National / International News
Authorities had seized Ai's passport in apparent retaliation for his social and political work. Ai's work is often fiercely critical of the Chinese government.
There is word today that a bank in Florida has set up a direct link with a bank in Havannah. It's called a correspondent deal, and we'll talk about how it will improve banking between Cuba and the U.S. And an advocacy group in Chicago is tackling a problem affecting transgender people: how to find businesses and service providers that are not just friendly, but understanding of their needs.
At the end of July, the on-demand cleaning start-up Homejoy will shut down in the wake of lawsuits challenging the company's classification of workers as contractors rather than employees. It's a familiar story that has affected companies like Uber, Lyft, and Handy.
Click the media player above to hear Marketplace's Molly Wood talk with Christopher Koopman, research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, about how this case signals to a change in the sharing economy.
According to Koopman, the sharing economy's growth in recent years "has been driven by the fact that this isn’t a traditional business model and it isn't an employer and employee relationship." Yet, this is precisely the point of contention for the numerous lawsuits levied against Homejoy and others.
Companies in the sharing economy toe a dubious line between online platform, social network, and employer. Koopman maintains that "saying they're no longer a platform connecting people but in fact an employer could really spell doom for a lot of these companies like we're seeing with Homejoy."
In the wake of Google snatching up Homejoy's tech and product team, Koopman sees the future as especially bleak for small outfits if these organizations are deemed employers: "Only the largest and most deep pocketed firms are going to be the ones that are able to weather that storm. So you'll see firms like Uber, Lyft and the other really large players in the sharing economy likely survive. But this could be extremely difficult for the small startups."
Apple (AAPL) reported its fiscal third-quarter earnings after the closing bell on Tuesday. Earnings were up 38 percent from the same period one year ago, to $10.7 billion. Revenues were up 33 percent to $49.6 billion. iPhone sales were up 35 percent, totaling 47.5 million in the quarter, and iPhone sales more than doubled in China, a key market for mobile technology.
Nonetheless, Apple stock fell 7 percent in immediate after-hours trading following the earnings release. Investment analysts were expecting stronger iPhone sales — in the 50-million-unit range. The stock selloff may reflect investors’ concerns that the iPhone juggernaut could be peaking and the company's iPhone franchise losing momentum.
iPhone sales account for 63 percent of Apple’s global sales, up from 53 percent of sales one year ago. By continuing to roll out major upgrades of the iPhone series, Apple has succeeded in pushing up iPhone prices by $100-per-phone to $662-per-phone on average, even as smartphone prices overall have been declining. Apple has continued to develop and release new versions of its popular iPad tablets, and it has introduced a new product category, the smart-watch (the company did not break out sales figures for its new Apple Watch separately in this earnings report).
Yahoo (YHOO) continued on its turnaround path in its fiscal second quarter, reporting higher revenues but a net loss due to higher expenses. The company increased sales by 15 percent year-over-year, more than analyst expectations. However, Yahoo’s cost of traffic acquisition — money it pays search partners — more than tripled, which cut into earnings and led to a net quarterly loss of $22 million.
CEO Marissa Mayer expressed satisfaction with Yahoo’s results, pointing to improvements in the company’s mobile, video, and social-media businesses, which are all key to Mayer's revival plans for Yahoo.
Microsoft (MSFT) reported a record net loss in its fiscal fourth quarter, of $3.2 billion. That loss was primarily due to a $7.5 billion accounting charge Microsoft took in the quarter for its ill-fated purchase of Nokia. Microsoft announced earlier in July that it plans to eliminate 7,800 jobs connected to its troubled mobile-phone business. Microsoft reported that quarterly revenue was down 5 percent compared to the same quarter last year. Its full-year revenue increased to $93.5 billion from $86.8 billion the previous year. Annual profit fell to $12.2 billion from $22 billion the previous year. In the fourth quarter, Microsoft experienced some weakness in its Office and Windows product lines, countered by strength in cloud services, Xbox, and Surface tablet computers.
In many real estate markets around the country, a shortage of homes for sale is creating stiff competition among buyers. In order to stand out in a possible bidding war, some buyers try to win favor by writing a personal appeal to the seller.
“When the listing for your home came up online, we fell in love,” wrote Becca Schulman Havemeyer in a letter to the seller of a four bedroom home in the Boston area. “We love the charm and character of your home and can tell that your family cherished it as well.”
The Havemeyers had tried to boost their chances of getting the house by offering more than the list price. They also included an “escalation clause” in the offer, saying they’d be willing to bid yet higher, in case it came to that.
Schulman Havemeyer says the financial extras didn’t move the seller, who initially went with another bidder. But when that deal fell through, the seller turned to the Havemeyers because of their letter.
“I've confirmed with her, because we've now been in touch, that she loved our letter and loved thinking about a family — a young family — coming into her home and having new memories there and honoring it in a different way,” Schulman Havemeyer says.
Potential homebuyers have used the love letter tactic for years in tight markets. But the letters may be more necessary today as way to get sellers' attentions. Demand for homes outstrips supply in many cities, properties are selling quickly, and sellers may enjoy multiple bid offers.
“I want the seller to feel the humanness of the bid,” says Kat Wies, a Durham, N.C.-based realtor who regularly includes a cover letter with her clients’ offers.
Wies's letters aren’t just a big wet kiss, though. She says she describes what the potential buyers like about the house.
“But you also want to describe the things the potential buyers would need to spend money on,” she says.
Some realtors say potential buyers need to be cautious not to spill their guts along with their ink, as the strategy can backfire. Even the Havemeyers, who penned love letters themselves, chafed at receiving them in return.
Will Havemeyer says it felt odd to read about how much someone else would enjoy the home he put a lot of work into. He still thought of it as his house.
“Hearing someone else talk about how they're going to live in it is hard to take,” he says.
In that case, where words failed, money still talked. The winning bidders whose letter didn’t sit right did ultimately prevail — but Havemeyer says it was largely because they were paying cash.