Call it the "Wal-Mart Syndrome".
Entire industries -- such as low-end retailers like Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT) and fast food chains like McDonald's Inc. (NYSE: MCD) - pump up their profits by paying employees extremely low wages.
But thousands of Americans who need to support a household on such low wages - either the federally mandated minimum wage of $7.25 or just a bit above it - can only do so with public assistance.
In other words, with the help of welfare.
What Wal-Mart's Dismal Sales Mean for These Retail Stocks
While we showed you last week how high-end retail stocks were soaring right now, on the flipside of things is Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT).
A Wal-Mart executive offered a candid view of just how bad sales have been of late in an e-mail to other company execs obtained by Bloomberg News.
"In case you haven't seen a sales report these days, February [month-to-date] sales are a total disaster," Jerry Murray, VP of finance and logistics, said in the Feb. 12 e-mail. "[It's] the worst start to a month I have seen in my seven years with the company."
The retail giant's woes stem from a confluence of factors hurting sales: the 2% increase in the payroll tax, the recent surge in gas and food prices and consumer confidence levels sinking to their lowest since 2011.
For Prepaid Cards Like Wal-Mart's Bluebird, Regulation Isn't Always a Dirty Word
A few weeks ago, I wrote about how prepaid cards are proliferating, that American Express and Walmart had come out with a no-fee card called Bluebird, and not everything is as it seems.
You all chimed in with lots of great comments, including some that questioned what I really had against prepaid cards, especially if they are "no-fee" cards and serve those with less-than-average wherewithal (wherever that descending measure is these days) who rely on them for everything from consumer transactions to bill paying and ATM access.
First of all, let me say that I think prepaid cards are good. They're not great, but I hope they get there.
But I want to talk about what's not great, and how to make prepaid cards better.
I told you about the interchange fees that are charged to merchants and how those end up being passed along to consumers. Maybe that's not such a big deal if we can quantify their additional cost on a per-item basis. All I'll say about that is, it adds up.
My problem with prepaid cards is what we can't see about them.
What's going on behind the scenes? Do they offer adequate protection to their users? Is the proliferation of them going to present some systemic risk? How should they be regulated?
Regulation? I know what some of you are thinking. We have too many regulations as it is, and the regulators are all asleep at the wheel anyway, so regulation is the problem not the answer.
I agree with you, but not exactly. You'll see what I mean.
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