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Retailers Offer More Financial Services; Companies Like Online Cookies

Flying over the business world Wednesday morning finds that big retailers are moving into financial services, while big business is becoming more like Big Brother. Renewable energy gets a boost, Toyota suffers another knockdown, and holiday shopping starts way too early.

Retailers Offer More Financial Products

Some large American retailers are venturing into territory formerly controlled by the banking industry. They are offering a range of financial products and services to their customers, filling a void created by a combination of tight credit on the part of the banks and a growing number of non-banking consumers.

Costco now sells homeowners’ and auto insurance, credit card processing for small businesses, and since 2010, home mortgages. Home Depot offers loans of up to $40,000, and Office Depot and Sam’s Club provide loans backed the U.S. Small Business Administration. Walmart sells life insurance and a prepaid card and debit account with American Express.

Consumer advocates advise caution when procuring retailers’ financial products, as they are not under the same regulatory protections as similar products offered by chartered banks and lending institutions.

Companies Rely More on Online Cookies

A study called the Web Privacy Census, sponsored by the University of California’s Berkeley Center for Law and Technology, finds that more and more companies are tracking consumers’ online activities.

In October, the Census measured the use of tracking cookies employed by the country’s top 100, 1,000 and 25,000 websites and found a statistically significant increase in their use from the previous measurement made in June.

As more online activity is tracked and identified, threats to consumers’ privacy rights continue to grow. The Privacy Census provides policymakers with empirical evidence about the state of internet tracking, as they consider measures giving consumers greater online protections.

Biofuel Plants Gear Up for Production

Hopes are running high for two companies in the cellulosic biofuel industry. Plants in Mississippi and Florida that make fuel from plants, trees and otherwise wasted biomass, as opposed to from more valuable food crops, are close to beginning large-scale, commercial production.

In Columbus, Miss., KiOR has spent more than $200 million on a plant that will turn shredded wood waste into “renewable crude” which can be refined into gasoline and diesel fuel. It plans to produce 13 million gallons of fuel a year.

In Vero Beach, Fla., European oil and chemical company Ineos has spent $130 million on a plant that will make eight million gallons of fuel a year from wood and woody “garbage.”

Profitable production at either plant, or at a host of others in the industry, could be a major boost in the growth of America’s renewable energy sector.

New Toyota Recall

Recalls continue to trouble Toyota. Japan’s top automaker announced today a worldwide recall of 2.77 million vehicles, including the company’s popular Prius and Corolla models, for a water pump problem and a steering shaft defect.

The recall affects certain autos produced in Japan and at overseas plants from 2000 to 2011.

Over the past several years, Toyota has recalled approximately 14 million vehicles, mostly in the U.S., for various problems like faulty floor mats, and defective gas and brake pedals. It also recalled 7.43 million cars, recently, for a faulty power-window switch capable of causing fires.

Gift Cards Top Holiday Wish Lists

According to the National Retail Federation’s 2012 Holiday Consumer Spending Survey, six out of ten shoppers say they would like to receive a gift card in their Christmas stockings this year – a percentage that tops the next several categories: clothing, books, CDs, DVDs and video games, consumer electronics and jewelry.

The survey also reveals that the average consumer will spend $750 on gifts, holiday décor, greeting cards, etc. – an amount that is up slightly from 2011.

Also, only 3.5 percent of the people who participated in the survey said they will wait until the last two weeks of December to shop.

Bill “No Pay” Fay has lived a meager financial existence his entire life. He started writing/bragging about it in 2012, helping birth into existence as the site’s original “Frugal Man.” Prior to that, he spent more than 30 years covering the high finance world of college and professional sports for major publications, including the Associated Press, New York Times and Sports Illustrated. His interest in sports has waned some, but he is as passionate as ever about not reaching for his wallet. Bill can be reached at [email protected].

The Home Depot

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