National News

Central bankers clear the way for stock gains

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-06-20 02:00

Markets around the world are riding high as the end of the financial quarter approaches next week. Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets (UK), joins Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio to explain what's behind the surprising strength.

Click on the audio player above to hear Michael Hewson in conversation with Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio. 

Watchmaking revived by at-risk youth

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-06-20 02:00

Behind the heavily secured doors of Tourneau’s New York workshop, watchmakers work on repairing the world’s most expensive timepieces, worth tens, even hundreds of thousands of dollars. With all the Rolexes inside, one expects to find an elderly Swiss man in a milking jacket in charge.

But the luxury watch seller’s technical director is American Terry Irby, a third generation watchmaker. His gentle Arkansas accent and pristine white lab coat give him the air of a country doctor; one with a magnifying eye loupe around his neck instead of a stethoscope. He’s running something of a teaching hospital for watch repair; an unusual program that combines students from tough backgrounds with the fantastically pricey watches that wrap the wrists of billionaires and celebrities. It’s a bid to save a threatened profession, while bettering the lives of some at-risk young people.

During a recent class, Irby leans over the workbench of 20-year-old Justine Hernandez, showing her how to delicately take the hands off a watch -- a tricky thing to do without scratching its face. The tools she uses include some of the smallest tweezers you’ve ever seen, because many watch parts are the size of gnats.

Like others in the class, Hernandez comes from Manhattan Comprehensive Night & Day High School. It’s for older students -- those whose progress may have been held up by poverty, homelessness, or run-ins with the law. The timepieces they work with come from a whole different world.

“We were looking at all the beautiful watches and there’s this one watch that stands out -- costs like $40,000, which is like a car, probably a couple of cars,” Hernandez recalls.

The skills she’s learning could lead to a stable job with solid pay. Irby says qualified watchmakers start at $50,000 and are in demand around the world. Students who do well in the class can move on to paid internships at Tourneau, which can lead to full-time jobs.

This program isn’t just corporate goodwill. Wristwatches are fashionable again and the company needs people.

“I have often said that I would take ten watchmakers today if I could find them,” Irby explains. “Our biggest complaint is that we can’t do the job fast enough.”

Irby’s office overlooks the floor where the watchmakers work, quietly hunched over benches tending to the world’s finest timepieces, some new and others passed through families over the decades. Among those at work is Edwin Larregui, a recent graduate of the program. Irby speaks highly of his talent and dedication and expects him to be in watchmaking a long time.

Fresh from wrapping up work on a handsome Cartier worth several grand, Larregui recalls a time when he got so wrapped up in his work that he unwittingly went home wearing his eye loupe. He giggles as he recounts the funny looks people gave him on the train home. Then he turns serious, speaking with the calm satisfaction of a young man who has finally found something he loves, something he’s great at.

“It’s a part of me now,” Larregui says.

B-corporations can put social purpose over profits

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-06-20 02:00

Come January, when companies in Minnesota can officially register as benefit corporations, Sunrise Banks hopes to be one of the first in line.

This new class of company lets firms declare that a higher social purpose is as important as profits. The idea has only been around for a few years but a growing number of states now offer the classification.

Sunrise Banks is a Twin Cities-based, family-owned firm. Chief executive David Reiling says the company has always had a social mission to help unbanked and underbanked people get better access to capital.

“What the means from a local standpoint is over 60 percent of our loans are made each year in low and moderate income communities,” he says.

Reiling thinks that's consistent with the idea of a benefit or b-corporation. The concept involves putting a goal, like improving the community or environment, on equal footing with profit-making.

Patagonia is one of the best known examples of a benefit corporation. It sells outdoor gear while trying to limit its environmental footprint.

David Reiling thinks the designation could boost Sunrise Banks' brand -- and profitability.

"We see it actually increasing and expanding because we're a b-corporation," he says.

B-corporation status also affords some legal protections. They'd apply less to a firm like Sunrise, where Reiling and his parents are majority owners, and more to publicly held companies.

If shareholders sue because social goals overtake profit goals, management has a defense: the company was set up with a social mission.

Critics of benefit corporations still expect plenty of lawsuits.

"Because ultimately there will be disputes between shareholders and management on the appropriate course,” says Charles Elson, a corporate governance expert at the University of Delaware. “[It’s] fabulous for the courts. Lousy for the investors."

Elson thinks firms that fail to turn a profit could hide behind their social missions, or unethical companies could masquerade as do-gooders. 

"I think it's one of these things that sound great, but when it's developed it creates a lot more problems than solutions," he says.

Right now it's a problem a growing number of companies are willing to have. Twenty-two states have adopted laws allowing b-corporations, and legislation is sitting on the governor’s desks in three more.

Detroit's revamped pension plan may set new precedents

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-06-20 02:00

The pension system that contributed to Detroit’s bankruptcy is changing. Current city workers will be switched to a new pension plan at the end of the month – one in which they’ll shoulder more risk in the future.

But that still leaves an elephant in the bankruptcy courtroom: the judge’s opinion that pensions people have already earned can be modified in bankruptcy.

That's "despite the fact that pensions cannot be modified outside of bankruptcy under the Michigan Constitution,” says law professor Laura Bartell of Wayne State University. “That is the provision that has been the source of all the consternation in the pension community.”

California’s state pension system CalPERS has been particularly vocal. CalPERS is huge, with 1.7 million members.

It's also an interlocked system, says bankruptcy lawyer and UCLA professor Ken Klee. He says CalPERS invests payments from a number of municipalities.

“And so when somebody can’t pay in their share because they’ve gone into bankruptcy, it puts a burden on the rest of the pension system,” he says.

Not every state authorizes municipal bankruptcies, but California has had a bunch of them.

 

Foreign investors may be behind your paycheck

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-06-20 01:30

Foreign-owned U.S. businesses employ 5.6 million American workers, according to a new report from the Brookings Institution. 

The report says more than a third of those jobs are in manufacturing, with an increasing share in the service sector, banking, high tech, and even pharmaceuticals. 

The foreign investment isn’t just clustered in a few big cities, says Devashree Saha, a Brookings senior policy analyst who wrote the report. Saha notes that in Raleigh, N.C., more than half of pharmaceutical jobs are in what's known as the foreign direct investment sector. 

She says FDI in the U.S. fell by more than half from 1999 to 2012, because of competition from developing countries. But that competition is falling off.  

“There are very few opportunities and the US seems like the better of several not-so-great options,” says Moyara Ruehsen, who teaches international finance at the Monterey Institute.

Ruehsen says now, foreign investment is picking up again, because investors see the U.S. as a safe haven.

 

 

 

Obama Moves To Ensure Sick Leave For Gay Couples

NPR News - Fri, 2014-06-20 00:09

The Labor Department will be directed to start drafting rules making clear that the Family and Medical Leave Act applies to same-sex couples.

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Inheriting A Rare Skin Condition, And The Ability To Laugh About It

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-19 23:39

Cheri and Phillip Lindsay both have a rare condition that causes them to gradually lose skin pigment in patches. But it was easier for her to deal with it, Cheri says, because of her dad's example.

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Scientists Keep A Careful Eye On The World Cup Ball

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-19 23:38

After a botched redesign in 2010 caused the ball to behave erratically, independent scientists have carefully studied the new ball.

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CDC Says Dozens Of Workers Could Have Been Exposed To Anthrax

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-19 15:51

The live anthrax bacteria may have become airborne as lab workers were transferring it from one facility to another without following the correct procedure for rendering it inert, the CDC says.

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Songwriter Gerry Goffin, With Hits In The 60s And 70s, Dies At 75

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-19 14:48

Along with his musical partner and onetime wife, Carole King, he wrote such Top 40 hits as "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" and "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman."

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House Republicans' Top Leadership Gets A Red-State Member

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-19 13:54

While California Rep. Kevin McCarthy was picked as the new House majority leader, more conservative members got someone closer to their ideological and regional liking for the majority whip position.

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Largest U.S. Presbyterian Denomination OKs Marrying Gay Couples

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-19 13:54

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has voted to change its definition of marriage to "two people" and allow its pastors to officiate at same-sex weddings in states where such marriages are legal.

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Saddam's Ex-Officer: We've Played Key Role In Helping Militants

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-19 13:40

Sunni militants of ISIS have raised their black flags in towns they've captured in northern Iraq. But they've had help from, and share a goal with, former members of Saddam Hussein's security forces.

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No, companies don't usually fire their founders

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-06-19 13:37

Chopping off the head of the person who started it all is risky, so boards and investors are often slow to oust the founders of their companies.

"Almost always the decision is made to oust a founder when it just becomes intolerable," says Dave Logan, a management consultant who also teaches at USC's business school, "The amount of evidence, the amount of risk just reaches that overwhelming point."

Even so, it's not easy to fire a founder.

"Usually the founder owns a lot of the company's stock. Usually the founder has a lot of people who are still loyal to him or her at the company. So it's not something to be undertaken lightly," says Chris Yeh, a Silicon Valley startup investor. "There are all these fallouts that come out of ousting a founder: bad publicity, dirty laundry, potentially even lawsuits."

The company's profits and reputation have to be at great risk for a company to ax a founder. In the fashion world, American Apparel and Men's Wearhouse did so, for different reasons. But those perhaps most at risk: Young tech company founders, backed by venture capital. Dartmouth management professor Sydney Finkelstein says investors don't play around.

"They're looking for quicker returns and if they're not gonna get it, they're gonna make the tougher move, and so founder CEOs are [going to] be at bigger risk," says Finkelstein, "But it comes with the territory. If you're willing to take their money, that's part of the deal."

Groupon founder Andrew Mason learned that, but took the bullet with humor in a remarkable public goodbye letter. He started with the standard leaving to spend time with family bit and then, "Just kidding - I was fired today."

By Shea Huffman/Marketplace

Amazon wasn't the place to buy J.K. Rowling's new book

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-06-19 13:37

The stand-off between Amazon and publisher Hachette is complicating the release of the new Robert Galbraith (a.k.a., J.K. Rowling) novel, "The Silkworm".

Amazon didn’t allow pre-orders of the book. If you order it today, Amazon promises delivery in two to four weeks.

Meanwhile, independent stores like Carmichael’s Bookstore in Louisville, Kentucky, have taken pre-orders and have copies of "The Silkworm" for sale today.

Customers ask questions about the dispute between the publisher and Amazon. Owner Michael Boggs says, “We’ve kind of taken advantage of it by pushing Hachette books. Doing a little window of Hachette books, saying, 'You can buy these here today.’”

Big retailers like Wal-Mart and Barnes & Noble are offering discounts on Hachette books in an attempt to win customers away from Amazon.

But the smaller, independent booksellers may benefit most.

“It’s a great advantage if someone doesn’t want to sell a book. Then I have the opportunity to get that sale,” says Wyatt Wergzyn, who co-owns Bookworks in Albuquerque.

Amazon tactics with Hachette have backfired in terms of public relations. Consumer Jim Dembowski used to buy a lot of books on Amazon. Now, he says, “it’s made me think twice about how much I want to patronize Amazon.”

Store owner Wergzyn is putting stickers on the books he sells. He downloaded the stickers from the website of humorist and Hachette author Stephen Colbert. The stickers read, ‘I didn’t buy it on Amazon.’

Advertising at the World Cup is a different ball game

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-06-19 13:37

The World Cup in Brazil is an advertising bonanza. Companies pay as much as $100 million just to be an official part of the games. But if you’ve watched any games on TV, you may have noticed one big difference from other sports events: there are very few commercial breaks.

That means few ads like Budweiser’s Puppy Love, where a dog fell for a Clydesdale. 

“The World Cup is an anomaly because you’re not getting the same type of commercials every 10 minutes, every 20 minutes," says Ben Sturner, CEO of the sports marketing firm, the Leverage Agency. 

While there are few commercial breaks, all around the Brazil stadiums are logos for international brands like Coca Cola and Adidas. There are ads on uniforms, and even on the TV screen itself. 

“Having a static ad in the background may not give you the exact messaging in a commercial ad,” Sturner says, “but you’re getting minutes and minutes of time and your brand has association at the highest level.” 

This works really well for big brands that are already well known.

“All you want is lots of exposure and lots of reminders,” says Professor Gerard Tellis, who studies advertising effectiveness at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business. 

He says seeing these logos raise the probability that we’ll choose Coke over Pepsi, or McDonalds over Burger King. 

Thirty second ads have been losing effectiveness over the last few decades. It’s now about getting a viral hit online, which can also save a company a lot of money. 

That’s what headphone maker Beats by Dre managed by releasing a five-minute video online showing players arriving while wearing its headphones.

Never mind that FIFA actually banned Beats from the World Cup because only Sony paid the big bucks to be an official sponsor. The Beats video already has more than 17 million views on YouTube. 

Injured German Cave Researcher Rescued After 2-Week Ordeal

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-19 13:18

Johann Westhauser was hurt in a rock fall on June 8 as he and two companions were taking measurements in the Alps' Riesending cave system.

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Iraqi violence adds to the Middle East refugee crisis

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-06-19 12:39

An appeal launched by the United Nations High Commissioner for victims of Syria's civil war has raised only 36 percent of the $4.2 million the UNHCR requested. Another appeal, for Iraqis displaced earlier this year in Anbar province, is only 12 percent funded. And hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have fled their homes this month, raising fears that fatigued donors and cash-strapped donor nations might be unable to provide desperately-needed funds. 

Indians Caught In Middle Of Iraq's Worsening Crisis

NPR News - Thu, 2014-06-19 12:34

India's new government faces its first major foreign policy test after the abduction of 40 Indian workers by suspected militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

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