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How a hotel earns five stars: the checklist

Wed, 2014-07-02 02:00

Hyatt is building a five-star hotel on West 57th street in Manhattan. According to Forbes Travel Guide, there are only seven others in New York City. The hotel’s pool will feature underwater speakers with a custom soundtrack from nearby Carnegie Hall, and the hotel's bath amenities are perfumed with Tubereuse 40, a custom scent created by Le Labo. 

Hanya Yanagihara, an editor at large at Conde Nast Traveler, says there are various evaluative bodies - AAA, the Michelin Guide - that rank hotels. For a hotel to win that coveted fifth star, certain standards must be met. 

“There has to be a 24-hour reception area, and there has to be an onsite restaurant, there has to be 24-hour room service, there has to be express dry cleaning service,” she says. 

Forbes Travel Guide uses 800 standards on a checklist used to evaluate hotels. Michael Cascone, the guide’s president and COO, says 70 percent of its secret algorithm is tied to customer service.

"No one leaves a hotel and says, 'you know what? That lobby was beautiful, but the service was bad and I’m going back.'” 

Bruce Wallin, editorial director at luxury lifestyle magazine "Robb Report," which covers hotels, says five-star guests expect 400-thread count sheets and nice artwork.

He agrees that top-notch hotels need to maintain high-end facilities, or as he puts it: "It can't be fake wood and Formica."

But Wallin also points out that ranking systems can be too focused on checklist items, and as a result, might overlook the less tangible elements of a hotel. This could potentially excluding smaller, yet special, properties.

What really sets top hotels apart, he notes, is service and surprise.

“In Milan there’s a hotel where every afternoon, you get a knock on your door, and instead of housecleaning it’s a cocktail cart and they’ll make whatever drink you want, right in your room," says Wallin.

But the real surprise may be six and seven star hotels, which Yanagihara says can be found in Dubai.

"It can mean that every guest has acess to their own Bentley, or there’s a helicopter pad on the roof," she says. 

The ranking, notes Yanagihara, is not formally recognized by any governing body.

A Five-Star Rating by the numbers

Inspectors for Forbes Travel Guide’s respond with a “yes” or “no” answer to certain standards during an incognito visit to a hotel. The hundreds of yes's and no’s on the inspection report are tallied into a score that ultimately earns the hotel a "Five-Star," "Four-Star," or "Recommended" rating. Here's some more numbers behind a Five-Star rating:

800 items

The number of items on the checklist that determines star ratings.

70%

The percentage of items on the checklist that are specifically related to service quality.

To receive a Five-Star Rating:

10 minutes

The amount of time within which bags should arrive after registration.

90 minutes

The amount of time within which the staff at the pool should offer a complimentary drink on a warm day.

5 minutes

The window of time surrounding the estimated time of delivery within which room service should be delivered.

24 hours

The amount of time that both a reception desk and a restaurant must be available and open.

To receive a five-star rating, a specific welcome gift should be provided, and bathrooms should be supplied with a variety of items the guest would find useful. For example, guests at Park Hyatt New York will be offered bathroom amenities scented with Le Labo Tubereuse 40, a custom designed scent for the hotel.

Bitcoin auction gives the currency more legitimacy

Wed, 2014-07-02 02:00

The US Marshals Service has announced that the bitcoins sold in its auction on Friday went to one, lucky bidder. Now, the almost 30,000 bitcoins have been transferred to that winner. 

The Marshals routinely seize the property of criminals, but only auction stuff off that’s legal. You wouldn’t have a heroin auction, for example. But they did auction the bitcoin seized from the black market website, Silk Road.

Why auction bitcoin?

“Because bitcoin is a legitimate asset," says Gil Luria, a managing director at Wedbush Securities. "And now the US Marshals Service has acknowledged that.”

But even with that legitimacy, bitcoin still isn’t easy to trade. To get it, you have to go to unregulated markets in places like Slovenia or China. Still, CoinDesk US editor Pete Rizzo says the auction helps.

“Is it raising awareness beyond where bitcoin was maybe a month ago?  I think absolutely," he says. "Does it still have a long ways to go?  I think yes.”

The new respectability has pushed up the price of bitcoin.  And even though it fell when the Marshals first announced their auction, it’s made up the lost ground, and then some.

 

 

 

 

 

When preschoolers outperform college students

Tue, 2014-07-01 20:07
<a href="http://marketplaceapm.polldaddy.com/s/preschoolers">View Survey</a>

People don't conference call during the World Cup

Tue, 2014-07-01 13:33

Today's US-Belgium World Cup game arrived at a most inconvenient time, coming as it did just an hour before deadline here at Marketplace.

20 mins before showroll, is @kairyssdal stressing about the day's script, or the defense in the #USAvsBEL game? pic.twitter.com/W473rkEdaf

— Marketplace (@Marketplace) July 1, 2014

We got the first half in.

But anyway: From the files of Intercall, a conference calling company, this little nugget (which we found on Quartz):

Conference call volume last week during the US-Germany game  was off 11 percent. That's "volume" as in the number of conference calls, not "volume" as in sound.

And to be honest, we were kind of lucky to get the show on the air today.

Aereo's competitors are itching to take its place

Tue, 2014-07-01 12:55

If you take a look at Aereo's website, there's a letter from the CEO that says the streaming TV company put its operations to a halt. The Supreme Court ruled last Wednesday that Aereo's service was deemed illegal.

That ruling - bad as it was for Aereo - was an opportunity for its competitors. Mark Ely is the founder and CEO of one of them: Simple.TV.

Ely says his company does things differently from Aereo. In his mind, the ruling was about  "where that TV content is fundamentally captured." Aereo captured broadcast TV content from a central facility and streamed it out to their subcribers. Simple.TV?

"We put the capture point in the user's home, and by doing so...really sit it in the same place that your traditional DVRs and place shifting technologies sit. It turns out that where you capture the content - who's doing it - really makes all the difference." 

According to The New York Times, the number of households who subscribe to paid television is down seven percent from last year while the number of households who use internet or other streaming services is up 30 percent from 2013. Ely sees this as an opportunity to increase business, especially since one of his main competitors is on pause.

"What we see is a whole generation of people growing up on Netflix and Hulu and over-the-top streaming services. And see those kinds of traditional networks - ABC, FOX, NBC - and others as having great content but they're not willing to necessarily buy those in a large bundle of other expensive channels that they don't care about."

Listen to our full interview with Mark Ely in the media player above.

Competition in streaming TV spikes as Aereo is halted

Tue, 2014-07-01 12:55

If you take a look at Aereo's website, there's a letter from the CEO that says the streaming TV company put its operation at a halt. The Supreme Court ruled last Wednesday that Aereo's service was deemed illegal. What it came down to is "where that TV content is fundamentally captured," says Mark Ely, the CEO of Simple.TV

Aereo captured broadcast TV content from a central facility and streamed it out to their subcribers. Ely says his company does things differently.

"We put the capture point in the user's home, and by doing so, kinda really sit it in the same place that your traditional DVRs and place shifting technologies sit, and it turns out that where you capture the content -- who's doing it -- really makes all the difference." 

According to The New York Times, the number of households who subscribe to paid television is down seven percent from last year while the number of households who use Internet or other streaming services is up 30 percent from 2013. Mark Ely is aware of this trend and sees the opportunity to increase business, especially since one of his main competitors is on pause.

"What we see is a whole generation of people growing up on Netflix and Hulu and over-the-top streaming services. And see those kinds of traditional networks -- ABC, FOX, NBC -- and others as having great content but they're not willing to necessarily buy those in a large bundle of other expensive channels that they don't care about. So we see ourselves as kind of a supplement to the whole generation that's growing up on internet video."

Yahoo gives 'Community' an online home

Tue, 2014-07-01 12:15

NBC’s TV show 'Community' was a cult favorite, but largely a ratings loser for the network, meaning it often seemed to be on the brink of being canceled.

That struggle was mirrored in its final episode, as the show's namesake community college faced an uncertain future.

Its main characters are told: “Your school is still bankrupt, it is still unmarketable and it is still on the permanent chopping block of anyone who has any say in its future.”
  Now, despite being canceled by NBC in May, "Community" is getting a second shot at life.   Its sixth season will air – or rather stream – on Yahoo, which will use the show to beef up its original video content.  

“Literally, last year we produced 86 series, none of whom you’ve ever heard about because it was sort of a failed branding exercise,” Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer admitted at TechCrunch’s Disrupt New York event in May.

Mayer hopes that original content, along with the company’s more established search and email services, will help make the site part of consumers’ daily online routines, which would then boost advertising.

In order to draw people to the site, Yahoo needs strong, unique content – different from what Netflix or Hulu is offering, says Sam Craig, a professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business.

“It’s a crowded marketplace out there and unless you have something with an identity, people aren’t going to come to it,” he explains.

"Community" offers a dedicated audience, which – while small by broadcast standards – is passionate about the show and loyal to it, says Max Dawson with the media consulting firm Frank N. Magid Associates.

Another plus – the wealth of the show's existing viewers. 'Community' has very strong support among households making over $150,000.

“It beats out things like The Voice. It beats out mega-ratings success stories, [like] Big Bang Theory, in attracting those rich viewers,” says Dawson. “Thpse are viewers who are the most difficult to attract and the most appealing for sponsors.”

One network’s trash could be a tech company’s treasure.

Would you eat computer food? Because Watson's cooking

Tue, 2014-07-01 12:12

We put a lot of trust in computers. We use them to find dates online, to give us music recommendations, and, of course, the list goes on. But would you trust a computer to make you food? 

Well, not literally. The people at IBM have programmed Watson, the supercomputer that made its debut on Jeopardy, to come up with the most unique and creative food recipes using trillions of ingredients. From Indonesian Rice Chili Con Carne to Austrian Chocolate Burritos, the computer takes a base ingredient, a style of food and some additional suggested flavors and complements to come up with recipes. This process is named "cognitive cooking". 

Florian Pinel is the head engineer at the Cognitive Cooking project. He says most people cook in their comfort zone:

"They always cook the same things... and the computer doesn't have that bias. So it comes up with combinations that do work, because we use a number of theories that tell us that they are likely to work together. But that you wouldn't think of." 

One of those recipes Watson came up with? Bengali Butternut Barbecue Sauce. Yeah...

The team debuted this recipe for SXSW on the IBM Food Truck. While it may not have gone over well at the Marketplace offices, Pinel says the system is there to help people be more creative when it comes to cooking. 

As banks prepare for end of draw, consumers should too

Tue, 2014-07-01 11:09

It’s not every day that five government agencies, including the Federal Reserve and the FDIC, all come out with the same warning on the same day. That’s what happened this morning, and it amounted to a collective "watch out" to banks over homeowners ability to pay back lines of credit in the next few years. 

Back in the early 2000s, right up to 2008, a lot of people took out lines of credit on their homes – this is where you can borrow money and use your house as collateral. They’re known as HELOCs (Home Equity Lines of Credit).

“Anybody who had a breath, any house still standing, seemed to be eligible for these kinds of loans,” recalls Nicolas Retsinas, senior lecturer in real estate at Harvard Business School.

HELOCs can typically last 10 years in what’s called a “draw period,” where people can continue to draw on the line of credit. After 10 years, they can’t draw any longer and they have to start paying back the principal. Starting about now, 10 years have gone by. Now it’s time to pay up.

“This is another bill coming due from the lending binge of the early 21st century,” says Retsinas. A bill that, according to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, now totals around $218 billion, of which $199 billion will be due by 2018.

If homeowners haven’t been paying down the principal, the change in bills may be substantial when they have to start doing so.

“We’re seeing that payments can go up 100 percent or even 200 percent or higher,” says Bob Piepergerdes, director of retail credit risk at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

Given median incomes are lower than they were in 2007 and unemployment is higher, some borrowers may experience problems paying up. 

“There is some risk of repayment so we’re asking institutions to evaluate where their borrowers are,” says Piepergerdes. And then he needs them to prepare accordingly

“The good news,” he says, “is that institutions have taken action.” The guidance put out by different agencies “is really to set forth the expectations of what we would like to see institutions do from a risk management stand point, but the institutions have been preparing for this for as long as we’ve been talking about it.”

JPMorgan Chase, for example, says it’s stocked up on reserves and is reaching out to customers. 

“We are looking for ways to limit payment shock for our customers by being hyper-focused on communicating options to them,” the bank, which holds $49 billion in HELOCs, of which $29 billion will require higher payments through 2017, said in a statement. “We want to make sure customers are making enough of a payment so when they go into the repayment period of the principal it’s a step up not a leap up.” The bank estimates that more than half of the $29 billion will refinance or pay off before payments jump higher.

Overall, the largest lenders have reduced exposure by 20 percent through refinancing. 

Homeowners would be advised to dig out their old loan agreements and look at the fine print, says Bob Davis, Executive Vice President at the American Bankers Association. “That’s one thing consumers ought to do right now, they ought to look at the payments they may have to make,” Davis says, “and if they want to change the loan arrangement and pay off their home equity line of credit by refinancing, they ought to be aware of their access to credit and whether their credit rating will allow them to.”

What you need to know about charter schools

Tue, 2014-07-01 10:36

Every year, hundreds of new charter schools open in the U.S. – largely in low-income, urban neighborhoods. This fall, Sejong Academy in St. Paul, Minnesota, will be one of them. The Korean-immersion school for kids in kindergarten through sixth grade will be located just a few miles from the nation's very first charter school, which opened in St. Paul in 1992.

A big idea behind charters, which now educate roughly 2.5 million kids in the U.S., is to try out concepts that traditional public schools typically wouldn't, like focusing on the outdoors, Korean language immersion – or even yoga.

Sejong Academy's founders hope their curriculum will appeal to a big population of Korean adoptees in the Twin Cities. Plus, they think non-Koreans might like learning another language. Board chair Grace Lee, herself Korean-American, thinks Sejong will offer richer cultural lessons than your typical public school might.

"I think of course a lot of schools will say, 'Oh, we promote global diversity.' But how are they demonstrating that? Are they just having some ethnic food at an open house, or something like that?" she says.

The real battle between charter schools and their traditional counterparts is far more pitched. One of the contentious aspects is that the roughly 6,500 charter schools in the country are public schools, and they get taxpayer dollars. But they're run independently, meaning that in many states they are not subject to the same rules and regulations as are traditional public schools.  Each school is overseen by a so-called "authorizer," which approves the school's charter and makes sure the school meets its performance goals.

Charter advocates  include  lots of average parents as well as some very big guns like the Gates and Walton Foundations, which funnel millions of dollars to organizations that support charter schools.  They believe there's greater flexibility in charters than in the traditional system. It's easier to hire and fire teachers – and open and close schools.

"That is the secret ingredient to chartering, the fact that if the school isn't performing well, it can be closed," says Nina Rees, president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. She says each year, about 500 charters open and 150 or so close. The authorities who oversee them, called authorizers, might pull the plug due to low enrollment, poor performance or mismanagement.

Opponents, often local school boards and powerful teachers unions, say charters leech money from the traditional school system. They also complain that  charter school teachers, who tend to work in poor districts, aren't in it for the long haul. 

"I think schools that serve in high poverty areas, the revolving door of principals and teachers is really a disservice to students," says Dennis Van Roekel, president of the nation's largest union, the National Education Association.

Lots of charter schools are operating with mixed results. A recent study by researchers at Stanford University found that about a quarter of charter schools studied achieved better outcomes on reading measures than traditional schools. But nearly a fifth of the charter schools did much worse.  For math, an even greater share of charter schools were underperformers.  

"I think the evidence tells us that the best charter schools are exceptional schools, and that the worst charter schools are extraordinarily bad," says Jack Schneider, an education expert at the College of the Holy Cross. "And the vast majority of charter schools are more or less equivalent to traditional public schools."

Andrea Springer is about to test her luck. She's Korean-American and is considering sending her kids to the Korean immersion charter school in St. Paul that opens this fall.

"We've stayed away from what I view as traditional public education because I think as a child I was pretty bored or the teacher was dealing with behavior problems versus teaching us," Springer says.

Springer also likes that her kids could learn Korean at the charter school without her having to nag them with workbooks.

But Springer does have some reservations about sending her kids to a start-up charter.

"It's the first year, so you get nervous, 'Do I want to be the test batch parent?'" she asks.

Even as charter schools remain controversial, demand for them appears to be strong. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools says hundreds of thousands of kids are on charter school wait lists.

Where charter schools are popular

Tue, 2014-07-01 09:29

To hear more about the growth of charter schools in the country listen to the Marketplace on-air story.

Musicians protest movie studios recording overseas

Tue, 2014-07-01 08:45

Hollywood has been dealing with the problem of runaway production for years.  A growing number of film and television productions are being lured away from Los Angeles by tax credits.

One group of show business employees is speaking out about it. The American Federation of Musicians recently held a protest outside the Los Angeles offices of Lionsgate, the studio responsible for, among other blockbusters, "The Hunger Games".  The musicians work in film scoring. They’re upset with Lionsgate for accepting millions in tax credits to film in the U.S., but then score those films overseas.

Marc Sazer is a violinist and a member of the American Federation of Musicians. He’s worked for decades in film and television. “The major studios have longstanding relationships with the American Federation of Musicians,” said Sazer. “Fox, Universal, Columbia, Paramount and Disney, when they produce domestically, they score their films with us.”

Lionsgate is not considered a major studio. Technically, it’s a mini-major studio. But Sazer and the other members of the musicians' union argue that Lionsgate is at the same level as the major studios. Last year it generated $2.7 billion in revenue, millions of which came in the form of tax credits.

“We’re trying to bring attention to the fact that companies are taking our tax dollars and then taking our jobs overseas, which depletes our social compact," Sazer said. "It also depletes our cultural equity, because it undermines the livelihoods and the sustainability of our musical culture.” Lionsgate did not respond to a request for an interview.

In an outdoor amphitheater in the shadow of the San Gabriel Mountains, the Pasadena Symphony is tuning up for a rehearsal. Hundreds of empty chairs face the stage. Peacocks outnumber audience members.

“We have about half of the orchestra on stage, some early birds, some will whisk in at the last minute,” said trombonist Andy Malloy. He’s worked in film and television since he got his first gig on "Laverne and Shirley".

Film and TV gigs used to make up 75 to 80 percent of Malloy’s income. “My guess, if there are 60 musicians here, easily 40 to 50 people do recording work as well," he said.

According to the union, total earnings of its members have fallen by half since 2007. During a recent protest, Malloy and his colleagues delivered a petition to Lionsgate headquarters. At the time, they singled out one film in particular, "Draft Day" starring Kevin Costner.

The score to "Draft Day" was recorded at a studio in Macedonia called F.A.M.E.’S. Laurent Koppitz, the founder of F.A.M.E.’S, is a musician himself, originally from France. He was working at a classical music record label in Paris when he visited Macedonia for the first time. “I discovered a country that was really interested in attracting investors and doing business,” said Koppitz.

Koppitz was able to get a loan, fix up a recording studio and audition more than 100 classical musicians. That was six years ago. Nearly all the jobs he gets are low-budget productions, accompaniment on pop albums, Bollywood films and video game music.

“Ninety-nine percent of what we do is independent projects,” Koppitz said. Some of them turn famous. 

Koppitz was surprised when he came across news reports that F.A.M.E.’S was taking jobs from American musicians. He says he can’t compete with the quality of studios in Los Angeles. And that was not his intention. Kopitz started F.A.M.E.’S to make live orchestras affordable to those with small budgets, who might otherwise use pre-recorded or electronic music.

So when a low-budget production hires his musicians, that, he says, is an example of the good aspect of globalization: more musicians get work and more productions have live music.

But if large studios hire him simply because he’s cheaper, then he says they are coming to Macedonia for the wrong reason. “When you go for the wrong reason, like 'Oh, it’s cheap,' it’s not very nice for anybody because it takes the job here which is a problem,” he said

That problem Koppitz said, is the bad aspect of globalization. 

Why don't we count all the unemployed?

Tue, 2014-07-01 06:32

Lesley Perkins is a human resources management consultant who’s been unemployed for about 3 1/2 years.

“I feel forgotten and ignored by our society,” she says.

Perkins also feels ignored by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.  It only counts you as unemployed if you’ve “actively looked for work” in the past four weeks.  But Perkins isn’t sure what that means.

“Is it actually filling out a job application or is it actually going to networking functions and trying to connect with people there?” she says.

I was confused, too, so I called Jim Walker, a Bureau of Labor Statistics economist.  He says the Bureau will count you if you send out a resume as you’re surfing websites.  Or hand someone a resume as you’re networking. People who aren’t so active in their job search aren’t counted in the official jobless numbers.  But the Bureau still keeps track of them.  They’re labeled the “marginally attached.”

“People who just say 'Well, I’m not working. I would want a job but I’m not looking right now,'” says Walker.

The Bureau gets its numbers by talking to real people. It surveys 60,000 households, asking people if they’re working or looking for a job.  Justin Wolfers, a labor economist at the University of Michigan, says part of the confusion is you can be counted as unemployed, even if you don’t get an unemployment check.

“One part of the government says you’re not unemployed in the sense that they’re not going to pay you benefits. But another part says 'No, no, we’re definitely going to count you as unemployed,'” he says.

Wolfers says the Bureau’s system isn’t perfect.  But it’s about the best we can hope for, because there is no easy way to measure unemployment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More workers get crammed into less space

Tue, 2014-07-01 04:00

More people have jobs than before the Great Recession started, but office workers are cramped into less space than before. A lot of office space went empty during the recession, but a report from the real-estate information company Reis shows that only about half of that space has filled back up. 

It’s normal for office space to come back more slowly than employment, partly because offices often shrink more slowly than the workforce too.

"As you go into a recesssion and companies start to lay off employees, often-times the size of their physical footprint can’t shrink in accordance with that," says Ryan Severino, an economist at Reis. "So there tends to be a little bit of a mismatch."    

In other words, when companies bring back workers, a lot of them already have a bunch of extra space to put those people.  

Even when companies don’t have extra space — say, they were able to get out of their old lease and take a smaller space — increasing the footprint comes after hiring the people, and not until the old space gets tight.

"When you start doubling-up that office space, and start hearing complaints, you’re going to start planning," says  Susan Wachter, a professor at the Wharton School of business. "But you need to know the people are on board, and that you’re gonna need that space. And then, that too takes time." Budgeting for a move, for example, doesn't happen overnight.

This recovery has seen even less pickup of office space than previous cycles. Wachter also notes that open layouts, which require less space per employee, have become more popular.

PODCAST: Shrinking office space

Tue, 2014-07-01 03:00

As the second half of 2014 gets underway, a look at the S&P 500 index. Plus, with the number of jobs recovering since the Great Recession, a look at why office space doesn't tend to increase at the same rate. Also, is the "sharing economy" all it's cracked up to be? With big money flowing through businesses like Airbnb and Lyft, not everyone is on as equal a playing field as promised.

When the 'sharing economy' doesn't really play fair

Tue, 2014-07-01 03:00

A "sharing economy" can be as simple as a neighborhood with a shared lawnmower, but companies with big cash flow – think ride-sharing services like Lyft and Uber, as well as room rental places like Airbnb – are increasingly considered part of this model.

Oakland, California-based reporter Susie Cagle writes of her experience attending "Share," a conference on the sharing economy sponsored by Airbnb, Lyft, and eBay. She left the conference thinking the word "sharing" is getting stretched completely out of shape.

In her article, "The Case Against Sharing: On access, scarcity, and trust," Cagle recognizes the opportunity in these peer-to-peer economies, but thinks larger businesses like Airbnb and Lyft should be treated as just that: a business.

Click the media player above to hear reporter Susie Cagle in conversation with Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio.

Facebook's psychology study under scrutiny

Tue, 2014-07-01 02:00

Facebook has been at the center of controversy in the tech world after it was revealed that the social network manipulated the feeds of its users to examine how they react to changes in the tone of their friends' posts. 

The main finding of the study, according to Karen North, professor of social media and psychology at USC, is that Human beings are social animals — People saw that their friends were posting positive or negative things, and leaned towards doing what their friends were doing. 

As for the motivations behind the study, improving Facebook's core business was likely the key. 

“This is probably a combination of how to get people to buy things but also how to drive up engagement with Facebook,” says North. 

She also noted that the mining of consumer data in such a manner is fairly common. The reaction here, she argues, might speak to the nature of the business Facebook is in. 

She adds, "This is nothing new, it's just that it feels a little more invasive here because it feels like it is infiltrating our private conversations."

The most popular crowd at the public library?

Tue, 2014-07-01 02:00
<a href="http://marketplaceapm.polldaddy.com/s/library-users">View Survey</a>

Green cards pay for new hotels

Tue, 2014-07-01 02:00

A new hotel just opened in downtown Los Angeles, with most of the money to pay for it originating outside the country – 95 percent of the financing came from 320 immigrant investors from 14 countries.

The sleek, modern lobby is unusual because it serves two hotels in one building: a Marriott Courtyard and Residence Inn.

General manager Erik Palmer says the two-in-one model appeals to investors.

“From an owners’ lens, it makes the hotel a lot more efficient. We have one front desk team, one housekeeping team and one engineering team," he says.

Almost all the financing came through what are called EB-5 visas, otherwise known as investor visas. In return for a $500,000 investment that creates at least ten jobs, foreigners get a green card.

One hotel investor – William Jeffcock – is a British citizen by way of Monaco.

“Because my home and residence was Monaco, there were very few paths which I would have qualified for. So the EB-5 really was the only way for me to come,” says Jeffcock.

He says his hotel investment was not primarily to buy a green card for the U.S.

“I hope to make money on this,” says Jeffcock. “I believe in the next two or three years I’ll be making 2 to 6 percent on my money.”

But other businesses using EB-5 money don’t always deliver what’s promised. In several states, the visa program has been used to defraud investors. Some observers dispute the number of jobs created.

Plus, there’s the issue of who collects the money. Even though the U.S. government is giving away the green cards, it’s the private sector that collects the half-million dollar payment.

“If you really want to create jobs, why not do it directly, by having the money come to the government? And then the government can decide how to allocate that to create jobs,” says John Vogel, who teaches at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.

Vogel says the government could use money from investment visas for hiring workers to repair our infrastructure or expand internet access; the kind of economic development that benefits more of society than new hotels.

Need protection? Consider a collar!

Tue, 2014-07-01 00:00

If you've been following the stock market closely, you've probably read or listened to news stories where pundits and reporters describe the market as "frothy," "toppy," and "overheated."  Translation: we could be in for a big correction. 

Note use of the words "could be." The fact is, the stock market could continue on a tear. Or it could keep going up, up, up. No-one really knows.

It's not the upside you're worried about right now - it's the downside. You're probably not worried about what you might make in the future: you're looking back at the huge gains we've made in the market, and that's getting you worried about what you might lose.

You need protection. You need insurance against loss. But just like insurance against the loss of your car or your house or your life, insurance isn't free, and it can be very expensive.

In the stock trading world, insurance against loss is called a "put." In a put, you pay another investor a certain amount of money per share to sell your shares to her at a certain price.

Say you own 100 shares in Cadbottom Inc. Right now, the shares have risen to $2,005 a share, but you're worried they're going to fall. You purchase a put from your friend Helen, so that if the shares fall below $2,000 a share — called the strike price — she will buy them all from you for $2,000 each.

This put costs you $10 per share, or a total of $1,000. But there is a way to get your insurance for free.

You do this by selling a "call." A call is the right to buy shares at a certain price. You have another friend, Joan, who is prepared to pay you $10 per share for the right to buy your stock in Cadbottom if it rises above $2,010 per share.

Place a put and a call together, and you've got a collar.

Well done! You have now protected your investment from losing more than $2000 a share, and you did it for free! The only downside is that if the market in Cadbottom does really well, and the shares rise above $2010 each, you won't benefit, because you'll have to sell them to Joan. Doubtless, she'll be jeering at you, but you'll have a sack full of cash, and she'll be the one worrying about insurance. 

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