Marketplace - American Public Media
From Greg Gieser's at an oilfield services company in Kildeer, N.D., there are plenty of signs of a slowdown. He sees less traffic on the roads and fewer trucks clogging up the gas station. And then there's the drilling rigs—some of which are effectively mothballed.
“You'll see a field where there will be 18 drilling rigs, just sitting there, not doing anything,” he says.
And at Trilliant Oilfield Services, where Gieser is area supervisor for North Dakota, business is not exactly booming. The firm rents out equipment used for drilling new oil wells. In the past, it also made crews available for roustabout services—odd jobs on the oilfield. Both of those business lines have slowed down.
“We used to have half a dozen employees here and that's just gone by the wayside,” says Gieser. “They wanted me to hire more people, I just didn't see it, for the little bit of work that we do.”
Gieser surmises that if he had a sales rep, he could drum up more business, but the market forces aren’t working in his favor. A huge drop in oil prices is rippling across North Dakota, the second biggest oil producer in the U.S. Oil companies are backing off on the costly investment of drilling new wells because they may not be able to sell their oil profitably. Today there are about 90 rigs drilling new wells in the state, more than 50 percent fewer than a year ago.
The retrenchment is holding down revenue and headcounts at a whole host of businesses with ties to the oilfield.
Greg Gieser’s trying to keep his company going through the slow times by whatever means necessary.
“I rented a space in my yard to a company. Rented my building out. Whatever you can do to get revenue in and cut costs,” he says.
Bob Horab, the owner of a firm called McCody Concrete in Williston, N.D.Todd Melby
Meanwhile, oilfield companies want steep discounts from their service providers. Bob Horab, the owner of a firm called McCody Concrete in Williston, N.D., says negotiating those requests is like playing poker.
“I like to play poker with these guys just as much as they like to play with me. So we'll see what happens,” he says. “Who's going to tip their hand first? Am I going to chance losing their business or am I going to just fold?”
About 60 percent of the business at Horab's company is tied to oil. His concrete slabs serve as bases for heavy vessels and pumpjacks on the oilfield.
Horab says it'll likely be a while before the oil downturn really takes a toll on his business, and he may be able to offset any declines with commercial construction projects. But it’s clear that requests for discounts on his oilfield products are causing consternation in the meantime.
“The thing about it is, is, profit isn't a dirty word. They're in it for profit as am I. And if they break me, because I can't produce a profit, if I'm working at a loss, and if I go away, what good am I to anybody?” he asks. “When things come back, and I'm not here, then what do they do?”
Some business owners in the oil patch have much more immediate concerns about survival.
Mark Pyatt, owner of Killer Diesel Performance in Williston, N.D.Todd Melby
Mark Pyatt owns a repair shop called Killer Diesel Performance in Williston, N.D., where segment his parking lot has been dubbed "Death Row.” It consists of trucks left behind by customers, largely oilfield workers, who were previously flush with cash. They'd pay thousands of dollars to beef up their diesel engines so their trucks would go faster. But now, several customers aren't paying their bills.
Pyatt points to a black pick-up truck with enormous tires and wheels. He says the owner spent about $12,000 on bells and whistles and then found out the motor is bad, so he doesn’t want to fix it.
“And what's probably happened—probably work slowed down and he can't afford to. And it's been sitting here for two and a half months,” Pyatt says. “And if he doesn't pay the bill he owes, he'll never get it back.”
An employee of Killer Diesel PerformanceTodd Melby
The reversal of fortune for Pyatt has been abrupt. He says when he opened his doors last August, he had so much business that his mechanics were each earning about $9,000 a month. They still have some work trickling in, but Pyatt says it's not enough.
“They should probably be looking for jobs here shortly, and they know that,” he says.
Pyatt expects to close his doors this summer. He says a buyer is interested in taking the place off his hands and turning it around.
“I say more power to you, if that's the case,” he says. “But I have warned him fairly. I just do not believe that's possible.”
Pyatt's a tall guy with a long, scruffy beard, and the words "love hard" tattooed on his knuckles. He comes across as a mostly cheerful guy. But his outlook on the future of Williston is gloomy. If the oil industry bounces back, as many here hope it will, it won't happen soon enough to save businesses like his.
“It's called a boom town,” he says. “Why do they call it a boom town? It has to have a bust, otherwise they'd just call it a town.”
In the coming weeks, a dance between the companies that make the television shows we all love, and the people who pay for it all: the advertisers.
Upfronts, as they're called, happen each year in New York, and the name says it all. Networks pitch their programming to ad buyers, hoping to score a big budget up front. The typical measure that they're selling is a Nielsen rating, the total number of viewers broken down by age and gender. That's why we hear so much about categories like men aged 18-34 for programs like "The Daily Show."
But in an ad world infused by the many clicks and Tweets of social media, that may not be enough. Upfront sales have been flat, declining slightly in recent years.
Variety reports that Time Warner and Viacom have a new strategy. Both are in talks to guarantee specific outcomes from an ad campaign, not just the average number of eyeballs it will get.
"They are saying, 'Look, tell us what you need. Do you need more foot traffic in your restaurant? Do you need more people to sign up for your loyalty program? Do you need X number of retweets on Twitter? Tell us what you want and let's try to work it out together,'" said Brian Steinberg, senior TV editor for Variety.
That's a big shift from delivering a sizeable audience, and it relies on using more of the advertisers' own data, beyond what Nielsen can offer. Companies can compare email lists or loyalty swipes with geographic information pulled from set-top boxes to see who's really responding to the ads, and where.
It's a methodology directly affected by the popularity of tablets and online video -- and the smaller, more targeted audiences that advertisers are reaching there. Likewise, Time Warner is looking to test this strategy for smaller, more targeted broadcast channels like Cartoon Network and Adult Swim, whose younger audiences are fairly well-defined.
In the words of one marketing executive who talked to Steinberg, this is "the Holy Grail of advertising."
"For years, [advertisers] have long decried TV," he said. Despite big audience figures, there's little nuance. "You may blast a car ad on 'American Idol,' but how many of those people are in the market for a new car?"
Nielsen is a little nervous about this, Steinberg added. While it's still the dominant way ads are sold, the ratings don't capture the places people watch TV outside of the living room.
Tax day is almost here, and Uncle Sam is coming for your hard-earned dollars, to fritter away on wasteful roads and firehouses. Here are the lesser-known tax loopholes and deductions that will save you a fortune on this year's tax bill:
Everyone knows married couples get a variety of tax breaks, so why not slash your tax bill even further by marrying as many people as you can by April 15th? Your husbands and wives will agree there's nothing sexier than financial prudence.
You're also probably familiar with the Child Tax Credit, but you're not limited to your own kids! If you've disciplined a stranger's unruly child in a grocery store or on an airplane, you're not just a hero — you can also claim that child as a dependent!
Do you ever work from home? Do you ever spend long sleepless nights thinking about work? Does worrying about work consume your every waking moment? Good news! The inside of your mind may qualify as a home office.
What about small business owners? If you've trained your dog to work at your small business, the IRS owes you a $2,000 Canine In The Workplace Credit.
Finally, you can deduct all sorts of surprising things — home internet, business lunches, business funerals, museum-quality rocks, and most importantly, any money you'd rather just hang on to for yourself. After all, you earned it.
Besides, if the government really wants more money, they can always just print it themselves.
Airing on Tuesday, April 14, 2015: We were out buying new sheets and pillow cases, khaki pants, Adirondack chairs, Ford Fusions and two by fours last month. That's what the numbers suggest from the Commerce Department this morning, with retail sales up 9-10ths percent in March. Analysts see this as new evidence it was the rotten winter holding back consumers earlier in the year. Plus, U.S. Congress today will get an update on the F-35 jet, a program not yet in service but one estimated to cost a trillion dollars over its lifetime. More on that. How the strong dollar makes countries in the eurozone attractive destinations for American tourists.
The Reddit “Button” that started out as an April fool’s prank has turned into an internet obsession. As of this writing, nearly 750,000 people have pushed it.
What exactly is it? It's a button with a timer that counts back from 60 seconds. Anyone who had a Reddit account before the day the button launched can push the button and reset the clock. But they can only push once. And no one knows what happens if the clock gets to zero.
So what’s the big deal? “I think the short answer is, there’s a lot of reasons,” said Kelly Goldsmith, Assistant Professor of Marketing at Northwestern University. She’s been reading what a lot of people have said online about their experience of pushing the button, which range from competition to status.
“But it also seems like there’s a strong sense of affiliation and a strong sense of community,” said Goldsmith. “But on the other hand, it could just be driven by curiosity.”
Curiosity about when the next person is going to push it? Or how long it’s going to keep going? Or what might happen if no one pushed it?
“That’s really what keeps it so mesmerizing,” said Goldsmith.
Although a strong sense of community is making people push the button, Goldsmith said, “the motivating power of curiosity” was part of it too.
“I don’t think gets enough attention in the academic literature, but it’s (curiosity) definitely a strong driving force,” said Goldsmith.
When she first heard about it, she admits she was in favor of people banding together not to push the button so they could see what would happen. But since then she’s changed her mind because she think so many people working together to keep the button going is a positive affiliation. But that doesn’t mean she’s going to push the button right away.
“I would absolutely be of the group that waits to get the clock as low as possible,” said Goldsmith. “Again, just for curiosity's sake. How low can it go? What would happen if no one pushed it?”
How did the Pentagon's F-35 fighter jet program, which was originally thought up as a way to cut costs, end up becoming the most expensive weapons program in history?
Mackenzie Eaglen, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, says policymakers boxed themselves into this expensive fighter jet. "By canceling the F-22 air superiority fighter," Eaglen said, "it made the F-35 fighter the only fighter option available to the Pentagon."
Eaglen says the original concept behind the JSF program—that creating a single, unified aircraft for all branches of the military would lower costs—has been discredited. "It's never truly joint; these are fraternal twins," Eaglen said.
Ben FitzGerald, Senior Fellow and Director of the Technology and National Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, says today the debate all centers around one question: "how do we manage the cost."
Canceling the F-35 is no longer an option, he said, because the Pentagon has put all its eggs in one basket.
If you’ve been thinking about visiting Europe, but haven’t wanted to pay top dollar, now is a pretty good time to take out your wallet. With the dollar creeping up on the euro, American tourists are modifying their summer itineraries.
University of Texas-Austin student Neena Malhotra is taking advantage of the weaker euro. She’s planning on traveling to Germany, Switzerland, Italy, France and Spain.
The price of everything from paella to train tickets has dropped –
“And when looking at the prices to determine whether it is a good idea or not,” she says, “it seemed more feasible than it had another time we had tried to do it.”
According to TripAdvisor, the average nightly rate for a European hotel this summer is $133. That’s compared to $164 last year. And the average cost of a one-week European trip has dropped by 11 percent.
Kathryn O’Kane of Brooklyn had budgeted $200 plus a night in Madrid and Basque Country.
“We were pleasantly surprised to find hotels about $100 a night,” she says.
And with the extra pocket money, O’Kane says her family will be able to do a lot more shopping, and take advantage of opportunities to see Spanish Guitar or Flamenco. That will no doubt please a lot of local businesses in Europe.
The dollar’s surge will also benefit travel agencies and tour companies. Paul Wiseman is president of Trafalgar Guided Vacations.
“We're having a very good year to Europe,” Wiseman says. “We’re seeing double digit growth in Italy and Great Britain and I’m sure that’s on the back of a very strong U.S. dollar.”
But is a 90 cent cheaper café au lait enough to tempt people to go to Paris instead of Mexico?
Who better to ask than Paula Serrano, a travel agent in the city of Paris, Texas.
“No, [travel] has not picked up,” Serrano says. “I sell more Mexico than anything.”
After all, in Cancun a dollar gets you not just one, but fifteen pesos.
On Tuesday, JP Morgan and Wells Fargo begin a week of big bank earnings reports. But we got a preview of the state of the big banks last week, when GE announced it would wind down and sell off most of the assets of the seventh-largest bank: GE Capital.
"The primary lesson is: If you don't have to be a bank, don't be one," says Fred Cannon, global director of research at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods. Cannon also says the fact that GE is selling most of the financial assets to smaller institutions is an indication of what sector will see faster growth in the years to come.
But bank analyst Nancy Bush says there is one area where the so-called “universal banks” have an edge this quarter: Trading on the volatility in the currency and commodities markets.
Last week, one of my colleagues was sounding a little tense as he set out to work on his taxes. Radio producer Josh Woo fills in here as a director on the Marketplace Morning Report and the thing is during 2014 tax year, Josh won big on a TV game show. Four years earlier, Josh had also won prizes on another show, The Price is Right, and a dozen years before that, when just a kid, Josh won two grand on Jeopardy. With Josh's tax return now signed and delivered, I wanted to see if with all this experience, if he managed to avoid the classic mistake or forgetting to pay estimated tax on extra income.
Click on the multimedia player above to hear more on what Josh's big win means to him this tax season.
That's how now-official presidential hopeful Marco Rubio has been polling, on average, for the past few months. While he's a low-performer in the crowded GOP field, FiveThirtyEight argues Rubio belongs in contention with presumed GOP front-runners like Jeb Bush and Scott Walker. Rubio has a history of beating expectations and winning important party endorsements, says analyst Harry Enten, and he could be a very electable, middle-of-the-road option for voters.1: 1.05
That's the euro-dollar exchange rate this morning. If you've been thinking about visiting Europe, but haven't wanted to pay top dollar, now is a pretty good time to take out your wallet. The attractive exchange rate is making everything from paella to rail tickets cheaper.$2,815
The average tax refund at the beginning of April, about $20 more than this time last tax season. All told, the IRS refunded about $374 billion last year. So why do so many people overpay? Turns out it has a lot to do with taxpayer psychology. We looked into it as part of our series, "I've Always Wondered..."April 15, 2015
Speaking of taxes, April 15 is the IRS tax filing deadline. As if you didn't already know. Our own producer Josh Woo was the winner on Wheel of Fortune in the 2014 tax year. And with his tax return now signed and delivered, we look at what his game show victory meant for him this tax season.1995
The year Lynda Weinman started Lynda.com with her husband Bruce Heavin. Born out of Weinman's do-it-yourself web design books, Lynda was bought by Linkedin last week for $1.5 billion. The Wall Street Journal has Weinman's story, from doing special effects on "RoboCop 2" to shaping the current landscape of ed-tech.5.6 percent
That's how much Nokia's stock went down on the Helsinki Stock Exchange today after news broke that the company is looking to buy Alcatel Lucent of France. While negotiations could always break down, Alcatel stock is up 12 percent in Paris now. And there are a few strands of American DNA in there. Lucent is descendent of the old AT&T, bell labs, the people who invented the laser.
The Fed came out with a warning this week about the bond market. Fed executive Vice President Simon Potter expressed concerns that extreme volatility like the October “flash crash” could become more common, perhaps the result of high frequency trading, or more surprisingly, too much regulation. Simon Potter doesn’t know exactly what caused the October spike. It could be because of high speed trading. Or because reforms enacted by regulators after the financial crisis, like increasing the amount of capital banks hold, could have unintentionally created more volatility.
The bond Flash Crash happened past October, actually wasn’t a crash at all, it was the opposite, a spike. In a 15 minute period, the yield on the 10-year treasury jumped more than two percent, which may not sound like a lot, but statistically speaking it was a price swing that should only happen once every 1.6 billion years.
As of the first week of April, 2015, 99 million taxpayers had filed their individual returns with the IRS. Of those, more than 77 million—or approximately 77 percent—had received refunds. The average refund was running $2,815, about $20 higher than the same time in 2014.
Overall, 118 million American taxpayers (including individuals and businesses) received tax refunds in 2014 (for the 2013 tax year); they got a total of $373.5 billion back from the IRS. All told, the IRS collected $3.1 trillion in gross taxes in 2014, including business and individual income taxes, estate, gift, excise, and employment taxes.
Listener John Thomas of Nevada asked this question: “I’ve always wondered why so many people seem to overpay their taxes and then have to claim a refund. I’m wondering whether there’s a conspiracy there with the government encouraging people to overpay, because they get free money essentially until people get their refund.”
CPA Rich Sotta in Portland, Oregon, says a lot of his tax-preparation clients intentionally have too much withheld, knowing from prior years’ experience that they will get a substantial refund—often several thousand dollars or more. “It’s so they don’t have a huge tax bill they have to pay in April,” says Sotta. “It’s peace of mind knowing that they’re getting refunds.” He says some taxpayers want a buffer in case their tax situation changes and their tax bill goes up unexpectedly—for instance, if they have sources of income that fluctuate year-to-year.
Sotta says, it’s true, letting the government over-withhold is like giving the government an interest-free loan. But, he says, “if you aren’t of the habit of being able to budget for yourself, I think it’s a way of saving.” Otherwise, he says, those people would fritter away the extra income in their paychecks away.
That predictable April refund windfall can be used by taxpayers to make a big-ticket purchase, take a vacation, pay down debt or build savings.
Hersh Shefrin, a professor of behavioral finance at Santa Clara University, says research shows most taxpayers who receive refunds do indeed devote a substantial portion to intended uses like this, rather than splurging and spending most of it right away.
Shefrin says the refund also triggers a response in our brains: “It lights up the reward centers—the nucleus accumbens is the area that gets activated. And there is a dopamine rush when the check actually arrives and you open it. It has a positive hedonic effect.”
Shefrin says engineering a large refund through over-withholding can also be evidence of smart, self-aware financial planning. “People recognize they have difficulty accumulating enough savings on their own. So they look for ways to help themselves counter the temptations of everyday life.”
Roberton Williams, a fellow at the Urban Brookings Tax Policy Center, dismisses the idea of an IRS conspiracy to get American taxpayers to over-withhold, in order to make more money available for government spending. He says if the IRS encouraged more withholding, some taxpayers could wind up in trouble in April if their tax bills were higher than expected.
Williams acknowledges that if the government wasn’t getting more than $300 billion in tax withholding payments that it will ultimately refund, it would have to borrow more. But, right now the government’s borrowing costs are low, less than 1 percent. “Essentially, what the taxpayers are doing is giving the government a short-term loan,” says Williams. “That makes it easier for the government to cover its bills in the short run, it doesn’t have to borrow as much. But in the long run, it all washes out.”
When HBO announced HBO Now, the media company's new standalone streaming service, analysts considered "Game of Thrones" its flagship title.
"Game of Thrones" is one of the most popular original content dramas in the market right now," says Lawrence Low, head of regional sales at anti-piracy research firm Irdeto. "It’s premium, original content that has appeal with many different demographics. Maybe even more importantly...it appeals to many countries, not all of which have the access they would like to the show."
HBO Now offered streaming capability for $14.99 a month, cheaper than the traditional path of cable plus a premium subscription, which was formerly the only route to HBO content (without borrowing your cousin's password). "Game of Thrones" is considered the most pirated show in history, and now, four episodes of the new season have already leaked. So, could HBO Now combat piracy by making the show, and other HBO content, easier to acquire legally?
"I think it's less about piracy and more about capturing that growing number of Americans who aren't subscribing to cable. There's this number thrown out that there's about 10 to 11 million people in the U.S. who don't subscribe to cable, a lot of them millennials," says Natalie Jarvey, who covers digital media at The Hollywood Reporter.
For "Game of Thrones" season five, HBO went to work to make the show easier for international audiences to access, too. The season premiere was simulcast across 170 countries. In the past, episodes were staggered for up to weeks at a time for global markets. That delay could have made piracy a worthy pursuit for viewers abroad in the past – the U.S. ranked third when it came to "Game of Thrones" piracy, behind Brazil and France.
"It goes back to the idea of availability ... I think people are pirating because they can't find the content anywhere else," Jarvey says. "While HBO Now might help with some of that, HBO Now right now is only in the U.S."
One reason that HBO may not have allowed its content to be viewed a la carte in the past was due to a concern of increased piracy. But, the digital-only TV show "House of Cards" was only the fifth most-pirated show, according to anti-piracy research firm Irdeto, behind traditional-TV "Game of Thrones," "Walking Dead," "Breaking Bad," and "Vikings."
"The mode of distribution is not really the question," says Low. "Digital format or streaming does not make content harder to find illegally. The other challenge for content owners and distributors is having rights to distribute in all the territories they have coverage. Even Netflix does not have rights to 'House of Cards' on its service in all of the countries where it is available."
President Barack Obama met with Cuban President Raúl Castro on Saturday, at a regional summit in Panama. It was the first face-to-face meeting between leaders of the United States and Cuba in almost 60 years. The two presidents announced in December that they would work to restore full diplomatic relations.
Some trade with Cuba is already legal. U.S. companies have made $5 billion shipping agricultural products like corn, wheat and soy beans to the country during the last 14 years, says John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. But he expects business relations to thaw slowly.
“This isn’t a Niagra Falls of water,” he says. “This is a Niagara Falls of molasses.”
If and when sanctions are lifted, Raul Moas expects Cubans to welcome more U.S. investment. Moas is a Cuban-American, and executive director of Roots of Hope, a group that helps connect young people in Cuba with technology and entrepreneurial skills.
“There’s very much the desire to keep Cuba Cuban," Moas says. "I think for the average Cuban, the chance to work at a foreign company represents access to a better life.”
Still, it will take time for attitudes towards capitalism to change in Cuba. One example of limits on private enterprise: right now a restaurant can have no more than 50 chairs.
Never mind welfare to work. Today's world for low-wage earners is welfare and work. A new study from the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education finds that three out of four Americans who rely on aid programs like food stamps or Medicaid are members of working families.
The Center's Ken Jacobs says for those at the bottom, wages alone don't cut it. "You go back for the last 25 years, and real wages have actually declined since 1979," Jacobs says. "At the same time we've seen a decline in the share of workers with job-based health coverage."
So, many lean on the safety net to supplement their paychecks. The study finds that about half the workers in fast food, child care, and home healthcare live this reality.
This does not surprise social work scholar Luke Shaefer at the University of Michigan. He says welfare changes in the 1990s explicitly made a link between welfare to work.
"This is a direct, and you might even say, intended, result of policy decisions that were made," Shaefer says. "You can think of the welfare reform of 1996 as the stick: there's going to be less aid if you're not working."
If you watched the Masters on Sunday, you know Jordan Spieth had a very good day. You could argue his main sponsor, Under Armour, had a better one.
They signed Speith to a 10-year deal back in January, Bloomberg notes, guaranteeing Under Armour is the only brand name Spieth will wear on the course.
A key provision?
Under Armour doesn't make golf clubs, which means Speith didn't have to change clubs to make the deal — no small thing.
And by the way, I haven't had a pimento cheese sandwich yet.
You've heard of wind and solar. But what about harnessing other forces of nature for energy? That's Louis Michaud's idea.
Michaud worked an engineer in the petroleum industry, but on the side, he nurtured a radical green energy idea, a new renewable energy source he thinks could cover all of our power needs.
The Adaptors — a project of SoundVision Productions and The Atlantic — went to Sarnia, Ontario for a look.
Hosting Late Night wasn't Seth Meyers's first time in the host chair — he'd anchored Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update since 2006, where he was also a head-writer and cast member. Late Night with Seth Meyers premiered in February of 2014. After a year's worth of shows, Meyers has gotten the hang of his new gig.
"When I look back at where I was a year into my time at SNL, I felt very uncomfortable, very on-edge. Like a lot of people at SNL, I feel like you are worried you're going to get fired everyday. I'm more settled than that, but I wouldn't call myself completely settled."
The late night television is a crowded field. The traditional late night giants, CBS and NBC, have been joined by cable networks like Comedy Central, TBS, and HBO. Meyers is quick to point out that he's in no rush to copy what his competition is doing on other networks.
"Usually, the people that are doing things really well are doing them for the reason that they are the person that does them best."
Seth Meyers' desk in his office at 30 Rockefeller Center.Deb Clark
He and his writing team see a niche for them when it comes to politics, a topic Meyers is comfortable covering after his time at SNL but which most other late night network talk shows avoid. "It gives the office a fun energy when you're doing something day of and you and a lot less time to road test it," he says, speaking of a sketch they did about Senator Elizabeth Warren and her decision not to run for President
"And I think as we get into the political season where there are more stories that our audience is hip to, I think we'll try to do that more and more. It's really fun for us."
And Meyers is definitely having fun.
"The very fact that, in this day and age, a network has said to me, 'Hey, we're going to give you an hour every day. Do with it what you will.' There's really not much more you can ask for than that."
Click the media player below to hear an extended version of our conversation with Seth Meyers:
Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal (L) with Seth Meyers (R)Deb Clark