April 21, 2017
Volatility was once merely a mathematical measure for investors of how sharply markets moved. Today, volatility is a complex multibillion-dollar market in its own right, played by everyone from sophisticated hedge funds to gum-chewing day traders. ... But Vix is also one of the finance industry’s biggest enigmas. This should be a moment of potential peril for markets, with US interest rates rising, heightened geopolitical tension and a populist outsider in the White House. Yet Vix has remained largely tranquil. ... the evaporation of volatility also reflects profound structural changes that have taken place since the financial crisis, such as the primacy of central banks and the big shift into exchange traded funds. ... the index’s inventor is unhappy about, given structural flaws that make these products ill-suited for retail investors. Constantly buying new futures is costly, and Vix futures are typically in “contango”, when longer-term contracts are more expensive than near-term ones. In practice this means that Vix ETPs are most of the time slowly bleeding to death.
The cost of crab blood has been quoted as high as $14,000 per quart. ... Their distinctive blue blood is used to detect dangerous Gram-negative bacteria such as E. coli in injectable drugs such as insulin, implantable medical devices such as knee replacements, and hospital instruments such as scalpels and IVs. Components of this crab blood have a unique and invaluable talent for finding infection, and that has driven up an insatiable demand. Every year the medical testing industry catches a half-million horseshoe crabs to sample their blood. ... The number of crabs harvested by the U.S. biomedical industry jumped from an estimated 200,000 to 250,000 in the 1990s to more than 610,000 crabs in 2012, according to the ASMFC's latest stock assessment report.
It has always been easy to underestimate Mark Davis. After all, he is known for his wacky bowl cut and silver-and-black suits and for managing the Raiders from the bar at a P.F. Chang's. Since his Hall of Fame father, Al, died six years ago, Davis has been an afterthought in league circles, easy to malign and hard to take seriously. ... Adelson considered the Raiders' move a chance to help him shift a windfall of public money away from a competitor's convention center renovation -- and a chance to enhance his legacy by delivering an NFL franchise to his home city, sweetened by a stake in a gleaming, state-of-the-art $1.9 billion domed stadium and, perhaps, a piece of the team. ... What no one could see then is that, after making good on his word by delivering an American-record $750 million in public funds for the stadium and pledging $650 million of his own money, Adelson would end up furious a year later, feeling that Mark Davis -- the goofy Mark Davis who "surprises people if he can roll out of bed and put on his pants," as a team owner says -- had completely and utterly fleeced him.
Together, the two of us owned more than 18,000 shares of Tejon Ranch, an investment our wives had advised us against. When we’d bought in about a year earlier, the shares had been worth nearly half a million dollars—a significant chunk of our retirement nest eggs. Tejon Ranch had appeared to us to be poorly managed. As professors who write about shareholder activism, we’d thought we’d seen an opportunity to mimic the big activists, such as Bill Ackman and Carl Icahn, who agitate to improve the transparency and performance of much larger companies. ... We had been pressuring Tejon Ranch’s executives, using the playbook that top activists have developed over the past decade or so. But the stock had tanked, we had lost more than $70,000, and we thought Bielli had lied to us.
Already, the four companies that in 2015 provided 88 percent of the world’s lithium can’t keep up: Lithium contract prices have increased from $4,000 per metric ton in 2014 to as high as $20,000 today. ... That’s why a host of junior entrants are scrambling to get into the game. Whoever can figure out the extraction and chemistry required to get lithium out of the ground and into batteries stands to capture a significant share of the market. But as with any commodity, it’s a precarious business. ... Lithium can be mined from rocks, as in Australia and China, but in Clayton Valley and the lithium triangle it’s extracted from briny aquifers. ... The best hope new entrants have of catching Albemarle lies in a process being developed by Tenova SpA, an Italian engineering company. This method, which strips the lithium using an ion-exchange system and returns the water to the ground, would allow companies to skip evaporation ponds, slashing production time from months to hours while yielding a higher concentration of lithium.
For decades, the solution to aging has seemed merely decades away. In the early nineties, research on C. elegans, a tiny nematode worm that resembles a fleck of lint, showed that a single gene mutation extended its life, and that another mutation blocked that extension. The idea that age could be manipulated by twiddling a few control knobs ignited a research boom, and soon various clinical indignities had increased the worm’s life span by a factor of ten and those of lab mice by a factor of two. The scientific consensus transformed. Age went from being a final stage (a Time cover from 1958: “Growing Old Usefully”) and a social issue (Time, 1970: “Growing Old in America: The Unwanted Generation”) to something avoidable (1996: “Forever Young”) or at least vastly deferrable (2015: “This Baby Could Live to Be 142 Years Old”). Death would no longer be a metaphysical problem, merely a technical one. ... The celebration was premature. Gordon Lithgow, a leading C. elegans researcher, told me, “At the beginning, we thought it would be simple—a clock!—but we’ve now found about five hundred and fifty genes in the worm that modulate life span. And I suspect that half of the twenty thousand genes in the worm’s genome are somehow involved.” That’s for a worm with only nine hundred and fifty-nine cells. ... For us, aging is the creeping and then catastrophic dysfunction of everything, all at once. ... The great majority of longevity scientists are healthspanners, not immortalists. They want to give us a healthier life followed by “compressed morbidity”—a quick and painless death. ... The battle between healthspanners and immortalists is essentially a contest between the power of evolution as ordained by nature and the potential power of evolution as directed by man. ... Aging doesn’t seem to be a program so much as a set of rules about how we fail. Yet the conviction that it must be a program is hard to dislodge from Silicon Valley’s algorithmic minds. If it is, then reversing aging would be a mere matter of locating and troubleshooting a recursive loop of code.
Five years ago, China's most charismatic politician was toppled from power. His disgrace allowed his great rival to dominate the political stage in a way unseen in China since the days of Chairman Mao. ... All this was made possible by a murder. ... And the story of that murder begins not in China but in a British seaside town.