Weather Impacting Sugar Cane Crop, Prices

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(MIAMI) -- The freezing temperatures in southern states are impacting several crops, including one that provides an ingredient used in so many foods it appears likely people across the country will feel an impact at the supermarket.

The Miami Herald on Sunday reported five nights of freezing temperatures have taken quite a toll on Florida's sugar cane crop.  Officials with U.S. Sugar Corporation told the Herald this year's crop has been heavily damaged, as well as cane grown last year being prepared for processing.  The 2011-2012 planting is also impacted by the cold.

The company reportedly has yet to harvest 60 percent of this year's crop but much of it is frozen.  Harvesters are working against the clock to get it in before it spoils.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Census Bureau Data: Richest Counties Get Richer, Poorest Get Poorer

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The rich get richer and the poor get poorer, at least judging by the most extreme neighborhoods for median household income in the latest Census Bureau data.

The census' American Community Survey, released last week, provides detailed neighborhood data, including languages spoken in a home, commute time and income levels.

The poorest county, Owsley County, Ky., had the lowest median household income outside of Puerto Rico. Its median income decreased to $18,869 from $20,346 in 2000. Of all the county or county equivalents, Falls Church, Va. had the highest median income, at $113,313, an increase from $96,449 in 2000.

Virginia also was home to the counties with the three highest median household incomes, and the only counties with median household incomes greater than $100,000. Fairfax County had a $104,259 median household income, and Loudoun County had one of $112,021.

The data came from surveys which were mailed to about 3 million addresses from January 2005 through December 2009. The Census Bureau's official 2010 census demographic data, which provide less detail on the neighborhood level, will be released on Dec. 21. 

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


General Motors Recalls 100,000 Crossovers

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(DETROIT) -- GM has recalled 111,136 of its crossover vehicles to repair seat belts the company says could fail during a crash.

Affected models include the Chevrolet Equinox, GMC Terrain and Cadillac SRX, all model year 2011.

The company said it is unaware of any injuries sustained as a result of the possibly faulty belts.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Final Stretch: Holiday Shoppers Hit the Malls

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Retailers are pulling out all the stops during this final weekend before Christmas: slashing prices, staying open all night and shifting sales strategies, all in effort to get procrastinators to spend.

"This is going to be one of the highest volume retail periods in the history of mankind,” said Toys R Us CEO Gerald Storch. “Every day from now until Christmas will be massive."

Even before this weekend, the numbers have been encouraging. The National Retail Federation originally predicted a 2.3 percent increase in holiday sales, but just recently revised that prediction to 3.3 percent.

"A lot of retail companies are betting on that last minute consumer,” said retail analyst Kristin Bentz. “When you get to the store, you'll have these ambassadors that are standing there with special gift cards, special discounts, because they want you in the store and they're going to reward you for that."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


What The Tax Cut Extension Means for You

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- When President Obama officially extended tax cuts enacted by his predecessor in a Rose Garden ceremony Friday, he ensured the average American will pay about $2,000 less in taxes per year for the next two years.

That figure includes a temporary holiday on the payroll tax, which helps fund Social Security.

The tax cut extension means big bucks for the super-rich. Lebron James, who makes $14.5 million each year, will save more than $600,000 in taxes for this year. A family making $100,000 per year will pay about $6,000 less in taxes than if the tax cuts had expired. The average savings for all Americans, according to the non-partisan Tax Policy Center, is about $2,800.

The deal, hatched between the White House and Congressional Republicans and passed through Congress this week despite opposition from liberals and conservatives, will also extend unemployment benefits for the next two years.

To figure out how the tax deal will affect you personally, plug your income into

To get enough votes, Senate leaders added some unrelated incentives, including special tax incentives for rum producers and NASCAR, among others.

While Americans will see less money taken out of their paychecks by Uncle Sam the next two years, it will result in lost revenue to the government of $450 billion in 2011 to as much as $600 billion. That will be added to the nation's $13.8 trilllion deficit.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


More Than 1,700 Stores Offer Free Shipping; Deadlines for Christmas Deliveries

Photo Courtesy - FreeShippingDay [dot] com(NEW YORK) -- For those last minute shoppers still surfing the Net to buy gifts for their loved ones, Friday might just be the day to finalize those purchases.

In what's known as Free Shipping Day, over 1,700 online vendors are offering free shipping deals to consumers nationwide Friday and guaranteeing deliveries by Christmas Eve.  To view the full list of participating stores, visit

On a related note, deadlines are approaching for shipping holiday packages.

To ensure delivery before Christmas, customers using FedEx's Ground and Home Delivery services must ship their items by Dec. 17.  Otherwise, they can use the company's 2Day service on the 22nd or ship with FedEx Overnight on the 23rd.

Those shipping via UPS will have until Dec. 21 to ship their packages with 3-Day Select or, like with FedEx's Overnight service, they can use Next Day Air on Dec. 23 to guarantee delivery by Christmas.

For shipments via the U.S. Postal Service, First Class Mail needs to be sent by Dec. 20, Priority Mail by Dec. 21, and Express Mail by Dec. 22.  The deadline for letters and packages to U.S. service members overseas is Dec. 18.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Fed Proposes Rules on Debit Card Fees

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Federal Reserve proposed a new rule regulating the fees merchants pay when American consumers use any of their collective 507 million debit cards when they make a purchase.
The Fed’s new rule -- coming after Congress added an amendment to the financial regulatory reform bill -- would set fees that are “reasonable and proportional to the overall transaction,”  effectively setting a maximum fee which Visa and MasterCard could charge a merchant when a debit card is used.
The proposed rules have two options, both of which would set a maximum “interchange” fee of 12 cents per transaction -- 70 percent lower than the average fee from 2009.

“The results of a new Federal Reserve survey published earlier this month show that nearly 38 billion debit card payments were made in the U.S. in 2009,” said Fed Vice Chair Janet Yellen. “Debit cards are now used in 35 percent of non-cash payment transactions, and have eclipsed checks as the most frequently used non-cash payment method.”
In 2009, the Fed says “interchange” fees for debit transactions totaled more than $16 billion.
The National Retail Federation – the retail lobby group in Washington – say these regulations will possibly lead to reduced prices or discounts for consumers who decide to use debit cards instead of credit.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio 


Geithner Says Financial Recovery Amounts to 'Fraction' of Estimated Cost

Photo Courtesy - Darren McCollester/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told a congressional oversight panel Thursday morning that the cost of the federal financial rescue program will ultimately be only a “fraction” of the cost originally estimated by the Congressional Budget Office.

“We have brought stability to the financial system and the economy at a fraction of the expected costs,” Geithner said in prepared remarks for the hearing.

Recently, the CBO estimated that the TARP program will cost the government $25 billion, far lower than the original estimate of $350 billion, and Geithner suspected that the $25 billion estimate might be “too high.”  Geithner further said the combined costs of efforts by the Federal Reserve and FDIC coupled with TARP and the losses inflicted by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will amount to less than one percent of the GDP.

Geithner defended the TARP program calling it “one of the most effective crisis response programs ever implemented.”

“The American financial system today is in a much stronger position than it was before the crisis.  There's been a very dramatic restructuring of our financial system.  The weakest parts of the system no longer exist today.”

But the panel’s chairman, Sen. Ted Kaufman, pointed out that Americans still feel the stress of the financial crisis despite the recovery of large financial institutions, comparing it to a “let them eat cake” situation.

“Many people simply feel their lives have not gotten better during this period, even as the financial system has stabilized and banks have returned to profitability,” Kaufman said. “The problem we have out there now is people don't have jobs, and people can't borrow money.”

Geithner assured the panel that the government will continue to invest in programs to bring greater relief to individuals while also attempting to stave off any future financial collapse.

“We have to worry how to clean up this mess for the future, make sure we don't get into this kind of mess in the future again,” Geithner said.  “Our overwhelming preoccupation now is, what can we do to make sure that  we're helping people stay in their homes who can afford to, and make sure we get through the damage remaining, at least risk to the innocent people that have suffered so much in this crisis.”

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Foreclosure Filings Drop 21 Percent in November

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(IRVINE, Calif.) -- Foreclosure activity decreased 21 percent in November, according to a report released Thursday by RealtyTrac.

The foreclosure listing firm says over 262,000 households nationwide received foreclosure notices last month, marking a 21 percent drop from October and a 14 percent drop from the same time period last year.

RealtyTrac's Rick Sharga says the latest figures are "the lowest total, in terms of foreclosure activity, since November of 2008."

Sharga says the drop in foreclosures is largely due to the robo-signing controversy that occurred last month.  "In terms of the robo-signing problems, we're going to see artificially-lower numbers of foreclosure activity for the fourth quarter of this year and we'll probably see accelerated rates of foreclosures in the first quarter of next year," he explains.  "But, by the second quarter of 2011, the numbers should all be back to normal."

"There's no data right now to suggest that foreclosure activity should be diminishing," Sharga adds.  "Unemployment continues to be stubbornly high.  Demand for properties is weak.  Lending is difficult to get."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Christmas Comes Early: Top CEO Bonuses of 2010

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- In a tough economic year, when even some CEOs have had to scrimp and save, others are finding big bonuses beneath the tree.

Aaron Boyd, head of research for Equilar, an executive compensation data firm, says it's still too early to say how generous a year 2010 will turn out to be for chief executives of America's biggest companies.  Most S&P 500 companies don't report their bonus numbers until March or April.  A minority, however -- companies with fiscal years ending early -- file their proxies sooner, allowing analysts like Boyd to get a peek at coming attractions.

His look at some 60 companies that have already filed shows that the CEOs of H.J. Heinz, Oracle, Cisco Systems, Nike and News Corp were the top five biggest bonus winners listed.  William R. Johnson, the chairman and president of H.J. Heinz, came in first on the list with a bonus of $8,589,063, followed by Oracle CEO Lawrence J. Ellison with $6,453,254.  The remaining three CEOs scored bonuses within the $4 million range.

What's noteworthy about their bonuses, says Boyd -- apart from sheer size -- is that all were pre-determined by formulas that take into account how the CEOs' companies performed.

"Companies are moving away from payouts based purely on the discretion of the board," he says.  The trend is toward bonuses tied more closely to performance.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

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