Stocks recovered from an early slump today to close higher for the day, a turnaround from the past few rough sessions. While nerves were rattled by escalating tensions in Ukraine, stocks were helped by reports that showed improving small-business optimism and a rising number of job openings in the U.S.
The Dow gained 10 points, with 17 of its 30 components advancing; the S&P 500 Index rose 6; and the Nasdaq was up 33. Advancers led decliners by 15 to 7 on the NYSE and 2 to 1 on the Nasdaq. The prices of Treasuries strengthened. Gold futures rose $10.80 to close at $1,309.10 an ounce, and the price of crude oil jumped $2.12 to settle at $102.56 a barrel. Analysts cited escalating tension in Ukraine and a weakening dollar as causes of oil’s gains.
In Other Business News:
- Job openings in the U.S. rose from 3.9 million in January to 4.2 million in February, according to the Labor Department’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey. It was the highest level of job openings in more than six years. The gains came almost entirely from private-sector job openings, as government job openings were flat. About 4.6 million hires were made in February, the same as January. Job turnover measures, including quits (voluntary separation), layoffs (involuntary separation), and retirements, were little changed month over month and year over year.
- Small businesses grew more optimistic about future economic conditions, according to the National Federation of Independent Business’ Small Business Optimism Index. The index rose 2.0 points to 93.4 in March after sliding 2.7 points in February. Small-business owners expressed more confidence in future sales, although they reported being less confident about expanding their workforces.
- The International Monetary Fund released a report today predicting that the global economy would grow at a 3.6% pace in 2014, slightly down from its earlier forecast of 3.7%. Growth is expected to be led by the U.S. economy, which the IMF said is the world’s strongest advanced economy. Stronger growth from the U.S., helped by easy monetary policy and lessening fiscal headwinds, will likely make up for slow growth in much of Europe and Japan and for instability in portions of emerging markets, particularly economic weakness in Brazil and political problems caused by Russia.
- The United Kingdom’s manufacturing output rose 1% from January to February, with broad-based gains across a number of industries. Output compared with a year ago was 2.7% higher. Partly due to the better-than-expected strength in manufacturing, the British pound strengthened against the U.S. dollar.
Finicky travelers who hate tap water know the tragedy of waking up thirsty in the middle of the night in a hotel. Do you dare open up that bottle of water with the mysterious tag around its neck? Do you grab blindly in the minibar and hope it won’t be for a $20 soda? My guess is that the people who set the minibar prices are the same ones who set the original prices on “As Seen on TV” items. “A $200 salad shooter? Sounds reasonable. Wait, you say there’s more, and I can actually have it for only $19.99? Hold on, let me grab a $15 bottle of water from the minibar to cool off, because that’s just an unbelievable deal.”
To give hotel patrons some insight into minibar and other hotel prices, travel-review website TripAdvisor surveyed room service prices from hotels worldwide. The prices are, as you would guess, outrageous. The price of a bag of nuts in Denmark is $10.76; in Paris, it’s $12.58; and in Toronto, it’s a whopping $18.23. This is for a bag of nuts, mind you, not a bushel, and it makes me think I should be in the business of running cashews to Canada. TripAdvisor also added up the cost of a standard set of room service and minibar options, such as nuts, vodka, soda, a club sandwich, and the cost of cleaning a shirt—in other words, the depressing hotel-room equivalent of a party for a solo business traveler. The survey discovered that this smorgasbord of loneliness was most expensive in the hotels of Helsinki, Finland, and cheapest in Tunis, Tunisia.
Financial news site Quartz noticed something very odd about the prices, though. The cheapest thing in the minibar, according to the TripAdvisor survey, was usually vodka. It was even cheaper than water, although not for an equivalent amount, of course. Quartz hypothesizes that vodka represents a sort of loss leader: People who drink vodka will want peanuts, and then they’ll want water. This seems to be a reversal of the strategy used by bars: Provide free peanuts to make the customer thirsty for more beer. In a bar, patrons are there to drink, so a strategy that prompts them to drink more makes sense. In a hotel, patrons aren’t there to drink, so the cheap price of vodka coaxes them in, potentially lowering their judgment enough that they don’t think $18.23 is all that bad for a bag of nuts.
I think hotels are missing a prime opportunity. Instead of static prices, minibar prices should change depending on what else the hotel guest takes from a minibar. Buy a $2 bag of nuts? The price of water just jumped from $5 to $10. And then there’s the real moneymaker. Guest is on their third mini-bottle of vodka? Wait until the morning to discover the new price of aspirin.
Do you regularly use the minibar, or is it a relic of ancient times? Leave your thoughts in the comments area below.