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Wednesday
Dec152010

Mom to Sue McDonalds in Happy Meal Battle

Photo Courtesy - David Paul Morris/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Monet Parham, a mother of two and a health educator, plans to join the Center for Science in the Public Interest in filing a lawsuit Wednesday against McDonald's, forcing them to either offer lower-calorie meals or get rid of the toys in their Happy Meals.

Like many mothers, Parham wants to feed her daughter one thing, but the girl often wants to eat something else.  It's a battle between the Happy Meal and Parham, who said it's a fight she just can't win.

"I can tell them 'No' all day long, but then they see commercials that convince them you've really got to have this," Parham said.  Her six-year-old daughter, Maya, especially likes the toys that come with McDonald's Happy Meals.  With a smile, the first-grader says opening a Happy Meal is like "a birthday present."

"I object to the fact that McDonalds is getting into my kids' heads without my permission and actually changing what my kids want to eat," Parham said in a CSPI statement announcing the lawsuit.

"McDonalds knows that kids like toys more than they like the burgers, so they dangle these little toys in front of kids to pester their parents to take them to McDonalds," Michael Jacobson of the CSPI said.  "It's a trick that works.  It's unfair to kids, they are being totally manipulated and it's unfair to parents who have the company going behind their back using this toy trick to get their kids to pester them." 

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Dec142010

Senate Tax Cut Plan Has Something for Everyone

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Like gluttons at a buffet party, politicians couldn't help loading their plates with goodies for various industries and individuals in this week's 83-15 Senate tax package vote.

Not only did the Senate vote to extend the Bush-era tax cuts, they carved out special provisions for everything from tax credits to Hollywood producers to breaks for rum production in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

These 60 or so benefits or business "extenders" that assist specific industries added substantially to the estimated $858-billion cost of the bill over the next two years, a gargantuan meal at the U.S. taxpayers' expense that will have to be paid for in future years.

"These extenders come up every year or so in Washington just when you think they're going to expire," said Mark Robyn, staff economist with the Tax Foundation. He said the extender provisions are meant to stimulate the economy and investment but there are ongoing debates about whether they work.

More than two dozen amendments to the Senate bill have been filed addressing breaks for even more sectors -- it's unclear if or when these will come to a vote. The House has yet to get its collective hands on a bill.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Dec142010

Federal Reserve: Recovery Continuing, But Insufficient

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Federal Reserve said Tuesday it will keep interest rates unchanged and continue its massive quantitative easing program.

The announcement after the one-day meeting of the central bank’s decision-making body marks the 17th in a row where the Open Market Committee decided to keep a key federal interest rate target unchanged at zero to 0.25 percent.

In November, the governors announced a $600 billion program, dubbed QE2, designed to stimulate spending by having the fed buy up Treasury bonds during the next eight months. The fed governors believed the additional money would lower borrowing costs for American consumers and businesses, but since the program was announced, interest rates have gone up slightly. The committee said they are going to continue the program, but will adjust the size and duration of the easing based on incoming data about the health of the economy as they originally planned.

The fed’s assessment of the overall economy continues to be tepid. Many analysts expect the Fed to keep  a steady hand over the next few months as they assess the effectiveness of their massive QE2 program and hope that recent good economic news continues to speed the recovery toward a more robust pace of growth.

The Dow pulled back slightly after the announcement.

The first meeting for the FOMC is scheduled for January 25 & 26.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Dec142010

November Retail Sales Up More Than Expected

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Silver Bells of holiday retail rang a bit louder and clearer Tuesday as the Commerce Department released figures that showed retail sales up more than expected in November.

The government said retail sales were up 0.8 percent last month, well above the 0.6 percent increase economists had expected.

“Gains were fairly broad-based across big-box retailers, apparel stores and online vendors,” said Diane Swonk, an economist with Mesirow Financial. “We also saw more spending at the gas pump as energy prices picked up. The weak spots were electronic store sales and restaurant tabs. Middle and lower income households, in particular, tend to make trade-offs and eat out less when prices at the pump rise.”

Consumer confidence polls have suggested spending would be more conservative.

The better than expected results have some retail groups revising their expectations for the holiday season. The National Retail Federation initially thought holiday spending would be up 2.3 percent this year, but revised its outlook Tuesday morning to a 3.3 percent annual growth.

“The start to the holiday season has surpassed all expectations,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “While employment data is still a concern, we are starting to see improvement in other economic indicators that support an increase to our forecast.”

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Dec142010

Want to Buy a Foreclosed Home? Try Google Maps or Zillow

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- With mortgage rates at their highest level in six months, this may be an opportune time for buyers.

Real estate websites are offering better tools to research foreclosed homes for sale, sometimes at a steep discount. Earlier this month, RealtyTrac announced that in the third quarter of this year, the average sales price of properties sold in some stage of foreclosure was over 32 percent below the average sales price of properties not in foreclosure.

Google Maps began offering a search feature last year for foreclosed properties. It is growing in popularity, though it is not very novel, said Justin McHood of MortgageCommentator.com.

McHood, who writes about mortgage topics for Zillow.com, one of the largest real estate websites, said a number of sites are simply rehashing what is known as "multiple listing services," regional listings of properties for sale. Last month Zillow.com had 12.5 million visitors, up 60 percent from last year, according to Bohutinsky. Despite the "biggest real estate downturn of our lifetime," she said Zillow.com is growing, as is the number of other real estate websites.

RealtyTrac.com is a real estate website that specializes in foreclosed properties, with over 2 million listings, according to senior vice president Rick Sharga. Although all foreclosed properties are listed in public records, he estimates that less than 6 percent of public foreclosure databases are online. Sharga said RealtyTrac.com fills that gap by hiring contract employees to hand collect those records in court houses in 2,200 counties nationwide.

Fannie Mae launched a website in June, HomePath.com, which lists the properties it owns. HomePath.com gets 15 to 19 million hits per month and generates about 800 leads a day to listing brokers, according to Janis Smith, a spokeswoman for Fannie Mae. More than 87,000 families purchased HomePath properties in the first half of 2010, according to Terry Edwards, executive vice president, Credit Portfolio Management at Fannie Mae.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Dec142010

Report: Yahoo! Prepares to Cut 600 Jobs

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(SUNNYVALE, Calif.) -- Search giant Yahoo! is reportedly set to cut more than 600 jobs beginning as early as Tuesday.

The Wall Street Journal, citing sources, reports that the company will slash nearly five percent of its workforce as it struggles to compete with Google, which just last month promised workers a 10 percent raise.

It’s the latest in a round of cuts that began in late 2008, when Yahoo! Inc. cut approximately 1,400 jobs.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Dec142010

GM Begins Shipping Chevrolet Volts to US Dealerships

Photo Courtesy - Chevrolet [dot] com(DETROIT) -- The first batch of Chevrolet Volts are on their way to car dealers across the United States, according to General Motors.

The electric vehicles left the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant on Monday and are being shipped to their initial launch markets in California, Texas, Washington, D.C. and New York.  GM says a total of 160 Volts are expected to be shipped by this week.

“Today is a historic milestone for Chevrolet,” said Tony DiSalle, Volt marketing director.  “We have redefined automotive transportation with the Volt, and soon the first customers will be able to experience gas-free commuting with the freedom to take an extended trip whenever or wherever they want.”

The Volt combines "battery-only electric driving with an efficient, gas-powered engine" that allows the vehicle to go 379 miles before having to recharge its battery or fill up its gas tank.  It is the only electric vehicle that is mass produced in the U.S.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Monday
Dec132010

IT Employment Sees Modest Growth in November

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(ALEXANDRIA, Va.) -- The information technology industry added 600 jobs in November, continuing its modest, month-over-month growth, according to a monthly IT employment index developed by TechServe Alliance.

While last month's numbers were significantly weaker (12,000 jobs were added in October) than preceding months, the index still reflected a trend of growth, which has been unbroken for 12 consecutive month.

TechServ Alliance CEO Mark Roberts advises that we keep November's moderate growth in perspective.

"IT employment has now grown every month for the last 12 months.  While we will continue to see month-to-month variances given the dynamic nature of the economy and labor markets, our bullish forecasts for the coming year remain unchanged," he said.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Monday
Dec132010

Toyota Conducting Recall of 2011 Sienna Model

Courtesy - Toyota(TORRANCE, Calif.) -- Toyota Motor Sales (TMS), U.S.A., Inc. is conducting a voluntary safety recall of some cars in its 2011 Sienna line.  The reason given is that it wants to replace a potentially faulty bracket connected to the break light.

Owners of the affected vehicles will receive official notification of the recall via first-class mail from Toyota by January 2011, along with instructions on what to do should the owner experience break light problems. 

No other Toyota or Lexus vehicles are involved in this recall. 

Toyota will also post this information on its website, toyota.com/recall. 

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Monday
Dec132010

Continental Airlines Introduces New Fee to Hold Airfare

Photo Courtesy - United Continental Airlines(NEW YORK) -- It looks like the airline industry has found a new fee to squeeze some extra cash out of the flying public: the rate lock fee. Continental Airlines on Monday afternoon announced "FareLock," a new service which allows passengers to pay fees starting at $5, and rising to $9 or more, to hold a seat at a given price as a hedge against rising airfare. The price can vary depending on the itinerary and other factors.

Continental, which merged with United Airlines but is still operating as a separate airline, is the first carrier to offer such a service but, as with baggage fees, expect the rest of the industry to soon follow Continental's lead.

Continental, Delta, United and other airlines currently allow customers to get a full refund on any ticket within 24 hours of purchase. Some travelers take advantage of the system by booking, canceling the next day and then rebooking to ensure the best fare. American Airlines currently allows customers to hold a ticket -- and the fare -- for 24 hours for free.

Continental said that, for now, it won't abandon its 24-hour cancellation policy and that its new FareLock just gives travelers more options and more time to decide.

Customers may choose FareLock when booking reservations at continental.com and opt for a 72-hour or a seven-day hold. They may return to complete the transaction at any time between purchasing the lock and its expiration, or they may choose an auto-ticketing feature which tickets at the end of the lock period, the company said. FareLock fees, beginning at $5 for a 72-hour hold and $9 for a seven-day hold, will vary based on a number of factors such as the itinerary, number of days to departure and the length of the hold. While tickets can still be canceled with 24 hours, the FareLock fee is non-refundable.

Fees are big business for the airlines. The Department of Transportation on Monday revealed that Delta Air Lines collected the most fees of any of the U.S. carriers, hauling in $1.26 billion in fees so far this year, Neidl noted. United/Continental was second with $922 million followed by $784 million collected by American. Neidl said that even though Southwest does not charge for the first two checked bags, it still collected $22.5 million in fees for third bags and overweight bags.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio







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