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    Published on: July 30, 2010

    There are two interesting stories this morning that revolve around the subject of retirement, albeit from very different angles.

    Story number one...

    Not that long ago, the British Parliament voted to end the use of paper checks in the UK in September 2018 - a move that while not without some controversy, seemed to be that are thing - a governmental body actually acknowledging and dealing with a specific reality. (In this case, it was the fact that paper checks are used less frequently than ever while be increasingly inefficient. Banning them eight years hence seemed to be a good way to eliminate the inefficiency while giving the population plenty of time to adjust to the change.)

    Well, maybe there’s something in the London water...because Parliament may be doing something smart yet again.

    It is being reported this morning that the British government is considering the elimination of a rule that allows companies to impose a mandated retirement age of 65 without giving reasons or providing severance.

    According to the New York Times, “the change is intended to help Britain reduce its pension burden as people live longer, and to allow people to keep working if they want to for financial or social reasons ... The proposed change received mixed reactions from charities, workers’ representatives and industry groups. Some applauded the proposed change as a leap forward against age discrimination and for greater freedom for older workers. Others said it would complicate long-term planning for employers and did not give companies enough time to prepare for the changes that would take effect in October 2011.”

    Story number two...

    New research conducted by Ipsos finds that in the US, younger adults, aged 25-34, are concerned about having enough money to see them through retirement. According to the statement by Ipsos, “With an expectation that they will be retired for 23 years on average, four in ten young adults (37%) think it is unlikely that they will even be able to cover basic monthly expenses throughout retirement. Additionally, just one quarter (26%) feels that they have enough information and resources to help them plan for retirement.”

    What these two stories point to, I think, is a changing attitude toward retirement. They offer tacit acknowledgment that for a variety of reasons, many baby boomers are not prepared to go off into that good night. In some cases, it is because our retirement funds are not what they used to be. In others, it is because we still feel vibrant and useful and capable of great contributions. We want options, not mandates. We want second and third careers, not the assisted living facility. We want to be as independent in our so-called golden years as we have been in middle age. Why not? We assume it is our birthright.

    Eliminating a mandatory retirement age - or raising the retirement age from 65 to 70, which is one of the things often discussed here in the US - are important steps in eliminating a kind of ageism. (The US problem, of course, is a little different. Raising the retirement age to 70 would take some pressure off the Social Security system. But it also would acknowledge a social reality - we’re living longer, and remain capable and active longer.) Changing our attitudes toward retirement also is important because it allows organizations - if they are smart - to take advantage of the institutional memories that exist in older employees.

    Businesses with open and nurturing cultures will understand that older workers understand context, know what worked and what did not in the past, and know where all the bodies are buried. They can be a wonderful asset, and should not be seen as liabilities.

    Of course, I probably am more passionate about this stuff now than I would have been in the past, since it recently occurred to me that I’m closer to my 60th birthday than my 50th. I don’t feel that way...and plan to keep on kickin’ until I drop.

    I think a lot of boomers feel the same way.

    That’s my Friday morning eye-opener.

    - Kevin Coupe
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 30, 2010

    The Palm Beach Post has a piece about Winn-Dixie, offering as less-than-rosy appraisal of the company’s prospects in the face of this week’s announcement that it plans to close 30 underperforming stores, many of them in lower income neighborhoods, that had not been remodeled in the years since the retailer emerged from bankruptcy in 2006.

    The message of the story is that many shoppers find Winn-Dixie’s stores to be underwhelming, its people to be indifferent, and its ability to compete with the likes of Publix and Walmart perhaps fatally compromised by the financial constraints it has faced. Not all shoppers, to be sure. But enough so that the Post paints a picture of a retailer that may not be viable in the longterm.
    KC's View:
    It always has been my view that if you believe the good stuff that people write about you, then you also have to believe the bad stuff. So it is important to maintain some level of perspective about this kind of criticism.

    That said, Winn-Dixie management cannot be happy about such a story, because it adds to the perception that it remains a troubled company with limited prospects.

    Published on: July 30, 2010

    HealthDay News reports that that “more than 100 reports of potentially hazardous food products were filed with the U.S. government's food safety Web site in its first seven months of operation, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday ... Of the 125 initial reports, 37 percent were for Salmonella contamination, 25 percent were for suspected allergens, and 13 percent were for products contaminated with the bacteria Listeria, the FDA said.”

    The story explains that “the Reportable Food Registry requires manufacturers, processors, packers and distributors to immediately report safety problems with food, animal feed and pet food that are likely to cause serious health problems. The registry was mandated by Congress in 2007, following a series of high-profile outbreaks of food-borne illnesses across the country.”
    KC's View:
    The good news is that the system seems to be working. The bad news is that there were 125 reports in seven months. But better to know about them than not. That’s the cost of transparency.

    Published on: July 30, 2010

    The Palm Beach Post reports that “a Wal-Mart spokesman said Thursday that the discount giant is closing fresh seafood counters at some but not all of its Florida superstores but that it continues to sell seafood at all of its stores ... The decision to close seafood counters in some stores was based on consumer demand in individual stores and is part of a process Wal-Mart conducts with all products in determining the best use of space.”

    The company said that the move had nothing to do with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

    However, the Post notes that “Bob Jones, executive director of the Southeastern Fisheries Association, acknowledged that higher prices for Gulf seafood and a drop in demand for the products since the massive oil leak began three months ago could explain Wal-Mart's decision.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 30, 2010

    The Nielsen Company is out with its projections about sales for the upcoming Back-to-School season, and suggests that the fact that “consumer spending is stuck in neutral” is likely to weigh down the money that parents spend on their kids this fall, even though this period is seen as required rather than discretionary spending.

    “Kids need back to school supplies as they start the school year,” says James Russo, vice president, Global Consumer Insights, The Nielsen Company. “That said, we see an extremely modest sales increase for this year’s Back to School season. While more U.S. consumers feel the country is coming out of the recession, they still feel the weight of a stubbornly weak labor market. Look for consumers to spend their money carefully and focus on purchasing the essentials.”

    Russo also says that Back to School prices are up this year. “With consumers applying more pressure for lower prices and promotions on basic consumable items, retailers are looking to make up margins in seasonal categories. Those retailers offering strong discounts and appealing to consumers’ desire for savings and value will be this year’s Back to School winners.” Among the venues expected to see gains - supercenters and dollar stores, which are perceived as having sharper prices.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 30, 2010

    Crain’s Chicago Business reports on the moves being made by Chicago-based Argo Tea to move beyond its Windy City roots. The company, backed by some heavy hitter investment money, plans to open its fourth New York City store today, and founder Arsen Avakian has some aggressive ambitions: He says he wants to make make Argo the Apple to Starbucks' Microsoft.

    “I want to build the Apple of tea, and really create a premier global brand,” Avakian tells Crain’s. “We have really reached a growth tipping point for us and are ready to take growth to the next level.”

    The challenge is not a small one. As Crain’s notes, “The U.S. tea market grew 3% last year to $7.3 billion, according to the Tea Assn. of the USA Inc. in New York. That's a fraction of the $40-billion coffee market.” And Argo remains a small player - it has just 18 stores, generating about $10 million in annual sales.
    KC's View:
    Just as a matter of full disclosure, until recently one of my sons was a barista with Argo in Chicago. And from my limited experience, the product is pretty good.

    But I won’t be giving up my coffee anytime soon.

    Published on: July 30, 2010

    USA Today carries an Associated Press story about the travails of Chris Botticella, a former Bimbo Bakeries employee who has been barred by the courts from starting a new job with rival Hostess Bakeries.

    The reason? Bimbo says that “Botticella is one of just seven people worldwide who know the recipe and manufacturing process that give Thomas' English muffins their trademark ‘nooks and crannies’.” Bimbo owns Thomas’ English Muffins, and wants to protect its trade secrets.

    At issue is the allegation by Bimbo that after accepting the Hostess job, Botticella accessed proprietary information in the company’s computer network. To this point, the courts have agreed that Bimbo has reason to be concerned, and they have agreed to temporarily prevent Botticella from taking the new job.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 30, 2010

    • Ahold-owned Stop & Shop announced that it has completed the installation of solar panels on eight of its stores in Mass., Conn. and N.J. The solar panels will reduce the amount of energy consumed by these stores by more than seven percent. The completion of this project marks an extension of the company's commitment to reduce its carbon footprint by 20 percent by 2015 using 2008 as a baseline.

    • The Los Angeles Times reports that a new survey by Discover Financial Services suggests that 45 percent of small business owners said that “economic conditions for their businesses had worsened over the last month ... a slight increase from June, when 43% said conditions had worsened.” In addition, it showed that “73% of small business owners are taking home less pay than they did previously. That's an increase over June, when 69% said they were paying themselves less.”

    • The New York Times reports this morning that the European Commission has “approved six genetically modified corn varieties for import to the bloc, another sign of its desire to speed decision-making on the controversial technology.

    “The commission, the executive arm of the European Union, granted the approvals unilaterally after E.U. farm ministers failed to reach a decision on the applications in June. The approvals, which are valid for 10 years, cover imports for food and animal feed, not for cultivation ... The decisions open the way for fresh imports of the approved corn varieties from countries like the United States, Brazil and Argentina.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 30, 2010

    ...will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 30, 2010

    I am really, really annoyed at Mrs. Content Guy. And this might be the thing that breaks us up after more than 27 years of marriage.

    I’ve been traveling a lot, and so I don’t collect the mail each day. Which means that she does, and seems to have misplaced our invitation to Chelsea Clinton’s wedding. I’ve searched everywhere, and it is nowhere to be found.


    To be honest, my understanding of the financial markets is more than limited. I never thought I’d ever read a book that discussed, in detail, things like “tripe-B-rated subprime mortgage bonds” and “credit default swaps.” But I did, and loved it. “The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine” is a wonderful book by Michael Lewis, who brings the same irreverent, perceptive sensibility to the world of finance that he did to baseball in “Moneyball.”

    One of the keys to “The Big Short” is that while Lewis describes and defines the technicalities of the markets in great detail, he never lets the narrative bog down, but rather keeps things moving by focusing largely on a series of outsized personalities who had their own unique reads on what was happening in the banks and on Wall Street.

    In a lot of ways, “The Big Short” is enormously scary, and not just because Lewis describes a system run amok, in which an amazingly large number of powerful and rich people in high profile positions had absolutely no sense of what they were selling or what the long-term implications might be for the economy. It’s also because even now, as the country struggles to regain its economic footing, Lewis seems not entirely sure that things are much better, that the woods are filled with people looking for the next loophole, the next opportunity to be exploited, no matter what the cost.

    “The Big Short” is a terrific read. Pick it up.

    Thanks to the dozens of you who offered suggestions about which wineries to visit in Napa. I’m going up there later today, and while I cannot possibly visit all of them, I’m going to hit a few...and now have a wonderful “wish list” to work from in the future. Couldn’t do it without you.

    On Sunday, I’ll be heading home from San Francisco. This is my second business trip here in 10 days.   Been a long few weeks...Australia, London, Ireland, South Carolina, San Francisco. (Of course, it hasn’t been all work, and there’s been no heavy lifting...witness my Napa trip later today.)

    I was in the Public House, a cool sports bar adjacent to AT&T Park here, one afternoon late last week, enjoying a bit of adult refreshment. I was talking to a lawyer who was doing the same, and he mentioned he'd just come from his office, and I asked him why he was working in his office on a Saturday afternoon.  He looked at me (strangely) and said, "Today is Friday."

    Oops.  Maybe I need a break...

    I may not have known what day it was, but I know what beers I was drinking.

    Boylan’s Irish Red Ale, from a brewery in Novato, California.

    Marin Brewing Tiburon Blonde, from Larkspur, California.

    And of course, because I respect certain traditions, Anchor Steam, from San Francisco.

    All were wonderful, and excellent examples of the innovations available from America’s craft brewers. They may not make nearly as much beer as the global behemoths that dominate the brewing business, but they continue to thrive and to make interesting and refreshing products.

    In the beer business, independents ... and independence ... thrive.

    That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.

    Fins Up!

    KC's View: