Thursday, February 27, 2014

U.S. automakers extend discount wars through March

Credit: Reuters/Gary Cameron

2014 Chevrolet Silverado pick up trucks are pictured in Thurmont, Maryland February 6, 2014.

Some of the heaviest discounts are being offered by Ford and Chevrolet dealers on full-size pickups - $8,000 and more on the 2014 Ford F-150 and $9,000 and more on the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado, according to Internet listings posted Thursday.

But U.S. dealers also are sweetening deals on a wider range of vehicles, from low-priced economy cars such as the Chevrolet Sonic to popular crossovers such as the Ford Escape, fueling fears of an escalating "Printable Coupons war" among the bigger manufacturers.

The latest offers come as the Detroit automakers and a number of their competitors appear to have been slammed by a third straight month of extreme weather in many parts of the United States, causing inventories of unsold vehicles to remain at unseasonably high levels.

"We believe short-term pent-up demand is building, but it's difficult to know when it will be released," said analyst Joseph Spak of RBC Capital Markets. "It could be March or spread out over a few months (and) is also likely dependent on the weather."

Analysts polled by Reuters estimated U.S. vehicle sales in February will be relatively flat from a year ago, at around 1,196,000, representing an annualized rate of 15.4 million. After dismal sales in January, analysts had predicted an uptick in February.


The challenge for GM and Ford has been to maintain a delicate balance between pricing and discounts, one of the key incentives offered by the industry. This task is made a bit easier with big pickups, high-margin vehicles that traditionally provide the lion's share of pretax profit in Detroit.

Automakers were able to maintain record transaction prices in February, with the industry average topping $29,000, according to research firm J.D. Power.

GM, which introduced its redesigned Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups last summer, has seen the biggest gain - around $5,000 per vehicle - in truck prices from a year ago, according to research firm Kelley Blue Book.

Because it has been spending relatively less on incentives this year than Ford, GM's share of full-size truck sales has dropped several points to less than 35 percent.

GM spent an estimated $3,204 per vehicle in incentives in February, compared with $3,305 for Ford, according to research firm TrueCar.

That could change as GM phases out heavy-duty versions of the Silverado and Sierra this spring while building up production of redesigned editions.

Analyst Brian Johnson of Barclays Capital said U.S. vehicle inventories are down slightly from January, but so far the automakers have maintained relatively strong first-quarter production schedules.

"Should inventory levels remain elevated through April, we could see the issue addressed" via higher incentives or production cuts, Johnson said.


At the retail level, discounting continues at a furious pace, judging from dealer websites reviewed Thursday by Reuters.

Chevrolet dealers were offering promotional deals on a wide range of models as the GM brand wrapped up a nationwide Presidents Day sale and prepared for two new March promotions.

The new promotions are dubbed Chevy Truck Month and Chevy Open House, according to trade publication Automotive News. The March incentive programs are expected to provide discounts of up to $7,000 or more per vehicle, according to a GM source who declined to be named because the programs have not been formally announced.

A number of Chevrolet dealers in the meantime are offering even better deals, many of them over the Internet.

On Thursday, David Stanley Chevrolet in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, advertised a 2014 Silverado for $27,900, or $9,260 off the sticker price.

In Chandler, Arizona, Thoroughbred Chevrolet advertised a 2014 Malibu sedan at $17,395, or $5,860 off sticker, and a 2014 Sonic hatchback for $10,495, or $4,500 off.

Ford has boosted and extended discounts on many of its U.S. models through March 31. The company now is offering rebates of up to $4,000 on the full-size 2014 F-150 pickup and as much as $6,000 on selected models such as the 2014 Focus Electric.

But Ford dealers across the United States continue to advertise even steeper discounts on the Web.

Hall Ford Lincoln in Newport News, Virginia, on Thursday was offering a 2014 Ford Taurus Limited sedan for $34,000, a discount of $6,090 off the suggested retail price, and a 2014 Escape SEL crossover for $29,000, a discount of $5,600.

Brandon Ford in Tampa, Florida offered deep discounts of up to $7,200 on the 2014 F-150 pickup and $8,360 on the heavy-duty F-150.

Will the discount wars continue beyond March? That depends on the weather and on whether a "bounceback" in demand materializes, analysts said. As RBC analyst Spak noted: "Incentives, once introduced, can be hard to pull back."

(Editing by Matthew Lewis)

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Finding coupons with no dumpster diving

Short of Dumpster diving, as seen on the popular TV series "Extreme Couponing," I have discovered that coupons may be found in some of the most unusual places.

Have you ever thought about finding coupons in places like hotel lobbies, local restaurants, or in airport waiting areas? Yes, it's true! Any place that people gather to read a newspaper to pass the time is a great place to find a jackpot of savings in the form of coupons. Many hotels offer complimentary newspapers to their guests, even on Sundays, and Sunday newspapers are full of Promotional Codes inserts.

Patrons at restaurants and passengers at airports will often leave behind their newspapers when they are finished with them, which means free coupons for those in search of savings.

Your local doctor or dentist's offices have complimentary magazines with educational materials that specialize in the area of the doctor's practice for their patients to read. For instance, the last time I visited my dentist, I found a pamphlet that instructed patients on how to brush their teeth. On the back of the pamphlet were three coupons, one for toothpaste, one for a toothbrush and one for dental floss. Savings like that are sure to make you smile.

Do you plan to do some online shopping? Many companies are now offering the assistance of "Chat Operators" to help answer questions about placing your online order. What a perfect time to ask your chat operator about specials, free shipping or online coupon codes to save even more money at checkout. Retailers are more than happy to offer a little savings in order to maintain your business and make you a repeat customer.

Social media is a great way to follow your favorite retailers and find out what items they are promoting for the up-and-coming season. Like your favorite companies on Facebook or follow them on Twitter. Many retailers are now using their Twitter feeds as a way to stay in touch with their loyal customers. Find coupon links on your favorite Facebook pages that will allow you to print coupons right at home.

And lastly, a great way to save money when you can't find a coupon, is just to ask! I hate to pay full price for anything. Never be afraid to as your cashier or waiter if there are any discounts or specials that you may not be aware of. Be polite and courteous and you may just find that your efforts will be rewarded with savings!

Join me on Facebook, search Coupon Clippin' Cuties and add yourself to our group. Discover how collecting coupons in unusual places can result in super savings!

Sandra Dulakis is a nurse, mother, wife and founder of Coupon

Clippin' Cuties.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Argyle Police Blotter

The following is a summary of incident reports recently made to the Argyle Police Department as compiled by the staff of The Cross Timbers Gazette:

A resident on Old Justin Road had his gate vandalized and reported that five trash cans were missing from his property.

Police took a theft report concerning a stolen handgun from a resident on FM 407.

An officer patrolling Country Lakes discovered nine vehicles that had been shot with a paintball gun. The officer contacted the vehicles owners to see if they wished to file police reports.

Police received a call from a motorist who said that he saw a strobe light go off when he drove through the intersection of Hwy 377 and Frenchtown Road. He wanted to know if there were cameras at the intersection and if he was going to receive a traffic citation in the mail. The motorist was advised by police that there were no cameras at the intersection.

A woman living near Liberty Christian School called police one Saturday at 10 a.m. to complain that loud music coming from the football field awoke her children. An officer went to the stadium to listen for the noise and noted that it did not sound too loud.

Police visited a residence in the 500 block of Charyl Lynn Drive several times to quell a dispute between neighbors over a right-of-way issue.

An officer patrolling FM 407 after dark noted a suspicious male standing on the side of the road. Upon investigation he learned that the man had been left stranded by his girlfriend and was waiting for someone to pick him up.

A resident on Stonecrest Road called police to report that their neighbor behind them has a deceased horse on their property and wanted to know if there was any ordinance addressing bad odors. The caller requested that an officer come to his house and smell it for himself. The animal control officer was contacted to remove the horse.

An employee of a business on FM 407 asked police to closely patrol her building after a Hispanic male was seen hanging around the business for four hours before someone came to pick him up.

Police assisted the Double Oak Police Department after two men got into an argument and one man hit the other one with a vase.

An officer investigated a suspicious vehicle report on Frenchtown Road at Hwy 377 described as a blue Ford van parked on the side of the road with an unkempt looking male occupant. A citizen who called police was concerned that the man was watching the high school girls cross country team run in the area. An officer responded and the motorist explained that he ran out of the furnace trailer of gas and was waiting for his wife to arrive with a gas can.

Police took a call from a concerned motorist about a reckless school bus driver who pulled out in front of his vehicle and ran him off the road. An officer spoke with the school district and they agreed to investigate the incident.

A woman called police from Paradise Foods who reported a semi-truck driver beating his dog. She said she witnessed the driver punch the dog after he followed him into the cab of his truck. The woman was told to call police when the suspect came back to retrieve his trailer.

Argyle Police and Denton County Deputies were dispatched to Old Alton and Hilltop Road for a dispute between two motorists. A man stated he was pulling out of his driveway when another man began tailgating him, threatening him and making obscene gestures. The caller said that he pulled over to discuss the situation with the other motorist and told him that if he had a gun this would be a perfect time to use it. The man told police that he did not have a weapon and was advised to stay in his vehicle and wait for police to show up.

A man said that someone called him and tried to get him to send $1900 to the Mexican Consulate to get his grandson out of jail. He did not fall for the scam but wanted to report it to the police.

Police were called to the Argyle Church of Christ about two longhorns that were roaming the parking lot. They left before an officer arrived but police were called back to the area several times after more longhorn sightings were reported. An officer checked the fence and found a hole where the cows were escaping. The longhorns' owner said he believed the best thing to do was send them to "the sale" due to the ongoing problems he was having with them.

A resident on Old Justin Road reported that her driveway lights were shot out sometime during the night.

Police responded to a rehabilitation center after an employee said an intoxicated patient was acting in a threatening manner and it appeared that he was about to hit another patient and a staff member.

A motorist on I-35W reported that someone dropped an unknown object from an overpass near FM 407, causing minor damage to both sides of his truck. Police were unable to locate the culprit.

Someone stole solar lights from a flower bed in front a residence on Old Justin Road.

A Country Lakes man reported that someone fraudulently charged over $5,500 on his credit card at a home improvement store in Oklahoma City.

Police investigated an illegal dumping report on John's Well Court after a resident complained about debris on the side of the road. An officer investigating the report noticed that someone had dragged container carts into the woods at that location.

A concerned motorist reported seeing four black males dressed in black carrying buckets and soliciting donations for an unspecified charity at the intersection of Hwy 377 and FM 407. An officer arrived and advised them of the town's soliciting laws. The men left the area.

An officer investigating a noise complaint on Redbud Street discovered that a washing machine had fallen through the floor of a residence and a family friend was at the home helping to repair it.

Police responded to a security alarm at a model home in Country Lakes where a witness reported seeing juveniles running from the home and said that the kids had flipped over a Porta-Potty.

An Argyle High School official reported that someone kicked in the door of the concession stand but nothing was taken. This was the second time the incident had occurred in the past couple of months.

A resident on East Hickory Ridge Circle reported fraudulent charges on her Fry's Electronics account after someone hacked into her account and made two unauthorized purchases.

A resident on Sunset Court complained about skateboarders congregating on the street in front of his house and said two of them "mouthed off" to him.

Someone flattened all four tires on a vehicle and removed a tire's valve stem core on another vehicle parked at a residence on West Front Street. The day before someone had put a nail into a pickup truck tire at the same residence. The victim told police that she believed her son was the culprit because he was angry after a family argument that resulted in his father being arrested for assault.

Police responded to a disturbance on Redbud Street after a man suspected his aunt was in possession of a stolen cell phone and debit card, but said that she was being uncooperative and locked herself into a bedroom.

A woman stopped by the police station to file a fraud report and stated that her bank debit card was used at a Walmart in Spring, TX on five separate occasions for a total of $963 in fraudulent charges.

Police took a call from a man on I-35W who was concerned about the mental state of a female hitchhiker he had picked up. He stated that the woman began referring to herself by different names and asked to be let out on the highway so the man complied. An officer located the woman walking along I-35W and she asked him how to get to Dallas. The officer noted that she did not make any odd statements or show any signs of mental illness.

A solicitor selling books would not take no for an answer, visiting a Knob Hill Court home twice in one day after being told no the first time. The second visit after dark prompted a call to police by the homeowner.

Missing checks expected in the mail made a woman suspect her new mail carrier may be at fault. She told police that she contacted the post office, but the mail carrier was not responding to their inquiry. She was given the contact information for the Postal Inspector.

A resident in the 300 block of Crawford Road reported hearing three gunshots. An officer responded and spoke with neighbors who said that their children were riding four wheelers that were backfiring.

An officer on patrol in Country Lakes observed a roofing crew working after permitted hours. The crew leader told the officer they had to finish the job because they were afraid the shingles would be stolen. After further conversation they agreed to stop for the evening.

Police responded to a report to a couple arguing in a drainage ditch on Chisholm Trail. An officer responded to the scene and determined that no assault had occurred.

A woman called police to report unauthorized charges on her business credit card to an online clothing store totaling over $4,000. The items were shipped to an address in California.

An officer spotted a man on FM 407 selling ribeye steaks without a solicitors permit and advised him of the town's regulations.

Police took a report from a caller who said that five juveniles in an SUV left the high school parking lot at a high rate of speed and crashed into a ditch on Harpole Road. The responding officer found the vehicle abandoned in the ditch and issued a citation.

A restaurant employee on Hwy 377 called police for help with an intoxicated customer who refused to leave. The man, in his mid-20's and an ex-employee of the establishment, became irate after the bartender refused to serve him.

A homeowner in the 1400 block of Rolling Acres reported seeing a suspicious vehicle back out of her driveway as she was looking out the window. She was concerned because her husband was out of town and she was not expecting visitors. She later discovered it was a friend who stopped by and didn't ring the doorbell.

Police took a call from a man who claimed he saw a mountain lion casually walking around near the intersection of Hwy 377 and FM 407 and it looked like it was about ready to attack somebody. An officer responded and could not locate the animal.

A Country Lakes homeowner saw smoke coming from his attic shortly after turning his furnace on. The fire department responded and authorities determined the smoke was actually steam rising from a vent stack as a result of the unit being turned on for the first time this season.

The principal of an elementary school called police to report one of her teachers had received a handwritten letter at the school berating her and the principal herself had received a typed letter concerning the teacher.

A Subway employee became concerned about an African-American man in his sixties acting erratic in the parking lot. He was described as getting in and out of his car over and over again and had left his windshield wipers on.

Police assisted Flower Mound Police with apprehending an auto theft suspect. The suspect was described as bipolar with a history of making threats to police officers and setting a mattress on fire while his mother was lying on it. A female passenger in the stolen vehicle had warrants out for her arrest from four different police departments. The pair was arrested in the Paradise Liquors parking lot.

A woman in the 900 block of East FM 407 called for help after her 51-year-old ex-boyfriend refused to leave her house. She said he stated that he will not leave until he receives a letter that is supposed to be mailed there and will sleep in his car if he needs to. An officer responded and the man agreed to leave the residence.

Originally published in the December 2013, January 2014 and February 2014 issues of The Cross Timbers Gazette.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Weather: Winter storm winds down in Central New York; snow totals ahead of last year

Syracuse, N.Y. -- The worst of the winter storm has passed through Central New York and should be completely gone by early evening.

"You still have one more blossom of snow going through between now and 5 o'clock," said Mark Pellerito, a National weather radar Service meteorologist, about 3:30 p.m. today. "The heaviest of the snow will start diminishing by then."

The winter storm warning issued by the weather service expires at 7 p.m.

The final total for the storm in Syracuse will be about 8 inches, he said. That would make it the snowiest day so far this winter. We had 7.7 inches on Jan. 2.

The weather service had forecast 8 to 14 inches of snow across Central New York for this storm. The higher amounts fell farther south, in Binghamton and along the Southern Tier.

The original forecast had been for heavy snow in the morning in Central New York that would diminish by early afternoon. The storm hit drier air than meteorologists expected in the morning, Pellerito said, splitting the storm into two.

"The first portion of the storm didn't turn out to be quite so bad, but then this afternoon it was worse," he said. "The end result is the same even though the play-by-play changed."

Snow totals at the Syracuse airport are ahead of last year at this time, Pellerito said. So far this season, 76 inches of snow have fallen. By Feb. 5 last year, we had 61.6 inches. An average year is about 80 inches by this time.

Here's the 4 p.m. National Weather Service radar map showing the storm heading out of Central New York.

  • Tonight: Scattered flurries before 4 a.m. Cloudy, with a low around 9. Wind chill values as low as zero. Northwest wind 6 to 13 mph.
  • Friday: Partly sunny, with a high near 18. West wind 13 to 16 mph.
  • Saturday: Partly sunny, with a high near 18.
  • Sunday:A 40 percent chance of snow. Cloudy, with a high near 25.
  • Wednesday, February 5, 2014

    Review: George Clooney's 'Monuments Men' Is Important But Mediocre

    Here's a fun little fact: Barring some kind of added value, George Clooney star-vehicles tend to open to around $13 million. I'm not talking about the all-star Ocean's trilogy or blockbusters like Batman & Robin, The Perfect Storm, or Gravity. I'm talking about the old-school star vehicles that Clooney has consistently used his star power to get made for the last 15 years. Those films, the ones Clooney is arguably best known for, generally open to around $11-$13m on their wide-release opening weekend. It happens almost every time, and every time we get pundits asking "Is George Clooney still a movie star?", ignoring this very consistent pattern.

    Be it Up In The Air ($11.2m), Men Who Stare At Goats ($12m), Michael Clayton ($10.3m), Intolerable Cruelty ($12.5m), Syriana ($11m), or The American ($13m), Leatherheads ($12.5m), or The Ides of March, Clooney's long list of "movies they just don't make anymore" are usually cheap enough not to need blockbuster grosses in order to make money, which is good since the biggest opening for a film like this is Burn After Reading (also starring Brad Pitt among others), which opened to $19m. As such, anything approaching $20m for Monuments Men has to be considered a solid win. After that, well, that's the open question, isn't it? Monuments Men cost around $50 million, and was co-financed by Sony Pictures and 20th Century Fox . Sony distributes the film domestically while Fox handles the overseas distribution.

    As such, it basically only has to perform like one of the "better" Clooney vehicles in order to eventually make a profit. Point being, some of those Clooney vehicle hover around $50m domestic and $90m worldwide ( Michael Clayton, Syriana, One Fine Day, etc.). Others are in the $30-$40m domestic range but hang around the over/under $70m worldwide range ( The Ides of March, The American, The Men Who Stare At Goats, The Ides of March). As long as Monuments Men doesn't completely crap out overseas ( Leatherheads), it should eventually qualify as a mostly worthwhile investment after all revenue streams are counted.

    The film is of course being sold as a proverbial Ocean's 11 in World War II, highlighting the film's strong cast (Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, etc.) and light tone. With better buzz, it would almost qualify as an event picture, a would-be "big" movie dropping at the beginning of February. But thanks to Clooney-and-pals' usual "we worked for peanuts" budgeting, the film doesn't have to be a blockbuster to succeed. Heck, with a light PG-13, it may well become a staple in classrooms. Even if it "underwhelms", studios generally like being in the mostly prestigious Clooney business, partially because he brings his movie star pals to play and gives them a $100m movie for $50m.

    The Promotional Codes:

    The story behind Monuments Men, about a team of soldiers sent into the European war zone towards the end of World War II to protect and retrieve art, is an interesting one. But it is not necessarily a story that lends itself to a movie. To writer/producer/director/star George Clooney and writer/producer Grant Heslov's credit, they don't add extraneous action scenes or near-escapes in order to enliven the proceedings. But truth (or apparent truth, I won't vouch for the film's utter historical accuracy) is no substitute for bad drama. And aside from some worthwhile Clooney monologues, there is very little drama to be found.

    The film is generally lacking in both incident and urgency. Even with the proverbial ticking clock, whereby the end of the war may mean the mass destruction of various stolen and/or precious artifacts and cultural landmarks, the pace feels not just episodic but arbitrary. There is little sense of what the Monuments Mens' plans are or what their long term or short term strategy is for their art scavenger hunt. Without going into details, the men seemingly wander around and occasionally stumble upon a location with lots of art to be loaded into a truck. Again, this may be true, but it's not very compelling.

    In order to kill time during this long period of non-action, we get a subplot involving the film's lone female character. Cate Blanchett's French art historian is technically supposed to represent the dozen or so real-life women who participated in the effort (in real life there were around 300 people attempting to save European culture after the war ended), but she is there frankly more as a would-be love interest for Matt Damon (who, like in Ocean's 13, is away from the gang seemingly in a different movie for most of the running time). Blanchett is fine, but her role is a prime example of how much time explicitly male-centric movies waste merely so they can put a girl, any girl at all, on the poster.

    The best thing about the film isn't anything that happens during its 115 minute running time, but rather the ideas under the surface. We get plenty of lectures about whether or not a soldier's life is worth risking (and losing) over a painting or a statute, and the film makes a strong case for the idea that saving the world is about more than just saving its people. At its heart, the picture is a study of how Pavlov's Hierarchy of Human Needs applies during a time when the only priority perhaps should be on the physiological. And the film dances around the tricky subject of soldiers running around rescuing paintings while the Holocaust was still occurring.

    The film implies that the men used in the Monuments Men project were not people who otherwise would have been sent into combat to more quickly end the war. The Holocaust is under-the-surface of its best sequences, including a recovered painting being returned to an empty house, and a discovery of a barrel of gold bits extracted from teeth. The film argues that it shouldn't be an either/or proposition, that a successful campaign should include saving the people and their culture. In an era when the city of Detroit may be forced to sell off its art collections in order to dig itself out of bankruptcy, the themes in Monuments Men are sadly more relevant than perhaps intended.

    If you've noticed that I've spent far more time discussing what the film is about rather than how it's about it, you've honed in on the film's core problem. Monuments Men is full of important ideas and worthwhile debate but is relatively un-engaging as a film. It shuffles from moment to moment, with little connective tissue and no real narrative drive. The actors are enjoying themselves, there are a handful of strong individual moments, and the picture looks terrific. Clooney clearly set out to make an explicitly old-fashioned movie, and there is artistry to its lack of pretension or film-making razzle-dazzle.

    But aside from the film's themes, often explicitly stated in monologue (which feels like a post-production connective device), there isn't much to keep the viewer's interest. It is the kind of story that probably made a great book and a fine documentary, but doesn't necessarily lend itself to a feature film. Monuments Men is arguably an important movie, but that doesn't make it a good one.