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Uber agrees to temporarily suspend service in Portland

Written By limadu on Jumat, 19 Desember 2014 | 14.45

NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

The company said it would stop picking up customers there for three months after the city sued, asking a judge to order Uber to stop operating until it is in compliance with safety, health and consumer protection rules.

But Uber fully expects to be back. In fact, this could be good news for Uber fans in the long-run.

The city has agreed to update its laws, creating a new regulatory framework for companies like Uber that tend to fall somewhere between a taxi and a ridesharing service. People use it by requesting a driver with a smartphone app.

Related: Uber's global ambitions hit roadblocks

Uber, which operates in 60 cities across 21 countries, has run into problems because its drivers do not always meet the city's regulations for taxi and car services.

Last week, for example, a judge in Spain temporarily blocked Uber because the Madrid taxi service said it was unfair to competition and not properly licensed.

The mayor's office said it will set up a task force and present its findings at the April 9 council hearing. If new regulations are not available by then, the city will allow Uber to operate while it continues to work on the new regulatory framework.

Uber will stop picking up customers in Portland on Dec. 21, but said it will still operate in other parts of the metro area, including Beaverton, Gresham, Hillsboro and Tigard.

First Published: December 18, 2014: 7:13 PM ET


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Russia crisis hurts these brands the most

LONDON (CNNMoney)

A currency crisis and plunging oil prices have slammed the economy and damaged consumer confidence. If oil prices fail to recover, Russian GDP is expected to shrink by almost 5% next year.

That's bad news for plenty of Western companies with heavy exposure to Russia.

The currency collapse has driven up prices for Russians. Some shoppers have been rushing to buy before prices go any higher, but ultimately, spending on many Western consumer brands will slow.

And the wild swings in the ruble have already prompted companies such as IKEA, GM (GM) and Apple (AAPL, Tech30) to suspend some business in Russia.

Related: Putin blames the West for Russia's misery

Here are the Western brands taking the biggest hit from the Russian crisis:

Ford

It's been a tough year for automakers in Russia. Car sales are down about 12% so far this year, according to the Association of European Businesses. Ford (F) has been one of the hardest hit. Its sales slumped 40% in the first 11 months of the year, according to the AEB.

The U.S. automaker was forced to cut about 950 jobs at its Russia joint venture in April.

Volkswagen

It's a similar story for the German car giant. Volkswagen (VLKAF) halted production at its plant in the Russian city of Kaluga for 10 days in September, blaming the souring economy.

The group's main VW car brand saw Russian sales fall 20% between January and November, compared to the same period in 2013, AEB data shows.

russia west companies losers

Carlsberg

The Danish beer maker has issued two profit warnings this year due to slowing Russian demand. Beer market volumes fell by as much as 7% in the first six months of 2014, the brewer said, hit by the uncertain environment, weak growth and bad weather.

Carlsberg (CABGY) is heavily dependent on sales in Russia, where it is the biggest brewer supplying local brands such as Baltika. Its shares are down more than 20% this year.

Adidas

Sluggish consumer spending has forced the German sportswear maker to shut stores and scale back expansion plans in Russia.

Adidas (ADDDF) is one of the biggest retail brands in the country with 1,100 stores. Chief Executive Herbert Hainer said last month that weak consumer sentiment and the falling ruble was hurting its business.

BP

Crumbling oil prices and sanctions have dealt a double blow to oil majors in Russia. BP (BCONQ) owns a large stake in Rosneft, Russia's biggest oil company,

Rosneft has lost access to U.S. and European sources of finance, as well as technology and services to develop deep water, Arctic or shale oil deposits. It blamed an 86% fall in third quarter profit on the falling ruble and lower prices for Russian Urals crude.

BP shares are trading down 17% this year.

Related: Russia has cash to prevent economic collapse

ExxonMobil

ExxonMobil (XOM) made an Arctic oil discovery with Rosneft earlier this year. But the firm can't push ahead with the project until sanctions imposed over the Ukraine crisis are lifted.

Total

The French energy giant has also had growth plans clipped by the West's trade war with Russia. The firm shelved plans for a shale exploration venture with Russia's Lukoil due to the sanctions.

McDonald's

Earlier this year, Russian officials forced the fast food giant to close 12 restaurants because of sanitary violations. The move was widely believed to be politically motivated.

All restaurants have now reopened but McDonald's (MCD) said "very weak results" in Russia worked to drive European sales lower in November.

Danone

French food conglomerate Danone (DANOY) is a big player in Russia. The market represents 11% of the group's annual turnover and was the top ranking country by sales in 2013.

Rising prices are a growing worry for the company in Russia. The company said operating margins fell sharply in the first half of this year due to higher milk prices.

Siemens

Russia is also a major market for the German engineering titan, and sales are suffering. Siemens' (SIEGY)revenue from the country dropped about 14% in fiscal 2014, compared with the previous year.

European banks

An escalation of Russia's financial woes could create headaches for Western banks. European lenders are most exposed to the country, according to the Bank for International Settlements.

European banks had $155.9 billion in outstanding loans to Russia at the end of June. That's about 1% of total European bank lending. French banks have lent the most at $47.8 billion, followed by Italy with $27.7 billion. U.S. banks have lent a relatively modest $26.1 billion.

Among the major banks tied up in Russia are France's Societé Generale (SCGLY) and Italy's UniCredit (UNCFF).

Related: Western banks lend billions to Russia

First Published: December 18, 2014: 8:56 PM ET


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Avon fined for bribing Chinese officials with Gucci bags

avon china Avon has been fined $135 million by the SEC for allegedly paying bribes to Chinese government officials.

HONG KONG (CNNMoney)

The SEC alleged that Avon's subsidiary in China doled out $8 million in bribes -- cash, gifts, entertainment, and travel -- to Chinese officials in charge of new regulations to sell directly to consumers. The watchdog also said the company falsely recorded the bribes as employee business expenses or vendor payments.

The luxury bribes, which included Louis Vuitton goods and box tickets to the China Open, helped Avon (AVP) win one of the first direct-selling business licenses in China in March 2006, according to a SEC statement.

Avon was able to "gain an edge over their competitors, and the company reaped substantial financial benefits as a result," said the SEC's Scott W. Friestad.

The SEC said Avon violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by failing to put in place a system to detect and prevent bribery.

Related: World's most corrupt industries

Avon isn't the only company to have fallen under SEC investigation for FCPA violations. A number of major U.S. banks, including JPMorgan (JPM), are currently being scrutinized for their hiring practices in China.

Western firms operating in China have also gotten in trouble with the Chinese government for alleged corruption and bribery. Major drug companies, such as GlaxoSmithKline (GLAXF), have been netted in government probes and forced to pay big fines.

Avon has agreed to have a corporate compliance monitor for at least 18 months as part of the settlement with the SEC and Justice Department, according to a company statement.

The New York-based company brings in $10 billion in annual revenue and has 6 million sales representatives globally, according to the company website.

Read next: Half of China's wealthy plan to leave

First Published: December 18, 2014: 11:35 PM ET


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Americans send $2 billion a year to Cuba

Written By limadu on Kamis, 18 Desember 2014 | 14.44

NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

Most of it came from Cuban-Americans sending money home to their families. But now, anyone in the U.S. can send up to $8,000 a year to just about anybody in Cuba, as the Obama Administration eases restrictions with the Communist country.

"You can really see the impact this money is having on the island," said Alana Tummino, director at the Americas Society and Council of the Americas.

The money is often going to small, private businesses.

Yes, even though Cuba is a Communist country, it has moved towards a more private economy in recent years.

Related: Why I changed my mind about Cuba

There are now close to 500,000 people with state-issued private business licenses for everything from restaurants, to nail salons, to coffee shops and mechanics, Tummino said.

It remains difficult for these business owners to get loans, but that has been made easier with remittances from the U.S.

The Obama Administration has eased restrictions before.

In 2009, Cuban-Americans could begin sending as much money home as they wanted. Other Americans could begin sending money to Cubans they weren't related to in 2011 -- but the amount was capped at $500 every three months.

cuba remittances Now americans can send up to $8,000 a year to Cuba.

Related: The promise for American businesses if Cuba sanctions are lifted

The changes announced Wednesday raise the cap to $2,000 every three months.

At Western Union (WU), a money transfer can be made from the U.S. to Cuba much like one to someone in any other country.

"I think you're going to see a lot more people sending money, bolstering the Cuban economy," Tummino said.

First Published: December 17, 2014: 5:52 PM ET


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Sony downplays digital 'Interview' possibility

NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

Or maybe not. On Wednesday night, after Sony (SNE) canceled the film's planned Christmas Day release of the controversial film, the embattled studio also discouraged speculation that it might release the film digitally.

"Sony Pictures has no further release plans for the film," a studio spokesperson said in response to questions about digital distribution.

It's understandable why the digital possibilities were considered. Sony could have pursued streaming services like Netflix (NFLX, Tech30) and video-on-demand cable services like the one operated by Comcast (CCV).

"Sony should fight fire with fire: Make 'The Interview' available online, for free, on every pirate site in the world. In HD," said Digital Disrupton author James McQuivey in a tweet to CNN's Brian Stelter.

Plenty of studios release straight to streaming and pay-TV all the time, but usually with smaller, low-budget films.

For instance, the sequel to the 2000 hit "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" is slated to be released simultaneously in theaters and on Netflix (NFLX, Tech30) in August 2015.

"The Interview" could have been a pioneer -- a landmark moment for digital distribution -- but Sony's comment on Wednesday night seemed to preempt the idea.

the interview sony vod

First Published: December 17, 2014: 4:50 PM ET


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Judge denies request to release Steve Jobs trial video

HONG KONG (CNNMoney)

Jobs's taped deposition was used in a class-action lawsuit, which had been in court for a decade, that argued Apple abused its monopoly power in the music industry. Apple won the suit earlier this week, and won't have to pay damages in the antitrust trial.

The request to make the tape public was filed by the Associated Press, Bloomberg, and CNN.

Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers found that because the video was used in lieu of live testimony, it should be considered as such -- cameras are prohibited in federal district courtrooms, and any other live testimony wouldn't have been taped. The transcript of the video, and not the tape itself, will serve as the official court record, according to the decision.

"As is typical of all live testimony, it is properly made available to the public through its initial courtroom presentation, and subsequently, via the official court transcript," the judge ruled.

The court ruling states that if video depositions were routinely released, that may discourage future witnesses from participating in taped depositions, out of concern they may be broadcast publicly someday.

The decision also noted that the courtroom wasn't sealed for any part of the trial, making all testimony accessible to the public. To accommodate the press, the court ordered extra copies of exhibits in the trial, and ensured the public had advance notice of the Jobs deposition.

Related: Apple wins antitrust trial

Parts of the video were played in court for the public and media, and the transcript of the deposition was made public for the first time earlier this month.

During the deposition, the attorney representing iPod owners asked Jobs questions about Apple's attempt in 2004 to limit the iPod's compatibility with rival music stores.

At the time, Jobs was on medical leave, appeared very thin and his voice was raspy, but seemed mentally sharp in the video, which CNN saw in the courtroom.

He was also defensive, evasive and opaque. Asked about events that took place seven years earlier, he said "I don't remember," "I don't know" or "I don't recall" 74 times during the two-hour session -- including when he was asked if he knew what the lawsuit was about, according to the transcript.

Related: What Steve Jobs said that has iPod owners up in arms

In the iPod's early days, Apple went to great lengths to ensure the iPods could only play music burned from CDs or purchased on iTunes. Music sold on iTunes had a special Digital Rights Management encryption that wasn't compatible with other MP3 players.

Throughout the deposition, Jobs portrayed Apple as a company that was at the mercy of the record labels. He said Apple was "very scared" of being in noncompliance with the labels' terms, which stipulated that iTunes music needed DRM protections.

Related: Apple now worth a whopping $700 billion

None of the major labels ever canceled their contracts with iTunes. In fact, Apple has been widely regarded as having the upper hand in its negotiations with the record labels, and Jobs has been accused of strong-arm tactics when setting iTunes' music prices.

Towards the end of the deposition, the attorney asked Jobs whether Apple's response to Harmony was "strong and vehement."

"They don't sound too angry to me when I read them," Jobs answered. "A strong response from Apple would be a lawsuit."

Read next: 10 best Steve Jobs emails

First Published: December 17, 2014: 11:12 PM ET


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Jack Ma made $18.5 billion this year

Written By limadu on Rabu, 17 Desember 2014 | 14.44

jack ma wealth Thanks, Wall Street.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

Alibaba (BABA, Tech30) founder Jack Ma made more money than anyone this year, increasing his wealth by 173% -- a gain of $18.5 billion -- according to a list of the year's biggest winners and losers, from the research firm Wealth-X.

Ma, a former English teacher who started the Chinese online marketplace with $60,000, is now worth a total of $29.2 billion. His banner year is tied to Alibaba's IPO in September -- the biggest IPO ever.

Second on the winners list is Warren Buffett, whose savvy investing netted $13.5 billion so far in 2014 -- a gain of 23%. The Berkshire Hathaway (BRKA) chairman is now worth $72.6 billion.

Bill Gates, the world's richest man with a fortune of $83.1 billion, comes in at No. 3. Gates made $10.5 billion this year. While Gates founded Microsoft (MSFT, Tech30), most of his money now comes from a variety of investments, including Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway (BRKA).

Rounding out the top five are Facebook (FB, Tech30) founder Mark Zuckerberg, who made $8.4 billion, and Swiss telecom magnate Patrick Drahi with a $5.1 billion gain.

The biggest losers

It was a bad year to be a Russian energy tycoon.

Leonid Mikhelson, the biggest shareholder in Russian natural gas firm Novatek, saw his net worth go from $17 billion to $10 billion -- a decline of 41%.

His ill fortune was attributed to plunging oil prices, Russia's free-falling currency and Western sanctions imposed over the trouble in Ukraine.

Related: Who loses if Russia implodes

The second biggest loser is Japanese businessman Masayoshi Son, head of Softbank, the parent company of U.S. telecom firm Sprint (S). Son lost $5.9 billion last year, or 31% of his fortune.

Casino owners Lui Chee Woo and Sheldon Adelson, as well as Amazon's (AMZN, Tech30) Jeff Bezos, rounded out the losers list. Each saw their net worth shrink by roughly $5 billion.

First Published: December 16, 2014: 6:07 PM ET


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Google Ventures: less Ubers, more health care

google venture investments

NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

Google (GOOG)'s VC investment arm is doubling down on life science and health service startups. This means everything from digitizing primary care (One Medical) to cloud-based genome data (DNA Nexus). It's the first year that the majority of the fund's investment dollars have been in this sector (36%), followed by mobile (27%) and consumer startups (8%, down from 66% in 2013).

"It's not surprising at all to me that we, as investors, are interested in [the space]," said Bill Maris, managing partner at Google Ventures. "36% of our dollars invested doesn't seem like a huge number. I feel like we could probably do more."

It is, however, a significant increase.

In both 2012 and 2013, funding for life sciences and health startups made up just 9% of their total.

Google Ventures' portfolio includes companies like Nest (since acquired by Google), Blue Bottle Coffee Co., DocuSign, and, of course, infamous transportation disruptor Uber.

Related: Google searching for cancer cure

Overall VC funding mirrors this trend. According to data from PrivCo, funding to health care and life sciences startups jumped by nearly $8 billion from 2013 to 2014, capturing $20.7 billion. It's followed by commerce ($18.7 billion) and mobile ($13.9 billion).

According to Maris, his firm placed a "concerted effort" on funding fledgling startups in the life sciences. ("If we don't, who's going to?" he said.)

Maris -- who helped bring on genetics expert Andrew Conrad to head up Google X's Life Sciences team -- recalls getting criticized for their focus early on.

Related: Hedge funds want one-night stand with startups

"When we started this, we got some amount of criticism on why we'd be investing in life sciences of all things," he said. "It's become clearer that life sciences and technology go together quite well. [But] there isn't the same enthusiasm as there is for technology investing."

This spring, Google Ventures led a $130 million round of financing for Flatiron Health, a New York City-based software company that aggregates cancer data for oncologists. It's the second most funded startup in Google Venture's portfolio (Uber is the first).

Google Ventures -- which also invests in startups in Europe and Israel -- will be on the lookout to support more health and life sciences startups with its 2015 investment fund of $425 million.

After all, the potential payoff is significant.

"Life sciences is such a hopeful area," said Maris. "If you're a venture investor in the space, you've played a very small supporting role in the larger story of helping people live longer. You're investing in companies that really make a difference. It's just a little more meaningful."

First Published: December 16, 2014: 5:24 PM ET


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The 2014 tax breaks you'll be able to take

capitol christmas Congress waited until the last minute to extend a slew of tax breaks - and a handful will affect individuals directly.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

Congress on Tuesday night extended dozens of expired "temporary" tax breaks for 2014.

It took the Senate, by a 76 to 16 vote, until the week after Congress was supposed to adjourn to pass the bill, which the House had already approved.

The bill will now be sent to President Obama, who is expected to sign it.

The majority of tax breaks in the bill pertain to businesses, but a handful will affect individuals.

Among those who will benefit from the retroactive extension to January 1, 2014: Teachers who buy classroom supplies, mass-transit commuters, residents of states with no income tax, parents with kids in college, some homeowners and some retirees with IRAs.

The bill also includes a new provision that will benefit disabled adults.

What's not clear yet is whether passage of the tax extenders bill so late in the year will force the IRS to delay when you can start filing your 2014 taxes, which typically begins in mid-January.

But whenever tax season starts, here are the extended tax breaks that you can take on your 2014 tax return:

Deduction for teachers' expenses: This measure lets school teachers deduct up to $250 for the costs of classroom supplies that they buy with their own money. It's available to all teachers, whether they itemize or not.

Related: Senate sends spending bill to Obama, avoiding shutdown

Equal treatment of commuting costs: All commuters may reduce their pre-tax income to account for their commuting costs. Under the law, however, those who drive to work and pay for parking are allowed to exclude more ($250 per month) than those who use mass transit ($130 per month). This measure again provides parity by also allowing mass transit riders to exclude $250 per month.

State and local sales tax deduction: If you itemize your taxes, this measure lets you deduct the state and local sales taxes you've paid in lieu of state income taxes.

The deduction can be a boon for itemizers who live in Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and Wyoming. Those are the seven states that don't impose an income tax but where residents pay sales taxes, either at the state or local levels.

Tuition deduction: Among the many education tax breaks on the books, this one is available to all tax filers, whether you itemize or not. With it, you may deduct up to $4,000 in qualified tuition, fees and related expenses for post-secondary education, such as college and graduate school. The deduction may be taken for yourself, your spouse or your dependents.

Related: Washington budget voodoo hides true cost

But there are income limitations, and if you take it you may not take other types of education tax breaks, such as the Lifetime Learning Credit. Your deduction also is reduced by any grants and scholarships received to pay for school, as well as any money withdrawn from tax-advantaged, education savings accounts.

Deduction for mortgage insurance premiums: If you only put down a small amount to buy a home you may be required to pay for mortgage insurance to protect the lender against default. This tax break lets you deduct the cost of your premiums if you itemize your deductions.

Income exclusion for mortgage debt that's been forgiven: When you sell your home for less than what you owe the bank or your home is foreclosed, the bank may agree to forgive the remaining debt you owe. But the IRS typically treats that forgiven debt as taxable income to you. This tax break lets you exclude it from your income.

Related: The 'temporary' recession tax you're still paying years later

Tax-free IRA withdrawals for charity: With this measure, anyone over 70-1/2 may take tax-free distributions of up to $100,000 from a traditional IRA if the money is distributed directly to an eligible charity.

While retirees can't also take a deduction for that contribution, the money won't count as income. So it won't hurt when it comes to other taxes, such as those imposed on Social Security benefits when income exceeds a certain level, said Mark Luscombe, principal federal tax analyst for tax publisher WoltersKluwer, CCH.

Tax-free savings for people with disabilities: Attached to the extender bill is the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act. That act will permit people who were disabled before the age of 26 -- as well as their family and friends -- to contribute up to a combined total of $14,000 a year to an ABLE account.

Earnings would grow tax free and the money would not disqualify the disabled person from receiving federal assistance benefits such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income so long as it is used to pay for housing, transportation, education and wellness.

--CNN's Ted Barrett and Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report.

First Published: December 16, 2014: 8:17 PM ET


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Airlines get $1 billion from baggage fees

Written By limadu on Selasa, 16 Desember 2014 | 14.44

airlines baggage fees Airlines are raking in big bucks from baggage fees.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

All together the 27 U.S. airlines took in a total of $960 million from baggage fees last quarter, according to data released by the Department of Transportation Monday.

That's an increase of almost 9% from a year ago.

The baggage fees are still just a fraction of airlines' revenue. Actual ticket fares brought in $34 billion for the same 27 companies in the quarter.

And the collection from baggage fees alone don't cover the cost of fuel, which totaled about $11 billion over three months, or labor costs, which amounted to more than $10 billion.

Even JetBlue (JBLU), one of the last holdouts, announced last month that it will start charging baggage fees as part of a cost savings plan.

First Published: December 15, 2014: 7:49 PM ET


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