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    Shares of ConAgra Foods (CAG), the maker of Slim Jims, Gulden's mustard and many other branded food products, have traded in a broad range during the last 24 months. In the past two years, the stock traded as high as $37.28 on Aug. 5, 2013, before it fell 25% to a low of $28.09 on Feb. 27, 2014. Must Read: Warren Buffett's Top 10 Stock Buys.

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    Valuations are high, but they aren't as insane as they were 15 years ago. Should we be worried about another dot-com crash? After all, the Nasdaq Composite is back up to 5,000-- the giddy level last seen during the peak of the big tech bubble back in 2000..

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    With earnings coming in April, many companies are entering a period where they will not be permitted to buy back shares. The market could certainly experience some weakness without the support of corporate buybacks, especially if the broader market is already in a pullback, warned Tim Seymour, managing partner of Triogem Asset Management, on Tuesday's CNBC "Fast Money."

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    They won't take you golfing, but they won't trade away all your profits either. They won't ever tell you any funny anecdotes, won't take you out for a round of golf, and will probably won't even get you a drink. But robo-advisers-- automated machines that give you financial advice and manage your portfolios-- are about to go mainstream.

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     .  .  .  .  . The iShares GSCI Commodity-Index Trust Fund is the exchange-traded fund that should be the investment of choice for investors looking to add the volatility of energy commodities and crude oil futures to their portfolio. Most energy traders focus on the Nymex crude oil futures contracts, but the typical investor prefers not to have exposures to financial futures contracts.

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     American Tower recently announced that it will purchase a slew of cell towers from Verizon (VZ) for $5 billion. Real estate operators are realizing that they need to get aboard the mobile bandwagon before missing the ride completely, explained Burl East, the CEO of American Assets Capital Advisers. Must Read: Warren Buffett's Top 10 Dividend Stocks.

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    Caught between a rock and a hard place due to conflicting demands from a U.S. court and Argentina's government, Citibank has reached a settlement that calls for it to exit a contentious segment of its business in the Argentine Republic.

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    Gold prices have been on the rise in many other currencies as the European Central Bank and Bank of Japan both have initiated large quantitative easing policies. The goal is to jumpstart the economy but ultimately monetary stimulus weakens currencies and adds liquidity to the market, explained Robert Alderman, head of wealth management for GBI. Must Read: Warren Buffett's Top 10 Dividend Stocks.

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    The financial sector is slightly lower on the year, down 1.2%, but Ryan Kelley, portfolio manager for the Hennessy Large-Cap Financial Fund, says there is value to be found in the sector. Wells Fargo (WFC) is among the "best-of-breed companies" investors should take a closer look at, he reasoned. Must Read: Warren Buffett's Top 10 Dividend Stocks.

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    Taking a holistic approach to investing -- looking at the world through the prisms of history and sociology in addition to crunching the numbers -- is important to uncovering opportunities others might miss, said Gary Carmell, president of CWS Capital Partners.

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    Paychex (PAYX), whose shares have surged this year amid robust forecasts for outsourcing of payroll and human resource services, may show sales growth of as much as 10 percent when it reports quarterly earnings on Wednesday.The company's stock has climbed 12 percent so far this year, touching several new 52-week highs. Must Read: Warren Buffett's Top 10 Dividend Stocks.

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    Morgan Stanley  CFO Ruth Porat was named Google's (GOOG)  chief financial officer Tuesday, replacing Patrick Pichette. Porat will begin working at Google (GOOG) on May 26. Must Read: Warren Buffett's Top 10 Dividend-Paying Stocks for 2015. TheStreet's Jim Cramer, co-manager of the Action Alerts PLUS portfolio, praised Porat's hiring. Borat joined Morgan Stanley (MS) in 1987.

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    Sonova CEO Lukas Braunschweiler says growth in products to help people with hearing loss remains steady and the addressable market is large. Globally, it's a $15 billion to $16 billion market, he said. Must Read: 10 Stocks Billionaire John Paulson Loves. Hearing instruments has mid-single digit growth, Braunschweiler said.

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    Say goodbye to Beats audio branding on HP computers and tablets, and say hello to Bang & Olufsen and B&O Play branding instead. HP has replaced Beats as its audio partner with Danish consumer-electronics company B&O as part of a deal that was jointly announced Tuesday.

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    China used more cement between 2011 and 2013 than the U.S. used in the entire 20th Century.It’s a statistic so mind-blowing that it stunned Bill Gates and inspired haiku. But can it be true, and, if so, how? Yes, China’s economy has grown at an extraordinary rate, and it has more than four times as many people as the United States. But the 1900s were America’s great period of expansion, the century in which the U.S. built almost all of its roads and bridges, the Interstate system, the Hoover Dam, and many of the world’s tallest skyscrapers. And China and the U.S. are roughly the same size in terms of geographic area, ranking third and fourth in the world, respectively.The statistic seems incredible, but according to government and industry sources, it appears accurate. What’s more, once you dive into the figures, they have a surprisingly logical explanation that reveals some fascinating differences between the two countries, and some ominous realities about China.Gates plucked the statistic from the historian Vaclav Smil, who calls cement “the most important material in terms of sheer mass in our civilization.” (In case you need a refresher, cement is a powdery lime-and-clay substance that is combined with water and gravel or sand to make concrete.) Smil got his estimates from the U.S. Geological Survey, whose figures for the American use of cement in the 20th Century are below.This chart shows some interesting economic trends — including dips in construction during the Great Depression, World War II and the recession of the early 1980s. All of America’s cement consumption during the century adds up to around 4.4 gigatons (1 gigaton is roughly 1 billion metric tons).In comparison, China used around 6.4 gigatons of cement in the three years of 2011, 2012 and 2013, as data below from the International Cement Review, an industry publication based in London, shows. U.S. Geological Survey estimates on China's cement consumption are similar: According to Hendrik van Oss, a mineral commodity specialist at the USGS, China’s cement consumption between 2010—12 was about 140 percent of U.S. consumption for 1900—99.Clearly, the amount of cement that China has used in recent years is just stunningly huge. Here it is as a cube, overlooking Chicago.As a parking lot, it would cover Hawaii’s big island:So how did China use so much cement? First, the country is urbanizing at a historic rate, much faster than the U.S. did in the 20th Century. More than 20 million Chinese relocate to cities each year, which is more people than live in downtown New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago combined. This massive change has taken place in less than 50 years. In 1978, less than a fifth of China’s population lived in cities. By 2020, that proportion will be 60 percent.China's cities have been transformed to make room for this influx of people. By some estimates, half of China’s infrastructure has been built since 2000, with new rail networks, interstates, dams, airports and high-rise apartment buildings springing up across the country. For example, the gif below shows how Shanghai’s Eastern Pudong District changed between 1987 and 2013. You can see why Spike Jonze chose Pudong as the setting for a city of the future in the recent movie "Her."More stunning than Shanghai's transformation is the growth of the Pearl River Delta, a megalopolis on the Chinese mainland across from Hong Kong. The manufacturing hub had 42 million inhabitants in 2010, according to the World Bank. If considered a single urban area — which makes sense, since the cities there all run together -- the Pearl River Delta would be the world’s largest city by both area and population.What’s almost more impressive than China’s biggest cities is the incredible number of “small” cities that no one has ever heard of. In 2009, China had 221 cities with more than a million people in them, compared with only 35 in Europe. Even relatively minor cities like Zhengzhou and Jinan are more populous than Los Angeles or Chicago.Beyond China's incredible urbanization, there are few more facts make the cement stat even more believable. As Goldman Sachs (GS) pointed out in a note, China’s population today is only about four times as large as the U.S., but it is 15 times as large as the U.S. was in the early 20th Century, and nine times the size of the U.S. in 1950.The world also experienced a shift in building materials over the 20th Century. In 1950, the world manufactured roughly as much steel as cement; by 2010, steel production had grown by a factor of eight, but cement had gone up by a factor of 25. And where many houses in the U.S. are made of wood, China suffers from a relative lack of lumber. Unlike in the U.S., many people in China live in high- or low-rise buildings made out of cement.Finally, China's cement industry is much larger than it should be. Many of China's cement manufacturers are state-owned, and they benefit from government support and access to cheap capital. As in other overcapacity state-owned industries -- aluminum, steel, and shipbuilding -- China's cement sector has undergone a period of explosive growth without much regard for product quality or profits.This massive cement industry also takes a heavy toll on the environment. Scientists estimate that the global cement industry accounts for around 5 percent of the world's carbon emissions, and more than half of the world's cement production capacity is based in China.What's more, low standards for construction quality mean some of China's concrete buildings may have to be knocked down and replaced in as little as 20 or 30 years. According to Goldman Sachs (GS), about a third of the cement that China uses is low-grade stuff that wouldn't be used in other countries.When Bill Gates wrote in his blog about China's stunning cement consumption, he pointed out that the issue of materials is key to helping the world's poorest people improve their lives. Replacing mud floors with concrete improves sanitation; paving roads with concrete allows vegetables to get to market, kids to get to school, and the economy to flourish. In China, the building boom has spurred economic growth that has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty.And yet, China's massive cement use also points to a darker side of the economy: The waste that occurs with too much top-down economic planning, and the environmental toll of growth at all costs. China's cement splurge is impressive, yes, but it may hold the seeds of a more ominous story.




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     Yum! As wacky as it sounds, it's not even the strangest product introduced recently by a Yum! Must Read: 5 Stocks Warren Buffett Is Selling. KFC (YUM) made headlines in February when it said it was testing an edible coffee cup made from wafers and white chocolate in select U.K. markets.

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    Supply and demand remains one of the key challenges for for-profit education companies such as University of Phoenix operator Apollo Education, There are simply too many schools competing for students. Complicating matters is President Obama's proposal to make community college free for the first two years, which could turn the federal government into the industry's biggest threat.

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    Wall Street and the political hacks beholden to it have been throwing an extended temper tantrum over a push to raise the standards expected of stockbrokers. The brash opposition to what's known as a "fiduciary duty" is but the latest reminder that the attentive advisers portrayed in the industry's marketing are the stuff of fairy tales. Must Read: Warren Buffett's Top 10 Dividend Stocks.

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     Bloomberg LP, the financial services company owned by billionaire Michael Bloomberg, is becoming an even bigger part of global demand for market data and analysis, according to Burton-Taylor International Consulting LLC, an industry research monitor.

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    The Conference Board's 2015 GDP forecast calling for 2.9% growth is looking a little aggressive these days. Even the ever-optimistic Federal Reserve commented in last week's FOMC press release "information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in January suggests that economic growth has moderated." That ought to tell you something.