Cyborgs Are the Future for Advisors

By Kathleen McBride via Iris.xyz Becoming cyborgs is the way to go for financial advisers…blending robotics and humans into one organism. You see, I am convinced that robo-advice models will succeed and prosper. I am also convinced that human advisers will succeed and prosper. I am further convinced that some of each will fail entirely and die, but…Click to read more at ETFtrends.com.

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Private Equity Head Tapped to “Fix” US Intelligence Apparatus. Why?

By Kathleen McBride via Iris.xyz Why should we think the head of a private equity company could effectively “fix” US Intelligence? It is not apparent that this individual is even remotely qualified to fix the US intelligence apparatus. And it’s debatable that it is even broken, except in the eye of someone who seems afraid the intelligence community…Click to read more at ETFtrends.com.

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6 Daily Success Habits of World Class Advisors

By Robert Brown via Iris.xyz Over the past week, we’ve been talking about time mastery.  How to go from being a slave to time to getting more done in less time. The thought is liberating. And based on the emails I’ve received, this discussion has hit home.  (More on those emails in a second.) When it comes…Click to read more at ETFtrends.com.

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Six Advisor Mindsets that Change Everything

By Andrew Sobel via Iris.xyz Most corporate training focuses on imparting knowledge, improving skills, and changing behaviors. But the most fundamental impact on your performance and success comes, arguably, from changing your mindset. Mindsets drive your outlook. They can bottle you up and restrict your freedom, or, they can free you to accomplish great things. I…Click to read more at ETFtrends.com.

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How to Work Toward Financial Well-Being Without The Detours

By Yazann Romahi via Iris.xyz There are many different paths that you can take towards financial well-being and several things that should be avoided along the way. I’ve put together a list to help: 1. Annuities should be avoided because they are expensive, overly structured, and complicated “solution” to the wrong problem (risk aversion). Annuities are sold…Click to read more at ETFtrends.com.

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TCL carries flickering BlackBerry flame with new phone launch


BARCELONA, Spain Blackberry Ltd (BB.TO) may have exited the device business, but fans of the pioneering email machine need not despair as Chinese smartphone maker TCL Communication (TCCLF.PK) has introduced its first Blackberry-licensed phone with the physical keyboard that was long its key allure.

The KEYone combines a touch display with a physical keyboard to give users more useable space for typing than a typical 5.5-inch all-touch smartphone, along with BlackBerry Ltd’s security and software, TCL said.

TCL cut the new brand-licensing deal in December with BlackBerry Ltd., which now focuses on making the security software that was another key factor underpinning the Canadian company’s phenomenal success in the pre-smartphone era and sustained it with corporate users as the world moved on to smartphones with other features.

The partnership helps address weaknesses for both companies: TCL gives BlackBerry a manufacturer that can still compete at global scale following a decade-long slide in BlackBerry sales, while TCL gains a new brand to shore up its own flagging growth in smartphones.

“We have worked closely with TCL to build security and the BlackBerry experience into every layer of KEYone, so the BlackBerry DNA remains very much in place,” said Alex Thurber, general manager of BlackBerry Ltd’s Mobility Solutions unit.

The new BlackBerry KEYone smartphone was unveiled here ahead of the Mobile World Congress, Europe’s largest annual trade fair, on Saturday.

The first fruits of TCL’s new product line carries a hefty price tag, which could limit its appeal to diehard fans of the device once known as the Crackberry.

The KEYone will be available in April and priced around 599 euros, $549 or 499 pounds, in line with premium phones from Apple (AAPL.O), Samsung (005930.KS) and Huawei [HWT.UL].

TCL, which sells its phones in 160 countries, did not specify which would be first to offer the KEYone.

TCL is best known as the maker of Alcatel handsets and ranked as the world’s No. 7 phone maker, according to recent data from research group IDC.

It is the third-largest maker of simpler, so-called feature phones popular in Latin America and emerging markets, according to market research firm Strategy Analytics.

TCL has acted as contract manufacturer for earlier BlackBerry devices but now licenses the phone brand and gives the Canadian company a cut of each handset sold.

The device runs Android 7.1 – giving users access to the Google Play store and apps – and receives Google (GOOGL.O) security patch updates, which many Android smartphones lack.

It also runs the BBM secure-messaging system, which BlackBerry earlier this month said it would make available for software developers to build into their own products.

With an aluminum frame and textured backing, the device sports two cameras – 12 megapixels in the rear and eight in front – and a scratch-resistant 4.5-inch screen display.

(Reporting by Eric Auchard; Additional reporting by Alastair Sharp in Toronto)

Google’s digital assistant comes to new Android phones


Alphabet Inc’s Google announced on Sunday that it will bring its digital assistant to smartphones running the latest versions of its Android operating system, vastly expanding its reach.

The Google Assistant was limited to the technology company’s own products when it was released last fall, but it has steadily been expanding to a broader range of devices.

Smartphones running Android accounted for 85 percent of the global market last year, according to tech research firm IDC, compared to 15 percent for Apple Inc’s iOS.

The Google Assistant will roll out this week to English speakers in the United States with phones running Android 7.0 Nougat and Android 6.0 Marshmallow, the company said.

English speakers in Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom will gain access to the assistant next, followed by German speakers in Germany, and the company is working on support for additional languages.

Voice-powered digital assistants have been largely a novelty for consumers since Apple’s Siri introduced the technology to the masses in 2011. But many in the industry believe the technology will soon become one of the main ways users interact with devices, and Apple, Google and Amazon.com Inc are racing to present their assistants to as many people as possible.

“Our goal is to make the Assistant available anywhere you need it,” Gummi Hafsteinsson, product lead for the Google Assistant, wrote in a blog post published on Sunday. “With this update, hundreds of millions of Android users will now be able to try out the Google Assistant.”

Companies ranging from appliance maker Whirlpool Corp to Ford Motor Co announced products featuring Amazon’s Alexa assistant at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this year, leading some analysts to conclude the online retailer had gained an early lead over Google.

What is more, Android manufacturer Huawei Technologies Co [HWT.UL] announced it would support Alexa, highlighting the cost of Google’s decision to feature the assistant on its own hardware before opening it up to partners, said analyst Jan Dawson of Jackdaw Research.

“Clearly Google needs to move forward because their battle in the future is not going to be over the operating system, it’s going to be about assistant platforms,” said analyst Bob O’Donnell of TECHnalysis Research.

Google cannot trust that its assistant will be the default on all devices in the Android ecosystem. Leading manufacturer Samsung Electronics has announced plans for an assistant, and other companies are reportedly working on the technology.

“Some big manufacturers have decided to go their own way,” Dawson said. “But a lot of manufacturers simply can’t afford to develop their own.”

(Reporting by Julia Love; Editing by Bill Rigby)

Euro zone economy: real recovery or another Sirens’ song?


LONDON Over the years, euro zone economic growth has been a bit like the Sirens in Homer’s Odyssey: singing a song of promise, only to end up pulling you onto the rocks. Will it be different this time?

The strong growth registered in numerous data releases and surveys at the beginning of this year has surprised many.

One eye-opening example was the release of flash purchasing managers indices for France, Germany and the euro zone on Feb 21. Of nine indexes, eight registered growth and six did so at a higher level than any economist polled by Reuters had imagined.

Not surprisingly, economists and policy-makers are now looking for firm proof that the euro zone’s apparent rebound this year is sustainable, as well as noting a variety of potentially destructive economic and political hazards ahead.

There has not been, they say, a specific inflexion point at which it can be said that the euro zone has recovered and is off on a growth tear. Rather it has been a slow simmer.

“The euro zone has been recovering steadily for three years now, helped by monetary policy stimulus, an end to fiscal austerity and a healthier financial sector,” said James McCann, OECD economist at Standard Life Investments.

“(It’s) a steady recovery which has been trundling on.”

The numbers confirm this. The European Commission notes that real GDP in the euro zone has grown for 15 consecutive quarters – a sign of steady improvement.

But putting aside some of the latest data, it has been steady rather than spectacular. Economic growth is still running at only around 1.6 percent annually, and most forecasters – from economists polled by Reuters to the Commission itself, reckon it will be about the same this year.

So the question is whether the recent data has turned this on its head. Even before considering whether Greece’s debt problems will come back to bite the euro zone, there are two main strands: inflation and elections.

OF POLITICS AND INFLATION

While the repetition of positive January and February data in the month ahead – for example, German industrial orders soaring again – would fuel the euro zone takeoff story, inflation may hold the key.

“The risk of disappointment is that higher headline inflation decelerates real income growth and consumption,” said Paul Mortimer-Lee, global head of market economics at BNP Paribas.

The preliminary reading of February euro zone inflation, to be reported on Wednesday, is expected to come in at 2.0 percent year-on-year, rising to the European Central Bank’s target on the back of monetary stimulus and economic growth.

While far from hyper, such a level has not been seen for four years, and there has been a strong inverse path taken between inflation and retail sales over the last five years.

In other words, rising prices can hurt consumer spending, which in turn drives economies.

Unemployment during the financial crisis accounts for some of the dive in retail sales seen on and off since 2008. But joblessness, though improved, is still twice that of, say, the United States.

So if euro zone inflation were to overshoot in the coming year, it may well stifle the very growth that engendered it.

Economists, however, also see a growth killer in the bloc’s politics.

Many have long argued that the euro zone cannot compete as a leading economy without substantial structural reform – particularly in the number two and three economies after Germany.

“It comes down to France and Italy stepping up a gear,” said Florian Hense, European economist at Berenberg private bank.

But it is exactly in those two countries where politics is threatening to delay or derail the type of pro-growth structural reforms advocated by the European Central Bank and many private sector economists.

In Italy, the chances of an election this year have diminished, but the political turmoil surrounding the resignation of prime minister Matteo Renzi is likely to set back major reforms until an election takes place.

It is France, however, that is seen providing the biggest risk. Two of the top three candidates are viewed as economic reformists, but they are up against Marine Le Pen, the far-right National Front candidate whose pledge to put France’s EU membership to a referendum could de-stabilize the region’s economy for years.

Le Pen is not supposed to win, according to polls. But neither was U.S. President Donald Trump or those in Britain wanting to leave the Europe Union.

“If a rising France joins a still strong Germany at the core of Europe, the economic and political outlook for the euro zone as a whole could improve considerably,” Berenberg economists told clients.

“(But) a President Le Pen would spell the end of reform hopes for France and the EU for the next five years.”

Click tmsnrt.rs/2kYYW2A for graphic on Euro zone economy.

(Editing by Mark John)

Warren Buffett rails against fee-hungry Wall Street managers


NEW YORK Billionaire Warren Buffett, whose stock picks over several decades have enriched generations of Berkshire Hathaway Inc (BRKa.N) shareholders, delivered a black eye to the investment industry on Saturday, urging ordinary investors to buy plain-vanilla index funds.

“When trillions of dollars are managed by Wall Streeters charging high fees, it will usually be the managers who reap outsized profits, not the clients,” Buffett said in his annual letter to shareholders.

“Both large and small investors should stick with low-cost index funds,” he added.

Buffett, 86, used his investment savvy to build Berkshire into a powerhouse conglomerate and become the world’s second-richest person. Known to fans as “the Oracle of Omaha,” he estimated that the search for outperformance has caused investors to “waste” more than $100 billion over the past decade.

On Saturday, he called Vanguard Group founder Jack Bogle “a hero” for his early efforts to popularize index funds.

Berkshire itself has done far better, with its stock price gaining 20.8 percent per year since Buffett took over in 1965, dwarfing the Standard Poor’s 500’s .SPX 9.7 percent gain, including dividends.

Yet Buffett said most stock investors are better off with low-cost index funds than paying higher fees to managers who often underperform.

In 2014, Buffett said he plans to put 90 percent of the money he leaves to his wife Astrid when he dies into an SP 500 index fund, and 10 percent in government bonds.

During the financial crisis, Buffett bet a founder of the asset management company Protege Partners LLC $1 million that a Vanguard SP 500 index fund would outperform several groups of hedge funds over years.

The index fund is up 85.4 percent, Buffett said, while the hedge fund groups are up between 2.9 percent and 62.8 percent.

On Saturday, Buffett said he has “no doubt” he will win the bet. He plans to donate the money to Girls Inc of Omaha.

While Buffett said no pension funds or “mega-rich individuals” have taken his advice on index funds and that “human behavior won’t change,” some investors are following his lead.

Despite a roaring stock market in the United States, actively managed mutual funds bled $342 billion last year, their second straight year of outflows.

Passive index funds and exchange-traded funds, meanwhile, attracted nearly $506 billion of new money.

But Tim Armour, CEO of Capital Group Cos, which runs the American Funds and invests $1.4 trillion, said index funds can expose investors to losses when markets turn sour. The funds are one of Berkshire’s biggest investors.

“We don’t dispute the data that has led Mr. Buffett and others to form their views,” Armour said in a statement. “However, a fairly simple fact has gotten lost in the debate. Simply put, not all investment managers are average.”

LITTLE TO SAY ON TRUMP, SUCCESSION

Berkshire on Saturday also said fourth-quarter profit rose 15 percent from a year earlier, as gains from investments and derivatives offset lower profit from the BNSF railroad and other units.

Berkshire also owns dozens of stocks including Apple Inc (AAPL.O), Coca-Cola Co (KO.N), Wells Fargo Co (WFC.N) and the four biggest U.S. airlines, and more than one-fourth of Kraft Heinz Co (KHC.O).

This year’s letter and Berkshire’s annual report gave no clues about who will succeed Buffett as chief executive officer, a question shareholders and Wall Street have speculated about increasingly in recent years.

    But Buffett lavishly praised Berkshire executive Ajit Jain, widely considered a leading CEO candidate, for smoothly running much of the conglomerate’s insurance businesses.

    Jain joined Berkshire in 1986, and Buffett put him in charge of National Indemnity’s small, struggling reinsurance operation.

Since then, Jain has “created tens of billions of value for Berkshire shareholders. If there were ever to be another Ajit and you could swap me for him, don’t hesitate. Make the trade!”

Berkshire, which became one of the top 10 Apple investors in 2016, has gained about $1.6 billion on its Apple investment after shares of the iPhone maker surged.

Berkshire’s airline investments suggest that Buffett has overcome his two-decade aversion to the sector after an unhappy – though, he has said, profitable – investment in US Air Group.

Buffett, a vocal supporter of Hillary Clinton, did not mention U.S. President Donald Trump by name in his letter.

But he did, however, talk up the vibrancy of U.S. society and its inclusion of immigrants, one of the most polarizing issues under the Trump administration. And he said the future of American business and markets is bright.

“One word sums up our country’s achievements: miraculous,” Buffett said.

“From a standing start 240 years ago – a span of time less than triple my days on earth – Americans have combined human ingenuity, a market system, a tide of talented and ambitious immigrants, and the rule of law to deliver abundance beyond any dreams of our forefathers.”

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt and Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Jennifer Ablan and David Gregorio)

Buffett upbeat on American business; Berkshire operating profit down


Warren Buffett on Saturday mounted a forceful and upbeat defense of the prospects for American business, as his Berkshire Hathaway Inc (BRKa.N) reported a higher quarterly profit though operating income fell.

In his annual letter to Berkshire shareholders, Buffett said investors “will almost certainly do well” by staying with the long term with a “collection of large, conservatively financed American businesses.”

Buffett puts Berkshire in that category, using the letter to tout the successes of many of his Omaha, Nebraska-based conglomerate’s more than 90 operating units.

These included businesses such as the BNSF railroad and Geico auto insurance that posted weaker results last quarter.

“American business — and consequently a basket of stocks — is virtually certain to be worth far more in the years ahead,” Buffett wrote. “Ever-present naysayers may prosper by marketing their gloomy forecasts. But heaven help them if they act on the nonsense they peddle.”

For the fourth quarter, Berkshire’s net income rose to $6.29 billion, or $3,823 per Class A share, from $5.48 billion, or $3,333 per share, a year earlier, helped by a $1.1 billion increase in gains from investments and derivatives.

Operating profit fell 6 percent to $4.38 billion, or $2,665 per share, from $4.67 billion, or $2,843 per share.

Analysts on average had forecast operating profit of $2,716.60 per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Book value per Class A share, reflecting assets minus liabilities and which Buffett calls a good measure of Berkshire’s intrinsic worth, rose 11 percent to $172,108.

For all of 2016, profit was virtually unchanged, dropping to $24.07 billion from $24.08 billion.

Operating profit rose just 1 percent to $17.58 billion, despite January’s $32.1 billion purchase of aircraft parts maker Precision Castparts Corp, Berkshire’s largest acquisition.

The company also owns dozens of stocks including Apple Inc (AAPL.O), Coca-Cola Co (KO.N), Wells Fargo Co (WFC.N) and the four biggest U.S. airlines, and more than one-fourth of Kraft Heinz Co (KHC.O).

Buffett said Berkshire still has about $86 billion of cash and equivalents, despite recent heavy spending on Apple and airline stocks.

PRAISE FOR AJIT JAIN

Quarterly profit from insurance operations rose 7 percent to $1.44 billion, as underwriting gains at the Berkshire Hathaway Reinsurance Group more than offset a loss at auto insurer Geico, where claims for losses have been rising.

The reinsurance business is run by Ajit Jain, widely considered a potential successor for Buffett, 86, as Berkshire’s chief executive. Buffett said Jain has created “tens of billions of dollars of value” since joining Berkshire in 1986.

“If there were ever to be another Ajit and you could swap me for him, don’t hesitate,” Buffett wrote. “Make the trade!”

The insurance units ended 2016 with $91.6 billion of float, the amount of premiums held before claims are paid, and which Buffett uses to fund acquisitions and other investments.

That sum now tops $100 billion, likely reflecting a giant transaction last month with the insurer American International Group Inc (AIG.N).

Profit at BNSF, Berkshire’s largest purchase before Precision Castparts, fell 8 percent to $993 million.

The railroad has been stung by falling coal and industrial volumes, and shed 2,000 jobs, or 4.5 percent, last year.

But Buffett said society “will forever need huge investments” in transportation, and BNSF is well-served by a strong balance sheet, recent capital upgrades, and a growing emphasis on clean technology.

“Charlie and I love our railroad, which was one of our best purchases,” Buffett said, referring to longtime Berkshire Vice Chairman Charlie Munger.

Berkshire Hathaway Energy, another major business, posted a 2 percent increase in profit, to $432 million.

In Friday trading, Berkshire’s Class A shares closed at $255,040, and its Class B shares closed at $170.22. Both were record closing highs.

The shares outperformed the Standard Poor’s 500 stock index including dividends by 11.4 percentage points in 2016, after lagging by 13.9 percentage points in 2015.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by David Gregorio)