One reason for recent volatility in U.S. equity markets — and for remaining uncertainties about the resilience of the U.S. recovery — is a myriad of signs that the rest of the world is sinking economically.
America's biggest trading partners in every direction face troubles: China is attempting to manage a measured slowdown in growth (from the 10 percent to the 7 percent range); Brazil’s boom has turned sour with lower commodity prices and corruption scandals; Europe’s malaise has not lifted after the recession, with rickety banks and risky government debt levels still unresolved; and Russia faces a host of troubles — from sinking oil prices and economic sanctions, to Olympic debts and a lack of rule of law.
By contrast, the U.S. economy is clearly on a path back to relative health and strength, says economist Paul Ashworth at Capital Economics in Toronto.
“It may sound strange, but the U.S. is the stand-out performer of the G7,” Ashworth says. The G7 includes the U.S. Canada, Germany, Italy, France, the U.K., and Japan. “Everything in the U.S. seems to be going in the right direction — the unemployment rate, the federal budget deficit below 3 percent of GPD.”
And some of what ails the rest of the world, actually juices the American economy, at least in the short run. In an uncertain world, rich foreigners and overseas companies are investing their money in U.S. equities and government bonds, explains Dean Baker at the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
“People buy up U.S. Treasuries because in the scheme of things the U.S. looks relatively safe,” Baker says. “That lowers interest rates, meaning people can refinance their homes, and pay lower rates if they buy a car or get a car loan.”
But there is a flip-side — at least for many U.S.-based businesses — to the United States being the global standout among major developed and developing economies: a strengthening U.S. dollar.
That makes it cheaper for Americans to buy Italian sunglasses, Japanese cars or foreign oil. But U.S. companies that export face more price competition from cheaper foreign-made goods.
And, says investment strategist Anthony Valeri at LPL Financial, U.S. companies may lose significant sales overseas, especially if the eurozone goes into recession again.
“If we do get a slowdown in Europe and in emerging markets, it will impact the profitability of domestic companies,” Valeri says. And that in turn could depress job-creation in the U.S. next year.
DaVita HealthCare partners, a provider of dialysis for kidney patients, says its expertise working with very sick patients can help hospitals expand into wellness and prevention.
Bonaire is a scuba diver's paradise in the Caribbean. But the invasive lionfish is gobbling up smaller fish that protect the reef. To island is now teaching divers how to spear the lionfish.
The federal government is putting $100 million behind a simple idea: doubling the value of federal food benefits when people use them to buy fresh produce. This idea started small but became a hit.
Now, in an effort toward total and complete flavor fusion chaos, Pepsico has confirmed reports that they are working on Doritos-flavored Mountain Dew.
Your ultimate junk food fantasy (or nightmare) just came true.
Should there be slow lanes and fast lanes for content on the Internet? This is the province of the Federal Communications Commission, and has been long debated and litigated.
But President Obama today decided he needed to speak loud and clear on this, and tell the FCC what he thinks it should do. The president has long been against special fast lanes online. But this is the most direct he’s been, calling for “an explicit ban on paid prioritization and any other restriction that has a similar effect.”
The Federal Communications Commission is an independent agency. But the President called on the FCC to “create a new set of rules protecting net neutrality and ensuring that neither the cable company nor the phone company will be able to act as a gatekeeper, restricting what you can do or see online.”
The FCC is currently considering whether to treat Internet service providers like Verizon and Comcast like phone companies, which are regulated under Title II of the telecommunications law. Obama endorsed Title II today.
“We’re experiencing Title II right here,” says Craig Aaron by phone. He heads Free Press, an advocacy group lobbying for such neutrality. “Your call to me gets treated the same way as your call to the White House. You get to decide what the priority is going to be.”
For their part, Internet providers proclaimed “unprecedented government interference” and a predicted a crippling future of Mother-May-I rules.
“Let me be clear: this is all about how do you regulate the Internet,” says former FCC commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth, now with the Hudson Institute think tank. “And the obvious answer is, you regulate it the way you have the past 20 years, which is not at all.”
For all the sound bites, this issue is incredibly complicated, litigated, obfuscated.
But emerging from the weeds, Daniel Weitzner of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory says the task for the FCC really is to keep the Web working as it does today. In his view, it does work.
“We know that companies both on the network side and on the edge as it were – the Amazons and Google and Twitters of the world – have all been able to grow,” says Weitzner.
The issue is where the Internet goes from here. Some analysts already see it moving in a direction of pay-to-play and more speed for the rich.
“That would be contrary to the way the Internet has worked and grown,” Weitzner says.
In the Internet age, the line "I didn't get your text" has a real "The dog ate my homework”-feel to it. But it's also the truth for some Android users who are not getting messages sent from iPhones.
Those messages, sent to those who switched to an Android phone from an iPhone, was sometimes getting caught up in something of a iMessage black hole, because newly-Android phone numbers were stuck in their previous iMessage ecosystem.
"Anecdotally, I’ve experienced it with my wife’s friends,” says Wayne Lam, a senior analyst at Telecom Electronics.
Now, Apple has a website where you can delist your phone number from iMessage. But the fix comes long after anecdotes surfaced of not only lost personal texts, but of the bug causing problems for businesses.
Scott Irwin with Rembrandt Venture Partners, which focuses its investments on enterprise and business technologies, sees a growing trend in businesses adopting texts as an integral part of their daily operations.
"We think that the timing is good, and the need is very real,” says Irwin. “Employees… use various texting platforms in their personal lives, and that tends to bleed over into their professional lives as well, so this is creating the problem and therefore the opportunity.”
Irwin says employees are adopting consumer texting services for business use, which can have all kinds of problematic implications from the stand point of confidentiality, information security and compliance issues.
A number of services are now vying for the business texting market to help solve those problems. And anlysts there may be a shake-out coming among texting providers, as the business world increasingly adapts to the technology.
Meanwhile, companies are also looking at texting as an important tool in how they communicate with customers.
Airlines are a perfect example, when they send text alerts with changed flight information, says independent telecom analyst Jeff Kagan.
"Some businesses are really moving into this aggressively. And other competitors in the same space are not,” says Kagan. "But over the course of the next several years, as other companies start to implement it themselves… then, you’ve got to use it or you’re in a disadvantage.”
“We’re in the early stages of seeing this form of communication become a real productivity tool,” says Lam, who adds that there are now a lot of companies entering the field.
More texts from Nova and Dave.(Photo: David Shaw)
USPS customers were affected as well. The FBI is leading an investigation into the hack, but it's unclear who might be responsible it.
Stakes have been raised in the fight for an open Internet.
President Barack Obama took a strong stance for net neutrality on Monday morning. In a recorded statement, Obama called for the Federal Communications Commission to reclassify broadband as a utility, like water or electricity, under Title II of the Communications Act.
The FCC, which is independent from Congress and the White House, actively sought comment from the outside on the issue. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said the Commission would add Obama's input to the 3.7 million-comment pile that they've already received.
The FCC was originally expected to introduce new rules by the end of the year, but Wheeler has said they will take more time.
Republicans hope to update the Communications Act for the first time since 1996, and net neutrality will play a role. Texas Senator Ted Cruz signaled further politicization of the issue by calling net neutrality, "Obamacare for the Internet," in a tweet after the president's announcement.
Here are the other stories we're reading and numbers we're watching:45
"Sesame Street" debuted 45 years ago, on November 10, 1969. For the occasion, The Atlantic dug up their initial review of the show, which praised the muppets but lambasted the show's potential, thanks in part to its "great stress on the alphabet." On "Marketplace," we've explored Elmo's dominance in toy sales, "Sesame Street"-branded schools overseas and where different characters fall on the economic spectrum. What does Oscar the Grouch care about most during the election? Stimulus spending.8,019,763
That's how many people bought a health plan using an insurance marketplace under the Affordable Care Act. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates there are about 20 million more potential buyers. The latest iteration of Healthcare.gov went live Sunday night and open enrollment starts this weekend. Vox breaks down what to expect from round two of the ACA.1 percent
That's the portion of Internet time people spend on Twitter, according to a Morgan Stanley chart featured on Quartz. Compare that to Facebook, which accounts to about 15 percent of time spent online. It's no wonder the company wants to publish content directly.
This week, we try a mass-produced version of New York City's famous Cronut, the croissant-doughnut hybrid. The real failure here is that Dunkin' Donuts didn't call it a Crunkin' Cronut.
Stuxnet is a computer worm that was discovered in 2010 and was used against Iran's uranium enrichment program.
Kim Zetter's book "Countdown to Zero Day: Stuxnet and the Launch of the World’s First Digital Weapon" goes deep into the discovery of Stuxnet, how it was used and discovered in the past decade and the future of digital weapons.
Stuxnet was designed not to steal anything or harm computers, but for mere sabotage of physical equipment. While Zetter agrees Stuxnet may have prevented a "kinetic war," she suggests it also opened the possibility of damage to critical digital infrastructure in the not-too-distant future.
"There’s no going back," she says.
Read an excerpt from "Countdown to Zero Day":
The Case of the Centrifuges
It was January 2010 when officials with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations body charged with monitoring Iran’s nuclear program, first began to notice something unusual happening at the uranium enrichment plant outside Natanz in central Iran.
Inside the facility’s large centrifuge hall, buried like a bunker more than fifty feet beneath the desert surface, thousands of gleaming aluminum centrifuges were spinning at supersonic speed, enriching uranium hexafluoride gas as they had been for nearly two years. But over the last weeks, workers at the plant had been removing batches of centrifuges and replacing them with new ones. And they were doing so at a startling rate.
At Natanz each centrifuge, known as an IR-1, has a life expectancy of about ten years. But the devices are fragile and prone to break easily. Even under normal conditions, Iran has to replace up to 10 percent of the centrifuges each year due to material defects, maintenance issues, and worker accidents.
In November 2009, Iran had about 8,700 centrifuges installed at Natanz, so it would have been perfectly normal to see technicians decommission about 800 of them over the course of the year as the devices failed for one reason or another. But as IAEA officials added up the centrifuges removed over several weeks in December 2009 and early January, they realized that Iran was plowing through them at an unusual rate.
Inspectors with the IAEA’s Department of Safeguards visited Natanz an average of twice a month—sometimes by appointment, sometimes unannounced—to track Iran’s enrichment activity and progress. Anytime workers at the plant decommissioned damaged or otherwise unusable centrifuges, they were required to line them up in a control area just inside the door of the centrifuge rooms until IAEA inspectors arrived at their next visit to examine them. The inspectors would run a handheld gamma spectrometer around each centrifuge to ensure that no nuclear material was being smuggled out in them, then approve the centrifuges for removal, making note in reports sent back to IAEA headquarters in Vienna of the number that were decommissioned each time.
IAEA digital surveillance cameras, installed outside the door of each centrifuge room to monitor Iran’s enrichment activity, captured the technicians scurrying about in their white lab coats, blue plastic booties on their feet, as they trotted out the shiny cylinders one by one, each about six feet long and about half a foot in diameter. The workers, by agreement with the IAEA, had to cradle the delicate devices in their arms, wrapped in plastic sleeves or in open boxes, so the cameras could register each item as it was removed from the room.
The surveillance cameras, which weren’t allowed inside the centrifuge rooms, stored the images for later perusal. Each time inspectors visited Natanz, they examined the recorded images to ensure that Iran hadn’t removed additional centrifuges or done anything else prohibited during their absence. But as weeks passed and the inspectors sent their reports back to Vienna, officials there realized that the number of centrifuges being removed far exceeded what was normal.
Officially, the IAEA won’t say how many centrifuges Iran replaced during this period. But news reports quoting European “diplomats” put the number at 900 to 1,000. A former top IAEA official, however, thinks the actual number was much higher. “My educated guess is that 2,000 were damaged,” says Olli Heinonen, who was deputy director of the Safeguards Division until he resigned in October 2010.
Whatever the number, it was clear that something was wrong with the devices. Unfortunately, Iran wasn’t required to tell inspectors why they had replaced them, and, officially, the IAEA inspectors had no right to ask. The agency’s mandate was to monitor what happened to uranium at the enrichment plant, not keep track of failed equipment.
What the inspectors didn’t know was that the answer to their question was right beneath their noses, buried in the bits and memory of the computers in Natanz’s industrial control room. Months earlier, in June 2009, someone had quietly unleashed a destructive digital warhead on computers in Iran, where it had silently slithered its way into critical systems at Natanz, all with a single goal in mind—to sabotage Iran’s uranium enrichment program and prevent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from building a nuclear bomb.
The answer was there at Natanz, but it would be nearly a year before the inspectors would obtain it, and even then it would come only after more than a dozen computer security experts around the world spent months deconstructing what would ultimately become known as one of the most sophisticated viruses ever discovered—a piece of software so unique it would make history as the world’s first digital weapon and the first shot across the bow announcing the age of digital warfare.
The cold front hit Wyoming just after midnight. It struck Denver this morning, bringing wind and snow — and reportedly dropping the temperature by 15 degrees in just 15 minutes.
Wages and benefits are usually the big sticking points in labor negotiations. But so far both sides are focusing on things like Ebola preparedness, separating patient care from economics.
The luxury home builder Toll Brothers had some good news for shareholders today. Revenues for the quarter ending in October shot up by 29 percent. Strong demand, especially on the West Coast, boosted the company's sales.
This past year Toll Brothers has been aggressively expanding on the West Coast. In southern California alone it’s developing five new communities.
But the strong quarterly showing from Toll may not say much about a wider housing market recovery. Toll focuses on the higher end of the homebuilding market, something that many homebuilders have been doing the past few years.
“Homebuilders have been serving the part of the market that’s been the healthiest, which has been older, move-up buyers that have home equity, that have more wealth,” says Robert Dietz, an economist with the National Association of Homebuilders.
That trend has been reinforced by lenders chasing wealthy buyers, offering them surprisingly low rates on large “jumbo” mortgages. The rates, in some cases, are even lower than those for standard loans. Housing economist Brad Hunter at Metrostudy hopes by next year, there will be signs of a broader recovery in the housing market.
“Our take is that rents are getting so high and job formations are getting better,” says Hunter.
Corporate titans, leaders of Fortune 500 companies, wearers of starched white shirts, winners of enormous paychecks and occupiers of corner offices with imposing black desks and gleaming glass views. It's easy to conjure images of CEOs in offices... but what, exactly, is it that they do in there all day?
A CEO's job isn't one that's easy to categorize. It doesn't fit neatly into a one-slot job description like number-cruncher, analyst or ad-man. And when I contacted companies to try to coax out an answer, most said their CEO's time was too tight for a discussion about how they spend it.
Andrea Prat, a professor of economics at Columbia Business School, who studies this exact corporate mystery, says over 80 percent of a CEO's time "is spent in interactions with other people.”
To translate academic-speak into more conversational language: CEOs, says Prat, spend most of their days in meetings. And, he notes, most of the meetings are with employees inside the company. If you find yourself questioning this practice, concerned that meetings have a poor reputation as wasters of time, says Prat: “Surprisingly, that’s actually not what we find.”
Instead, he says, the more time a CEO spends in meetings with his or her employees, the better the company does.
"You can measure firm performance as productivity," he says. "You can measure it as return on capital employed, or you can measure it as growth over time. This strong correlation exists even when we control for everything we observe about the firm – the industry, the location, the size, the capital employed."
When CEOs aren't spending the majority of their time with employees, it can be evidence of a serious problem. It can mean, says Prat, a focus on maintaining outside visibility for the CEO – a hedging of bets. That he or she may be polishing up their resume and keeping an eye on the horizon for other job opportunities. CEOs need to be steering the ship from the inside, mostly, via meetings.
And meetings were what were happening at the two companies that agreed to let their CEOs talk to a reporter. First, at Happy Family, a maker of organic food for babies, tots and kids, 37-year-old CEO Shazi Visram has been so busy all day she's barely had time to – well....
“So I wanted to go to the bathroom like 20 minutes ago, but see, this is, that’s what happens."
Visram is talking about getting sidetracked by trying to check in with her 80 fulltime employees. Something she says she tries to do whenever she’s in her New York headquarters, like today. There's a group meeting to look at sketches of designs for product packaging, a one-on-one check-in about the design of the company website, a meeting to taste test new potential products. And in between, work on a charity project, an orphanage for kids overseas, writing an article, wrangling time zones and dialing codes to place international phone calls with Happy Family's parent company, Danone. And of course, email.
"I probably get close to 500 emails a day on average," says Visram. "Not every one needs a response, but every one needs to be read."
A stressful prospect for any employee – C-Suite level or not. Luckily, at Sealed Air, a New Jersey-based company, with 25,000 employees, there is a special option available for the relief of nerves. Among the many products the company produces is bubble wrap. Enough, says Ken Chrisman, president of product care at the company, "to reduce the whole level of stress worldwide by at least 1 degree.”
Jerome Peribere, 59, is the company's CEO. After a tour of the Secaucus, N.J., plant he pulled out a printed itinerary of his schedule for the day.
Arriving around 7:15 a.m., Peribere caught up on emails, had a phone meeting, spoke to employees in New Jersey at a town hall meeting - and the schedule for the rest of the day? More meetings.
Sealed Air has over 100 manufacturing sites around the world, and Peribere estimates he spends 60 percent of his time traveling to visit customers, plants and offices.
At Happy Family, Visram says she does a little bit of everything – sales, marketing, management. Being a CEO, says Visram, requires a certain personality type – someone with a strong vision for the future.
“Yeah, I’m a little bossy – but in a good way. If a corporate culture is all about collaboration, and there’s no one person who can say, 'you know what, this is great, but we’re going to do this and this is why,' you’re asking for chaos.”
Andrea Prat says CEOs put in just over 11 hours at work every day. But he says it's probable they work even more. His study is limited to the hours a CEO was observed working, or had been scheduled for work activities, by her or by her personal assistant.
"So if, for instance, after dinner they make phone calls or they do emails, we don’t observe that," he says.
Being CEO, says Peribere, is more than a full time job, and isn't limited to five days a week. "The good thing about the weekend is that you can spend quality time working," he says.
Visram is not only CEO of Happy Family, but also the company's founder. She recalls putting in epic hours during its start-up phase. She was also pregnant.
"And I would literally think, 'I’m not going to drink too much water right now, because I’m going to be on the phone for an hour and a half, and I don’t have the time to go and literally walk all the way down the hall,' because the restroom was really far away."
Visram would get so busy, she says, she used to sleep on the floor of her office – with a little blue blanket and a yoga mat, until an employee felt sorry for her and splurged on a $100 fold-out bed. She still keeps the yoga mat in a corner of her office. So when people bring up the touchy subject of high CEO pay, Visram says that while she's not familiar with the workings of banking institutions, "the CEO pay scales that really get critiqued"– she is quick to voice her opinion about the pay scale of other corporate leaders:
“I believe that for the folks who are in that position, many of them have really earned it, and they’ve paid their dues,” she says. "I was the CEO for four years of this business, and I was making $36,000 a year, living in New York City, and I had an MBA from Columbia. So, I think it all balances out."
Peribere, who is originally from France, says he applauds the American practice of publishing the salaries of top executives of public companies.
"I like very much this transparency with the concept of being paid for the value you create," he says. "You have CEOs who have created zero value during their tenure. I think it is unfair to have very high salaries for people who have created zero value."
He takes out his phone and pulls up a chart of Sealed Air's stock performance dating back to before he started with the company.
"It was at $13 the day before my nomination has been announced," he says. "And it is today at $35."
Peribere says the company has done well, so the executive team should be rewarded – reasonably. And, he notes, not everyone is cut out to be CEO. A company's leader has to be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel, he says, as well as to lead their team there. Like when employees use overly complex language in presentations, and he asks them "what do you mean?"
"And then the person tells you oh, what I meant is, 'this is where we are, this is where we’re going and these are the five things we need to do to get there.' And my answer systematically is – just say so. Business is simple; people make it difficult.”
Emails seen by The Wall Street Journal and other news outlets raise questions about the timing of the automaker's recalls for faulty ignition switches. The defect has been tied to at least 32 deaths.
If you buy your own health insurance, it's time to check out the options on the Obamacare exchanges. Enrollment starts Nov. 15.
What does it mean when buying stocks in China gets quite a bit easier? Andrew Batson, China Research Director at Gavekal Dragonomics, joined us from Beijing. Plus: Wholesale natural gas prices spiked last week, and they're back up this morning on news of a new polar vortex. Finally: natural gas production, however, shows no sign of abating - the question now is what to do with all of it.
Integrating solar panels into a bike commuter path, a special roadway outside Amsterdam will generate power that's then funneled into the national energy grid.
President Obama is calling on rule-makers to reclassify broadband as a public utility. It would give the FCC much broader authority to stop "fast lanes" and "slow lanes" to the Internet.