It is November 27th and I'm 90 percent done all my holiday-gift shopping. I may break my all-time record!
Mind you, I'm one of those people whose eyes roll far back up the head when I hear Christmas music the week after Halloween and mutter "sacrilege" when elves with pointy-toed shoes share shelves with plump turkey plush-toys sporting pilgrim hats. However, I'm a realist and the reality is that for most of us, holiday-gift shopping plus travel plans cut into our already busy lives. Which means stress -- and not only financial. So my goal each year at this time is as follows: Set spending budget. Stick to budget. Then budget my stress.
Spending under stress means possibly spending more. Yes, I may get more for my money as sales climb closer to the holidays, but on the flip-side, I won't be as efficient a shopper under duress. (To thine own sell be true, shoppers!) Also, I want access to what I'd like to buy in all sizes and colors, rather than being forced to buy a plaid shirt for my brother who would much rather have a Cosby-sweater in the right size. Truth be told, the only person who gets super-special treatment under the tree is my 7-year old daughter. 'Santa' shops much more strategically and over a longer period of time for this one. To be fair, she gave me a cheat-sheet (a.k.a. 'For Santa') so I can hold out another week for a price-drop on the limited edition Easy Bake Oven. But not too long or I'll be stuck with the purple model instead of the black and chrome. (The horror!)
And of course, now that I've looked up that oven online to price-compare, nearly every window I open on my laptop has the oven 'following' me from site to site. Quite crafty of online retailers (and Google), but nevertheless, a tad creepy. It reminds me of a nagging salesperson on the retail floor: "You sure you don't want it? I have it in magenta!" But, if it saves me $20 to be cyber-stalked (mildly), I'll take it.
On this week's show, Marketplace senior reporter, Stacy Vanek Smith, joins me to give us the real scoop behind how retailers are tracking you online and now even more, in the stores themselves!
How do you feel about walking into a store and the store knowing that you're there? Maybe sending customized sale alerts to your cell phone as you walk around? Tell us your take on retailers, both on and offline, tailoring service to you by data tracking. And if you're not a fan, what strategies do you have or resources do you use to block the 'elves'?
We'd love to hear from you!
As holiday shopping discounts kick into high gear this week, lots of people will be buying new smart phones. And whether you're an iPhone or an Android, one of the features that has had a lot of attention recently is voice recognition. But the more hands-free our tech world tries to be, the more a particular problem grows. A lot of voice recognition software seems to work best for English. And even if you're speaking English with an accent, Siri or Google might not translate nearly as well. Gabrielle Sama is the managing editor for CNET en Espanol. He and his reporting team have taken a close look at the issue. Sama joins Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson to talk about the continuing challenges of voice recognition software.
Since 1919, bankers have come together every day to determine the price of gold around the world. But now the process -- the London Gold Fix – is under scrutiny by British regulators. Bloomberg reporter Liam Vaughan worked on a piece examining the system.
“[It’s] looking at whether it’s entirely fair for this certainly price sensitive -- if not confidential -- information to be in the hands of these banks before everyone else when these banks are also allowed to trade,” Vaughan says.
Click on the audio player above to hear more about the U.K. Financial Conduct Authority’s investigation into price setting in the $20 trillion gold market.
As the Obama administration continues its erratic roll out of health care reform, halfway around the world in Indonesia, authorities are getting ready to introduce the world's biggest universal health care program. It will cover all 240 million citizens and go into effect in 2014.
It will take five years to roll out completely but eventually the idea is that everyone will be able to get health care that is free at the point of use. It's an ambitious plan for a middle income country.
But as the BBC's Claire Bolderson found on the Island of Sulewesi -- one of the biggest in the Indonesian archipelago -- the country's health care system is already under strain.
Federal regulators have ordered the genetic testing company 23andMe to stop marketing its mail-order DNA sampling kits. The FDA says 23andMe has not proven the validity of the kit's results. 23andMe's co-founder is Anne Wojicki, the estranged wife of Google's Sergey Brin, and Google is a major backer of the company.
The website offers a mail-in service that lets you know more about your ancestry, and in turn information on your health and the future of your wellbeing. 23andMe includes analysis of a number of health conditions, diseases you might be a carrier of, and how your body might respond to specific drugs.
The FDA is worried about patients acting on false results -- getting treatment they don't need if those results are false positives, putting off doctor's visits if they get false negatives. The FDA wants to make sure 23andMe's kits do what they say they're going to do, and the agency says it doesn't have assurance from 23andMe that the test works the way the company says it does.
23andMe has 15 business days to respond to the FDA. If they don't respond in a way the FDA is happy with, the FDA may take additional action.
Gary Vaynerchuk is a character -- no doubt. If you go his website, you'll see his offers for everything from magazines to Skype dates to New York dinner parties. He'll make a personal video for you. He'll talk to you for ten minutes on the phone. He even sent a guy in Minnesota a cheeseburger once after the guy asked him for one on Twitter. The New Jersey dude who started the successful online store winelibrary.com seems up for almost anything for attention.
But, there is a catch. Vaynerchuck will give to you -- and then ask for you to give back. It's a method he's used for years. Now, brands like GE, Pepsi, and the New York Jets ask his agency, Vayner Media, to help with their social media mojo. Vaynerchuck 's new book, "Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World," is out today.
Vaynerchuck is something of a social media genius. When it comes to describing his online philosophy, he says it all boils down to this: "I care about where the eyeballs and ears of the consumer are," Vaynerchuck says.
Vaynerchuck says if you want to improve your social media strategy, focus on being generous with your followers. Those would be the jabs he's talking about in the title of his book. Vaynerchuck says it's time to give 'em the right hook when you need something back from your followers.
"It's the theory of this book, which is give, give, give, and ask. That's what 'Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook' is," he says. "I want the leverage of giving first. Everybody right now on Facebook and Twitter is posting things like 'come to my open house,' 'buy my wine,' 'buy my book ' -- me, me, me, me, me, me! A funny thing happens when you care about somebody first, they tend to care about you. I mean, last year I didn't have a book out, I didn't throw any right hooks -- I didn't need anything from anybody. So I was just putting out good stuff. I was answering people's questions -- give, give, give, give. For the last month, I've been really annoying with my right hooks, but I built up the equity -- and I've been strategic about still putting out jabs."
To hear more about Vaynerchuck's social media strategy and how companies who hire him use it, click the audio player above.
If Scotland were to pull away from the United Kingdom, what would its society look like? What would its economy look like? The Scottish National Party today issued a kind of mission statement to start answering those questions. In 10 months, voters in Scotland will be asked, yes or no: "Should Scotland be an independent country?"
Some of the big challenges they would undoubtedly face would be economic, and one of the big issues they'd have to decide is which currency to use. The Scottish National Party is proposing a currency union with the rest of the United Kingdom. And -- as we know from the euro zone -- running a currency union with more than one government involved can sometimes be pretty challenging.
For more on the Scottish economy and the challenges an independent Scotland would face, click the audio player above.
Katie Couric announced that she is taking a job as an internet anchor of a news show at Yahoo. Couric is still hosting her ABC daytime talk show "Katie" -- for now anyway. ABC hasn’t decided if it will renew the show. That may have been a factor in her decision, but what else did Couric, a television network anchor, consider when deciding to take a job hosting an internet show?
Susan Wise Miller, a career counselor in Los Angeles, says that if Katie Couric had asked for advice on whether to take the job at Yahoo, one of the first things she would have done is, “ask her what all the pluses of the new job are.”
One of the pluses, says DePauw media studies professor Mark Tatge, “Yahoo is writing some big checks.”
Another plus of going to Yahoo is the excitement of shaping the future of new media. “Yahoo is going to make some really bold changes or it’s not going to be around,” says Tatge.
Of course. that’s where the other part of the decision-making process, the minuses, or the down side of not taking the new job, come in. “I think Ms. Couric has to also be thinking what the future of broadcast news is and where broadcasting is going,” Tatge says.
Couric clearly believes it’s going in the direction of digital but it was not exactly an all or nothing decision for her. Yahoo and ABC have a content-sharing agreement so at least for now, she will be both the host of an internet news show and appear on network television.
There are few more dreaded phrases than this: "Can I borrow your car?"
But just as people increasingly rent out their houses to strangers on Airbnb, a new company is betting that we'll be willing to hand over our car keys when we go out of town.
The co-founders of FlightCar look like college freshman, and that’s because they would be if they hadn’t decided to start this company, putting their Ivy League educations on an indefinite hiatus. Nineteen-year-old Kevin Petrovic was accepted at Princeton University and 18-year-old Rujul Zaparde was on his way to Harvard University. Instead, they decided, along with co-founder Shri Ganeshram -- who was accepted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology -- to try to change the way we rent cars and take on the $11 billion airport car rental industry. That’s even though they’re too young to rent a car themselves.
“At any moment, there’s something like 360,000 cars in long-term parking lots in the top thirty U.S. airports,” said Zaparde. “That’s very inefficient.”
FlightCar will let you park for free and pay you if someone rents your car -- up to $20 a day. It picks you up and drop you off in a black sedan and washes your car. And, perhaps most importantly, it offers all of the peace of mind that a $1 million policy can buy.
“Everything is insured up to a million dollars,” said Zaparde. “We’ll cover liabilities, any collision, theft, and damage. Even if there’s a small scratch on the car it’s fully covered.”
The first location opened in San Francisco in February, followed by Boston in May, and L.A. last week.
So, who is actually brave enough to loan their car to a complete stranger? We all know how people treat rental cars, right? It tends to be those in their late 20’s or early 30’s. But not everyone is so youthful.
Walt French is a 65-year-old San Francisco portfolio manager who’s rented his Acura more than 10 times.
“To me, the great value of this is that before I learned about FlightCar, I was paying to park at the airport $15-$18 a day,” said French. Now, he collects money when he gets home, as he did recently following a weeklong trip to Shanghai.
“I got a check a couple hours ago for $111,” said French.
French is hooked. So is Joe Rosenberg, who now rents his BMW twice a month when he has to travel for work. His car has always been returned spic and span.
“I mean there’s obviously little things, like the mirror or the seat is in a different spot,” said Rosenberg. “But that’s no different than if you valet parked your car somewhere or went to carwash.”
Other customers haven’t been so positive, sharing horror stories on the the online review site Yelp about finding decomposing fried chicken wings stuffed in the side door pocket. Or worse, not getting fully reimbursed when their car was in an accident.
So far, investors haven't been scared away, even though the company is a long way from profitability. The teenage founders have raised around $6 million in funding. Among their investors are celebrities Ryan Seacrest and Ashton Kutcher.
South Carolina is sweetening the pot in an effort to grab more of Boeing’s manufacturing operations. The state this week will sell $85 million in bonds, part of which will pay for land used by the aerospace giant. State officials also hope to send the message that South Carolina is ready to build the company’s new 777X.
But so are Texas, Alabama, California, Kansas, and Utah. In all, 15 sites are courting Boeing’s newest offering. For most, that means tailoring a package touting a brand new facility and workforce to build the brand new plane.
Not smart, says aviation analyst Richard Aboulafia, adding, “If there’s one absolute no-no on this project, it’s [to build] a completely ‘Green Field’ facility.”
Boeing learned that lesson after choosing South Carolina to build the troubled 787. Most early kinks are now worked out, and compared to Washington state, where Boeing has traditionally been based, South Carolina offers looser regulation, workers generally earn lower wages, and the facility is non-union.
But Seattle’s highly-skilled workforce and the state of Washington’s generous incentives give it an edge, says Seattle-based aviation consultant Scott Hamilton. “It’s the best business choice,” he says, but adds he doesn’t know how much weight such logic will carry with Boeing CEO Jim McNerney.
After the International Association of Machinists union recently voted down Boeing’s contract offer, which would have guaranteed 777X production stay in Seattle, McNerney wasted no time in entertaining other states’ offers. Consultant Scott Hamilton says if Seattle loses the 777X, it will likely accelerate the decline of Boeing’s presence there.
States Battle for Boeing Biz FINAL
For MMR: 11/26/13
South Carolina is sweetening the pot [today] in an effort to grab more of Boeing’s manufacturing operations.
The state will sell $85-million in bonds… part of which will pay for land used by the aerospace giant.
As Jim Burress tells us, the state hopes to lure Boeing’s next big model—the 7-77-“X” away from Seattle.
Burress 1: So do Texas. Alabama. California. Kansas. .… 15 sites are courting Boeing.
Many are pitching a brand new factory and workforce to build the brand new plane.
Not smart, says aviation analyst Richard Aboulafia. (Ah-boo-laff-ee-uh)
ACT 1 :“If there’s one absolute no-no on this project, it’s a completely “Green Field” facility.”
Burress 2: Boeing learned that lesson after choosing South Carolina to build the troubled 7-87.
Those kinks are mostly worked out,. And compared to Washington, South Carolina offers looser regulation, lower wages, and no union.
But aviation consultant Scott Hamilton says Seattle’s highly-skilled workforce and the state’s generous incentives give it an edge.
ACT 2: “It’s the best business choice. I don’t know how likely it is given the antipathy Jim McNerney has for the union.”
Burress 3: The Boeing CEO wasted no time reaching out to other states after the machinist union recently voted down Boeing’s contract offer. Which would’ve guaranteed the 7-77x stay in Washington.
I’m Jim Burress for Marketplace
Step back, take a look at the economy, and the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage stands out. Americans live in a fast, fast world. Jobs are temporary. Companies fetishize short-term profits. Every minute people are supposed to be optimizing opportunity, seizing the financial future.
“In some ways the 30-year mortgage is an anachronism for the go-go capitalism we live under today,” says Louis Hyman, a history professor at the ILR School at Cornell University.
Most of our financial lives are in flux, demanding constant attention, except our mortgages. Nearly 90 percent of the home loans issued during the first half of this year were 30-year fixed-rate loans.
Where you pay the same amount. Every single month. “It speaks to the way in which most American's still want to have stability in their lives,” says Hyman, “so there's this real disconnect between the larger movements of capitalism and how we would actually prefer to live our lives.”
The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is remarkably pro-consumer and anti-go-go-capitalism. It stretches the payment out over a long period of time, protecting borrowers if interest rates go up. And it lets them refinance if interest rates go down.
It can be hard to understand, when so many other facets of our lives have been turned over to the market, why government policy favors (actually creates) this dependence on the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage.
Here's President Barack Obama is August: “We should preserve access to safe and simple mortgage products like the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage. That's something families should be able to rely on when they are making the most important purchase of their lives.”
The audience clapped. But why? Is this love a love for calm? For predictability in otherwise unpredictable lives? Or, something more?
The answer is both. And more.
“The stability, and the ability to build up savings without really thinking about it, which is really important, are the two biggest benefits to the individual,” says Ellen Seidman, a fellow at the Urban Institute.
There are also social benefits. Seidman says there is evidence that homeownership generates “a greater interest in maintenance of the home, in stability, and greater civic interest in the community.”
So, the cheap 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, has a lot of feel-good going for it. It can do good things for people and for neighborhoods.
But there’s another reason policy makers love the long-term fixed-rate mortgage. The economy counts on it. Long-term, low-cost mortgages and other government-sponsored affordable housing programs help more people buy more homes. Which means more people remodeling. Refurnishing. Keeping our consumer economy going strong.
No surprise then that businesses like home builders, realtors and mortgage lenders find themselves lining up with housing advocates in favor of keeping the 30-year home loan going strong. “They are a very powerful lobbying force,” says George Mason University professor Anthony Sanders. “They want more housing, they want to keep this game perpetuated.”
“If I want to get booed ceremoniously," Sanders says, "I should show up at the National Association of Realtors meeting and tell them we're going to get rid of affordable housing policy.”
But, there are costs to keep things going the way they are. Sanders says homeowners pay more for fixed-rate mortgages than adjustable-rate mortgages.
There are costs to the government, from housing friendly tax policies. Costs as the Federal Reserve borrows money to keep interest rates low. And costs to taxpayers, when government backed mortgages go bad. “We're used to very high levels of subsidization of the housing market,” says Sanders, “we subsidized to the point that it blew up. But we'll continue doing it, because it's what everyone knows right now.”
Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae currently guarantee trillions of dollars worth of mortgage-backed securities.
Whether it is familiarity, or risk aversion, or the fear of another drop in the housing market, the lure of stability -- for homeowners, their communities and the economy -- could be enough to keep the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage going well into the future.
Nearly half a million people have put their spit into a little tube in the last six years and sent that tube to a company called 23andMe. The company then genetically analyzes that saliva. The results are supposed to show customers how susceptible they are to more than 250 diseases. But the FDA now says the company hasn't proved the tests are accurate enough, and the agency is worried Americans are relying on the results instead of going to the doctor.
Dov Fox specializes in medical ethics at the University of San Diego School of Law. He says the FDA has given the company an ultimatum.
"This field of personalized medicine is really in its infancy, and its terrifically exciting what we might learn one day, but we're not there yet. 23andMe hasn't shown that their reports about your health from your genes alone are all that useful. They're just not accurate at this time in the way that the FDA requires."
Soon after their marriage, Josh and Alissa Ruxin moved to Rwanda to pursue work in international development and global health.
The Ruxins expected to work in the field, helping to deal with the issues caused by a long civil war. But now, from their restaurant in the heart of Kigali, the Ruxins are able to aid their community by offering gourmet food and jobs.
"My biggest critics of (international) aid is 'why isn't it helping to start up small and medium sized enterprises?'," asks Ruxin. "Why isn't it providing fanancing to start up places like Heaven Restaurant?"
In his book, A Thousand Hills to Heaven: Love, Hope, and a Restaurant in Rwanda, Ruxin tells how Heaven, his restaurant, enables him and his wife to help dozens of people in their community.
"And it's not aid," says Ruxin. "It's a business."
And this final note to dispel some Thanksgiving Day myths: All that tryptophan in turkey, does not make you sleepy.
Aaron Carroll is a professor of pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine and he says people may be sleepy from the size of the meal, or the wine, or tired from a family argument.
But it's not the turkey's fault.
Each broker has his or her own metaphor for how the Affordable Care Act rollout has affected them.
"Imagine if you were a CPA," says Craig Gussin of San Diego, "and the government announced that everybody could get their taxes done for free."
He doesn’t mean that he’s working for free. Just that he’s THAT busy. People see him as a conduit to deep discounts on their health insurance.
California is running its own exchange. It’s going a lot smoother than the one at healthcare.gov. So, Gussin says that once people are done waiting to see him, he’s able to help them see their way through the whole process, to get insurance and, if they qualify, a subsidy.
In other states, agents tell a different story.
Mark Gurda serves customers in 20 states. His business is up. But that’s where the good news ends.
His metaphor: "Imagine if you were a pharmaceutical company who made an antidote for a serious virus," he says. "And as a result of a weaponized virus, your business went way up. You would not be really happy about the reasons your business went up."
He says he is concerned that many of his customers will end up worse off. In large part, he blames the problems with healthcare.gov and politics surrounding the Affordable Care Act.
Finally, here is a metaphor from Mark Brown, who runs an agency in a Chicago suburb:
"Health insurance used to be like playing chess on a three-dimensional board in Spanish," he says. "It’s now like playing chess on a six-dimensional board, in multi-languages."
That is: So difficult that he had a hard time finding affordable coverage for himself and his employees.
Katie Couric is leaving ABC News to become Yahoo’s “global anchor" where she’ll report on breaking international news and interview international figures.
The financial details weren’t disclosed but given Couric’s past multimillion dollar salaries ($15 million at CBS six years ago, likely more at ABC) she is probably going to be just fine financially.
Yahoo, on the other hand, is another question. Sure, it’ll get some star power and gravitas from Couric, we ll as from the other top reporters it’s poached, including New York Times’ David Pogue, Matt Bai, and Megan Liberman. But really, Yahoo is hoping to get something else.
Yahoo is trying to solve a fundamental problem, which is, "'What is Yahoo?'" says Marty Kaplan, Norman Lear Professor of Entertainment, Media and Society at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication. “Is it an email address? Is it a news site? Is it just always on the top of the list of most used sites but nobody knows why? They’re looking for a brand identity.”
Specifically, Yahoo wants to be synonymous with original content. Entertainment analyst Robert Galinsky says the company is trying to edge out traditional news, especially TV news. “The old world journalism, the old world news system on television is going away. Yahoo is going to start taking some of that TV news market,” he says. That’s the idea, at least in Yahoo’s ideal world.
But really, as with most things, it’s about money. In July Yahoo overtook Google as the most visited website on the internet. Analysts can't explain this, but revenue from display ads – think banners on websites – was down 7% last quarter, according to Ken Doctor, media analyst with Newsonomics.
“The ad competition is just brutal,” he says. One way to make more money from ads? Sell Video ads. Doctor says they’re worth a lot more. It’s one reason Google was able to cope with falling display ad prices, since much of its growth came from Youtube ads.
“Video advertising is selling out,” says Doctor. “You can still sell those at rates that are six to eight times higher than what you’re getting on display advertising.”
That is, of course, if people watch.
Over the weekend, the United States -- along with Russia, China, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom -- inked a six-month deal with Iran. The country agreed to freeze its nuclear program temporarily in exchange for some relief from international sanctions that have hurt its economy.
The Obama administration and its allies hope this short-term agreement could pave the way for a longer-term deal, and that could present opportunities for U.S. businesses.
“It’s a populous country, it’s a highly educated country, and there are a lot of opportunities,” says Morris DeFeo, a lawyer who heads the Middle East and North Africa practice at Crowell & Moring. He said firms may take a cautious attitude: “With any new market there comes risks, but I mean, this is a pretty risky situation, I think, for most companies.”
According to DeFeo, no deal, no matter how comprehensive, can fix the broken relationship between the U.S. and Iran overnight.
“I think a lot of people are going to sit back and see if these sanctions and this accord will be something more than interim,” he says.
And that’s because that is all they can do. While this deal lifts some sanctions, most companies still won’t be allowed to do business with Iran, a country with 76 million people and a GDP of about $500 billion.
“Once the sanctions are removed, there would be, I think, many opportunities for American, international oil companies,” says Nader Habibi, the Henry J. Leir Professor of the Economics of the Middle East at Brandeis University. Iran’s oil industry depended on U.S. technologies for decades.
Djavad Salehi-Isfahani, a visiting scholar at Harvard’s Belfer Center, says this short-term agreement does open the door right away to companies in the pharmaceutical and aerospace sectors.
“Iran does have a fleet of Boeing airplanes – very old and aging that need a lot of repair,” he points out.
Sanctions have forced Iranians to buy generic drugs made in India and other countries, Salehi-Isfahani says. “And when you talk to them, they are always complaining that this is not as good as the drugs that we used to buy.”
Over the last two years, sanctions have become much more severe. They have pushed out many European companies. But the U.S. was the first Western country to break trade relations with Iran.
“They have been excluded from the Iranian market for much longer than European and East Asian firms,” Salehi-Isfahani says. That means it would take a lot longer for them to get back in.
In exchange for the easing of economic sanctions, Iran has agreed to some limits on its nuclear program. As a result, some sanctions on cars, trucks, and automotive parts are easing, and international businesses may look to cash in.
It's been a slow recovery for restaurants since the recession. Average profit margins are slim, ranging from three to five percent. Recent growth in the industry has come mainly from what's known as off-premises sales -- food going from their door to yours.
The British pop band One Direction releases its latest album, "Midnight Memories," today. But here's the twist -- the album has already topped the charts in 10 countries, way before it had even come out.
Retail giant Walmart will get a new CEO a bit earlier than expected. There's news today that Doug McMillon, the man who runs Walmart International, will take over in February. Walmart sales were down last quarter and tenaciously high unemployment makes it tough for many of its customers to spend more. Forty-seven year old McMillion is a company man. He started nearly three decades ago as a summer employee at a Walmart distribution warehouse and worked at the company while he did his MBA.
Click on the above link to hear more about Wal Mart’s new CEO and the company he’ll inherit.
Heathrow Airport and e-cigarette maker Gamucci are announcing an e-smoking lounge. But amid increasing regulation in the e-cigarette industry, that proposal may turn out to be a brave one. In Britain more and more places have recently banned the use of e-cigarettes: trains, planes, and even pubs.
Chris Wickham, an analyst with Oriel Securities, says the industry is getting nervous.
"I had an email from one of the listed companies last week saying, 'We're not going to make any further investment in this industry,'" Wickham said.
As governments and health campaigners worry e-cigarettes will expose more people to nicotine addiction, it's unclear just how long Heathrow Airport's new e-smoking lounge will stay open for business.