Holiday Travel Season Proving to Be a Pricey One

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The 41 million Americans expected to fly this holiday season will face even higher airline ticket prices than last year.  According to's Rick Seaney, holiday airline ticket prices are up about 17 percent from last year, and they're not coming down anytime soon.

He told ABC News Radio the increase "is across the top 50 cities in the U.S. for, if you combine, Thanksgiving, Christmas and News Years."

Seaney advises some days will be higher than others.  "You don't want to come back on Sunday and Monday after Thanksgiving," he says.  "Those are the two busiest days of the year, and they're also charging a $30 peak travel surcharge on those days."

Seaney says the recession, along with limiting seating onboard planes, has contributed to the hike in prices.

"The recession had people not buying trips, watching their dollars, and combine that with airlines having a lot fewer seats this year than they've had in the last two or three years, and it's a perfect storm for the airlines to charge a little bit higher."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Nissan Announces Recall of 2.14 Million Cars Worldwide

Photo Courtesy - PRNewsFoto/Nissan North America(TOKYO) -- Nissan Motor Co. issued a recall of 2.14 million vehicles worldwide on Thursday to repair an ignition defect that can cause engines to stall.

According to Nissan, the recall will affect nine models in Japan, including the March, Cube, and Tiida, for a total of 834,759 vehicles.  Another 761,528 vehicles in North America, 354,170 in Europe and 194,409 in China and Taiwan are also being called in for repair.

The Japanese automaker says no accidents or injuries have been reported in connection to the defect.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Shoppers Loosening Belts this Holiday Season

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(YONKERS, N.Y.) -- More shoppers are planning to loosen their financial belts this holiday season and not necessarily stick to a budget.  According to a new Consumer Reports poll, approximately one in three Americans plan to cut back this year, which is fewer than the 42 percent who said they were going to spend less in 2008.

The poll also shows that nearly half of Americans, 47 percent, are planning to set a budget for the holiday shopping season.  That percentage is down 12 points from the peak of the recession back in 2008.

Todd Marks, of Consumer Reports magazine, says, "A lot of people are cutting back, but they're not cutting back to the extent that they did in previous years.  So that's kind of a little bit of the belt loosening I guess you could say, versus the years that we were in the height of the recession."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Majority of Cities Saw Foreclosure Activity Increase in Third Quarter

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Sixty-five percent of the nation’s cities saw foreclosure filings increase in the past year.  That's according to new data released Thursday by RealtyTrac, which shows foreclosure filings for 200,000+ metro areas across the country during the third quarter of the year.

As has been the case for some time, the highest rates of foreclosure are in cities in California, Florida, Nevada and Arizona.

Ground zero for foreclosure activity continues to be Las Vegas, with one in 25 homes there subject to some type of foreclosure-related filing during the July to September time period.

Of note, nine of the top-10 metros for foreclosure activity saw foreclosure filings drop in the past year, but that trend is confounded when you look at the balance of the list.

In aggregate, more than 930,000 properties received some sort of foreclosure filing, down about one percent from the 2009 third quarter numbers, according to RealtyTrac. However, that slight reduction on the national level doesn’t mean the foreclosure crisis is abating.

The recent foreclosure sales moratoria are likely going to affect the broader residential real estate market in the fourth quarter, and possibly beyond.

Also, the underlying reasons for foreclosure have yet to be adequately addressed.  Unemployment and underemployment are at the root of many of the missed payments that are keeping millions of Americans from paying their home loans on time.

“The underlying problems that are causing homeowners to miss their mortgage payments -- high unemployment, underemployment, toxic loans and negative equity -- are continuing to plague most local housing markets,” said James Saccacio, CEO of RealtyTrac. “And these historically high foreclosure rates will continue until those problems are resolved.”

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Wells Fargo Reports Foreclosure Affidavit Problems

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(DES MOINES, Iowa) -- In a press release Wednesday, Wells Fargo Home Loans said, "...the company has identified instances where a final step in its processes relating to the execution of the foreclosure affidavits (including a final review of the affidavit, as well as some aspects of the notarization process) did not strictly adhere to the required procedures."

While some problems were found, the bank said those problems did not lead to foreclosures on homeowners who were actually paying their monthly mortgage payments.

The bank will file some 55,000 supplemental affidavits to deal with the issues, noting it is not going to put a halt on foreclosure sales as a result of the errors or ongoing review.

"The process of submitting supplemental affidavits will begin immediately with a goal of having this process completed by mid-November 2010, subject to state and local requirements," the lender said

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Incredible Shrinking Package: Consumers Paying More for Less

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(CLEVELAND, Ohio) -- Buying a "pound" of bacon may not mean what it used to -- Americans are getting less sizzle for their buck.

ABC affiliate WEWS found that some companies, like Hormel, are packaging bacon in 12-ounce portions instead of the former standard of 16 ounces, or a full pound.

The shrinking amount of bacon isn't the only thing fooling you at the grocery store.

Tod Marks, senior editor with Consumer Reports magazine, said the trend of shrinking packages is because of "input inflation." The high costs of ingredients and production have forced some manufacturers to give consumers less product for the same price.

"A price increase in this economy is the kiss of death," Marks said. "They'd rather kind of play a shell game with consumers, a little bit of trickery and, hopefully, the consumer won't notice that the product is, in fact, shrinking."

The changes are slight enough to make consumers think their eyes might be deceiving them, but manufacturers definitely are shrinking everything from cereal to mayonnaise and even toilet paper.

Consumer experts have a name for what manufacturers are doing. It's called "slack fill" when there is over-packaging, meaning that the volume of product in the container doesn't actually match the container's capacity.

"Manufacturers are banking on the point that consumers don't know what the normal or regular size is of a given package," Marks said. "And think about it yourself: How many products in this day and age have a standard size?"

So why haven't these shrinking products started an uproar?

According to a Harvard study, most consumers would rather get less than pay more.

"It's a continuation of a trend that's been going on forever and consumers don't like it," Marks said. "But they also don't like price increases."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Disney Study: Moms Spend 24 Hours a Week Online

Photo Courtesy - PRNewsFoto | Disney Online(NEW YORK) -- A new study shows that the typical mom spends 24 hours a week surfing the Web. Most of that time, according to Disney Online's Mom on a Mission research study, is spent connecting with family, searching for information and managing their lives.

"Our study results showed that technology and the Internet are helping to make moms' lives more manageable, so they can spend more quality time with their families,” said Paul Yanover, EVP of Disney Online.

The study, released Wednesday, included two phases: consumer immersion blogs and online quantitative study. In the first phase, nine moms interacted in a secure, online blog for one week, uploading video, images and text. The second phase was an online study of 3,300 females, ages 21-54, who were either pregnant or had one child 14 years old or younger.

The top subjects researched by moms online include deals and discounts and recipes. Other topics include family activities, entertainment and travel, personal health, arts/crafts projects, holiday planning and activities.
 Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


New Threat to Banks: Mortgage Security "Put Backs"?

Photo Courtesy - PRNews Foto/Bank of America(NEW YORK) -- Could the whole U.S. banking system return to the brink if Bank of America is forced to buy back tens of billions in soured mortgage-backed securities?

At a public hearing Wednesday on loan modifications and foreclosures, a Treasury official dismissed that concern despite doubts raised by the Congressional Oversight Panel for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the group charged by Congress with overseeing and assessing the effectiveness of the federal bank bailout.

Bank of America is facing a demand by investors, including the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, that the bank buy back $47 billion in mortgage-backed securities. The loans backing the securities, investors argue, didn't live up to pledges made about their quality.

At the hearing Wednesday morning, Phyllis Caldwell, the Treasury Department's chief of the Homeownership Preservation Office, said there was "no evidence of systemic risk" posed by such buy-back demands -- also known as "put backs." "It is still early. We are working very closely with 11 regulatory and federal agencies. We are watching this every day and that at this stage, there appears to be no evidence of a systemic risk," Caldwell said.

Her comments were met with skepticism by COP member and AFL-CIO policy director Damon Silvers, who noted that the Federal Reserve said the securities in question in the Bank of America demand have halved in value. "If the Fed's request to Bank of America is honored, Bank of America, assuming when they buy them back, they mark them to market, Bank of America will take a $23 billion loss," he said.

If the bank were to later face five such requests, it could amount to a loss that exceeds the bank's $115 billion market capitalization, he said.

Silvers urged Caldwell to retract her statement about systemic risk "because these things can be embarrassing later." Caldwell did later clarify, saying, "We didn't say there was no risk, we said there didn't appear to be evidence of a major systemic risk."

"I hope that if the Treasury comes back to us and is discussing if we need to deploy further public funds to rescue Bank of America, or such other institutions as might be affected by these events that we get a similar kind of indifference to their fate," Silvers responded.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


College Only: The New Facebook?

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images/CollegeOnly[dot]com(NEW YORK) -- He graduated from an Ivy League university, created an online social network and, perhaps most conspicuously, wears socks with sandals.

Nope, he’s not Mark Zuckerberg. And there hasn’t been a movie made about him, but if there was one, Michael Cera of Juno would play him, Josh Weinstein said with a laugh.  Weinstein, 23, is the CEO and founder of, a social networking site available only to college students.

“I just didn’t think people should have to worry as much about parents and employers in what they do online,” said Weinstein, who launched the site in August 2010, just over a year after he graduated from Princeton.

According to CollegeOnly’s Facebook page, it’s the only site that is “free from parents, potential employers, and other folks that shouldn’t see what you are up to on a Saturday night or at any given point during the day.” Users must provide a verified university email address to register for an account.

While its tagline is “Connecting Student Bodies,” CollegeOnly is now available at only four universities: Princeton, Yale, Cornell and Penn. It will launch soon at New York University and Columbia, in New York City, where Weinstein and about 15 employees manage the website.

CollegeOnly has about 2,500 users and more than 20,000 students from unregistered schools on the waiting list, Weinstein said. Students at these schools can enter their email addresses on the homepage and click “Bring CollegeOnly to My School” to get on that list.

As for the future of the site, Weinstin said it’s impossible to predict student interest and didn’t know how many more schools he could add a year from now.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


New York Water at Heart of Florida Lawsuits

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Want to know what makes New York bagels taste so good?

Local lore says the secret is in the city's drinking water. But to two Florida restaurants, the water-bagel connection is more than myth, it's the stuff that lawsuits are made of.

Convinced that New York City drinking water contributes to better baked goods, the Original Brooklyn Water Bagel Co. of Delray Beach, Florida, and Mamma Mia's Trattoria & Brick Oven Pizzeria of Lake Worth, Florida., have locked horns in a legal battle over technology purported to "Brooklynize" water.

According to a document filed with the 15th Circuit Court in Palm Beach County, Florida, Brooklyn Water claims that through the purchase of baking equipment Mamma Mia misappropriated the company's trade secrets and confidential information for its own benefit.

In a countersuit filed with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, Mamma Mia's says Brooklyn Water falsely advertises that it has a patent on the replication process, thereby deceiving the public and deterring competition.

"You've heard of the Coca-Cola formula? You've heard of the [Kentucky Fried Chicken's] 11 herbs and spices that's locked away under lock and key? Now you're hearing of our trade secret," said Ira Marcus, senior vice president and general counsel for the Original Brooklyn Water Bagel Co.

In 2007, Steven Fassberg, the company's president, CEO and founder, started investigating the composition of New York water, Marcus said.

"He knew that what was in the water made a difference as to making bread, bagels and pizza dough," Marcus said. "He thought that if he could understand how that all worked, we could use a process [so that] wherever we were locally, we could replicate an authentic New York bagel and, ultimately, pizza."

Marcus declined to elaborate on the water's composition, but said that certain elements in the typically soft New York water react especially positively with the yeast in the bread's recipe.

Once Fassberg and his team analyzed the water to identify those key elements, he said, they worked with a water treatment equipment manufacturer and, through trial and error, developed a process that consistently gives local water the same properties as New York water. 

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

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