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Review: MacBook Air (mid-2014)

The MacBook Air has really come into its own with later revisions and price cuts, which is why, despite being an amazing computer, it’s mildly disappointing that the mid-2014 model is a very minor refresh, with just two significant changes. The processors are a mere 0.1GHz faster: now 1.4GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 CPUs are used throughout the range, replacing the 1.3GHz chips inside the mid-2013 models.

Perhaps more significantly, the prices are down by $100 across the range, including both the entry-level 11-inch and 13-inch models, and the high-end versions that boast 256GB of storage. Everything else about them is the same, but since they were already outstanding, and the price drop brings the entire range below $1,200, this is hardly an indictment.

Macbookair2014 620

As you’d expect, benchmark results are barely changed from last year. Testing the higher-end models in each of the screen sizes, we found our Cinebench rendering tests crept ahead by a few points and battery life was 20-35 minutes longer. Whatever the model, you can still use an Air all day on a single charge.

While the current MacBook Air is undoubtedly excellent, rumor has it a new Retina version is coming soon. Could it make more sense to wait for that, even though it’s likely to be more expensive? Or maybe look for a clearance model from the 2013 range, which is likely to be even cheaper than the price-dropped 2014 line, and only marginally slower? Whichever you buy, you’re getting an incredible machine.

The bottom line. The MacBook Air gives amazing portability and all-day battery without compromising on power.

Review Synopsis

Product: 

MacBook Air (mid-2014)

Company: 

Apple, Inc.

Contact: 

Price: 

$1099 (11-inch), $1199 (13-inch)

Positives: 

Outstanding battery life. Extremely portable. This 2014 release gets a price cut.

Negatives: 

Is a Retina model coming soon that could render this one obsolete?


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Morning Report: iPhone 6 Could Improve Apple Logo, iTunes 11.3.1 Update

Iphone 6 Apple Logo Liquidmetal 620px

The so-called iPhone 6 is back in the news today, thanks to some lovingly detailed photo leaks from a luxury device supplier more than happy to show off just a few of the changes Apple may have in store for us next month. Readers can also kick off the weekend with a big App Store sale on productivity titles, along with a minor iTunes update that stomps out a few podcast bugs — it's all in this edition of the MacLife.com Morning Report!

Latest iPhone 6 Leak Reveals Scratch-Resistant Apple Logo

With Apple's next media event widely expected only a month from now, the iPhone 6 leaks appear to be ramping up once again. MacRumors reported Thursday that luxury iPhone vendor Feld & Volk have gotten their hands on what appears to be a completed rear shell for the 4.7-inch iPhone 6, revealing recessed volume buttons and a curious improvement to the Apple logo embedded on the back of the device.

Feld & Volk claims this year's iPhone will feature an Apple logo made of "very extraordinary" metal reportedly far more resistant to scratches. The report immediately raises the possibility of the logo being made from Liquidmetal, an alloy Apple has been toying with, but has yet to implement in Cupertino's mobile devices.

Also on display from Feld & Volk is the device's external camera ring, a 6.66 mm diameter circle that protrudes slightly, rather than lying flush with the exterior shell as previous models. The larger 5.5-inch iPhone 6 has been widely believed to feature just such a camera ring, but this marks the first time it's appeared on the 4.7-inch model.

Apple Squashes Podcast Bugs with iTunes 11.3.1 Update

Have you noticed iTunes 11.3 failing to update subscribed podcasts with new episodes, or worse yet, freeze up entirely when browsing lists of podcast episodes? If so, you'll want to run, not walk, to the Mac App Store and download iTunes 11.3.1, a minor update released Thursday that aims to squash those very bugs, in addition to all the goodies included with iTunes 11.3, such as iTunes Extras for HD movies.

"iTunes 11.3.1 addresses a problem where subscribed podcasts may stop updating with new episodes and resolves an issue where iTunes may become unresponsive while browsing your podcasts episodes in a list," Apple's release notes read. (The update is also available direct from Apple's website.)

App Store Launches Big Sale on Popular Productivity Apps

We'd all like to stay productive, but it gets expensive buying all of the apps necessary to make that dream a reality. If you've been waiting for a sale on popular apps such as Fantastical 2, Clear, Scanbot, PDF Expert 5, iTranslate Voice, or Launch Center Pro, now is your chance, thanks to Apple's "Amazing Productivity Apps" sale on the App Store, with prices as low as 99 cents and topping out at $6.99. Writer Pro receives one of the most steep discounts, from $19.99 to $4.99, but most of the others are at least 50 percent off, but only for a limited time. (At least one developer has confirmed the sale ends August 14th, but Apple isn't saying for sure.)

Follow this article’s author, J.R. Bookwalter on Twitter

(Image courtesy of MacRumors and Feld & Volk)

 


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Deals: Become a Master iPhone Photographer with these Awesome Accessories

[This is an advertorial. Maclife gets a portion of each unit sold.]

The iPhone has become a capable replacement for stand alone cameras. There's no need to lug around another device when you can snap gorgeous shots on the phone that is already in your pocket. But if you want to become a real iPhone photographer, you need the right accessories to get the pictures you want. We have a bunch of must have tools for your mobile portraits. Check out the offers available now in our Deals tab.

Iphonelenskit

You can turn your iPhone into the ideal option for capturing any moment with the 3-in-1 Lens Kit. It features a lens ideal for up close photos, images in the distance, and wider landscapes. Get all three to add to your photography arsenal for just $23.99.

Istabilizer

If you're in rough terrain or just need a little extra support to get the image you want, use the iStabilizer and keep the camera rolling. It's the ideal accessory for capturing amazing, cinematic videos. You'll get smooth, tracking shots that will look great. It can be yours for just $38.99.

Kick

Kick packs in about as much power as you could ever need into one small package. Though it's small, Kick can push out 400 lumens of light, making it twice as bright as most police flashlights. Keep Kick in your back pocket for just $149.


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Why Burger King's Tax Inversion Maneuver Is No Surprise

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Mandel Ngan, AFP/Getty Images
By Tom Bergin

Burger King (BKW) may have taken a lot of flack in the past week for a deal that should curb its U.S. tax bill but in many ways it is consistent with the burger chain's aggressive tax-reduction strategies in recent years.

Some U.S. lawmakers and other critics attacked the company that is the home of the Whopper for deciding to move its tax base to Canada from the U.S. through its proposed purchase of Oakville, Ontario-based coffee and doughnut chain Tim Hortons (THI). They say it will allow Burger King to avoid paying some U.S. taxes.

That would be nothing new. A Reuters analysis of Burger King's regulatory filings in the U.S. and overseas, which was also reviewed by accounting experts, shows that it has been making major efforts to reduce its U.S. tax bill for some time.

By massaging down U.S. taxable profits while maximizing the profits it reports in low-tax jurisdictions overseas, Burger King is able to operate one of the most tax-efficient businesses in the U.S. fast-food industry.

The chain's effective tax rate of 26 percent over the past three years compares with rates above 31 percent at McDonalds (MCD), Starbucks (SBUX) and Dunkin' Brands Group (DNKN). KFC and Pizza Hut owner Yum Brands (YUM) did have a similar tax rate to Burger King though this reflects the 74 pct of its revenues that were generated outside the U.S., in markets where tax rates are typically around 25 percent.

The Burger King rate is 30 percent lower than the average tax rate it paid in the five years before it was bought in 2010 by private equity group 3G, still the company's majority shareholder.

The accounting experts say the Canadian move will allow Burger King to double-down on those efforts as it will open up new tax-saving opportunities for the company. It could, for example, apply the tax structures it currently employs in major markets like Germany and Britain, and which allow the group to operate almost tax free in those places, to its business in the United States, they said.

I would be surprised if in five years' time, their tax rate does not come down reasonably dramatically.

And that could mean Uncle Sam will lose corporate tax income that Burger King would have to pay under its current structure.

"I would be surprised if in five years' time, their tax rate does not come down reasonably dramatically," said Professor Stephen Shay, from Harvard Law School, who has testified to Congress on corporate taxation.

Burger King declined to comment on its current U.S. tax arrangements. But it has said the so-called "inversion" deal to buy Tim Hortons for $11.5 billion, and move the headquarters to Canada, was based on Canada being the combined company's biggest market. It said the deal was about international expansion -- particularly of the Tim Hortons' brand and not about tax savings.

"We don't expect our tax rate to change materially. As I said this transaction is not really about tax, it's about growth," Chief Executive Officer Daniel Schwartz said in a call with analysts last week.

It would be perfectly legal for Burger King to reduce its U.S. tax bill through the Canadian move. Chas Roy-Chowdhury, Head of Taxation at the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants in London, said companies all over the world manage their tax bills so they don't have to pay more tax than necessary.

"If the U.S. doesn't like inversion deals, it should change the law to prevent them. The U.S. has a leaky corporation tax system which encourages companies to park profits offshore," he said.

U.S. Margins Low

Finding ways to report less income to the Internal Revenue Service and more to overseas tax authorities is a particular focus for companies with a headquarters or big operations in the U.S. because of the headline federal corporate tax rate of 35 percent on profits. It is the highest headline corporate tax rate in any major developed country, and can be even higher once state and local taxes are added on. There is an incentive for companies to shift U.S.-generated profits overseas, where rates can be very low, the experts say.

Burger King generated almost 60 percent of its revenues in the United States between 2011 and 2013, regulatory filings show, but the chain reported just 20 percent of its profits in the country over the period.

By contrast, the percentage of their profits that McDonalds, Starbucks, Dunkin' Brands and Yum reported as being earned in the United States was in line with the percentage of their total revenues generated in the country.

Those companies all declined to comment.

Shay said Burger King's large debt load could explain why it has more ability to manage its U.S. tax bill than less leveraged peers.

Burger King's low reported U.S. profit translates to domestic profit margins of just an average 4 percent between 2011-2013 -- a fifth of the level it recorded in overseas markets in that time. The company declined to say why its U.S. operation enjoyed such low margins over the period -- it reported a small U.S. loss in 2012 and a tiny profit for 2011, though the profit was up to a much healthier level by 2013.

There could be explanations other than tax-driven moves for the low margins. The U.S. fast food market is the most competitive in the world, and prices for fast food offerings are lower than in some other major markets as a result. However, a lot of the burden, including increased labor costs as the minimum wages rises in some states and spending on a refurbishment program for Burger King restaurants, would be borne by the company's franchisees. Burger King operates very few of its own restaurants.

Professor Daniel Shaviro from New York University Law School, who was previously Legislation Attorney at the Joint Congressional Committee on Taxation, said tax planning likely had a lot to do with the low levels of income reported in the U.S.

The company's accounts show the low reported U.S margins are due, at least in part, to how hundreds of millions of dollars in group overheads, such as head office and debt costs are spread across the company each year.

Before such costs are applied, profit margins at Burger King's United States and Canada division (the U.S. produces 91 percent of that unit's revenue) are in line with international operations, at around 39 percent, its filings show. But after these costs are applied, the North American unit ends up with its rock-bottom margins.

Most of these costs are taken in the U.S. because it is where cash is borrowed, and senior managers and product innovators are based. But tax rules state that such costs should be evenly spread across international divisions, said Kimberly Clausing, a Professor of Economics at Reed University.

Clausing said the gap between Burger King's gross and pre-tax profit figures for the United States suggested such group-wide costs are being disproportionately offset against U.S. income.

"That's one way of shifting income abroad ... it's a common problem," for the IRS, said Clausing.

Tax Free in Germany

Burger King also operates a tax-efficient operation overseas. By channeling income through Switzerland it has managed to pay an effective tax rate of 15 percent on foreign income over the past three years, company filings and statements show.

Experts said this arrangement could become a template for how Burger King, as a foreign company, could shave its U.S. tax rate further.

The impact in Germany shows how that could cost the U.S. Treasury.

Germany has historically been Burger King's largest market outside North America, generating over 10 percent of total sales. In 2011 and 2012, the last two years for which figures were available, the German operation had combined sales of $501 million -- over half the total for the Europe, Middle East and Africa region, regulatory filings show.

In 10 conference calls with analysts covering the two-year period, transcripts of which Reuters reviewed, then-Chief Financial Officer Schwartz mentioned the German market eight times, and each time spoke of its "strong performance" or "positive" results.

EMEA operating profits for 2011 and 2012 totaled $356 million. Yet, Burger King Beteilligung -- the entity which consolidated earnings for the group's main German operating units -- reported losses in 2011 and 2012, totaling over $10 million and recorded a net income tax credit of more than 200,000 euros.

Burger King Germany's taxable income was reduced partly because German stores pay around five percent of their turnover to an affiliate in Switzerland, Burger King Europe, the company told Reuters in 2012.

Burger King Europe owns brand rights for Europe, the Middle East and Africa -- which also allows profits from other places, not just Germany, to be at least partly funneled through Switzerland.

Burger King declined to say why the group declared no profits in Germany at the same time as it boasted to investors about the market's strength, but a spokeswoman said the tax structure in Europe pre-dated New-York based 3G's acquisition of the chain in 2010.

Almost all of Burger King's restaurants are now run on a franchise basis rather than directly by the company, and more than 80 percent of the company's revenue comes from franchise fees and property revenue. At the end of last year, it had 7,384 franchised restaurants in the U.S. and 52 company owned and run -- the latter are in the Miami area near the company's current headquarters so it can test new food offerings and other changes to the way it operates.

Under U.S. tax rules, Burger King can't currently cut its American tax bill by routing franchise fees from its U.S. franchisees via Switzerland. But these rules wouldn't apply to a Canadian company. The company spokeswoman said Burger King had no plans to shift franchisees into contracts with offshore subsidiaries.


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4 Familiar Stocks You Wouldn't Expect to Have High Yields

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MnHP DAL MrFreeze
www.sixflags.com
Major market indexes may be hitting new highs, but not everyone is celebrating. Given the lofty stock valuations and slowly expanding economy, many investors are starting to hunt for high-yielding stocks that can provide some steady income to help offset any upcoming market declines.

Utility stocks, real estate investment trusts and limited partnerships are magnetic because of their chunky yields, but let's look beyond the obvious high-payers. Let's check out a few investments generating high payouts in some unlikely places.

Six Flags (SIX) -- 5.1 percent yield

It seems as if you can't run an amusement park chain as a public company without rewarding your stakeholders with some spending money for the next time they hit the park. This can probably be attributed to Cedar Fair (FUN), which as a limited partnership shells out most of its profits as distributions. This translated into a head-turning yield of 5.7 percent.

Six Flags isn't too shabby, presently yielding more than 5 percent. Even SeaWorld (SEAS) is now brandishing a yield north of 4 percent, largely the result of losing nearly a third of its value after a poorly received quarterly report a few weeks ago.

Running a theme park isn't cheap. It takes frequent sizable investments during the off-seasons to beef up the attractions. However, Six Flags is finding a way to build out its gated attractions while still being able to return money to its shareholders.

Mattel (MAT) -- 4.3 percent yield

Barbie, Hot Wheels and American Girl are just some of the famous playthings produced by Mattel. Barbie sales have slowed in recent years, plunging 15 percent in Mattel's latest quarter, and having a few more hit toys and games this upcoming holiday season wouldn't hurt. The toy-making giant has been struggling lately, missing Wall Street's profit targets in each of the past three quarters.

Still, toy makers apparently don't play games when it comes to their payouts. Rival Hasbro (HAS) -- the toy company behind Transformers, Nerf and other diversions -- yields an impressive 3.5 percent.

Regal Entertainment (RGC) -- 4.3 percent yield

Movie theater stocks may not seem like a hotbed for quarterly disbursements, but it seems as if strong box office sales result in money trickling down to theater owners. Regal Entertainment watches over 574 movie theaters housing 7,349 screens.

Regal is coming off a rough quarter in which revenue and adjusted earnings declined. Movie customers aren't upgrading to premium 3-D and supersized screenings the way that they used to, and Regal's been slow to update its concessions to make them more irresistible.

Healthy payouts appear to be the feature attraction for exhibitors since growth has been a challenge. Regal rival AMC (AMC) offers a reasonable 3.4 percent yield. It's not as generous as Regal, but it's still more than just popcorn money. Then again, going by what multiplexes typically charge, maybe that's not enough popcorn money.

Staples (SPLS) -- 4.2 percent yield

Office supplies have been a bad bet for investors. Despite industry consolidation that resulted in the second- and third-largest superstores merging last year and a general improvement in the corporate economy, market leader Staples and its peers have been disappointing.

Sales and adjusted earnings fell 2 percent and 27 percent, respectively, during Staples' latest quarter. It may not always be that way. Staples has responded by closing underperforming stores and widening its product offerings. It has also emphasized its online offerings that when combined with its local warehousing infrastructure can provide reliable next-day delivery through its own fleet of drivers.

Investors who believe that Staples will get it right can pick up the top dog at a beaten-down price that currently offers a better yield than most fixed-income investments. Staples means business.

Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Hasbro and Mattel. The Motley Fool owns shares of Hasbro and Staples. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

 

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Last Week's Biggest Stock Movers: Keep an Eye on the Cameras

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ADOGM 001 Life2
www.gopro.com
Plenty of stocks go up and down in any given week. The gainers inspire us to keep investing. The decliners keep greed in check while reminding us about the risks of the equity markets.

Let's go over some of last week's best and worst performers.

TubeMogul (TUBE) -- Up 47 percent last week

The biggest winner among Nasdaq-listed stocks was TubeMogul, surprising the market with a profit in its first quarter as a public company. TubeMogul is trying to raise the bar when it comes to online video advertising, and its first time out with fresh financials is impressive.

Revenue more than doubled, and TubeMogul's profit of 4 cents a share flabbergasted the pros, who were bracing for a deficit of 15 cents a share. Its guidance suggests that TubeMogul will revert back to a deficit during the next two quarters, but the market was still impressed by the healthy revenue and ad spend growth in its outlook for the balance of the year.

GoPro (GPRO) -- Up 20 percent last week

The leading maker of wearable cameras is going to the dogs. GoPro moved higher after introducing a new canine camera harness.

GoPro's Fetch is a harness that offers a pair of mount locations for GoPro's high-def HERO cameras. The adjustable mount can be worn by dogs as small as 15 pounds, but it remains to be seen if PETA and other animal activists object to having cameras mounted on canines in the first place.

Mobileye (MBLY) -- Up 15 percent last week

Self-driving cars may be closer than we think. Shares of Mobileye -- a Jerusalem-based leader in camera-based advanced driver assistance systems, moved higher after analysts initiated coverage with favorable ratings.

Barclays Capital (BCS), Citigroup (C), Morgan Stanley (JPM) and Robert W. Baird were among the analysts chiming in on the recently public company with upbeat outlooks. Mobileye's cameras make cars smarter, bringing us one step closer to automobiles that drive themselves.

Smith & Wesson (SWHC) -- Down 15 percent last week

The gun maker was firing blanks last week after posting a problematic quarterly report. Revenue plunged 23 percent, but inventory levels soared 60 percent. A glut of unsold weaponry is only going to add to the industry's cutthroat ways. Making matters worse, Smith & Wesson revised its full-year profit outlook sharply lower.

Noodles & Co. (NDLS) -- Down 10 percent last week

One of last year's hottest initial public offerings continues to come undone in 2014. The fast-casual chain of pasta-boiling eateries slumped after being called out not once -- but twice -- on CNBC.

Jim Cramer was the first to diss Noodles & Co., singling it out on Monday's "Mad Money" show as one of five restaurant stocks that could give investors indigestion. Cramer feels that until same-store sales turn the corner, expansion is not in its best interest. "Fast Money" followed a day later, with Stephen Weiss suggesting that viewers sell the stock.

GrubHub (GRUB) -- Down 10 percent last week

The market was hungry for GrubHub earlier this year, but it's not really interested in going for seconds. Shares of the restaurant delivery platform stumbled after the company announced that it will sell 10 millions shares in a secondary offering. Underwriters are relaxing lock-up restrictions to allow insiders to unload some of their shares.

GrubHub went public in April at $26 a share. The stock has moved sharply higher since the IPO, but secondary offerings this soon after going public often give the impression that insiders think the stock is peaking.

Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Citigroup. Try any of our newsletter services free for 30 days.

 

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