Thursday, January 28, 2010

Michelin: A meaningless claim

Michelin's television commercials for its A/S "Energy Saver" tires say that putting the tires on your car can save you up to 109 gallons of fuel. By itself, this number doesn't mean anything. Is it 109 gallons per year, or over the life of the tires? If the latter, how long is the life of the tires? What kind of car and tires do you have to have now in order for that number to be correct?

The fine print says you'd need to drive 55,000 miles on the Michelin tires to realize the fuel savings, which are estimated versus a specific Bridgestone tire, the Turanza. So, if you buy the A/S instead of the Turanza, you might save about $300 over five years of regular driving. Here's the kicker: a quick check on Google shows that the Turanza sells for about $100 less per tire than the A/S, or $400 less per set - more than the supposed fuel savings. Moreover, by buying the Turanza you'd pay $400 less up front, instead of waiting five years to save $300 on gas with the A/S. It's not such a great deal after all.

Putting the potential savings aside, is this good advertising? If you don't read the fine print, the ad's spoken claim is so vague that it's impossible to evaluate. Moreover, the Michelin web page that cites the same 109-gallon figure doesn't even have any fine print - truly advertising at its worst.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

First Liberty Financial: Lessons not learned

First Liberty Financial is running ads on television that take the form of fake news briefs. The top story? According to the ad, the federal government has pushed down interest rates on home loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration to all-time lows. This is untrue in both fact and concept. The federal government does not directly control long-term interest rates like those on home loans. The Federal Reserve controls short-term rates, and the Congress controls spending and debt levels; both may affect long-term interest rates, but so can a million other factors. But regardless of what you think about why long-term interest rates move up and down, one thing is true: today, interest rates on home loans are not at their all-time lows. As this graph shows, rates for 30-year mortgages are about half a point above their recent lows. It's a shame, but the cheap mortgage industry seems just as deceptive as ever.

By the way, the Federal Housing Administration, a New Deal program in operation since 1934, only insures about 5 million mortgages in the United States. Though it does set limits on the size of the loans it will insure and the ability of the borrower to pay, it does not set any limits on interest rates.