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2 hemp and CBD startups just laid off workers as the industry confronts a uniquely challenging phase

Fri, 01/10/2020 - 6:21pm

  • Hemp and CBD companies have laid off workers in recent weeks, Business Insider has learned.
  • Colorado-based Mile High Labs laid off 20 staffers on Thursday, concentrated among entry-level sales roles, the company confirmed.
  • The Kentucky-based hemp grower and CBD manufacturer GenCanna laid off 65 employees in December, the company confirmed.
  • Click here for more BI Prime stories, and subscribe to our weekly cannabis newsletter, Cultivated.

Times are tough in the cannabis industry, and hemp companies are no exception.

The hemp and CBD startups GenCanna and Mile High Labs have laid off a number of employees in recent weeks, Business Insider has learned.

Mile High Labs laid off 20 staffers on Thursday, concentrated among entry-level sales roles, the Colorado-based CBD manufacturer's chief financial officer, Jon Hilley, told Business Insider in an interview. The Kentucky-based hemp grower and CBD manufacturer GenCanna laid off 65 employees in December, Steve Bevan, the company's president and executive chair, said.

Read more: Cannabis companies have slashed over 1,000 jobs in recent weeks as the industry contends with a 'toxic' landscape. We're keeping track of all the cuts here.

For Mile High Labs, the layoffs represent just under 10% of total staffers out of a head count of 250 before the layoffs, Hilley said. 

'The business has to evolve'

"It's part of the learning process as you go from a company of 30 people to 250 people in under a year," Hilley said. "The business has to evolve."

Mile High Labs purchased an $18 million CBD manufacturing facility in Broomfield, Colorado, and relocated the company's operations there last fall. The Denver Post reported on the job cuts at the company earlier on Friday.

In a Friday afternoon interview, Bevan pointed to increasing automation of the hemp and CBD supply chain as one of the reasons for the layoffs.

"Because of significant advances in technology, we need fewer people to do more," Bevan said.

He said the company's head count — excluding seasonal farm workers who harvest the hemp crop — has fluctuated over 2019.

GenCanna hired Goldman Sachs to advise on 'strategic alternatives'

The company started 2019 with 162 employees and ended the year with 224 employees after the layoffs.

"With hemp at the intersection and cutting edge of federally legal cannabis and agriculture, ebbs and flows are to be expected," Bevan said. "During 2019, pricing for products declined across the industry, due to less-than-predicted demand while constraints — common in new agriculture — were greater than expected." 

GenCanna was an early entrant to the hemp market. Founded in 2014, the company has remained private but hired Goldman Sachs in September to advise on a potential initial public offering or other "strategic alternatives."

Business Insider previously reported that companies in the broader cannabis industry, from startups to publicly traded behemoths, have cut over 1,000 jobs as the industry enters a uniquely difficult phase.

The Marijuana Index, a composite of cannabis and cannabis-related stocks in the US and Canada, lost about half its value last year.

Business Insider is tracking job cuts across the cannabis industry.

Got a tip? Contact this reporter via email at jberke@businessinsider.com, or Twitter DM @jfberke. Encrypted messaging app Signal number available upon request.

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These are the unusual, colorful slides that mattress startup Casper is using to convince IPO investors that it can capitalize on the $432 billion 'sleep economy'

Fri, 01/10/2020 - 5:40pm

  • Buzzy $1 billion mattress startup Casper is going public.
  • The company just filed paperwork with the US Securities and Exchange Commission to start trading on the New York Stock Exchange. 
  • The company envisions itself taking over the $432 billion "sleep economy" — which not only includes mattresses, pillows and pajamas, but also pet beds, social media channels offering meditation, and medical technology. 
  • Here are some of the wackiest slides submitted in its IPO 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Buzzy mattress startup Casper has repeatedly pushed the idea that sleep is more important than any other single activity in a person's life.

That belief is on full display in its S-1 prospectus — the document Casper filed on Friday ahead of a planned IPO later this year. 

"In the coming years, we expect to accelerate a new marketplace which we call The Sleep Economy. We will be tireless in our pursuit of creating the world's first Sleep Company that delivers value for our consumers, our investors, and our incredible team of dreamers and doers around the world," Casper CEO Phillip Krim said in the filing.

All told, Casper says, this "sleep economy" will be a market worth $432 billion, with the opportunity for the company to go beyond mattresses, pillows and pajamas, and into markets like pet beds, social media channels offering meditation, and medical technology. 

And people have bought into their story. Casper, which ships mattresses, pillows, and other sleep-related products directly to consumers, has raised $355 million in private funding to date. It was last valued at $1.1 billion.

Here are some of the wackier slides that Casper is using to convince investors that it can fully take control of the market. Some of these charts are pretty normal, like the timeline of Casper's rapid growth.

A chart shows the company's revenue growth alongside its different product offerings, growing from Casper's first mattress back in 2014. Casper now offers four mattresses, pillows and sheets, a glow light and even a dog bed. It generated $357.9 million in revenue in 2018. 

The chart also highlights Casper's humble origins, like Casper cofounder Neil Parikh delivering the startup's first mattress by bike. 



Notably missing - a chart of Casper's profit margins. Its financial statements show heavy losses, which the company cites as a significant risk.

Casper racked up operating losses of $65 million by September 2019, roughly the same as it lost in the same period the year before.

More than 70% of its gross profit in the first nine months of 2019 were spent on sales  and marketing costs.



The rest of its slides focus on the sleep market, adding a quirky dash to the prospectus. This timeline shows investors when to use Casper products — between bedtime and waking up.

Casper doesn't envision itself as a mattress company, positioned in a mattress market. 

It is a company that aims to take advantage of an entire "sleep economy." 

One of its wackier slides drums that point home, through a slide showing a timeline between bedtime and waking up.



Casper also included a slide to explain how it plans to improve its products. It features its data-analysts as scientists that appear to be conducting a chemistry experiment amid a swirling chaos of data.

Casper gathers data from customer website visits, customer reviews, social media, and other sources. 

This graphic shows its data scientists in the middle of a chemistry lab, funneling data gathered from these sources into improving its sales and marketing experiences (which in turn, should encourage customers to give more feedback as per the graphic). 

 



This slide shows how Casper estimated the value of the global sleep market at $432 billion — by including sleep technology, medical devices, and sleep for pets.

Casper envisions its offerings growing far beyond the humble mattress, to take advantage of a global market that sells sleep for pets, sleep for travelers, sleep technology and medical devices. 

"The total market size of the categories and geographies we currently address is $67 billion in 2019, leaving significant opportunity for growth," the company says. This graphic shows how it aims to grow its offerings in the future. 

 

 



And this slide shows that Casper sees the global sleep market growing at twice the rate of the global economy.

Not only does Casper value the global sleep market at a whopping $432 billion, but it also estimates it growing at an annual rate of 6.3% over the next five years, a rate almost twice as fast as the global economy, which grew 3.5% in 2019, the IMF said.

A chart later in the IPO shows that the domestic sleep market is also expected to grow at a rate well above the US economy's 2.1%, at 3.6%. 

By 2024, Casper says the sleep market will be worth $585 billion. 



Boeing's former CEO, who was fired over the 737 Max crisis, got no severance pay but left with $62 million Boeing says he was 'contractually entitled' to (BA)

Fri, 01/10/2020 - 5:37pm

Boeing Co's ousted chief executive officer, Dennis Muilenburg, stands to receive $62 million in long-term incentive, stock awards and pension benefits, but forfeited $14.6 million and will receive no severance, the planemaker said in a regulatory filing on Friday.

Muilenburg was fired from the job in December as the company failed to contain the fallout from a pair of fatal crashes that halted output of its bestselling 737 Max jetliner and tarnished its reputation with airlines and regulators.

He was replaced by Boeing board chairman David Calhoun, 62, a turnaround veteran and former General Electric Co executive who has led several companies in crisis.

Based on Boeing securities filings from early 2019, Muilenburg was eligible for about $39 million in severance.

"Upon his departure, Dennis received the benefits to which he was contractually entitled and he did not receive any severance pay or a 2019 annual bonus," Boeing said in a statement.

The 737 Max has been grounded since March. The deadly accidents in Indonesia and Ethiopia within five months killed 346 people.

Calhoun, who starts as CEO on Monday, will receive a base salary at an annual rate of $1.4 million, Boeing said.

SEE ALSO: Boeing 737 Max: Here's the complete history of the plane that's been grounded since 2 crashes killed 346 people 5 months apart.

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Casper warns investors that its business would be hurt if any of its 'thousands' of Instagram influencers turned against it

Fri, 01/10/2020 - 5:31pm

Online mattress seller Casper filed its paperwork Friday to become a public company, and it's warning potential investors that its value could be impacted by the network of influencers it partners with to advertise on social media.

As is customary for a S-1 filing, Casper disclosed a number of risk factors to potential investors that could cause the company's stock to decline. Two of these risk factors concern internet-bred influencers, who companies will often pay or provide free products to in exchange for advertisements and mentions on social platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat.

Casper warned that missteps or a pattern of bad behavior by one of its "thousands" of social media influencers could damage the company's reputation and impact its IPO price. A bad review from an influencer could also hurt Casper, the company writes.

"Influencers with whom we maintain relationships could also engage in behavior or use their platforms to communicate directly with our customers in a manner that reflects poorly on our brand and may be attributed to us or otherwise adversely affect us," Casper said in its S-1 paperwork. "It is not possible to prevent such behavior, and the precautions we take to detect this activity may not be effective in all cases."

As the influencer marketing space stays on track to reach $15 billion by 2022, brands engaging in influencer-fueled campaigns are increasingly held accountable for the behavior of the popular internet personalities they sponsor. In the face of majorly publicized scandals such as those involving PewDiePie or Logan Paul, YouTube and massive brands like Disney have reacted by distancing themselves from these creators and halting plans for partnership deals and ad campaigns.

Ad campaigns on social media have become so common that the federal government has gotten involved in its regulation. In November 2019, the Federal Trade Commission issued guidelines for how influencers should disclose sponsored and paid posts in order to maintain a sense of transparency and stay within the confines of the law.

These new FTC guidelines could also pose a potential problem for Casper, the company said in its S-1 filing. Casper is tasked with the "burden" of monitoring its influencers' posts to ensure they abide by federal guidelines. However, Casper admitted that it doesn't check or approve every post an influencer makes.

"While we ask influencers to comply with the FTC regulations and our guidelines, we do not regularly monitor what our influencers post," Casper wrote. "If we were held responsible for the content of their posts, we could be forced to alter our practices, which could have material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, and results of operations."

Since it launched in 2014, Casper has invested heavily in its online presence and relationship with influencers. The company sponsored a post on Instagram in 2015 from Kylie Jenner, who reportedly raked in around $400,000 per post in 2017. (That number has since spiked to over $1.2 million.)

Casper's influencer network is vast and far-ranging: Its ads have appeared in social media posts from famous petssocial media strategiststeen Nickelodeon stars, radio show hosts, and fitness gurus.

But Casper may be particularly cautious about influencers in its S-1 filing because it already knows what it's like for an influencer debacle have negative effects on the company's reputation. In 2016, Casper sued three popular mattress-review sites, claiming that they wrote reviews about Casper's competitors without disclosing they received the products for free as well as affiliate revenue for driving sales to these companies.

Casper alleged that the behavior had cost the mattress company "millions of dollars of lost sales," but all three sites settled with Casper in the end, Fast Company reported in 2017.

SEE ALSO: Jake Paul says he and his brother Logan are the 'big bad wolves' of YouTube that everyone wants to see fail

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NOW WATCH: Most maps of Louisiana aren't entirely right. Here's what the state really looks like.

SoftBank-backed companies laid off 2,600 people this week and more than 7,000 in the past year. Here's everything we know.

Fri, 01/10/2020 - 4:42pm

  • SoftBank-backed companies are laying off thousands of employees globally as they struggle to find paths to profitability.
  • In the first full week of 2020, four companies – Oyo, Rappi, Getaround, and Zume – laid off a combined 2,600 employees. 
  • In the last two months, other SoftBank-backed companies including WeWork, Uber, Wag, and Fair have also cut their ranks dramatically. 
  • If you work at a SoftBank-backed company, Business Insider wants to hear from you. Get in touch on secure messaging app Signal using a non-work phone: 646 768 1627. 
  • Click here for more BI Prime stories.

Flush with billions of SoftBank dollars, startups ranging from a robot pizza maker to a low-cost hotel operator have swelled their ranks in recent years. 

Now, as the Japanese investor faces a reckoning about how the companies will become profitable, layoffs are hitting the companies across the world.

In the first full week of 2020, four of SoftBank's companies cut a combined 2,600 employees, according to media reports from Business Insider and other outlets.

Those layoffs follow major cuts in the fourth quarter at companies including WeWork, Uber, Wag, and Fair. In total, SoftBank-backed companies have cut over 7,000 jobs in the last year, by Business Insider's count.

That figure doesn't include groups of employees like WeWork's 1,000 janitorial staff in the US and Canada who are being outsourced. Trouble at these companies has knock-on effects since many work with contractors, such as the people that walk dogs for Wag, who enjoy fewer labor protections than full-time employees. 

A SoftBank spokesman did not respond to a request for comment. 

Business Insider is tracking the layoffs and what's happening at each company. The numbers are based on our own reporting as well as media reports elsewhere. We will continue to update this page as news evolves.

If you currently work for or were previously employed at a SoftBank-backed company and want to get in touch, use encrypted app Signal to text or call this reporter at 646 768 1627. You can also contact Business Insider securely via SecureDrop.

See more: I spent 24 hours living on SoftBank services like Uber, WeWork, and Oyo. It revealed some flaws in Masayoshi Son's grand $100 billion investment vision.

See more: A futuristic farming startup raised $260 million from Jeff Bezos and SoftBank on the promise of upending agriculture. Insiders are raising questions.

 

Oyo cuts 1,800 in China and India - Bloomberg

Discount hotel operator Oyo is laying off 1,800 employees in China and India, Bloomberg reported Friday

The restructuring isn't over: Oyo is planning to cut another 1,200 in India in the next four months, Bloomberg reported. 

"We continue to be one of the best places to work for and one of the key reasons for this has been our ability to consistently evaluate, reward and recognize the performance of individuals in a meritocratic manner, and enable them to improve their performance," Oyo said in a statement to Bloomberg. 

The company lets people book hotel rooms in more than 80 countries through its app. It turns struggling local hotels into Oyo franchises, puts up some money to redecorate and make sure the wireless internet is working, and takes a cut on every booking.

Oyo has raised more than $3 billion in capital, though the last fundraise included $700 million from its young chief executive, Ritesh Agarwal. He bought back shares from existing investors Lightspeed Venture Partners and Sequoia Capital, as part of a deal that raised Oyo's valuation to $10 billion. SoftBank has been pumping money into the company since 2015.



Zume cuts 360 employees and a third of its executive team

Zume, the robotic pizza startup valued at $1 billion, lost a third of its executive team hours after announcing that 360 of its employees were being terminated this week, Business Insider previously reported. 

Amid a broader strategy shift away from its famous pizza-making robots towards compostable packaging, Zume now finds itself without a chief business officer, a chief financial officer, a chief technology officer, and a chief revenue officer.

The layoffs come as the Mountain View, California, startup has struggled to secure additional funding from SoftBank. Zume cofounder and CEO Alex Garden has become so cautious that he has restricted all communication from his senior staff to outside investors.

The company was most recently valued at $1 billion after a $375 million venture-capital investment from SoftBank's Vision Fund. 



Getaround lays off 150 - The Information

Car rental platform Getaround is laying off about 150 employees – a quarter of its staff – reported The Information

SoftBank invested $300 million in the company's 2018 Series D round.

In a blog post on January 7, Getaround founder Sam Zaid said "growing this fast has also pressure-tested our organization." 

"We've learned a lot about our business during this period and the importance of balancing growth with efficiency," he wrote. "SoftBank has stepped up in a big way with their unique network of experts, resources, and partners to support this change." 

Getaround has raised a total of $612 million and has a $1.7 billion valuation, per Pitchbook. 



Rappi cuts about 300 - Brazil Journal

The Latin American food delivery startup is cutting about 6% of its workforce, about 300 employees, according to the Brazil Journal. 

The cuts come less than a year after SoftBank led a $1 billion funding round. 

"We are in fact actively hiring a large number of people in our areas of focus for 2020," the company said in a statement to Reuters. 

"We are investing heavily in our tech team, automating some roles, re-balancing areas and embracing high performers," Rappi said, without noting how many employees it plans to add. 

Cofounder Sebastian Meijia told Reuters his priority was to grow fast when the outlet asked how soon the company would become profitable. 

The company has raised a total of $1.46 billion and has a $3.5 billion valuation, per Pitchbook. 



WeWork laid off 2,400 in November and outsourced 1,000 cleaning staff

Embattled office company WeWork cut 2,400 employees globally in November, about 20% of its workforce.

The company is also outsourcing about 1,000 cleaning staff in the US and Canada in a change planned months before its failed IPO. 

Earlier this year WeWork was privately valued at $47 billion, which made it the most valuable private startup in America. But filings for WeWork's highly anticipated IPO revealed wide losses and left prospective investors questioning the company's leadership and business model.

Now, it's valued at less than $5 billion, and investors are still marking their stakes down. Jefferies said on Wednesday it slashed the value of its $9 million investment by $69 million last quarter after cutting the value down by $146 million in August. 

SoftBank, one of WeWork's primary investors, ultimately offered a $9.5 billion package to acquire majority ownership of WeWork, giving former WeWork CEO and cofounder Adam Neumann a $1.7 billion deal in exchange for his departure.



Uber slashed more than 1,000 jobs last year

Uber, which went public in May, went through three rounds of layoffs last year that saw the ride-hailing company shed more than 1,000 jobs. 

The cuts hit about 400 people in marketing, 350 employees in its self-driving cars unit, and 435 staff in product and engineering.  

Overall, Uber employs about 27,000 people. 

Uber has been under tremendous pressure to reach profitability in the months since its IPO in May. Cost-cutting efforts like job cuts, as well as increased passenger fares, are part of that initiative, and Wall Street analysts have commended the moves so far. Shares of the company have plummeted 17% since going public.

SoftBank is Uber's biggest shareholder. 



Fair cut 300 employees in October

Fair, the short-term car rental platform for consumers and Uber drivers, cut about 300 employees in October. 

The layoffs came after a sudden SoftBank audit that led to the ouster of controversial CEO Scott Painter and his brother, the chief financial officer. 

Business Insider talked to a dozen current and former employees in November who explained how the startup burned through nearly $400 million, largely from SoftBank, in 10 months, a cautionary tale of a startup on an explosive growth path.

SoftBank's rescue plan included an immediate $25 million infusion to keep the company afloat. 

 



Wag laid off 182 employees and lost its CEO last year

Dogwalking startup Wag had a turbulent fourth quarter. 

CEO Hilary Schneider left in late November to join photo-sharing company Shutterfly, and the company went through its second round of layoffs, bringing the total cuts in 2019 to 182 employees. 

SoftBank also announced it would sell its nearly 50% stake back to the company, reportedly at a significant discount, and give up its two board seats. 

SoftBank's Vision Fund first invested in the dog-walking startup early last year, pushing up the company's valuation to about $650 million. But the startup has struggled to compete, and Bloomberg reported in October that it was seeking to sell itself at a discount.

SoftBank's Masayoshi Son seemed to express concern about Wag in his latest investor presentation, as he referred to a dog-walking company as one of the Vision Fund's more troubled investments.

SoftBank's sale of its stake followed a disagreement within the company's board on its path to future profitability, one person familiar with the talks told Business Insider.

Wag had raised a total of $361 million, per Pitchbook. 



Katerra cut more than 300 last year and lost its cofounder

Katerra, the modular construction company, said in December it would shut down a factory in Phoenix, cutting about 200 jobs, Bloomberg reported

In November, Katerra cofounder Fritz Wolff left the company, real estate publication The Real Deal said. Katerra has struggled with executive retention, with three CEOs and three CFOs in four years 

And in October, The Information reported the company had cut more than 100 employees in three states. 

Katerra had raised $1.24 billion, most recently with a January 2018 funding round of $865 million, led by SoftBank. That round valued the startup at just over $3 billion, per CNBC. 

 



Ola restructuring affected 350 employees, with some reassigned to other roles

In November, the Indian ridesharing company said it would restructure about 350 employees' jobs, with some employees moving to other roles, the Economic Times reported

The company is still expanding, with plans to launch in London this month, per CNBC. Last year, Uber had its London license revoked by local authorities. Ola already operates in eight UK cities, and in Australia and New Zealand. 

The company has raised $3.78 billion at a $4.44 billion valuation, per Pitchbook. SoftBank most recently led a $330 million funding round in February 2017. 



Opendoor laid off 50 in July and reduced its free lunches - Bloomberg

Online homeseller Opendoor cut about 50 of its 1,300 staff in June – and stopped free lunches for small offices, Bloomberg reported.

The company also asked about 300 employees in offices across the country to relocate to its Phoenix office. Despite the layoffs, a spokeswoman said Opendoor planned to add 250 employees to the Phoenix office and will 

The startup plans to double the number of employees in Phoenix to more than 500 next year, and will continue to hire in all of its markets, Bloomberg said. 

Opendoor was last valued $3.8 billion, per Pitchbook.  



Brandless cut 13% of its staff and saw its founder leave last year

Brandless CEO Tina Sharkey stepped down in March and moved to co-chair of the board, reportedly amid tensions with SoftBank, per The Information

Sharkey's role swap wasn't the only change at the discount e-commerce platform. Brandless cut 13% of its staff in March, per Forbes. The company struggled with inventory management and profitability when its items were all priced at $3. 

Now, the company is expanding into CBD, and Brandless's new CEO told Forbes in July that he thinks the company could be profitable by 2021. 

Brandless raised nearly $300 million, per Pitchbook, including a $240 million Series C in September 2018 led by SoftBank. 



Former top Bloomberg lieutenant steps down from financial services company after Business Insider reports past harassment complaints

Fri, 01/10/2020 - 4:32pm

  • TMX Group, a Canadian-financial services firm, announced on Friday that CEO Lou Eccleston will be stepping down from the company, following a Business Insider investigation that revealed he allegedly engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior while working at Bloomberg LP in the 1990s.
  • According to several witness statements discovered by Business Insider, Eccleston openly flirted with female employees, inappropriately touched them at office and social gatherings, excessively drank at work events, and engaged in sexual relationships with coworkers.
  • Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor running for president, was told about Eccleston's alleged behavior while working at Bloomberg LP, according to accusations in legal filings previously reported on by Business Insider.
  • Eccleston's departure comes as Michael Bloomberg faces scrutiny over the culture he fostered at his namesake company, which multiple former employees have characterized as toxic and sexually charged.
  • On Friday, the company said Eccleston will be retiring early to "avoid further distraction to the Company," despite his contract being set to expire in December 2020. According to TMX's Board of Directors, an independent investigator found no evidence that Eccleston engaged in sexual harassment or sexual misconduct while at TMX Group
  • Visit BusinessInsider.com for more stories.

TMX Group, a Canadian-financial services firm, announced on Friday that CEO Lou Eccleston will be stepping down from the company, following a November Business Insider investigation revealing allegations that he engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior during his tenure at Bloomberg LP in the 1990s.

Business Insider previously reported that Eccleston, then a senior manager at the financial-data firm created by presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg, was accused by multiple employees in court records and New York Division of Human Rights filings of preying on women with impunity. The article described allegations of a toxic workplace and misconduct at Bloomberg LP, documented in a string of lawsuits spanning decades at the company. Eccleston was not named as a defendant in any of the lawsuits.

According to several witness statements discovered by Business Insider, former employees alleged that Eccleston openly flirted with female employees, inappropriately touched them at office and social gatherings, excessively drank at work events, and engaged in sexual relationships with coworkers. One witness statement filed with the New York Division of Human Rights said that "Lou Eccleston is the biggest sleaze in the world. There are two ways to get ahead with Eccleston: Kiss his ass, kiss his penis."

Do you have a tip about working at Bloomberg LP, or about Michael Bloomberg? Contact this reporter at neinbinder@businessinsider.com, direct-message on Twitter at @NicoleEinbinder, or text our tips line via Signal or WhatsApp at 646-768-4744. You can also contact Business Insider securely via SecureDrop.

Following the publication of the story, TMX Group announced an investigation into Eccleston's past conduct. On Friday, the company said he will be retiring early to "avoid further distraction to the Company," despite his contract being set to expire in December 2020. According to TMX's Board of Directors, an independent investigator found no evidence that Eccleston engaged in sexual harassment or sexual misconduct while at TMX Group.

"The Board accepts Mr. Eccleston's decision to retire and recognizes his outstanding efforts since taking on the CEO role in October 2014," Charles Winograd, Chair of TMX Group, said in a statement. "We thank him for his leadership of TMX Group and for delivering a focused and compelling business strategy and growth plan that is driving our continued success."

John McKenzie, TMX's Chief Financial Officer, has been appointed as interim CEO, the company said. Eccleston did not immediately respond to a message sent via LinkedIn.

Michael Bloomberg allegedly knew about Eccleston's behavior

According to witness statements obtained by Business Insider, multiple former employees said that Bloomberg was aware of complaints about Eccleston's alleged behavior while at Bloomberg LP and failed to take any action.

According to one witness statement filed with the New York Division of Human Rights, a Bloomberg employee said that "Mike Bloomberg knew all about what Lou was doing. If five girls want to sleep with Lou, that was O.K."

Mary Ann Olszewski, a former Bloomberg sales staffer who sued the company in 1996, alleging that she had been raped by a senior manager, said "the sexualized attitude comes from the top: Mike Bloomberg and Lou Eccleston," according to a New York Division of Human Rights filing. "We saw Lou drink and proposition girls to come up to his room," she added.

Multiple records obtained by Business Insider, including a sworn statement from former Bloomberg LP employee Rowland Hunt, described an office Christmas party in 1990 at which Eccleston did "body shots" with several female employees under his authority. "'Body shots' consist of embracing and licking salt off the neck, kissing, squeezing, leg up," read Hunt's statement. "It was a ribald scene." The statement went on to describe a "rumor that Lou Eccleston had slept with one of the female employees who got pregnant."

Eccleston's behavior bothered Hunt so much that, according to his statement, he confronted Michael Bloomberg directly. "After the Christmas party experience, I lost respect for management and I was not happy at work. I met with Mike Bloomberg in February 1991 and told him I didn't see eye-to-eye with Lou Eccleston," Hunt's statement said. "Mike insisted I take my concerns directly to Lou. In March, Lou called me to talk in Mike Bloomberg's office. I told him that I had lost respect for him as a professional and as a boss. Lou's response was, 'You're fired.'"

Bloomberg LP and a Bloomberg campaign spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Bloomberg's knowledge of Eccleston's behavior. 

Allegations of a toxic workplace at Bloomberg LP

Eccleston's departure comes as Michael Bloomberg faces scrutiny over the allegedly toxic culture he fostered at his namesake company.

Business Insider's November report revealed that nearly 40 employment lawsuits from 65 plaintiffs have been filed against Bloomberg LP and Bloomberg personally in state and federal courts since 1996. The majority of those allege discrimination over gender, race, and disability status, as well as pregnancy discrimination and wage theft. Eight discrimination suits were launched after Bloomberg returned to the company as president and CEO in 2014.

Last month, after ABC News wrote a follow-up story about the Bloomberg lawsuits, presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren called on Bloomberg to release women from any non-disclosure agreements they may have signed with the company. The group Lift Our Voices, formed by three former Fox News employees to end the practice of mandatory non-disclosure agreements to conceal workplace misconduct, also sent letters to all of the presidential campaigns urging them to publicly condemn these types of agreements in the context of sexual misconduct and other workplace issues.

Julie Roginsky, one of the founders of Lift Our Voices, told Business Insider earlier this week that Bloomberg did not respond to the group's letter. On Thursday, ABC News reported that Bloomberg won't release women who sued him from their NDAs. "You can't just walk away from it," Bloomberg said. "They're legal agreements, and for all I know the other side wouldn't want to get out of it."

While NDAs are common in legal disputes, they have faced scrutiny in the wake of the #MeToo movement for being used by powerful men, such as Harvey Weinstein, Bill O'Reilly, R. Kelly, and Donald Trump, to silence their accusers.

Laurie Evans, a former Bloomberg LP employee who has sued the company for discrimination, asked a New York Supreme Court judge last month to invalidate not just her NDA, but the NDAs of any "similarly situated" Bloomberg LP employees.

"Employees, and particularly female employees who are aware of discrimination in the workplace, if they become aware of it or become a victim of it, they are afraid to complain, to lose their job, to be retaliated against, to not be believed — and therefore they are silenced," Donna Clancy, Evans' attorney, previously told Business Insider. "When they are silenced, it breeds a culture. When you have a culture then and no one complains about it and it can be swept under the rug and managed internally, it gets worse and nothing gets better."

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NOW WATCH: People are still debating the pink or grey sneaker, 2 years after it went viral. Here's the real color explained.

11 of the best credit card offers in January, from the highest-ever Southwest bonus to up to 200,000 Capital One miles

Fri, 01/10/2020 - 4:32pm

If you want to earn points and miles, the quickest option is signing up for a rewards credit card and earning its intro bonus. This typically requires meeting a minimum spending requirement in the first three months or 90 days, and it's well worth it — you'll be rewarded with thousands of points or miles to put toward your next trip, or with a sizeable amount of cash back.

Before you apply for any new cards, make sure you understand how credit card applications affect your credit score. Also make sure you treat your credit cards like debit cards, only spending what you can afford to pay back each month. If you carry a balance to earn rewards, you'll be putting yourself in a bad financial position — and the interest fees you'll rack up will easily outweigh any points or miles you earn.

Scroll down to check out some of the best sign-up offers available in January.

Keep in mind that we're focusing on the rewards and perks that make these credit cards great options, not things like interest rates and late fees, which will far outweigh the value of any points or miles. It's important to practice financial discipline when using credit cards by paying your balances in full each month, making payments on time, and only spending what you can afford to pay back. 

The best credit card welcome offers available now: 1. American Express Green Card

Welcome offer: 30,000 Amex points after you spend $2,000 in the first three months. Plus, if you apply by January 15, 2020, get up to $100 in statement credits toward eligible purchases made with Away, the luggage company.

Annual fee: $150

Amex just announced a complete makeover of its Green card, and it's now a very good option for earning Membership Rewards points at a reasonable price point. 

The Green card used to be pretty boring and unrewarding, but now it earns 3x points on all eligible travel and at restaurants worldwide. That makes it competitive with other top rewards cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve when it comes to earning points on these two popular spending categories. 

The Amex Green card also offers up to $100 in statement credits toward CLEAR membership (it's an alternative to TSA PreCheck but it also offers expedited security at some stadiums and arenas) and up to $100 in statement credits per year on LoungeBuddy, which lets you book airport lounges.

If you apply by January 15, 2020, you'll be eligible for an additional $100 in statement credits — in this case, for eligible purchases with Away, the popular luggage company. If you can put these perks and credits to use, the Amex Green card could be a great way to improve your travel and boost your Amex points balance.

Click here to learn more about the Amex Green card » 2. Capital One Spark Miles for Business

Welcome offer: 50,000 miles when you spend $5,000 in the first three months and 150,000 miles when you spend $50,000 in the first six months

Annual fee: $95 (waived the first year)

Earning the full 200,000 miles with this elevated sign-up bonus requires spending even more than with the Amex Business Platinum, but if your business can easily (and comfortably) spend and pay off $50,000 in six months, this offer is a great opportunity to rake in the Capital One miles to save on future travel.

If you use 200,000 miles to wipe travel spending from your Spark Miles statement with the Capital One Purchase Eraser feature, you'll get $2,000 toward travel. And don't forget that you'll earn miles on your spending, too, and the Spark Miles for Business earns 2x miles on all spending. So if you hit the $50,000 requirement in the first six months, you'll earn an addition 100,000 miles, for 300,000 miles total — or $3,000 toward travel.

In addition to redeeming miles to cover travel purchases, you can transfer them to Capital One's airline transfer partners, including Emirates and Singapore Airlines. 

This is a limited-time offer that's only available until January 27, 2020, so if you're interested you'll want to apply soon so you don't miss out.

Click here to learn more about the Capital One Spark Miles for Business » 3. Capital One® Spark® Cash for Business

Welcome offer: $500 cash bonus when you spend $5,000 in the first three months, $1,500 when you spend $50,000 in the first six months

Annual fee: $95 (waived the first year)

Like the Spark Miles for Business, the Spark Cash for Business is currently offering a very valuable sign-up bonus. If your business can spend $50,000 in the first six months, you could earn $2,000 in cash back.

Since this is a cash-back card rather than a miles-earning card, you can only redeem your rewards for statement credits or a check. If your goal is to put money back in your business rather than to earn miles toward travel, the Spark Cash could be the better option for you.

Again, this is a limited-time offer ending on January 27, so apply sooner than later if you're interested.

Click here to learn more about the Capital One Spark Cash for Business » 4. Southwest's 3 consumer credit cards

Welcome bonus: Earn up to 75,000 Rapid Rewards points — 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 in the first three months, and an additional 35,000 points after you spend $5,000 total in the first six months

Annual fee: $69 to $149, depending on the card

Southwest's three personal credit cards are currently offering their highest-ever sign-up bonus: up to 75,000 Rapid Rewards points. Not only can this help you book a few award flights, but the bonus also gets you more than half of the way to qualifying for the Southwest Companion Pass. The Companion Pass lets you designate someone to bring on Southwest flights for free, and it requires earning 125,000 qualifying points.

There are three Southwest credit cards (not including the two options for small business owners):

We don't know exactly when this offer will end, but it will only be around for a limited time. And if you're trying to get the Companion Pass, the sooner you apply and meeting the spending requirement, the longer you'll be able to enjoy two-for-one travel.

Click here to learn more about the Southwest credit cards and their different benefits » 5. United Explorer Card

Welcome bonus: Earn up to 65,000 miles — 40,000 miles after you spend $2,000 in the first three months, and another 25,000 miles after you spend $10,000 total in the first six months

Annual fee: $95 (waived the first year)

If you fly United a few times a year and you don't have the Explorer card yet, you can currently score an elevated sign-up bonus. Earning the full 65,000 miles requires spending $10,000 in the first six months, but that works out to just $1,666 per month.

Beyond the bonus miles you can earn with the current sign-up bonus, the Explorer card offers 2x miles on United purchases and at hotels and restaurants (and 1x on everything else). The card has the standard airline card features including a free checked bag (when you pay with your United card) and priority boarding, but it also offers a few valuable extras.

First, you get up to a $100 credit to cover the application fee for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, and two one-time United Club lounge passes each year. Plus, you get access to additional saver-level United awards compared to non-cardholders, which makes it easier to use your miles. 

Click here to learn more about the United Explorer card » 6. Chase Sapphire Preferred

Welcome offer: 60,000 Chase points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months

Annual fee: $95

If you want a rewards credit card with points that can be used with a variety of travel partners, you can't go wrong with the Sapphire Preferred. It's one of the best general credit card picks if you're new to the world of points and miles or if you don't want to pay the $450 annual fee of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, as the Sapphire Preferred has a $95 annual fee.

The card has been offering a 60,000-point sign-up bonus for the last several months, and you can use those points to book travel directly through Chase, or you can transfer them to partners like British Airways, Hyatt, Singapore Airlines, and United.

Beyond earning some of the most valuable points around, the Sapphire Preferred offers primary car rental insurance and doesn't charge foreign transaction fees.

Click here to learn more about the Sapphire Preferred » 7. The Platinum Card from American Express

Welcome offer: 60,000 Amex points after you spend $5,000 in the first three months

Annual fee: $550

If you travel frequently and can put its many, many benefits to use, the Amex Platinum can be an easy decision even with its $550 annual fee. See how Business Insider's David Slotnick got more than $2,000 in value from the card in his first year for more info.

Some of the card's top perks include a 5x earning rate on airfare purchased directly from the airline, up to $200 in airline fee credits each calendar year, up to $200 in Uber credits each cardmember year, and up to $100 in Saks Fifth Avenue credits each calendar year. 

The card also stands out for its airport lounge access benefits. As a card member, you can access Amex Centurion Lounges, Delta Sky Clubs (when you're flying Delta), Priority Pass lounges, Air Space Lounges, International American Express Lounges, Escape Lounges, and Plaza Premium Lounges.

You can use the Amex Membership Rewards points you'll earn with this card to book travel with airlines like British Airways, Delta, and Emirates, and with hotel partners including Marriott.

Click here to learn more about the American Express Platinum » 8. Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Welcome offer: 50,000 miles after you spend $3,000 in the first three months

Annual fee: $95 (waived the first year)

The Venture Rewards card has consistently added benefits over the last year or so. While previously you could only use miles to erase purchases on your statement, you can now transfer them to a variety of airline programs, including Air Canada, Air France/KLM and Etihad. There are occasionally transfer bonuses that help you stretch your miles further, too.

This card offers a strong lineup of benefits considering the reasonable $95 annual fee (that's waived the first year). You get an application fee credit of up to $100 for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, and earn 10x miles when you book hotels through the hotels.com/venture landing page.

Earning 10 miles per dollar on hotels is hard to beat, and that's in addition to the free night for every 10 paid nights you book that you'll earn through the Hotels.com Rewards program. You'll also earn 2x miles on all non-hotel purchases.

Click here to learn more about the Capital One Venture » 9. Ink Business Preferred Credit Card

Welcome offer: 80,000 points after you spend $5,000 in the first three months

Annual fee: $95

The Ink Business Preferred card offers the highest sign-up bonus among Chase cards that earn Ultimate Rewards points. Plus, it has generous bonus categories — you'll earn 3 points per dollar in the first $150,000 in combined purchases you make on categories including travel, shipping, and advertising (and 1 point per dollar on everything else).

This card has a $95 annual fee, and it offers benefits like primary rental car insurance when you're renting a car for business purposes.

Click here to learn more about the Ink Business Preferred » 10. Wells Fargo Propel American Express card

Welcome offer: 20,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 in the first three months

Annual fee: $0

If you prefer earning cash back to points and miles, the Wells Fargo Propel is a great choice. It earns 3 points per dollar on dining, on travel, gas stations, rideshares, and on popular streaming services, and 1 point per dollar on everything else. That's a strong selection of bonus categories, and it's even better when you consider that this card has no annual fee. 

The Propel Card also includes cell phone protection, and there are no foreign transaction fees.

Click here to learn more about the Wells Fargo Propel Amex » 11. 75k points with the Brex corporate card

Welcome offer: 75,000 points upon sign-up after you spend $1,000 with Brex with the Brex Corporate Card for Startups and the Brex Corporate Card for Ecommerce

Annual fee: None

The two versions of the Brex corporate card could be worth a look if you have a small business and are willing to make this your exclusive corporate card. When you do, you can earn up to 7x points on purchases, and you can redeem points with seven airlines, including JetBlue and Singapore Airlines. The Brex Corporate Card for Startups and the Brex Corporate Card for Ecommerce are offering elevated bonuses of 75,000 points to those who sign up by January 31, 2020.

Read more: Brex corporate credit card review

More credit card coverage

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Bank of America offers some great lesser-known cards, from the Alaska Visa to the Premium Rewards card. Here are our top 5 picks.

Fri, 01/10/2020 - 4:17pm

While Chase and American Express tend to grab all the headlines, there are plenty of other issuers that offer valuable rewards and travel credit cards. Bank of America is one such off-the-radar issuer that boasts a surprising number of cash-back and travel rewards cards to fit any spending style, some with no annual fee.

If you're in the market for a new rewards card but have tapped out on your options with other card issuers, consider giving Bank of America rewards cards a try. However, you should also compare each of these cards side by side so you wind up with the right earning structure for your goals and the type of rewards you want to spend.

Here are our top picks for the best Bank of America credit cards:

Before you sign up for one of the Bank of America credit cards profiled below, you should know that some cards let you earn 25% to 75% more rewards.

This is possible thanks to the Bank of America Preferred Rewards program, which incentivizes Bank of America customers to keep money on deposit in order to rack up more points. You'll need to have a three-month average combined balance of at least $20,000 in eligible Bank of America accounts to qualify, though.

There are three tiers in the Preferred Rewards program — here's how to qualify, and how much a credit card rewards bonus you'll receive:

  • Preferred Rewards Gold: Requires $20,000-$49,999 in qualifying accounts — 25% rewards bonus
  • Preferred Rewards Platinum: Requires $50,000-$99,999 in qualifying accounts — 50% rewards bonus
  • Preferred Rewards Platinum Honors: Requires $100,000 or more in qualifying accounts — 75% rewards bonus
Best overall: Bank of America Premium Rewards card Why you'll love it: The Bank of America Premium Rewards card offers the biggest sign-up bonus among all the Bank of America rewards cards available today. You also get travel perks like a credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck and up to $100 in airline credits each year.

Sign-up bonus: Earn 50,000 points (worth $500) when you spend $3,000 on your card within 90 days of account opening.

Earning structure: You'll earn 2 points per dollar spent on travel and dining purchases and 1.5 points per dollar spent on all other purchases.

Annual fee: $95

Pros: Generous welcome bonus, lucrative travel perks, reasonable annual fee

Cons: Limited redemption options for travel

In a lot of ways, the Bank of America Premium Rewards card mimics the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. This includes the fact this card gives you 2 points per dollar on travel and dining. The difference is, the Premium Rewards card gives you 1.5 points per dollar on other purchases as well, whereas the Sapphire Preferred only gives you 1 point per dollar on regular purchases.

The $95 annual fee on this card is reasonable, especially when you consider the $100 credit you get toward airline incidentals each year and up to a $100 credit you get toward Global Entry or TSA PreCheck every four years. This card also comes with no foreign transaction fees. Keep in mind, however, that rewards earned are only good for statement credits, transfers to a qualifying Bank of America or Merrill account, gift cards, or purchases made through the Bank of America Travel Center.

Click here to learn more about the Bank of America Premium Rewards card » Best with no annual fee: Bank of America Cash Rewards card Why you'll love it: With this card, you actually get to pick the category you earn the most rewards in.

Sign-up bonus: Earn $200 in cash rewards when you spend $1,000 on your card within 90 days of account opening.

Earning structure: Earn 3% cash back in a category of your choosing and 2% back on grocery stores and wholesale clubs on up to $2,500 in combined spending each quarter. You'll also earn 1% back on all other purchases.

Annual fee: None

Pros: Generous earning structure, no annual fee

Cons: Earning caps limit rewards on bonus spending

The Bank of America Cash Rewards card doesn't charge an annual fee, yet the rewards can be very lucrative over time. This card lets you pick a single category to earn 3% back in with options including:

  • gas
  • online shopping
  • dining
  • travel
  • drug stores
  • home improvement/furnishings.

You also earn 2% back on grocery stores and wholesale club purchases, although bonus earnings are limited to combined spending of $2,500 per quarter.

The Cash Rewards Credit Card also doles out a flat 1% back on all non-bonus spending, and that's on top of the $200 cash bonus you can earn in the first 90 days. Since this card doesn't charge an annual fee, it's easy to see how you could use it to get ahead.

Click here to learn more about the Bank of America Cash Rewards card » Best for travel: Bank of America Travel Rewards card Why you'll love it: The Travel Rewards card offers generous flat-rate rewards on all your spending, and you won't pay an annual fee.

Sign-up bonus: Earn 25,000 bonus points when you sign up and spend $1,000 on your card within 90 days of account opening.

Earning structure: This card gives you a flat 1.5 points for each dollar you spend with no limits or bonus categories to keep track of

Annual fee: None

Pros: Earn a generous bonus and ongoing rewards with no annual fee

Cons: This card doesn't offer any travel-related perks

The Bank of America Travel Rewards card offers a rewards structure that's easy to understand. This card gives you a flat 1.5 points for each dollar you spend, and there are no limits to keep track of at all. On the redemption side, you can cash in your points for statement credits to cover travel purchases at a rate of 1 cent per point.

You'll also be happy to know this card doesn't charge an annual fee or foreign transaction fees. Finally, you'll qualify for 0% APR on purchases for 12 billing cycles (then a variable APR of 16.49% to 24.49% applies).

Click here to learn more about the Bank of America Travel Rewards card » Best for airfare: Alaska Airlines card Why you'll love it: This card allows you to earn valuable Alaska miles along with a companion fare that can help you save even more money.

Sign-up bonus: Earn 40,000 miles and the Alaska companion fare from $121 ($99 fare, plus taxes and fees from $22) when you spend $2,000 on your card within 90 days of account opening

Earning structure: You'll rack up 3 miles per dollar spent on Alaska purchases and 1 mile per dollar spent on other purchases

Annual fee: $75

Pros: Earn bonus miles and upfront miles, qualify for Alaska companion fare

Cons: Annual fee applies

The Alaska Airlines Visa is popular among consumers based on the simple fact that Alaska miles are incredibly valuable. However, travel enthusiasts also like this card's famous companion fare. Once you sign up for this credit card and meet the requirements, the companion fare lets you score a companion fare for $121 when you book a qualifying paid fare with your credit card. Also be aware that you get the companion fare every year you have the card, and not just once.

To sweeten the pot, the Alaska Airlines card lets you and six guests on your itinerary qualify for a free checked bag on Alaska flights. This card does have a $75 annual fee, but it's very reasonable for all you get in return.

Click here to learn more about the Alaska Airlines card » Best for train fare: Amtrak Guest Rewards World Mastercard Why you'll love it: This card offers superior perks for people who travel with Amtrak all the time.

Sign-up bonus: Get 20,000 bonus points when you spend $1,000 on your card within 90 days of account opening

Earning structure: Earn 3x points on Amtrak travel, 2x points on other types of travel and 1x points on all other purchases

Annual fee: $79

Pros: Enjoy an initial bonus and a handful of Amtrak-related travel perks

Cons: Rewards earned with this card are mostly just good for travel on Amtrak

The Amtrak Guest Rewards World Mastercard offers a surprising number of benefits on top of the points you earn in this program. With this credit card, you'll receive a complimentary companion coupon each year, a complimentary one-class upgrade each year, a complimentary station lounge pass, and an easier path to tier status.

This card does come with a $79 annual fee, but you won't pay foreign transaction fees on purchases made abroad. Also note that you'll get a 20% rebate on purchases made on Amtrak when you pay with your credit card.

Join the conversation about this story »

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A growing number of Americans believe the government should tackle economic inequality instead of illegal immigration, new poll finds

Fri, 01/10/2020 - 3:56pm

  • A new poll from the Pew Research Center shows more Americans believe economic inequality is a larger problem than illegal immigration.
  • The Pew poll found 42% of Americans said cutting economic inequality should be a top priority for the government. That's just above the 39% that believed illegal immigration is a problem to confront.
  • Still, responses split among party lines as Democrats were much more likely than Republicans  to say inequality should be a big priority for the government.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

A growing share of Americans believe that economic inequality is a bigger problem that the government should tackle over illegal immigration, according to a new poll released Thursday from the Pew Research Center.

The poll showed that 42% of Americans believe that curbing inequality should be a "major priority" for the federal government. That's just above the 39% that believed illegal immigration is a problem for lawmakers to tackle. 

Still, responses predictably split among partisan lines. Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters were far likelier than Republicans and those who lean to the GOP to say that wealth inequality should be a top priority for the government to address — 61% vs. 20%, respectively.

In the Pew poll, the affordability of healthcare, drug addiction, college affordability, the federal deficit, and climate change were the top five issues that respondents identified as a problem mandating a government response. 

A majority of American adults — 61%— said there was "too much" income inequality in the United States, according to Pew.

Wealth inequality has been a key focus among the 2020 Democrats campaigning to become the nation's 46th president, and a majority of the candidates support increasing taxes on the richest Americans to level the playing field for the middle class. 

Some, like Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, have called for a wealth tax that imposes levies on everything the richest Americans own. Support for the plan cuts across party lines, as a majority Republicans also favor the idea. It would significantly cut the amount of wealth held by the richest billionaires in the US.

The Pew result echoes another poll that Fox News released last month showing backing for Warren's wealth tax far outpaced President Trump's border wall with Mexico — 68% to 26%, respectively.

Critics argue the wealth tax would stifle growth and be difficult to implement, but proponents contend it's necessary to reduce the gaping inequality that exists in American society.

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An air-safety expert says that despite Iran's denials, investigators will be able to tell if a missile caused Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 to crash

Fri, 01/10/2020 - 3:51pm

Iran has denied allegations that it mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian plane outside Tehran on Wednesday, calling them a "big lie" and offering what it describes as "proof," while accusing the US, along with Canada and the UK, of carrying out a "psychological operation" to try and discredit it.

However, an air safety and accident investigations expert explained to Business Insider that when a missile strikes a plane, there are telltale signs investigators can use to make that determination.

US, Canada, and the UK have said their intelligence indicates that the plane, Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile. 

Initially after the Boeing 737-800 crashed early Wednesday morning, killing all 176 on board, Iranian officials said that the plane experienced a mechanical problem. Officials later appeared to walk back the statement, but have denied that a missile caused the crash.

Dr. Daniel Kwasi Adjekum, an assistant professor of aviation at the University of North Dakota with more than 20 years of aviation safety expertise, said that an examination of the plane's black box — the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder — along with the wreckage of the ground, should be able to definitively prove if a missile hit the plane.

"The sound of an aircraft decompression" — which would be cause if a missile, projectile, or shrapnel ruptured the plane's fuselage — "is unique and will be recorded in the cockpit voice recorder (CVR), while the sudden loss of cabin pressure, electrical systems and other vital flight parameters including changes in altitude, speed and directions after impact will all be captured in the digital flight data recorder (DFDR), as long as power to the recorders was not truncated," he said.

While data from the black box can rule out a number of possible causes, and provide evidence that suggests that the plane was shot down, an examination of debris and remnants from the plane will also be necessary.

"Missile projectile shrapnel creates unique ' capture marks' on the wreckage, and pieces will be embedded in the wreckage," he said. "If that's the case, forensic trace analysis conducted as part of metallurgical test on wreckage will show chemical and other physical residues of the projectile."

Iran has previously suggested that it would not send the black box to Boeing for data recovery, which would typically be the norm. However, it has invited foreign investigators — including from Ukraine, Canada, and the US — to participate in the crash investigation.

"It's good for all parties to have everyone involved," Adjekum said. "It adds integrity to the investigation and the findings."

One consideration is that advanced data retrieval technology could be required to assess the black box if it was damaged in the crash. While Iran has said it would analyze the recorders in its own laboratories, Adjekum said he doubts the Iranians' capabilities.

"I personally think it would be better if it was done here in the US, because the NTSB has a technologically advanced laboratory for such 'black box' readouts, he said. "However, due to the politics involved, an equally good facility such as the BEA laboratory in France, which is a neutral country in all of this, would be appropriate. That would avoid the suspicion and politics."

While Iran has said that the plane appeared to turn around while on fire, attempting to return to the airport before crashing, Adjekum said that would not necessarily preclude a missile or projectile strike.

"When an aircraft is hit by such projectiles but not at a large surface area of the fuselage, or at a section that would not compromise the structural integrity of the aircraft, there might not be immediate break up" of the plane, he said. "It is possible the pilots had some level of control after such a hit, if vital flight control surfaces and links were not immediately rendered non-functional, and that they attempted to turn back to the airport."

"However, it would not be easy dealing with the cascades of failing systems after such hit, and at such relatively low altitudes, time for recovery and useful action by crew would be limited," he added. "Also, due to possibly effects of explosive decompression, it could be difficult to control the aircraft."

Ultimately, Adjekum said, it would likely be possible to prove the missile strike based on the variety of factors, combined with the radar signature captures and other intelligence that authorities have cited. 

SEE ALSO: How the crash of Ukrainian Flight 752 unfolded, from the plunge that killed 176 people, to allegations it was shot down by an Iranian missile

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Beyond Meat posts its best week since July (BYND)

Fri, 01/10/2020 - 3:15pm

  • Beyond Meat has gained 27% this week, its best weekly performance since July. 
  • The company's shares surged 12% on a Tuesday report that rival Impossible Foods was no longer pursuing a potential deal with McDonald's. The report has since been disputed
  • On Wednesday, McDonald's said it would expand the Canada test of its sandwich that uses a Beyond Meat patty. Shares of Beyond Meat gained Thursday and Friday. 
  • Watch Beyond Meat trade live on Markets Insider.

Beyond Meat, the buzzy plant-based meat alternative startup that captured attention with its blockbuster IPO in 2019, notched its best weekly performance in seven months.

Shares of the company have gained about 27% over the past five days, their best weekly gain since July. The S&P 500 has gained roughly 1% over the same timeframe.

There have been a number of stock-moving events that have lifted Beyond Meat this week. On Tuesday, Reuters reported that its main rival in the plant-based meat space, Impossible Foods, was abandoning attempts to land a deal to supply McDonald's with burgers

That sent Beyond Meat shares soaring 12%, even though Impossible Foods later disputed the report. In a Wednesday interview, Impossible Foods CEO Patrick Brown told Business Insider "we would never blow off or disrespect a potential customer and any suggestion that we would do that is complete nonsense."

Also on Wednesday, McDonald's said that it would be expanding its test in Canada of the PLT burger, which stands for plant, lettuce, and tomato and uses a Beyond Meat patty. There's long been talk of a partnership between Beyond Meat and McDonald's, as a successful collaboration could be a game-changer for the plant-based meat company. 

If McDonald's brings the PLT to the US, it could add as much as $168 million to Beyond Meat's sales, a 62% boost, according to a November note from Alexia Howard at Bernstein. And, it has positive implications for the stock price as well — when McDonald's announced in September it would test the PLT in Canada, Beyond Meat gained as much as 13%.

Shares of Beyond Meat gained another 11% Thursday. The rally was still gaining steam during the trading day Friday, where Beyond Meat traded up as much as 8%.

It's a busy first full week of trading in 2020 for Beyond Meat, which had a rollercoaster ride in 2019 after its initial public offering in May. Shares surged nearly 840% from the IPO price of $25 to the all-time high of $234.9 per share in July before falling to around $75 per share at the end of the year.

Still, shares are up roughly 261% from its IPO price through Thursday's close. 

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I was rejected for disability insurance because of a past mental illness. Here's how I eventually got covered.

Fri, 01/10/2020 - 2:54pm

I'll admit it: I never thought about disability insurance until a few years ago. My jobs never offered access to a plan, and I didn't consider shopping for a policy on my own. 

But once I learned about the risks of disability, I realized this coverage is a must-have for anyone who can afford the monthly premiums.

The odds of experiencing a long-term disability may be higher than you expect. One in four people may be out of work for a year or more due to illness, injury, or pregnancy, according to the Council for Disability Awareness.

To make matters worse, 51 million working Americans don't have disability coverage other than Social Security Disability Insurance, which can be difficult to qualify for. 

For the average American, being out of work for any length of time could be a financial catastrophe — especially with a family to support. Once I understood the severity of these statistics, I was ready to protect my own income.

My disability insurance rejection

I started shopping for a group disability policy through a professional organization. The monthly premiums were much cheaper than an individual policy would be, so I was eager to submit an application. 

I filled out the forms, sent my paperwork, and felt a sense of relief — until I received a painful rejection letter a couple of weeks later.

I didn't make it past the first couple of sentences before angry tears filled my eyes. The company rejected my disability insurance application because of my past history of depression. I felt betrayed, vulnerable, and shamed by their decision. The sting of being deemed "too risky" to insure for disability felt like the ultimate rejection.  

After weeks of complaining by phone and email, I was finally able to get the insurance company to reverse their decision. 

Apply for disability insurance coverage today with help from Policygenius »

The underwriters needed proof I was no longer depressed from my healthcare providers, so my psychiatrist and therapist each sent a letter on my behalf. These letters confirmed my current mental health status and were enough for a reversal.

How to get disability insurance with chronic mental illness

When you have recovered from a past mental illness — and you have proof from a healthcare provider — it can be easier to qualify for a disability insurance policy. But it may be more difficult with ongoing problems. 

"If you have a chronic mental illness, disability insurance underwriters may see you as part of a high-risk class," says Alexandra Wilson, a certified financial planner at SmartPath in Atlanta. 

She says depending on the company, you may get a rejection. Or you may receive a letter of acceptance with exclusions for your pre-existing condition. The company may offer limited coverage — or no limitations with higher premiums. 

You may also see a limitation rider attached to your disability insurance policy. These riders — which may restrict coverage for mental health issues or substance abuse — could limit your benefit period to two years or less. Wilson says some states may require these riders for disability insurance underwriting. 

To get around these potential roadblocks, Wilson suggests doing some research. Create a list of two or three companies known for working with folks with mental illness. 

"Call and ask about their requirements and possible riders before applying," she recommends. If you're not sure where to begin, seek guidance from a financial planner or disability insurance broker.

Disability insurance covers lost income if you're unable to work. Get coverage today from Policygenius »

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Trump campaigned on promises to revive US manufacturing. But factories lost 12,000 jobs in December.

Fri, 01/10/2020 - 2:39pm

American manufacturers shed thousands of jobs at the end of 2019, just the latest sign of struggle in a sector that has slumped to its weakest point since the financial crisis

Roughly 12,000 factory jobs were lost in December, the Commerce Department said in its latest employment report Friday. That brought net gains for the year to 46,000 jobs, far below the increase of more than 250,000 in 2018. Payrolls in the sector were inflated in November as workers returned from a six-week strike at General Motors.

Trump has long pledged to give new life to US manufacturing through fairer trade deals, but the sector has shown few signs of recovery after slipping into a mild recession last year. 

Factories received an unexpected boost in 2017 as the economy expanded at a faster pace and business confidence rose. The rebound proved to be short-lived, however, as a tit-for-tat trade dispute between the Trump administration and China exacerbated a broader cooldown in factory activity across the globe.

The two sides reached an interim agreement to defuse tensions last fall, but producers have continued to struggle in the face of higher prices and uncertainty. In a new study released this month, Federal Reserve economists concluded that tariffs failed to lift manufacturing activity and instead weighed it down. 

"We find that the tariff increases enacted in 2018 are associated with relative reductions in manufacturing employment and relative increases in producer prices," the economists wrote. 

But as long as the overall growth continues to hum, Republicans hope that Trump will be able to maintain support on the economy. One recent poll, conducted by the Financial Times and the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, found that more than half of likely US voters believe the Trump administration has helped the economy through its policies. 

The record-long expansion stands in a solid place heading into 2020, with the unemployment rate at its lowest level in half a century. Trump is claiming victory on the first stage of a trade deal with China and a rewrite of NAFTA, even as critics argue that months of bruising tariffs weren't worth the changes. 

"Communities that have been left behind were a big part of the reason Trump won; he spoke directly to their concerns and fears," said Douglas Heye, a former communications director at the Republican National Committee. "As manufacturing struggles, Trump will need to demonstrate how he can help bring it back, even at this late point."

SEE ALSO: US economy misses forecasts, adds just 145,000 jobs in December

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'This airplane is designed by clowns': Damning Boeing emails reveal internal complaints made about 737 Max safety and information being covered up

Thu, 01/09/2020 - 10:00pm

  • Internal emails released by Boeing to Congress reveal that employees within the company mocked the Federal Aviation Administration and discussed security concerns related to the 737 Max. 
  • Hundreds of emails, which Boeing provided to Congress and the FAA in December, were obtained by both Reuters and The New York Times on Thursday.  
  • "This airplane is designed by clowns who in turn are supervised by monkeys," one employee wrote in an instant message, according to Reuters. 
  • "I still haven't been forgiven by God for the covering up I did last year," another employee said in 2018, according to The New York Times.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Internal emails released by Boeing to Congress reveal that employees within the company mocked the Federal Aviation Administration and discussed issues with the 737 Max plane, which was grounded last year after two fatal crashes. 

Hundreds of emails, which Boeing provided to Congress and the FAA in December, were obtained by both Reuters and The New York Times on Thursday. 

The emails discussed a range of topics, including safety issues with the Max software and the little training provided to Max pilots. 

In a 2018 messages seen by The Times, an employee appear to discuss covering up problems with the Max from the FAA when the aviation regulator was certifying its simulators: "I still haven't been forgiven by God for the covering up I did last year," one employee said, according to Times. 

"Would you put your family on a Max simulator trained aircraft? I wouldn't," one employee said to a colleague in an undated set of messages seen by The Times. "No," the colleague responded.

In April 2017, two employees complained about the safety of the Max. 

"This airplane is designed by clowns who in turn are supervised by monkeys," one employee wrote in an instant message.

Boeing said in a press release on Thursday that it provided the documents to the FAA and to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Technology and the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure in December for the sake of transparency. 

The company said the communications "do not reflect the company we are and need to be, and they are completely unacceptable." 

"Some of these communications relate to the development and qualification of Boeing's Max simulators in 2017 and 2018," the company said in the statement. "These communications contain provocative language, and, in certain instances, raise questions about Boeing's interactions with the FAA in connection with the simulator qualification process."

"Having carefully reviewed the issue, we are confident that all of Boeing's Max simulators are functioning effectively," it said, adding that the issues referenced in these messages "occurred early in the service life of these simulators." 

"Indeed, more than twenty regulatory qualifications of Max simulators, performed by the FAA and multiple international regulators, have been conducted since early 2017," it said. "We remain confident in the regulatory process for qualifying these simulators." 

Boeing apologized for the messages and promised disciplinary action would be taken against the employees cited in the messages. 

Boeing's 737 Max plane came under scrutiny in March after two fatal crashes involving the plane led to the combined deaths of 346 people. The plane has been grounded since after intense regulatory scrutiny.

In October, Boeing provided the FAA with copies of instant messages from the former chief technical pilot on the 737 Max, Mark Forkner, in which he described problems during a simulator flight with the automated flight control system — MCAS — that ultimately contributed to the two crashes, as well as misleading regulators.

In the 2016 messages, Forkner described MCAS as "running rampant in the sim," and said that "I basically lied to the regulators (unknowingly)," describing problems that he had not previously disclosed.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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The CEO of BNP Paribas' investment bank in the US is stepping down and one of the firm's top London bankers is replacing him

Thu, 01/09/2020 - 5:35pm

  • Bob Hawley, head of BNP Paribas' investment banking operations in the US, is stepping back and taking on a vice chairman role with the firm.  
  • Hawley, who also ran global markets in the Americas, had been with the firm since 1997 and was promoted to CEO of Corporate and Institutional Banking in the Americas in mid-2018, amid an organizational shakeup.
  • Jose Placido, the global head of financial institution coverage based in London, has been tapped to replace him. 
  • Visit BI Prime for more stories

The head of BNP Paribas' investment banking operations in the US is stepping down, just a year and a half after taking the role amid an organizational shakeup, according to people familiar with the matter. 

Bob Hawley, a long-time fixed-income markets exec and CEO of Corporate and Institutional Banking in the Americas since mid-2018, will remain with the firm but is stepping back into a vice chairman role with the investment bank, the people said. Jose Placido, the global head of financial institution coverage based in London, has been tapped to replace him. 

A BNP spokesman declined to comment. 

Hawley joined BNP in 1997 from Credit Suisse First Boston, holding several regional fixed-income executive roles in the early 2000s before earning a promotion in 2014 to head of global markets and deputy head of CIB in the Americas, according to a company bio.

He moved up from deputy CEO to the top job in the firm's US investment banking operation four years later amid a broader shakeup, in which Jean-Yves Fillion vacated the bank's top regional investment-banking job but stayed on as chairman as well as CEO of BNP Paribas USA. 

Placido, who joined the firm in 2014 from RBC, is set to inherit the job from Hawley, the people said. His shoes will be filled by Sandrine Ferdane, CEO of the firm's operation in Brazil, sources said.

The power transition is expected to happen over the course of the first six months of the year.

The French investment bank's US business is primarily focused on global markets, providing sales and trading and securities services to clients, though it has also had ambitions to grow its investment-banking advisory business in the region.

The firm has struggled to gain market share in the region and was ranked 12th in investment banking revenues in the Americas in 2018 among the top global firms, according to league tables from industry data and consulting firm Coalition.

Have more information about BNP Paribas? Send an email to the reporter at amorrell@businessinsider.com or reach him via Signal.

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FREE SLIDE DECK: The Future of Fintech

Thu, 01/09/2020 - 4:03pm

Digital disruption is affecting every aspect of the fintech industry. Over the past five years, fintech has established itself as a fundamental part of the global financial services ecosystem.

Fintech startups have raised, and continue to raise, billions of dollars annually. At the same time, incumbent financial institutions are getting in on the act, and using fintech to remain competitive in a rapidly evolving financial services landscape. So what's next?

Business Insider Intelligence, Business Insider's premium research service, has the answer in our brand new exclusive slide deck The Future of Fintech. In this deck, we explore what's next for fintech, how it will reach new heights, and the developments that will help it get there.

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Preferred vs Reserve: How to decide which Chase Sapphire credit card is right for you

Thu, 01/09/2020 - 3:58pm

  • The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and the Chase Sapphire Reserve both earn Ultimate Rewards points, which are one of the most valuable loyalty currencies around thanks to transfer partners like United and Hyatt.
  • While the Sapphire Reserve offers additional perks, it has a much higher annual fee — $550, starting on January 12, 2020 — versus the Sapphire Preferred's $95 annual fee.
  • If you apply for the Sapphire Reserve by January 12, you can lock in a $450 annual fee for your first account year.
  • The Reserve's benefits — like lounge access, DoorDash and travel credits, and more — can cancel some of the annual fee. But that's only if you can take advantage these perks, and they won't be useful to everybody.
  • The Sapphire Preferred is a better option if you're new to rewards credit cards, or if you only travel a few times a year. Plus, it offers a higher welcome bonus.
  • See Business Insider's list of the best rewards credit cards » 

The two flavors of the Chase Sapphire card have helped catapult travel rewards into a mainstream obsession. The Chase Sapphire Preferred is still one of the most-Googled cards despite debuting more than a decade ago, and the Chase Sapphire Reserve was so popular that Chase ran out of metal cards when it first launched in 2016.

While the Sapphire Preferred has largely stayed the same in its 10-plus years of existence, the Chase Sapphire Reserve just got a big update. Starting on January 12, 2020, the card will add a handful of new benefits, including 10x points on Lyft rides, up to $120 in credits with DoorDash, and a year of complimentary Pink membership with Lyft. 

Those new perks come with a higher annual fee, however: Starting on January 12, you'll pay $550 per year to hold the Sapphire Reserve, up from $450. That puts the Reserve on par with the Platinum Card® from American Express, which previously held the record for the most expensive consumer credit card.

Chase Ultimate Rewards points are some of the most valuable credit card rewards around, so having either the Chase Sapphire Preferred or the Chase Sapphire Reserve is a smart move if you want to use points to travel. But while it used to be relatively easy to make a case for the Reserve's higher fee, the latest round of updates changes the equation a bit.

With the Sapphire Reserve's new benefits and higher annual fee in mind, let's dig into the cards' biggest differences to help you decide which is a better choice for you.

Chase Sapphire Preferred vs. Sapphire Reserve: the biggest differences

Card perks

Aside from the annual fee, the biggest differences are that the Sapphire Reserve earns 3x points on travel and dining instead of 2x on the Sapphire Preferred, and comes with a $300 annual travel credit, access to more than 1,200 airport lounges through the Priority Pass network, a trip delay insurance policy that takes effect after shorter delays, and elite benefits with a few car rental agencies.

The Sapphire Reserve also has some new statement credits: up to $60 in DoorDash credits in 2020, and up to another $60 in 2021. DoorDash is a food delivery service that operates in dozens of cities across the US and Canada. Both Sapphire Reserve and Sapphire Preferred cardholders also get a year of DashPass membership, which waives delivery fees on orders of $15 or more.

Another new benefit that's only available on the Chase Sapphire Reserve: a year of complimentary Lyft Pink membership, which gets you 15% off rides, priority airport pickups, and up to three free bike or scooter rides per month in select cities. The Sapphire Reserve will now offer 10x points on Lyft rides — a great return on spending — while the Sapphire Preferred will offer 5x points. (On both cards, these elevated earning rates with Lyft are available through March 22.)

Redeeming points: Chase Sapphire Preferred vs. Reserve

Chase offers cardholders great options for redeeming points; You can exchange them for cash back at 1 cent per point, or you can use them to purchase travel thorough Chase's booking portal — with a 25% bonus for Sapphire Preferred cardholders. Best of all, you can can transfer points to Chase's frequent flyer partners.

With the Sapphire Reserve, you can redeem points the same way as with the Preferred — with one difference. When using them to purchase travel through Chase, you'll get a 50% bonus, instead of 25% with the Preferred.

Along with the added perks, though, the Reserve comes with a higher annual fee. While the Sapphire Preferred only costs $95 per year, the Sapphire Reserve has an un-waived annual fee of $550 (as of January 12, 2020). When you subtract the $300 travel credit, which is essentially applied to the first $300 of travel-category spending each cardmember year, the effective fee is $250 per year, a $155 increase over the Preferred.

Click here to learn more about the Chase Sapphire Preferred card » Click here to learn more about the Chase Sapphire Reserve »

So what makes the Sapphire Reserve worth the higher annual fee compared to the Sapphire Preferred? Which one is right for you?

Here are a few questions to ask yourself when deciding between the two cards.

How much do you spend on travel and dining?

To start, let's keep it simple and focus solely on the points earning.

Without considering any other perks or benefits, the deciding factor between the two cards should be whether you spend enough on dining and travel that earning an extra point per dollar is worth the Sapphire Reserve's higher annual fee.

The Sapphire Preferred's fee is $95, while the Sapphire Reserve's fee is $550. However, if you factor in the $300 travel credit that the Sapphire Reserve includes each year — which is good on everything from taxis, parking, tolls, and subway fares to flights, cruises, and hotels — the card's fee is effectively only $250. The difference between the Preferred's fee ($95) and the Reserve's (effectively $250) is $155.

For argument's sake, let's assume you value your points at 1.5 cents each (that's the value of points used to purchase travel through Chase, with the 50% bonus if you hold the Sapphire Reserve). You would need to spend $11,233 on dining and travel each year to make up the $155 annual fee difference between the two cards.

That breaks down to $936 per month — and this calculation takes into account the points you wouldn't earn on travel purchases covered by the $300 annual statement credit. 

Of course, this will still require you to pay the $550 annual fee every 12 months. Even though you'll get the travel credit applied to the first $300 of relevant spending each cardmember year, that can be a lot of money to pay up front. Whether you want to front $550 is entirely a personal decision, so make sure you weigh the cash outlay (and the fact that the fee isn't waived the first year) against the higher earning potential. 

Read more: 6 reasons the Chase Sapphire Reserve's high annual fee is easy to justify — and why the card is ultimately a better value than Chase's cheaper Sapphire Preferred

Moving on from points earning...

Will you use the Reserve's new benefits?

In exchange for a higher annual fee, the Sapphire Reserve is adding the following benefits in early 2020:

  • Up to $120 in DoorDash credits (up to $60 in 2020, and up to $60 in 2021)
  • Complimentary one-year Lyft Pink membership
  • 10x points on Lyft rides

If you already use Lyft and DoorDash frequently, these benefits could make the $100 annual fee increase worth it. But if you aren't interested in ordering food delivery through DoorDash and you don't use rideshare services like Lyft, these new perks won't move the needle much — and you'll still have to pay $550 per year. In that case, it really comes down to how much you spend on travel and dining, and how you value the extra Chase points you'll own with the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

How do you value the higher sign-up bonus?

The 10,000 extra points you'd get from the Sapphire Preferred's sign-up bonus are worth at least $100 as cash back, $125 as travel through Chase, or more if you transfer the points to airline partners.

Put another way, you'd have to spend an extra $3,333 on the Sapphire Reserve to earn 10,000 points (not counting the 10x points you can earn with the Reserve on Lyft purchases). It could be worth earning the higher bonus with the Sapphire Preferred, then converting it to the Reserve after your first year.

Read more: 7 reasons the Chase Sapphire Preferred is worth it — even though the card doesn't come with as many flashy perks as the Sapphire Reserve

How much do you value the trip delay insurance?

A lot of discussion around the Sapphire Reserve focuses on the points and more obvious perks, like lounge access, but personally, I think the trip delay insurance is one of the most valuable features. I live in New York, where delays are fairly frequent, whether because of mechanical issues, intense weather, or other problems. 

That's why I like the extra layer of security added by the Sapphire Reserve. The card's trip delay coverage becomes effective after just six hours, or if you end up stuck overnight. The Sapphire Preferred's coverage is also activated when there's an overnight delay; if the delay is entirely during the day, the coverage takes effect after 12 hours.

If the trip delay insurance activating sooner is worth the higher annual fee, then you should consider the Sapphire Reserve. After a seven-hour delay this summer, I was able to submit a claim for a number of expenses including lunch, a phone backup battery, and even a pair of headphones I needed. However, any stay that incurs major expenses, like a hotel room and a change of clothes, would probably involve an overnight stay and therefore be covered by the Sapphire Preferred's insurance.

Click here to learn more about the Chase Sapphire Preferred card » Click here to learn more about the Chase Sapphire Reserve » Will you use the airport lounge access?

Airport lounges are the best. Even when they're relatively lively (read: crowded), they're still much better than the main terminal and gate areas. I love having a place to sit down, relax, charge my phone, and have a few drinks or a snack while I wait for my flight; or, other times, to hunker down with my laptop and take advantage of the lounge Wi-Fi to do some work. Sometimes, airport lounges can be downright luxurious and include amenities like complimentary spa treatments.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve includes a free Priority Pass Select membership for as long as you have the card. Priority Pass is a network of more than 1,200 airport lounges around the world. A Select membership grants access to member lounges for you and any travel companions. While amenities vary by lounge, most of them tend to offer private Wi-Fi, free hard and soft drinks, snacks, and comfortable seating. Some lounges also feature heartier food options, sometimes included or sometimes for an additional charge.

You can take a look at Priority Pass's full network of lounges by clicking "Find a Lounge" on the upper-left corner of this page to gauge whether the membership will be useful for you. The network is more robust abroad; the amount of US locations is relatively limited, and they tend to be found in international terminals, so you may not always be able to access lounges before domestic trips. 

Several airports also have restaurants which are part of the Priority Pass network. At these restaurants — including the Grain Store at London's Gatwick airport — you'll get a certain amount credited on the bill for you and each guest. At the Grain Store, each guest is entitled to a £15 credit.

If you don't think you'll have much use for the Priority Pass membership, you might prefer the Sapphire Preferred and its lower annual fee.

Read more: The best Chase credit cards

Do you already have Global Entry/TSA PreCheck?

If you don't have Global Entry and TSA PreCheck, you should really get it. With PreCheck, you can use special security lines at most US airports. In those lanes, you can keep your shoes, belt, and light jacket on, leave your laptop in your bag, and only go through a metal detector instead of a full body scanner. The process is much quicker than regular security, and it's much less uncomfortable.

With Global Entry, you can skip the immigration line when returning from the US and scan your passport at an unmanned kiosk instead. It prints a receipt which you bring to the customs stop after baggage claim, and just like that: you're good to go. 

You can apply to either program, but Global Entry usually includes TSA PreCheck and the $100 application fee is only a bit more than the $85 you'd pay to just apply for PreCheck. Plus, the Chase Sapphire Reserve offers a credit for either program. If you aren't enrolled in one of these programs yet, you may want to consider the Reserve. Otherwise, the Sapphire Preferred might be your best bet, unless you're due to renew your membership soon.

Will you add any authorized users to your account?

If you're looking to add authorized users, like a spouse or child, keep in mind that the Sapphire Reserve charges an annual fee of $75 to add anyone to your account, Each authorized user gets their own Priority Pass Select membership, at least. There's no fee to add an authorized user to your Sapphire Preferred account.

The bottom line

Ultimately, the two biggest things to consider when deciding between the cards is whether or not you're willing to pay the higher annual fee for the Sapphire Reserve, and whether you spend enough on dining and travel to make it worth that higher fee. Beyond that, take a look at the difference in perks and see which is best for you.

Apply by January 12 to get the lower annual fee for your first year: Learn more about the Chase Sapphire Reserve » Click here to learn more about the Chase Sapphire Preferred card »

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Trump has signed a whopping $4.7 trillion of debt into federal law, budget watchdog says

Thu, 01/09/2020 - 3:55pm

  • President Trump has piled $4.7 trillion onto the federal debt so far, according to a budget watchdog.
  • The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget identified the 2017 Republican tax cuts as the biggest driver of debt.
  • Trump campaigned on wiping away the national debt, but has embarked on a spending binge as president.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

President Trump signed a staggering $4.7 trillion of debt into law throughout his time in the White House so far, according to a budget group.

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget — a nonpartisan fiscal watchdog organization — estimated that Trump's spending binge throughout his presidency will pile an additional $4.7 trillion onto the federal debt through 2029.

"Thanks to legislation passed since 2017, the nation is facing trillion-dollar annual deficits for the foreseeable future without action is almost certain to surpass the record debt levels set after World War II in the coming years," the group said.

It also warned debt was "rising on an unsustainable path."

Here is a breakdown of Trump's spending since he assumed office in 2017, according to the CRFB:

  • The 2017 GOP Tax cuts: $1.8 trillion
  • Spending deal under Bipartisan Budget Act (2019): $1.7 trillion
  • Spending agreement under the Bipartisan Budget Act (2018): $445 billion
  • Repeal of three Obamacare taxes in 2019 budget deal: $500 billion
  • Other legislation: $165 billion

Trump promised to wipe out the federal debt during 2016 campaign, but instead forcefully swung in the opposite direction while in the Oval Office. Deficits have also mounted, reaching nearly $1 trillion in fiscal 2019, a 26% jump from the previous year.

Read more: The founder of a retirement-advisory firm shares his 4 favorite books for people looking to tackle a 'huge lack' of financial education

The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in particular was the biggest driver of debt that the group identified, given it slashed the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%, leading to a drop in tax revenue.

Republicans said the law would pay for itself, but it fell short of achieving many of its goals

Trump also signed a recent budget deal into law that the CRFB experts project will add $1.7 trillion onto the debt as well, since it increased spending caps on defense as well as other government priorities.

When Trump took office, the federal debt was $20 trillion. It currently stands at $23 trillion.

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If you shop at Amazon, make sure you're using a credit card that earns you bonus points or cash back. Here are 4 of the best options.

Thu, 01/09/2020 - 3:54pm

Amazon sells virtually everything, and thanks to Prime Shipping, items are often delivered in two days or less.

If you find yourself shopping at Amazon frequently, you'll want to give some thought to the credit card you're using on these purchases. After all, it's important to maximize rewards on every dollar you spend. With that in mind, here are some of the best credit cards for Amazon purchases.

Keep in mind that we're focusing on the rewards and perks that make these credit cards great options, not things like interest rates and late fees, which will far outweigh the value of any points or miles. It's important to practice financial discipline when using credit cards by paying your balances in full each month, making payments on time, and only spending what you can afford to pay back.

These are the best credit cards for Amazon purchases in 2020: Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card

The Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature offers 5% cash back on Amazon and Whole Foods purchases. Cardholders also get an extra 5 - 15% cash back on certain promotional items, which is one of the highest rewards rates around. This makes the card a great option for your Amazon purchases.

The Amazon Prime Rewards card also earns 2% cash back at restaurants, gas stations, and drugstores. Considering those are pretty common spending categories for most people, this isn't a bad card to have in your wallet, especially since it has no annual fee.

Read more: Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature card review

Chase Freedom

The Chase Freedom offers 5% cash back on the first $1,500 spent on rotating bonus categories every quarter, once you activate the bonus each quarter via your card account. Sometimes those categories include Amazon purchases, in which case the Chase Freedom is a great option for shopping on that site.

Amazon isn't included in the Freedom's current bonus categories, however it will be a Q4 bonus category merchant list for the Discover it® Cash back (see below).

Click here to learn more about the Chase Freedom. Discover it Cash Back

Like the Chase Freedom, the Discover it Cash Back card offers 5% cash back on the first $1,500 spent in select categories every quarter once you activate the bonus. Discover has a cash-back calendar, which shows both previous and upcoming bonus category merchants. Amazon is included on the merchant list for October to December 2020.

The timing of that bonus is especially great considering it falls within the holiday shopping season. So if you'd rather not get trampled over a discounted flat-screen TV at Walmart, you've got plenty of incentive to do you shopping with Amazon instead.

Amex EveryDay Preferred Credit Card

The Amex Everyday Preferred is a solid choice for Amazon purchases. The card only earns 1 point per dollar spent on non-bonus category spending, which includes Amazon. So why use it if you're just earning 1 point? One reason is that Amex Offers often runs double point promotions for Amazon purchases. All you have to do is check the currently available Amex Offers via a tab under your account. If you're eligible, just register and make purchases with your eligible card to earn those extra points.

Additionally, Amex Everyday Preferred cardholders earn 50% bonus points every billing period when they charge 30 or more purchases to the card. So if you charge at least one purchase per day on the Amex Everyday Preferred Card, you'll essentially earn at least 1.5 points per dollar spent. 

For purchase protection: the Amex Platinum

It doesn't earn bonus points at Amazon (unless your account is eligible for an Amex Offer for bonus points at Amazon), but the Platinum Card from American Express is also worth considering, especially for more expensive Amazon purchases. That's because it offers purchase protection for up to 120 days from your date of purchase, with a maximum of $10,000 per claim and $50,000 per account per year.

The card has a $550 annual fee, so it's not worth getting for this benefit alone, but if you travel frequently and can take advantage of benefits like annual statement credits for Uber, annual incidental fees, and Saks purchases, not to mention airport lounge access, it can be a great option.

Click here to learn more about the Amex Platinum. Any card that offers an annual spending bonus

If you're more concerned with long-term gain, consider charging your Amazon purchases to a credit card that offers an annual incentive for meeting certain spending thresholds.

For example, the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card offers an annual free weekend night after you spend $60,000 in a calendar year. Don't think that's worth much? I'm writing this article from the Waldorf Astoria Maldives, where I redeemed one of these free weekend nights in exchange for a villa that normally goes for $2,000 per night.

Read more: I pay $450 a year for a Hilton credit card, and I just earned half that fee back in a single night

Another option is to put your Amazon spending on a Southwest credit card in order to earn the Southwest Companion Pass. If you're unfamiliar with this benefit, it essentially allows you to book free airfare for a designated companion if you earn 125,000 qualifying Southwest points in a year. Points earned via credit card sign-up bonuses and spending count towards this requirement, making the Companion Pass much more attainable.

You can earn sign-up bonuses on the following Southwest credit cards. Note that you can only have one personal Southwest co-branded card at a time.

If you earned the sign-up bonus from one of these cards and channeled your everyday spending, including Amazon purchases, on to it, you could find the Southwest Companion Pass to be within reach. You could also earn a sign-up bonus from one personal Southwest card and one business Southwest card, which would make qualifying even easier.

More credit card coverage

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The IRS is clear about when you have to pay taxes on your side gig: Once you make $400

Thu, 01/09/2020 - 3:53pm

  • If you're a gig worker, the IRS is expecting you to pay federal income taxes on any dollar you earned above $400 throughout 2019.
  • The IRS classifies gig work as "providing on-demand work, services, or goods" for additional income not related to W-2 employment.
  • This includes, but is not limited to, driving for a ride-share company, delivering food or groceries, selling goods on digital marketplaces, or renting out your home.
  • You can visit the IRS' new Gig Economy Tax Center page for more information on filing your taxes as an independent contractor.
  • Read more personal finance coverage.

The gig economy is integral to millions of Americans' livelihood, and the IRS is itching to take its share.

On Thursday, the government agency launched the Gig Economy Tax Center on its website, an informational hub for part-time, temporary, and contract workers seeking guidance on whether they have to pay taxes on their income. If you earned more than $400 from side jobs in 2019, the answer is yes.

The IRS says the gig, or sharing, economy includes any "activity where people earn income providing on-demand work, services or goods," such as ride-sharing and delivery services, renting out property, running errands, and selling products online. That means if you earned money from Uber, Lyft, Postmates, Airbnb, Instacart, Etsy et al., you may be on the hook for federal income taxes.

That's because the IRS requires that anyone earning non-W-2 income from a job be classified as an independent contractor, even if they also hold a job as a W-2 employee. These workers often must pay estimated quarterly self-employment income taxes on their additional income, as well as their share of FICA and Medicare taxes. 

As it relates to the 2020 tax season — when Americans file taxes for income earned in 2019 — the business(es) who paid you for on-demand work may send forms to the IRS to report those payments, depending on how they classify and pay workers, including forms 1099-MISC, Miscellaneous Income and 1099-K, Payment Card and Third Party Network Transactions.

The IRS says businesses are required to file a 1099-MISC form for workers who they paid more than $600 throughout the year. You should receive copies of these forms by January 31, which you can use to file your 2019 tax return.

If you don't receive these forms, you'll need to rely on your own payment records to report all income earned from temporary or part-time sources — including cash — on your tax return if it is more than $400. And if you plan to continue earning income from side jobs in 2020, consult the IRS for rules and due dates for paying quarterly taxes so you don't get slapped with penalties or a huge bill next year.

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