Marketplace - American Public Media

Subscribe to Marketplace - American Public Media feed
Updated: 31 min 10 sec ago

The education benefits in the VA Reform Bill

Mon, 2014-08-04 03:00

The VA Reform Bill on its way to President Barack Obama's desk includes a benefit for vets who want to get a college degree. The benefit says public universities receiving GI Bill money must now give all veterans in-state tuition.

Right now, if a veteran wants to enroll in an out-of-state public college, Uncle Sam pays the in-state tuition while the veteran-turned-student has to pay any extra out-of-state fees. The new law, passed by Congress last week, means states will now have to swallow those extra costs, said Aaron Glantz, who covers Veterans Affairs for the Center for Investigative Reporting.

“The losers are those schools because they’re going to get less money,” Glatnz said. “But the big winners continue to be these giant publically traded for-profit schools.”

For-profit schools are winning in this equation because they're sucking in most of the GI Bill money by enrolling lots of veterans. Many of them are private schools, so if a veteran attends classes there, the university takes in up to $20,000 of taxpayer money in tuition.

The University of Phoenix has raked in nearly $1 billion of taxpayer money over the past five years this way.

However, not all state schools see the new law as a loser. Ross Bryant is a veteran and with the University of Nevada Las Vegas. He says veterans “bring a worldly view. They bring world leadership and when they graduate we hope they stay here in Nevada.”

States like Ohio and Nevada have already passed state laws doing exactly what this new law does. They’ve done it, in part, to lure skilled, educated workers to their state.

PODCAST: "Mini" muni in Colorado

Mon, 2014-08-04 03:00

Massachusetts-based Market Basket hosts a job fair on Monday in response to employees protesting the firing of CEO Arthur Demoulas -- The company is looking to replace said employees. Plus, the VA reform bill crossing President Barack Obama's desk has a new benefit for veterans looking to attend college -- public universities receiving G.I. money must charge in-state tuition for all vets. So who wins and who loses in this new set-up? And municipal bonds are the sort-of boring financial tool that big institutional investors use to hedge their bets. But this week, the city of Denver is hoping to attract a totally different class of buyers for its bond sale. The city is selling $500 “mini-bonds" to state residents, as a way to get locals literally invested in the community.

Airplanes become the new weather balloons

Mon, 2014-08-04 02:00

Flight delays and cancellations cost airlines billions of dollars a year. But what if better weather data -- data gathered by planes themselves -- could help prevent unnecessary delays?

Turns out, that’s already happening.

Let’s start with the old-school way of collecting data for weather forecasts. It’s 6:30 in the morning at a National Weather Service post in Sterling, Virginia.

“What we’re doing now is getting the helium to flow into the balloon,” says meteorologist Kevin Witt as he inflates a six foot latex weather balloon.

These balloons float into the sky twice a day, from about 90 sites, carrying instruments that send back pressure, temperature, and humidity data. They go high – about 19 miles high – transmitting data as the balloon expands to the size of a small building and ultimately pops. The instrument, called a radiosonde, floats back to earth on a little orange parachute.

The government has been launching weather balloons in some form since the 1930s.

The NWS Sterling office is near Dulles International Airport, so Witt calls the tower before releasing the balloon.

It just so happens, there could be planes flying through Dulles that are also collecting weather data. The government has long partnered with airlines to measure temperature and wind during flights. More recently, Southwest Airlines and UPS Airlines have installed sophisticated sensors that measure water vapor, like balloons do.

But unlike balloons, which provide a data snapshot over a shorter time, planes create a moving picture as they take off and land, then take off and land again. They transmit humidity data every few seconds upon ascent, every few minutes at cruising altitude, and multiple times a minute while landing. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the ascent and descent data are compiled into profiles for each flight, whether it's a long haul or a short jump.

“Without the aircraft observations, the models are only receiving data every 12 hours,” says Steve Pritchett, program manager for the National Weather Service Aircraft Observation Program.

Remember, weather balloons launch twice a day. So let’s say a thunderstorm is projected to hit Dulles at 3pm. A plane might send real time info that no, the air mass is drier -- No storm likely.

“And I don’t have to wait 12 hours to determine that,” Pritchett says. “I can see it because I have an observation coming in this hour from an aircraft.”

He says major airports in Los Angeles, Seattle, and Houston don’t even have upper-air balloon launches within one hundred miles. But they do have Southwest Airlines. Its chief meteorologist Rick Curtis says the company has equipped 87 planes with water vapor sensors, with 19 more in the pipeline. He says the technology is working.

In late November of this past year, we were able to use that information to determine whether or not an ice storm was gonna affect Dallas,” he says.

That’s Dallas, Texas, not Dulles. Curtis says Southwest looked at the atmospheric data, saw less moisture and some warmer layers, then kept flying.

“It saved the mass, wholesale cancellations of an event like that,” he says. “Something that’s commonplace when you see an ice storm come to a southern city.”

And that saves money. Economist Kevin Neels of the Brattle Group worked on a study that found delays directly cost airlines $8.3 billion in 2007. That’s not including the cost to passengers.

“We estimated that the cost to the people was twice as much as the cost to the airlines,” he says.

Right now, the government pays for the water vapor sensors. Steve Pritchett of the National Weather Service says it’s worth it. He wishes all planes were equipped with them. The only drawback of relying on planes for data, he says, is he can’t tell them where to fly.

 

 

 

"Mini" muni bonds — double your money, help your city

Mon, 2014-08-04 02:00

Municipal bonds are the sort-of boring financial tool that big institutional investors use to hedge their bets. But this week, the city of Denver is hoping to attract a totally different class of buyers for its bond sale.

The city is selling $500 “mini-bonds" to state residents, as a way to get locals literally invested in the community.

It’s a simple pitch for investors: buy a few of these mini-bonds, and in 14 years you’re guaranteed to double your money. In the meantime, the city gets funds to renovate two cultural attractions and build a new recreation center.

The yield is higher than what the city offers on traditional bonds, but Denver’s Chief Financial Officer Cary Kennedy believes the extra expense is worth it to keep the money in the state.

“We’re willing to offer this to the citizens of Colorado because we want to give them that investment opportunity,” Kennedy says. “And we also want them to feel like they can support these critical infrastructure projects.”

The concept of mini-bonds has been around for a while, but they’re rarely issued by governments. That’s in part because they can be a real headache to administer.

Lynnette Kelly, executive director of the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board, says the back-office costs can be significant for the issuer. The customer service needs of thousands of individual small investors can add up to quite a headache.

“My mother, for example, had a lot of mini-bonds from a public power district,” Kelly says. “She had questions all the time. You know, 'Where’s my interest check?' And, 'I think I lost my mini-bond, what do I do now?' All of those basic everyday questions have to be handled and they have to be handled really well.”

Investors can now find the answers to a lot of those questions online, making mini-bonds easier to manage.

And Denver is certainly betting on their popularity. It hopes to sell $12 million in mini-bonds in just five days.

Hacking away in Las Vegas

Mon, 2014-08-04 02:00

This week, thousands of people interested in all sorts of hacking are gathering in Nevada. They're headed to two conferences, Black Hat and Defcon, which are well known to the cybersecurity industry. But a thriving ecosystem of other meet-ups, tear downs, and other tech events are happening in Vegas as well. 

One of the meetings this week is the Password Con, a two day event.

Sophos Cybersecurity expert Chester Wisniewski describes the event as, “kind of all the global minds in security coming together to figure out this authentication problem.”

There is arguably enough happening on that front for there to be a separate conference on passwords alone.

The audience at the conference, according to Wisniewski, is “nerds of every security stripe” — criminal hackers, government spies, security  professionals,  and ethical hackers.

He says privacy and mobile are at the top of mind this year — the hacker side of the community is very interested in maintaining privacy, especially in the face of the continuing to unfold NSA revelations.

 

Grocery chain workers fight for millionaire CEO

Mon, 2014-08-04 02:00

One of the country’s most successful regional grocery chains is holding a job fair on Monday.  Massachusetts-based Market Basket is looking to replace employees who’ve been holding protests and asking customers to boycott its stores.

Two weeks into the rallies, it’s like the aftermath of a snowstorm in New England - dozens of Market Basket stores with slim pickings and few customers.

It's not low wages or high prices the workers are upset about; they just want their old boss back. Ousted CEO Arthur T. Demoulas famously kept prices low and paid a living wage, plus provided good benefits and profit-sharing.  Now, workers and Market Basket customers alike worry the company's new leaders, under "Artie T's" cousin, will change all that.

"This is not a protest against the company, it’s a protest to save the company," says Thomas Kochan, Co-Director of MIT’s Institute for Work and Employment Research. "You have store managers, clerical employees, and warehouse workers all coalescing together to take this action. That's unprecedented."

Market Basket’s new CEOs say they'll welcome those workers back, and the company won't change its "unmatched compensation and benefits." But they warn that employees who keep up the protest could lose pay, and even their jobs.

At the Center for Corporate Citizenship at Boston College, Executive Director Katherine Smith says Market Basket has an obligation to its shareholders. But, she adds, the low cost chain won its edge in part by putting employees ahead of profits.  

"More and more we see companies struggling with the question of not only am I helping to create the world I want to do business in, but also the world I want to live in," she says.

Whichever way Market Basket goes, Smith says CEOs around the country are watching.

 

Peak Index: The history behind the rise, and rise, and rise of kale

Fri, 2014-08-01 15:04

There is a phrase in economics ... when something has hit its high, saturated the market, it's peaked. We're starting a new economic indicator on our show, and we're saying it, we've reached Peak KaleWriter Jane Black explains



If you were a foodie at the dawn of the twentieth century - though, no one would call you a foodie - you probably would have paid attention to what Horace Fletcher had to say.

Fletcher was a wealthy businessman. But he was neither a scientist nor a chef. Still, he pioneered 'Fletcherizing,' or chewing each bite 32 times. It was soon accepted as a key to good health. "Nature will castigate those who don't masticate!" he warned.

The concept seems ridiculous today. But each food fad is a reflection of its time.

Now, we have kale: glamorous but respected; sexy but not in a cookie-cutter way. The Cate Blanchett of vegetables. Like any starlet that has hit the big time, kale is everywhere. It bumps romaine out of Caesar salads. It curls across pizzas and alongside locally raised pork chops. It's the muse for part-cookbook, part-love letter, 50 Shades of Kale.

Why kale? Why now?

To its credit, kale has a vibrant history. It emerged in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. By the Middle Ages, it became so popular in England and Scotland, 'kale' became another word for "dinner." During World War II, Britain urged home gardeners to grow kale for its "Dig for Victory" campaign.   Today it offers those who cook it a badge of honor. Rightly or wrongly, it signals a cook’s commitment to farm to table values, like buying local and, of course, eating your vegetables.

Yet, with every fad comes the inevitable backlash. The first haters are beginning to attack not kale’s pretensions of grandeur but its health credentials. Apparently, all those raw kale salads are a waste. To get the nutrients, you need to cook the stuff.

Yet, with every fad comes the inevitable backlash. The first people to hate on kale claimed it wasn't as healthy as everyone said. Then, they said .... 'only really snooty people eat it.'

Unlike France, Italy and China, the U.S. goes through food fads faster than a box of $4 cupcakes at an office party. So those critiques matter. And before kale was the "it" vegetable, sun-dried tomatoes, arugula, portobello mushrooms and celery root each wore the heavy crown.

Still, the backlash has yet to change people's minds about kale. There's a petition on Change.org to make the first Wednesday of October National Kale Day. Folk artist Bo Muller-Moore is locked in a trademark battle with Chick-fil-A to allow him to keep selling T-shirts that read "Eat More Kale."

If the ubiquitous raw kale salad can't live up to its nutritious and culinary promise, perhaps the solution is to mix and match culinary fads.

Put that arugula, mushrooms, and sun-dried tomatoes back into those bowls.

Anyone ready to Fletcherize?

The Market Basket protests

Fri, 2014-08-01 15:02

Across New England, a chain of Market Basket grocery stores saw protests this week. Protests in support, not against, former company President Arthur T. Demoulas.

Market Basket's board pushed him out in a massive family feud, and now the chain is losing MILLIONS of dollar as thousands of employees AND customers, have hit the streets.

We asked WGBH reporter Rupa Shenoy to get the bottom of this story.

What do sanctions do, anyway?

Fri, 2014-08-01 15:00

The word sanctions gets tossed around a lot. The U.S. has sanctions on Iran, Russia, and even Cuba dating back to the Cold War. It's the go-to way to isolate and starve a bad actor, using money.

This week, the U.S. and the E.U. tightened the screws on Russia with even more sanctions.

So how do these things work, anyway?

To find out we met up with economist Sheryl King, director at Roubini Global Economics, outside the United Nations to explain their global impact.

Argentina defaults

Fri, 2014-08-01 14:57

Talks broke down between Argentina and some of its bondholders, triggering its second default in the past 13 years.

Tim Ferholz, reporter for Quartz, explains the situation and Argentina's past:

The whole reason for Argentina’s 2001 default was the string of currency crises in Asia and South America in the 1990s, with the IMF and other international financial leaders having bungled their responses to a series of problems in developing economies. Between the specter of contagion, local corruption, and an unwise attempt to peg Argentina’s currency to the dollar, foreign investment poured out of Argentina, and the economy slumped. Social unrest rose, and amid a volatile mix of political chaos, bank runs and high unemployment, Argentina defaulted on $100 billion of debt, going from a poster child for the Washington consensus to its biggest victim. 

Automakers could sell 16 million cars this year. What?

Fri, 2014-08-01 13:23

Turns out, we snapped up around 1.4 million cars last month, an increase of around 9 percent over last year. That puts automakers on track to sell more than 16 million cars in 2014, the biggest auto sales number in eight years. 

So what's going on?

One of the big reasons car sales are so high this year? Banks have discovered the sweet business that is the auto loan.

"Banks have realized that when recessions hit, people may stop paying their mortgage payments, because it takes so long to get thrown out of your house, but very few stop paying their car payment, because those are so easy to repossess and you have to get to work," says Larry Vellequette, with Automotive News in Detroit.

Carmakers have done their part to sweeten that pot, too. "For example Ram, on one of its trucks right now has a 0 percent financing offer for 72 months," says Vellequette. "I mean, six years of free money and no payments for 90 days. That’s… I mean, a really attractive offer."

It's an offer many consumers have been waiting for. The average car on the road is more than 11-years-old, an all-time high. That means there's a lot of pent-up demand right now.

"They’re coming out of this really depressing time, when we had the big financial crisis," says Thilo Koslowski, Vice President and Auto Practice leader at Gartner

But cheap money and easy loans have some seeing signs of a bubble. "That's the $64,000 question right now," says Dan Picciotto, Senior Director at Standard and Poor's. He says the economic fundamentals of the industry seem solid, but, he says, the deep discounts and less-than-sterling loans needs to be kept in check. "Right now the industry is remaining relatively disciplined, but the track record of this industry is one where the risks emerge… It’s something that we continue to monitor."

The average incentive on a vehicle in July was more than $2,700, up 7 percent from last year. 

Everything in this store is made out of felt

Fri, 2014-08-01 13:15

A British artist by the name of Lucy Sparrow - whose bio says she "sets the agenda for textiles within the urban art scene" - has created something called "The Cornershop."

It's being billed as the "fluffiest, furriest shopping experience imaginable." You walk into what was an abandoned store, and everything that you might find in a convenience store - and I mean everything - is there, but it's made entirely out of felt.

She's sewn felt newspapers...

...felt cigarettes....

...felt cheese...

...even felt Prozac...

She spent seven months doing this, and it really does look amazing. You can see some more pictures taken by the Mirror in the UK.  The store will be up for a month, and each of these 4,000 or so felt objects is for sale.

Procter & Gamble shaves off a few brands

Fri, 2014-08-01 13:15

Two ingredients. That’s all Procter & Gamble needed to launch its enormous brand empire.

“Fat and oils," says Davis Dyer, co-author of "Rising Tide: Lessons from 165 Years of Brand Building at Procter & Gamble." "Originally, those were the key ingredients of soap."

Ivory, to be exact. Dyer says P&G worked business magic at the time by branding a commodity like soap. After that, the company used its technology and those key ingredients to develop other products like shortening, peanut butter and detergents. The rest is classic corporate history, but now P&G is getting rid of lots of the brands it worked so hard to build.

“I’m actually surprised it’s taken this long," says Barbara Kahn, a professor of marketing at Wharton. She points out the company has a lot of redundant products, like shampoo. P&G doesn't just make Head & Shoulders, but also Herbal Essences, Pantene and Vidal Sassoon. 

"At one time that made a lot of sense," Kahn says, "because it allowed them to appeal to different segments. It allowed them to get more shelf space."

Kahn notes reaching audiences in the last century was a lot easier than it is now, when consumers' attention spans have splintered. It used to be much easier to build brand awareness.

“There used to be three networks, and everybody watched Ed Sullivan on Sunday night,” Kahn says.

Morningstar senior equity analyst Erin Lash says more problems face today's marketers, like today's increasingly global market.

“Some of their struggles, at this point, may have resulted from the fact that they have maybe tried to get into or tried to play in too many categories, in too many regions,” she says.

Tastes and preferences vary, says Lash. You can’t always take a product, like razors, that work in the U.S. and easily transport it to an emerging market.

Procter & Gamble hasn’t announced which brands it will be shaving away, but it says the products it’s holding on to account for almost all of its profit.

The world of brands at Procter & Gamble


easel.ly

More jobs, but wages stay flat

Fri, 2014-08-01 13:15

The monthly jobs report showed Friday that the U.S. economy gained 209,000 jobs in July. That's a decrease from the 298,000 added in June, but the overall trend still suggests the economy's on a slow but steady jobs recovery.

Still, when it comes to jobs in the U.S., the question is not just of quantity but quality. And in the quality department, there's a long way to go. Average wages are growing at about 2 percent a year, barely enough to keep up with inflation.

Stagnating wages aren't that surprising in an economy slowly plodding out of recession, where there aren't enough jobs to go around and the number of long-term unemployed Americans has stalled at 3.2 million.

"If you're an employer, you've got many applicants for a job. Some people have been out of work for quite some time and are quite desperate," says Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist at MFR, a financial consulting firm. That means employers "don't have to bid up wages to attract qualified people," Shapiro says.

Sure, wages are still growing fairly rapidly in some specialized fields like computer programming or engineering, which face a shortage of skilled workers. But wages are not accelerating for the "the broad, garden-variety worker," Shapiro says.

Wage growth should eventually accelerate, at least a little, if the economy continues to add jobs and labor markets tighten. But, beyond those supply and demand dynamics, there are deeper forces working against wage growth that got started long before the great recession, including the declining power of unions and the increasingly globalized economy.

"The sheltered economy that the U.S. had after World War II, which allowed us to have high wages and high benefits, is now being tamped down by countries with cheaper wages competing against American manufacturers," says Joseph Blasi, a professor of management at Rutgers University.

It's not just manufacturing that's feeling the pressures of globalization. Companies are increasingly outsourcing white-collar jobs like paralegals and architectural draftsmen. Meanwhile, many of the service jobs that still can't be sent overseas — like stocking shelves or flipping hamburgers — have traditionally paid low wages to begin with.

Damon Silvers, policy director for the AFL-CIO, says workers in those industries have started to demand higher wages but are struggling with confidence.

"Decades of anti-worker policies, and on top of that a profound economic crisis, have really put American workers through an experience of powerlessness," Silvers says. "Everything you see going on right now, in terms of worker protests at Walmart, at fast foods, even those people kind of want to know: is this going to work?"

One way or another, says Shapiro, we should all hope that wages will rise eventually for workers. "Because that's who buys stuff."

And buying stuff is what ultimately keeps our economy running.

Pages