National News

Toyota ramps up expansion plans

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-04-16 02:00

The world’s largest carmaker by volume, Toyota, says it plans to invest $1.4 billion to build two new factories in Mexico and China.

The announcement marks an end to a three-year, self-imposed expansion freeze. The new plant in Guanajuato, Mexico, will turn out 200,000 compact Corollas per year by 2019. The plant in Guangzhou, China plans to start production in 2017 with a capacity to make around 100,000 cars a year.

The free-trade agreements between Mexico, the U.S., and Europe, coupled with Toyota’s new super-efficient global architecture has the potential to set a new competitive threshold for the car industry.

Recycled bikes provide affordable transportation

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-04-16 02:00

Mohammad Wasiq works at one of the hotels on Savannah’s downtown riverfront. His job is just shy of a mile and a half from his apartment - an easy bike ride. He says it usually takes him less than 10 minutes.

Before Wasiq got the bike, he had to take the bus, and that was a different story. “First ten days, I was late sometimes, sometimes early,” he says, “because I couldn’t wait for the bus so I was just walking from here.”

Wasiq’s bike came from the Savannah Bicycle Campaign’s recycling program. The group takes donations of used bikes and parts. Then volunteers refurbish them and outfit them with accessories the users might need, like racks for groceries. A refugee placement organization called Lutheran Services of Georgia connects the Bike Campaign with people who need the help. Each user gets a helmet, a lock, and a light.

Lauren Cruickshank works with the refugees. “The fact that they can get a bicycle for free means that they’re not spending money on the bicycle,” she says, “and it also means that maybe they don’t have to spend money on a bus ticket each time they’re going to their ESL class or each time they’re going to the grocery store.”

The program also offers a mobile repair trailer and helps people learn about bike maintenance. Manager Jen Colestock says that’s also key when every penny counts.

“Especially if you’re somebody who bikes by necessity, and wouldn’t necessarily be able to afford that repair at a bike shop but might have access to tools to fix it, that’s another ten, twenty, thirty dollars that you’ve saved then,” Colestock says.

A spokesperson for the League of American Bicyclists says recycling programs like this one have been around for a while, and they’ve seen a rise around the country as biking has gotten more popular. They have a lot of different goals - from increasing economic freedom to helping the environment.

 

Why Nicaraguan businesses can't take PayPal

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-04-16 02:00
"Pay securely. Here, there, anywhere." That's the slogan currently on PayPal's website, and one of the central promises for digital payments of all kinds. But so far, the promise isn't accessible "anywhere."  For instance: Nicaragua. 

On the country's Pacific coast, in a remote beach town, there is a Spanish school called Pie de Gigante. It draws an international crowd to its website. But its founder, Juan Delgado, says it has sometimes failed to convert them into real-world visitors, thanks to its website's inability to let them pay online to reserve a space.

"Right now, we're using a system that's a little bit complicated," he says, speaking in Spanish. "We use a system of paying via Western Union or in cash."

 PayPal isn't an option. 

"In most of Latin America today, the only way you can take money out of your PayPal account is having a U.S. bank  account," says Arnoldo Reyes, head of financial services and business development for PayPal in Latin America and the Caribbean. 

The exceptions have required the company to navigate local regluations and to partner directly with individual banks. It's this kind of extra work that pushes companies like PayPal to focus first on bigger, wealthier markets. (Nicaragua is the second poorest country in all of Latin America, after Haiti.) 

"I mean, you can't take an Uber in Nicaragua," says Reyes.

"We're basically closed off," says Marcella Chamorro, an entrepreneur who first ran into the payment problem when trying to create a kind of Nicaraguan Ticketmaster. 

"I know a bunch of small business owners who need to find like a cousin in California who can open a bank account for them and then sell through PayPal to this bank account and then their aunt comes three months later to bring the cash," she says. "It's really complicated."

It makes it harder for locals than for people like Chris James--a British ex-pat who runs the Hostal El Momento in Granada, Nicaragua. He has a local, Nicaraguan bank account for cash and credit cards. But he also has a U.S. bank account, which he uses for receiving PayPal payments. 

"It's easier to have both really: accounts here and out of the country as well," he says. "That's what I find anyway."

The situation has been changing. In the last few years, PayPal has partnered with local banks to make receiving payments possible in Peru, Chile, Costa Rica and--on Monday--the Dominican Republic. But as for Nicaragua, Reyes says while the country is on PayPal's radar, the company couldn't give any specific timeline.

In Record Drought, Calif. Course Ethically Keeps Greens Green

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-16 01:06

Golf courses are water hogs, and that thirst is especially notable as California's drought grows in severity. At Pelican Hill, a top golf course near Los Angeles, water conservation is an obsession.

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Hacked Touchscreen Voting Machine Raises Questions About Election Security

NPR News - Thu, 2015-04-16 01:03

Virginia found 1-in-5 of its touchscreen machines vulnerable to attack with passwords as easy as "abcde." As more voting goes automated, more concerns are being raised.

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Binge watching for 10 billion hours

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-04-16 01:00
10 billion

That's how many hours of content Netflix users streamed in the first quarter of this year, according to the company's most recent earnings report released Wednesday. Quartz points out that's about 55 hours per month, per person.

3 years

That's how long Toyota's self-imposed expansion freeze. The world's largest carmaker by volume has just ended the freeze by announcing plans to invest $1.4 billion to build new factories in Mexico and China. 

$16

This is how much Etsy, the online retailer platform, has been priced in its IPO. The deal raised about $267 million by selling 16.7 million shares and gives Etsy a valuation of $1.8 billion.

$6.6 billion

That's 10 percent of Google's annual sales, and the fine the tech giant could pay in an antitrust suit brought by the European Union Wednesday. The EU is accusing Google of privileging its own services in search results. New tech correspondent for Marketplace Molly Wood tells us how Google's mission makes this case somewhat inevitable, and how the company can adjust its model to get out of this.

$1.224 trillion

This is Japan’s total holding of US government debt. Now the third largest economy in the world has surpassed the second in U.S. bond holdings. According to the Financial Times, China pegs its currency to the dollar, which has recovered strongly this year. Meanwhile, growth in the Asian giant is slowing, leading it to reinvest more of its foreign earnings domestically. However, U.S. investors still remain the number one buyer of U.S. bond. 

$15 per hour

The starting wage for employees at the East Village restaurant Dirt Candy, three times New York's minimum wage for tipped employees. Dirt Candy has gotten rid of tipping entirely, instead adding a 20 percent "administrative fee" to every meal. It's something of a reaction to the way tipping habits have changed, the Washington Post reported, though it's not always easy to ditch the tradition without raising prices or sacrificing service.

Hope Builds For Islanders Displaced In Shameful Chapter Of U.K. History

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-15 23:59

Britain forced thousands off Diego Garcia, a remote Indian Ocean island, in the '70s to make way for a U.S. military base. For 40 years residents have fought to return. Now they have a growing chance.

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A North Dakota Family Breaks The Silence On Gay Marriage

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-15 23:51

Author Melanie Hoffert grew up gay in rural America, where coming out was difficult. But that hasn't stopped her family from having a frank and challenging conversation about same-sex marriage.

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How Almonds Became A Scapegoat For California's Drought

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-15 23:51

The relentless drought has turned almonds into a target for water conservationists who bemoan that it takes one gallon of water to grow one almond. Growers say the bad rap is unfair and misleading.

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Tylenol Might Dull Emotional Pain, Too

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-15 23:49

People who took acetaminophen responded less strongly to happy or sad photos in a small study. It's one of several studies suggesting that there's an overlap with pain and other feelings.

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An American Journalist Explains Why He Had To Flee Iraq

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-15 23:46

Ned Parker has covered Iraq for more than a decade. But the Reuters bureau chief abruptly left the country last week after a report of human rights abuses prompted threats from a Shiite paramilitary.

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Nut So Fast, Kind Bars: FDA Smacks Snacks On Health Claims

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-15 14:37

The FDA has issued a warning letter to Kind about the labeling of its fruit-and-nut snack bars. It argues that the bars contain too much fat to bear the label "healthy" printed on the wrapper.

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Street Food No More: Bug Snacks Move To Store Shelves In Thailand

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-15 13:52

Many Thais, and others around the world, eat insects. An entrepreneur is trying to grow the market in Thailand by bringing deep-fried insects off the street and into convenience and gourmet shops.

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Why Knuckles Crack

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-15 12:59

A little MRI video seems to settle the decades-old debate about that loud pop of the joints: It's all about bubbles. But imagine an air bag inflating, not the bursting of a balloon.

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New Discovery Of World's Oldest Tools

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-15 12:43

Researchers in Kenya uncover tools dated to 3.3 million years ago, long before the first humans, as we know them, walked the Earth.

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Former FBI Agent Speaks Out: 'I Was Not Protected'

NPR News - Wed, 2015-04-15 11:38

Robyn Gritz investigated major national security threats, but says the FBI drummed her out of a job after she fell out of favor with her supervisors. She went on to sell cosmetics and answer phones.

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China's growing at (just) 7 percent

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-04-15 11:29

The world's fastest-growing major economy is slowing its roll, just slightly. China's announced a 7 percent growth rate in the most recent quarter, on an annualized basis.

 And if you're saying to yourself right now, "I'd love to hear numbers like in the U.S., or in Europe," yes, you're right. Seven percent is huge. But compared to the past few decades, when China's growth seemed unstoppable.

 Lately, China-watchers have wanted it both ways: a more balanced and stable economy that continues to push global growth with its breakneck pace. 

 "It's probably an irrational expectation," says Matthews Asia investment strategist Andy Rothman. 

 Even at 7 percent, though, China is driving a third of global growth. That's more than the U.S. and Europe combined.  Constant economic growth has fostered a culture of entrepreneurship in the Communist state. 

 "When I started there in '84, there were no private companies at all. Today, 80 percent of employment is private, all the new job creation is private," Rothman says. "People starting up businesses in garages, just like the U.S."

 More than GDP figures, today Rothman focuses on the job market and income growth. China is doing well by those measures, he says. In his talks with small, private companies, he finds that businesses are having to give raises to both skilled workers and those on the factory floor alike, to hang on to the workforce they need. 

 While that's a good sign for China, the average person still can't buy a car or home. Despite massive urbanization, half of the population is in the countryside, where incomes are much lower. 

 As this all settles out, Rothman says, we should be prepared for the day when China's growth range matches other industrial nations: plus or minus 3 percent a year. 

 And as deceleration of Chinese growth continues, Rothman says we'll have to brace ourselves for the hyperbole.

 "Every quarter, people are going to be telling us, 'Hey, that was the slowest quarter since the Tang dynasty,'" Rothman says.

Diamonds: pricey, but not valuable

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-04-15 11:10

Jason and Kristen Sarata won a diamond at a charity raffle, but when the couple couldn’t agree on whether to sell the diamond or not, Jason hid it in the laundry room.

“The diamond became part of this vast repository of what I’ve learned is known as the overhang,” says “Freakonomics” author Stephen Dubner.  

According to diamond expert Edward Jay Epstein, “The overhang is every diamond ever sold in history that is on someone’s finger or in a bank vault, or in some drawer somewhere.”

Dubner says when people stash away their prized diamonds, it makes them more valuable. “All those unsold diamonds that people keep because they think of them as investments makes them valuable because they are constricted,” he says.

And the common belief that diamonds are inherently valuable? It’s just not true.

“[The diamond industry has] kept prices high over the years by constricting demand, kind of matching demand to the number of engagements, for instance, for engagement rings,” Dubner says.

In fact, reselling a diamond for top dollar isn’t all that easy. “The markup from a jeweler is huge, so you can’t expect to get all that much if you sell it back to a jeweler and you don’t have that many choices. It’s what economists call a thin market.”

Which is why the Saratas have decided to skip over the middleman and sell their diamond on eBay (they’ll also donate fifty percent of the sale back to the charity they won the jewel from).

“If you know anybody that wants to buy a diamond, not just any diamond, a diamond that was won at a raffle and fought over and hid in a laundry room and fought over some more, head over to eBay and search for 'Freakonomics Charity Diamond,'” Dubner says.

Fun facts from the Beige Book

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-04-15 11:00

The Federal Reserve was out with its eight-times-a-year regional look at the American economy on Wednesday. Sure, fine, call me a dork if you will — but I do love me some Beige Book.

The Wall Street Journal's Real Time Economics blog read it so we don't have to. The choicest nuggets...

  • First of all, the weather in the Northeast: restaurant revenues in the Boston area were down 30 to 40 percent with all that snow on the ground.
  • Apparently, it's been raining a lot in Mississippi and Alabama: really wet ground there means farmers are behind on their corn planting. They might switch 'em over to soybeans, in fact.
  • And, from the "yes, it is a tech bubble" category: backlogs for architectural companies in San Francisco are the biggest they've been since the recession.

Why it's hard to tell good monopolies from bad

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-04-15 11:00

On Wednesday, the European Union's antitrust division officially hit Google with an antitrust case, which could cost the search giant as much as $6.6 billion, according to Margrethe Vestager, the European Union competition commissioner. The accusation is that the search giant abused its power in the European market, by privileging its Google Shopping service in its Google Search results. 

But are monopolies always bad? Danny Sullivan, editor of Search Engine Land, says Google has been dominant in the European market for more than a decade.

"Having a big market share by itself is OK," says Nicholas Economides, Professor of Economics at NYU Stern School of Business. He says the problem is when companies abuse that market share by taking anticompetitive actions that hurt its competitors and its customers.

Determining when competitors and customers are harmed is hardly straightforward, according to Peter Passell editor of The Milken Institute Review.

But some say when you look at Google's business model, that debate is inevitable. Says Marketplace's Molly Wood, "Google's goal—and it's a mission-driven company—is to organize the world's information ... And if that means occasionally buying a company so that they can deliver results from a company they already own, so be it."

When asked if she thinks there is a possible happy ending in this situation, Wood points to the need for Google to return to filtering results, not owning them: "Let Yelp surface for restaurant reviews instead of having your own restaurant reviews."

And as far as the possibility of an outcome affecting policy in the states, Wood says, "The EU has had a different standard, but I will say, if they have solid findings, it could cross the pond."

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