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Wednesday
Mar302011

Disaster Insurance Cost Rising Along with Occurrence of Disasters

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Insurance experts say the likelihood of more floods and hurricanes in the future is rising.

In fact, a new report from a Swiss insurance firm says the number of earthquakes, floods and other disasters around the world rose last year compared to 2009.

For homeowners without disaster insurance, damage from natural disasters can prove to be costly.

"Are you financially ready to pay for what could be hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenses to fix your home?," says Anna Maria Andreotis of SmartMoney.com.

Although the premiums for these insurance policies "have been rising and they're expected to continue rising going forward," Andreotis says they may be something to consider.

"If you live in an area that's prone to either earthquakes to hurricanes to flooding that is something you need to keep in mind," she says.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Mar302011

Market Report: Stock Averages Up in Midday Trading

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- After last week's solid gains, the stock market continues to head higher with hopes for more economic growth.

Three new reports point to a stronger jobs market.

The payroll firm ADP says more than 200,000 new jobs have been added in the past month and that comes despite cuts in government and non-profit jobs. ADP says there's been a solid gain in small business jobs.

Employment firm Challenger Gray & Christmas says layoffs in March have fallen to the lowest level in any month since 1995.

A survey conducted by the Business Roundtable of chief executives says most big companies plan to boost hiring in the next six months.

President Obama is calling for a one-third cut in U.S. oil imports over the next decade. The president also wants a stronger push for alternatives including biofuels as well as energy efficiency and more natural gas production.

Oil prices were down slightly at midday – sweet crude going for $104 per barrel.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Mar302011

Stock Futures Up Wednesday After Continued Gains

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Stock losses that came right after Japan's earthquake and Libya's bloodshed seem to have been reversed.

In the U.S., stock market gains continued Tuesday as futures are moving higher again Wednesday morning.  The Dow closed 81 points higher Tuesday, while the Nasdaq and S&P rose 26 points and nine points, respectively.

Meanwhile, in Japan, the economic fallout from the March 11 earthquake continues to linger in the auto industry.  Toyota is now telling its dealers in the U.S. to limit ordering replacement parts made in Japan, worrying it will run out of them.  Additionally, Honda has run short of some electrical transmission and electrical parts that come from Japan.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Mar292011

Supreme Court Justices Seem Leery of Walmart Plaintiffs

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Several Supreme Court justices seemed skeptical Tuesday of the arguments made by an attorney on behalf of female plaintiffs that they should be allowed to band together and sue Walmart for sex discrimination.

The nation's largest private employer provided its managers with unchecked discretion that led to widespread sexual discrimination and women being paid less than men despite more seniority and higher performance, Joseph Sellers argued before the court.

But Walmart said a lower court was wrong to allow hundreds of thousands of current and former female employees to join forces and sue the company.

"The company has a very strong policy against discrimination and in favor of diversity, " lawyer Theodore Boutrous Jr. argued on behalf of the retail giant.

If the Supreme Court allows the case to go forward, it would be the largest employment discrimination class-action suit in history involving potentially billions of dollars.

Sellers said Walmart has a "very strong corporate culture" and that it allows its managers "broad discretion," which he called the "Walmart way."

But Justice Anthony Kennedy challenged Sellers, saying, "It's not clear to me what the unlawful policy that Walmart has adopted, under your theory of the case.

"Your complaint faces in two directions. Number one, you said this is a culture where...headquarters knows everything that's going on. Then in the next breath, you say, well, now these supervisors have too much discretion," he said.

Justice Antonin Scalia agreed with Kennedy. "I'm getting whipsawed here," he said.

"It's either the individual supervisors are left on their own, or else there is a strong corporate culture that tells them what to do."

The case stems from a sexual discrimination suit filed in 2001 by six female employees alleging they had been paid less than men in comparable positions in violation of Title VII, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination. As word spread, dozens and dozens of women joined the suit and a district court ruled the case could go forward on behalf of all similarly situated women.

The Supreme Court is not addressing the merits of the sex discrimination claims, only whether the women can go forward as a class.

Walmart argues that in order to qualify as a class, the women need to satisfy the so-called "commonality requirement."

"The commonality requirement is part of the rule of civil procedure governing class actions," class-action litigation expert Andrew Trask said. "It means that the women's claims have to be similar enough so that if you prove one woman's claim, you have proven every woman's claim."

Outside court Tuesday, Betty Dukes, one of the original plaintiffs who works as a greeter at Walmart, agreed.

"Walmart may be a big company, " she said, "but they're not big enough where they can't be challenged in a court of law. If you do wrong, then you should be held accountable, from the least of us to the greatest of us."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Mar292011

iPhone 5 Rumor Round-Up: Will New Phone Be Delayed?

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Apple's newest device, the iPad 2, has barely been on store shelves for a month, but the Silicon Valley rumor mill is already churning out news about when the company's next product, the iPhone 5, will be released.

This week, the company announced the dates for its annual Worldwide Developers Conference -- the summer event at which Apple CEO Steve Jobs has traditionally released the company's latest smartphone models.

But the announcement's focus on software (not hardware, like the iPhone) left industry watchers wondering if the omission means that Apple will break with tradition and delay the iPhone 5 launch to later in the summer or fall.

Citing sources inside the company, respected Apple blogger Jim Dalrymple wrote on his blog The Loop that Apple fans should not expect any iPhones, iPads or Mac products to come out of the June event.

"Apple closed the door this morning on any speculation that it would announce new hardware at its Worldwide Developers conference saying it would focus on iOS and Mac OS," he said.

Apple did not respond to a request for comment from ABC News, but in the past has said that it does not comment on rumor or speculation.

Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group, said that given parts shortages, it's possible that the company would delay the iPhone 5 launch to later in the year. But he cautioned that during this time of year, Apple rumors tend to get kicked around online and not all of them are true.

In a press release, Philip Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing, said, "At this year's conference we are going to unveil the future of iOS and Mac OS. If you are an iOS or Mac OS X software developer, this is the event that you do not want to miss."

Still, while developers may flock to the annual Apple conference (according to the event's website it sold out one day after the announcement), Apple fans will remain hungry for details on the elusive iPhone 5.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Mar292011

Cloud Girlfriend: Start-Up Offers Fake Relationships for Facebookers 

NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images(SAN DIEGO) -- A new start-up says it can create your perfect girl, as long as you tell it what you're looking for. But don't expect to snuggle up with this mate because she's only going to be accessible via Facebook.

Still in pre-launch mode (the site says "coming soon"), Cloud Girlfriend claims to generate a virtual girlfriend who can interact with you publicly on your favorite social network.

"Cloudgirlfriend.com's tagline is, 'The easiest way to get a girlfriend is to already have one,'" the site's San Diego-based co-founder, David Fuhriman, said in an email.

For a fee (which the site has yet to disclose), the service provides a "network of real people, not bots" who post romantic messages and communicate with users on Facebook, Fuhriman said. But no one (besides the people involved in the faux fling) will be the wiser that the relationship isn't real.

For now, the site only offers female companions but, when asked about the lack of males, Fuhriman said, "Maybe there could be a boyfriend." But, he emphasized, the point of the service is not to satisfy sexual desire.

"CloudGirlfriend.com is not a new virtual porn site or an adult chat service," he said. "Those services attempt to fill a physiological need, but it does not satisfy intimacy and friendship."

Instead, his site is intended to build its customers' self-esteem and confidence.

Even though the site has yet to open up to the public, the mysterious company has stirred up considerable buzz in the blogosphere and among potential users, who the site says should "register early to get in line."

But some tech blogs think the site might not even be able to get past the social network's terms of service, which prohibit Facebook accounts that don't belong to real people.

"If he's going to be toying with Facebook profiles to create fake girlfriends, we assume Facebook will hammer him," Business Insider said in a write-up of the new start-up. "Facebook doesn't want spammy accounts filling up the social network."

But Fuhriman said Cloud Girlfriend will not interfere with Facebook users' experiences on the site.

"We expect log-ins, time spent on site and page views to increase for people who are connected to a Cloud Girlfriend," he said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 

Tuesday
Mar292011

Blockbuster to Close 186 Stores 

Blockbuster Inc.(DALLAS) -- Dallas-based Blockbuster Inc. will close 186 more stores over the next few days. That will bring the number of Blockbuster closings to 1,145 since the movie rental chain first announced it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in September 2010.

California and Texas will be impacted the most, each will experience double-digit store closings.

The company officially goes on the auction block April 4 with an opening stalking horse bid of $290 million from New York-based hedge fund Monarch Alternative Capital.

Blockbuster will use the proceeds to pay its debt to movie studios. The company owes studios "all costs and expenses of administration" from February 25th through the date of the closing sale.

Copyright 2011 ABC Radio News

Tuesday
Mar292011

Stocks Recover at Close Despite Slumped Consumer Confidence

Comstock Images/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Stocks rose Tuesday despite less-than-encouraging readings on home prices and consumer confidence.  The Dow closed up 81 points, the Nasdaq gained 26 and the S&P added nine.

It's getting more expensive to fill your car -- and your grocery basket.  The Conference Board says soaring gas and food prices pushed the consumer confidence index down to 63.4 this month, ending five months of improvement.

Homes are still a bargain.  The S&P/Case-Schiller 20-city index says prices were down in 19 of the 20 cities it surveys.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Mar292011

Walmart and Women: How Do Other Big Companies Embrace Female Workers?

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Carly Huey never thought she'd still be working for Patagonia.

"I started working in the Boston store in 1997 as a sales associate," Huey said.

Huey thought the job would only last a year, but two kids and multiple promotions later, she has now been with the company for more than 10 years.

She climbed the ladder from sales associate to district manager, holding three other positions along the way.

Patagonia offers "no cost" health insurance for its employees, even to those who work just 20 hours a week. Almost everyone at the company, 99 percent of employees, work a flexible schedule: Leaving to attend a child's soccer game is actually encouraged.

The result of this kind of workplace is that women have stayed and excelled at Patagonia. Today, 62 percent of the company's top executives are women, and what is good for women is good for business.

"There's a huge return on investment for companies who invest in their female employees and in their hourly workers, and that investment pays off by having talented people who stay," said Carol Evans, president of Working Mother Media.

Marriott International extends its hospitality to all employees. The hotel chain offers perks like flextime and training to everyone, including front desk workers and housekeepers.

Marriott also promotes from within the company, and five of the company's 12 vice presidents are women.

Over at McDonalds, even part-time employees can apply for the 401k program and purchase health insurance.

If an employee wants to go back to school, McDonalds will reimburse them. Sixty-four percent of store managers at the company are women and 70 percent of them started flipping burgers.

This means that the girl taking orders behind the counters has a real shot at eventually being the company's CEO.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 

Tuesday
Mar292011

Home Prices Continue Downward Spiral

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Home prices are continuing to fall across most major U.S. cities. The latest Standard and Poor's/Case-Shiller index out Tuesday shows price declines in 19 of 20 cities from December to January. Only Washington, D.C. saw prices edge up, a tenth of a percent.

"What we're seeing is continued decline in home prices, and it's across the nation. We really aren't seeing any markets that are showing any sustained recovery at this point," according to S&P Indices Vice President Maureen Maitland, who believes the housing market is still in a recession.

Maitland added that as of right now there is no positive hope for the numbers and we are still seeing a negative momentum in regards to home prices.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







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