National / International News

A catalog of strange market turns

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-10-10 11:51

Stock markets are, by definition, volatile. They go up and down at a moment’s notice and sometimes, it seems, on a whim. Sometimes it's politics that makes the market move; sometimes it's war ... sometimes it's just the weather.

Sometimes, though, it's something truly odd. Watching the stock markets every day is part of our job at Marketplace, as is gathering opinion from traders and investors about what's making them volatile. So we are going to start cataloging some of the stranger things that have been blamed for making the market move. 

 

Wikimedia CommonsThe 1600s: Tulipmania 

In the 1600s, tulips caused one of the more memorable market reversals. The event became known, infamously, as “Tulpenwoede."

Prices of tulip bulbs skyrocketed as wealthy merchants competed to create the most beautiful gardens, filled with exotic varietals of these trendy flowers. A futures market for tulips was even created, and investors investors put up their houses as collateral as they rushed to buy the best and most rare bulbs.

Just before the crash, one type of tulip bulb was priced at 5,500 guilders per bulb.  That's about $55,000, in today's money, according to some calculations. Yes, for a single tulip bulb. No one is really sure what caused the market in tulip bulbs to reverse, but reverse it did, with a resounding thud in February 1637, leaving many investors bankrupt.

2010: Fat Finger

On May 6, 2010, the stockmarkets crashed...hard. The Dow Jones Industrial Average shed almost 1,000 points in seconds, in what's now known as the "Flash Crash." It wasn't long before shares recovered most of the ground they had lost, but the market closed down that day. The sudden downward bounce had the financial world scratching its collective head over what had gone wrong. 

There were plenty of theories, but here's one that deserves a highlight: You know that feeling in the pit of your stomach when you realize you accidentally hit “reply all”? Well, multiply that by a billion, and you can guess what one particular trader was feeling on the afternoon of May 6. A rumor spread that some unfortunate person might have accidentally entered an order to sell a billion shares when he meant to sell just a million.

The “Fat Finger” theory, if you will.

In the end high-frequency computer trading got most of the blame, although defenders of HFT say that while computers may have made the market move so fast, they helped it recover quickly, too. The jury's still out on what the trigger for the sell-off might have been. Either way, exchanges were directed to implement “circuit-breakers,” to halt trading when a market or asset went sharply up or down. 

How investors are profiting off a 'rentership society'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-10-10 11:49

For 25 years, Kathi Cobb has lived in Cincinnati's East Price Hill, on a block packed with wooden frame houses and miniature lawns.

"We all went to the same church. The kids would play outside," she says. "It was more of a neighborhood." 

Then came the housing crisis.  The Cincinnati Enquirer used a nearby block to tell the story: "First came the 'For Sale' signs, from one end of his East Price Hill street to the other, as investors and long-time residents tried to bail out of the crashing real estate market a few years ago. Then came the foreclosures, more signs, more foreclosures and, finally, the exodus."

"I don't think anybody's in that one. And there's nobody in that one," says Cobb, pointing to houses across the street. "We're the only ones left."

But now there are signs that East Price Hill is entering a new, uncertain phase. A California-based real estate investment trust called Raineth Housing bought the house across the street. It's one of more than 230 in the city that Raineth intends to turn into a rental.  Elsewhere in the city, more than 1,000 houses have been purchased for the same purpose by much larger companies, American Homes 4 Rent and American Residential Properties. They all represent a trend over the last few years called "REO-to-rent,"  in which investors buy foreclosed properties and turning them into rentals. 

"The way the institutional investors think of this is: 'What is the most attractive investment I can put in my portfolio?'" says Laurie Goodman, director of the Housing Finance Policy Center at the Urban Institute. "And when home prices fell to very distressed levels they were able to buy up properties, rehab them and rent them out and achieve a very attractive return on their investment." 

Investors capitalized on their ability to buy cheap houses, but to rent at relatively stable market rates.  "Rents are much more stable than property values," says Doug Bendt, director of mortgage-backed securities research at Deutsche Bank. "Throughout the recession, on the national level properties values fell by about 30 percent;  rents fell only a few percentage points."

Some investors also see this as a long-term trend. "The combination of falling home prices, limited mortgage credit, continued liquidations, and better rental options is fundamentally changing the way Americans live," an influential Morgan Stanley report in 2011 said."We believe this change is only beginning, and is moving the country towards becoming a Rentership Society."  

In the last few years, this prospect has attracted  institutional investors including hedge funds, private equity firms and real estate investment trusts. Together they have spent billions of dollars on single-family homes with the intention of turning them into rentals. The largest six firms alone have spent $18 billion and purchased more than 115,000 homes, according to analysis by Deutsche Bank in August.

"They've sort of standardized the operation," says Goodman. "So, everyone gets 'Gray Carpet Number 53.' Everyone gets this type of refrigerator, this type of toilet, this type of oven.'"  

Questions have been raised about how effective this industrial landlord approach is, often in reference to Invitation Homes, an entity created by private equity firm Blackstone that is the largest player in this market, with more than 45,000 houses.

"It's important, though, not to lose sight of the fact that this is a very small proportion of the rental stock," says Goodman. "Just to put this in perspective, over the last six years  something like 4.5 million homes have been converted from owner-occupied into rental properties, and the institutional investors have maybe purchased 200,000."

In other words, the vast majority of the new  single-family rentals are owned by much smaller-scale investors. 

In Cincinnati's East Price Hill, Ken Smith runs a community development corporation Price Hill Will. Their community development work includes buying neglected buildings that are unattractive to investors, and rehabbing them into beautiful homes. Smith shows me a stately yellow two-story on Beech Avenue. "The street has a lot of potential, and has a lot of investment," he says.

But two blocks away, the landlord is Raineth Housing, which has bought more than 100 homes in the neighborhood. On a walking tour of nearby Raineth-owned properties, we find primarily houses that don't appear to have been rehabbed. (Raineth says 41 of the 235 homes they have purchased in  Cincinnati are awaiting rehab.) The condition inside is difficult to judge, but the properties' exteriors include garbage strewn across overgrown lawns and peeling paint. "It is certainly empty, with the number, looks like on a Sharpie, written on the front of the house," says Smith of a property on Beech Avenue.

"We want others to invest in the neighborhood, bring capital to the community to help rebuild it," says Smith. "But we know there's good investment and there's bad investment." 

Smith has managed property before, and can't fathom how an out-of-state company will adequately rehab and maintain so many homes. "It's mind boggling for me to think how one would manage that," says Smith.

Moreover, he's concerned that since the entire business model relies on the gap between rental price and home value, that to squeeze high returns from monthly rents, the incentive will be to skimp on long-term repairs. "Let’s face it you could put $70,000 into a home and get a certain amount of rent, or you could put $30,000 into that  home and get maybe less rent, but a better return on the 30,000 dollar investment," he says.

"I can understand people's concerns," says Ed Renwick, founder and CEO of Raineth. "But from my perspective, they don't really make sense.  So what they're worried about is that we're going to bring $50 million into these communities and then not care about the long-term value of the assets we bought with $50 million?"

Renwick says Raineth is spending an average of  $6,000-$8,000 to rehab the properties it has purchased in Cincinnati (purchased at prices that range from $0 to $35,000). He emphasizes the company's intentions to provide affordable housing and bring money to the local community, and insists that even his financial incentives are long-term. "If I'm getting a 12 percent return on my asset [the return [promised to Raineth's investors], it's going to take me ten years before I've gotten repaid on the asset," he says. "The average American lives in a house for seven years, so I'm already making a bigger commitment than the average American."

Renwick emphasizes comparing his ownership with the state of the properties before.  "We are taking homes that are empty. We are taking houses that are broken," he says. He also welcomes a comparison with existing local landlords. "Those local landlords are great people, but they're significantly cash-constrained. And a cash-constrained landlord is a bad landlord." 

Cincinnati will find out soon whether an investor-constrained landlord is better. Raineth aims to buy 25 houses a month here. American Homes 4 Rent, which has purchased more than a thousand homes in the city, was recently named the fastest growing housing company in the country by Housing Wire, with revenue growth of 3,000 percent in 2013.

Three fish and the Supreme Court

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-10-10 11:48

What does Enron have in common with a fish?

The Supreme Court of the United States is considering a case that shows how a business far very different from yours might affect you in ways you never imagined.

After Enron collapsed, a law called Sarbanes Oxley made it a crime to destroy documents, and other tangible objects. It turns out a 'tangible object' might include fish. 

A commercial fisherman in the gulf coast named John Yates caught a bunch of grouper under the legal size limit. Fish and wildlife agents ordered him to bring them to a nearby port, and instead, Yates allegedly tossed them overboard instead and was charged with destroying tangible objects under Sarbanes Oxley.

We wanted to get a sense of how this case is playing in the Gulf, so we spoke to Dean Blanchard, who runs a seafood company in Grand Isle Louisiana. 

Beyond bookshelves: Meet your public library's robots

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-10-10 11:45

Robots can help build cars, they can vacuum your floor, they can even engage in galactic war . . . well, maybe eventually they can do that. But can you check one out at a local library?

Not yet, but close.

The public library in Westport, Connecticut is set to debut its two latest acquisitions this weekend: the robots Nancy and Vincent.

Standing two feet tall, with Buzz Lightyear-like bodies, they can walk, talk and even do Tai Chi in sync with each other, while playing their own music.  They’re amazingly humanoid, smooth and graceful, as they slowly balance and sway on their 24 joints—not as many as a human, but enough to mimic quite a bit of what we can do.

They also gesture a lot when they talk. “I use my hands above all to express my emotions,” Vincent chimes in – literally.  There’s a two-tone beep to announce he has something to say.

These fancy toys sound intelligent and responsive, but they can only respond to and do the things that someone programs them to do. And that’s why they’re at the library.  Alex Giannini is the manager of digital experience at the Westport Library. He says the library has an 8- to 80-year-old approach to things, where anyone, at any age, at any level can come in and learn how to program these guys.”

Giannini says patrons will be able to use the coding language Python to program the robots do all kinds of things—like read stories to kids, dance, do a sales pitch.  The library is also thinking about doing robot poetry slams. "Because they gesticulate like we do,” says Giannini.  

Maxine Bleiweiss is the library director. She says good libraries have always been on the cutting edge. In the '80s, she says, libraries were the place most people put their hands on a computer for the first time.

“Fast-forward to three years ago, we put 3-d printers in our library,” Bleiweiss says, “and so it is with robotics: We believe robotics is the next disruptive technology that people need to know about.”

If we fast-forward enough, could robots disrupt the need for a librarian?

Bleiweiss says no. “The librarian as curator of information has never been needed as much as it is now, because there’s so much information out there.”  It’s an argument to keep librarians on the cutting edge, and keep them curating, because ... information overload, right?

“Everybody is a little crazy,” Vincent responds. 

VIDEO: Fighting Ebola with facts and soap

BBC - Fri, 2014-10-10 11:41
Tulip Mazumdar reports on women volunteers in Sierra Leone trying to educate villagers about Ebola, with the aim of stopping the spread of the virus.

Authorities Find Four New Mass Graves In Mexico

NPR News - Fri, 2014-10-10 11:29

It's still unclear whether the bodies that have been found belong to the 43 students who went missing nearby.

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The stock market has been, and always will be, volatile

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-10-10 11:26

There are some parts of the stock market you don’t need to be a analyst to understand.

“Markets, I don’t care what market it is, they just don’t go up in a straight line,”  says Scott Wren, a senior equity strategist with Wells Fargo Advisors.

It’s in the nature of markets to give investors a bumpy ride, he says. But this recent ride has been more bumpy than most, and investors have a lot of reasons to be worried. In addition to the bad news from Germany, which Wren says is key, there's Ebola - and more.

"What’s the Federal Reserve going to do with interest rates; how much is China going to slow?" says Wren.

Quincy Crosby, a financial market strategist at Prudential Financial, says this is how the stock market is supposed to work. 

“You know what, it’s like a GPS system – calculate, recalculate, recalculate yet again," she says.

She says this time investors are recalculating because of the Federal Reserve’s plan to stop buying bonds, and we might see yet another recalculation when we get more company earnings next week.

“The next big catalyst for this market, potentially, if we get good news, is what companies start telling us," she says. "Are they seeing demand for their products, are they seeing demand picking up?”

Good numbers could mean the market will come roaring back – or not.  Either way, placing a bet is risky.

“Remember," says Crosby,  "this isn’t a science. A lot of people think it’s a science – it’s as much an art form as it is a science.”

As for Scott Wren, he's feeling optimistic, and his bet is that the market will come back. It’s only 4 percent off, he notes, from its all time high. But, he admits, the stock market is a gamble.

"If you look at the stock market and try to figure out what’s driving it, it’s usually some combination of fear and greed."

What could slow U.S.'s surging oil output? Low prices.

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-10-10 11:14

There was a strong consensus in the U.S. oil industry that the drop in oil prices would spur Saudi Arabia to cut production and bring prices back up. That consensus was wrong. Instead Saudi Arabia cut prices, putting North American oil production in a bind, and has contributed to the downward spiral of oil prices.

In much of North America oil comes from shale, which has to be fracked. Water and chemicals are pumped into the well to create pressure that forces oil out of the ground. It’s a lot like squeezing a sponge, says Robert McNally, president of the Rapidan Group. At first a lot of liquid comes out.

“You get a rush up front," he says. "Your initial production rates are very high compared to conventional oil.”  

After that initial squeeze, output declines sharply says McNally, “so in order to keep the overall flow, you are having to drill and drill and drill.”

All that drilling is expensive. This is how shale oil got the nickname "tough oil." If the price of oil continues to drop — it’s currently at $86 a barrel — it could make tough oil too expensive to drill for.

“You could pretty easily put out a number of, say, $75 a barrel. That’s kind of your break even when you consider all of your development, production costs, etc.,” says Chad Mabry, an analyst at MLV & Co.

Some regions in North Dakota and Texas — the “sweet spots” Mabry calls them — would likely remain profitable even if prices continue to drop. “I think one of the first places that you are going to see budget cuts are more on the exploration side of things.”

The demand for new wells would likely drop significantly if prices stay low, but that is largely dependent on outside forces. 

“It always comes down to what Saudi Arabia’s decision is," says Mabry. "That’s going to be the real driver on where prices go.”

Labor Secretary Eyed As White House Searches To Replace Attorney General

NPR News - Fri, 2014-10-10 11:09

The White House effort to replace Attorney General Eric Holder is happening largely in the shadows. But Labor Secretary Thomas Perez is emerging as a top candidate for the post.

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VIDEO: Can an app be built in 15 minutes?

BBC - Fri, 2014-10-10 11:02
One app company claims it can drastically reduce the coding time needed to develop a mobile app to 15 minutes.

England U21 2-1 Croatia U21

BBC - Fri, 2014-10-10 11:02
Saido Berahino gives England a Euro 2015 play-off advantage as his late penalty seals a 2-1 first-leg win against Croatia.

Get rich by giving up lattes? Not so fast

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-10-10 11:01

There's a long-percolating concept among personal finance gurus: The money you spend on small purchases, say, a latte every day or so, could be redirected towards huge savings. Think hundreds of thousands of dollars over 30 years, if invested. Proponents have included Suze Orman, Penelope Wang of Money Magazine, and most notably author David Bach. 

But another personal finance writer, Helaine Olen, says no way. 

"We weren't spending more money on luxuries," Olen said of the late 1990s. "We were spending less."

Using herself as an example, Olen says the cost of coffee and other small expenses pales in comparison with the rising cost of health care, education, and housing. 

"Think of it this way: at $5 per latte, I would need to give up 260 caffeinated drinks per month to pay my monthly health insurance bill."

She recently traced the history of the concept in a Twitter essay. 

[<a href="//storify.com/annielowrey/the-latte-factor" target="_blank">View the story "The Latte Factor" on Storify</a>]

Nielsen finds a pretty giant glitch in its ratings

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-10-10 11:00

The good people at Nielsen, the television ratings company, said today they've discovered a glitch. Bloomberg reports some of their ratings have been wrong for oh...the past six months or so.

People were counted as watching one network when, in fact, they were watching a different one. Looks like ABC was the big winner.

Nielsen ratings are, of course, worth bazoodles of dollars because that's what advertising rates are based on.

 

Ebola outbreak deaths exceed 4,000

BBC - Fri, 2014-10-10 10:54
The number of deaths attributed to the Ebola outbreak has risen above 4,000, most of them in West Africa, the World Health Organization says.

Why are so many holidays on Mondays?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-10-10 10:49

If Columbus Day for you is a time to stock up on towels - or better yet, get out of town - you’re in good company. And you’re doing exactly what Congress wanted you to do back in 1968, when it passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act: spend money. 

“Well there was very strong support in Congress, but the initiative came from the tourism and vacation interests,” says Gerald Friedman, economics professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Groups like the hotel industry lobby and the American Automobile Association, he says. You could see why hotels that would normally be dead on a Sunday night would be all about this. “It was a very conscious decision that we wanted to promote vacations and leisure, and people felt a three-day holiday would lead to more traveling,” he says. 

And it has. During a typical three-day weekend, AAA estimates more than 34 million Americans hit the road. And even if people don’t leave town, there’s always the mall. “So we have things like Veterans Day sales, we have Columbus Day sales, we have Memorial Day sales,” says John McNamara, senior education fellow at the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. 

The National Retail Federation doesn’t track sales over Monday holidays, but they’re big shopping days.

McNamara says there's a downside: people are so busy spending, they forget why they have the day off.  They don't think about what makes the day historically significant.   That’s one reason Veteran’s Day was shifted back from a Monday holiday to its traditional Nov. 11.

So, if this stuff isn’t set in stone, maybe more three-day weekends are in store.  “I’m kinda waiting for them to move Fourth of July to a Monday,” McNamara laughs.  

But he says don’t plan that Fourth of July weekend getaway just yet, because it’s not likely to change. 

Laureate Malala urges child rights

BBC - Fri, 2014-10-10 10:43
Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai urges children to stand up for their rights after winning the Nobel Peace Prize with Indian campaigner Kailash Satyarthi.

Weekly Wrap: Surprise, surprise (oh wait)

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-10-10 10:43

To absolutely nobody's surprise, the week ended badly on Wall Street. All three major indices headed south Friday, and most of the other indexes as well.

The Wall Street Journal's Sudeep Reddy and Redfin's Nela Richardson joined Kai Ryssdal to talk about the week that was.

Microsoft CEO Nadella's Remarks Add To Tech's Sexism Problem

NPR News - Fri, 2014-10-10 10:36

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is facing public criticism after his comments suggesting that women should not ask for raises. But they also underscore questions about tech's male-dominated culture.

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Porridge Aficionados Vie To Make Theirs The Breakfast Of Champions

NPR News - Fri, 2014-10-10 10:27

Once derided as Scottish food better suited to horses than people, porridge these days is more cool than gruel. In the U.K., competitions have porridge lovers battling with their best recipes.

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Grassroots football in crisis - Dyke

BBC - Fri, 2014-10-10 10:14
FA chairman Greg Dyke says training facilities need a £250m investment with the grassroots game "in a degree of crisis".

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