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Thursday
Apr212011

Gold: As Prices Rise, Teeth Come Out

Baerbel Schmidt/Digital Vision/ Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Gold prices are so high now -- over $1,500 an ounce -- that consumers are cashing in anything they've got that has gold in it, including teeth, bridges, crowns and other dental work.

"I've seen them pop the gold right out of their mouth," says Dave Crume, president of the National Pawnbrokers Association and executive vice president of Wichita, Kansas pawnbroker A-OK Enterprises.

"It's a little awkward," he admits, "but I've see them take out a tooth."

The gold-selling trend, which started picking up steam two years ago, has become only stronger now, as new ways have arisen for customers to unload their gold.  It can be sold via mail, the Internet and Tupperware-like "gold parties," such as Premier Gold Parties, where a group of friends meet to sell their gold in a home setting.

In Texas, a seller can pick up dinner and sell her tiara at the same time: most of the 50 locations of Gold & Silver Buyers, the state's biggest precious metals buyer, are inside or alongside supermarkets.  So great is the volume of their business that they do their own smelting -- an added efficiency that translates, according to president Larry Gray, into better prices paid to customers.  Items sold have included a platinum surgical implant, discovered in the cremated remains of a loved one.

Nationwide, the incentive to sell is strong. The U.S. economy remains soft; unemployment remains high.  Even people not in need of extra money, says Crume, are selling now to avoid missing what they perceive may be the market's top.

Prices paid for gold jewelry vary widely.  "They're all over the board," says Crume.  "One place will pay you $100 for what you've got; another will pay $1,000."

But in the past three months, says Crume, prices have begun to converge.

"It's true whether you're selling to a jewelry store or to a pawnbroker," he says.  "The market's getting more competitive -- a benefit to the consumer."

In the past, sellers were getting "maybe half the market price for scrap gold.  Now they're getting more like 70 or 80 percent."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Apr212011

Online Identity Theft Prompts Security Guidelines From White House

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- As a way to combat online identity theft in the age of digital shoplifting, the White House has developed a plan dubbed the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace, or NSTIC.

"Today, we take another major step; this one to ensure that the Internet's security features keep up with the many different types of online transactions people now engage in," Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said at the unveiling last week.

For the typical consumer, the plan means a partial consolidation of Internet logins, a kind of "Facebook Connect" for online shopping, with the government's stamp of approval.  Another part of the plan lays the groundwork for hand-held authentication devices.

People in the near future could verify their online identity through a cell phone or keychain.

"Today, we have lots and lots of usernames and passwords and, generally speaking, people have pretty bad habits," Aaron Brauer-Rieke, a fellow at the Center for Democracy and Technology, said.  "They don't use good passwords.  They use repeat passwords for the same username across the Internet."

Of course, too few passwords can also present a problem.

"On the flip side of the scale, if you have one username and password, that's also a bad security situation," Brauer-Rieke said.

So policy makers will aim for a balanced approach, emphasizing the need for multiple login providers as a way to combat identity theft.  Improved security could encourage consumers and financial services companies to adopt mobile payments through smartphones.

Proponents of the system emphasize that the program would be voluntary.  Industry and government want to avoid the appearance of a mandatory national online identity program.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Apr212011

Donald Trump's Companies Have Filed for Bankruptcy Four Times

Mike Stobe/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Donald Trump -- or companies that bear his name -- have declared bankruptcy four times.

Trump has built an American empire from Las Vegas to New York with towering hotels and sparkling casinos.  Forbes estimates he's worth $2.7 billion.  But not all of Trump's business ventures have been constant money-makers.

In 1991, 1992, 2004, and again in 2009, Trump branded companies or properties have sought Chapter 11 protection.

"I've used the laws of this country to pare debt....We'll have the company.  We'll throw it into a chapter.  We'll negotiate with the banks.  We'll make a fantastic deal.  You know, it's like on The Apprentice.  It's not personal.  It's just business," Trump told ABC News last Thursday.

A business declaring bankruptcy is nothing new in corporate America, where bankruptcy is often sugar-coated as "restructuring debt."  But it might seem alarming to everyday Americans who can't get a bank to restructure their home loans.  If you want to get Donald Trump hot under the collar, accuse him of declaring bankruptcy.

Doug Heller, the executive director of Consumer Watchdog, said Trump is the "most egregious, almost comical example" of the disparity between what the average American faces when going through bankruptcy and the "ease with which the very rich can move in and out of bankruptcy."

"Under the American bankruptcy laws, if you end up in bankruptcy because you're struggling with divorce or medical payments or a sudden change of income, it's a disaster.  If you fail miserably with huge dollars involved then you just need some accountants to rework your books," Heller said.

The multi-billionaire touts his huge net worth and big business experience as qualifications for his possible presidential run.  Trump recently bragged that he has "a much bigger net worth" than Mitt Romney, who he said is "basically a small business guy."

"I'm a much bigger businessman....I mean, my net worth is many, many, many times Mitt Romney's," Trump said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Apr212011

Cheap Prices Help Spike Home Sales; Mortgage Rates to Rise

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- After taking a beating, the housing market got a boost Wednesday when the latest report on existing home sales found that purchases for six out of the past eight months went up.

Relatively cheap prices are partially behind the upswing.

"Prices are at the highest affordability level that we've seen in the past decade," says Ken Shuman with Trulia.com, a homes sales wesbite.

Mortgage rates are also still very low but that soon may change, according to Shuman.

"As inflation begins to rise we'll see mortgage rates rise with that," he says.

"I think we'll see interest rates not only rise in the next two to three months but we'll see interest rates rise throughout the entire year actually," Shuman adds.

Despite the positive trend, home sales are still at depressed levels compared to a few years ago.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Apr202011

Feds Launch Criminal Investigation over Chipotle Hiring Practices

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Justice Department and the U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington, D.C. is investigating Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. for its hiring practices, which have been under review by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

The government wishes to establish whether the Mexican restaurant chain knowingly hired illegal immigrants, sources told WSJ.

The disclosure of the Department of Justice probe into Chipotle's quarterly earnings reportedly was made by Chipotle executives on the company's conference call Wednesday.  Prosecutors have sought audits of the company's employees to be completed by ICE agents.

The U.S. Attorney's Office is not commenting on the case.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Apr202011

Oil Settles Above $111 a Barrel Wednesday

Comstock Images/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Higher gas prices are almost certainly on the way as the price of a barrel of oil settled at $111.45 in New York trading Wednesday.
 
That’s up $3.17 (or 2.9 percent) for the day, driven in large part by a weekly government report showing the nation’s crude oil inventories fell by 2.3 million barrels last week as imports dropped. At this time, the government says there are 257 million barrels of oil in the U.S. (and outside the strategic oil reserve). Refineries are operating at 82.5 percent of capacity -- about where they normally operate.
 
The move in oil prices almost certainly makes the price at the pump higher for next week’s official government gas gauge, out on Monday.
 
The higher prices for gasoline have already started to push consumers to conserve. Wednesday’s government report says demand for gasoline has dropped by 1.8 percent over the same week a year ago.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Apr202011

CEO Pay Averaged $11.4 Million at Largest Companies in 2010

Adam Gault/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The chief executive officers of the largest U.S. companies received average pay of $11.4 million in 2010, up 23 percent in one year, according to a searchable list compiled by the the AFL-CIO this week.

At the top of the list is the CEO of the media company Viacom Inc., Philippe Dauman, who received more than $84.5 million, according to the AFL-CIO, the country's largest labor federation.

The top five highest paid CEOs on the list were:

1.    Viacom, Philippe Dauman, $84.5 million

2.    Occidental Petroleum, Ray Irani, $76.1 million

3.    Oracle, Lawrence Ellison, $70.1 million

4.    McKesson, John Hammergren, $54.6 million

5.    DirecTV, Michael White, $32.9 million

The CEO pay estimate is based on 299 companies in the S&P 500 Index whose executive compensation is available for 2010. The 299 CEOs received a combined total of $3.4 billion in 2010, enough to pay median wages for 102,325 ordinary workers. The median wage for all occupations was $33,190 in 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"Despite the collapse of the financial market at the hands of executives less than three years ago, the disparity between CEO and workers' pay has continued to grow to levels that are simply stunning," said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in a prepared statement.

The release the AFL-CIO's "Executive Paywatch" is part of a campaign to strengthen Wall Street reform and close corporate tax loopholes, Trumka said.

The Executive Paywatch page, which has been following executive pay since 1997, is the most visited part of the AFL-CIOs website, according to Josh Goldstein, spokesman for the labor organization. He said the AFL-CIO plans to update the list with additional case studies and executive pay for the remaining S&P 500 CEOs later this year.

Most of the S&P 500 companies do not report their executive bonuses until March or April, depending on the fiscal years of the companies.

Trumka said the approach to CEO pay this year may be different because of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act, signed by the president last July. The comprehensive law includes a requirement that public companies disclose the ratio of CEO pay to median worker pay.

"The law will help investors and the public learn which companies provide fair wages and good jobs to their employees, compared with those that have outrageous CEO-to-worker pay disparities," he said.

This week, Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin said in a speech to the Pew Charitable Trusts that critics of the act have engaged "in a broad set of attacks against the law and its implementation."

"For the past nine months, regulators have been hard at work implementing these and many other critical reforms contained in Dodd-Frank," said Wolin. "Yet today, even as millions of Americans are still recovering from the crisis, some on Wall Street, K Street and Capitol Hill seek to slow down, roll back or even repeal these crucial reforms." But the Obama administration said his office will "continue to oppose efforts to slow down, weaken or repeal these essential reforms."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 

Wednesday
Apr202011

Apple Tracks Location with iPhone, iPad Data 

Apple Inc.(SANTA CLARA, Calif.) -- If you've got an iPhone in your pocket, Apple could be recording where you go, a pair of security researchers revealed Wednesday. Phone and camera pictures can show where they were taken.

Ahead of a presentation at the Where 2.0 Conference in Santa Clara, Calif., Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden published a description of their findings online at O'Reilly Radar, saying that the Apple iPhone and iPad 3G record the device's geographic position and corresponding time stamp in a hidden file. They said the data collection started when the company released its latest iOS4 mobile operating system.

"We're not sure why Apple is gathering this data, but it's clearly intentional, as the database is being restored across backups, and even device migrations," the researchers wrote.

Allen and Warden did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Apple also did not reply to an interview request from ABC News.

Emphasizing that the recorded location data have privacy and security implications, the researchers said that files are unencrypted and unprotected and can be transferred to any machine synced with the device. Depending on when users installed the new operating system to their devices, their phones could be storing a year's worth of location history.

To show users exactly what Apple's devices have recorded, Allen and Warden created a Web application that plots a user's iPhone data on a map. Once downloaded to the computer, users sync with their Apple device and the application scans through backup files to look for the hidden file with the location information. When it spots the file, the application shows the location history on a map.

The researchers said they believe that the coordinates of the phone are determined by cell-tower triangulation. While the location data aren't always precise, they said the phones may have recorded up to tens of thousands of data points. However, there's no evidence that the data is being transferred beyond the devices or computers that sync with them, they said.

"The cell phone companies have always had this data, but it takes a court order to access it," the researchers wrote. "Now this information is sitting in plain view, unprotected from the world."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 

Wednesday
Apr202011

Stocks Up Wednesday as First-Quarter Earnings Are Reported

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The latest corporate earnings wowed the markets Wednesday.

The Dow closed up 190 points, the Nasdaq added 58 and the S&P gained 18 points by the end of the day's trading.

Tech companies padded their bottom lines. Chipmaker Intel's income rose 29 percent in the first quarter because of rising demand for PCs.

On the other hand, American Airlines' parent company, AMR, lost $436 million in the first quarter, hurt by bad weather that affected thousands of flights.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Apr202011

Two Shutdown Poker Sites to Return Poker Players' Money

Comstock Images/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Two of the three online poker sites shut down by the government last week have cut a deal to return players' money, the Justice Department in New York said Wednesday.

The agreements allow for PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker to use the pokerstars.com and fulltiltpoker.com domain names to facilitate the withdrawal of U.S. players' funds held in accounts with the companies, according to the statement.

"No individual player accounts were ever frozen or restrained, and each implicated poker company has at all times been free to reimburse any player's deposited funds," Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharra said in a statement. "In fact, this office expects the companies to return the money that U.S. players entrusted to them, and we will work with the poker companies to facilitate the return of funds to players, as today's agreements with PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker demonstrate."

While only two of the three companies were named in the announcement, the U.S. Attorney's office said that "the government stands to enter the same agreement with Absolute Poker if it so chooses."

Under the deal, PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker agreed that "they would not allow for, facilitate, or provide the ability for players located in the United States to engage in playing online poker for 'real money' or any other thing of value."

Last week, the Justice Department filed a complaint for money laundering, fraud, and violating the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act against 11 individuals who run PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio