Posts tagged with "The Wall Street Journal"

Barack and Michelle Obama seal podcasting deal with Spotify

June 10, 2019

Swedish audio-streaming platform Spotify Technology has sealed a deal with the Higher Ground production company—helmed by Barack and Michelle Obama—to develop and produce podcasts.

The former president and first lady are expected to participate in at least some of the podcasts covering a range of topics, the companies said in their announcement, released on June 6. That could potentially mean that they will take hosting, narrating, or interview roles. Financial terms of the multiyear agreement weren’t disclosed, nor were details about programming or how many podcasts the deal might include, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal.

In a formal press release, the Obamas noted that, when they launched their production company last year with an initial partnership with Netflix, their goal was “to create compelling content that entertains and inspires viewers.” Recognizing that content is consumed in many forms, this new partnership will give them the ability to expand the conversation—educating and engaging Spotify’s diverse and extensive audience.

Spotify, which recently surpassed 100 million premium subscribers and has more than 217 million monthly active users, will distribute the podcasts exclusively to audiences worldwide.

 “We’ve always believed in the value of entertaining, thought-provoking conversation,” President Obama said. “It helps us build connections with each other and open ourselves up to new ideas. We’re excited about Higher Ground Audio because podcasts offer an extraordinary opportunity to foster productive dialogue, make people smile and make people think, and, hopefully, bring us all a little closer together.”

“We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to amplify voices that are too often ignored or silenced altogether, and through Spotify, we can share those stories with the world,” Michelle Obama said. “Our hope is that through compelling, inspirational storytelling, Higher Ground Audio will not only produce engaging podcasts, but help people connect emotionally and open up their minds—and their hearts.”

“President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama are two of the world’s most important voices and it is a privilege to be working with them to identify and share stories that will inspire our global audience, which looks to Spotify for unique, breakthrough content,” said Spotify Chief Content Officer, Dawn Ostroff. “Connecting people with original and thoughtful creators — especially those with the ability to highlight underrepresented and indispensable narratives — is at the core of our mission and we are thrilled that not only will the Obamas be producing content, but that they will be lending their voices to this effort.”

Research contact: @Spotify

Traditional MBA programs are toppling, as online education catches on

June 7, 2019

Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has joined other major business schools nationwide in announcing that—pending University approval—it will shift investments away from its residential full-time and part-time MBA programs. Instead, the college will focus its investments on its rapidly growing online iMBA as well as a suite of specialized master’s programs, undergraduate education, and lifelong learning. The College plans to stop enrolling new students in the full-time and part-time residential programs.

Indeed, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal, applications to traditional M.B.A. programs have languished in a strong U.S. job marketdeclining last year, even at Harvard Business School, Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and other elite schools

The business news outlet reports that Millennials, saddled with more college debt than previous generations, have grown more reluctant to leave jobs for a year or more to pursue one of the nation’s priciest degrees.

Between 2014 and 2018, the number of accredited full-time M.B.A. programs in the U.S. shrank 9% to 1,189, with schools reporting 119 fewer two-year degrees in the most recent survey by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. Wake Forest University and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, commonly known as Virginia Tech, are among the others to recently cut their traditional M.B.A. programs, the Journal reports.

Against that backdrop, shorter and more-flexible graduate business degrees have proliferated. At the business schools in the same survey, there were 140 new masters programs in specialized subjects like data analytics last year, marking a 16% jump from 2014, to 981.

“The iMBA is the right format for the times— providing a powerful learning experience with anytime/anywhere accessibility at an affordable cost,” said Jeffrey Brown, dean of Gies College of Business, in a university press release. “Given the global reach and accessibility of this program, we are creating what I call the world’s MBA. With this and with our innovation in undergrad, specialized masters, and lifelong learning, we are playing to our competitive advantages and positioning ourselves for tremendous impact and steady growth. These moves will focus our investment in ways that will make us unquestionably one of a handful of the world’s very best and most innovative business schools.”

At Geis, Brown says, applications to the iMBA have nearly tripled—from 1,100 in 2016, when the program was launched, to a projected 3,200 in 2019. He says the new program is “revolutionary”in its delivery, stackable structure, concentrations, immersions, accessibility, and career-curated content. It combines material in ways that professionals use it in the real world, not in traditional academic silos.

Even better, iMBA students earn the same MBA that on-campus students have been earning for decades—at a total cost of less than $22,000, compared to the $80,000 full-time program.

“Our iMBA is the most innovative, highest-value MBA of any kind anywhere in the world,” said Brown. “Because it is online and offered at an affordable cost, it creates access to a high-quality, high-impact business education for larger numbers of talented people. It fulfills our land-grant mission and serves our state spectacularly well. At the same time, by being fully online, it extends and deepens our reach as a global player — ensuring a worldwide reach for our college and alumni network.”

In May, Stetson University in Florida also said it would stop admitting new students to its full-time, on-campus M.B.A. programs, funneling resources instead to more popular online equivalents.

Research contact: @WSJ

The Bay State’s Bill Weld challenges Trump for 2020 GOP nomination

April 17, 2019

Former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld—who served the Bay State from 1991 to 1997—announced on April 15 that he would challenge President Donald Trump for the 2020 Republican presidential nomination, The Wall Street Journal reported.

“It is time to return to the principles of Lincoln—equality, dignity and opportunity for all,” Weld, age 73, said in a written announcement that made no mention of  Trump, the Journal noted. Instead, he referenced “great political strife” and blamed both parties for a “win at all cost” mentality.

“It is time for patriotic men and women across our great nation to stand and plant a flag,” Weld’s statement read.

Weld represents a flank of the GOP that sees Mr. Trump as disruptive to longstanding party ideology on topics such as foreign policy and trade, but this group has been largely muffled since the 2016 election.

Trump commands widespread support among the Republican base, and he has a formidable re-election war chest. The Trump campaign said it raised $30 million in the first three months of this year and had $40 million in the bank as of March 31. The campaign also is fully integrated with the Republican National Committee, giving it an additional $42 million in available cash.

“Trump’s grip on the party is strong,” Republican donor and Trump fundraiser Dan Eberhart said. “The party isn’t looking for a Massachusetts liberal.”

Mr. Weld served two terms as governor in the 1990s and was viewed as a moderate, reflecting the state’s electoral makeup. In 2008, he endorsed Barack Obama over fellow Republican John McCain. In 2016, he ran as the running mate to Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson.

The Massachusetts resident is banking on a strong performance in New Hampshire, which will hold the first-in-the-nation primary in February 2020

According to a Newsweek report, an incumbent president hasn’t faced a primary challenger since Pat Buchanan challenged, and lost, to George H.W. Bush in 1992.

The weekly news magazine has said that there are four other Republicans who could possibly challenge the Trump machine for the presidency—naming the possibilities as  Ohio Governor John Kasich, former Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, newly re-elected Texas Senator Ted Cruz, and Nebraska Senator Benn Sasse.

Research contact: @WSJ

Growth prospects: Americans are no longer taller than everyone else

March 25, 2019

For the first time in more than 200 years, U.S. citizens are “falling short of” another nationality—the Dutch— when it comes to physical stature, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal.

During the Revolutionary War, U.S. soldiers were a full two inches taller than their British counterparts, the news outlet notes. In World War II, they were two inches taller than the Germans. But today, Americans, and everyone else on the planet, must look up to the Dutch.

“They overtook us,” Dr. John Komlos, a professor emeritus of economic history at the University of Munich, said in a recent interview with the Journal. He is interested in height because it reflects quality of life—or, as he put it: “We find the economy goes bone deep,”

Based on data that Dr. Komlos has reviewed on white and black U.S.-born adults, the average American woman is 5 feet 5 inches tall, and the average American man is 5 feet 10 inches tall. By comparison, the average Dutch woman is 5 feet 7 inches tall, and the average Dutch man is 6 feet 2 inches tall. (Asians and Hispanics—who are shorter on average—were excluded from the study in order to better illuminate how Americans compare to Western Europeans.)

However, when it comes to income, the trend is reversed. In the United States, the average household’s net-adjusted disposable income per capita is $44,049 a year, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Better Life Index. By comparison, in the Netherlands, the average is $28,783.

Despite that income gap, Dr. Komlos told the Journal, “U.S. children are consistently behind, practically from birth.”

This becomes especially apparent when the pubertal growth spurts begin:  Between ages 8.5 and 13.5, American girls grow 11 inches. Between ages 10.5 and 16.5, American boys grow 12 to 13 inches.

But they still don’t measure up: Growth spurts in the Netherlands start later and last longer.

As for why the height of Americans has plateaued, while the Dutch continue to grow like weeds, Dr. Komlos theorizes that it is because of differences in nutrition, healthcare, and spending—but further research may be needed to identify the specific reasons.

“Average income is a very misleading indicator,” Dr. Komlos told The Wall Street Journal. “It depends on who gets that income, and how it is used. If you’re healthier, if you go to the doctor regularly, you’re likely to live longer. And you’re also likely to become taller.”

Research contact: Jo.McGinty@wsj.com

Family dormitories are on the rise

March 20, 2019

A co-living company that has been offering dormitory-like accommodations to single 20-somethings now has a new customer base in mind: families.

New York City-based Common, which rents out fully furnished private bedrooms in shared, serviced apartments—complete with a  shared and furnished living area, kitchen, and bathroom(s), and free on-site laundry; as well as a once-a-week professional cleaning team—is teaming with global real-estate developer Tishman Speyer to launch this new product on March 19, The Wall Street Journal reports.

It’s a grown-up concept designed to meet the needs of young and expanding family units. Under the new brand Kin, buildings will feature playrooms, family-size units, and on-demand childcare through an internal mobile app that also helps connect families looking to share nannies and babysitters.

Common and Tishman Speyer are testing out those offerings at an existing luxury project, Jackson Park in Long Island City, with plans to announce new developments in other locales in the coming months, the Journal reports.

The partners see this as an opportunity to help address a shortage of family-size apartments in many major U.S. cities, where developers have overwhelmingly built studios and one-bedrooms targeted to single 20-somethings.

“People are choosing to raise families in big cities more than ever,” said Rob Speyer, president and chief executive at Tishman Speyer. “It’s very difficult to find housing that’s tailored to that.”

Common pioneered the co-living concept, but since then it has become a crowded space with a handful of well-funded competitors. All are racing to see who can most quickly overcome hurdles—such as finding developers and banks willing to gamble on the unconventional layouts, and finding a way to shrink floor plans without alienating customers.

Brad Hargreaves, founder and chief executive at Common, said the idea for the product grew out of his own experience trying to find child care in the city when his son was born in 2015.

“When [my first son] was about to be born we started looking for child-care options, and we really struggled to find anything that was affordable and high-quality,” he said.

The Kin venture also provides a hedge for Common when its clientele are aging out of their 20s and potentially out of Common’s core product.

Some analysts have warned that co-living buildings serve a niche demographic and people are much less likely to live there when they become couples or have children.

“There is a large question from a venture-capital side about what these companies are going to look like in 10 years. When the largest cohort that is using co-living, what happens when these people grow up?” Jeffrey Berman, a general partner at Camber Creek, a real-estate-focused venture-capital firm, told the Journal in an interview.

Unlike Common’s co-living product, Kin buildings won’t require families to share kitchens and bathrooms. But Mr. Hargreaves said units will be compact to help make them more affordable, with larger common spaces to compensate.

Developers traditionally build much fewer two- or three-bedroom apartments because they are more expensive and tend to lease more slowly. In fact, the share of apartments with two or more bedrooms has declined to just over 40% since 2014, from about 55% from 2000 to 2013. Nearly 60% of new units constructed in the 54 largest metros since 2014 have been studio or one-bedroom apartments, according to CoStar, up from about 45% from 2000 to 2013.

Hargreaves told the news outlet that he is confident that families aren’t leaving the city by choice, but because of limited child-care and housing options. “One of the biggest things [families] fear is being forced out of the city into the suburbs,” he said.

Research contact: @hicommon

Paper vs. plastic: Philadelphia to become first U.S. city to ban cashless stores

March 8, 2019

Starting July 1, Philadelphia will become the first major U.S. city to ban cashless stores—putting it at squarely in the middle of a debate that is pitting retail innovation against consumers who either want to keep their options open or who don’t have a payments card.

According to a March 7 report by The Wall Street Journal, legislation just passed in Philadelphia will require most retail stores to accept cash. With the exception of some businesses, the ordinance will prohibit most retail locations from refusing to take cash or charging cash-paying customers a higher price. Those who violate the law will face fines of as much as $2,000.

Proponents of the new ban argue that cashless stores effectively discriminate against poor consumers who do not have access to credit or bank accounts. Indeed, Philly.com reports, nearly 6 % of residents in the Philadelphia region were unbanked in 2017;  and roughly 22% were considered “underbanked,” according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

Of course, there will be some exceptions: JDSupra notes that businesses not subject to the new rules include parking lots and garages; wholesale clubs (e.g., BJ’s and Costco); stores that exclusively sell using a “mobile device application” through a “membership model” (will cashierless Amazon Go convenience stores qualify?); certain rentals where “collateral or security is typically required;” and sales exclusively to employees on an employer’s premises. None of these terms are defined and don’t hold your breath until regulations are promulgated.

And Philly is not the only locale thinking that paper money is not going out of style anytime soon:  A New York City councilman is pushing similar legislation there, and New Jersey’s legislature recently passed a bill banning cashless stores statewide. A spokesperson for New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, a Democrat, declined to comment on whether he would sign it.

What’s more, Massachusetts has gone the furthest on the issue and is the only state that requires retailers to accept cash.

Businesses that have gone cashless to date point to greater efficiency for employees, who don’t have to make change or count cash at closing time, and improved safety because workers don’t have to carry large bank deposits, The Wall Street Journal says.

Philadelphia City Councilman William Greenlee, a Democrat, said he was inspired to introduce the bill after noticing that some Center City sandwich shops had gone cashless.

“Most of the people who don’t have credit tend to be lower income, minority, immigrants. It just seemed to me, if not intentional, at least a form of discrimination,” he told the Journal. Now, he said, stores will be required “to do what businesses have been doing since Ben Franklin was walking the streets of Philadelphia.”

Sylvie Gallier Howard, a top official in the city’s Commerce Department, told City Council members last month she hoped the ban proves to be temporary. “Modernization is going to happen with or without Philadelphia, and we want to be part of it,” she said.

The National Retail Federation, a trade group that represents the retail industry, opposes the new Philadelphia law and proposals like it, saying businesses should be able to choose which payment methods to accept. Cashless stores are uncommon in the United States and many businesses prefer cash payments because they avoid the credit-card transaction fees, it said.

The measure also has been opposed by the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association, while the city’s Commission on Human Relations and a number of community groups support it.

Research contact: @scottmcalvert

Trump to oust Jessie Liu from Manafort, Butina, Stone prosecutions; tap her for #3 spot at DOJ

March 7, 2019

In another move that could be seen as obstructive, President Donald Trump intends to nominate Jessie Liu, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, to be the associate attorney general, a senior U.S. official familiar with the decision has told NBC News.

In her current position, Liu has been overseeing the prosecutions of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort; alleged Russian spy (and cooperating witness) Maria Butina; Trump longtime confidant Roger Stone; and Sam Patten, a Manafort associate with suspected ties to Russian intelligence.

While the Manafort case is close to resolution and sentencing; what will happen to the other prosecutions, if she is transferred to the number-three position at the Department of Justice, is unknown.

It has been widely bruited that the newly seated Attorney General William Barr suggested Liu for the number-three slot. That position at DOJ has been open since last February, when then-Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand left to take a position as a lawyer for Walmart.

If confirmed by the Senate, Liu would oversee the civil division, the civil rights division, the antitrust division, the office overseeing police reform, and other divisions not related to criminal prosecutions or national security.

Trump’s intention to nominate her was first reported by The Wall Street Journal on March 5.

Liu was nominated by Trump to serve as the head federal prosecutor in D.C. and was confirmed in September 2017. Liu also served on Trump’s transition team, a position that Democrats raised as a potential conflict of interest during her confirmation as U.S. attorney.

Last month, Trump nominated Jeff Rosen, the Transportation Department deputy secretary, to the number-two post at the Justice Department, the deputy attorney general.

Rod Rosenstein—who has overseen the Mueller investigation since 2017 and is the current deputy attorney general—is expected to leave his post in the coming weeks.

In an administration that could hardly be more hostile to Mueller’s Russia investigation, AG Barr announced on March 5 that he would not recuse himself from the probe, NBC News reported.

Research contact: @NBCNews

Sanders pulls no punches as he enters 2020 race; says Trump is ‘pathological liar, fraud, and racist’

February 21, 2019

The Independent senator from Vermont has joined the race: Senator Bernie Sanders announced his 2020 presidential bid on February 19 in a no-nonsense campaign video designed to knock President Donald Trump back on his heels.

“You know as well as I do that we are living in a pivotal and dangerous moment in American history,” he said in his “I’m Running for President” video, adding, “We are running against a president who is a pathological liar, a fraud, a racist, a sexist, xenophobe, and someone who is undermining American democracy as he leads us in an authoritarian direction.”

Saying that he needed one million grassroots supporters to succeed in “bringing [Americans] together again” Sanders offered a message calculated to mobilize his audience of “…women and men, black, white, Latino, Native American, Asian American, gay and straight, young and old, native-born,  and immigrant. “

Indeed, his campaign reported raising $5.9 million during the first 24 hours after his presidential announcement.

The 77-year-old candidate—whom many, including President Donald Trump had openly believed “had missed his time” and had lost his luster since the 2016 race—received donations from more than 225,000 individuals in the first day of his campaign, a haul that far outpaced his Democratic rivals and some of his biggest fundraising days during his primary challenge to Hillary Clinton, The Wall Street Journal reported.

With Sanders’ entry, the field now includes a dozen major Democratic candidates and could grow larger with expected decisions soon by former Vice President Joe Biden and former Texas Representative Beto O’Rourke.

By comparison, Senator Kamala Harris (D-California) raised $1.5 million from 38,000 donors online in the 24 hours after she announced her campaign last month.

In his previous campaign, Sanders—an outlier to begin with because of his Independent politics—had labeled himself a Democratic socialist, a platform seen as too radical by the Democratic Party establishment. This time around, those same ideas—Medicare for all, a higher minimum wage, free college tuition— have gained widespread acceptance and are being embraced by mainstream candidates seeking the Democratic nomination.

“Our campaign is about transforming our country and creating a government based on the principles of economic, social, racial and environmental justice,” Sanders said. “Our campaign is about taking on the powerful special interests that dominate our economic and political life. I’m talking about Wall Street, the health insurance companies, the drug companies, the fossil fuel industry, the military-industrial complex, the private-prison industry and the large multi-national corporations that exert such an enormous influence over our lives.”

Sanders promised to “fight for working families and the shrinking middle class, not just the 1%.”

His campaign slogan represents a jab at the current administration: “Not me. Us.”

In response, President Trump tweeted, “Crazy Bernie has just entered the race. I wish him well!”

Research contact: @BernieSanders

Consumer wallets ‘spring a leak’ as prices soar on diapers, kitty litter, and toilet paper

February 12, 2019

Most of us cut back on everything but the essentials when household prices go up, but our budget remains the same. However, according to a February 10 report by The Wall Street Journal, the cost of staples—including such fundamentals as diapers and cat litter—is expected to increase in 2019, leaving us little choice but to ante up.

Producers of household products, from toilet paper to bleach, are set to raise prices again this year after already hiking prices in 2018, hoping to offset higher commodity costs and boost profits, the financial news outlet says.

New Jersey-based Church & Dwight already has increased prices for about one-third of its products, including Arm & Hammer cat litter and baking soda, and some OxiClean cleaning products.

“The good news is that competitors are raising [prices] in those categories as we speak,” Church & Dwight CEO Matthew Farrell said on a conference call last week, during which the company reported higher quarterly sales and lower profits.

What he left out of that statement to financial analysts was that it was good news for the company and its stockholders—but not for America’s consumers.

The company is now discussing more price increases with retailers, including for personal-care products, Farrell told analysts Tuesday. Those brands include Nair, Arm & Hammer Toothpaste, Orajel, Simply Saline, Waterpik, and Viviscal, among others.

Other household names that are planning to release similarly “good” news, according to the Journal, include Procter & GambleColgate-Palmolive, and Clorox, which are raising prices in response to higher costs of raw materials and transportation, as well as unfavorable foreign-currency swings.

For much of the past decade, the Journal notes, price cuts have been far more common than price increases as U.S. companies were mostly reluctant to test consumers’ spending power and brand loyalty in a fragile economic recovery.

When companies tried to raise prices, “they better have had a uniquely strong innovation or be willing to lose market share to competitors,” Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Ali Dibadj told the news outlet.

Adding to the challenge of raising prices is that more shoppers have been switching to store-branded paper towels and discount detergents, or opting for online upstarts such as Dollar Shave Club.

Traditional brands also have been under pressure from big-box retailers such as Costco and discounters like Walmart Inc. and Amazon to keep prices low—pushing the manufacturers to focus on lowering costs in their supply chains or pare back advertising.

Finally, after failing to see success when they tried to combat weak demand by lowering prices, the industry’s biggest player, P&G, shifted its course last summer, announcing it would charge more for several of its brands—and several rivals followed suit, the Journal reports.

The recent price increases are largely playing out in the companies’ favor, Wells Fargo Securities analyst Bonnie Herzog told the Journal. Sales volumes of household and personal products in the United States. declined 1.4% in January, according to Bernstein’s analysis of data from Nielsen. Dollar sales of those products rose 0.7% in the period, Bernstein said, indicating that the price increases, on balance, are padding the bottom lines at consumer-goods companies.

How consumers will deal with the price hikes long-term remains to be seen.

Research contact: aisha.al-muslim@wsj.com

Writing on the wall: CBO report estimates that government shutdown will cost $3 billion

January 29, 2019

President Donald Trump already has spent about $3 billion of the $5.7 billion he demanded for “the wall” at the U.S.-Mexico border when he shut the government down in late December.

Indeed, the partial government shutdown that ended on January 25 will cost the government about $3 billion and will subtract about 0.4 percentage points from annualized gross domestic product growth in the first quarter, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said Monday, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal.

In new estimates of the shutdown’s impact, the CBO said the shutdown dampened economic activity—mainly because of the roughly 380,000 furloughed workers who weren’t contributing to GDP, as well as the delay in federal spending on goods and services and the reduction in aggregate demand.

CBO estimates that the five-week, 35-day shutdown delayed approximately $18 billion in federal discretionary spending for compensation and purchases of goods and services and suspended some federal services.

The estimates (which the CBO cautioned are just that, according to the Journal report) don’t incorporate other indirect negative effects of the shutdown, such as businesses that couldn’t obtain federal permits or access loans while the government was partially closed.

“Such factors were probably beginning to lead firms to postpone investment and hiring decisions,” the CBO said, adding that risks to the economy were becoming increasingly significant as the shutdown continued.

Kevin Hassett, the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said on January 23 that the U.S. economy might not grow at all in the first quarter if the shutdown continued through March. But he added that the economy should recover any lost ground once the government reopened.

President Trump already has said that the reopening may be temporary—and has pegged it at three weeks—after which he will reassess the situation regarding border security.

Research contact: kate.davidson@wsj.com