Business news

The news out of Detroit has been grim of late, but there are some bright spots coming from one corner of the Motor City. On Thursday, General Motors posted its 14th straight profitable quarter since emerging from bankruptcy. Ford announced its 16th consecutive profitable quarter Wednesday, and Chrysler is expected to offer good news soon as well.

Organic egg farmers are divided in their reaction to a new FDA proposal that's intended to reduce the risk of salmonella infection among free-roaming chickens. They even disagree about what the document, called "Guidance for Industry," actually requires.

Residents Forced To Live Without Landlines

Jul 22, 2013

Last fall, Hurricane Sandy damaged homes, buckled boardwalks and ruined much of the infrastructure of the small vacation spot of Fire Island, just off the coast of New York. The storm also destroyed many of the island's copper phone lines. But the island's only traditional phone company has no plans to replace them. Instead, Verizon is offering customers a little white box with an antenna it calls Voice Link.

"It has all the problems of a cellphone system, but none of the advantages," says Pat Briody, who has had a house on Fire Island for 40 years.

With its bankruptcy filing Thursday, Detroit became the largest municipality in the United States to seek Chapter 9 protection.

As Scott reported, the city is saddled with $18.5 billion in debt.

Today, we ask, what happens next?

Will Robot Nannies Save Japan's Economy?

Jul 19, 2013

More than half of all Japanese women quit their jobs after giving birth to their first child. That's more than double the rate in the U.S., and it's a problem for Japan's economy.

"Senators have reached a bipartisan deal to restore lower interest rates on student borrowers," The Associated Press reports, citing "Republican and Democratic aides who insist on anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the ongoing negotiations by name."

In testimony before the House Committee on Financial Services, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said that when and how the Fed winds down its stimulus programs will depend on economic conditions.

Here's the key passage from Bernanke's prepared remarks:

Wal-Mart's long-standing plans to come to Washington, D.C., are now up in the air. The City Council passed a living wage law that would require the world's largest retailer to pay $12.50 an hour, more than the city's current $8.25 minimum wage.

Hey, baggage fees — happy fifth birthday!

Even if passengers aren't eager to celebrate, airlines are. The fees, born in 2008, helped financially desperate carriers stay aloft as the U.S. economy was spiraling down.

"That was a watershed year that scared the bejeezus out of the airline industry," said Mark Gerchick, an aviation consultant who has just released a book, Full Upright and Locked Position. Even as ticket sales were sliding, jet fuel prices were shooting to historic highs.

When Asiana Flight 214 from South Korea crashed onto the runway at San Francisco International Airport on Saturday, hundreds of flights into that airport were canceled, stranding thousands of travelers at airports across the country.

The Asiana crash came right in the middle of a holiday weekend, disrupting airline networks. And it occurred during a weekend when many flights were intentionally overbooked.

France's vaunted culinary culture has been taking it on the chin lately.

First came the news, which we told you about in April, that the majority of France's restaurants are now fast-food joints.

U.S. and EU officials begin talks Monday on an ambitious free-trade agreement aimed at generating billions of dollars of new trade. But negotiators must overcome barriers created by cultural and philosophical differences over sectors like agriculture. In Europe, the cultivation of genetically modified crops is banned, while in the U.S., they are a central part of food production. NPR's Jackie Northam visited a farm in Delaware and NPR's Eleanor Beardsley visited one in Burgundy, France, to look at those deep-seated differences. We hear from Jackie first.

Why does anyone buy Bayer aspirin — or Tylenol, or Advil — when, almost always, there's a bottle of cheaper generic pills, with the same active ingredient, sitting right next to the brand-name pills?

Matthew Gentzkow, an economist at the University of Chicago's Booth school, recently tried to answer this question. Along with a few colleagues, Gentzkow set out to test a hypothesis: Maybe people buy the brand-name pills because they just don't know that the generic version is basically the same thing.

My name is Maureen, and I am an Ikea-holic. Sure, I laughed knowingly at The Narrator's "slave to Ikea" speech as much as the next Fight Club fan. But the awful truth is, I've got a Beddinge in my bedroom.

And I'm not embarrassed to say so.

Top Vatican Bank Officials Resign

Jul 1, 2013

Two top officials of the Vatican bank resigned Monday just days following the arrest of a senior cleric with ties to the institution after police caught him with the equivalent of about $26 million in cash that they say he was trying to bring into Italy from Switzerland.

The interest rate on government-backed student loans is going to jump from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent Monday.

Republicans, Democrats and the Obama administration could not agree on a plan to keep it from happening. Lawmakers say a deal is still possible after the July 4 recess. But if they don't agree on a plan soon, 7 million students expected to take out new Stafford loans could be stuck with a much bigger bill when they start paying the money back.

It has been one of the more heated debates in Washington this year.

Developers in Phoenix are scrambling to keep up with another frenzied demand for housing. During the Great Recession, homebuilders in the suburbs abandoned neighborhoods that were only half-built. These so-called zombie subdivisions left a ring of unfinished construction around the city.

But now, the zombies are waking up.

In many parts of the developing world, drinking a glass of water can be deadly — especially for young children, who can die of diarrheal diseases contracted from dirty water.

So getting clean water to people in the developing world has been a top priority for aid groups for a long time. But it's been a surprisingly hard problem to solve.

There is one basic question that keeps being asked about the U.S. auto industry: Is it on the rebound?

"People ask a lot, is the auto industry back?" says Kristin Dziczek, a director at the Center for Automotive Research. "And it depends on what scale you want to look at."

So if we're looking at scales, let's start with productivity. In this case, how many work hours it takes to build a car. Productivity in U.S. plants is 39 percent higher than it was in 2000. "Productivity has never been this high," Dziczek says.

It's not your everyday real estate deal. A team of young entrepreneurs persuaded about 50 deep-pocketed investors to help them purchase a mountain. The deal just closed in April, and development on Utah's nearly 10,000-acre Powder Mountain is now underway.

"When we made those first phone calls, everybody's like, what? That being said, they know that we aren't kidding," says Jeff Rosenthal, co-founder of Summit, the group that led the purchase of the peak.