Penny pinchers will be forgiven for skipping the shrimp scampi this season. … Prices for shrimp have jumped to a 14-year high in recent months, spurred by a disease that’s ravaging the crustacean’s population. At Noodles & Co., a chain with locations across the country, it costs 29 percent more to add the shellfish to pastas this year, and shrimp-heavy dishes at places like the Cheesecake Factory Inc. are going up as well. … Restaurant chains, already struggling with shaky U.S. consumer confidence, are taking a profit hit as prices climb. Even worse, the surge is happening during the season of Lent, when eateries rely on seafood to lure Christian diners who abstain from chicken, beef and pork on certain days. … At Noodles, it now costs $3.34 to add the shellfish to a meal of pasta or pad thai, compared with $2.59 last year.
It may be tempting to view recent declines in commodity prices as the end of the resource “supercycle”—the period of sharp price rises and heightened volatility since the turn of the 21st century. Yet rumors of the supercycle’s death are greatly exaggerated. Despite recent falls, commodity prices are still near their levels of early to mid-2008, just before the global financial crisis hit. (To track the movements in commodity prices over time, see the interactive, “MGI’s Commodity Price Index—an interactive tool.”) At a time when the world economy remains below full power, this phenomenon is striking, and a sign that the supercycle is alive and well. … We believe that resource markets will be shaped in coming years by a race between emerging-market demand and the resulting need to increase supply from a more challenging geology and the twin forces of supply-side innovation and resource productivity. Innovations such as the use of 3-D and 4-D seismic technologies for energy exploration can improve access to resources. Productivity gains can reduce the wastage of food and water and make buildings more energy efficient. The question is whether technology and resource productivity can improve fast enough to counter the impact of emerging-market demand and a more challenging geology. … The race is on.
1. The changing resource landscape
2. Energy: The race between technology and geology
3. Metals: The looming supply challenge
4. Agriculture: Falling yield growth hits prices
America’s dominance of the global helium market is ending … NOT every commodity contributes both to the gaiety of existence and life-saving technology. Helium does not just fill balloons and render voices squeaky. In gaseous form the inert, lighter-than-air gas is used in a range of applications from welding and fibre-optic technology to deep-sea diving. Super-cold liquid helium is essential to making and running the superconducting magnets for MRI scanners and to manufacturing electronic devices from TVs to phones. The world stands on the edge of a “helium cliff” precisely because the gas has always proved so useful. ... Unless American politicians can come to an agreement by October 7th, supplies could face a sudden and dramatic shortfall. A third of the world’s helium comes from an underground reservoir in Texas built up under government auspices and run by the Bureau of Land Management. Such was the supposed strategic value of helium, a by-product of natural gas, that a reserve was created in 1925 to supply the gas to inflate airships. So jealously did America guard its helium that other countries had to fill dirigibles with flammable hydrogen—the Hindenburg was one of dozens that went up in flames as a result.
In 2013, Atlantic Canada was responsible for 68,000 tonnes, or just over half, of the 131,500 tonnes of lobster landed on the east coast of North America last year. And for the 160 fishermen in Lobster Fishing Area 32 off the coast near Dartmouth, N.S., this year’s annual nine-week lobster season (April 19 to June 20) has been breathtaking. So much lobster had been landed in Nova Scotia by the second week of June that the shore price dropped to $3.50 a pound, which was why everyone was so cranky. I’d been calling it a glut until a couple of local exporters begged me to refer to a “bountiful harvest” instead. They didn’t want their customers to think lobster was cheap. ... To a lobster enthusiast, of course, cheap lobster sounds like a good, i.e. delicious, thing. But it never materializes. There is a voodoo to lobster economics. What used to be poor man’s fare, the fallback meal of people too impoverished to afford anything else, is now a billion dollar business and a universal mark of luxury – with the result that a lobster that sells for $3.50 on the wharf can cost $60 and more on a restaurant plate in New York or Toronto or Shanghai, regardless of how many lobsters are pulled from the sea. How this happens is the life story of Larry the Lobster.
The global obesity epidemic and related nutritional issues are arguably this century’s primary social health concern. With breakthroughs in the field of medicine, huge leaps in cancer research and diseases such as smallpox and polio largely eradicated, people around the globe are, on average, living much longer and healthier than they were decades ago. The focus on well-being has shifted from disease to diet. The whole concept of healthy living is a key pillar of our Credit Suisse Mega - trends framework – themes we consider crucial in the evolution of the investment world. In this report, we specifically explore the impact of “sugar and sweeteners” on our diets. ... Although medical research is yet to prove conclusively that sugar is in fact the leading cause of obesity, diabetes type II or metabolic syndrome, we compare and contrast various studies on its metabolic effects and nutritional impact. Alongside this, we question some of the accepted wisdom as to what is perceived as “good” and “bad” when it comes to sugar consumption, namely as to whether a calorie consumed is the same regardless of where it is derived from – sugar, fats, or protein – and whether solid foods are “nutritionally different” to liquids. ... What can we expect in the future? What should investors focus on? Although a major consumer shift away from sugar and high-fructose corn syrup may be some years away, and outright taxation and regulation a delicate process, there is now a trend developing. From the expansion of “high-intensity” natural sweeteners to an increase in social responsibility mes - sages from the beverage manufacturers, we see green shoots for dietary changes and social health advancement. Ultimately, we expect consumers, doctors, manufacturers and legislators to all play a crucial role in changing the status quo for sugar.
- Also: Financial Times - Sugar as the new tobacco? 5-15min
- Also: The Atlantic - The Power of Sugar < 5min
- Also: Wall Street Journal - Cheaper Sugar Sends Candy Makers Abroad < 5min
- Also: Wall Street Journal - Sugar Processors Seen Defaulting on Federal Loans < 5min
- Also: Financial Times - London’s commodity lawyers hit by sugar rush < 5min
Mathur explains how he and his company, Yulex, hope to break the Asian rubber monopoly using gene sequencing and an unassuming desert plant. ... what he’s trying to do here in the desert, with a plant called guayule. ... Mathur tears a stem from one shrub and peels back the bark, pointing to a thin layer of, well, softness. This is called parenchyma. You can use it to make rubber, and that means you can make wetsuits, condoms, gloves, catheters, angioplasty balloons, and so many other medical devices. But most importantly, you can make tires. Car tires. Truck tires. Aircraft tires. In fact, this sort of natural rubber is essential to making tires. Yes, we now have synthetic rubber, but that isn’t as strong as the natural stuff. Our automobile tires contain about 50 percent natural rubber, and you simply can’t make a truck or aircraft tire without it. ... Today, almost all natural rubber comes from hevea rubber trees grown in Southeast Asia, and that hangs a nightmare scenario over US tire makers and the wider US economy. In the event of war or natural disaster, our supply could vanish, and rather quickly. But guayule can provide an alternative. Since the early 20th century, American researchers, entrepreneurs, and statesmen have eyed the plant as a way of freeing the U.S. economy from this deep dependence on Asia. Rubber trees don’t do well in the US, but guayule does. It’s indigenous to Mexico and the American southwest.
A global oil glut has tanked prices and cut profits—so why won’t Shell give up on the north? ... geologists believe that beneath Burger J—70 miles offshore and 800 miles from the Anchorage command center—lie up to 15 billion barrels of oil. An additional 11 billion barrels are thought to be buried due east under the Beaufort Sea. All told, Arctic waters cover about 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered petroleum, or enough to supply the U.S. for more than a decade, according to government estimates. ... Surprise lurks in the Chukchi, whose frigid waters north of the Bering Strait span from Alaska to Siberia. Logistical and legal obstacles have repeatedly delayed the Arctic initiative, on which Shell is spending more than $1 billion a year—more than $7 billion so far and counting. The single well in the Chukchi Shell aims to excavate this summer could be the most expensive on earth, and it hasn’t yielded its first barrel of crude. ... Shell’s Scenarios group, an in-house think tank that management points to as an emblem of its open-mindedness, has done extensive work undergirding the company’s support for government policies encouraging development of renewable energy sources, she says. But the Scenarios research also justifies aggressive exploration for more crude. With the global population rising from 7 billion to more than 9 billion by 2050 and total energy demand nearly doubling ... Most of the world’s “easy oil” has already been pumped or nationalized by resource-rich governments, Pickard says, leaving independent producers such as Shell no choice but to pursue “extreme oil” in dicey places.
The farm-by-farm fight between China and the United States to dominate the global food supply. ... If China hopes to feed (and pacify) its growing population while also loosening the very real stranglehold that America has on its national food supply, its farmers have to start producing a lot more corn—not just enough to meet their domestic demand in good years but enough to maintain a stockpile to offset their global market impact during bad ones. For decades, China has increased corn yields by putting more acres into production, but they’re running out of arable land, and the USDA now estimates that Chinese corn consumption will rise by 41 percent by 2023, far outpacing production increases. The only tenable way for China to meet its own demand, then, is by planting high-performance hybrids, which can single-handedly double or potentially even triple per-acre corn production. Chinese scientists haven’t developed a significant corn hybrid in years. But Monsanto and DuPont Pioneer, the two American seed giants, have produced so many successful hybrids that they now control 45 percent of all the seed sold in the world. ... The Department of Justice maintains that China is quietly permitting and even encouraging companies to steal American agricultural secrets right out of the ground. Acquiring the technology behind these next-generation hybrids could save companies like DBN Group—and the country—as much as a decade, and many millions of dollars, in research.
More than any other single innovation, the shipping container—there are millions out there, all just like the ones stacked on the Hong Kong Express but for a coat of paint and a serial number—epitomizes the enormity, sophistication, and importance of our modern transportation system. Invisible to most people, they’re fundamental to how practically everything in our consumer-driven lives works. ... Think of the shipping container as the Internet of things. Just as your email is disassembled into discrete bundles of data the minute you hit send, then re-assembled in your recipient’s inbox later, the uniform, ubiquitous boxes are designed to be interchangeable, their contents irrelevant. ... The exact placement of each box is a critical part of the equation: Ships make many stops, and a box scheduled to be unloaded late in the journey can’t be placed above one slated for offloading early. Imagine a block of 14,000 interlocked Lego bricks—now imagine trying to pull one out from the middle. ... The container’s efficiency has proven to be an irresistible economic force. Last year the world’s container ports moved 560 million 20-foot containers—nearly 1.5 billion tons of cargo altogether. Though commodities like petroleum, steel ore, and coal still move in specially designed bulk cargo ships, more than 90 percent of the rest—everything from clothes to cars to computers—now travels inside shipping containers. “Reefer” containers, insulated and equipped with cooling units, carry refrigerated cargo and are plugged into power sources on ships or at dockside. Because the containers are all identical, any ship can move them. ... The Port of Los Angeles, America’s busiest container port, handled 476,000 TEUs in 1981. Thirty years later, 7.9 million 20-foot containers—almost all of them containing goods on their way from factories in Asia—moved through the port, a 16-fold increase. Hamburg’s four container terminals loaded and unloaded 8.9 million TEUs in 2012. On the long list of global container ports, Hamburg and Los Angeles are middleweights: Shanghai, the world’s largest container port, moves 31 million TEUs each year.
De Beers’ undertaking highlights the dilemma faced by diamond miners, who are forecasting diminishing supplies if they don’t discover new caches of gems. Only a blockbuster discovery will enable them to keep long-term production at current levels, according to De Beers and analysts. ... The problem: Only a fraction of the world’s underground diamond deposits are large enough to justify the expense of harvesting them. ... Global diamond production is expected to peak in 2017, when 164 million carats of diamonds are forecast to be produced, according to McKinsey & Co. After that, production is expected to go into a long-term decline, unless major new discoveries are made, McKinsey’s forecasts show. ... De Beers is marshaling new technology, including advanced computer algorithms that can comb through the mass of data the company gathers as it scans the Kalahari for signs of a diamond-studded kimberlite, a pipe of solidified lava containing rich veins of diamonds pushed up from the earth’s mantle. Only about 15 in 100 kimberlite pipes contains even one diamond, and only a fraction of those have enough to make them worth building a mine to harvest the diamonds
Industrial production destroyed both the taste and the nutritional value of wheat. One scientist believes he can undo the damage. ... Commodity wheats are defined in just three ways: hard (high in protein, which is good for bread) or soft (better for pastries); red (dark color and strong flavor) or white (pale and more delicate-tasting); and winter or spring, depending on when they are planted. ‘‘Hard red spring,’’ for example, is often used for bread; ‘‘soft white winter’’ is better for pastries. A vast majority of America’s 56 million acres of wheat grow in a belt stretching more than 1,000 miles from the Canadian border to Central Texas. Around half of the crop is exported, and most of what remains is funneled to feedlots for cattle or to giant mills and bread factories, which churn out all those bags of generic white flour and limp sandwich bread sleeved twice in plastic. This industrial system forces plant breeders to prioritize wheat kernels of highly specific sizes, colors and hardness. ... What would happen, Jones wondered, if he developed unique varieties of wheat adapted to the Skagit’s cool, wet climate and extremely fertile soil? What if he could interest local millers and bakers in dealing primarily with Washington wheat? What if wheat, like wine, had terroir? After all, it used to. ... A grain of wheat has three main components: a fibrous and nutrient-rich outer coating called the bran; the flavorful and aromatic germ, a living embryo that eventually develops into the adult plant; and a pouch of starch known as the endosperm, which makes up the bulk of the grain. Before roller mills, all three parts were mashed together when processed. As a result, flour was not the inert white powder most of us are familiar with today ... Roller mills solved this problem. Their immense spinning cylinders denuded the endosperm and discarded the germ and bran, producing virtually unspoilable alabaster flour composed entirely of endosperm. It was a boon for the growing flour industry: Mills could now source wheat from all over, blend it to achieve consistency and transport it across the nation without worrying about shelf life. That newfound durability came at a huge cost, however, sacrificing much of the grain’s flavor and nutrition.
Known for their calm temperaments and soft fleece, alpacas looked like the next hot thing to backyard farmers. The market was frenetic, with some top of the line animals selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars. ... But the bubble burst, leaving thousands of alpaca breeders with near-worthless herds. Today, craigslist posts across the country advertise “herd liquidations” and going out of business deals on alpacas, some selling for as low as a dollar. ... They bought in at the height of the bubble, when it was commonplace for alpacas to sell for several thousand dollars. The couple started breeding and selling the offspring. ... Back in the 1980s you’d really only find them in zoos. Now there’s close to 150,000 in the U.S. ... Even late night TV commercials, sandwiched between infomercials, touted the animals’ ability to pad a retiree’s income. ... “The fundamental fact is that in this country, an alpaca, as an asset, an income-producing asset, is worthless. It has no value at all,” Sexton says. “The product it produces, 6 to 8 pounds of alpaca fiber a year, is worth less than what it costs to feed, medicate, and house the animal.”
Nearly everyone has hair they discard without a thought. Yet it can also be one of the world’s most precious resources, and businesses can’t get enough of it. ... When companies buy hair from the temple for as much as $700 per pound, it contains sweat, blood, and lice. ... To transform the best (longest) hair from trash into treasure, teams of workers untangle the hair, sort it by length, pick out lice and other particles, wash and dry it, and dye it a variety of colors. Companies then either ship the hair out to salons where stylists will sew, tape, or bond the extensions into customers’ hair, or sew the hair into wigs. ... Retailers like Lori’s Wigsite sell wigs made of fake, synthetic hair, and they cost $250 where a human hair wig would cost $1,500. ... History is full of examples of human hair being treated as a valuable commodity. Archeologists have discovered human hair wigs held together with resin and beeswax in Ancient Egyptian tombs. Upper class men in 18th century Europe wore long periwigs made of human or horse hair, and thieves commonly worked in teams to steal and resell them. An observer of an annual “hair harvest” in a poor Italian village in the 19th century described seeing girls “sheared, one after the other, like sheep.” Their hair went to Parisian markets that sold 200,000 pounds of human hair each year.
Coal? Or the Sun? The power source India chooses may decide the fate of the entire planet. ... Already Earth’s fastest-growing major economy and its biggest weapons importer, India is on track to become the world’s most populous nation (probably by 2022), to have its biggest economy (possibly by 2048), and potentially to build its biggest military force (perhaps by 2040). What China was in the American imagination in the 1990s and 2000s, India will be in the next two decades—a cavalcade of superlatives, a focus of fears. ... officials and academics have long argued that Western nations are demanding that India industrialize without burning even a fraction of the fossil fuels that developed nations consumed when they industrialized. And Indians resent that Western nations insist on the right to judge Indian performance while refusing to help with the cost of transition. ... India’s demand for electricity is widely expected to double by 2030. …= Soon after being elected prime minister in 2014, he announced that India would produce 100 gigawatts of solar power by 2022 (the US now has about 20 gigawatts). ... To generate electricity from it, India plans to build 455 new coal-fired electric power plants, more than any other nation—indeed, more than the US now has. (India’s existing 148 plants, which provide two-thirds of its electricity, are among the world’s dirtiest and most inefficient.)
Here there are rows upon rows of green–some 70,000 lush acres of water-hungry pistachio and almond trees. ... Their oasis has plenty of water, the result of relentless opportunism that has given their orchards access to more water than nearly any other farm during the worst drought on record in California’s history. The Resnicks use at least 120 billion gallons a year, two-thirds on nuts, enough to supply San Francisco’s 852,000 residents for a decade. They own a majority stake in the Kern Water Bank, one of California’s largest underground water storage facilities, which they got fairly but sagely from the government 20 years ago. It is capable of storing 500 billion gallons of water. They have also spent at least $35 million in recent years buying up more water from nearby districts to replenish their supplies. ... their company, renamed Wonderful in June, owns 32,000 acres of California citrus, flower-delivery service Teleflora, POM Wonderful pomegranate juice and Fiji Water, which collectively brought in $3.8 billion in sales last year. ... The Resnicks met in 1970 when Stewart came looking for marketing help for the janitorial business. He led her on, and after several meetings she bluntly asked whether she was going to get the account or not. Also divorced with children, he told her that he wanted to start a relationship instead. They married and in 1979 bought Teleflora, a failing flower-delivery service. ... Stewart bought his first parcel of farmland in California’s central valley in 1978 as a hedge against inflation. Lynda then took the fruits and nuts of their labor and marketed the heck out of them.
It is often said that saffron is worth its weight in gold because it is so difficult and labor-intensive to cultivate and harvest. For several weeks every fall, the crocus sativus flower blooms. ... At that moment, saffron producers throw themselves into the harvest. They pick the flowers early in the morning, and on the same day gently tease the bright red, three-filament stigma from each flower and dry them. It takes about 150,000 flowers to produce a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of saffron. ... Little wonder, then, that the precious powder has spawned a trade rife with the kind of deceptions and distortions typical of traffic in gems or illicit drugs: cheap substitutes, diluted shipments, false labeling. ... The turbulence in the saffron market has intensified. The much-anticipated lifting of international financial sanctions against Iran after the nuclear accord last spring has led to brisk saffron speculation inside Iran. (Saffron is several times cheaper here than in Europe, where the retail price can soar to 20,000 euros a kilogram, or about $10,000 a pound).
The financial crisis has fuelled a huge expansion of organised crime in Europe with 3,600 criminal syndicates now active across the continent, profiting even from such prosaic products as household detergents, the head of Europol has warned. … Rob Wainwright, director of the EU’s crime-fighting agency, said Europe’s black market in counterfeit foodstuffs, pharmaceuticals and machine parts doubled to a value of about €2bn in the early years of the recession. … The groups are profiting from an increased demand for cheap goods and finding ways to cash in on EU member states’ attempts to boost tax revenues … a new breed of cyber criminals in Russia, Ukraine and other parts of eastern Europe are carrying out increasingly sophisticated online attacks on financial services groups. … In the UK, for instance, the VAT rate increased in early 2011 from 17.5 per cent to 20 per cent, making any fake claim on this tax instantly more profitable. VAT fraud is now estimated to be worth €100bn a year across Europe.
The company’s 2,200-acre orchard, an hour north of Sacramento, is an industrial marvel. The 1.3 million trees there are more like bushes, 6 to 10 feet tall and planted in neat, tight rows. The density lets a two-story mechanical harvester straddle the trees and strip away the olives to a conveyor that drops them into a truck, which delivers them to an on-site mill that can press 3,200 gallons of oil an hour. No olive is touched by hand. California Olive Ranch, a privately held company, estimates it accounted for 65 percent of the olive oil produced in the U.S. in 2015. ... Gregory Kelley, chief executive officer of California Olive Ranch, says it’s the mainstream sellers that need to defend the quality of their products. Europeans, he says, have long sold their dregs to unsophisticated Americans, like jug winemakers did in the 1970s. In a strategy said to be either self-defeating or brilliant, depending on who’s talking, Kelley often rails about what he calls the olive industry’s dirty secrets. He says much of the so-called extra-virgin oil sold in the U.S. is of unreliable provenance: adulterated with cheaper oils, processed with excessive heat that strips out healthful properties, or flawed by sloppy harvesting that can cause fermented or rancid-tasting oil.
The women, it turned out, didn’t even catch the worst of the damage Arno Smit wrought in the Central Valley. He arrived in the late ’90s — boom times for the California dairy industry. Business had dried up by the time Arno disappeared in 2009, but by then he’d made off with an estimated $12 million from local dairymen he’d duped in a massive fraud. Locals were so embarrassed about how badly they’d been taken by Arno Smit that, for a time, most of them didn’t speak about it, even to one another. Their sheepishness meant the extent of his fraudulent activity in the Central Valley wasn’t fully appreciated until after he’d left — until an investigator named Rocky Pipkin came along. ... The scale and scope of the crimes vary. Honey embezzlement. Almond heists. One time, Rocky and his agents spent months on a sting operation to expose an elaborate organic fertilizer fraud. That case involved a decoy plant where the crooks pretended to make organic fertilizer with fish meal and bird guano; a second plant, fortified by walls of wooden pallets stacked 40 feet high, where they actually made the product with chemicals; and an intricate underground pumping system that would clandestinely fill the “organic” tanks with the conventionally made fertilizer.
Part I: I would like to examine two areas where the U.S. really does have documentable advantages. They are both incredibly important, one especially for good times with thriving capitalism and the other as a protection against possible bad times in the future that I for one fear ... In a world in which most things continue to work well, or at least well enough, the U.S. has the advantage of simply being more entrepreneurial. More of us risk starting new enterprises than do others in developed countries. ... You can even be associated with several bankruptcies and still be a strong-running candidate for President! How unlikely that would be anywhere else. And if three times more of us charge at the Internet, medical research, or social enterprises than in other countries, then we do not have to be better. ... The list of our advantages in Canamerica, as we could call it, is a very long one. First, we are uniquely defensible and difficult to attack. We are well-armed and well-organized. Less obviously, perhaps, we are more than self-sufficient in food production, energy, and mineable resources.
Part II: The positive effects of low resource prices are underestimated. The U.S. and global economies are likely to do significantly better this year than recent opinions predict. The U.S. has plenty of spare capacity to grow above its longer-term limits. The biggest risk would be China’s GDP becoming much more disappointing. ... The U.S. and global markets do not look like they are in bubble territory. They can always suffer a regular bear market (and are almost in one now). But I still believe we will have to wait longer for the BIG ONE and that global equity markets will regroup once more. ... Currently ultra-low resource prices are not sustainable, particularly those of grains and oil. Oil producers need $65/barrel and rising to finance new oil exploration. Resource prices will inevitably rise and as they do they will reduce once again the growth rates of the global economy.
CargoMetrics, a start-up investment firm, is not your typical money manager or hedge fund. It was originally set up to supply information on cargo shipping to commodities traders, among others. Now it links satellite signals, historical shipping data and proprietary analytics for its own trading in commodities, currencies and equity index futures. ... There was an air of excitement in the office that day because the signals were continuing to show a slowdown in shipping that had earlier triggered the firm's automated trading system to short West Texas Intermediate (WTI) oil futures. Two days later the U.S. Department of Energy's official report came out, confirming the firm's hunch, and the oil futures market reacted accordingly. ... in this era of globalization 50,000 ships carry 90 percent of the $18.5 trillion in annual world trade. ... "My vision is to map historically and in real time what's really going on in economic supply and demand across the planet" ... building a "learning machine" that will be able to automatically profit from spotting and publicly traded security that is mispriced, using what he refers to as systematic fundamental macro strategies. ... CargoMetrics was one of the first maritime data analytics companies to seize the potential of the global Automatic Identification System. Ships transmit AIS signals via very high frequency (VHF) radio to receiver devices on other ships or land.
Some aches and pains are constraining the global economy, with more severe strains occurring in the emerging world. We believe contagion to the US and Europe will be limited in 2016, and expect their consumer revivals to continue, courtesy of low inflation, low commodity prices, central bank intervention and reduced fiscal austerity. However, above-average equity valuations, peaking corporate earnings momentum and stagnant productivity growth will likely result in a year of modest single- digit returns on diversified portfolios. ... This year’s cover art transforms some well-known aches and pains: exhaustion, tinnitus, periodontitis, bronchitis, acid reflux, hangovers, restless leg syndrome, appendicitis, conjunctivitis, anemia, mononucleosis, E. coli infections, iron deficiency, narcolepsy, macular degeneration and altitude sickness. These aggravating but generally not life- threatening conditions are meant to convey a slow growth world, but not one on the precipice of collapse or recession. Competitive devaluations are unlikely to alleviate these aches and pains; successive rounds of currency depreciation in Europe and Asia mostly redistribute income across countries, rather than boost aggregate demand. ... Most of these conditions are homegrown: Latin American and Australian overexposure to commodity prices, weak consumer activity in Japan, economic dissonance across countries in the Eurozone, a surge in dollar-borrowing emerging economies and slowing corporate profits growth in the US. However, some conditions are the result of contagion: “ECBotulism” refers to the impact of ECB policy on countries like Sweden that are forced to engage in destabilizing quantitative easing, or lose export market share (see page 15 for more details). As for Canada, there was no need to transform the name of an illness for our cover: “Dutch Disease” refers to an economic condition in which one sector of the economy (in this case, oil and gas) drives the currency to such a high level that it causes medium-term damage to the rest of the country’s export sectors.
This is the Amazon Marketplace, where anybody can sell just about anything right alongside Amazon's own wares. Unlike eBay, where each vendor maintains a separate listings page, Amazon tidily groups its Marketplace sellers by item, hiding away the inferior offers, to showcase the best deals up front. (In seller parlance, landing the number-one spot is called "getting the buy box.") What looks so clean on your screen obscures the messy and massive jungle of the Marketplace: There are now more than two million sellers on Amazon. While the Seattle-based giant still sells the most popular items on the site itself, Marketplace sellers now ship nearly half of the products--about two billion items each year, all told--and those sales are growing twice as fast as Amazon's, according to the consultancy ChannelAdvisor. The Marketplace started in 2000 selling used books. In 2016, it's a retail phenomenon as significant as any in the past 50 years--together these sellers ring up what ChannelAdvisor estimates to be $132 billion in sales each year. That's more than Walmart sold in 1997. Yet we know so little about who they are. ... Pharmapacks, notched $31.5 million in revenue in 2014, which made its three-year growth rate 3,035 percent, good enough to earn it the 115th spot on the Inc. 500. By the end of 2015, its annual revenue was $70 million. Vagenas proudly told me the company was on track to do $140 million to $160 million in revenue in 2016, the vast majority coming from those platforms (and around 40 percent from Amazon). ... Inventory often stays in their warehouse only for a few hours before going right back out the door. The business is less like traditional merchandising than it is like a commodities trader from a bygone era, buying and selling well-known goods and turning a profit on each transaction.
One thing we are exceptionally good at in the West is to blame China for pretty much anything that goes haywire. If you believe various commentators, it is all China’s fault that global equity markets have caught a serious cold more recently and, before that, China was blamed for the extraordinary weakness in industrial commodity prices. They have weakened - or so the argument goes - because China’s growth is not quite what it used to be, and commodity producing countries are over-producing as a result. ... Whilst entirely correct that China’s GDP growth rate has indeed slowed substantially, perhaps someone should consider whether China is as much the consequence as the cause; whether China is in fact a victim rather than a villain? Let me explain. ... I see no reason why the present combination of low oil prices and attractive foreign exchange rates shouldn’t invigorate economic growth across emerging markets ... EM equities could quite plausibly end up being the bargain of the year, although I am concerned about corporate leverage in many EM countries. One would therefore have to step carefully ... Finally a general observation: This is not a repeat of 2008, as many have suggested. An EM crisis is not likely to do nearly as much damage to the financial system in our part of the world, as the GFC did. Why? Because the banking system in DM countries have only limited exposure to corporates in EM countries.
- Also: Foreign Policy - China’s Coming Ideological Wars < 5min
- Also: Quartz - The most egregious examples from the Chinese government’s long, sordid history of data-doctoring 5-15min
- Also: Financial Times - M&A: China’s world of debt < 5min
- Also: Wall Street Journal - Chinese Developers Build in America, but Look for Buyers at Home < 5min
- Also: Financial Times - China’s great game: Road to a new empire < 5min
Visited on a chilly day in December, the area around the top of the mine, the “collar” in mining terms, doesn’t look inviting. Steam clouds pour from the mouth of No. 9. It’s the hot air being drawn from the cave dug at the bottom of No. 10. That far down, rocks formed billions of years ago still carry heat from the molten core of the earth. Without the elaborate refrigeration system that pumps chilled air down No. 10, the bottom of the mine would be 180F, far too hot for a human to withstand. ... a venture between the two largest mining companies in the world, Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton. Together they’ve spent more than $1 billion, including $350 million sinking the No. 10 mine shaft, in hopes of tapping nearly 2 billion metric tons of ore. Less than 2 percent of it is believed to be copper. It might not sound like much, but that’s considered dense, making it the fourth-largest undeveloped copper deposit in the world. ... Resolution Copper plans to dig four more shafts over the next 15 years. At peak production, this will be the biggest copper mine in the U.S., producing 100,000 tons of rock a day, and enough copper to meet a quarter of the country’s demand. It could also end up being a financial problem for its owners. The price of copper, along with lots of other commodities, has crashed as China’s economy has slowed. The Resolution mine is essentially an enormous bet that the third-most-used metal in the world is oversold and that prices will rebound by the time the mine opens in several years. ... Steaming hot water pours off the rocks; during construction, workers bored into an ancient lake trapped thousands of feet underground by impermeable rock, and it’s leaking into the mine. It’s like standing in a tropical rainstorm. A digital hydrometer on the wall registers 100 percent humidity. Overhead, cooled air gushes out of a metal duct, blowing the rain sideways and keeping the temperature in the mid-70s.