National News

"Mini" muni bonds — double your money, help your city

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-08-04 02:00

Municipal bonds are the sort-of boring financial tool that big institutional investors use to hedge their bets. But this week, the city of Denver is hoping to attract a totally different class of buyers for its bond sale.

The city is selling $500 “mini-bonds" to state residents, as a way to get locals literally invested in the community.

It’s a simple pitch for investors: buy a few of these mini-bonds, and in 14 years you’re guaranteed to double your money. In the meantime, the city gets funds to renovate two cultural attractions and build a new recreation center.

The yield is higher than what the city offers on traditional bonds, but Denver’s Chief Financial Officer Cary Kennedy believes the extra expense is worth it to keep the money in the state.

“We’re willing to offer this to the citizens of Colorado because we want to give them that investment opportunity,” Kennedy says. “And we also want them to feel like they can support these critical infrastructure projects.”

The concept of mini-bonds has been around for a while, but they’re rarely issued by governments. That’s in part because they can be a real headache to administer.

Lynnette Kelly, executive director of the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board, says the back-office costs can be significant for the issuer. The customer service needs of thousands of individual small investors can add up to quite a headache.

“My mother, for example, had a lot of mini-bonds from a public power district,” Kelly says. “She had questions all the time. You know, 'Where’s my interest check?' And, 'I think I lost my mini-bond, what do I do now?' All of those basic everyday questions have to be handled and they have to be handled really well.”

Investors can now find the answers to a lot of those questions online, making mini-bonds easier to manage.

And Denver is certainly betting on their popularity. It hopes to sell $12 million in mini-bonds in just five days.

Hacking away in Las Vegas

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-08-04 02:00

This week, thousands of people interested in all sorts of hacking are gathering in Nevada. They're headed to two conferences, Black Hat and Defcon, which are well known to the cybersecurity industry. But a thriving ecosystem of other meet-ups, tear downs, and other tech events are happening in Vegas as well. 

One of the meetings this week is the Password Con, a two day event.

Sophos Cybersecurity expert Chester Wisniewski describes the event as, “kind of all the global minds in security coming together to figure out this authentication problem.”

There is arguably enough happening on that front for there to be a separate conference on passwords alone.

The audience at the conference, according to Wisniewski, is “nerds of every security stripe” — criminal hackers, government spies, security  professionals,  and ethical hackers.

He says privacy and mobile are at the top of mind this year — the hacker side of the community is very interested in maintaining privacy, especially in the face of the continuing to unfold NSA revelations.

 

Grocery chain workers fight for millionaire CEO

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-08-04 02:00

One of the country’s most successful regional grocery chains is holding a job fair on Monday.  Massachusetts-based Market Basket is looking to replace employees who’ve been holding protests and asking customers to boycott its stores.

Two weeks into the rallies, it’s like the aftermath of a snowstorm in New England - dozens of Market Basket stores with slim pickings and few customers.

It's not low wages or high prices the workers are upset about; they just want their old boss back. Ousted CEO Arthur T. Demoulas famously kept prices low and paid a living wage, plus provided good benefits and profit-sharing.  Now, workers and Market Basket customers alike worry the company's new leaders, under "Artie T's" cousin, will change all that.

"This is not a protest against the company, it’s a protest to save the company," says Thomas Kochan, Co-Director of MIT’s Institute for Work and Employment Research. "You have store managers, clerical employees, and warehouse workers all coalescing together to take this action. That's unprecedented."

Market Basket’s new CEOs say they'll welcome those workers back, and the company won't change its "unmatched compensation and benefits." But they warn that employees who keep up the protest could lose pay, and even their jobs.

At the Center for Corporate Citizenship at Boston College, Executive Director Katherine Smith says Market Basket has an obligation to its shareholders. But, she adds, the low cost chain won its edge in part by putting employees ahead of profits.  

"More and more we see companies struggling with the question of not only am I helping to create the world I want to do business in, but also the world I want to live in," she says.

Whichever way Market Basket goes, Smith says CEOs around the country are watching.

 

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