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| November 21, 2019

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See If Your Sears Is On Newest Closure List

November 8, 2019 |

If Sears and Kmart stores were animals, they would have just shifted a little higher up the endangered list. Transformco, the company that took ownership of the chains after Sears declared bankruptcy last year, announced Thursday that 96 more stores—51 Sears locations and 45 Kmart stores—will be closed…

Upgrade, the newest company by Renaud Laplanche, has a new credit card that it swears is good for you

October 11, 2019 |

Three years ago, the founder of LendingClub, Renaud Laplanche, took the wraps off his second act, a consumer lending venture called Upgrade that now employs 350 people, has lent roughly $ 2 billion to 200,000 people, and has raised $ 142 million from outside investors.

At the time, it was jumping into a crowded market that has only become more frenzied, with a growing number of fintech startups that market themselves as more thoughtful alternatives to established banks and traditional credit card companies. While giants like Visa and MasterCard charge interest and late fees for overdue payments, for example, the Swedish unicorn company Klarna —  which allows shoppers to buy now and pay later — makes money through retailer transaction fees and late fees but doesn’t charge interest fees. Similarly, Max Levchin’s lending company, Affirm, doesn’t charge late fees when its customers rack up big charges but it does charge interest rates — sometimes as high as 30 percent.

Upgrade is slightly different in that that it doesn’t invite customers to defer their payments when they buy something using dollars from Upgrade. But it still largely fits into the same mold in that it markets itself as better for lending customers and more mindful of them. Its flagship personal loans product, for example, is largely used by customers to pay off credit cards and it features credit health tools that ostensibly teach people how to improve their credit scores.

It also charges up to 35.89% interest annually.

A brand-new credit product — the Upgrade Card — takes things even further on the feel-good front. As Laplanche explains it, the card “basically combines the payments capabilities of a credit card with the low cost of a bank loan into one single product.”

Adds Laplanche of this hybrid creation: “Lending Club created a $ 100 billion industry with personal loans 12 years ago; I think this is 10 times bigger — and 10 times cheaper for consumers.

We’re inherently skeptical of most lending products being good — or “cheap” — for customers. But here’s how it works: instead of asking a cardholder to pay a minimum amount each month from the balance they owe on their card, Upgrade breaks down the balance into an installment plan with equal monthly payments — plus an interest payment — that can be completed in a year to three years’ time.

“It’s like a mortgage or a car loan with a clear payment schedule,” says Laplanche. “You can budget for it and it sort of forces you to pay down the balance over a reasonable period,” unlike credit cards where customers can run a balance for as long as they like —  which can wind up costing them an arm and a leg in interest payments alone over time.

There is no prepayment penalty and the card replenishes as it is paid off. More, unlike many credit cards that reward users for spending with cash back and other perks, Upgrade customers receive 1% cash back each time they make a payment toward their balance.

Still, there is an annual percentage rate as with most credit cards, and it’s not much kinder than other alternatives, with a span of 6.49% to upwards of 29.99%.

Laplanche further concedes that, as with any lending product, customers who miss payments or start with a lower credit score are more likely to confront a higher interest rate than someone who is able to pay off their card as they use it.

Upgrade partnered with Cross River Bank on its new offering. The 11-year-old, Fort Lee, N.J.-based institution has itself raised at least $ 128 million over the years, including via a $ 100 million round led by KKR that closed late last year and a $ 28 million round put together in 2016 with funding from Battery Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz, and Ribbit Capital, among others. In fact, Cross River has become the go-to institution for a lot of fintech startups, including Affirm, Transferwise, and Coinbase — startups that want to stay compliant with consumer protection regulations and that might have wanted to steer clear of large banks, especially when starting out.

Upgrade, which closed its last round, is probably due for a new funding round itself, having closed its $ 62 million Series C round in August of last year. Asked about this, however, Laplanche says only that, “We’re good.”

In the meantime, it’s planning ahead with the resources it has. Beyond the Upgrade Card, the San Francisco-based company expects to introduce a savings account in the first quarter of next year, a move similar to that which Robinhood announced earlier this week when it unveiled a high-yield cash management account.

It makes sense. If the economy turns — and it seems likely given the ongoing spat between China and the U.S., not to mention other unanswered questions — consumers are likely to look increasingly for safe havens like savings and cash management accounts.

Whether the moves are enough to insulate Upgrade (or these other fintech startups) in a serious downturn remains to be seen. But Laplanche has weathered worse before.

Though LendingClub was among the first peer-to-peer lenders and enjoyed a splashy debut on the public market in the summer of 2014, by the spring of 2016, Laplanche was asked to resign and was soon after charged by the SEC with fraudulently inflating the company’s returns.

He settled with the agency last year without admitting wrongdoing. He also paid a fine and agreed to be barred from the securities industry for three years.


Porsche packs the power into its newest Cayenne plug-in hybrids

August 13, 2019 |

Porsche is upping its plug-in hybrid game with several new vehicles added to its lineup, including a power-packing 2020 Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid.

The plug-in version of this flagship SUV combines a 14.1-kilowatt-hour battery and 134-horsepower electric motor with a 4.0-liter twin turbocharged V8 engine found in the traditional gas-powered Cayenne Turbo. The electric motor is located between the V8 engine and its standard eight-speed transmission.

The upshot is a 670-horsepower plug-in beast that produces 663 pound-feet of torque and can travel from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 3.6 seconds. Not bad for an SUV.

But it’s not all about power. Porsche also increased the energy capacity of its battery, 30% more than the one used in previous generation plug-in hybrid Cayenne models. EPA fuel economy figures have not been released yet, but if it’s like other Porsche plug-in hybrids, the range will be somewhere around 20 or so miles.

The automaker has a number of nifty standard items in the Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid (and two new plug-in variants of the Cayenne Coupé), including a 7.2 kW onboard charger and 21-inch AeroDesign Wheels. The upgraded charger enables a complete recharge of the battery in as little as 2.4 hours when using a 240-volt connection with a 50-amp circuit, according to Porsche.

The plug-in versions of Cayenne Turbo and the Cayenne Turbo Coupé also comes standard with Porsche’s ceramic composite brakes, dynamic chassis control and other bonuses like 18-way adaptive sports seats.

All of this has a price, of course. The base price of the 2020 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid is $ 161,900.

porsche cayenne plgu in

2020 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid

Porsche also took the wraps off of two other plug-in variants of its new Cayenne Coupé, a smaller, flashier version of the Cayenne. Both Cayenne Coupé variants feature a fixed spoiler above the rear window with a new adaptive rear spoiler below it that’s designed to enhance aerodynamic stability.

The Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid Coupé has a base price of pricier $ 164,400, slightly more expensive than its Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid counterpart due to a few additional extras such as 20-inch alloy wheels and a glass panoramic roof.

But the two high-end vehicles share many of the same standard items and stats. Both vehicles can travel from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 3.6 seconds and reach a top speed of 183 miles per hour, which is electronically limited.

Porsche also unveiled a less powerful and cheaper 455-horsepower Cayenne E-Hybrid Coupé that has a V6 engine and a base price of $ 86,400. This coupé version, which has the same powertrain as the Cayenne E-Hybrid, has a top speed of 157 mph and can travel from 0 to 60 in 4.7 seconds.


Newest Reported Launches by N. Korea a ‘Warning’ to US

August 7, 2019 |

North Korea said Wednesday leader Kim Jong Un supervised a live-fire demonstration of newly developed short-range ballistic missiles meant to send a warning to the US and South Korea over their joint military exercises. KCNA said two missiles launched from a western airfield flew across the country and over the…

Newest School Requirement Is a Motto at Least 12 Inches High

July 28, 2019 |

South Dakota students will return to “In God We Trust” displayed in their schools—”in a prominent location,” at least 12 inches by 12 inches. A new state law requires that the motto be in place for the first day of school. “Some have plaques, others have it painted on…

Astronauts’ Newest Health Concern: Herpes

March 19, 2019 |

Astronauts who “boldly go where no man has gone before,” as William Shatner’s Captain Kirk once put it , likely anticipate their body will undergo certain changes while in space. But how many have guessed they might see a herpes flare-up? New research from NASA shows that the more time space…

Newest 2020 Candidate Made His Fortune in Craft Beer

March 4, 2019 |

Every new week seems to bring a new Democratic candidate into the 2020 race, and Monday’s entrant is John Hickenlooper. The former governor of Colorado, 67, served two terms, the last ending in January. He also served as mayor of Denver. He eschews attack ads and is seen as a…

One of the World’s Newest Islands Has a Mystery

February 7, 2019 |

An underwater volcano burped up a land mass near Tonga about four years ago, and NASA researchers who visited the new island for the first time got a surprise. The South Pacific island informally called Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai has “very sticky” clay mud, says scientist Dan Slayback in a NASA…

What you need to know about Clean Power Alliance, SoCal’s newest electric company

February 3, 2019 |

Southern California Edison has been the region’s dominant electric utility for more than a century. But for nearly 1 million homes across the Southland, the days of Edison’s monopoly are ending.

Clean Power Alliance is becoming the default energy provider this month for residents of 29 cities,…

L.A. Times – Business

The Navy’s newest destroyer, the Michael Monsoor, is as much an experiment as a ship-killer

January 26, 2019 |

With slick sides and sharp angles, the Michael Monsoor and its sister ship Zumwalt cut a distinct silhouette along the waters of San Diego.

Unlike a nearby aircraft carrier whose radar juts into the air, the Monsoor’s composite material deckhouse is polygonal and covered with material that can…

L.A. Times – Business