Daily Ticker
  • And you thought the Yo app was goofy

    The stunning rise of the Yo app – which does nothing but make a friend’s phone utter the vacuous phrase – has cast a spotlight on one of the sillier niches in the multi-billion dollar app industry. There are more goofy, silly and downright absurd apps and services than ever, as every Tom, Dick and Harry with a bad idea can turn to fundraising sites including Kickstarter and IndieGoGo to pump themselves up.

    With thanks to Techcrunch, Valleywag and a subreddit with an unprintable name, here are 10 of the most ridiculous apps and services vying for your dollars recently. Not all have been funded, of course; technology projects don’t have a great track record of winning financial backing. On Kickstarter, for example, only 33% of projects in the tech category successfully reached their fundraising goals, 13th out of the site’s 15 funding categories (dance and theater projects have the highest success rate).

    1. One crazy service that opened its doors in June, only to shutter a week later,

    Read More »from And you thought the Yo app was goofy
  • If Washington is doing anything right, that’s news to ordinary Americans.

    Government approval ratings have hit new all-time lows, according to Gallup, which has been measuring the standing of big institutions since the 1970s. The percentage of Americans saying they have confidence in Congress has dropped to the earthworm level of 7%, the lowest in the history of the poll. The Supreme Court registered its own all-time low of 30%. The presidency, with a confidence rating of 29%, is at the lowest level since Barack Obama took office in 2009, though it was lower in 2007 and 2008, the last two years of George W. Bush’s second term.

    Government approval ratings typically drop during recessions, since more people feel worse off and some of them blame the government. Approval ratings usually bounce back during recoveries, as people have less to complain about. That makes the current levels of dissatisfaction unusual, as Lauren Lyster and I discuss in the video above.

    The last recession

    Read More »from The real reason Americans are disgusted with government
  • Facebook continues to give users reasons to dislike the tech giant. Over the weekend news broke that the social media site had manipulated the news feeds of nearly 700,000 users without their knowledge.

    It undertook an experiment in 2012 to test the notion that users feel bad when they see lots of positive news from their "friends." The experiment involved reducing the number of positive news feeds for some and reducing the number of negative news feed for others. The study found that the more positive the news feeds a user received, the more positive their postings became, and vice versa.
    The results were published in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Then on Sunday the experiment's lead researcher Adam Kramer posted an apology for the experiment on his Facebook page, publicizing the news:

    "Having written and designed this experiment myself, I can tell you that our goal was never to upset anyone. I can understand

    Read More »from What Facebook did to outrage users
  • A stagnant economy has undoubtedly put a lot of financial stress on the middle class. And that is bumming out America’s 1 percenters. “Our country is rapidly becoming less a capitalist society and more a feudal society,” entrepreneur Nick Hanauer wrote recently in Politico, in an open letter to “my fellow zillionaires.”

    Hanauer — an early investor in Amazon (AMZN) who says he has been involved with more than 30 startups — cites the well-documented rise in income inequality during the past 30 years as the ultimate cause of a Mad Maxian dystopia he envisions. "If we don’t do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us," he writes. "One day, somebody sets himself on fire, then thousands of people are in the streets, and before you know it, the country is burning. And then there's no time for us to get to the airport and jump on our Gulfstream Vs and fly to New Zealand."

    He’s not the only wealthy worrier. Venture capitalist Tom Perkins

    Read More »from The rich can stop worrying about a middle-class revolution
  • An astounding 70% of college seniors had student loan debt in 2012. According to a study by the Institute for College Access and Success, the average student loan debt for a 2012 graduate was about $30,000. And it's about to go up.

    Every year for the past 30 years college tuition and fees have been rising anywhere from 2 to 5%. Four-year public college and universities now cost an average $9,000 a year, including room and board, for in-state residents and private nonprofit colleges cost an average $41,000, according to The College Board.

    This September students will not only be paying more for school than they paid last year, but they will also be charged higher rates for new loans.

    As of July 1, Stafford loans will carry a 4.66% rate for undergraduates and 6.21% for graduate students. PLUS loans, used by parents and graduate students, will charge 7.21%. All these rates are set as a differential above the 10-year Treasury note.

    For perspective, consider that 30-year fixed rate

    Read More »from Think college is out of reach now? Just wait.
  • No part of the economy has dished out a stronger head fake than housing. In the first half of 2013, home prices bounced back, sales rose and it looked like the bust was firmly over. But since then, rising mortgage rates have spooked buyers, sales have trailed off and the ranks of renters have swelled.

    So when will the false starts cease and the housing market recover for real? “Several challenges still remain,” Daniel McCue of Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Research tells me in the video above. “Sales and construction levels are up but still at depressed levels historically.”

    Harvard’s Joint Center just published its annual overview of the housing market, which highlights several things that still must happen for housing to fully recover. A healthy housing market is vital to the economy because it generates spending not just on homes but on furniture, appliances and many other key categories of goods and services. If the housing market is sputtering, the overall economy

    Read More »from Here’s when housing will recover — for real
  • Americans are preparing to celebrate Independence Day, and most of the world is fixated on Brazil as the World Cup tournament field tightens.

    Yet market attention might soon swivel toward Europe, with a full economic calendar set for the days ahead. Next week's activity comes amid concerns that economic lethargy could displace investor optimism about a return to growth and the effectiveness of central-bank stimulus efforts in the region.

    The European Commission Friday reported an unexpected decline in household and business economic sentiment, and inflation in the euro zone has stubbornly remained below 1% since the fall, keeping big-picture fears of deflation nearby. The European economy nudged ahead by 0.2% in the first quarter, down from 0.3% the prior period, and now higher oil prices and skittishness over Russia and Ukraine are serving as the unanticipated threats of the moment.  As Reuters quoted Christoph Weil, economist at Commerzbank: "The good news from the euro zone is

    Read More »from Economic risks in Europe may trump soccer drama next week
  • The most recent data out of China, including PMI and industrial profits, were consistent with the broader truth: The world's second-largest economy has clearly downshifted but isn't heading for a 'hard landing' -- at least not anytime soon.

    Dan Gross, editor and columnist at The Daily Beast, recently returned from a trip to China and joined me in the accompanying video to explain why hardcore China bears are likely to remain frustrated.

    "They have a lot of problems," he says, citing suffocating air pollution, a burgeoning credit bubble and "bubblicious activity" in cities like Wuhan, where Gross describes seeing "row upon row of apartment buildings and office buildings you could see through."

    But "the idea of collapse is far-fetched," he continues, citing several macro trends.

    While China's "ghost-town" phenomenon has been well documented, less discussed is the future of those cities. "In four or five years they'll be filled with people," Gross says, noting China continues to move

    Read More »from China collapse scenario "far-fetched," Gross says: "They seem to be powering through"
  • The rise and fall of the shopping mall

    One of the most iconic pieces of Americana, the shopping mall, isn’t really American at all. In fact, the first mall was created by an Austrian refugee who wanted to recreate an American version of downtown Vienna.

    Victor Gruen escaped to America from Nazi Austria in 1938 with, “an architect’s degree, eight dollars, and no English.” By the late 1940s, World War II was over and the American economy was in full swing. Suburban sprawl and consumerism were the new normal, and this bothered Gruen. “[Strip malls are] avenues of horror… flanked by the greatest collection of vulgarity—billboards, motels, gas stations, shanties, car lots, miscellaneous industrial equipment, hot dog stands, wayside stores—ever collected by mankind,” he wrote.

    Gruen conveived of a central, indoor shopping location that would allow Americans to get out of their cars and socialize. He envisioned a crop of apartment towers popping up around the mall, the creation of an urban downtown within the suburbs - that's not

    Read More »from The rise and fall of the shopping mall
  • Big data is even bigger than you think. Hospital organizations are now using personal data on current and prospective patients to market their services. So if your credit card transactions reveal a predilection for fast food or cigarettes, you may be hearing from your healthcare provider.

    Bloomberg reports that two major nonprofit hospital organizations -- Carolinas HealthCare System and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center -- are adopting such programs.

    Carolinas HealthCare System, which operates more than 900 facilities including hospitals, nursing homes and physician offices, is collecting data on individuals' credit card transactions, and then feeding that into predictive models to score an individual's health care risks. It plans to pass that information on to doctors and nurses so they can contact high-risk patients before they get sick.

    University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, which has more than 20 hospitals in the Keystone state, is collecting demographic and household

    Read More »from Big data, big brother and now big doctor
  • Shares of GoPro (GPRO) closed at $31.33, up more than 30% from their IPO price of $24. Thursday was the first day of trading for the maker of HD high-action cameras. The company may be a darling of Wall Street but is the stock a good bet for average investors?

    Related: GoPro's 'unique' debut: Everything you need to know

    Jeff Reeves of InvestorPlace.com tells The Daily Ticker why he thinks GoPro is a risky investment for the average Joe. While he thinks IPOs are risky investments in general for individual investors, he does point out some red flags for GoPro in particular. He says the company's S1 revealed that revenue and net income dropped signficantly in the last quarter and revenue growth continues to outpace profits (sales are up 87% but gross profit is up less than 60%).

    Looking at the company's fundamentals, it has a number of positives. It's making money, and we have seen plenty of tech companies going public that have yet to turn a profit. It's also built a strong brand with

    Read More »from Why the average investor should say 'no' to GoPro
  • Earlier this week the Obama Administration lifted the longstanding ban on U.S. crude oil exports. The ruling allows just two Texas companies -- Pioneer Natural Resources and Enterprise Products Partners to export.

    In an unusual twist, the ruling wasn't made public and the White House said its policy hadn't changed because the ruling pertained to the export of light condensate, not conventional crude oil.

    The Commerce Department, which granted the permits, reclassified the oil as processed petroleum product, which is not banned for export.

    Greg Zuckerman, a special writer at The Wall Street Journal and author of the book The Frackers, tells The Daily Ticker that the administration's move is a "first step" in a change of policy and is a result of the shale revolution underway in the U.S.

    Related: Why the oil market is shrugging off Iraq…for now

    That revolution has boosted U.S. production to 5 million barrels a day from 8.4 million barrels a day since 2006, according to Zuckerman. The

    Read More »from Washington's shift on oil exports, just a first step: Greg Zuckerman
  • As businesses, Ford Motor Corp. (F), Intel Corp. (INTC) and Pepsico (PEP) are about as similar as pickup trucks, memory chips and Funyuns. But in the stock market, these disparate companies are treated as nearly interchangeable  like savings accounts at different banks  based solely on how much cash one share of their stock kicks off in a year. They are just a few of the many motley members of the 3% Club.

    There is now an extraordinary crowding of big U.S. stocks around the 3% dividend yield level, a threshold that seems to exert a gravitational pull as investors bereft of easy sources of income bid up equities until they yield just a bit more than the 10-year Treasury note. (A stock's yield, calculated as the annual dividend payment divided by price, falls as shares climb.)

    But too many investors may implicitly be betting that these bond-like stocks will act like stocks in a low-rate bull market, and like bonds in an equity downturn. It won’t likely work out that way. If the

    Read More »from The 3% club is getting crowded: Dividend investors beware
  • If it feels like the rich are getting richer and the majority of Americans are falling behind, well...that's because it's true! A new study published by the Russell Sage foundation found that wealth inequality in America roughly doubled between 2003 and 2013.
     
    In 2003, the top 20% Americans had 13 times more wealth than the median household. By 2013, this gap nearly doubled to 24 times.

    Yes, that's right, the inequality gap doubled in 10 years!  Double the pleasure! Double the fun...especially for the wealthy!

    The upside of an expanding wealth gap is that means there's more money for the 'haves' to leave to their kids when they go to that great country club in the sky.

    And inherited wealth is a GOOD thing, according to Gregory Mankiw an economics professor at Harvard, who used a lot of of econo-speak to make the case: let's hear it for Intergenerational altruism! Ladies and gentlemen, give it up for Consumption smoothing! Makniw also notes it's natural for wealthy parents to want to

    Read More »from Double the wealth gap? Double the pleasure (for heirs): The Excess Files
  • Income and interest rates. Those are the two biggest factors influencing the U.S. housing market and income, of course, is related to the job market. And today, for the first time in the past year, 30-year mortgage rates are lower than they were a year ago.

    Freddie Mac, one of two quasi government institutions that support the mortgage market, is reporting this morning that the 30-year fixed loan rate averaged 4.14% for the week ending June 26 compared to 4.46% a year ago and 4.17% the previous week.

    Related: Shiller: Rising rates won’t crush housing

    The Commerce Department reports that incomes grew 0.4% in May but spending rose only half that much and only because prices increased, not because of stronger demand.

    Doug Duncan, chief economist at Fannie Mae, the other government mortgage giant, tells The Daily Ticker that the impact of rising rates will be muted if real income, adjusted for inflation, rises along with rates. But, he says, "If rates rise in the absence of that income

    Read More »from Existing home sales will fall this year: Fannie Mae chief economist
  • The New York attorney general filed a securities fraud lawsuit against British bank Barclays, accusing the firm of giving an unfair advantage to high-frequency traders in the U.S., while claiming to protect other clients from the HFTs. It's the highest profile case we've seen yet, according to Reuters, as a result of authorities' attempts to make sure dealers aren't ripping off investors in today's largely automated stock markets.

    Related: The market is rigged and here’s how individuals can play it

    At the same time, regulators are reporting concerns that banks are taking on more risk to pursue profit. A major bank regulator warned Wednesday that competition along with low interest rates and a slowly-growing economy is fueling riskier bank lending.

    The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency highlighted two areas specifically: Leveraged loans (described by the Wall Street Journal as high-yielding loans issued to more speculative borrowers) and indirect auto loans (where banks buy

    Read More »from Are auto loans a subprime crisis in the making?
  • Dan Gross, a columnist and editor at The Daily Beast and author of Better, Stronger, Faster, has been bullish on the U.S. economy for years, though he waived red flags in March that the U.S. could be headed toward a "substantial" slowdown.

    The government's first-quarter GDP revision caught many economists off guard this week and raised concerns that the tepid economic recovery may be over. U.S. growth contracted by 2.9% versus earlier an estimate of -1%. It was the worst quarter since Q1 2009.

    Related: This is the biggest problem for the economy: Fannie Mae chief economist

    Gross says last-quarter's dismal GDP reading was a "mulligan" ("We're allowed one per year," he quips) and the nation's decision makers are looking forward, not back. The weak GDP report will not deter the Federal Reserve from continuing with its current policy prescriptions, he notes.

    Related: Shiller: Rising rates won't crush housing

    Gross points out that the decline in economic output comes at a time when both

    Read More »from U.S. economy has 'little room for error’: Dan Gross

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