National News

What the time of day says about your earnings report

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-07-30 02:26

Humana is among the companies reporting its quarterly numbers today, as earnings season continues.  The health insurance giant always releases its earnings before the markets open. Whole Foods also reports today, but the grocery chain always waits until after the closing bell.

If you've ever wondered why companies go one way or the other, the Securities and Exchange Commission doesn’t care what time of day companies report their quarterly earnings.

So it comes down to factors like: what’s the best time to put the CEO on the phone with investors and analysts?  "Some people are morning people and some people are afternoon people," says Jeff Morgan, president of the National Investor Relations Institute. He adds that once a company picks a time, it sticks. "We want to be sure that whatever we do every quarter, we do the same thing the next quarter, so that there’s not anybody wondering why we’re making changes."

A recent study found that 66 percent of companies hold earnings calls at the same time every quarter. Co-author Liz Demers, an associate professor of accounting at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business, says executives should avoid afternoon calls, when they might be hungry and cranky.

"What we find is that as the tone of the calls becomes more negative, the share price returns are also more negative," Demers says.  "In other words, the stock price responds to the negativity that's being emitted on the calls."  Demers says size matters, too; a lot of small companies reporting earnings have to take whatever slot they can get. 

Senate Approves $8 Billion Transportation Package

NPR News - 2 hours 57 min ago

The federal highway trust fund will run short of money starting this week unless Congress acts. But the Senate's bill differs significantly from what the House passed last week.

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The Hidden Costs Of Fighting Polio In Pakistan

NPR News - 3 hours 27 min ago

The effort to end polio is taking a toll on Pakistan's already overstretched health system. With more children dying of measles and diarrhea, some question whether the focus on polio is worth it.

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Israeli Bombing Ruins Gaza's Only Power Plant

NPR News - 3 hours 29 min ago

Israel broadened its bombing campaign on Tuesday, bringing the Palestinian death toll above 1,200. Brief hope for a cease-fire was quickly dashed.

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McDonald's Responsible For Treatment Of Workers, Agency Says

NPR News - 4 hours 38 min ago

The National Labor Relations Board has found that McDonald's shares responsibility for working conditions at its franchised restaurants. The company will fight the ruling.

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France Presses On With Deal To Sell Two Warships To Russia

NPR News - 4 hours 42 min ago

Amid ongoing fighting in Ukraine and stepped-up U.S. and EU sanctions on Russia, the deal has met with little criticism in the shipbuilding town of St. Nazaire, where it has created 2,500 jobs.

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Court Rejects Law Threatening Mississippi's Last Abortion Clinic

NPR News - 5 hours 16 min ago

A federal appellate court rejected arguments that women could seek abortions outside the state, saying no state can farm its constitutional duties out to its neighbors.

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Our big fat American refrigerators

Apropos of my discussion with Nichola Twilley about refrigerators in China, Gawker reported today that a fridge in the U.S. is, on average, many cubic feet bigger than fridges in other countries.

Some are even twice the size of your average fridge in Europe.

Not only do big refrigerators cost us more money because they take more power to cool, but they also may "encourage unhealthy eating habits," says Gawker reporter Dan Nosowitz.

He cites a couple of studies including one that says, "families that have more food in the house eat more food."

Another one says that "the average American throws out about 25 percent of food and beverages purchased."

What happens if Argentina defaults?

It’s looking increasingly likely that Argentina will default on some of its bonds.

How could that happen and what happens next? Here's what we know:

Argentina has defaulted before. After Argentina defaulted in 2001, it told its creditors: "We’ll give you 30 cents on the dollar: take it or leave it." Back then, 93 percent of those creditors took it and 7 percent left it. A tiny percentage of those holdouts  — who, incidentally, were not the original lenders, but rather funds that had purchased the distressed debt from the original creditors — sued.

They claimed they hadn't agreed to anything, telling Argentina that the terms of the contract (a term called “parity”) say 'if you pay those other guys, you have to pay us. And you have to pay us the whole amount on the dollar.' They won. Argentina now has to pay.

An Argentine default won’t cause a domino effect. Just like with people, for one country to catch another country’s economic bug, it has to be exposed to it.  

Stephen Kaplan, assistant professor of political science at George Washington University explains: “In Argentina’s case, they’ve been shut out of global capital markets for quite some time.”

It could still make things difficult for other countries trying to get out of debt. There’s no such thing as bankruptcy court in the world of sovereign debt. So there’s not an orderly system when countries can’t pay up. Many countries had been working on the assumption that if they got most of their creditors to say it's OK to be paid back less than they were owed, then the matter would be settled and they could move on. 

What the Argentine case means is that unless it’s spelled out in the contract, that assumption doesn’t work, and a minority creditor can squelch a deal.  

“It says to all investors, 'instead of settling after a country is facing financial crisis... hold out and [don't] allow a debt restructuring to take place,'” says Eric LeCompte, executive director of Jubilee USA, a religious group that promotes international financial reform.

Argentina is damned if it defaults... Argentina has been trying hard recently to get back into the good graces of the international financial community and a default would dash those efforts.

As Henry Weisburg, a partner at law firm Shearman & Sterling who specializes in cross-border financial disputes, says “they have a large number of different kinds of bonds and instruments out there and virtually all of them are going to have cross default provisions.”

That means if the country defaults on one piece of debt, it defaults on another piece of debt, and those creditors can call in their loans. That results in a difficulty when Argentina wants to find money for financing trade and “in certain circumstances even commercial borrowers in Argentina will have a hard time raising money.” Lawyers for Argentina have suggested defaulting would allow them to restructure their debt in Europe or Argentina, and avoid the laws in the U.S. that made restructuring difficult in this situation.   

...but it's also damned if it doesn’t.  Argentina’s fear is that if it pays these creditors, it will encourage all the other holdout creditors to sue as well. 

“The UN Conference on Trade and Development noted that if Argentina paid these holdout creditors in full, it would essentially leave them open to another $135 billion in liabilities,” says LeCompte. “The entire Argentine reserve is less than $30 billion at this point.”

1 in 3 Americans have past due debt

This just in from the Department of Phone-Calls-You’d-Rather-Not-Get: one in three Americans with credit files had some kind of debt in collection last year, according to a new report.  All told that's about 77 million consumers who were poised to get one of those inherently stressful calls from a debt collector.

The Urban Institute partnered with Encore Capital Group, the country's largest publicly traded consumer debt buyer, on the study. To understand the significance of these findings, here’s a little context:

When a debt goes in to collection, it basically means the original people you owe money to — maybe a bank or a credit card company or a doctor's office — have given up trying to get it back on their own and a third party is now involved. In some cases, the original creditor sends the debt to an internal collections department to handle it. In other cases, they hire an outside agency to collect for them. In still other cases, the debt is sold to another company altogether. 

The collector is usually paid on commission, based on how much of the debt can be recovered. Meaning, if you have a debt that's sent in to collection, you basically become for the debt collector, a name on a spreadsheet.

Gustavo Montoya, an emergency room nursing assistant in San Diego, ended up on one of these debtor spread sheets a few years ago. He'd taken a loan for $3,000 from Wells Fargo to help pay for living expenses while he was in school. Then, in 2011, he was contacted by a different company, one he'd never heard of, who had bought his debt. 

For two years, the new company called him every day, until another one started calling instead.  Montoya, who was unemployed at the time, says he tried to explain his situation to the collectors that called him.  “The economy was still bad," Montoya said, "I was finding difficulty getting employment. It was really stressful."

Beyond the stress, falling into collection can have big repercussions, says Suzanne Martindale, a staff attorney with Consumers Union. It can affect your credit score, your ability to get a loan in the future, even your ability to get a job.  And the growing practice of passing debt from one collector to another, or selling it to another debt buyer, means that in a matter of months there can be several different people from different companies claiming you owe debt to them.

“Many consumers I’ve spoken with are just utterly confused—who’s telling me the truth here, what are my rights, and how can I resolve the problem and just get on with my life?”

Mark Schiffman, with the Association of Credit and Collection Professionals, an industry group, says the collections process can be stressful. But that it can also be an important step in keeping the economy moving.

“Businesses use those moneys to pay their bills, to pay rent, to keep operational costs, to pay salaries.”

But even once the original creditor has written off a debt as a loss, and sold it to a third party, the act of debt collection itself can be big business too.

1 in 3 Americans have past due debt. What this means.

This just in from the Department of Phone-Calls-You’d-Rather-Not-Get: one in three Americans with credit files had some kind of debt in collection last year, according to a new report.  All told that's about 77 million consumers who were poised to get one of those inherently stressful calls from a debt collector.

The Urban Institute partnered with Encore Capital Group, the country's largest publicly traded consumer debt buyer, on the study. To understand the significance of these findings, here’s a little context:

When a debt goes in to collection, it basically means the original people you owe money to — maybe a bank or a credit card company or a doctor's office — have given up trying to get it back on their own and a third party is now involved. In some cases, the original creditor sends the debt to an internal collections department to handle it. In other cases, they hire an outside agency to collect for them. In still other cases, the debt is sold to another company altogether. 

The collector is usually paid on commission, based on how much of the debt can be recovered. Meaning, if you have a debt that's sent in to collection, you basically become for the debt collector, a name on a spreadsheet.

Gustavo Montoya, an emergency room nursing assistant in San Diego, ended up on one of these debtor spread sheets a few years ago. He'd taken a loan for $3,000 from Wells Fargo to help pay for living expenses while he was in school. Then, in 2011, he was contacted by a different company, one he'd never heard of, who had bought his debt. 

For two years, the new company called him every day, until another one started calling instead.  Montoya, who was unemployed at the time, says he tried to explain his situation to the collectors that called him.  “The economy was still bad," Montoya said, "I was finding difficulty getting employment. It was really stressful."

Beyond the stress, falling into collection can have big repercussions, says Suzanne Martindale, a staff attorney with Consumers Union. It can affect your credit score, your ability to get a loan in the future, even your ability to get a job.  And the growing practice of passing debt from one collector to another, or selling it to another debt buyer, means that in a matter of months there can be several different people from different companies claiming you owe debt to them.

“Many consumers I’ve spoken with are just utterly confused—who’s telling me the truth here, what are my rights, and how can I resolve the problem and just get on with my life?”

Mark Schiffman, with the Association of Credit and Collection Professionals, an industry group, says the collections process can be stressful. But that it can also be an important step in keeping the economy moving.

“Businesses use those moneys to pay their bills, to pay rent, to keep operational costs, to pay salaries.”

But even once the original creditor has written off a debt as a loss, and sold it to a third party, the act of debt collection itself can be big business too.

New sanctions against Russia could hurt US firms

The European Union is joining the U.S. in imposing tough, new sanctions against Russia, which continues to support separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The new measures include an arms embargo and restricted sales of technology and equipment for Russia's oil industry.

In a big change, the new sanctions target sectors rather than just individuals in President Vladimir Putin's inner circle.

“The shootdown of the Malaysian aircraft I think has changed the equation,” says Kenneth Yalowitz, a former U.S. ambassador to Belarus and Georgia, and now a global fellow with the Woodrow Wilson Center.

But the new EU sanctions and the U.S. ones already in place haven’t hit American businesses as badly as some feared.

“U.S. companies, if anything, breathed a little sigh of relief today that they’re not going to be held out relative to their European counterparts,” says Doug Rediker, a visiting fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

Russia is not a big trading partner with the U.S. Some companies like ExxonMobil and Citigroup might suffer a bit, but the biggest risk is Russian retaliation against big brands like McDonalds, claiming things like "'some health concerns' — in quotes — that were expressed by Russian authorities,” says Rediker.

Other potential targets include companies like Visa, MasterCard, and big U.S. accounting firms.

Others see little damage to U.S. companies so far.

“Retaliatory sanctions against businesses in the West, to the extent there have been any, they haven’t been very impactful,” says David Levine, partner with the law firm McDermott, Will & Emery.

A big question now is whether Western governments will have the stomach to continue sanctions for moral reasons, or whether trade and commercial interests will win out.

Want To Reduce Your Carbon Footprint? Choose Mackerel Over Shrimp

NPR News - 5 hours 50 min ago

Sardines and other small, oily fish are some of the most nutritious in the sea. Now there's another reason to eat them: Fishermen use a lot less fuel to catch them than many other kinds of seafood.

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Y'all Keep Talking: Lab Scratches 'Southern Accent Reduction' Course

NPR News - 6 hours 3 min ago

Having offended its own staff, Oak Ridge National Laboratory has canceled a course intended to help employees "speak with a more neutral American accent."

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Competitive swimming struggles to stay afloat

During these hot summer days, lots of kids are taking advantage of the closest swimming pool, but only a few are diving in for the local swim team. That’s why USA Swimming has kicked off an aggressive campaign to remind kids that swimming is, in their words, “the funnest sport there is.”

One of the ads in the Swim Today campaign shows a girl wearing goggles, dropping into a pool of blue water in slow motion. Then, you hear a voice saying, “Basketball... softball... cannonball... Which sounds the most fun to you?”

Matt Farrell is Chief Marketing Officer of USA Swimming. He says he wants kids to know there are other sports to consider. Farrell says their survey shows parents are one major problem when it comes to getting kids in the pool - 80 percent of parents overlook swimming as an organized sport.

“It was as if parents said, 'I’ve taught my kid to swim, I’ve checked the box, I’m a good parent, I’ve made them safe. Now let’s go play soccer, let’s play basketball,'” says Farrell.

Misha Neal, 15, of Durham, North Carolina swims for her high school team and for the YMCA. She remembers when it was time to make that big decision.

“I was doing a lot of sports at the time... I was also in gymnastics and track, and I had to pick. I remember Daddy telling me that I was better at swimming,” she says.

Misha has thrived, often coming in number one in the 50 Freestyle. USA Swimming is working to remind more kids of all the positives the sport has to offer, like teamwork, confidence, health and fitness. 

Mark Anthony Neal, Misha’s dad, says Misha adores her teammates and has overcome the obstacles of swimming competitively.

Even the hair issue: "We knew that our daughter was serious about swimming, you know, when she was told matter of factly she wouldn’t be able to get a perm, she wouldn’t be able to put any chemicals in her hair, [and] she said 'That’s fine.'”

 The Swim Today ads are making the rounds on social media. They first television airing will be during the upcoming Phillips 66 National Championships.

American Doctor Sick With Ebola Now Fighting For His Life

NPR News - 6 hours 18 min ago

After caring for Ebola patients for several months in West Africa, Dr. Kent Brantly noticed last week that he had symptoms. The 33-year-old immediately put himself into a Liberian isolation ward.

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White House Widens Scope Of Russian Sanctions To Finance And Defense

NPR News - 6 hours 48 min ago

The Obama administration is slapping stronger sanctions on Russia. The sanctions — which target key sectors of the Russian economy, including finance and defense — come as a response to Moscow's alleged involvement in Ukraine. The move comes on the same day that the European Union announced sanctions of its own.

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Former Va. Gov. McDonnell's Trial Opens With Claims Of 'Poisoned' Marriage

NPR News - 6 hours 48 min ago

The public corruption trial is now underway for former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen. In dramatic opening arguments, lawyers described the McDonnells' marriage as a shambles. For more on the trial's start, Ari Shapiro turns to Jeff Schapiro, who is covering it for the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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Leahy Aims To Patch Loopholes With A Revamp Of NSA's Data Collection

NPR News - 6 hours 48 min ago

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy is introducing a bill to overhaul the way the National Security Agency collects telephone data under the Patriot Act.

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White House Accuses Moscow Of Violating Landmark Arms Control Deal

NPR News - 6 hours 48 min ago

The Obama administration is accusing Russia of testing a banned cruise missile, thus violating a long-standing treaty that helped put an end to the Cold War. To learn more about the situation, Audie Cornish speaks with Steven Pifer, the director of the Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative at the Brookings Institution.

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