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September 21, 2014

Lew Says Treasury Completing Work on Limiting Inversions Benefit - Bloomberg

Filed under: marketing, term — Tags: , , , — DoctorBusiness @ 6:24 am

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew said the department is finishing work to limit the benefits companies gain from moving their addresses overseas even if his action won

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September 19, 2014

Fitch keeps ‘AAA’ rating on US credit

Filed under: Mortgage, economics — Tags: , , , — DoctorBusiness @ 5:20 pm

NEW YORK (AP) — Fitch Ratings says that the U.S. still deserves its highest credit rating.

Fitch on Friday affirmed its “AAA” rating on U.S. debt. The ratings agency said its outlook on the rating is stable, meaning it does not expect a downgrade in the near future.

Fitch said the U.S. can tolerate more debt than other countries because the dollar is the world’s pre-eminent reserve currency and fixed-income asset. It also noted the country has the deepest and most liquid capital markets in the world.

The federal deficit should decline as a portion of gross domestic product over the next few years, though it should resume growing in fiscal 2016, Fitch said

The U.S. is recovering more quickly from the Great Recession than most other advanced countries, though the recovery is slow compared to past economic crises instant credit report.

Fitch also said economic policymaking in the U.S. is weaker than in other countries with strong credit ratings, as evidenced by the debt ceiling crises, the federal government shutdown in 2013, and other events. It said more debt ceiling wrangling could come in 2015.

Fitch started a review of the U.S. credit rating in late 2013, but in March the firm said it would not lower its rating.

Another ratings agency, Standard & Poor’s, downgraded the U.S. credit rating one notch in 2011 after a standoff in Congress over whether to raise America’s borrowing limit. S&P’s rating remains at “AA+.”

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September 18, 2014

U.K. Economy Ready for Battle as Scots Vote Masks Resilience - Bloomberg

Filed under: technology, term — Tags: , , , — DoctorBusiness @ 2:28 am

The U.K. (UKGRABIQ) economy is ready for battle.

With the fastest growth among Group of Seven nations, Britain may have built up enough momentum to weather the possible loss of Scotland in today

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September 16, 2014

Shrinking middle class takes a toll on retailers

Filed under: news, online — Tags: , , , — DoctorBusiness @ 7:44 am

Retailers just reported another quarter of disappointing results. It’s been five years since the recession ended, and many have cut outlooks for the rest of the year.

Even Amazon.com, which has been around for 20 years, can’t invest in itself and turn a profit at the same time. Some online retail startups just get another round of venture capital funding to cover up their lack of profit.

But what if the smart people toiling away at major U.S. retailers aren’t to blame? What if retailers’ slashed margins, due to constant price cuts, are at least partially attributable to a middle class that just isn’t as well-off?

Maybe a shrinking middle class is having as much of an impact on the performance of retail companies today as things such as online price comparisons, free shipping and student-debt-strapped millennials. And then there’s the latest disposable income buster: the monthly smartphone data plan.

Container Store chief executive Kip Tindall talked about a retail “funk” as the industry was beginning to report second-quarter results last month. Others have been just as downbeat.

“The consumer has not bounced back with the confidence we were all looking for,” Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren said earlier this month. “We don’t need our customers to spend more; we need them to spend more with us.”

A big problem for the retail industry today is that Lundgren’s strategy is every retailer’s strategy. That strategy has retailers slashing prices to eke out sales gains at their own peril, said Robin Lewis, longtime retailer analyst and co-author of The New Rules of Retail.

The last time stores saw a burst of free spending was in 2006 and 2007. More households then had wallets enriched by two comfortable incomes and easy mortgage refinancing. But the recession forced many shoppers into a perpetual state of frugality.

Even the consistently employed have seen their disposable income slashed. Consumers are forced to shift funds to pay for unprecedented wage cuts, furloughs and cutbacks to retirement benefits.

“I don’t even know how to define the middle class anymore. It’s been hollowed out. There’s only growth in lower-income and upper-income classes,” Lewis said.

So what choice do retailers have? They are forced to “discount their brains out,” Lewis said. “It’s the devaluation of brands and retail. We’re in the worst of the worst, and it can lead to real deflation, and then consumers stop buying.

“When a woman sees a dress marked down to 80 percent off and she already has so many clothes in her closet, her reaction is, ‘I don’t need it, and it will be on sale when I do,’” he said.

Last Thanksgiving, retailers constantly changed their prices online — where they can do it easily — in the week before and after Black Friday.

Amazon.com, the largest online retailer, waited until Black Friday, then changed prices on one-third of its most popular items, according to an analysis by 360pi, a firm that tracks online prices.

“In general, things are getting more extreme,” said Jenn Markey, vice president at 360pi. Last year, Markey gathered prices on 8,000 items during the 17 days from Nov. 20 through Dec. 6.

OUTLET CENTERS

Half of working Americans in 2012 made wages of less than $30,000, according to the most recent data collected by the Social Security Administration, said Al Meyers, director of PwC’s retailer and consumer practice.

“It’s why retailers are looking outside the U.S. to grow,” he said. In the U.S., many are now limited to taking market share from each other.

A prevailing frugal attitude has also changed retail real estate development.

Between 2006 and the end of this year, more than 50 new outlet centers have opened or will open in the U.S., while only two regional malls were developed. Those outlet centers are filled with upscale brands. But they are chasing a shopper who will hardly buy anything at full price anymore.

Even Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s are focused on building outlets, not full-line department stores.

Jerry Storch, former CEO of Toys R Us and former vice chairman of Target, said that when the middle class was growing, retailers would build a store and wait for the rooftops to come. And they did.

“Even if we made a mistake with a new store location, you would just wait a couple of years and the area would catch up,” he said. “We were all building 80 to 100 stores a year.”

Those days are over for most retailers. Best Buy is examining every market, looking for stores to close. It’s also elevating selections in home entertainment and appliances to satisfy a more demanding upscale shopper.

Retailers are merging. Safeway, not wanting to go it alone anymore, sold out to Albertsons.

Staples is now competing with its two merged rivals, Office Max and Office Depot. All three are closing stores.

Irving, Texas-based Zales Jewelers, positioned for years to serve the middle-class shopper, was sold this summer to its rival Signet, which operates Kay and Jared.

And when was the last time a retailer initiated a hostile takeover of a competitor?

After being rebuffed by Family Dollar’s board, Dollar General is taking its offer to buy the company to Family Dollar’s shareholders.

Combining the two would give them more buying power to be able to offer — what else? — lower prices.

‘RACE TO THE BOTTOM’

In a comparison of price changes and promotions between U.S. and U.K. retailers over the last three years, U.S. retailers were almost 50 percent more promotional than their counterparts in the U.K., according to RSR Research.

Paula Rosenblum, managing partner of RSR Research, questioned a retail belief that “in a race to the bottom, the company with the lowest costs wins.”

The idea is that low operating costs means low prices. But maybe the recent disappointing results from major discount chains Wal-Mart, Target and Amazon and a desire for two of the biggest dollar store chains to merge disprove the idea.

“All are aggressive drivers in the race to the bottom,” she said. “In other words: In a race to the bottom, nobody wins.”

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September 14, 2014

Spanish department store head Alvarez dies at 79

Filed under: Homes, economics — Tags: , , , — DoctorBusiness @ 4:48 pm

MADRID (AP) — Isidoro Alvarez, the head of Spain’s El Corte Ingles department store chain who turned the company into an international business with an annual turnover of around 14 billion euros ($18 billion), has died. He was 79.

Spanish Economy Minister Luis de Guindos expressed his regret at Alvarez’s death in Madrid on Sunday, describing him in a statement as “one of our country’s greatest entrepreneurs.”

Alvarez worked at El Corte Ingles for 60 years and for the past 25 years was its chairman payday loans. Under his leadership, the El Corte Ingles clothing store diversified and expanded abroad.

No cause of death was given, though Alvarez was hospitalized last week with respiratory problems.

No information about surviving family or funeral arrangements was immediately available.

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September 13, 2014

Tory and Chow make development promises at one-on-one debate

Filed under: Loans, marketing — Tags: , , , — DoctorBusiness @ 7:28 am

Mayoral candidates Olivia Chow and John Tory both say they want to clear away city hall red tape to help builders get shovels in the ground a little faster.

The rare one-on-one encounter unfolded Friday before a development industry audience on a dramatic day when Mayor Rob Ford dropped out of the mayor’s race due to illness.

Prominent candidates Karen Stintz and David Soknacki had earlier withdrawn, leaving Chow and Tory to go head-to-head in a debate sponsored by the Ontario Home Builders’ Association at the suburban Prince Hotel.

Chow said approvals for large development projects can now take as long as three years, twice as long as the standard when she left city hall in 2006 to run federally for the NDP.

Tory said he would fast track smaller, simpler development projects in order to help clear the logjam at city hall.

The front-runner, who has a healthy lead in latest polls, was skeptical of Chow’s assertion that she would speed up development approvals.

“I would say to you respectfully that people that come from the NDP side of things, let’s be candid about this, are good at putting processes in place that actually take longer and bog things down,” Tory said.

Chow took strong exception, saying city council members from all political stripes need to work together to reach consensus without taking partisan shots.

“Here you are being divisive, putting labels on people,” she told Tory. “Your entire campaign is let’s work together, let’s not be divisive, let’s bring city council together so we can get things done.

“You’re labeling people by calling me – throughout the entire campaign – you’ve been calling me NDP. How is that helpful? You do know, unlike the provincial government, in the municipal government all parties work together. They don’t label and say you’re Conservative, you’re Liberal, you’re NDP. That kind of labeling is harmful, divisive, not helpful at all.”

Tory said one of the most important things voters have to decide is who would be better at working with people of disparate views on council and at federal and provincial levels.

“I’m going to be the mayor that says let’s work together to find a way to get to yes,” he said.

While both candidates assured the 100-person audience they would work to speed up the system, they wouldn’t commit to roll back development charges, land transfer taxes, parks levies and other fees that developers say comprise 20 per cent or $80,000 of the cost of a typical condo.

Chow in fact wants to increase the land transfer tax on expensive homes to raise some extra money for school nutrition and transit studies.

Chow has also promised to defer development charges for 10 years but only on projects where 20 per cent of the units are affordable.

Tory said the land tax brings in about $350 million a year and has become an important source of revenue for the city.

“I will have to be honest with you and say that I’m not going to stand up here and promise to roll back these kinds of things,” he said.

Chow stressed that on property taxes she has committed to limiting increases to the rate of inflation, which at a debate earlier this week she estimated at 3 per cent.

Tory pounced on Chow’s property tax pledge, saying her position keeps shifting. He said his pledge to keep increases at or below inflation has remained constant.

“You started off the campaign by saying – they called it the pinstriped Olivia mode – that you were going to have property tax increases at or below the rate of inflation,” Tory said.

“Then it became property tax increases around the rate of inflation. You’ve said inflation is running at 3 per cent which I haven’t seen a single report on yet.”

Chow accused Tory of scare-mongering.

“Why are you twisting facts to get votes?” she said. “Enough labeling. We’ve heard this kind of labeling, NDP this and tax-and-spend that. Labeling does not work, it divides us.

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September 11, 2014

Top banks plan move in case of Scots’ independence

Filed under: economics, online — Tags: , , , — DoctorBusiness @ 11:00 am

Updated at 11:03 a.m.

LONDON • In a blow to the Scottish independence campaign, top financial groups including the Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group say they will move their headquarters to England if Scots vote to break away from the United Kingdom.

RBS, which has been based in Scotland since 1727, said Thursday it has drawn up the contingency plans because of uncertainties that could hurt its business and customers if Scots approve independence in the Sept. 18 vote. Lloyds Banking Group, which owns Halifax and Bank of Scotland, also said it had plans to set up new “legal entities” in England if the Yes campaign succeeds.

Although the banks say the moves would be legal procedures that would have a minimum impact on their operations and jobs in Scotland, their warnings intensified concerns about an independent Scotland’s ability to retain businesses — particularly during the months of financial uncertainty that would follow a vote to break the 307-year union with England.

Scotland would, among other things, have to figure out what currency to use and how much U.K. public debt to take on. These issues would have to be ironed out in months of negotiations before Scotland achieves full independence.

“There are a number of material uncertainties arising from the Scottish referendum vote which could have a bearing on the bank’s credit ratings and the fiscal, monetary, legal and regulatory landscape to which it is subject,” RBS said in a statement.

Alex Salmond, Scotland’s leading politician, dismissed the warnings as “scare-mongering” and accused the British government of exploiting the news for political gain. Salmond alleged the Treasury had breached financial rules because it briefed journalists about RBS’s plans ahead of the market announcement.

The latest polls suggest that an independent Scotland — until recently dismissed as a highly unlikely outcome — could become a possibility as the independence campaign gains momentum. Almost 4.3 million people have registered to vote, the largest electorate ever for a ballot in Scotland.

That has sent jitters through the markets, prompting investors to sell off the British pound. The pro-independence campaign argues that Scotland could sustain itself economically, but their opponents — including many businesses in Scotland — have focused on the uncertainties.

On Thursday, leading retailers including supermarket giant Asda and department store John Lewis also chimed in, raising alarms about possible higher prices for Scottish shoppers.

“It does cost more money to trade in parts of Scotland and therefore those hard costs, in the event of a Yes vote, are more likely to be passed on,” said John Lewis Partnership chairman Charlie Mayfield.

RBS, a key employer in Scotland and a symbol of its financial sector, said it would be necessary to re-domicile its holding company and its main operating entity, the Royal Bank of Scotland PLC, to England.

Despite its name, RBS is currently majority-owned by the taxpayers of the entire U.K., since it needed a government bailout in 2008 to make up for bad investment decisions. It has operations throughout the U.K. and foreign countries, but its relocation would be a symbolic blow to an independent Scotland.

The U.K. government also owns a significant share of Lloyds.

The smaller Clydesdale Bank also announced similar plans to relocate south of the border to mitigate risks.

The financial group Standard Life earlier said it was ready to move parts of its business to England in case of independence. Precautionary measures include transferring pensions, investments and other long-term savings to new companies to ensure they remain part of Britain’s currency and tax regime.

Experts say the banks announced their contingency plans to avoid further risks to themselves as well as the market.

“Given the huge amount of volatility next week in case of a Yes vote, the Bank of England would have put high pressure on the banks to move south for the purposes of preserving financial stability and confidence,” said Ronald MacDonald, a political economy professor at the University of Glasgow.

Ian Gordon, an analyst at Investec, said the banks’ warnings conformed to market expectations and do not signal any real changes.

“I wouldn’t discount over time there being some broader implications, but it’s fairly procedural,” he said.

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September 10, 2014

Obamacare has reduced the uninsured rate for virtually everyone, except kids

Filed under: Europe, economics — Tags: , , , — DoctorBusiness @ 1:36 am

By now, the evidence seems pretty clear that the Affordable Care Act has reduced the ranks of the uninsured across virtually every demographic since the start of the law’s coverage expansion in January. Except for one, apparently: kids.

The good news is that children under 18 have had a pretty low uninsured rate over the past few years, around 7 percent, thanks to previous coverage expansions of Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. But the children’s uninsured rate has hardly budged in the first six months of 2014, even as the uninsured rate for adults dropped 4 percentage points over the past year, according to the new Urban Institute Health Reform Monitoring Survey. The researchers say this is the first measure of the Affordable Care Act’s effects on children’s coverage.

It’s not that kids were overlooked by the health care act, but its main coverage features, like the Medicaid expansion, mostly benefit adults. And kids make up just 6 percent of enrollees on the new health insurance exchanges offering subsidized private coverage to low- and middle-income individuals and families.

But researchers at the Urban Institute and the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families see some factors that could lower the children’s uninsured rate in the future. Medicaid enrollment is increasing even in states that haven’t expanded coverage, which could bring more children into the program. The health-care law also moves some low-income kids off of CHIP eligibility, where insurance premiums could be prohibitive for some families, and into Medicaid. About 55 percent of still-uninsured kids, the researchers estimate, are eligible for public coverage through Medicaid or CHIP.

There are still some major looming policy decisions that could shift the uninsured rate either way. The report points out that some of the states with the highest rates of uninsured children, like Florida and Texas, haven’t expanded Medicaid coverage to parents — and past research shows expanding public health insurance to parents makes it more likely their kids will get insured.

Meanwhile, Congress must figure out whether or how to fund the popular CHIP program, now nearly 20 years old, beyond the 2015 fiscal year. This is the first time lawmakers will decide CHIP’s fate since Obamacare’s coverage expansion took effect, and advocates are worried that lawmakers will limit or altogether cut the generous kids coverage program. The latter option, congressional Medicaid advisers warned this summer, would probably send the uninsured rate in the wrong direction.

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September 8, 2014

Rural enrollment presents continuing health law challenges

Filed under: Homes, Prices — Tags: , , , — DoctorBusiness @ 9:08 am

Americans living in rural areas will be a key target as states and nonprofit groups strategize how to enroll more people in health law insurance plans this fall.

Though millions of people signed up for private insurance or Medicaid in the first year of the Affordable Care Act, millions of others did not. Many live in rural areas where people “face more barriers,” said Laurie Martin, a RAND Corp. senior policy researcher. Brock Slabach, a senior vice president at the National Rural Health Association, said “the feds are particularly concerned about this.”

Distance is one problem: Residents have to travel farther to get face-to-face assistance from the so-called navigators hired to help consumers figure out the process. And Internet access is sometimes spotty, discouraging online enrollment.

But the most significant barriers may stem directly from state decisions about whether to expand Medicaid eligibility — more than 20 states including Missouri chose not to — and whether to operate their own health exchanges. States that embraced those parts of the law generally had more federal resources as well as funds generated by their online marketplaces for outreach efforts to boost enrollment, including those aimed at consumers in less accessible areas, and more coverage options, through Medicaid, for which these consumers might be eligible.

About $2.5 million from the Department of Health and Human Services was specifically directed to rural outreach for the initial open enrollment period. For 2015, a total of $60 million will be available to bolster navigators’ work in states that are using the federal marketplace, but it’s not clear what portion of this amount will be directed to rural enrollment.

An examination of experiences in Minnesota and Virginia shows how state decisions continue to shape these efforts. Both states have significant rural populations: about 13 percent of Virginians and 23 percent of Minnesotans, according to 2013 figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In 2012, both had rural poverty rates in the teens: nearly 18 percent in Virginia versus 12 in Minnesota. And between 2011 and 2012, about 9 percent of Minnesotans were uninsured, compared to 13 percent in Virginia, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported.

“We’re spread thin throughout the state, but that means in rural areas there are additional challenges in terms of finding the people and getting out to groups,” said Jill Hanken, health attorney at the Virginia Poverty Law Center, the state’s principal navigator agency.

In Minnesota, Ralonda Mason, a supervising attorney at St. Cloud’s branch of Mid-MN Legal Aid — which works as a navigator serving rural and urban areas near St. Cloud — echoed Hanken. Reaching people is difficult, and some areas lack strong Internet, frustrating attempts to use the online exchange.

Last time, consumers sometimes traveled as far as 55 miles each way for assistance, said Allan Bakke, a navigator at Minnesota’s Western Community Action.

But as the 2015 enrollment push approaches, the states are gearing up to try again.

Mason said technology problems still plague the state’s troubled marketplace, MNsure. For instance, the site doesn’t let navigators and consumers use computers in different places to simultaneously log into the application and fill it out over the phone. They must review it in person, which adds to the difficulties distance imposes. Site crashes or application failures, which navigators said they hope to see fewer of this year, add burdens for consumers or navigators already traveling far, Mason said.

Bakke, whose organization serves smaller municipalities — usually fewer than 10,000 people — said the state’s online insurance marketplace has improved. But he remains “very much apprehensive” about the potential recurrence of technical issues this fall short term personal loan.

MNsure is developing rural strategies such as focused marketing to reach the farmers and miners who dominate rural Minnesota, said spokesman Joe Campbell. The state plans to advertise on radio stations that appeal to these populations, he said, while sending representatives to events such as county fairs and farmers markets.

Though official data detailing 2014 enrollment by county would help, Mason said, it’s not a top priority.

A private consortium, supported by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation, has gathered some information examining where outreach worked. Organizations such as hers that received early grants to promote enrollment have pooled data to paint a more complete picture, pinpointing areas to focus and refining plans for November.

In Virginia, meanwhile, groups cited state decisions making enrollment more difficult. Virginia is one of 36 states either defaulting to the federal exchange or in a partnership with the federal marketplace.

Problems with HealthCare.gov — the federal exchange site that had a near-catastrophic launch last October – initially compounded the challenge, Hanken said, though many exchange issues abated by December.

But the absence of federal enrollment data by county still undermines planning efforts for November.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services doesn’t know whether or when it might release enrollment breakdowns examining geography or other demographics, meaning identifying where to target outreach remains difficult, said Massey Whorley, a senior policy analyst at the Virginia-based Commonwealth Institute, a nonpartisan center that examines public policy’s consequences for middle-class and low-income people.

“It’s critically important we have this data well in advance of the next open enrollment,” Whorley said.

For now, Virginia navigators rely on anecdotal evidence, he said, assuming “high pockets of uninsured folks” remain in the rural Southside and Southwestern Virginia.

And unlike Minnesota, Virginia did not expand Medicaid, which would have opened the program to people with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

When the Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that states could opt out of expansion, a coverage gap opened for millions of people who could neither qualify for Medicaid nor the subsidies the law provides for purchasing private plans on federal and state exchanges.

Earlier this year, Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe vowed to use executive powers to circumvent the state legislature, which in June approved a budget blocking the expansion. Health law opponents, who currently make up the majority of lawmakers, say a bigger Medicaid program is likely to burden states with extra costs down the road.

But for now, a quarter of uninsured nonelderly adults in Virginia — just under 200,000 people — fall into this coverage gap, according to a 2014 KFF brief. The data doesn’t parse where specifically those people live, but Virginia navigators said they noticed rural areas were hit particularly hard. During the last round of rural outreach, “sometimes, half of the folks [navigators] saw in offices were in [this] gap,” said Deepak Madala, project manager of Enroll Virginia, a subsidiary of the navigator Virginia Poverty Law Center.

When clients can’t get Medicaid or private-insurance subsidies, Marcie Barnes, a navigator at the rural Southwest Virginia Legal Aid Society, said she often redirects them to free clinics.

“I talked to people who [seemed to think] if they told me how bad it was, I had a magic trick to help them,” she said. “And I don’t.”

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September 6, 2014

TIFF: Foreign press praise, pan momentum of Toronto

Filed under: Business, money — Tags: , , , — DoctorBusiness @ 5:52 pm

Toronto has been invaded by media from around the globe, here to catch new movie premieres and to watch stars walk the red carpet.

Here’s what some of them have to say about the city, the Toronto International Film Festival, and its stars:

The Los Angeles Times got down to business on day one, skipping straight to which TIFF films are potential Oscar candidates.

After all, wrote reporter Glenn Whipp, the festival is “a key indicator not only of the upcoming fall movies but of the awards season. Eight of the last nine best picture Oscar winners built awards-season momentum at the festival.”

The BBC’s Genevieve Hassan reported on the mood change after the news of comedian Joan Rivers’ death made the rounds. “I’m sure,” wrote Hassan, “the comedian would have had plenty to say about what they were wearing in her own inimitable way.”

India Today kept the focus on Indian actress Priyanka Chopra, whose latest filmMary Kom opened the festival Thursday. “The Bollywood beauty is jetting in for just a few hours,” they wrote, “and flying right back for the film’s Indian release the next day.”

The Daily Mail stuck with fashion and public displays of affection. Robert Downey Jr. was lovey-dovey with pregnant wife Susan Downey at the premiere of his filmThe Judge.

People Magazine focused on all the buzz-worthy films that would help celebrate the end of summer and the beginning of awards season. Their notable picks? Reese Witherspoon’s Wild, Foxcatcher with Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, and Channing Tatum, and Benedict Cumberbatch’s The Imitation Game.

But on the third day of the festival, Variety wrote that critics are still waiting for this year’s “must-see” film.

The festival is “just sauntering along” with a number of excellent films, but nothing striking like last year’s 12 Years a Slave or Gravity, the magazine’s Brent Lang said.

Lang named St. Vincent, the new Bill Murray film, and the Stephen Hawking biography The Theory of Everything — which premieres on Sunday — as possible awards contenders.

France24 focused on the efforts of TIFF organizers to bring more foreign-shot films to this year’s festival. “The market is now international, the public is more internationalized and people have greater access than before to films from all four corners of the world, and the directors know it,” TIFF artistic director Cameron Bailey told the TV station.

On Friday, declared Bill Murray Day by TIFF organizers, the actor told Rolling Stone that the festival “has a really nice character to it.”

The New York Times checked in with Murray on Friday, who said his eponymous day was “pretty low-key,” with the afternoon’s oppressive humidity keeping the actor in his hotel room for much of the day.

The Times also looked at the “cinema of solitude,” singling out the bilingual French and English film Bird People, a melancholic story that follows the chance meeting of two lonely people in a Paris airport hotel — part of a “growing cinematic fascination with solitary moments,” the paper’s Michael Cieply wrote.

The paper also noted TIFF’s new policy to promote films that have not yet been shown in North America, which the paper said seemed to be “more geared toward filmgoers than Oscar voters.”

Hollywood Reporter said that policy, which limits the first four days of the festival to films premiering in North America, has slowed the first weekend, leaving many films with Oscar potential to later in the week.

But the festival is more concerned with entertaining audiences than catering to awards speculation in the media, Bailey told Hollywood Reporter.

“We’ve certainly observed the interest in awards among some members of the media, but that’s never been our focus,” the artistic director said.

Hollywood Reporter picked Jason Reitman’s Men, Women & Children as the first weekend’s only film likely to attract awards attention.

Indiewire suggested that the festival consider featuring a Canadian film on opening night, as organizers did with Passchendaele in 2008.

Opening night scheduling is a “problem that plagues many of the world’s big film festivals,” and choosing a local film would boost Canadian content and take some of the pressure off opening night to deliver a blockbuster Oscar contender, Indiewire wrote.

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