Marketplace on WVTF, RADIO IQ & RADIO IQ w/BBC News
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.
Wednesday, May 6, 2015 7:00am
Airing on Wednesday, May 6, 2015: The rapid turn-around in oil prices has send the commodity from a 6-year low to a 6-month high. We check in the latest on rising demand of oil. Hollywood movie studios want to take a bigger cut out of movie theater earnings. Burial services are taking an environmental turn. Why more and more cemeteries are offering simpler and greener options for families?
Wednesday, May 6, 2015 6:00am
Hollywood is buzzing about a reported battle between Walt Disney Studios and theater owners over "Avengers: Age of Ultron." The recently released film has already pulled in more than $400 million. Theater owners say Disney has been trying to boost its cut by taking a bigger share of the box office and restricting matinee hours.
Barry Blaustein, Chapman University screenwriting professor, says theaters make money by getting people in the door to buy those overpriced, $5 boxes of Raisinets.
"Basically, movie theaters are in the candy selling business," he says.
Sam Craig teaches marketing at NYU's Stern School of Business. He says historically, theaters and studios typically split box office receipts 50/50. But Disney reportedly wants 60 percent of the box office for the Avengers sequel — and that could add up.
"Studios need theaters. Theaters need films to make money," he says.
If Disney keeps churning out big hits, the studio could have even more power over theaters, and other studios might follow Disney's lead.
"It's likely to gross over $500 million, so now we're talking $50 million," Craig says.
Wednesday, May 6, 2015 6:00am
The “green” movement is headed underground — to the grave, that is. More and more cemeteries around the country are offering burial options that use fewer materials and less energy; some are landscaped with native plants and trees. These simplified burials can also be cheaper, but there’s often a catch.
At a dedication ceremony for the St. Kateri Preserve at Calvary Cemetery in Dayton, Marge Devito and her husband Bill watch as a priest blesses the site. Bill has a terminal illness—and they love the idea of burying him in a nature preserve.
“This is exactly what Bill wanted,” says Marge. He had been planning to be cremated and have his ashes scattered, because he wanted something simple, but their kids insisted that he should have a grave site they would be able to visit. When they came to Calvary and learned about the planned nature preserve, Marge Devito says they jumped on it and bought two plots. “It’s just perfect."
Right now the preserve actually looks like some bulldozed dirt on a construction site, but Judy Pavy, who sells plots for the cemetery, says she can picture it. “It’s going to have the wildflowers and native Ohio grasses, and I just envision butterflies and birds visiting.”
The preserve won’t require expensive vaults or underground liners—in fact, those will be forbidden, along with formaldehyde embalming, so the cemetery can get a certification from the Green Burial Council as a green cemetery. For those who want headstones, there will be boulders, as well as a stone wall near the path where people can have their names engraved.
But just like the conventional side of the cemetery, a green plot comes at a price—or a range of prices, actually. A meadow spot is the cheapest, but it gets no marker, and you can’t visit the exact grave site. For a spot by the path or the lake, patrons of the St. Kateri Preserve will pay more. A boulder or a stone engraving is another charge.
Of course, price differentials and upselling are standard in the funeral industry. What’s new is branding the options as “green.”
“What we call green burial is what our ancestors about 130 years ago called burial,” says Josh Slocum, the head of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, a national watchdog group. He’s concerned that green funerals will become an overpriced industry of their own—that people will be encouraged or even pressured to purchase natural embalming fluid and expensive biodegradable coffins as boutique items, showing a commitment to the environment. “Whereas really, it’s charging just as much money for fewer services and fewer products.”
Slocum’s not opposed to simplifying the burial process—if anything, he says pricing needs to be more transparent. Taboos around death sometimes make it hard to talk dollars and cents, especially in times of crisis. His advice to would-be funeral consumers? Do what feels right—and ask to see a price list.
Wednesday, May 6, 2015 6:00am
The factors that drove double-digit growth for prison companies are largely in the past — like the ever-harsher sentencing laws that bloomed in the 1980s and 1990s.
The prison population has actually declined slightly since 2009, according to data compiled by The Sentencing Project.
"With the recession, it became quite clear to governors of both political parties that prisons had become very expensive items in state budgets," the project's director, Marc Mauer, says.
The Corrections Corporation of America has adjusted. Kevin McVeigh, managing director with Macquarie Research, watches the company. "While it’s still a very healthy industry," he says, "the rate of growth isn’t what it had been historically. And as a result of that, they started to generate meaningful amounts of free cash flow."
Meaning, the company made money operating existing prisons, but it didn’t have new projects to invest that money into.
So, in 2013, it re-organized into a different kind of entity: A Real Estate Investment Trust— or REIT for short.
Carl Takei, an attorney with the ACLU’s National Prison Project, sums up the reasons: "It comes with a lot of tax advantages."
A REIT pays out most of its earnings in dividends, which can result in a better tax deal for both investors and the company.
Typically, REITs own rental properties — the income comes from occupants. In CCA’s case, it's essentially still collecting rent— just not from the occupants themselves.
Takei thinks the arrangement may not last. "Because mass incarceration and sentencing reform are major topics of discussion, the private prison industry's future is uncertain," he says. Criminal justice reform has become a rallying cry among Republicans as well as Democrats.
Wednesday, May 6, 2015 6:00am
May 6, 2015, marks the five-year anniversary of the so-called ‘flash crash’ on the New York Stock Exchange. That day, the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted more than 1,000 points, before regaining much of its ground by the end of the day.
The causes of the flash crash are still debated, but certainly included a combination of civil unrest and market volatility sparked by the European debt crisis, plus high-frequency trading. Another key factor is now thought to be market manipulation by a single rogue trader in London, who was allegedly "spoofing" S&P futures (in particular, the S&P 500 E-mini contract). That trader, Navinder Sarao, 36, was charged last month in the U.K.
Similar cases have followed.
On May 5, 2015, in Manhattan federal court, the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, working with the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, filed civil charges against two traders in the United Arab Emirates. They allegedly spoofed the gold and silver markets from February to April 2015.
University of Maryland law professor Michael Greenberger, a former director at the CFTC, says "embarrassment" over the 2010 flash crash revelations seem to be galvanizing securities regulators to identify and track down alleged market manipulators. But he says the Obama Administration’s prosecutorial approach isn’t helping, as it has favored civil over criminal charges in most securities-fraud cases since the financial crisis.
“The cleanest and clearest way to stop people from doing these things is the real possibility of ending up in jail,” says Greenberger. When traders and their firms face only civil charges, Greenberger continues, “they pay penalties. Penalties are a cost of doing business. Spending time in prison is the most effective deterrent to the fraudsters.”
Greenberger also believes part of the blame for lax enforcement against spoofing and other attempts to manipulate market prices lies with the equity and futures exchanges themselves. He charges that the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, for instance, has dueling incentives—to ensure market integrity, but also to generate profits from higher trading volume, which high-frequency trading provides. Greenberger also says members of Congress, acting to help financial firms that are also big campaign contributors, have not adequately funded federal securities regulators like the CFTC and SEC.
Karen Petrou, a banking analyst at Federal Financial Analytics in Washington, D.C., believes that since the flash crash in 2010, the problem of market manipulation by participants with sophisticated technology for super-fast online trading has only gotten worse—in U.S. markets and overseas. She cites recent examples in the past year, including flash crashes on the German and Swiss markets and in the U.S. bond market. Petrou attributes much of the problem to under-regulated high-frequency traders.
“In its algorithm, in a nanosecond, a liquidity or temporary market phenomenon will give the high-frequency trader a teeny-tiny advantage,” says Petrou. “And if you do that a lot, very, very fast, you can make a lot of money.”
All of that rapid-fire computer-driven and -executed trading increases volatility and systemic financial risk, she says—not just for investors, but also for big banks.
“We are seeing flash crashes in the equity, treasury, foreign exchange and bond markets,” says Petrou. “We should be very scared. I know regulators are. But they’re not acting.”
A multi-agency plan conceived after the 2010 flash crash to monitor and prevent attempts to manipulate the markets has so far been mired in technological complexity, corporate rivalry and regulatory delays.