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Updated: 37 min 34 sec ago

Your Wallet: Weddings

Fri, 2015-04-03 10:34

Next week we're talking renewal -- a clean slate, a new beginning.

For many people, a new beginning might be a marriage, and a wedding

And whether it's your own, or someone else's...a lot of money changes hands.

We want to hear about your experiences with weddings, whether you're the one walking down the aisle, or just shelling out for plane tickets or plates from a registry. 

How much money are you spending? How are you resetting, financially?

Tell us. Write to us here, or tweet us,  we're @MarketplaceWKND

A year in commercial advertising

Fri, 2015-04-03 10:29

Ever noticed the flood of commercials for engagement rings and diamonds around November?  Or the spike in perfume commercials in early February? 

Are you overwhelmed by ads for allergy meds and home repair stores? 

You're not alone, and it's intentional -- there's a calendar for the cycle of advertising and marketing, and it exists because it works ... and that's because of our shopping habits. 

So how does it work? Therese Wilbur of USC's Marshall School of Business lays out the calendar for us. 

Listen using the player above.  

Building an equitable bike-share economy

Fri, 2015-04-03 10:22

Bike shares have become increasingly popular in recent years, shifting from a European novelty to common sight in about 40 U.S. cities 

What makes for a successful bike share?

Martha Roskowski is Vice President of Local Innovation at the national nonprofit People for Bikes. She says that bike share programs have become more innovative, accessible, and affordable, and with the right kind of developments, could become an integrated part of public transportation in cities all over the country. 

Listen to the full interview using the player above. 


The NFL has appointed its first female referee

Fri, 2015-04-03 10:13

We still have a ways to go before the 2015 football season kicks off, but the Baltimore Sun broke some big news about the NFL today, seems the league has appointed its first ever female permanent game official.

Sarah Thomas is her name, and she's no stranger to breaking new ground when it comes to football. She was the first woman to officiate a major college game in 2007, two years later, she was also the first woman to officiate a bowl game.

The 2015 NFL season officially starts on September 10.


How a good night's sleep can help the economy

Fri, 2015-04-03 09:48

There are cycles everywhere in our financial lives. But there's one cycle to rule them all: Our sleep cycle.

How and when we sleep impacts our work, our finances and even the overall economy. Research says most people need at least seven hours to feel rested the next day. But what happens if you don't get that amount? 

We spoke to Monica Schrock, who works the late shift at a diner in Los Angeles and Ken Wright, a sleep expert at the University of Colorado Boulder, to find out what happens when work disrupts our sleep cycles.

Wright says that when people work while tired, they make more mistakes, have more accidents and are generally less productive. And sleepy, inefficient workers are costly. 

Tune in using the player above to hear the full interviews.

What it means to say Kraft manipulated the wheat market

Fri, 2015-04-03 09:00

Regulators at the Commodities Futures Trading Commissions have accused the Kraft and Mondelez International – the renamed company that now owns what was Kraft's cookie and cracker businesses – of manipulating and excessively speculating on the price of wheat.

Commodities broker and analyst Jack Scoville says buyers typically avoid sudden price hikes in wheat, a key ingredient for crackers and cookies, by using futures contracts. But the CFTC alleges that in 2011, the maker of Oreos, Chips Ahoy and Ritz Crackers purchased far more wheat futures than it needed.

"Reading the allegations in the complaint, it looks like a traditional corner or squeeze," says Craig Pirrong, finance professor at the University of Houston. That would mean the large order pushed up the price, allowing the company to then sell the excess for a profit.

But proving this in a court of law will be difficult, according to former CFTC lawyer Jerry Markham.

Both the CFTC and Mondelez declined to comment while litigation is pending.


As oil jobs falter, North Dakota feels the squeeze

Fri, 2015-04-03 09:00

One of the weak spots in the U.S. jobs report for March was mining, especially oil and gas extraction. Employers that provide services to that industry dumped 11,000 jobs last month.

A big reason? The massive drop in oil prices over the past few months. When oil trades low, companies do less drilling and, in a place like North Dakota, also less fracking. That's the process used there to draw the oil out of the shale rock.

The upshot in North Dakota is simply less work on the oil fields for people like Mike Waliezer. His company, Century Crane Services, provides equipment, including cranes, to the oil patch.  

Last year, Waliezer did about $20 million in sales. This year, he’s expecting about half as much.

“Right now it feels like the balloon has been deflated,” he says.

Waliezer says he's down about 25 positions — mostly through attrition so far — but harsher layoffs could come this summer.

Some other companies have already made big cuts. Or in many cases, they've slashed workers' hours and wages.

“Between the salary and the bonus scale, it was so far down that it was getting too expensive to live out there,” says Brandon Hartman, a former hydraulic fracking crew worker.

Hartman says he used to pull in more than $100,000, but in recent months his income fell by half. Meanwhile, he still had the same $1,750 monthly rent to cover and feared that the subsidy he was getting from his employer could disappear, as many other companies slashed housing subsidies.  Without the subsidy, he would pay $2850 per month.

Hartman quit his job and left the oil patch at the end of February, taking his wife and two youngest kids back to their native Minnesota.

“I couldn't even take it anymore,” he says. “I was so stressed out about whether I was going to make anything in the next week or was I even going to have a job?”

Companies are drilling and fracking far fewer new wells because oil prices are so low, but existing wells still need to be kept up.

That's good news for some workers, like Chad Perrault, who repairs wells.

At a bar in Sidney, Montana, on the western edge of the oil patch, Perrault says oil will have to drop a lot more before he loses work.

“Our job is pretty secure for the time being,” he says. “Unless it's a total bust.”

An Iran deal won't change oil market overnight

Fri, 2015-04-03 09:00

Oil prices were down about four percent on Friday following the tentative diplomatic deal reached between Iran and the United States.

At one point Iran was OPEC's second-largest oil exporter, leading many to assume that lifting sanctions would now drive prices down even further in a global market that is already awash in cheap crude. 

This would be particularly bad news for U.S. shale-oil producers. But Kate Dourian with the Middle East Economic Survey says barriers remain before Iran can re-emerge as a viable oil-exporting country.

"The timing is off,” Dourian says. “I think it’s going to be very difficult for Iran to come back into the Market because they've lost market share, they've lost customers, so, I think it’s not going to be a smooth ride for them."

In order to get production back up Iran needs a heavy infusion of technology and investment from outside companies, which is a gamble many international firms aren’t willing to take.

"It’s got to be a really good deal for them to go in,” Dourian notes. “I don't think they're going to go rushing in because if Iran doesn’t comply with deal, the sanctions could come right back in again."

All things being equal three to five years from now, if Iran lives up to its end of the nuclear bargain, Iranian exports could push oil prices down. But all things typically don’t remain equal.

You know, the oil market is a volatile beast, the world remains a dangerous place,” says Trevor Houser, a partner with the Rhodium Group. “I won't bet on oil remaining permanently cheap just because of the deal yesterday.” 

Houser says any number of potential market disruptions, could account for the 1.5 million barrels per day that Iran could potentially supply.

"That's about how much production we lost in Libya,” Houser says. “That's about how much production you could lose form a significant disruption in Nigeria or Venezuela." 

Even without outside investment, Houser says Iran could start exporting some of its current stockpiles by the end of the year, or early 2016.

For one Vegas sports book, it's anyone but Kentucky

Fri, 2015-04-03 09:00

It’s March Madness, in early April. The Final Four play their semifinal games on Saturday: Michigan State against Duke, which is favored to win; and Wisconsin versus Kentucky, also favored to win. Then the winners face off on Monday.

If Kentucky wins its last two games and takes the championship, it will have achieved an undefeated season at 40-0. It would be the first undefeated season in men's basketball since the Indiana Hoosiers went 32-0 and won the NCAA championship in 1976. And Kentucky’s victory would bring cheers, but not only from people who picked the school to win their bracket. It would also benefit some lucky bettors who wagered with Las Vegas sports book William Hill.

Spokesman Michael Grodsky says the firm was first approached last season for a "prop," or proposition bet, that Kentucky would go undefeated. The bet was offered at 400-1.

“It would have been quite a feat, because no team had gone undefeated since the ‘76 Hoosiers,” Grodsky says.

This year, with Kentucky an even stronger prospect going into the season, Grodsky says the firm offered the prop again in July 2014, starting at 50-1 odds. By the time the betting closed on March 15, 2015, the odds were 9-2.

“It’s the biggest liability of a prop we’ve had,” Grodsky says. “It’s a mid-six-figure decision for us, so we kind of have a mantra around the office now: 'Anyone but Kentucky.'”

Betting on sports and betting on stocks or other financial investments can seem similar. There is risk to financial bets — though less than with sports betting, if one invests in a diversified portfolio of well-established stocks or index funds. Companies may lose value, but their stock doesn't often become worthless. A bet on the losing team (or one that doesn’t cover the spread) is a flat loss; no chance to make it back by holding on or doubling down.

Venture capital investment might be more like sports betting, says Vivek Wadhwa, a serial technology entrepreneur, academic researcher and fellow at Stanford Law School.

“We pick the winners based on our emotional liking of the people we’re investing in,” says Wadhwa. “It's very similar to gambling on sports. You think you have all these formulas, all this data, and you take the risk. The difference here is, venture capital is played with someone else’s money. You’re more likely to risk it, than if it were your own personal money.”

Quiz: Race gaps in the Common Core

Fri, 2015-04-03 08:26

Opinions about the Common Core standards differ by race, according to a new NBC poll sponsored by Pearson.

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How art curators help boutique hotels stand out

Fri, 2015-04-03 07:00

It's hard to stand out as a high-end boutique hotel. One way to do it: Art.

The lobby of the Archer Hotel has a kaleidoscope of colored frames billed as a "diaphanous abstraction" by Artie Vierkant. Its "Bugatti Bar" has vintage posters of the French sports car. Artisanal quilts hang above tables of its David Burke-run fabrick restaurant.

"They're made with chocolate wrappers and tea bags and coffee filters," says Debbie Davis, an art advisor who held a position you don't often associate with hotels: Curator.

Davis normally helps rich people and corporations pick art for their homes and office. Hotels have many more rooms to fill, and relatively tight budgets.

"I was a little nervous about running those numbers," says Davis. "I kept checking and checking. I don't usually have these production spreadsheets for a piece of art."

Filling the Archer Hotel's 180 guest rooms with original works wasn't feasible.

"We were going to license artists and make high quality reproductions of their works," says Davis. "But I didn't really know how we were going to do it."

She did it by contacting Kalisher, a North Carolina-based company that provides art for hotels.

"I think people are most surprised to learn that we exist," says founder Jesse Kalisher. "That making art for hotels is a way to make a living."

The company started with a goal of providing hotels with the black and white photography of Jesse Kalisher. But Kalisher says that is now a small fraction of its work creating, curating, printing and framing art for hotels around the world.

The price for those artworks can range, according to Kalisher, from $30 at a Motel 6, to a couple hundred dollars for a luxury hotel.

"Bear in mind that art is the least expensive item in a hotel, and the easiest thing to change to update the image," Kalisher says.

In the Archer Hotel guest rooms you can see these relatively inexpensive copies of, for example, a customized etching of a typewriter by Brooklyn artist Sam Messer. And if you stroll down to the lobby, you can compare them to the original, off-the-etching plate version.

"Doesn't look that much better, right?" says Debbie Davis as we look at it.

While the edges looked different, the image itself, to my untrained eye, looks identical.

"Right, that's the high quality printing," she says.

Typically, these kind of copies are licensed for just five to seven years, Kalisher says, after which point the art has to be replaced. But the Archer Hotel purchased rights in perpetuity — for a gallery look at more of a dorm room price.

You won't die if you don't go to Harvard or Stanford

Fri, 2015-04-03 05:46

It's college acceptance season — or perhaps, more accurately, rejection season — at the most elite schools. Harvard and Stanford turned away about 95 percent of applicants this year, a new record for Harvard.

There are lots of reasons top-ranked colleges are turning away more applicants. They're getting more, thanks to more aggressive recruiting. And because some kids are so unsure of what it will take to get accepted, they're applying everywhere. 

All of this can be crazy-making and heartbreaking for a lot of kids and their parents. New York Times columnist Frank Bruni says it doesn't have to be. He's out with a new book: "Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be."

The fixation on getting into top colleges is nothing new for hyper-talented and extra, extracurricular-engaged high school students. But with 95 percent rejection rates, the competition is all the more intense. 

"It's fed by a whole industry of admissions consultants and coaches," Bruni says, adding the demand has deeper roots in parents' fears about the economy. "I think in their anxiety about the country's prosperity and its future, they want to give kids any leg up, anything that might be a leg up, and they see elite schools as one of those things."

One reason that the volume of applications have increased: ease. Most elite colleges and universities use the common app, an electronic form that allows students to apply to send the same information, scores and essays to an array of schools. Schools also market themselves aggressively to see as many applicants as possible. 

"They want to get the best students and they want the most diverse student bodies, so that's the good impulse behind it," Bruni says. "But they also just want big, big numbers because we've entered an era here where a low acceptance rate – proof that you've turned away masses of people – is bragging rights among colleges."

For low-income students in particular, research shows that going to a selective school can make a big difference in graduation rates and future earnings. 

"It's not fair to say that the brand doesn't buy opportunities," Bruni says of the most elite and selective colleges like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford. "But it's not a do-or-die, make-or-break advantage. It's not going to last your whole life."

Listen to the complete interview below to find out which school produces the strongest startup founders, according to venture capitalist and Y Combinator President Sam Altman. (That question comes at 3:21). 

PODCAST: March jobs report and our National Parks Service

Fri, 2015-04-03 03:00

A surprisingly weak jobs report this morning has investors and economist rethinking our economic recovery. According the the Department of Labor, only 126,000 jobs were created last month — half what economists had expected. More on that. Why Nevada's Supreme Court is facing a funding shortage? The answer might lie in how fast people are driving. Finally, a visit to our national parks and their billion-dollar maintenance costs. 

Chrysler found liable in crash, may appeal

Fri, 2015-04-03 03:00

A Georgia jury awarded $150 million to the family of a four-year-old boy killed when the 1999 Grand Cherokee Jeep he was riding in exploded after it was rear-ended by a pickup truck. 

The Jeep's fuel tank was in the back, apparently with little protection around it. So, when the Jeep was hit, the fuel tank blew up.

Chrysler has issued a statement saying it was disappointed, and would consider an appeal.

But that could be difficult because the jury based the penalty partly on the value of the boy’s life. 

“I think it’ll be an uphill fight for Chrysler," says Carl Tobias, a professor of product liability law at the University of Richmond. "What’s  more likely is they may threaten to appeal and then maybe settle at some lower figure than the amount the jury brought in yesterday.”

Tobias also says people who were involved in Jeep accidents may re-evaluate lawsuits against Chrysler, since they’re now more aware of the apparent problems with these rear fuel tanks.

“They may be encouraged to sue where they weren’t before or may learn that their accident was caused by some defect in the vehicle," he says. 

But Chrysler says the Georgia jury was prevented from taking into account data that Chrysler says shows that the 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee does not “pose an unreasonable risk to motor vehicle safety.”




Nevada Supreme Court faces budget shortfall

Fri, 2015-04-03 02:00

Nevada's Chief Justice says the court is facing a funding shortfall of $700,000. He blamed the deficit on police issuing fewer traffic and parking tickets. Many people in Nevada were unaware that the state's highest court relies on lead-footed drivers to keep it fiscally afloat. Critics say tying court funding to the issuance of tickets could create a quota system in which police officers feel compelled to hand out higher numbers of tickets. 

Click the media player above to hear more.

Is this the most elaborate Easter egg ever?

Fri, 2015-04-03 02:00

The Easter egg—as in the the hidden message in computer programs or video games—got pretty interesting as the sixth season of the animated series Archer unraveled. The show’s creators plotted an elaborate Easter egg, thanks to lead motion designer Mark Paterson, who hid around 40 clues for an internet journey that superfans slowly but faithfully decrypted.  

If you’re wondering how complicated can it really get: the list of clues included a so-called HEX code, which led to a URL, which led to a weird YouTube video and then a craigslist advertisement and it goes on.

This isn’t the first time Archer’s creators tried something like this. They have planted jokes and hidden messages in previous episodes, but they were usually isolated; independent of each other.

“This time I wanted to do something that connected them all together so there was some kind of trail,” said Mark Paterson. “So it would constantly keep it going. They had to go from one to the next and maybe come back to the episode to get the next clue.”

Although he planned most of it ahead of time, he also kept adding to it, deepening the trail and making it more complicated.

“I spent a weekend adding in about 30 to 40 additional steps,” said Paterson.  

One of the most complex clues involved a spectrogram, which, Paterson explained, is “a way of encoding or hiding the message within the audio data.”

Basically, it’s something visual that’s in the audio data but you cannot see it in waveform.

“Most audio programs would show you the waveform by default,” said Paterson. “You have to go the extra step to find the spectrogram.”

But who could possibly succeed at this without some help?

“The nice thing about Archer is the fans are ... always looking out for this kind of thing,” said Paterson. “I was banking on them knowing to be looking for stuff. They have previously shown that they have found stuff.”

Bonus: Click below to hear Casey Willis, the show's co-Executive Producer, in conversation with Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson.

The economics of arcade claw games

Fri, 2015-04-03 01:59

That's how many U.S. jobs were added in March, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics's jobs report released on Friday. The unemployment rate remained unchanged at 5.5 percent.


Another bummer from the Bureau of Labor Statistics: average household income dropped for the second year in a row to $64,432. The Washington Post's Wonkblog notes the richest fifth of Americans saw their income rise by 0.9 percent before taxes, while the poorest fifth lost 3.5 percent.

$11.5 billion

That's the total costs of deferred maintenance for the National Parks Service. Of that figure, $850 million is attributed to the National Mall and Memorial Parks. Which means monuments like the Jefferson Memorial will have to wait on repairs such as a new ceiling.

4 percent

The portion of homes in Cuba with Internet access, one potential hurtle in Airbnb's recent expansion there, Bloomberg reported. There are about 1,000 listings up now, with more surely on the way. Airbnb is one of the first American companies to have a presence in Cuba since the U.S. reestablished diplomatic ties there.

1 in 23

The number of wins an arcade claw machine would have to allow to give the owner 50 percent profits. Vox looked into just how rigged those games are, finding that most machines let the owner adjust how often a claw grabs at stuffed animals with their full strength, tightly managing wins and losses.

40 clues

That's about how many hidden clues lead motion designer Mark Paterson hid in a single episode of FX's Archer. The Easter egg hunt led viewers on an epic internet journey, which included a so-called HEX code, which led to a URL, which led to a weird YouTube video and then a craigslist advertisement ... the list goes on. 

Silicon Tally: $19.99 problems, but low-def aint one

Fri, 2015-04-03 01:30

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

This week, we're joined by Aminatou Sow, co-founder of Tech LadyMafia and co-host of the podcast, Call Your Girlfriend.

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What to look for in the jobs report, in four charts

Fri, 2015-04-03 01:00

On Friday, the Labor Department reports on job creation and unemployment for March.

The consensus among economists: The economy added approximately 250,000 jobs and the unemployment rate held steady at 5.5 percent. This would represent a modest pull-back from February, when 295,000 jobs were added and the unemployment rate fell. 

However, several anomalous factors could throw a wrench into March's employment figures, like severe winter weather, a West Coast port strike and the rapidly strengthening U.S. dollar and plummeting oil prices.

Here are four things to look for in the March jobs report (click on each chart for more detailed information):

As the unemployment rate falls, are more people coming back into the labor force to try to find jobs?

Labor-force participation — that is, the percentage of adults working or looking for work — hasn't been this low since the late 1970s. If people are entering the labor market after schooling, or coming back after they got discouraged in the recession, that's a sign of deepening economic strength.

Are average hourly wages rising more than inflation? Are they rising at all?

Wages have been stuck for years, even as the unemployment rate has declined. Lower unemployment should theoretically make employers scramble to hire new workers, and offer more pay to get and keep them.

If employers don't raise wages, it may mean there's more "slack" (more competition for jobs) in the labor market than 5.5 percent unemployment suggests. It could be people waiting in the wings to come back into the labor market and people working part-time who want full-time work.

Are more people who say they can only find part-time work but need more hours to support themselves, finally landing full-time jobs?

This would indicate a tightening labor market. 

Is the rate of long-term unemployment, which is still historically high after the Great Recession, gradually coming down?

If so, we may dodge a Europe-like problem of persistent long-term unemployment lasting years. 

The National Park Service's $11.5 billion repair bill

Fri, 2015-04-03 00:40

Washington, D.C.’s famed cherry blossoms are beginning to bloom, and with them they will bring 1.5 million tourists to the narrow path around the Tidal Basin, beside the Jefferson Memorial.

But the National Park Service, which administers the Jefferson Memorial and Tidal Basin as part of its National Mall and Memorial Parks (NMMP) zone, has $11.5 billion on its backlog of deferred maintenance costs. Of that figure, $850 million is slated for the NMMP. So while the Jefferson Memorial may look good from afar, when you get closer you can see that it's falling apart.

“If you look up you can see the portion of the ceiling of the portico has fallen,” said Sean Kenneally, acting deputy superintendent for the National Mall & Memorial Parks. “Fortunately, no one was injured.”

But somebody might have been —a heavy piece of marble falling 50 feet onto a tourist would have generated headlines, and the system is still waiting on a replacement roof. Water, leaking through the 20+ year old roof, runs through the spaces in the monument’s marble, dissolving grout and leaving ugly black stains on the ceiling.

There are plenty of other blackened spots that look like the spot where the marble fell. Until money is appropriated for a new roof however, there’s just a fence and a plan to install a net.

The Lincoln Memorial also needs a new roof, but it’s harder to see the damage—only one of the Alabama marble ceiling panels is missing (There’s a piece of plywood instead). Otherwise, Honest Abe’s house looks pretty good.

Sean Gormley of Rye Neck, N.Y., was visiting Washington and suggested that philanthropic money be used to meet part of the $11.5 billion repair bill. “We already pay enough taxes here, whether it be our federal taxes, real estate taxes, et cetera,” Gormley said. “Things get built up, moths and rust do decay; I tell ya, it’ll crumble one day.”

Craig Obey, the senior vice president of the National Parks Conservation Association, said that the federal neglect of the National Park Service’s funding is a bipartisan problem that has grown more severe in the past 30 years.

“I think the parks have been dealing with less for quite a while, they’ve been asked to do more with less and we are at the point where they’re able to do less with less,” Obey said.

And indeed, the “less” is lessening, Obey said, “because the Park Service gets about between $200 and $300 million less than they need each year just to keep it even, not even to begin reducing it.”

Obey said National Parks aren’t just rock formations that sit in the desert. Most of them are east of the Mississippi and historic, not natural. People go on vacations, drive cars, flush toilets, ask for directions, climb stairs. While it is true that all this takes a toll on the infrastructure of our parks, they also generate economic activity: about $37 billion each and every year.