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Celebrity photo hack puts a cloud over Apple

Wed, 2014-09-03 13:24

This is the view from Apple headquarters this week:

[<a href="//storify.com/Marketplace/response-to-celebrity-nude-photo-hacks" target="_blank">View the story "Response to Celebrity Nude Photo Hacks" on Storify</a>]

Twitter was full of celebrities tweeting about how they felt violated when nude photos from their iCloud accounts were posted online after they were apparently hacked

The story led to speculation about weaknesses in iCloud security, and all this less than a week before a major announcement from Apple, likely the unveiling of an iPhone 6.

“It’s a hit to Apple,” says Colin Gillis, a senior technology analyst at BGC Financial. He says Apple should be looking forward, and presenting consumers with new security tools like biometrics — requiring a fingerprint instead of just a password to access accounts.

“They will offer you solutions that you’ll have, you know, extended on new iPhones to help prevent these types of things," Gillis says.

So, just buy a new iPhone and everything will be fine, right? 

Not quite, because the celebrity nude photo dump is so much more personal than a credit card data breach.

“It’s like someone, you know, going through your personal trash," says Jeff Howe, head of the media innovation program at Northeastern University. "I think it absolutely engenders a sense of violation.”

That could make consumers more wary of sharing personal stuff online. Could something like that happen to our data in the cloud?

Cathy Boyle, a senior mobile analyst at eMarketer, said she's definitely noticed more wariness from consumers.

“But I think if you tell them that if you share a certain amount of your information with us in exchange for something valuable, then people seem to be more accepting of sharing their information,” she says.

So companies would have to offer us a discount or special treatment for our online data.  Otherwise, hey — stay off my cloud. 

Who can you blame when you get hacked?

Wed, 2014-09-03 11:20

The cloud is a tricky place to put your information, pictures or other things you consider private.

Turns out, every major cloud storage service — Dropbox, Apple's iCloud, Google Drive and so on — all use the "mutual responsibility model" in their terms of service. This means if you give away your credentials, then the cloud service provider cannot be held accountable if you get hacked.

"They count anything," says Ben Johnson, host of Marketplace Tech. "Even if you don’t know that you are giving it away. So if you get phished, or if someone gets you to click on something and they hack into your computer or your phone, that counts as ‘willingly giving it away.’"

With those terms of service, you might need to compromise some privacy for the convenience of using any cloud storage. Or, like Kai, you can turn the setting off altogether.

Listen to the Kai Ryssdal's full conversation with Ben Johnson in the audio player above.

An obsessive hunt for America's early recorded music

Wed, 2014-09-03 11:15

The technology of recorded music is a lot older than vinyl albums spinning on '60s-style turntables and singles — 45s — popping onto a jukebox needle.

The very earliest records held two to three minutes of music per side. They measured 10 inches of shellac, and were played on Victrolas that were more of a furniture design statement than a means to a musical end. The needles were so crude they gouged out the grooves on the records.

Moving at 78 rotations per minute, the remaining records are a technological relic that holds some of the earliest American music. There are few remaining metal masters, the engraving technology that can resuscitate the original recording sessions of, say, the Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds." So the record itself becomes an obsession for collectors who seek out 78s. 

"It's a high-stakes treasure hunt, in a way, because they're saving these songs from certain death," said Amanda Petrusich, who interviewed collectors for her book, "Do Not Sell at Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World's Rarest 78 rpm Records".

The "wildness" includes Petrusich's own scuba-diving adventure into the Milwaukee River, after getting a tip that some 78s might be wasting away underwater. Not to mention the hours collectors spend at yard sales, scouring eBay, and the high price a rare disc can command. 

"There was a very public sale recently on eBay of a record for $37,000," Petrusich said, adding, "That's not uncommon."

The stereotype of the collector was partially true and partially not, Petrusich found. Overwhelmingly male? Definitely. A kind of tight-knit fraternity? Check. 

But older, sort of pale, doughy middle-aged men, à la Steve Buscemi's character in "Ghost World"? Petrusich says "not so much." 

Some of the obsession seems to be driven not only by the hunt, rarity and preciousness of the music 78s may contain. It's also a way for collectors to surround themselves with true antiques. 

"The idea that these are men who feel in some way isolated by or excluded from modernity is very much true. They end up ultimately collecting these things as a way of insulating themselves from that, or slowing down the acceleration of culture."

Fortunately for new fans of prewar blues or Creole music, a lot of songs have been digitized. For example, a song that Petrusich fell in love with, Blind Uncle Gaspard's "Sur Le Bord De L'eau," is on YouTube, iTunes and Amazon. Not least because it was included on the soundtrack to HBO's "True Detective." 

 

Petrusich and her fellow collectors hope more of these songs survive their fragile 78 form. 

"Not all old records are good, but there's a sense that we don't even know what has fallen through the cracks."

Even so, she said, there's a special quality to holding an old disc, hearing the scratches as it plays on the equipment it was first heard on. 

Listen to the full conversation in the audio player above.

At Fashion Week, it's hard to stand out from the crowd

Wed, 2014-09-03 10:26

New York City’s Fashion Week begins Wednesday night, and one of the first shows will be in Central Park — on horse-drawn carriages. 

"We'd like to refer to this as a moving runway," says Tobi Rubinstein Schneier of the Tahor Group, which dreamed up the idea for designer Victor de Souza. Seven models dressed in couture will ride seven carriages drawn by white horses in a loop. "The horses are iconic New York, and they’re majestic and they’re beautiful," says Schneier. "You know, they’re models themselves." 

It's just one of many techniques clothing brands are using to stand out in a crowded field. Ultrahip label Opening Ceremony is putting on a one-act play, co-written by film director Spike Jonze and actor Jonah Hill; British designer Gareth Pugh is creating an "immersive experience." Less established designers are thinking unconventionally as well. Emily Saunders would say only that her models would be static, and that the theme of her collection is a song.

"The 1968 Iron Butterfly song 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,'" she says. 

"There’s no question that cutting through the clutter is what every smart business person is trying to do today," says Alison Kenney Paul, vice chairman of retail and distribution at Deloitte. But in her view, the biggest change to Fashion Week is how the Internet and fast fashion have shortened the distance between the shows and the streets. 

"I believe you’re going to see some of the looks if they really resonate with people almost within weeks, not months," says Paul. "It’s much more of a short, uh, runway, if you will."

Based on current economic conditions, Paul predicts more consumers at the end of that runway this season.

Oh, yeah, and more neutral colors.  

Your Wallet: Hacking the grocery store

Wed, 2014-09-03 08:48

According to Gallup, families in America spend roughly $150 dollars a week on food:

Gallup

Marketplace Weekend wants to know, how do you save money at the grocery store?  

 

@MarketplaceWknd Plan meals around what's on sale (esp for meats) not just what you feel like eating.

— Karen Luck (@WhereIsMyKindle) September 3, 2014

 

Eat fast food whenever possible RT@MarketplaceWknd: What are your favorite tips and tricks to save money at the grocery store?

— SevenPointBuck (@SevenPointBuck) September 3, 2014

 

@MarketplaceWknd Reach for the back of the shelf (bread, meats, eggs, and so on). Later expiration dates for the same price.

— Dylan Campbell (@dylancampbell) September 3, 2014

Overdue reassessments hit homeowners hard

Wed, 2014-09-03 08:46

For David Bunzel, the bad news came in a letter, in March.

“I opened it up,” he says, “and I was surprised.”

Bunzel lives in Scarsdale, New York, just north of New York City. The community is doing its first town-wide property value reassessments in 45 years. And the letter Bunzel got came from the assessment office.

“The estimated value, from their perception, of our home went up overnight by about 30 percent,” he says.

The estimated value of your home helps determine how much you pay in property taxes.

Bunzel lives in a neighborhood of multimillion-dollar homes, and a 30 percent increase would be a lot of money. (He wouldn’t say exactly how much.) Things were even worse for some of his neighbors. Some even saw their assessments double.

So Bunzel and a bunch of his neighbors are now challenging the revaluations. He says he understands property assessments were way overdue in Scarsdale, but the way their homes were assessed and the sudden spike, he says, aren’t fair.

“Who has sympathy for these people?” says Robert Berg, another Scarsdale resident. “They were getting a great deal that we were paying for, for 45 years in many cases.”

Berg was one of the people who pushed for the property revaluations. He says the owners of what are now some of the most expensive homes in town weren't paying property taxes that reflected that. So people in more modest homes had to pay more than their share of property taxes to make up for it, he argues.

“If someone's paying too little,” Berg says, “someone's paying too much. And the whole purpose of a revaluation is to periodically and systematically review all the property valuations in town, so you can get equity in the tax rolls.”

The state of New York doesn't require periodic revaluations, but they recommend cities reassess properties every few years. Some towns in the state haven't had property reassessments since the Civil War.

New York's not alone in these infrequent assessments. In California, for example, your property tax is based on how much you paid for your house. If you've been sitting on a home for 40 years, you're paying way fewer taxes than someone who bought a similar home at today's prices.

Kim Rueben, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center at the Urban Institute, says to avoid revaluation controversies like the one in Scarsdale and similar situations in California, cities need routine state-mandated property assessments. They keep property taxes smoother for everyone, Rueben says.

“I think it would be easier,” she says, “for the county and the local governments if the state did mandate it. And so they could just say that it's the state law to do this.”

But if cities and towns have been collecting property taxes for centuries, why haven't they figured this out yet?

“Some of this is much more political than fiscal,” Rueben says. “So the whole idea that you're not going to reassess properties has more to do with who has political power and who's going to end up being winners and losers.”

She says reassessments usually put the biggest dent in the pocketbooks of the upscale homeowners, so politicians might avoid enforcing reassessments to avoid upsetting wealthy voters.

“But,” she says, “it's never going to be any easier for them to do the reassessment.”

At some point, towns that have held off on reassessments are going to have to bite the bullet. Scarsdale's property revaluations are still under review, but they should go into effect later this month.

IEX scores big investors

Wed, 2014-09-03 04:00

For trading stocks and other securities there are stock exchanges, which are highly regulated. Then there are alternative trading systems, called "dark pools," which are lightly regulated.

Now, there's news on Wednesday that IEX, an upstart, alternative system, has gotten some big new investors to help it try to become a fully-fledged, regulated exchange.

IEX is designed to mute the effects of high-speed trading: advanced technology that some argue serves Wall Street middlemen and not investors. The CEO of IEX, Brad Katsuyama, was even cast as the protagonist in Michael Lewis' best-selling critique of high-speed trading.

Click the media player above to hear Brad Katsuyama in conversation with Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio.

The benefits of working 9 to 5 until you're 95

Wed, 2014-09-03 03:00

The Baby Boomer generation is expected to live longer than any other generation that preceded them. And with the current state of the economy and the possibility of a future without pensions and social security to fall back on, more and more of them are putting off retirement.

But maybe it's not such a bad thing.

In his new book, called "Unretirement," Chris Farrell argues that work has always been an essential part of our community, and that putting off retirement can be a good thing for everyone.

Click the media player above to hear Chris Farrell in conversation with Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio.

PODCAST: Preventing another financial crisis

Wed, 2014-09-03 03:00

First up, news that Chrysler owned by FIAT is reporting very strong sales today—up 20 percent in August, in part because Jeeps and pickup are moving out of dealerships like crazy. Nissan also handily beat expectations with sales up 11 percent. That and geopolitics are defining the mood on markets. And later today, several bank regulators, including the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the FDIC, will vote on a rule that's designed to improve the way banks manage risk. More on their efforts to prevent the next financial crisis. And you've heard it before: Too many older people who haven't saved enough are forced to work until their dying day. Marketplace's senior economics contributor Chris Farrell doesn't see it this way. He's just written a book that argues there's cause for celebration about what we'll get to do in our later years.

Preventing the next financial crisis

Wed, 2014-09-03 03:00

On Wednesday, several government regulators, including the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, will vote on a rule that’s designed to improve the way banks manage risk. 

After the last financial crisis, regulators started to worry about the next one. At a meeting in Basel, Switzerland, they proposed a “liquidity coverage ratio.”

According to Oliver I. Ireland, a partner with Morrison & Foerster, it would require banks to hold high-quality assets “that presumably you could sell into the market at a reasonable price in order to generate liquidity to meet, for example, customer withdrawals.”

For several years now, regulators have wrestled with what constitutes a “high-quality” asset.

“There are all kind of securities that have varying degrees of liquidity,” says Lawrence G. Baxter, the William B. McGuire Professor of the Practice of Law at Duke University. There is debt you can get rid of quickly, like U.S. bonds, and there is debt that is harder to sell. For example, there wasn’t much of a market for mortgage-backed securities in 2008.

“The more liquid the assets, the safer they are, but also the less yield-bearing they are likely to be,” Baxter explains, noting the liquidity-coverage ratio could pose a problem for banks. They have been bringing in record profits, he says, and they are under pressure to keep doing that. 

New York begins free universal pre-kindergarten

Wed, 2014-09-03 02:00

On Thursday, more than 50,000 4-year-olds in New York City get to go to full-day pre-kindergarten. The best part? It's free, in a place where early education is the most expensive in the nation, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research.

It's an initiative of Mayor Bill de Blasio.  

So what are parents in New York thinking about the citywide universal pre-K program?

"It's about time!" says Mildred Warner, who studies the economic impact of early education at Cornell University.

She says preschool education makes kids more ready for school and less likely to drop out. As for parents, they have to skip work less often.

"It also increases productivity of parents at work, because they know their children are in a good, developmentally appropriate place," she says.

Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research, says many working low-income families previously had to rely on family or neighbors for childcare, which can be unreliable.

He says for middle-class families, universal pre-K frees up money for them to buy more stuff, take more vacations, and spend more on a mortgage.

"You could maybe do some more saving for college," he says.

Barnett says for that, it's never too early to start.

How tech is changing reading at libraries

Wed, 2014-09-03 02:00

As part of our week-long series about tech and reading, we've already heard about how new gadgets are changing reading in school and how they're changing reading education at home.

Today we hear from Courtney Young, president of the American Library Association, on how they're changing libraries. From services libraries offer to the actual layout and contents of some brick and mortar library buildings, new tech has had an impact.

Young says that it's important for libraries to change with the times, but that one challenge for librarians is making sure patrons are aware of new services. Also, keeping up with high costs. 

Click the media player above to hear Courtney Young in conversation with Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson.

Obamacare could be a boon for tax preparers

Wed, 2014-09-03 02:00

H&R Block is expected to report its earnings Wednesday afternoon, and analysts feel good about the tax-prep giant’s future. Actually, they feel pretty great about the industry as a whole. 

The source of their optimism is the Affordable Care Act, thanks, says George Brandes with Jackson Hewitt, to the tax-prep business truism: “Complicated taxes equals more people needing help.” 

Brandes says his company assumes that figuring out the tax implications of the ACA will be tricky for millions of consumers.

“A study by the University of California, Berkeley, suggests as many as a third of all tax credit recipients will owe some money back, and so that adds another layer of complexity on how you handle something like this,” he says.

A person could owe money because their subsidy is based on estimated earnings; if someone underestimates, they’re on the hook to Uncle Sam.

The IRS says 140 million people file tax returns every year, with about 60 percent being done by professionals. Northcoast Research analyst Kartik Mehta expects that percentage to increase.

“We haven’t seen this type of a complication to the tax return in a long, long time,” he says.

Mehta says the real winners will be the brand-name preparers who can afford to blitz the airwaves come tax time.

Forget ketchup. How about foie gras mousse?

Tue, 2014-09-02 14:07

The line outside of Hot Doug’s hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Chicago stretches two blocks. It’s almost 10:30 a.m. — opening time.

Jamie Madison, 30, got in line more than two hours earlier in order to be the first at the door. For her, coming to Hot Doug’s isn’t just about eating a hot dog, it’s “the whole experience,” she says.

“My friends and I like to come here at least once a summer,” Madison says, correcting my use of the term “hot dog” to describe her meal: “Hot Doug’s is 'gourmet encased meats,' not hot dogs.” 

I stand corrected. 

Nova Safo

Hog Doug’s owner, Doug Sohn, also takes his encased meats seriously. But not for much longer: Sohn plans to retire from the hot dog business and close his shop in October

Sohn attended culinary school and applied that training to his sausage and hot dog enterprise. At his restaurant, you can order an elk sausage or one with escargot mixed in. Among the most popular items is the foie gras and Sauternes duck sausage with truffle aioli, foie gras mousse and fleur de sel.” 

“To me, a really good quality Chicago hot dog should be [as] satisfying and tasty as anything you would get in a three-star restaurant,” Sohn says. 

His philosophy has made him very popular. Sohn was recently inducted into the Vienna Beef Hot Dog Hall of Fame, an honor to which Sohn responded with something to the effect of: "I didn’t know there was a hot dog hall of fame." 

“If someone had said to me when I started doing this 14 years ago: 'Oh and at some point you… will have a book… and you’ll be sitting down and chitchatting with Anthony Bourdain for his TV show'… It’s like, 'OK, and can I have some of that crack?'” Sohn says. 

Nova Safo

Sohn’s success has sparked a whole new niche industry within what was otherwise a staid part of the Chicago culinary scene.

“There’s no such thing as a hot dog franchise in Chicago, but there might as well be, because they’re all exactly alike,” says Mike Gebert, a journalist who has been writing about food in Chicago for 10 years, and who, for just as long, has been waiting for others to imitate Hot Doug’s. 

“Finally, I think, it's what you see happening is we’re getting these … places that are trying a little harder, that’s got more exotic things on the menu,” Gebert says. 

Other restaurants are hoping to lure in some of Sohn's loyal customers. Chicago-area chefs have been experimenting with a wide variety of hot dog dishes. For the adventurous hot dog connoisseur, there are now elk-meat sausages, quail egg toppings, and a popular Japanese hot dog topped with seaweed salad and pickled ginger at Ivy’s Hamburgers, Hot Dogs and Fries

“Years ago, you could open up a new restaurant… and expect people to walk in. Nowadays, it’s a whole different market… Social media directs a lot of your customer base. You have to be on top of your game. You have to serve the best. There’s no other way,” says Ivy’s owner Tony Tzoubris. 

Nova Safo

There are so many restaurants jumping into the gourmet hot dog niche that Mike Gebert even wrote up a list for dejected Hot Doug’s customers searching for a replacement. 

Tzoubris says he hopes Ivy’s is on it. 

What a House majority leader brings to banking

Tue, 2014-09-02 13:34

Former House majority leader Eric Cantor will join Moelis and Co. as vice chairman and managing director. Though he lacks experience working on Wall Street, Cantor is still a prize hire for the firm, which donated to his campaigns when he was a candidate for office. 

Moelis wasn't one of Cantor's bigger donors, but "he was clearly in their sights," said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. "He was important to them and, of course, they are now important to him."

Cantor will open the firm's Washington, D.C. office, which, says Jeff Berry, a professor of political science at Tufts University, is an indication of exactly why Cantor is so valuable. 

"He's not opening a Washington office because they see deals in northern Virginia and want to get close to them," Berry said. "He's opening a Washington office so he can open doors for the investment bank and help them with regulatory problems."

Cantor will start at a salary of $400,000 a year, and will get bonuses and stock options worth around $3 million more.

Moelis, which frequently advises on mergers and acquisitions, said in a statement that Cantor was hired to "play a leading role in client development and advise clients on strategic matters." 

Dennis Kelleher, the president and CEO of Better Markets, a nonprofit that promotes the public interest in finance, says Cantor's resume would indicate that mergers and acquisitions are probably not his area of expertise. 

"One could argue, it seems to me, that he wouldn't even be qualified to be an intern at most of the firms on Wall Street," Kelleher said. 

Angelo Mozilo really doesn't get it

Tue, 2014-09-02 13:34

Here's an object lesson in why we still have to do stories about the financial crisis, almost six years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers:

Bloomberg conducted an interview with Angelo Mozilo, the former chairman of the board and CEO of Countrywide Financial, the biggest of the subprime lenders, and one of the leading men linked to the greatest economic crisis since the Great Recession.

He's kept a relatively low profile since the beginning of the crisis, but, because of a civil lawsuit pending against his name, took the interview in order to express his confusion as to why he and his firm have been seen as villains.

"No, no, no, we didn't do anything wrong," he said.

What is 4chan?

Tue, 2014-09-02 13:34

When nude photos of actress Jennifer Lawrence and other female celebrities hit the Internet, one of the first places they surfaced was a message board site called 4chan. It's a complicated place: a home for snark, nastiness — and, in recent years, political activism. The Occupy movement owes a debt to 4chan. And if you've ever shared one of these LOLcat photos, so do you.

The site was created in 2003 as a forum where people could discuss various interests, like Japanese comics, each within its own discussion board. Soon, for topics that didn't fit elsewhere, another board emerged: /b/.

"People always said, ‘If it’s too off-point, or it’s too crude, or just too much for the rest of the site, take it to /b/,'" says filmmaker Brian Knappenberger, who has made documentaries about the political activism that eventually grew out of /b/, including "We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists."  

The /b/ board remains an anything-goes environment, and is not remotely safe for viewing at work. Knappenberger calls it "extreme free speech."

"There’s a lot of awful stuff on there," he says. "I would highly recommend no one going to /b/ at all.  And, of course, once I say that, everyone will want to go to /b/."   

One thing that allows 4chan to be so anarchic is that everyone posting there is anonymous.

"There’s no real community to 4chan," says Austin Wilson, an engineer from North Carolina who says he's an occasional user. "There’s just a bunch of different people who go to this website, and they don’t really know who any of the other people are."

There are things that grew out of /b/, some of which filtered out into the rest of the world. One was LOLcats.

Another was the political group that calls itself Anonymous, which is known for shutting down corporate and government sites, often to protest privacy breaches. The group adopted the Guy Fawkes mask for public protests, which went on to influence the Occupy movement.

Gabriella Coleman, an anthropology professor at McGill University, studies 4chan and Anonymous. Her book "Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy" will be published in November. She calls 4chan "the id of the Internet," and says it is full of contradictions.

"On the one hand, there is this value placed on privacy and shielding the self," she says. "But on the other hand, 4chan is an epicenter of violating people’s privacy by exposing people’s photographs."

Where business and 4chan overlap

Even if you've never visited 4chan or its notorious and popular /b/ image board, you've likely encountered their work elsewhere online, on your television, or even on the trading floor. Here are five of 4chan's biggest businesslike accomplishments, for better or worse:

They revived a pop star's career

The bait and switch is a classic internet prank, but it was perfected when folks began deploying Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up" in the place of an "amazing video!" or "'Lost' spoilers!" and so on. "Rickrolling," as it's now called, was pioneered on 4chan in 2007 and quickly hit the mainstream. Astley enjoyed a career bump — probably because the song isn't half bad — even participating in a live Rickroll by interrupting the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. When 4chan founder moot (real name: Chrisopher Poole) made the "Time" 100 in 2009, Astley did the write-up.

They locked down at least one high school

Several 4chan users have seen criminal charges after threatening bombings or shooting sprees on the site. One post threatening a massacre shut down a Washington high school before investigators tracked the source to Sweden. Hoax shooting threats have also been traced back to 4chan users in Michigan and Australia.

A Wisconsin man was sentenced to six months in prison for threatening to detonate nuclear bombs at several NFL stadiums. The man's lawyer reportedly argued for leniency, saying of 4chan: "There's this odd community of people who go on this website. He's the poster boy of what can go wrong."

They (indirectly) created a profitable blog network and TV show

LOLcat is one of the best-known internet memes and maybe the quintessential one. The phenomenon was born on 4chan through a weekly ritual called "Caturday," but it had more legs than a typical image macro, spawning a successful blog network called Cheezburger and even a short-lived Bravo reality show following their employees.

Further, LOLcat's success cemented internet culture's fascination with cats and predicated the torrent of feline-related memes that have followed.

They tanked Apple's stock

Years before Steve Jobs' real death, someone used CNN's citizen journalism platform iReport to spread a rumor that the Apple founder had been rushed to the ER with heart problems. The hoax, which reportedly originated on 4chan, was enough to spook investors and Apple stock briefly dropped by 10 percent, even more than it would dip the day after Jobs' actual death in 2011.

They put hackers "on steroids"

We could dedicate a whole list to the exploits of Anonymous, the loose collective of hackers that was born on 4chan and dubbed in one early, alarmist news report as "hackers on steroids."

These days, they're generally considered activists, though their causes — like their membership and methods — are fluid. They've taken down many, many websites and published many, many people's personal information, including addresses and social security numbers, in various protests. Some Anonymous affiliates have also stolen government data and, most recently, fingered the wrong Missouri police officer in the shooting of Michael Brown.

What would it mean if Dollar General went 'hostile'?

Tue, 2014-09-02 13:34

There’s a bidding war in the dollar store space. The target is Family Dollar, the stores with the mostly red logos. The courters: Dollar General, with the bright yellow letters, and its green-logo competitor Dollar Tree.

Dollar General, already rejected by Family Dollar, has increased its takeover price to $9.1 billion. If this fails, word on the street is it could pursue a rare hostile takeover.

At this point, Family Dollar has turned down the highest-priced offer.

“Just like in a family, if two families are trying to negotiate over marriage, and somebody comes with a slightly higher dowry, but you think the marriage might be better — or she’s actually in love with somebody different — you might not take the highest offer,” says Michael Goldstein, finance professor at Babson College.

At issue is the rejecting company’s board of directors. When the board says no, an acquiring firm can go around it. That’s what’s known as going hostile.

“What you’re doing at that point is you’re making an offer directly to the shareholders,” says former investment banker Donna Hitscherich, now at Columbia Business School.

By now, the acquirer is hostile to the board, yet making nice with the shareholders.

“The shareholders are the owners of the company,” Hitscherich says. “It’s their capital that’s been committed. So if they determine to sell, they can do that.”

The acquirer offers shareholders a certain number of dollars per share. If enough shareholders agree to sell, the takeover goes through.

There are risks. In a hostile case, a would-be takeover company is flying half-blind.

Securities lawyer Bill Caffee says, in a friendly deal, the two firms exchange lots of information and research.

“And if you’re going hostile, obviously you’re not,” Caffee says. “You’re just kind of shootin’ into the wind. And looking at their public filings and saying, ‘We think it’s worth X dollars and here we go for it.’”  

Also, if word of a hostile takeover leaks out, hungry investors can push up the target’s stock price.

Since that’s how deals are valued, that ups the acquisition price.

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