Marketplace - American Public Media

Get rich by giving up lattes? Not so fast

Fri, 2014-10-10 11:01

There's a long-percolating concept among personal finance gurus: The money you spend on small purchases, say, a latte every day or so, could be redirected towards huge savings. Think hundreds of thousands of dollars over 30 years, if invested. Proponents have included Suze Orman, Penelope Wang of Money Magazine, and most notably author David Bach. 

But another personal finance writer, Helaine Olen, says no way. 

"We weren't spending more money on luxuries," Olen said of the late 1990s. "We were spending less."

Using herself as an example, Olen says the cost of coffee and other small expenses pales in comparison with the rising cost of health care, education, and housing. 

"Think of it this way: at $5 per latte, I would need to give up 260 caffeinated drinks per month to pay my monthly health insurance bill."

She recently traced the history of the concept in a Twitter essay. 

[<a href="//storify.com/annielowrey/the-latte-factor" target="_blank">View the story "The Latte Factor" on Storify</a>]

Nielsen finds a pretty giant glitch in its ratings

Fri, 2014-10-10 11:00

The good people at Nielsen, the television ratings company, said today they've discovered a glitch. Bloomberg reports some of their ratings have been wrong for oh...the past six months or so.

People were counted as watching one network when, in fact, they were watching a different one. Looks like ABC was the big winner.

Nielsen ratings are, of course, worth bazoodles of dollars because that's what advertising rates are based on.

 

Nielsen ratings find a pretty giant glitch

Fri, 2014-10-10 11:00

The good people at Nielsen, the television ratings company, said today they've discovered a glitch. Bloomberg reports some of their ratings have been wrong for oh...the past six months or so.

People were counted as watching one network when, in fact, they were watching a different one. Looks like ABC was the big winner.

Nielsen ratings are, of course, worth bazoodles of dollars because that's what advertising rates are based on.

 

Why are so many holidays on Mondays?

Fri, 2014-10-10 10:49

If Columbus Day for you is a time to stock up on towels - or better yet, get out of town - you’re in good company. And you’re doing exactly what Congress wanted you to do back in 1968, when it passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act: spend money. 

“Well there was very strong support in Congress, but the initiative came from the tourism and vacation interests,” says Gerald Friedman, economics professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Groups like the hotel industry lobby and the American Automobile Association, he says. You could see why hotels that would normally be dead on a Sunday night would be all about this. “It was a very conscious decision that we wanted to promote vacations and leisure, and people felt a three-day holiday would lead to more traveling,” he says. 

And it has. During a typical three-day weekend, AAA estimates more than 34 million Americans hit the road. And even if people don’t leave town, there’s always the mall. “So we have things like Veterans Day sales, we have Columbus Day sales, we have Memorial Day sales,” says John McNamara, senior education fellow at the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. 

The National Retail Federation doesn’t track sales over Monday holidays, but they’re big shopping days.

McNamara says there's a downside: people are so busy spending, they forget why they have the day off.  They don't think about what makes the day historically significant.   That’s one reason Veteran’s Day was shifted back from a Monday holiday to its traditional Nov. 11.

So, if this stuff isn’t set in stone, maybe more three-day weekends are in store.  “I’m kinda waiting for them to move Fourth of July to a Monday,” McNamara laughs.  

But he says don’t plan that Fourth of July weekend getaway just yet, because it’s not likely to change. 

Weekly Wrap: Surprise, surprise (oh wait)

Fri, 2014-10-10 10:43

To absolutely nobody's surprise, the week ended badly on Wall Street. All three major indices headed south Friday, and most of the other indexes as well.

The Wall Street Journal's Sudeep Reddy and Redfin's Nela Richardson joined Kai Ryssdal to talk about the week that was.

The numbers for October 10, 2014

Fri, 2014-10-10 08:32

A military analyst at American University has revised his estimated price for the U.S.-led fight against ISIS to $40 billion per year. That's double Gordon Adam's original estimates, and he attributes the increase to unforeseen resilience from the extremist group, and a need to bolster U.S. allies in the region.

As we wait for a more official number from the Pentagon, here are the other stories we're reading and numbers we're watching Friday.

17

The age of human rights and education advocate Malala Yousafzai, who was learned she she is the youngest-ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize at school Friday, the BBC reported. Yousafzai survived being shot in the head by a Taliban assassin in 2012 after campaigning for girls' education in Pakistan's Swat Valley. She will share the award with Indian children rights activist Kailash Satyarthi.

20 million

That's how many people shop at the Macy's flagship store in midtown Manhattan each year. Amazon will open its very first brick-and-mortar store just down the street, the Wall Street Journal reported. Little is known about the store, but it will reportedly serve as a hub for pick-ups and returns, while eventually selling Amazon devices, like the Kindle and Fire smartphone.

$10,000

That's how much the NFL is fining San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick for wearing his Beats by Dre headphones to a press conference last weekend. The league has an exclusive sponsorship deal with Bose, ESPN reported. Kaepernick, who has an endorsement deal with Beats, wouldn't say if the company will reimburse him for the fine.

What percentage of SAT test-takers met the College Board’s readiness benchmark in 2014?

Fri, 2014-10-10 08:16

Thinking about college, but not prepared to go More kids than ever are taking the SAT, but lots aren’t ready for what comes next.

More than 1.6 million students took the SAT in 2014, yet the percentage of those deemed ready for college and career hasn’t budged in years.

What percentage of SAT test-takers met the College Board’s readiness benchmark in 2014?

PODCAST: Taking a mental health day

Fri, 2014-10-10 03:00

First up, more on the key indexes were mixed in early trading today following the awful performance of Thursday. Until recently, market participants looked at the stronger dollar buying more oil, pushing the price of energy down and figured these were good things for profits and household budgets. Suddenly, sentiment turns, and the strong dollar and cheap oil are bad things because they underscore the weakness of economies from Europe to Asia. Plus, it's World Mental Health Day, so we thought it would be a useful moment to check in on mental health in the workplace. The CDC estimates that depression alone can cause 200 million lost workdays, costing companies as much as $44 billion every year. And on Sunday, Bolivians go to the polls to vote for president. Evo Morales, is running for a third term and is the favorite to win. In the past decade, Bolivia's been praised for cutting poverty, but it still remains one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere. Morales is Boliva's first president of indigenous heritage and a pillar of his leadership has been to improve the lives of indigenous communities, which are a majority.

Silicon Tally: Death, Sext, and Digital Money

Fri, 2014-10-10 02:00

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

This week, we're joined by Anna Sale, host of WNYC's "Death, Sex & Money," a podcast about the big questions and hard choices that are often left out of polite conversation.

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How companies help workers with their mental health

Fri, 2014-10-10 02:00

It’s World Mental Health Day, a good opportunity to check in on mental health in the workplace. The CDC estimates that depression alone can cause 200 million lost workdays annually, costing companies as much as $44 billion every year.

Does that motivate employers to offer more mental health benefits? A 2014 survey from the American Psychological Association found just 45 percent of employees say they get help from employers to meet their mental health needs. But the APA’s Dr. David Ballard—who works with businesses closely—says company attitudes are changing.

“I think we’ve shifted from a lack of awareness and a lack of understanding to a desire to address it, but not always knowing how to do that,” he says

Case in point, Ballard points to the small Wooster, Ohio, company Certified Angus Beef, which may be on the cutting edge of mental health wellness.

Once a month, the firm brings in a clinical psychologist that staff can see on company time. On top of that, Certified Angus Beef offers employees and their family members up to three free visits a year.

“When we really looked at what people struggle with is all the stress, all the life stress,” says the company's director of human resources, Pam Cottrell. She says in three years, utilization of services has tripled.

Ballard says what he likes about the Certified Angus Beef’s approach is that it’s easy, and affordable. The company spends less than $10,000 a year on the benefit.

Graphic by Shea Huffman/Marketplace

A new designation for the San Gabriel Mountains

Fri, 2014-10-10 02:00

On Friday, President Barack Obama will declare 346,000 acres of forestland just north of Los Angeles as a national monument. 

Supporters hope the move will free up both federal and private money that they say is needed to take better care of the San Gabriel Mountains forest area, a popular recreation destination with millions of visitors a year.

"This national forest is one of the most visited places in the country,” says Daniel Rossman, who as chair of the group San Gabriel Mountains Forever has been working for more than a decade to get more resources for the forestland. 

Some who live near the forest have not wanted a monument designation, because they are concerned that it will come with restrictions, such as limits on land use. 

But Rossman says the designation is necessary, because the Forest Service has had trouble keeping up with all the trash and pollution that comes with so many visitors. 

"I’ve personally done clean-ups, picking up dirty diapers and old pieces of clothing,” Rossman says, adding that the mountains are responsible for 30 percent of the Los Angeles region’s water supply. 

California Congresswoman Judy Chu says the president’s executive action will circumvent the current gridlock in Congress.

The monument designation will not only bring more personnel and federal money to the forest, it will also allow for private fundraising, says Chu. 

“You can have a private-public partnership. And already we have non-profit and private donations that have been pledged,” Chu says. 

The Forest Service will be able to set the privately-raised money aside for the San Gabriel Mountains monument; Something it couldn’t do for a national forest. 

 

 

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Judy Chu had been working on Congressional legislation for more than 10 years. Though she supports the change, she has not been advocating for it for that long.

 

Export-Import Bank reports $675 million earnings

Thu, 2014-10-09 12:38

The Export-Import Bank, also known as the Ex-Im Bank, announced today that it returned $675 million to the Treasury Department. Because it's a government agency, it's technically not a profit. 

So what is this government-run bank, exactly?

"We exist solely to help support U.S. jobs when U.S. companies are selling overseas," said Ex-Im chair Fred Hochberg in an interview with Kai Ryssdal.

That support comes in the form of loans to businesses large and small, which drew Congressional scrutiny this year. Republicans called Ex-Im Bank loans a subsidy on outsourcing U.S. jobs. Plus, they said, the bank is unnecessary in light of private sector funds for exporters.

While 98 percent of exporters seek private financing, Hochberg insists that the Ex-Im Bank has a role to play for those that remain. 

"We're Plan B," Hochberg said, adding, "We fill a gap when private sector is unable, unwilling, or market conditions are just too risky for them."

Even Boeing uses the Ex-Im Bank. Supporters say this is to keep up with similar export banks in other countries that would otherwise have a big competitive advantage. So while Boeing could easily survive without the Ex-Im, it makes keeping up with the Joneses (in this case, Airbus), that much easier. 

As for how much it can spend on loans, Congress sets a budget for the bank, but doesn't allocate extra money for its operation. The bank is self-supported, from a portion of its earnings, like those announced today. Hochberg stressed this was another reason why the bank should be seen in an apolitical light.

"There are no Democratic jobs, there are no Republican jobs. There are jobs in every state that are dependent on exports." 

 

Listen to the full conversation in the audio player above.

The Weather Channel branches into 'weather adjacent' content

Thu, 2014-10-09 11:58

Sure, the Weather Channel still covers the traditional three to five day forecasts. But now, the company that has been on air since 1982 they also include anything that is “weather adjacent” to their content, says Claire Suddath, who wrote a piece about it called "The Weather Channel's Secret: Less Weather, More Clickbait" for Bloomberg Businessweek. 

"They refer to anything as nature, the outdoors, and climate – anything where you might be outside – that is part of what they consider weather now and they cover it," says Suddath."People are already coming to weather.com and using their app, but they need to get them to stay," says Suddath.

In an interview with Kai Ryssdal, Suddath says it's working. The Weather Channel app is popular with its users, and people no longer check the weather just in the morning - in fact, some of us are checking the weather up to 40 times a day.

"That means that what we’re looking for out of the forecast has changed," says Suddath. "Instead of the three day, five day outlook – which we do still use – we’re really looking for what are the next 15 minutes like, or the next few hours."

Listen to the full conversation in the audio player above.

Why women lag in winning federal contracts

Thu, 2014-10-09 11:49

It has been 20 years since the government set a goal of awarding five percent of federal contracts to women-owned small businesses – and not once has it met that goal.  

A third of businesses are now owned by women, and being a federal contractor can give business a significant boost. Having that relationship with a federal agency can open a lot of doors. Your business grows faster than other businesses. 

Still, Denise Barreto had another reason for signing up: "What motivated me to become a contractor on all levels for the government was the second I set foot inside of it and saw how it was run," she says.

Let’s just say she knew the government could benefit from her business sense and efficiency. Barreto got her first close-up look at local government when she was elected to her village board in Illinois several years ago. Her company is called Relationships Matter Now and it does strategic planning. It has landed some government work, but a federal contract has proved elusive.  Barreto says she has been in the federal system since 2012, and she has bid on eight contracts. She hasn’t won any.

It takes most people a while to get their first contract. An American Express OPEN study shows that in 2013 it took both men and women about two years and at least four bids before they succeeded.  Lynne Beaman is CEO of North Carolina company Highlands Environmental Solutions. She bid for the first time this summer, and recently found out she didn’t get the job.  Beaman says the whole process of certification and putting in a bid was byzantine. She thinks a lot of women prefer to take care of the business they already have rather than jump through a series of federal hoops to expand.  But she plowed on.

“We also have three children, two biological and one adopted from Russia,” she says. “So I feel if I could handle all the paperwork to get a foreign born orphan out of another country, then I can probably figure my way around this maze.”

She’s not discouraged by her rejection, and has other bids out right now.

Julie Weeks runs Womenable, an organization that supports female entrepreneurship. She says many government agencies are meeting their goal of giving five percent of contracts to women’s businesses, but the Department of Defense is missing the target. That matters because, Weeks says, “about two-thirds of federal spending is done by the Department of Defense.” So if the DOD misses its goal, the overall government goal won’t be met.

Weeks says it’s not that women-owned businesses don’t meet the DOD’s needs. Many make uniforms or do catering. I spoke to one woman who owns a company that bomb-proofs buildings. But Weeks says the DOD is a huge, complicated beast, and moving the needle is tough.

Denise Barreto says one reason few women get these government opportunities is they don’t know enough about them. She says government outreach needs improvement.  “I think having a real sexy website is good," she says, and "having an easy website that somebody can maneuver and understand is better. But nothing beats the opportunity for people to have face to face interactions with these decision makers."

She says women need more chances to meet representatives from Washington in the flesh, at events around the country. That’s what finally landed Barreto her first small federal contract. Her path was unusual, but direct: she didn’t even have to put through another bid. Someone at a federal agency heard her speak at an event, introduced herself, and Barreto ended up with her first opportunity to streamline the government.

Greenpeace used Legos to attack Shell. And won.

Thu, 2014-10-09 11:38

The environmental group Greenpeace put out a video over the summer featuring an awesome Arctic landscape built entirely out of Legos. In it, a Shell-branded Lego oil rig spills, flooding artfully constructed Lego ice floes, and drowning adorable Lego polar bears and distressed-looking Lego eskimos. The message: Get Lego to “stop polluting our kids’ imaginations” by putting the Shell logo on toys.

Lego has now announced that when its “co-promotion” contract with Shell expires, the deal won’t be renewed.  

The video campaign, an inspired piece of brandjacking, borrows everything that’s awesome about Lego — the cuteness, the see-what-you-can-build-spirit — even the theme song from the hit Lego movie  … deconstructed a bit.

Greenpeace spokesman Travis Nichols says the video helped re-position people’s image of Greenpeace — its brand.

"When we’re talking about the Arctic, they might think, 'OK, I’m going to see a sad polar bear, or I'm going to see an oil rig.'  And with this campaign, you got to see these toys that you care about.”

Which are polar bears and oil rigs, but made out of Lego.

In other words, Greenpeace is doing with Lego what Lego has done with other franchises. The idea of borrowing power from another brand helped make Lego what it is today: the world’s number-one toy company. Fifteen years ago, Lego was a brand in decline. Then, it paid big bucks to put out a line of “Star Wars” Legos, and had a monster hit.

I asked Lego spokesman Roar Rude Trangbaek if there wasn’t some irony to getting attacked now for associating with another brand.

"That’s not the same," he said. "Partnerships or licensed products. That’s something entirely different. That’s not a co-promotion. This is a co-promotion."

Greenpeace isn’t a paying partner. What’s a brand like Lego to do when its brand power gets appropriated?

First, don't fight back by trying to get the video deleted, says Marc Fetscherin, a marketing professor at Rollins College and co-editor of the book “Consumer Brand Relationships: Theory and Practice.”  

"It could backfire in the social media, and you get an unwanted, huge media presence," he says.  That's called "the Streisand Effect" after singer Barbra Streisand, who sued to have a photo of her house taken off the Internet in 2003. The lawsuit brought more attention to the photo, and didn't reflect well on the singer.

However, Fetscherin says Lego doesn’t have to just play defense here. "I can imagine a lot of new opportunities for Lego," he says, to pursue a greener image. "Why not team up with Tesla, or any other green company?"

Neither Lego nor Shell will comment on the details of their agreement.

Who is Carl Icahn and what does he do?

Thu, 2014-10-09 11:21

If you follow business news, you've probably heard about "activist investor Carl Icahn."

He pushed Family Dollar to sell itself. (Eventually it did.) He pushed eBay to spin off PayPal. (Eventually it did.) And now he's pushing Apple to buy back more of its stock. (So far, it hasn't.)

But who is Carl Icahn? 

He's a 78-year-old man worth $23 billion, whose favorite sport seems to be arguing with CEOs. 

"Activism in general draws a person who does not shy away from the limelight or shy away from a fight," says Scott Galloway, professor of marketing at NYU's Stern School of Business.  

Icahn has been fighting for decades. 

"Oh, gee, he goes way back," says Donald Margotta, associate professor of finance at Northeastern University. 

In the 1980s, Icahn was known not as an activist, but as a corporate raider, using debt to acquire companies, often to break them up. 

"The corporate raiders were a little bit different [than today's activist investors] in that usually their objective was to acquire the company," says Margotta. "Whereas now people don’t really want to acquire the company, although they do want to break it up."

Instead of acquiring entire companies, today's activist investors acquire large portions, and then leverage that portion through the media. 

"Since activist investors are only taking an ownership position and a portion of the company they also are reliant on other stockholders to have their viewpoint," says Don Steinbrugge, managing partner of hedge-fund consultant Agecroft Partners. "The more media attention they can get the more they can educate the other stockholders in what their position is."

The position could be to buy back stock, to split up the company, to seek an acquisition or a number of other strategies, but the underlying plan is to rally shareholders to force the CEOs hand, and then profit off any resulting increase in the stock price.

But for Icahn it seems to be about more than making money. He seems to want to set things right — as he sees it.

"He basically believes that corporate managers are, by and large, inept and self-serving," Margotta says. 

Apple CEO Tim Cook may be the exception. In his open letter, Icahn called Cook "the ideal CEO" and insisted "this letter is in no way intended as a criticism of you as CEO, nor is it intended to be critical of anything you or your team are doing from an operational perspective at Apple."

Except for that share buyback thing, of course.

Ben Bernanke used an alias during the financial crisis

Thu, 2014-10-09 11:00

What's in a name? A lot, apparently, if you happen to be one of the most powerful men in money.

Back during the financial crisis, then-Chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke used an alias while planning the rescue of the global economy. Evidence in the AIG lawsuit introduced Thursday revealed Bernanke emailed with colleagues and others using the name "Edward Quince."

According to the Wall Street Journal, it's still unclear where Bernanke got his pseudonym, or why it was even used.

Everything is branding: Four more weird partnerships

Thu, 2014-10-09 10:44

Lego announced Thursday it will cut ties with oil giant Royal Dutch Shell today following pressure from Greenpeace, which released a viral video and gathered signatures to protest the partnership. Shell-branded Legos aren't as common as "Star Wars" or superhero themed kits, but the agreement dates back decades and it's reportedly worth at least $110 million.

Inspired by those strange bedfellows, we found a few more examples of corporate incongruity.

McDonald's and Play-Doh

Thanks to brand licensing, children can pretend to do chores with their own Dyson vacuum or Home Depot leaf blower, and plenty of other toys. But fewer products let kids turn processed, salty, artificially colored goop into McDonald's food.

The discontinued Play-Doh McDonald's Restaurant playset molded fries, burgers and milkshakes, using plenty of the best Play-Doh color: brown.

For what it's worth, McDonald's has a partnership with Lego too; the company produced Happy Meal toys and a miniature restaurant.

Electronic Arts Games and various weapon manufacturers

A screenshot of the \"Medal of Honor\" website, via Eurogamer.

Blockbuster video games trade on their realism: in settings, character models, physics, anything. That's especially true for war-related titles, some of which depict weapons and equipment specifically modeled after commercial firearms and real military gear.

Electronic Arts took the idea a step further in promoting "Medal of Honor: Warfighter" in 2012. The game's website featured links to buy the real-world weapons and equipment included in the game. One developer blogged about using the advertised gear. A knife company sold a "Medal of Honor"-branded tomahawk, with proceeds going to EA's program to aid the Navy SEAL Foundation and the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.

Critics bashed EA for advertising and licensing weapons, and the company rolled back the promotion. EA claimed none of their marketing partners paid for product placement, but were merely trying to give back to service members.

Susan G. Komen and KFC

We've told you about oilfield services company Baker Hughes making pink drill bits for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Not quite as strange, but certainly more ironic: KFC's 2010 "Buckets for the Cure" campaign.

The fast food chain donated 50 cents of each pink bucket sold to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, and raised $2 million in the first week. But the idea of selling fried food to fight cancer was criticized by activists and roundly mocked. ABC called the effort "Eat a Breast to Save a Breast," and Stephen Colbert described it as "hypo-crispy."

'The Sims' and various record labels

The life simulation video game series "The Sims" theoretically offers limitless possibilities for product placement, but EA — the company of the branded weapons for charity — have kept the games marketing partnerships both restrained and deeply strange. Sims can wear clothes by H&M and Diesel, sure, but far weirder is the "Sims 3: Katy Perry's Sweet Treats."

The expansion pack adds outfits, decorations and locations inspired by Perry's album "Teenage Dream," and Perry recorded a version of her song "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F)" in the game's made-up Simlish language.

Perry isn't the only artist to rerecord a song for "The Sims" either. High-profile acts like Matt & Kim, My Chemical Romance, Soulja Boy, Depeche Mode and many more have had songs "translated."

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