National News

What was your first job?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-29 14:26

Remember your first day in an office (or, for some, a barn)?

Our first jobs shape us, how we view work and see ourselves as part of a bigger team.

We went around Los Angeles to find stories of first jobs and what lessons you still hold from your first time employed. Lizzie O'Leary told us about her first job in a sandwich shop, I was something called a 'video game quality assurance tester,' what was yours?

Tech IRL: A smart way to stay cool

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-29 14:26

It's boiling hot out. Want to come home to a cool house, without running up your electric bill? There’s an App for that. The device is from SmartAC. And it’s free.  So, what’s in it for power companies? Marketplace Tech’s Ben Johnson and Lizzie O’Leary experiment with controlling a coworker’s air conditioner… from their office.  

Weekend Brunch: A new (fe)line of credit and Burger King grows his empire

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-29 14:26

This week, Lizzie O'Leary sits down for brunch with New York Magazine contributing editor Jessica Pressler and online editor for Reuters Ben Walsh to discuss the economic news of last week and what's on their plate this week (get it?).   Topics:   Bloomberg: Jobless Claims in U.S. Little Changed as Economy Strengthens   The New Yorker: Burger King May Make Tim Hortons Less Canadian   The Guardian: Russian bank offur-ing cats to mortgage customers – with just one claws

How 'American' is your city?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-29 13:40

There are, of course, lots of studies ranking one thing against another. Some are more viable than others. But they're usually somewhat interesting.

WalletHub, a personal finance website, has taken a whole bunch of data points including age, gender, income, and household make-up to rank cities on how "typically American" they are, based on how close they are to the national average.

Number one?

Nashville, Tennessee.

Number 340 out of 366 on the list? Washington, DC.

Why Morgan Stanley is buying up diesel in Europe

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-29 13:40

International commodity markets are full of little mysteries. For example: Why would a market player buy a whole bunch of something when the market is full of that very thing?

In this case, the thing is diesel fuel in Europe. The continent's last winter was mild, so there’s plenty in storage. Yet, according to Bloomberg, the bank Morgan Stanley has been on a huge buying spree

The experts will tell you, nobody knows for sure. But they can guess: Maybe somebody thinks the conflict between Russia and the Ukraine will stop the flow of natural gas to Europe by winter, when demand goes up.

What does that have to do with diesel?

"If they can’t find natural gas, they’re going to have to find alternatives," suggests Phil Flynn, from Price Futures Group. "They’re going to use more coal, they’re going to use more oil..." and maybe some more diesel.

So, buy low now, sell high later.

That is unless prices don’t go up, like if next winter is really mild, or natural gas supplies are okay, or both. Then you lose money.

Risking your own money is called trading “naked,” which energy consultant David Bellman thinks is unlikely in this situation. Instead, he suggests, Morgan Stanley may be acting as an agent for end-users like governments or companies.

"They could be agents for multiple people," says Bellman. "They could have found end-user A, end-user B, end-user C, and negotiated with all of them and said, 'Aren’t you concerned about Ukraine?'"  

It could be a lot simpler than that. Energy economist and consultant Phil Verleger looked up diesel prices— and the price of diesel futures—  while we talked on the phone. Turns out, you can sell a contract today to deliver diesel in January for a little more than the current price.  

"You could buy the diesel, store it, sell futures against it, and earn a very nice return," Verleger says, "at a time when interest rates are essentially zero."

In this case, it’s the “storing it” that’s the hard part for most players, because of the glut. If Morgan Stanley has some storage capacity, that could allow the bank to make money by buying something that nobody else wants.

Consumer spending: what we say vs. what we do

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-08-29 13:37

The government reported personal spending fell 0.1 percent in July, following a 0.4 percent increase in June. Personal income rose 0.2 percent in July, a weaker-than-expected gain and the lowest since December 2013.

Meanwhile, the Reuters-University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index rose at the end of August, with the current conditions measure hitting its highest level since summer 2007, before the Great Recession hit.

The spending decline in July was partly a function of lower utility and gasoline bills, said economist Chris Christopher at IHS Global Insight. “That can be a good thing in many cases,” he says. “If you have a smaller electricity bill at the end of the month.”

Christopher says lower energy costs in July might result in consumers devoting extra discretionary spending to back-to-school purchases in August.

Still, combined with weak income gains in July, the consumer indicators pointed to a still-weak economic recovery. And yet, consumers now feel better about current economic conditions than they have felt since before the Great Recession.

“The fact that we’re the highest in seven years is good,” said Mark Vitner, senior economist at Wells Fargo. “It means that we’re better off than where we were a year ago or two years ago. But it still doesn’t compare to where we would be if economic conditions were truly great.” Vitner said consumers weren’t showing extremely strong satisfaction with the economy during the 2000s either, in spite of rising home prices and equity markets.

Sarai St. Julien, who was shopping at a neighborhood grocery store in Portland, Oregon, echoed the evidence in the consumer data.

“I feel more confident, but still I have to be careful,” St. Julien said. “We got hit pretty hard, my husband lost his job, and we kind of had to put ourselves back together and sold a lot of personal belongings to do it. We are doing better, he’s got a good job, but we’re still  sort of digging out of a hole.”

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