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What We Read Today 14 October 2015

Econintersect: Every day our editors collect the most interesting things they find from around the internet and present a summary "reading list" which will include very brief summaries (and sometimes longer ones) of why each item has gotten our attention. Suggestions from readers for "reading list" items are gratefully reviewed, although sometimes space limits the number included.

This feature is published every day late afternoon New York time. For early morning review of headlines see "The Early Bird" published every day in the early am at GEI News (membership not required for access to "The Early Bird".).


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Articles about events, conflicts and disease around the world


  • Gold Comes Back to Life as Prices Top 200-Day Moving Average (Bloomberg) Gold is starting to shed its reputation as a dead asset, and bulls can thank signs that the U.S. economy is starting to sputter for the boost.  The metal climbed above its 200-day moving average on Wednesday for the first time in about five months. A gauge of inflation dropped by the most since January and retail sales missed forecasts, increasing traders’ bets that the Federal Reserve will delay raising interest rates until next year. That’s good news for gold, which loses out when rates rise because the metal doesn’t pay yields, unlike competing assets.

  • Fossil teeth place humans in Asia '20,000 years early' (BBC News)  Fossil finds from China have shaken up the traditional narrative of humankind's dispersal from Africa.  Scientists working in Daoxian, south China, have discovered teeth belonging to modern humans that date to at least 80,000 years ago.  This is 20,000 years earlier than the widely accepted "Out of Africa" migration that led to the successful peopling of the globe by our species.  Details of the work are outlined in the journal Nature.


  • Wal-Mart just raised the stakes for everybody else (CNBC)  Wal-Mart shares had their worst day in 15 years Wednesday, after the world's largest retailer said sales will be flat in fiscal 2016, while its earnings will slide to between $4.40 and $4.70 a share — down from $4.84 last year.  Shares of competitors including Target, Macy's,  Kohl's and J.C. Penney fell in sympathy, as Wal-Mart said it would invest billions into price over the next two years.

  • Did Wal-Mart’s CEO Just Drop a Major Bombshell? (The Street)  Wal-Mart may be exploring a pare-down in its portfolio of store assets to help lift its stock, and thwart the approach of activist investors. Shares of Wal-Mart have plunged about 19% since the company's last analyst day in October 2014 because of pressured sales and profits, and a drumbeat of financial warnings. The most recent warning arrived on Wednesday.  Will Wal-mart follow another Dow giant is a major divestiture program?

  • Wal-Mart Heirs See $11 Billion Vanish in a Day on Share Fall (Bloomberg)  The four members of the Walton family controlling more than half the shares of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. had $11 billion of their combined net worth evaporate Wednesday as shares of the retailer plunged on a lower earnings outlook for the coming fiscal year.

  • America's Biggest Shale Gas Field Is Choking on Its Own Supply (Bloomberg)  Output of natural gas from the Marcellus shale is up more than 14-fold since 2007.  The flow of natural gas from the nation’s biggest reservoir is close to dropping below last year as pipeline capacity fails to keep up with surging production.  For the first time since the shale boom began in 2007, output from the Marcellus shale basin in Pennsylvania and West Virginia is faltering. While Appalachian pipeline capacity will more than double this year, it’s not happening quickly enough to keep the flow moving freely


  • Right-wing Polish leader: Migrants carry diseases to Europe (Associated Press) Former Polish prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski has shocked some in Poland by claiming that the Muslim migrants now arriving in Europe are carrying diseases that could hurt local people.  The comments sparked a sharp rebuke from some of his political opponents, with one left-wing politician, Janusz Palikot, slamming Kaczynski's statement as racist language that Adolf Hitler himself "would not be ashamed of."  Kaczynski spoke Tuesday ahead of Poland's Oct. 25 parliamentary election that his right-wing Law and Justice party is expected to win.



  • Iran sends fighters to Syria, escalating its involvement (Associated Press)  Hundreds of Iranian troops are being deployed in northern and central Syria, dramatically escalating Tehran's involvement in the civil war as they join allied Hezbollah fighters in an ambitious offensive to wrest key areas from rebels amid Russian airstrikes.  Their arrival, a regional official and Syrian activists said Wednesday, highlights the far-reaching goals of Russia's military involvement in Syria. It suggests that, for now, taking on Islamic State extremists in eastern Syria seems a secondary priority to propping up President Bashar Assad.


  • Ukraine's pro-Russian rebels reject Dutch MH17 report (BBC News)  A senior Ukrainian rebel leader has rejected a Dutch report that concluded a Russian-made missile downed MH17 over Ukraine in 2014, killing 298 people.  Aleksandr Zakharchenko told the BBC the investigation into the disaster "hadn't been carried out properly at all".  Meanwhile, Russia's aviation chief called on the UN aviation body to open a fresh investigation on Wednesday.  The West and Ukraine say the rebels brought down the Boeing 777, but Russia blames Ukrainian forces.


  • China hits back at US in row over South China Sea (BBC News)  China foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying alluded to the US when she blamed "some countries" for flexing "their military muscles again and again" in the South China Sea.  Last week, US officials said they were considering sailing warships in an area around the Spratly island chain which China claims as territory.  It has sparked tit-for-tat warnings between the two powers.  China has been worrying its neighbours - and the US - by enlarging the series of tiny islands far from the Chinese mainland with an apparent objective of establishing military outposts.

Other Economics and Business Items of Note and Miscellanea

  • Economics may be dismal, but is it a science? (The Guardian)  This article is a collection of inputs from professional scientists.  One is a biologist (selected arbitrarily, the others are excellent as well) who says people in his profession have an understanding of energy transfer, production and growth, self-sustaining systems, feedback mechanisms, carrying capacities, natural selection and evolution.  He goes on:

Unfortunately, economists do not have such a broad understanding of the natural world in which they operate. They also seem to be woefully unaware that the functioning of any activity involving humans, such as money-dealing, cannot be described by a mathematical formula but will be determined by the behaviour and mindset of the people doing the deals.

  • New Economics of Oil (Spencer Dale, Group chief economist, BP) Oil demand and supply curves are steep: ie they are very price inelastic: demand because there are relatively few substitutes for oil, especially in the short run; and supply because once an oil company has invested huge sums of money in building an operating platform and the oil is flowing, the supply from that operation is not sensitive to fluctuations in the price: you don’t turn the tap off just because the oil price falls.  But there are two new factors in the economics of oil and these are discussed in this white paper:  The advent of production of tight oil (from shale) and the increased emphasis on limiting carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

  • Angus Deaton wins Nobel economics prize (The Washington Post)  Below is a short video of a statement by the 2015 honoree after the nonimation was announced.  Econintersect:  It strikes us that this is one of the few Nobel awards in economics awarded to someone who has concentrated of trying to describe the world as it is rather than rationalizing how the world might be like his concept of what it should be.

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