National News

Why hair oil from Morocco costs a small fortune

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-10-29 02:00

Male or female, you were once a teenager and so will likely remember how, for the longest time, personal care products were all about removing oil from our faces, hair and skin.

“Oils were a product that historically consumers have been told to take off," says Karen Grant, a beauty industry analyst for the NPD group.

But now, oil is having a moment. You might say it's getting a chance to shine. Especially when it comes to the haircare industry, where brands are advertising their ability to make your healthy, nourished and moisturized — with oils.

“You’ll see oils on the shelf at Target. You’re seeing them in Walmart, you’re seeing it in Walgreens, you’re seeing it in CVS,” says Grant.

And at Ricky's, a chain of beauty supply stores in New York, where you can see the slick display from the sidewalk. Behind the cash register, there is a giant wall of hair products, all with the same color turquoise packaging. And in the center aisle, you'll be confronted with even more.

Says Richard Parrott, president of Ricky's, about the nose-high shelves packed with products, “It’s a hero display. This is basically our hero products. These are the products that people, they come in with their iPhones and they have pictures. They just say do you have this?”

The brand Parrot is talking about is Moroccanoil. That's the brand. But it's core ingredient is a product called Argan oil. Pure Argan oil retails for about $12 an ounce. Mohamed Omer, an industry analyst with Mintel, says the oil is difficult to produce.

"Argan oil can only be extracted from the argan fruit, which can only be found in Morocco. It can only be collected by hand. And the kernels have to be taken out by hand. It’s not an easy oil to get," he says.

And a lot of it is grown on cooperative farms run by women.

Argan oil's rarity and exotic story make it a best-seller. And when it comes to best-sellers, says Richard Parrott, the beauty industry moves in cycles.

“Curly hair is in. Straight hair is in. Curly hair is in. Straight hair is in. This is not new. Right? They were using this stuff in ancient Egypt," he says.

In ancient Egypt, Argan oil might have been as common as regular shampoo — we don't know. But today it's like the truffle of the beauty industry. Because it’s so expensive and scarce, very few consumers can afford the pure ingredient. But they’re still willing to pay for a bottle of shampoo that contains just a few drops.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Car companies catch up to a connected world

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-10-29 02:00

Car companies have been slow to adapt to a connected world. But they're starting to catch up, putting out cars that increasingly work like huge smartphones on wheels. 

Qualcomm is a company built on smartphone chips. But lately, they've also been trying to get their chips inside cars.

"Fundamentally, the car is turning into a smartphone," says Qualcomm's senior vice president of business development Kanwalinder Singh. He's speaking from the passenger seat of an Audi A3, the first car with its own 4G connection. 

With the help of Qualcomm chips, the A3 features more detailed Google maps, internet radio, and Netflix streaming for the kids in the backseat. Drivers can dictate Tweets using voice command, and the car reads incoming text messages out loud. 

Singh says Qualcomm is giving drivers the features they want, and they're doing it in a safe way.

"We believe that driver distraction would actually be alleviated by providing these services," he says. "When all of this is embedded, like it is in this Audi, phone calls destined to you and your smartphone would actually come through the car's antenna, and play through the car's audio-visual system. You would interact through the car."

But some driving safety researchers say moving these features from the phone to the car won't make drivers any safer.

"I think they're really ignoring the powerful effect of cognitive distractions," says Linda Hill, who leads a team of driving safety researchers at the UC San Diego School of Medicine. 

Hill admits voice command might cut down on visual distraction, preventing phone-handling drivers from staring down into their laps. But eye-tracking studies have shown that even when drivers have their hands free and their eyes on the road, their minds can still be elsewhere.

"A recent study looking at that found that voice-to-text increased driving errors more on a closed driving course than text-to-text did, shockingly," Hill says.

Hill does like the idea of building one bit of technology into cars, though: An app that disables phones in moving vehicles. 

Good news for college seniors. Sorry, 2009 grads.

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-10-29 02:00

Good news for college seniors (and their parents): The job market for 2015 graduates looks like the strongest in many years, with employers looking to make significantly more hires than last year, many of them at higher starting salaries. Those early findings from Michigan State University’s annual survey of employers are in accord with other statistics showing that the job market has gotten stronger since the recession.

However, economists say the good news doesn’t trickle backwards to people who graduated during the down years. For instance, the Michigan State numbers show salaries for new engineers will be about $6,000 higher than they were for 2009 graduates.  

"There is no way that those people who came in at 2009 are going to be at that salary," says Michigan State’s Philip Gardner, who conducted the survey. "It would take some pretty nice wage increases."

The Michigan State findings echo other recent data, says Brookings Institution economist Gary Burtless. So does the bad news for earlier graduates.  

"There’s no doubt that entering the job market—either as a new college graduate or a new high-school graduate—at a time of high unemployment is not the best career move," says Burtless.

Those workers can see their wages stay relatively low for 10 years or more.  

Shu Lin Wee, an economist at Carnegie Mellon University, has studied the process by which recession-era grads lose out, in a paper titled "Born Under a Bad Sign: The Cost of Entering the Job Market During a Recession." 

Her numbers show that when jobs are scarce, young people don’t get to hop around from career to career as much. Finding the first job is enough challenge.

"Even if you manage to find a job," she says, "and you realize that you’re not very good at that particular career, now you have problems switching jobs.

So you develop fewer skills and don’t get experience with other fields that might be a better fit.

Giant container ships make port facilities obsolete

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-10-29 02:00

Southern California’s huge port complex has been making headlines lately over congestion and shipping delays. But ports all over the world are experiencing traffic jams, and they all have one thing in common: megaships. Some container vessels are now three and a half football fields long and they’re overwhelming ports. 

Just five years ago, ocean carriers calling on global ports typically could handle 5,000 20-foot containers.

“Now, they are bringing in ships that can handle three times that amount,” says Peter Friedmann, counsel to Pacific Coast Council of Customs Brokers and Freight Forwarders Associations. “And there are some ships that have already been built that can carry 18,000 on one ship.” Even the expanded Panama Canal won't be able to handle a ship that big.

Noel Hacegaba, chief commercial officer at the Port of Long Beach, says it’s all about economies of scale. “The bigger the ship, the lower the unit cost,” he says.

Hacegaba says these megaships came on line faster than expected. They’re straining capacity at many global ports, where authorities are scrambling to build bigger terminals and bigger cranes to unload them. 

Companies like Maersk and MSC are forming alliances to share these vessels, a move that gives shippers more leverage over the world’s ports. 

Some of oldest banks in the world, then and now

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-10-29 01:30

Banking is old.

Really old.

Roots in Mesopotamia old.

Some of the oldest banks are still operating today. But as the European Central Bank's latest "stress test" shows, not all are in the greatest of health.

Here's a look back at the origin story of the five oldest established banks - where they’ve been, and where they are today: 

5.  Coutts

Just as the Salem Witch Trials were beginning in New England, the sixth oldest bank was being established across the pond in Old England, in 1692. The bank itself, needless to say, went through some tough times during the two World Wars, but in 1963 it became the first British bank to be fully computerized. Today, the Royal Bank of Scotland is its parent company,  and like many kids, they’ve found themselves in a lot of trouble lately. In 2012, Coutts was fined for not taking sufficient and necessary measures to detect money laundering activities.

4.  Barclays

Back in 1690 on London’s Lombard Street, John Freame and Thomas Gould began trading as "goldsmith bankers." This made them cutting-edge: Goldsmith banking in the late 1600s and early 1700s was, in many ways, the predecessors of the banking industry today. They would store gold in their vaults and issue promissory notes on deposits that even collected interest. In 1967, Barclays was one of the first of the UK’s “high street” banks to offer ATMs. Today, however, Barclays continues to be in the spotlight. Recently, a former British senior banker became the first person to plead guilty to, "a single count of conspiracy to defraud in connection with manipulating the London interbank offered rate, or Libor,” according to the New York Times.

3.  C. Hoare & Co.

Before street numbers existed, businesses were identified by street signs. Richard Hoare, the founder of the bank, traded at the “Sign of the Golden Bottle” in Cheapside, London. Eighteen years later, he moved the offices to Fleet Street, within London city limits, where it still stands today. Back in 1897, the bank had temporary balconies erected to allow customers and workers at the bank to view Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee parade. Today, for the first time in its history, the bank is being run by its first non-family Chairman in over 300 years, Jeremy Marshall.

2.  Berenberg Bank

This bank was established by a pair of Dutch Protestant brothers, Hans & Paul Berenberg, who were forced to flee Antwerp for their religious beliefs. They settled in Hamburg in 1590, where they would go on to establish a business that is still around today. In order to survive World War II, the bank became a holding company and withdrew from the business of active banking. The Chairman of the bank at the time rejected national socialism and wrote in his journal:

“Better a small and decently led state than such a huge empire which Germany is today, lawless, without integrity and governed by robbers and murderers.”

 He helped other businesses and anti-Nazis escape. Eventually, he wrote once again on May 3, 1945, when English soldiers entered Hamburg:

“Now the task is to deal with the consequences of the war and gradually try to help the children in building their future."

Today, Germany’s oldest private bank has now expanded into the UK. And many people continue to be uneasy about the future of economic growth throughout the eurozone, with Germany at the front and center of the stage.

 1.  Monte dei Paschi di Siena

This picture shows the headquarters of the Monte Dei Paschi di Siena bank in Siena, in the Italian region of Tuscany.

(Giuseppe Cacace/AFP/GettyImages)

The goal of the oldest bank in the world was, as originally stated: “To form loans to the poor or miserable or needy persons,” according to their company history.

By those standards, I would certainly qualify for a loan from them, but this also may be the reason their books aren’t quite up to par according to the European Banking Authority.  Monte dei Paschi di Siena, the oldest bank in the world (think: 1472!), failed their stress this past weekend and were subsequently hit yesterday with major losses on its shares. Now they need to come up with 2.1 billion Euros to meet the ECB’s stress test requirements.  Whether or not the Italian public will step in and help prop up the bank’s capital shortfall remains unknown.

Royals Force Game 7, Rest Bullpen In Dominant 10-0 Win

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-28 19:30

Kansas City piled up seven runs in the second inning and forced San Francisco starter Jake Peavy out of the game. The big lead left both teams resting their go-to bullpen arms.

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Marvel Studios To Diversify Its Movies

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-28 16:43

The comic juggernaut announced Tuesday that one of its upcoming films will have a female lead, and another will be headlined by a black man.

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WATCH: Unmanned Antares Rocket Explodes Shortly After Takeoff

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-28 14:34

Orbital's Cygnus cargo spacecraft was carrying 5,000 pounds of supplies and experiments to the International Space Station.

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Firm Buys Big Bike-Share Service; Expansion And Higher Rates Seen

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-28 14:23

Announcing the deal today, the company said it would expand its service and raise the annual fee to $149 for its New York customers. Alta also operates in other large cities.

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U.S. Beefs Up Security At Some Federal Buildings

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-28 14:10

The Federal Protective Service will enhance its presence at some buildings in Washington. Homeland Security said public calls by terrorists to attack the U.S. spurred the new measures.

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Who Should Pay To Fix The World's Salt-Damaged Soils?

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-28 13:59

The area of land no longer suitable for farming because of salt degradation is rising quickly. Scientists argue the private sector should help fund efforts to reverse it since it relies on the crops.

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No Hand-Washing, Spotty Temperature-Taking At Liberia's Airport

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-28 13:23

The Ebola screening of airline passengers departing from Monrovia was not operating like well-oiled machine Monday.

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FBI Spoofs News Story To Send Spyware To Suspect

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-28 13:17

How did the FBI get a suspect to click on a link? It created a fake news story about the suspect. When he clicked, spyware glommed on to his computer.

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With A Soft Approach On Gangs, Nicaragua Eschews Violence

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-28 13:07

Despite being in one of the most dangerous regions in the world, Nicaragua remains relatively peaceful. Analysts credit its style of policing, which has rejected the iron fist policies of neighbors.

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Home Health Workers Struggle For Better Pay And Health Insurance

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-28 12:38

Home health care aides often toil for low pay and in jobs without benefits, including health insurance. A million more home health care workers will be needed to meet demand over the next decade.

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Constituent Services Give Voters Something To Remember

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-28 12:38

If played just right, members of Congress can see a political payoff from simply doing their jobs and helping out voters who elected them. It's one reason incumbents fare well come Election Day.

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Some St. Louis Teachers Address Ferguson With Lessons On Race

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-28 12:38

Educators in St. Louis are using events in Ferguson to spark discussions about race and class in a deeply segregated region. Others have found approaching the subject a difficult task.

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A Helping Hand To High Achievers

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-28 12:31

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg will invest $10 million over two years to help top students from poor families into college.

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Blood Test For Ebola Doesn't Catch Infection Early

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-28 12:20

A highly sensitive blood test for Ebola exists, so why isn't it being used to test all returning health workers from West Africa? Because the virus isn't in the blood in the first stages of infection.

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To Make Bread, Watch The Dough, Not The Recipe

NPR News - Tue, 2014-10-28 12:16

One man's quest for the perfect loaf took him to Paris, Berlin, California and Kansas. What he learned can't easily be captured in words. It's a feeling in your fingers that comes from experience.

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