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John Ydstie

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Oil companies are coming to terms with the prospect that oil prices could stay low for years. Today, Royal Dutch Shell announced it's laying off 1,600 workers. NPR's John Ydstie reports.

Five years ago Tuesday, President Obama signed into law the massive overhaul of U.S. financial regulations called Dodd-Frank. But there's still a battle over whether the law has helped stabilize the financial system or whether it has harmed the economy and should be rolled back.

Congress designed Dodd-Frank to fix excesses in financial markets and mortgage lending — excesses that triggered the financial crisis and forced massive bailouts of Wall Street firms.

Since news of the Iran nuclear deal broke, lots of business clients have been calling up Washington lawyer William McGlone, a specialist in trade law and economic sanctions. He says he's been forced to give them a bit of a cold shower.

"There's this expectation, or assumption, in the business community that the sanctions are being lifted," he says, "when, in fact, the U.S. legal framework is scheduled to remain in place."

A new survey of financial professionals tends to confirm the widely held belief that the financial industry has an ethics problem.

Among the more than 1,200 financial professionals in the U.S. and Britain who were surveyed, about half the respondents believe their competitors in the industry have behaved unethically or illegally to gain an advantage in the market.

Even though it's crept up in the past couple of months, the price of a gallon of gasoline is still about $1 less than it was a year ago. That's saving drivers $15 to $20 every time they fill up.

Economists were quite convinced late last year that would boost growth because consumers would go out and spend that extra money. But things have not unfolded exactly as forecast.

There's no doubt the plunge in oil prices and the lower costs for gasoline, heating oil and natural gas gave consumers a big windfall.

Prospects for low-wage workers at some large companies have improved recently as both Walmart and McDonald's announced pay hikes, but one of the most significant announcements came at Aetna.

So what if the bank paid you to take out a loan? That's what's happening in some European countries, where interest rates have gone negative amid efforts by central bankers to boost economic activity.

NPR's Audie Cornish spoke with NPR's John Ydstie about this unusual turn of financial events.

Audie Cornish: What's going on?

The old saying goes, "Nothing is certain except death and taxes." But the Affordable Care Act has added a new wrinkle.

For many policyholders, the ACA has introduced a good deal of uncertainty about their tax bills. That has led to surprise refunds for some and higher-than-expected tax payments for others.

Editor's note: This story was updated following the 8:30 a.m. ET release of the employment report.

The pulse of the U.S. job market was revealed Friday morning, when the government released employment data for March. Employers added a disappointing total: just 126,000 jobs.

Prior to March, it had been quite a run for the U.S. job market. The economy had added more than 200,000 jobs every month, maintaining a level of job creation that hasn't been seen since a 13-month run back in 1994-95.

The Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday in a case that could end Obamacare subsidies for policyholders in a majority of states, including Texas, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Ohio. If the court sides with the plaintiffs, it would mean millions of people could no longer afford health insurance.

It's a painful time to be in the oil business. With the price of crude oil about half what it was six months ago, companies large and small are being pressured to cut costs.

On the front lines are oil services companies that do everything from drilling to providing electrical power at well sites. Hundreds of thousands of jobs are threatened as companies try to adjust.

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Continued job growth has boosted prospects for the U.S. economy, but it continues to face some tricky crosswinds. The big drop in oil prices and a stronger dollar both help the economy and hurt it. Add to that the recent slowdown in global growth.

Lots of economists have suggested the big drop in oil prices is a gift to consumers that will propel the economy. David Kotok of Cumberland Advisors is one of them. He argues that cheaper oil will ultimately be a positive.

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President Obama says he will ask Congress to give wilderness status to protect more than 12 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The president announced his intention Sunday in a video, describing the area as a pristine habitat with abundant wildlife.

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One phrase from President Obama's State of the Union speech that quickly became a hashtag was middle-class economics. Here's how he defined it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

If you've traveled outside the U.S. recently, or sent your U.S.-made products abroad, you've probably noticed that the dollar is getting stronger. The stronger dollar is the sign of a healthier U.S. economy, but its strength has the potential to erode growth.

There are a number of factors behind the dollar's rise, says economist Jens Nordvig, a currency expert at Nomura Securities. The main one is the health of the U.S. economy.

The economy was floored by the polar vortex early on in 2014 — plus, businesses and consumers were still a little dazed by a government shutdown and debt ceiling fight late in 2013.

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, says it all produced an anxious start to the year. "Yeah, a lot of worry, particularly because we had misstepped a few other times during the recovery," he says. "We had these false dawns when we really thought the economy was going to kick into gear and then we kind of fell back into the morass."

This weekend, Will Falls decided to skip the local mall near Raleigh, N.C., and shop online instead.

"No standing in line, no finding a parking spot," he says. "Just get comfortable and go at it."

Millions of Americans did the same — Falls helped contribute to an 8.5 percent increase in online shopping Monday compared with 2013, according to data from IBM.

That growth stands in contrast to an 11 percent drop in sales reported by the National Retail Federation at brick-and-mortar stores over the Black Friday weekend compared with a year ago.

Don Benfield of Taylorsville, N.C., makes $11 an hour working for a mobile-home parts business, selling things like replacement doors and windows.

Benfield, 51, doesn't have health insurance.

"I haven't had health care insurance in years, simply because I haven't been able to afford it, especially with food prices, how they went up," he explains.

Benfield's employer does offer health insurance coverage, even though, with fewer than 50 employees, the business is not required to.

It's being challenged in the Supreme Court. Members of the new Republican Congress want to repeal it. But Obamacare will get a second chance on Saturday, when enrollment opens again in the government-sponsored health exchanges.

The Obama administration is expecting over 3 million new enrollees and almost 6 million return customers. And while the system faces some challenges, the government says it's up to the task.

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Six big banks will pay more than $4 billion to U.S. and European regulators for more bad behavior, this time rigging foreign currency markets. Among the charges? That currency traders at the banks collaborated in online chat rooms to cheat customers.

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