National News

The Sony hack, dissected

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-12-16 11:00

The Sony hack saga continues, and the hackers are getting more serious. They warned of 9/11-like attacks on movie theaters if the movie "The Interview" opens as scheduled on Christmas Day, and also promised a "Christmas gift" of files. 

Kai sat down with Marketplace Tech host, Ben Johnson, to talk about the lingering questions, including what happens when email systems get hacked. 

Hacking Sony's emails

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-12-16 11:00

The Sony hack saga continues, and the hackers are getting more serious. They warned of 9/11-like attacks on movie theaters if the movie "The Interview" opens as scheduled on Christmas Day, and also promised a "Christmas gift" of files. 

Kai sat down with Marketplace Tech host, Ben Johnson, to talk about the lingering questions, including what happens when email systems get hacked. 

December shores up 'mom and pop’ toy shops, for now

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-12-16 11:00

The Big Fun Toy Store in Cleveland just celebrated its 24th year in business. And although the store has had ups and downs, owner Steve Presser says he has reason to smile this time of year. The holiday season accounts for a big chunk of the toy store’s sales.

"Depending on how the calendar treats us, five or six weeks, for most businesses like myself, it’s 25 to 35 percent of our business," says Presser. "December has been really strong."

Still, Presser worries about the future of mom-and-pop shops.

"In the last six to nine months, I’ve seen just a dramatic turn towards [online] shopping by customers," Presser says. "The public has gotten very lackadaisical and it’s easy just to order at home."

Coffee engineered to put you to sleep. Seriously.

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-12-16 11:00

There's a coffee company based in Vancouver that is, in my opinion, completely missing the point.

New Counting Sheep Coffee helps put you to sleep. Seriously. The coffee is blended with organic valerian root, which is an herbal sedative. 

It comes in two varieties, Bedtime Blend/40 Winks and Lights Out. The founders of the coffee company pitched their product on the Canadian television series "Dragon's Den."

Should you be interested, the coffee is available on Amazon.

 

Subscription services stage a comeback

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-12-16 11:00

AMC Theatres is experimenting with a new subscription service: Pay a monthly fee and see an unlimited number of movies.

This is the latest in what might be called a "subscription boom." Food, clothing, personal hygiene products, are all being offered through subscriptions. Stacy Spikes, CEO of Movie Pass, the theatrical subscription service partnering with AMC, says people increased their moviegoing by 60 to 70 percent after signing up for a subscription. And most of those people are from that most coveted of demographics: millennials.

Predictable income from young consumers has spawned new businesses like Dollar Shave Club, Blue Apron and Trunk Club. Their investors subscribe to the belief that the future of commerce looks a lot like the old-school business model of media companies.

Subscriptions make a comeback

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-12-16 11:00

AMC Theatres is experimenting with a new subscription service: pay a monthly fee and see an unlimited number of movies.

This is the latest in what might be called a "subscription boom." Food, clothing, personal hygiene products, are all being offered through subscriptions. Stacy Spikes, the CEO of Movie Pass, the theatrical subscription service partnering with AMC, says people increased their movie going by 60 to 70 after signing up for a subscription. And most of those people are from that most coveted of demographics: millennials.

Predictable income from young consumers has spawned new businesses like Dollar Shave Club, Blue Apron and Trunk Club. Their investors subscribe to the belief that the future of commerce looks a lot like the old-school business model of media companies.

When the ruble falls, who hears it?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-12-16 11:00

The ruble is worth half – half – of what it was worth in July.  The simple reason, of course, is that people don’t want the ruble.

“People aren’t investing in Russia,” says Alexander Kliment at the Eurasia Group. “That was the problem before the Ukraine crisis and it’s been exacerbated by the sanctions and what’s followed."

It is also the reason the ruble’s fall isn’t expected to cause major economic havoc outside Russia. 

Jeff Mankoff, deputy director of  the Russia and Eurasia Program at the center for Strategic and International Studies, says while Russia’s economy is larger and more interconnected, “because of the sanctions there’s been an effort on the part of a lot of those companies in neighboring countries and Europe to reduce their exposure in Russia.”

Inside Russia, of course is a different story.  Russia’s imports are now twice as expensive as they were in July.

“Not only is Russia’s economy contracting, it’s also experiencing inflation,” says Marc Chandler, Global Head of Currency Strategy at Brown Brothers Harriman. “This is a horrible mix – if you stimulate the economy you fuel inflation.”

Russia’s foreign debts are also more burdensome.

“Russia has about 680 billion dollars of borrowing it did overseas,” Chandler says. “about two thirds of it is denominated in U.S. dollars,” which are now more expensive.

Analysts including Kliment say they don’t see widespread default, yet.

“A lot of that corporate debt is held by state companies ...so if they were to get into trouble the state would probably bail them out.”

While the consequences of Russia’s currency route inside the country are economic, outside they are geopolitical. 

“The economic pressure that Russia is experiencing right now is being framed in Russia as part of a western campaign to weaken Russia,” says Kliment. President Putin’s popularity – which is around 90 percnet – isn’t counted in dollars or rubles. “It’s based almost entirely on a very nationalistic tough guy image.”

So how will that tough guy respond when economically cornered?

Russia ramps up response as ruble plummets

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-12-16 11:00

The Russian Central Bank hopes raising interest rates from 10.5 to 17 percent will give people an incentive to hold onto the ruble and not bail into say, the euro, or the dollar

“The falling  price of oil and economic sanctions are having a very dramatic impact in terms of isolating Russian entities from the international capital markets,” says Charles Movit, chief Russia economist at IHS Global Insight.  Oil accounts for two-thirds of Russia’s export revenue.  Raising interest rates is likely the first of many painful steps for the Russians.

“I think they're going to have to end up doing even more radical measures, like simply stop people from taking money out of the country as best they can,” says Kenneth Rogoff, a Harvard University economist. “The banking sector can't take this for very long. The banks can't afford to pay these kinds of interest rates when they've made a lot of loans, they can’t afford to pay this to depositors."

Pulling out of Ukraine and thereby escaping sanctions is one possible fix for Russia’s currency problem, Rogoff says. Another more likely solution would be a gradual rebounding of oil prices this coming spring.

Where is your extra gas money going?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-12-16 11:00

What you and I and all the other drivers in the country aren't spending on gas could add up to hundreds of billions of dollars in savings. The savings will act as an economic stimulus, says Geoffrey Heal , professor at Columbia University's business school. “It will. Definitely," he says. "We’re giving consumers significantly more spending power.” (function(){var qs,js,q,s,d=document,gi=d.getElementById,ce=d.createElement,gt=d.getElementsByTagName,id='typef_orm',b='https://s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/share.typeform.com/';if(!gi.call(d,id)){js=ce.call(d,'script');js.id=id;js.src=b+'widget.js';q=gt.call(d,'script')[0];q.parentNode.insertBefore(js,q)}})()

“They have a little bit more money, but at the same time their investment are doing a little less well," he says, "so they don’t necessarily feel that much richer.

Low gas prices could have a negative impact on the stock market. Shares of oil producing companies might go down, so would our retirement funds which puts us in the mood to save, not spend.

Scott Wren, a senior equity strategist with Wells Fargo Advisors, says we have seen low gas prices act as an economic stimulus in the past. But that was then, and this is a recovering economy.

“In the past people were more prone to increase their spending. They were more prone to borrow money as well, do things like home equity loans," she says. "And I think right now the mentality is a little different."

At least we still like a deal. 

With a Starbucks on every corner, chain pivots

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-12-16 11:00

Forget that grande skim no-foam latte. What used to be "fancy coffee" has become average. That's pushed Starbucks to open the “Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room” in Seattle, the first of about 100 premium stores the chain has in the works.

Starbucks is trying to hit the reset button and make their ubiquitous coffees feel special again, says Tom Pirko, president of the food and beverage consulting company BevMark. The company is also trying to keep up with an ever-growing number of premium small roasters and cafes.

That increased demand, as well as new interest in coffee from Asian consumers, is pushing up prices for high-end beans, says Jack Scoville, a coffee broker with Price Futures Group.

Elvis Lieban, the co-founder and coffee buyer for Bay Area roaster Artís, says the price of his high-end beans has increased 20 to 25 percent this year, but customers don’t tend to be very price sensitive. 

Gourmet coffee is on the up, prices too

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-12-16 11:00

Forget that grande skim no-foam latte. What used to be "fancy coffee" has become average. That's pushed Starbucks to open the “Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room” in Seattle, the first of about 100 premium stores the chain has in the works.

Starbucks is trying to hit the reset button and make their ubiquitous coffees feel special again, says Tom Pirko, president of the food and beverage consulting company BevMark. The company is also trying to keep up with an ever-growing number of premium small roasters and cafes.

That increased demand, as well as new interest in coffee from Asian consumers, is pushing up prices for high-end beans, says Jack Scoville, a coffee broker with Price Futures Group.

Elvis Lieban, the co-founder and coffee buyer for Bay Area roaster Artís, says the price of his high-end beans has increased 20 to 25 percent this year, but customers don’t tend to be very price sensitive. 

Suspect In Shooting Spree Near Philadelphia Has Been Found Dead

NPR News - Tue, 2014-12-16 10:57

Police have found the body of Bradley Stone, who they say went on a shooting rampage that killed his ex-wife and five of her relatives in Montgomery County, Pa., Monday.

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A Game Of Ludo Helps Liberians Catch A Break From Ebola

NPR News - Tue, 2014-12-16 10:52

The fast-paced board game — it's a lot like Parcheesi — offers a way to escape the stress of life in the Ebola zone.

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'Torture Report': A Closer Look At When And What President Bush Knew

NPR News - Tue, 2014-12-16 09:58

A Senate investigation says President George W. Bush was not briefed on the specifics of how the CIA interrogated terrorism suspects until four years into the program. Bush denies that.

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Amid Strains, Syrian Refugees Are Facing Curfews In Lebanon

NPR News - Tue, 2014-12-16 09:47

The fragile country now hosts some 1 million Syrian refugees. Some towns have set up civilian volunteers to enforce curfews on the refugees, leading to rising tensions and some cases of abuse.

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Apple Wins $1B iPod Antitrust Lawsuit

NPR News - Tue, 2014-12-16 09:40

A California jury has found that Apple's iTunes 7.0 did not violate antitrust laws when it restricted files bought on other music services.

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Economists: Congress Gets A Hat Tip (Barely) For Its Efforts

NPR News - Tue, 2014-12-16 09:23

Congress passed no laws addressing the minimum wage, tax reform, trade or immigration this year. But judged by the low recent standards, lawmakers got light applause from economists.

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Scientists Debate If It's OK To Make Viruses More Dangerous In The Lab

NPR News - Tue, 2014-12-16 09:19

Researchers are struggling with how to balance the benefits and risks of genetic experiments that can give viruses new talents for causing infections.

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Deggans: 'Fargo,' 'True Detective,' 'Transparent' Top Best TV of 2014

NPR News - Tue, 2014-12-16 08:53

At a time when there is so much good TV around, NPR TV Critic Eric Deggans says any Top Ten list says as much about the critic as the shows they are picking.

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Has Vladimir Putin Just Overplayed His Hand?

NPR News - Tue, 2014-12-16 08:15

The Russia leader was riding high at home this year with the successful Winter Olympics and his annexation of Crimea. Now he's staring at a recession and has alienated Western nations that could help.

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