Zhu Zhu Pets and Low Pricing

If the Zhu Zhu Pets taught a lesson, it’s that a bit of technology and a low price tag can go a long way. Toy makers are taking that experience to heart.

From a digital Scrabble game that checks the words to a hovering UFO to miniature radio-control cars, toy makers are amping up the tech quotient but not prices.

Zhu Zhu Pets, the furry mechanical hamsters that zoom around, were the runaway hit of the holiday season. One key to their success: a price tag under $10.

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The American International Toy Fair begins Sunday. This is the annual event where toy makers show off new offerings that will make their way into next year’s stockings. Previews from toymakers and interviews with analysts make clear that the focus is on innovation and price. Few toys will retail for more than $100, and most will be priced below $30. [Read the full article]

Warren Jacobs was desperate when he received a “robo-call” promising to help him stave off foreclosure of his home near Dallas.

The father of six had lost his construction job, lacked health insurance and couldn’t pay bills for his 17-year-old daughter’s cancer treatment, let alone his mortgage.

So on Jan. 21, he dialed the return number and was connected to the United Law Group. Minutes later Jacobs agreed to scrape together $2,000 to pay the Irvine, Calif. law firm.

He unwittingly became one of the many thousands of homeowners authorities allege have been taken in by unscrupulous or incompetent loan modification attorneys who rushed into a burgeoning legal niche: helping financially struggling homeowners re-negotiate their mortgages. [Read the full article]

Could Spain be the next Greece? The government bristles at the very thought, and points out its debt burden isn’t nearly as heavy.

It’s a stinging comparison nonetheless for a country that only a few years ago had burgeoning growth but is now lumped with other deficit-laden countries on a watch list for a Greek-style crisis.

The collapse of a real estate- and consumer-fueled boom has left Spain with a eurozone high jobless rate of nearly 20 percent, and the government ran up a deficit that in 2009 equaled 11.4 percent of GDP. That is way over the eurozone limit of 3 percent and earned Spain a place as the letter “S” in the inelegant PIGS acronym coined by analysts (the others are Portugal, Ireland, and Greece).

Spanish officials argue they are better off in several respects. [Read the full article]

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