Jobless Claims Increase by 18,000

Photo Courtesy - Spencer Platt/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The number of people filing for jobless benefits has increased, just a week after falling to its lowest point in over two years.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that claims for unemployment benefits went up to 409,000 for the week ending Jan. 1, marking an increase of 18,000 from the previous week.

The four-week average dropped to 410,750, a decrease of 3,500 from last week's average of 414,250.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


BP Management Blamed for Gulf Oil Spill

Photo Courtesy - PRNewsFoto(WASHINGTON) -- The National Oil Spill Commission released the scathing first chapter of its forthcoming full report on the investigation into the blowout of BP's Macondo well, concluding not only that BP's chronic failure of management led to the blowout, but that the problems were systemic and that such a spill could happen again.

While the conclusions are in just the first chapter of the full report, the commission's findings could have significant implications for the world's oil giants, which are some of the biggest and most profitable companies in the world.

The commission, appointed by President Obama, noted that "most of the mistakes and oversights at Macondo" which led to the mammoth explosion "can be traced back to a single overarching failure -- a failure of management."

Ensnared in a culture of poor management, the inability to communicate concerns and incipient risk-taking, BP's well was doomed, said the report.

According to the report, technical and engineering failures led to the blowout itself, including a flawed design, shortcuts taken in cementing the well, and failure to manage the blowout once it began.

All those points had already been published, but in this final report the commission's co-chair said that "given the documented failings of both Transocean and Halliburton, both of which serve the offshore industry in virtually every ocean, I reluctantly conclude we have a system-wide problem."

The report concludes that "the root causes are systemic and, absent significant reform in both industry practices and government policies, might well recur." That is, a future blowout and resulting oil spill could happen again.

The Department of the Interior responded with a statement that it has "already identified, acknowledged, and spent months working aggressively to reform offshore drilling."

That includes an overhaul of the regulatory body that was created to provide oversight on wells like BP's Macondo.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Aging Middle Income Americans Unsure About Retirement Funds

Photo Courtest - Getty Images(CHICAGO) -- Almost two out of every three middle-income Americans are not sure whether or not they've saved enough money to live comfortably after they retire, a new study said on Wednesday.

The Bankers Life and Casualty Company Center for a Secure retirement studied Americans between the ages of 55 and 75 who made between $25,000 and $75,000. The Middle-Income Retirement Preparedness Study found that 63 percent of them are unsure about their future and that greater than 50 percent don't take any professional retirement advice. Even more worrisome was that half of the sampled group turn to the Internet, where anyone can post information, for direction.

"Rising health and long-term care costs, the declining value of investments and an uncertain economic future all highlight the need for retirement plans that protect savings and make money last," said Scott Perry, president of Bankers Life and Casualty Company.

The study also found that 84 percent of people who choose not to work with a professional advisor say they don't think they need one, or that they could do it on their own.

CSR found that a majority also spend less than one hour per month planning on how to manage their retirement funds. The study leans towards the use of a profesional advisor saying that more than two-thirds of respondents who use help feel better prepared for retirement than their counterparts.

Copyright 2011 ABC Radio News



American Airlines Dropped by Another Travel Site

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(NEW YORK) -- American Airlines says it now hopes to reach deals to resume ticket sales with Internet travel agent sites Expedia and Orbitz after dropping its fares from Orbitz last month and then seeing Expedia retaliate by partially hiding American fares from its search function.

American's announcement comes just as Sabre, a behind-the-scenes provider of airfare data to travel agencies, announced it will display American Airlines information less prominently.

These are just the latest development in what has become an escalating stand-off between American and ticket distributors over the fees associated with selling airfare.

Airlines pay fees to third-party sites, such as Travelocity, Expedia or Orbitz, that sell seats on their flights. Those fees can be as high as $4 per flight segment, according to Robert Mann, an airline consultant and president of R.W. Mann & Company.

American, like most of the major airlines, sells about two thirds of its tickets through third-party sites but has been trying to rein in those costs and also direct more customers to its own website, a model favored by Southwest Airlines. What makes Sabre's move particularity interesting is that the system, which services most of the airlines, was originally designed to help American with its bookings and was once part of the airline.

Sabre, along with Amadeus, Galileo and Worldspan, are known as a global distribution systems, or GDS, and they provide most of the back-end airfare data to traditional travel agents, corporate travel departments and online travel sites Orbitz and Expedia.

If American can't reach a resolution with Orbitz and Expedia, it is going to have to train customers to go through other channels to find its flights.

Any American Airlines tickets previously sold on these sites are still valid.

So far, no other major airline has followed American's lead in fighting with the big three booking sites. However, last month, Delta did pull its tickets off three smaller travel sites: CheapOair, and One Travel.

The travel sites aren't too happy.

"American Airlines is attempting to introduce a new direct connect model that will result in higher costs and reduced transparency for consumers, making it difficult to compare American Airlines' ticket prices and options with offerings by other airlines," Expedia said in a statement released last week. "American Airlines' direct connect model is of questionable, if any, benefit to travelers, would be costly to build and maintain and would compromise travel agents' ability to provide travelers with the best selection."

For its part, American says that ticket sales have not been hurt after the break with the travel companies, which has now lasted about three weeks.

Airfare experts say the ongoing battle will mean more work for passengers looking for the cheapest flights.

"The move does make things a bit more difficult for consumers in terms of comparison shopping, since they will have to remember to search American separately if using Orbitz," said Anne Banas, executive editor of the travel website SmarterTravel. "However, my advice would be to use a meta-search engine like Bing Travel or Kayak that searches multiple sites -- including Orbitz and American -- at the same time." 

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Reports Show Improvements in Jobs Market

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Two new reports suggest the jobs market may be improving.

Although unemployment is still high, the number of layoffs has fallen sharply since the worst of the recession.  The jobs firm Challenger Gray & Christmas says layoffs last year fell to their lowest level since 1997.  The trend continued in December with a sharp drop compared to the month before.

Meanwhile, the processing firm ADP says private sector employment gained 297,000 jobs last month.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Jackpot! Winning $355 Million Mega Millions Lottery Tickets Sold

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(ATLANTA) -- At least two Mega Millions tickets matching all five numbers and the mega ball number in Tuesday night's $355 million drawing were sold in Idaho and Washington state, lottery officials confirmed Wednesday morning.

The numbers drawn in the nation's third largest jackpot were: 4, 8, 15, 25, 47 and mega ball number 42.

"Idaho is a very lucky place," Idaho Lottery Director Jeff Anderson said in a press release.  "We are encouraging everyone who has played Mega Millions to check their tickets carefully for winners.  We are also recommending all our players sign the back of their ticket prior to presenting it for payment.  These tickets are bearer instruments and we want to ensure our winners protect their play."

Idaho lottery officials also said another Mega Millions ticket that matched all five numbers minus the mega ball number in Tuesday's night draw was sold in the state.  That ticket is worth $250,000.

Another winner in Washington state will be sharing the $355 million jackpot, according to the Mega Millions website.

It is unknown if there are winners from other states to claim a share in the game's top jackpot prize.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


11 New Airline Fees Travelers Might See in 2011

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Airline fees are not going away anytime soon and -- if past years are any indication -- 2011 is likely to bring a whole new bevy of fees to the flying public.

Fees are big business for the airlines and one of the main reasons they have been profitable in 2010.  The 26 major airlines tracked by the federal government took in $3.84 billion in profits from July to September, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.  More than $2.1 billion of that profit came from fees -- baggage fees and reservation change fees were the two largest chunks at $906 million and $646 million, respectively.

"The airlines are only profitable because of the fees," said George Hobica, president of  "When airlines try to raise fares to a level that reflects the actual cost of doing business, passengers tend to stay home or drive.  It's a very price-sensitive business."

Wall Street analysts and industry watchers all say the fee frenzy is likely to continue.  That is especially true as the price of oil starts to creep up again.

Here are 11 fees Hobica predicted travelers might face in 2011:

1. In-person check-in fees for not checking in at an airport kiosk or online.

2. Fees for paying with a credit card since it costs airlines money to accepts plastic payments.

3. Checked bag fees by the pound, as opposed to incremental fees based on weight ranges.

4. Luggage distance surcharges that will charge more for checked bags aboard longer flights.

5. Internet convenience fees for booking flights online.

6. Carry-on bag fees.

7. No more price-drop refunds that gives a customer credit for rebooking the same flight at a lower price.

8. Infant fees for children under the age of two, who right now are free.

9. Name change fees that would apply to assigning unusable, non-refundable tickets to other passengers.

10. Fare lock-in fees for holding a seat at a given price as a hedge against rising airfare.

11. Lavatory fees to use the bathrooms aboard airplanes.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


$33 Million in Unclaimed Money for Veterans Dates Back to World Wars

Photo Courtesy - U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (WASHINGTON) -- Veterans and their families may be eligible to receive unclaimed funds totaling about $33 million, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Veterans' advocacy groups say many veterans' families have no idea the money is there.

"A life insurance policy could make a huge difference for the veteran's family, but only if they know who to contact and how to claim it," said Peg Bergeron, executive director of the American Military Retirees Association.

Unclaimed life-insurance policy payments, dividend checks and refunds -- about $33 million in all -- have accumulated since the beginning of the Veterans Affairs insurance programs in 1917.  The unclaimed payments can go up to $4,000, but are typically between $5 and $750, according to Thomas Lastowka, director for insurance for the Department of Veteran Affairs.

Lastowka said the amount is dependent on the premium that the solider chose to pay in the original policy, and cautioned that many families would not find they are eligible for funds.

About 25 million people have enrolled in the insurance programs since World War I, according to Lastowka.  The bulk of the unclaimed funds date from World War II, when about 22 million people enrolled.

He urged veterans' families to check if they are eligible through the Veterans Affairs website:  Family members should have a veteran's name, date of birth, death and, if possible, the insurance policy number.

Lastowka said the website, which the department launched seven years ago, is the fastest method to determine if a family member is eligible for a payment.  There is also a toll-free phone number, 1-800-669-8477.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


US Exports Likely to Continue Growth in 2011, Say Analysts

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEWARK, N.J.) -- U.S. exports are expected to continue growth in 2011, reports The Journal of Commerce.  Strong export growth across the country was seen in record numbers in 2010 and is likely to grow.

Data reported by analysts at PIERS, a sister company of The Journal of Commerce, is supportive of this expectation, observing a nearly 12 percent jump in the first half of 2010.  PIERS researchers say a "mid- to-high single-digit growth" is likely over the next few quarters.

The journal attributes the acceleration of U.S. export growth to a "growing Asian middle class, overseas crop issues, a week U.S. dollar [and] demand for U.S. goods from agriculture to manufactured products."

With the surfacing of such optimistic reports should increase the possibility that the Obama administration could reach its goal to double exports by 2015.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Consumer Comfort Index Rings in the Old -- But with Brighter Hopes Ahead

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Consumer views of current economic conditions start 2011 about as poor as they were across troubled 2010 -- but with tantalizing signs of potential gains ahead.

First the bad part: The ongoing Consumer Comfort Index stands at -45 on its scale of -100 to +100, its second-worst start to a new year in 25 years of weekly polling. That’s four points higher than at the beginning of 2009, but four points lower than in the first week of 2010. The CCI averaged -46 last year, and this week marks the 142nd week in a row it hasn’t exceeded -40, a record by far.

Yet other trends offer grounds for hope. The Labor Department last week said weekly initial unemployment claims fell below 400,000 for the first time since July 2008 -- and historically the CCI has closely correlated with this indicator. Moreover, the Dow Jones Industrial Average jumped 93 points yesterday to its highest close since August 2008. The Dow and the CCI also are aligned closely, with a monthly correlation of .83.

There are more reasons to think better things may be in store. Expectations for the economy’s future, as apart from views of current conditions, improved last month. And as noted last week, 2010 was the first year since 2006 that the CCI improved upon its previous year’s annual average. That conjures images of its recovery from the last sharp downturn; after bottoming out at an annual average of -44 in 1992, the index improved to -37 in 1993 -- and then grew steadily until the next (milder) recession in 2001.

The CCI, produced by Langer Research Associates, is based on Americans’ ratings of their current finances, the national economy, and the buying climate. This week just 11 percent rate the national economy positively, 26 percent call it a good time to buy things and 46 percent say their personal finances are in good shape, fewer than a majority for a record 52nd week straight.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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