When the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union last month, the seaside town of Port Talbot in Wales eagerly went along with the move. Brexit was approved by some 57 percent of the town's residents.

Now some of them are wondering if they made the wrong decision.

The June 23 Brexit vote has raised questions about the fate of the troubled Port Talbot Works, Britain's largest surviving steel plant — a huge, steam-belching facility that has long been the town's biggest employer.

Solar Impulse 2 has landed in Cairo, completing the penultimate leg of its attempt to circumnavigate the globe using only the power of the sun.

The trip over the Mediterranean included a breathtaking flyover of the Pyramids. Check it out:

President Obama is challenging Americans to have an honest and open-hearted conversation about race and law enforcement. But even as he sits down at the White House with police and civil rights activists, Obama is mindful of the limits of that approach.

"I've seen how inadequate words can be in bringing about lasting change," the president said Tuesday at a memorial service for five law officers killed last week in Dallas. "I've seen how inadequate my own words have been."

Mice watching Orson Welles movies may help scientists explain human consciousness.

At least that's one premise of the Allen Brain Observatory, which launched Wednesday and lets anyone with an Internet connection study a mouse brain as it responds to visual information.

The FBI says it is giving up on the D.B. Cooper investigation, 45 years after the mysterious hijacker parachuted into the night with $200,000 in a briefcase, becoming an instant folk figure.

"Following one of the longest and most exhaustive investigations in our history," the FBI's Ayn Dietrich-Williams said in a statement, "the FBI redirected resources allocated to the D.B. Cooper case in order to focus on other investigative priorities."

This is the first in a series of essays concerning our collective future. The goal is to bring forth some of the main issues humanity faces today, as we move forward to uncertain times. In an effort to be as thorough as possible, we will consider two kinds of threats: those due to natural disasters and those that are man-made. The idea is to expose some of the dangers and possible mechanisms that have been proposed to deal with these issues. My intention is not to offer a detailed analysis for each threat — but to invite reflection and, hopefully, action.

Alabama authorities say a home burglary suspect has died after police used a stun gun on the man.  Birmingham police say he resisted officers who found him in a house wrapped in what looked like material from the air conditioner duct work.  The Lewisburg Road homeowner called police Tuesday about glass breaking and someone yelling and growling in his basement.  Police reportedly entered the dwelling and used a stun gun several times on a white suspect before handcuffing him.  Investigators say the man was "extremely irritated" throughout and didn't obey verbal commands.

It can be hard to distinguish among the men wearing grey suits and regulation haircuts on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington. But David Margolis always brought a splash of color.

It wasn't his lovably disheveled wardrobe, or his Elvis ring, but something else: the force of his flamboyant personality. Margolis, a graduate of Harvard Law School, didn't want to fit in with the crowd. He wanted to stand out.

Montgomery Education Foundation's Brain Forest Summer Learning Academy was spotlighted Wednesday at Carver High School.  The academic-enrichment program is for rising 4th, 5th, and 6th graders in the Montgomery Public School system.  Community Program Director Dillion Nettles, says the program aims to prevent learning loss during summer months.  To find out how your child can participate in next summer's program visit Montgomery-ed.org

A police officer is free on bond after being arrested following a rash of road-sign thefts in southeast Alabama.  Brantley Police Chief Titus Averett says officer Jeremy Ray Walker of Glenwood is on paid leave following his arrest in Pike County.  The 30-year-old Walker is charged with receiving stolen property.  Lt. Troy Johnson of the Pike County Sheriff's Office says an investigation began after someone reported that Walker was selling road signs from Crenshaw County.  Investigators contacted the county engineer and learned signs had been reported stolen from several roads.


Is It Wise To Bank At Big Box Retailers?

Nov 27, 2012
Originally published on November 27, 2012 12:30 pm



And now to matters of personal finance. If you're one of the millions of people already on the prowl for that hot must-have gift this holiday season, you might have already noticed something new at your favorite big box store and we're not talking about stocking stuffers. More and more of the big box stores are also offering financial products, like home mortgages or small business loans, along with the flat-screen TVs, lumber and paper towels.

But, as with most things, people who've taken a hard look at some of these items say that customers should be careful because some of these products, while attractively priced, are not as closely regulated as those offered by banks.

Here to tell us more about this is Stephanie Clifford. She is a business reporter for the New York Times and she recently wrote about this.

Stephanie, welcome. Thanks for joining us.

STEPHANIE CLIFFORD: Thank you. Good to be here.

MARTIN: Now, you've reported that many of the stores most familiar to consumers, like Wal-Mart, Costco, Sam's Clubs, Home Depot, are also offering financial products like Costco, for example, is now offering home insurance and health insurance. Wal-Mart debuted a prepaid debit card. They're selling life insurance in a few states and Home Depot is expanding its line of credits. How did this start?

CLIFFORD: It actually started ages ago. Sears tried this strategy in the 1980s when it acquired the Dean Witter brokerage and launched the Discover card and it had this idea of socks to stocks, which is - you know, you sell everything from basic products all the way up to the financial services that your customers will need.

It really faded from popularity. The Sears strategy did not work and they got out of it by the late '80s. But then Wal-Mart, which wants to be, as its executives say, a one-stop shop for all people, started to pursue a bank charter a few years ago. The banks ultimately stopped that. They said, this isn't fair. They can't also be a bank and so Wal-Mart started quietly building up banking services on the side or bank-like services on the side and then other retailers followed suit.

MARTIN: Well, you can see the logic for something like a debit card in that you figure people will spend more, at least, or they'll spend at Wal-Mart. I mean, I think a lot of people may remember that, for many people, Sears was their first credit card. But what about things like mortgages and, you know, small business loans and things of that sort?

CLIFFORD: Yeah. The idea there is, the more that the retailers can get customers into stores and into stores regularly, the more those customers will spend at the stores and, you know, the retailers will position it as - we don't make much money from this. It's really a service we want to offer our customers for loyalty. And it's not all altruistic. They want people getting into stores as frequently as possible.

MARTIN: Well, one of the other things you wrote about in your piece was the competition to bring in the so-called unbanked. That's a subject that we've talked about a lot on this program. It's estimated that 10 million households in the U.S. don't participate in traditional banking. Can you talk a little bit about who these consumers are and why is it that the retailers think that they can service this particular group of folks and the banks aren't?

CLIFFORD: Yeah. So this is a group of people that Wal-Mart especially is really focused on. As you said, it's the unbanked and Wal-Mart also adds into that, the underbanked to people who have a bank account, but don't really use it, don't like the fees.

There are sort of two things going on here. One is people who have a bank account that are getting sick of banks, you know, after the financial crisis. Some just got fed up with banks altogether, so they're fed up.

On the other side, you have the unbanked. These are generally pretty new immigrants who may not trust the banking system, may not want to deal with a formal banking system, but still have sort of banking-like needs. They need to wire money home and they need to deposit checks and pay bills.

And so Wal-Mart has created, essentially, a shadow bank for them where you can go into any Wal-Mart, do a wire transfer, you know, withdraw cash, pay a bill and it says that this is sort of their core customer. They want these people coming into stores and there's a lot of competition around who gets to do the financial services for this pretty big and growing group.

MARTIN: If you just joined us, I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm speaking with Stephanie Clifford. She is a business reporter for the New York Times and we're talking about retailers, particularly the big box stores, names you know, like Wal-Mart and Costco and Sam's Club, now offering financial products along with their typical fare, the flat-screen TVs, the big flats of paper towels. We're talking about why they might do this, why they think this is a good opportunity for them.

So now we've talked about why the retailers think that this is a good opportunity for them. Is this a good opportunity for consumers? Are they competitively priced and are they better on fees for consumers?

CLIFFORD: On fees, they tend not to be better. There are a couple exceptions, but the interest rates tend to be a little bit higher. On the flipside, the retailers will offer these products to customers who can't get, you know, a loan or a credit card through a typical bank.

So Home Depot, for instance. They say that they extend this credit to people who may not be able to get credit from their banks. Likewise, with their credit card, they say they go down to a credit score of about 600, which is not a great credit score, where a regular credit card will only go to about 640 or 680.

MARTIN: Do you have to spend the credit line at the Home Depot?

CLIFFORD: There you do and it's actually a pretty clever setup because Home Depot saw sales growth slow down during the recession, as you can imagine, as people stopped building homes. And so they realized that their customers were having trouble getting cash and they thought, hey, why don't we start giving them, essentially, cash that they can spend here?

MARTIN: Well, as the country just continues to try to kind of crawl its way out of these difficult, you know, economic times that the country's been having, there's been a lot of discussion about whether the banks went too far in lending to people who really weren't credit-worthy. So the question now becomes, are these retailers going down a similar path?

CLIFFORD: Well, one difference is that these retailers - they're not highly regulated on these financial products, so they don't have government backing or FDIC backing, for instance, on deposits. So there's not sort of the same weight behind what the retailers are doing. They're savvy operators - the retailers - and, you know, while they're going down to a credit score of 600, they're not going to 400 or 200 and they say that the repayment rates are quite high. And they say that they're really pleased with the level of consumers they're getting so far.

MARTIN: The bottom line, Stephanie - I know I'm asking you to predict, which is really unfair, but do you see this trend as being limited to these really major retailers or is this something that you think is going to grow to other kinds of retailers offering this kind of thing? I mean, where do you see this trend going?

CLIFFORD: Yeah. On a formal level, I think big box retailers and big national retailers will be adding on products. They all say they're really happy with them so far and it makes, you know, this big box physical store into something relevant. It gives consumers a reason to come in and they're all trying to figure out what to do with all this physical space that they've bought and this is like a pretty smart answer to that.

On a less formal scale, you could see small businesses or smaller local retailers offering informal credit to customers, but I don't think it will be on the same scale.

MARTIN: Stephanie Clifford is a business reporter for the New York Times and she joined us from their studios in New York City.

Stephanie Clifford, thank you so much for joining us.

CLIFFORD: Thank you. It was fun. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.