BlackRock replaces Americas corporate governance leader

BOSTON (Reuters) – Top asset manager BlackRock Inc (BLK.N) has hired Ray Cameron as head of the Americas within its investment stewardship arm, according to a memo seen by Reuters on Thursday, turning to an outsider to fill the role left vacant since last year.

A sign for BlackRock Inc hangs above their building in New York U.S., July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Cameron joins BlackRock from Stifel Financial Corp (SF.N) and “has a history of building successful teams that interact” with top corporate executives, according to the memo.

With $6.29 trillion in assets under management, BlackRock is often the largest shareholder in U.S. corporations, giving it a powerful voice on their operations and board makeup.

In a letter at the start of this year, BlackRock Chief Executive Larry Fink called for more communications between shareholders and companies they own, and promised “deeper, more frequent and more productive conversations.”

Cameron is taking on a job that has been vacant since Zach Oleksiuk left BlackRock last October. He will report to Michelle Edkins, a managing director of the firm, according to a BlackRock spokesman.

Reporting by Ross Kerber in Boston; Editing by Marguerita Choy

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Trump heightens China tariff threat with no deal in sight

With President Donald Trump intensifying his rift with U.S. trading partners, economists are growing more doubtful that any deal that might benefit American workers and companies is in sight.

Instead, many analysts say they expect the Trump administration to impose more tariffs on China and potentially other key U.S. trading partners. With those nations almost certain to retaliate, the result could be higher prices for Americans, diminished export sales and a weaker U.S. economy by next year.

In an interview with CNBC that aired Friday morning, Trump renewed his threat to ultimately slap tariffs on a total of $500 billion of imports from China — roughly equal to all the goods Beijing ships annually to the United States. The president has already imposed tariffs on $34 billion in Chinese goods, and Beijing has retaliated with tariffs on an equal amount of American exports. The White House has also itemized $200 billion of additional Chinese imports that it said may be subject to tariffs.

In addition, Trump has told the Commerce Department to investigate whether imported autos and auto parts threaten America’s national security — the same justification the president has invoked for other tariffs he has imposed or threatened, including on imported steel and aluminum. If the answer is yes, the administration says it could slap 20 percent to 25 percent tariffs on $335 billion of auto imports. Higher car prices for American consumers would inevitably follow.

On Friday morning, Trump for a second day also criticized the Federal Reserve, breaking with a long-standing tradition at the White House of avoiding any influence, real or perceived, on the independence of the U.S. central bank. Simultaneously, he accused China of allowing its tightly controlled currency to drift lower against the dollar, a move that could help Chinese exporters by making their goods more affordable overseas.

In a tweet, the president said:  

“China, the European Union and others have been manipulating their currencies and interest rates lower, while the U.S. is raising rates while the dollar gets stronger and stronger with each passing day — taking away our big competitive edge.” 

Last month, the Fed raised its benchmark rate for a second time this year and projected two more increases in 2018. Its rate hikes are meant to prevent the economy from overheating and igniting high inflation. But rate increases also make borrowing costlier for households and companies and can weaken growth.

Analysts say they’re becoming more convinced that Trump’s multi-front trade fights aren’t merely a short-term negotiating ploy. Rather, he may be prepared to wait as long as he feels it necessary to force other countries to adopt trade rules more favorable to the United States.

“People are underestimating what we’re headed for,” said Rod Hunter, a lawyer who served as a White House economic adviser under President George W. Bush. “He’s been saying since the ’80s that trade deals are bad and we should have more tariffs, and that’s what we’re getting.”

Moody’s Analytics estimates that if the tariffs were imposed on autos and most Chinese imports and other countries retaliate as expected, annual U.S. growth would slow by 0.5 percentage point by mid-2019. It expects that 700,000 jobs would be lost.

Global markets have remained generally calm despite the eruption of a full-blown U.S.-China trade war and the other conflicts Trump has ignited. On Friday, the Dow Jones industrial closed down slightly.

“I’ve been surprised that up until now, markets seem overly sanguine about the risks” of a trade war between the world’s two biggest economies, said David Dollar, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former official at the World Bank and U.S. Treasury Department.

Investors as a whole appear to accept the argument of Trump economic advisers, notably Larry Kudlow and Kevin Hassett, that the president’s threats will likely force China, the European Union, Canada, and Mexico to eventually negotiate better trade deals.

But many analysts are skeptical that Trump’s tactics will produce such an outcome. Rufus Yerxa, president of the National Foreign Trade Council and formerly deputy director general of the World Trade Organization, said Trump appears to think that America’s trading partners will yield to pressure without securing any concessions in return.

“That isn’t how trade negotiations work,” Yerxa said.

China will likely retaliate if additional tariffs are imposed, economists note, rather than simply knuckle under. President Xi Jingping “cannot lose face with his own people by giving in to the United States,” Dollar said.

Philip Levy, a trade expert at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and a former White House trade adviser, suggested that Chinese officials have been frustrated and confused by their previous failed efforts to reach an agreement.

After Beijing offered this spring to buy more natural gas and farm goods from the U.S. to narrow the trade deficit, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the trade war was “on hold.” China also said it would reduce its auto tariffs from 25 percent to 15 percent.

Yet Trump soon intensified his tariff threats anyway.

“The Chinese are not clear what the United States wants,” said Scott Kennedy, who studies the Chinese economy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “They’ve received conflicting messages depending on who they speak with.”

The administration says it wants China to end the theft of intellectual property from U.S. companies and curb policies that require American and other foreign businesses to hand over technology in exchange for access to the Chinese market. Yet any such agreement would require extensive talks over how it would be implemented and verified.

“There’s no negotiating going on that I can see,” Dollar said.

In the CNBC interview that aired Friday, Trump reiterated his complaints about America’s gaping trade gap with China, even though reforming China’s technology policies wouldn’t likely narrow the trade deficit.

“We are being taken advantage of, and I don’t like it,” Trump said.

Economists note that Trump’s hard-nosed stance on trade runs deep. He has been denouncing other countries’ trade practices and urging retaliation for decades, dating to the 1980s, when Japan was regarded as America’s main global economic threat.

“You have to take seriously that (imposing tariffs) is what he really wants to do,” said Adam Posen, president of the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

In his CNBC interview Friday, Trump shrugged off the prospect that a trade war with China could cause the stock market to tumble.

“If it does, it does,” he said.

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‘Extra Energy is chasing me for £1,200 I don’t owe’

Extra Energy is chasing me for an unpaid bill of £1,205.95 for an address I haven’t lived at.

I moved into Flat 8 of a building with my housemate when we began our final year of university. When I found out that Extra Energy was supplying the gas and electricity to our flat I phoned it for a quote. 

I was told the meters for our energy had been taken over in error and it was actually Flat 14 that Extra Energy was supposed to be supplying. I was told that this was being rectified and the meters were being transferred back to the previous supplier. 

I was then asked to phone the erroneous transfer department in a couple of days for an update. When I did this, Extra Energy told me the previous information was incorrect, and it was indeed supposed to be the supplier to Flat 8. However the address was registered as a business account. 

It later transpired that the previous tenant had used a company to manage their utility bills and had not cancelled their contract before moving out.

In order to transfer the supply to a domestic account I was advised that I would need to provide Extra Energy with evidence that I now lived there. At the time I did not have any of the documents which it would accept. 

I signed up to a dual fuel tariff with another company that would provide me with a domestic account. Before I was allowed to move away from Extra Energy I still had to supply it with evidence of my address.

By this time, I had received a council tax exemption letter and forwarded it to Extra Energy. Our final gas and electricity bills for Flat 8 were paid to Extra Energy in the autumn of 2016.

JM, Cheshire

Then Extra Energy began emailing and phoning you at your parents’ home, which you had given as your next address, requesting £168.87 in respect of Flat 14 (the one you had not lived in).

After each communication you explained it was Flat 8 you had been sharing and provided evidence to back this up. Sometimes you were told the emails had been sent in error.

Then a debt recovery company began looking for you. Again you explained the situation.

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Stocks end slightly lower as traders shrug off trade talk

U.S. stocks inched lower Friday as bond yields jumped, a shift that helped banks but hurt companies that pay big dividends. The dollar fell after President Donald Trump said China is manipulating its currency.

Companies including Microsoft and Honeywell rose as investors were pleased with their quarterly reports, but General Electric stumbled. Stocks wobbled all week as investors reacted to solid company results as well as heightened trade tensions. The S&P 500 index was virtually flat for the week while the Russell 2000 index, which is made up of smaller companies that do more business inside the U.S., rose 0.6 percent.

In the last two days Trump criticized the Federal Reserve for raising interest rates and said China, said he’s willing to put tariffs on all U.S. imports from China, and said China, the European Union and others are harming the U.S. by weakening their currencies and reducing interest rates. Stocks weren’t affected, but the dollar declined and short-term bond yields slipped, suggesting investors wondered if the Fed might raise interest rates more slowly.

“If there’s a toss-up between raising and not raising (rates), you wonder what role these types of comments might possibly play,” said Sameer Samana, a strategist for the Wells Fargo Investment Institute.

Samana said he doesn’t think the Fed will make big changes to its policies based on Trump’s comments, even if the president starts advocating more forcefully for lower rates. But it’s something investors will have to think about.

“We think the Fed has independence and they’ll continue to do the right thing,” he said. “This is one more item that just creates noise in markets.”

The S&P 500 index dipped 2.66 points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,801.83. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 6.38 points to 25,058.12. The Nasdaq composite gave up 5.10 points, or 0.1 percent, to 7,820.20. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks fell 4.50 points, or 0.3 percent, to 1,696.81.

Short-term bond yields inched higher. The yield on the 2-year Treasury note rose to 2.60 percent from 2.59 percent.

Long-term bond prices dropped. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.90 percent from 2.85 percent. That helped banks because bond yields are used to set interest rates on many kinds of loans including mortgages. JPMorgan Chase gained 1.3 percent to $111.28 and Bank of America picked up 1.6 percent to $30.13.

The dollar dropped sharply, to 111.52 yen from 112.46 yen. The euro rose to $1.1726 from $1.1644.

Microsoft continued to set records after its fiscal fourth-quarter results topped Wall Street forecasts and its cloud computing division continued to grow. The company said it’s being helped by its rivalry with Amazon, because some retailers are reluctant to team up with Amazon on cloud computing services while they compete with Amazon in sales. The stock climbed 1.8 percent to $106.27.

General Electric lost 4.4 percent to $13.12 after it said its power business continued to struggle as revenue and orders decreased. GE, which has been selling and splitting off businesses, also cut its forecast for how much cash its businesses will generate.

In a taped interview with CNBC, Trump said “I’m willing to go to 500,” referring roughly to the $505.5 billion in goods the U.S. imported last year from China. Earlier this month the U.S. placed import taxes on $34 billion in goods imported from China and Beijing responded in kind. The Trump administration is considering tariffs on another $200 billion in goods.

The dispute between the world’s two largest economies stems from accusations that China steals technology from U.S. companies or forces them to hand over technology to Chinese companies as well as differences over the U.S. trade deficit with China. Investors have worried that the trade war and other disputes involving the U.S. could slow down the global economy.

The People’s Bank of China weakened the country’s currency against the dollar on Friday. If the yuan continues to depreciate, goods exported to China will become more expensive to consumers there and Chinese exports would also be relatively cheaper. That could balance out suggested increases in tariffs by the Trump Administration.

The yuan has been skidding since February, mostly because of slower economic growth in China and rising interest rates in the U.S.

Benchmark U.S. crude added 1.4 percent to $70.46 a barrel in New York and Brent crude, used to price international oils, gained 0.7 percent to $73.07 a barrel in London.

Wholesale gasoline rose 1.2 percent to $2.07 a gallon. Heating oil edged up 0.7 percent to $2.10 a gallon. Natural gas lost 0.4 percent to $2.76 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Gold rose 0.6 percent to $1,231.10 an ounce. Silver gained 1 percent to $15.55 an ounce. Copper jumped 2.2 percent to $2.76 a pound.

Germany’s DAX lost 1 percent and France’s CAC 40 slid 0.3 percent. Britain’s FTSE 100 gave up 0.1 percent. South Korea’s Kospi added 0.3 percent and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng gained 0.8 percent. Japan’s Nikkei 225 fell 0.3 percent.

———

Annabelle Liang contributed from Singapore.

AP Markets Writer Marley Jay can be reached at //twitter.com/MarleyJayAP His work can be found at //apnews.com/search/marley%20jay

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‘Medical check-ups’: Japan firms tap banks for advice as activists circle

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese companies are increasingly turning to investment banks and public relations firms for advice on dealing with potential approaches by activist investors who are targeting low valuations and cross-shareholdings in the nation.

A man is seen at a a commercial building at closing hour at a financial district in Tokyo, Japan, November 22, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Among those advising company board members on how to handle activists are Morgan Stanley and Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Two other banks, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue to clients, also told Reuters they were coaching Japanese executives on engaging with such investors.

Japan was the top destination in Asia for activist campaigns last year, with its companies the target of a third of all such campaigns in the region, according to a report by JP Morgan.

The trend of firms seeking advice shows a shift is underway in Japan’s attitude toward activists. Its companies have long held a reputation as a graveyard for investors demanding change, with activists traditionally viewed by boards as asset-strippers to be resisted, not legitimate investors with whom to engage.

“It is like a regular medical check-up – we do it regularly for Japanese clients even before they are approached by an activist,” said Akihiko Manaka, head of Japan mergers and acquisitions at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

“We offer Japanese clients analysis to look at the industry benchmark in terms of financial statistics as well as corporate governance and shareholding structure.”

A sense that executives are increasingly prepared to listen is encouraging more activists to join the fray, analysts said. Last month, U.S. hedge fund ValueAct Capital announced its first-ever Asian investment with the purchase of a $600 million, 5 percent stake in Japanese medical equipment and camera maker Olympus Corp. ValueAct tends to avoid public battles with companies in favor of closed door-discussions.

And Elliott Management has taken a stake of more than 5 percent in Japan’s Alpine Electronics and plans to make significant proposals, according to a filing by the activist U.S. hedge fund last week.

That comes after Hong Kong-based activist fund Oasis Management objected to the components maker’s sale to a bigger affiliate.

POLICY, VALUATION DRIVERS

Investment banks aren’t the only ports of call for Japanese companies preparing to deal with activists. Three public relations firms described to Reuters growing demand for such services.

“We have done a lot of work with companies on vulnerability assessments, helping them proactively assess where they may be susceptible to activist demands before an activist arrives or begins agitating for specific changes,” said Nicola McGowan, managing director at Finsbury Japan.

Activists have also taken heart from corporate reforms driven by the government. A governance code introduced in 2015 and updated later lists situations when boards can consider ousting a chief executive – a key shift in Japan’s non-confrontational working culture.

The potential to untangle a web of cross-holdings and a corporate tendency to hoard cash have also attracted activists, as has Japan’s relatively low valuations. The blue-chip Topix 500 is trading on 14 times earnings, according to ThomsonReuters data, compared with 22 times for the US S&P 500.

“Japan is the ideal target place – there’s so much value to be unlocked,” said Zuhair Khan, an analyst at Jefferies in Tokyo, who said the lingering tradition of cross-holdings could make activists’ task tricky.

Examples of successful activism at companies, especially bluechips, remain rare in Japan. And even in cases where change does happen, firms rarely acknowledge the role played by activists.

In 2015, Japanese robot maker Fanuc Corp raised dividends and stock buybacks after demands by activist investor Daniel Loeb for better shareholder returns. Fanuc said at the time it was responding to the government’s push for better corporate governance and not to Loeb’s demands.

And activist hedge fund investor Daniel Loeb’s Third Point failed in 2013 to get electronics and entertainment firm Sony Corp to partially spin off its entertainment business.

STEPPING IT UP

Still, emboldened by the government’s governance push, activists have become increasingly vocal in their demands for change. The shift is forcing companies to look at how to deal with activists before as well as after they propose changes, bankers said.

Seth Fischer, founder of Oasis, whose campaigns have helped produce strategic change at Nintendo Co and raise the price Panasonic Corp paid to take a unit private, has over the past 18 months used more public tactics to push companies for change.

“Every engagement starts soft but if we don’t get meaningful dialogue, we escalate to writing letters, then setting up websites and maybe going as far as proxies and lawsuits,” he said.

“Companies are engaging more and they’re asking banks to help them figure out how to address our concerns – which hopefully means they’ll meet us somewhere in the middle.”

Writing by Thomas Wilson; Additional reporting by Jennifer Hughes in Hong Kong; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman

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‘Barclays lost track of my late partner’s £50,000 Isa’

Since my civil partner passed away three months ago I have been dealing with the Barclays bereavement team to resolve the accounts he held.

After registering his death, his current account was closed and the balance appeared in my current account. I had no idea where the money had come from so had to go to my local branch to find out. 

A few days later I got a letter saying the bank had closed the deceased’s account and passed the funds to mine. Since then I have contacted the bank again about the status of my civil partner’s Isa, which was not accounted for.

I received no reply and have tried repeatedly to contact someone at Barclays who can tell me whether or not this account is still open. I am passed from the bereavement team to the stockbroking arm in Glasgow and back again. This has happened repeatedly.

I have also written to both teams and, upon seeing the reference I have, they wish to transfer me again.

Today I have been hanging on to be transferred for 50 minutes so decided to contact you. I have lost track of the hours wasted on this simple – or so I think – issue.

Ian Mortimer, Dorset

The deceased, for whom you are executor, had been a Barclays customer for many years.

You knew he had had an Isa with Barclays and recalled that he had spoken to you last summer about moving it to another provider. You were not sure whether he had done this and, if so, where the £50,000 was now.

You approached Barclays and received a letter addressed to your late civil partner. It enclosed a £20,000 cheque made out to Barclays by a completely different customer, drawn on an account with a bank your civil partner had not had an account with. 

When you asked if the mysterious cheque had been your late civil partner’s contribution to the last tax year’s Isa, Barclays wrote – rather casually, I felt – “The cheque was meant to go to another client.”

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Analysts: Trump tariff threats unlikely to yield trade deals

With President Donald Trump intensifying his rift with U.S. trading partners, economists are growing more doubtful that any deal that might benefit American workers and companies is in sight.

Instead, many analysts say they expect the Trump administration to impose more tariffs on China and potentially other key U.S. trading partners. With those nations almost certain to retaliate, the result could be higher prices for Americans, diminished export sales and a weaker U.S. economy by next year.

In an interview with CNBC that aired Friday morning, Trump renewed his threat to ultimately slap tariffs on a total of $500 billion of imports from China — roughly equal to all the goods Beijing ships annually to the United States. The president has already imposed tariffs on $34 billion in Chinese goods, and Beijing has retaliated with tariffs on an equal amount of American exports. The White House has also itemized $200 billion of additional Chinese imports that it said may be subject to tariffs.

In addition, Trump has told the Commerce Department to investigate whether imported autos and auto parts threaten America’s national security — the same justification the president invoked to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum. If the answer is yes, the administration says it could slap 20 percent to 25 percent tariffs on $335 billion of auto imports. Higher car prices for American consumers would inevitably follow.

Analysts say they’re becoming more convinced that Trump’s multi-front trade fights aren’t merely a short-term negotiating ploy. Rather, he may be prepared to wait as long as he feels it necessary to force other countries to adopt trade rules more favorable to the United States.

“People are underestimating what we’re headed for,” said Rod Hunter, a lawyer who served as a White House economic adviser under President George W. Bush. “He’s been saying since the ’80s that trade deals are bad and we should have more tariffs, and that’s what we’re getting.”

Moody’s Analytics estimates that if the tariffs were imposed on autos and most Chinese imports and other countries retaliate as expected, annual U.S. growth would slow by 0.5 percentage point by mid-2019. It expects that 700,000 jobs would be lost.

Global markets have remained generally calm despite the eruption of a full-blown U.S.-China trade war and the other conflicts Trump has ignited. On Friday, the Dow Jones industrial closed down slightly.

“I’ve been surprised that up until now, markets seem overly sanguine about the risks” of a trade war between the world’s two biggest economies, said David Dollar, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former official at the World Bank and U.S. Treasury Department.

Investors as a whole appear to accept the argument of Trump economic advisers, notably Larry Kudlow and Kevin Hassett, that the president’s threats will likely force China, the European Union, Canada, and Mexico to eventually negotiate better trade deals.

But many analysts are skeptical that Trump’s tactics will produce such an outcome. Rufus Yerxa, president of the National Foreign Trade Council and formerly deputy director general of the World Trade Organization, said Trump appears to think that America’s trading partners will yield to pressure without securing any concessions in return.

“That isn’t how trade negotiations work,” Yerxa said.

China will likely retaliate if additional tariffs are imposed, economists note, rather than simply knuckle under. President Xi Jingping “cannot lose face with his own people by giving in to the United States,” Dollar said.

Philip Levy, a trade expert at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and a former White House trade adviser, suggested that Chinese officials have been frustrated and confused by their previous failed efforts to reach an agreement.

After Beijing offered this spring to buy more natural gas and farm goods from the U.S. to narrow the trade deficit, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the trade war was “on hold.” China also said it would reduce its auto tariffs from 25 percent to 15 percent.

Yet Trump soon intensified his tariff threats anyway.

“The Chinese are not clear what the United States wants,” said Scott Kennedy, who studies the Chinese economy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “They’ve received conflicting messages depending on who they speak with.”

The administration says it wants China to end the theft of intellectual property from U.S. companies and curb policies that require American and other foreign businesses to hand over technology in exchange for access to the Chinese market. Yet any such agreement would require extensive talks over how it would be implemented and verified.

“There’s no negotiating going on that I can see,” Dollar said.

In the CNBC interview that aired Friday, Trump reiterated his complaints about America’s gaping trade gap with China, even though reforming China’s technology policies wouldn’t likely narrow the trade deficit.

“We are being taken advantage of, and I don’t like it,” Trump said.

Economists note that Trump’s hard-nosed stance on trade runs deep. He has been denouncing other countries’ trade practices and urging retaliation for decades, dating to the 1980s, when Japan was regarded as America’s main global economic threat.

“You have to take seriously that (imposing tariffs) is what he really wants to do,” said Adam Posen, president of the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

In his CNBC interview Friday, Trump shrugged off the prospect that a trade war with China could cause the stock market to tumble.

“If it does, it does,” he said.

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Queen B: Life lessons take flight with Angela Bassett

NEW YORK (Reuters) – (The writer is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed are his own.)

FILE PHOTO: Cast member Angela Bassett poses during a photocall for the world premiere of “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” in Paris, France, July 12, 2018. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

Over the past year, Angela Bassett has been showing her wide acting range as mother of superhero T’Challa in “Black Panther” and a CIA director in the new “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” sequel that opens next week.

That follows roles as American icons, ranging from vocal powerhouse Tina Turner to civil rights activists Betty Shabazz and Rosa Parks, and her debut as director of a TV movie about singing legend Whitney Houston.

For the latest in Reuters’ Life Lessons series, Bassett spoke about her most challenging role of all – how she went from a modest childhood in St. Petersburg, Florida, raised by a single mom, to being a reigning Hollywood queen.

Q: Who left the biggest impression on you growing up?

A: My aunt Golden and my uncle Grover. He was a barber, she was an educator, and every summer she would continue her studies somewhere, until eventually she got her PhD. Perhaps that is why as an actor, I understand that you have to go away and leave your family for a bit sometimes. You go do projects that inspire and grow and stretch you, and then you come back with stories and experiences to share.

Q: How did being raised by a single mom shape your worldview?

A: Betty Jane Bassett only had a high school education, had to leave NYC to go back to Florida, and went to night school in order to make us a better life. She used to enlist us kids to quiz her with index cards, to help with her studies. She did what had to be done to make ends meet, and taught me how to make a dollar out of 15 cents. She always said: “Don’t be average. I don’t have average kids.”

Q: What was your first job growing up?

A: I worked in an assisted-living facility in St. Pete Beach. I took orders in the dining room. That was my first regular paycheck, and it was the first job my mother let me take. She didn’t allow me to work at fast-food restaurants, because she thought it was slave labor.

Q: After you graduated from Yale, were those first acting years rough?

A: I had a tiny one-bedroom apartment in a fourth-floor walkup. I worked at a salon on the East Side of Manhattan, answering the phone and making spa appointments. During my 45-minute lunch break, I would go on auditions. After nine months of that I was feeling a little depressed, but just kept paying the bills and kept auditioning. I knew the salon was just a means to an end.

Finally I got a part, in an ensemble show of vignettes throughout African-American history. I was just an understudy, but I remember I had to go on once as Billie Holiday, singing a cappella. Now that was intimidating.

Q: When you hit it big, how did you handle financial success?

A: I have always been pretty frugal. But something I did learn quickly was that whatever you loan, just give it. When you become successful everyone starts asking to borrow money – friends, family. I can’t spend the rest of my life keeping a tally, and getting upset, and running after people because they owe me.

Q: Where do you devote your charitable dollars?

A: It depends on what hits you in the heart. For me it has always been about children in St. Petersburg, helping the community where I grew up, like the boys and girls clubs. I’m also very involved in diabetes awareness, since my mother passed away from complications due to diabetes and heart disease. I try to get the word out.

Q: What lessons do you try to pass along to your two kids?

A: What I tell them is that you can’t dance to every record. In other words, you can’t be everything to everybody, and get yourself involved in every possible situation. So pick a song you like, and then give it your best. Hard work pays off.

I also like the advice, “If your outgo exceeds your income, then your upkeep will be your downfall.” I heard that from a man of the cloth, and I love it. Never live beyond your means.

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US stocks skid as banks and consumer products companies fall

U.S. stocks are falling Thursday morning as weak results from banks and consumer products companies pull major indexes lower. Online retailer eBay plunged after its second-quarter sales fell short of Wall Street projections. Comcast rose after ending its bid to buy most of Twenty-First Century Fox.

Later, representatives of the auto industry will testify to Congress about tariffs on imported cars and car parts proposed by the Trump administration, something the auto industry opposes.

KEEPING SCORE: The S&P 500 index slid 12 points, or 0.5 percent, to 2,802 as of 10 a.m. Eastern time. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 121 points, or 0.5 percent, to 25,077. The Nasdaq composite gave up 35 points, or 0.5 percent, to 7,818. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks fell 5 points, or 0.3 percent, to 1,686.

EARNINGS: Second-quarter results and forecasts from U.S. companies continued to dominate trading. EBay slumped 9.2 percent to $34.44 after reporting revenue that missed forecasts.

American Express fell 3.4 percent to $99.50 after setting aside more money to cover potential bad loans. AmEx also saw its delinquency rate rise. That could mean that some of American Express’ customers, typically the most creditworthy, are struggling to pay their bills.

Philip Morris skidded 6.3 percent to $77.01 after cutting its annual profit forecast. IBM fared better. The stock rose 3.5 percent to $149.59 after the technology and consulting company reported results that surpassed analysts’ estimates.

CHANNEL CHANGER: Cable and internet provider Comcast said it won’t make another bid for Twenty-First Century Fox’s entertainment business and will instead focus on trying to buy European pay-TV operator Sky. Comcast had offered as much as $66 billion in cash for those businesses, but Disney topped it with a bid of $71 billion in cash and stock. Fox shareholders are scheduled to vote on Disney’s offer next week.

Comcast gained 3.3 percent to $35.15 while Fox fell 1.8 percent to $45.86. Disney gained 2.3 percent to $113.23, and in London, shares of Sky fell 1.9 percent.

AUTO TARIFFS: The next big event on the global trade front may be the U.S. Commerce Department’s decision on possible taxes on imported vehicles and auto parts. It might recommend those tariffs if it determines the imports threaten America’s national security. Representatives of manufacturers, suppliers and car dealers are in Washington Thursday along with foreign diplomats to testify at a Congressional hearing, seeking to head off new auto tariffs. The European Union said it was already preparing measures to retaliate.

General Motors slid 1.2 percent to $39.39 and Tesla dipped 2.6 percent to $315.58. Auto parts retailer BorgWarner lost 1.3 percent to $45.40.

EARLY LOSERS: Health care companies also struggled. Drugmaker AbbVie sank 5.2 percent to $89.47 and CVS Health shed 3.8 percent to $65.29. Industrial companies gave up some of Wednesday’s gains. 3M fell 1.2 percent to $199.79.

COMMODITIES: Benchmark U.S. crude rose 1.1 percent to $69.51 per barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, gained 0.6 percent to $73.33 per barrel in London.

Gold fell 1 percent to $1,216 an ounce and copper dropped 2.6 percent to $2.69 a pound. Mining companies and basic materials makers fell.

BONDS: Bond prices edged lower. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.86 percent from 2.87 percent.

CURRENCIES: The dollar rose to 112.92 yen from 112.84 yen. The euro fell to $1.1600 from $1.1646. The ICE-US dollar index reached a 12-month high.

OVERSEAS: Germany’s DAX fell 0.6 percent and France’s CAC 40 was down 0.4 percent. Britain’s FTSE 100 added 0.3 percent.

Asian markets finished mostly lower with Japan’s Nikkei 225 losing 0.1 percent and South Korea’s Kospi shed 0.3 percent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng fell 0.4 percent.

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AP Markets Writer Marley Jay can be reached at //twitter.com/MarleyJayAP His work can be found at //apnews.com/search/marley%20jay

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U.S. Medigap plans fall short on protections for pre-existing conditions

CHICAGO (Reuters) – (The opinions expressed here are those of the author, a columnist for Reuters.)

A technician stocks the shelves of the pharmacy at White House Clinic in Berea, Kentucky, U.S., February 7, 2018. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

Thinking of adding a Medigap supplemental policy to your Medicare coverage? Beware: you could be charged higher rates or be turned away completely if you have a pre-existing condition.

Medigap policies fill gaps in coverage for people enrolled in traditional fee-for-service Medicare, such as copays, deductibles and limits on hospitalization benefits. The plans are sold by commercial insurance companies.

Federal law provides limited protection against medical underwriting by insurers – the practice of using health information when evaluating an application for coverage. And some states regulate it further. But these protections vary widely from state to state, according to a new study by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF).

Under U.S. law, there is a six-month Medigap open enrollment period that begins on the first day of the month in which you are age 65 or older and also enrolled in Medicare Part B. During this open enrollment – also referred to as the guaranteed issue period – insurers cannot charge you more for a policy due to any pre-existing conditions.

Just as important, they cannot cite pre-existing conditions as a reason to refuse to sell you a policy. A review by KFF of insurance company policies found that medical underwriting on Medigap plans can include anything from a chronic condition such as diabetes, heart disease hypertension or cancer to being advised by a doctor to have surgery, medical tests, treatments or therapies.

Four states protect Medigap applicants beyond the open enrollment period: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts and New York. These states all require either continuous or annual guaranteed issue protections for all beneficiaries in traditional Medicare over age 65, no matter their medical history. And 28 states require insurers to issue policies to eligible Medicare beneficiaries if a former employer changes their retiree health coverage benefits.

The KFF report points to several possible policy changes that could boost consumer protections on pre-existing conditions – for example, requiring an annual Medigap open enrollment, similar to the ones already held for Part D prescription drug and Advantage plans. And some Medicare reform plans floated in recent years have called for streamlining deductibles, reducing cost-sharing requirements for some services and capping overall out-of-pocket expenses, making Medigap protections less essential.

But for now, the wide variation in protections identified in the report underscores the importance of deciding upfront whether you want to be in traditional Medicare or Medicare Advantage – unless you are fortunate to live in one of the four Medigap haven states.

“The choices people make when they first go on Medicare can have long-term repercussions down the road,” said Gretchen Jacobson, associate director of KFF and a co-author of the study.

HOW MEDIGAP WORKS

When you sign up for Medicare, the first choice to make is between traditional fee-for-service Medicare and Medicare Advantage.

Medicare Advantage plans are managed-care networks, usually HMOs. They bundle together Part A (hospitalization), Part B (outpatient services) and often include Part D coverage (prescription drugs). Advantage plans also cap annual out-of-pocket expenses, so Medigap supplemental policies are not sold alongside the plans.

Advantage plans can save money for beneficiaries, and enrollment is growing rapidly. However, they come with important restrictions on available healthcare providers. And roughly two-thirds of Medicare enrollees still use traditional Medicare, which remains the gold standard of coverage, since it can be used with any healthcare provider who accepts Medicare. (reut.rs/2J6D9l1).

Most traditional Medicare enrollees add a Part D prescription drug plan, and some form of supplemental coverage – either through a Medigap plan, from a former employer or Medicaid – because the coverage gaps are substantial. Traditional Medicare has a deductible for Part A hospitalizations ($1,340), plus deductibles and coinsurance charges for Part B outpatient services ($183) There also are daily copayments for hospital stays exceeding 60 days and for extended stays in skilled nursing facilities.

Medigap policies make these costs more predictable by spreading them throughout the year via premiums. But the cost of these plans is significant, ranging annually from as little as $2,000 to $7,000 for the most comprehensive plans. Policies come in an alphabet soup of lettered plan choices, currently including A, B, C D, F, G, K, L, M, and N.

The most comprehensive Medigap policies – C and F – cover 100 percent of Part A coinsurance charges and hospital costs up to an additional 365 days after Medicare benefits are exhausted. These plans also cover 100 percent of Part B coinsurance or copayment amounts, hospice care coinsurance, skilled nursing facility coinsurance, and deductibles for Part A and Part B. Other plans provide less generous coverage. For example, K plans cover only 50 percent of Part B copays and various other deductibles.

Federal legislation passed in 2015 phases out Medigap C and F plans for new buyers beginning in 2020, although current policyholders can keep their plans. The intended idea here is to save money for Medicare by reducing unnecessary utilization of healthcare by giving enrollees more “skin in the game.”

The phase-out of new C and F sales could boost the cost for current policyholders, Jacobson thinks. “If the pool of enrollees ages, that could lead to some sharp premium increases for them,” she said. Starting in 2020, D and G plans will be the new most-comprehensive plans.

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