Monday AM February 18th, 2008

In spite of a slow economy, Americans are still making travel plans, according to Mark McGinnis with Expedia. They may be taking shorter breaks, staying at cheaper hotels and taking public transportation instead of renting a car. McGinnis says South America has become a top getaway.

"You know, for a long time, Americans have kind of stayed away from South America because, you know, there was this image of machine guns and totalitarian regimes and that kind of stuff that scared people. But you know, South America's really quite a remarkable place now, and you know, especially in the southern cone of South America, countries like Argentina and Chile and Uruguay offer just as European-an-experience as you'd get in Europe. You know, there's grand boulevards. In Buenos Aires, you can still sit outside and have a beautiful steak dinner with a bottle of wine and desert for $25 for two people. That's drawing a lot of people down there. As a matter of fact, Argentina says the number of Americans entering Argentina over the last two years has increased 35 percent. Very popular, due to the fact that they're so European and very cosmopolitan and, you know, have great appeal to kind of the urban crowd in America that's used to sitting in cafes and going to discos at night and having, you know, great shopping and that kind of thing."

Bookings are up eight percent, year-over-year, to Latin America.

"The three most popular Latin American countries for American travelers are Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Europe is, since it's become so expensive where the Euro is used, people are jumping out of the, you know, the Euro countries and moving to non-Euro countries, and Ljubljana is a perfect example of that. Most of Eastern Europe has become very popular. As a matter of fact, they're some of our fastest-growing destinations in Europe--places like Bulgaria, Croatia. These are, you know, great alternatives. Croatia is a great alternative to Greece, for example, which has become very, very expensive. I remember when Greece was considered, you know, inexpensive—the kind of Mexico of Europe, where you could go and have a bargain vacation, see some beautiful beaches and everything. But now that they're on the Euro, it's very expensive. So a good alternative to that is just north of there—Croatia has the same beautiful water, similar food. But, you know, it's at least half off."

McGinnis says picking travel dates can save money, taking advantage of shoulder seasons.


Thanks to higher output from utilities, the nation's industrial production registered a small increase last month. That offset weakness in manufacturing and mining. The Federal Reserve says total output rose by one-tenth of a percent in January, matching the December increase. The slight January gain was in line with economists' expectations. Manufacturing output was flat last month, the poorest showing in three months, as factories are feeling the effects of a significant economic slowdown that has raised worries that the country is slipping into a recession. Output fell at auto plants, which have been struggling with weak demand, and was also down at factories making wood products and furniture, sectors which have been hit hard by the prolonged slump in housing. By contrast, output was up at factories producing computers, electronic products and aerospace equipment. Output was down 1.8 percent in mining, a category that includes coal production and oil exploration. Output at the nation's utilities was up 2.2 percent in January, reflecting the cold weather that hit much of the country.


Countrywide Financial, the nation's largest mortgage lender, says troubles among borrowers continue to spread. Delinquencies in Countrywide's servicing portfolio increased to nearly 7.5 percent in January, from 7.2 percent the previous month and 4.3 percent in January 2007. Loan servicers collect mortgage payments and distribute them to the owners of the mortgages. Foreclosure rates as a percentage of unpaid principal balance increased to 1.48 percent in January, from 1.44 percent in December and 0.77 percent in January 2007. Calabasas, California-based Countrywide services mortgages totaling about $1.48 trillion. In January, Bank of America agreed to purchase Countrywide for about $4 billion in stock.


Best Buy says a slowing economy will hurt fourth-quarter profits. It is reducing guidance, as consumers held back on high-end TVs, digital music players and cameras. The nation's largest consumer electronics retailer says sales were strong for the holiday season but fell off in January. It says comparable-store sales rose 1.5 percent in December, but they will decline modestly for the full fourth quarter.


Toys "R" Us will soon have stricter safety standards for the products it sells in its more than 1,500 stores. Starting March 1st, the toy retailer is setting a much tighter standard for the amount of lead allowed in toys made just for the chain. It's also barring two chemicals that have raised safety concerns in products for infants and young children. By the end of the year, there also won't be nickel-cadmium batteries in Toys "R" Us products--a move meant to help the environment. The company says the changes should meet or exceed new federal standards expected from Congress.


A new survey finds that Hispanics are nearly twice as likely as whites to be left without television service after the nationwide transition to digital broadcasting next year. Beginning in February 2009, full-power broadcast stations will transmit digital-only signals. That means people who get their television programming over an antenna and do not have a digital set won't get a picture without a special converter box. The Nielsen survey estimates that more than 13 million households in the U.S. receive television programming over the air on non-digital sets, meaning they will need converter boxes. Another six million households contain at least one television that fits that description. Nielsen researchers found that ten percent of all households would have no access to television signals if the transition occurred today. Broken down by race, nearly nine percent of whites would be unready; close to 12 percent of Asians; 12 percent of blacks; and 17 percent of Hispanics. The survey notes that nearly 17 percent of all households have at least one analog television set that would not work after the switch.

 

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