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Tax Fairness: An Answer to State Budget Problems

February 26, 2015 Comments off

Tax Fairness: An Answer to State Budget Problems (PDF)
Source: Keystone Research Center and Good Jobs First

If the top one percent paid taxes at the same rate as the middle-fifth of income earners in all states in which the top now pays lower rates than the middle, states and localities could solve many budget problems—raising $68 billion per year for education, infrastructure, health care, pensions and job creation.

If the top 20 percent paid taxes at the same rate as the middle-income fifth, states and localities would have $128 billion more each year to invest in the future, secure the social safety net, and cover the operating costs of state government.

The State and Fate of Community Banking

February 26, 2015 Comments off

The State and Fate of Community Banking
Source: Harvard Kennedy School, Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business & Government

This working paper focuses on the plight of community banks in the United States. It begins by examining different definitions of what constitutes a community bank, and goes on to review what makes these institutions unique and distinguishes them from larger regional or national peers. Our assessment of Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation data finds that community banks service a disproportionately large amount of key segments of the U.S. commercial bank lending market – specifically, agricultural, residential mortgage, and small business loans. However, community banks’ share of U.S. banking assets and lending markets has fallen from over 40 percent in 1994 to around 20 percent today. Interestingly, we find that community banks emerged from the financial crisis with a market share 6 percent lower, but since the second quarter of 2010 – around the time of the passage of the Dodd-Frank Act – their share of U.S. commercial banking assets has declined at a rate almost double that between the second quarters of 2006 and 2010. Particularly troubling is community banks’ declining market share in several key lending markets, their decline in small business lending volume, and the disproportionate losses being realized by particularly small community banks. We review studies on the impact of regulation, consumer trends and other factors on community banks, and examine the consequences of consolidation on U.S. lending markets. We conclude with a discussion of policies that could promote a more competitive and robust banking sector.

Patient Responses to Incentives in Consumer-directed Health Plans: Evidence from Pharmaceuticals

February 26, 2015 Comments off

Patient Responses to Incentives in Consumer-directed Health Plans: Evidence from Pharmaceuticals
Source: National Bureau of Economic Research

Prior studies suggest that consumer-directed health plans (CDHPs) -characterized by high deductibles and health care accounts- reduce health costs, but there is concern that enrollees indiscriminately reduce use of low-value services (e.g., unnecessary emergency department use) and high-value services (e.g., preventive care). We investigate how CDHP enrollees change use of pharmaceuticals for chronic diseases. We compare two large firms where nearly all employees were switched to CDHPs to firms with conventional health insurance plans. In the first firm’s CDHP, pharmaceuticals were subject to the deductible, while in the second firm pharmaceuticals were exempt. Employees in the first firm shifted the timing of drug purchases to periods with lower cost sharing and were more likely to use lower-cost drugs, but the largest effect of the CDHP was to reduce utilization. Employees in the second firm also reduced utilization, but did not shift the timing or use of low cost drugs.

Success Strategies for Well-Funded Pension Plans

February 26, 2015 Comments off

Success Strategies for Well-Funded Pension Plans
Source: Center for State and Local Government Excellence

The Center for State and Local Government Excellence examined the public pension systems in four states with a long tradition of being well-funded to determine what they have in common. The plans studied are: Delaware Public Employees’ Retirement System, Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System, and North Carolina Retirement Systems.

While each of the defined benefit plans has a unique history and legal framework, they share these practices:

+ a commitment to fund the annual required contribution in both good and bad financial times;
+ conservative, realistic assumptions that are adjusted based on experience; and
+ changes to benefit levels and contribution rates as needed.

The funded ratio for the plans studied ranges from 87.6 percent to 99.8 percent.

Chinese enthusiasm for social media drops sharply

February 26, 2015 Comments off

Chinese enthusiasm for social media drops sharply
Source: Kantar

Chinese social media users are increasingly concerned with the impact social media is having on their lives as the number of people who feel positively about social media has dropped by 12.1 percentage points from last year to 64.7%.

The second annual Kantar China Social Media Impact Report also found that social media is now used by more age groups, by less educated people and by people in smaller cities, while Tencent WeChat has become the dominant social media platform of an increasingly mobile-connected country.

Categories: China, Kantar, social media

2015 Silicon Valley Index

February 26, 2015 Comments off

2015 Silicon Valley Index (PDF)
Source: Joint Venture
From press release:

Silicon Valley’s economy is thriving from San Jose to San Francisco, surging to levels that are overwhelming the Bay Area’s capacity to handle it, according to the 2015 Silicon Valley Index released today by Joint Venture Silicon Valley.

The comprehensive yearly analysis of the economic strength and overall health of Silicon Valley shows the region with nearly 58,000 new jobs – the highest growth rate since 2000 – 42,000 new residents, average annual earnings of $116,000, venture capital investments higher than any other year since 2000, 17,000 new patent registrations and more than 16 million square feet of new commercial building space approved.

At the same time, the wave of prosperity continues to widen the middle-income gap and strain the region’s ability to accommodate its ever-rising housing costs, commuter rates, traffic and transit ridership.

Report on Cybersecurity Practices

February 26, 2015 Comments off

Report on Cybersecurity Practices (PDF)
Source: Financial Industry Regulatory Authority

Like many organizations in the financial services and other sectors, broker-dealers (firms) are the target of cyberattacks. The frequency and sophistication of these attacks is increasing and individual broker-dealers, and the industry as a whole, must make responding to these threats a high priority.

This report is intended to assist firms in that effort. Based on FINRA’s 2014 targeted examination of firms and other related initiatives, the report presents FINRA’s latest work in this critical area. Given the rapidly evolving nature and pervasiveness of cyberattacks, it is unlikely to be our last.

A variety of factors are driving firms’ exposure to cybersecurity threats. The interplay between advances in technology, changes in firms’ business models, and changes in how firms and their customers use technology create vulnerabilities in firms’ information technology systems. For example, firms’ Web-based activities can create opportunities for attackers to disrupt or gain access to firm and customer information. Similarly, employees and customers are using mobile devices to access information at broker-dealers that create a variety of new avenues for attack

The landscape of threat actors includes cybercriminals whose objective may be to steal money or information for commercial gain, nation states that may acquire information to advance national objectives, and hacktivists whose objectives may be to disrupt and embarrass an entity. Attackers, and the tools available to them, are increasingly sophisticated. Insiders, too, can pose significant threats.

This report presents an approach to cybersecurity grounded in risk management to address these threats. It identifies principles and effective practices for firms to consider, while recognizing that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to cybersecurity.

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