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The fight for higher wages is strong on Black Friday

Fri, 2014-11-28 11:00

Black Friday may be known as one of the busiest shopping days, but it’s also one of the biggest protest days.

The fight for higher wages is going strong and is seeing positive results in a few states. But there's not much movement on a federal level.

Marketplace host Lizzie O’Leary talks to Marketplace’s Wealth and Poverty correspondent Krissy Clark to find out more.

Toyota teaches practical skills to future technicians

Fri, 2014-11-28 11:00

Emily Houston was a good student. Everyone told her she should go to college, so she did. 

“I followed,” Houston says, “I didn’t really ask about any other options.” 

When she got to the University of Kentucky, she didn’t know what she wanted to study. “I just felt like, I have to get a four-year degree. I have to get a Bachelor’s,” she says. She had no idea what she was going to do after finishing her degree, and it was hard to get guidance. Her advisor never seemed to have much time. 

So, at the end of her sophomore year, uncertain where the pursuit of a Bachelor’s degree was taking her, Houston dropped out. But unlike a lot of people who quit college and don’t have a plan, Houston knew exactly what she was going to do instead. She enrolled in something called the Advanced Manufacturing Technician (AMT) program. 

The AMT program is a partnership between Toyota Motor Manufacturing and Bluegrass Community and Technical College. Students finish with a Bluegrass associate’s degree, but they never have to set foot on the college campus. All classes are held at Toyota’s manufacturing plant in Georgetown, Kentucky. 

Shortage of skilled workers 

At the Toyota plant in Georgetown, cars start as huge balls of steel. Twenty hours later, they’re driven off the line — a new car every 54 seconds. 

One of the reasons Toyota is able to make cars so quickly is that robots do a lot of the work. But robots break down. Finding technicians who can fix them is a challenge. 

“We can’t just go out and throw up some ads and hire some skilled people. They’re not out there,” says Toyota’s Dennis Dio Parker, who helped create the AMT program. 

This isn’t just a problem for Toyota. In a 2011 survey, 74 percent of executives at U.S. manufacturing companies said a shortage of skilled production workers was having a significant impact on their ability to expand operations or improve productivity. 

Toyota’s solution is the AMT program. And it’s not just designed to turn out graduates ready to work at Toyota, 15 manufacturers partner on the program. They’re all in it to get skilled workers. 

“It’s tough to convince young people there are good careers in manufacturing,” says Terry McMichael, a supervisor at 3M, one of the companies that partners with Toyota on the AMT program. They picture factories as “deep, dark, dungeon-type environments,” he says. But modern factories are clean and bright, says McMichael, and the pay is better than you might think. 

The starting wage for advanced manufacturing technicians in this part of Kentucky is about $80,000 a year with overtime. That’s more than the median starting salary for graduates of the highest-earning Bachelor's degree programs in the U.S. 

The Advanced Manufacturing Center 

Students in the AMT program take most of their classes in a 12,000 square foot classroom built by Toyota to emulate a modern manufacturing facility. Signs hanging from the ceilings mark off areas where students learn things like “Machine Repair,” “Fluid Power” and “Motors and Controls.” 

On a Wednesday morning in March, student Dalton Ballard is in the Motors and Controls area, working on the wiring for a switch that could activate a garage door opener. The lesson began with a short lecture from the instructor about how to wire the switch.  

But the learning really begins when the students try to wire the switch themselves. They each have a metal box with a power source and a bunch of blue wires. Ballard leans into the box, grabs a wire, glances up at the big white board in the corner full of diagrams and notes from the morning lecture, and then starts hooking up the switch. He says he prefers this way of learning. 

“I grew up on a farm so the way I’ve always been taught is with hands-on experience,” he says. “I really like it better if I get my hands in there, do it myself, rather then just sit there and read a book.” 

Ballard had a scholarship to get a Bachelor’s degree in music. But he wasn’t sure he’d be able to get a job with a music degree. 

“And if I took this program, there’s so many jobs,” he says. “And not only am I getting my schooling, I’m also getting paid for this. I’ll come out of this with no debt.” 

Most students in the AMT program get paid internships at one of the participating manufacturers. Wages vary. Toyota pays $12 an hour to start, and students earn raises based on their work performance and their grades in school. 

General education 

In addition to taking technical classes, students in the AMT program take general education classes like math, humanities, and public speaking. 

Ballard says at first he didn’t understand why he needed to learn public speaking skills. 

“But I really use them a lot when I’m over at the plant,” says Ballard, who interns at Toyota. “Rather than just ‘ah, that part moves and ah, that one extends a little bit.’ Now I can actually explain it.” 

Students in the AMT program don’t get to choose what classes they take. All the classes are laid out for them by Toyota. “We don’t change the college’s rules for general education,” says Parker. “But within the selections, we will go in and choose what we think is the strongest course to prepare them to be more effective in the work world.” 

Carol Crawford, who is the AMT program coordinator at Bluegrass Community and Technical College, says she has no problem with the fact that Toyota chooses all the classes. She thinks that helps students see a link between academic and work skills. “The general education classes I took [in college], I didn’t see any connection to what I was learning as far as business and organizational management,” she says. “I remember in one of my math classes, I asked the question, ‘How do I apply this to work?’ The instructor, he couldn’t tell me how to do that.” 

The AMT program seeks students who graduate in the upper half of their high school class and score at least a 23 on the ACT math test. But there aren’t enough applicants who fit the bill. 

“We are educationally challenged in the U.S.,” says Parker. “We’re not running with the best in Europe, we’re not running with the best in Asia. Our average is below their average.” 

The AMT program in Kentucky will accept applicants who score as low as 19 on the ACT math test. But anything less than that, and a student would need remedial classes. There’s no time for remediation, says Parker. 

“We’ve got every course selected in this program from day one to day end,” he says. “If they have to have remediation, they can’t start the program.” 

Wherever they’re willing to send me 

Emily Houston says she’s happy with her decision to quit the University of Kentucky and do the AMT program instead. She’s interning at 3M and expects to get a full-time job when she graduates this spring. At $80,000 a year, she’ll be making a lot more than most 22-year olds — especially in Georgetown, Kentucky. 

But Houston isn’t planning to stay in Kentucky for long. “With 3M being a global company, I could get on full time here and then transfer to another plant in California or in France, or wherever they’re willing and able to send me,” she says. 

Being able to travel was always one of Houston’s goals. She used to think getting a Bachelor’s degree would be the best way to do that. But it turns out knowing how to fix robots might be just as good.

A Jackie Chan movie just changed the solar industry

Fri, 2014-11-28 11:00

It turns out Jackie Chan movies are the key to the solar energy business. Sort of.

Researchers at Northwestern University used the material in a blu-ray disc of Chan's movie "Police Story 3: Supercop" to make solar panels that are 22 percent more efficient than regular ones.

You don't actually need a Jackie Chan movie. Any blu-ray disc will apparently work.

But it's still fun to pretend.

PODCAST: Is the U.S. in OPEC now?

Fri, 2014-11-28 08:20

First up: OPEC said in no uncertain terms it won't scale back oil production. So oil prices keep dropping, and the U.S. is sort of an unwitting member of OPEC. We'll talk about what that means. Plus: If you're stuck in an airport this weekend, tweeting could get you the last seat on the next flight a lot faster than running to the counter. Finally, Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson joins us to talk about security on the upcoming Cyber Monday.

How to use social media as a last-minute travel agent

Fri, 2014-11-28 07:31

According to Brian Kelly, a  little travel tweeting could help you get home on time.  

“A lot of people just don’t know that social media can be such a great tool,” he says.

Kelly is a frequent-flier mile ninja and founder of the travel website The Points Guy. He says people can turn to Twitter to upgrade seating, find lost luggage or rebook flights.

“I know people don’t want to join Twitter and share everything, but you don’t even need to be an active tweeter to get help on Twitter,” he says.

When Kelly was traveling from Philadelphia to Costa Rica last New Year’s Eve, the American Airlines flight had a mechanical delay and he re-booked via Twitter while still in his seat.

“While passengers were running off the plane to get re-accommodated,” he says. “I was able to snag the last seat on the next flight and save a day of my vacation.”

These days, most U.S. airlines have teams dedicated to helping customers via social media.

“It’s critical for travelers to take advantage of social media,” Kelly says. “No app is going to do the work for you.”

Scott Sorenson works in Southwest’s “Listening Center” in Dallas Love Field airport. Along with a team of “social care specialists” he spends his day responding to customers who reach out on Twitter and Facebook.

The most common questions, he says, are about delays.

“So, hey my flight is delayed leaving this city am I going to make a connection in my next my next city?”

Sorenson can reach out directly to dispatchers and often get back via direct message to the customer. Sometimes in a matter of minutes.

So, if you’re looking for a fast response, Sorenson and Kelly say, start by looking up the Twitter handle for your airline.

Here are a few top U.S. airlines' Twitter handles to get you started:

Quiz: Prepping for college in middle school

Fri, 2014-11-28 05:20

Research by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research suggests how kids performance in early grades shapes their paths to college.

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Silicon Tally: Mr. Roboto

Fri, 2014-11-28 03:19

It's time for Silicon Tally! How well have you kept up with the week in tech news?

This week, we're joined by Ryan Calo, a robotics expert and assistant law professor at the University of Washington.

<a href="//marketplaceapm.polldaddy.com/s/silicon-tally-mr-roboto">View Survey</a>

Connecting your online self to your offline self

Fri, 2014-11-28 02:30

Retailers have long tracked when we visit and what we purchased in stores. Then, they came up with ways to monitor what we did on their websites. Now, they're using mobile devices to connect that offline and online activity into data-rich customer profiles. 

Monica Ho heads marketing at xAd. It has a map of America that shows real people visiting stores in real-time. On it, each individual person is a blinking yellow light. At ten o'clock in the morning, the map is lit up like a Christmas tree. In two minutes, you can watch over a million people shop.

XAd creates this map with GPS data transmitted by the apps on people's phones. The company buys most of the data from free apps that sell user information to make some revenue. XAd uses the data to help retailers tell if an ad they sent to your mobile phone actually led you into a store, an important metric to track offline conversions that begin with online advertising.

Matt DePratter is a VP of digital marketing at Catapult. He says if we use a retailer's app, that company knows even more about you-like where you are in a store, what you browsed online, if you bought anything, or if you looked up an item on a competitor's website. That can help stores target you with products, discounts, and personally-tailored commnication.

Depratter says companies like Walmart and Target are trying to get people to use their apps, even in stores. He says Target "actually has little signs directing you to interact with your mobile device in some sort of way." The company offers customers a coupon if they send it a text, thereby initiating contact between the store and the person's phone.

Connecting to your mobile phone is key to integrating your offline and online data, which, in the end, will help retailers sell you more stuff.

The annual Turkey pardon, demystified

Thu, 2014-11-27 10:54

Every year at this time, the president of the United States, leader of the free world, participates in a truly bizarre political ritual: the pardon of a turkey. President Obama stood before a 50-pound bird Wednesday, made the sign of the cross over him and pardoned him for what, exactly? Comedian John Oliver has a theory: "Every single turkey is guilty, specifically, guilty of having delicious bird parts that should be serving time in the prison of my mouth,” he said in a recent YouTube video.

Mac and Cheese, this year’s turkeys, were born in July on a farm in Ohio. Cheese received the official pardon, but there are always two birds selected – just in case.

“Miss America has a runner up, the president has a vice president, an actor has an understudy,” says Keith Williams with the National Turkey Federation, the official supplier of the pardoned birds.

Williams says Mac and Cheese were chosen for their white fluffy feathering and charming personalities.

“[We] look for is a bird that will be easily handled, in that it can be picked up and put on that little table there where the president can see it,” he says.

The origin of this “treasured” tradition is a bit murky, though the National Turkey Federation, a lobbying group, has given a bird to the White House since the 1940s. Abraham Lincoln spared a turkey after his son Tad argued the bird “had as good a right to live as anybody;” President Harry Truman pardoned a turkey in 1947. But George H. W. Bush was the first president to make it a formal pardon.

“Even though this isn’t a big thing, there is something to note that a lobbying group is even behind this,” says Julian Zelizer, a political historian at Princeton University. “That is Washington in a nutshell these days.”

But while turkey pardon may feel silly, Zelizer says politicians see value in it. “We are in an age where the character of the president matters very much,” he says. “People care about who someone is, not just what policies they’re going to fight for. These kinds of rituals are part of how presidential handlers try to package a person.”

But what happens to these turkeys after the cameras are gone?

Well, past birds have gone to Disneyland and George Washington’s home, Mount Vernon. Mac and Cheese are now headed to a newly renovated roost at Morven Park in Virginia, joining last year’s birds, Popcorn and Caramel. Well, actually just Caramel. “Popcorn’s not there,” explains Keith Williams. “Popcorn, you know -- turkeys do not live a long time. They are bred for Thanksgiving.” 

Over the last twenty years or so, turkeys have be bred to grow bigger, faster, and with more white meat, says Michael Hulet, a professor at Penn State, focusing on meat bird production. That’s, in part, a reflection of American appetites.

“Part of the selection for larger birds and more breast meat puts a lot more demand on the supply organs of the bird, such as the heart, and the liver, lungs,” says Hulet.

Therefore, in the end, the presidential pardon is maybe more like a temporary stay. Popcorn died during a heat wave last summer.

The underdog of contrived shopping holidays

Thu, 2014-11-27 09:38

Thanksgiving is, of course, a holiday about family and food and being thankful for what you have. It is also, however, a holiday that is increasingly about commerce, retail commerce especially. 

This year more than any shoppers are going out on Thanksgiving itself, online and even in person. Then there is tomorrow, Black Friday, followed by a lesser known shopping holiday, Small Business Saturday. 

Kyle Huntoon* is a fourth-generation woodworker from Jackson, Michigan. He moved from his hometown to Detroit open his woodworking business Hunt & Noyer. “I guess I have the underdog spirit in me," says Huntoon. “I’ve always thought of Michigan as kind of an underdog state, and I like that aspect of living in Detroit.”

This weekend, Huntoon will participate in what’s known nationally as Small Business Saturday, which hopes to lure shoppers away from big box retailers. It’s sort of the underdog of contrived shopping holidays.

“I think it’s in its maybe first three years,” says Huntoon who first found out about Small Business Saturdays about a year ago on social media. You may have seen the hashtag #shopsmall or come across this this commercial.

The irony here, is that this commercial was made by a giant company, American Express. That is not lost on analyst Marshal Cohen.

“Without a national sponsor it was kind of floundering around out there, says Cohen. “It really wasn’t gaining any traction.”

This year, Cohen expects Small Business Saturday to gain some traction. So on this Thanksgiving day, as the whole family of fake shopping holidays gather for dinner, this could be the first year that Small Business Saturdays is not seated at the kids table, though it may have to sit next to Uncle Cyber Monday, who always smells like spam.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Kyle Huntoon. The text has been corrected.

PODCAST: EU pushes Google break-up

Thu, 2014-11-27 07:25

First off, the EU has voted overwhelmingly to break up Google and other search engines to prevent them from stacking results with their own services. We'll talk about what the vote means and doesn't mean. Then, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries is meeting Thursday, and with oil prices at a four-year low the group is at a crossroads. Jamie Webster tells us about OPEC's tough choice: cut production and sacrifice market share to raise prices, or stay the course and let prices keep falling. Finally, Tennessee is about to become the first state in the nation to pay for every student to go to community college for free. But the new program ends up pushing potential students toward federal grants they would have gotten anyway but not applied for. It's marketing for higher ed disguised as an innovative state funding program.

What's the best day to shop for holiday bargains?

Thu, 2014-11-27 05:58

Black Friday sales long ago jumped their 24-hour confines. And with good reason: American consumers spend a third of their annual retail expenditures during these last few weeks of the year.

But this year there are fewer days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, so retailers are pushing more deals than ever, according to Thom Blischok, a retail analyst with PricewaterhouseCoopers.

“It would be fair to say that this will be the richest holiday season with regard to the numbers of sales and the percentage of sales,” Blischok said. “And let’s not forget online shopping.”

That online shopping holiday, once known as Cyber Monday, is lately more like Cyber Week. This year Adobe Digital Index found that online shopping deals will peak on Thanksgiving, with an average markdown of 24 percent.

And if you’re wary of scouring Amazon while you’re basting your turkey, Adobe analyst Tamara Gaffney says there’s a reason you might want to reconsider.

“By Black Friday you’re going to have a two times higher out-of-stock when you shop online. When you get to cyber Monday, which is December first, it will be five times higher,” Gaffney said.

So analysts say the best days to shop will be Thanksgiving and Black Friday. It seems the advice is: shop early, shop often.

OPEC is stuck between lots of oil and a hard place

Thu, 2014-11-27 05:30

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries is meeting Thursday, and with oil prices at a four-year low the group is at a crossroads.

Marketplace sustainability reporter Scott Tong says OPEC is facing a changed oil industry and a tough choice. They could cut production and sacrifice market share to other producers, namely the U.S., or they could stay the course and let prices keep falling.

There's no easy answer, and Tong says the cartel could be in for gridlock not unlike what we've seen in Washington. That's good for oil producers in the U.S. right now, but if prices get too low it could spell trouble for the fracking boom here.

Listen to David Gura's full conversation with Tong in the audio player above. Below, you can hear Gura's interview with Jamie Webster, who's in Vienna for Thursday's meeting.

EU votes to push Google break-up

Thu, 2014-11-27 02:00

Update: The European Parliament voted in support of breaking up Google Thursday morning. The text has been updated to reflect this.

Google is facing pressure in Europe to stop promoting its own products and services in its search results.  Lawmakers in the European parliament voted Thursday to press the search and tech giant to break up those services.

The was spearheaded by Spanish lawmaker Ramon Tremosa, who insists he and his colleagues are Google fans.

“We like Google, we use Google, I use Google everyday on my iPhone.” Tremosa says. “But Google has a monopoly, a 95 percent share of the search engine market in Europe, and it’s unfair when links to its own products and services come top in its own search results. It’s unfair to European competitors and consumers.”

Thursday’s parliamentary vote is non-binding, it won’t force Google to break up. But Kevin Poulter of the law firm Bircham Dyson Bell says the resolution is aimed at the European Commission, which after four years  is still carrying out an antitrust probe into the company.

“What the parliament is trying to do is apply that little bit more pressure to the commission.” Poulter says. “The European parliament is starting to swing their weight around and saying ‘We want some action taken.'”

That action could be punitive. The European Commission has the power to fine Google up to 10 percent of its $50 billion annual turnover .

Google says it has made three “offers of remedies” to the commission, but all three were rejected.

EU votes to push Google break-up

Thu, 2014-11-27 02:00

Google is facing pressure in Europe to stop promoting its own products and services in its search results.  Lawmakers in the European parliament vote Thursday  on whether Google should be forced to unbundle some of its services.

The vote has been spearheaded by Spanish lawmaker Ramon Tremosa, who insists he and his colleagues are Google fans.

“We like Google, we use Google, I use Google everyday on my iPhone.” Tremosa says. “But Google has a monopoly, a 95 percent share of the search engine market in Europe, and it’s unfair when links to its own products and services come top in its own search results. It’s unfair to European competitors and consumers.”

Thursday’s parliamentary vote is non-binding, it won’t force Google to break up. But Kevin Poulter of the law firm Bircham Dyson Bell says the resolution is aimed at the European Commission, which after four years  is still carrying out an antitrust probe into the company.

“What the parliament is trying to do is apply that little bit more pressure to the commission.” Poulter says. “The European parliament is starting to swing their weight around and saying ‘We want some action taken.'”

That action could be punitive. The European Commission has the power to fine Google up to 10 percent of its $50 billion annual turnover .

Google says it has made three “offers of remedies” to the commission. But all three were rejected.

Keeping everyone fed over the holidays isn't easy

Thu, 2014-11-27 02:00

The holidays are always a busy time for food pantries. The recession and federal cuts to food aid have made things busier. Some organizations were gathering food for the holidays as early as last spring. 

For a look at how food pantries are adapting and handling the demand, we traveled Traverse City, Michigan, home to one of the state's largest food pantries.

Why is it called 'Black Friday'?

Wed, 2014-11-26 14:34

Black Friday has long signified the unofficial start to the holiday shopping season, but the tradition of lining up in the middle of the night to get a deal is starting to fade a bit as retailers are now pushing sales earlier and as more shoppers turn to the web. 

Shopping has been a major part of the day after Thanksgiving since at least the Great Depression, says Lars Perner, a marketing professor at the University of Southern California.

“Of course things back then weren’t as commercialized as they are today,” Perner says.

But when did we start calling it Black Friday?

“We have to go back to the Philadelphia in the 1950s,” says Bonnie Taylor-Black, a neuroscience researcher at the University of North Carolina and a self-proclaimed lover of words.  As a member of the American dialect society, she uncovered the history of the term “Black Friday."

“It was actually probably coined by a traffic cop or at least somebody in the Philadelphia Police Department,” she says.

People from all over came into the heart of the city for shopping and to see the Christmas parade and lights, says Taylor-Black. Even more people came into town for the Army-Navy football game, which took place the Saturday after Thanksgiving, she says.

“Traffic cops had a really hard time dealing with crowds in Philadelphia," she says. "Traffic cops were required to work 12-hour shifts. Nobody could have the day off. There was a lot of parking headaches. So some wag in the police department, kind of came up with this term as sort of a humorous pejorative.”

It stuck.

Taylor-Black discovered the story in an old public relations newsletter with the help of librarians at the University of North Carolina. She says the article from 1961 was about how Philadelphia merchants wanted to rebrand Black Friday as Big Friday.

The effort failed.

She says in the late 1970s there was another attempt to give Black Friday a positive connotation — and it’s the one you’ve probably heard many times before.  That explanation, she says, was that Black Friday marked the day that all merchants went into the black — as in the day they became profitable.

“That goes back to an old accounting practice where profits were recorded in black and losses for the day were recorded in red," she says. "So the idea is Black Friday is suddenly a great shopping day and retailers have hit pay dirt, so to speak. That’s wrong. That’s an invented explanation.”

So what does Black Friday mean today?

Well, not as much as it use to, says Taylor-Black.  With the advent of online shopping and deals coming earlier and earlier in November, shoppers can get a bargain without joining a stampede. 

A video tour of Ferguson, Missouri

Wed, 2014-11-26 14:11

Images of the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, were inescapable when police officer Darren Wilson fatally shot teenager Michael Brown in August. They're just as ubiquitous this week, when a grand jury declined to charge Wilson, igniting sometimes-violent protests in the town.

Though Ferguson has been well-photographed, the footage hasn't provided much perspective on just how big the town is and where all of the protests are occurring. Marketplace reporter Adam Allington drove from one end of the town to the other, giving a time-lapse tour of key sites.

A tour of Ferguson, Missouri

Wed, 2014-11-26 14:11

Images of the protests in Ferguson, Missouri were inescapable when police officer Darren Wilson fatally shot teenager Michael Brown in August. They're just as ubiquitous this week, when a grand jury declined to charge Wilson, igniting sometimes-violent protests in the town.

Though Ferguson has been well-photographed, the footage hasn't given much perspective on just how big the town is and where all of the protests are occurring. Marketplace reporter Adam Allington drove from one end of the town to the other, giving a time-lapse tour of key sites.

Market forces catch up to OPEC

Wed, 2014-11-26 12:09

OPEC meets Thursday to set production levels, without much for its member countries to be thankful for. Oil prices have fallen quickly. And a new big rival is on the block: U.S. production of oil from fracking. Some analysts are already proclaiming “Move Over OPEC” and declaring “a new oil order.”

We’ll ask it this way: Are OPEC’s best days behind it?

Analyst Bob McNally, founder and president of the Rapidan Group, has argued for a while that OPEC is on the wane. In his view, it would be the third cartel-type oil group in history to peak and decline. The first:

“John Rockefeller and Standard Oil in the late 1800's,” McNally says, “who came along and thoroughly, some would say brutally, organized and controlled the pipelines, the refineries and the upstreams. And he brought stability to what was in the beginning wildly gyrating prices.”

Of course, trustbusters broke up Rockefeller’s company. Then came cartel 2.0: the Texas Railroad Commission. Starting in the 1930s, it pulled various levers to control prices.

The key was retaining so-called spare capacity. When prices rose and threatened to turn away consumers, the commission arranged to bring more oil to market and soften prices.

But by 1972, the North American supply tailed off. There was no spare left.

“What that meant was we were losing our ability to control the global oil price and to stabilize the market,” Rapidan says. “And that signified the transfer in power over to OPEC.”

Click below for more from Bob McNally:

 

OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, formed in 1960 to counter the power of multinational oil companies. Now it controlled elements of supply and prices. In 1973, OPEC’s Arab members cut off supply to the U.S. for political purposes.

Global crude analyst Jamie Webster at IHS Energy says a big moment recently for OPEC came in 2008: The group artificially withheld more than 2 million barrels of oil a day from the market. Oil prices revived.

Still, Webster says the world has changed. For one, embargoes may be history.

“The oil market has turned into a real, truly global interconnected market,’ Webster says. “You can’t just pick a country and say ‘We’re not going to deliver there.’ Somebody else will.”

Click below for more from Jamie Webster: 

And, many OPEC members today drill less oil than before. In the meantime, a supply competitor has shown up. Fracking in America coaxes oil from shale rock.

Shale oil has helped push today’s prices down. And the more they fall, the more likely shale could tail off and bounce prices back up. In other words, the U.S. may be the new price-controller.

“This massively undermines the ability of the OPEC nations,” says Ian Bremmer, president and founder of the Eurasia Group global consultancy.

In this low-price environment, Bremmer says OPEC countries like Saudi Arabia struggle fiscally. They rely heavily on selling expensive oil.

“The Saudis are trying to fund places like Egypt and Jordan to maintain stability in the region,” Bremmer says. “So they can’t really afford to try to drive prices down to compete with American producers. And so that means the United States is in the driver’s seat, right?”

Click below for more from Ian Bremmer:

Right? Perhaps, though outside the U.S. some analysts are calling hyperbole.

“I don’t think we need to talk about anything like a new pricing order,” says Robin Mills at Manaar Energy Consulting in Dubai, and author of “The Myth of the Oil Crisis.”

“There’s certainly no grand scheme behind this. It’s the simple working of the market and economics.”

As he sees it, this is just another bout of low prices, one that key OPEC countries can weather.

“They still have enormous sovereign wealth holdings that they can draw on for years to come to prop up a deficit,” Mills says. “And of course they can borrow. There’s nothing magical about borrowing.”

And perhaps nothing new about a new supplier on the block. Veteran OPEC watchers have seen this before.

“For example, in the North Sea and Norway and the U.K.,” says London energy economist Leo Drollas, who spent two decades at a think tank run by an ex-Saudi oil minister. “We’ve seen the great surge in Russian production in Kazakhstan. In a sense, the natural state of the oil business is one of imbalance.” 

But, how imbalanced is it today? How high and how long can the upstart U.S. shale story go? That is a key question for OPEC, tomorrow and beyond.

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