Yuki Noguchi

Yuki Noguchi is a correspondent on the Business Desk based out of NPR's headquarters in Washington D.C. Since joining NPR in 2008, she's covered business and economic news, and has a special interest in workplace issues — everything from abusive working environments, to the idiosyncratic cubicle culture. In recent years she has covered the housing market meltdown, unemployment during the Great Recession, and covered the aftermath of the tsunami in Japan in 2011. As in her personal life, however, her coverage interests are wide-ranging, and have included things like entomophagy and the St. Louis Cardinals.

Prior to joining NPR, Yuki started her career as a reporter for The Washington Post. She reported on stories mostly about business and technology, and later became an editor.

Yuki grew up with a younger brother speaking her parents' native Japanese at home. She has a degree in history from Yale.

Housing continues to be a big issue for the economy, and for many voters. But so far it hasn't been a major issue in the presidential campaign. Perhaps that's because both sides agree that there's no easy fix for the problem of millions of troubled mortgages.

The Problem:

Cathy Busby and her husband co-owned a realty office in Denver when they bought their house in 2006. The next year, the market for houses dried up, leaving them with little income as their house lost value.

Now, she says, she considers herself "poverty level."

The U.S. population is growing. In normal times, the labor force — working or not — would be growing too. But these are not normal times, and the labor force is actually smaller than it was four years ago, meaning millions of people who should be there aren't.

The reasons people drop out of the workforce are myriad. People go back to school. Others have health issues or family priorities that keep them from looking for work. But some stop looking because they are discouraged.

Charlotte, N.C., host of the 2012 Democratic National Convention, is the nation's biggest financial center outside of New York. But Charlotte and surrounding Mecklenburg County have the highest foreclosure rates in the state, and many thousands of homeowners owe more on their homes than the properties are worth.

As thousands of Democrats converge in Charlotte for the convention, some troubled homeowners have also gathered, lamenting that the foreclosure crisis has not been sufficiently front and center in the presidential campaign.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now, as you can hear from Scott's report, the economy is a top issue in this campaign.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

So it's fitting that the Democratic Convention was preceded by Labor Day and will be followed by Friday's release of the latest employment numbers.

INSKEEP: NPR's Yuki Noguchi talked with voters about jobs on Labor Day.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: This year, Labor Day festivities came to Charlotte in the form of a huge street party.

(SOUNDBITE OF SINGING)

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's follow up on another story. Earlier this year, five big banks settled the so-called robo-signing case, admitting they rushed the foreclosure processes for thousands of homeowners. Now, those banks are working to forgive and modify $20 billion worth of home loans.

As NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports, yesterday was the first chance to look at how banks are handling this part of the settlement.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Joseph Smith's first full report wasn't due until November, but he was eager to keep the issue top of mind.

Refinance activity continues to boom, fueling the home-loan market. Low interest rates have created a class of "serial refinancers" — those lucky enough to borrow at lower rates — and given them new opportunities to spend their freed up cash.

Settlement attorney Robert Gratz never used to be on a first-name basis with his clients.

"In the past, our practice was such that you'd see people, and that was the end of it," he says.

Gratz now sees the same faces all the time, of clients refinancing again and again — these days in the mid-3 percent range.

The allegations this week against London-based Standard Chartered Bank raise questions, not just about the bank's viability but also about the efficacy of U.S. laws when it comes to foreign banks. Standard Chartered allegedly violated U.S. sanctions against Iran, and regulators said the bank's executives lied to investigators as part of a cover-up.

The case serves as yet another reminder that U.S. regulations, which have strengthened since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, apparently did not deter foreign banks from laundering money through their U.S. operations.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Best Buy's founder and former chairman is not happy about the way things are going. That's why Richard Schulze said, yesterday, he wants to buy back the shares he does not already own and take the electronics retailer private. Schulze said he decided to publicly announce this offer because the board was taking too much time with it - could be worth nearly $9 billion in cash.

But as NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports, the deal is being met with some skepticism.

Housing, the sector that led us into the recession, now looks to be one of the brighter spots in the economy. Homebuilding is at its highest level in nearly four years. More homes are selling, and at higher prices.

The question, of course, is whether this is a solid enough foundation to sustain a full housing recovery.

Lawrence Yun, the chief economist for the National Association of Realtors, says housing woes are largely behind us.

While the job market remains sluggish, temporary work is one area that's done very well in the economic recovery. Companies are keeping their temps longer and are even using them to fill professional and high-ranking positions.

The average daily number of temporary workers employed during the first quarter of 2012 was more than 2.5 million. That's up from a low of 2.1 million in early 2009, according to the American Staffing Association.

County and city officials in San Bernardino, Calif., are considering a controversial plan: using the power of eminent domain to take over "underwater" mortgages, where the value of the home is worth less than the original loan. Taking on those properties, officials say, would allow the homeowners to refinance those troubled loans.

Groupon and Living Social have sold tens of millions of daily deals and are now a major force in retail. But they rely heavily on getting businesses to offer their goods and services at deep discounts. In exchange, businesses hope for payoff in the form of return customers.

Sometimes, though, the flood of extra business causes more problems than it solves.

Deal-Hungry Crowd

Ailie Ham had just opened Creative Hands Massage in Washington, D.C., when she decided to offer deals through Living Social and Groupon last year.

The fallen leader of Barclays Bank got on the hot seat before members of the British Parliament on Wednesday. Robert Diamond, an American, resigned Tuesday as CEO of the bank — the latest executive to lose his job over an interest-rate manipulation scandal.

The scandal has not only consumed Barclays, it also threatens to engulf other international banks — and high-ranking government officials, too.

Diamond started his career at Barclays on Independence Day, exactly 16 years ago. On Wednesday in London, he set off some fireworks all his own.

Depending on whom you ask, the Supreme Court's decision to uphold the federal health care law will either help businesses grow or it will make them more hesitant to hire.

Thursday's decision to uphold the law, including the provision requiring individuals to buy insurance, has some far-reaching implications in the business world.

Dan Danner, CEO of the National Federation of Independent Business, a business lobby that helped bankroll the suit seeking to strike down the law, said the 5-4 decision was unambiguously bad for business.

The nation's housing crisis has touched countless people. Increasingly, the well-off are among them.

Housing counselors around the country say they are seeing more people struggling to keep their million-dollar homes. It's a twist on a familiar story of hardship — but one that involves some very big numbers.

Moving Up, Falling Down

For-sale homes in California are sparse, even in areas with high foreclosure rates. It has led to buyers like Jennifer Bryant, who is willing to throw money at just about anyone willing to sell her a house.

Since February, Bryant has made 35 offers on homes in Riverside, only to be elbowed out by other bids. With few houses available and many bidders chasing these properties, she feels she has, at most, an hour to consider each house.

The rest of the economy may not be doing great, but airlines are expecting a banner year. Profitability is up and fuel prices are declining, but that's not necessarily great news for consumers.

When Robert Herbst, a former pilot and industry consultant for many years, says the skies are blue, it sounds pretty convincing. And from Herbst's projections, this may be a historic year for the airline industry.

Unemployment figures for May come out Friday. While the numbers will show how many jobs have been added or lost, they won't tell us much about the quality of positions filled or illustrate what economists already know: that the middle of the job market is hollowing out.

Teenagers in Washington, D.C., face tough odds getting a job. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly half of those looking for work can't find it — the highest rate in the country.

Sasha Bruce Youthwork, an organization that works with troubled teens in the district, is trying to address that problem by training young people in the construction trades.

The group has enlisted an army of volunteers and a handful of trainees for what it calls a "blitz build" — an effort to rebuild a gutted house in a single day.

Beyond Meat, a new company based in Maryland, has come up with an alternative to chicken meat that it claims is a dead ringer for the real thing. And unlike other meat alternatives on the market, this one aims to be cheap as well as tasty.

JPMorgan Chase hosted its annual shareholder meeting in Tampa Tuesday, and it was the first chance for shareholders to weigh in on the banks problems. News the bank lost at least $2 billion in a botched trading strategy gave fresh fodder to critics who want banks to be more tightly regulated.

JPMorgan Chase faced more critics Tuesday, this time from some of its own shareholders at its annual meeting in Tampa, Fla. This comes after the bank disclosed it lost at least $2 billion last week in a bungled trading strategy.

The Securities and Exchange Commission is looking into the surprise loss, and the Justice Department has now reportedly opened a preliminary probe.

JPMorgan executives let shareholders do some venting at Tuesday's meeting.

The Postal Service announced Thursday that it lost more than $3 billion during the first three months of the year. Post office officials are pushing Congress to give it more authority to cut some of its burgeoning costs.

It's been more than six months since government regulators and banks first extended an offer to 4.3 million homeowners facing foreclosure: to review, at no cost, the foreclosure process to check for any possible errors or misrepresentations.

Homeowners stand to collect compensation of as much as $100,000 if errors are found. But thus far, only a tiny percentage of those eligible have signed up.

'Not Enough Folks Have Signed Up'

Mortgage Update

May 8, 2012

Bank of America is offering about 200,000 homeowners a chance to wipe out a big chunk of their mortgage debt. The offers are part of the settlement Bank of America and other major banks reached with state and federal regulators earlier this year, and it's one of the biggest principal forgiveness opportunities so far.

Earlier this month, a judge approved a settlement between five major banks and nearly all of the state attorneys general. The banks admitted to taking shortcuts — or "robo-signing" documents — as they pushed through some foreclosures.

Most of the $25 billion settlement is supposed to go toward reducing mortgage payments for some troubled homeowners. But lots of other programs have promised to help struggling homeowners in the past, and results have been disappointing.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Some other news. The Federal Reserve and other banking regulators have granted banks a two-year grace period to come into compliance with the Volcker Rule. That's one of the provisions of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill passed a couple of years ago. It restricts American banks from making trades that put the bank and depositor funds at risk.

But as NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports, regulators are struggling to iron out the details.

Housing prices are still declining, but many analysts see some signs for optimism in the housing market. The mild spring has brought buyers out earlier than usual, and real estate agents are busy.

Doug Azarian is one of them. One of his clients recently signed a deal on a $1.5 million house in Cape Cod, Mass. — a contemporary waterfront property with three bedrooms.

"The buyers came in, and they loved it from the minute they walked in the door," Azarian says.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court hears its second day of testimony about the Affordable Care Act. At issue is a central tenet of that law: whether it's legal to require individuals to purchase health care.

But apart from the legal debate, there are questions about the economics of the mandate. Some — like Peggy Bodner of Portland, Ore. — worry it may be difficult to find the money to pay for health insurance, even with government subsidies.

Real estate is about location, location, location. And foreclosure is no different. Depending on the state, it can take an average of three months or three years to process a foreclosure. And the disparity in how states deal with foreclosures is getting bigger.

The fate of thousands of troubled homeowners in Central Florida rests in the hands of Lee Haworth, foreclosure administrative judge for Florida's 12th Judicial Circuit. "We were hit pretty hard," Haworth says.

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