Pic of the Day


Click to enlargeREUTERS/Alexander Demianchuk

Belarus’ Lidziya Hrafeyeva shoots during the women’s 12.5 km biathlon sitting at the 2014 Sochi Paralympic Winter Games in Rosa Khutor.

One of my favorite winter sports and an athlete with special courage.

Audi traffic light system saves fuel, helps drivers hit green lights

One of life’s small but satisfying pleasures is hitting the sweet spot while driving across town and catching all the green lights. At the moment, having that happen is a matter of luck, but Audi is developing a system that will make never getting caught by a red light an everyday thing as a way of speeding up traffic while improving fuel efficiency and cutting emissions.

Driving through a string of green lights isn’t a question of gremlins or clean living, but of timing. Modern traffic signals operate on a system of preset timers. Sometimes these change depending on the time of day or, as is increasingly common, because the traffic system reacts to changes in the pattern of car movements. In other words, the trick to an uninterrupted journey is to figure out how the lights are timed at that moment and drive at the right speed, so you always hit the intersections when it’s green.

The Audi system works by taking the guesswork out of the equation. Using Audi connect and the Multi Media Interface (MMI) system, the car uses the internet to contact the area’s central traffic computer and asks it for the automated traffic light sequences. From these, the system calculates the best speed needed to hit as many green lights as possible. This speed, as well as red, green and amber icons, are displayed to the driver via the Driver Information System (DIS) located in the central instrument cluster. If the car is already at a red light, it provides a countdown until green and overrides the start/stop mechanism to bring the engine online five seconds before it’s time to go.

You save time, get to your destination sooner, don’t spend time wasting fuel slowing down and speeding up. All it requires is local legislation and a little cooperation from traffic engineers.

Audi demoed the system in Las Vegas. Now, all it takes is insightful politicians and staff. In the United States, it could be in place in a half-century or so.

FDIC sues banks over Libor manipulation and fraud

Bank of America, Citigroup and Credit Suisse Group AG were among 16 of the world’s biggest banks sued by the U.S. Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. for allegedly manipulating the London interbank offered rate from 2007 to 2011.

The FDIC, acting as receiver for 38 failed banks…claimed that institutions sitting on the U.S. dollar Libor panel “fraudulently and collusively suppressed” the rate. Also named in the suit, filed yesterday in Manhattan federal court, is the British Bankers Association, an industry group that oversaw Libor.

Regulators around the world have been probing whether firms colluded to manipulate interest-rate benchmarks including Libor, which affects more than $300 trillion of securities worldwide. Financial institutions have paid about $6 billion so far to resolve criminal and civil claims in the U.S. and Europe that they manipulated benchmark interest rates.

The cost for global investment banks could climb to $46 billion, analysts at KBW, a unit of Stifel Financial Corp., said in a report last year…

The failed banks “reasonably expected that accurate representations of competitive market forces, and not fraudulent conduct or collusion,” would determine the benchmark, the FDIC said in its complaint…

Investigators claim the banks altered submissions used to set the benchmark to profit from bets on interest-rate derivatives or to make the lenders’ finances appear healthier…

The FDIC alleges the banks committed fraud and violated U.S. antitrust laws in fixing the U.S. dollar Libor benchmark. It’s seeking unspecified damages on behalf of the failed banks, including punitive damages and triple damages for price-fixing.

The FDIC still echos the standards of Sheila Bair. It’s been a little while since she left; but, she set critical standards. Required reading for anyone interested in earning a living in finance and still maintaining the odd principle or two her book: Bull by the Horns: Fighting to Save Main Street from Wall Street and Wall Street from Itself.

Within the FDIC and the American banking community she always stands for small banks, community banks vs Wall Street’s version of Gargantua. She sat down and negotiated with the biggest bank presidents as equals and she tried like hell to be more equal than they – even with Congress ready and willing to give away the farm, the treasury and every taxpayer’s contribution to some of the worst examples of American capitalism.

She left the FDIC to work for a spell for the Pew Charitable Trusts; but, banking is what she knows best and she chose to leave the United States to work for a Spanish bank with a cleaner reputation than most of our own. She still asks out loud why no big American bank has ever offered a directorship to a bank reformer like Simon Johnson – or, I’d say, Sheila Bair.

And when she gives a talk to the staff of a bank she used to oversee as regulator – her fee goes to charity. A practice I don’t expect to witness every day from any of our former Congress-critters.