TIME

Goldman Paying $3.15B Over US Mortgage Bond Claims

(WASHINGTON) — Goldman Sachs has agreed to pay $3.15 billion to resolve claims that it misled U.S. mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac about risky mortgage securities it sold them before the housing market collapsed in 2007.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Fannie and Freddie, announced the settlement Friday with the Wall Street powerhouse.

New York-based Goldman Sachs sold the securities to the companies between 2005 and 2007.

“We are pleased to have resolved these matters,” said Goldman Sachs Group Inc. general counsel executive Gregory Palm in a statement.

The settlement is the latest federal government settlement over actions related to the financial crisis that struck in 2008. The crisis, triggered by vast sales of risky mortgage securities, plunged the economy into the deepest recession since the 1930s.

TIME

This Startup Thinks Pictures of Onions Can Reveal Changes in the Economy

Fruit and vegetables are common items photographed with the Premise app to help measure inflation

Correction appended, August 25

It’s probably every teenager’s dream to get paid for snapping iPhone pictures. Instead of selfies, though, David Soloff is seeking pictures of fruit carts, health clinics and remotely located schools. His startup is hoping to leverage the vast proliferation of smartphones—and our insatiable desire to take photos with them—in order to bring real-time economic data to the masses.

The new company, called Premise, tracks economic indicators by enlisting armies of local residents to record data about their communities, like the price of oranges at a local market or the physical condition of a local health clinic, via an Android app. Premise pays the photo-takers up to 15 cents for each “observation,” which can be a picture or other data point. The company aggregates all the individual observations to derive broader insights about inflation and consumption shifts in different countries, then sells the data to financial institutions.

Premise’s aim is to provide important economic metrics faster than government agencies, which often only release data in weekly or monthly intervals. The company is currently gathering data in 50 cities across four continents, including locations in Argentina, China and the United States.

“What people experience in their day-to-day lives is frequently really, really different from what the official government or news bureau or stats-gathering agencies tell them about their lives,” says Soloff, Premise’s CEO. “By the time those official numbers come out, the world’s probably changed a lot.”

Soloff points to countries like Argentina — where Premise and a variety of economists have projected inflation to be increasing much faster than the government says it is — as an example of a place where private data sources can be more reliable than official figures. In other countries, such as India, where onion prices leapt 190% in 2013, food prices are incredibly volatile and government-released figures can’t keep up with the rapid changes.

“Almost certainly, in a lot of countries, the government is lying about price changes,” says Gary Burtless, an economist at the Brookings Institution. “It would be useful to know, to ordinary people and to businesses, what the real inflation is.”

How does Premise ensure that its figures are accurate? To devise its economic models, the company has brought on advisors whom Soloff calls the “adult supervision.” Among them are Hal Varian, Google’s chief economist and Alan Krueger, the former chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers. To guarantee that data are collected accurately on the ground, Premise vets local residents by giving them test assignments, then evaluating their performance before committing their observations to the official dataset. The company recruits new workers via social media, online job boards and college campuses.

“It’s not an open cast call,” Soloff says. “These are students or people on the way to jobs or people who are doing the weekly shopping for their families at the market.”

0_Task lists
The Premise app assigns users tasks to complete in order to feed the company’s massive data set.

So far, Bloomberg and Standard Charter Bank have signed on to receive Premise’s data, in addition to other financial institutions that Soloff declined to disclose. The company is currently unprofitable, but it has raised $16.5 million in venture funding from bigtime backers like Google Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz.

Soloff isn’t the most likely man to head a high-tech San Francisco data firm. He studied Near Eastern linguistics as an undergrad at Columbia University and has a master’s in history from the University of California, Berkeley. But Soloff believes his humanities background gives him an edge in Silicon Valley.

“I’ve always been interested in systems, how things work,” he says. “Language systems, social systems, financial markets have always fascinated me.”

It also helps that Soloff had a two-year stint as a quantitative analyst at a Wall Street investment bank and co-founded Metamarkets, an analytics tool used for programmatic online advertising.

Soloff’s long-term goal is to expand the scope of Premise into a real-time financial pulse that can provide immediate economic data to not only wealthy investment institutions but also regular citizens. Other platforms have similar aims — the Billion Prices Project, started by a pair of MIT professors, gathers online price listings from more than 70 countries to predict inflation trends from around the world. Such initiatives “have a real value to consumers and businesses,” the Brookings Institution’s Burtless says.

But the devil is in the data, of course. Some economists question whether locally recruited residents can reliably document data for an entire community or country.

“Surveys are of no value unless we can be assured by some means that they are representative of the underlying population,” Barry Bosworth, another economist at the Brookings Institution, said in an email. “The survey will reflect all the biases of the reporter who decides what prices to report. We may use the Internet more in the future to collect data but it will have to be used with some structure to assure that the individual quotes are representative of an even larger underlying population.”

Premise spokesperson Sara Blask said in an email that the company’s contributors capture observations at predetermined locations and intervals to assure that the sample is indeed accurate. “In this sense we are the opposite of crowdsourcing,” she said.

Premise’s dataset should grow more robust and useful as it racks up more observations.

In five years’ time, Soloff envisions millions of people around the world submitting photos and other information to Premise. He believes such a cascade of data could help keep governments more honest in the future. “Rather than relying on the official story, so to speak, [people] have an alternative read that’s generated by the citizens just like them,” he says. “We don’t need to tell them what’s happening—it’s the opposite.”

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the number of locations where Premise has launched. The company is collecting data in 50 cities.

TIME Rumors

Don’t Count the iPhone 6’s September 9 Debut Out Yet

The new iPhone line reportedly had a backlight engineering problem that goofed up the assembly process earlier this summer.

Reuters is reporting that Apple may be having difficulty prepping a sufficient number of screens for the next iPhone. Apple is expected to unveil the new line at media event on September 9. The problem, says Reuters, involves a “key” component that’s disrupting the production of the line’s new screens, rumored to be larger than the iPhone 5’s current four inches, and possibly come in two sizes.

More specifically, Reuters’s supply chain sources say the problem is with the backlight configuration in the new phones. Apple wanted to reduce the material used for the backlight from two layers to one in hopes of thinning the phones, says Reuters. But without that second layer, the phones apparently weren’t bright enough, which forced the parts back to engineering and held up the assembly process earlier this summer. That’s now impacting the number of screens Apple’s been able to produce in the ramp up to the unveiling, according to Reuters’ sources.

How many phones amounts to a sufficient number at launch anyway? I have no idea, nor does Reuters, but the news site defangs the issue somewhat by pointing out that its sources indicated the “hiccup” may or may not make it harder for you to get one of the new phones at launch or delay the phones outright. Thus we’re left to mull the possibility that there could be a launch availability problem, but with absolutely no idea of its magnitude, on a scale that runs from “catastrophic” to “irrelevant.”

Short of actually delaying the debut, which seems unlikely at this point–rumors of a September 9 event bubbled up just a few weeks ago, well after the June/July timeframe referred to in the Reuters piece–it’s unlikely we’ll know whether this story impacted the phones’ arrival. Availability issues have been a major part of every new iPhone launch, and a certain amount of scarcity–so long as Apple’s able to ramp up production to meet or surpass its fiscal projections in the long run–isn’t the worst problem to have. Sony’s PlayStation 4, for instance, which Sony claims was plagued by supply issues from launch, has gone on to sell 10 million units worldwide, a record-breaking figure even Sony can’t explain.

TIME Companies

Here’s How Much Banks Have Paid Out Since the Financial Crisis

Bank of America's new settlement with the Justice Department is among the largest

The Bank of America deal announced Thursday, the government’s largest-ever settlement with a single company, means the nation’s second-biggest bank will shell out $16.65 billion over allegations that it knowingly sold toxic mortgages to investors.

The landmark agreement is a win for the government—particularly the Department of Justice, which spearheaded the probe—after drawing criticism for its sometimes weak response to the financial crisis in 2008. The sum surpasses Bank of America’s entire profits last year and is significantly higher than the $13 billion it offered during negotiations in July.

But the deal also caps a string of settlements that the Justice Department and other regulators have imposed on banks in the wake of the recession. Since the crisis, the six largest banks by assets have paid more than $123.5 billion in settlements over faulty mortgages, according to previous data from SNL Financial and incorporating the latest settlement. Authorities have forced the banks to pay the majority of that amount, and more deals are likely: Goldman Sachs and Wells Fargo are both reportedly on deck.

Here are seven of the largest government settlements:

$25 Billion
Wells Fargo, J.P. Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America, Ally Financial
February 2012

In what President Barack Obama called a “landmark” settlement, five of the nation’s largest banks agreed to a $25 billion settlement with 49 states and the feds to end an investigation into faulty foreclosure practices (Oklahoma reached a separate deal). Most funds were directed toward mortgage relief.

$16.65 Billion
Bank of America
August 2014

The settlement announced on Aug. 21 includes $7 billion for consumer relief, such as mortgage modification and forgiveness, and $9.65 billion in cash. But the deal doesn’t absolve the Charlotte-based bank of future criminal claims or claims by individuals.Bank of America has paid more than $60 billion in losses and legal settlements spawning from troubled mortgages—the most of any bank.

$13 Billion
J.P. Morgan Chase
November 2013

The largest U.S. lender agreed to what was then a record-setting settlement with the Justice Department over its role in the sale of the mortgages. “JPMorgan was not the only financial institution during this period to knowingly bundle toxic loans and sell them to unsuspecting investors, but that is no excuse for the firm’s behavior,” Holder said at the time.

$11.6 billion
Bank of America
January 2013

The bank, which acquired the mortgage lender Countrywide Financial in 2008, agreed to a $11.6 billion settlement over claims that it and Countrywide improperly sold mortgages to Fannie Mae.

$9.5 billion
Bank of America
March 2014

Ahead of the Justice Department settlement, Bank of America agreed to pay $9.3 billion to settle additional allegations that it sold faulty mortgages to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

$9.3 Billion
Thirteen Banks
February 2013

Federal regulators finalized a deal with thirteen lenders — including the three largest — for faulty processing of foreclosures. The sum allowed for borrowers who went through foreclosure to access up to $125,000.

$7 Billion
Citigroup
July 2014

Citigroup, the third-largest bank, and the Justice Department announced the deal in July amid allegations that the company misled investors about the mortgage-backed securities. The settlement, which included about $2.5 billion for consumer relief, surprised some analysts by its size, but was a harbinger of what was in store for Bank of America in the coming weeks.

TIME

This Berry Is Causing A Super-Food War Between America and Canada

A fruit picker holds a quart basket of Saskatoon berries at G&S Orchards in Walworth, N.Y. on June 26, 2013 .
A fruit picker holds a quart basket of Saskatoon berries at G&S Orchards in Walworth, N.Y. on June 26, 2013 . Jim Ochterski—AP

Americans haven't warmed to the name. How about "juneberry" instead?

“One berry, two berry, pick me a…Saskatoon berry?!” The name of this little-known purple fruit doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. No marketer’s dream here. And now some Canadians who have long cultivated the tiny super-food are crying foul over a quiet U.S.-led push to re-brand it: from saskatoon to juneberry. And there’s no truce in sight.

Thanks to its powerful anti-oxidant properties and to the entrepreneurial efforts of a handful of commercial growers, this under-the-radar berry has garnered a new wave of interest in parts of the U.S. Some think this delicious fruit–it tastes like a mixture of cherries, almonds and grapes– could be on its way to hit the super-fruit jackpot, a market whose juice segment alone will be worth $10 billion by 2017, predicts research firm Euromonitor International.

If only Americans could pronounce its name. Or spell it. (Canadians, of course, have no diction problems since the name is derived from the city in the Saskatchewan province, Saskatoon.)

Jim Fang, saskatoon berry expert and professor—he fittingly hails from the University of Saskatchewan—is in the midst of establishing the fruit’s precise health effects, which compare to those of the blueberry, the superfruit darling of the past. His prediction: “The saskatoon berry will be offered as an alternative to the blueberry.” The two fruits even look alike.

But Canadian cultivators are a few steps ahead of their southern counterparts: Growers there scooped up 575 tons of the berry last year — dwarfing the United States’ production which is estimated at four tons — and have just begun a promising harvest that will span August.

And the fruit is so popular in Canada it has even shaped the country’s geography. Stroll the streets of Saskatoon, population 200,000, and you’ll run into a 4-meter tall bronze sculpture capturing the city’s berry-driven founding myth. It depicts a Native American chief pointing to the town’s future location while an explorer to his side dubs it the saskatoon, named after the berry long-known by the indigenous population. Canadians kept the moniker.

Yet, many Americans haven’t taken to the name. Maybe because we’re still grappling with the acai berry pronunciation.

“There are certain things that Canadians and Americans do differently and names on things happen to be one of those,” says Jim Ochterski, agriculture issues leader at Cornell University’s Cooperative Extension. The institution has championed the berry stateside by introducing it to cultivators. “We decided to predominantly call them juneberries.”

When a berry is in a pickle

Some Canadians are offended by the name change — to the extent Canadians can get offended.

Sandra Purdy, president of the Saskatoon Berry Council of Canada, the trade group representing the industry, is the de facto saskatoon berry queen of Canada. At a time when funding was flowing to Silicon Valley tech start-ups, she pitched the project of building a saskatoon business empire on the television show “Dragon’s Den,” the Canadian equivalent of “The Apprentice.” An equity firm eventually took the bait and Purdy’s company, Prairie Berries, has grown into one of the largest saskatoon berry producers in Canada.

Purdy says she felt “slighted” when, earlier this summer, she received an email from Cornell’s Cooperative Extension suggesting that Canadian growers use juneberry instead of saskatoon berry “to help overall marketing of the berry.”

“That won’t happen,” she said, “Especially given that they got those plants from Saskatchewan and our Canadian-grown berries.”

The berry is such a source of pride in Canada that it drives a few thousand enthusiasts each year to gather in the town of Mortlach, Saskatchewan, for the Saskatoon Berry Festival — a get together that centers around gobbling the berry in large quantities. (A recent slogan of the gathering: “2,500 people with purple teeth can’t be wrong…”)

One berry, two countries

Still, Americans are indebted to Canadians when it comes to this tongue-tying fruit.

When Cornell Cooperative Extension began growing juneberry in 2010, it brought in its plants from Canada, where a domesticated cultivar grows more berries per bush than any of its cousins across North America.

But Ochterski and his group from Cornell Cooperative Extension followed the money trail. When their market research revealed that Canada’s saskatoon berries seduced the palate of U.S. consumers, but the name didn’t resonate nearly as well as ‘juneberry’ did, which is what the variety found in the Northeast is called, they switched.

“It’s not the Canadian name but it’s the name that seems to sell,” says Ochterski.

It’s not a unanimous stance, however. “I just think ‘saskatoon’ has a sexier name to it than a ‘juneberry,’” says Steve Fouch, one of the founders of a group of growers in Michigan assembled under the Saskatoon Berry Institute of North America.

True to their reputation, Canadians have striven for a compromise. The packages of frozen berries Purdy exports to the U.S. were originally only labeled as ‘saskatoon berries.’ Prairie Berries now offers to its U.S. customers adding, ‘aka june berry’ – but “only… if the customer we are selling to specifically requests us to label it as such,” said Purdy.

Upon hearing about the disagreement, Faye Campbell, the village administrator in Mortlach, Canada where the Saskatoon Berry Festival took place earlier this month, attempts to reach a middle ground. “I guess we might have to change the name of the festival?” she said. “Or not?”

TIME Map

This Map Shows When 2 People Play the Same Song at the Same Time

Spotify Serendipity

Created by the company's first media artist in residence

The music-streaming service Spotify unveiled an online map called “Serendipity” on Thursday that shows when people in different cities are listening to the same song at the exact same time — or at least within a tenth of a second of each other — regardless of the city, timezone or hemisphere.

The project, based on real-time data, was created by interactive artist Kyle McDonald, the company’s first media artist in residence.

“There are so many ways we’re connected to each other, but sometimes we forget, or we just can’t see it,” McDonald said on Spotify’s blog. “In person, it’s easy to see the features we share, or when we share stories in online discussions. But we’re also connected in more ephemeral ways, and we can extract these relationships with new tools. Even though listening to music can be a very private experience, I wanted to see how often this experience is shared.”

Check out Serendipity here.

TIME

Family Dollar Rejects Dollar General Offer

Family Dollar has cited antitrust issues

MATTHEWS, N.C. (AP) — Family Dollar is rebuffing Dollar General’s takeover bid, citing antitrust issues. The discounter’s board remains supportive of its existing deal with Dollar Tree.

Family Dollar Stores Inc. Chairman and CEO Howard Levine said in a statement Thursday that its board and advisers reviewed Dollar General Corp.’s offer and determined it wasn’t likely to be completed on the terms proposed.

On Monday Dollar General — the nation’s biggest dollar-store chain — offered about $8.95 billion for Family Dollar. The company said at the time that it believed it could quickly address any antitrust issues and was willing to divest up to 700 of its stores in order to get the necessary approvals.

Last month Family Dollar agreed to an $8.5 billion deal with Dollar Tree Inc.

TIME russia

Russia Is Closing McDonald’s Restaurants Over Health Violations

The oldest of Moscow's McDonald's outlets, which was opened on Jan. 31, 1990, is closed on Thursday, Aug. 21.
The oldest of Moscow's McDonald's outlets, which was opened on Jan. 31, 1990, is closed on Thursday, Aug. 21. Alexander Zemlianichenko—AP

But the crackdown comes amid tit-for-tat sanctions between Russia and the West

Russian regulators are targeting McDonald’s restaurants in a crackdown that authorities say is a matter of food safety.

But the closure of several Russian McDonald’s restaurants and unscheduled checks of several others comes on the heels of tit-for-tat sanctions between Russia and Western countries over the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Earlier this month, Russian authorities banned a wide array of food imports from the United States, the European Union and several other countries after Western powers enacted economic sanctions against Moscow.

According to Reuters, the Russian state food safety agency temporarily shuttered four restaurants on Wednesday, including the world’s busiest McDonald’s store in Moscow’s Pushkin Square, citing breaches of sanitary rules. On Thursday, the agency said it was conducting checks on other outlets across the country.

The agency has denied that its actions are politically motivated, according to Reuters.

“We are aware of what is going on. We have always been and are now open to any checks,” a spokesperson for McDonald’s in Russia told Reuters. The chain operates 438 restaurants in the country.

[Reuters]

TIME Companies

Get Ready, SoundCloud Users: Ads Are Coming

Lorde performs during Lollapalooza 2014 at Grant Park on Aug. 1, 2014 in Chicago.
Lorde performs during Lollapalooza 2014 at Grant Park on Aug. 1, 2014 in Chicago. Theo Wargo—Getty Images

But you may soon be able to skip the ads by paying for a subscription

SoundCloud, the popular free music-sharing platform that’s helped artists like Lorde skyrocket to fame, is introducing advertisements to its service.

The company said Thursday that select content creators will be able to authorize playing ads beside their tracks and collect some of the revenue from those ads. The ads will first roll out in the U.S., but they’re expected to appear for international users soon, SoundCloud announced.

Ads mark a big step for the music streaming service, which has struggled to monetize its vast user base that includes some 175 million listeners a month. Until now, the service has earned revenue by charging some of its most active content providers.

SoundCloud Chief Business Officer Jeff Toig told the New York Times that most of SoundCloud’s ad revenue will go to content providers, including Sony/ATV, BMG, the comedy show Funny or Die, and independent rapper GoldLink, for example. SoundCloud has already signed up Red Bull, Jaguar and Comedy Central to run ads on the platform, according to the Times.

But you may soon be able to skip the ads, if you’re willing to pay. The Times reports that, over time, the service plans to roll out subscription plans for listeners who want to skip the ads, much like you can do on Spotify, another music-streaming service.

TIME Careers & Workplace

10 More Companies That Are Hiring Like Crazy Right Now

167456531
Tetra Images—Getty Images/Brand X

These companies are growing like crazy

themuselogo
This post is in partnership with The Muse. The article below was originally published on The Muse.

Business is a tricky game, and there’s no telling how long it can take to grow any small company. But when companies are able to strike their market when it’s incredibly hot, rapid growth in a short amount of time is inevitable.

These 10 companies have done just that, and the results are going to be incredible. Bonus: If you get in on the ground floor, you can say you helped make it all happen. Check them out, and land your next job at one of them.

1. Handybook

Where: New York

If you live in New York, you’ve likely seen this company’s ads all over the subway. This is just one way that Handybook, an online service that connects its users to top-notch professionals who help get household chores done, is making waves across over 26 cities in the U.S. With more and more professionals wanting to spend time at work and with family, this company is providing a resource that everyone is benefiting from. Get ready to see major growth.

See the Jobs

2. iCracked

Where: Redwood Shores, CA

Admit it: You’re as hooked to your phone as we are, and when something goes wrong, it’s the only thing on your mind until its fixed. iCracked makes repairing iPhones, iPads, and iPods super easy and convenient. With on-demand iTechs, customers around the world can get the help they are desperate for with the click of a button.

See the Jobs

3. Thinkful

Where: New York

Founded in 2012, Thinkful uses mentorship to teach students one of the most useful and necessary tools: coding. With easy to access web and mobile apps, users are provided with one-on-one training and a curated curriculum. The world is moving toward tech, and Thinkful is going to be part of it because of its awesome tools.

See the Jobs

4. Recombine

Where: New York

Recombine’s goal is to improve health outcomes based on actionable and responsible genetic testing. Using genetics as its platform, this company is able to help its patients make the best decisions for their families. Founded by experts in fertility, clinical genetics, bioinformatics, and computer science, Recombine knows exactly what it’s doing when it comes to the intersection of technology and science.

See the Jobs

5. OwnLocal

Where: Austin, TX

Print media is facing unprecedented challenges to its model, and OwnLocal has an ambitious goal: to be the digital ad agency for local media and help bring the whole industry into the digital age. And with more than 400 media companies using the platform, it’s clear the company is on the right track.

See the Jobs

6. Findr Group

Where: New York and Los Angeles

Named one of the fastest growing companies in the U.S. in 2013, there’s no question that Findr Group is going places. This full-service marketing agency helps clients effectively communicate with their audiences; clients including the likes of DISH Network, Prudential, and Caesars Entertainment. Get ready to see the company’s name—and potentially yours—on campaigns all over the world.

See the Jobs

7. TicketLeap

Where: Philadelphia

With events of all kinds taking place every day in every city, TicketLeap is making experiences way easier to enjoy and take part in. With apps for both Andoid and iOS, clients are able to control their ticketing experience with do-it-yourself technology. This company view culture as the world’s biggest asset, and its products reflect that.

See the Jobs

8. Virool

Where: San Francisco

Virool is a powerful video service that allows over 100 million viewers to connect to a global network of content. Plus, with affordable low-price campaigns, users can distribute their own YouTube video content to a series of online publishers. With multimedia leading the way for everything web-related, there’s no doubt that this company is going to seriously take off.

See the Jobs

9. Voxy

Where: New York

In a continually more globalized world and economy, Voxy is helping people learn different languages in an easy, realistic way. Forget about textbooks and weekly classes—this company provides an innovative context-based approach to language acquisition. You know that this company is going to be big whenBusiness Insider names it as one of the “10 Best U.S. Tech Companies to Work For.”

See the Jobs

10. Contently

Where: New York

This software company, founded in 2010, helps independent journalists find work in a bad economy and locates talent and content for publishers’ platforms. Its tools are helping bridge the gaps of content creation, allowing for a broader audience to find out what’s going on in the world from people who love sharing news.

See the Jobs

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