How Credit Card Reform Totally Worked

Jason Reed / Reuters

The CARD Act, signed by President Obama in May 2009, was the largest overhaul of the $688 billion credit card — and 470 million cards — industry in years. The legislation instituted a wide variety of protections that took aim at some of the fees that consumers understood the least and banks profited from the most. More than three years after it began to take effect, the evidence is starting to trickle in on whether or not the legislation has been effective at protecting consumers, especially those riskiest borrowers, with lower credit scores, who were the richest source of fees for banks issuing credit cards.

Some of the rules instituted by the CARD Act mandated that customers had to be given 45 days’ notice before an interest rate jump and be given statements three weeks before a bill was due. It also stipulated that issuers could process payments only above the credit limit (and charge the requisite fee) if the customer opted in, and said that fees for going over the credit limit could be charged only once per billing cycle. The act made a raft of new regulations on credit cards for borrowers under 21 and college students.

Payments for interest and fees are lower.

The CARD Act’s limits on fees are working, according to a new paper from four research and government economists that looked at 150 million credit card accounts that cover about 40% of all credit card counts. Over the limit fees, which the CARD Act greatly restricts and increases transparency for charging, used to be about 1% of a credit card user’s average balance and have fallen to about zero. Now that banks have to clearly disclose their structure for late fees and get explicit permission to even process the charges that incur the fee, people have basically stopped going over their credit limit.

Something similar happened to late fees, which used to be about 2% of balances — they’ve been cut in half to 1% of daily balances. Overall, the cost savings on fees alone, about 2.8% of annual borrowing on credit cards, have dropped by $21 billion per year thanks to the new restrictions. And the decline has been the biggest for borrowers with the lowest credit card scores: For borrowers with FICO scores below 620, fees went from 23% of their average daily balance to 9%. Those borrowers represent 17% of all credit card accounts.

Cards aren’t getting more expensive.

With revenue from fees cut off by the new legislation, one might expect that credit cards would get more expensive, especially for those with worse credit. But the researchers “[did] not observe a sharp uptick in interest charges” while the CARD Act was being implemented. Even new credit card contracts, issued after the rules were fully in effect, don’t have an “uptick or gradual increase” in pricing, while the “number of new accounts opened and the credit limits on new and existing accounts seem unaffected or are even increasing during the CARD Act’s implementation period.”

Once again, the credit card borrowers with the worst credit are seeing the biggest gain, according to the paper, the low-FICO score borrowers with fee drops of 10% “did not experience a resulting increase in interest charges” compared with credit card users with better credit whose fees stayed steady as the bill was implemented.

Cards are still profitable and available.

What’s interesting about credit cards is that if you have pretty good credit, you’re probably costing your bank to have a card with them. The researchers found that card holders with FICO scores below 620 generated profits of 7.9% of their balance, while the most creditworthy generate 1.5% profits on their balance and those in the middle, with FICOs between 660 and 719, cost their bank 1.6% of their balance.

The four economists conclude that “credit cards are a particularly profitable segment of the banking industry,” and that “at the height of the financial crisis…credit card issuers were earning their largest profits from the subprime segment of the market.”

That’s a changed a little thanks to the new rules: For the riskiest borrowers, net income for card issuers dropped 18 percentage points, while it dropped around 3 percentage points on average.

But if the profitability of cards has fallen off, will banks restrict consumer credit? This has been the argument of the American Bankers Association, which said in a letter to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau this year, “Credit card interest rates are higher, despite the fact that interest rates are at historic lows.”

But the researchers say that the data doesn’t quite bear this out: If there was an overall trend of lower interest rates that was forestalled by the regulations, then you’d expect the risky borrowers who had the biggest drop in fees due to the CARD Act to have higher interest charges, compared with those borrowers with good credit whose fee payment were not affected by the new rules.

That didn’t happen, and instead the researchers have found that the risky borrowers whose fees were reduced did not see their interest charges go up any more than the high FICO score cardholders — indicating that the CARD Act didn’t raise interest rates compared with a downward trend.

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What Kind Of Investor Are You?

    1. Satoshi Nakamoto

    2. John Bogle, inventor of the index fund

    1. CBS/60 Minutes

      Hedge fund legend Paul Tudor Jones

    2. Via Heinz Peter Bader / Reuters

      Kim Kardashian

    1. Via D-schaub nature photography

    1. Stormbreath Dragon

    1. Ronald Reagan

    2. President Camacho

    1. Via Olivier Douliery / Getty Images

      Bill Clinton

    2. Via Ethan Miller / Getty Images

      Ron Paul

    1. Flickr/krossbow / Via

    2. flickr/sjssharktank / Via Flickr: sjsharktank

    1. Flickr/jameskm03 / Via Flickr: jameskm03

    1. Wikimedia / Via

    1. Wikimedia / Via

What Kind Of Investor Are You?

  1. You got:

    All Bitcoin Everything

    The fiat money system is going to collapse along with a stock market propped up by inflationary central bank policy. What’s more useless than a dollar issued by a perfidious Federal Reserve? You have all your assets in the only thing you can trust: nobody. (and hopefully not Mt. Gox!)

  2. You got:

    Stock Picker

    If the market’s going up, down, or sideways, you always know the right trade. You have two loves in your life: your Scotttrade account and CNBC. You always can beat the market, right?


  3. You got:

    Index Investor

    You’re the model of prudence, conservatism, and long-term thinking. The only thing you look at in your investments is the expense ratio. You have nearly everything in a Vanguard target-date and aren’t even thinking about the markets for another few decades. Why waste money trading when you can make money by doing nearly nothing?


  4. You got:


    Umm, my paycheck is for paying rent and going out, not dumping into a 401(k). Mutual funds? Bottle service!

    HBO / Via


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How To Prosecute And Defend The Real Wolf Of Wall Street

Via Paramount Pictures

“Was the movie accurate? It played down the sex and drugs,” said Ira Sorkin, a partner at Lowenstein Sandler who defended Jordan Belfort, the real “Wolf of Wall Street,” as well as Bernie Madoff.

Sorkin was speaking on a panel at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York with the lawyer and FBI agent he was working against when he defended the infamous Long Island brokerage founder, whose massive riches, prodigious drug and alcohol abuse, and eventual fall has been immortalized by Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio in the Wolf of Wall Street.

The three, who were sitting on a panel with Robert Khuzami, the former federal prosecutor and SEC enforcement chief who is now a partner at Kirkland & Ellis, all agreed they were dealing with someone who was intelligent, persuasive, and ultimately deluded about his ability to defeat the law.

“Jordan was a very smart individual,” Sorkin said. “He was a tremendous salesman and was able to influence all these young and inexperienced and naive people.”

Greg Coleman, the FBI agent who investigated the case, said he saw Stratton Oakmont, Belfort’s firm, as encased in a suit of armor and himself “as a parasite trying to get into that suit of armor.”

“It was all about blatant fraud, pushing stock to unsuspecting investors to get people to buy stuff that wasn’t suitable for them and didn’t have any value,” said Joel Cohen, who prosecuted Belfort as a assistant U.S. attorney in Brooklyn and is now a partner Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.

Although Stratton and Belfort made their riches through fraud, the criminal investigation that brought them down was over money laundering.

Sorkin said that Belfort came to him 1991, two days after the Wall Street Journal reported that the Securities and Exchange Commission was investigating Stratton Oakmont. “My first reaction was that we had to keep this from going criminal,” Sorkin said. They ended up reaching a deal with SEC that left Belfort with “tens of millions of dollars.” He could have “disappeared into the sunset,” Sorkin said.

That didn’t happen.

Instead, Stratton tried to pay Belfort $180 million for a non-compete agreement despite him being banned from the industry. Then Belfort and his partner Danny Porush (played by Jonah Hill), started laundering money out of the country with their friends and family, including Jordan’s wife’s aunt. “They were so drugged up I’m not sure they understood anything at this point,” Sorkin said.

“The big break for me is when Jordan went offshore,” said Coleman. “What Belfort was ultimately charged and prosecuted for had nothing to do with five years of pump and dumps.”

Once they were able to indict Belfort and Porush, prosecutors threatened to indict Belfort’s wife Nadine the next day to try to get him to cooperate. “I think that’s outrageous behavior that no prosecutor should engage in,” Cohen explained, speaking this time from his role as a securities lawyer, “but it did tend to lubricate his decision to cooperate rather quickly.”

Even arresting someone as gaudily wealthy as Belfort presented its own unique challenges. Belfort’s bail was set at $10 million, which he paid with $7 million of his wife’s jewels and $3 million of cash that had to be hauled over to a Brooklyn courthouse in a Brink’s truck.

Belfort would ultimately serve only 22 months because he cooperated with prosecutors in taking down other corrupt brokers. And he and Porush agreed quickly. “Both of their lawyers conveyed a few days after they were arrested that they were quite eager to cooperate,” Cohen said.

And they needed both of them to cooperate, but to do so separately without each other’s knowledge. “You can’t call guys like Belfort or Porush to the stand without being absolutely certain they’re telling the truth,” Cohen said. “They woke up every day and told lies. That’s what they did for a living.”

Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York, ended the evening with a speech where he concluded, “Is there any hope? Do the bad guys always win or did they get a movie deal and be played by Leonardo DiCaprio?”

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Google Just Bought A Smart Thermostat Company For $3.2 Billion

Google said Monday it would acquire Nest Labs, the developer behind a smart thermostat and smoke detector, for $3.2 billion in cash.

What this means for Google, first off, is that the company is clearly interested in expanding its portfolio of devices. Outside of phones (and, arguably, tablets) Google has not had much success in creating devices, such as the ill-fated home-theater, weirdly spherical Nexus Q device. But the company has continued to make an effort at doing so, recently with a small dongle that plugs into a television to play a few Android apps called the Chromecast.

However, the appeal of Nest Labs’ products goes beyond just devices. Much excitement in the investor community about the Nest and the follow-up smoke and carbon monoxide detector the Protect stems from the products’ ability to “train” homeowners to think of their homes in multiple states that are not just home and away.

For example: Initially, when leaving the house, homeowners would either leave the air-conditioning or heating running or turn it off. With Nest, home owners can think of more phases that a time of day has — such as waking up, leaving for work, coming home for work (as in, turning the heat/air on in anticipation of being home), and so on.

Understanding the behavior in those states, and how to create new ones, would be of natural interest to a company like Google that essentially wants to be the interface for how people interact with the internet, whether that is through search, mail, videos, and now possibly even controlling a home environment.

The overlap possibilities are staggering — imagine a home altering its environment to synchronize with a movie, played via YouTube through Chromecast. That’s entirely hypothetical, but certainly not out of the realm of possibility with a web of connected devices like the Chromecast and Nest thermostat.

AP Photo/Jaime Henry-White

Nest Labs also put out a blog post basically saying that not much would be changing. The company is still supporting iPhone and iPad users, and also said any information gathered from the company’s products will (at least for now) only be used for Nest Labs products.

Previously, Nest Labs was reported to be in the process of raising money at a $2 billion valuation. Typically startups will explore both acquisition and fundraising efforts simultaneously in order to attract better offers from both sides, so it is not all that surprising that Nest Labs was speaking to Google at the same time. (Apple, reportedly, was not in the mix for the company, according to Liz Gannes over at Re/code.)

Like Motorola, Nest will continue to operate under the leadership of CEO Tony Fadell and with its own distinct brand identity, Google said as part of the acquisition. But, either way, there appears to be an enormous amount of potential, particularly in international expansion, which Google CEO Larry Page specifically calls out in the announcement of the acquisition.

“Nest’s founders, Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers, have built a tremendous team that we are excited to welcome into the Google family,” he said. “They’re already delivering amazing products you can buy right now—thermostats that save energy and smoke/CO alarms that can help keep your family safe. We are excited to bring great experiences to more homes in more countries and fulfill their dreams!”

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13 Super-Hot People Who Happen To Be CEOs

1. Co-founder and CEO of Snapchat, Evan Spiegel

Steve Jennings/Stringer / Getty Images

Age: 23
Claim to fame: Founded Snapchat with partner Bobby Murphy after dropping out of college; recently rejected a $3 billion buyout offer from Facebook.
Sexy superlative: The cool kid.

2. Founder of Tumblr, David Karp

Ben Gabbe / Getty Images

Age: 27
Claim to fame: As a young software developer, Karp invented and launched Tumblr when he was only 20 years old.
Sexy superlative: The hot brainiac. Oh, and he casually modeled for J.Crew once.

3. Founder of Mashable, Pete Cashmore

Mike Coppola / Getty Images

Age: 28
Claim to fame: He founded one of the biggest online news organizations. AND he’s Scottish.
Sexy superlative: The Christian Grey of the real world.

4. CEO of Tory Burch, Tory Burch (Robinson)

Andrew H. Walker / Getty Images

Age: 47
Claim to fame: Tory has turned her personal style into a multi-billion-dollar boho-prep fashion line. And Oprah Winfrey has endorsed her, so…
Sexy superlative: MILF.

5. Founder of, Ben Rattray

Fernando Leon / Getty Images

Age: 33
Claim to fame: He created one of the largest sites for social change and was named one of Time’s most influential people in the world.
Sexy superlative: The philanthropist you wanna f*ck.

6. Former CEO of Hulu, Jason Kilar

Neilson Barnard / Getty Images

Age: 42
Claim to fame: A Harvard business grad, Jason has had his executive hand in Amazon, Hulu, ABC, NBC, and NewsCorp. No successor has been named since leaving Hulu earlier this year.
Sexy superlative: The sensitive bro.

7. CEO of Sony, Kazuo Hirai

Frazer Harrison / Getty Images

Age: 52
Claim to fame: Although he’s currently overlooking of one of the largest companies in the world, Kazuo has admitted he is a huge video game nerd.
Sexy superlative: The nerd-turned-baller.

8. CEO of Yahoo!, Marissa Mayer

Age: 38
Claim to fame: Marissa is the youngest CEO of a fortune 500 company and one of the powerful women in business.
Sexy superlative: Female powerhouse.

9. Employee-turned-CEO of Target, Gregg Steinhafel

Age: 58
Claim to fame: Gregg, a Northwestern graduate, has been with the company for 29 years until he became CEO. He’s been working in retail since a kid.
Sexy superlative DILF.

10. CEO of the SRT Brand, Ralph Gilles

Age: 43
Claim to fame: Ralph is the king of car design. He also holds the title of Senior Vice President of Design at Chrysler.
Sexy superlative: The jocky charmer.

11. Founder and CEO of Square/Twitter, Jack Dorsey

Age: 37
Claim to fame: He also co-founded and created Twitter while he was a student at NYU. HE ALSO HAS A NOSE RING.
Sexy superlative: The entrepreneur artiste.

12. CEO of eClick Interactive, Hilary Rowland

Andrew H. Walker / Getty Images

Age: 30
Claim to fame: Hilary founded the first women’s online magazine, the first online portfolio database, and a global social project that creates women-run eco-factories in Africa.
Sexy superlative: Everyone’s girlcrush.

13. Co-founder and CEO of Thrillist, Ben Lerer

Age: 30
Claim to fame: Ben and college pal Adam Rich created the go-to guide for sophisticated men. Years later, the site posted revenue of over $40 million.
Sexy superlative: Everyone’s guycrush.

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Carl Icahn Is Buying Up A Lot More Of Apple’s Stock

Kim Kyung-Hoon / Reuters

Owning $3 billion of Apple shares is, it turns out, not a large percentage of the company — but that isn’t stopping billionaire hedge fund manager Carl Icahn from pressuring the company to do more with its massive cash pile.

Icahn upped his stake in Apple by $500 million today, once again calling for the company to issue at least another $50 billion buyback plan — a proposal he submitted to be voted on at the next annual shareholders meeting. Apple has recommended that shareholders reject the plan.

“What bothers me a hell of a lot, is that the decision to use a cash horde of $150 billion just sitting there doing nothing, and not use it to do a huge buyback is sort of disgraceful… doing a disservice to its shareholders, especially its smallest shareholders,” he said in an interview on CNBC today. “No one on board that has real finance experience, [they] rely on investment bankers for advice — if you’re seasoned in playing tennis, doesn’t mean you should give advice on brain surgery.”

And, of course, Icahn said buying shares of Apple was a “no brainer” — he mentioned that seven times over the course of the interview today.

Icahn began going after Apple in August last year, when he disclosed he purchased $1 billion worth of Apple shares ahead of the company’s next iPhone launch. Since then, the company has still remained adamant that it knows best what to do with its cash, and is already in the middle of returning $100 billion to shareholders through the form of buybacks and dividends.

Since then, the stock has risen in price measurably, particularly on the strength of a new deal the company signed with China Mobile, one of the largest carriers in China, and the release of its new iPhone, the iPhone 5S.

Even with the buyback, Icahn still hasn’t breached 1% ownership of the company, which would require a considerably larger stake in the company. “We have no leverage as far as stock ownership here — we might be able to buy more shares in six months, in a year, or get other shareholders to join in and form a consortium,” he said in the interview with CNBC.

Apple will report its holiday sales quarter next week — though the quarter is already looking a little less certain amid a major slowdown among other retailers during the holidays.

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There Will Soon Be Way More Nordstrom Racks Than Regular Nordstrom Stores

Graphic by John Gara

Every few weeks, Nordstrom Rack announces a new opening: Greenville, S.C., Tulsa, Okla., Livingston, N.J.

There are now 141 of the discount stores, outnumbering Nordstrom’s 117 full-line department stores, and that gap will blow out in the next two years to 230 against 128, dramatically changing the makeup of what the high-end retailer is today.

Nordstrom, which started expanding the discount chain in earnest during the recession, is enjoying a taste of the billions consumers spend at off-price brand behemoths TJX and Ross Stores. But it’s also figured out how to get twentysomethings into some kind of Nordstrom property without destroying the formula that works for its existing, affluent customer base. With Rack, along with online flash-sale site HauteLook, Nordstrom is successfully wooing young, cash-strapped shoppers, with the hope that they’ll turn into spenders at the pricier, full-line stores later in life.

“In spite of our efforts over the last 13 years, our customer has aged,” Nordstrom President Blake Nordstrom said at a Goldman Sachs retail conference in September. “Where the bigger opportunity lies is acquisitions of a younger aspirational customer, again, without alienating the customer that’s paying the rent.”

By primarily utilizing the web and channels like Rack for attracting younger customers, Nordstrom is avoiding repeating the mistakes of its $40 million “Reinvent Yourself” campaign from 2000, when provocative ads and too-edgy fashions in its main stores rankled some longtime shoppers. The challenge of continuing to serve a core, reliable customer while attracting a younger, cooler audience is one that many retailers, such as J.C. Penney and Talbots, have struggled mightily with.

While Nordstrom has made moves in its full-line stores to attract that generation, like adding clothes from British retailer Topshop and expanding its Savvy department, much of the effort seems to be happening off the premises. Recently, Nordstrom said that purchases from HauteLook — which very much skews younger, and boasts 14 million email addresses — can be returned at Rack locations, not full-line stores.

Nordstrom anticipates Rack and e-commerce will ultimately account for half of sales.

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Breakdown of annual sales from latest year.

Importantly, the brands sold at Nordstrom Rack, like Joe’s Jeans, Vince Camuto, and Eileen Fisher, are on board with existing at both chains — a requirement, given the pace of expansion. JPMorgan analyst Matthew Boss said in a note earlier this month that 49 of the top 50 brands in Nordstrom’s full-line stores sell directly to Rack today, compared with just 10 of the top 50 a decade ago.

Only 18–19% of the merchandise in Rack actually comes from full-line Nordstrom stores, which is typical for off-price retailers, although consumers often believe they’re getting excess inventory at such places and in outlets. It stands to reason that percentage will fall as more Rack stores are built. Nordstrom is careful only to mark a higher price if it was actually sold at that level in stores, the company said.

“There are always vendors that will make product for those,” said Matt Berglass, a headhunter specializing in retail at Berglass + Associates in New York. “A lot of the cuts for TJX, obviously it’s not overbuying, or bad sizes or seconds. That is merchandise made by manufacturers and brands for their businesses.”

It’s easy to see why Nordstrom wants to double down on the off-price business: America is more obsessed with it than ever. Outlets have been booming in the past few years while regular malls have faced limited growth. Further, the biggest players in the off-price space — TJX and Ross Stores — have been among the best, most consistent retailers since the turn of the century.

TJX, the owner of TJ Maxx, Marshalls, and Home Goods, hasn’t posted a drop in same-store sales in the past decade while Ross has had just one. In that time, Macy’s has posted five. TJX is now, in fact, only slightly smaller than Macy’s with $25.9 billion in annual sales last year. (Ross posted $9.7 billion while Nordstrom’s Rack division reported $2.45 billion.)

While Saks, with its Off 5th outlet chain, and Neiman Marcus, with Last Call, are clearly tapping into the trend as well, Nordstrom’s push is far more aggressive and more successful in terms of sales. It also has a superior online presence to both of those chains and to TJX and Ross, Berglass noted. Joe’s Jeans executives said at a December 2012 conference that Macy’s, which has been rolling out numerous brands geared toward millennials, is aiming to capture some of the 18- to 26-year-olds shopping at Nordstrom Rack.

Of course, the pace of expansion begs the question: Will the presence of so many more Racks than full-line stores hurt the high-end appeal of the Nordstrom brand? Analysts and investors have asked executives variations of that query for the past couple of years, especially recently, and the company is firm that it will not.

Blake Nordstrom says the company’s best-performing Racks are those close to a full-line store, suggesting shopping at one breeds interest in the other rather than squashing it, and they intend to build the two close to one another in the future. It helps Nordstrom stores stay fresh, by unloading some inventory to Rack, and keeps the retailer top of mind among consumers who end up going to both.

“There is a synergy between the two,” he said at the September conference. “There is integrity in the pricing of each of those entities and the customer understands what we’re doing, and it enables us to attract more customers. That customer that shops in both venues…is a bigger spender for Nordstrom.”

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Google Reader Died Because No One Would Run It

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

There’s a very simple corporate reason for why Google Reader was shut down earlier this month: No one internally deemed it important enough to even work on, much less save.

The decision had little to do with consumers — the RSS reader was very popular with a core set of power users — and much more to do with corporate politics. At Google, Chief Executive Larry Page and his inner circle of lieutenants, known as the “L Team,” simply did not view Google Reader as an important strategic priority. Internally, it became obvious that despite Google Reader’s loyal fan base, working on the project was not going to get the attention of Page, several sources close to the company told BuzzFeed.

While the company said Google Reader was shut down because of a decline in usage, a major reason for that was owed to the fact that the project lacked an engineering lead, in part because no one stepped up to the task and because Google leadership wasn’t actively looking for one. Even when Google Reader was still public, without a leader it was functionally no longer a live project at Google, with engineers focusing more on Page’s larger projects like Android, Chrome, Google Plus, and Search.

“We know Reader has a devoted following who will be very sad to see it go. We’re sad too,” Google software engineer Alan Green wrote in the farewell post for Google Reader. “There are two simple reasons for this: usage of Google Reader has declined, and as a company we’re pouring all of our energy into fewer products. We think that kind of focus will make for a better user experience.”

Google Reader began as an experiment under Google’s “20% time” policy — which allows Google employees to devote 20% of their time to personal projects. It very quickly became extremely popular among a small subset of power users, but never reached the critical mass of Gmail or Android, for instance.

Google teams, like those at other tech companies, have product managers, but much of the company’s leadership comes from its engineers. As a result, many product decisions come from and are executed by engineers, as was the case with Google Reader. Eventually, as Google Reader’s importance declined internally, the engineering leads — the de facto leaders of the project — were moved onto more high-priority projects. (By the time Reader was shut down, the team didn’t even have a product manager or full-time engineer, according to AllThingsD.)

There’s been plenty of reading into whether the decision to shut down Google Reader means Google is trying to take over user data. There were also reports that privacy and compliance played into the decision as well. All of these probably played a part.

But the major factor is a bit simpler: No one wanted to devote the time and energy necessary to keep the project alive because it wasn’t going to get them anywhere with Page.

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The Lifecycle Of A Goldman Sachs Transaction Is Exactly Like The Mating Embrace Of Frogs

1. 1. Navigating the pick-up scene.

3. 2. Deciding to mate.

5. 3. Beginning the mating embrace.

7. 4-6. Deciding if it’s going well.


11. 8. The final result (success!)

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Vermont Maple Syrup Production Is Having Its Best Year Ever

Toby Talbot / Via AP

It’s boom times in the maple syrup industry.

According to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, domestic production of maple syrup grew 70% from last year. Of course, the biggest beneficiary of the growth was Vermont, which is responsible for 40% of all maple syrup production in the U.S. This year, the mid-February to mid-April harvest season produced 1.32 million gallons of maple syrup, a 76% increase from 2012 and the largest yield for the state in 70 years.

The USDA’s actual 2013 Maple Syrup Product Report could not be accessed due to the government shutdown. But, according to figures provided by Chicago-based market research firm IRI, the Maple/Pancake and Waffle Syrup category sold 205 million units and collected $694 million through the 52 weeks ended September 8, an increase of 2% over last year. The Private Label/Pancake and Waffle Syrup category accounted for 76.5 million units and $222.8 million of that, an increase of 4.7% from 2012.

Below are several factors that have created a virtuous cycle leading to a resurgence in maple syrup production in the state.

Dr. Tim Perkins, University of Vermont / Via

More trees, increased efficiency.

Not only are more trees being tapped for sap now than ever before, but thanks to technological advances, they are yielding more sap per tree than in the past.

According to the USDA, there are 3.5 million trees actively being tapped for sap in Vermont, an increase of 1 million trees since 2005. Each tree on average produces 0.35 gallons of syrup per tap, 33% more than the average a decade ago. (Roughly speaking, 40 gallons of sap produces one gallon of syrup.)

While the number of trees tapped seems large, it represents less than 5% of the state’s total maple tree population, said Matt Gordon, executive director of the Vermont Maple Sugar Maker’s Association. To main sustainability, the University of Vermont publishes proper sap collection guidelines that, for instance, advise not tapping trees that are less than 40 years old.

“Once full-sized, the amount of sap taken out is small in the grand scheme of things,” Gordon said, adding that there is even room to grow the market further.

Dr. Tim Perkins, University of Vermont / Via

Technological improvements have led to full-time sugaring.

Not unlike with other industries, technological advances have impacted how and when maple syrup is produced.

Whereas in the past, farmers would actually collect sap in buckets, now a complex system of tubes, vacuums, and spouts are used. Together, this system pulls sap from trees and delivers it to sugaring houses where it is turned into syrup. These advances also allow for sap to be harvested over a longer period of time or during periodic warm spells — sap generally requires overnight low temperatures below freezing and daytime temperatures between 40 and 45 degrees to run — and greatly reduces the chances of it being reabsorbed into the trees or spilled after collection.

Once in the sugar house, a process of reverse osmosis is used to remove water from the sap to increase its sugar ratio. Fresh sap has about 15–16% sugar, whereas maple syrup has upwards of 65% sugar. Gordon said over the last decade Vermont farmers have been using “pre-heaters” to quickly bring the sap close to a boiling point, which allows them to turn it into maple syrup quicker. Speed is important since sap can spoil.

Martia Punts / Via Getty Images

Rising consumer demand has turned farmers into entrepreneurs.

In the past, farmers viewed sap collecting as an ancillary to their core operation. Now, however, the growth in volume coupled with the rise of e-commerce and a fan base of maple syrup enthusiasts that rivals those of craft beer or other artisanal products, has led farmers to think of sap collecting as more of an investment or business endeavor.

“We are seeing people tapping a sugarbush who have never sugared before,” said Gordon.

Gordon said sap farms range in size from small operations that have around 2,000–5,000 taps to large operations that have between 30,000–50,000. He said larger operations typically sell maple syrup in bulk while those on the smaller side often run specialty shops — most likely over the internet — that use maple for syrup as well as an ingredient in other things like salad dressing or mustard.

But perhaps the best illustration of rising consumer demand for Vermont’s maple syrup is this: Export sales to countries like Australia and Thailand have seen a dramatic increase in recent years.

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