Some UIC Workers Working Without a Contract

By Wen-Yee Lee

On campus resistance day, workers held simultaneous nationwide rallies. Workers from University of Illinois Chicago, who picketed outside the hospital, are calling for a new contract.

Photo at top: University of Illinois Chicago Hospital is criticized by their workers who are working without a contract. (Wen-Yee Lee/MEDILL)

Art exhibit honors a new generation of female casualties of war

By Kaylah Jackson

R.G. “Buz” Leland, who memorialized America’s female casualties of war as part of the Women of Courage Exhibit on Friday, said that everyone has a story to share.

“I hope that people would see this and think about that title and not only think of warriors, but there are women–people. We all have a story–get some compassion, that’s what I wanna yell,” said Leland, the artistic director of the exhibit’s memorial at the Ukrainian National Museum, where handcrafted work by female veterans was featured.

The exhibit includes mixed media art, paintings, sculptures, drawings, and self-portraits but the main component of the exhibit is ‘A Touching Tribute,’ an interactive exhibition featuring the names and faces of fallen military women.

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Road to glory not always easy for Northwestern’s Scottie Lindsey

By Astasia Williams

SALT LAKE CITY – Scott “Scottie” Lindsey has helped Northwestern men’s basketball write the most important chapter in program history. But Lindsey’s own story hasn’t always been a fairy tale.

The Hillside, Illinois, native was a three-star recruit from Fenwick High School in Oak Park, Illinois. Now he’s an All-Big Ten player and a weapon who can destroy any opposing defense with his reverse layups or smooth 3-point shot. Going from wildcard underclassman to second leading scorer for the Wildcats’ first-ever NCAA Tournament team, things have gone uphill for Lindsey. But adversity almost prematurely ended his magical season when he came down with mononucleosis during Big Ten play.

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Taxes and housing prices drive some Chicagoans out

By Yingcong (June) Fu

The third largest city in the U.S., Chicago has been seeing a slow population growth due to high tax rates and living expenses.

According to the census data by the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of Chicago grew 0.9 percent to 2.7 million in the five years from 2010 to 2015, much slower than the growth rate of 2.2 percent in New York and 4.7 percent in Los Angeles.

It is even likely to be surpassed by Houston, the fourth largest city, where the population in the same period grew 8.9 percent to 2.3 million, just 400,000 behind Chicago.

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Chicago coding bootcamp trains veterans for IT

By Wenjing Yang

Conlin McManus, 23, heard about Code Platoon, a coding school in Chicago geared for veterans, two weeks before the end of his active duty as a Marine. He thought it could be “a fighting chance” for him to develop a successful civilian career.

Code Platoon, a Chicago nonprofit that puts military veterans through an immersive 14-week coding boot camp, is aimed at turning them into quality programmers.

“When coming out of the military, you don’t really know what you can do,” McManus said.

Four months before getting out, McManus applied for a job as a data center engineer, but was rejected which he demonstrated a lack of technical skills. With a dream to be a software developer, he decided to go back to school at Code Platoon this January. He is one of 12 in the class.

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Natural gas threatens future of nuclear energy

By Urvashi Verma

Nuclear power, the glamorous, high-tech power of the future, may be losing the energy race to humble natural gas, as abundant U.S. shale gas production causes natural gas prices to hit record low levels.

So far this year, natural gas has performed the worst among commodities, posting declines in both January and February. Prices have dropped 20 percent to $2.90 per million British thermal units from $3.65 in January. In the past three years, natural gas prices have steadily declined more than 50 percent, according to data from the Energy Administration Institute.

At the same time, withdrawals from U.S. shale drills have increased more than 700 percent. Last year, 1.3 trillion cubic tons were withdrawn compared with 170 billion cubic tons in 2008, according to the EIA.
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Discover Financial seen advancing with industry tailwind

By Katherine Hyunjung Lee

Analysts are optimistic about growth prospects for Discover Financial Services in 2017 as the company continues to post stronger than expected loan growth. The banking and payment services company based in Riverwoods, Ill., continues to expand its national footprint while riding on the growth tailwind of the credit card business.

Discover Financial’s stock price has been on the rise. When markets closed Thursday, shares were $70.99, up 45.4 percent from a year ago.

Of the 28 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg, seven give Discover Financial a “hold” or “neutral” rating and 20 give it a “buy” or “outperform” rating, with one “underweight” rating. The 12-month consensus target stock price is $79.88.

“It’s a very concentrated franchise,” Henry Coffey, Jr., an analyst at Wedbush Securities, said in an interview. “They’ve had one basic core mission for 20 years, which is to build out a credit card brand around prime, high quality borrowers that actually use the cards, that borrow money.”

Coffey has an “outperform” rating on Discover Financial and a target price of $80.

Increasingly, Discover’s competitors are turning to near-prime and subprime customers to ramp up loan growth.

“Issuance of credit cards in aggregate to near-prime and subprime customers has been increasing. There are a lot of people who are looking downscale,” Coffey said. “The real question is not loss ratios, but risk.”

“Discover Financial has begun to accelerate loan growth and maintain lending and operating margins,” Richard Shane, Jr., an analyst at J.P. Morgan, wrote in a note to investors Jan. 25, shortly after the company’s fourth quarter earnings announcement. “We see this as incrementally positive versus our prior expectations.

Shane gave Discover Financial a “neutral” rating following the earnings announcement. Discover beat J.P. Morgan’s estimate of $1.36 earnings per share at $1.40.

“Loan growth at [Discover Financial] remains notably below that of the peers we are recommending,” Shane wrote. “Further, we think tailwinds from the benign credit environment are likely to benefit all card issuers in the near term, not just [Discover Financial].”

Discover Financial’s stock price was $70.99 at market close Thursday, up 45.4 percent from a year ago. (Graph by Katherine Lee/MEDILL)

The credit card companies may be growing their business, but the industry remains a fiercely competitive one. Acquiring new customers is expensive, and companies must balance growth with reserve requirements and customer acquisition costs, as well as the interchange fees that are paid out to customers through rewards points.

Discover managed to reap benefits and save costs by turning its deposit gathering function into a full-service bank. Discover’s net interest income has been growing for eight consecutive quarters.

“They’re a branchless bank, with very profitable credit card products and other loan products,” Coffey said. “They’re not inhibited or held back by the heavy anchor or costs of the branch system.”

The company also promotes its own electronic payment network, which had once been viewed in the past as a valuable addition to the company’s business.

“It’s an important part of the business,” Coffey said. “But it’s a very small net contribution. It hasn’t changed how people are valuing the shares.”

According to the company’s filings, the number of transactions processed on the Discover Financial’s network have been rising year-over-year since fiscal year 2014, while network spending volumes have been fluctuating after reaching a peak in 2013.

Photo at top: Discover Financial Services provides credit card customers with its own payment network. (Photo by Katherine Lee/MEDILL)

Controlling Asian carp remains a challenge

By Jiefei Liu

Current barriers against Asian carp temporarily protect the Great Lakes, but fighting the invasive fish remains a challenge.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder announced Jan.17 a $1 million challenge for innovative solutions to the voracious carp. The challenge will be launched officially in mid-summer 2017, said Joanne Foreman, coordinator of Invasive Species Program communications at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Currently, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operates three measures to deter fish in the Chicago Area Waterway System. According to the 2017 Asian Carp Action Plan of the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee, electric barriers in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal give off electrical stimuli to deter the carp. A Bypass Barrier physically blocks known bypasses around the electric barriers caused by flooding. The third barrier is bar screens on sluice gates at a key lock and dam in the Calumet Sag Channel south of Chicago.

Foreman said that in a recent test non-carp species were introduced near an electric barrier, and it was found that some small fish were able to make their way through the barrier.

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Designer toy shop adjusts to changing market

By Jiefei Liu

“Things come in and out of style,” said Whitney Kerr, president of Rotofugi Inc., a designer toy shop in Lincoln Park.

The store features imported artsy toys from around the globe, ranging from $500 vinyl toys by Otto Bjornik to $4 Pokemon figure strap capsules. A gallery space is now occupied by a pop-up shop of Yummy World by Kidrobot, an art toy retailer.

It will have been 13 years this summer since Whitney Kerr and her husband Kirby Kerr opened the store, and will be the ninth year since they have struggled to recover from the 2008 financial crisis.

The revenue of the shop steadied around $1 million, but costs have gone up, Whitney Kerr said. Gross margin went down to 38 percent in 2016, compared with 44 percent in 2015, she added.

The Kerrs started the store as a super collectors’ business where these collectors would spend several hundred dollars on collectables, such as limited toys by various artists from California, New York or Hong Kong, Kerr said, but there are fewer and fewer of them.

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Jobless claims dip in latest sign of job market improvement

By Karen Lentz

Initial unemployment insurance claims for the week ended March 11 trickled down to an advance figure of 241,000, a decrease of 2,000 from the previous week’s seasonally adjusted unrevised level of 243,000, the U.S. Department of Labor reported Thursday. The numbers remain below pre-recession levels, pointing to continued gains for the economy.

New unemployment claims are compiled weekly based on the number of workers who filed for unemployment insurance for the first time.

“These are very good numbers indicating tight labor market conditions,” Daniel Sanabria of Comerica Bank wrote in a note.

Decreases in new claims are typically an indication of an improving labor market as fewer individuals are losing jobs.

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