The Whopper Takes On Canada

by Gerri Willis

Burger King’s acquisition of Canadian coffee and donut chain, Tim Horton’s, has drawn criticism from many corners including our friends to the north, who are concerned that the classic chain will get an apple pie makeover, but the most succinct critique I heard today came from a Burger King customer on the streets of New York who had just finished lunch. “It’s the American Whopper,” she said.

Not anymore. BK says the deal is virtually complete with only Canadian regulators needed to sign on. Analysts and pundits continue to describe the acquisition as fueled by a desire to lower costs, especially tax costs. Corporate tax rates in the US are 35 percent versus 15 for Canada.  Yet Burger King CEO Daniel Schwartz told reporters today in a conference call that lower taxes weren’t the “driver for the deal” and described the rate differential as not meaningful.

Instead, the company says it needs a strategy to more effectively compete in the fast food niche of the restaurant business which is sorely lacking respect from millennials, who prefer fast casual restaurant chains like Chipotle. No doubt BK needs to fix its image and improve its offerings but the tax backlash the company is receiving isn’t helping it burnish its appeal. Usually milquetoast senators are telling reporters that they are boycotting the burger chain.

Adding to the revelations, the White House’s poster boy for tax fairness, Warren Buffett, who famously proclaimed he has been under taxed for years, is financing the $10 billion Burger King deal and stands to make a tidy profit. As my mom said, things are getting curiouser and curiouser.

Here’s what I think: If tax policies don’t change, BK is the beginning of the wave of U.S. companies which will move offshore to become more competitive. And yet, the administration is adamant in refusing to even consider a more competitive rate for corporate profits. In fact, the Treasury department is engaging in backdoor efforts to stop these moves offshore. And, that will be a waste of time because the more that companies believe regulators are closing the door to these so-called inversion deals, the more likely they are to pursue them. So, in effect, the White House’s policy may speed the result they are hoping to prevent.  Hey, White House, if even your tax fairness guru isn’t with you, it might be time to change sides.

GM Compensation Fund Officially Open For Business

by Gerri Willis

Today is the first day that victims of the GM ignition switch disaster can file claims for compensation. Those claim forms can be found at: prepared – there’s some pretty complicated paperwork to be filled out. A total of 12 forms await filers.

Ken Feinberg, who is running the victim’s compensation fund, says he expects claimants to accompany their applications with relevant data such as police reports, black box data, photos of the car, any warranty and medical records. Even the car itself may become an important part of his evaluation of claims.

Navigating those forms, he says, may be easier than you first think, because many are specific to the situation of each victim. For example, families filing on behalf of family members who have died will file different forms than survivors. Even so, some claimants may find the process daunting. Feinberg says there is help available for anyone in that category.

“We will assist any family member, anybody filing a claim if you are having trouble getting through the documentation or locating documentation, “he says. “We will work with you. We are not adversarial. We are trying to get money out the door to eligible claimants.”

Feinberg invited people to contact the office directly. That number is 1-855-382-6463.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers say they expect hundreds of claims to be made today, but Feinberg said such estimates are “sheer speculation,” adding that the typical trend in such cases is a spike in applications in the first month and the last month of the program, which in this case is December. Feinberg has also run high-profile compensation funds in the wake of 9-11, the Boston bombing and the BP oil spill.

GM has set aside $400 million to compensate victims, raising questions about how the number was derived. Feinberg said he couldn’t speak for GM, and in the past he has said there is no cap on the fund. Initially, the company said 13 people died due to loss of control of their vehicle when their ignition switch slipped into the off position and power brakes and steering went out. Airbags also would not deploy under those conditions. Recently, the company raised that estimate to 19, but as least one plaintiff attorney says the number could be far higher.                 

Save Big Money on Clothes

by Gerri Willis

I hate spending a lot of money on clothes. Smart shoppers know they don’t have to pay an arm and a leg to dress well. Mitt Romney, who can afford any label he wants, talked on the campaign trail about how he bought Kirkland brand dress shirts at Costco. Seeing an item you bought at full price marked down is always a downer. So, to get some great tips on buying clothes at a discount, I  went to Andrea Woroch, a personal finance expert.

First off, Woroch says store markdowns typically start on Thursdays, contrary to conventional wisdom. Yes, you normally see sales advertised for the weekends, but sales associates have to get out ahead and change prices on individual items beforehand, and that means better selection and prices for people in the know.  Second, you always want to shop out of season and that means buying summer items at the end of the summer when they go on sale. Hold off buying for fall and winter until after Christmas to score deep, deep discounts. Retailers mark down seasonal merchandise dramatically to clear out store shelves and make room for spring clothing.

To track prices, consider using apps like Hukkster, which tracks price drops and will alert you when coupons become available. Also, many of the big chain retailers, like Abercrombie & Fitch, have aggressive social media platforms and alert loyal customers to the best deals. The downside of signing up for the apps is that you may get more info than you want about merchandise.

Discounters are a great way to go – with chains like TJMaxx and Marshalls offering steep discounts on brands you already know. Local consignment shops stock quality clothing at a steep discount. Choose a consignment store in a wealthy neighborhood for the best finds. Another great place to go for slightly used brand name clothes are online consignment shops like and

My girlfriends and I make scoring big discounts a game. It’s hip to be cheap!


Don’t miss The Willis Report 5pmET on FOX Business

Ways to Save Money at Lunchtime

by Gerri Willis

Not too long ago, I started adding up all the money I was spending on lunch at work and I was shocked out how much money was slipping through my fingers. About the time I ate a wilted spinach salad speckled with green eggs that I bought at a nearby deli, I started thinking there’s got to be a better way. Given that the average American spends nearly $1,000 a year for lunch just two days a week, chances are you may be as frustrated as I was. But here’s the thing, how do you pack a meal that will be appealing by the time the lunch hour rolls around?

Today on the Willis Report, we will be examining this topic, but in this blog I’ll give you my solutions. First off, I stay away from the routine – no PBJ, forget the turkey sandwich (it gets soggy!), and, as much as I love tuna fish, I avoid it so that my office mates don’t turn up their nose at the smell.

A typical lunch I like to make starts with greens dressed in a simple dressing. On Sunday, I sometimes make a grain or rice based salad I can mix in with the greens to give it heft. This weekend, I made a quinoa salad (a good source of protein!) with raisins and chopped walnut mixed with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. I added in corn I had cut off the cob that my husband and I had grilled outside. There’s always an avocado floating around, so I bring one and cut it up at work, so it doesn’t get brown in the salad bowl in the office frig.

Like anything, planning is essential, so that you can keep your prep time to a minimum. I try to play off whatever I cook over the weekend so that I don’t have to do so much work. Not only am I saving money, but I like the idea that I know exactly what is in my lunch!


Don’t miss The Willis Report tonight 5pmET on FOX Business

Cutting Your Commuting Costs

by Gerri Willis

Saving money is no big sweat when you’re talking about saving on items like clothing or travel. After all, those purchases are discretionary. You can buy them, or you can stay away – it’s all up to you. But when it comes to commuting – well, that’s a must-have. You’ve got to make it to work, so we spoke with John Nielsen, AAA’s automotive engineering and repair managing director, about what you can do to cut back your commuting costs.

With 10.8 million of us traveling an hour each way on our commute, it’s no surprise that spending on commuting is high. The average household spends $3,000 a year on all gas purchases, but it could be less if you took these simple tips from Nielsen:


  • Stop driving so aggressively. According to the Energy Department, tailgating and swerving in out of traffic costs you big time. Aggressive driving lowers your gas mileage by a third! For more savings, keep it under the speed limit. You spend about a quarter more per gallon for every five miles per hour you drive over 60 MPH.


  • Don’t get stuck in traffic tieups. True sometimes there is only one way to get where you’re going. But more often than not, you can find a way around traffic snarls. Idling just 10 minutes is the same as driving five miles when it comes to gas consumption. Check out traffic apps like Waze to get traffic alerts and to find the lowest gas prices. Google maps’ “faster route” navigation can help you avoid backups.


  • Use pre-tax dollars to save. Some employers have commuting programs that allow workers to save on their commute by using pre-tax dollars to buy train tickets or parking.


Don’t miss The Willis Report tonight 5pmET on FOX Business

Shop Smart & Save More on Groceries

by Gerri Willis

Planning to bring home the bacon? Good luck, bacon prices are up 14 percent from two years ago. And, that’s not the only item in your grocer’s aisles that is rising in prices. Fresh fruit prices are on the march, as are avocado prices. Thinking you’ll skip the high prices of steak and have a pork chop instead? Forget it. Pork chops prices are obscene and so is the lowly ground chuck. Fortunately, there are ways to save. Tod Marks, senior projects editor at Consumer Reports, gave me his best ideas.

Marks says you don’t have to spend every weekend cutting coupons to save and offered some great strategies for getting the best prices on darn near everything. Start by getting your favorite store’s loyalty card. This allows you to access to special offers that you might otherwise not get. It may sound like a small thing, but chains like Safeway and Stop & Shop offer gas discounts when you sign up.

Simple changes can make a difference. Marks recommends buying bagged produce, like apples or potatoes, and multipacks of items like soap and soda, to save as much as 36 percent. (Just make sure you can use all those apples before they go bad!)

Avoid stopping at the drug store for a last-minute gallon of milk. According to Consumer Reports, there are better places to pick up the item on your grocery list you forgot. Dollar stores are carrying a larger proportion of food items, as much as 66 percent of their sales, and savings can be dramatic. Consumer Reports price differences of as much as 28 percent.

If you like to use apps to shop, Marks recommends an app called “Boxed,” which helps users find the best prices for bulk shopping. Also, “Checkout 51” locates the best items for cash back offers.    

Otherwise, shop smart. Shopping advocates advise you trust, but verify. If something is advertised as a good deal, break down the per unit prices and make comparisons with other stores.

We’ll have more from Marks tonight on The Willis Report at 5pm ET on Fox Business.

GM Recall: Warnings Ignored

by Gerri Willis

Three months after GM CEO Mary Barra first testified before a Congressional panel, questions remain about how the one-time global vehicle manufacturing leader allowed a safety problem to fester for 11 years resulting in 54 head-on car crashes and at least 13 deaths.

While Barra will appear again next week to testify before another Congressional panel, the fact that the “pattern of accidents” as a report to GM directors described it, wasn’t detected for over a decade is nothing short of astonishing. Problems with the ignition switch designed to be used in numerous GM models on the company’s Delta production platform were evident early. The engineer who designed it, for example, called it the “switch from hell” because the prototype performed so badly.

GM’s top engineers may have been mystified by the problems with the ignition switch, which became evident early on in its Cobalt model, but others were not. In fact, in 2007 a trooper from the Wisconsin Safety Patrol made the link between the ignition switch turned to accessory mode and the fact that airbags did not deploy seven years before the company recalled cars with the switch. He wasn’t the only one.

That same year, Indiana University’s Transportation Research Center made the same connection between the switch and airbags that didn’t deploy at the very time drivers needed them. Then, in 2013, an expert hired by a plaintiff’s attorney did what GM engineers had apparently failed to do: took apart the switches to find the problem.

Even inside GM, there was a growing recognition that something was seriously wrong.  The company’s director of product investigations, a special group of safety experts, succeeded in turning off the car with her knee. Multiple investigations were launched, but nothing ever much came of them. Ultimately, the company determined that fixing the problem was simply too costly and instead sent a bulletin to dealers warning them that these cars could stall. 

Anton Valukas, who penned the report to GM directors, wrote that throughout the decade of probes “there was no demonstrated sense of urgency, right to the very end. The officials overseeing the potential fixes and investigations did not set timetables, and did not demand action.”

The lack of action is all that more confounding when you realize the legacy that GM was protecting. The company is one of the largest engineering and manufacturing enterprises in the world. For 77 years until 2007 (and again in 2011), GM sold more cars worldwide than any other company.

And, the Cobalt, in particular, was a brand designed to advance that legacy. As SUV and car sales slowed during the 2000s, GM searched for the perfect small car to compete with the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic. Executives thought they had found that car in the Cobalt. Marketers launched the Cobalt at spring break events, and hosted previews at nightclubs. The strategy worked. By the end of 2008, 40 percent of Cobalt Coupe sales were to drivers under 30.

But the Cobalt, as everyone now knows, didn’t extend GM’s legacy, it was a blot on that legacy. And, now, it remains to be seen just what its long-lasting impact might be.

Don’t miss our GM Special: How Safe Are We? Thursday 5pmET on FOX Business

Foster Farms Salmonella Outbreak Expands

by Gerri Willis

Sixteen months after a massive Salmonella outbreak associated with Foster Farms chicken was reported, the company is recalling some contaminated chicken. So far, the outbreak has been linked to 600 illnesses, and hospitalized 40 percent of those who have fallen ill.

The Salmonella strain in the Foster Farms case has proven to be particularly persistent. The outbreak traced to the California-based chicken processor first made people sick in the nine months between June 2012 to April 2013, but then a second outbreak started in March 2013 and is ongoing. The particular strain of salmonella found in Foster Farms chicken called Heidelberg is particularly nasty, causing life-threatening blood infections in 13 percent of those who were infected.

Far and away, the biggest health threat from chicken is poisoning from salmonella bacteria. When Consumer Reports analyzed a random sampling of 300 packaged chicken breasts from across the country earlier this year, virtually every piece of poultry -- 97 percent -- contained a dangerous bacteria. Every year, 48 million people become ill from ingesting harmful bacteria lurking in raw chicken. Vomiting, stomach upset and diarrhea are common symptoms, but the impacts can be more severe.

While the government has been able to trace the progress of the outbreak using DNA tests, it hasn't stopped it. That's because the government has few tools to fight salmonella outbreaks. According to Pew Charitable Trusts, there are no standards that companies have to meet when it comes to chicken parts. The Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service, which is responsible for inspecting chicken, doesn't even consider Salmonella a food contaminant. What's more, its inspectors give producers a heads up before plant inspections. Pew reports that FSIS never issued any statements to consumers about the Foster Farms outbreak.

Given the industry's track record and the lack of government oversight, it’s up to you to keep your family safe. Cook all chicken thoroughly, so that the internal temperature is 165 degrees. And, don't wash the chicken because the bacteria can infect your kitchen.


Don’t miss The Willis Report 5pmET on FOX Business

User's Guide to Summer Vacation: RV Travel

by Gerri Willis

When it comes to seeing the country, one of Americans' favorite ways to travel is by recreation vehicle or RV. The first motorized campers were built in 1910, and by the 1930s and 1940s, motorists drove their Tin Lizzies across the country to tourist camps where they heated tin cans of food and bathed in cold water.

Times, though, have changed. A lot. Today's RVs have every comfort of home and then some. There are deluxe motor homes, towable sport utility RVs and truck campers. Prices can range from $40,000 for some of the basic models to well over $100,000 for top of the line models.

RV sales rose 13 percent in the first quarter of this year over the first quarter of 2013, and by year's end total shipments will reach 350,000 units, on par with 2007, a high water mark for the industry, according to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association. And, it's not just Winnebagos anymore. Other brands in the category include Fleetwood, Thor and Forest River.

Brad and Amy Herzog hit the road for two months every summer to explore the country and have covered 150,000 miles from Yellowstone National Park to the Blue Ridge Parkway.

"For a dozen years, we did it with our kids, and it was an exciting and enlightening experience for everyone," says Brad." But now that the kids attend summer camp for eight weeks, we have the opportunity to explore as a couple. It's a second honey moon every summer."

Join us tonight on "The Willis Report," to see Brad and Amy's RVs and to learn more about RVing.

Rare Reagan Document Sold

by Gerri Willis

Imagine as an 11-year-old asking the president to contribute to your charity fundraiser for the homeless. And, then, stretch your brain a little further and imagine that the president responds with a personal check and letter on White House stationary no less. That's what happened to one young girl named Lisa back in 1986, when she asked President Ronald Reagan to contribute to her walkathon for the homeless.

Now, 28 years later that letter, which offers a window into Reagan's personality, has sold for the first time. The price: $20,000.

"I am very proud to sponsor you in the walkathon," wrote Reagan in the letter. "Thank you for asking. I know you'll walk the seven miles and the enclosed is to help the cause you are serving."

Nathan Raab, Vice President of The Raab Collection, a dealer in historical documents, says, "It gives insight into Reagan the person. When Reagan was in office, he was criticized for not caring about the homeless and this letter shows that to be untrue."

Watch The Willis Report at 5 p.m. ET to see the letter and hear about it first hand from Nathan Raab.  


**Image Credit: Raab Collection


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