Marketplace - American Public Media

Subscribe to Marketplace - American Public Media feed
Updated: 48 min 43 sec ago

Expedia buys Orbitz – what it means for you.

Thu, 2015-02-12 03:00

Expedia is going to buy rival Orbitz for about $1.3 billion.

The boards of both companies have approved the deal. Orbitz shareholders still have to give it the thumbs up. Assuming that happens, what’s in it for consumers?

You might be thinking you'll have to pay more for airline tickets. After all, the online travel site business is consolidating. Expedia bought Travelocity late last month.

“Certainly, there is one less independent choice, and anytime that happens, let’s face it, that’s not likely to push prices down for consumers,” says Seth Kaplan, managing partner of Airline Weekly.  

Kaplan says it might be a bit harder to find good deals. 

But not much, because Expedia still has lots of competition, from airline websites to more innovative sites like Hipmunk and HotelTonight.   

Kaplan says Expedia isn’t buying up its rivals to hike airfares. It’s trying to gain leverage with airlines, which don’t like allocating tickets to third party sites like Expedia. They’d rather sell their tickets themselves.

“Expedia, if it’s bigger, can go to airlines and say, 'Look, we control that many more millions of customers, and so you have to care what we think,'" he says.

Kaplan says Expedia wants lots of plane tickets to sell, because that’s what consumer buy first. Then we move on to rental cars and vacation packages, which are marked up more. That’s where Expedia makes its money. 

Expedia buys Orbitz - what it means for you.

Thu, 2015-02-12 03:00

Expedia is going to buy rival Orbitz for about $1.3 billion.

The boards of both companies have approved the deal. Orbitz shareholders still have to give it the thumbs up. Assuming that happens, what’s in it for consumers?

You might be thinking you'll have to pay more for airline tickets. After all, the online travel site business is consolidating. Expedia bought Travelocity late last month.

“Certainly, there is one less independent choice, and anytime that happens, let’s face it, that’s not likely to push prices down for consumers,” says Seth Kaplan, managing partner of Airline Weekly.  

Kaplan says it might be a bit harder to find good deals. 

But not much, because Expedia still has lots of competition, from airline websites to more innovative sites like Hipmunk and HotelTonight.   

Kaplan says Expedia isn’t buying up its rivals to hike airfares. It’s trying to gain leverage with airlines, which don’t like allocating tickets to third party sites like Expedia. They’d rather sell their tickets themselves.

“Expedia, if it’s bigger, can go to airlines and say, 'Look, we control that many more millions of customers, and so you have to care what we think,'" he says.

Kaplan says Expedia wants lots of plane tickets to sell, because that’s what consumer buy first. Then we move on to rental cars and vacation packages, which are marked up more. That’s where Expedia makes its money. 

PODCAST: Radio Shack bonuses

Thu, 2015-02-12 03:00

If you're going to demand a raise, are you going to do it when the economy is down, or are you going to do it now? Why striking when the going is good can be a smart move. Plus, Radio Shack wants to pay big bucks in retention bonuses to some key executives and high level staff. How is the bankrupt electronics device retailer justifying this expense and how likely is it that the bankruptcy court will allow it? We'll also talk about technology that is helping to elongate careers and kick-start second careers as workers age.

Workers strike while the economy is hot

Thu, 2015-02-12 03:00

Ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach will stop loading and unloading ships today and over the long weekend. The terminal operators and shippers say the union is orchestrating a work slowdown during labor talks. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union denies this.

Meanwhile, there are strikes at nine U.S. oil refineries. They started after contract negotiations expired. Why strike now?

“Workers tend to strike more frequently when the economy’s doing better and less frequently when the economy’s not doing well,” says Harry Katz, a professor of labor relations at Cornell University.

Katz says this trend goes back to the late 1800s. Workers are in a stronger bargaining position during good economic times.  

“Workers feel, accurately, that firms generally are earning more profits and have more to lose," he says. "So workers feel they have greater likelihood of success if they strike during good times.”

And they’re right, he says. Workers get better strike settlements when the economy’s strong. With higher wages, and better benefits, work rules and job security.

 

 

 

Mercedes rolls into Atlanta

Thu, 2015-02-12 02:00

Mercedes-Benz USA is leaving New Jersey, where it has been headquartered since the early 70's, for the Atlanta metro region. People in Atlanta like to say that good, old-fashioned southern hospitality lured Mercedes to the city of Sandy Springs, where the automaker will set up shop in 2017.

Mercedes-Benz USA CEO Stephen Cannon said the move also made financial sense. Atlanta’s low cost of living and low taxes appeal to Mercedes’ employees, and those the company hopes to recruit. Georgia’s business friendly policies including low taxes and low wages for entry-level workers, have helped the state lure an impressive number of large companies over the past several years.

Georgia, however, is still contending with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. And despite the presence of new corporate players, many of the jobs being created are low-wage jobs.

Click the media player above to hear more.

Back to the Future's self-drying coat? Not yet.

Thu, 2015-02-12 02:00

This week’s piece of "Back to the Future" technology we're exploring appears after one of those classic 80's movie stunts that is not even remotely believable. Even if you put aside all of the futuristic technology surrounding Marty McFly as he jumps off his hoverboard and into a pond to avoid the group of hoodlums bearing down on him with implements of destruction, the fact that all he has to do is take a dive to completely get out of trouble and alter the future feels out of date. Back then it was in good company—"The Goonies," "Adventures in Babysitting," and "Gremlins," all required such suspension of disbelief. 

The self-drying jacket though? Back in 1989, you might be convinced that would be a thing by now. In the 1980's, scientists were coming up with the theory of the multiverse, and synthetic fabrics like polyester and spandex were in fashion. Why not a jacket with a computer voice that dried itself whenever you got soggy? Seemed legit. Fast forward to present day, where our ideas about wearable technology are much more complex, while our solutions to staying dry are a little more straight forward. At least that's the impression you'll get when you talk to Rebeccah Pailes-Friedman, a designer and fabric technology expert at Pratt Institute. 

"The self-drying jacket doesn't really exist at this moment," says Pailes-Friedman, who has worked on wearable technology for NASA and is a fellow at the Brooklyn Fashion and Design Accelerator. "I think that there are really exciting technologies that are happening—technologies where water will just be repelled by the fabric and never really absorbed, so the jacket will never actually get wet." 

Pailes-Friedman says some of the most exciting things happening with fabric in the real 2015 have to do with making garments that actually conduct electricity. Think about having some extra integrated circuits in your shirt that add computing memory or even give a charge to your mobile device. Another big area is of course health-monitoring garments that do a lot of the things your Fitbit or your smart watch would do, but in a less visible way.

Marty's jacket also shrinks a few sizes so that it fits him better. Any chance of that happening any time soon? Pailes-Friedman is skeptical, but she says there are garments that can change the way they fit—inflating a jacket with air for insulation, or a hood squeezing closer to your face to create an air-tight space around your head, for instance. She likes to think of garments and clothing as much more than fashion statements.

"Your garment is a tool that you wear," she says. "It has a lot of functions. It can be aesthetic. It can regulate your body temperature. It can be no-wash, so it never has to be washed. There are so many things that fabrics can do."

Just not blow-dry themselves or go from an XL to an L. Yet. 

RadioShack's $3 million in executive retention bonuses

Thu, 2015-02-12 02:00

Electronics chain Radio Shack filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last week. Now, as the shuttering and/or sell-off of thousands of Radio Shack stores to new owners proceeds, the company has asked permission from the bankruptcy court to pay $3 million dollars in retention bonuses to eight top executives and another thirty senior managers.

Salesman Jacob Wolley, at one of the stores to be closed in Portland, Oregon, is not too upset about the proposed bonuses.

“Of course, the first person to keep money is the top guy,” he says. “I’m just hoping that I get my paid vacation and everything that’s owed to me and I won’t feel sore.”

Finance professor Jarrad Harford at the University of Washington says companies going through bankruptcy, as well as their creditors, want knowledgeable, skilled managers to stick around through the bankruptcy, instead of jumping ship for new jobs. Although he readily admits: “The optics are never good when you’re asking to set aside extra money to pay the managers.”

Steve Odland, former CEO of Home Depot and now president of The Committee for Economic Development, a Washington think-tank, predicts the bankruptcy judge will go along with the bonus plan.

“This is the group that needs to deal with the liquidation and repositioning of the company,” says Odland. “It’s a very standard process, and this is not a big amount.”

Odland says the hope is these managers will maximize value for creditors and shareholders through the bankruptcy, and keep some stores open for Radio Shack workers.

Asking fans to help build a stadium

Thu, 2015-02-12 02:00

For people from Detroit, the corner of Michigan and Trumbull is about as iconic as it gets. Professional baseball has been played there dating back to 1896, and was home to the Detroit Tigers for decades.

The stadium was torn down a few years ago, but now a developer is hoping to pull off a grand real estate experiment by asking the public to invest in more than just the next mixed-use downtown project.

Click the media player above to hear more.

'You've got mail' (and a spunky dial-up business)

Thu, 2015-02-12 01:30
$19.2 million

How much Wisconsin governor and presidential hopeful Scott Walker raised from outside his state amid a recall election in 2012. The New York Times' Upshot reports that number, and the recall election he won, as key to his chances looking toward the Republican primary. Walker's donors tend to be more conservative than those of key rival Jeb Bush. Plus Walker has attracted plenty of small donors, which were important to President Obama's 2012 campaign.

2 hours

How long the third season of "House of Cards" was available Wednesday on Netflix's site before being taken down. Not due to be released on Netflix until Feb. 27, the series was mistakenly put on the site due to a bug

8 percent

The vacancy rate at American malls last year, up from 5.4 percent in 2006. Bloomberg has analyzed hundreds of malls and thousands of stores, compiling their findings into six graphs, showing the state of the slowly-dying behemoths, and the people who shop at them.

 

6 out of 12

In an investigation by Wired Magazine, six out of 12 surveyed day-care facilities affiliated with tech companies had below-average vaccination rates, and therefore do not have enough vaccinated children to realize "herd immunity." Pixar had the lowest immunization numbers, with less than 50 percent of employees' children receiving vaccinations.

$602.5 million

How much AOL made last year from its old but still active dial-up Internet business, which still boasts 2.2 million subscribers. Quartz reports AOL has done an excellent job retaining that business, while making more on a per-subscriber basis each year.

2.5 million

Average nightly viewers of "The Daily Show" in 2012, a ratings peak over the past six years. The show was at its most popular during election season, the Washington Post points out, which will likely turn Jon Stewart's departure just ahead of 2016 into a headache for Comedy Central.

You've Got Mail (and a spunky dialup business)

Thu, 2015-02-12 01:30
$19.2 million

That's how much Wisconsin Governor and presidential hopeful Scott Walker raised from outside his state amid a recall election in 2012. The New York Times' Upshot reports that number, and the recall election he won are key to his chances looking toward the Republican primary. Walker's donors tend to be more conservative than those of key rival Jeb Bush. Plus Walker has attracted plenty of small donors, which were key to President Barack Obama's 2012 campaign.

2 hours

That's how long the third season of House of Cards was available on Netflix's site on Wednesday before being taken down. Not due out until February 27th, the series was mistakenly put on the site due to a bug

8 percent

The vacancy rate at American malls last year, up from 5.4 percent in 2006. Bloomberg has analyzed hundreds of malls and thousands of stores, compiling their findings into six graphs, showing the state of the slowly-dying behemoths, and the people who shop at them.

 

6 out of 12

In an investigation by Wired Magazine, 6 out of 12 surveyed day care facilities affiliated with tech companies had below-average vaccination rates, and therefore do not have enough vaccinated children to effect "herd immunity." Pixar had the lowest immunization numbers, with less than 50 percent of employees' children receiving vaccinations.

$602.5 million

That's how much AOL made last year from its old but still active dial-up Internet business, which still boasts 2.2 million subscribers. Quartz reports AOL has done an excellent job retaining that business, while making more on a per-subscriber basis each year.

2.5 million

The average nightly viewers of "The Daily Show" in 2012, a ratings peak over the past six years. The show was at its most popular during election season, the Washington Post points out, which will likely make Jon Stewart's departure just ahead of 2016 a headache for Comedy Central.

Why 3-wheeled cars never caught on

Wed, 2015-02-11 12:34

 In a piece for WIRED Magazine, Jordan Golson breaks down the history of the three-wheeled car.  

It is taken as gospel that vehicles should have an even number of wheels. Two, four, even six. But that hasn’t kept more than a few people from thinking three was the magic number.

 From the very earliest days of motoring, engineers have toyed with three-wheeled automobiles. In fact, the Benz Patent Motorwagen, generally considered the first motorcar, rolled on three wheels. Since then, the idea has come and gone, usually adopted by lovable, slightly eccentric boutique automakers like Morgan Motors or startups like the dearly departed Aptera Motors, although big players like Toyota have played the game too. (For the sake of this discussion, we’ll focus on cars, which we’ll define as having side-by-side seating and at least some semblance of an enclosed body.)

 But four wheels work just fine, so why take one away?

 “Car companies are always looking to sell something that’s different,” Golson says.  

 According to Golson, three-wheelers have plenty of setbacks too.

 “People typically buy their cars so they can haul around their families and their stuff, and a three-wheeled car doesn’t really do that very well,” he says.  

 So why were three-wheeled cars like the Reliant Robin so popular in England 30 years ago?

“They were popular because they were taxed as motorcycles,” says Golson. “So they were cheaper to own, and you only had to have a motorcycle license to ride them.”

Three-wheeled cars of old weren’t the safest either.

“You basically have as much protection as you would on a motorcycle, which is to say, none,” Golson says.  “It has all the bad parts of a motorcycle, and it has all the bad parts of a car.”

Don't expected a resurgence of the three-wheeled car any time soon. But that doesn’t mean four wheels is the pinnacle of car formats.

“If the car companies can figure out a way to solve a problem that no one else has solved you might see one that’s really popular,” says Golson. “But until they do that, the demand just isn’t there.”

Is that Greek's finance minister or an action film star?

Wed, 2015-02-11 12:18

Greece’s new finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, has bounded onto the political stage not like a finance minister at all.  He's more like an action movie star.

With his bald head, athletic build and feisty manner, Varoufakis reminds some of the Bruce Willis of "Die Hard" fame. One German newspaper called Varoufakis “a sex icon, roaring around Athens in his motorbike leathers, radiating the sort of classical masculinity you usually find only in Greek statues.”

Varoufakis may not relish this kind of press. He is a serious academic economist who has held senior university teaching posts in Greece, the United States, the U.K. and Australia. Long before his election last month, he fought a passionate campaign against the deep cuts in public spending that Germany and other European creditor nations imposed on Greece as a condition of the country’s $280 billion bailouts.

As a left-winger, Varoufakis believes in big government. Indeed, he describes himself as a Marxist. But Professor Monojit Chatterji, his doctoral supervisor at the UK’s University of Essex, says we should take that description with a pinch of salt.

“People are scared of him because of this Marxist label that he bandies around,” says Chatterji. “It’s almost done deliberately, in order to say to people: ‘Look here, I am a Marxist but you know I’m really a cuddly toy.’”

In spite of his seriousness, Varoufakis seems not to be averse to game playing. Hardly surprising, his academic specialty is game theory, the study of strategic decision-making. Computer games giant Valve Corp. hired him for his game-theory expertise.

That could now stand him in good stead.

“It’s not a bad background to have when you’re entering a period of intense negotiation,” says James K. Galbraith, a University of Austin professor who is a friend and former colleague.

But Galbraith rejects the claim that Varoufakis is playing the so-called “madman strategy,” making crazy demands and threatening to bring down the euro to extract greater concessions from Greece’s creditors.

“That’s not true," Galbraith says. "There’s absolutely nothing mad or for that matter opaque about the position taken at this stage by the Greek government.”

Galbraith describes Varoufakis as one of the most interesting intellectuals on the planet who has energy, charm, intelligence and magnetism in abundance. Will these qualities be enough to win over Varoufakis’ key adversary in the debt negotiations, German Chancellor Angela Merkel?

Professor Chatterji recalls one of the former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s favorite phrases: “Thatcher used to say: ‘The lady is not for turning.' I think about Merkel one might say: ‘This lady is not for charming.’”

Dietary update: Cholesterol-rich foods aren't so bad

Wed, 2015-02-11 09:42

The government is set to withdraw warnings about cholesterol. According to the Washington Post, those dietary guidelines that we all know and love, the ones that provide rules for school lunches and nutrition advice and the same guidelines that tell us to limit our cholesterol intake to 300 milligrams a day are about to see a big change that could whip up business for the egg industry.

If we were writing a blockbuster movie about the egg industry – just bear with me – the villain would be cholesterol.

“It certainly has been an issue that has been on every single agenda, topic for every single meeting we’ve had in egg industry over the last 30 years,” says Kevin Burkum, a senior vice president of the American Egg Board. “Cholesterol is really the reason the American Egg Board was invented," he says.

In 1976, there was an egg crisis. American’s consumption of eggs had plunged from around 400 eggs a year in the 1940s to about half that a few decades later, and egg producers were concerned.

Phil Lempert, editor of Supermarketguru.com, says the industry still hasn't completely recovered: “Fast forward to 2012, and it’s down to 250 eggs.”

After years of mixed messages about nutrition, even if the government does publish new guidelines extolling the virtues of eggs, it could be tough to persuade consumers that the product is actually considered healthy again, Lempert says.

“Because what we’ve seen before – whether it’s about obesity, or heart disease, or cholesterol, or sodium or sugar – is lots of confusion. This message has to be really clear," he says.

And heard, says Mark Cotter, CEO of the Food Group, a food marketing firm. If the government publishes new dietary guidelines they probably won’t have much affect on their own, he says.

“To be quite frank, the understanding of the dietary guidelines, in terms of awareness, is under 10 percent – in the country,” he says.

It’s up to the egg industry, says Cotter, to sell itself. Last year, egg sales increased by half a billion dollars, according to Burkum.  Consumers, he says, are already embracing the egg.

“The incredible edible egg – even more incredible,” he says.

What it takes to get a soldier's boots on the ground

Wed, 2015-02-11 09:42

President Obama wants Congress to authorize a U.S. military-led operation against ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

The president says he's not committing the country to another drawn-out, costly war. But getting just one pair of boots on the ground costs a lot of money.

It's not just bombs and bullets: It's all the civilian support required to sustain a deployment of any size for any period of time. In this case, the main weapon used may be airpower, and the footprint may not be as large as it was in Afghanistan or Iraq at the height of the war. But there will be plenty of work for civilian contractors.

For the full story, click the audio player above.

Falling asleep and other things you do during meetings

Wed, 2015-02-11 09:42

This final note comes with this personal observation: I once had a boss in the Navy who only held meetings standing up — helped keep 'em short and on target, he said.

That wasn't a bad way to go, because a report from Atlassian had this to say about the average workplace meeting attendee:

- 39 percent slept during meetings.
- 45 percent felt overwhelmed by the number of meetings they have to go to.
- 73 percent said they did other work during those meetings.  

 

Quiz: College completion gap widens

Wed, 2015-02-11 08:25

According to The Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education, college completion rates for Americans with the highest family incomes have been rising, but the rates for lower families incomes have not changed.

var _polldaddy = [] || _polldaddy; _polldaddy.push( { type: "iframe", auto: "1", domain: "marketplaceapm.polldaddy.com/s/", id: "college-completion-gap-widens", placeholder: "pd_1423675372" } ); (function(d,c,j){if(!document.getElementById(j)){var pd=d.createElement(c),s;pd.id=j;pd.src=('https:'==document.location.protocol)?'https://polldaddy.com/survey.js':'http://i0.poll.fm/survey.js';s=document.getElementsByTagName(c)[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(pd,s);}}(document,'script','pd-embed'));

Boston's massive snowfall brings in business

Wed, 2015-02-11 07:34

Boston is getting pummeled by snow. More than 78 inches have fallen on the city this winter, making it one of the snowiest winters in the city's history.

But it's not over yet. The city is bracing for more snowfall Thursday night.

The winter weather has turned out to be a blessing for entrepreneurs in the snow-clearing business.

Frank Ippolito, who owns Ippolito Snow Services in Boston, offers "flake-to-flake" services for some lucky customers.

"The first flake falls, we have a team there, in front of a retail store or a high-end residence where we're there for the entire storm," he says. "Just pushing snow to the curb, and keeping them clean for the whole time so it doesn't build up."

Ippolito says his company is fielding up to 70 calls a day. But it'll cost to hire him. Ippolito charges around $4,000 to clear a small parking lot.

PODCAST: First comes hacking, then comes fraud

Wed, 2015-02-11 03:00

Truth, democracy, and the branding problem for NBC news without Brian Williams. Plus, first comes the hack, then comes the … tax fraud? That's one of the worries coming out of investigations into two different events last week: A flood of phony tax filings sent using TurboTax, and a major hack of Anthem health insurance. 

The connection between hacking and tax fraud

Wed, 2015-02-11 03:00

Last week, TurboTax had to stop filing state tax returns for approximately 24 hours after reports of a flood of fraudulent returns. The Wall Street Journal reports the FBI is considering whether it was the result of a hack, or if it could just be an example of how easy data acquired elsewhere can be used for the growing problem of identity theft tax fraud. 

Avivah Litan, security analyst at Gartner, says the problem is that there are few checks on identity for online tax returns. That means anyone can falsify a return who has access to the proper information; like name, address and social security number—exactly the data that was compromised for as many as 80 million customers by last week's data breach of health insurer Anthem.

The rash of similar data breaches has driven the number of tax fraud cases into the millions according to Adam Levin, founder of Identity Theft 911. He says even though credit card breaches get more attention, they're actually less damaging.

"You call a bank, you change a number," he says. "Tax fraud, different story—Devastating, takes a long time to resolve. A national problem."

Connecticut's Department of Revenue Services has suggested a preventative step for those who think their personal information could be compromised: file your taxes as early as possible. 

One cost of starting high school later in the morning

Wed, 2015-02-11 02:30

For almost 20 years, school districts across the country have debated shifting high school start times later to allow for more time for adolescent students to sleep, which studies say helps brain development and school performance.

But an effort to push up start times by an hour in Montgomery County, Maryland, ran into trouble over the cost.

Click the media player above to hear more.

Pages