This week, we're asking a range of accomplished figures in the tech world about what could be the next digital frontier. Are we moving away from an Internet of webpages and toward an Internet of things, or an Internet of interconnected objects?
According to John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems, we're heading towards what he calls "the Internet of everything."
Think smart refrigerators that call the repair man when broken, or a water meter in your house that monitors use and decreases leakage.
"If you look back at they year 2000, maybe 200 million devices were connected, today it's 10 billion. In 2020, it is 50 billion," says Chambers. "We believe it will change every aspect of people's lives."
From a business perspective, Chambers says the vast new hook-up could save companies around the world $14.4 trillion over the next ten years.
To hear Chambers discuss other new frontiers of connectivity, click on the audio player above.
As you consider your weekend plans, allow us to suggest dinner and a movie.
It is Oscar season, after all. And by most accounts, a pretty good Oscar season at that. Which makes it a good season for the studios that make those movies, says Wesley Morris, film critic at Grantland.
But it's not all luck. Studios are making fewer films and they're getting strategic about when they release them. Those last few months of autumn? Yep, that's when they're releasing the prestigious films that'll win them an Oscar (they hope).
And that's why you'll see a movie like "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters" during the first month of the year. Morris says "they wait until what is conventionally known as the 'January dumping ground'" to unload films that -- shall we say, aren't quite Oscar-caliber. Meanwhile, big blockbuster films are released in the summer.
Morris says,"We're basically looking at a pretty predictable releasing pattern for all the seasons unless some really brave studio executive decides to shake things up by doing something interesting every once in a while, to keep audiences on their toes." But he says the odds are pretty low.
And you won't have to worry about the movie business going away any time soon. Both big screens and little screens are now owned by a very small handful of the same companies."Whatever money they're not making at the movies, they are certainly making in TV."
Online ticket seller Ticketmaster is trying to cut its customers a break. Not a discount, but better service. The website is doing away with captchas -- you know, those little hard-to-read sequences of letters and numbers you sometimes have to type in to make an online purchase. But it's not doing away with online security.
Ticketmaster is worried that you and I are bots, those automated scripts, or pieces of software which can flood the site, buying up all the Beyonce tickets. In order to tell flesh-and-blood Beyonce fans from soulless scalpers, Ticketmaster has customers fill out captchas, which in case you don’t know, is an acronym.
Tom Satwicz, a consultant with Blink Interactive, a firm that helps companies make their websites more user friendly, explains that it stands for: “Completely Automated Public Turning Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart."
Satwicz made a tiny slip of the tongue, saying "turning”, but meaning "Turing," as in the pioneering computer scientist. That’s one of the problems with captchas. We humans sometimes make errors. And if you don’t get the captcha right the first time, it gets harder the next.
“People get annoyed and often times they’ll just leave the site instead of making that purchase,” says Whitney Hess, an independent website consultant.
That annoyance is why Ticketmaster says it’s switching to shorter, easier captchas. Instead of text, Ticketmaster customers will have to solve image puzzles. You might be presented with a picture of a car, a flower and a dog and be asked to identify the animal
"This is something that is reasonably pleasant for the human being to go through but really difficult for computers to do," says Arun Sundararajan, a professor of digital strategy at NYU’s Stern School of Business.
Because artificial intelligence is good at text, he predicts more companies will switch their captchas to images.
Ticketmaster says the change to images will save you about seven seconds -- and that could help you score Beyonce tickets before they sell out.
The Labor Department released its latest jobs numbers today -- 157,000 jobs created in January, with an uptick of 0.1 percent in the overall unemployment rate to 7.9 percent. It follows the trend we've seen in the unemployment reports for the last few months -- good, but not spectacular job growth across the country. Some positive news came in the form of the jobs numbers from November and December, which were revised upward.
"I think there's a lot to be taken, that's positive, from the number today," said Fortune magazine's Leigh Gallagher. "Specifically the number of the long-term unemployed is going down quite dramatically, and that's a very important factor."
"It's a steady move in the right direction," said Reuters' Felix Salmon. "But it's going to take a very, very long time before we hit that 6.5 percent target that the Fed has. We all wish it would be faster, and frankly, given how successful all of corporate America is -- as you can see from the stock market -- wouldn't it be nice if they started hiring people with some of those profits?"
Salmon referenced the five-year high the Dow reached today -- closing above 14,000 -- but warned: "The Dow is a completely meaningless average. It's not even an index; it's an anachronism -- and the fact that anyone pays any attention to it just never ceases to astonish me."
"I think there is meaning," countered Gallagher. "But I will say this -- this is something that not everyone is partaking in. We are still living in a country that is a tale of two markets, economies, people, classes, everything."
And we asked them to give us some suggestions for some weekend reading:
Gallagher recommended :
- A fascinating look at how the NRA evolved from a marksmanship group to a mighty lobbying organization.
- The evolving relationship between the Republican Party and big business.
- Fortune's Jessi Hempel on Blackberry's Hail Mary pass.
The White House weighs in on the latest jobs numbers. And a look at the greatest flops of Super Bowl ads.
Today's jobs report shows 157,000 new jobs created in January. It also has unemployment edging up to 7.9 percent. But the report also tells us that we added a lot more jobs near the end of last year than we thought. Alan Krueger chairs President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers. He tells us what the White House makes of today's numbers.
Anheuser-Busch is launching a new beer on the biggest ad stage of all: Sunday's Super Bowl. The multi-million dollar ad buy for Black Crown is a big bet. But debuting at the Big Game, doesn't guarantee success. We look at some of the most notorious Super Bowl product flops.
New Orleans is hosting the Super Bowl. The town is packed with the wealthy, like the CEOs who'll sit in skyboxes watching millionaires in helmets battle it out on the field below. But there's a bigger picture, from the middle class small business owners to the working class folks cooking the food and cleaning the rooms. So we thought we'd ask the people of New Orleans a question we've been asking all over the country: How do you know when you're wealthy?
And next week Marketplace's David Brancaccio begins hosting the mid-day update, focusing on the latest in technology. You can find all his tech coverage all the time at Marketplace.org.
The 16th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States celebrates its 100th birthday on Feb. 3, 2013. As far as amendments go, the 16th Amendment isn’t America’s most memorable or most poetic. It’s only one sentence, just 30 words, but it gave the federal government the right levy an income tax -- though not for the first time.
“The real beginning is in the Civil War when there was an income tax in place for, most people don’t realize this, almost 10 years,” says Charlotte Crane, a law professor at Northwestern University.
When the income tax ended, a lot of people actually wanted it back, according to Crane. At the time, the government was primarily raising revenue through tariffs, or taxes on imports, which hit the poor and middle class harder than the rich.
In 1913, a permanent federal income tax was created -- a breezy 15 pages. At first, not many people had to pay it.
“It may have affected something like 2 percent of Americans,” says Carolyn Jones, a law professor at the University of Iowa, who will be bringing cake to her class next week to celebrate the anniversary.
“It was clearly a soak-the-rich kind of tax,” she says. “It wasn’t viewed as a major source of federal income.”
The top tax rate in 1913 was only 7 percent. By 1918, it ballooned to 77 percent to pay for World War I.
But it wasn’t until World War II that the income tax started to look like it does today.
“That’s when the tax is transformed from a class tax on the rich into a mass tax on the middle class,” says Joe Thorndike, the director of the Tax History Project and the author of “Their Fair Share: Taxing the Rich in the Age of FDR.”
Although the income tax has changed over time, one thing has been largely consistent: the questioning of who should pay how much of the tax burden. Sound familiar?
With unemployment at 7.9 percent in January, the U.S. economy has a long way to go to return to anything resembling ‘full employment.’ Economists debate what that would be -- a base-level structural unemployment rate at which any employable person who wanted to work, could find a job, given time. The consensus settles around 5 percent to 5.5 percent.
The Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee has set its target rate of ‘healthy’ unemployment at 6.5 percent, at which point it will begin to tighten monetary policy and raise interest rates that are now being maintained at historic lows to encourage hiring, consumer spending and business investment.
But some places in the U.S. have already managed to push local unemployment down to more palatable levels.
Where to get a job? See what unemployment looks like in your state and how it compares to the rest of the country in this interactive map.
Boise, Idaho, is one such place that finds itself sitting in the Fed’s ‘unemployment sweet spot.’
Boise sits in an idyllic valley in Southwestern Idaho, snow-capped mountains at the horizon. Nearly half of Idaho’s population of 1.5 million lives in this remote corner of the state, known as the Treasure Valley, where tributaries like the Boise, Payette and Owyhee feed into the Snake River.
The region doesn’t have oil fields, or a lot of corporate headquarters, or foreign car plants. What it has is a little bit of this, a little bit of that: a major hospital and Boise State University; state government; tech firms large and small; plus timber, ranching, and potato farming.
And, lately, you can hear the sounds of hammers and nailguns on the outskirts of town.
The local economy has a pulse once more. Homebuilders that survived the recession and housing crash -- which was as severe here as in other Western boom towns like Las Vegas and Phoenix -- are putting up single-family homes again.
Boise Hunter Homes has several on the market in the Harris Ranch subdivision along the Boise River about 15 minutes from downtown. They’re nicely-appointed, three- to four-bedroom homes with hardwood floors, hickory cabinets, granite countertops, double-shower master baths. All starting in the low-$300,000-range.
All over the valley, builders are putting up starter homes, trade-up homes, and McMansions in suburban subdivisions that were platted and plumbed, then went to weeds, when housing went bust in the recession.
Dave Checkitts works for Idaho Hardwood Flooring on the Harris Ranch building site. “I’m making $16 an hour right now,” he says. “During the recession, when building stopped, I was doing whatever I could -- delivering pizzas. Making ends meet was a hard thing to do. This is my trade, this is what I’m trained to do. Seeing this come back -- you make a living wage.”
Construction is a virtuous cycle. Guys like Checkitts can go out for dinner, even buy a new truck, because lawyers and nurses and small-business owners are buying new homes again.
At the very least, working people are living less in fear of the economic apocalypse, now, says Marci Glass, pastor of Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise. Glass serves a neighborhood of lower-middle-class families living in modest ranch homes. Many are near retirement. She says the neighbors were in a world of hurt during the recession.
“A number of them have been dealing with foreclosures and unemployment -- long-term unemployment,” says Glass. “Insecurity with jobs, whether at Micron or Hewlett-Packard, fear of layoffs: are they going to make it through the next round? I think there is a sense now that things are getting better for the parishioners that I serve.”
“Boise is very fortunate, Boise is growing,” says Bill Connors, chief local business booster, CEO of the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce. He offers a visitor a ‘downtown- skyline-tour’ from the windows of his high-rise office: “If you look off to the left, you see two huge cranes going up. We’ve got a 20-story high-rise going up over here for Zion’s Bank, and a big project for the Simplot Corporation. We’re one of the fastest-recovering cities in the country, our regulatory environment is one of the best.”
Connors says companies like Boise -- and Idaho -- because of the quality of life, affordable housing, and laissez-faire business climate. “Last year, we lowered corporate income taxes and individual taxes,” Connors brags. “Not too many states are doing that right now.”
What’s happened here in Boise -- unemployment dropping from 9.4 percent at its worst in mid-2010, down to just 6.2 percent in December of 2012 -- isn’t miraculous. It’s steady growth of a diversified economy fueled by low interest rates, high technology, and local talent.
It helps to have a corporate heavyweight to anchor that growth. The 800-pound Fortune-500 gorilla here is Micron Technology, one of the top memory-chip-makers on the planet.
Company spokesman Daniel Francisco led this reporter on a tour of a new global research and development center on Micron’s sprawling glass-and-steel campus just minutes from downtown Boise. “This is what we call the sub-fab,” Francisco explained as we descended a flight of stairs under the 50,000-square-foot complex of gleaming new clean rooms full of technicians scurrying around in bunny suits. “We’re underneath where the R&D manufacturing’s occurring. You have the gas sources, power sources, drains here.”
Micron spent millions to build this new facility. Francisco says it will pump wages and wealth into the local economy. It will also attract highly educated scientists and engineers from San Francisco, Boston, Bangalore.
But Micron only employs around 5,000 people in Boise now. It used to employ 10,000. The company downsized in the recession, laying off thousands of high-paid production workers and managers from an outdated chip fab. Hewlett-Packard also shed workers in the past few years.
Bill Connors says some laid-off tech professionals picked up stakes and headed for bigger high-tech hubs with more job opportunities -- the Bay Area, Seattle, Portland. “But what’s interesting,” says Connors, “is a lot of people didn’t want to leave. So they started up their own little start-ups here in town.”
One example: a cluster of new urban wineries that have opened in a cavernous warehouse in Garden City, a few minutes’ drive from downtown Boise. The décor at the Telaya, Cinder, and Coiled cellars is industrial chic. The wines they’re making are respectable reds and whites -- appellation ‘Snake River Valley’—made with local grapes that like the cool winters and warm summers, along with a dry, sandy soil resembling some regions of California.
Winemakers Leslie Preston of Coiled and Melanie Krause of Cinder were both raised in Boise, traveled abroad after college, then settled down at top-flight wineries in California and Washington to learn their trade.
Krause says she had three criteria for coming back home to start a business and a family: “One was that I had to feel that I could make world-class wine here,” she says. “The second was business climate -- and we thought there was a very good opportunity here. The third was lifestyle, and the lifestyle here is great.”
Krause’s husband, Joe Schnerr, used to be an analytical chemist at Micron Technology. Then came the great downsizing -- he took a buyout and a pay cut. Now, he sells wine in the tasting room.
“This is a dry Viognier,” he says, introducing one of the winery’s specialties. “So you should have a bright, aromatic white wine, but it’s going to finish crisp. I think that shows the Snake River Valley in Idaho really well.”
So, another sound of success can be heard here, in the local wines being poured at hip downtown restaurants packed with prosperous urban professionals. People with discretionary income who are living it up and spending again.
Veterinary health is a big business -- bigger today, after Pfizer spun off its animal health care division into a new public company, named Zoetis.
Zoetis raised $2.2 billion, the biggest initial public offering since Facebook's debut in May.
Zoetis shares jumped during their first trading day on the New York Stock Exchange. Health care is one of the fastest growing sectors of the global economy. Within health care, the animal health business is an even better performer. And, Zoetis is the biggest player in that market by revenue.
“If you were to look at the worldwide market, you are looking in the neighborhood of $20 billion in annual sales,” Damien Conover, director of pharmaceutical research at Morningstar, told Marketplace earlier this year. Conover projects the animal drug business to grow at a “moderate” pace -- 5 percent -- over the next five years.
For that story, health care correspondent Dan Gorenstein visited Ft. Washington Veterinary Hospital in suburban Philadelphia, a clinic co-owned by Jeffery Berman.
“I mean, I’ve had people do second mortgages on their homes for animals. I know some who have spent upwards of $60,000 on their pets,” Berman said.
Marketplace New York reporter Mark Garrison reported on animal health care last year, and found that high vet bills aren't the only reason for the interest in animal health companies, like Zoetis. Analysts told Garrison that the more important market for drug companies is livestock.
"As third-world countries begin to eat more protein, have better economies, that's where the real growth has been," said Jon LeCroy, who tracks pharmaceutical stocks for MKM Partners.
With more farmers feeding a growing hunger for beef, chicken and pork, drug companies are providing new vaccines and treatments. Texas A&M veterinarian Dr. Tom Hairgrove works with ranchers. He says drugs are more expensive now, but worth it because they keep the animals healthy and growing.
Ever seen how much paperwork is involved in buying a home? And if you find yourself unable to make mortgage payments, things can become even more complicated and confusing. But it's no easy task to clear answers from your mortgage lender. Wouldn't you like some straight talk from a banker? Us too. So we asked Jess Tirado of Wells Fargo Home Mortgage to stop by for a little chat. He's a senior vice president and regional servicing director who lives in the Inland Empire.
What makes an application for a refinance request or a loan modification stand out in the eyes of a bank?
"What we look for is, obviously we want to make sure that the customer is qualified for the mortgage. That we're going to be able to give them a loan that they're going to be able to afford and make the payment on. So in any loan situation what we're looking at is that you have credit, that you have collateral and that you have capacity, meaning that you have income to sustain the loan. We want to make sure that anybody who gets a loan today can service that loan for the time that they have it," says Tirado.
But what about those people seeking loans who are in distress?
"We know that there are people out there that are still struggling with their mortgage payment. We ask all customers as soon as you run into any difficulty, in fact don't even wait, if you know there's going to be a change in your financial situation let us know ahead of time. You don't have to wait until your mortgage is delinquent. A lot of people immediately think they need a modification, it might be a repayment plan. You had a hardship, you're back on your feet now, you just can't get caught up on your payments that you missed, we can work with that. There are different solutions to each financial situation," says Tirado.
Tirado says contacting the bank if, say, you are notified that you're going to lose your job, can possibly improve your chances of getting help. Yet there are countless stories of people saying they are getting the run-around from their bank or going through the process of a loan modification or foreclosure at the same time.
"Years ago when we started in this crisis, there was some confusion. There were some things that we had to work out. As you know, this economic crisis has been unprecedented in our time. So none of us have the luxury of having experience in this. I think what you'll find now is that a lot of that has changed," says Tirado. "We've learned a lot and it just works a lot better for customers now."
For people contemplating a re-fi or loan modification, Tirado advises you to tell the bank your story.
"What is happening in your life? What has changed? Contact your bank early and they can help you work through the options that might be available for you," says Tirado.
By most indicators, the real estate market is on a rebound.
And that means Sunday afternoons are stacking up with open houses, along with the untold numbers who make a hobby of taking a peek at their neighbor’s digs.
“We had one kind of ‘drive-by,’" says Atlanta real estate agent Sylvia Mallarino, who was hosting an open house in the upscale Briarcliff neighborhood recently. “We’ve had five or six parties come through. Only one has been what we call a ‘lookie-loo.’”
A "lookie-loo" is real-estate-speak for those who drop into an open house, but have absolutely no intention of buying.
“I think once you get in the habit of it, it’s a hard habit to break,” says 37-year-old marketing consultant Stephanie James of checking in on open houses. James says she has stolen peeks inside homes for sale as often as every weekend.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, she checks out the 5,500 sq. ft. home Sylvia Mallarino has listed at just shy of a million dollars.
“I didn’t know you put urinals in residential homes,” Stephanie says as she tours the home’s basement. “I think maybe because there’s a pool table down here, maybe it’s a mancave?"
James doesn’t think her hobby of the past 12 years is any big deal. She laughs that she’s a tad bit nosey, in a stereotypical, Southern kind of way. Upon entering the huge kitchen, Stephanie comments how she likes the intricate, faux-finished cabinetry and the antique-looking stove, but isn’t a fan of the lion heads carved into the sink.
“I don’t think I’d spend the money to rip it out,” she says. “But then you wonder, if I did rip it out, could I sell it on Craigslist? Is there someone out there who might actually want this?”
Part of the fun of an open house for Stephanie is looking at a home’s décor and imagining the lives of the people who live there.
“Secretly, you wonder, why are the people leaving?,” she whispers. “Then I think there’s part of you that starts to do the soap opera thing of ‘I wonder if there’s an issue or divorce, or if somebody gets transferred?’ So you kind of wonder about the ‘why?’ a little bit.”
Stephanie says she always tells the listing agent she’s just looking.
Emory University psychologist Nadine Kaslow says lookie-loodum can go too far.
“I actually talked to a lookie-loo this morning, somebody who I knew was one,” says Kaslow. “And it was interesting because her family views her as a lookie-loo. But she doesn’t view it as that way at all. She thinks maybe she will buy these houses.”
Kaslow says the person in question visits open houses every Sunday, and is being treated for what she calls a “confluence” of psychological issues. But she acknowledges we all have a bit of a healthy, voyeuristic, lookie-loo quality in us.
Need proof? Just ask the millions who tune in every night to HGTV’s “House Hunters.”
“Who doesn’t like to look in the windows of their neighbors’ home and not be caught?” asks HGTV general manager Kathleen Finch. She says the concept is so popular, the network is developing more shows along the same line.
Despite a sometimes negative connotation, Pennsylvania real estate agent and National Assoc. of Realtors V.P. Dominic Cardone says lookie-loos can turn out to be profitable for agents.
“You have to start somewhere,” says Cardone. “So a good conversation at an open house is a great opportunity for realtors. Even when we’re speaking with the 'lookie loos.'”
For open house enthusiast Stephanie James, she’s seen both sides of the coin. When her house was on the market a year ago, her agent said her Sunday open house attracted what the agent described as “curious neighbors.”
“I realized I wasn’t the only one. Then they’d make comments to me that ‘Oh wow! I’d never been in your house before, and then you had an open house. And it’s really nice in there!’ And these are people I didn’t even really know.”
But does James consider herself a lookie-loo?
“I hope I’m not,” she laughs.
Just when you thought there were no more possible credit card fees, a new one is in our midst. Retailers can now pass on the credit card fees they pay when you swipe your card to you.
Credit card swipe fees are usually between 1-4 percent of the price of what you buy. They do add up, to more than $30 billion a year. Merchants have long said the fees eat away already thin profit margins and, now, we may get the chance to feel their pain. The change is part of a $7 billion settlement card companies made with merchants last year.
Linda Sherry is the director of National Priorities at Consumer Action, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group. "Unfortunately, you could start seeing a new retailer surcharge, which we’re calling a checkout fee, when you use your credit card to buy goods and services," she says. Sherry says shoppers can be on the lookout for a notice at the entrance of the store about the new fee. Shoppers will also be told about the fee at the cash register.
"A merchant can say to a customer, if you use debit, cash or check, you’re going to pay less than with this credit card. It helps me out and it will help you out," says Sherry. Still most of us probably won’t see the new fee predicts Jeff Leonard, spokesman for the National Association of Convenience Stores. "Even with all the noise about surcharging, I don’t think you’ll see surcharging anytime soon," he says.
Leonard points out that 10 states have laws in place that ban the fee, including New York, California, Texas and Florida. Stores are also worried about consumer backlash associated with the fees.
Get ready for new credit card fees -- or not Retailers can now openly charge shoppers more for using credit cards. In fact, they’ve stealthily been passing those 1 to 4 percent fees on to consumers.
Even if the new fees aren’t passed on, retailers may ask customers to pay in a way that’s cheaper for the store, says retail consultant Michael Sansolo. "Everybody’s card is not created equal to everybody else’s card," he says. Sansolo explains rewards cards carry higher fees for merchants; credit cards cost merchants more than debit cards; and debit cards have a have two-tier fee system depending on whether you type in your PIN or sign. "Retailers could make the point with the shopper that if you’re using a debit card, and you do the signature, it might be a 2 percnet or 3 percent charge," says Sansolo, "because there’s risk associated with that, but if you do it with your PIN, maybe there’s no charge or a lesser charge."
Sansolo says once consumers have more information about the fees associated with credit cards, they may choose to use debit instead of credit, or even cash. "Ultimately," he says, "it could change the way we pay."
At least 10 million homeowners aren't feeling the love of the housing market's recovery -- that is, they still have underwater mortgages where they owe more than their homes are worth. But some borrowers were thrown a life raft this week. Mortgage heavyweights Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have announced a bailout program for struggling homeowners who are current on their payments. If there's a pressing need to leave their property, they can just walk away. To explain how it will work, we turned to Julia Gordon, director of Housing Finance and Policy at the Center for American Progress.
What are the origins of this program?
"There are many people who, for one reason or another, want to leave their home. They have a job in another state. They've been through a divorce. Perhaps someone has died or become ill. In those cases, it's very important for those people to leave the house without having to default on their loan if they don't need to," says Gordon.
Why is the program starting now with the housing market on the comeback trail?
"It's terrific that we're starting to see recovery in the housing market, but we still have millions and millions of people underwater. The best thing -- not just for homeowner and investors, but for neighborhoods -- is for people to be able to leave their house when they can no longer stay in it," says Gordon.
Learn more. Read a blog from Julia Gordon: "No, The Government Isn’t Launching A New Bailout Program For Underwater Homeowners"
Gordon says the program is "really just a different kind of short sale, in a way, not a brand new flavor of bailout." Here's a short picture of things. First, a few definitions, and then an explanation of what's new:
Loan modification: A person can’t afford current mortgage payments (reduction in income, death, divorce, disability), but would like to stay in house and keep paying mortgage with reduced payments.
Short sale: A person either needs to move for a job or can’t afford/maintain the home and wants to leave the home, but is underwater and wants the lender to agree to forgive any amount leftover if the sale doesn’t cover the mortgage.
Mortgage release (deed in lieu): Either the person wants to leave the home, but does not want to/cannot physically handle selling the home, or the person would otherwise want to stay in the home, but cannot afford the payments even under a modification, so may want to turn in keys and leave or stay as a renter.
What’s new: Previously, in order to do a short sale or mortgage release, lenders would usually require that the person be behind on their mortgage payments, which would mean they’ve already taken a hit on the credit score. Under new short sale/mortgage release programs, under certain circumstances, a person can get permission to leave without having to go delinquent on their mortgage. Other things that are new is that Fannie/Freddie requirements are now aligned with each other (less confusing for everyone) and servicers have more discretion to offer these solutions to borrowers without having to get permission from Fannie/Freddie on a case-by-case basis.
What impact will this have on taxpayers?
"This program will allow taxpayers to take less of a hit. The worst outcome -- both for taxpayers and homeowners -- is always a foreclosure. The only people who get rich on foreclosures are lawyers and sometimes mortgage servicers," says Gordon. "We have a housing crisis and millions of people are underwater on their mortgages. The fact is, life goes on. So we say to ourselves, 'What's the second best thing we can do,' since we can't roll the clock back to before that happened."
What happens to your credit score if you qualify for the program and walk away from your home?
"It's not good for your credit score. It's better than a foreclosure and it's better than stopping paying on your mortgage just to get out of the home," says Gordon.
Super Bowl Sunday is about the big game, sure. But it's also about the grub. Chips, dip, hot wings, and of course, pizza. Domino's Pizza alone expects to sell more than 11 million slices on game day, and says its delivery guys will cover the equivalent of 300 roundtrips between San Francisco and Baltimore. To see how a company gears up for the Super Bowl of pizza eating, I dropped by a Domino's outlet in Culver City, Calif., where I met franchise owner Dan Hosseini. In a normal day, Hosseini makes about 100-200 pizzas.
"Towards the end of the week, we tend to sell more. Our stores range anywhere from say 400 to about 500, 600 pizzas per day," says Hosseini. "Super Bowl is also Super Bowl for us. We tend to get much busier than average. Usually we do maybe anywhere from twice to three times the normal volume on Super Bowl Sunday."
That adds up to anywhere from 400-1,200 orders. That's a whole lot of pepperoni. And a whole lot of hands on deck. Hosseini says "we've got the entire staff working, prepping from early in the morning, getting ready for the business. All the folks that are working inside the store, the entire driving staff are scheduled to work. We're really working literally from 8 o'clock in the morning prepping all the way to midnight, 1 o'clock just to manage the business."
Super Bowl ad flops Even if you don't actually watch the Super Bowl game, everyone watches the Super Bowl ads. And that means big opportunity for T.V. advertisers: a memorable Super Bowl commercial can either make -- or break -- a brand.
One of Hosseini's drivers, Michael Walker, worked Super Bowl Sunday last year. He says it took him on average about 30 minutes to get customers their pizza during game day. His suggestion for those of you planning to order pizza this Sunday? A 20 percent tip.
"That would be really nice, of course, depending on the size of the order. But that would be a very generous tip," says Walker.
Another tip for those of you planning for pizza? Get your order in before halftime.
"Usually during halftime, we get ready to get rocked. We get all lines coming in. And now with our online apparatus, the floodgates are open. So we get down 40, 50, 60, 70 pizzas in a matter of a minute or two," says Hosseini. "During halftime we do really well. If the game is close, like this one will be -- 28-24 49ers, that's my prediction -- I think we'll do really well."
For some people, clear limits and boundaries are required to get control over bad financial behavior. That was the case for Ryan Jaffe. He's a recovering alcoholic and co-founder of the Next Step Prepaid Master Card. It's designed for former substance abusers and marketed as a way to curb excessive spending during the recovery process. Co-signers on the card -- often a parent or rehab sponsor -- can choose daily spending limits for the cardholder and limit the number of transactions per month. In short, the card will keep the holder's financial habits on a very short leash and allow people in recovery to spend their money in a healthy manner, says Ryan Jaffe, one of the co-founders of the Next Step Prepaid MasterCard.
What issues do a recovering addict face?
"Whether it be drugs or gambling or alcohol -- that was a way to cope with life. And then you remove that from the equation and then someone's getting sober and now you have a scenario where they're trying to fill their void with other things and a lot of times it comes in the form of spending," says Jaffe.
The card is intended to address the situation of a person in recovery, but Jaffe says it isn't a long-term solution. It's meant to help addicts in their transition from treatment back into society and aid them to get to a point where they are self-supporting in a responsible manner.
"This card is not, by no means, a fool-proof plan or a relapse prevention tool. If someone wants to go out and drink or they want to go out and use, they will find a way to. We're not sitting here promoting that this is a way to completely stop someone from engaging in that behavior, but on the same hand, because one of the features of our card is we remove cash from the equation. They can't get cash back at ATMs or point of sale. They can't go to bars, liquor stores, nightclubs, gambling establishments. So if someone is serious about their recovery and they're having a bad day and they don't have that $20 in their pocket, that's one less option for them to engage in negative behavior," says Jaffe.
But what about the costs of the card? There's a monthly maintenance fee of $14.95 and an activation fee of $9.95. John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education at SmartCredit.com, says from a financial angle, prepaid debit cards have become a hot product over the past 12-18 months primarily because of the influence of celebrities like the Kardashians, Justin Bieber, George Lopez, and Suze Orman.
"From a purely comparative perspective, when it comes to prepaid debit card fees, $14.95 as a flat monthly fee is on the top of the market, but having said that, you also can't use the card at an ATM machine, which is where most prepaid card issuers are really racking up the fee-based revenue," says Ulzheimer.
Ulzheimer says the Next Step Prepaid MasterCard acts as low barrier, but is not a long-term solution and doesn't help you build credit. "When you start nailing me with $14.95 a month for access to my own money, that's when I start to think we're not really teaching people the right way of using money," he says.
What if you could go back in time and make the jobs picture just a little less bleak? Well, the Labor Department managed to do just that.
In its employment report for January, the Labor Department said 157,000 new jobs were created last month. Government number crunchers also said the unemployment rate edged up to 7.9 percent. But the report didn't stop there. It also included major revisions for the months of November and December. And those new numbers showed that we added a lot more jobs near the end of last year than we had intially thought.
"Each month, I try to take a step back as the numbers come in," said Alan Krueger, chair of President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers. "And this month the Bureau of Labor Statistcs incorporated fairly large revisions. So that shows you how the numbers can move around."
On the whole though, Krueger says he sees of pattern of healing in the job market.
Chris Low, chief economist at FTN Financial, saw signs of growth as well, especially when you look at the jobs growth in the retail sector. In the final three months of last year, retailers added 133,000 jobs.
"To put that in perspective," Low said, "you have to go all the way back to 1994's Christmas season to find that kind of hiring. Retailers were a lot more confident than we thought. Now the question is, of course, can they keep that trend going looking forward?"
The Obama administration said the report showed why Washington must act to avoid some of the harsh budget cuts that are pegged to occur at the beginning of March.
"That's one reason why I think it's so important that Washington doesn't get in the way of the economy and dosn't impose additional problems like the sequester or the scheduled spending cuts," said Krueger. "We saw a sign of what kind of impact the sequester can have in the GDP numbers that were released a couple of days ago."
GDP, the broad measure of the country's economic output, dropped 0.1 percent in the last quarter.
"Consumers were in better shape last year than they have been since the recession, which is good news. And, of course, it turns out more of them were working than we thought," economist Chris Low said. "But it also means that that big tax increase on January 1, which presumably will hurt consumer spending, is maybe a big hurdle to job creation moving forward."
Today's January jobs report shows 157,000 new jobs created. It also has unemployment edging up to 7.9 percent, which is worse than expected. But the report also tells us that we added a lot more jobs near the end of last year than we thought.
Super Bowl ads cost upwards of $4 million this year. It's a lot of money, especially if what you're selling flops.
Remember Crystal Pepsi?
Twenty years ago, an ad introduced the clear cola to the world, but it was soon a has-been.
"Sometimes they introduce strange stuff that doesn't always make it," says Brian Steinberg, television editor at Advertising Age.
The Super Bowl is often where companies try to get name recognition, but that can quickly backfire. Steinberg remembered this ad for Just For Feet in 1999.
"It's an African American runner being chased by white people. It did not go over well, and the company is no longer around," Steinberg says.
It's one of many dotcom era flops.
In 2000, there was an ad for Epidemic.com, a horrible idea with a horrible ad. In short: a service that would pay you to send spam emails to your friends. The ad equated this to getting paid to go to the bathroom.
If you're interested, Epidemic.com's domain name is up for sale.
This week has been a roller-coaster ride for the U.S. economy. On Monday, reports showed that orders for big-ticket factory items were up 4.6 percent in December. Tuesday showed that home prices had the strongest year-over-year growth since 2006. But Wednesday revealed that GDP actually contracted by 0.1 percent. Now the Labor Department is out with its latest job numbers.
157,000 jobs were created last month, which was in line with expectations. But the unemployment rate actually ticked up a hair, to 7.9 percent. So what are we to make of the latest numbers?
"It's kind of more of the same," says Julia Coronado, chief economist with the investment bank BNP Paribas. "It's okay, it's pretty good, but as we saw with the unemployment rate, it's really not enough to make headway into rehiring the people that have been sidelined throught the recession."
But Coronado is more interested in the long-term outlook. In addition to the January numbers out today, there were also revisions to previous months. They revealed that job growth in November and December was better than previously thought.
"In November, we got the biggest upward revision," says Coronado, and "the three month picture looks decent right now."
But Coronado cautions, "This is why we want to be cautious and kind of look through some of the volatility and take some averages over the last half of the year. If you look at GDP, GDP grew 1.5 percent, that's a very moderate pace of growth. And over the last half of the year -- over the last 6 to 7 months, we've seen job growth a little bit higher than 150,000. So I think the stories are consistent if we smooth through some of the volatility."
The story of hackers from China romping through New York Times computers for months is enough to make anyone with an internet connection feel exposed. Computer security experts hired by the Times quietly studied the incursions for many weeks before locking the system down. The attacks came after the Times reported on the family finances of China's leader. We worry about hackers guessing passwords or tunneling through electronic firewalls, but the evidence here suggests hackers got in by sending Times employees rigged emails.
"This is a frequent tactic used in targeted attacks," says Chester Wisniewski, a computer security expert at Sophos. "The difference between targeted attacks and any other attack, you might say, is that you have a specific goal in mind -- you want a particular piece of information, or you want a particular person, or people around them, at least, to become infected so you can get access to that information.
"This is different than the way that people think about typical computer viruses just spreading -- in the old days, from floppy disks, and now USB keys or poisoned websites. What's more scary is that you may not even know why you're being a target."
The New York Times had reported its Symantec anti-virus software failed to identify the malicious code. Symantec has now issued a statement that security requires multiple strategies, saying, "Anti-virus software alone is not enough."
This week, software developers in New York are getting their first hands-on look at Google's "Project Glass." A tiny computer screen on special spectacles less than an inche from your eyeball.
"What they are is basically glasses frames. You put them on your head, over your ears, like glasses. And, in the top right corner of your field of vision, they have this little transparent screen that can display text, and there's a little camera -- you can take photos, shoot videos. In theory, eventually you'll be able to make calls, get text messages -- everything you do today with your smart phone, but on your face,"says Will Oremus, who reported on the story, for online magazine, Slate.
Spain is being rocked by a bribery scandal involving the country's prime minister, Mariano Rajoy. Spain's largest daily newspaper
alleges that senior politicians in the conservative People's Party accepted illegal payments from construction companies.
"Most explosively, it's claimed that the current prime minister, Rajoy, himself, received $34,000 a year for more than a decade -- a total of about a third of a million dollars in illicit payments," explains Marketplace's Stephen Beard. "It's alleged these payments were made to politicians during Spain's building boom in return for construction contracts."
Rajoy's People's Party denies the allegations, but the news is apparently not sitting well with Spanish citizens at a time of deep budget cuts and high unemployment.
"These circumstances, of course, it is especially upsetting to hear that there may be illicit payments made to politicians and to members of the government," says Alfredo Pastor, professor of economics at the IESE Business School in Madrid.
Analysts say the scandal could trigger a general election in Spain, raising doubts about the country's ability to weather the debt crisis.