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Theranos founder faces court on fraud charges



The trial into the now-defunct blood testing startup Theranos has begun, with founder Elizabeth Holmes facing several charges of criminal fraud.

Prosecutors alleged Holmes “lied and cheated” for money and fame during the first day of one of the most closely watched trials of a U.S corporate executive in years.

The former Silicon Valley star is accused of deceiving investors and patients, by claiming Theranos technology could detect common illnesses using just a few drops of blood from a finger prick.

The company collapsed in 2015 after it emerged the blood-testing devices did not work, and had instead been operating commercially available machines made by other manufacturers.

“Significant problems brewing”

Prosecutors claimed that Holmes and other executives turned to fraud in 2009 after big pharmaceutical firms refused to back Theranos and the company faced bankruptcy.

Holmes lied about tests and exaggerated the company’s performance to secure millions of dollars of investments between 2010 to 2015.

This included false claims that the tests had been processed by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, and that the technology was being used in the field by the U.S military.

Defence tells court Holmes is “no villain”

At the centre of Holmes’ defence is the argument she never intended to commit fraud.

Instead, they argue, Theranos is a high-profile example of a startup that simply did not work, much like thousands of other failed business ideas.

They told jurors that Holmes is not a villain, but rather a hard-working, young and naive businesswoman, who poured much of her life into the company.

“Failure is not a crime. Trying your hardest and coming up short is not a crime,” defence attorney Lance Wade said.

“In the end, Theranos failed and Ms Holmes walked away with nothing,” he told the jury.

Former executive and romantic partner also charged

Ex-Theranos executive Ramesh Balwani – who was romantically involved with Holmes for years, faces the same charges, but will be tried separately.

He has pleaded not guilty.

According to court documents released to the public, Holmes has accused Balwani of years of emotional and psychological abuse – allegations which Balwani denies.

Holmes’ lawyers have indicated she is highly likely to take the witness stand and testify about the effect her relationship with Balwani had on her mental state.

Court case the culmination of ill-fated saga

Holmes’ story is one which has peaked public interest.

After founding Theranos in 2003, aged 19, Holmes was fast-tracked for Silicon Valley success – she was at one point dubbed the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire and the “next Steve Jobs”.

Theranos “dazzled” large firms such as Walgreens and pharmacy companies into agreeing testing partnerships, as well as securing investments from high-profile figures like media mogul Rupert Murdoch and former U.S secretary of state Henry Kissinger.

Her story has become the subject of documentaries, podcasts and books. A TV miniseries and a film based on her life are in the works.

A tumultuous story will now culminate in a decision made in a California courtroom, with the case expected to last months.

If guilty, Holmes faces up to 20 years in prison.

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Research shows daters are looking for solvent partners



As the cost-of-living crisis continues to grip Australia, new research reveals a shifting landscape in the realm of dating preferences.

According to the survey conducted by eharmony, an overwhelming two-thirds of Australians are now keen to understand their potential partner’s financial situation before committing to a serious relationship.

The findings indicate a growing trend where individuals are becoming more discerning about whom they invest their affections in, particularly as the economic pressures intensify.

Read more: Why are car prices so high?

The study highlights that nearly half of respondents (48%) consider a potential partner’s debts and income as crucial factors in determining whether to pursue a relationship.

Certain types of debt, such as credit card debt, payday loans, and personal loans, are viewed unfavorably by the vast majority of respondents, signaling a preference for partners who exhibit financial responsibility.

Good debt

While certain forms of debt, such as mortgages and student loans (e.g., HECS), are deemed acceptable or even ‘good’ debt by a majority of respondents, credit card debt, payday loans (such as Afterpay), and personal loans top the list of ‘bad’ debt, with 82%, 78%, and 73% of respondents, respectively, expressing concerns.

Interestingly, even car loans are viewed unfavorably by a significant portion of those surveyed, with 57.5% considering them to be undesirable debt.

Sharon Draper, a relationship expert at eharmony, said the significance of financial compatibility in relationships, noting that discussions around money are increasingly taking place at earlier stages of dating.

“In the past, couples tended to avoid discussing money during the early stages of dating because it was regarded as rude and potentially off-putting,” Draper explains.

“However, understanding each other’s perspectives and habits around finances early on can be instrumental in assessing long-term compatibility.”

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US energy stocks surge amid economic growth and inflation fears



Investors are turning to U.S. energy shares in droves, capitalizing on surging oil prices and a resilient economy while seeking protection against looming inflationary pressures.

The S&P 500 energy sector has witnessed a remarkable ascent in 2024, boasting gains of approximately 17%, effectively doubling the broader index’s year-to-date performance.

This surge has intensified in recent weeks, propelling the energy sector to the forefront of the S&P 500’s top-performing sectors.

A significant catalyst driving this rally is the relentless rise in oil prices. U.S. crude has surged by 20% year-to-date, propelled by robust economic indicators in the United States and escalating tensions in the Middle East.

Investors are also turning to energy shares as a hedge against inflation, which has proven more persistent than anticipated, threatening to derail the broader market rally.

Ayako Yoshioka, senior portfolio manager at Wealth Enhancement Group, notes that having exposure to commodities can serve as a hedge against inflationary pressures, prompting many portfolios to overweight energy stocks.

Shell Service Station

Shell Service Station

Energy companies

This sentiment is underscored by the disciplined capital spending observed among energy companies, particularly oil majors such as Exxon Mobil and Chevron.

Among the standout performers within the energy sector this year are Marathon Petroleum, which has surged by 40%, and Valero Energy, up by an impressive 33%.

As the first-quarter earnings season kicks into high gear, with reports from major companies such as Netflix, Bank of America, and Procter & Gamble, investors will closely scrutinize economic indicators such as monthly U.S. retail sales to gauge consumer behavior amidst lingering inflation concerns.

The rally in energy stocks signals a broadening of the U.S. equities rally beyond growth and technology companies that dominated last year.

However, escalating inflation expectations and concerns about a hawkish Federal Reserve could dampen investors’ appetite for non-commodities-related sectors.

Peter Tuz, president of Chase Investment Counsel Corp., highlights investors’ focus on the robust economy amidst supply bottlenecks in commodities, especially oil.

This sentiment is echoed by strategists at Morgan Stanley and RBC Capital Markets, who maintain bullish calls on energy shares, citing heightened geopolitical risks and strong economic fundamentals.

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How Australians lose nearly $1 billion to card scammers in a year



A recent study by Finder has unveiled a distressing trend: Australians are hemorrhaging money to card scams at an alarming rate.

The survey, conducted among 1,039 participants, painted a grim picture, with 2.2 million individuals – roughly 11% of the population – falling prey to credit or debit card skimming in 2023 alone.

The financial toll of these scams is staggering. On average, victims lost $418 each, amounting to a colossal $930 million collectively across the country.

Rebecca Pike, a financial expert at Finder, underscored the correlation between the surge in digital transactions and the proliferation of sophisticated scams.

“Scammers are adapting, leveraging sophisticated tactics that often mimic trusted brands or exploit personal connections. With digital transactions on the rise, it’s imperative for consumers to remain vigilant and proactive in safeguarding their financial assets,” Pike said.

Read more – How Google is cracking down on scams

Concerning trend

Disturbingly, Finder’s research also revealed a concerning trend in underreporting.

Only 9% of scam victims reported the incident, while 1% remained oblivious to the fraudulent activity initially. Additionally, 1% of respondents discovered they were victims of bank card fraud only after the fact, highlighting the insidious nature of these schemes.

Pike urged consumers to exercise heightened scrutiny over their financial statements, recommending frequent monitoring for any unauthorised transactions.

She explained the importance of leveraging notification services offered by financial institutions to promptly identify and report suspicious activity.

“Early detection is key. If you notice any unfamiliar transactions, don’t hesitate to contact your bank immediately. Swift action can mitigate further unauthorised use of your card,” Pike advised, underscoring the critical role of proactive measures in combating card scams.

As Australians grapple with the escalating threat of card fraud, Pike’s counsel serves as a timely reminder of the necessity for heightened vigilance in an increasingly digitised financial landscape.

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