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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.

Wall Street sees an opportunity in baby boomers

Fri, 2014-08-01 09:25

Fed up with hearing about millennials? So is Wall Street. At the moment, an enormous amount of energy and money at America’s biggest financial firms is focused on a very different generation, with trillions of dollars at stake: Big banks want baby boomers, big time.

Boomers are hot targets for banks and financial advisers eager for a slice of their retirement savings. While wary of Wall Street’s aggressive sales pitch, more and more older Americans feel they could use some advice. Why? Because they face the most challenging retirement landscape in modern U.S. history, one that is complicated by longer lifespans, the slow disappearance of pensions and rapidly multiplying offerings of complex financial products.

Sandy and Jim deBettencourt are typical examples of Wall Street’s current obsession. On a recent morning, they looked over their financial picture while sitting at their dining room table in Skokie, Illinois. For them - like most Americans - this is more of a puzzle, made up of piles of paper and scrolling screens of online text and graphs. It’s a lot more complicated than what their parents had to deal with.

“My dad never had to do this,” Sandy deBettencourt says, speaking longingly about his far simpler landscape of pension and Social Security checks.

Sandy deBettencourt is 58 and teaches second grade, which means she expects a pension. But she has worried in recent years, as pensions have come under pressure and governments come up short of funding.

Jim is 62, a tech consultant and teacher. Like many Americans, he has worked at several places, which means his savings are an increasingly typical grab bag of different retirement accounts and investments. Lately, the deBettencourts have sought professionals to sort everything out and plan ahead.

“It has, partially, become way too complicated to really understand what’s going on and it’s very hard to figure out who you should trust,” says Jim deBettencourt.

For a long time, banks and advisers weren’t exactly lining up to earn that trust and win that business. The deBettencourts heard little from financial marketers until about five years ago. These days, they get pitched all the time. They get all sorts of fliers in the mail and see endless ads on their favorite shows and websites from banks, financial advisers and insurance companies.

“Now, I feel like they’re marketing toward me,” Sandy deBettencourt says.

They certainly are.

"Financial Gerontology" revitalized

We can get a peek at just how hard Wall Street is gunning for older Americans inside a corner meeting room in a tower high above Midtown Manhattan. Bank executive Cyndi Hutchins is talking strategy with Jeff James, a longtime financial adviser with many older clients. She’s got quite a title: Director of Financial Gerontology for Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

That’s a brand new position, previously unheard of at big financial firms. Its mere existence demonstrates how seriously the company takes the older demographic. Wall Street’s historic gold rush for older Americans’ money has brought to prominence a once obscure field called financial gerontology. Firms across Wall Street are currently looking for folks like Hutchins, with financial experience, but also special understanding of older clients (in her case, a graduate gerontology degree). A lot of money is up for grabs.

“It’s $22 trillion that will be money in motion over the next several years with these clients that are retiring,” Hutchins says. “It’s not a small opportunity. It’s a huge market that we’re looking at.”

She, and many others in finance who want the business of older Americans, need to learn new tricks. Chief among those tricks is grappling with an era of longer lifespans and crushing medical expenses. Hutchins says clients are deeply concerned about how to save for a retirement that may last 40 years and how to put enough money away to take care of future medical expenses. Modern advisers also need to know how to deal with the increasingly shaky ground under the longtime pillars of American retirements: pensions and Social Security.

With Wall Street racing to figure out what older clients today need and how to win their business, the aggressive push is worrying those who look out for retirees. One false move in financial planning can ripple for decades.

“People really have to do a lot of homework to make sure they’re going to be both with an adviser and then also with the type of products that can meet their needs,” says AARP's executive vice president Debra Whitman. “It has to be from somebody that the individual trusts and is looking out for their interest, not just trying to sell them something.”

Back at the deBettencourt’s dining room in Illinois, this isn’t about bank profits or a marketing opportunity or some interesting demographic trend. It’s their life. And it can be a little scary.

“We’re the ones that all these changes in retirements, the loss of pension funds, things like that, we’re the experiment in seeing whether or not it works,” says Jim deBettencourt.

Just think: You and people you love are living that high-stakes financial gerontology experiment right now, the very thing Wall Street wants in on.

Photographing the wage gap over time

Fri, 2014-08-01 09:03

Jim Goldberg, photographer of "Rich and Poor", says he was interested in looking at the ways people spoke about wealth and poverty.

"I wanted to open up the discussion and ask interesting questions about how discussions of wealth and poverty are framed," says Goldberg. "And look at the language that is used to describe them, and who gets to use that language."

His collection of photographs compares two economic classes of San Francisco. Each photograph is accompanied by comments written by the subjects themselves.  

As Goldberg’s work became more known, he ran into many of the wealthy people he photographed at museums or openings. Their worlds began to coincide. The poor, however, usually disappeared over time.

"As much as I tried to be present in their lives, they would have to move on, or go to prison or die," says Goldberg. "Not to be dramatic, but the life of the poor is somewhat dramatic in that sense. It’s an interesting contradiction."

Goldberg says his beat has changed since he started taking pictures decades ago. He says yesterday's wealthy would have looked poor today.

"It’s as if the income gap has grown exponentially between the wealthy and the poor, I think the wealthy now are able to exhibit their wealth in ways that the wealthy of the past could not."

The next generation to get corporate attention

Fri, 2014-08-01 04:00

Brands and corporations pay good money to people from Generation X to figure out how to get folks from Generation Y, the Millennials, to open their wallets. Now, a new group is getting corporate love: Generation Z (at least that's what they're called until someone finds a better name). Marketplace’s Mark Garrison spoke with Dan Gould, senior cultural strategist at market research firm Sparks and Honey, which is studying Generation Z and its growing buying power.

Click the media player above to hear Dan Gould in conversation with Marketplace Morning Report guest host Mark Garrison.

Meet Generation Z: Forget Everything You Learned About Millennials from sparks & honey

PODCAST: Marketing to Generation Z

Fri, 2014-08-01 03:00

First up, more on the jobs report for the month of July. Plus, it used to be that business travelers would hop into a taxi and stay at a hotel. Now they're using Uber to hire drivers and staying in stranger's apartments through Airbnb. But these companies don't have the same taxes and regulations as their traditional competitors. And we’ve talked a lot about Generation X and Generation Y. But, what about Generation Z? What are the spending habits of this new generation and what can companies do to appeal to them?

What the Concur partnership means for Uber and Airbnb

Fri, 2014-08-01 02:00

It used to be that business travelers would roll into town, hop in a taxi, and spend the night at a hotel. Now, some are using Uber to hire drivers, and to search Airbnb to stay in the apartments of strangers.

Both companies are part of the so-called “sharing economy,” and that non-traditional status has helped prevent them from being taxed and regulated in the same way as their traditional competitors. At the same time, both companies are now taking steps to become regular fixtures of corporate travel.

Airbnb just launched a new web portal for business travelers. On the front page is a picture of a loft with brick walls, high ceilings, and what looks to be a nice stereo system. This is not your everyday workingman's motel.

“Sometimes it's nice to come home to a place that feels a little more like yours," says Lex Bayer, head of global payments and business development at Airbnb.

Last year, Bayer says 8 percent of the travel done through Airbnb was for business. That, he says, lead it to partner with Concur, a logistics service that manages employee travel for 70 percent of all Fortune 1000 companies.

If employees want to stay at Airbnb properties, Concur helps smooth out the process so it conforms with corporate travel procedures. Tim MacDonald, Concur's executive vice president of platform and data services, says use of Airbnb by employees has increased: "We've seen 27 times growth in expense reports with Airbnb listed." 

MacDonald says alternative business models like Airbnb have grown too big to ignore. Concur also works with Uber — a “rideshare service” with cars operated by regular people. It too escapes regulation by falling into the "sharing economy" gray zone. The exemption of these companies irks established players in the lodging and transportation fields.

“If you are going to look like a hotel and act like a hotel, you should be treated like a hotel," says Vanessa Sinders, senior vice president for governmental affairs at the American Hotel and Lodging Association. Right now, she perceives a double standard. “Hotels have to abide by so many different safety, security, health code, accessibility requirements, and we think that that should be applied fairly and equally across the board.”

So far, over 30 companies have partnered with Airbnb to make it an official travel option for employees. Many of those happen to be start-ups themselves.

As housing recovers, a shortage of skilled workers

Fri, 2014-08-01 02:00

The housing crash sent many construction workers fleeing to other industries. Now that housing is recovering, builders are struggling with a shortage of skilled workers. That’s delaying housing starts and driving up home prices.

The housing market continues to recover along with the overall economy, but the construction workers who left the industry in droves during the recession aren’t exactly flocking back. Meanwhile, a shortage of skilled workers is getting worse. But can you blame them for leaving in the first place?  

The National Association of Home Builders reports that unemployment among construction workers peaked at 22 percent during the recession.  

No wonder so many found jobs in other industries, says the group’s chief economist, David Crowe, adding that housing still seems too unstable for them to come back.

"More than half of builders are now telling us that they’re having trouble finding construction workers – carpenters, brick masons, painters and so forth," Crowe explains.  

60 percent of builders the group surveyed say the shortage forced them to delay projects in the last six months, or raise home prices.

That’s not putting much of a drag on the housing market yet, says Kermit Baker, with Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies: "But with growth coming down the road in all likelihood, certainly we’re going to have serious problems in the future if we don’t train and attract more workers in the construction industry."

Baker adds that builders need to revive some of the training programs they scrapped during the long downturn, and get their “muscle memory” back for growing their workforce.  

Suing soldiers for their debt

Fri, 2014-08-01 02:00

ProPublica recently co-published a report with The Washington Post about a company called USA Discounters that offers easy credit to military service members. The catch? If a service member falls behind, the company aggressively goes after them by suing them in courts near its Virginia headquarters, making it incredibly difficult for service members to show up in their own defense.

Click the media player above to hear ProPublica Senior Editor Tracy Weber in conversation with Marketplace Morning Report guest host Mark Garrison.

 

Silicon Tally: Gameboy becomes a Gameman

Fri, 2014-08-01 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 Nilay Patel, Editor-in-chief of The Verge.

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The jobs report for July

Fri, 2014-08-01 01:00

UPDATE: On Friday, the Labor Department reported that the U.S. added 209,000 jobs in July, with the unemployment rate at 6.2%.

The first Friday in August is the day we get the government’s massive monthly jobs report. Which means we get to kvetch — or kvell — about how the employment economy is doing.

“We’ve seen not only a sustained uptick in job growth, with more than 200,000 new jobs being added month in and month out, but the quality of jobs has improved," says Greg McBride is at Bankrate.com.

McBride says a lot of new jobs are in business services; blue-collar work has also picked up.

But take-home pay hasn’t — at least for most Americans, says John Canally at LPL Financial:

“Manufacturing — for the most part, wages there remain stagnant. [It’s the high-end,] high value-added jobs that require master’s degree or some advanced training [or even more], that’s where you’re seeing most of the wage gains [accrue to].”

And economists say spending on big things — like new cars and fancy summer vacations — won’t really take off until wages go up across the board.

 

 

Answering your economics questions with Jim Tankersley

Fri, 2014-08-01 01:00

For today’s blog, here’s a little something different. My good friend Jim Tankersley is a talented economics correspondent for the Washington Post, and the editor of a new project there, Storyline, which tells economic stories the right way: about people.

We spoke together at a conference on inequality at Kenyon College this spring, and we stay in regular touch. We talk about the economy, our lives, his son, and baseball. This week, we decided to take a few questions from readers and people on twitter. Below are a few of our answers (plus one shot at a New York Times economics correspondent. All’s fair in love, war and journalism).

We hope you like it!

1. Can you ask (Lizzie) to weigh in on that Brookings report on student debt? Does she think it’s an overstated problem?

Lizzie O’Leary: Oh, good. You tossed me the hot potato of student loans. I guarantee that any way I answer this, someone is going to want to punch me in the face.

The Brookings report got a lot of attention because it basically said hey, there’s not a loan crisis and we’re paying the same amount of our incomes in loans as we used to be.

Plus, they say those loans help you get a better gig, and it comes out in the wash. In econo-speak, that’s an “increase in earnings received over the course of 2.4 years would pay for the increase in debt incurred.”

There are a couple places where I’m skeptical. The data only runs through 2010. Since then, tuitions have continued to rise and median wages haven’t kept up with them.

In addition, the Brookings report looks at income, not wealth. Sure, your income can go up, and that will help you pay your loans. But let’s say you came from a family with very little money. Those loans may have helped you get a better job after school, but there’s no cushion if something happens to your income (you get sick, you lose your job, etc). And that’s the intersection between democratized access to expensive education and student loans that worries me.

2. Should I ever go to grad school?

Jim Tankersley: Lizzie, I’m so glad you took the college / loans question. When I go out on reporting trips and tell people I write about the economy, someone always asks about student debt, why it’s going up so much and whether college is worth it. Usually I say yes, it’s almost always worth it if you make it all the way through, but I also talk about community college and technical school and finding the right fit for you, and I ramble, and people start getting that face-punching look, so I try to head them off by making a joke about USC. *Everyone* loves a good USC joke.

Hardly anyone asks about grad school, but they should. Grad school is a huge economic decision. Tuition is expensive. If you go full time, you’re not working – or working as much as you could. On the other hand, you are, very broadly speaking, setting yourself up for higher future earnings and better odds of getting a job. As these charts show. (I’ve made them USC colored; my mom has a degree from USC; sorry about the jokes earlier, Mom!)

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

The Washington Post

Of course, as they say, your results may vary, especially depending on what grad school you’re thinking about. Which brings me to the other half of this answer, economically: The value of work isn’t just about money. There’s value in enjoying what you do, as the president of the American Enterprise Institute, Arthur C. Brooks, argues. Will that grad degree help you land that job you love? Make that part of your utility-function calculation, too.

3. Should I buy a house?

O’Leary: Should you buy a house? Ask me that and I have 800 other questions for you.

I could talk to you about interest rates (they’re good right now). Down payments (how much can you afford?), and calculators (http://www.trulia.com/rent_vs_buy/). But to me, it’s about words, not numbers.

What is a house to you? If your answer is a place to live and build equity, then yes, by all means. If it’s a cash register, then nope. Houses are the single biggest asset most Americans will have. But they sure don’t appreciate like investment portfolios (yes, yes, I know the market is risky).

Since 1983, stocks and financial assets have returned 7%. Homes have returned 1.6%.

Bonus: you can listen to me interview Ray Boshara from the St. Louis Fed about this. 

4. Any sectors where job growth or job decline surprises you?

Tankersley: This is not a surprise to smart folks who listen to Marketplace, but it is a fact that never fails to astonish me about the last few years: Manufacturing in America is absolutely crushing it right now, in terms of economic output. But it is not, how do you say, doing much hiring. There are reasons for this – automation being the main one; it just takes fewer people in an actual factory to produce the same amount of stuff these days – but those reasons have not stopped many people, including President Obama and his team, from predicting a much larger wave of manufacturing job creation than what we’re seeing. The surprise is that they keep predicting it.

5. Is our current economy the new “normal”? High inequality gap, shrinking middle class, etc?

Tankersley: Teaser alert: I have an entire multi-part series in store for this topic. Short preview: There’s plenty of evidence that the American economy isn’t working the way it used to – in the rising tide lifting boats sense – but also there’s nothing in American history that suggests we are stuck in our current economic situation.

O’Leary: I sort of hate this question because … I’m afraid it might be true … at least in the short term.

Do you remember that panel on inequality we were on together at Kenyon? I feel like no one there had a good answer about how we get out of this moment.

And to me, it’s not just about income inequality, but about wealth inequality.

Which means … it’s harder to buy houses, build assets, and pass things on to your kids.

This research on home ownership by African Americans is pretty telling, I think, about how much inequality eats away at our ability to build wealth for future generations.

And I don’t think we can actually get out of this until we, as a country, figure out how to pay people higher wages across the board.

Tankersley: That Kenyon panel was dispiriting. The room was full of hopeful young scholars and we – you and Ross Douthat and I – we crushed their spirits!

O’Leary: We totally did. But we swore. Which I think was maybe cool? We were the journalist panel and we were supposed to be saltier than the economists.

Tankersley: To your point on compensating people better: I think there’s a real sense in America, a correct one, among a wide swath of people, that people like me aren’t getting ahead.

O’Leary: Right. BUT — who is a part of that “like me”?

Tankersley: It’s psychologically powerful, that sense. Here is some research from USC on this topic.

But this is a storytelling question and answer column. So back to our New Normal question:

What’s the story of the American economy right now, would you say? WHO is the story of the economy?

O’Leary: Running in place is the answer to your first question. So that’s GDP, and productivity, and manufacturing all going up … but it still doesn’t mean we see the kinds of jobs that mean you can send your kids to school without debt.

And who? I think that’s an hourly wage earner. Someone who’s working in health care, maybe.

Or that lovely Navy chaplain I met, Jason DiPinto. Served in Afghanistan (before he was in the Navy), and still can’t afford to buy a house.

It just seems like maybe someone or some THING isn’t holding up its end of the bargain.

And I think on a gut level, beyond all the numbers, people feel that.

(Pause)

We’re depressing everyone.

Tankersley: We’re horrible people.

O’Leary: No! I’m an optimist!

Tankersley: Let’s just move on to the last question.

6. (Submitted by New York Times economics correspondent Neil Irwin) Which has higher marginal product of labor, 100 duck-sized horses, or 1 horse-sized duck?

O’Leary: They are both more productive than a New York Times economics correspondent.

 

Weekly Wrap: Jobs Friday

Thu, 2014-07-31 23:15

David Gura talks wtih Fortune's Leigh Gallagher and FT Alphaville's Cardiff Garcia.   

Listen to their conversation in the audio player above.

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