Marketplace - American Public Media

For more privacy, let's go to India

Wed, 2014-10-29 02:00

One of China's largest electronics companies, Xiaomi, has a plan. They want to sell 100,000 phones in India every week. But there's a problem. A privacy problem.

Chinese smartphones have notoriously been banned or even put on a trade restriction lists because people are concerned that they might be carrying spyware installed by the Chinese government.

To combat this stigma, Xiaomi announced that they will be building a data center in India to ensure customers that they will not be storing their data on Chinese servers.

Molly Wood, Technology columnist at the New York Times, brought up an interesting point in this regard. She wonders if at some point, some country will declare themselves as the "Switzerland of data storage," in that this country will not honor requests from anyone to sift through your data.

However, there's only one slight problem with that, she says. What if we don't trust the manufacturers of the product either? What then?

Click on the media player above to hear Molly Wood in conversation with Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson.

Why hair oil from Morocco costs a small fortune

Wed, 2014-10-29 02:00

Male or female, you were once a teenager and so will likely remember how, for the longest time, personal care products were all about removing oil from our faces, hair and skin.

“Oils were a product that historically consumers have been told to take off," says Karen Grant, a beauty industry analyst for the NPD group.

But now, oil is having a moment. You might say it's getting a chance to shine. Especially when it comes to the haircare industry, where brands are advertising their ability to make your healthy, nourished and moisturized — with oils.

“You’ll see oils on the shelf at Target. You’re seeing them in Walmart, you’re seeing it in Walgreens, you’re seeing it in CVS,” says Grant.

And at Ricky's, a chain of beauty supply stores in New York, where you can see the slick display from the sidewalk. Behind the cash register, there is a giant wall of hair products, all with the same color turquoise packaging. And in the center aisle, you'll be confronted with even more.

Says Richard Parrott, president of Ricky's, about the nose-high shelves packed with products, “It’s a hero display. This is basically our hero products. These are the products that people, they come in with their iPhones and they have pictures. They just say do you have this?”

The brand Parrot is talking about is Moroccanoil. That's the brand. But it's core ingredient is a product called Argan oil. Pure Argan oil retails for about $12 an ounce. Mohamed Omer, an industry analyst with Mintel, says the oil is difficult to produce.

"Argan oil can only be extracted from the argan fruit, which can only be found in Morocco. It can only be collected by hand. And the kernels have to be taken out by hand. It’s not an easy oil to get," he says.

And a lot of it is grown on cooperative farms run by women.

Argan oil's rarity and exotic story make it a best-seller. And when it comes to best-sellers, says Richard Parrott, the beauty industry moves in cycles.

“Curly hair is in. Straight hair is in. Curly hair is in. Straight hair is in. This is not new. Right? They were using this stuff in ancient Egypt," he says.

In ancient Egypt, Argan oil might have been as common as regular shampoo — we don't know. But today it's like the truffle of the beauty industry. Because it’s so expensive and scarce, very few consumers can afford the pure ingredient. But they’re still willing to pay for a bottle of shampoo that contains just a few drops.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Car companies catch up to a connected world

Wed, 2014-10-29 02:00

Car companies have been slow to adapt to a connected world. But they're starting to catch up, putting out cars that increasingly work like huge smartphones on wheels. 

Qualcomm is a company built on smartphone chips. But lately, they've also been trying to get their chips inside cars.

"Fundamentally, the car is turning into a smartphone," says Qualcomm's senior vice president of business development Kanwalinder Singh. He's speaking from the passenger seat of an Audi A3, the first car with its own 4G connection. 

With the help of Qualcomm chips, the A3 features more detailed Google maps, internet radio, and Netflix streaming for the kids in the backseat. Drivers can dictate Tweets using voice command, and the car reads incoming text messages out loud. 

Singh says Qualcomm is giving drivers the features they want, and they're doing it in a safe way.

"We believe that driver distraction would actually be alleviated by providing these services," he says. "When all of this is embedded, like it is in this Audi, phone calls destined to you and your smartphone would actually come through the car's antenna, and play through the car's audio-visual system. You would interact through the car."

But some driving safety researchers say moving these features from the phone to the car won't make drivers any safer.

"I think they're really ignoring the powerful effect of cognitive distractions," says Linda Hill, who leads a team of driving safety researchers at the UC San Diego School of Medicine. 

Hill admits voice command might cut down on visual distraction, preventing phone-handling drivers from staring down into their laps. But eye-tracking studies have shown that even when drivers have their hands free and their eyes on the road, their minds can still be elsewhere.

"A recent study looking at that found that voice-to-text increased driving errors more on a closed driving course than text-to-text did, shockingly," Hill says.

Hill does like the idea of building one bit of technology into cars, though: An app that disables phones in moving vehicles. 

Good news for college seniors. Sorry, 2009 grads.

Wed, 2014-10-29 02:00

Good news for college seniors (and their parents): The job market for 2015 graduates looks like the strongest in many years, with employers looking to make significantly more hires than last year, many of them at higher starting salaries. Those early findings from Michigan State University’s annual survey of employers are in accord with other statistics showing that the job market has gotten stronger since the recession.

However, economists say the good news doesn’t trickle backwards to people who graduated during the down years. For instance, the Michigan State numbers show salaries for new engineers will be about $6,000 higher than they were for 2009 graduates.  

"There is no way that those people who came in at 2009 are going to be at that salary," says Michigan State’s Philip Gardner, who conducted the survey. "It would take some pretty nice wage increases."

The Michigan State findings echo other recent data, says Brookings Institution economist Gary Burtless. So does the bad news for earlier graduates.  

"There’s no doubt that entering the job market—either as a new college graduate or a new high-school graduate—at a time of high unemployment is not the best career move," says Burtless.

Those workers can see their wages stay relatively low for 10 years or more.  

Shu Lin Wee, an economist at Carnegie Mellon University, has studied the process by which recession-era grads lose out, in a paper titled "Born Under a Bad Sign: The Cost of Entering the Job Market During a Recession." 

Her numbers show that when jobs are scarce, young people don’t get to hop around from career to career as much. Finding the first job is enough challenge.

"Even if you manage to find a job," she says, "and you realize that you’re not very good at that particular career, now you have problems switching jobs.

So you develop fewer skills and don’t get experience with other fields that might be a better fit.

Giant container ships make port facilities obsolete

Wed, 2014-10-29 02:00

Southern California’s huge port complex has been making headlines lately over congestion and shipping delays. But ports all over the world are experiencing traffic jams, and they all have one thing in common: megaships. Some container vessels are now three and a half football fields long and they’re overwhelming ports. 

Just five years ago, ocean carriers calling on global ports typically could handle 5,000 20-foot containers.

“Now, they are bringing in ships that can handle three times that amount,” says Peter Friedmann, counsel to Pacific Coast Council of Customs Brokers and Freight Forwarders Associations. “And there are some ships that have already been built that can carry 18,000 on one ship.” Even the expanded Panama Canal won't be able to handle a ship that big.

Noel Hacegaba, chief commercial officer at the Port of Long Beach, says it’s all about economies of scale. “The bigger the ship, the lower the unit cost,” he says.

Hacegaba says these megaships came on line faster than expected. They’re straining capacity at many global ports, where authorities are scrambling to build bigger terminals and bigger cranes to unload them. 

Companies like Maersk and MSC are forming alliances to share these vessels, a move that gives shippers more leverage over the world’s ports. 

Some of oldest banks in the world, then and now

Wed, 2014-10-29 01:30

Banking is old.

Really old.

Roots in Mesopotamia old.

Some of the oldest banks are still operating today. But as the European Central Bank's latest "stress test" shows, not all are in the greatest of health.

Here's a look back at the origin story of the five oldest established banks - where they’ve been, and where they are today: 

5.  Coutts

Just as the Salem Witch Trials were beginning in New England, the sixth oldest bank was being established across the pond in Old England, in 1692. The bank itself, needless to say, went through some tough times during the two World Wars, but in 1963 it became the first British bank to be fully computerized. Today, the Royal Bank of Scotland is its parent company,  and like many kids, they’ve found themselves in a lot of trouble lately. In 2012, Coutts was fined for not taking sufficient and necessary measures to detect money laundering activities.

4.  Barclays

Back in 1690 on London’s Lombard Street, John Freame and Thomas Gould began trading as "goldsmith bankers." This made them cutting-edge: Goldsmith banking in the late 1600s and early 1700s was, in many ways, the predecessors of the banking industry today. They would store gold in their vaults and issue promissory notes on deposits that even collected interest. In 1967, Barclays was one of the first of the UK’s “high street” banks to offer ATMs. Today, however, Barclays continues to be in the spotlight. Recently, a former British senior banker became the first person to plead guilty to, "a single count of conspiracy to defraud in connection with manipulating the London interbank offered rate, or Libor,” according to the New York Times.

3.  C. Hoare & Co.

Before street numbers existed, businesses were identified by street signs. Richard Hoare, the founder of the bank, traded at the “Sign of the Golden Bottle” in Cheapside, London. Eighteen years later, he moved the offices to Fleet Street, within London city limits, where it still stands today. Back in 1897, the bank had temporary balconies erected to allow customers and workers at the bank to view Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee parade. Today, for the first time in its history, the bank is being run by its first non-family Chairman in over 300 years, Jeremy Marshall.

2.  Berenberg Bank

This bank was established by a pair of Dutch Protestant brothers, Hans & Paul Berenberg, who were forced to flee Antwerp for their religious beliefs. They settled in Hamburg in 1590, where they would go on to establish a business that is still around today. In order to survive World War II, the bank became a holding company and withdrew from the business of active banking. The Chairman of the bank at the time rejected national socialism and wrote in his journal:

“Better a small and decently led state than such a huge empire which Germany is today, lawless, without integrity and governed by robbers and murderers.”

 He helped other businesses and anti-Nazis escape. Eventually, he wrote once again on May 3, 1945, when English soldiers entered Hamburg:

“Now the task is to deal with the consequences of the war and gradually try to help the children in building their future."

Today, Germany’s oldest private bank has now expanded into the UK. And many people continue to be uneasy about the future of economic growth throughout the eurozone, with Germany at the front and center of the stage.

 1.  Monte dei Paschi di Siena

This picture shows the headquarters of the Monte Dei Paschi di Siena bank in Siena, in the Italian region of Tuscany.

(Giuseppe Cacace/AFP/GettyImages)

The goal of the oldest bank in the world was, as originally stated: “To form loans to the poor or miserable or needy persons,” according to their company history.

By those standards, I would certainly qualify for a loan from them, but this also may be the reason their books aren’t quite up to par according to the European Banking Authority.  Monte dei Paschi di Siena, the oldest bank in the world (think: 1472!), failed their stress this past weekend and were subsequently hit yesterday with major losses on its shares. Now they need to come up with 2.1 billion Euros to meet the ECB’s stress test requirements.  Whether or not the Italian public will step in and help prop up the bank’s capital shortfall remains unknown.

Haunted houses make scary money

Tue, 2014-10-28 12:15

Americans plan to spend about $7 billion dollars on Halloween this fall. A good chunk of that change will be spent at spooky attractions.

The creep-out factor starts at the entrance to Dark Hour Haunted House’s Halloween Show in Plano, Texas, as a 9-foot-tall furry bat sneaks up on a woman buying tickets.  In a dark corner, an animatronic witch tells a scary story and stirs a steaming cauldron.

More than one in five Americans plans to visit a spooky attraction this year, according to the National Retail Federation. They’re looking for an adrenaline rush.

“It’s easy to scare one person,” says Allen Hopps, the artistic director at Dark Hour. “When you have to scare 10,000 people, or 20,000 people, that gets very hard.”

Hopps tries to make Dark Hour different by not relying on the standard themes – think movies like "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "The Hills Have Eyes."

“Haunted houses will always have a redneck, cannibal and inbred theme,” he says. “That’s the easiest and cheapest to do because all your costumes are thrift stores, all of your makeup is blood and dirt, and you’re covered. So you’re going to see that everywhere.”

So instead of chainsaw sounds and clowns, Dark Hour has tunnels that spin as you walk through, and werewolves with fangs that glow.

It’s unnerving.

Hopps also mixes in the quiet buzzing sound of bees to add to the creepy music.

“Scaring people has become a global industry,” says Larry Kirchner. He builds terror attractions across the world, including Creepyworld -- the largest haunted attraction in the Midwest. On a good year, his creations bring in around $4 million to $5 million dollars.

Kirchner designed his first haunted house in 4th grade. Back then cold spaghetti for guts and peeled grapes for eyeballs would do. Today, he says there are high-tech ghost tours, paintball zombie attacks, even extreme haunts where actors tie you up and pretend to torture you.

“Halloween used to be this holiday where you would carve a pumpkin, watch a horror movie and go trick or treating,” Kirchner says, “Now you’ve got everyone trying to exploit it.”

And, in the past, a 10-minute adventure was just fine, visitors today expect a haunted house to be a full evening’s entertainment.

At Dark Hour in Texas, the maze takes nearly 40 minutes to walk through. And after you’re done, you get a music performance: Zombies, on stage, performing Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

Now that’s scary.

 

Michael Lewis: Wall Street is "lost"

Tue, 2014-10-28 11:23

Wall Street today is lost and searching for its role, according to author Michael Lewis.

"Technology has created a world that's very hostile to intermediaries in most industries. And Wall Street has fought to preserve its position as an intermediary where it's really not necessary in a lot of cases," he says. "It's actually, probably, in decline."

Lewis — perhaps best known for two books later adapted to film, "Moneyball" and "The Blind Side" — used to be a financial trader. He left after three years and wrote a tell-all, his first book, "Liar's Poker." 

Twenty five years later, the book has been reissued. And while he's continued his deep look at finance with his recent book "Flash Boys," it's strange how the world Lewis depicted in the late '80s feels oddly familiar. 

Listen to the full interview in the player above or read the transcript, which has been edited for clarity.

Kai Ryssdal: This book was not received the way you thought it would be... you thought it would be a cautionary tale.

Michael Lewis: It had the opposite effect of what I expected. I didn't think of it as a moralistic tale about Wall Street ... but I did think that for someone who had some other idea of what to do with their lives, it would demystify it, and maybe they could go on and do what they were supposed to do.

Instead, I swear after six months, I had a thousand letters from kids saying, "I'm a junior at Ohio State and I've read your how-to book about how to get ahead on Wall Street. Is there anything you left out? Because you made me even more interested in doing it."

KR: And you know why, right? Because you talk about making money come out of a telephone.

ML: Not only do I make money come out of a telephone, but I clearly have no idea what I'm doing. The combination is like catnip for a male in college. He has no idea what he can do, he has no sense of himself in the marketplace, and then there's this thing... they give you lots of money even though you don't know what you're doing? It created a stampede.

 

KR: And you say "male" intentionally because at the time this book was written, females in this business were few and very far between.

ML: True. I would say that even now, [women are] kept far from the risk taking. It's still a very male-dominated business. At the time, yes, my training program at Salomon Brothers was 85 to 90 percent guys.

KR: And very fraternity house-like, I mean, the description of some of the guys sitting in the back row of that training class throwing spitballs. 

It was considered normal and acceptable to order a stripper up on the trading floor. 

KR: It seems like very little has changed. The essence of what happens on Wall Street, 25 years later, seems sort of to be the same.

ML: There's a timelessness about it isn't there? There are a couple of things that I think are a little different, but it's by degree, not kind. I think that the street has gotten much, much better at disguising what it does because it's gotten so much more complicated. All of a sudden, you're looking at a truly opaque black box when you're looking at something that used to be as simple as the stock market. 

The other thing is this idea of "too big to fail." That did not exist when I wrote the book. There was a sense that even my firm, Salomon Brothers, could fail. And now, if you're in the equivalent of Salomen Brothers today, you're in a place that, basically, you sense, won't be allowed to fail.

KR: You say that these guys are working harder at establishing a public persona, but I wonder if that doesn't lend itself to a real difference, actually, between Wall Street then and now. Wall Street then was sleazy, with strippers on the trading floor, as you said. Now, it just seems a little sinister, because we're supposed to believe that they're out for the common good.

ML: I think there has been much more attention paid to how things seem, rather than how things are, then there was then. There are phalanxes of corporate PR people. People inside these firms, no way are they going to talk to a journalist. You've got a much slicker corporate exterior now and a much more careful presentation of self. 

One of the things that was kind of lovely about the world I described in Salomen Brothers in the '80s was that the people kind of were how they seemed. There wasn't a lot of hypocrisy. You might approve or disapprove of the gambling and the strippers on the trading floor. But there was a certain integrity to it [laughs].

KR: And what is it now? What is Wall Street now?

ML: Lost. It has a very unclear sense of its purpose in the world. Technology has created a world that's very hostile to intermediaries in most industries.  And Wall Street has fought to preserve its position as an intermediary where it's really not necessary in a lot of cases. It's sort of like clawing to preserve its revenues and its profits at a time when it's actually, probably, in decline. 

KR: Do you re-read your own writing at all?

ML: It's funny you ask, I got on the plane coming to New York the other day, and I thought, I gotta re-read this thing. I've never re-read it.

I opened it and thought, "I'm so bored with myself. I can't do this. I just can't."

The only other time I'd done this, I put it on my lap when the paperback came out in 1990, to re-read it before I went on my paperback tour. And the guy in the seat next to me saw it and said, "I read that. Cynical bastard." I put it away and didn't read it then.

So I have not actually re-read it, but I vaguely remember what happened to me [laughs].

Should Twitter have to measure up to Facebook?

Tue, 2014-10-28 11:00

If "A Tale of Two Cities"were written today and Charles Dickens chose social networkers, instead of cities, as his subject, the opening line might go a little something like this:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of metrics.

“If you are a social network, the two most important metrics for you are your user base and the level of engagement of the users,” says Shaym Patil, Vice President of equity research at Wedbush.

The value that Wall Street places on a social network like Twitter or Facebook is primarily based on its MAU’s, or  monthly active users--the more active users, the more potential for ad revenue.  This is why when Twitter announced its third quarter earnings  Monday, its stock took a hit.  

Investors are worried that Twitter’s user base isn't growing fast enough. It’s not anywhere near the gold standard of social media companies, Facebook. Twitter’s active user base is about one fifth of Facebook’s

But Nathan Eagle,  CEO of Jana, a mobile marketing platform, is skeptical of the one metric fits all approach. “Twitter and Facebook have different models and they are going after different things,” says Eagle.

Twitter, for example, doesn't just sell ads. It has a whole suite of developer tools it sells to companies like Jana. It offers tools for detecting crashes and monetizing, for example.

These are parts of Twitter’s business model that aren't reflected in the MAU numbers. As a result, Nathan Eagle thinks Twitter should have its own more sophisticated metric for assessing its value.  “MAU’s are at least a proxy for success,”  But says Eagle, “I do think that we will come up with more nuanced metrics.”

Until that more nuanced metric arrives, the almighty MAU will likely reign supreme. Or, as Dickens said, Twitter and Facebook will continue to live, “for good or evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

 

 

 

CNN takes the Empire State Building

Tue, 2014-10-28 11:00

CNN announced its election night plans Tuesday: the network will take over the Empire State Building to display U.S. Senate vote results.

As results come in, a vertical LED-illuminated "meter" atop the spire of the building will ascend in either red or blue.

Once a meter reaches the top of the spire, that party will take control of the Senate.

Who will win? Apparently CNN will decide.

 

 

What the end of Quantitative Easing will and won't mean

Tue, 2014-10-28 11:00

Quantitative easing – it’s fun and accessible and all the cool kids are talking about it, right?

“Believe it or not, I tend to try not to talk about Quantitative Easing at cocktail parties,” says Ann Owen, an economics professor at Hamilton College. “But just a real brief explanation is that it’s a way for the [Federal Reserve] to increase the money supply by buying bonds.”

The Fed generally has two focus areas: employment and inflation. Historically, a main tool to keep each in check has been setting interest rates through its Federal Funds Rate. But back in 2008, the Fed decided it needed something more and QE was born.

Six years later, the Fed is widely expected to announce the end of QE after its Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee meetings Tuesday and Wednesday.

Owen says while ending QE may sound like a giant leap, it's actually a relatively small step because the Fed now has a balance sheet worth over $4 trillion.

“That’s money that in the banking system and will hopefully finds its way into the economy, says Michelle Girard is the chief U.S. economist with RBS. “As long as those reserves aren’t taken back out, through asset sales or other methods of shrinking the balance sheet, then the reserves that have already been created are still able to boost economic growth.”

Think of the Fed as a jogger who’s not slowing down or speeding up, but keeping the same pace – and there’s still a long road ahead.

The economy is clearly in a better place than it was when QE started.

But Morris Davis, a professor at Rutgers University and a former economist at the Federal Reserve Board, says he’s skeptical about how much of that is due to the bond-buying program.

“We can debate its effectiveness and we should debate its effectiveness,” he says. “But going forward, we’re going to see a lot more of this, actually, by Central Banks all around the world and I think we’ll point back to this episode as having led the pack.”

After QE, the Fed still has its more traditional tool – interest rates. Davis says it’ll probably be a while before the Fed feels comfortable enough to start raising its Federal Funds Rate in any meaningful way. 

The numbers for October 28, 2014

Tue, 2014-10-28 09:04

Six years and $3 trillion later, quantitative easing is coming to an end. The Federal Reserve is expected to make an announcement following a tw0-day meeting in Washington this week. The Washington Post has an interesting history of the bond-buying "experiment," noting QE was originally intended as a one-time injection into the economy, but has been used to stimulate growth in many areas.

As we await official word from Fed Chair Janet Yellen on the policy, here are some other stories we're reading — and numbers we're watching — Tuesday:

3.5 million

That's how many customers have had their Internet speed slowed down more than 25 million times by AT&T since fall 2011, according to a lawsuit filed by the Federal Trade Commission Tuesday. Many of these customers are heavy data users with unlimited plans, which AT&T no longer offers, Reuters reported. The FTC called the throttling "deceptive," with some customers' speeds slowed up to 90 percent.

300 million

The number of people using Alibaba's payment system, Alipay. Alibaba founder Jack Ma, fresh off a massive IPO, is set to meet with Apple CEO Tim Cook this week to talk about potential partnerships, the Wall Street Journal reported. Apple just launched its own mobile payment system last week. 

25

The number of times per second new RFID chips installed in NFL players' shoulder pads transmit their location. The new sensors allow for near-real-time motion tracking and player data of unparalleled depth, the Verge reported. The league is experimenting with these "next-gen stats" in games this year, with an eye toward putting more sensors on all players and, eventually, the ball.

9

The number of movies Marvel Studios announced through 2019 at an event in Los Angeles Tuesday. It's a shot across the bow at DC Comics' similarly huge plan, announced earlier this month, for ten new films through 2020. 

The 21-year-old who owns a factory in China

Tue, 2014-10-28 07:02

Alex Shlaferman was 11 years old when he made $10,000 by selling DVDs that taught viewers how to levitate. At the age of 16, he founded his company, Vante Toys. His venture has been so successful that he now owns his own manufacturing company in China.

Vante Toys is headquartered in Brooklyn, New York.

"I create products for the mass market," says Shlaferman. "My specialty is products that are under like 20 bucks, that’s what I’m good at. I don’t understand luxury goods or high-end fashion; I understand products that sell for like ten, twenty bucks."

A holiday rush at ports piles up cargo

Tue, 2014-10-28 06:18

There’s a traffic jam in Los Angeles, but this one’s not on the freeways. The port complex  of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the nation’s busiest, is so backed up right now that some importers are avoiding the port altogether. Problems there are delaying some shipments for two weeks or more. The bottleneck is giving southern California’s ports “a black eye,” says Jock O’Connell, international trade adviser at Beacon Economics.

There’s congestion at many ports right now, but the Los Angeles-Long Beach complex handles 40 percent of U.S. imports, so the ripple effects are long and wide.  If retailers are "planning on having it stocked for the Christmas holiday, it needs to be in the port now, it needs to be moving through,” says Frank Layo, a partner with Kurt Salmon Associates. “So any delays now are kind of critical. We’re running out of runway.”

Port officials say the delays at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports are rooted in a shortage of trailer chassis, to load the containers onto. But that problem has been exacerbated by an unexpected surge in imports this year, along with the sudden rise of “mega-ships.” They can carry three times as many containers as older ships and they’re straining port capacity. Others say unresolved labor negotiations at the port are crimping efforts to ease the port’s traffic jam as well.

Some retailers are diverting shipments to other ports and a few are even flying merchandise into the U.S.  But Noel Hacegaba, chief commercial officer at the Port of Long Beach, says they’re working hard to ease congestion. “At the end of the day our reputation is at stake,” says Hacegaba. “Beneficial cargo owners have choices. And we are doing everything that we can to make sure that we continue to be the gateway of choice.”

PODCAST: The NBA banks major net gains

Tue, 2014-10-28 03:00

We might be on the cusp of a change in the business-evolution of online video. Hint: it involves YouTube, which is owned by Google, and paid subscription service. And the NBA season starts tonight with three games, and the promise of a lot of money. This month the basketball league announced a 9-year, $24 billion deal with TV networks; nearly tripling the cash it gets from broadcasting. But the trickle-down started before the deal was even signed. Plus, since the landmark "Citizens United" Supreme Court decision in 2010, money from outside groups has poured into elections. In Iowa, what's unusual this year is that in addition to a blizzard of TV ads, members of outside groups are also out knocking doors

Outside groups launch ground game in Iowa

Tue, 2014-10-28 02:00

Since the Supreme Court's "Citizens United" decision in 2010, there’s been more and more participation in electoral politics by groups not coordinated with campaigns or parties. In Iowa, what’s unusual this year is — in addition to a blizzard of TV ads — outside groups are out knocking on doors. 

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, roughly $50 Million dollars of outside money has been spent on Iowa’s close open Senate race. A fraction of that money was spent to put Denise Bubeck on this Des Moines voter’s doorstep.

“I’m letting people know the policies of Bruce Braley that we don’t agree with. You know, the healthcare law,” Denise Bubeck says to a voter on his doorstep.

Bubeck won’t tell you who to vote for, but it’s evident she’s not a fan of the Democrat in the race: Four-term Congressman Bruce Braley.

“The bailouts, the stimulus package, the spending. And so we’ve been encouraging people to vote,” says Bubeck. 

“Oh, I hear ya. I’m on the same page,” the voter responds.

Bubeck never mentions Iowa state senator Joni Ernst, the Republican in the race. That’s because Bubeck is a paid staffer with Americans for Prosperity. It’s a social welfare organization that’s limited in how it can engage in electoral politics. It also doesn’t have to reveal its donors. AFP was started by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, a conservative group often demonized by Democrats.

“It’s a lot easier to raise some money and throw some ads on TV,” says Drew Klein, the deputy director of AFP’s Iowa chapter. He says knocking doors is a more effective way to connect with voters.

“Looking back at 2008 and 2012, that’s really where the left dominated both the size of the presence and the effectiveness of their presence,” Klein says. “I think it has been kind of a learning curve for us.”

Both liberal and conservative groups are pounding Iowa pavement. The increasing participation by outside groups has become an issue in itself in this race that could determine what party holds the majority in the senate. That’s a problem, says Drake Political Science Professor Dennis Goldford. 

“So the campaigns become not about issues that matter to voters,” Goldford says. “The campaigns become campaigns about campaigns themselves.”

Goldford says outside money is nothing new in Iowa; it’s just the unprecedented volume and intensity in this midterm. He says with all this outside money sloshing around, Iowans shouldn’t be surprised if it sticks around long after November 4th.  After all, once the polls of the midterm close, it’s 2016 Iowa caucus season.

 

How the NBA TV deal is already having an effect

Tue, 2014-10-28 02:00

The NBA season starts Tuesday night with a lot of hope toward the future. Earlier this month, the basketball league announced a $24 billion deal to allow TV networks to carry its games, nearly tripling the league's broadcast revenues compared to its previous deal.

But the trickle-down effect of the cash infusion started even before the deal — scheduled to start in 2016 and last until 2025 — was even signed. That’s because NBA watchers and insiders had been expecting a more lucrative TV contract, although best guesses had assumed a doubling of fees, not a near tripling.

Nevertheless, that anticipation of a cash infusion had already had an effect, says Victor Matheson, who specializes in sports economics at the College of the Holy Cross.

“Just a couple years ago, we thought that a team like the Clippers may be worth $500 million, maybe a billion. And all of a sudden the Clippers are selling for $2 billion,” Matheson says.

Valuations are forecast to go up for the other 29 teams as well. And players have also been factoring in the expected TV cash, too, says Raymond Sauer, who teaches sports economics at Clemson University.

"LeBron James signed a short-term contract, so he’s positioned to re-up, as it where, with the new revenue streams,” says Sauer.

And for those players who don’t have contract renewals coming up, the NBA and the players’ union are now looking into how to best spread the wealth. One of the options that may be considered is a combination of a raise of the current salary cap — set at 51 percent of revenues — and a payment to the union, which then would distribute money among players.

The NBA, by the numbers:

$24 billion

The deal the league struck to allow TV networks to carry its games, nearly tripling their broadcast revenues.

11.7 million

The number of followers for the NBA’s official Twitter handle. That’s the highest of the four major American sports leagues, by far. (NFL = 7.68 million, MLB = 3.93 million, NHL = 2.8 million.)

6

The number of NBA teams with at least one million followers on Twitter. The Los Angeles Lakers lead all teams with 4.02 million. The other five teams are the Miami Heat (2.78 million), the Chicago Bulls (1.76 million), the Boston Celtics (1.54 million), the Orlando Magic (1.2 million), and the New York Knicks (1.04 million).

3

The number of years the NBA has presented "Social Media Awards." The awards were slightly expanded in 2014 with more categories.

$2 billion

 The record-breaking price Steve Ballmer paid for the Los Angeles Clippers earlier this year.

29 teams

 Besides the Clippers who hope the league's coffers keep flowing.

Old old old MacDonald had a farm

Tue, 2014-10-28 02:00

Wave Williams, a 4th-generation farmer at Gardeners Gourmet in Westminster, Maryland, knows first-hand that getting into farming is difficult.

“A lot of the people that are farming are the sons, the daughters, the grandkids of the farmers,” Williams said as he sold vegetables at Washington DC’s Eastern Market. “Even if you want to start farming, it’s really hard because to get the land, it’s expensive. So the only people that are actually going to have the land are the people it got passed from the generations, like our family, for instance.”

At 26, Williams stands out in the agricultural industry. American farmers are older than they ever have been. In 2012, the average farmer was 58, compared to 50 in 1982, according to the Census of Agriculture. It’s a 30-year trend.

And while farmers are aging, fewer young people are entering the industry.

Creating an even farming field

The biggest obstacles beginning farmers face are access to capital and land, according to a 2011 survey by the National Young Farmers’ Coalition (NYFC).

It costs a couple million dollars to get the land, equipment, machines, seeds and more to start a small farm, according to David Fowler of Sunnyside Farm in Mechanicsville, Maryland, who’s been farming for 50 years.

“There’s no guaranteed retirement, there’s no guaranteed income,” he said. “What you make today is spent yesterday. You don’t have any money until you die because all your assets is tied up in your equipment and your land.”

This is why young people aren’t going into farming. “Besides that, they don’t like to work,” Fowler said. “Farming’s a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week job with no time off. And young people just are not going to do that anymore.”

That’s where organizations like the National FFA Organization (FFA) and NYFC come in.

FFA tries to eliminate obstacles that keep young people from entering agricultural fields by offering students Supervised Agricultural Experience grants, scholarships, proficiency awards, internships and other resources, according to Dwight Armstrong, CEO of the National FFA Organization and National FFA Foundation.

FFA offers mentorships and other opportunities for middle and high school students to learn agricultural methods. Armstrong encourages those in agricultural fields and older generations of farmers to get involved with FFA, 4-H or similar groups.

NYFC, founded in 2010, uses a different approach to encourage young people into farming. The group of young farmers, with 24 chapters in 22 states, pushes for policy shifts.

They’ve been talking to Representative Chris Gibson (R-NY) about introducing a bill that would add farmers to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which currently offers loan forgiveness for teachers, physicians, not-for-profit and government employees. Student loan debt makes it difficult for beginning farmers to get a mortgage, credit, land and equipment, according to Lindsey Shute, the Executive Director of NYFC.

“What we’re asking is the U.S. government put farming in the category of public service, which it really is,” Shute said. “There is a group of young people that want to farm. But to enable them to make a career of farming, there has to be structural change.”

Changes taking hold

FFA is seeing record-high membership with 610,000 members and 7,570 chapters across the country. And new chapters are starting in urban areas like Chicago, New York City and Philadelphia. Two-thirds of FFA members live in suburban or urban locations. Brian Walsh, 21, the president of FFA, believes the organization is effectively helping more young people get into agriculture.

Walsh said FFA is reaching members who might not be traditionally interested in agriculture because the industry is diversifying.

“Agriculture is interesting,” he said. “We see it all over the news, we see it everywhere. People want to know where their food comes from. It’s no longer just large conventional farming. There’s organic farming, there’s locally grown foods.”

There is constant innovation in the agricultural industry, Walsh said.

He’s witnessed this innovation and various pathways to agriculture while traveling across the country since 2013. In his travels, Walsh has seen ag-science programs and greenhouses at schools. He’s spreading the message to FFA chapters that agriculture needs young people to survive.

“Farmers are arguably one of the most important professions in the U.S.,” said Shute, who runs Hearty Roots Community Farm with her husband in Germantown, N.Y. “They’re taking soil, water, sunshine, seeds and turning that into value and feeding local people and creating very vibrant economies. So this issue of farmers aging is so vital to the future of our country.”

Fed set to end its bond buying

Tue, 2014-10-28 02:00

The Federal Open Market Committee could call it quits on QE3 after meetings Tuesday and Wednesday. The Fed has bought more than $4 trillion worth of Treasuries and Mortgage bonds in its extraordinary effort to stimulate the economy.

For six years, the Fed has used some form of the unconventional monetary policy known as quantitative easing. When that ends, the Fed still has its conventional tools.

“So the Fed still can influence short-term rates, thirty-day rates, overnight rates,” says Rutgers University’s Morris Davis, who was once an economist with the Federal Reserve Board. “It just has decided it will not try to influence longer term rates like the ten-year Treasury or mortgage-backed securities.”

But even if the Fed stops its bond buying program, it won’t stop buying bonds. Interest-rate strategist Ian Lyngen with CRT Capital Group says the Fed plans to replace all those securities it owns as they mature. He says the Fed wants to maintain the size of its balance sheet for now, with those trillions injected in the economy.

He describes the thinking like this:

“We’ve put that much more money into the system, and we’ve provided that much more stimulus. And as long as we’re not shrinking the size of our balance sheet, then we’re continuing to keep our foot on the pedal.”

We’re just not accelerating more.

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