Marketplace - American Public Media

A simple list of ways to avoid a Sochi spoiler

Sun, 2014-02-09 19:07

Spoilers ruin everything. How exciting is The Walking Dead when you learn that [REDACTED] has been evil the whole time? How gripping is Game of Thrones when your friend tells you that [REDACTED] and [REDACTED] are secretly in cahoots before you've had a chance to watch the season finale?

Spoilers ruin movies, TV shows, books... and this year, they might even ruin the Winter Olympics. You see, Sochi is nine hours ahead of the East coast, so like the London Games, NBC will be broadcasting the competition on a tape delay.

That means that if you just watch NBC's primetime coverage, everything you see will have already happened. And if it's already happened, that means it can be spoiled. Whether it's through tweets, news updates, or that annoying coworker who just has to tell everyone about the crazy thing that happened in the curling final… spoilers are out there. Here are four ways to avoid them:

  1. Turn your phone's push notifications off. If you're a somewhat technology-addicted person, you probably have a couple news apps on your iPhone or Android. These apps will send you 'breaking news' alerts when something they deem newsworthy happens. Normally, this is wonderful. But during the Olympics, these alerts are your enemy. You don't want to read a notification that says 'live polar bear wanders onto ski slope, wins men's downhill.' You want to see that polar bear take home the gold on your TV, without knowing anything beforehand. So for the two weeks of the Olympics, you need to turn those push notifications off. How to: If you've got an iPhone, go to Settings, then click Notification Center, and set each app to not send you alerts. Yes, you won’t get any non-Olympic news either, but that’s a small price to pay for watching the Olympics without being spoiled.
  2. SpoilerShield. If most of your interactions with other human beings happen via Twitter or Facebook, SpoilerShield is your friend. SpoilerShield is pretty much exactly what it sounds like, a free app that blocks spoilers from showing up on Twitter and Facebook. There are a bunch of different 'shields'; you can block Game of Thrones spoilers, Football spoilers, and best of all, Olympic spoilers. After all, who wants to see: "whoa, the Jamaican Bobsled team won the whole thing! #BetterThanCoolRunnings" before they see the actual bobsled race? Nobody, that’s who. How to: Simply go to the app store and download the app on your phone.
  3. Actually Watch the Events Live. The only sure way to avoid spoilers is to watch the events before they can possibly be spoiled. Which means watching them live. Doing it this way does mean that you might be watching women's curling at 5 a.m., but if you’re really serious about avoiding spoilers, this is the only sure-fire way to do it. How to NBC puts up all the Sochi events on its website, and if you have either cable or a service like DirecTV, you can watch as much as you'd like. The schedule is online, and if there are certain events you really just need to see, start planning your next two weeks.
  4. Hide Under a Rock. If you just want to watch NBC's primetime coverage of the Olympics without being spoiled, if you're unable or unwilling to get up at 3 a.m. to watch two-person luge, then your best bet might be to become a recluse. Even if you stay off the internet or use SpoilerShield, you can't control what other people do. You might overhear a conversation about the hockey winner, your friends might excitedly tell you about the amazing ski jump they witnessed, there are certain things you just can't help. How to: It's either cut off all contact with the outside world, or serenely accept that you might see a spoiler. Because even if you get to watch the primetime event spoiler-free, NBC might spoil the whole thing during the competition itself. Don't forget: They did it in London.

Why moving to all-cash can cost you

Fri, 2014-02-07 17:35

First there was Target, then Neiman Marcus, then White Lodging, which maintains some major hotel franchises. Consumer data breaches at these companies left millions of us vulnerable to identity theft.

With our cards at risk, is the safe bet to switch to cash?

Some say yes, Rob Wile says no. He's an energy and economics reporter for Business Insider, and he recently wrote a piece that highlighted 13 reasons "Why Cash Is Bad."

#2 Cash is inconvenient

On average, the Tufts researchers found, Americans waste 28 minutes a month traveling to an ATM, or 5.6 hours a year. Much of that time would likely have been spent on leisure. But at the mean wage, that means $31 billion lost annually. "...It is indicative of just how much time in the aggregate is spent managing currency," the Tufts professors write.

When commercials 'Keep it real': The rise of realistic advertising

Fri, 2014-02-07 17:23

There I was just watching TV when out of nowhere, he appeared: The guy with one arm selling Swiffer dusters. When I first saw him, I didn’t know that his name was Zack Rukavina. Or that he’d lost his arm to cancer. Or that I was watching him interact with his real family while he spoke about all the ways Swiffer helps him help out around the house.

All I knew was that the commercial I was watching was compelling in a way I hadn’t experienced as a TV viewer before.

Had I seen a person with a disability in a mainstream commercial before? Most likely. Certainly war veterans, paralympians and the elderly have been cast to push products from sneakers to remote alarm systems.

But, what struck me about the Swiffer ad was that his disability wasn’t the highlight of the commercial. It was certainly what got my attention, but by the end of that 30-second spot, I was remembering more about how Zack poked fun at his wife for being a terrible housekeeper and the way his two adorable children seemed to vie for his attention in every scene. The commercial didn’t provoke pity, embarrassment or portray its leading man as any kind of superhero. The Rukavinas are a totally normal family and that’s what Swiffer was successful at conveying. That and if you must dust, don’t skimp on the brand name.

Diversity in commercial advertising still has a long way to go in reflecting the appearances and experiences of America’s various populations. However the Swiffer ad and others seem to be stepping into reality TV territory – more inclusive casting choices, less pretending that we all look, sound and behave alike in our homes and communities. The much buzzed-about Cheerios ad featuring an interracial family is another example of this, as is this advertisement starring a 62-year-old underwear model in American Apparel.

So, after all these years of using overtly sexy, impossibly flawless images to push products, what do companies have to gain by keeping it real now? And how does that affect the consumer experience?

Maybe the mad men are finally figuring out what many of us have known all along.

“Well, it’s about time that Madison Avenue and advertisers are really embracing the reality of what America is today,” says Ann Christine Diaz, Creativity Editor at AdAge. “It’s no longer the case that the all-American family is a Ralph Lauren ad. You know, if you look at the changing demographics and the changing population of America, or at least of the major metropolitan cities, families are growing more and more diverse so I think it’s only a smart move for advertisers to embrace that reality.”

Diaz also says your Tweets and Tumblr posts have played a very influential role in advertisers taking less traditional approaches to attract audiences.

“With the rise of the voice of the consumer empowered by social media, advertisers are having to be more real, get more real because there are so many people now who can keep them in check about what their messages are,” she says.

For companies, something major can be achieved with inclusive advertising.

“There’s so many products out there so the more goodwill that you foster with consumers, the more you show them that you represent something beyond just the sell, that’s going to engender some brand loyalty among people,” Diaz says. “They’re going to turn to the brand that they like, the brand that they would be friends with, basically.”

Will I buy more Swiffer dusters in the future? I don’t know. The truth is, I hate to clean just about as much as Mrs. Rukavina. But if I do buy a Swiffer, I’ll probably think of that commercial and feel pretty darn good about it.

Have you noticed commercials “keeping it real?” Does it have an effect on you as a consumer? Join the conversation with a comment below or Tweet us @LiveMoney.

@LiveMoney: Do women tweet their own horn at work?

Fri, 2014-02-07 17:04

Just like advertisers, we too know the power of social media.

So, we invited Marketplace Money producer and social media maven (his words, not ours) Raghu Manavalan from behind his keyboard into the studio today to give us a rundown of what's getting traction on Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, AOL chatrooms and more.

We asked our female listeners to tell us if they felt comfortable promoting themselves at work, after our story last week, "Why women don't roar at work."

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I toot my horn at work -- but not enough. Why women don't roar at work http://t.co/g8o1mK11fP @LiveMoney @workingmother @sallythornton

— Meghan Boots (@bootsatherbest) February 4, 2014

@LiveMoney Never or rarely. I'm probably penalized for NOT tooting my own horn.

— Sarah Fuelleman (@SarahFuelleman) January 28, 2014

@LiveMoney I worked in journalism, now PR. We live on awards competitions.

— tracy harris (@tracefh) January 28, 2014

And yes, with Valentine's Day around the corner, we're curious about how you plan to live money on that day. Hit us up on Twitter or Facebook about your frugal gift ideas or what love & money questions you have!

This week's best of @LiveMoney

Fri, 2014-02-07 17:04

Just like advertisers, we too know the power of social media.

So, we invited Marketplace Money producer and social media maven (his words, not ours) Raghu Manavalan from behind his keyboard into the studio today to give us a rundown of what's getting traction on Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, AOL chatrooms and more.

We asked our female listeners to tell us if they felt comfortable promoting themselves at work, after our story last week, "Why women don't roar at work."

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I toot my horn at work -- but not enough. Why women don't roar at work http://t.co/g8o1mK11fP @LiveMoney @workingmother @sallythornton

— Meghan Boots (@bootsatherbest) February 4, 2014

@LiveMoney Never or rarely. I'm probably penalized for NOT tooting my own horn.

— Sarah Fuelleman (@SarahFuelleman) January 28, 2014

@LiveMoney I worked in journalism, now PR. We live on awards competitions.

— tracy harris (@tracefh) January 28, 2014

And yes, with Valentine's Day around the corner, we're curious about how you plan to live money on that day. Hit us up on Twitter or Facebook about your frugal gift ideas or what love & money questions you have!

Tale of two incomes: If you have less money than your friends...

Fri, 2014-02-07 16:54

A friend calls and says "hey, let's go try that new restaurant on Fletcher Street," you hear, "let's go to that new ultra-expensive new restaurant on Fletcher Street."

You want to go, but you look at your bank account and know you shouldn't.

We've all been there, having to make hard decisions when our friends have more money than we do.

So how is a social butterfly like yourself to cope? Fortunately, we have a guide, Samantha Sharf of Forbes explains her guide to having less money than your friends.

"We like to believe that friendship and finance have nothing to do with each other. But in reality, unmitigated economic differences can cause awkwardness in the best of circumstances, and resentment in the worst."

What to do if you have less money than your friends

Fri, 2014-02-07 16:54

A friend calls and says "hey, let's go try that new restaurant on Fletcher Street," you hear, "let's go to that new ultra-expensive new restaurant on Fletcher Street."

You want to go, but you look at your bank account and know you shouldn't.

We've all been there, having to make hard decisions when our friends have more money than we do.

So how is a social butterfly like yourself to cope? Fortunately, we have a guide, Samantha Sharf of Forbes explains her guide to having less money than your friends.

"We like to believe that friendship and finance have nothing to do with each other. But in reality, unmitigated economic differences can cause awkwardness in the best of circumstances, and resentment in the worst."

Black buying power hits $1.1 trillion. What does it mean?

Fri, 2014-02-07 16:30

Think about the price-tag of $1.1 trillion dollars.

If we were talking about countries, that would be the 16th biggest economy in the world, but it's not a country, it's the combined buying power of a group of people who are part of this country: African-Americans.

A recent study by the Nielsen Company predicts that African-American buying power will hit that $1.1 trillion number next year. "The black population is young, hip and highly influential. We are growing 64 percent faster than the general market," says Cheryl Pearson McNeil, a Vice President at Nielsen.

Companies spend $75 billion a year on advertising, but only three percent of that is in Black publications, and casting Black actors, and on Black TV and radio stations. Pearson-McNeil says, if you ignore this demographic, as many big companies have done, you do so at your own peril.

"If you want to market to those groups, then you should know what particular group buys your stuff," says Noel King, reporter for Marketplace's Wealth and Poverty desk. "Blacks tend to spend more on electronics, utilities, groceries, footwear. They spend a lot less on new cars, alcohol, entertainment, health care, and pensions."

Dr. Jared Ball, a professor at Morgan State University, has done some research into Black buying power, but says that $1.1 trillion doesn't mean everything is great for the Black community. "This phrase, 'buying power,' is used as a glossy euphemism for Black poverty for being the fault of Black spending habits, as opposed to a pre-determined need in our economic model. A lot of people pick up this phrase and hear these large numbers, and assume Black America is stronger than Black America actually is."

Beer per minimum wage hour

Fri, 2014-02-07 14:45

Stuck somewhere between economic policy and happy hour.

The website Quartz has a chart of how many hours it takes -- working minimum wage -- to afford a beer at a bar or restaurant in whatever country the work is being done. Check it out here

Some highlights:

Here in the U.S.A:

24 minutes per beer.

Russia (hey, Olympics):

1 1/2 hours  per beer.

Brazil:

1 hour per beer.

Bangladesh:

13 1/2 hours per beer.

Ireland:

1/2 hour per beer. 

Weekly Wrap: Taper the taper?

Fri, 2014-02-07 13:34

The Wall Street Journal's Sudeep Reddy and Bloomberg Government's Nela Richardson join Kai to talk about the new jobs report -- and it's making Reddy sad:

"We've seen so much excitement about what could have been a stronger recovery in 2104. We had all of these expectations of stronger economic growth, consumers going out and spending more, busiensses finally putting all that cash to good use. And what we're seeing is the labor market that we've had for the last 3 or 4 years, and perhaps even worse than what we've had for the last 3 or 4 years. And it's possible that this could just be a blip, but it doesn't give us that upturn, that big, excitnig move forward that we've all been waiting for. " Sudeep Reddy 

To the question, "Is it just a blip?" Richardson says:

"I have to answer that with a question: What is it called when you keep doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result? I think that's what this economy is doing."

And later -- 

"If the second half of 2014 was more of a fluke than real, there is a possibility Janet Yellen could do something come March."

'Did you know there's a pimp in your wallet?'

Fri, 2014-02-07 12:11

There are reasons aplenty to wean oneself off the credit card merry-go-round.  Whether you'd like to avoid debt, want to keep to a stricter budget, or have been frightened by the recent spate of credit breaches, you may be thinking of going on an all-cash diet.  

And while your debit card usually won't let you spend what you don't have, small business owners know that a debit card is not as good as cash. One small business owner, specifically.

Renee Quarles is the owner of Shades of Afrika, in Long Beach, Calif., a store that offers books, art, and health, and beauty products all with the purpose of enhancing "the understanding of the Afrikan diaspora." In 2010, as part of what she considered a challenge from President Obama to create new jobs, Quarles opened a neighboring salon, Natural Kinx and Waves which created 3 new jobs. 

Quarles is a pleasant woman who knows her store inside and out,  and she is just as comfortable talking about her customer's home lives as she is world politics.

But she doesn't mince words when it comes to topics she's passionate about. Just try to buy something with a debit card. 

"You'd like to pay with a card? Did you know that there's a pimp in your wallet?” she says. That’s right. With a very kind and nurturing tone she continues, “There’s a pimp in all of our wallets, dear.”

The pimp she is referring to are banks. As a small business owner, Quarles says that she has been forced to charge more to take debit and credit cards. To avoid passing the costs on to all customers, she charges a fee to those who wish to use a card.

“My cash register has the $1.00 processing fee [posted].  We merchants can’t keep carrying the weight of these fees,” Quarles says.

She is baffled as to why anyone would prefer to use a card over greenbacks.

“Whenever I can only make a quarter of a penny in keeping my money, and a man I can’t see makes 2.79 to 3.29 percent, who are you and how did you get in my wallet," she says.

Quarles says she wants to empower everyone to take charge of their finances, and that denying the banks access to your full purchase history is one big step. That by using cash, you keep the man out of your wallet, and you avoid paying fees like the one she is compelled to charge.

As to why she doesn’t just transition to an all-cash business, she says, “I tried that when I first started.  When I tried to take [the card reader] out, the convenience factors were overwhelming me.  Everyone with a job had these cards.  I couldn’t say no,” she stresses. “If I didn’t have [the card reader], I wouldn’t have sold anything because people weren’t going to go and come back to me with cash.”

Longtime customer Janae Tucker says that she and her partner, Darren Turner, often hear Quarles’ “pimp in your wallet” spiel.

“We always get lectured,” Tucker says.  Darren Turner jumps into say that he doesn’t see it as a lecture, but as a lesson.

Quarles is happy that her words are taken as a lesson and haven’t fallen on deaf ears.  She says that getting the pimp out of peoples’ wallets is a battle she will continue to fight.

“We are in a serious crisis when people believe that the card in our hand is going to suffice better than the cash in our wallets.  The cash in your wallet allows you to pay your children an allowance to teach them how to manage their own saving.”

And with a smile, she slides the debit card, hands over the merchandise and says, “Take your power back.”

'There's a pimp in your wallet'

Fri, 2014-02-07 12:11

There are reasons aplenty to wean oneself off the credit card merry-go-round.  Whether you'd like to avoid debt, want to keep to a stricter budget, or have been frightened by the recent spate of credit breaches, you may be thinking of going on an all-cash diet.  

And while your debit card usually won't let you spend what you don't have, small business owners know that debt is not as good as cash. One small business owner, specifically.

Renee Quarles is the owner of Shades of Afrika, in Long Beach, Calif., a store that offers books, art, and health, and beauty products all with the purpose of enhancing "the understanding of the Afrikan diaspora." In 2010, as part of what she considered a challenge from President Obama to create new jobs, Quarles opened a neighboring salon, Natural Kinx and Waves which created 3 new jobs. 

Quarles is a pleasant woman who knows her store inside and out,  and she is just as comfortable talking about her customer's home lives as she is world politics.

But she doesn't mince words when it comes to topics she's passionate about. Just try to buy something with a debit card. 

"You'd like to pay with a card? Did you know that there's a pimp in your wallet?” she says. That’s right. With a very kind and nurturing tone she continues, “There’s a pimp in all of our wallets, dear.”

The pimp she is referring to are banks. As a small business owner, Quarles says that she has been forced to charge more to take debit and credit cards. To avoid passing the costs on to all customers, she charges a fee to those who wish to use a card.

“My cash register has the $1.00 processing fee [posted].  We merchants can’t keep carrying the weight of these fees,” Quarles says.

She is baffled as to why anyone would prefer to use a card over greenbacks.

“Whenever I can only make a quarter of a penny in keeping my money, and a man I can’t see makes 2.79 to 3.29 percent, who are you and how did you get in my wallet," she says.

Quarles says she wants to empower everyone to take charge of their finances, and that denying the banks access to your full purchase history is one big step. That by using cash, you keep the man out of your wallet, and you avoid paying fees like the one she is compelled to charge.

As to why she doesn’t just transition to an all-cash business, she says, “I tried that when I first started.  When I tried to take [the card reader] out, the convenience factors were overwhelming me.  Everyone with a job had these cards.  I couldn’t say no,” she stresses. “If I didn’t have [the card reader], I wouldn’t have sold anything because people weren’t going to go and come back to me with cash.”

Longtime customer Janae Tucker says that she and her partner, Darren Turner, often hear Quarles’ “pimp in your wallet” spiel.

“We always get lectured,” Tucker says.  Darren Turner jumps into say that he doesn’t see it as a lecture, but as a lesson.

Quarles is happy that her words are taken as a lesson and haven’t fallen on deaf ears.  She says that getting the pimp out of peoples’ wallets is a battle she will continue to fight.

“We are in a serious crisis when people believe that the card in our hand is going to suffice better than the cash in our wallets.  The cash in your wallet allows you to pay your children an allowance to teach them how to manage their own saving.”

And with a smile, she slides the debit card, hands over the merchandise and says, “Take your power back.”

WARNING: Valentine's Day is approaching

Fri, 2014-02-07 12:09

From the Marketplace Datebook, here’s an extended look at what’s coming up next week. Yep, a whole week. So grab a seat:

  • The first singing telegram is believed to have been delivered on February 10, 1933. Oh, how thoughtful.
  • Every dog has its day. Or in this case, two days at the top of the week. The annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show takes place in New York City.
  •  It was sixty-five years ago that we met the character Willy Loman when "Death of a Salesman" premiered on Broadway. In a recent revival the role was played by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. Miss him already.
  • On Tuesday some people observe Get Out your Guitar Day. I don’t. and I’m so glad my neighbors don’t either.
  • On hump day…a look at the nation’s balance sheet. The Treasury department issues its monthly statement for January.
  • February 14th is Valentines’ Day. If you haven’t bought a card yet do it now or you’ll end up with something less-than-fantastic because those guys who thought ahead have already cleaned out the cool cards with nice sentiments. Go. Go now.
  • And we started with dogs, this is for the birds. To benefit our feathered friends, the annual Great Backyard Bird Count begins on Friday. Creating a record of where the birds are. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

A tale of two jobs surveys

Fri, 2014-02-07 12:00

You might call the January jobs reports released this morning A Tale of Two Surveys. First, there’s what's called the establishment survey, where businesses are asked how many jobs they created. Last month? Just 113,000 of 'em.

Not so good.

And then there's the household survey, where households are asked how many people are working. That one showed more than 600,000 new jobs last month, and helped kick the unemployment rate down to 6.6 percent. So which to believe?

Well, if conflicting employment reports stress you out, close your eyes and imagine the beach.

Doug Handler is chief U.S. economist for IHS Global Insight. He says the survey where tens of thousands of households reported that nice bump in employment is less precise than the payroll data.

"It’s like trying to predict the amount of water in the ocean by looking at the waves here,” he says. “You can broadly get a number, but from minute to minute or from month to month it’s tough to predict."

Plus, the household survey and the payroll tabulation measure slightly different things. Harry Holzer is an economist and public policy professor at Georgetown University.

"The self-employed in the household survey will say that they are employed, and there’s no such category in the payroll numbers, cause it’s only for employees," he says.

While many economists prefer the payroll survey, they say there’s something to the optimism in the household survey. That it should temper the gloom of the last two payroll reports. (December’s weak report was revised upwards to just 75,000 new jobs.)

Mark Vitner is managing director and senior economist at Wells Fargo. He knows folks were disappointed when they first saw today’s numbers.

"They said, well, the unemployment rate’s been declining but it’s been declining and it’s all because of a drop in the labor force,” he says. “Well, the labor force didn’t decline, it actually increased."

He says low job gains in December and January may have been caused by weather. And he says those disappointing payroll numbers may not look so disappointing if you see where the growth took place. Construction and manufacturing jobs are actually picking up, which he thinks is pulling people back into the labor force.

Sochi 2014 #NBCFail? Or is the network an Olympic winner?

Fri, 2014-02-07 11:37

The Olympics has issues, ranging from construction problems to gay rights to the threat of terrorism.

But on Twitter and Internet message boards, the big complaint is against NBC for not broadcasting the games live.

During the last summer Olympics, media expert Jeff Jarvis was one of the folks complaining about the lack of live Olympics programming.

"This time, it doesn’t make much difference to me," says Jarvis.

For one thing, he can access lots more live games this year being streamed over the Internet. He would like to see more live sports televised, which Jarvis argues wouldn’t be bad for NBC’s business.

"As it turns out, when we knew what the results were from some events in the summer, it even drove more audience to watching the event. So I don’t think that having it on live necessarily takes away from also having it tape delayed in prime time," says Jarvis.

From a marketing standpoint, Jarvis can appreciate what the tape delay means for NBC.

"The advantage, additionally, of having tape delayed coverage is they can edit the heck out of it, and make sure they never run long so that you keep watching when they put in their favorite new sitcom."

Or, NBC’s reboot of the Tonight Show. During the Olympics, NBC will be promoting it non-stop

"I think we’ll see a lot of promos for Jimmy Fallon. I think it’s very smart that NBC is premiering the show February 17, while the Olympics is still going on," says Brad Adgate, senior VP of research for the ad buying firm, Horizon Media.

Other advertisers are eager to get their message on during the games too.

Compared to the demand from advertisers during the last winter games, Adgate says advertiser demand this year is "certainly a lot stronger this year than... in the Vancouver games of 2010."

NBC reportedly paid a little less than $900 million to produce and broadcast the Olympics coverage.

The network reports selling more than $800 million worth of ads so far. That’s a record for the winter games.

Why Apple is taking a page from self-help books

Fri, 2014-02-07 11:37

What better way to get through a difficult time than by investing in yourself?

If you’re a person, that can mean meditation, self-help books, eating right, and exercise. If you’re a company, that means buying your own stock. It’s called a stock buyback, and Apple just did it in grand style: The company has purchased $14 billion of its own shares in the two weeks since reporting lackluster financial results, and watching its stock price tumble.

"The reason the company’s doing this is that they’re trying to send a message to the market that they have confidence in the company’s outlook," says Bill Kreher, senior technology analyst for Edward Jones. "They believe the market misunderstands their story and is undervaluing their future prospects."

I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and doggone it, people, buy me!

But valuing itself isn't the only reason Apple is buying its own shares.

"It’s kind of like hush money," says Paul Kedrosky, parter with investment bank Garibaldi Capital. Kedrosky says Apple investors are frustrated their shares are losing value and, meanwhile, Apple’s sitting on $160 billion in cash reserves, and doesn’t appear to be investing in new research or buying up other companies.

"You don’t get to have it both ways. You don’t get to hang onto it, not buy anything, not spend more money on R&D and say, 'By the way, you investors can’t have it.' You don’t get to do that. You’re a public company and you have obligations. They created this trap for themselves and now they’re stuck."

Investors like stock buybacks, because they usually increase the value of their stock. "The cool thing is, if you’re a shareholder you discover that suddenly, you own a bigger fraction of the company,"  says James Angel, finance professor at Georgetown University. There are fewer shares for sale, so those shares are worth more.

That’s a lot of self love.

All told, Apple has said it plans to spend about $60 billion dollars on stock buybacks.

PODCAST: January jobs report

Fri, 2014-02-07 09:30

The government's closely watched employment report for January looked very weak this morning. There were just 113,000 extra jobs recorded, when professional forecasters, already aware of the bad weather, were expecting something closer to 180,000.  Yet, the government found the labor force expanded slightly and the unemployment rate fell to 6.6 percent. Some of the difference here may be that the first survey comes from the government asking businesses: how many people you got on your payroll. And second is from the government calling people at home asking, who's working?

And, we talk to an actual human being behind the government statistics on the labor market that were released today. Last fall, we spoke to Maureen Cunningham, who at 51 recently moved to Florida, when her husband retired. Before the move, she'd arranged to keep doing a version of old job from the new location. But now she's stuck looking for work again and we wanted to check in.

Also, there will be some useful fine print when the Federal Reserve today releases what it calls it's G-19 Consumer Credit report. This obscure calculation will tellsus a couple of things: including how much credit is being extended to consumers, and how much debt we are collectively carrying. Marketplace's Noel King has more on how much debt is too much.

Stumped by the debt ceiling? Here's an explainer

Fri, 2014-02-07 08:24

Q. WHAT IS THE DEBT LIMIT?

It is "the total amount of money that the United States government is authorized to borrow to meet its existing legal obligations, including Social Security and Medicare benefits, military salaries, interest on the national debt, tax refunds, and other payments," the Treasury Department explains.

Basically, Congress appropriates money for projects and programs, then lawmakers have to give the executive branch permission to pay those bills.  

Q. OK. BUT WHAT IS THE ACTUAL DEBT LIMIT (IN DOLLARS)?

$17.2 trillion. 

After it expires on Friday, February 7, 2014, the Treasury Department will use what are called "extraordinary measures" to keep the government solvent for as long as it can. The government can move money around. It can defer investments in certain intragovernmental accounts, better known as trust funds.  These include the Thrift Savings Plan, for government employees; the Exchange Stabilization Fund; and the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund.

The department already suspended sales of State and Local Government Series (SLGS) nonmarketable Treasury securities "until further notice." 

Q. WHEN DO THESE "EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES" RUN OUT?

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew predicts this will happen by the end of February.

"At different times of the year, these extraordinary measures provide more or less of a cushion depending on variables that we cannot control," he says. In February, Americans are beginning to file their taxes, and the Treasury Department is cutting a lot of refund checks. 

The Bipartisan Policy Center tracks this closely, and it predicts "approximately $198 billion of extraordinary measures will be available at this time."

Q. I'M HEARING PEOPLE TALK ABOUT AN "X DATE." WHAT IS THAT?

The "X Date" is when those "extraordinary measures" run out. At that point in time, the government will no longer be able to pay its bills. 

The Bipartisan Policy Center forecasts that will fall between February 28 and March 25. It is hard to be more specific, because you can’t know in advance how much money the government is going to take in and how much money they government is going to pay out.

Q. WHAT WOULD HAPPEN THEN?

Who knows?

I'm only half kidding.

The government, which makes millions of payments every day, wouldn’t be able to make good on all of them. It could default on Treasury bonds. Economists and investors predict that would lead to a huge downturn.

Q. COULDN'T THE GOVERNMENT PRIORITIZE PAYMENTS, JUST PAY SOME BILLS BEFORE OTHERS?

The Treasury Department has maintained that this would be both impossible and legally dubious. As New York magazine's Kevin Roose notes, "The problem is that there aren't really any less-important things included in the Treasury's regular payment schedule. It's all stuff like food stamps, Social Security, military pay, unemployment benefits, and federal worker salaries. So these choices would be really, really painful."

Q. WHY DOES THE U.S. HAVE A DEBT LIMIT?

"Congress used to approve borrowing project-by-project," Marketplace’s Nancy Marshall-Genzer explains. "Eventually, that incremental budgeting got too cumbersome."

The first limits on borrowing were imposed during World War I. The Second Liberty Bond Act of 1917 set a $15 billion limit on government bonds.

"That set the precedent for giving the Treasury Department a cap," says Donald Ritchie, who runs the Senate Historical Office. In 1939, Congress set a limit on debt of all kinds.

"This measure gave the Treasury freer rein to manage the federal debt as it saw fit," the Congressional Research Service says.

Q. HAS IT ALWAYS BEEN SO CONTROVERSIAL?

Until the 1970s, it wasn't, really.

Amendments to the Second Liberty Bond Act "were not partisan," says Richard McCulley, an historian with the Center for Legislative Archives. "They were supposed to help the Treasury Department manage the federal debt. ... That has morphed into this incredible headache for the Treasury now."

Q. HOW MANY TIMES HAS THE GOVERNMENT RAISED THE DEBT LIMIT?

"Since 1960, Congress has acted 78 separate times to permanently raise, temporarily extend, or revise the definition of the debt limit – 49 times under Republican presidents and 29 times under Democratic presidents," the Treasury Department says.

According to the Senate Historical Office’s Donald Ritchie, this is always "a burden on the majority party."

"Nobody likes to increase the debt limit, even though it reflects what they have already authorized and appropriated," he says. "They don’t like to do it. They never have liked to do it. But you have to. It’s a responsibility – the fiscal responsibility – of the federal government."

Dealing with unemployment after a lifetime of work

Fri, 2014-02-07 08:13

Now for an actual human being behind the government statistics on the labor market that were released today. Last fall, we spoke to Maureen Cunningham, who at 51 recently moved to Florida, when her husband retired. Before the move, she'd arranged to keep doing a version of old job from the new location. But now she's stuck looking for work again and we wanted to check in.

"I've worked my whole life, and to suddenly not be working is hard."

Click play on the audio player to hear the full interview.

Shadow of corruption allegations hangs over Sochi Olympics

Fri, 2014-02-07 07:50

The facilities for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia cost an estimated $50 billion to build.  Some experts at the Carnegie Moscow Center, a public policy research group, are among those claiming that process was riddled with corruption.  With the Sochi Opening Ceremony due to start today, Steve Rosenberg, one of the BBC's senior correspondents in Russia, joined us to help explain.

Click play on the audio player above to hear more.

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