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Marketplace on RADIO IQ with BBC
Marketplace with host Kai Ryssdal produced and distributed by American Public Media focuses on the latest business news both nationally and internationally, the global economy, and wider events linked to the financial markets.
The only national daily business news program originating from the West Coast, Marketplace is noted for its timely, relevant and accessible coverage of business, economics and personal finance.
Friday, April 18, 2014 5:55pm
The White House announced new initiatives to support more solar development this week. But the Department of Energy’s inspector general cast a cloud, with a report slamming a $68 million loan guarantee gone wrong—shades of the Solyndra failure.
However, solar has actually been growing by leaps and bounds. It provides a little less than 1 percent of U.S. electricity— enough to light more than two million households. Other numbers sound even more impressive.
"More solar has been installed in 18 months than in the previous 30 years combined," says Ken Johnson, vice president of communications for the Solar Energy Industries Association. "The cost of installed solar systems have dropped 50 percent since 2010."
"Over the last five years, costs have come way down, particularly for large-scale solar installations," says Severin Borenstein of the University of California's Haas School of Business. "They are almost competitive in some areas now with regular fossil fuel power."
Home installations, he says, are more qualified.
"Some people can save money by putting in solar on their house," he says. "Most people still won't save money."
Solar is competitive only because of government subsidies— many in the form of tax breaks. Borenstein says the calculations are complicated, but federal tax breaks alone can give back almost 45 percent.
That investment is paying off, says Shayle Kann, senior vice president of research at Greentech Media. "It's created a market that has driven costs down year over year," he says. "And why the drop in price accelerates is because there's learning that is done from all these installations. There are economies of scale.
"There's been a huge storyline about panel prices falling," he says. "Actually, in 2013, the price of panels rose a little bit, and despite that, system prices fell. And that’s where learning from increased deployments makes a huge difference."
Friday, April 18, 2014 5:52pm
When it comes to marketing products to men, it helps to play up how technologically advanced they are, says Jean-Pierre Dubé, a marketing professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
"Men love inscrutable jargon," he says.
And Gillette seems ready to take a page out of Dube’s playbook, with the ProGlide FlexBall, which features “a swiveling ball-hinge that allows the blade to pivot and comes with a high-end price,” The Wall Street Journal reports. The razor, which is expected to debut around Father’s Day, “cuts hairs 23 microns shorter.”
It’s just the latest innovation in high-end men’s shaving:
By Shea Huffman
The shaving arms race really kicked off with Gillette's MACH3 razor, marketed for its three blades that promised a closer shave.
Courtesy of Gillette.
Not to be outdone, competitor Schick decided to one-up Gillette with its quaduple-bladed razor, the Quattro.
Courtesy of Quattro.
It was at this point that people started to question the wisdom of simply adding more and more blades to razors. At least one noteable outlet asked, "What's next, five blades?"
As it turns out, that's precisely what was next. Gillette's Fusion ProGlide boasted a quintuple-bladed head.
Courtesy of Gillette.
Schick quickly came out with its own five-blade razor in response, the Hydro 5.
Courtesy of Schick.
With five blades in the razor already, what more could you do to impress the discerning man looking for a close shave? Of course! You attach a tiny battery-operated motor to the blades to make them vibrate. Thus the Gillette Fusion ProGlide Power Razer was born.
Courtesy of Gillette
With the disposable razor companies now venturing into the motorized trimmer business, it was only a matter of time before they just stuck an entire electric razor into mix. For your consideration, the Gillette Fusion ProGlide Styler 3-in-1 Men's Body Groomer with Beard Trimmer.
Courtesy of Gillette.
With a rotating-on-a-ball-hinge blade forthcoming from Gillette, what more could a man possibly want out of his shaving tools?
Razor companies will surely let them know.
And ladies, don't think you're immune to the razor marketing madness:
Courtesy of Gillette.
Friday, April 18, 2014 5:49pm
If you live in parts of California, or New York, or Hawaii. You’re not going to believe what I’m about to tell you.
But, it is true.
In most parts of the country, it can be a whole lot cheaper to pay a mortgage than to pay rent.
“Home values are still down about 13 percent from where they were at peak values in 2007,” said Stan Humphries, Chief Economist at Zillow, “pair that with historically low mortgage rates, and you have a real situation of affordability in the U.S.”
The situation for renters, on the other hand, is pretty awful. Rents are way up. “We’re at the worse place we’ve ever been in terms of rental affordability,” said Chris Herbert, Research Director at the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University.
Demand for rentals has jumped since the recession. Herbert says today half of renters spend more than 30 percent of their income on accommodation.
Which might have you wondering—if it’s REALLY cheaper ... why don’t people just buy?
“For one thing, if you don’t have savings, you’re going to have a hard time making down payment constraints,” said Herbert, “and if you’re spending a lot of your income now for rent, it's going to be very hard to get that savings together.”
Also, since the housing crisis, it’s a whole lot harder to get a loan.
Right now, the difference between buying and renting is narrowing ever so slightly.
“Over the past year, rents have risen nationally almost four percent year-over-year” said Jed Kolko, Chief Economist at Trulia, “but home prices have risen faster, home prices are up about ten percent nationally year-over-year.
The price gap between buyers and renters is shrinking. But housing is getting less affordable for everyone.
Friday, April 18, 2014 5:27pm
What happened this week?
Fed Chair Janet Yellen soothed some nerves, that's what. Yellen said on Wednesday, in just her second public speech after succeeding Ben Bernanke, that the Federal Reserve will keep its key interest rate near zero for however long it takes to meet the central bank's target on employment and inflation.
"I'm relieved that she's worried about this because there is a lot of slackness in the labor market," said Felix Salmon from Reuters. "There's a huge number of people out there who should be working, and who aren't working, and who aren't necessarily picked up in the unemployment figures. And the fact that she's well aware of this relieves me, because I don't want her to start raising rates just because the unemployment rate goes down if the optimal number of people don't have jobs."
"If you look at the history of previous financial crisis, usually it can decade before things really heal and before people get back to work and the economy recovers," said Catherine Rampell, from the Washington Post. "In comparison to other recessions in recent memory this feels like a really long drawn out recovery, but compared to previous recoveries following financial crisis, we're about on track."
In regards to inflation overall, Salmon believes it has its pros and cons.
"Inflation works as a kind of grease to the economy. If you know that prices are gonna go up tomorrow, you spend money today. And you get excited about prices going up and you make more money in the future. It's weird but true that a small level of inflation is a really good thing for both economic growth and for employment."
Friday, April 18, 2014 4:59pm
The U.S. economy might be said to have a ‘man problem.’ Over the past several decades, increasing numbers of men in their prime working years have stopped working, or even looking for work. Fewer men than women are pursuing higher education, which would allow them to find better-paying jobs. And technology is squeezing men with poor education levels and job skills out of blue-collar jobs altogether.
But now, as the job market and the industrial sector in particular, pick up, the problem may be easing—a bit.
The first few decades after World War II could be dubbed ‘the Golden Age of Guys.’ Almost all men in their prime working years—25 to 54 years old—were working. The percentage peaked at 96 percent in March 1953.
But by the mid-1970s, that percentage had fallen below 90 percent. Repeated recessions, the energy crisis, women entering the workforce, and the outsourcing of male-dominated manufacturing and other blue-collar work to developing countries with lower labor costs, all took their toll.
“When you see both job quantity and job quality on the wage side declining—the clear sign that there’s a serious problem here—you know that there’s a real contraction in labor demand facing this group,” says Jared Bernstein, who served as chief economist to Vice President Joe Biden and is now a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities,
There was a brief respite to the long decline in the 2000s. Construction boomed during the housing bubble and absorbed many unskilled and semi-skilled men who no longer could find work in manufacturing. But the Great Recession erased those gains, and even more blue-collar jobs vanished. By late 2009, nearly 20 percent of prime-age men weren’t working. They were unemployed, on disability, or had become discouraged and given up even looking for a job.
“Once you’re out of the labor force it can be tough to get back in,” says Bernstein. “We’re talking about people who ought to be right in the heart of their earning capacity in their career. Way too many of these folks have just left the job market.”
But the economic recovery is several years old now, and jobs—including blue-collar jobs in manufacturing and construction—are being created again. The percentage of prime-age men who aren't employed fell below 17 percent in early 2014.
Bruce Chirre is 29, and has enrolled in an associate’s-degree program to study welding at Mount Hood Community College outside Portland, Oregon. He’s a high-school graduate, has three young children and a wife to support, and was unemployed for two years after being laid off from his job at 7-Eleven.
“It’s hard,” says Chirre. “Going to school, getting loans and all that.” Chirre works part-time as a janitor to pay the bills. Still, he says he’s hopeful about his prospects once he finishes the program later this year. “I’ve already talked to employers and they’re ready to hire,” he says.
Chirre’s welding instructor, Rick Walters, says job offers should be plentiful—in construction, bridge-and-road building, and other trades.
“We have folks who are my age getting into retirement age,” says Walters. “And there is going to be an incredible void of skilled workers. We simply can’t take our infrastructure and export it to China to be welded.” He says welders start right out of community college at around $14/hour. On union jobs, he says, experienced welders can make as much as $45/hour to $65/hour.
Down the hall at the community college is the automotive shop, where a group of students are breaking down and reassembling automatic transmissions. It’s bright, clean, and quieter than in the welding class.
Automotive instructor Steve Michner says all his students already have jobs—that’s how much demand there is for skilled workers. “And then when they graduate all they have to do is keep that position by being a good worker,” he says. Pay in jobs at auto dealerships or auto repair shops can ultimately rise to $50,000 a year or more, he says.
Student Ben Brown is 25. He was working construction after graduating high school, but the work dried up in the recession.
“So I was working at Walgreens and kind of sitting around and nothing was going on in my life, and I’d always intended to do this program out of high school but I was kind of scared,” says Brown. “I didn’t know how I was going to pay for it, so I was like ‘I’ve got to get doing something because I’m not going to be able to make any money.'”
But there are still big hurdles facing the demographic of prime-age men who don't have any higher education, or even a high-school diploma, says Carl Van Horn, director of the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University.
“Some of these folks were never in that skilled of a job to begin with,” says Van Horn. “They may have low rates of literacy. And for them to get into some of these jobs that require training is difficult.”
June 18, 2013