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Weekend Brunch: 'Too big to fail'

Fri, 2014-08-08 13:52

This week, Lizzie O'Leary sits down for brunch with New York Magazine contributing editor Jessica Pressler and Business Insider's Executive Editor Joe Weisenthal to discuss the economic news of last week and what's on their plate this week (get it?).

Topics:

Politico: Bank of America to pay nearly $17 billion in mortgage pact

Bloomberg: Big Banks’ ‘Living Wills’ Get Failing Grade

Why medical debt is different from other debt

Fri, 2014-08-08 13:46

People with lots of unpaid medical bills could be getting a break on their credit scores

Fair Isaac Corp., otherwise known as "FICO",  says it is changing its calculations to ease the impact of medical debt that’s gone to collection. 

So what is it about medical debt that makes it different from all other kinds of debt?

“When you go to the Gap to buy jeans, you ultimately know at the time of purchase exactly what the cost of that is going to be,” says Ken Brevoort, senior economist with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. When you pay for your "1969 ultimate panel cuffed always skinny jean," you are the only person paying the bill.

When you go to the doctor – usually – it’s you and your insurance company.

“When you have the insurance involved, you don’t necessarily know what’s going to be your portion and what’s going to be the insurance’s portion,” says Brevoort.

Here’s the thing: paying medical bills is so complicated sometimes the consumer doesn’t even know when they still owe money. FICO senior consumer credit specialist Anthony Sprauve says ignorance isn’t a good reason to give someone a lower FICO score.

“We recognize that it’s not an indicator of a person struggling in most cases when it’s happening by itself,” he says.

The federal government estimates about 7 percent of consumers have unpaid medical bills that have gone to collection agencies. Those consumers could see a 25 point or better score under FICO’s changes, says Sprauve.

“They are going to have access to more credit and they are going to be able to get credit as a lower price,” he says.

That’s the good news. The bad news is more and more consumers must wade into the byzantine world of healthcare billing.

Which means if you want to make sure you’re up to date on your bills, it’s still on you.

Here's a... uh... final note for... uh... today

Fri, 2014-08-08 13:45

Here's a pet peeve about how I sound on the radio: When I listen back to myself in interviews, I'm struck by how often I say "uhhh" as I'm putting together a question. I think it makes me sound stupid, but it's how I talk, so I roll with it.

Turns out I'm completely normal.

A post at the Atlantic quotes a linguist at the University of Pennsylvania, who says men use "uh" more and more as they get older.

Women tend to say"um," but that decreases with age.

Big banks fail their financial checkup

Fri, 2014-08-08 13:23

The biggest banks in the U.S. were made to write living wills, so that in the event of another crisis, like the one in 2008, the economy wouldn't go down with them.

But this week, they basically flunked their checkups with federal regulators.

“Banks weren’t expecting this kind of pushback, they’ve been submitting these living wills for the last several years, like three years in a row, starting in 2012, and they kept on falling short,” says Paddy Hirsch, Marketplace editor and host of The Whiteboard. “But nobody’s really pushed back on them. This time, the regulators pushed back really hard. And it’s taken the banks a little bit by surprise.”

And if banks don’t cooperate, banks could face additional regulations.

“I think it’s in the back of everybody’s minds that [the 2008 crisis] is a possibility. And what the regulators are trying to do, is get to a place where it’s as remote a possibility as possible. And for the most part, the people who are running the banks absolutely don’t want to be in a position where they are a bank that’s ‘too big to fail.’”

So, what happens next?

“What they might actually do is start changing their legal structures to make them less complex,” Hirsch says. Financial derivatives contracts and other structures could be simplified to comply with new and additional regulations.

Your Wallet: 1 in 3 Americans have debt in collections

Fri, 2014-08-08 13:21

According to a study from the Urban Institute, an estimated 1 in 3 adults, or around 77 million people, are so far behind on their debt that their account has been placed in collections. 

“Being indebted is like being in shackles, or like wearing one of those cartoon ball and chains. And that can be not just a financial obligation, but an emotional or intellectual obligation as well, because it’s hanging over you," consumer columnist David Lazarus say. "It’s coloring virtually every decision you’re making in life.”

And it also takes a toll on your credit score, too. That could make an impact down the line. “If your credit score takes a hammering. Any future borrowing you’re doing is going to be at a much higher interest, if you can get the loan. More over, if you get a black mark on your credit score, it can take about 7 years to get that off.”

But, as David Lazarus notes, the worst thing you can do is ignore the calls. Instead, be aggressive, and "a key thing to remember for consumers is you have rights," Lazarus says. Debt collectors can't harass or abuse you, they can't call you early in the morning or late at night, and they can't threaten to imprison you.

Credit.com: Top 10 Debt Collection Rights

You should also keep in mind that past due debt carries a statute of limitations, depending on your state. “It doesn't mean the debt goes away," Lazarus says, "they can still keep trying to collect, but they can’t take you to court. They can’t sue you”

Fixing the fix: Price-setting precious metals in London

Fri, 2014-08-08 13:07

Next week, the London-based system for setting the price of silver – which is more than a century old – will be scrapped in favor of a new electronic, auction-based method.

The move has raised another big question mark over the future of an even more important price-setting mechanism: the so-called "gold fix." Since 1919, the value of the yellow metal has been set daily in London, but after a series of benchmark rigging scandals, the gold fix is looking more than a little tarnished.

The name doesn't help. These days, the word “fix" hardly inspires confidence in the integrity of the system – especially since banks are involved .

“People don’t trust banks,” says Brian Lucey, Professor of Finance at Trinity College Dublin. “The fix is not a transparent process, and therefore it inevitably gives rise to conspiracy theories and concern.”

Four banks – including Barclays and HSBC – get together on the phone twice a day to deal in gold bullion. The price they strike becomes the latest "fix" or global benchmark for the yellow metal. Details of the conversation between the four banks are not immediately made public, and that provides scope for rigging.

Alberto Thomas of market consulting firm Fideres Partners testified before a parliamentary committee this summer and warned of the danger of abuse: “Effectively you've got a massive potential for insider trading in that market, and market manipulation... It doesn't mean it happens every day, but the opportunity is there. Our analysis shows that between 2010 and 2013, up to 30 percent of the fixes showed signs of rigging."

Adrian Ash of BullionVault.com, an online gold and silver exchange, is not convinced there has been such widespread abuse. But he concedes there has been at least one case of gold fix manipulation.

“Barclays Bank were recently fined 26 million pounds for a trader at a separate, precious metals desk at their bank, who put in a false order at the fix to try to push the price a little bit lower," says Ash. “The trader stood to get a bigger bonus if the gold price fell below a certain level.”

This is not the biggest banking scandal to hit London - the rigging of the LIBOR interest rate benchmark was far more serious, since it was used as the basis for trillions of dollars worth of financial transactions.

But Ash worries that the doubts swirling about the London gold fix could be harmful: “I think there is a danger of the reputation of the London bullion market being damaged by the current fuss around the fix,” he says .

Without greater transparency and independent oversight, the fix could wither, and London could lose more business to the burgeoning gold market in Shanghai.

When the silver fix is reformed next week, gold may not be far behind.

In online dating, one company is the big matchmaker

Fri, 2014-08-08 13:07

Alex Soma was out in the real world the other week, looking for a match at a rooftop drinks event sponsored by a couple of online dating sites.

“I think I’m pretty terrible at online dating,” Soma says, standing near the bar. “I just don’t get it. I think I’m better in front of a person.” So far, he just uses the site OkCupid. 

Others there, like Christina Luzzi, sound like they’re becoming veterans. She says she's tried Tinder, Match and OkCupid. PlentyOfFish was "awful."

“What am I on now? I’m on eHarmony I think?”

While all those sites sound like separate competitors, a good number are part of just one company: IAC/InterActiveCorp.  

In recent years, IAC has swallowed up the old stalwart, Match.com, the irreverent, young OkCupid, the fast-swiping Tinder app, and, just recently, an upstart called HowAboutWe. It owns niche sites like BlackPeopleMeet, and OurTime for the 50+ set. And it’s investing in an expensive new matchmaking service. 

“What IAC is doing is incredibly smart,” said Amy Webb, author of “Data, A Love Story”. She said IAC is operating kind of like Gap Inc., which owns the brands Old Navy and Banana Republic. 

“At the end of the day, they’re all clothing, but they offer different kinds of clothing to different lifestyles, different kinds of buyers,” she said. 

Experts used to think the future of online dating was in small niche sites, matching farmers or people who don’t eat gluten, or maybe gluten-free farmers. 

But the big sites are winning for a simple reason.

“It’s like a shop,” said Mark Brooks, an industry consultant. “And you’ve really got to stock the shelves. You can’t make do with a few hundred people. You need to have thousands of active people on a dating site.” 

Each of these mainstream sites has carved out its own image, partly by word of mouth.

“The reality is that people feel at home when they go to a dating site that has people on it that look like what they think they want,” Brooks said.  

That’s how Erica Berger of Brooklyn ended up on OkCupid. 

“I joined OkCupid back in November 2009, after I moved to Brooklyn from Los Angeles,” she says. “I was referred to it by a close friend from high school who I trusted.”

Her first online date was a butternut squash tasting. 

These kinds of referrals lead to some self-segregation. OkCupid is full of people like Berger, who is 27, lives in a big city, works in media, and is not in a rush for a relationship. 

She’s also used IAC-owned apps like Tinder, popular for quick dates, and HowAboutWe, which is focused on specific date ideas. But she hasn’t used Match, whose users tend to be older, and more interested in marriage.  

This is why IAC doesn't just combine all the sites into one. 

Sam Yagan, CEO of the Match Group, the IAC unit that controls its dating properties, says dating is “such an intimate and personal search process, that people care a lot about the emotional affiliation they have with the brand that they choose.” 

The strategy has led IAC to control more than a quarter of the $2.2 billion online dating market in the U.S., according to IBISWorld. That’s twice the next biggest competitor, eHarmony. 

Match Group runs all the services separately. Occasionally, the teams will talk about features that worked well. But you don’t see OkCupid staffers talking much with those from Match.com

Having the sites under one roof, however, does provide opportunities for cross-promotion. “It’s not like you turn 35 and we all of a sudden take your profile from OkCupid and put it on Match,” Yagan joked.  “You might start seeing Match ads on OkCupid.”  

Then there’s the question of the business model: “If the goal of the dating site is to get you offline and into the real world with your life partner, they probably wouldn't offer a subscription service,” Webb said.  

Yagan has an answer that’s less conspiratorial, but perhaps more depressing: “The average adult has over 10 relationships before they get married," he said. "And, by the way, half of all marriages end in divorce. So, if you just do the math there’s a 90+ percent chance that the relationship you’re in when you leave Match, OkCupid [or] Tinder is not going to be your terminal relationship.” 

My money story: Actor and musician Alicia Witt

Fri, 2014-08-08 13:05

Every week we have someone tell us their story about money. This week, actor and musician Alicia Witt talks about the day she tried to teach her father a lesson.

"My parents were both teachers, my dad made about $35,000 a year and we didn't have a car until I was think 11," says Witt. "Money was always something that we had to be careful of."

But, Witt's father wasn't too careful. "I couldn't believe that my dad kept all his cash in his back pocket of his pants. He never had a wallet ... I would go into my dad's bedroom and find his pants, where had thrown them on the floor, or changed into another pair of pants, and I would just remove the cash from the back pocket and hide it."

She did this until she had collected hundreds of dollars.

"I wanted to show him that he wasn't keeping track of how much cash he had on him at any given time."

It worked. One day, she found her parents sitting in the kitchen, worried. They had figured out that a large amount of money was missing, but didn't know what had happened.

Witt sprung into action. "I went into my room and took out handfuls of money and just started walking through the kitchen fanning myself with the cash."

Did this trick convince Witt's father to change the way he handles his cash?

"He still carries it in his back pocket," says Witt.

Who has better online privacy? The U.S. or EU?

Fri, 2014-08-08 11:04

There's a lot of debate over whether United States or European Union online privacy protections are better. They certainly take different approaches.

To that point, we have the tale of two online privacy activists: Parker Higgins in San Francisco, and Xander Bouwman from the Netherlands. Higgins is 26.  Bouwman is 21. 

Higgins works for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Bouwman is an information sciences student and volunteer activist. 

In theory, the EU has it better: Privacy law across the Atlantic actually guarantees protection of personal data, and new digital privacy legislation being considered by the European Parliament would strengthen those guarantees.

How does that affect the average person? If Bouwman did a Google search, Google would have to tell him before it shared his tracking information outside the EU.

Bouwman likes that: "I would want to know if Google is behind a page, and using analytics to make a profile of me," he says.

The differences continue. When Bouwman logs onto Facebook, he has the right to access all the data Facebook has on him. That is something Higgins doesn't have.

“We're bound by a website's privacy policy," he says. "And everyone who's seen one of those knows how ridiculous they can be. And they can change at any time.”

Europe isn't perfect. It would be almost impossible for Bouwman to get all of his Facebook data, because enforcement in Europe hasn't been strong. It's left up to privacy regulators who don't have much power.  

As Higgins contends: "The laws are important here, and it's great that this is happening in Europe. And I'm jealous of it in the U.S.  But at the same time, if it's about enforcement, you know, these companies can collect sort of whatever they want."

"Yeah, Parker I can only agree with you here, " says Bouwman.

The lawyer's point of view

Now, Higgins and Bouwman aren't lawyers.  So I'm going to bring a law professor into the conversation.

David Sorkin teaches information technology and privacy and consumer law at the John Marshall Law School in Chicago. 

He says in the U.S., we enforce our digital privacy rights, albeit privately.

"That is, the right to sue," he explains. "And sometimes, that would have to be in the form of a class action. Whereas in the EU it's mostly data protection commissioners, regulators, who impose the rules and enforce them."

The data protection legislation the EU Parliament is considering would give privacy regulators a lot more enforcement power. 

U.S. tech lobbyists and government officials say the EU legislation is too rigid, and the U.S. system is more nimble with its many different privacy laws, covering everything from health data to video rental records. 

"There's a huge gulf across the Atlantic which is taking many years to resolve and I think is many years off yet," says Simon Davies, founder of Privacy International.

But our 20-somethings don't want to wait that long. So Bouwman says his generation is taking things into their own hands.

"I held a CryptoParty in Amsterdam a few months ago," he says. (A CryptoParty is a chance for privacy nerds to get together and swap tips for evading online profiling and tracking.) "It might sound really wild because it's called a party but usually we host these at public libraries."

Higgins says it's not just a European thing. He holds CryptoParties, too.

Higgins and Bouwman say, if they CryptoParty hard enough, they can stitch together their own privacy blanket. They hope eventually, pokey lawmakers and government officials will catch up. 

ISIS gains control of key infrastructure in Iraq

Fri, 2014-08-08 10:41

ISIS militants in Iraq have managed to gain control of a key piece of infrastructure in the country, the Mosul Dam. It’s not the first time the group has taken over a supply of water, electricity, or oil.

It’s likely they will attempt to extort Iraqis in the area, who rely on the dam for water and power. ISIS has shown a “great ability to be self-supporting and self-financing and a great ability to carry out extortion schemes,” says Tim Arango, the Baghdad Bureau Chief for the New York Times.

The worry is that ISIS could open the Mosul Dam and flood the area, as they did with the Fallujah Dam earlier this year. Arango says it will probably be difficult to retake the dam, since the structure itself is very fragile. It’s unclear if ISIS has the “capability to maintain it.”

 “A very small crack in that dam could just start the water flowing.”

Listen to the full conversation in the audio player above.

Money can buy you happiness... sort of

Fri, 2014-08-08 10:36

What if the key to happiness lay in numbers?

Or more specifically, economics. On its face, that seems fairly nuts. Our joyous memories are generally about people or feelings: a night of dancing with abandon, a hug from a child, the certainty of helping another person.

The search for happiness has bedeviled generations of lovers, writers; even the founders of our country of course who took only a swipe at its pursuit – not attainment – in our Declaration of Independence.

And yet, we buy, inserting money into this equation.

For the essentials: shelter, food, security for our families.

The more frivolous things. To fill a need, perhaps? The post-breakup pair of shoes. The clichéd mid-life crisis sports car.

I’ve been reading some economic research on happiness  that my friend Jim Tankersley turned me on to. Richard Easterlin, a professor at the University of Southern California, examined research on money, psychology, and contentment.

Back in the 1960s, a social psychologist named Hadley Cantril asked people what they would need “for their lives to be completely happy,” Easterlin writes.  And pretty much everywhere, no matter their circumstances or culture, people ranked their level of living first, then the desire for a happy family life.

Easterlin goes on to cite studies showing that married people tend, on average, to be happier than single ones (debate away, as needed).

And then comes the part that really intrigues me: our measure of happiness isn’t fixed. It depends on our neighbor’s.

So while research showed that people with a higher income tend to report being happier, that didn’t hold up over a whole life.

“Indeed, if happiness and income are compared at any point in time,” Easterlin writes, “those with more income are, on average, happier than those with less. But what happens to happiness as income goes up over the life cycle – does happiness go up too? The answer is no; on average, there is no change.

So what’s going on? Well, we’re doing everything our mothers told us not to, and comparing ourselves to our other people. No matter how well we do, if it’s not better than everyone around us, we don’t feel like we’re attaining something, because our internal norms are changing.  And p.s., Easterlin says it makes us kinda Grinchy: “The subversive effect of rising internal norms also explains why people think that over the life course more money will make them happier, when, in fact, it doesn’t.”

So what to do?

Awhile back, I interviewed a psychologist, Ryan Howell, about this paradox.

Here’s the trick: spend on experiences, not things.

There is a reason that mental snapshot of your last vacation brings you so much joy.  The “buy high” you have from a physical thing? It doesn’t go away if you’re investing in adventures, connections and people. Year after year, you can unpack those memories and savor them.

Et voila! Money just bought you happiness.

Maybe the dismal science is good for something. 

Luring talent with more than just a basketball

Fri, 2014-08-08 07:00

The NCAA has voted to give schools with the biggest sports programs more leeway to lure talent. The move will affect the five biggest conferences: the Atlantic Coast, Southeastern, Pacific 12, Big Ten and Big 12 conferences.

If finalized, the conferences "will receive the power to raise the value of scholarships, improve health insurance, allow players to consult agents and more," according to the New York Times. For more on what this decision could mean, we spoke to Andrew Zimbalist, an economics professor at Smith College who follows the business of sports. 

Click the media player above to hear Andrew Zimbalist in conversation with Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio.

What you should know about the changes to credit scores

Fri, 2014-08-08 07:00

FICO, the nation's leading provider of those all-important credit scores that so many Americans can feel they have tattooed to their backs, has announced it is changing the formula it uses to score credit. The changes could boost the scores of tens of millions of Americans.

Here are a few things to know about the changes:

Exactly what is FICO changing?

There are two main changes. One is that FICO will stop docking people for being overdue on a payment, as long as they have ultimately paid the bill or settled with a collection agency. Until now, having a collection on your record — even if your balance was at zero — could impact your credit score as much as a foreclosure or a bankruptcy.

The second change will be good news to people with medical debt, which is about 40 percent of Americans. FICO says it will start giving less weight in its credit scoring formula to unpaid medical bills that are with a collection agency.

So how could these changes affect my ability to borrow?

FICO’s goal is to boost lending without creating more risk. Since the recession, it has been hard to get a loan without fairly spotless credit. These new changes could boost certain scores by as much as 100 points, meaning if you have an otherwise good credit record aside from the above issues, you might qualify for a loan you wouldn't have before, or at least for a lower interest rate.

When do the changes go in to effect?

FICO says they will offer the new credit score formulas to credit bureaus in the fall and to lenders by the end of the year. But just because the new formulas are available doesn’t mean they will be used. FICO rolls out new scoring formulas every few years, and it takes a while for many lenders to adopt the newest versions.

Beyond that, even though FICO has changed its approach to unpaid medical bills and debts that have been resolved with collections agencies, those events won’t disappear from your record altogether. Lenders will still be able to see them on your credit report for up to seven years, and can still decide they are a sign of risk.

What are the pros and cons of FICO’s new approach?

Any loosening of credit standards raises worries in some corners, that it could leave lenders open to more risk or entice borrowers deeper in to debt. FICO doesn't think so. But we'll have to see.

If the company is wrong, it could undermine the credibility of their credit scores.

John Ulzheimer, a credit expert at credit education website Credit Sesame and a former manager at FICO, says what is certain is that FICO carefully considered the changes. “The only reason someone like FICO is going to make this type of drastic change to their scoring system is because the science behind it supports the change,” he says.  “As time changes, different data elements on a credit report are tested to make sure they're still predictive of elevated risk.”

For example, as medical expenses have risen sharply in the last few decades, FICO may have found that medical debt is no longer a good predictor of elevated risk.

If FICO is right, and the new scoring system raises credit scores for tens of millions of Americans without opening lenders up to more risk, it could have positive ripple effects on the economy. Part of the slow recovery has been due to tight credit. More people qualifying for loans could create useful momentum.

And don't forget how powerful credit scores have become in our lives. Credit card companies and banks look at them, but so do potential landlords and even potential employers.  

Making online education more like iTunes

Fri, 2014-08-08 05:30

As MIT sees it, education is a lot like the record business used to be: still producing albums, when  people would rather download songs one at a time.

To put it another way, instead of offering semester-long classes, professors need to start offering individual lessons and letting students pick which ones they want.

“The very notion of a ‘class’ may be outdated,” says a new report from an MIT task force on the future of the school. “Much like a playlist on iTunes, a student could pick and choose the elements of a calculus or a biology course offered across [MIT’s online platform] to meet his or her needs.”  

The report notes that 25 percent of professors and 40 percent of students believe classes could benefit from this “modular” approach.

MIT is not the only school thinking this way.  The University of Wisconsin began offering MOOCs this year that offer shorter, more narrowly focused segments.

Also recommended by the MIT task force:

  • Continue to expand online and blended-learning options.
  • Expand the school’s certification program for online courses.
  • Develop ways to use game-based learning in classes.
  • Attract a more diverse group of students to MOOCs– more than 70 percent are male.
  • Make the school more affordable.
  • Admit more students.

 

Weekly Wrap: Blame geopolitics

Fri, 2014-08-08 04:41

Felix Salmon of Fusion and Jo Ling Kent of Fox Business News talk with about geopolitics, economics and where the two shall meet. 

PODCAST: New credit scores

Fri, 2014-08-08 03:00

FICO -- the nation's leading provider of those all-important credit scores so many of us have tatooed on us -- has announced that it is changing the formula it uses to score our credit in a way that could boost the credit scores for tens of millions of Americans. More on what you need to know about your FICO credit score. Plus, things are getting tougher for military personnel who get help on their college tuition. The current rule is people getting assistance have to just pass the classes, but the government now wants them do better than that. Also, Cleveland is a sports town, be it baseball, basketball or badminton. That game is one of 35 featured in the Gay Games, which start Saturday. The international Gay Games 9 competition is expected to bring 30,000 visitors to the area. More on what some small businesses are doing to get fans into their establishments.

 

Military wages war on bad grades

Fri, 2014-08-08 02:30

As of September, active service members who tap the military's tuition assistance program could be financially on the hook if they get bad grades.

Active members of the military can get up to $4,500 a year in tuition assistance. Under the current rules, they just have to pass classes they take off-duty to get tuition covered up to 100 percent, depending on the branch of the military they’re in.

But starting in early September, troops will have to earn a C or better in undergraduate classes, and a B or better in graduate work. And they can’t settle for grades of “incomplete.” Otherwise, they'll have to pay back the course tuition back.

“Tuition dollars and military student time is both limited and valuable,” says Defense Department spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen. “So, we want to make sure they maintain focus and have an understanding of the expectations that are required of them.”

Christensen says the Pentagon could waive the requirements in certain cases and cut soldiers slack for events like deployments.

Emma Scherer of Student Veterans of America says the threat of paying back tuition for anything less than an average grade could scare people off.

“We don't want to put roadblocks in the way of service members or veterans getting to education, and this clearly does that,” she says.

Student financial aid expert Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of Edvisors.com, says having to back-pay tuition could also disrupt service members’ long-term education plans.

“They’d either owe the military or owe the college, and that could have consequences for their ability to complete college,” he says.

The changes come as the Pentagon faces long-term budget cuts. 

Silicon Tally: #Scrabble

Fri, 2014-08-08 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 Megan Garber, staff writer at The Atlantic. var _polldaddy = [] || _polldaddy; _polldaddy.push( { type: "iframe", auto: "1", domain: "marketplaceapm.polldaddy.com/s/", id: "silicon-tally-hashtag-scrabble", placeholder: "pd_1407500322" } ); (function(d,c,j){if(!document.getElementById(j)){var pd=d.createElement(c),s;pd.id=j;pd.src=('https:'==document.location.protocol)?'https://polldaddy.com/survey.js':'http://i0.poll.fm/survey.js';s=document.getElementsByTagName(c)[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(pd,s);}}(document,'script','pd-embed'));

Corporate earnings: up. Hiring: not so much.

Fri, 2014-08-08 02:00

Corporate earnings reports for the spring quarter are mostly in by the first week in August. Overall, they paint a pretty rosy picture for America, Inc., as Bloomberg predicts profits at S&P 500 companies rose nearly 9.5 percent; sales rose more than 4 percent. So far, 75 percent of companies that have reported earned more than equity analysts predicted.

“The results have been really solid,” said chief economic strategist John Canally at LPL Financial in Boston. He said the results bode well for the second half of 2014, especially since GDP growth has picked up since the winter reversal.

Canally said companies are mostly plowing their profits back into the company; not adding to their payrolls, or investing in new plant and equipment.

“It’s mergers and acquisitions, increasing dividends, share buybacks,” Canally said. “Companies are doing what companies normally do: trying to boost share price for their shareholders. They’re just not doing a lot of hiring right now.”

Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics in Toronto, said U.S. companies have increasing worries overseas — where a lot of their profits are earned — due to geopolitical and economic crises in Russia-Ukraine, Iraq-Syria, Israel-Palestine, Argentina, and Europe.

“Some of those geopolitical events have made people rethink how optimistic they are about the world economy over the next 12 months,” said Ashworth — Which, he said, explains some of the stock market's recent slump.

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