TODAY

– March 4, 2015

Will Google bring good fortune to Credit Karma?

(AP) — Google is betting that good things will happen to Credit Karma, an online service that provides consumers with free copies of the credit scores that define their financial reputations.

Credit Karma is getting Google Inc.'s endorsement and expertise as part of an $85 million investment announced Wednesday.

About half of the money is coming from Google Capital, the Internet company's recently created vehicle for investing in maturing startups. The remaining funds are being provided by Tiger Global and two of Credit Karma's earlier investors — Ribbit Capital and Susquehanna Growth Equity.

With the latest infusion, Credit Karma has now raised $118.5 million since the San Francisco startup launched its service in 2008.

Credit Karma plans to use the incoming money to more than double its current workforce of 110 employees and introduce more products "that are going to be disruptive," CEO Ken Lin said.

Without providing specifics, Lin said Credit Karma's next product will be unveiled in about two months and will offer free access to a service that consumers traditionally have had to pay to get.

Credit Karma already has made it easier to obtain a free snapshot of the personal credit scores that determine loan rates and borrowing limits. The scores, based on the loan-payment histories compiled by major credit-rating agencies, traditionally have been only provided when people apply for a loan or sign up for other financial services that eventually charge fees.

Everyone who sets up an account at Credit Karma can get free looks at their credit scores once a week. Credit Karma obtains its main credit score through TransUnion, one of the three major U.S. credit-rating agencies along with Experian and Equifax. The service also lists a score based on another formula used by all three agencies and another number that most auto and home insurers rely upon to evaluate how likely their prospective policyholders are to file a claim.

The free insights are attracting a steadily growing audience. Nearly 21 million people have set up free accounts on Credit Karma, up from about 9 million a year ago, Lin said.

Credit Karma doesn't store the Social Security numbers required to open an account, but it does create financial profiles of its users to tailor the marketing pitches that bring in most of its revenue. Virtually all the ads are for credit cards, loans and other financial services.

Google also analyzes personal data to determine which ads to show users of its services, but Lin said Credit Karma isn't sharing any information about its members with Google.

Credit Karma plans to draw upon Google's knowledge about marketing and expanding online services to accommodate larger audiences. David Lawee, a Google Capital partner, is joining Credit Karma's board of directors.

This is Google Capital's third major investment in the past month. Online education service Renaissance Learning received $40 million, and online real estate site Auctions.com got $50 million. Last year, Google Capital was among the investors that backed online polling site SurveyMonkey and online loan broker LendingClub.

Google Capital is aiming to invest about $300 million this year. It's an offshoot of Google Ventures, a fund that the company set up five years ago to invest in startups during their early stages. Google Ventures so far has invested in 225 companies, including home-device maker Nest Labs, which is now wholly owned by Google Inc. after being bought for $3.2 billion earlier this year.

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Latest Local News

Written on 03/04/2015, 2:02 pm by Gordon M. Webster
If anyone remains unconvinced of the dire need for more water storage in California, the latest Sierra snow reading should do the trick.
Written on 03/04/2015, 1:12 pm by Associated Press
(AP) — U.S. stocks are ending lower for a second day in a row, pulling the market further below record highs reached earlier this week. The drop Wednesday was modest but broad: nine of the 10 sectors in the Standard & Poor's 500 index lost ground. The S&P 500 gave up nine points, or 0.4 percent, to 2,098. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 106 points, or 0.6 percent, to 18,096. The Nasdaq composite fell 12 points, or 0.3 percent, to 4,967. Aluminum maker Alcoa sank 4 percent, the most in the S&P 500. Abercrombie & Fitch plunged 16 percent after its revenue came up short of what investors were looking for. The price of oil rose $1.01 to $51.53 a barrel in New York.
Written on 03/04/2015, 12:58 pm by MICHAEL LIEDTKE, AP Technology Writer
(AP) — Uber Technologies is buying digital mapping specialist deCarta in a deal that may help the rapidly growing ride-hailing service lessen its dependence on navigation services from Google and Apple, an imposing pair of potential rivals. Although deCarta isn't as well-known as Google Maps, its technology is extensively used by consumers. The OnStar system built into cars made by General Motors Co. relies on deCarta, as do smartphone makers Samsung Electronics and BlackBerry Inc. In its early years, Google Maps even tapped into deCarta's technology, according to deCarta. The acquisition confirmed Wednesday will provide Uber's drivers with another way to find passengers summoning rides on the company's mobile app and deliver them to their destinations more quickly. DeCarta's technology also may help Uber provide more accurate estimates about the arrival times of its cars, which can now be ordered in more than 250 cities in 50 countries. The deCarta deal comes a month after an unconfirmed report that Google Inc. is planning a rival ride-hailing service that would draw upon the driverless cars that the company has been building and testing for the past few years. Uber fueled further speculation about a looming battle with Google by forging a partnership with Carnegie Mellon University to work on its own driverless cars. Another report published in The Wall Street Journal outlined Apple's plans to reshape the automobile industry with an electric vehicle, a development that conceivably could set up the iPhone maker to compete against Uber someday. For now, Uber says it plans to blend deCarta's technology with the Google and Apple maps that it already uses. "With the acquisition of deCarta, we will continue to fine-tune our products and services that rely on maps...and make the Uber experience even better for our users," the San Francisco company said in a printed statement. Financial terms of the deal weren't disclosed. Privately held Uber has plenty of financial firepower, having raised nearly $3 billon. Investors involved in that financing have valued the 6-year-old company at about $40 billion. All told, Uber has raised nearly $6 billion since its inception, including a $258 million infusion from Google's venture capital arm in 2013. Uber has funneled most of its cash into expanding its workforce to more than 2,000 people worldwide and building its ride-hailing network. The company had only done a handful of small acquisitions before making its biggest splash so far with the purchase of deCarta, a San Jose, California company that started nearly 20 years ago.
Written on 03/04/2015, 12:53 pm by Associated Press
(AP) — An appeals court on Wednesday upheld a San Francisco Bay Area city's ban on gun magazines that can hold more than 10 bullets. The 9th US. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected gun owners' arguments that Sunnyvale's ban violated Second Amendment rights raised by the National Rifle Association and others opposed to the ordinance. "Sunnyvale's interests in promoting public safety and reducing violent crime were substantial and important government interests," Judge Michael Daly Hawkins wrote for the unanimous three-judge panel. Hawkins said the ban "does not affect the ability of law-abiding citizens to possess" handguns, a fundamental right strengthened by a seminal U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2008. Gun right advocates have used the Supreme Court ruling to challenge numerous restrictions enacted across the country. State law banned the sale and manufacturer of high-capacity magazines since 2000. But Sunnyvale's voter-approved ban goes further, prohibiting possession of high-capacity magazines. The ruling upheld a lower court. San Francisco, Los Angeles and other cities in California and across the country have enacted or are considering similar bans. Several other federal courts across the country have made similar rulings. None have struck down a ban. Chuck Michel, a gun-rights lawyer challenging the ban, said he plans to appeal the ruling. Michel could ask a larger panel of 9th Circuit judges to reconsider the case or he can petition the U.S. Supreme Court.
Written on 03/04/2015, 12:49 pm by Business Journal staff
Visalia's Suncrest Bank has upgraded the over-the-counter marketplace on which its stock is traded. Suncrest Bank is now trading on the OTCQX platform under the symbol SBKK. "We are pleased to welcome Suncrest Bank to the growing family of banks on OTCQX," said R. Cromwell Coulson, president and CEO of OTC Markets Group.  "Suncrest's financial strength and commitment to serving individuals and small businesses in its communities embody the 'think local' mindset and integrity of an OTCQX bank. We look forward to supporting Suncrest as it continues to grow and enhance value for its shareholders." Bank officials said the move reflects increased visibility and transparency, and will increase share liquidity. Communities First Financial Corp., parent company of Fresno First Bank, also recently migrated to the new platform.
Written on 03/04/2015, 10:36 am by JONATHAN FAHEY, AP Energy Writer
(AP) — Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson expects the price of oil to remain low over the next two years because of ample global supplies and relatively weak economic growth. "People kinda need to settle in for a while," Tillerson said at the company's annual investor conference in New York. In a presentation to investors outlining its business plans through 2017, Exxon assumes a price of $55 a barrel for global crude. That's $5 below where Brent crude, the most important global benchmark, traded on Wednesday. It's about half of what Brent averaged between 2011 and the middle of last year. The price of oil plunged in the second half of 2014 when it became apparent that production was outpacing global demand. U.S. production was particularly robust, with the increase of 1.5 million barrels per day being the third largest on record, according to a report from BP. Meanwhile, weakening economic conditions in China, Japan and Europe slowed the growth in oil demand. BP CEO Bob Dudley made remarks similar to Tillerson's in a recent call with investors. The CEOs comments reflect an increasingly common industry view that new sources of oil around the globe, relatively slow growth in demand, and large amounts of crude in storage will keep a lid on prices for the foreseeable future. "When you have that much storage out there, it takes a long time to work that off," Dudley said. The U.S. Energy Department reported Wednesday that U.S. oil supplies have grown to 444.4 million barrels, the highest level at least 80 years. Tillerson cautioned that geopolitical turmoil could unexpectedly send prices higher. But he said that if tensions calm, much more oil is ready to hit the market. Production in Libya has been erratic in recent years because of political upheaval there. Production in Iran, once OPEC's second largest exporter, has been depressed in recent years because of Western sanctions. Those sanctions could be eased if current talks over Iran's nuclear program make progress. "I see a lot of supply out there," Tillerson said.
Written on 03/04/2015, 10:34 am by CANDICE CHOI, AP Food Industry Writer
(AP) — McDonald's says it plans to start using chicken raised without antibiotics commonly used in humans, and milk from cows that are not treated with an artificial growth hormone. The company says the chicken change will take place within the next two years. It says suppliers will still be able to use a type of antibiotic called ionophores that keep chickens healthy and aren't used in humans. The milk change will take place later this year. Many cattle, hog and poultry producers give their livestock antibiotics to make them grow faster and ensure they are healthy. The practice has become a public health issue, with officials saying it can lead to germs becoming resistant to drugs so that they're no longer effective in treating a particular illness in humans. Chipotle and Panera already say they serve chicken raised without antibiotics, but the announcement by McDonald's is notable because of its size; the company has more than 14,000 U.S. locations. Chipotle has nearly 1,800 locations, while Panera has almost 1,900 locations. "This really does move the ball quite a bit," said Gail Hansen, a senior officer with the antibiotic resistance project with The Pew Charitable Trusts. Hansen noted that ionophores, the antibiotics that will be allowed by McDonald's, are not considered medically important for humans. Marion Gross, senior vice president of McDonald's North America's supply chain, said the change will cost the company more but noted the increase won't necessarily be passed on to customers because several factors are used to determine restaurant prices. "I think you will hear more from us as it relates to our food," Gross added. The announcement comes as McDonald's Corp. struggles to transform its image amid intensifying competition from smaller rivals positioning themselves as more wholesome alternatives. The company has long battled negative perceptions about its food, but that has become a bigger vulnerability as more people shift toward options they feel are made with ingredients that are higher quality or meet standards on social responsibility. After seeing customer visits to U.S. stores decline two years in a row, McDonald's had recently hinted changes could be on the way. Franchisees were told of the upcoming chicken and milk announcement Tuesday night at a "Turnaround Summit" in Las Vegas. Scott Taylor, a McDonald's franchisee who was at the conference, said ingredients are "becoming more and more important" to customers. And he said the company was suggesting it needs to "be where our consumers want and need us to be." "You're going to see more stuff like that in the future," Taylor said. In a statement, chicken supplier Tyson Inc. said it looks forward to working with McDonald's to meet its new standards. Tyson noted it has reduced the use of antibiotics effective in humans by more than 84 percent since 2011. Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said selling milk produced without rBST was a good step because the artificial growth hormone can cause health problems in dairy cows. As McDonald's fights to hold onto customers, the company has also made a number of leadership changes, admissions of shortcomings and declarations that changes are in the works. The pressures reached the top of the company in late January, when the company said CEO Don Thompson would be replaced by Steve Easterbrook, its chief brand officer. The CEO change officially took effect this week, and Easterbrook was at the franchisee summit in Las Vegas.
Written on 03/04/2015, 10:31 am by Business Journal staff
Fresno Pacific University (FPU) will host the George Fox University Doctor of Educational Leadership (Ed.D) beginning this spring. The doctorate is geared towards K-12 administrators and those who want to go into higher education, particularly the student life and financial aid fields.  The partnership between the two private Christian universities is designed to help maximize accessibility for working professionals interested in the degree. Doctoral candidates in the program will complete classes online during the fall and spring semesters with summer sessions offered in a hybrid format of three weeks online and a two-week campus residency at FPU. George Fox University (GFU) faculty will travel to Fresno each summer from the main campus in Newberg, Oregon. Candidates will choose from one of three concentrations including instructional design and development for grades preschool through college and administration for preschool to grade 12.  FPU currently provides all services not directly linked to the admissions and academics of the program but will eventually develop an elective track for the doctorate. The doctoral program builds upon the university's master's degree and reputation in the field of public education and will cost $716 per unit, with an estimated four years to completion. The Ed.D program has a 91 percent graduation rate. Key dates for the program include: • Admissions deadline, April 1 • Interview day, April 18 • Online class start, June 8 • Orientation, June 21 • Residency dates, June 22-July 3
Written on 03/04/2015, 10:08 am by Business Journal Staff
For the 15th consecutive month, the San Joaquin Valley Business Conditions Index tallied a positive reading of the Valley economy. But the February index came in at 52.9, slipping for the third straight month from the record high of 59.9 recorded in November 2014. An index reading greater than 50.0 indicates an expansionary economy over the next three to six months, said Dr. Ernie Goss, research faculty with the Craig School of Business at Fresno State. “Much like the national economy, the San Joaquin Valley economy is expanding at a solid pace. Based on our surveys over the past several months, that growth should remain positive for the next three to six months,” said Goss. Last month, businesses in the area reported on the impact of the West Coast dock disputes that significantly slowed shipping activity in and out of the western U.S. About 27 percent of firms reported negative impacts on sales as a result of the port slowdown. And 55 percent of firms said the port slowdown negatively impacted company purchases of inputs and raw materials and supplies. The index, produced by the Craig School, is considered a leading economic indicator and is compiled from a survey of individuals making company purchasing decisions in Fresno, Madera, Kings and Tulare counties. The index uses the same methodology as that of the national Institute for Supply Management. Other survey findings in February showed the region’s hiring gauge remained above growth neutral, despite slipping to 51.1 in February from 52.3 in January. Goss points to the port slowdown as a cause of the decline. “Due to shipping issues tied to West coast dock disputes, firms expanded employment at a much slower pace in February. The recent settlement of the dock labor issue will put the region back on a healthier employment growth path,” he said.     The prices-paid component of the index, which tracks the wholesale cost of purchased raw materials and supplies, slid below growth neutral last month, to 47.9 from 54.9 in January. Goss said he does not expect deflation or declining wholesale prices, but believes the inflation reading will trend lower in upcoming months.     And economic optimism, captured by the business confidence index, sank to 54.8 in February from January’s much stronger 64.2 and Goss believes the port slowdown also had an impact on last month’s business confidence reading.
Written on 03/04/2015, 9:31 am by Business Journal staff
A low-power radio station dedicated to classic hits from artists like Frank Sinatra and Barbara Streisand launched in Fresno County last month.  KJOI 104.3 FM transmits over the airwaves via its radio tower in Biola, the small farming community west of Fresno. The tower has a range of 12 miles, but in a prepared statement, owner Jim Zahn said the nearby raisin growers are perfect for the station's demographic.  The radio station is operated by Western Education Alliance, a nonprofit Zahn founded in 1996 while developing an educational station for West Hills College Coalinga. The station offers commercial-free programming and is supported by listener donations.  While the station's radio tower has a limited range, Zahn has partnered with Cocola Broadcasting to rebroadcast the audio over the air on digital television station KHSC 16.1 in the Fresno market. Zahn has previously partnered with the company and owner Gary Cocola on the broadcasts for several television stations including KMSG Channel 59 in the 1980's. "I've known [Cocola] since the third grade. We went to school together at St. Theresa's," Zahn said. "We were both fascinated by radio." Listeners can also access KJOI through a stream on its website or via the Tune-In free app for Apple and Android smartphones. 

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Latest National News

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