National / International News

Weekendish: Hay fever discovered and Ganges swimming

BBC - Fri, 2014-07-04 08:21
Strange origins of hay fever and other great reads

Why do they still have floor traders at the NYSE?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-07-04 08:15

Listener John Wang, who dabbles in a little online trading, wrote in to ask this:

“I’ve always wondered why there are still people on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. It always seems kind of strange that they're there, now that we have computers and networks for doing all sorts of trades.”

Most of us have a mental picture of floor traders at the stock market – men in blue jackets, shouting at each other, waving bits of paper, gesturing wildly with hand signals.

“Even though it looks chaotic to people, it's actually very crystal clear what was going on to the people down on the floor,” says Johanna Lee, director of a documentary film called The Pit, about a group of floor brokers at the New York Board of Trade.

The guys in her movie dealt in coffee futures. And they used to do something called open outcry, setting the price right then and there in an open pit.

Lee made the film at an interesting time, back in 2011, just as the New York Board of trade – like almost every other exchange – was going electronic.

So what's it like on Wall Street now?

I went to find out at the New York Stock Exchange: the grand stage of American capital markets. It has an impressive carved stone ceiling, in which you can see the nearly 200 years of history – which is totally at odds with the rows of computer screens that line every single booth in the hall.

On the floor, traders in their blue jackets are everywhere.

“I spent my whole career in this building,” says Kenny Polcari, a trader for O'Neill Securities who represents an institutional investor. “For me it's really all I know.”

Polcari, a fast-talker with a big laugh and sense of humor, says things work very differently today from when he first started out in this job 30 years ago.

“Today it's defined by technology. It's defined by high-speed computers that take the emotion out of investing. Some say it's good. I, on the other hand… Listen, part of what investing was about was the emotion. You come down here 25 or 30 years ago, the emotion blew the roof off the building every single day. It was just so exciting.”

But here's the thing - for all the excitement and history and prestige, the NYSE actually handles a tiny amount of the overall volume of trades in the U.S.

So who does the rest of the trading? Robots.

“Robots now do anywhere between 50 and 75 percent of the trades in the United States,” says Bob Ivry, who works for Bloomberg News and wrote a book called The Seven Sins of Wall Street.

Ivry says the real action takes place in a high-security warehouse in a small town in New Jersey. That's where you'll find computers trading at lightning speed. They're also cheaper and more efficient than humans.

Hooray for robots, right? Not quite.

“They are there when the going is good,” says Ivry. “The minute the prices start plummeting, for any reason, what the robots do is they run for the hills. They're nowhere to be seen when that stock is going down.”

Computers have been known to cause a flash crash – where prices tumble uncontrollably, causing a lot of damage. But the reality is, automated trading has taken over.

So does that make traders like Kenny Polcari an endangered species?

Polcari believes there is still a role for human judgement in the system, especially when the market is fragmented. “You almost have to develop a sixth sense, you have to be able to feel the liquidity,” he says.  “Today brokers use that sixth sense to try and assess supply and demand in a fractured market structure. And I think that’s part of the challenge but that’s also part of the key, that’s how you’re able to represent customers.”

“As far as the nuts and bolts of trading are concerned, they're already gone,” says Ivry. “If you consider there's some theatre involved – and I do – then they have a specific and necessary function. They put a face to the battle of the robots. All those traders down there in their blue smocks and their pins – they put a face on trading, on American capitalism.”

Ivry says we need a narrative to tell us how to invest our money in a way that will help communities. Trading algorithms are “a brutal and souless way of allocating capital,” he says.

Back at the New York Stock Exchange, it's a good thing trader Kenny Polcari is a “Type A” personality.                      

“I think that's fair,” Polcari says with a hearty laugh. “I love being the face of Wall Street.”

Go Figure: The week in numbers

BBC - Fri, 2014-07-04 08:09
The week's big numbers visualised

To see yourself as others do

BBC - Fri, 2014-07-04 08:07
The knack of seeing yourself as others do

VIDEO: 'I feared Harris would rape me'

BBC - Fri, 2014-07-04 08:05
A woman who gave evidence in court against disgraced entertainer Rolf Harris has said she feared she would be raped when she was sexually abused by him while on holiday in Malta.

Andy Coulson jailed for 18 months

BBC - Fri, 2014-07-04 08:03
Former News of the World editor and Number 10 director of communications Andy Coulson is jailed for 18 months for conspiracy to hack phones.

PODCAST: European banks leery of Bitcoin

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-07-04 07:53

The European Banking Authority is recommending that banks there keep away from Bitcoin, a virtual currency favored by techies, libertarians, and, sometimes, criminals.

Drivers this summer are paying the highest gas prices since 2008, in part because of the turmoil in Iraq. But mass transit riders are also feeling the sting of new rate increases in cities like Boston, St. Louis, and D.C. Some of this is driven by increasing operating costs, but even with these fare hikes, the transit systems will still lose money.

In India poor investment in cold storage warehouses and supply chain infrastructure means that a lot of food is wasted before reaching consumers-- 7 billion dollars every year.

PODCAST: European banks leery of Bitcoin

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-07-04 07:53

The European Banking Authority is recommending that banks there keep away from Bitcoin, a virtual currency favored by techies, libertarians, and, sometimes, criminals.

Drivers this summer are paying the highest gas prices since 2008, in part because of the turmoil in Iraq. But mass transit riders are also feeling the sting of new rate increases in cities like Boston, St. Louis, and D.C. Some of this is driven by increasing operating costs, but even with these fare hikes, the transit systems will still lose money.

In India poor investment in cold storage warehouses and supply chain infrastructure means that a lot of food is wasted before reaching consumers-- 7 billion dollars every year.

Marriage certificate could change

BBC - Fri, 2014-07-04 07:52
The Home Office is considering updating marriage certificates to include space for mothers' names.

Queen names UK's biggest warship

BBC - Fri, 2014-07-04 07:47
The Queen says the UK's largest warship "marks a new phase in our naval history", as it is named in her honour at a ceremony in Fife.

French teacher 'stabbed by parent'

BBC - Fri, 2014-07-04 07:46
A primary school teacher in the southern French town of Albi has been stabbed to death in front of her class by a pupil's mother, police say.

Indian nurses trapped in Iraq freed

BBC - Fri, 2014-07-04 07:33
A group of 46 Indian nurses trapped in northern Iraq for the past three weeks have been released, Indian authorities say.

How LeBron James is changing how athletes are paid

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-07-04 07:28

There's a huge shift happening this month in the world of sports. We're in the middle of the free agency period, where NBA players are eligible to sign with any team.

And Lebron James, considered the best player in the NBA, is reinventing not only how NBA players get paid, but maybe professional athletes as a whole.

We wanted to explore why, so went down to the legendary West 4th Street basketball courts in New York City to meet up with sports business analyst Keith Reed.

Reed called LeBron maybe "the only truly free athlete in America."

"[LeBron] was an investor in Beats electronics. That just sold for $3 billion. He made $30 million sitting on his couch just from that Beats transaction. And so, when people talk about, 'Why is LeBron opting out of his contract, and what's he going to do?' At that stage of the game, he's made his money."

Brandon Grier is an agent who represents NBA players a little further down in the hierarchy, and sees how contracts go beyond just the single player on the court. "You're dealing with not just an individual's life, but the families that are affected by it as well. A lot of time these guys are the breadwinners as well."

Grier's company Principle Management represents four solid, but not superstar, NBA players. He says the free agency period is important to the average fan — not just the players.

"It affects the product that they consume for their enjoyment. I believe the super teams in big markets are great for the NBA, you either love them or you hate them. But one way or another you're watching. So the better the ratings are for the NBA, the better the business does in general. Because TV is the cash cow now.

And speaking of that cash cow, this weekend's number: 18 million. For 18 million viewers.

That's how many people tuned in to watch the San Antonio Spurs beat Lebron James and his teammates on the Miami Heat in this year's NBA finals, according to Nielsen, up 10 percent from last year.

Djokovic battles into Wimbledon final

BBC - Fri, 2014-07-04 07:27
Top seed Novak Djokovic sees off Grigor Dimitrov in four sets to reach his third Wimbledon final in four years.

Nigeria arrests 'Boko Haram women'

BBC - Fri, 2014-07-04 07:25
Three women have been arrested in Nigeria for recruiting female members for the Islamist militant group Boko Haram, the military says.

Fireworks spark up a black market economy

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-07-04 07:24

California bans anything that flies into the air and explodes. Which isn't surprising -- according to the American Pyrotechnics Association, most states have restrictions on this type of firework. 

For Californians who want to celebrate the independence of our nation by blowing things up, they could head over the mountains to more firework-friendly Nevada, or head into the virtual black market on your computer.

On Craigslist you’ll find listings like "Air shows Disneyland style cheap" and "I HAVE FIREWORKS FOR SALE WHENEVER YOU NEED THEM."

You can find bottle rockets, roman candles, and mortars with just a mouse click and a phone call. But what’s harder to get is an interview with one of these dealers. Which makes sense, because having a large quantity of illegal fireworks is a felony in California, punishable by a year in jail and up to $50,000 in fines. But one firework dealer in Stockton is willing to take the risk.

"It’s not something I prefer to do, you know there’s always that spice of danger that you have to watch out for," he says.

In a well-lit parking lot at night, the young, friendly man lays out some of his merchandise on the hood of a car. What keeps fireworks coming into California are people like him and his business partner.

"I have a buddy of mine who goes down to Nevada and brings back a U-haul truck that’s full and then basically I just help him distribute it," he explains.

Their truck carries about $2,500 worth of product, and he figures they will double their money on resale. This vendor is relatively small time. In other parts of the state, police recently seized stockpiles of fireworks worth more than half a million dollars .

"If it is that profitable enough, then there are big criminal enterprises working in this area- quite professionalized," says Steve Weber, who teaches at UC Berkeley’s School of Information and co-wrote a book on the Black Market Economy of the 21st Century. "The mistake is to think of this as fly by night stuff- these are really serious people and they are as entrepreneurial, innovative and venturous as anyone you’d meet in Silicon Valley."

Actually, there's a hotbed of illegal firework trafficking just south of  Silicon Valley.  The police department in San Jose says the crime ranks low on its list of priorities.  

But Keith Gilless, chair of the California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection, says it’s a major concern. "California is the most flammable place on earth by most people’s reckoning, we can have 400-500 fires a year whose origin is fireworks."

All those fires can cost millions in damage, and millions more to put them out. Something, Gilless says to consider before lighting up this Fourth of July.

VIDEO: Brazil flyover collapses on bus

BBC - Fri, 2014-07-04 07:06
Two people have been killed after a flyover collapsed on to vehicles in the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte.

Pentagon Grounds All F-35s Amid Fire Investigation

NPR News - Fri, 2014-07-04 07:03

The Defense Department said the decision was made following a runway fire incident June 23 at the Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. The Air Force is investigating the cause of the fire.

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Jury sent home in wife shooting case

BBC - Fri, 2014-07-04 06:58
The jury in the trial of a man accused of murdering his wife is sent home for the weekend.

China detains Vietnamese fishermen

BBC - Fri, 2014-07-04 06:57
Chinese authorities arrest six Vietnamese fishermen in a move that could heighten tensions in the South China Sea.
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