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North Korea has stolen an estimated $650 million from financial institutions around the world through cybercrime

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Kim Jong-un reformed North Korea’s intelligence agency, the Reconnaissance General Bureau, and focused its practice on cyberwarfare after coming to power in 2011.

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How To Compare Single Factor ETFs

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[This article appears in our June 2018 issue of ETF Report.]

Factor ETFs have grown in popularity, whether single factor or multifactor. While multifactor funds say they can smooth out the ride, sometimes it’s hard to tell which factor may be contributing (or detracting) from performance.

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Google Sheets is becoming a viable alternative to Microsoft Excel for most spreadsheet users

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A silhouette of a man in front a spreadsheet.

Google Sheets is becoming more and more like Microsoft Excel.

Last month, Google released a major update of its web-based spreadsheet program. The most important new addition is macros, a way to automate tasks. Microsoft Excel has had the feature for over a decade. The Sheets version closely mirrors what you can do in Excel.

Macros are incredibly useful. If you’ve ever had to repeat the same task, like formatting the look of a spreadsheet or making the same chart of similar sets of data, using a macro can save a lot of time. Instead of going through the process again and again, you can record yourself doing it once, and the macro will remember what you have done. With the click of a few buttons, you can also apply the action to a new dataset. (The real spreadsheet jockeys manually write out a script that tells the macro what to do.)

Here’s a video Google made to explain how recording macros work in Sheets:

By adding macros, Google Sheets continues to grow into a viable alternative to Excel for most spreadsheet users. And unlike Excel, Sheets is free. Excel costs $130 for a one time purchase, or $7 a month as part of a Microsoft Office Suite subscription for an individual. Sheets are also better for collaboration, as the program was developed for ease of use and online sharing.

Still, for those who use spreadsheets for serious data analysis or visualization, Excel remains the superior product. Excel has more built-in formulas and functions. Simple tasks like sorting and filtering are easier in Excel. It also has more charting options. For example, Gantt charts and flow charts are built in to Excel, but have to be drawn manually in Google Sheets.

That said, if you are using macros regularly, it probably means Excel versus Sheets isn’t the question you should be asking. You should probably consider learning a statistical programming language like R or Python. Although these languages have steep learning curves, once you learn them they are even better for completing repeated tasks. Recording macros is great. Writing code is even better.

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Bell Labs' Gadget Communicates Human Emotions Through Touch

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Thanks to some innovations at Bell Labs, you’ll soon be able to express your heart through your sleeve.
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Infographic: What is Stock Fraud?

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Infographic: What is Stock Fraud?

What is Stock Fraud?

Every investor out there is looking to get a nice return on their money.

That’s why claims about guaranteed returns or “can’t miss” opportunities can be extremely tempting when they appear. After all, many people have been grinding it out for years in the markets – and rightfully they may feel overdue for their big moment.

But as always, opportunities that are too good to be true must pass the smell test. And most of the time, if you do your homework, they fail with flying colors.

Defining Stock Fraud

Today’s infographic comes to us from StocksToTrade and it highlights stock fraud, which can be described as a violation of security law that occurs when a fraudster compels an investor to buy or sell based on false information.

Importantly, there are many different varieties of stock fraud to recognize, and they all have distinct characteristics that make them unique:

Corporate Fraud
Using “dummy” corporations to create the illusion of representing a corporation with a similar name. Investors are then misled to buy shares in the dummy corporation, rather than the real thing.

Boiler Rooms
High-pressure selling technique used to peddle shares in speculative or fraudulent securities on the phone.

Pump and Dump
False and/or fraudulent information spread to increase the price of a thinly traded stock. When the stock hits a target price, the dumper sells to rake in substantial profits. Those left holding the stock are stuck and must sell at a loss.

Insider Trading
When a security is illegally traded based on material, non-public information.

Short and Distort
Similar to a pump and dump, this involves the spread of rumors or false information to profit from short-selling a stock.

Ponzi Scheme
A type of pyramid scheme where money from new investors provides the return for old investors.

Prime Bank
These are scams where fraudsters claim that funds will be used to buy bank instruments that don’t exist.

Accounting Fraud
Management intentionally manipulates accounting policies or estimates to improve financial statements. It could involve overstating revenues, understating expenses, overstating corporate assets, or understating existing liabilities.

How to Avoid Stock Fraud

How can these potential scams be avoided?

For starters, make sure you take time to do your own independent research on any security you buy. If something seems like it is overly complex, rushed, or if important information seems to be omitted, there is likely a reason for this. In a similar vein, Warren Buffett wisely advocates that a business should be simple and easy to understand, or he won’t invest in it.

Further, it’s worth researching the salesperson touting the investment before making any decisions. Records from securities regulators are often one Google search away – and any disciplinary history should be known before proceeding with any transaction.

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Does MoviePass know what it’s doing?

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When is the best time to sign up for MoviePass? That’s a tough question to answer.

Since slashing its price to $9.95 per month last August, the US subscription service, which lets users into a movie showing per day, has rolled out new offers practically every month—each almost better than the last:

  • In December, it partnered with Costco to offer a full year of MoviePass and movie-streaming service Fandor for $89.99. That worked out to around $7.50 per month.
  • Later that month, it made the offer available to anyone, with a 5% surcharge for non-Costco members.
  • In February, it upped the price of that offer to $135.30, including a $19.95 processing fee.
  • In March, it lowered the cost of an annual subscription to $89.95 (including a $6.55 processing fee), which came out to $6.95 per month.
  • In April, it partnered with iHeartRadio to offer a 3-month subscription to both services for $29.99. This plan included four movies per month, unlike the other movie-per-day packages.
  • It later tweaked the three-month iHeartRadio promotion to include three movies per month for $7.95 per month, replacing the $9.95 unlimited plan for a time.
  • The unlimited plan returned in May. The $7.95 a month “limited time offer” is still advertised, too.
  • Also in May, it announced plans to add new plans and features, like the ability to bring a friend, upgrade to a premium format like 3D, or subscribe to and pay for plans as a family.

There’s nothing wrong with testing new prices; doing so shows the company is trying to figure out what works best for customers and its bottom line. But what’s strange—and a bit concerning—is the frequency and scale with which MoviePass is making these changes. Startups normally test plan changes in select markets or geographies before rolling them out more broadly, so they can smooth out the kinks.

“What MoviePass is doing is a little unusual in that it’s a very vocal and visual and public representation of that [user] testing,” says Michael Duda, managing partner at Bullish, a firm that has invested in early-stage startups like Casper, Warby Parker, and ClassPass. “It sends a very confusing signal as to how well their business is doing. You wouldn’t make this many changes in this short a time on this kind of scale. It’s dubiously fascinating.”

MoviePass, founded in 2011, tested many, many pricing and plans options, ranging from $15 a month for a few movies to $99 for unlimited movies in certain markets, before landing at the $9.95 rate in August 2017. Major theater chains like AMC argued it was too little to charge per month for virtually unlimited moviegoing, when the average movie ticket in the US costs $9.16. In markets like New York and Los Angeles, a standard movie ticket can cost upwards of $15. MoviePass pays theater owners the full price of each ticket that its subscribers use.

CEO Mitch Lowe, who advised MoviePass briefly four years prior to joining the company in 2016, says MoviePass needed to do something drastic to grow its audience, which had stalled at around 25,000 subscribers. When the company was charging $35-$45, Lowe said, customers were going to the movies 2-4 times a month to get their money’s worth. In other words, MoviePass was only signing up heavy moviegoers. What it needed to reach a critical mass—and convince theater chains to cut it bulk deals on ticket prices—were casual moviegoers who could be convinced to go to cinemas more often if it were more affordable.

With backing from its new parent company, Helios and Matheson Analytics, which acquired a majority stake in the business in August 2017, MoviePass lowered its price to $9.95—roughly the cost of a month of Netflix.

Lowe was right. MoviePass now has 2.7 million members.

But its customers are still going to the movies a lot. MoviePass reported this week that people who signed up between November and March are going to the movies at least twice a month. At that rate, it’s losing $8.37 per month on each subscriber on the $9.95-a-month plan.

Lowe said new members tend to go to the movies most frequently during their first three months on the service. Then usage settles. He added that the company hopes to break even on subscriptions, and grow the business from other revenue streams, like advertising and promoting films on the service.

For the first nine months of 2017, MoviePass generated about $5 million from subscriptions and spent $9.6 million on related costs, statements filed after the company was acquired by Helios and Matheson Analytics show. Helios and Matheson’s new subscription and marketing business line, made up entirely of MoviePass, posted a $98 million loss for the full year of 2017.

MoviePass has credited recent price drops to its “customer-centric strategy.” But the plans, especially those that require a year’s payment upfront, may belie a deeper business problem. MoviePass is running out of cash.

The company reported on May 8 that it had $15.5 million on hand and another $27.9 million that would be disbursed throughout the year from people who paid for plans upfront. It also said it had been burning, on average, $21.7 million a month since October. The math suggested MoviePass would only be able to sustain itself for a few more months, though Helios and Matheson CEO Ted Farnsworth told Variety that the company also has a $300 million line of credit it can draw from.

MoviePass is working on cutting costs by 35%, Farnsworth said in the May 8 filing. Late last month, just before Disney’s record-setting blockbuster Avengers: Infinity War kicked off the busy summer movie season, MoviePass barred users from seeing movies more than once. (Longtime subscribers may recall this was an old policy that MoviePass brought back.) It’s also trying to cut down on users sharing accounts by requiring subscribers to upload images of their tickets before they can see their next movie.

“One of the things that we always advise our subscription clients is don’t put an offer out that is not sustainable just to grab market share,” says Jim Fosina of Fosina Marketing Group, which works with subscription services to market their platforms. “Because at some point you’re going to have to make that adjustment… Can you afford to fulfill what you’re offering at the price point?

Read next: MoviePass, desperate to prove itself, is adding a bunch of new features

Read next: Wall Street is so sure MoviePass will fail, it’s become incredibly expensive to short

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