June 28, 2014

Did you hear?

Weekly roundup of interesting business news


Yes, fecal transplants are a thing

Imagine a low-cost treatment for a life-threatening infection that could cure up to 90 percent of patients with minimal side effects, often in a few days.

It may sound like a miracle drug, but this cutting-edge treatment is profoundly simple – though somewhat icky: take the stool of healthy patients to cure those with hard-to-treat intestinal infections. A small but growing number of physicians have begun using these so-called fecal transplants to treat Clostridium difficile, commonly referred to as C-diff, a bacterial infection that causes nausea, cramping and diarrhea. The germ afflicts a half-million Americans annually and kills about 15,000 of them.

But fecal transplants pose a challenge for the Food and Drug Administration, which has decided to regulate the treatment as an experimental drug. Stool transplants don’t fit neatly into the agency’s standard framework. And while regulators have shown flexibility in their approach, some critics say the mere presence of government oversight is discouraging many doctors from offering transplants. That’s led some patients to seek out questionable “do-it-yourself” websites, forums and videos.

Most researchers agree that the FDA’s concerns are warranted. Patients can contract HIV, hepatitis and other viruses and parasites from fecal matter that is not properly screened. Additionally, there are no long-term studies on potential side effects of stool transplantation.

FDA officials declined to be interviewed for this story, but said in a written response that the fecal transplantation “shows promise in treating C. difficile infection that has not been responsive to other therapies.”

Movie theaters

Watch from the recliner

No one tells moviegoers at Marcus Theatres in Oakdale, Minn., not to put their feet on the seats. In fact, patrons are encouraged to do so. The theater is one of a growing number to offer plush, roomy leather seats that let patrons recline into a classic La-Z-Boy position while enjoying “22 Jump Street” or “Jersey Boys.”

The new loungers are one of many ways that theater owners are working to lure customers away from Netflix and 60-inch TVs at home. Theaters are adding restaurant-quality food, alcohol, on-site lounges and reserved seating, not to mention better sound and bigger screens.

For many theater owners, the upgrades are a matter of necessity. As the home movie experience has improved, theater attendance in the United States has dropped from 1.57 billion in 2002 to 1.34 billion in 2013, according to the National Association of Theatre Owners.

The high-back recliners are an upgrade from rockers. At the touch of a button, the seat eases back as the leg rest rises quietly and effortlessly. There’s no jockeying to claim the arm rest. Each seat has its own, including one with a cup holder and one that can be raised for couples who want to snuggle closer.


Two IPOs, two reactions

The market had its the third-busiest week for IPOs since 2000 with a pair of notable names getting different reactions.

What started as one surfer’s idea to tether a video camera to his wrist to record his exploits on the ocean became a $3.5 billion empire last week, when GoPro Inc. began trading on Wall Street in one of the largest IPOs by a consumer hardware company in decades. GoPro shares began trading at $28.65, 19 percent above the price the company set late Wednesday. By midday Thursday, shares prices topped $33 before closing at $31.34, up 30.6 percent for the day.

Meanwhile, Michaels had a tepid return to the stock market Friday, its shares going back and forth between small gains and declines. The arts and crafts store operator’s shares were up 19 cents to $17.22 in midday trading on the Nasdaq, after falling a little over 1 percent earlier.

The lackluster response shows investors are wary of retailing and the fragmented $30 billion arts and crafts industry. The last IPO from a major retailer was The Container Store Group Inc., which made its debut late last year. Its shares have fallen 19 percent.


Degrees bring bucks

Some comforting news for recent college graduates facing a tough job market and years of student loan payments: That college degree is still worth it.

Those with bachelor’s or associate’s degrees earn more money over their lifetime than those who skip college, even after factoring in the cost of higher education, according to a report released last week by The Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

A person with a bachelor’s degree can expect to earn about $1.2 million more, from ages 22 to 64, than someone with just a high school diploma, the report said. And someone with an associate’s degree will bring in $325,000 more than someone with a high school education. The study used data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The New York Fed report said that between 1970 and 2013, those with a four-year bachelor’s degree earned an average of about $64,500 per year, while those with a two-year associate’s degree earned about $50,000 per year and those with only a high school diploma earned $41,000 per year.

The Associated Press, San Jose Mercury News and Star Tribune (Minneapolis) contributed.

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