Jobless Rates Drop in 54 of 55 West Virginia Counties

The Free Press WV

Unemployment rates dropped in 54 of West Virginia’s 55 counties in March.

WorkForce West Virginia says the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose last month in Monroe County.

Jefferson County’s 3.1 percent unemployment rate was the lowest in the state, followed by Berkeley County at 3.7 percent and Monongalia County at 3.8 percent.

Calhoun County had the highest unemployment rate at 12.7 percent.

Roane County was next at 10.1 percent and Clay County was at 9.8 percent.

Statewide, the unemployment rate fell three-tenths of a percentage point to 4.9 percent in March.

That’s the lowest level since November 2008.

In Business and Finance….

The Free Press WV

►  Alibaba Honcho: Decades of ‘Pain’ Coming

How’s this for a bleak tech warning: “In the next 30 years, the world will see much more pain than happiness.“ It comes from Jack Ma, founder of the online Chinese retailing behemoth Alibaba, as quoted by Bloomberg. “Social conflicts in the next three decades will have an impact on all sorts of industries and walks of life,“ he added. Ma was speaking about how the rise of the internet and technology will affect societies around the world as traditional industries undergo profound change. He warned that education systems and business leaders must keep up, because the speed of change in fields such as artificial intelligence and robotics is only going to increase.

“In 30 years, a robot will likely be on the cover of Time magazine as the best CEO,“ Ma said, per CNN. He also predicted that in 20 years or so, most people will work fewer hours, perhaps four hours a day, three days a week. Whether that’s good or bad might depend on how the shift to robotics is managed, he said. “Machines should only do what humans cannot,“ becoming partners rather than replacements, he advised. And in this area, Ma sounded optimistic: “Machines will partner and cooperate with humans, rather than become mankind’s biggest enemy.“

►  Hash Browns Recalled Over Chance of ... Golf Balls?

McCain Foods USA is recalling frozen hash browns from stores in nine states because the potatoes may have been “contaminated with extraneous golf ball materials,“ reports the AP. The recall notice said the golf balls apparently were “inadvertently harvested with potatoes used to make this product” and chopped up. “Consumption of these products may pose a choking hazard or other physical injury to the mouth,“ reads the recall, per CNN. No injuries have been reported.

The company is recalling 2-pound bags of Harris Teeter Brand Frozen Southern Style Hash Browns in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, District of Columbia, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, and Maryland. It is also recalling Roundy’s Brand Frozen Southern Style Hash Browns from Marianos, Metro Market, and Pick ‘n Save stores in Illinois and Wisconsin. The hash browns being recalled have the production code B170119 on the back of the bag.

►  Alaska: the Land Where Blockbuster Survived

The manager of a successful Blockbuster Video outlet has given an interview to CBS News—and they didn’t have to take a time machine back to 1997 to speak to him. Kevin Daymude runs a Blockbuster outlet in Anchorage, which is one of several locations in Alaska that survived after the parent company closed its last few hundred outlets in 2013. “I can’t tell you how many business cards I’ve given out to people ‘cause they literally do not believe that I’m from Blockbuster,“ says Daymude, who has been with Blockbuster since the days of VHS. “I feel like a lot of the customers just want to come in and feel like they’re someone special,“ he says. “They love the customer service, they love the interaction.“

Alan Payne owns nine of the last 12 Blockbusters in the country, most of them in Alaska, though even there, several have had to close in the last few years. There used to be more than 9,000 across the country. In 2013, he told the Wall Street Journal that he decided to keep licensing the Blockbuster name because a lot of people associate the name with happy memories. He says one reason why the stores have managed to survive so long in Alaska is because people enjoy the selection and the social aspect—and another is that Internet in the state tends to be expensive and charged by data usage, meaning a trip to Blockbuster can work out a lot cheaper than binge-watching on Netflix.

Average Mortgage Rate Drops To 5-Month Low

The Free Press WV

The average U.S. mortgage rate fell below a key threshold of 4 percent this week, its lowest level in five months.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said that the average interest rate on 30-year fixed-rate home loans declined to 3.97 percent this week from 4.08 percent last week. Interest rates on mortgages began to rise after Donald Trump won the November election. But they’ve started falling as the fate of tax reform and other policies has become uncertain.

The 30-year rate stood at 3.59 percent a year ago and averaged 3.65 percent in 2016, the lowest level in records dating to 1971. Lower rates make it easier for homebuyers to afford their monthly mortgage payments.

The rate on 15-year mortgages declined to 3.23 percent from 3.34 percent last week.

The recent drop also illustrates the range of factors that affect mortgage rates. The average 30-year rate has declined steadily in recent weeks — it was 4.23 percent a month ago — even as the Federal Reserve has lifted the short-term rate it controls three times in the past 15 months.

And Fed policymakers have signaled more hikes are likely to come this year as long as the economy keeps growing.

Mortgage rates, however, more closely track the yield on the 10-year Treasury note, rather than the Fed’s decisions. That yield rose after the election in anticipation of faster growth and greater inflation under Trump.

Yet as investors have downgraded their expectations for tax cuts and infrastructure spending, the yield on the 10-year has fallen. That has led mortgage rates lower as well.

In Business and Finance….

The Free Press WV

►  Bad Press on Bad Press Leads to Juicero Refunds

The company that once hawked a product vying to be “the most technologically advanced thing in the kitchen” is now offering refunds for the uber-appliance, Fortune reports. The $400 Juicero machine, a WiFi-enabled juicer billed as the “Keurig of juicers,“ received $120 million in startup funds, but a Bloomberg report this week turned it all a bit sour when it revealed a person’s bare hands could squeeze a cup of juice out of the accompanying juice packets just as quickly as the machine itself—sometimes even faster. Juicero CEO Jeff Dunn put up a Medium post Thursday announcing the company is extending its “Happiness Guarantee” and letting customers new and old send their presses back for the next 30 days for a full refund.

Dunn notes it’s “never easy” to endure the bad press like that the Juicero has received after the Bloomberg report, but he adds the company is “learning, listening, and improving” and wants to keep helping “people on their journey to health.“ And that press has indeed been brutal, with Forbes calling it a “non-product” that needs to be “squeezed out of existence,“ Quartz saying startup firms like this are “incapable of seeing their own absurdities,“ and Men’s Health sniffing that it knew the juicer was useless a month back—which is why it crushed the device with a Ford Raptor. Still, Dunn points to the “mediocre” and possibly messy results one would get by extracting juice with one’s hands. But in comments to Gizmodo, one of Bloomberg’s squeezers counters that, saying she “simply applied light pressure to the bag and the juice poured out.“

►  Subway Is Traveling in Wrong Direction in U.S.

Last year, for the first time ever, Subway closed more US restaurants than it opened, shuttering 359 locations in 2016, Bloomberg reports. While that still left Subway with 26,744 locations in the US—more than any other restaurant in the country—it also came along with a 1.7% dip in sales, according to Reuters. The reasons for the closures are myriad: Subway is dealing with more competition from fast-casual competitors, it isn’t seen as healthy an option as it once was, and cheaper groceries mean more people have been cooking at home recently.

The company also says it’s been focusing more on the international market. Subway has more than 40,000 locations worldwide—more than anyone else and about 4,000 more than McDonald’s, CNN reports. And Subway sales were actually up internationally in 2016. To turn things around in the US in 2017, Subway is trying out delivery service, along with an updated logo and plans to introduce “new and improved products.“

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