Features

Strange changes

National | Textbook publishers, retailers, and insurers size up their industries in the post-9/11 world

Issue: "Elaine Chao: Unlikely star," Nov. 3, 2001

Rewriting history
Just as publisher MacMillan/McGraw-Hill was set to send its newest history textbooks to the printer, 19 suicide hijackers altered American history forever. Suddenly, the new manuscript seemed horribly outdated. Now, MacMillan and other publishers are scrambling to update history texts in time to meet 2002 marketing deadlines already set in stone. "It's very difficult for the publishers because events are still under way," said Gil Sewell of the American Textbook Council. Writers accustomed to spending months, even years, interpreting and writing about world events have just weeks to write about the 9/11 attacks in a way that schoolchildren can understand. Said University of Texas history professor Michael Stoff, who co-wrote Prentice-Hall's middle-school history textbook, "It's some of the hardest writing I've ever done." Glad tidings?
Retailers are bracing for a gloomy holiday season, but a new report says some sellers may find a silver lining to go along with this year's silver bells. In its annual Holiday Retail Outlook study, released this month, Deloitte Research predicts a 1 percent decline in consumer holiday spending compared with last year's increase of more than 3 percent. But the report also points out that retail inventories are under better control this year. That, coupled with scaled-back promotional and sales plans, may fatten gross profit margins, said Deloitte chief economist Carl Steidtmann. While the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks will contribute to a sluggish year-end retail performance, Mr. Steidtmann said pre-9/11 trends already had laid the foundation for the slump. Corporate profits, industrial production, and household wealth have all declined over the past 12 months. Still, the push-pull of the free market may buoy some retailers even as others suffer, Deloitte predicts. Dollar stores, discounters, and drugstores tend to perform well in hard times, as shoppers become more budget conscious. Insecure insurers
As 9/11 insurance claims mount even beyond the $18 billion spawned by 1992's Hurricane Andrew-the industry's worst natural disaster-insurance companies are grappling with new questions about insurance and terror. New analysis by the Independent Insurance Agents of America (IIAA) examines such questions as, must insurers pay loss-of-business claims hotels file after civil authorities impose airline flight restrictions? Do "governmental action" exclusion clauses affect claims related to terrorist attacks? May insurance firms invoke "war exclusion" clauses to deny certain claims filed during America's "war on terrorism"? Patriotism, professional ethics, and public relations so far have kept insurers from invoking any such clauses to avoid paying 9/11 claims. But the industry is taking a hard look at the future. The terrain is complex: For example, "governmental action" exclusion clauses might exempt insurers from paying terror-related claims if "it is determined that property was destroyed by order of a government." And common war exclusion clauses allow insurance companies to deny claims resulting from "undeclared" war or "warlike action by a military force, including action in hindering or defending against an actual or expected attack." Such language may apply to America's war on terrorism. Snail sales
The checks will be in the mail for a while longer. Despite a chorus line of vendors ready to begin online bill payment accounts, many banks and consumers aren't buying it, according to Massachusetts-based Meridien Research. The problem is two-fold: First, some corporate bankers see Web-based bill payment and presentment-in which consumers deal directly with billers-as a threat to "lockbox" services, in which banks act as middlemen for business payment processing. Second, consumers aren't yet willing to pay $5 or $10 per month for the ability to receive and pay bills online. Meanwhile, a nationwide survey of consumer payment preferences released last week by the American Bankers Association and Boston-based Dove Consulting showed bill payers may be warming up to electronic payments options in general: Two-thirds of respondents said they pay at least one bill using an electronic payment vehicle-whether credit card, debit card, direct payment, or online banking.

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