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Oil at $200 a Barrel?; A Weak Dollar is Good News to Some; Telecommuting is Growing

Aired May 11, 2008 - 15:00   ET


VELSHI: Welcome to YOUR MONEY where we look at how the news of the week affects your wallet. I'm Ali Velshi. Coming up on today's program, rising grocery bills, eggs and beef have been on a sharp climb for a while and find out why other foods are following their lead.

Plus, presidential poll, what the winter come November can really do for your paycheck and your taxes and your homes. We will look at that.

And nursing the weak dollar back to health. The Fed and the treasury say they are on the case, find out why our Greg Hunter disagrees.

But first gas prices just peaked yet another record high. The national average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline hit $3.67 this week according to AAA on average drivers now pay upwards of 20 percent more for a gallon of gas than they did a year ago.

Oil prices are behind the dramatic increase, crude oil passing $125 a barrel this week. If you think that is bad, CNN special's correspondent Frank Sesno joins us with a scarier scenario, what if oil costs $200 a barrel? Frank welcome to the show. You have looked into this very deeply; tell us what you are seeing.

FRANK SESNO, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, if you think it is bad now, it could get worse and it could get worse pretty fast. Fasten your seat belt; fill her up because as you say, it could get a lot worse.


SESNO (voice over): What if oil prices go to $200 a barrel nearly double their recent benchmark. Hard to imagine? Think again. Venezuela's Hugo Chavez has threaten the European Union's Energy Commission recently said it is a possibility. So did some prominent Wall Street analysts and some think there is a high likelihood that oil could go to $200 a barrel and beyond.

MATTHEW SIMMONS, OIL INDUSTRY ANALYST: We are so tight right now that we don't have any tolerance for anything bad happening. That is the problem. No have no spare capacity.

SESNO: What if oil hit $200 a barrel? We would be pushing towards $6 a gallon at the pump says an economists at the American Petroleum Institute. Food prices would go up fast especially things from a half a world away because of all the energy that goes into growing and transporting and refrigerating the things we eat. Home heating oil which is already costing a lot of New Englanders $1,000 a month or more this winter will set new records. Autos, planes and trains and trucks will get much more expensive to run. Some will make money.

SIMMONS: Oil company profits likely or not are going to go through the roof.

SESNO: A lot will want to tax it.

SIMMONS: The governments will say, we would like about three times more tax.

SESNO: China and India will find their booms getting more expensive and maybe slowing. A lot of people dispute this $200 a barrel scenario. They say there is plenty of oil, but $200 or even $300 a barrel oil is a what if scenario. People ignore at their peril argues Matthew Simmons who believes that global oil production has already peaked.

SIMMONS: This is the biggest threat of sustainability of the 21st century and it is right on our doorstep and it is not two years away, it is here, and it is here in our front room.

SESNO: It is not two years away, it is here now, not quite yet, but we are seeing with these prices now to remind you that things can happen that nobody imagined. Just a couple of months ago it was $108 a barrel and all you need is a bad interruption or a bad storm or a terrorist attack and you are there Ali, it is really hurting a lot already, so this would be a really bad thing.

VELSHI: Frank we talk about conservation and pulling back on our demand, but your know a lot of experts say that even if America did all of the right stuff and started to drive those cars that Europeans drive, the bottom line is the increased demand in China, the increased demand in India and this new car that Tata Motors out of India, $250,000 car. There is just going to be so much more growth in the demand for gasoline and oil that we can't offset it even by pulling back significantly here in the United States.

SESNO: It looks like a one-way street right here, a couple of months the International Energy Agency said even with these high prices and even with potential global slowdown, the demand growth in China and other developing countries will continue to grow and is going to continue to grow very quickly, so there is no easing off of the petal here and that is the problem, because it is not an easy tweak. Cheap oil is done. $100 a barrel may end up looking like a bargain in a very short time.

VELSHI: And there are some people who are thinking, it might go back to $100. One of the things that a number of economists have also pointed out to us, Frank, is that while we are so focused on the price of gasoline, because everybody knows what it is, you fill up regularly, you see those signs, there is really no other commodity that is so clearly sign posted, the fact of the matter is that the increase in the price of oil through transportation and through diesel fuel and jet fuel really works its way through other parts of the economy, and inflation everywhere else may be a bigger concern.

SESNO: You know, these things are going hand in hand and that is why food prices are going up as I said in the piece. Refrigeration, people don't realize it, but refrigeration is a very energy intensive business. It is interesting Matt Simmons said one of the winners in all of this might be local farmers who are growing local produce, because think about it, when you buy your grapes from Chile or your lamb from New Zealand how far it is coming and how much it costs to transport it and how much it costs to refrigerate it and store it and that is why these prices are going up and that is the problem here and it is already started and could accelerate.

VELSHI: We have been polling extensively to see where our viewers think gasoline prices are going and at about $200 upwards to about $6 a gallon. Our viewers think that we ill hit $5 a gallon this year and the bottom line is that at some point we will change our behavior and when does it happen? It has happened for you?

SESNO: Oh, yeah. I stole my wife's hybrid, the car I usually drive is a nice car and I actually have to put premium in it and it is very expensive and I stopped driving that at least as much as I can get away with, because with this one I get 30 miles to the gallon around the city. But it is not just me, because I was in a taxi the other day and I was talking to the taxi driver driving an old Crown Vic and he is spending $1,000 a month on gasoline now. He told me that if he went to a hybrid and he is going to do it, that he could cut the gasoline cost in half which would cover his car payment.

So I think that is just a small example and I saw a piece today that says public transportation rider ship is up 10 percent in certain cities around the country. So this is happening. This is with us. That Wall Street group did a study some years ago that said that at $4 a gallon that was a price point and that is where people started to change their behavior and it is upon us I think.

VELSHI: Well I think what is key here, Frank is that even if we pull back and we can't lower the price of oil or gasoline, if you can lower your own consumption of it that is money in your pocket. Frank, thank you very much for that, Frank Sesno, CNN special correspondent and you can catch more of Frank's very interesting show next weekend, his one- hour special "We Were Warned, Out of Gas." It runs next Saturday and Sunday at 8:00 p.m. With an encore presentation at 11:00 p.m. Eastern and it is definitely worth watching.

Coming up next on YOUR MONEY food inflation could double this year and find out which one of your favorite foods could be hit the hardest. You are watching YOUR MONEY on CNN.


VELSHI: Well, high food prices are pinching American consumers, milk, eggs, beef, they have all seen sharp price jumps in the last couple of years, but other products whose prices increases have not been as steep could actually be soon to follow.

Tom Jackson is an agricultural economist with Global Insights and he joins us now with a closer look. Tom thanks for being with us. We are watching these prices go up and they have really since last summer increased more sharply than they have in the previous five or ten years. What in your opinion is the main thing driving food prices higher?

TOM JACKSON, AGRICULTURAL ECONOMIST GLOBAL INSIGHTS: Well, I really think that one of the main things is the high energy prices. That is really increasing the transportation component, and you know, a good bit of the cost of food prices at the retail level particularly is transportation. And it is also the energy prices are feeding the increases in the use of corn for ethanol which is creating a lot of the issues with the livestock sector as well.

VELSHI: Let's talk about ethanol, we talk a lot about this, there are a couple of issues here, one is that the corn that is needed to create ethanol has increased the demand for corn, itself, but people say, what has that got to do with the price of chicken or eggs or anything else?

JACKSON: Oh, well, that is directly influences the price of chicken and eggs and all livestock, because it is the main cost component is the feed. It gets to be a matter of price, and you know, for some farmers it gets to be a matter of availability, and in some areas where you can literally hardly find the feed stock, but the cost discourages the production of life stock-based products.

VELSHI: We were talking to a dairy farmer a few days ago who said that the feed is getting so expensive that it could discourage people from keeping livestock because it costs that much to feed those animals. So not only do you see a demand in those types of food, we also see in Asia, in China and India, increased demand for meat which also requires corn for feedstock.

JACKSON: That is right. That is another part of the demand for U.S. corn equation that people have missed out on a little bit is that exports are very strong, particularly to southeast Asia and Korea and China and Japan is not exporting as much as they did so they are buying more from the U.S. Certainly the weak dollar has something to do with that as well, but yeah, they have their own livestock to feed. That is one thing we weren't quite figuring on when we were looking at more ethanol production.

VELSHI: Right. In fairest to ethanol, it is a neat concept, but there is a perfect storm of things going on. We have had droughts which are causing some shortages of wheat and we have extra demand from other parts of the world and we have got the demand caused by the need to put ethanol into gasoline. What about this competition for acreage that we hear people talking about that as corn becomes more expensive the farmers who farm other grains might be more interested in switching over?

JACKSON: Well, that is what we are seeing right now. You know, one of the scary things with corn is that we produced by far a record crop last year. You know 13 billion bushels well over the previous high and we are seeing $5 and $6 corn. And that helped to create shortages of soybeans and wheat and this year, we are trying to plant more soybeans and yeah, it is everything coming together.

VELSHI: You know, one of the things, Tom, that we are looking at when we spoke to U.S. Department of Agriculture last week about the increase in food prices in the last year which is almost double it's historical increase and they were saying to us they foresee that kind of increase 4 to 5 percent a year, increase in food prices for the next few years, so this is not something they see as a short term problem.

JACKSON: Well, yeah, that is maybe a little higher than we had in mind, but certainly, you know, there is just a lot of pressure on, like you said, you know, it is really almost the perfect storm one thing that hasn't been thrown into the equation is really a poor crop in the U.S. You know, that is one thing that I suppose could go wrong and certainly not calling for that, but it puts a lot of pressure on the U.S. agriculture industry to produce good crops all of the time.

VELSHI: All right. Tom, as we get more of a handle on this, we will try to figure out ways to let our viewers know what they can do about it. Tom Jackson is an agriculture economist with Global Insights.

Well coming up after the break, the house has finally passed its plan to lend a hand to homeowners. But that does not mean that help is necessarily on the way. We will explain next on YOUR MONEY. Stay with us.


VELSHI: Well, Jennifer Westhoven joins us now and we are talking about mortgages that are what we all under water, backwards, upside down and your mortgage is bigger than the value of your home.

JENNIFER WESTHOVEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And when that happens people are more likely to walk away from those mortgages. So they are a really big problem. If you bought a home in the top in 2006 or maybe you know somebody who did, there is more than a 50 percent chance that you are in one of these upside down mortgages and a new study says that is the result of a drop in home prices, they talk about 8 percent in first quarter on top of what happened last year.

So the trouble is when you have all these people walking away and you have a lot more foreclosures happening and Fed chief Ben Bernanke has said that Congress has to do something to stop the tide of foreclosures that are coming or he says it is going to threaten all of us the entire economy. There are four million home loans that are upside down right now and another eight million people could end up in these upside down loans in the coming year.

VELSHI: My head is spinning and I know you have been following this for a long time, all of the things going through Congress and the suggestions and the Federal government. So now there is a housing bill that has been passed by Congress, by Congress, and by the House of Representatives, but not by the Senate, will it get passed and is it going to happen?

WESTHOVEN: This is an election year, this is a big deal for people who really want the government to do something, but on the other hand we have people saying, we hate that you do it. So very controversial bill that passed the house this week. What it does is it offers lenders some government-backed finance from the Federal Housing Administration, basically that lets the lenders trim some of these upside down mortgages so that people who are in them, have a reasonable shot of paying them off.

But again very split opinions here about whether or not that is responsible. This plan faces a very uncertain future with the Senate and we don't know what will happen and then the president who said he might veto it.

VELSHI: Because he said it is a bailout for the speculators.

WESTHOVEN: I think you know the analysis is that it might help speculators, but then it seemed to help so many people who truly need it and if you help a few other people, how else do you do it?

VELSHI: And speaking of speculators. Let's talk about maybe gamblers and even casinos.

WESTHOVEN: Yes, turns out they are not recession-proof.

VELSHI: Really?

WESTHOVEN: Well, you hear it and maybe in some ways they are compared to others, but many casinos are reporting lower revenue as Americans struggle to pay for gas, food and their mortgages. In Atlanta City, Tropicana Casinos is headed into bankruptcy protection. It has casinos in Las Vegas and it lost its New Jersey casino license, but the silver lining here though is that if you are already going to Las Vegas or that, Las Vegas says that the room rates are down 5 percent.

VELSHI: Right. You pay for it in dollars so if you are an American traveling there, the only thing is that your air fairs will be up because they keep going up because of the fuel charges.

WESTHOVEN: And please don't put this on your credit card.

VELSHI: You know, are you gambler? Christine Romans gambled once in her life and she lost it and that was the end of it. She won't touch gambling again.

WESTHOVEN: I am like her. When I go I put $20 into a slot machine and I figure I owe them for the free drinks that I will get.

VELSHI: OK. I agree. Jennifer Westhoven good to see you. Thank you Jennifer Westhoven.

Well there was a big vote in Columbus, Georgia, this week and it had nothing to do with Senators Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton or John McCain. Health and disability insurer AFLAC and you know it from the duck has given its shareholders input into how its top executives are paid. They voted on Monday to approve more than $12 million in compensation for chairman and CEO Don Amos. I caught up with Mr. Amos earlier this week to ask him how this process came about. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DON AMOS, CHAIRMAN AND CEO, AFLAC: About two years ago, we got a proposal that the shareholders wanted to have an opportunity to vote on it. So I took it to our board and we discussed the matter and then I went out to talk to the shareholders and large institutions, and they thought it was a good idea. So we did that, and on Monday, we had the vote. What they did is that they voted yes or no on our total compensation of the top five people.

VELSHI: All right. Just up or down, it is not a matter of I think he should get a little bit less or a little bit more.

AMOS: Exactly.

VELSHI: What did they think about your pay package? You have made a lot of money and you are making around $15 million a year?

AMOS: That is right.

VELSHI: On a company that is bringing in more than $4 billion in profit. What is the general thought about what you are being paid?

AMOS: Well, only 2.5 percent voted against it, 93 percent voted in favor of it. I think that one of the reasons is that since I have been CEO which I am going on the 19th year, the stock has gone from $1.80 this year to $67.

VELSHI: So the general trend in companies where the CEO's pay is either approved by shareholders or tied to performance is that if the stock and the company perform well, shareholders don't tend to have a problem with the CEO getting paid more?

AMOS: That is the way I see it. It is pay for performance and now what you have to make sure of is that if you don't do well, then you have to make sure that the CEO doesn't do well, and under our system, that is the way it would work.

VELSHI: I imagine that you hang out with other CEOs and see them on other places and on boards and do they tell you on the side, why are you messing with this Don? What are they saying?

AMOS: Well, what I tell everybody that I talk to concerning this is just listen to the shareholders. If they think it is a good idea, then do it. If they don't, don't do it. And leave it just to that. Because it really doesn't matter what everybody thinks, it only matters what the people who own the company and that is the shareholders.

VELSHI: All right. Do you think that it is a trend that is going to catch on?

AMOS: Well, it certainly happens some. There is no doubt about it. You have seen several companies putting it in. So I can't tell for sure. Won't make any predictions but just to say that from our standpoint, it is a moot point now. We have done it and we know what our results are. Our shareholders are happy and I'm happy. (END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: And if AFLAC needs a replacement voice for their duck, Jennifer Westhoven is available. That was very good.

WESTHOVEN: That was not me.

VELSHI: Well, you usually have to press the duck.

DUCK: Aflac!

VELSHI: Stay with us on YOUR MONEY. Coming up whether you are glued to your television or considering gluing your eyes shut, the race for the White House continues; find out how the end result will affect your bottom line.

But first this weeks "Right on Your Money."


VELSHI (voice over): Graduation is close for many college seniors and the thought of paying off college loans can be daunting.

HILARY KRAMER, AOL MONEY COACH: The most important objective is to pay down your loans and make sure you don't have the interest that is compounding. One of the ways to do it is to apply as much money as possible to pay off the loan and pay off the principle and you can also consolidate and look for a credible credit card company or bank that will allow you to do that.

VELSHI: If your student loans are with one lender, you are required to consolidate with that lender, but if you have loans with more than one lender, you have more options. Check out the Federal Consolidation Information Center at Whether you consolidate or not, be sure to keep up with your payments.

KRAMER: The key is to not have it hanging over your head, because if you are behind in any of your debt payments, it will affect your long term credit rating which means that you will ultimately pay more when you go for a mortgage or loan for a car.

VELSHI: That is this week's "Right on Your Money."



VELSHI: That race for the White House is becoming like 12 or 13 marathons, but the economy remains issue number one. Can the president or whoever wins the spot come November actually do anything to help your bottom line and we mean your economy and not the economy. Justin Fox is "Times" business and economist columnist and he is looking into this for a story that he is working on about presidential power and the economy. Justin this is really the question people want to answer. We know that the economy is issue number one and start with people's paychecks and what they earn in this country, what is the state of it and what can be done?

JUSTIN FOX, EDITOR AT LARGE, "TIME:" Well, the big issue with paychecks in this country especially over the past decade or so is that even as the economy grows, most people's paycheck isn't.

VELSHI: And yet we hear that incomes have gone up over the years.

FOX: Yeah, right, although the median family income, the American family has not gone up since 2000 when you adjust for inflation and the reason is that the gains are going to the people at the very top. And that is not necessarily bad or whatever, but it is simply means that most Americans have been treading water for the last few years.

This income inequality has been growing for a long time, but what has been dramatic over the past eight or ten and it is really the past eight years, because of the recession right at the beginning of that is that Americans have not gone forward. So what do you do about that? Well, basically the position of most presidents for the past 30 years has been that you try to make the economy grow faster and lots of policies to try to do that and no one to be absolutely right. I don't have an answer there.

But what is an issue especially if Obama or Clinton which seems unlikely, but definitely if Obama becomes president is redistributing some of that income. That is a controversial thing and something we don't really talk comfortably about in this country, but our income tax already does it.

VELSHI: You can do it through taxes?

FOX: Yes, and a little taxing here and spending there.

VELSHI: Let's talk about taxes, because taxes are a lot of people who a lot of economists say that jobs and taxes are bigger long-term issues, but they don't resonate as much. Taxes don't resonate as much during the election campaign with everybody, right now we are talking about gas prices, and we are definitely talking about the food inflation, but when it comes to income taxes, that are going to be a long-term bigger issue.

FOX: Right. And the reason they don't resonate as much in this campaign is that I don't think that people feel wildly overtaxed by the federal government. Big issue in the 1980 campaign for example. But the problem is that when you look at the federal finances over the coming decades, it is really hard to find any serious economists or anybody who watches it who doesn't think that the taxes are going to have to go up.

VELSHI: Right.

FOX: And so when you hear candidates talking about how your taxes are not going to go up and maybe yours won't, because different things will be taxed, but the overall issue is that, I don't see any way around it. We are going to be running a $500 billion deficit this year and we probably should because the economy is in a slowdown, but you can't do that forever and you can't get away with it forever, taxes are going to have to go up.

VELSHI: And Social Security issues are going to continue to be a part of it.

FOX: And that is right.

VELSHI: And one issue that we always talk about is housing. What can the president do about the mortgage situation and about housing?

FOX: Well, that is an interesting thing, because right now legislation in Congress and through the house, that is would help some, you know, a couple hundred thousand people who are sort of on the borderline of getting foreclosed on or not, and that is real. A president can sign that or not, I think that by the time the next president is elected in January, it will be getting late to do a lot about those immediate problems.

I am sure not totally too late, which sort of brings to the longer term questions about what can presidents and what Congress do about housing? The issue is that we subsidize home buying like crazy here. The home mortgage interest tax deduction costs the government $80 billion a year and a bunch of economists out there who think we should reconsider that, but politically I don't see that.

VELSHI: No, that would be a big deal. Let's talk about longer term, financial security what the president can do about it and longer term we generally thinking about retirement and we are generally thinking about health care.

FOX: Right. Because those are two areas where there have been dramatic changes in the U.S. over the past two decades. Retirement from lots of people having these corporate pensions that they didn't have to think much about to 401(k) s for some and nothing but Social Security for a lot of others and health care is simply the question is that it is so much more expensive. There have always been a lot of uninsured people in America, but the financial ramifications of that are greater. That is something that Washington can do a lot about. There are tons of proposals there. Especially health care.

VELSHI: Yes, so that may be one of the few places to make a clear decision if that will help you decide who you are voting for, because there are proposals out there that are real.

Justin, you are working on a story on this for "Time" and we encourage our viewers to pick that up when it comes out. You will let us know. Justin Fox good to talk to you, thank you. Justin is an editor at large for "Time."

Still to come, made in America is selling overseas like never before partially because of the low American dollar and what that could mean for you job coming up next on YOUR MONEY.


VELSHI: All right. Normally export figures are not something we like want to talk about on a program like this, but a recent article made us rethink the issue. According to, "Inc.," last year U.S. companies sold more than a trillion worth of product overseas that is almost double the amount of 2002's exports. That got us wondering what this dramatic growth means for you and your job perhaps.

Mike Hoffman is executive editor of, "Inc." and he joins us now. Mike thank you for joining us. For those of you out here before anyone leaves and decides it is an obscure topic, it is not. Because one of the things pointed out in this article is that if not for exports our job losses this year might have been worse, because we have lost 250,000 jobs in 2008 and you are saying maybe worse if the dollar were stronger.

MIKE HOFFMAN, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "INC:" Absolutely. When they looked at the results for the first quarter, a lot of economists expected the economy to slide into a recession and they expected really significant job losses. There were job losses, but they were not as bad as everyone thought and the economy actually grew and when they looked to see why, it was the exporting.

VELSHI: Let's talk about this for a little bit. Let's look at some of the countries; Canada is the country to which the U.S. exports the most.

HOFFMAN: It is our number one trading partner and it was the country that posted the most export growth, $18 billion more.

VELSHI: Because Canada's currency like many of the other countries we are looking at strengthen against the U.S. dollar and making it cheaper to buy goods that are manufactured in the U.S.

HOFFMAN: Yes, that is exactly right. You see that in Canada where the currency is sort of favorable for them to buy U.S. goods and you see it in the euro zone and you even see that in places like Brazil where the currency is strengthening and they have a growing middle-class where they have a interest in everything from America luxury goods to hard industrial equipment.

VELSHI: Let's just make this now clear for our viewers, this does not necessarily mean that some of those plants that have been shut in America over the years particularly in the rust belt are all of the sudden going to light up and we are going to be building things and sending them out.

HOFFMAN: Unfortunately, no, they are not going to spring to life. But what really is interesting about this export boom is that in the past exports were driven by big companies, like Boeing and Coca-Cola and GE, but what you are seeing is that it is filtering down to companies of all sizes, including the very small companies that we at "Inc" Magazine have studied for so many years. And you are seeing many different types of industries, many different regions of the country are enjoying some piece of this export buy.

VELSHI: So perhaps there is an advantage here for small and medium- sized business owners who may be watching this to say that if you do do something and you export it, this might be an opportunity for you, because there is nobody who thinks that -- and people think that the dollar might strengthen a little bit in the next little while, but fundamentally we are low for a while.

HOFFMAN: Yes, and you know what is really kind of breath taking is that you see this in so many different industries, including industries that you don't think of being big business industries. You see it in cosmetics and like I said, fashion, luxury goods, antiques, it is a wide array and at the other end, it is sort of in the knowledge worker industries and you see it in management consulting and software.

So it is really widespread and, you know, American companies, because they are sort of very early on into the Internet, they are very good at logistics and they have real advantages when it comes to globalization.

VELSHI: So the message to take away from the article and this discussion is that if you do have some product to offer or you work for business that has some product to offer, maybe it is a good time to think about broadening that out and creating a client base around the world selling your products elsewhere?

HOFFMAN: This is a really good time. I mean one sort of storm cloud on the horizon is the rapid increase in food prices, because some of these countries that have been snapping up the U.S. exports are really sort of dependent on the food prices and as they rise, you might see the countries in Asia and elsewhere struggling that the average consumer there will have less money for the U.S. exports.

VELSHI: So if nothing else, it is a good starting point to see whether it is worth expanding your business or your reach.


VELSHI: All right. Mike good to talk to you, thank you very much. Mike Hoffman is the executive editor of "Inc."

Well businesses that operate overseas may be benefiting from this weak dollar, but you are probably not, so what is your government doing to strengthen our beaten down greenback? Greg Hunter joins us now with a look.

GREG HUNTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lets start off by making a point very clear, Ali, a strong dollar means that things like gasoline is cheaper and weak dollar means it is more expensive and that is what you are seeing right now. Because the dollar is weak and near historic lows, you are seeing gasoline near historic highs, so how many times have you heard this out of Washington about the dollar?


HENRY PAULSON, TREASURY SECRETARY: You know that a strong dollar is in our nation's interest and it is something that I have been very, very supportive of.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE U.S: We believe in a strong dollar policy. And we believe that, and I believe that our economy has got to have the fundamentals in place to be a -- you know, to grow and continue growing. More robustly, you know, and hopefully than we are growing now. And the dollar, the value of the dollar will be reflected in the ability for our economy to be, to grow economically and so still looking for a strong dollar.


HUNTER: But if you look at the U.S. dollar index which measures the buying power of the dollar versus a bunch of other currencies it shows the dollar is way down. In January of 2002 more than 120 but this past week it is all of the way down to about 73.50, a startling nearly 39 percent decline. Why the big dive? Well, the Fed Reserve has slashed interest rates all of the way down the 2 percent, and that is 2 percent below the official CPI rate which is 4 percent and some people say it understates real inflation, because it does not count food and energy.

The reason why the Fed has cut rates is because it is worried about the sluggish economy and the thinking is that if they cut the rates and get the economy to pick up, the dollar will grow stronger, too, but there is another big weight on the dollar which is the hundreds of billions of dollars that the Fed is loaning out or giving out for the things like the bailout of Bear Stearns and bad investments made by banks and brokerage and get this, in most cases according to the Federal Reserve, you, the public do not get to know which banks and brokerage the fed is loaning these billions of dollars to, because it is a secret.

VELSHI: Greg, assuming that you think that maybe the dollar should strengthen and you know there is confusion about that, because as I many last guest discussed there are some benefits to some by having a low dollar and thinking that the dollar should strengthen, what the is the government doing to back up those statements that we just heard from the president from Henry Paulson the treasury secretary.

HUNTER: Boy Ali that was a moving target when we asked the Treasury Department specifically, what are the policies being used to keep the dollar strong and specifically, only refer to past comments by secretary Paulson that he has made about keeping the economy strong, but not the dollar. And the downside to that weak a dollar and it is high prices here at home.

VELSHI: I wanted to ask you, because you study this so closely on balance the quick answer, do you think we benefit in the long term from this weak dollar or that it should be stronger?

HUNTER: Well, if you have a company that export overseas you are in the money, it is great. If you are multinational, you are in the money that is fantastic, getting most of the money from overseas, but if you are filling up the tank here in New York City or Iowa, you are a looser. This is hurting you.

VELSHI: Greg hunter, always good to see you. Thank you, Greg Hunter, for us on this story.

Coming up next on YOUR MONEY make a fortune with out ever leaving your home. OK. Not so fast but we are going to tell you about some scams that may offer you that deal, and later 45 million Americans telecommute at lease once a week and how to convince your boss to let you join them. Stay with us you are watching YOUR MONEY on CNN.


VELSHI: We have seen the ads make thousands of dollars every month without leaving your home. It sounds great particularly in a tough economy, but according to groups like the Better Business Bureau, the number of complaints about work at home scams is on the rise. Beau Brendler is the director of "Consumer Reports" Web watch and he is going to make sure that we know how to identify those that are scams. Beau, welcome. Many of them are scams and would you hasten to say, most of them are scams?

BEAU BRENDLER, DIRECTOR, "CONSUMER REPORTS:" If they come to you by e- mail, 99.9 percent chance it is a scam. Regular employers and people trying to recruit people or make money are not going to do it by anonymous e-mail into the box.

VELSHI: One of the telltale signs that I have understood is that if they are asking you to somehow put money up front whether it is a training course or to get supplies or somehow register to sell some product.

BRENDLER: Yeah, that is exactly right. Money up front is a big red flag. Oftentimes when you do put money up front, you will get sometimes useless lists of other businesses to contact or software that may not work very well. And at worst, your identity could get stolen.

VELSHI: What is the common structure of these scams? What is meant to happen and what is actually sold?

BRENDLER: Well, some try to sell you products to put together at home and then send you the supplies for a fee, and the scam is when you try to put them together, they are rejected by the company, because the quality is not good. Other kinds like medical billing businesses when scam artists try to sell you software and equipment to get into the home medical billing business. The reality of that is that business is crowded and a lot of big companies competing for that, and you won't get in some start-up capacity that way.

VELSHI: Hard to believe, but there are still some old fashioned pyramid scams out there where you give or get money from people and make your money based on how many people you reach out to.

BRENDLER: Yes, it is lucrative for the people who start out at the top, but chances in the middle or towards the bottom, so not to mention the fact that these are illegal, and you wind up parting with money and there is no product to sell, so you wind up doing is getting other people to give you money and complicated and illegal.

VELSHI: What do you do, Beau, if it is a tight economy and you are looking to work from home either for flexibility reasons or because you have lost your job and we are losing jobs in the economy, how do you make a determination as to what is legitimate? Are there legitimate work at home opportunities out there?

BRENDLER: Yes, there are, and you won't find them in e-mail and you won't find them posted to a telephone pole or under the windshield wiper of your car. You will find them in the want ads of the newspapers and online sites like or Career Builder and even though not every ad that you see there is for real too so you need to do your homework and find out who you are trying to work for.

VELSHI: One of the points you make is that whatever you decide to do, there should be some legitimate contact by phone or in person, and interviewers that you should get to see the operation that you are trying to attach yourself to.

BRENDLER: Yes, consumers should think of these things like a real job interview and no regular employer is going to ask you for money up front and give you details about the work that needs to be done and give you some idea what you will get paid and there is going to be information to check out. They will give you something to do research on so that you have something more real.

VELSHI: All right. Beau, this is good information and Beau is director of the "Consumer Reports" Web watch. Thank you so much for joining us.

BRENDLER: Thank you.

VELSHI: Not all work at home work opportunities are scams as Beau says, in fact many companies are allowing employees to telecommute and it is an effective idea if it can work for you. A study from the American Electronics Association says that about 45 million Americans telecommute at least one day a week and Ines Ferre is here to tell us where we can get one of these jobs and how? Can I do that? I mean I don't have to think that in our business that we are in, I could get a fancy backdrop and do it at home. Dress from the waist up.

INES FERRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well you know telecommuting can be found in many industries, including technology, graphic design, and sales. Some companies have specific operations structured for telecommuters. For example, a large portion of Jetblue's reservation agents work from home, other companies have a smaller portion of their employees telecommuting or go on a case to case basis. The key is to gain your employers trust so that you are seen as somebody who can do this.


BARBARA SAFANI, PRESIDENT, CAREER SOKVERS: I think that one of the false notions is that people often think that they can come into a job opportunity and immediately gain a telecommuting type of arrangement, and the reality is that they have to first prove themselves as someone who is trustworthy and productive and then at that point, perhaps, look at that type of an arrangement.

So it is really important that the person who's thinking of that type of arrangement can first prove to an employer, that they are the right person to do that type of work. (END VIDEO CLIP)

FERRE: Now, one of the things that people say is that, well, are you really that much more productive when you are at home and a lot of people say they are, and they have flexibility and a lot of times they have children or elders that they have to take care of them, so it is really a thing where you have to gain your employer's trust for doing this.

And for the employer, it has its benefits. It is cost cutting and not as much overhead, and you can retain workers a lot more and you know, Ali, that study that you mentioned actually also talks about the fact that 1.35 billion gallons of fuel could be saved each year if every worker telecommuted at least --

VELSHI: Yeah, there is a huge economic benefit. I am a procrastinator and I would worry about the fact that working at home would cause me not to get down to stuff sometimes there. Are downsides, right?

FERRE: It is not for everybody. You have to be disciplined and also, there is a downside of isolation and you are not in front of your boss all of the time, and sometimes out of sight and out of mind. But it depends on the situation and the type of job that you are doing.

VELSHI: So if you can benefit from that sort of environment and that sort of unstructured work. Who is this appealing to? You mentioned mothers or people who are older and not convenient to commute.

FERRE: Or people who want to telecommute one or two days a week. But for Jen y's and the facelift people we talked about earlier who are basically expect to do this and --

VELSHI: Say they work in that environment. They are used to communicating and existing in a virtual environment.

FERRE: Exactly with blackberries and look at us. This is it.

VELSHI: Yeah. Ines good to see you and good idea and I will work on seeing if my boss will let me telecommute. We will be back with more on YOUR MONEY. Stay with us.


VELSHI: We're still trying to get a clear picture of the size and scope of the tragedy in Myanmar caused by a killer cyclone that tore through the nation's southern delta last weekend. The current humanitarian crisis is crushing. As many as a million people maybe homeless, food and drinkable water is severely limited and the destroyed countryside is rife with hunger and disease.

The countries military rulers have been loathe allowing emergency assistance into the country. Although some humanitarian aid is now getting though. If you would like to help, heck out our special site called "Impact Your World." Go to We have a list of charitable organizations that provide relief. Well thanks for joining us for this edition of YOUR MONEY. We'll see you back here next week Saturday at 1:00 and Sunday at 3:00. See you then.