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Tidying up with financial spring cleaning

Fri, 2014-04-11 16:41
Friday, April 11, 2014 - 17:31 Wikimedia Commons

Once you're all done with your taxes, it's the season for spring cleaning. Organizing ... decluttering your house ... throwing out old furniture, money can work the same way, too.

Personal finance expert Farnoosh Torabi gives us her recipe for a productive financial spring cleaning.

Automate your bills: “Automate your bills because that means less stress. It’s minimizing your financial burdens ... Also, to make sure you’re always paying your bills, never getting behind.”

Go paperless: “This is something as a country we’re doing more and more of, but some of us are a little bit behind ... That will help to declutter and give some piece of mind.”

Hold onto three (or six) years worth of tax documents: “If the IRS does come a knocking with an audit, they will want to see the last three years of your records, and all your supporting documents. The one exception, you have to answer this honestly, if you’ve been underreporting income and the IRS audits you for that reason, they can go back as far as six years. So if you’re somebody that takes a little bit of risk with your reporting, and pushes the envelope, make sure you have even more support and backup.”

Look ahead: "Spring is a time when we’re looking ahead. A lot of families perhaps are thinking about a home, people are buying cars, applying for loans for school, so this is a good time to get a firm understanding of where you stand credit wise. Go check your report at annualcreditreport.com (and that’s free!)."

What are your tips for financial spring cleaning? Share them in the comments, on Facebook, or on Twitter @LiveMoney.

Marketplace Money for Friday, April 11, 2014Interview by Lizzie O'LearyPodcast Title Tidying up with financial spring cleaningSyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherBusiness InsiderSwellPMPApp Respond No

Last-minute tips for tax procrastinators

Fri, 2014-04-11 15:39
Friday, April 11, 2014 - 16:30 Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Craig Baldwin holds a sign advertising a tax preparation office for people that still need help completing their taxes before the Internal Revenue Service deadline.

April 15 marks the last day to file your taxes ... unless you hit the panic button and file an extension.

You can file an extension, but…

You still have to pay your estimated taxes. According to Kelly Phillips Erb, a tax attorney in Pennsylvania, “the IRS wants you to pay what you paid last year, that’s a good rule of thumb. If nothing has changed remarkably, if you paid as much as you owed last year, you should be fine. The penalties and interest come when at the end of the extension, you still owe a bucket of money. you want to try and approximate what you owe as much as possible.”

If you can’t pay your taxes in full:

- Pay in installments

At IRS.gov, taxpayers can enter into an installment agreement with the IRS. “There are some restrictions and some limitations,” says Erb. “The one to keep in mind the most is that you have to owe less than $50,000 to qualify for the installment agreement. And it’s for individual taxpayers. Business taxpayers generally still have to go through the normal channels.”

- Pay a little bit now and a little bit later.

“Taxpayers shouldn’t be frightened of making partial payments,” Erb says. Even if you have to pay a penalty and interest payments, that’s an improvement over leaving the full tax bill untouched.

Use a tax preparer ...

Though filing your taxes can be a labor of love for many people, Erb says there are times it’s worth using a professional. “If things have changed in your life, I highly recommend using someone … you know whether you’ve had a baby or whether you’ve gotten married and life events, you usually want somebody that can kind of help you get guided through the process because it’s my experience that the folks who are worried about getting their taxes done, it’s generally not that they are worried about making a mistake, it’s that they often are just kind of overwhelmed and I think those people tend to under-deduct.”

... But beware of preparer scams

“When you hire a tax preparer you want to make sure that they are credentialed, and that they know what they are doing. The IRS still require tax preparers prepare returns for compensation, those folks still need to have a PTIN number, you can think of it like a Social Security Number for preparers, so the IRS knows who’s preparing that return.”

... And IRS scams too

Scammers frequently pose as IRS representatives through email and phone calls, and threaten fines and arrest if you don’t immediately send money. “If you owe taxes, if anything has gone wrong with your filing, most of the time they’re going to contact you through a letter. They’re not going to text you. They’re not going to call you. And they’re not going to email you. And a lot of these identity thefts schemes that are going on right now are from folks posing as representatives from the IRS. Kind of the most prevalent one right now is when IRS allegedly, someone from the IRS, calls up folks, they’re kind of targeting immigrants and the elderly in particular, and say, ‘you owe money to us. We’re going to arrest you tomorrow if you don’t pay us now.’ And then they’re asking for debit card information over the phone.

 

What's your tax story? Leave us a comment on our site or Facebook page, or tweet us @LiveMoney.

Marketplace Money for Friday, April 11, 2014by Raghu ManavalanPodcast Title Last-minute tips for tax procrastinatorsStory Type InterviewSyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherBusiness InsiderSwellPMPApp Respond No

Food inflation, or, why bacon is a good investment

Fri, 2014-04-11 15:28

If you’ve noticed your receipt from the grocery store seems larger than usual, you have food inflation to thank.

While the prices of everything usually go up due to regular boring inflation, commodities like food have outpaced other goods.

Matthew Boesler, Business Insider reporter, says food inflation is increasing because of a few different factors.

“A lot of it is due to weather. We have a big drought in California. We’ve had dry conditions across the Midwest, the Great Plains regions,” Boesler says. “The extreme weather events serve to disrupt crop supplies. and that can drive prices up.”

“Another factor you have is the ‘financial-ization’ of these commodities markets,” he says. Hedge funds and other investors are increasingly pouring money into goods like beef and coffee. “It’s very easy for an investor to bet on rising commodity prices. And no one really bets on those prices going down, so you have a lot of one-way money flowing into these markets, and they can become quickly overwhelmed because [investment markets are] not designed for that.”

Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Raghu Manavalan/Marketplace

 

“Supply and demand sort of governs the price of a commodity, but the way these markets are set up and you know, given how much capital is flowing seeking investment opportunities, the jumps in prices can be very volatile and large.”

Say cheese... all April long

Fri, 2014-04-11 15:26
Friday, April 11, 2014 - 10:01 Granger Meador/Flickr

A grilled cheese on rye.

Here's an extended look at what's coming up next week:

On Sunday, the final season of "Mad Men" premieres. I had to put on my go-go boots and pour myself a martini for that tidbit.

On Monday, while we all drink heavily at a business meeting we've dressed up and styled our hair for, the Commerce Department is scheduled to report retail sales data for March.

On April 14th, 1939 John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath" was first published. The depression era novel went on to win the Pulitzer Prize. Speaking of the Pulitzers, Prizewinners are scheduled to be announced on Monday.

Did consumers pay more or less for stuff in March than they did in February? On Tuesday, the Labor Department issues its Consumer Price Index. And it's tax day. An American tradition.

That brings us up to hump day. We'll get numbers on construction of new homes for March. And the Federal Reserve releases its latest Beige Book summary of commentary on current economic conditions.

Wondering why I'm not talking about any hearings on Capitol Hill? It's because Congress is on recess.

Markets are closed for Good Friday.

Television host and comedian Conan O'Brien turns 51.

And since we here at Datebook love cheese, let's end with this deliciousness: April is National Grilled Cheese Month. Start melting.

Marketplace for Friday April 11, 2014by Podcast Title Datebook: Say cheese... all April longStory Type BlogSyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No

How digital media is reinventing comics

Fri, 2014-04-11 15:00

For the uninitiated, the term "digital comic" might sound like someone simply scanned a paper copy of their favorite issues of Batman into their computer. The scope of the digital comic world is actually pretty wide, with artists and writers taking advantage of the medium to play around with what a comic can be, and how to distribute content.

Here's an excellent debrief on the world of digital comics. Plus, check out these examples of digital comics that capitalize on the possibilities of the medium.

News Comics

Among the freedoms of publishing a digital comic is the ability to stretch what a comic can be. The team behind Symbolia, for example, use the medium to tell news stories with sound, links, animations, and interactive charts. 

You can check out more about Symbolia here.

Self-Published

Digital comics also allow artists to self-publish and sell their own comics. Artist Dean Trippe's Something Terrible is an autobiographical work about how his interest in Batman helped him cope with being the victim of rape at a young age.

You can read more about Trippe's story here.

Free download of first issue

Not unlike the mobile game model known as "freemium," publishers of digital comics will sometimes offer a first issue for free in the hopes that readers will be hooked enough to purchase subsequent issues.

The critically-acclaimed "Saga" series, for example, offers its first issue free for download here.

Subscription Series

There's also the option of subscribing to a series, which is not unlike subscribing to a newspaper's phone or tablet app. In addition to regularly receiving new issues, subscribers often have access to classic comics that have been uploaded by the publisher. Access to Marvel's annual subscription costs $99.

You can check out more about Marvel Unlimited here.

Tidying up with financial spring cleaning

Fri, 2014-04-11 14:31

Once you're all done with your taxes, it's the season for spring cleaning. Organizing ... decluttering your house ... throwing out old furniture, money can work the same way, too.

Personal finance expert Farnoosh Torabi gives us her recipe for a productive financial spring cleaning.

Automate your bills: “Automate your bills because that means less stress. It’s minimizing your financial burdens ... Also, to make sure you’re always paying your bills, never getting behind.”

Go paperless: “This is something as a country we’re doing more and more of, but some of us are a little bit behind ... That will help to declutter and give some piece of mind.”

Hold onto three (or six) years worth of tax documents: “If the IRS does come a knocking with an audit, they will want to see the last three years of your records, and all your supporting documents. The one exception, you have to answer this honestly, if you’ve been underreporting income and the IRS audits you for that reason, they can go back as far as six years. So if you’re somebody that takes a little bit of risk with your reporting, and pushes the envelope, make sure you have even more support and backup.”

Look ahead: "Spring is a time when we’re looking ahead. A lot of families perhaps are thinking about a home, people are buying cars, applying for loans for school, so this is a good time to get a firm understanding of where you stand credit wise. Go check your report at annualcreditreport.com (and that’s free!)."

What are your tips for financial spring cleaning? Share them in the comments, on Facebook, or on Twitter @LiveMoney.

Last-minute tips for tax procrastinators

Fri, 2014-04-11 13:30

April 15 marks the last day to file your taxes ... unless you hit the panic button and file an extension.

You can file an extension, but…

You still have to pay your estimated taxes. According to Kelly Phillips Erb, a tax attorney in Pennsylvania, “the IRS wants you to pay what you paid last year, that’s a good rule of thumb. If nothing has changed remarkably, if you paid as much as you owed last year, you should be fine. The penalties and interest come when at the end of the extension, you still owe a bucket of money. you want to try and approximate what you owe as much as possible.”

If you can’t pay your taxes in full:

- Pay in installments

At IRS.gov, taxpayers can enter into an installment agreement with the IRS. “There are some restrictions and some limitations,” says Erb. “The one to keep in mind the most is that you have to owe less than $50,000 to qualify for the installment agreement. And it’s for individual taxpayers. Business taxpayers generally still have to go through the normal channels.”

- Pay a little bit now and a little bit later.

“Taxpayers shouldn’t be frightened of making partial payments,” Erb says. Even if you have to pay a penalty and interest payments, that’s an improvement over leaving the full tax bill untouched.

Use a tax preparer ...

Though filing your taxes can be a labor of love for many people, Erb says there are times it’s worth using a professional. “If things have changed in your life, I highly recommend using someone … you know whether you’ve had a baby or whether you’ve gotten married and life events, you usually want somebody that can kind of help you get guided through the process because it’s my experience that the folks who are worried about getting their taxes done, it’s generally not that they are worried about making a mistake, it’s that they often are just kind of overwhelmed and I think those people tend to under-deduct.”

... But beware of preparer scams

“When you hire a tax preparer you want to make sure that they are credentialed, and that they know what they are doing. The IRS still require tax preparers prepare returns for compensation, those folks still need to have a PTIN number, you can think of it like a Social Security Number for preparers, so the IRS knows who’s preparing that return.”

... And IRS scams too

Scammers frequently pose as IRS representatives through email and phone calls, and threaten fines and arrest if you don’t immediately send money. “If you owe taxes, if anything has gone wrong with your filing, most of the time they’re going to contact you through a letter. They’re not going to text you. They’re not going to call you. And they’re not going to email you. And a lot of these identity thefts schemes that are going on right now are from folks posing as representatives from the IRS. Kind of the most prevalent one right now is when IRS allegedly, someone from the IRS, calls up folks, they’re kind of targeting immigrants and the elderly in particular, and say, ‘you owe money to us. We’re going to arrest you tomorrow if you don’t pay us now.’ And then they’re asking for debit card information over the phone.

 

What's your tax story? Leave us a comment on our site or Facebook page, or tweet us @LiveMoney.

Wal-Mart: Everday low (organic?) prices

Fri, 2014-04-11 13:29

Walmart has announced a new line of prepared organic foods — ketchup, pasta sauce, breakfast cereal — marketed under the name Wild Oats. And cheap: Wild Oats spaghetti sauce will cost the same as Ragu brand. But it's one thing to try to grow demand for organics by offering lower prices. Supplying that demand could be tough, especially at low prices. Already, supplies of commodities like corn, wheat and soybeans are tight.

"There’s not as many acres," says Tim Daley, who buys and sells organic soybeans for Stonebridge, a brokerage in Iowa. "Maybe three or four percent of the marketplace is organic. And a lot of that is still coming in from offshore."  

If not for imports, he says, prices would be even higher. "And they’re already high. So if you’ve got $14 soybeans on the Chicago Board of Trade, you’ve easily got $24 or $28 soybeans."

That's conventional beans, versus organic beans. 

Increasing supply can’t happen overnight. 

"It takes three years for a producer to achieve organic certification," notes Kellee James, CEO of Mercaris, a company that supplies market data on organic commodities. "So even if tomorrow prices go up and a producer decides he wants to grow, say, organic wheat, it’s going to take three years for that supply to come online."

Walmart says it plans to keep prices in line by locking in five-year contracts with producers.

Which may not work, says Paul Mitchell, who teaches agricultural economics at the University of Wisconsin. If market prices go up everywhere else, he thinks producers will want to re-negotiate.

"They’re going to ... say, 'Look, WalMart. We sold you our can of corn at $1.50 a can, organic. And now the market price is $2. Well, we don’t want the $1.50 anymore. We want to sell it for $2.'"

And if they don’t get it? Tim Daley, the soybean broker, says beans under contract might “disappear, magically" when market prices climb. "That has happened out here, more than a few years in a row.”

Digital comics: Violent sci-fi meets Joan Didion

Fri, 2014-04-11 13:29

This week Amazon announced it has bought ComiXology, a popular online store and digital reader for comic books, graphic novels and the like. 

Now, there is a select group of you, i.e., comics nerds  fans, to whom this will mean quite a bit more than it means to say, me. I am not a comics fan. Or at least — I haven’t been one. 

Then I called up Douglas Wolk, a man who writes about comic books, as well as writes comic books, and I started to get pretty excited about comics and the economics behind them. 

Wolk is currently working on a series called "Judge Dredd Mega City Two," which he describes as "probably the closest that incredibly violent sci-fi gets to a tribute to Joan Didion." I am intrigued. 

Judge Dredd: Mega-City Two, the five-issue mini-series by Douglas Wolk and drawn by Ulises Farinas.

Ulises Farinas

Wolk says, part of why he can write crazy mash-ups like this is because of the weird way the comic books business has worked for many years.

"Comics have the strangest economics of just about any medium I can think of," he said. 

Unlike regular books, where a store can return unsold copies, with comic books, a store buys a certain number from a publisher on a non-refundable basis. That means publishers of comics can gauge ahead of time how many copies will be profitable to print, so it's easier to take risks on books that might only appeal to niche markets. 

And tapping into those niche markets has become even easier with the rise of digital comics, according to Calvin Reid, a lifelong comic book fan and senior news editor at Publishers Weekly.  And that’s a good thing for comic book sales, since sales for physical comic books have reached a plateau in recent years. 

"Even in the early nineties there were comics that hit real mass market numbers, a million or so," Reid said. "But now, you sell 100,000 copies, and everyone pays attention."

Even so, physical comics that you can hold in your hand are still a more than $600 million industry.  There's just something addictive about flipping through the pages, says Jeff Ayers, a manager at Forbidden Planet, a revered comic book store in Manhattan that still does brisk business. It's great to be able to read a comic on your phone, Ayers told me. 

"But I'm not inclined to bring phone in to the bath tub, where I would be a comic book," he says.

Reading a comic book tribute to Joan Didion….in the bath tub?  I might try that.

'If you can run the OMB, you can run anything.'

Fri, 2014-04-11 13:29

President Obama has nominated Sylvia Mathews Burwell, currently the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. The OMB is something of a proving ground. 

Past budget directors have gone on to become White House chiefs of staff and cabinet secretaries. 

"It isn't such a big agency, but the subject matter covers everything that the government does," says Alice Rivlin, who led the OMB when Bill Clinton was president. "If you can run the OMB," she adds, "you can run anything."

And it seems to be true, given the resumes of recent OMB directors:

Jacob Lew: Director, OMB (twice) then White House Chief of Staff then Secretary of the Treasury

Rob Portman: Director, OMB then U.S. Senator

Joshua Bolten: Director, OMB then White House Chief of Staff

Mitch Daniels: Director, OMB then Governor of Indiana then president of Purdue University

Alice Rivlin: Director, OMB then Federal Reserve vice chair

Leon Panetta: Director, OMB then White House Chief of Staff then CIA Director then Secretary of Defense

In which the government acknowledges Google

Fri, 2014-04-11 12:54
Friday, April 11, 2014 - 13:43 Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Google

And finally, it seems Congress has discovered the amazing powers of the internet. No joke.

From the Congressional Record, Senate Bill 2206 was introduced just last week, and which the legislative language tells us can be cited as the Let Me Google That For You Act.

S.B. 2206 would abolish the National Technical Information Service, collector and disseminator of almost 3 million government scientific, technical, engineering, and business reports, because, yes, you can just Google 'em for free.

Marketplace for Friday April 11, 2014by Kai RyssdalPodcast Title In which the government acknowledges GoogleStory Type BlogSyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No

How digital media is reinventing comics

Fri, 2014-04-11 12:40
Friday, April 11, 2014 - 18:00 https://www.comixology.com/about

Comixology is an online platform that allows you to digitally buy, read, and discover comics.

For the uninitiated, the term "digital comic" might sound like someone simply scanned a paper copy of their favorite issues of Batman into their computer. The scope of the digital comic world is actually pretty wide, with artists and writers taking advantage of the medium to play around with what a comic can be, and how to distribute content.

Here's an excellent debrief on the world of digital comics. Plus, check out these examples of digital comics that capitalize on the possibilities of the medium.

News Comics

Among the freedoms of publishing a digital comic is the ability to stretch what a comic can be. The team behind Symbolia, for example, use the medium to tell news stories with sound, links, animations, and interactive charts. 

You can check out more about Symbolia here.

Self-Published

Digital comics also allow artists to self-publish and sell their own comics. Artist Dean Trippe's Something Terrible is an autobiographical work about how his interest in Batman helped him cope with being the victim of rape at a young age.

You can read more about Trippe's story here.

Free download of first issue

Not unlike the mobile game model known as "freemium," publishers of digital comics will sometimes offer a first issue for free in the hopes that readers will be hooked enough to purchase subsequent issues.

The critically-acclaimed "Saga" series, for example, offers its first issue free for download here.

Subscription Series

There's also the option of subscribing to a series, which is not unlike subscribing to a newspaper's phone or tablet app. In addition to regularly receiving new issues, subscribers often have access to classic comics that have been uploaded by the publisher. Access to Marvel's annual subscription costs $99.

You can check out more about Marvel Unlimited here.

by Tobin LowStory Type BlogSyndication PMPApp Respond No

How 'Choose Your Own Adventure' was born

Fri, 2014-04-11 12:14
Friday, April 11, 2014 - 14:51 Sushiesque/Flickr/Creative Commons

A party for choose your own adventure.

Ed Packard was a lawyer for RCA records. But it wasn't his true calling. Ed wanted to be a writer, and one fateful night back in 1969 he was telling his daughters Caroline and Andrea a bedtime story about a character named Pete marooned on a desert island.

"I was tired from a long day at work, and I couldn't think of what should happen next in the story. So I asked them. I got two different answers. I could sense that this was an unusual approach. They could not just identify with the main character. They could be the main character." 

Ed penned his first book on the train from his home in Connecticut to his law office in New York. He got an agent at William Morris who told him his first book "The Adventures of You on Sugar Cane Island" would be a big hit. But after countless doors were slammed in his face by children's book publishers who told him his work was more like a game than a book, Ed gave up.

He put his manuscript in his desk drawer and left it there to collect dust.

It was only after he met a young literary agent named Amy Berkower through an old college buddy that the books finally got a good, hard second look a decade later. And with the help of another upstart in the publishing business, Joelle Delbourgo at Bantam, "Choose Your Own Adventure" exploded into a phenomenon that rewrote the book on children's literature.

This story is part of Marketplace's new collaborative series with Mental Floss Magazine. For the full story, follow the link here.

As fans of "Choose Your Own Adventure" books ourselves, we here at Marketplace decided to build a choose your own adventure story to navigate and re-live the week's business news. Try it out:

Marketplace for Friday April 11, 2014

In partnership with Mental Floss.

by Tommy Andres and Ariana TobinPodcast Title How "Choose Your Own Adventure" was bornStory Type FeatureSyndication Flipboard BusinessSlackerSoundcloudStitcherBusiness InsiderSwellPMPApp Respond No

How 'Choose Your Own Adventure' was born

Fri, 2014-04-11 11:51

Ed Packard was a lawyer for RCA records. But it wasn't his true calling. Ed wanted to be a writer, and one fateful night back in 1969 he was telling his daughters Caroline and Andrea a bedtime story about a character named Pete marooned on a desert island.

"I was tired from a long day at work, and I couldn't think of what should happen next in the story. So I asked them. I got two different answers. I could sense that this was an unusual approach. They could not just identify with the main character. They could be the main character." 

Ed penned his first book on the train from his home in Connecticut to his law office in New York. He got an agent at William Morris who told him his first book "The Adventures of You on Sugar Cane Island" would be a big hit. But after countless doors were slammed in his face by children's book publishers who told him his work was more like a game than a book, Ed gave up.

He put his manuscript in his desk drawer and left it there to collect dust.

It was only after he met a young literary agent named Amy Berkower through an old college buddy that the books finally got a good, hard second look a decade later. And with the help of another upstart in the publishing business, Joelle Delbourgo at Bantam, "Choose Your Own Adventure" exploded into a phenomenon that rewrote the book on children's literature.

This story is part of Marketplace's new collaborative series with Mental Floss Magazine. For the full story, follow the link here.

What if you could kill your stolen phone?

Fri, 2014-04-11 11:11
Friday, April 11, 2014 - 11:59 Geoff Holland/Flickr/Creative Commons

A London sign that read: "Beware, mobile phone thieves operating in this area."

 Thieves want your smartphone. They really, really want it. Consumer Reports estimates 1.6 million smart phones were stolen in 2012.

"In some cities, a majority of the reported thefts are for smart phones and other mobile computing devices," said Rob D'Ovidio, a criminal justice professor at Drexel University.  

He thinks a kill switch, which would allow you to disable your phone remotely, could make a lot of sense. A stolen phone that doesn't work isn't worth much. But the ability to kill a phone could be worth a lot to its owner.

"People who formerly had their phones stolen, they won't have that happen anymore so they won't have to go out and buy a new phone," said William Duckworth, a statistician at Creighton University.

And if there's a lot less theft, he said, insurance for phones wouldn't cost as much. All together, he estimated, kill switches could save consumers $2.6 billion a year. That doesn't include the time that police officers spend on smart phone thefts.

"When you look at the rate of thefts of smartphones in major metropolitian areas in the United States," D'Ovidio said, "it's just taxing law enforcement resources.

He thinks it's just a matter of time before all phones come with kill switches. Apple's newest operating system allows users to shut down a phone remotely. And according to Duckworth's research, that's something 99 percent of smart phone owners want.

Marketplace for Friday April 11, 2014by Adriene HillPodcast Title What if you could kill your stolen phone?Story Type News StorySyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No

In which the government acknowledges Google

Fri, 2014-04-11 10:43

And finally, it seems Congress has discovered the amazing powers of the internet. No joke.

From the Congressional Record, Senate Bill 2206 was introduced just last week, and which the legislative language tells us can be cited as the Let Me Google That For You Act.

S.B. 2206 would abolish the National Technical Information Service, collector and disseminator of almost 3 million government scientific, technical, engineering, and business reports, because, yes, you can just Google 'em for free.

Nasdaq'ed: tech slide continues

Fri, 2014-04-11 09:55
Friday, April 11, 2014 - 10:46 Spencer Platt/Getty Images

People walk by the Nasdaq stock market.

It was a rough week for tech and bio-tech stocks. And in Marketplace's Weekly Wrap segment, Leigh Gallagher, editor of Fortune Magazine, and Sudeep Reddy, from the Wall Street Journal, recap the week's financial news.

This week's market slump was driven in large part by big-name tech companies, and on Thursday, the Nasdaq Composite slumped 3.1 percent, its biggest decline since November 2011. 

 "We're seeing this increasing skittishness, and whether it's related to Candy Crush's IPO or tech stocks this week or JP Morgan today, if you pull really far back, last year the market was pretty boffo. It was up 30 percent," says Gallagher. "And the whole world knows that we're not going to do that again this year."

Was last year's market performance a little too bananas?

"Bananas, boffo, I'll give you another b-word: bubble," says Reddy. "We've spent so much time thinking about bubbles... that we've actually lost sight of some of the more fundamental issues like corporate earnings and economic expectations. And we'd have to see some pretty remarkable economic growth and profit growth to support where the stock market has been the past couple of months."

Marketplace for Friday April 11, 2014Interview by Kai RyssdalPodcast Title Nasdaq'ed: tech slide continuesStory Type InterviewSyndication Flipboard BusinessSlackerSoundcloudStitcherBusiness InsiderSwellPMPApp Respond No

Digital comics: Violent sci-fi meets Joan Didion

Fri, 2014-04-11 09:53
Friday, April 11, 2014 - 16:29 Ulises Farinas

Here's what downtown L.A. looks like in 2094, in the "Judge Dredd: Mega-City Two" graphic novel miniseries

This week Amazon announced it has bought ComiXology, a popular online store and digital reader for comic books, graphic novels and the like. 

Now, there is a select group of you, i.e., comics nerds  fans, to whom this will mean quite a bit more than it means to say, me. I am not a comics fan. Or at least — I haven’t been one. 

Then I called up Douglas Wolk, a man who writes about comic books, as well as writes comic books, and I started to get pretty excited about comics and the economics behind them. 

Wolk is currently working on a series called "Judge Dredd Mega City Two," which he describes as "probably the closest that incredibly violent sci-fi gets to a tribute to Joan Didion." I am intrigued. 

Judge Dredd: Mega-City Two, the five-issue mini-series by Douglas Wolk and drawn by Ulises Farinas.

Ulises Farinas

Wolk says, part of why he can write crazy mash-ups like this is because of the weird way the comic books business has worked for many years.

"Comics have the strangest economics of just about any medium I can think of," he said. 

Unlike regular books, where a store can return unsold copies, with comic books, a store buys a certain number from a publisher on a non-refundable basis. That means publishers of comics can gauge ahead of time how many copies will be profitable to print, so it's easier to take risks on books that might only appeal to niche markets. 

And tapping into those niche markets has become even easier with the rise of digital comics, according to Calvin Reid, a lifelong comic book fan and senior news editor at Publishers Weekly.  And that’s a good thing for comic book sales, since sales for physical comic books have reached a plateau in recent years. 

"Even in the early nineties there were comics that hit real mass market numbers, a million or so," Reid said. "But now, you sell 100,000 copies, and everyone pays attention."

Even so, physical comics that you can hold in your hand are still a more than $600 million industry.  There's just something addictive about flipping through the pages, says Jeff Ayers, a manager at Forbidden Planet, a revered comic book store in Manhattan that still does brisk business. It's great to be able to read a comic on your phone, Ayers told me. 

"But I'm not inclined to bring phone in to the bath tub, where I would be a comic book," he says.

Reading a comic book tribute to Joan Didion….in the bath tub?  I might try that.

Marketplace for Friday April 11, 2014by Krissy ClarkPodcast Title Digital comics: Violent sci-fi meets Joan DidionStory Type News StorySyndication Flipboard BusinessSlackerSoundcloudStitcherBusiness InsiderSwellPMPApp Respond No

Wal-Mart: Everday low (organic?) prices

Fri, 2014-04-11 09:50
Friday, April 11, 2014 - 16:29 Win McNamee/Getty Images

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jon Tester holds a handful of his organic wheat on his farm October 15, 2006 in Big Sandy, Montana.

Walmart has announced a new line of prepared organic foods — ketchup, pasta sauce, breakfast cereal — marketed under the name Wild Oats. And cheap: Wild Oats spaghetti sauce will cost the same as Ragu brand. But it's one thing to try to grow demand for organics by offering lower prices. Supplying that demand could be tough, especially at low prices. Already, supplies of commodities like corn, wheat and soybeans are tight.

"There’s not as many acres," says Tim Daley, who buys and sells organic soybeans for Stonebridge, a brokerage in Iowa. "Maybe three or four percent of the marketplace is organic. And a lot of that is still coming in from offshore."  

If not for imports, he says, prices would be even higher. "And they’re already high. So if you’ve got $14 soybeans on the Chicago Board of Trade, you’ve easily got $24 or $28 soybeans."

That's conventional beans, versus organic beans. 

Increasing supply can’t happen overnight. 

"It takes three years for a producer to achieve organic certification," notes Kellee James, CEO of Mercaris, a company that supplies market data on organic commodities. "So even if tomorrow prices go up and a producer decides he wants to grow, say, organic wheat, it’s going to take three years for that supply to come online."

Walmart says it plans to keep prices in line by locking in five-year contracts with producers.

Which may not work, says Paul Mitchell, who teaches agricultural economics at the University of Wisconsin. If market prices go up everywhere else, he thinks producers will want to re-negotiate.

"They’re going to ... say, 'Look, WalMart. We sold you our can of corn at $1.50 a can, organic. And now the market price is $2. Well, we don’t want the $1.50 anymore. We want to sell it for $2.'"

And if they don’t get it? Tim Daley, the soybean broker, says beans under contract might “disappear, magically" when market prices climb. "That has happened out here, more than a few years in a row.”

Marketplace for Friday April 11, 2014by Dan WeissmannPodcast Title Wal-Mart: Everday low (organic?) pricesStory Type News StorySyndication SlackerSoundcloudStitcherSwellPMPApp Respond No

'If you can run the OMB, you can run anything.'

Fri, 2014-04-11 09:41
Friday, April 11, 2014 - 16:29 Mark Wilson/Getty Images

U.S. President Barack Obama (2ndL), U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) and Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget Sylvia Mathews Burwell (L) applaud outgoing Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for her service during an event in the Rose Garden at the White House, on April 11, 2014 in Washington, DC.

President Obama has nominated Sylvia Mathews Burwell, currently the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. The OMB is something of a proving ground. 

Past budget directors have gone on to become White House chiefs of staff and cabinet secretaries. 

"It isn't such a big agency, but the subject matter covers everything that the government does," says Alice Rivlin, who led the OMB when Bill Clinton was president. "If you can run the OMB," she adds, "you can run anything."

And it seems to be true, given the resumes of recent OMB directors:

Jacob Lew: Director, OMB (twice) then White House Chief of Staff then Secretary of the Treasury

Rob Portman: Director, OMB then U.S. Senator

Joshua Bolten: Director, OMB then White House Chief of Staff

Mitch Daniels: Director, OMB then Governor of Indiana then president of Purdue University

Alice Rivlin: Director, OMB then Federal Reserve vice chair

Leon Panetta: Director, OMB then White House Chief of Staff then CIA Director then Secretary of Defense

Marketplace for Friday April 11, 2014by David GuraPodcast Title "If you can run the OMB, you can run anything."Story Type News StorySyndication Flipboard BusinessSlackerSoundcloudStitcherBusiness InsiderSwellPMPApp Respond No
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