National News

Happy 5th anniversary, bull market?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-01-22 13:00

The fifth anniversary of the bull market is right around the corner. The Dow Jones Industrial average is worth nearly triple what it was at its lowest point (that's 6,447 in March 2009).

Of course, the fifth anniversary of the bull run comes amid lots of talk about a market correction on the horizon. For a true correction to happen, the stock market has to drop at least 10%. That would mean the Dow Jones Industrial Average would have to fall 1,600 points (ouch).

Turns out, we're due for a fall. "The S&P 500 has averaged a correction every 18 months, and currently we haven’t had one since 2011. So we’re about 28 months overdue," says Alec Young, global equity strategist with S&P Capital IQ. 

"The rally is long in the tooth, but it is also a unique circumstance on a lot of levels," says Max Wolff, chief economist at ZT Wealth. Even so, Wolff still expects a correction. He says unemployment is high, economic growth has been slow, and then there’s the Federal Reserve: It's been pumping billions into our economy every month for years, and it’s hard to know what will happen as the Fed slows down the stimulus.

"We’re about to see, over the next six months, how much of the market’s rally was Fed policy, and how much of the market’s rally was the economy," says Wolff. "That makes everybody nervous and it should."

But a correction would probably not turn into a crash, says Gary Thayer, Chief Macro Strategist with Wells Fargo Advisors. He says corporate earnings are strong and most companies’ stock is not overvalued if you look at how much they’re taking in.  

"So, we’re expecting it would just be a temporary pullback in the market, not a reversal in the trend."

 So, even if the market’s bull run is over, we don’t necessarily have to brace for the bears.

Shorter Lines? For Elections Commission, It's Common Sense

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-22 13:00

President Obama last year appointed a commission to recommend ways that local election officials can shorten lines at the polls. On Wednesday, that commission is releasing its final report, offering suggestions on how to make improvements in the voting experience.

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Ahead Of World Cup, Brazil's Delays Have FIFA Concerned

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-22 13:00

Months before Brazil hosts the World Cup, preparations are going at breakneck speed to host the hundreds of thousands of tourists who will pour in to watch the extravaganza. Still, construction on several of the proposed stadiums is behind schedule, and infrastructure upgrades have been delayed, as well. Will Brazil be ready for the games?

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Turkish Opposition Eyes Its Oppurtinity In March

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-22 13:00

Voters in Turkey go to the polls on March 30 to elect local officials, and the election is seen as the first chance for Turks to weigh in on a number of major controversies. These include Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's increasingly autocratic governing style, the growing repression of free speech and a corruption scandal that has claimed the jobs of three cabinet ministers thus far. The race for Istanbul mayor is seen as the best hope for Turkey's secular opposition to lift itself off the political mat and become a contender again.

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Pentagon, White House Are At Odds Over Afghanistan

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-22 13:00

The Pentagon is saying that it needs to keep 10,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014 to train Afghans and maintain a counterterror mission. But military officials are once again running into interference from Vice President Joe Biden. That's nothing new: Biden in particular has for years pushed for a counterterror option of only several thousand troops, though the military says that number is far too small. The Pentagon argues that Biden's proposal would mean the U.S. forces would be largely consigned to their bases.

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Obama Launches Task Force To Combat Sexual Assault

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-22 13:00

At the White House on Wednesday, President Obama's Council on Women and Girls presented its report on sexual assault, calling it an epidemic especially on college campuses. The report claims that one in five women will experience a sexual assault in their lifetimes. Only 12 percent of victims actually report it, though.

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In Syrian Conference, Former Diplomat Hears Echoes Of The Balkans

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-22 13:00

As the peace conference on Syria begins in the Swiss city of Montreaux, Robert Siegel talks to Lord David Owen, the former British foreign secretary. They discuss Owen's experience with a similarly fraught peace process, when he sought to broker a peace plan between the Serbians and Bosnians in the 1990s.

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Syrian Peace Talks Open With Bitterness And A Bit Of Hope

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-22 13:00

The long-anticipated Syrian peace conference commenced on Wednesday in Montreux, Switzerland. The opening day marked the first time Syrian government and opposition members came together in the same room. Each side blamed the other for the three years of bloodshed in Syria. NPR's Deborah Amos offers a recap and analysis of the day's events from Switzerland.

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In North Carolina, Workarounds Help The Poor Find Health Coverage

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-22 13:00

Because North Carolina didn't expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, many low-income people who could otherwise benefit from the law don't. But there are often ways to bump up their incomes just enough to help them qualify for subsidized coverage.

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English Only? For Mainland Puerto Ricans, The Answer Is Often 'Yes'

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-22 13:00

Puerto Ricans are less likely to speak Spanish at home, compared with other Latinos living in the U.S. According to an NPR poll, only 20 percent of Puerto Ricans speak Spanish at home — less than half the percentage for respondents overall.

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Debate: Is The Affordable Care Act Beyond Repair?

NPR News - Wed, 2014-01-22 12:07

Two teams of medical doctors and political columnists face off over the hot-button health care law in the latest Intelligence Squared debate. Is Obamacare fundamentally flawed or poised to transform the health care system for the better?

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Hey, what a great idea! Chocolate peanut butter cups!

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-01-22 10:30

Coming to a candy store near you – the battle of the chocolate peanut butter cups. Nestle has come out with a new peanut butter cup called Butterfinger Cups, based on the famously crispy-crunchy Butterfinger bar. It takes some chutzpah to challenge an iconic brand like Reese’s, which pretty much owns the peanut butter cup category. (People in the candy business assure us there is such a thing).

Nestle's already attracting attention for its new product by putting out some racy online "teaser ads" leading up to a 30-second spot during the Super Bowl. One features "Mr. and Mrs. Buttercup" – aka Peanut Butter and Chocolate – seeking couples therapy to spice things up a bit. "Don’t you think it'd be nice to try something new?" Mrs. Buttercup asks Mr. Buttercup while they wait for an "Edible Couples Counseling" session. Heavy breathing and the phrase "hurt me" follow, leading some critics to label that particular marketing effort as "raunchy."

A tamer ad is expected during the Super Bowl.Robert Passikoff, founder of Brand Keys, says Nestle is subtly setting up a taste-off with ads that imply a peanut butter cup could be made better. So consumers will either say, "'No it isn’t, but I have to try it to be able to say no it isn’t.' Or people are going to say, "'Wow, it’s something different,'" says Passikoff.

Georgetown marketing professor Ron Goodstein, for one, tastes trouble ahead for Butterfinger. He says it’s like the time Burger King tried to out-French fry McDonald’s.

"Everybody who walked into Burger King to try them had decided they weren't going to like them before they ever tasted it," says Goodstein. "Because the one thing you cannot screw with, with McDonald's, is their French fries."

Marketing expert Jonathan Salem Baskin suggests Nestle's move may be more about corporate strategy than selling tasty morsels of peanut butter and chocolate. "Could this in fact be something from a corporate level and in fact, what Nestle is trying to do is get Hershey’s to spend more money protecting its turf, or its peanut butter cups, which then takes away resources and attention from the categories in which Nestle wants to compete and gain market share?"

But Butterfinger brand manager Jeremy Vandervoet says it’s "almost the opposite... Reese’s is the number one brand in the category, and they are going to do just fine. And I think together we will all sell more chocolate and peanut butter cups," he says.

The new product certainly attracts more attention to that tasty combination. Vandervoet says peanut butter is the most popular flavor to add to milk chocolate and Nestle sees room for growth in the category. He says consumers already use Butterfinger bars in a variety of ways, like crumbling them up and using them as a vanilla ice cream topping: "So it got us thinking, wow, what could we do beyond our traditional candy bar, with Butterfinger?"

And that got us thinking about other food turf wars... remember these?

  • Hershey’s Swoops, a.k.a. Hershey’s trying to get in on the Pringles market.
  • Bit O’Honey's Bit O'Licorice, trying to get in on... the black licorice market?
  • Reese’s Pieces with peanuts… like Peanut M&Ms but… Reese's.
  • Jell-O's salad gelatin. Presented without comment:


Jell-o once ventured into the green salad industry. Apparently, it didn't go so well.

Kraft

UPDATE: 

Jason Liebig of CollectingCandy.com wrote in with some additions to the list:

None exist today. The cutthroat candy market: Not so sweet on knock-offs?

PODCAST: Optimism at Davos

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-01-22 08:34

The World Economic Forum, the winter gathering of the powerful, kicks off today in the Alpine town of Davos, Switzerland. A Bloomberg survey finds that 59 percent of international investors think the global economy's improving. That's the highest level of optimism in five years, and the mood is up strikingly from the previous survey in November.

College courses with a 95 percent dropout rate would trigger alarm bells at most universities, but researchers at Harvard University and MIT says that’s potentially fine, at least in the case of some massive open online courses, or MOOCs.

A recent study shows one in 10 job applicants have been rejected because something turned up in their credit history. And last month Senator Elizabeth Warren introduced a bill that would, among other things, bar the use of credit reports in hiring. 

New report shows few finish free online courses

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-01-22 08:15

College courses with a 95 percent dropout rate would trigger alarm bells at most universities, but researchers at Harvard University and MIT says that’s potentially fine, at least in the case of some massive open online courses, or MOOCs.

In a new report from Harvard and MIT faculty involved with the online learning programs there, researchers find that only about 5 percent of the more than 800,000 people signed up for the free courses through the online platform edX actually finished enough coursework to obtain a completion certificate. Of those who didn’t finish, some lost interest shortly after signing. Others just sampled bits and pieces of classes and activities. But the faculty members say that’s not necessarily discouraging.

“The instructors welcome these kinds of curious browsers,” says Andrew Ho, a Harvard education professor who co-authored the paper on online learning.

The findings won’t please online learning’s skeptics, though, as a core criticism of distance learning is that it doesn’t adequately engage students.

There’s also the question of how to monetize online courses.

“It brings a completely new approach to teaching,” says MIT professor Isaac Chuang, another co-author of the paper. “It’s a different economy.”

That creates challenges both for non-profits like edX, but also for-profit universities. Big public companies and private equity firms back many of the for-profit colleges. They see online courses as a way to bring in more students and more money.

Online learning is growing. As more people get comfortable with the technology, we’ll see more digital courses, from universities in the non-profit and for-profit world.

Mark Garrison: The research shows more than 800-thousand people signed up for these free courses through the online platform edX. But only about 5 percent actually finished the classes. The Harvard and MIT faculty involved say that may not be a problem online. Harvard education professor Andrew Ho says their findings show many just sampled the classes.

Andrew Ho: The instructors welcome these kinds of curious browsers.

That won’t please online learning skeptics, who worry online classes don’t engage students enough. There’s also the question of how to pay for the cost of offering these classes. MIT researcher Isaac Chuang.

Isaac Chuang: It brings a completely new approach to teaching. It’s a different economy.

And that creates challenges both for non-profits like edX, as well as for-profit universities. Big public companies and private equity firms back many for-profit colleges. And they seeonline courses as a way to bring in more students and more money. As more people get comfortable with the technology, we’ll see more digital courses, from universities in the non-profit and for-profit world. I’m Mark Garrison, for Marketplace.

The Netflix 'State of the Union'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-01-22 07:43

Video streaming company Netflix announces earnings today. The expectations are high among investors. But the company has challenges, like growing the brand abroad. Molly Wood, the new deputy technology editor for The New York Times, and Marketplace Tech host Ben Johnson assess the Netflix "State of the Union."

When your bad credit keeps you from getting a job

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-01-22 06:59

In the science fiction movie "Gattaca," society turns on everyone's genetics test. But here in the real world in 2014, it seems the fulcrum of all things may be your credit score. You expect the bank to look before lending you money, but what about credit checks when you go up for a new job? 

A recent study shows one in 10 job applicants have been rejected because something turned up in their credit history. And last month Senator Elizabeth Warren introduced a bill that would, among other things, bar the use of credit reports in hiring. 

“What they are they trying to do is filter, so they are using a credit score to determine if you’re someone who is a risky hire,”Carmen Wong Ulrich, a personal finance expert and host of Marketplace Money, says of the hiring practice. “But it doesn’t necessarily go together that if you have a bad credit score, that you are going to be a bad employee.”

But today, people’s credit reports are a mess for a few reasons, Carmen says.

“Long-term unemployment, foreclosures on a home, or medical debt -- which is the number one reason people declare bankruptcy -- are not going to make you a bad employee,” she says.

To hear more about how people’s credit scores can keep them unemployed, click on the audio above.

 

Who says liberal arts majors can't make a good living?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-01-22 06:48

A new study from the Association of American Colleges and Universities says liberal arts majors eventually close the earnings gap with workers who chose a “professional” major like accounting. Who knew? Given all the focus and support for STEM education, do the liberal arts need a campaign to fill prospective students and parents in on the facts? 

"You are destined to a life of waiting tables." That’s the kind of stereotype the Council of Independent Colleges is trying to fight about the liberal arts -- with its Twitter username Libby and Art. (Get it?) 

Georgia Nugent, president emeritus of Kenyon College and senior fellow at the Council of Independent Colleges, says the Twitter account was created as a part of a public information campaign.

“We really felt that we needed to speak out. Because so much, what I call 'dis-information' is being circulated to the public,” she said. "Like philosophy and poetry majors you will never earn as much as someone who studies accounting, or nursing." 

Michael Zimmerman, provost at Evergreen State College and chair of the Washington Consortium for Liberal Arts, says the relationship between the liberal arts and STEM is often misunderstood. 

“STEM disciplines are in fact a part of the liberal arts -- they are not apart from the liberal arts. The liberal arts are not liberal, and liberal meaning broad and covering the breadth of human knowledge, if we exclude STEM from them,” he says. 

Debra Humphries, vice president for policy and public engagement at the Association of American Colleges and Universities, and a co-author of the study, notes that at their peak earnings ages, liberal arts majors bring home larger paychecks than professional majors.

So you can major in engineering, but if you also have the breadth and of knowledge and skill that a liberal arts degree provides you, going to be an even more valuable engineer.”

Is our culture too obsessed with the tastes of the mega rich?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-01-22 05:27

"The jewelry in this show would make Liberace think it's a little tacky," says art critic Blake Gopnik. "We're talking butterflies covered in gems, roses covered in gems -- anything you can think of covered in gems."

The show Gopnik is describing so disdainfully is Jewels by JAR, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York's exhibition of 400 pieces by the Paris based jeweler Joel A. Rosenthal. But Gopnik's issue with the JAR show is much bigger than the fact the jewels aren't to his personal taste.

"What really gets me about this, I guess, is I think it reflects a profound change in our culture," Gopnik says. "And that is the dominance of an entire society, economy, and culture by the 0.1 percent."

Gopnik, who describes himself as "one of the few critics in this country -- maybe the world -- who cares deeply about contemporary jewelry," insists JAR has never been taken seriously by the art establishment. So why is one of the most renowned art museums in the world suddenly giving him his due? Gopnik says it comes down to the fact that wealthy people buy JAR's jewelry, and at this moment in American society, the wealthy are casting their tastes across the rest of culture.

"What worries me is we have sort of all bought into the notion that money itself is what matters in the culture," Gopnik says. "And for the Met to have bought into that too worries me a whole lot."

Of course, the exhibition halls of museums around the world are filled with works that were initially commissions by wealthy patrons. But Gopnik says the difference now is that the rich are trying to make the walls of the museum reflect their 0.1 percent taste.

"It used to be that lucre was a little bit filthy, so the reason rich people got involved with museums was kind of money laundering. They could clean up their reputation by caring about things that were above money, things like great art. And in this case, what we have happening is that rich people are taking the things they already care about and installing them in museums. There's no laundering going on here because lucre ain't filthy anymore."

A bright new day at the World Economic Forum

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-01-22 05:15

The World Economic Forum, the winter gathering of the powerful, kicks off today in the Alpine town of Davos, Switzerland. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will give the keynote address later today. Japan has been in the midst of what appears to be a dramatic economic turnaround since Abe took office. And Japan isn't the only economy on the mend, says BBC business reporter Anthony Reuben from Davos.

"It's a very sunny morning here in Davos, and a lot of people are seeing that as a reflection of the way the economy is going," Reuben says. "It was a much gloomier economic forum this time last year. A lot of people are coming in and saying, 'Actually, we're seeing a bit of a recovery now.'"

To find out more about this year's World Economic Forum, click the audio player above to listen to the interview.

 

Buying A Detroit House For $500, And Then Explaining Why

NPR News - Tue, 2014-01-21 17:23

Drew Philip made waves this month by explaining to the Internet why he bought a house in struggling Detroit for $500. In his much-discussed story for Buzzfeed, Philip said that he is part of "another Detroit," one where people are working to help each other and save their city.

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