Stacey Vanek Smith

Stacey Vanek Smith is the co-host of NPR's The Indicator from Planet Money. She's also a correspondent for Planet Money, where she covers business and economics. In this role, Smith has followed economic stories down the muddy back roads of Oklahoma to buy 100 barrels of oil; flew to Pune, India, to track down the man who pitched the country's dramatic currency devaluation to the prime minister; and spoke with a North Korean woman who made a small fortune smuggling artificial sweetener in from China.

Prior to coming to NPR, Smith worked for Marketplace, where she was a correspondent and fill-in host. While there, Smith was part of a collaboration with The New York Times, where she explored the relationship between money and marriage. She was also part of Marketplace's live shows, where she produced a series of pieces on getting her data mined.

Smith is a native of Idaho and grew up working on her parents' cattle ranch. She is a graduate of Princeton University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in comparative literature and creative writing. She also holds a master's in broadcast journalism from Columbia University.

Healthcare spending represents a huge chunk of the American economy; more than in other places. And it's not because Americans are hypochondriacs.

Dr. Ashish Jha, physician and professor of global health at Harvard, discusses why we spend so much money on medical care and some ways we might be able to spend less.

The Baker Hughes Rig Count is a tally of all the rigs that are drilling for oil in the US.

It comes out every Friday, and it's often used as a gauge of the American oil business.

But technological advances in the industry could end up making the Baker Hughes index less relevant.

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President Trump recently had a disagreement with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Trump says the U.S. has a trade deficit with Canada, Trudeau says it's a trade surplus.

Today on the show we explain how it's possible for both men to be right and wrong at the same time. It turns out that sometimes statistics is more art than science.

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The way most companies first sell their shares to the public is tried and true; hire an investment bank, do a roadshow, agree to a lockup period, etc etc.

But Spotify is doing none of those things. In fact it's not doing an initial public offering at all: it's doing a direct public offering instead.

It's an unusual move. but if it works, it could change the way a big part of Wall Street business is done.

Links:
How ans IPO gets done, step by step (CNBC)

Most products in this world are vulnerable to creative destruction: as new products are developed, they make old ones obsolete.

But there are some exceptions to this rule. There are products that persist, resisting change while economic evolution continues on without them.

Like the graphing calculator.

75.2 percent. That is the prime age female labor force participation rate, the share of all adult women between the ages of 25 and 54 who are working or looking for work.

In the 70s, 80s, and 90s, the number of women participating in the workforce went up and up and up.But, in 2000, that momentum waned.

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The quality of American cars got a lot better after the financial crisis. They got lighter, more efficient and more reliable. And the car business boomed.

But now they're getting too expensive. Sticker prices for the SUVs and trucks that Americans love are high enough that manufacturers don't have to sell as many vehicles to make money.

But that's not going to last.

Nearly every sport has been hit with news of doping — of athletes using illegal performance-enhancing drugs. Perhaps the most famous example is cyclist Lance Armstrong, who denied doping allegations for years and then admitted using performance-enhancing drugs in 2013. That's where the documentary Icarus begins.

Like all oil well owners, Jason Bruns watches the oil market closely. When crude hits a certain price, he'll either switch a pump on - if prices are rising - or turn it off, if they're not.

Right now oil prices are at a bit of a sweet spot for small producers like Jason. Pumpjacks all over the country are being switched on. Consumers may not like rising oil prices much, but they're a sign the economy is doing better.

Stacey Vanek Smith and Cardiff Garcia host the Planet Money spin-off, The Indicator. Each day, they take a number or term in the news, and tell you what it means and why it matters.

Today on Planet Money, we are bringing you three indicators, three numbers that tell us something about the world. We'll tell you what the US really sells to the world, how the conservative tax plan is maybe just what a liberal economist had always hoped for, and how craft beer blew up the hops business.

The Trump Administration is making major changes to trade policy, and that is affecting all kinds of U.S. companies.

Usually we hear about these issues as they relate to big industries like steel and aluminum, or in markets for solar panels or washing machines. Today we look at another industry caught up in the debate over global trade: the rubber band business.

Today we debut a new segment on the Indicator: the two-minute explainer. Cardiff and Stacey take up the challenge of explaining what's behind an economic event or data point in 120 seconds or less.

On this show: what is productivity, how is it measured, and why is it such an important indicator?

And, why did KFC have to close almost all of its stores in the UK last week?

Sales of firearms have soared in America over the past twenty years. But fewer people are purchasing.

Today America's guns are concentrated in the hands of a comparatively small number of enthusiasts.

Their love of add-ons and special features has been a boon to gun manufacturers. Their periodic fear of anti-gun regulation has made sales spike in the past. But relying on a concentrated market of mega-buyers can come at a cost.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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A couple of weeks ago the biggest labor union in Germany negotiated a big new deal with hundreds of German companies. Workers didn't just get a raise, they also won the option of working just 28 hours a week for up to two years without losing ground in their careers.

We talked to Simon Kuper of the Financial Times about the increasing need for companies to consider flexible working arrangements, as employees work longer and our lives become more complicated.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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Project Lakhta was the Russian campaign to spend a million dollars a month to destabilize American democracy.

But that money didn't pay for sophisticated hackers or deadly assassins. Instead, it bought Facebook ads and Twitter accounts.

Today on the show: Russia's plan to mess with our election was crude, expensive ... and surprisingly effective.

Hops are the cones of the hop plant. They're used in making beer. Craft beer lovers love hops. (Just ask them; they'll tell you.)

As the market for craft beer exploded over the hops business boomed. Until it didn't.

Today on the show: The craft beer explosion, and the hops boom and bust that went with it.

Sanctions on Ice

Feb 13, 2018

North Korea has been getting sanctioned for decades. But in spite of the sanctions, North Korea has managed to keep buying fancy stuff for the elites — and fund a nuclear weapons program.

The country has done this by raising money through a clandestine outfit called Office 39. Among other things, Office 39 runs counterfeiting operations, engages in international bank fraud, and sells illegal drugs.

On today's show: sanctions, Office 39 and the North Korean Olympic team

Fear: The Index

Feb 12, 2018

There is this thing called the VIX. Some people call it the fear gauge. It was invented to measure people's expectations about how much the stock market is going to bounce around.

At some point, the VIX went from measuring expectations about the stock market. To being something people bet on.

Then, last week, when the market plunged, the role of the VIX may have gotten even larger: This thing that was invented to measure the stock market may have started driving the market itself.

On today's show, Tracy Alloway of Bloomberg News tells us the story of the VIX.

Brian Krebs, a journalist and cybersecurity expert, recently published this list. It has hundreds of company names, in alphabetical order. And next to each name is a price.

This list comes from a site on the dark web where people buy and sell stolen usernames and passwords. It's a price list.

On today's show, we talk to Krebs about this list, and what it tells us about the market for your stolen passwords.

President Trump talks a big talk about protectionism and tariffs. So far, there hasn't been much action. But this week, a new tariff does kick in — one that makes it more expensive to import solar panels. President Trump also recently announced a new tariff on washing machines.

The story of these tariffs begins years ago — with policies that President Obama put in place. We dig into where they came from, and what effect they're likely to have on the economy.

As promised, here are the sources for this episode:

Glenn Kelman has been running the real-estate company Redfin since 2007. He saw it through the housing crash and the recovery. Last year, Redfin went public. It's now worth more than $1.7 billion.

Glenn was in town recently, and we asked him to come in and play overrated/underrated with us.

We bring up a bunch of trends and ideas — really, anything we want — and ask: is this overrated or underrated?

Among other things, we asked Glenn about home ownership, the cult of the CEO and the importance of the dungeon master.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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The Trump administration had a plan to save the coal industry, but a panel headed by a Trump appointee rejected that plan. Stacey Vanek Smith co-hosts the Planet Money podcast The Indicator, where she's been reporting on the threats to the coal industry.

You may already know the headline jobs numbers the government released this morning: The unemployment rate held steady last month at 4.1 percent. The economy added 148,000 jobs.

But these numbers are just the surface of the monthly jobs report; the report has a huge amount of information about how the job market is working (or not working) for people in different industries, and different age groups.

For the last several months, Congress was almost all tax bill almost all the time. Lots of regular business got postponed.

As a result, there is an insane amount of economic policymaking that has to be done by both Congress and the president by the end of the month.

From tariffs to immigration to funding for the military and social programs, the next 27 days are going to be huge.

Two years ago, international sanctions against Iran were largely lifted. People expected the economy to come surging back. But so far, it's been a disappointment. Unemployment is high. Prices are rising. Corruption is persistent. A surge in the price of eggs was the last straw.

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Destruction tends to happen quickly; progress is often gradual.

This combination of sudden, bad things and slow, good things can mess up the way we see the world. We notice the sudden but miss the gradual. The nature of daily (hourly, minutely) news only adds to the perception problem.

What would happen if, instead of getting constant news updates, we only got a news update once every 50 years?

Today's Indicator is 50. We're dreaming up a newspaper that comes out once every 50 years. What goes on the front page?

Spoiler alert: It's not all bad news.

At The Indicator, we've been covering numbers in the news for literally weeks now. And we've hit some of the big stories — sexual harassment, jobs, taxes.

For today's show, we decided to do something a little different: Stacey and Cardiff looked back over 2017 and picked one indicator each — not necessarily the biggest or most important indicator, but one that stood out for one reason or another. These may not be the indicators of the year. But they're our indicators of the year.

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