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Updated: 21 min 28 sec ago

PODCAST: The egg crisis caused by the bird flu

Wed, 2015-07-15 03:00

Prior to Fed Chair Janet Yellen's testimony in front of Congress, we'll talk about the released transcript of her statement. Plus, Netflix reports earnings this week. It’s counting on expanding overseas, particularly in China, but how’s that looking? And the bird flu crisis is winding down with no new reported since June 17th. But for bakers, there's still a big egg crisis.

And the Emmy goes to ... who cares?

Wed, 2015-07-15 02:58

With Emmy nominations out Thursday morning, Los Angeles has been inundated with "For Your Consideration" ads — Billboards, radio spots — making the case that one show or another deserves an Emmy nod.

But, really, how much do the Emmys matter? And who do they matter to?

Not that many people, says Jeetendr Sehdev, marketing professor at USC and a celebrity branding expert. "Less than one in ten people in America say that they will be more influenced to watch a TV show if it's won an Emmy award," he says.

And if the awards have lost their power to move audiences, are industry experts still paying attention to who takes home the prize?

Click the media player above to hear more.

Netflix wants to be global

Wed, 2015-07-15 02:00

The online video-streaming giant Netflix is scheduled to report second-quarter earnings after the bell on Wednesday.

Netflix forecasts that it will gain some 26 million international subscribers in 50 countries by the end of this year, and hopes to operate around the world by the end of 2016.

“The main thing for them at this stage is just the raw subscriber growth numbers,” says Jim Nail, a business-to-consumer analyst at Forrester Research.

The biggest prize for Netflix would be China, where the e-commerce company Alibaba recently launched its own streaming service.

“But I don't think it’s a deal killer," Nail says. "I think that it certainly sets up steeper competition, which is the future of Neflix.”

Domestically, Netflix aims to drive subscriptions by continuing to produce its own content with shows such as "Orange Is the New Black" or "House of Cards."

That programming is really expensive, University of Michigan communications professor Amanda Lotz says. “Netflix is spending a lot of money, and so that's the pressure to expand subscribers in order to amortize those costs over a bigger subscriber base."

The big threat to Netflix going forward, Lotz says, could be when all those content providers decide to simply bypass the middleman. “What happens once other studios stop selling their content to Netflix and choose to distribute it themselves?”

Netflix wants to be in every country

Wed, 2015-07-15 02:00

The online video-streaming giant, Netflix, is scheduled to report second-quarter earnings after the bell on Wednesday.

Netflix is forecast to gain some 26 million international subscribers in 50 countries by the end of this year, and hopes to operate around the world by the end of 2016.

Jim Nail is a business-to-consumer analyst at Forrester Research. “The main thing for them at this stage is just the raw subscriber growth numbers,” he says.

The biggest prize for Netflix would be China, where the e-commerce company Alibaba recently launched its own streaming service.

“But I don't think it’s a deal killer," Nail says. "I think that it certainly sets up steeper competition, which is the future of Neflix.”

Domestically, Netflix aims to drive subscriptions by continuing to produce its own content with shows such as "Orange Is the New Black" or "House of Cards."

That programming is really expensive, University of Michigan communications professor Amanda Lotz says. “Netflix is spending a lot of money, and so that's the pressure to expand subscribers in order to amortize those costs over a bigger subscriber base."

The big threat to Netflix going forward, Lotz says, could be when all those content providers decide to simply bypass the middleman. “What happens once other studios stop selling their content to Netflix and choose to distribute it themselves?”

Iranian oil gush could push prices down

Wed, 2015-07-15 02:00

The nuclear deal announced Tuesday between Iran and six world powers will eventually lead to severe international economic sanctions on Iran being lifted, and more Iranian oil and natural gas flowing onto world energy markets — assuming that the accord is not blocked by opponents in Washington or Tehran.

It will likely be late 2015 before any additional Iranian oil starts being sold legitimately on the world market. Iran reportedly has 20 million to 40 million barrels of oil stored in tankers ready to hit the market immediately. Within one year, experts predict the country can pump an additional 500,000 to nearly one million barrels-a-day from wells that were slowed down or plugged up because of sanctions.

Suzanne Maloney, a former State Department official who is now a fellow at the Brookings Institution, says Iran will try to ramp up production, and improve its oil infrastructure, as fast as possible. “The Iranians are really hungry for Western investment and capital and technology,” she says, adding that Iran is a good investment target for major international energy companies. “You don’t have the same security challenges in Iran that you have in Iraq or Libya.” She also says Iran may eventually provide a counterweight to the influence of Russia in supplying oil and gas to energy-poor countries in Eastern and Southern Europe.

Iran will sell its oil mostly to its traditional regional customers in Europe and Asia. But the oil market is global, so supplies, which are already over-abundant due to the global economic slowdown and high production levels in the U.S. and many OPEC countries, will likely rise even more in coming years, says Jim Burkhard, VP of energy analysis at IHS. He predicts that will put downward pressure on prices consumers pay in the U.S.

“The most important component of U.S. gasoline prices is the international price of crude oil,” says Burkhard. “So if international crude oil prices were to soften even more, we would see that reflected in pump prices in the United States.”

Necessity driving Greeks to adopt web banking

Wed, 2015-07-15 02:00

After a deal that avoids a "Grexit" and a sudden banking collapse, Greek banks remained closed. Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson spoke with Marketplace's Kai Ryssdal, who is reporting from Athens, about how Greeks are coping in uncertain times. 

Click the media player above to hear more.

"Make no mistake," Ryssdal says, "it's tough here. Unemployment is at 25 percent. If not for the tourists here in downtown Athens, I don't know what would be going on." But he also sees the resilience of Greeks, as "people are finding these coping mechanisms."

One of which has been there the whole time: online banking. Ryssdal, quoting Panayotis Alexakis, an economist from the University of Athens, explains that "it's a good thing there are capital controls in place, that the banks are closed because it's convincing people to switch to web banking." Alexakis himself switched to online banking.  

But people still need cash. In the images from Greece, there are lines of 20 or 30 people queuing up for the ATM to withdraw their daily 60 euros. However, Ryssdal has had people tell him how "they see people in front of them with 3 or 4 cards. Like they've been deputized by the family to go to the bank for that day and cycle the cards in and out and get as many euros out as they can."

Ryssdal concludes, "necessity drives invention, I guess." And whether the invention is rediscovering online banking or gaming the withdrawal limits to feed your family, Greeks on the ground "are doing what they got to do." 

Latest ruling blurs the line on what Pharrell owes

Wed, 2015-07-15 01:49
$5.3 billion

That's how much Bank of America reported in earnings for the third quarter, up from the $2.3 billion reported during the same time last year. As reported by the New York Times, the bank saw expenses drop sharply, partly because litigation fees were down and partly because it has been working to cut costs in its legacy mortgage unit.

26 million

That's how many international subscribers Netflix is expected to gain in 50 countries by the end of this year. But it wants more. Now, the company is setting its sights on China, where it will face competition with Alibaba's recently launched streaming service. Netflix needs that focus on subscriber growth, as its increasingly expensive original content requires more and more funding to produce.

$1 million

That's about how much has been cut from the amount of money Pharrell Williams must pay to to Marvin Gaye's family for his role in producing the hit "Blurred Lines." Co-written with Robin Thicke, the song was found to have borrowed too liberally from Gaye's hit "Got to Give It Up." But don't expect this to be the end of the line (blurred or not). As the BBC reports, Williams and Thicke are expected to appeal the decision yet again.

$90

That's about how much John Lupo, a wholesale baker in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, says he pays for what used to be a $26 pail of liquid eggs. Why the sudden spike in price? With bird flu hitting the commercial egg industry hardest, bakers like Lupo find themselves paying more for their usual supplies. Adding insult to injury, even though the price of cartons of whole eggs hasn't spiked as high as that of liquid eggs, cracking the number of eggs needed to run a large-scale bakery isn't a practical option.

17-25

That's the age range of employees Starbucks is looking to hire at its first franchise in sub-Saharan Africa. Slated to open in 2016, the Johannesburg location is part of the company's goal to cater to the growing middle class. But it won't be without competition. As the BBC reports, Krispy Kreme also plans to open about 31 locations in South Africa over the next five years, not to mention the numerous local coffee shops that already exist in the area.

A German show faces a Greek audience

Tue, 2015-07-14 13:00

The last place you'd expect a group of German performers to put on a show right now is Athens, given the German government's hard line approach to the Greek debt crisis. Germany, it is safe to say, is not Greece's most favored nation.

Indeed, there is a great deal of anti-German feeling here at the moment — though it must be said, most of it is aimed directly at the country's leader, Angela Merkel, and her finance minister. But a small theater group called She She Pop chose this week, of all weeks, to make its Greek debut.

She She Pop is an all-female German group performing offbeat shows about social issues. It's been highly popular at alternative venues across Europe. But Lisa Lucassen, a member of the group, admits a certain nervousness about coming to Athens: "And I thought about putting some place on my body the sentence: 'I didn't vote for her.'"

"Her," meaning Merkel.

The actresses expected at least the occasional boo. But Wenke Seemen, another member, said they have not encountered any hostility from the audiences. And off stage, only the odd barbed question: "'Why is your government acting like that?' And I could only explain my personal point of view."

Seemen does not agree with Germany's position in the debt talks, "not at all."

These women are not flag-waving German nationalists. Ask Wenke about her own national identity, and she says, "I am...a European."

"A European rather than a German?" I ask.

"Rather than a German. Right."

Greece's economic outlook, from the streets of Athens

Tue, 2015-07-14 13:00

Although immediate danger of an economic collapse has passed, Greece and its people have a long way to go before things feel comfortable, or even normal.

In Athens, the attitude about Greece’s future is a mixed bag. There are citizens like Olga Karastathi, on the one hand. Karastathi opened up Chemin Bakery in Athens just as Greece was getting into economic trouble despite the turmoil, and she’s still optimistic.

“We don’t have any profit, but we keep going and hoping for the best,” she says.

For Karastathi, staying in Greece was never up for debate. 

“I don’t want to leave, I want to stay and try to make things better,” Karastathi says. 

Nick Voglis, owner of Trends Subs and Salads in Greece, shares Karastathi’s optimism. He was abroad for 20 years before coming back to Greece 16 years ago.

“I came here to create this into a franchise,” Voglis says about Trends Subs and Salads. “Unfortunately we were not able to do this.”

Voglis says that his restaurant has downsized significantly in the past several years: “Our business has fallen since the peak of 2007 by about 40 to 50 percent. We are barely making money.”

Still, he too remains optimistic that things can return to a level of stability in Greece.

“This is the biggest experiment in the Western World,” Voglis says. “I believe it’s going to work eventually. Every time you have a major problem you find solutions if you want to find a solution.”

On the other hand, there are Greeks like Tonia Korka. She’s juggling multiple jobs to support her son. Unlike Olga and Nick, Korka’s view of Greece’s future is bleak. She has no savings or bank account. Korka says her thirteen year old son isn’t as shaken by the economic downturn as she is.

“He’s not complaining because he’s a kid of the crisis, so he’s used to it, let’s say. He knows that this is the way things have to be,” she says.

Korka wants to get a job outside of Greece to support her family. She explains, “I would leave right now. If I had a job outside of here…I believer that here we’re lost, we’re done as a country”

Then, somewhere in the middle there are college students like Efie Garavela. Garavela has grown up dealing with this economic crisis. She still has two years left in school before she enters the job market, but even now she’s doubtful of her job prospects in Greece.

“My dreams are kind of crushed right now,” she says. “I’m really nervous about my future, to be honest. I just feel that I’m so young and I have so many dreams, and I want them to come true. And this country doesn’t offer me the chance to do so.”

The people living and working in Greece aren’t the only ones thinking about Greece. There’s also the flocks of tourists. One tourist, Sangeeth Perui, brought his family to Athens for a family vacation.

“The main thing I noticed is what you see in the press is a lot different than when you get here. It doesn’t seem like people here are nearly as worried as the press. It’s kinda like in California, you know, you go anywhere else and they think we have no water and we’re dying of dehydration, but California things seem find when you live there,” Perui says.

Other tourists, like Gail Allen, noticed that the lack of crowds seemed unusual. “You can tell there’s something different because it’s not busy on the streets and stuff. I’m hoping the tourist season will bring back the economy a little bit.”

Three jobs, a family and uncertainty

Tue, 2015-07-14 12:59

Kai Ryssdal is reporting live from Athens. He talks with Tonia Korka, a mother and research associate at the Hellenic Institute of International and Foreign Law, about her job prospects in the future.

 

Sandwich shop owner keeps the optimism alive in Greece

Tue, 2015-07-14 12:59

Kai Ryssdal is reporting live from Athens. He talks with Nick Voglis, owner of Trends Subs and Salads in Greece, about what it's like trying keep a small sandwich shop afloat during economic turmoil.

Little Athens has to cope with the crisis, too

Tue, 2015-07-14 12:59

The Greek debt crisis has consequences for businesses outside of Greece too. In the Astoria neighborhood of Queens, New York  — also known as Little Athens — some store owners have higher prices for many products, which is hurting business. 

Dianna Loiselle of Telly's Taverna says the products she buys from Greece have spiked since the economic crisis began.

“The olives we buy were about $28, $29, and now they’re $52,” she says. 

Antony Fidanakis of Titan Foods has also been experiencing price hikes at his store.

“We used to be a store that was known for bargains,” he says. “We’ve actually become more and more expensive because all of those exports we’re buying from Greece have become less and less competitive.”

Tourism in an economic crisis

Tue, 2015-07-14 12:59

Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal is reporting live from Athens. He spoke with several tourists at the Acropolis of Athens to get their reactions to the crisis in Greece.

Promise, risk await post-sanction Iran

Tue, 2015-07-14 12:58

Iran today is young.  Sixty-four percent of the population is under 34 years old. 

Iran today is also getting older.  Its “youth bulge,” as demographers refer to the spike in births in the '80s and early '90s, is starting to think about “bread and butter issues – jobs, getting married, getting your own apartment,” says Kevan Harris. He's the Associate Director of Princeton University's Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies. 

“Twenty percent of adults in Iran have some form of higher education, and among Iranians of college age now, 50 percent are going into higher education,” Harris says. Harris says Iran today is also highly educated.   

Ian Bremmer, head of Eurasia Group, says the country and its population are uniquely situated among its regional neighbors. “The country is relatively open, it’s a relatively diverse economy, and that you have a fairly globally-oriented young people in it ... means the ability of Iranians to take advantage of sanctions relief is much greater.”

Iran today is also frustrated, observers say.

“After going out of the universities they expect to find good jobs, but it is very difficult to find good jobs, or jobs at all,” says Hossein Bastani with BBC’s Persian Service.  “Many are qualified but cannot find jobs so it leads to frustration.”

These young aspiring Iranians – and their government – are hanging a lot of their hopes on sanctions relief, says Princeton's Harris.

“This kind of deal represents for them, maybe over optimistically, a big chance for a change,” he says.  “They believe European investment, maybe even American investment, will upgrade the economy.”

For U.S. and European companies, Iran represents a market for imports currently dominated by Asian companies.

“Asia has captured Iran’s market,” explains Ebrahim Mohseni, research associate at the University of Maryland’s Center for International and Security Studies.  “Basically that means China.  But what you need to keep in mind is that opinion polls have also shown that people ... don’t like Chinese goods. They’re forced to buy them.”

American and European goods are available, he says, but they are luxury goods, bought through intermediaries at highly marked up prices. iPhones are not unheard of on the streets of Tehran. As sanctions are relieved and Iran’s dismal exchange rate improves, buying power will also increase, says Fariborz Ghadar, senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and professor at Penn State.

“The GDP of Iran is twice that of Greece, and the population is seven times of Greece, much younger, much more entrepreneurial, and much more willing to buy stuff,” he says. 

 The associated expectations carry the possibility of disappointment, experts say, since foreign businesses may not trust that the deal will last, or they may not view Iran as a safe place to invest.

“Even before sanctions, a lot of oil and gas companies just kind of threw in the towel because they found it so difficult to operate with the Iranians,” says Keith Crane, senior economist at the RAND Corporation.  

If this occurs, foreign firms may simply view Iran as a market in which to sell goods “for fast, risk free cash,” says University of Maryland’s Mohseni.  “If this happens, there is going to be a rise in unemployment.  A lot of Iranian industry is likely to go bankrupt because they will not be able to compete, which would result in unemployment .”

It’s not simply the spending by foreign investors that is in the air.  Out of the hundred billion dollars in Iranian assets released by the U.S. government under the deal, the government that made the deal has limited discretion on how to spend it, analysts say. 

If that is not spent productively, he says, there is a risk that the government of President Hassan Rouhani will not be able to fulfill its promises of creating employment and development. “It’s not the only decision maker,” Hossein Bastani says.  “There are a lot of government institutions not controlled by the government, that do not report to the administration – I’m talking about state-run institutions under the control of supreme leader Khameini.  There will be competition among such institutions to have a bigger share of the released money.” 

“If young people believe that the speed of change is not sufficient, they will become angry," Bastani says. 

Sweet treats in the midst of economic fallout

Tue, 2015-07-14 12:58

Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal is reporting live from Athens. He spoke with Olga Karastathi, owner of Chemin Bakery, about how she started her business during the economic crisis, and why she’s still hopeful.

College students feel the weight of the Greek crisis

Tue, 2015-07-14 12:58

Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal is reporting live from Athens. He talked with Efie Garavela, a twenty-year-old college student in Athens, about how she feels entering Greece’s job market.

One last moment from our trip to Athens

Tue, 2015-07-14 12:56

We're on our way home tomorrow, after two days of live broadcasting our show from Athens. 

Saturday morning, we were talking to Vassilis and his boss at Bairaktaris Taverna, when someone else wanted to hop on the mic and say her piece about Greece.

It's worth a listen for the historical perspective, if nothing else. Hear the bit of tape in the audio player above.

We made it to Pluto. Now what?

Tue, 2015-07-14 03:00

After more than 9 years, and 3 billion miles, NASA’s New Horizons probe flew by the dwarf planet Pluto Tuesday morning.

The project cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $700 million.

But John Logsdon, Professor Emeritus at the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, says the cost is worth it when you think about what has just been accomplished.

"We sent this little spacecraft — it's just the size of a piano, about 1,000 pounds — 3 billion miles. Hit a 60 by 90 mile target," he says. "We're seeing things that humans have never seen before. If that can't excite people, what will?"

Click the media player above to hear more.

 

PODCAST: A date with Pluto

Tue, 2015-07-14 03:00

First up, we'll talk about how the lifting of sanctions on Iran could affect the global oil market. Next: the apparel industry is looking to Africa as its next manufacturing base for cheap clothing. Ethiopian wages are one third those in Bangladesh. All that needs to happen is to persuade manufacturers to build factories there, install an infrastructure, train a workforce, and solve shipping challenges. Plus, we'll talk about the New Horizons probe and its date with dwarf planet Pluto.

Oculus Rift could help people with vision problems

Tue, 2015-07-14 02:00

The Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset that makes users feel like they're in another space by filling their field of vision with 3D video, doesn't have a price tag yet.

The consumer headset will probably set gamers back a few hundred dollars when it goes on sale early next year. But gamers won’t be the only customers. Scientists have also been exploring virtual reality with the Oculus Rift. 

Felipe Medeiros, an eye doctor at UC San Diego, has been using the Oculus Rift to help his visually impaired patients. 

One of them is Melinda Person. Last summer, she was walking to her neighborhood grocery store. She crossed the street and stepped onto a familiar curb. At least, she thought she did.

"I'm seriously telling you, I thought I was stepping on the curb," she says. "You know, it bothers me to think about it right now."

The curb was actually a step away. She tripped and lost her balance.

"I stepped and the next thing I knew, I was down on the street."

Person didn't sustain any major injuries, but falls like these can be devastating for people with glaucoma. Person has lost 86 percent of her peripheral vision to the disease. Now, she doesn’t go anywhere without a cane.

"I only have what I can see in front of me," she says, describing her tunnel vision. "When I'm looking at you, you're pretty much all I see."

Medeiros says right now, eye doctors don’t have very good ways of spotting balance problems in glaucoma patients.

“We need to have tests that are more realistic," he says. "I wanted to actually have an immersive environment that would better simulate the challenges that patients face.”

In a recent study, Medeiros used the Oculus Rift to immerse patients inside a virtual spinning tunnel. Participants felt like they were moving, and they tried to compensate by swaying. Mederios noticed that glaucoma patients swayed more than normal — and those who swayed the most had the greatest history of falls.

"It performed better than the conventional test that we use in clinical practice," Medeiros says.

Medeiros thinks the Oculus Rift could spot balance problems earlier so patients can get help on preventing falls. Melinda Person says when she first strapped on this headset, she didn’t even realize it was designed for video games.

"I'm not really a video gamer," Person says. She's played a few video games with her grandchildren, but she says, "they're not playing anything like this!"

Virtual reality is not new in medical research, but it used to be very expensive. Today’s headsets are priced with gamers in mind. And that means a lot more scientists are getting to play too. 

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