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What We Read Today 05 November 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".).


Every day most of this column ("What We Read Today") is available only to GEI members.

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Articles about events, conflicts and disease around the world


  • More a marathon than a sprint (The Economist)  There is a long road ahead for Africa to emulate East Asia.  The world’s poorest continent is losing factories faster than gaining before it has even industrialised.  The growth of African economies has been driven by commodity extraction and export.  Now that China is slowing down that is shrinking - with nothing growing to replace it.  From 1980 to 2013 the African manufacturing sector’s contribution to the continent’s total economy actually declined from 12% to 11%, leaving it with the smallest share of any developing region. 

  • Is Antarctica Losing Ice or Gaining It? (Scientific American)  A recent study published in the Journal of Glaciology that found the Antarctic ice sheet is expanding because accumulated snowfall is outpacing melting glaciers has drawn sharp criticism from many climate scientists. While it does not contradict the science on global warming, it has pried open a long-standing debate about how warming is effecting the largest ice mass on the planet.  Econintersect:  This is representative of some general problems in interpretting climate data:  (1) The increase in the overall average temperature of the planet does not mean that some areas cannot be cooling.  Over the last two centuries temperatures in the arctic have risen about twice the rate of the global average.  That fact means that there must have been areas on earth that have seen temperature rises less than average, or maybe even decreasing.  (2) Temperature changes, particularly non-uniformly distributed changes, will likely produce changes in participation, both amount and distribution.  This second consideration means that the antarctic could have a greater amount on annual icemelt because of rising temperatures offset by an increase in the rate of ice accumulation due to more snowfall.  So antarctica could be warming and increasing ice cover at the same time.  And then there is an increase in sea ice in the water surrounding Antarctica which further complicates the overall picture.


  • Off-year elections reveal a 2016 map with sharper borders (The Washington Post)  The 2015 elections were rougher for Democrats in redder states, as they suffered a surprisingly large defeat in the Kentucky governor’s race, failed to win a majority in the Virginia Senate and saw voters thump an LGBT rights ordinance in Houston. But in blue states and cities, the party held or gained ground. As the parties head into a new presidential year, the country’s partisan divide has deepened.  Econintersect:  A Tale of Two Countries?

  • Pacific trade deal text released, setting up ratification fight for Obama (Al Jazeera)  Long-awaited details of a sweeping but controversial 12-nation Pacific trade deal were released Thursday, setting the stage for a raucous debate in the U.S. Congress and giving a first glimpse of the text to critics who worry the agreement could gut protections for the environment, public health and labor.  The text of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement between the U.S. and 11 other Pacific Rim countries runs to 30 chapters and hundreds of pages. It is mind-boggling in its detail, laying out plans for handling of trade in everything from zinc dust to railway sleepers and live eels.

  • Rich Americans Are Outstripping the Poor in Borrowing (Bloomberg)  As earnings diverged and lending standards tightened in the wake of the financial crisis, Americans in top-earning zip codes have held increasingly more than lower-income individuals in mortgage, credit-card, and auto-loan balances, Federal Reserve Bank of New York research shows. That means the rich have gained greater ability to leverage their incomes to buy homes, cars, and merchandise.  Read the full report at GEI:  4th In A 6 Part Macroeconomics Series: Trends In Debt Concentration In The United States By Income.


  • The indispensable European (The Economist)  Zanny Minton Beddoes says that Angela Merkel faces her most serious political challenge yet - but Europe needs her more than ever. 

LOOK around Europe, and one leader stands above all the rest: Angela Merkel. In France François Hollande has given up the pretence that his country leads the continent (see Charlemagne). David Cameron, triumphantly re-elected, is turning Britain into little England. Matteo Renzi is preoccupied with Italy’s comatose economy.  

By contrast, in her ten years in office, Mrs Merkel has grown taller with every upheaval. In the debt crisis, she began as a ditherer but in the end held the euro zone together; over Ukraine, she corralled Europeans into imposing sanctions on Russia (its president, Vladimir Putin, thinks she is the only European leader worth talking to); and over migration she has boldly upheld European values, almost alone in her commitment to welcoming refugees.


  • Det Norske Deepens Cost Cuts, Raises Output (Oil Pro)  Det Norske cut costs for more than $100 million this year. As a result, production costs are expected to average $6.5 a barrel this year, down from a previous $8 to $10 range.  

Saudi Arabia

  • How Long Can Saudi Arabia Operate With Low Oil Prices? (Oil Pro)  This article states the assumption that "current lifting cost average $7-$9 per bbl".  But that doesn't mean that Saudi Arabia can afford to sell oil at $45.  In fact they need over $100 a bbl to fund their governemnt expenses.  This is a problem for many oil producers.


  • Iran needs years, not months to regain oil status: Report (Middle East Eye)  Iran's ambition to regain its full oil export capacity after the lifting of international sanctions is likely to take several years rather than months, according to a report by the Arab Petroleum Investment Corp (APICORP).  The report saisIran is expected to add just 400,000 barrels per day by the end of next year and another 300,000 bpd by the end of 2017.  This would boost Tehran's production to around 3.5 million bpd and its exports to 2 million bpd by 2017.  Iran's pre-sanctions production hovered around 4 million bpd and exports at around 2.5 million bpd.  To accomplish this ramp up, Iran is looking to bring in $100 billion for foreign investment.  

Other Economics and Business Items of Note and Miscellanea

  • The Mutant Genes behind the Black Death (Scientific American)  A fascinating recounting of the research that found how minor DNA changes turned a relatively innocuous bacterium into a deadly killer.  Makes one wonder what other minor mutations might occur in other speices that could create new diseases.

  • Using hydrogen to enhance lithium-ion batteries (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory)  Llithium ion batteries operate longer and faster when their electrodes are treated with hydrogen.  Lithium ion batteries (LIBs) are a class of rechargeable battery types in which lithium ions move from the negative electrode to the positive electrode during discharge and back when charging. Subtle changes in the structure, chemistry and shape of an electrode can significantly affect how strongly lithium ions bond to it.  Through experiments and calculations, the Livermore team discovered that hydrogen-treated graphene nanofoam electrodes in the LIBs show higher capacity and faster transport.  Lithium ion batteries are growing in popularity for electric vehicle and aerospace applications. For example, lithium ion batteries are becoming a common replacement for the lead acid batteries that have been used historically for golf carts and utility vehicles. Instead of heavy lead plates and acid electrolytes, the trend is to use lightweight lithium ion battery packs that can provide the same voltage as lead-acid batteries without requiring modification of the vehicle's drive system.

  • The day after: How solar can thrive in the post-net metering era (Utility Drive)  With storage, Time of Use rates and control technology, solar can boom in the absence of net metering and benefit utilities as well.  Utility executives and solar leaders in states as different as Vermont  and Nevada are warning lawmakers and regulators they are dangerously near their net energy metering limits and could bring their solar industries to a dead stop any moment.  And there is no need for all this, says a Rocky Mountain Institute researcher. As states move toward finding more comprehensive valuation mechanisms for distributed generation, there are a number of ways rooftop solar can grow in the absence of retail rate remuneration that won't break utilities' finances.  Econintersect:  This problem may be resolved by economics if the current trend continues for solar farm electricity production to be significantly cheaper than distributed roof top solar.  See Study by Brattle Economists Quantifies the Benefits of Utility-Scale Solar PV (The Brattle Group).  But also see Rooftop solar installations and huge solar farms are both booming (OnEarth).  The bulk of new facilities coming on stream for utilities are natural gas and solar.


For stocks, it looks like 2011 all over again (CNBC)

How much money are you losing to investment fees? (CNBC)  Econintersect:  Invest $1,000 for 40 years at 6% yields a 20% larger end balance than if the earnings were 5.5%.  That is an example of what half a percent in annual management fees may cost a long-term investor.  If the management fee is 0.75% then the difference is 33% and at a full 1% it's a whopping 46%.


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