Men’s Shirt Start-Up Rides Crowdfunding Boom

© Provided by CNBC
© Provided by CNBC

At a time when more workplaces are going business casual, one retail newcomer is trying to encourage men to button up — or rather down.

Weyhill & Wharf is updating a male clothing staple with its Preparatory Oxford shirt — the prevailing style of button-down collars found on men’s shirts. In the process, the retail start-up is targeting the same market occupied by preppy menswear powerhouses like Brooks Brothers, Ralph Lauren and Vineyard Vines.

However, unlike some of its competitors, all Weyhill & Wharf clothing is made in the United States.

“Weyhill & Wharf is an American brand producing shirts on American soil,” Weyhill’s CEO, Alexander Popowich, told CNBC in an interview. “We are proud to do our part to support American jobs, and at the same time, bring high quality American made products to the market.”

It all started in June, when Popowich initiated a Kickstarter campaign with a $10,000 goal. A month after launching the crowdfunding campaign, Weyhill & Wharf surpassed its initial benchmark, with more than $15,500 raised and 94 backers.

Weyhill’s take on the classic shirt combines silk necktie designs with cotton shirts, and sells for $140 per item. The price is steeper than those found at high-end Brooks Brothers, but that hasn’t been a barrier for sales: Weyhill’s entire shirt inventory is now sold out until new products land later this month.

“I wanted the brand to have a decidedly authentic feel and look of actually having a necktie inside your oxford,” Popowich said. “The shirts only get better with every wear and wash.”

Weyhill joins the growing number of start-up entrepreneurs who have tapped Kickstarter to raise more than $2 billion for nearly 100,000 different projects. Overall, crowdfunding has become a reliable staple for budding moguls, having raised more than $16 billion worldwide last year, according to research by Massolution.

Crowdfunding is valuable because “there’s someone to buy the product on the other end, making it a great tool to see if a start-up can be successful,” entrepreneur and former investment banker Carol Roth told CNBC recently.

On the flip side, an unsuccessful campaign can bring a start-up’s potential success into question, Roth added, and hinder the company’s future development.

In fact, crowdfunding can easily make or break a company. While more than half of Kickstarter campaigns fail, the platform has produced notable success stories like Oculus Rift — which raised $2.4 million before being purchased by Facebook  (FB) for a eye-popping $2 billion — and Pebble Watch, which pulled in more than $30 million.

For now at least, Weyhill & Wharf is setting its sights a bit lower. Popowich told CNBC his company is focused on digital marketing via Instagram and Twitter, which accounts for a majority of its sales. Popowich expects that word of mouth will spread as long as the company can churn out quality products.

“The fundamental business strategy behind Weyhill & Wharf is simple and focuses on people, process and product,” he said.

The company’s formula includes creating “a repeatable and streamlined process, particularly when it comes to delivering on customer service, [and] don’t cut corners, make the best product you can — because after all, that’s what the consumer business is all about,” he added.

According to Roth, when people are enthused about the product, they will market the product for you. A good relationship between the company and consumer makes it much easier to retain clientele.

“Weyhill & Wharf is developing a passionate following and becoming well-known for our unique, American-made products and superb quality,” Popowich said.

Written by Brad Taylor of CNBC

(Source: CNBC)

Volkswagen Apologizes for Emissions Scandal with Full-Page Ad in Dozens of Papers

© Provided by The Verge
© Provided by The Verge

Volkswagen is apologizing. The company’s American arm rolled out its first ad campaign today addressing the emissions scandals that have rocked the company over the past couple of months. The understated full-page ad, published in over 30 newspapers across the US today, says in large type: “We’re working to make things right.”

It continues, “Over the past several weeks, we’ve apologized to you, our loyal customers, about the 2.0L VW emissions issue. As we work tirelessly to develop a remedy, we ask for your continued patience.” Volkswagen has yet to develop a solution for fixing the emissions on vehicles that utilized a defeat device to fool regulators into recording low emissions values on certain diesel vehicles.

“We sincerely hope you see this as a first step toward restoring your invaluable trust.”

Beyond serving as a much-needed apology to its customers — who woke up after the scandal to find the resale value on their cars had depreciated — the ad also promotes the company’s “goodwill package” announced this past week. The German carmaker is offering $500 in the form of a Visa gift card to owners of models effected by the scandal. It’s also tossing in a $500 gift card towards the purchase of a new Volkswagen, and three years of no-cost roadside assistance.

If that doesn’t quite seem like enough to make up for Volkswagen’s major failures that led up to the scandal, the company says in the public letter that “we sincerely hope you see this as a first step toward restoring your invaluable trust.”

© Provided by The Verge
© Provided by The Verge

Written by Dante D’Orazio of The Verge

(Source: The Verge)

These Days, J.C. Penney is the Fastest-Growing Department Store in the Land

© Spencer Platt/Getty Images
© Spencer Platt/Getty Images

For a retailer that many people just three years ago were saying was doomed to disappear, J.C. Penney (JCP) has been putting in best-in-class numbers among the department store chains.

The mid-market retailer on Friday said comparable sales rose 6.4% in the quarter ended Oct. 31, which was better than the 5.6% growth Wall Street expected, according to Consensus Metrix. More notably, Penney easily beat the awful performance of its long-time and sometimes bitter rival, Macy’s, which earlier this week stunned the retail world with a sharp sales decline last quarter and the forecast of more trouble during this holiday season quarter. Among other factors, Macy’s blamed the warm weather it said led to shoppers postponing winter clothing purchase, an excuse that doesn’t wash given overlap between the two chains’ fleet of stores.

Penney also bested Kohl’s (KSS) and the higher end Nordstrom JWN, which each reported modest comparable sales growth. (In Nordstrom’s case, it was well below analyst expectations, and shares fell 20%.)

So, what has Penney been doing right?

Before we fall over ourselves about its performance, it’s worth remembering that Penney is on the comeback trail, trying to claw its way back from a disastrous attempt by ex-CEO Ron Johnson to take the retailer further upmarket, a massive misstep that shaved 30% off the store’s revenues over two years before the bleeding stopped. For all these strong quarterly numbers, Penney is on track for revenue of $12.6 billion this current fiscal year–still $4 billion away from where it was before the Johnson experiment.

Penney CEO Marvin Ellison took the reins in August, and along with his predecessor, Mike Ullman, he’s worked to bring back the popular store brands Penney shoppers loved, notably St. John’s Bay. But Ellison is also in the process of giving the retailer’s tech systems and e-commerce a massive overhaul after they were gutted during the Johnson regime. That includes unsexy, but essential, things like better demand forecasting analytics and inventory management, better mobile apps, and equipping stores to ship online orders to speed up the process. Ellison also recently cut hundreds of jobs at Penney’s headquarters in Plano, Texas to trim costs.

“While there is significant work to do to improve our company, the J.C. Penney team remains determined to regain our status as a world-class retailer,” Ellison said in a statement.

And he is right on that front: Despite the big sales gains, Penney’s gross profit margin rose a meager 0.7%, a smaller improvement than in recent quarters.

For a company that is still far from profitable–Penney has lost $442 million in the first nine months of the current fiscal year, which is down from $712 million a year earlier but still a big loss–any delay in getting back into the black will frighten investors. And indeed, despite a strong quarter, Penney’s shares slipped 5% in premarket trading.

Written by Phil Wahba of Fortune 

(Source: Fortune)

Automakers Battle for High-Tech Dominance on the Road to Self-Driving Car

© REUTERS/Thomas Peter/Files
© REUTERS/Thomas Peter/Files

 At the recent Frankfurt Auto Show, Ford Motor Co unveiled a new feature that drivers pre-set their car to go at or just above the speed limit. In-car cameras and software read and react to road signs, speeding the car up or slowing it down.

Active Speed Limiter is available on select models in Europe, but not, ironically, in the United States, Ford’s home country, where road signs come in different shapes and sizes, and are often obscured by shrubbery.

So it goes on the road to the self-driving, or autonomous, car – a journey of, well, stops and starts that most experts say will take a couple decades to complete.

Meantime, advances in “semi-autonomy” – features that help handle tricky or tiresome driving situations but still require a driver’s oversight – have sparked a high-tech automotive arms race, with car companies vying to launch the most advanced features.

Automakers hope semi-autonomous features will, over time, help drivers and regulators get over fears of riding in vehicles that accelerate, steer and stop themselves, making potentially life-or-death judgments.

Shorter term, car companies want these features to make driving more convenient – and cars more profitable.

“People like features that make driving easier, safer and more fun,” says Joseph Vitale Jr., who heads global automotive consulting for Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu. “The question is what customers will pay for them.”

Ford’s Active Speed Limiter comes at 560 euros ($602.78), and it’s too soon to tell how popular it will be.

Among the biggest winners for now are the companies that produce electronic sensors, cameras and software that make self-driving features possible.

The growing list includes the high-tech units of traditional automotive suppliers such as Germany’s Continental AG, Israel’s Mobileye Vision Technologies, and consumer-technology giants Google, Apple, Samsung Electronics Co, Sony Corp and more.

At Silicon Valley’s Nvidia Corp, for example, video games remain the biggest market, but automotive revenue is the fastest-growing segment.

“We’re in well over 8 million cars on the road today and will be in more than 30 million in the next three to four years,” says Jen-Hsun Huang, Nvidia’s president and CEO. “Future cars will sense and understand the world moving around them.”

“DOING CRAZY THINGS”

A big step in that direction was the traffic-jam assistance feature on the 2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Now available on more Mercedes models, the Intelligent Drive system allows the car to drive itself at low speeds in traffic jams, freeing the driver from constant braking.

BMW, Honda Motor Co, Hyundai Motor Co and others have or will soon introduce similar features.

Silicon Valley’s Tesla Motors recently broke new ground by downloading “autopilot” features to its newer models, just as software updates are downloaded to smartphones and tablets. Autopilot basically drives the car itself, but Tesla warns drivers not to relinquish control entirely.

On a recent investor call, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said he had seen some “fairly crazy videos on YouTube” of Tesla owners driving hands-free with autopilot, and added: “This is not good. We will be putting some additional constraints on when autopilot can be activated, to minimize the possibility of people doing crazy things with it.”

BELLS AND WHISTLES

For consumers, getting their first car with semi-automated features can be both exciting and daunting, especially those who haven’t bought a new car in years.

“I had no idea this sort of thing was out there,” says Mark Goldsmith, a Tokyo-area TV news writer. “I’d been driving a 15-year-old Jeep, which only had cruise control that you constantly had to adjust, so all these new features are a novelty.”

Goldsmith recently traded the Jeep for a 2015 Volvo [GEELY.UL] with a mouthful of a name – the V40 T5 R-design – and a handful of semi-automated driving features.

Those include adaptive cruise control, distance warning, blind-spot information system, “city safety,” driver alert system, lane-keeping aid, road-sign information, anti-skid system and parking assist. Combined they add close to $1,000 to the car’s total price of nearly $31,000.

While Goldsmith says he has yet to test all the automated features, he says the suite of functions was “definitely” a factor that helped sell he and his wife on the car.

But to other drivers, like Kirstin Houser, a communications and events manager in Frankfurt, mastering how to use all the buttons, switches and toggles to activate the automated drive functions on her family car, a 2015 Mercedes E-Klasse Kombi, was a time-consuming process which required “relearn(ing) how to drive”.

“There are just too many bells and whistles on the steering column, either to push, pull, scroll, hold down, release, etc. By the time I remember which one to use, there’s already a row of cars behind me honking to park my car,” she said.

“Safe driving, and also understanding the general mechanics of a car, are so engrained in the way we drive that it’s hard to separate that and allow our car to make those judgments.”

TARGET 2020 

Ford recently added automated straight-in, “perpendicular” parking on some models. While developing the feature, company engineers found that cars could self-park in places so tight that drivers couldn’t pull out of them. They reworked the software to add pull-out capability to Active Park Assist, which is priced at $395 in America and 350 euros in Europe.

BMW’s new flagship 7 Series sedan has a remote self-parking feature that allows the car to park itself with nobody inside. Drivers stop, hop out, push a button on the key fob, and the car takes over.

Google is holding discussions with at least half a dozen car companies with aims of launching its self-driving car system by 2020. That same year, Japan’s Big Three – Toyota, Nissan Motor Co and Honda – are targeting the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games to launch and showcase cars that will largely handle themselves in city traffic, but not entirely.

“We maintain our expectation that drivers will remain in control of their cars in 2020,” Moritaka Yoshida, Toyota’s chief safety technology officer, said recently at a demonstration of the company’s latest automated driving technology.

Nonetheless, the company’s Lexus GS450 SX models equipped with cameras, radar and laser sensors changed lanes and merged smoothly in heavy traffic, without help from the driver.

The 2020 Olympics could become a venue for automotive as well as athletic competition, and not just among traditional car companies.

Tokyo-based Robot Taxi plans to bypass semi-autonomy and deploy 3,000 self-driving taxis that athletes, VIPs and tourists can summon by a smartphone app to ferry to and from venues.

“It’s not about the car,” the company’s chairman Hisashi Taniguchi told Reuters. “We’re going to generate revenue from supplying self-driving vehicles as a service, and collecting user fees. It’s all about the app, and how many people use it.”

($1 = 0.9290 euros)($1 = 122.9700 yen)

Written by Naomi Tajitsu and Paul Ingrassia of Reuters

(Source: Reuters)

4 Taxes to Consider When Picking a Place to Retire

American Advisors Group/Flickr
American Advisors Group/Flickr

No matter where you live in retirement, your federal taxes will be about the same if you take the standard deduction. Not so for state and local taxes.

Start with income tax. Seven states–Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and Wyoming–have no state income tax whatsoever.

Next, consider taxes on Social Security.Thirteen states tax your retirement benefits to some degree: Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont and West Virginia.

But just because a state taxes Social Security doesn’t mean it’s a bad place to retire. Overall, Colorado and West Virginia are actually tax-friendly places to live in retirement despite the tax on Social Security.

Then there’s sales tax. Some states exempt food and medicine, while others famously have no sales tax at all. Some states will tax every dime you spend. Most states allow cities and counties to assess sales taxes, too.

Finally, weigh property taxes. Rates vary from state to state and even among cities in the same state. Luckily, many places offer retirees breaks on property taxes. It pays to check.

Taxes are just one aspect of a happy retirement, but they can be a costly one.

Written by The Editors of Kiplinger

(Source: Kiplinger)

Oil Suffers its Biggest Weekly Drop in 8 Months

© Kevin Law/Getty Images

Oil fell more than 2 percent Friday, extending the week’s loss to the largest in eight months, pressured by swelling storage of crude on both land and sea.

Prices slipped slightly after Baker Hughes reported the number of oil rigs operating in the United States rose for the first time in 11 weeks.

The weekly count ticked up by 2 rigs to a total of 574, compared with 1,578 at this time last year.

U.S. crude traded slightly above $40 a barrel, while benchmark Brent was less than $2 from setting new 6½-year lows. The slump widened to oil products with U.S. gasoline tumbling to 10-month lows.

Oil prices have fallen in seven of the last eight sessions, with losses accelerating after U.S. government data on Thursday affirmed a seventh weekly rise in U.S. crude inventories that took stockpiles near April’s record highs.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) added to the bearish sentiment on Friday, saying there was a record 3 billion barrels of crude and oil products in tanks worldwide.

U.S. crude’s spot contract for December was at its widest discount in nearly three months to crude slated for delivery in a year. The global glut has prompted traders to store more oil with the hope of selling later at higher prices.

The entire strip of futures prices for the next six months has weakened over the past four weeks as focus shifted back from strong oil demand toward oversupply.

Options trading has spiked with a soaring number of options taken to sell crude if prices fall to $40 or even $25.

“The evolving bearish global balances that we alluded to all year are acquiring increased transparency,” said Jim Ritterbusch of Chicago-based oil consultancy Ritterbusch & Associates.

U.S. crude closed $1.01 lower, or 2.42 percent, at $40.74 a barrel. It fell about 8 percent on the week, its most since March.

Brent was off 46 cents, or 1.04 percent, at $43.60 a barrel. Its downside was limited by the impending expiry of its front month December contract at Friday’s settlement. For the week, Brent was down nearly 8 percent, also its most since March.

Oil was caught in a larger commodities selloff on Friday. The Thomson Reuters/Core Commodity CRB Index, a global benchmark, was near its lowest since 2002.

An estimated crude oversupply of between 0.7 million and 2.5 million barrels per day has resulted in prices dropping almost two thirds since June 2014.

The IEA said a mild 2016 winter could cause the overhang to rise in coming months.

Tens of millions of barrels are sitting on tankers at sea, looking for buyers and threatening logistical paralysis.

Written by Barani Krishna of Reuters 

(Source: MSN)

How You’re Most Likely to Break Your Phone

© Provided by CNBC

Apple  (AAPL) enthusiasts went gaga Thursday for the tech giant’s latest patent — a device that could aid in “liquid expulsion from an orifice,” and could thus, save your iPhone from being waterlogged if it was accidentally dropped in a body of water.

As great as it would be, that kind of technology is just speculative, for now. But new iPhone users have a very real hazard to worry about in the meantime: cracking their screen.

Dropping your iPhone 6S, 6S Plus or Samsung Galaxy Note 5 face down is the most likely way for it to break, according to SquareTrade, which issues protection plans for consumer electronics like mobile phones.

SquareTrade put phones through a series of tests of extreme hot and cold, water, bending and drops to test how they fared, rating each hazard from 1 (low risk) to 10 (high risk). Water dunks rated 1 or 2 on the scale, while dropping the phones face down hit 7 or above on the scale, according to the September study.

Not only is a drop the fastest way to kill your device, it’s one of the most common. Cracked screens due to accidental drops are responsible for half of all smartphone damage, SquareTrade said. Indeed, each week, you have a 31 percent chance of dropping your phone, according to case company OtterBox.

Given the likelihood of a cracked screen, some consumers have even tried to wear it as a badge of honor — the battle scar of selfies past, if you will. And if you’re too hesitant to break your screen, a quick Web search pulls up wallpaper images, apps and even screen covers that give an intact phone the look of a shattered screen.

Written by Anita Balakrishnan of CNBC

(Source: CNBC)

Nordstrom, Macy’s Suffer as Americans Skip the Mall

Nightscream/Wikimedia
Nightscream/Wikimedia

Nordstrom joined Macy’s in posting woeful results last quarter, renewing concern that U.S. shoppers are skipping a trip to the mall and spending their money on cars, homes and iPhones instead.

Nordstrom’s profit shrank to 57 cents a share in the period, excluding some items, the company said on Thursday. Analysts had projected 72 cents on average. Sales also missed estimates, even at the company’s once-hot Nordstrom Rack outlet chain.

The problem? Department stores aren’t drawing the same foot traffic. Though the job market is improving and the U.S. economy is chugging along, Americans would rather spend their money elsewhere. Nordstrom’s results sent its shares down as much as 21 percent on Friday, the biggest intraday decline in almost seven years. That follows a similar swoon for Macy’s after it released weak earnings earlier this week.

“It’s kind of bizarre,” said Dorothy Lakner, an analyst at Topeka Capital Markets in New York. “People have money. The economy isn’t bad, but they’re not spending on apparel.”

Nordstrom’s stock tumbled as much as $13.04 to $50.43 in New York, the biggest intraday decline since Nov. 2008. The shares had already slid 20 percent this year through the close of regular trading Thursday.

Cautious Outlook

Even J.C. Penney Inc., which beat sales estimates in the third quarter, is approaching the holiday cautiously. The retailer didn’t raise its annual guidance despite posting a same-store sales gain of 6.4 percent last quarter. That exceeded the 4.5 percent increase analysts expected.

J.C. Penney shares fell as much as 9.9 percent to $7.92 in New York on Friday. The company, benefiting from a turnaround plan, had gained 36 percent this year through Thursday.

Retailers and clothing suppliers have struggled to pare down excess inventories, forcing them to rely more on discounts. Nordstrom’s results reflected softer sales “across channels and merchandise categories,” the Seattle-based company said.

“It’s just a traffic problem,” James Nordstrom, president of stores, said on a conference call. “We’ve got less people buying clothes this quarter than we expected.”

Squeezing Margins

Markdowns also took a toll on profit last quarter, the company said. But that may help Nordstrom in the holiday period, according to Lakner.

“The good news is at Nordstrom, they cleaned their inventory,” Lakner said. “They made adjustments to the fourth quarter. They’re in a pretty good position.”

Nordstrom’s same-store sales, a closely watched benchmark, grew just 0.9 percent last quarter, which ended Oct. 31. Analysts had estimated 3.6 percent, according to Consensus Metrix. Sales fell 2.2 percent at the Rack chain, missing a projection for growth of 2.8 percent.

The company now expects earnings of $3.40 to $3.50 a share this year, excluding some items. That’s down from an earlier forecast of as much as $3.80.

An unseasonably warm autumn also has been blamed for sluggish sales at U.S. retailers. Macy’s said earlier this week that the weather hurt demand for coats, sweaters and boots.

But Nordstrom didn’t see that as a problem. Consumers just didn’t show up.

“There is really not a seasonal component to where we have seen transactions slow down,” James Nordstrom said. “Our coat business has been really strong.”

Written by Lindsey Rupp of Bloomberg

(Source: MSN)

Chinese-Made Buick SUVs Bound for U.S.

© Provided by IBT US General Motors detroit
© Provided by IBT US General Motors detroit

General Motors Company plans to import Chinese-made cars to the United States beginning early next year, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. The Detroit-based company will reportedly start selling the Buick Envision, a midsize sport-utility vehicle made in eastern China’s Shandong province.

Initially, GM plans to import between 30,000 and 40,000 Envisions to the U.S. market, the Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter. The latest move will reportedly add a third SUV to Buick’s U.S. lineup, joining the Encore, built in South Korea, and the Enclave, built in Michigan.

“GM officials briefed on the plan say importing the Buick Envision would fill a gap in the brand’s product line, and isn’t a cost-saving measure,” the Journal reported, citing a source.

Officials of the United Auto Workers union, which agreed to a tentative four-year labor contract with GM and is pushing members to approve it, reportedly called the prospect of GM importing vehicles from China concerning.

In October, the union said it had secured “significant gains and job security protections” for U.S. auto workers affected by the contract. Last Friday, the union reported that so far 55.4 percent of its members voted for the agreement while rest opposed it, according to Agence France-Presse.

Salt Lake City Buick dealer Jerry Seiner reportedly said that he believes a Chinese-made Buick would do well in the U.S. if it meets the quality standards expected by customers. “I don’t think there’s a negativity that there would have been when people were talking about [making cars] in Mexico and Korea” years ago, Seiner said, according to the Journal.

Written by Suman Varandani of IBT

(Source: IBT)

Facebook Is Now Selling Virtual Reality-Like Video Ads

Oculus
Oculus

Facebook’s $2 billion acquisition of Oculus VR won’t result in a commercial product for at least a few more months. In the meantime, it’s giving users a little taste of the kind of content they can expect.

Facebook will start publishing more 360-degree video content into your News Feed — and it’s also going to start including 360-degree video ads. You don’t need a virtual reality headset to watch these videos, but they simulate what it’s like to look anywhere in a scene.

Facebook first launched 360-degree video in News Feed back in September — you can see how it works down below — and now it’s bringing that functionality to iOS devices and opening it up to advertisers for the first time.

It’s also creating tools to make it easier for people to share 360-degree content to their profiles. It added a resource hub so people can learn more about how to upload 360-degree videos, and it’s partnering with camera manufacturers like Theta and Giroptic to add “publish to Facebook” features directly into the camera. It also poached three Microsoft researchers last month to handle this very challenge — to get people sharing more VR-like content to Facebook.

All of this, if it goes according to plan, should mean more 360-degree video on Facebook. This should make News Feed more interactive, but more importantly, whet users’ appetites for the real VR content they’ll be able to watch with virtual reality headsets like the Samsung Gear VR, launching later this month, or the Oculus Rift, launching next year.

Publishers like BuzzFeed, GoPro, and Felix & Paul (who created numerous videos for NBA megastar LeBron James) are all creating content for News Feed that may help Facebook sell more headsets.

Thursday is also the first time that Facebook has rolled out a 360-degree video ad. Initial ad partners include Nestle, Samsung and Walt Disney. This accomplishes two things. They give Facebook yet another video offering to entice advertisers with big ad budgets looking to experiment. And it also introduces advertisers to the idea of VR advertising — things like what it looks like and how it’s created — in preparation for VR expansion down the line.

Written by Kurt Wagner of Re/Code

(Source: Re/Code)