Philip Morris International Spin-off – An Analysis.


Altria (MO), the world’s largest tobacco company is spinning off its international business. The table below lists some details of the PMI spin-off per their spin-off information sheet:


































PMI share distribution dateMarch 28, 2008
Record dateMarch 19, 2008 5PM ET*
Tax treatmentDistribution is tax-free for US holders**
Ticker Symbols of Altria & PMI after spin-offAltria - MO, Philip Morris International - PM
Distribution Ratio1-1: one share of PM for each share of MO held
Market Share of PMI after spin-off15.6% of International Cigarette market
Shares distributed2.109B
Altria’s interest in PMI after spin-offNone
Planned PMI dividend0.46c per quarter
Altria business structure after spin-off100% of PM USA, Philip Morris Capital Corporation, John Middleton inc., and 28.6% of SABMiller plc

  • * It is expected that the Distribution will be tax free in Canada and Sweden, but subject to tax in Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland.
  • ** “When issued” (MO-WI, PM-WI) trading on both shares have started already.
As of yesterday, the “When issued” shares were trading in the range of $23 and $51 for Altria (MO-WI) and Philip Morris International (PM-WI) respectively. The financials of the businesses from their latest 8-K filings is summarized below:































MetricCombinedAltria (MO)Philip Morris International (PM)
2007 Net Earnings per share4.281.50*2.78*
Price per share7423**51**
P/E Ratio17.2915.3318.35
Dividends per share3.01.161.84
Current Yield4.05%5.04%3.6%
Projected Earnings growth rate (2008)NA9-11%12-14%
Projected Average Earnings per share (2008)NA1.653.14
Projected Forward P/E (2008)NA1516.24

  • *Illustrative.
  • **”When Issued” basis as of yesterday.
  • Actual spin-off allocation percentage is 30.5:69.5, when using the closing price following the day of the distribution as the calculation method (3/31/2008).
The shares are priced at the projected forward P/E ratios of 15 and b16.24 respectively for Altria (MO) and Philip Morris International (PM). The valuation is fair given the guided earnings growth rates stand at 9-11% and 12-14% respectively. Committed shareholder friendly management is an enormous strength for the company. This is amply demonstrated by the fact that despite total cigarette volumes going down over the years, the company has managed to increase earnings consistently.

For Philip Morris International (PM), the primary risks to the business are susceptibility to excise tax increases by foreign governments, price competition, and raw material cost increases. Opportunities for margin improvement, vast untapped potential markets of China and India, and growing through acquisitions are all promising. For Altria (MO), the primary operational risk is the regulatory environment. On the litigation side, one major risk remaining is supreme court’s decision on the Lights class-action: the supreme court is expected to rule on whether federal law preempts the claims in its entirety in 2009. Cost cutting measures, domestic acquisitions, improving regulatory and litigation environment are all positives for the company.

Management’s goal is to generate total shareholder returns in the 14% range (including dividends) for Altria and 16% range for Philip Morris International going forward. Those types of growth rates make it worthwhile for investors to consider allocating small portions of their portfolios to both these companies. Altria (MO) should be a good long-term defensive bet while Philip Morris International (PM) offers growth at a reasonable valuation.

Last Updated: 4/2008.

Kids Stuff – Shopping Without Breaking The Bank!

Choices abound when shopping for kid’s bits and pieces. Options are available at various price ranges depending on the type of merchandise, store, and quality. It is tempting to go with designer products, especially if pricing is not a concern, as they do offer rather exclusive and better quality products. For everyday items such as child’s clothing for home and school, we have long realized that such a strategy does not align with our money management style. Clothes in general fit well for only 4-6 months as kids outgrow them fast. Longevity of use is a very good guideline to go by. When our kids were newborn, Costco and Oshkosh/Carter’s factory outlet stores played a big role. For items such as crib bedding that were for longer-term use, we went outside this norm. Kids bedding is another item were we splurged as we expect to use it for an extended period of time. As they grew, one item that constantly figured is kids gifts. Here again, choosing the store depending on the type of gift and the expected length of use is a good guideline.

Recycling kid’s possessions is key to avoid clutter. For used clothes and toys, it usually meant donating outgrown ones every six months at a minimum – Salvation Army, Red Cross and others who would pick from the house. However, for items such as Car Seats, Baby Bjorn, etc, there is a very good online market in places such as Craigslist. Another thing to keep in mind is that items from specialized stores usually are better quality, although a lot more expensive, but the upside is obviously that it will last longer as well. So, if the item is something for which there is a market in the online space, it makes a lot of sense to spend the extra money, as a portion of it should come back to you when you resell it.


Last Updated: 01/2015.

OPEN Event From American Express and SCORE – A Free Resource For Small Businesses!

As mentioned in our post "Funding your small businesses with other people’s money", grant monies are generally hard to come by for small businesses. Previously called Services Corps Of Retired Executives (SCORE) and currently renamed SCORE Association is a volunteer based non-profit organization. It is a very good resource for small business owners who need mentoring. Mentoring is a necessity for most first-time business owners and SCORE Association offers business counseling for free through their nearly 400 offices spread throughout the country. A few critical items for success that are missing in that type of a setup is actual contact with other new business owners, the power of networking with new business owners, and awareness about the huge industry that is around that gears toward servicing small business owners.

The 2008 OPEN Event sponsored by American Express and SCORE was an ideal resource as it afforded the chance to communicate with other people in the exact same situation as you are. Further, the American Express sponsor ship helped provide exposure to the services that were available. The first such event was a sellout in Orlando, Florida in 2007. In 2008, there were three such events across the country. The timings, locations and the agenda of the events conducted that year follow:

March 6, 2008 - Atlanta, Georgia
March 26, 2008 - Chicago, Illinois
April 23, 2008 - Dallas/Ft. Worth, Texas











































9:00 AM – 9:45 AMBusiness owner check-in and assignments (Continental breakfast and networking)
9:45 AM – 9:55 AMWelcome and opening remarks
10:00 AM – 10:30 AMSpeed Coaching Session #1, Workshops A, C
10:30 AM – 10:50 AMNetworking coffee break
10:50 AM – 11:20 AMSpeed Coaching Session #2, Workshops C, D
11:20 AM – 11:40 AMNetworking coffee break
11:40 AM – 12:10 PMSpeed Coaching Session #3, Workshops A, B
12:15 PM – 2:00 PMLuncheon, keynote address and facilitated networking
2:15 PM – 2:45 PMSpeed Coaching Session #4, Workshops C, D
2:45 PM – 3:00 PMNetworking coffee break
3:00 PM – 3:30 PMSpeed Coaching Session #5, Workshops A, B
3:30 PM – 4:00 PMClosing remarks, prize drawings and networking
4:00 PMEvent concludes



These were fun events for business owners located near Atlanta, Chicago or Dallas.

SmartMoney Stock Picking Tournament – Our Selections

SmartMoney Market Madness 2008 Stock Picking Tournament debut March 19, 2008. A valid email address was required to register and join. The rules of the tournament made it highly unlikely that stock-picking talent counted for much on the ultimate winner. Even so, the organizers made it worthwhile, as the grand prize was $10,000. In a nutshell, the player predicts out-performance from a selection of 64 stocks while pitting two stocks against one another for a single day. The predicted stock winning selections advance to the subsequent round and the process continues until the final winning stock remains. There are points weighted to each round and the winner is whoever gets the highest points. There is also a mechanism to break any ties. Following are our selections:




























RoundDateValueGrowthIncomeInternational
Pool- COP, BA, TWX, AMGN, DELL, DD, NOC, S, ETN, PH, DGX, BSC, EDS, HSY, BDK, STZAAPL, RIMM, AMZN, NOV, WFR, MA, FSLR, ISRG, GME, FLIR, BEAV, JCG, CROX, UTHR, PRXL, SIGMGE, T, BAC, MO, PFE, LLY, HD, DOW, KMB, SO, CCL, LNC, HNZ, SLE, HOG, MATCHL, HBC, RTP, NOK, TOT, SAP, CAJ, VIP, TEVA, INFY, TKC, WIT, AUO, RYAAY, BIDU, RDS.A
1st Round (1 point)March 20thCOP, TWX, DELL, S, PH, DGX, EDS, STZAAPL, AMZN, MA, FSLR, FLIR, BEAV, CROX, SIGMGE, BAC, PFE, HD, KMB, LNC, SLE, HOGHBC, NOK, TOT, CAJ, TEVA, TKC, RYAAY, BIDU
2nd Round (2 points)March 24th & 25thCOP, S, PH, EDSAMZN, FSLR, BEAV, SIGMBAC, HD, KMB, HOGNOK, CAJ, TKC, RYAAY
3rd Round (5 points)March 27th & 28thS, EDSAMZN, SIGMBAC, HOGCAJ, TKC
Quarter Finals (10 points)March 31st & April 1SSIGMHOGCAJ
Semifinals (15 points)April 3rdNoneSIGMNoneCAJ
Finals (25 points)April 7th- SIGM


Predicting the value of Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) on 04/07/2008 was the tie-breaking tactic. Our prediction was 12250. As with most stock contests, the skill involved was minimal. The entertainment value was the king.

LDK Solar (LDK) – Part 1 - Introduction

LDK Solar (LDK) a manufacturer of multi-crystalline solar wafers had its Initial Public Offering (IPO) on May 31, 2007 and 17.384M shares were offered at $27 per share. In the subsequent months the price elevated to peak at $73.95 on September 27, 2007 until allegations of an inventory discrepancy surfaced. Ever since then, the stock has experienced high volatility along with a seesaw ride.

The inventory allegation stems from the fact that the company considers scrap silicon lacking immediate use as part of its inventory. LDK’s contention is that the expectation is for the company to use its entire inventory, and deferred use as such does not call for a write off.

An independent audit cleared LDK off the allegations, but the issue resurfaced after LDK introduced a new classification for “inventory to be processed beyond one year” in its 4th quarter report. Several analysts sounded skeptical about this transformation in reporting during the conference call following the 4th quarter report.

LDK’s operating niche is right at the beginning of the photo-voltaic (PV) module supply chain. Currently, the company manufactures wafers from a raw material mix of virgin and recycled polysilicon. This setup is expected to switch to a structure where polysilicon is also manufactured internally. Gross margins are expected to soar as the production ramp-up bears fruition. Operating in the polysilicon and wafer production areas in the photo voltaic (PV) module supply chain translates to a higher margin and is a coveted position when compared to PV manufacturers operating in the cell and module businesses.

Despite the negative attention associated with the inventory issue, LDK has managed to snag numerous large long-term wafer supply contracts. LDK was able to include favorable terms as ‘10% prepayment’ and ‘fixed pricing’ in some of these contracts. Below is a summary of LDK Solar’s recently announced wafer supply contracts:

























Announcement DateCompanyTermInitial ShipmentComments
02/22/2008Hyundai8 yearsLate 2008More than 450MW total with prepayment for a portion of contract value.
01/17/2008Neo Solar Power (NSP)10 years2009More than 500MW total with 10% contract value prepayment and fixed pricing.
12/10/2007Q.Cells10 yearsNRMore than 6GW. 10% prepayment.
10/22/2007Canadian Solar3 years50MW in 2008Total Value of about $540M
10/16/2007Solarfun3 yearsNRFixed pricing with a total value of about $270M
10/10/2007ChinaLight3 yearsNRFixed pricing with a total value of about $135M


LDK has indicated that 80% of polysilicon requirements for 2008 have been secured. This projection includes 5% in-house production, which takes the output assumption to be around 175MT, and inline with its 2008 guidance of polysilicon production of 100MT-350MT. This is another area that has left various analysts unconvinced. Their argument is that buildup for polysilicon production has historically taken much longer and that these projections are overly optimistic.

To compensate for about 880MT of polysilicon, LDK’s plan is to employ framework contracts with fixed quantities, but at a discount to market prices. The company hopes to supplement this with spot market, auction, and recycled silicon purchases on an as-needed basis.

LDK Analysis:

1. LDK Solar (LDK) - Part 1 - Introduction.
2. LDK Solar (LDK) - Part 2 - Business Issues.
3. LDK Solar (LDK) - Part 3 - Outlook.

Related Posts:

1. Trina Solar (TSL) - Stock Analysis - 08/08.
2. LDK Solar (LDK) - Stock Analysis - 03/08.
3. Solar Manufacturer Comparison (STP, TSL, YGE, CSIQ) - 11/07.
4. Suntech Power Holdings (STP) - Stock Analysis - 09/07.

Online Tax Filing – TaxAct, TaxCut, Turbo Tax – User Experience Review

For the 2007 tax year, we decided to checkout the alternatives after realizing that the price of the Turbo Tax Online product has increased significantly over the years. We selected these three products to try out because they received the highest three ratings at the time. After finishing that exercise, it became clear that the products are very good but each had a set of quirks that needed getting used to. Below is a list of quirks we noticed with each product:

Turbo Tax Deluxe - $50.17 (after Fidelity click-through discount):
  • Transferring info from previous year Turbo Tax was a breeze.
  • Transferring W-2 info from ADP succeeded on the 2nd try - the example shows to put a ‘/’ between the number portion and the 3-letter alphabet portion of Box D, but supplying the info as is (with a space in between) succeeded.
  • Trying to transfer another W-2 from Ceridian resulted in a page that asked for user name and password. But, it was not apparent how to get that info. Had to do that one manually.
  • After confirming W2 info, it showed a screen about select ‘OTHERCOMP’ in box 14, but going back one screen and coming back resulted in another screen asking whether any of the items in the a list applies to the W2 – confusing…
  • Many times, clicking continue button results in no action. Usually, another click got us to the next page. Similarly, when coming back from another tab in the browser, the cursor shows it is active within an single-line edit box, but typing results in nothing getting entered.
  • Minor spelling in “wages and income” confirmation screen – “If you have no other information for import, selete Done”
  • After entering W-2 income, Turbo Tax provided two choices – Select Specific Topics, or Guide Me Through Income. We chose the first choice.
  • Transferring 1099-B from our TD Ameritrade succeeded. This is a very helpful feature. But, the information on equity option trades, margin interest, etc. did not get transferred over. These are classified "supplemental" information, but the info is needed to complete the tax return. This is an area were one could easily miss filing this information.
  • The preview feature is very functional - this is a significant improvement compared to last year.
  • HSA employer contribution was treated as taxable income and it did not prompt for input on 1099-SA. This resulted in a higher tax figure. We did not get to verify the functionality this year as our health plan this year was not HSA related.
  • Charitable contributions allowed using a tool called ItsDeductible. This made determining the value of the articles contributed relatively painless and hopefully accurate. One minor nnuisance was having to enter address information twice if donations were made to the same charity more than once.
  • Timeout at 20 minutes is better compared to TaxAct's 10 minutes. Providing this as a configurable option would have been better.
  • hile trying to eFile, our CA SDI withholding figure was transferred over from W2 correctly as $693.60. But, since the max is $693.58, Turbo Tax said it was unable to eFile. Manually editing that entry to say $693.58 instead of the rounded value fixed the problem.

TaxAct Ultimate Online Bundle - $17.95:
  • Signup was a breeze. But, it asks for the SSN the first time around. This was not required for other products.
  • After sign-in, an info screen was sent by email – the recommendation was to print it out, scribble in the password & favorite pets name for future reference.
  • Imported everything we entered last year for this evaluation even though we did not use them to file the return last year.
  • Timeout is 10 minutes – a 2-minute warning appears after 8 minutes. This compares to the 20 minute timeout interval with Turbo Tax. Again, an easily configurable option would have been better.
  • Estimated Tax Payments entering has improved and is now fully functional as compared to last year.
  • Life Events – this is a complete list and is a really intuitive classification.
  • W-2 entries had to be made manually.
  • The preview features are simple and functional.
  • HSA employer contribution was treated correctly and there was a step at which we could enter 1099-SA information. This resulted in the correct tax figure. We spent significant time in Turbo Tax to figure out this.
  • Dependent Care Provider information entry screens are accessible - this is an improvement compared to last year. The form requires entry of the telephone number of the provider for California & Oregon tax filers. This was not required in the other products.
H&R Block At Home Deluxe (previously TaxCut) - $29.95:
  • Signup was a breeze.
  • Option to import tax file from previous year. Couldn’t use it as we could not find the .tax file it needs. Turbo Tax’s online product only allows getting the pdf file.
  • Transferring W-2 information electronically was not offered.
  • The ‘Delete’ button in the W-2 form box 12 overlapped the single-line edit field and this made the page look pretty unprofessional. Also Box 18 seemed to need some info although that field was blank in our W-2. Inputting $0 made it happy.
  • 1099-R form entry was clumsy with certain fields requiring $0 even when they are not applicable.
  • In many of the forms certain fields (example charity name, provider name, etc.) are getting cut off after a certain number of characters are typed.
  • The automatic sign-off feature is not as good as the other two products. Specifically, after 5 minutes of inactivity, it comes up with a prompt about inactivity and forces the user to click a button to sign-off as opposed to automatically doing it.
  • There was no obvious way for 1040 preview.




Summary:

Turbo Tax online product won out. The pages loaded quickly, navigation was smooth, access to different parts was intuitive, and the separation of tools from the rest of the interface was a good touch. Further, electronic transfer feature from other financial institutions was a very good feature. Some of the features such as ItsDeductible were either missing or less functional in TaxAct and TaxCut. TaxAct got the job done with a simpler interface. The compromise was that there were more manual entries when compared with Turbo Tax. H&R Block’s TaxCut on the other hand attempted to do more of a hand holding job but in the process ended up making the interface somewhat clumsy when compared to Turbo Tax and TaxCut. Further the need to enter $0 in many of the single-line edit fields made the interface less intuitive. It was a time-consuming process to enter 1099-B stock sales and dividend information in TaxAct and TaxCut while Turbo Tax allowed automatically getting the information from our broker. Also, the Turbo Tax premium product promised to make this and even better experience, but for extra money.

We filed our taxes with Turbo Tax for the 2007 tax year as well although the price difference with TaxAct made us consider switching. By not choosing the Premium product, the price difference with TaxAct came down to $31.70. It was a tough choice, given our tax information from 2000 onwards was saved under our Turbo Tax account and moving away from Turbo Tax would have meant spreading our historical information among two products.

There are a few other options that can help keep tax filing costs down:
  1. Turbo Tax SnapTax for iPhone and Android can keep your cost to just $19.99 (increased from $14.99 last year). The caveat is that it is for 1040-EZ only. The pricing is about half when compared to the online product. 
  2. Opt for Turbo Tax Desktop Edition. Going this route saves you around 35% compared to the discounted pricing for the Online Edition. You can choose between a DVD and Download. Download is slightly cheaper and you get it almost instantly (~5 minutes if you have broadband internet connection).
  3. Get Turbo Tax Deluxe online edition for free by establishing a banking relationship with State Farm. 
  4. Intuit increases the pricing of the software every year on March 22nd. So, you can save a bunch by filing before that date. 
Visit more options at Amazon.com Tax Preparation Software area.

2012 Tax Filing - TurboTax Usage Experience: The good news for us was that Turbo Tax then allowed eFiling for US tax-filers residing abroad. This was not the case in 2011 and so we had to use our virtual address in Texas. The overall experience had again improved that year. There was a glitch with importing our 1099 info from TD Ameritrade which was resolved in our second try. Also, Turbo Tax failed to take a 1099-INT that was for a very small amount (<$10) and so we had to manually put it in from an imported form. One other thing that we noticed was that Turbo Tax reported they do not support importing ESPP sales from Quicken, or other online financial services. The interface performed faster than in 2011 as well. The eFiling itself went very smooth - as with 2011 tax filing, Turbo Tax allowed debiting directly from your bank account for payment of taxes although it did not allow that to pay for the product itself. So, we used a credit card for that.

As of 2013 tax year, we finally made the switch from Turbo Tax to TaxAct.


Related Posts:

  1. Turbo Tax to TaxACT switching experience - 2014 Tax Filing
  2. 2013 Tax Filing - TurboTax Usage Experience
  3. Turbo Tax Online Price Increase Over The Years - A Comparison.
  4. Online Tax Filing – TaxAct, TaxCut, Turbo Tax – User Experience Review.


Last Updated: 01/2015.




    Funding A Small Business With Other People’s Money

    The Holy Grail for a small business startup is to be able to outsource the risk. The rational behind it is to avoid putting one’s personal savings on the line, and instead rely on funding the business with Small Business Grants, Personal Loans, etc. To achieve the zero risk status, funding would have to be achieved without submitting personal assets as collateral.

    Business grants, in general are not easy to come by. This obstacle is an irony given the industries that have sprung up catering to entrepreneurs in need of such funds. US Business Grants are provided mostly to organizations that are planning projects that directly benefit the local community. Further a lot of such financial aid goes to organizations such as Small Business Administration (SBA), Small Business Development Centers (SBDC), and Service Corps Of Retired Executives (SCORE).

    The SBA does not offer grants to start or expand small businesses. They offer a small business loan program structured such that SBA guarantees a loan offered by a 3rd party lender up to 85%. SBDC is an offshoot of the SBA. Its mission is to provide management assistance to current and prospective small business owners. As such, that office is helpful with regards to obtaining information and as a source of mentoring, but with regards to monetary aid the program comes up short. SCORE is yet another organization that is geared more toward mentoring as opposed to doling out money to small businesses.

    Given this situation, one of the best sources to acquire US Small Business Grants is to align your business to the needs of the local community and to apply for a grant directly with the U.S. Small Business Administration. They also offer a number of other options whereby some or all of the funds may be raised from the outside.

    Last Updated: 01/2015.

    SCO Group’s Private Equity Plan – An Analysis

    SCO Group is trying to enforce UNIX rights. The following lawsuit details summarize the issues:
    1. SCO vs. IBM – The March 2003 lawsuit claims IBM devalued SCO’s version of the Unix operating system. The primary allegation is that IBM applied SCO’s intellectual property to the Linux operating system code base. The lawsuit stems from IBM’s admission of contributing AIX code to the Linux kernel. AIX is a derivative of Unix System V (SVRx) and SCO claims to have rights on SVRx. Most of SCO’s evidence was rejected by the judge in 2006.
    2. SCO vs. Novell – The Jan 2004 lawsuit, in response to Novell registering certain Unix copyrights, was based on SCO’s assumption that they owned Unix. Novell rejected this claim publicly and stated they never sold Unix copyrights as part of a 1995 asset purchase agreement. On August 2007, Novell was ruled as the owner of Unix and UnixWare copyrights.
    3. Red Hat vs. SCO – Red Hat’s August 2003 lawsuit pushed for a permanent injunction of SCO’s Linux campaign and a number of declaratory judgments that Red Hat was not in violation of SCO’s copyrights.
    4. SCO vs. DaimlerChrysler and SCO vs. AutoZone – These two lawsuits filed on December 2003 and March 2004 respectively alleged their use of Linux violated SCO’s copyrights.
    The present situation:

    The down hill run started for SCO Group after a federal judge ruled Novell, Inc as the owner of UNIX and UnixWare copyrights in August 2007. The stock went down steadily from $1.56 per share to a low $0.05 per share on January 18 2008. The valuation highlights the fact that none of SCO’s lawsuits are relevant as long as they do not own Unix copyrights and it is all but certain that shareholders stand to gain nothing as bankruptcy proceedings get under way. The shares went up six times to $0.30 per share following a surprise announcement about a private equity investment of up to $100M on February 13, 2008.

    Outlook:

    One of the stated objectives of the private equity plan is to see the lawsuits ‘through to their full conclusion’. Translated, the idea is for the private company to pursue a payoff from IBM, Novell, and others in return for not pursuing the legal route any further. At the right price, this may prove to be an attractive prospect for these companies. A closure to this issue would be a welcome rain to the Linux community as well. Even though Novell has stated publicly that it has no intention to pursue Unix copyrights, it needs to be ascertained that Novell as the rightful owner of the Unix copyright will not trace SCO’s steps. IBM and others may have an interest in seeing the lawsuits through to closure with SCO only if they are spared of similar lawsuits with other firms in the future. An agreement with Novell and SCO group brokered by IBM where Novell and SCO group agree to waive copyrights on Unix is the most probable outcome.

    Federal Credit Union Email Phishing Scam Experience – Reporting and Feedback Details!

    In early March 2008, we received the following email from National Credit Union Association (NCUA):
    Dear Credit Union member,

    You have received this email because you or someone had used your account from different locations. For security purpose, we are required to open an investigation into this matter.

    In order to safeguard your account, we require that you confirm your online banking details.

    The help speeed up to this process, please access the following link so we can complete the verification of your Federal Credit Union Online Banking Account registration
    information.
    http://65.112.203.172/icons/update/NCUAlogin/

    If we do no receive the appropriate account verification within 48 hours, then we will assume this Federal Credit Union account is fraudulent and will be suspended.


    The purpose of this verification is to ensure that your bank account has not been fraudulently used and to combat the fraud from our community.


    We appreciate your support and understanding and thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.


    Thank you,

    NCUA® Security Department.


    The wording of the email and the IP numbers in the URL alerted us to doubt the legitimacy of this email. The link directed you to a page that closely resembles the legitimate NCUA site (see picture below of the phishing site that was taken down later in the day). The launching page asks for the name, card number, pin, and email. The rest of the links in the page points to pages in the legitimate NCUA site.

    Our decision was to react by reporting this to the authorities. This was more involved than anticipated. Searching for “report phishing” in Google gave a result set of 271,000 links. We used the following from the first page of results:
    1. United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) - A government agency responsible to protect the nation against cyber attacks among other things.
    2. PhishTank – A community based anti-phishing service. The Opera web-browser and certain other popular internet applications like Yahoo Mail use data from PhishTank for their anti-phishing filters.
    3. Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG) – A volunteer organization that fights phishing.
    4. CastleCops – PIRT (Phishing Incident Reporting and Termination Squad) – An organization run by CastleCops with support from the community.
    Reporting was fairly painless with only PhishTank requiring a sign-up. As for acknowledgement, it was practically non-existent. The PhishTank user interface is superior with an immediate status on whether the site has already been submitted and whether it is already classified as a Phish. When we submitted the offending site, the feedback was that additional votes were required for it to be confirmed as a phishing site. Within two hours the site was established as a phishing site. The CastleCops and APWG launching pages provides information on the partners that use their feeds and that included US-CERT. PhishTank on the other hand publishes a free Application Program Interface (API) that anyone can use.

    Within 30 minutes of our reporting the site, FireFox and Internet Exploer (IE) web-browsers both began flagging the launch point as a phishing site. The Opera web-browser on the other hand failed to flag the site even after an hour. Within about three hours, the site was brought down. We do not know the nitty-gritty behind this operation, but the end result was satisfactory. Even so, we are inclined to believe the criminals got away with a number of valid card details during the first hours - their window of opportunity.

    Currently, Google's "Report a Phishing" and US-CERT's "Report Phishing Sites" web-pages are the best options to report such activity.

    Last Updated: 01/2015. 

    Tahoe Donner Skiing – Review


    Tahoe Donner offers one of the better deals for families with children 6 years or younger:



    Background:


    Tahoe Donner has one quad chair, one double chair, and two conveyor lifts for the bunny hills. The whole mountain is centrally served by the single quad-chair lift. There is one green run served by the double chair lift. The lift operating hours are from 9-4 with ticket windows open from 8-3. Parking is off-site and a free shuttle service drops you at the ticket window. Pricing is as follows:












    Full-DayHalf-Day (starts at 12:15PM)Unrestricted Season Pass
    Morning-only CreditSki-Equipment
    Adults 18-59$47$39$329
    Yes$44 and up
    Junior 13-17$42$34$224
    Yes$44 and up
    Child (7-12) or Senior (60-69)$22$16$169
    Yes$34 and up
    Child 6 and under or Senior over 70FreeFreeFree
    NA$34
    Parent Interchangeable$47NANA
    NANA


    The beginner lessons are excellent for those who want to get started. Lesson options are as follows:



    ProgramScheduleCostSki Equipment Included?Lift Ticket Included?
    Snowflakes (3-6 years only)Session1: 9:30-12:00, Session2: 13:00-15:30$84 per sessionYESYES
    First-time ski and snowboard lesson packageFull-day (10:00-15:50) Adults (13-59): $94, 7-12: $124 (includes lunch)YESYES
    Private Lessons1-hour, Half-day, or Full-day1-hour: $98, $20 each additional person, Half-day: $236 for up to 4 people, Full-day: $405 for up to 4 peopleNONO


    They also have a couple of season-long programs for kids who really want to take it to the next level.

    The Best:

    The facility is geared more towards kids making it very palatable to families with children. The lines at the quad chair were non existent especially in the morning hours. The deals get better if one can do mid-week trips. Every Tuesday (certain exclusions apply) is Parent's Day special and is a great deal (free lift ticket).

    The Better:

    The location is easily accessible from Bay Area. It is about 5-10 miles further than the closest resorts but the trade off is it is less crowded. It was good to see the bunny slopes being catered by conveyor belts an upgrade from T-bar lifts and rope pulls.

    The Average:

    The off-site parking is a disappointment as it invariably wastes about an hour, a minimum of 30 minutes one-way. Needless to say, you have to lug everything you need as accessing the car for short breaks is not an option as in other resorts. The green mile run has less slope in many areas making it hard and time-consuming for younger kids without poles.

    Summary:

    The mountain is on the smallish side with 120 acres of net ski-able area and14 total runs. Our kids had a blast and were very proud to proclaim they could do the single-blacks “without falling down even once”.

    Related Posts:

    1. Introducing Kids to Snow Sports (Sledding/Skiing) in the Lake Tahoe Area.
    2. Tahoe Donner Skiing – Family Experience/Review.
    3. Frugal Living – Skiing Story.
    4. Lake Tahoe Ski Areas (Granlibakken, Tahoe Donner, Boreal, Homewood, Kirkwood, Heavenly, Squaw) – A Comparative Review.


    Last Updated: 01/2015.



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