On Eve of Government Jobs Report, Gallup Reports Unemployment Up at Year's End

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(PRINCETON, N.J.) – After a November improvement in employment, unemployment closed the year at 9.6 percent, up from 8.8 percent at the end of November, according to Gallup. Underemployment rose to 19 percent from 17.2 percent over the same period.

Those who were employed part-time and sought full-time work made up 9.4 percent of the workforce at the end of the year, also an increase from 8.4 percent at the close of November.

Despite an expected increase in hiring and firing during the holiday season, Gallup reported that their job creation index has remained unchanged over the past three months.

The data comes a day before the government is expected to make a report on unemployment and the creation of over 140,000 new jobs in December.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Coffeehouse Gambles on New Logo, Drops 'Starbucks' and 'Coffee'

Photo Courtesy - Starbucks Coffee Company(NEW YORK) -- This week, Starbucks, commemorating its 40th birthday, unveiled a new logo that loses the words "Starbucks" and "Coffee" and consists solely of the Melusine, a two-tailed, mermaid-like figure that has been part of the logo from the beginning.

The change has prompted a significant outcry from the faithful, increased chatter around the worldwide water cooler and caused marketing, media and design professionals everywhere to begin spontaneously spouting their opinions.

Some are screaming "Change it back," while others are scratching their heads trying to figure out why a company would take its name off the masthead. Judging from the initial press, a minority of people believe it could be a good idea.

The controversy is easy to understand on the surface. Starbucks is, after all, the largest coffeehouse chain in the world. There are 11,000 stores in the United States alone and another 7,000 spread throughout 50 other countries.

The brand is built on the powerful and unique relationship the company has built with its consumers by catering to their coffee nuances with an army of 150,000 baristas.

To tens of thousands of its customers, Starbucks' messing with the logo may amount to challenging a personal preference by fiddling with the familiar. But, as a business move, it is bold and defensible.

Each time Starbucks has made a significant change -- adding espresso beverages and going public -- it has updated its logo.

Now, at 40, the company has decided to position itself to expand outside of coffee and tea as a focus, perhaps even adding wine and beer after hours. In post-recession America, companies willing to take on risks to spur growth by reinventing themselves are still a rare commodity.

Many people are comparing the Starbucks logo change to the Gap fiasco of October when the retailer buckled to consumer backlash against its new logo and reverted back to the familiar blue box. The differences are significant.

The Starbucks logo was introduced front and center by CEO Howard Shultz, who explains the company's move in its website video as an evolution, pointing out that it embraces and respects the heritage of the old logo and noting how it leads changes in the company's direction.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Blue Shield Policyholders May Face Rate Hikes Up to 59 Percent

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(LOS ANGELES) -- Thousands of Blue Shield individual policyholders could see their insurance rates increase by as much as 59 percent on March 1, The Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday.

The California-based health insurer attributes the hikes to rising healthcare costs and expenses stemming from newly enforced healthcare laws.

If implemented, a total of 193,000 policyholders would have their rates increased by an average of 30 to 35 percent.  Out of that total, about one-in-four customers would be faced with cumulative increases of more than 50 percent throughout a five month time period.

Blue Shield policyholders, including Michael Fraser of San Diego, were notified of the successive rate hikes.  After reviewing the notice, Fraser learned that his monthly bill would go up from $271 to $431, an increase of 59 percent.

California insurance commissioner Dave Jones' office is reviewing the proposed increases.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Retail Sales Rose in 2010

Photo Courtesy - National Retail Federation(WASHINGTON) -- Retail spending tailed off a bit at the end of December, but 2010 was strong on the whole.

According to an industry report released Thursday, retailers had their strongest holiday gains in four years as sales at malls and shopping centers rose nearly four percent in 2010. A blizzard in the midwest and northeast took a bite out of store sales at the end of last month, but a strong November more than offset a slightly weaker than expected result for December sales.

Mesirow Financial Chief Economist Diane Swonk is excited about the new numbers, saying "the economy is clearly accelerating. Consumers that do have jobs are feeling better about the economy and spending more."

December sales are three percent higher than 2009, but Mesirow says not everything is rosy. "The bad news is oil prices, energy prices crept up over the course of the holiday season. Prices at the pump, in particular, soared in the last few weeks of December and that forced consumers to make trade-offs in their spending."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


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

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