Array - Print Version - Kiplinger
License or reprint this article

Torn From the Kiplinger Letters

Tiny Devices to Take Over Jobs Your Phone Does Now

The Kiplinger Washington Editors

Today's forecast for management decisionmaking.

From The Kiplinger Letter, April 11, 2014

Coming soon: Tiny wearable computer screens that improve productivity. Interactive screens…smart watches, at first…will do simple chores: Messaging, calendars and navigation. Within a few more years…more-complex tasks, such as letting managers OK projects on the fly, warning stressed-out financial traders to take a break and giving warehouse workers real-time inventory information. Voice command and gesture control will make e-mail easy, hands free and quicker… a big time boost, considering the average person checks their phone many times a day. Simple tasks can be done 10 times as fast, especially when a phone is out of reach.

Such devices will see steady business adoption over the next few years, with many firms deploying apps that help them get the most from their workforce.

Helping propel the growth: Google’s new operating system. It’s better than earlier smart watch software and will help move the wearable devices out of the realm of consumer novelty to essential work tools. Ditto, new chips with sensors and longer battery life, coming from Broadcom, Intel and Qualcomm.


Economic Outlook: Mid-Atlantic States

-- From The Kiplinger Letter, April 11, 2014

For states in the Mid-Atlantic region…a tale of lukewarm economic recovery.

Delaware is among the states that will see a moderate upswing by year-end. Look for the economy to grow, in part because of strong hiring by financial companies that are attracted to the state’s favorable tax treatment of corporations. Job growth: About 1.5%, helping to bring the jobless rate down to 5.8%, from 6% in Feb.

Virginia and Maryland will be bright spots as well. Job growth is at 1.7% in each state…tops in the region, despite a decline in federal government employment and a reduction in contracts with Uncle Sam driven by automatic spending cuts. Adding jobs in Virginia: Leisure, hospitality and tourism. The jobless rate will grow by a couple of tenths, but at the end of the year will be a still-low 5.1%. In Maryland, growth in health services jobs and high-tech investment drawn by a skilled workforce will lead to new jobs in the Washington, D.C., suburbs. The jobless rate will grow a tad to 5.9%, from 5.7% in Feb…well below the expected 6.3% national rate at year-end.

West Virginia, too. The 1% job creation rate lags most states in the region, but the unemployment number will fall by fourth-tenths of a percentage point in 2014. Jobs will be added in retail, construction, health services, hospitality and leisure. Another plus for the Mountain State: The rapid expansion of the natural gas business will help offset reverses in the coal industry as exports fall and tough rules kick in.

The bounceback will be less robust in the largest states in the Mid-Atlantic:

New York. Optimism about more jobs and longer hours in manufacturing is offset by caution at Wall Street financial firms expecting smaller operating margins and tougher oversight rules from the federal government. Look for 1% job growth, a tepid figure that will nonetheless allow the jobless rate to dip to 6.6% from 6.8%.

New Jersey. The Garden State is still reeling from the housing collapse. A high rate of foreclosures and stressed mortgages is offsetting more-positive news: Rising health care employment and swelling interest from pharmaceutical makers and biotech firms. Jobs will grow by 1.3%. Unemployment will hit 7.2%, from 7.1%.

Pennsylvania. Despite explosive growth in natural gas exploration, the state is limping along because of drop-offs in manufacturing and public jobs. The unemployment rate will reach 6.6%, up from 6.2%. Hiring will tick up by 1.2%.

Advertisements Going Interactive

-- From The Kiplinger Letter, April 11, 2014

Next innovation on the advertising horizon: Interactive ads…both digital and print…that allow consumers to do more than simply look or listen. Online ads will let them browse and test products, play games and make a purchase within the ad itself…all without leaving the site that’s displaying the ads. For example, blurbIQ has developed ads that act as mini websites, with multiple layers of info. XappMedia Internet radio ads let consumers use voice commands to download an app, receive a coupon or initiate a phone call placing an order or making an appointment.

The idea is to engage customers longer in hopes of snagging a purchase. The downside: Higher costs for both the creation of the ad and its placement. Web pages with interactive ads embedded in them will also take longer to load.

Two Big Challenges to GOP's 2016 White House Hopes

-- From The Kiplinger Letter, April 11, 2014

Though Republicans are well positioned ahead of fall congressional races, two key factors may make the 2016 presidential election a different story as they try to keep Democrats from extending their two-term hold on the office.

First, the primary schedule makes reaching an early consensus unlikely. GOP voters in four early states (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada) are more conservative and tend to back choices who are further to the right than the eventual nominee.

Former Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush is the poster child for the GOP’s dilemma, now that his immigration views have enraged some on the GOP’s far right. It’s an example of how a vision could attract independent voters in the fall, but it puts a strong general election candidate in danger of losing the nomination.

The other challenge for Republicans in 2016: The Electoral College map. Democrats hold voter registration edges in several big-population states... Calif. (55 electoral votes), N.Y. (29), Ill. and Pa. (20 each)...that they tend to carry. Those votes plus smaller totals from a dozen other reliable Democratic strongholds and the District of Columbia give a Democrat well over 200 votes to begin with, a comfortable start on the way to the 270 electoral votes needed to be president.

Republicans dominate in only one state with plenty of electoral votes... Texas (38)...and must carry all of their strongholds and most of the toss-ups to overcome the Democrats’ advantage. They can do that, but it’s a tall order.

Washington Will Beef Up Search and Rescue in Asian Pacific

-- From The Kiplinger Letter, April 11, 2014

One lesson learned from the long hunt for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370: Much of South Asia is woefully weak on search-and-rescue technology for use in quick reconnaissance and accident recovery missions in the area.

That worries the U.S. as it prepares to beef up its military presence there by expanding the Navy’s Pacific Fleet and basing 2,500 Marines in Australia by 2016.

Look for Washington to accelerate plans to put modern safety gear in place ahead of troop and ship deployments in the Asian Pacific, making sure it’s ready as needed to assist military personnel. State-of-the-art tracking and listening devices and other such equipment will also assist commercial airliners and ships.

Spy Agencies Will Have a Friend in Next Committee Chairman

-- From The Kiplinger Letter, April 4, 2014

Turnover at the House Intelligence Committee won’t rattle U.S. spy agencies. Whoever replaces retiring Chm. Mike Rogers (R-MI) will favor the NSA, National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency. One front-runner: Rep. Peter King (R-NY), a national security hard-liner with friends in the spy game. Also on House Speaker John Boehner’s short list: Reps. Devin Nunes (R-CA) and Mike Pompeo (R-KS). Rogers is leaving Congress for a lucrative job in talk radio.

Despite NSA’s many friends in Congress, privacy advocates will gain ground in the next couple of years…unless a new terrorist act deepens the security mind-set.

Economic Outlook: South Central States

-- From The Kiplinger Letter, April 4, 2014

Moderate economic growth ahead for most of the South Central U.S. Texas is at the top of the heap, buoyed by the thriving high-tech industry in Austin as well as by the natural gas and oil boom that is underpinning growth throughout the multistate region. Also providing support: The housing sector. Shares of mortgages that are delinquent or underwater and of homes in foreclosure in the Lone Star State are below the national average. Look for Texas’ jobless rate, already a full percentage point under the national level, to slide more…to about 5.3%... by year-end. Statewide, hiring is running at a brisk 2.6% annualized pace.

Also faring better than most: Oklahoma. Higher incomes fueled by the gas and oil industry are providing a lift to the Sooner State’s hospitality, leisure and retail businesses. With a jobless rate already a low 5%, by year-end, solid hiring (despite slower payroll growth in energy firms) will push unemployment to about 4.7%.

Modest gains for Arkansas, which mostly avoided the recent-year extremes of the housing bust and energy boom. Growth will be strong enough for the state to catch up to the national unemployment rate by year-end…about 6.2%, from 7.1%.

Louisiana will likely see unemployment rise a bit this year as the rapid pace of hiring in energy businesses slows. Still, it’ll remain well under the national average, climbing from a mere 4.5% now to about 5.5%. And longer term, the Pelican State is well positioned to benefit from a coming boom in energy exports, with its ports and the substantial presence of major producers such as Chevron, Shell and Entergy.

Bringing up the rear: Mississippi. Construction of a new clean-coal plant east of Jackson, the capital, is a major plus for the state. But government…state and local as well as federal…remains the Magnolia State’s biggest provider of jobs, and growth prospects there are limited. With just 1.4% more jobs likely to be created in 2014, Mississippi’s jobless rate will climb from an already high 7.4% to around 8%.

New Tech for Fast-Charging Electric Buses

-- From The Kiplinger Letter, April 4, 2014

A new technology promises to charge up use of electric buses. The idea: Recharge en route, without plugging into an electrical outlet. Magnetic pads placed in the road at bus stops wirelessly transmit energy to the battery as riders board.

A few transit operators are already taking the tech for a test drive: A trolley in Monterey, Calif., that used to run on diesel. A University of Utah campus shuttle. And a fleet of 10 buses serving Long Beach, Calif., linking tourist spots and hotels. The technology’s creator, start-up WAVE of Salt Lake City, hopes more bus operators will get on board as the cost of the chargers comes down and charging capacity rises.

What's Really Happening with 'Control of the Internet'

-- From The Kiplinger Letter, April 4, 2014

Reports that the U.S. is giving up control of the Internet are overblown. Every country can already control the Internet within its own borders, as Turkey, China and others routinely demonstrate by censoring, closing Twitter, etc. No government, including that of the U.S., will relinquish that prerogative.

What the U.S. will do is share the duty of keeping Web addresses straight, making sure each is unique and assigned to the proper domain (.com, .gov, etc.). On President Obama’s order, the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers will soon begin transitioning from a U.S.-run operation to a global organization. Governments, private companies and other interested parties will participate.

College Athletes May Well Join Unions

-- From The Kiplinger Letter, April 4, 2014

Workers’ unions for college athletes? Don’t bet against it, now that the feds have ruled that football players on athletic scholarships at private colleges can organize. Still, the issue figures to end up in federal appeals court in a few years.

Slim chance of paychecks for players...few schools could afford them. But enhanced medical benefits and more-generous scholarships are likely. Thus, don’t be surprised if schools with less-competitive programs cut certain sports rather than commit to expensive health care and tougher labor law requirements.

Subsidies for Rural Phone Users Reeled In

-- From The Kiplinger Letter, March 28, 2014

Some telephone customers who live in rural areas are in for a price shock: Monthly bills will go up as much as 46% later this year, as carriers deal with efforts by the Federal Communications Commission to dial back subsidies that allow rural customers to pay less for landline service than customers elsewhere.

The first hikes will arrive on some bills in June. Customers will have to pay at least $20.46 for basic service. But some monthly fees could go as high as $46.96. Rural residents and businesses want to delay the increases but won’t get their way

Economic Outlook for the Southeastern States

-- From The Kiplinger Letter, March 28, 2014

Southeastern states will continue to see moderate economic growth this year.

North Carolina. The state’s healthy private sector, led by technology firms in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill Research Triangle, is a reliable generator of jobs. The jobless rate, down to 6.7% vs. 8.8% just over a year ago, is likely headed lower. The insurer MetLife heads a list of companies moving into the state and adding jobs.

South Carolina. Boeing’s ramped-up operations in the Palmetto State are creating jobs for machinists and others, helping to lower the state’s jobless rate to 6.4% in Jan., from 8.2% a year earlier. It’s the first time in more than a decade that it’s been below the national average. But the rate won’t fall much further this year.

Georgia. Manufacturing is also boosting the economy in the Peach State. Caterpillar’s sprawling new factory near Athens and Rx drug maker Baxter’s plant near Covington are spawning jobs. Auto and aviation companies are doing well, too. By year-end, look for the state’s jobless rate to be around 7%, vs. 8.6% early in 2013.

Florida. Last year’s housing recovery is carrying over into this year in terms of both sales and higher prices, which are fueling hiring and rising incomes. Moreover, rental car giant Hertz is moving its corporate headquarters to Estero from N.J. over a two-year period. The move, along with other company relocations to the state, will bring the jobless rate to 6% by year-end from 8% at the start of 2013.

Alabama. The unemployment rate, which is now hovering around 6%, will continue to head south this year, paced in part by the addition of jobs at Airbus’ new plane assembly plant in the Mobile area. It starts production in 2015. The state’s auto assembly plants are also making manufacturing a bright spot.

Tennessee. An expected pickup in the leisure and hospitality industries plus expanded operations in Nashville by the financial services giant UBS will offset slowness elsewhere, keeping the jobless rate near the 7% mark this year.

Young Farmers Tap Credit for New Ventures

-- From The Kiplinger Agriculture Letter, March 21, 2014

More and more farm loans are going to young farmers in new ventures, including small urban and exurban growing operations, some of which supply local grocers and eateries with organic herbs and veggies. Last year, banks made $11.5 billion in farm loans of less than $100,000 each, up 3% vs. ’12, the American Bankers Association says. Meanwhile, Farm Credit System cooperatives made 141,000 new loans to small farmers in ’12 (the most recent report), up 3% from ’11, while loans to farmers under 35 years old climbed 5% the same year.

The credit trend underlines growth in many niche farming ventures that increase and diversify production…raising bees to produce honey for sale at farmers’ markets, stabling pet horses, agritourism and similar activities.

Obama Rules Will Lead to More Overtime Pay

-- From The Kiplinger Letter, March 28, 2014

Look for President Obama to play hardball on new overtime rules. He’s determined to have regulations for protecting lower-paid workers from losing out on overtime made final before he leaves office. Plus his pick to head the Labor Dept.’s Wage and Hour Division is reputed to be a tough customer.

Proposed rules will likely set new standards for defining who is a manager and who’s not. For example, managerial duties may have to occupy a set percentage of a worker’s day in order to exempt that employee from earning overtime pay. That will go far beyond simply raising the income threshold below which workers are automatically eligible for overtime. The threshold, which is likely to be doubled under the new rules, mostly hits retail and restaurant businesses. Many others... manufacturing, high-tech services...will be hit by any changes in the duties test.

Frequent Flier Miles to Accrue by Dollars Spent

-- From The Kiplinger Letter, March 21, 2014

Note changes in frequent-flier rewards programs that will cost businesses. Starting next year, Delta Air Lines will award travelers frequent-flier miles based on dollars spent rather than miles flown. Other airlines are sure to do the same. The moves will prompt some road warriors, seeking to earn as many miles as possible, to add charges to the ticket price, such as $50 for a one-day pass to an airline’s lounge. Employers will step up audits of travel expense accounts to look for egregious padding, but for morale reasons most won’t ban letting workers keep miles for personal use.

Crimea Troubles to Boost Missile Defense Sales

-- From The Kiplinger Letter, March 21, 2014

Beneficiaries of President Putin’s move to make Crimea part of Russia: U.S. companies building the latest iteration of missile defense systems. The list includes giants Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, plus Alliant Techsystems. Putin’s power grab, following successful U.S. tests of the Aegis missile defense system, improves the chances of reviving a Europe-wide missile defense plan. The program had been viewed as off the table while President Obama remained in the White House. Romania will host the first land-based system next year, followed by Poland in 2018.

Execs, Others to Buy Encrypted Smart Phones

-- From The Kiplinger Letter, March 21, 2014

Coming soon: Smart phones that fend off snooping with built-in encryption for texting and calling, plus software that shreds data if the phone’s casing is opened.

Likely buyers include the military as well as corporate execs and sales reps… indeed, anyone who routinely communicates info they don’t want rivals to obtain. The likelihood that Uncle Sam’s cyberspying tools will wind up in private hands means corporations will turn to such secure phones to combat corporate espionage. Although encryption apps for standard iPhones, Droids and other smart phones are readily available, they tend to be cumbersome and significantly slow data speed. The phones, including Blackphone from privately held software maker Silent Circle and the Boeing Black, will pave the way for more-secure laptops and tablets.

Municipalities Shopping for More Trains, Buses

-- From The Kiplinger Letter, March 21, 2014

Look for big spending on rail projects as more commuters use public transit. Leading the way: The South and the West. While travel by car remains flat, ridership on subways, streetcars and other trains is up sharply in cities of all sizes.

Among the biggest spenders in the year ahead: Denver, now in the process of investing $5 billion in new rail service. Salt Lake City, looking to buy more trains for its expanding commuter rail lines. Austin, Texas, which is planning to invest hundreds of millions for more rails. And San Diego, increasing its fleet of trolleys.

Orders for buses will climb in coming years as well. Despite little growth in bus ridership recently, many smaller, growing cities expect demand to pick up.

Firms Spending Big to Thwart Online Copyright Theft

-- From The Kiplinger Letter, March 21, 2014

The growth in Internet piracy means business is booming for digital cops paid to scour websites for copyrighted material posted without permission. The copyright watchdog companies then work with the sites to remove the material. Among firms tracking misuse of protected work: Marketly, MarkMonitor and Degban. Improving technology makes it easier for copyright holders to find and remove videos, songs, articles and other protected creative works. But it’s a double-edged sword. The technology also makes it easier and faster for pirated files to be uploaded.

Some companies have decided not to fight copyright infringement. Instead, they allow the files to stay online, making deals with YouTube and other hosting sites to receive customer data and royalties based on a share of advertising revenue.

Flying this Summer? Prepare to Suffer

-- From The Kiplinger Letter, March 21, 2014

Brace yourself: Travel by air this summer will be expensive and crowded. Figure on fares rising as much as 6% over 2013. Industry consolidation, leaving just four U.S. megacarriers, means airlines have significant pricing power. They’ve also cut capacity…down 12% since 2007…so planes are filled to the brim.

Shop early and fly on off-peak days to save on fares. Traveling on Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday can mean a 50% savings. Ditto, opting for a connecting flight rather than a nonstop. Going before June 8, the unofficial start of the summer season, can also pay off, with savings of up to 20%. Carriers are more likely to offer discounts from one month to three months before departure to guarantee full passenger loads.

One plus for business fliers: Better odds of being booked on a newer plane with roomier, well-padded seats in premium sections. Economy-class fliers, though, will be even more crowded as U.S. airlines try to cram in as many seats as possible.

Spy Satellite Contracts to Be Competitively Bid

-- From The Kiplinger Letter, March 14, 2014

The Pentagon is opening up the bidding process for building spy satellites as well as rockets for hauling hush-hush surveillance payloads into space. Until now, the Defense Dept. has dealt with only a select group of contractors in a closed-door system of awarding contracts. By opening up the bidding process, the Pentagon hopes to reduce overall costs and encourage more innovation that will help the U.S. to stay ahead of China and Russia on the space spying front.

Note two front-runners for contracts: Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (also known as SpaceX) of Hawthorne, Calif., and United Launch Alliance in Denver. The Pentagon likes SpaceX, the space travel start-up, in light of successful launches of its Falcon 9 rocket, and United Launch Alliance for its reliable rocket launchers.

Roadwork to Slow as Federal Money Runs Out

-- From The Kiplinger Letter, March 14, 2014

Motorists will run into less road construction this summer, as federal funds for roadwork dwindle and state governments call a halt to big new projects. Uncle Sam’s Highway Trust Fund is on track to run dry in August, and with little hope of refilling it quickly, states can’t count on federal spending for long-term projects.

Though work won’t screech to a stop, road builders will have fewer big jobs. States will concentrate on completing existing jobs and OK’ing smaller repair projects on roads and bridges with the help of stopgap funding extensions from Congress.

Among key road projects getting the go-ahead: The continued expansion of the I-75 corridor in northern Fla. Construction of the King Coal Highway in W.Va. Expansion of I-39 in Wis. And the addition of express lanes to I-5 in San Diego.

Approval of long-term funding for highway work may be years away. Raising the needed revenue, through a higher gas tax or other steps, is a thorny issue, so Congress is likely to opt for more short-term extensions in lieu of a big highway bill.

Electronic Ink, Virtual Reality Make New Inroads

-- From The Kiplinger Letter, March 14, 2014

Electronic ink will see new business uses. Widely found now in e-readers, the technology will pop up in luggage tags, outdoor advertising, wall displays, etc. Electronic ink requires just tiny amounts of energy and is easily visible in sunlight, an advantage over liquid-crystal-display technology. It’s durable and long-lasting, too… many e-readers have lasted for 10 years. E Ink of Mass. is the leading manufacturer.

Virtual reality systems are finding a growing niche in job training settings. Cheaper models of VR glasses, which give wearers a sense of being physically present in any sort of computer-simulated environment, will spur the technology’s adoption. They’ll also be a hit in schools…breathing life into history classes, for example.

New Technology to Help Decrease Energy Use in Vehicles

-- From The Kiplinger Letter, March 14, 2014

Keep an eye on this gas saving technology: Advanced cylinder deactivation. Developed by tech start-up Tula Technology, the system aims to make future cars and trucks with big engines run more thriftily by idling some of the engine’s cylinders when less than full power is needed. Some models on the road today can do that trick, but Tula figures it can get better fuel savings via more-precise engine control methods.

Commercial use isn’t imminent but automakers are clearly interested,intrigued by Tula’s ability to boost gas mileage by 15% or more at a relatively low cost. Big V-8s used in pickups and other trucks are the best bets to adopt the technology.

President Obama’s record pace of deportations is earning him enemies in his own party. That could spell trouble for Democrats in fall elections, when they need help from Hispanic voters to try to keep control of the Senate. Already, one leading Hispanic interest group calls him the “deporter in chief.”

Obama will top the 2-million mark in deportations later this year, two years sooner than George W. Bush reached that number, and will add more in the final years of his second term. The deportation record may stand for years.

Also rising: The number of employers using E-Verify to check work status of job applicants and employees. A recent streamlining of the tracking system is the main reason the number of participants will double in a few years, to about a million. Agriculture, construction and food services are the top users.

In time, Congress will allow many illegal workers to stay. Republicans, though, want tighter border security before they back immigration reform.

Community Colleges Seek Business Ties

-- From The Kiplinger Letter, March 7, 2014

Community colleges are pitching new business services. Tighter budgets are prodding schools to offer job training services, rent equipment or space, sell research or provide paid consulting services. Iowa’s Muscatine Community College, for instance, is helping local start-ups win patents and develop business plans. Firms needing a high-tech 3-D printer can rent it at Wisconsin’s Fox Valley Technical College.

Chances for companies to partner with colleges will only grow. Many schools are looking for firms to sponsor vocational programs…and line up future workers.

For-profit colleges are in for a crackdown. Financial regulators are alleging that many of the schools mislead prospective students about their earnings potential or charge excessive interest rates on loans. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is suing ITT Educational Services for abuses and contemplates more suits and rules. Revenues at chains such as Kaplan, DeVry and Apollo Education Group may suffer.

New Federal Efforts to Spread Broadband in Cities

-- From The Kiplinger Letter, March 7, 2014

Uncle Sam’s new plan to foster speedy Internet service: Help cities build it. Many local governments would like to install superfast fiber-optic cables to boost their economies, but red tape and state laws against publicly owned networks are common obstacles. The feds think they can smooth the way for interested cities and promote competition among Internet providers to cut prices and improve service.

Some steps regulators plan to give local networks a leg up: Publishing reports on current Internet service so fiber installers can spot the best markets to enter. Easing rules on telephone pole attachments to let more providers use existing poles. And guiding cities on bond issuances and other financing methods to pay for projects.

The Plastic Shopping Bag Is Under Attack

-- From The Kiplinger Letter, March 7, 2014

Plastic shopping bags may soon disappear in California. About 100 localities either ban bags or slap fees on them. Dozens of others are in the process of doing so. Now, state lawmakers are heading toward a Calif.-wide ban later this year. Legislators figure the measure will cut down on plastic litter and help the environment. Retailers that once opposed such bag bans see a uniform standard as easier to obey.

Other states and cities are starting to follow the Golden State’s lead, with bag bans or fees cropping up in Colo., Md., Wash., Mass., N.M. and more. Bag makers will fight to slow such prohibitions, but more localities figure to join in, even as shoppers balk at flimsier paper bags or fees for previously free plastic bags.

Coming: Buying Groceries Online with Food Stamps

-- From The Kiplinger Agriculture Letter, March 7, 2014

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

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

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

More Traffic Violation Cameras Despite Opposition

-- From The Kiplinger Letter, March 7, 2014

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

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

Ukraine Will Need to Swallow Losing Crimea

-- From The Kiplinger Letter, March 7, 2014

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

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

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

Reform of Mortgage Giants on Back Burner

-- From The Kiplinger Letter, Feb. 28, 2014

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

Seniors Embracing Smart Phones, Apps

-- From The Kiplinger Letter, Feb. 28, 2014

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

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

All contents © 2014 The Kiplinger Washington Editors