Executive Edge

Amazon drones zapping Wal-Mart circulars

Jeff Brown, Special to CNBC.com
A customer reads a Wal-Mart sales circular on November 28, 2013 in Troy, Michigan.
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Recapping the day's news and newsmakers through the lens of CNBC.


So far, the holiday shopping season hasn't been something for retailers to brag about, but if a winner has to be declared, it's Amazon and its delivery drones, or in other words, online shopping over bricks-and-mortar.

National Retail Federation data showed that the average shopper spent $407.02, down from $423.55 last year. Online sales on Cyber Monday, meanwhile, jumped by 16 percent over last year's level. ShopperTrak reported weekend sales were up one percent over last year, despite a four percent decline in traffic.

This year's especially heavy pre-Black Friday promotions might have moved some holiday shopping up a few days. skewing the data. Some experts worry that the less-than-impressive start shows the Fed's stimulus just isn't working well enough. Ordinary consumers aren't making much progress, undermining things like retail sales, even if stock investors have done well.


"In the current environment the customers expect promotions, and absent promotions they're not really spending."—Matt Shay, president and CEO of the National Retail Federation

"Lower wage growth is the main factor holding back consumer spending."—Dario Perkins, an economist at Lombard Street Research

Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

It's a corrupt world


What's the true cost of doing business across the globe?

The latest report from the anti-corruption group Transparency International shows much of the world map in dark red and orange shades denoting deep corruption, including almost all of Africa, most of South America and most of Asia, excepting Japan.

Syria, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, along with Somalia, Afghanistan and North Korea, are perceived as the most corrupt. Canada, Great Britain, Germany, Japan, Denmark and New Zealand were among those ranked as less corrupt than the United States, which placed 19th on the list of 177 nations. The U.S. was hurt by its poor money laundering controls, poor campaign finance rules and corrupt government contracting practices.

Back-to-school signs are displayed in a Target store in Chicago, Illinois.
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Another win for China


China has found yet another niche in which to beat the U.S.: educating young people. According to a test of 15-year-olds around the world, the best-educated kids are in Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong. Americans also trailed many Europeans, including those in Germany, France and the United Kingdom.

Generally, the best school systems provide educational resources to the disadvantaged as well as the advantaged, and they give schools a good measure of control over curricula and student assessments. This set of exams focused on math, reasoning that the rise of computers means more people, not fewer, have to be math literate.


"Now that computer technology is accessible to virtually all and is increasingly capable of carrying out routine processes, jobs that do not require mathematical skills are becoming scarcer."—Report of the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment

The former Packard Plant in Detroit.
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Motor City rolls into bankruptcy


A federal judge ruled today that Detroit is eligible to file for bankruptcy protection. The decision raises thorny questions, such as what will happen if a governmental entity can break contractual obligations like paying pension benefits. The city said it will quickly take the next step: filing a plan to reorganize its $18 billion in debt. Detroit's largest union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said it will appeal. Judge Steven Rhodes cited the city's dire situation, due to the loss of manufacturing and population, and he chided the city and unions for refusing to negotiate in good faith.


"As of April 2013, about 48 percent of the city's street lights were not working. In 2012, the average police response time was 30 minutes. In 2013, 58 minutes, and the national average is 11 minutes."—Judge Rhodes

By Jeff Brown, Special to CNBC.com