National News

Mixed signals: Decoding the economy

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-04-14 11:00

Consumer spending finally rebounded, big banks are doing great, and people are optimistic about the stock market. So why isn’t the economy doing as well as  you might expect? Marketplace editor Paddy Hirsch explains the mixed signals.

Consumer spending:

Consumer spending rebounded after three months of declining retail sales, but the increase isn’t as strong as people were expecting. Economists believed that recent job gains, wealth gains, and low gas prices should have added up to a resurgence in consumer sentiment. However, it seems that people are saving money and paying off debt, instead of pumping money into the economy. It’s a big deal if people aren’t spending, because the consumer economy makes up about 2/3 of the U.S. economy.

Big banks:

Big banks have reported positive first quarter earnings, but it’s not because people are saving money. Rather, banks are running certain sectors well, like trading and lending. Bank success this quarter doesn’t have anything to do with the consumer economy.

The stock market:

There is currently a disconnect between what is happening in the actual economy and what is happening in the stock market.

The stock market is doing really well, but that isn’t a reflection of what’s happening today. It’s a bet on what’s going to be going on in the economy in six months. Right now, people are optimistic about the stock market which is why the bet is so good. A lot of people are saying we might see a 5-10% correction in the next six months.

In California, farmers' water market is drying up

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-04-14 11:00

For at least 25 years, California has been developing an informal “spot market” for water. Cities or farmers looking for more water can often buy it from water districts that have more senior water rights and may not need all the water they get from state or federal water projects. But the state’s extreme drought is pushing the limits of that market. Supply is so constricted that even traditionally water-rich districts aren’t always willing to sell. 

“If we’re water-short in our area, we’re not going to sell water outside of our area,” Ted Trimble says.  Trimble, general manager of the Western Canal Water District, says the rice farmers in his northern California district and some others recently opted out of a tentative deal to sell their water to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. That’s because they found out their own water allocations from the state would be cut in half.

Right now, the California water market is “very supply-constrained," says Tim Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies.  “So when a market gets highly constrained, the number of transactions contracts and prices goes up. And that’s what’s happening in California.”  

MWD was willing to pay $700 an acre foot for the rice farmers’ water.  That’s twice as much as the going price five years ago, according to Trimble.  An acre foot is the amount of water it takes to cover an acre one foot deep in water, or roughly the water supply used by two families of four in one year.

North Dakota oilfield slowdown ripples across businesses

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-04-14 11:00

From Greg Gieser's at an oilfield services company in Kildeer, N.D., there are plenty of signs of a slowdown. He sees less traffic on the roads and fewer trucks clogging up the gas station. And then there's the drilling rigs—some of which are effectively mothballed.

“You'll see a field where there will be 18 drilling rigs, just sitting there, not doing anything,” he says.

And at Trilliant Oilfield Services, where Gieser is area supervisor for North Dakota, business is not exactly booming. The firm rents out equipment used for drilling new oil wells. In the past, it also made crews available for roustabout services—odd jobs on the oilfield. Both of those business lines have slowed down.

“We used to have half a dozen employees here and that's just gone by the wayside,” says Gieser. “They wanted me to hire more people, I just didn't see it, for the little bit of work that we do.”

Gieser surmises that if he had a sales rep, he could drum up more business, but the market forces aren’t working in his favor. A huge drop in oil prices is rippling across North Dakota, the second biggest oil producer in the U.S. Oil companies are backing off on the costly investment of drilling new wells because they may not be able to sell their oil profitably. Today there are about 90 rigs drilling new wells in the state, more than 50 percent fewer than a year ago.

The retrenchment is holding down revenue and headcounts at a whole host of businesses with ties to the oilfield.

Greg Gieser’s trying to keep his company going through the slow times by whatever means necessary.

“I rented a space in my yard to a company. Rented my building out. Whatever you can do to get revenue in and cut costs,” he says.

Bob Horab, the owner of a firm called McCody Concrete in Williston, N.D.

Todd Melby

Meanwhile, oilfield companies want steep discounts from their service providers. Bob Horab, the owner of a firm called McCody Concrete in Williston, N.D., says negotiating those requests is like playing poker.  

“I like to play poker with these guys just as much as they like to play with me. So we'll see what happens,” he says. “Who's going to tip their hand first? Am I going to chance losing their business or am I going to just fold?”

 About 60 percent of the business at Horab's company is tied to oil. His concrete slabs serve as bases for heavy vessels and pumpjacks on the oilfield.

Horab says it'll likely be a while before the oil downturn really takes a toll on his business, and he may be able to offset any declines with commercial construction projects. But it’s clear that requests for discounts on his oilfield products are causing consternation in the meantime.

“The thing about it is, is, profit isn't a dirty word. They're in it for profit as am I. And if they break me, because I can't produce a profit, if I'm working at a loss, and if I go away, what good am I to anybody?” he asks. “When things come back, and I'm not here, then what do they do?”

Some business owners in the oil patch have much more immediate concerns about survival.

Mark Pyatt, owner of Killer Diesel Performance in Williston, N.D.

Todd Melby

Mark Pyatt owns a repair shop called Killer Diesel Performance in Williston, N.D., where segment his parking lot has been dubbed "Death Row.” It consists of trucks left behind by customers, largely oilfield workers, who were previously flush with cash. They'd pay thousands of dollars to beef up their diesel engines so their trucks would go faster. But now, several customers aren't paying their bills. 

Pyatt points to a black pick-up truck with enormous tires and wheels. He says the owner spent about $12,000 on bells and whistles and then found out the motor is bad, so he doesn’t want to fix it.

“And what's probably happened—probably work slowed down and he can't afford to. And it's been sitting here for two and a half months,” Pyatt says. “And if he doesn't pay the bill he owes, he'll never get it back.”

An employee of Killer Diesel Performance 

Todd Melby

The reversal of fortune for Pyatt has been abrupt. He says when he opened his doors last August, he had so much business that his mechanics were each earning about $9,000 a month. They still have some work trickling in, but Pyatt says it's not enough.

“They should probably be looking for jobs here shortly, and they know that,” he says.

Pyatt expects to close his doors this summer. He says a buyer is interested in taking the place off his hands and turning it around.

“I say more power to you, if that's the case,” he says. “But I have warned him fairly. I just do not believe that's possible.”

Pyatt's a tall guy with a long, scruffy beard, and the words "love hard" tattooed on his knuckles. He comes across as a mostly cheerful guy. But his outlook on the future of Williston is gloomy. If the oil industry bounces back, as many here hope it will, it won't happen soon enough to save businesses like his.

“It's called a boom town,” he says. “Why do they call it a boom town? It has to have a bust, otherwise they'd just call it a town.”

Chicago Plans Reparations Fund For Victims Of Police Torture In '70s, '80s

NPR News - Tue, 2015-04-14 09:30

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is supporting the proposed $5.5 million package. More than 100 people are eligible for reparations for their treatment at the hands of a former police commander.

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End Of FX's Excellent 'Justified' Highlights TV's Vanishing Westerns

NPR News - Tue, 2015-04-14 09:18

FX's powerful modern-day Western 'Justified' airs its series finale tonight. NPR TV Critic Eric Deggans says its end underscores the decline of a once-powerful TV genre.

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Cheap Oil Fueling Global Growth. Now If We Just Had Roads And Bridges

NPR News - Tue, 2015-04-14 09:05

The World Economic Outlook released by the International Monetary Fund says the pace of economic growth in 2015 will tick up to 3.5 percent, helped along by lower energy costs and weaker currencies.

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How A Candidate Announces Can Say A Lot About His Or Her Campaign

NPR News - Tue, 2015-04-14 08:46

From a place of significance to what message they want to convey, where and how presidential candidates announce their campaigns matters.

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Is That Corporate Wellness Program Doing Your Heart Any Good?

NPR News - Tue, 2015-04-14 08:31

Most employers have a wellness program, but who knows if it's actually improving your health. The American Heart Association is proposing its own standards for improving cardiovascular health at work.

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Soul Singer Percy Sledge Dies

NPR News - Tue, 2015-04-14 07:44

Sledge is perhaps best known for his hit "When A Man Loves A Woman." He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005.

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Disease Detection Gets A Boost With Plans For A CDC In Africa

NPR News - Tue, 2015-04-14 07:12

African health officials are partnering with the U.S. to build a continent-wide Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The goal is a more rapid response to health emergencies, such as Ebola.

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Make more upfront: Viacom, Turner discuss new ad model

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-04-14 07:09

In the coming weeks, a dance between the companies that make the television shows we all love, and the people who pay for it all: the advertisers.

Upfronts, as they're called, happen each year in New York, and the name says it all. Networks pitch their programming to ad buyers, hoping to score a big budget up front. The typical measure that they're selling is a Nielsen rating, the total number of viewers broken down by age and gender. That's why we hear so much about categories like men aged 18-34 for programs like "The Daily Show."

But in an ad world infused by the many clicks and Tweets of social media, that may not be enough. Upfront sales have been flat, declining slightly in recent years. 

Variety reports that Time Warner and Viacom have a new strategy. Both are in talks to guarantee specific outcomes from an ad campaign, not just the average number of eyeballs it will get.

"They are saying, 'Look, tell us what you need. Do you need more foot traffic in your restaurant? Do you need more people to sign up for your loyalty program? Do you need X number of retweets on Twitter? Tell us what you want and let's try to work it out together,'" said Brian Steinberg, senior TV editor for Variety. 

That's a big shift from delivering a sizeable audience, and it relies on using more of the advertisers' own data, beyond what Nielsen can offer. Companies can compare email lists or loyalty swipes with geographic information pulled from set-top boxes to see who's really responding to the ads, and where. 

It's a methodology directly affected by the popularity of tablets and online video -- and the smaller, more targeted audiences that advertisers are reaching there. Likewise, Time Warner is looking to test this strategy for smaller, more targeted broadcast channels like Cartoon Network and Adult Swim, whose younger audiences are fairly well-defined. 

In the words of one marketing executive who talked to Steinberg, this is "the Holy Grail of advertising."

"For years, [advertisers] have long decried TV," he said. Despite big audience figures, there's little nuance. "You may blast a car ad on 'American Idol,' but how many of those people are in the market for a new car?"

Nielsen is a little nervous about this, Steinberg added. While it's still the dominant way ads are sold, the ratings don't capture the places people watch TV outside of the living room. 

Digital Tools For Health Come With 'Hope, Hype And Harm'

NPR News - Tue, 2015-04-14 06:51

Medicine's move into the computer age has great potential for improving care. But patients and doctors still face serious challenges in adapting to the rush of new technology.

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Famed Mountain Lion Seeks Comfort Under An LA Home

NPR News - Tue, 2015-04-14 06:33

P-22, as the mountain lion is known, typically lives in Los Angeles' Griffith Park. Attempts to dislodge him from under the home have failed.

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Little-known tax deductions that can save you money

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-04-14 06:08

Sam Weiner and Daniel Kibblesmith are the authors of the book, “How to Win At Everything. They came on the show Tuesday to dole out some tax advice.

Tax day is almost here, and Uncle Sam is coming for your hard-earned dollars, to fritter away on wasteful roads and firehouses. Here are the lesser-known tax loopholes and deductions that will save you a fortune on this year's tax bill:

Everyone knows married couples get a variety of tax breaks, so why not slash your tax bill even further by marrying as many people as you can by April 15th? Your husbands and wives will agree there's nothing sexier than financial prudence.

You're also probably familiar with the Child Tax Credit, but you're not limited to your own kids! If you've disciplined a stranger's unruly child in a grocery store or on an airplane, you're not just a hero — you can also claim that child as a dependent!

Do you ever work from home? Do you ever spend long sleepless nights thinking about work? Does worrying about work consume your every waking moment? Good news! The inside of your mind may qualify as a home office.

What about small business owners? If you've trained your dog to work at your small business, the IRS owes you a $2,000 Canine In The Workplace Credit.

Finally, you can deduct all sorts of surprising things — home internet, business lunches, business funerals, museum-quality rocks, and most importantly, any money you'd rather just hang on to for yourself. After all, you earned it.

Besides, if the government really wants more money, they can always just print it themselves.

Scientists Release Largest Map Yet Of Dark Matter In The Cosmos

NPR News - Tue, 2015-04-14 04:58

Researchers from the Dark Energy Survey used data captured by one of the world's most powerful digital cameras to put together the largest contiguous map of dark matter created.

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Atlanta Teachers Convicted In Cheating Scandal Await Sentencing

NPR News - Tue, 2015-04-14 03:48

A judge on Monday gave the 10 defendants a chance to negotiate with prosecutors. They each face up to 20 years in prison for their role in the largest cheating scandal in U.S. education.

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Senate Panel Weighs Bill Giving Congress Final OK On Iran Deal

NPR News - Tue, 2015-04-14 03:10

A vote in the Foreign Relations Committee could come as soon as today. The White House has threatened a veto, saying any congressional action could imperil talks with Iran on its nuclear program.

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'Clintonomics' Ruled The 1990s; 'Hillarynomics' Would Be Different

NPR News - Tue, 2015-04-14 03:03

The name "Clinton" remains magic for many Americans who got jobs, bought homes and invested savings in the 1990s. But key elements of "Clintonomics" may not be popular with today's Democratic voters.

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Shopping in euro

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-04-14 03:00

Airing on Tuesday, April 14, 2015: We were out buying new sheets and pillow cases, khaki pants, Adirondack chairs, Ford Fusions and two by fours last month. That's what the numbers suggest from the Commerce Department this morning, with retail sales up 9-10ths percent in March. Analysts see this as new evidence it was the rotten winter holding back consumers earlier in the year. Plus, U.S. Congress today will get an update on the F-35 jet, a program not yet in service but one estimated to cost a trillion dollars over its lifetime. More on that. How the strong dollar makes countries in the eurozone attractive destinations for American tourists. 

The button that's got everyone clicking

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-04-14 02:00

The Reddit “Button” that started out as an April fool’s prank has turned into an internet obsession. As of this writing, nearly 750,000 people have pushed it.

What exactly is it? It's a button with a timer that counts back from 60 seconds. Anyone who had a Reddit account before the day the button launched can push the button and reset the clock. But they can only push once. And no one knows what happens if the clock gets to zero.  

So what’s the big deal? “I think the short answer is, there’s a lot of reasons,” said Kelly Goldsmith, Assistant Professor of Marketing at Northwestern University. She’s been reading what a lot of people have said online about their experience of pushing the button, which range from competition to status.

“But it also seems like there’s a strong sense of affiliation and a strong sense of community,” said Goldsmith. “But on the other hand, it could just be driven by curiosity.”

Curiosity about when the next person is going to push it? Or how long it’s going to keep going? Or what might happen if no one pushed it?

“That’s really what keeps it so mesmerizing,” said Goldsmith.

Although a strong sense of community is making people push the button, Goldsmith said, “the motivating power of curiosity” was part of it too.

“I don’t think gets enough attention in the academic literature, but it’s (curiosity) definitely a strong driving force,” said Goldsmith.

When she first heard about it, she admits she was in favor of people banding together not to push the button so they could see what would happen. But since then she’s changed her mind because she think so many people working together to keep the button going is a positive affiliation. But that doesn’t mean she’s going to push the button right away.

“I would absolutely be of the group that waits to get the clock as low as possible,” said Goldsmith. “Again, just for curiosity's sake. How low can it go? What would happen if no one pushed it?”

 

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