PODCAST: Starbucks takes on the fiscal cliff, will Obama re-up refi?

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz speaks at an event on October 4, 2011 in New York City.

Analysts from Mastercard today give us our first post-Christmas read on holiday spending, and their take is kind of grim. Their numbers show spending on gift-type items, in the two months before Christmas, was up less than a percent from last year.

Applications for U.S. home mortgages continued to rise last week -- both for refi's and for new home purchases, the latter of which hit a new high for the year. This morning the Wall Street Journal reports on efforts in the Obama administration to expand the safety-net for more people who owe more than their homes are worth. Since 2009, underwater homeowners whose mortgages are owned or guaranteed by one of the government-backed mortgage giants -- Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac -- have been able to lower their monthly payments with what's called a "HARP" refinance. But that left a lot of folks out -- which is what officials now seem keen to address. U.S. home prices continue to rise according to the S&P/Case-Shiller index for October. The index shows the realty market strengthening even as we headed into the typically slower time of year.  

Otherwise, it's kind of a slow day, data-wise, so here's one holiday-related number to consider: 25,000. That's how many bugs Norwegian researchers say inhabit the typical livingroom Christmas tree. They include mites, moths, spiders and something called "bark lice." What's worse, the light and warmth of your holiday home coax many of them out of hibernation. It's not so bad, though -- most of these guys are no harm to people, and unless you've got lots of other woody plants in your home, they don't last long. Even bark lice can't subsist on fruitcake.

The health care industry is counting down the final few days to a new tax. It's part of funding Obamacare. Makers of medical devices are warning that the provision is going to be a job killer. Healthcare is no less a hot-button issue in Indonesia, one of the poorest and most populated countries on Earth. The government there is rolling out the world's biggest state-sponsored health care system in a little more than year. It's an ambitious plan to make the Southeast Asian nation healthier and more productive.

News today that Starbucks is using one of its most abundant resources to push for a fiscal cliff deal: Disposable cups. CEO Howard Schultz has told all D.C.-area baristas to write the words "Come Together" on every out-going cup of coffee for the rest of the week.

And finally, a brief story of one man whose Christmas wish may be coming true. This fall a Norwegian guy named Havard Rugland posted a YouTube video, set to music, of himself kicking a football. Kicking it over a patch of trees, kicking it directly to a person in a moving boat, kicking dead-center field goals from 60 yards. NFL scouts noticed. Now the Norwegian broadcaster NRK reports Rugland was brought to the states for a tryout with the New York Jets. One kicking coach says with a little finesse, he could be one of the greatest of all time.

About the author

Jeff Horwich is the interim host of Marketplace Morning Report and a sometime-Marketplace reporter.

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