg, an associate in Davis Polk's financial institutions group.

Related: 6 events that spooked the markets in 2014

After writing the rules, regulators must give the public a chance to comment on the proposals. Those comments, often from lobbyists representing the financial industry, may result in changes to the proposed rules, which sometimes get watered down.

According to OpenSecrets.org, securities and investment firms such as Goldman Sachs (GS) and JPMorgan Chase (JPM) spent $98 million on lobbying in 2013.

Related: Obama wants more financial reform

"I'd rather the agencies take more time, get more comment and get it right than get it done fast," said Ernie Patrikis, former general counsel at the New York Fed and now a banking partner at White & Case.

"What's the rush? Banks are healing. The economy is healing. We're not going to face a crisis, touch wood, for a little while," he said.

While there has been talk that Dodd-Frank creates extra regulatory uncertainty for the big banks at the center of the new rules, Patrikis doesn't think so.

"If things come in a more orderly way, it's easier to implement," he said.

First Published: July 20, 2014: 6:16 PM ET


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Millennials say no to marriage

NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

Today's young adults are on track have the lowest rates of marriage by age 40 compared to any previous generation. If the current pace continues, more than 30% of Millennial women will remain unmarried by age 40, nearly twice the share of their Gen X counterparts, according to a recent Urban Institute report.

And that could have serious economic repercussions for both the Millennials and the nation as a whole.

There are several reasons behind the plunge. The importance of marriage has been diminishing for years. More Americans are living together without getting married, and some are raising families ... just without the gold bands, said Neil Howe, an economist and author of several books about Millennials.

Also, marriage used to be the starting point for young adults. They got hitched early and built a life together, Howe said. Now, many people feel they have to be more established, especially financially, before they walk down the aisle.

"The shift is the shift in the role of marriage in one's life," he said.

Related: Enough with Millennials. Here's what Gen X thinks

Marriage rates fell even more drastically during the Great Recession, when young adults had a tough time landing their first jobs and other Americans found themselves collecting unemployment checks.

Just how many Millennials tie the knot by the time they hit 40 depends on whether marriage rates return to their pre-recession levels or not. Only 69.3% of women will marry if the post-recession rate continues, while 76.8% will if the rate returns to pre-downturn levels. For men, the rates come in at 65% and 72.6%, respectively.

Regardless, it will be fewer than Gen Xers. Some 82% of Gen X women and 76.6% of Gen X men were married by 40.

Underlying these numbers, however, are major divisions by race and educational attainment. Hispanic and black Millennials, as well as those without college degrees, are expected to see greater declines in their marriage rates.

marriage projection no degree

White Millennials will see a small drop.

College grads could remain steady if rates return or decline slightly if they don't. That runs contrary to the current narrative that Millennials are putting off marriage because of high student loan debts and unemployment rates, as well as the increased propensity to live with their parents, said Steven Martin, senior research associate at the Urban Institute and the report's co-author.

marriage projection degree

He found, however, that college graduates marry later so they are better able to ride out poor economic times just after they finish school. And staying single while young gives them more opportunity to establish a financial base since they can focus on their careers.

But the explosion in singles has its downsides. Married couples are often better off financially, which means they can spend more.

"The evidence shows that getting married increases wealth and income," said Pamela Smock, a sociology professor at the University of Michigan.

Single Americans may be less likely to buy homes or trade up to accommodate growing families, while single parents may be more likely to qualify for government safety net programs.

And the growing schism in marriage rates could exacerbate income inequality in this country, dividing society into still mostly married "haves" and increasingly single "have nots."

First Published: July 20, 2014: 6:46 PM ET


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Millennials love cash

millennials cash Millennials are choosing cash over stocks, a new survey finds.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

Americans between 18 and 29 years old are three times more likely to keep their long-term investments in the form of cash rather than in the stock market, according to a survey from Bankrate.com.

Even the booming stock market hasn't been able to shake off the risk-aversion that is now the hallmark of this recession-scarred generation.

But losing out on investment returns could spell trouble for many down the road, said Bankrate chief financial analyst Greg McBride.

Related: Enough with Millennials. Here's what Gen X thinks

"The preference for cash and aversion to the stock market among young adults is very troubling considering this age group has the biggest retirement savings burden," McBride said. "They won't get there without being willing to assume a little short-term price risk in their long-term money."

About 39% of Millennials picked cash as the preferred way to invest the money that they don't need for at least 10 years -- the biggest percentage of any age group.

Another 24% chose real estate, while 13% picked the stock market.

Related: Millennials 'overwhelmed' by debt

Across all age groups, 25% said they prefer cash investments, 23% chose real estate and 19% said they would put their money in the stock market.

"Americans are still risk-averse when it comes to how they invest their money," said McBride.

First Published: July 21, 2014: 1:13 AM ET


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Can Malaysia Airlines survive latest tragedy?

Written By limadu on Minggu, 20 Juli 2014 | 14.44

malaysia airlines finances Four months after a Malaysia Airlines plane goes missing, another one of its passenger jets is shot out of the sky.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

The tragic events have taken the lives of 537 people in all, and brought devastation to their families.

It has also left many pondering the future of the airline and its ability to weather the latest storm.

If customers flee, it could really put a dent in its bottom line, said Justin Green, a military trained pilot and aviation attorney.

Malaysia Airlines was already a struggling company before these latest tragedies.

Related: Malaysia Air's troubled year

Even before Flight 370 disappeared, a difficult business climate forced the airline into the red for the three years in a row, leading to a loss of about 4.2 billion ringgit ($1.3 billion) over that period.

"But the situation has become much graver," said Daniel Tsang, an aviation analyst at Aspire Aviation. "Bankruptcy is unquestionably a possibility."

According to international law, Malaysia Airlines is responsible for making initial payments of about $150,000 to the families of each deceased passenger in both flights.

There will also be lawsuits to fight. Even thought it appears Flight 17 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile last week over Ukraine, there's a chance the airline could be found negligible for flying in the disputed airspace where Ukraine rebels are operating, Green said. While the flight's route was approved by Eurocontrol, other carriers were avoiding the airspace.

Those additional payments still wouldn't break the bank, Green said. Many of Malaysia Airlines' expenses will be covered by the maze of insurance policies that cover a plane and its passengers.

Very few airlines went bankrupt immediately after previous tragedies, Green said.

The now defunct Pan Am was in financial trouble long before the terrorist bombing of its Flight 103 over Scotland, but the attack did help push the airline toward its ultimate bankruptcy, the airline's former CEO Tom Plaskett told CNN.

The airline survived for two more years after the attack, until it filed for bankruptcy in 1991.

Related Passengers' families could collect millions

So far, Malaysia Airlines customers have proved quite loyal.

After Flight 370 went missing on March 8, Malaysia Airlines did not see an immediate decline in passengers, according to its April traffic report. But the number of passengers dropped 4% in May compared to the same month last year.

The airline is also waiving fees and refunding tickets until the end of December for anyone who wants to cancel or postpone their travel plans.

Overall, the company experienced a 13% uptick in the number of passengers for the year to date.

Another factor that will play in its favor is that Malaysia Airlines has state-backing. The government's investment firm owns nearly 70% of the company, which just might help it survive these tough times.

First Published: July 19, 2014: 2:09 PM ET


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Can this British designer save Coach?

coach split Coach has hired Stuart Vevers to try to revive a brand that has been around since 1941.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

The British designer was hired last year to revive the Coach brand, a comeback that may be even harder to pull off than Martha Stewart's.

Coach (COH) stock is down almost 40% this year. The bad weather that kept many American shoppers out of stores this winter only exacerbated the company's problems. The brand is stale.

Known for its leather handbags, Coach doesn't have a clear identity anymore.

The company, founded in 1941, really hit its stride in the 1990s under the dynamic duo of CEO Lew Frankfort and head designer Reed Krakoff. They popularized the concept of "luxury for the masses."

They found the sweet spot in the retail market where customers wanted a bit of brand cache but at a cost that was a lot less than Prada (PRDSF) and Gucci had to offer.

Coach 1 year stock chart

The company went public in 2000 (as a spin-off of food company Sara Lee no less) and the stock rose steadily for a few years with the introduction of products like the "Hampton bag." Wall Street pushed for growth, and Coach responded by opening a lot of outlet stores, which diluted the luxury brand notion.

It also didn't help that competition increased from Michael Kors (KORS), Kate Spade (KATE)and Tory Burch, among others.

Coach's turnaround plan: Enter Vevers. The company is aiming for the higher-end consumer again now that Vevers is Executive Creative Director.

He has the track record. He was named Accessory Designer of the Year by the British Fashion Council several years ago and has worked at other brands trying to reinvent themselves -- such as Calvin Klein and Mulberry.

Thanks to Vevers, Coach held its first New York Fashion Week show earlier this year, garnering largely positive reviews.

But Wall Street is not convinced that the runway success will lead to higher sales just yet.

Related: Coach is going out of fashion among investors

"Some of his designs will be in full-price stores in the fall. You're not going to see it in the outlet channel until probably 2015, which is the majority of sales" says Evan Staples, a senior analyst at Nuveen Asset Management. He argues any turnaround will be a long time coming.

"Only if you're a very risky value investor would you be stepping in here," he says.

It's also not clear if this is even the right direction for Coach.

"Can Stuart Vevers put good product on the floor? I don't know," says Paul Lejuez, who covers retail stocks for Wells Fargo Securities. "The more important question is even if the product looks good, does it matter? Will people buy it?"

Coach is in the process of closing some stores. After the latest round, it will have about 250 full-price stores and 200 outlet stores in North America, Lejuez says. That makes it difficult to re-cast the brand as a more up-scale "luxury-lifestyle" brand when its discount stores are still everywhere.

Related: The 1% is spending: Luxury stocks soar

Buying opportunity? Robert Drbul, an analyst who covers the retail sector for Nomura, is more bullish. He has a "buy" rating on the stock, which currently trades around $34, a big drop from 2012 when it traded around $75. Drbul has a target price of $45.

"The company has a track record of brand re-invention and a strong team," Drbul says. "Coach clearly remains committed to their dividend, so from the investor standpoint, they are paid to wait and hold their shares." Coach's dividend yields nearly 4%.

Drbul also points out that many luxury and pseudo-luxury brands are fighting for traction in Europe and Asia. Bringing on a British designer with many European ties could also give Coach an edge internationally.

But the biggest "buying opportunity" may be for consumers. Many retailers are increasing discounts as they try to clear inventory after a slow winter and spring. Coach is also motivated to make room on its shelves for Vevers' designs.

So even if you aren't interested in the stock, Coach's current predicament is a good chance to pick up a nice handbag or pair of shoes at a cheap price.

First Published: July 19, 2014: 9:19 AM ET


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Snowden asks hackers to protect whistleblowers

snowden ellsberg Ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden, exiled in Russia, speaks via video connection to a crowd of hackers in New York City.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

Daniel Ellsberg, who famously released the Pentagon Papers, and former NSA contractor Edward Snowden spoke to a packed crowd of computer experts on Saturday at the Hackers On Planet Earth conference in New York City.

It was a call to digital arms: Create easy-to-use software that lets insiders spill secrets of corporate or government malfeasance to journalists or politicians without getting caught.

"A lot of blood has flowed because people bit their tongues, swallowed their whistles and didn't speak out," Ellsberg said. "You people need to do what you can ... to make it possible for people to do this without spending their life in prison."

Related story: FBI sends agents to Holocaust museum for history lesson

A clampdown on government whistleblowers began during the Bush administration -- and has only intensified. The Obama administration has used the Espionage Act to prosecute whistleblowers who leaked to journalists more than all previous U.S. presidents combined.

"You are the people who can make it possible for democracy to survive that attack on whistleblowers," Ellsberg told the crowd of hackers.

Snowden, in exile in Russia and speaking via a video connection, urged professionals to develop computer programs that hinder mass surveillance by encrypting all communication, thus making it private.

It's a technological answer to a civil rights problem, he explained.

"You have the means and the capability to build a better future by encoding our rights into the programs and protocol we use everyday," Snowden said.

First Published: July 19, 2014: 5:58 PM ET


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Murdoch says he can't buy Tribune but mum on Time Warner

Written By limadu on Sabtu, 19 Juli 2014 | 14.44

NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

"Sorry can't buy Trib group or LA Times -- cross-ownership laws from another age still in place," Murdoch tweeted late Thursday night.

Murdoch was referring to Federal Communications Commission rules that limit how many newspapers and broadcast television stations a single company can own.

But the Twitter message confirms that Murdoch has thought about pursuing Tribune, and particularly the Los Angeles Times.

Last year, when Tribune (TRBAA) was actively considering a sale, The New York Times reported that Murdoch was "weighing whether a bid would be worth the headache and regulatory battles."

Tribune later decided not to sell its eight papers immediately, but to spin them off into a new company, Tribune Publishing, instead. The split is expected to take effect in August.

After that point, a buyer might be able to acquire the new company -- which also owns the Chicago Tribune and Baltimore Sun.

The journalism institute Poynter said earlier this month that a new rumor about Murdoch's interest in Tribune was making the rounds, and that "various circumstances would make such a deal logical for both buyer and seller."

Anything can happen down the road, of course, and Murdoch's tweet might have been a way to blow off some steam about government regulation.

Of Murdoch's two companies, News Corp (NWSA). would be the one interested in more newspapers. It already owns Wall Street Journal publisher Dow Jones and the New York Post.

21st Century Fox (FOXA), the home to Murdoch's movie studio and cable and TV programming networks, is the one that made a bid for Time Warner (TWX).

There have been no new reports about overtures from Fox to Time Warner since Wednesday's confirmation from both companies that Time Warner had rejected the bid Fox proposed in June.

Related: Why Murdoch wants Time Warner

The original bid was worth about $86 per share. Time Warner indicated in a statement on Wednesday that Fox could never pull together a compelling offer (both in terms of value and the right mix of cash and stock), but that has not stopped Wall Street from speculating on a magic number that could rekindle talks.

Janney Capital Markets analyst Tony Wible, who wrote about a potential tie-up of Fox and Time Warner last month, said Thursday that he expects a $100 per share offer from Murdoch.

"Simply put, Fox has the capacity to pay more but would likely target a mix of stock and cash," he wrote in a report.

And even though Murdoch did not tweet directly about Time Warner, he did seem to hint that the deal may have been a reason why he hadn't tweeted since July 8 before writing a trio of tweets from Australia yesterday.

"Sorry, I have been busy lately with many preoccupations!" he wrote.

CNN's Cristina Alesci contributed to this report.

First Published: July 18, 2014: 4:01 PM ET


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