Coming: Buying Groceries Online with Food Stamps

Kiplinger

From The Kiplinger Agriculture Letter, March 7, 2014

Food stamp recipients will soon have the option of buying groceries online, courtesy of the new farm bill. It orders the Department of Agriculture to conduct pilot projectsduring the next two years before expanding such online purchasing nationwide by '17.Food stamp transactions will contribute to the growing share of groceries sold onlinein the U.S., propelling it to 10% in a decade, up from 2%-3% now. Though food stampscan't be used to pay delivery fees, many grocers already waive those charges,figuring that online sales help them to curb the expenses of bricks-and-mortar stores.

Meanwhile, the USDA is ordering more free meals to be served in schools.As of July 1, over 22,000 schools in low-income areas will start serving all lunchesand breakfasts for free...on the theory that kids who aren't hungry perform better.

Both moves spell more profits for farmers, as ramping up of online purchasesand expanded volume of food served in school cafeterias boost sales of farm products.

More Traffic Violation Cameras Despite Opposition -- From The Kiplinger Letter, March 7, 2014

Watch for more city governments to pull the plug on traffic violation cameras.After rising steadily for years, the number of localities using cameras to ticket driverswho speed or run red lights has started to fall because of mounting voter opposition.Roughly 30 cities have disconnected their cameras as a result, and more will follow.

But the total number of cameras in use will keep climbing. Many large citiesare investing in more of them, for use at more intersections or in new applications.Vendors such as American Traffic Solutions see big sales opportunities in Chicago,New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities looking to toughen traffic enforcement.

Ukraine Will Need to Swallow Losing Crimea -- From The Kiplinger Letter, March 7, 2014

East-West tensions over Ukraine will ease within a month or so. Once the Crimea votes to leave Ukraine and ally with neighboring Russia...whether as a separate republic or annexed by its neighbor...Kiev will swallow its prideand accept it. It doesn't have the military or economic might to do anything else,and $16 billion in aid from the U.S. and the European Union will assuage its pain.

No tough action against Russia is likely from either the U.S. or the EU,despite lip service to the new Ukrainian leaders and moral outrage over Russia's showof force. Among other reasons: Europe depends on Russian energy and capital,and the U.S. is using a path through Russia to withdraw equipment from Afghanistan.

Look for President Putin to soften his saber rattling soon, pulling most troopsback to Russian bases in the region. The mini-occupation is costing Russia a bundle,and he'll want to soothe Western concerns to salvage a June G-8 meeting in Sochi.

Reform of Mortgage Giants on Back Burner -- From The Kiplinger Letter, Feb. 28, 2014

Don't expect reform of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to get anywhere in the next year or two. Congressional fury at the quasi-governmental twins,which back about 90% of new U.S. home mortgages...has waned since 2008,when Uncle Sam started acquiring stock in them as part of a $187-billion bailout.Though policymakers still worry that the enterprises are too big, they're less eagerto whittle them down, now that the U.S. Treasury is collecting billions in dividends.

Seniors Embracing Smart Phones, Apps -- From The Kiplinger Letter, Feb. 28, 2014

The fastest-growing demographic for smart phones and digital applications? People over 55. That market will grow by 25% this year, so half of themwill own smart phones...a massive pool of potential customers for businessesof all kinds. But since many of them are technology newbies, the best approachto gain their business is through easy-to-use apps with clear instructions at each step.

Don't forget social media...Facebook, Twitter, etc...to reach older folks, too.About 40% of U.S. users of social media are 50 or older. Like people of all ages,those 55 and over most often turn to the Internet for e-mail, searches and health info.

Universities Get a Break on Obamacare -- From The Kiplinger Letter, Feb. 28, 2014

Colleges and universities can breathe easier about the health care mandate. A new rule gives them flexibility in counting hours for adjunct faculty,and they don't have to insure students in work-study programs, even if they workmore than 30 hours a week. Schools can calculate the hours adjunct faculty work by using a "safe harbor" rule: 1.25 hours of preparation for each hour of teaching.Many institutions, especially community colleges, rely heavily on adjunct faculty.Some were cutting instructors' hours deeply to ensure that they didn't hit 30 a week,the trigger for offering insurance or being fined. But with safe harbor provisionsin place, calculating hours will be surer, allowing some planned cuts to be reversed.

Obama, GOP Budgets Are Dead on Arrival -- From The Kiplinger Letter, Feb. 28, 2014

President Obama's tax and budget proposals aren't worth losing sleep over. They won't be adopted. They'll make headlines in early Marchwhen Obama officially releases his FY 2015 budget proposal, then disappear.

His wish list will give well-off folks plenty to grouse about, though: Limits on the value of tax deductions for top earners...capped at 28%regardless of which tax bracket they're actually in. The income thresholdwould be $225,000 for joint filers, $183,000 for individuals. Also, a new ceilingon the value of tax-preferred retirement funds...about $3.4 million at current rates.Later on, Obama may push means testing for Medicare and Social Security.

Other proposals appealing to the Democratic base: Big cuts in defense.More cash for child nutrition programs. And preserving funding for education.

Tax and budget plans from congressional Republicans won't fly, either.The GOP largely wants deeper spending cuts and lower tax brackets...25%for corporations and most people...with little new revenue. Democrats won't bite.

The fact is, a two-year budget deal covering FY 2015 is already in place.So both sides are offering up stridently partisan plans purely for show.

How the U.S. Will Handle Unrest in Ukraine, Venezuela -- From The Kiplinger Letter, Feb. 28, 2014

Washington is taking a markedly different approach to two global hot spots. It will play an active role in the upheaval in Ukraine. Along with the IMF...International Monetary Fund...the European Union and, to some extent, Moscow,the U.S. will offer a loan package to Ukraine in exchange for market reformsby the new regime. Ukraine says a bailout is needed to avoid total economic collapse.Still, a financial fix may not be enough to keep the Crimean region from breaking away.

But the U.S. plans a hands-off approach to civil unrest in Venezuela.It will leave it to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro to stabilize the economy,racked by high inflation and a lack of credit for many small and midsize businesses.Washington believes that violent protests in the streets will be a sufficient motivatorfor Maduro to relax controls on the economy set by his predecessor, Hugo Chávez.Freeing up credit will take the pressure off businesses, making it possible for themto stock more food and other needed consumer goods, helping to alleviate tensions.

Pay Gap for Younger Women Will Widen -- From The Kiplinger Letter, Feb. 21, 2014

Though pay for young women is nearly on a par with that of young men, earnings of female workers overall will lag those of men for years to come.Career choices and time away from work to have and raise kids are big reasonsfor the pay discrepancy. Women of all ages earn around 77¢ for every dollarthat men earn, while women born after 1980 make about 93¢ on the buck.But despite a growing advantage in bachelor's and advanced college degrees,the millennial generation will see pay gaps widen in child-bearing and -rearing yearsas more women than men spend less time on careers, losing out on advancement.

U.S. Farm Producers to Sell Directly to China -- From The Kiplinger Agriculture Letter, Feb. 21, 2014

U.S. agribusiness can at long last sell directly online to Chinese consumers, without the need to partner with businesses in China. Moreover, Alibaba,owner of Tmall.com, China's version of Amazon, has launched Tmall Global,recruiting foreigners to join its 70,000 Tmall merchants. Alaskan fish and cherriesfrom Washington state are already sold there.

Maple syrup makers will soon rename the quality grades of their products,leading to revisions of maple syrup labels in the U.S. and Canada in '15 and '16,as producers and regulators approve new national and state grading standards.Vt., source of 40% of U.S. maple syrup, approved changes in Jan. Other states in the Northeast and Great Lakes regions plan to follow suit. Old A and B gradeswill give way to four standards ... Golden Color/Delicate Taste, Amber/Rich Taste,Dark/Robust Taste and Very Dark/Strong Taste ... plus a lower, processing gradefor syrup to be blended into other foods. The new names mean Vt. producers,some grudgingly, will forfeit their Vermont Fancy label so that grades are uniform.

Democrats Fretting More About 2014 than 2016 -- From The Kiplinger Letter, Feb. 21, 2014

Democratic insiders don't like the early focus on 2016's presidential race. They want to lavish money and attention on 2014's congressional contestsand deal with presidential politics after Nov. Their concern is Democratic apathy...that party members will focus so much on Hillary Clinton's White House chancesthat voters and wealthy donors will ignore House and Senate candidates this fall.

Even if they get their way, Democrats won't take back control of the House,so the focus on a future race that is, at this stage, theoretically winnable is natural.

Clinton won't announce until next year, but the groundwork is being laid. Vice President Joe Biden won't run unless Clinton doesn't for some reason,so she'll likely have a quiet primary while Republicans battle for their nomination.

Banks, Hedge Funds to Face Pricey New Regs -- From The Kiplinger Letter, Feb. 21, 2014

More scrutiny is on tap for the nation's largest banks. Federal regulators aim to force big banks to better identify and manage potential financial risks.Institutions with $50 billion or more in assets can expect tougher audit requirements,more frequent stress tests to ensure soundness and stiff penalties for noncompliance.Look for those changes to kick in by year-end, despite bankers' concerns about costs.

The comptroller of the currency wants banks to police themselves better, too,by appointing more directors who have no connection to the firm. Regulators figurethat would promote independent oversight and help rein in potentially risky practices.

Big hedge funds, asset managers and mutual funds will also get a closer look.Regulators are likely to designate the largest and most critical to the financial systemas "systemically important," subjecting them to regulations designed to trim risk.GE Capital is the only such nonbank/noninsurer institution given that treatment now.

Compliance will be costly for firms that have to abide by the new standards.

FCC to Ease Rules on Media Providers -- From The Kiplinger Letter, Feb. 21, 2014

More media consolidation, starting with the Comcast and Time Warner Cable merger.Comcast, already the largest U.S. cable and Internet provider, controls a ton of contentthrough its ownership of NBCUniversal and will gain more customers. The Federal Communications Commission will attach strings to the deal in an attempt to placate those who predict higher ratesand decreased levels of service. The merged giant will be able to pressure othersto charge lower retransmission fees. If costs are high, Comcast can air its own content.

Also, an easing of media ownership rules for broadcasters and newspapers.The Internet puts any content provider in competition with media conglomerates,so the need to limit ownership of media properties in a market is somewhat outdated.

And a likely end to broadcast limits on sporting events. In pro football,especially, rules allow the NFL to keep games off local TV if all tickets aren't sold.The FCC contends the rule isn't necessary now because games can be viewed online.

Veterans to Get Additional Break on College Tuition -- From The Kiplinger Letter, Feb. 14, 2014

Veterans will soon have more choices for attending college on the GI Bill. They'll be able to pay in-state tuition at any public institution in the U.S.,no matter where they live and regardless of the usual strict residency requirements.Congress will add that huge sweetener by next spring. The GI Bill now covers the costof in-state tuition, with veterans picking up any out-of-state difference and fees.The move solves a problem many prospective student vets encounter: They aren't ableto fulfill residency requirements because they are stationed in another state or overseasat the end of their military service. The extra expense causes them to skip collegeor defer enrolling. Schools that don't comply will be tossed from other GI Bill programs.

Schools to Tighten Up on Student Privacy -- From The Kiplinger Letter, Feb. 14, 2014

Expect tougher privacy rules for schools and firms with access to pupil data.Some states are already tightening privacy laws. The Education Dept. will follow suit,with clearer guidelines to protect student info and plans to punish noncompliers. There's a good chance Congress will weigh in with legislative protections as well:Limits on use of software and apps by teachers, along with stepped-up enforcementof rules that prohibit companies from reselling student data for advertising purposes.

Cloud storage firms that don't clamp down risk losing lucrative contracts.

Puerto Rico: Gloomy Prospects, Risky Bonds -- From The Kiplinger Letter, Feb. 14, 2014

Puerto Rico is at risk of becoming a Caribbean version of Greece: Small, and suffering from sharing a currency with larger, healthier nations.Just as the strong euro has hampered Greece's bid to promote growth, the U.S. dollarmakes Puerto Rico's exports uncompetitive and fuels painfully high unemployment.With many Puerto Ricans migrating to the U.S., the island's prospects look grim.

A debt default is a long shot. But steer clear of Puerto Rico's bonds anyway.Juicy yields and favorable tax treatment don't compensate for the risk to principal.

Cybercrime Battle Heats Up Here and Abroad -- From The Kiplinger Letter, Feb. 14, 2014

With data breaches mounting and a cybersecurity bill stuck in Congress, the White House will direct government agencies to be more proactivein the battle against cybercrime by swiftly reporting any and all attacks they discoveron government databases and on those of businesses they oversee. President Obamahopes that stepped-up involvement by agencies will both better shield government dataand prompt lawmakers to require that businesses invest more in stronger firewalls.

Until and unless Congress enacts firewall standards, firms are on their ownwhen it comes to protecting the swelling reams of sensitive corporate and client info.And so far, for the most part, businesses have been slow to shell out for security. Odds are Congress won't require tougher cybersecurity rules until 2015.

U.S. firms doing business in the European Union can expect more scrutinyfrom the Federal Trade Comm. In response to European demands, the U.S. will agreeto require the FTC to vet and better enforce a provision to protect people's privacy.Compliance with the so-called Safe Harbor framework includes notifying individualsof how and why data about them is used and allowing them to opt out if they object.The EU is livid that the U.S. isn't stricter about safeguarding personal info,complaining that the FTC investigates companies only in response to complaints.

Internet privacy concerns are intensifying in other parts of the globe, too,as use of, and threats to, the Web continue to spread throughout the developed worldand in emerging markets. Brazil, for example, is making noise about extricating itselffrom the global Internet, relying more on local servers to ensure its citizens' privacy.Leaders of other countries are talking likewise, looking to tighten local controlson digital expansion. The din will make it harder to ensure a stable Internetand embolden repressive regimes to censor the Internet even more than they do now.

It's a growing headache for Internet providers and other Web businesses...Google, Facebook, etc...that want to expand, not slow, global broadband service.

Mint Weighs Changes to Pricey Nickels, Pennies -- From The Kiplinger Letter, Feb. 7, 2014

A copper-colored nickel made from zinc? The U.S. Mint is considering one. Under study: Replacing the nickel coating and much of the copper contentwith zinc, a much less costly metal. The copper would be used to coat the zinc core.

But the Mint will tread cautiously and won't do anything that the public (or vending machines) won't accept. Other options include cutting the copper contentof all coins or switching to an aluminum nickel. Whatever makeup the Mint settles onneeds to both resist corrosion and be hard enough to survive decades of wear and tear. There's no chance the penny will be nixed, though making it is a money loser.

Regions Face Distinct Shortages: Salt and Water -- From The Kiplinger Letter, Feb. 7, 2014

With harsh winter weather in many places depleting supplies of rock salt, some states and cities are devising novel ways to use it more efficientlyto melt ice on roads and bridges. Wis. is adding cheese brine to salt; N.J., pickle brine;N.D., beet juice; Tenn., potato juice...food by-products available from local processors.They bind to the salt, helping it stick better to road surfaces and promote melting.Keeping salt on the road longer stretches supplies, saving states and cities money.

Much of the West faces a very different worry: Drought and water shortages. Demand for new water wells is sure to surge, especially in parched regionsof California and other hard-hit areas. Drillers there are already seeing increased orders,and forecasts for continued drought mean more folks will invest in new wells. Fearsthat local officials might limit future drilling to save groundwater only add urgency.

Sales will be strong for water-saving appliances...low-flow faucets, toilets, etc.

And water rates are bound to rise, to spur conservation and provide fundsfor new infrastructure. Northern California, in particular, will see a big push to raise fundsfor badly needed storage facilities that can bank water supplies during wet spells.

Coming: Direct 911 Calls from Hotel Rooms -- From The Kiplinger Letter, Feb. 7, 2014

On a fast track to happen this year: Direct dialing of 911 calls from hotels.Many phone systems require dialing 9 for an outside line, so you need to dial 9-911to reach emergency dispatchers. The change is being driven by the story of a girlwho tried to call 911 four times while her mother was being stabbed in a motel room.The calls didn't go through because she wasn't on an outside line. Her mother died.

The switch will be voluntary, but many hotels and offices will adopt it.

Crackdown Coming on Food Stamp Fraud -- From The Kiplinger Letter, Feb. 7, 2014

Cuts in the food stamp program won't mean less money for honest recipients. Instead, look for Uncle Sam to crack down on fraud: the trading of benefits,which now come loaded on swipe cards instead of actual stamps, for cash, not food.The feds see stepped-up enforcement as a way to offset $8 billion in nutrition aid cuts.U.S. investigators will use data from each card's magnetic strip to identify recipientsand businesses involved in lump sum payouts or repeat visits for identical amounts.

Participants can be fined or kicked out for fraud. The fines go back into the program.

Obama's 'MyRA' Retirement Plan a Thin Option -- From The Kiplinger Letter, Feb. 7, 2014

President Obama's MyRA plans may coax more Americans to save, but they won't leave more folks in solid financial shape for retirement.The retirement accounts are designed to get people into the habit of saving regularlythrough payroll deductions. But the minimum amounts...$25 to start, $5 per payday...and the single investment choice, government securities, won't allow for hefty returns.Even investors with little money to invest can generate better returns on their own.

Still, MyRAs will be a good option for firms that don't offer retirement plans.They're a way to encourage risk free savings. Matching contributions aren't allowed.Contributions will come from after-tax dollars, but payouts are tax free in retirement.

The plans will pick up steam in 2015, after a limited pilot program this year.

Olympics to Tighten U.S.-Russian Security Ties -- From The Kiplinger Letter, Jan. 31, 2014

The Olympic Games in Sochi promise to unveil several new sports stars. But they'll also bring a new era of cooperation between Russia and the U.S.in the war on terrorism. Not since World War II will the world have seen a KGB offshootand the CIA working together as closely as now to keep terrorists from upsetting events.Moreover, behind-the-scenes agreements to conduct mutual surveillanceand share security-related intelligence will continue long after the games are over.

The partnership is especially bad news for anti-Russian militantsin the Caucasus, including Chechnya. Till now, Washington has been reluctantto condemn outright independence-seeking Chechen rebels because of a Cold War biasagainst Moscow. But with Chechen militants threatening to disrupt the games,the U.S. is turning over a plethora of information about them to Russian authorities.Should Chechen terrorists carry out their threats and bring harm to athletesand spectators, whatever support Chechnya has in the West would quickly evaporate.

States To Take Lead in Policing Water Safety -- From The Kiplinger Letter, Jan. 31, 2014

State regulators will shine a bright light on possible water pollution risks in the wake of the chemical spill in W.Va. that shut down water suppliesfor 300,000 people and closed scores of businesses. As part of the coming scrutiny,environmental cops will conduct more inspections and test more samples than usual.Agencies overseeing heavy industry in the Ohio River Basin will be especially active.

Operators of drinking water systems are going on high alert, too. The spillin W.Va. was a strong reminder that many water sources are vulnerable to pollutionfrom chemicals that aren't always strictly regulated. And many older water networksaren't designed to filter or detect certain chemicals that only recently came into use.

Makers of equipment for spotting contaminants can expect a bump in sales.

FDA Proposes More Transparent Nutrition Labels -- From The Kiplinger Letter, Jan. 31, 2014

Food processors face having to revamp nutrition labels on packaged food,once a new regulation calling for the first overhaul of labeling in 20 yearstakes effect sometime before Obama leaves office. The Food and Drug Admin.wants to make calorie and nutrition information on packages clearer, especiallyby serving size. It's also looking to make calorie totals and details about sodiumand sugar content more prominent. The agency will likely stop short -- for now --of requiring that the food industry put nutrition info on the front of packaging,as well as on the side or back, but it may leave the door open for doing so later.Nutrition experts want front-side labeling and some food makers already provide it.

Expanded Medicaid Program Expected to Hit More States -- From The Kiplinger Letter, Jan. 31, 2014

More states will be pressed to join the expanded Medicaid program in 2014. And more of them will receive waivers from Uncle Sam to add some flexibility, such as charging more for those who don't follow wellness plans or adding copayments for nonurgent trips to the emergency room. (But states don't have to participate.)

Likely to come on board this year: Maine, N.H., Pa., Va., Ind., Mo. and Utah,bringing the total to 33 states that will have opted in. Eventually, all but a handfulwill sign up after lobbying by hospitals, insurers, consumer advocates and physicians.Under Obamacare, the federal government picks up all of the costs through 2016.Then 95% until 2020, and 90% after that. The influx of federal money at $443.5 billionthrough 2019 is designed to provide Medicaid coverage for about 16 million people.

Keystone Pipeline System Will Likely Happen -- From The Kiplinger Letter, Jan. 31, 2014

The State Dept. will give a thumbs-up to the Keystone XL pipeline systemwithin months, clearing the way for President Obama to grant final approvalfor its construction. The president knows he'll take some heat over his decisionfrom environmentalists, but the pipeline has emerged as a cleaner and safer waythan railcars to transport dirty oil extracted from tar sands. Recent train derailmentsinvolving oil shipments make the prospect of hauling more crude by rail unpalatable.

Once permits are issued, the pipeline will take about two years to build.Many pipe sections are already in place and welders, pipe fitters and other contractorsare ready to start work. Building the system is expected to provide about 9,000 jobs.

What will Keystone mean for oil prices? Too early to say with any certainty.

Wedding Insurance Gains Popularity -- From The Kiplinger Letter, Jan. 24, 2014

Escalating wedding costs will convince more couples to insure their big day, with policies protecting against missing caterers, inclement weatherand other snafus, though not no-shows at the altar. With the average wedding costapproaching $30,000, more couples, or their parents, will be seeking such protection.

Policies won't net insurers big profits -- premiums run $100 to a few thousand. But issuers hope newlyweds will come back for their other insurance needs.

Service from Middle East Airlines to Pressure U.S. Carriers -- From The Kiplinger Letter, Jan. 24, 2014

On the horizon: Less-costly international airfares and improved service. The spur: Competition from three big Middle East airlines: Emirates,Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways, all in the midst of a massive global expansion.Etihad will launch service to L.A. and Dallas this year; Qatar, to Philadelphia, Miamiand Dallas. Emirates recently added Washington, D.C., and will soon serve Boston.Together they already serve eight U.S. cities and plan more frequent flights to them.

New, lavish Gulf airports are convenient hubs for flights to India and China.Plus the carriers are known for their friendly staff, gourmet food and good service.

The competition will sting U.S. carriers. Not only do the Middle East airlineshave deep pockets, their labor costs are only about half the average for U.S. carriers,and their fleets, younger (an average of three years old vs. 14) and more fuel efficient.

More Evidence We'll Remain a Partisan Nation -- From The Kiplinger Letter, Jan. 24, 2014

Single-party domination will remain the norm in about two-thirds of states, even if, as expected, the numbers retreat a bit from a 60-year high.At the moment, one party controls the legislature and governor's office in 36 states.Republicans have the upper hand, holding the reins in 23 states heading into Nov.Though Pa. and a couple of other states are likely to return to divided governmentthis year, a big change in the numbers isn't likely anytime soon. Expect the "out" partyto go all out to gain a foothold before reapportionment following the 2020 Census.

Don't be misled by headlines about record numbers of independent voters. Most who apply that label to themselves still lean toward a particular party.The number of self-described indies changes depending on how the major partiesare perceived at any given time. The current 42% figure hints at much discontent.But the number comprises 16% who say they are independent but lean GOPand another 16% who say they are independent but tilt toward the Democratic Party.That leaves about 10% of all voters who are truly up for grabs on Election Day.

Investigations of IRS Will Fizzle Out -- From The Kiplinger Letter, Jan. 24, 2014

Investigations into political favoritism by the IRS will end with a whimper: No smoking gun and no criminal charges from the Justice Department,and no House or Senate panel recommendations that can pass in a divided Congress.

That won't stop Republicans from trying to make an election issue out of it. The IRSdid slow approvals for more conservative groups than liberal groups seeking statusas tax exempt. But much of the backlog is gone, and most groups won the exemption that they sought. Now the tax agency must address another backlog...applicationsfor tax exemptions from charities. They piled up as the federal tax agents focusedon processing applications from the 501(c)(4) organizations that it had questioned.

More-Secure Credit Cards Coming to the U.S. -- From The Kiplinger Letter, Jan. 24, 2014

The shift to debit and credit cards with embedded chips will pick up steam in the coming months. This summer, consumers will start to receive cardswith chips automatically, rather than only if requested. And many more termOnnals...ATMs and retail checkouts...will be compatible with EMV (the Europay, MasterCard,Visa standard for integrated chip cards). Recent data breaches at Target and othershave given the move to the more secure technology new momentum. Plus retailersand banks are increasingly aware of the Oct. 2015 deadline for them to switch.After that, those that don't use EMV technology are liable for fraudulent charges.

Big companies that wait too long run some risks, finding themselvesat the back of the line for testing and certification and open to attack while they wait.

Fuel Cell Cars to Debut in California Next Year -- From The Kiplinger Letter, Jan. 17, 2014

Autos powered by fuel cells will take a big leap forward next year. Toyota will begin offering a midsize fuel cell car that's capable of traveling 300 miles between hydrogen fill-ups, which the automaker reckons will take under five minutes. That could appeal to buyers leery of electric cars because they take so long to charge.

California figures to be the car's initial market because of the state's push to build dozens of new hydrogen refueling stations. No word yet on whether Toyota plans to lease or sell the vehicle, but either way the cost will be low enough to compete with mainstream electric models. An added feature: Toyota's fuel cell has the capability to serve as a backup electric generator that can power a typical home for up to a week.

Same-Day Shipping Basically a Non-Starter -- From The Kiplinger Letter, Jan. 17, 2014

Don't believe the hype over same-day delivery. Odds are it won't catch on, despite retail giant Amazon's plans to speed goods via small drone aircraft.

Delivering most goods the same day...either by drone or by more conventional means...is probably too expensive for all but luxury goods and the most critical shipments.Surveys show that cost conscious consumers are mostly satisfied with current options.

But speeding up supply chains will still be a top priority for retailersas Internet sales take off. Within 15 years, e-commerce will nab 30% of all retail sales,up from 6% now. The boom in shipping packages to customers' homes will force firmsto relocate warehouses close to cities to trim shipping times and transportation costs.

Faster shipping means even bigger roles for automation and new tech: Robotsthat unload shipping containers. Tracking chips embedded right into goods. And more.

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