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What We Read Today 21 December 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

Global

  • 'Star Wars’ Sets Record With $529 Million Global Debut (Bloomberg)  “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” rang up $529 million in worldwide box-office sales in its record weekend debut -- more than Walt Disney Co. anticipated, according to Chief Executive Officer Bob Iger.  That’s before the movie reaches China, the second largest market in the world. With domestic sales coming in way higher than expected at $248 million, the first live-action “Star Wars” film in a decade already beats the previous global record by about $4 million -- “Jurassic World” reached $524.9 million earlier this year.

U.S.

  • AP Investigation: US power grid vulnerable to foreign hacks (Associated Press)  So many attackers have stowed away in the largely investor-owned systems that run the U.S. electric grid that experts say they likely have the capability to strike at will.

  • Fed's Lockhart Suggests Pace of Four Rate Increases Over a Year (Bloomberg)  Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta President Dennis Lockhart said the central bank’s commitment to a “gradual” tightening suggests interest rates could be raised at every other meeting of the policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee, though the actual pace will depend on incoming economic data.  Barry Eichengreen (who has contributed to GEI) thinks the Lockhart schedule may be too agressive - see video below.

Turkey

  • Turkish consumer confidence index falls in December (Hurriyet Daily News)  Turkey’s consumer confidence index fell in December after a sharp increase in November, the Turkish Statistics Institute (TÜİK) said in a report on Dec. 21.  The index fell to 73.58 in December from 77.15 in November, according to the report.  The index had jumped to a high reading in November from 62.78 in October.  Worries about employment seemed to have been predominant, as the number of people in the unemployed expectation index decreased by 7.4% compared with the previous month.

China

  • China exploits Buddhist rift to smear Dalai Lama (Reuters)  China has co-opted a Buddhist sect in a global effort to smear the Dalai Lama.  On the surface, the commotion appears to stem from an arcane, centuries-old schism in Tibetan Buddhism. But a Reuters investigation has found that the religious sect behind the protests has the backing of the Communist Party. The group has emerged as an instrument in Beijing’s long campaign to undermine support for the Dalai Lama, a political exile who commands the loyalty of millions of Chinese citizens and whom Beijing accuses of plotting secession for Tibet.

Afghanistan

  • Six U.S. troops dead, others wounded in apparent suicide attack in Afghanistan (The Washington Post, MSN News)  The U.S.-led military in Afghanistan suffered one of its worst days in 2015 on Monday, as six U.S. service members were killed and three others were wounded when a motorcycle laden with explosives detonated near them in Parwan province in an apparent suicide attack.

  • Afghanistan Taliban: Militants 'close to capturing' Sangin (BBC News)  Reports from the southern Afghan province of Helmand suggest Taliban militants are close to overrunning the strategically important town of Sangin.  Helmand's governor, Mirza Khan Rahimi, insisted the authorities were still in control but his own deputy said that Sangin had been overrun.  The Taliban said they controlled most of the town and the main administrative building had been abandoned.


The stock market's breadth is unusually shallow (Sam Ro, Business Insider)  The S&P 500 is down modestly since the beginning of the year. Through Friday, the 500-component index is down 2% in 2015.  It would be doing much worse, however, had it not been for the heavy lifting of some mega-cap stocks. Consider Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and Google, which are collectively being referred to as FANG.  They are each up double digits and triple digits for the year, and are carrying the market.  A fifth stock, Starbucks, is also up a lot.  Much of the rest of the market is down, some stocks a lot.

market.breadth.2015.dec.21

Other Economics and Business Items of Note and Miscellanea

Investors in real estate investment trusts, REITs, are basking in a reversal of fortune after lagging the stock market the past year. REIT stocks climbed to the top of the leaderboard in the fourth quarter despite worries that a Federal Reserve interest rate hike will slam profits as their borrowing costs would increase.

2016 should be an awesome year to invest in REITs. Analysts at Credit Suisse and Bank of America BAC +0.00% Merrill Lynch expect REITs to see decent returns in 2016 thanks to limited new supply across the country, strong economic growth, and attractive valuations. Rising interest rates may be both a blessing and a curse for the real estate industry. It increases borrowing costs for homebuyers and developers, making purchases less affordable. At the same time, it could boost demand for apartment rentals.

  • Scott Winship on the American Middle Class and Income Economics (The Federalist)   The American economy has ultimately changed the definition of middle class, according to a new Pew research poll. Economist Scott Winship joined the Federalist Radio Hour to discuss the economics of income, the meaningless inflation index, and residential economic movement. Winship is the Walter B. Wriston Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and was previously at The Brookings Institution.  Winship recently wrote about how since the middle class has become wealthier over time, the actual definition of middle class is skewed:

“The Middle class doesn’t have an agreed upon definition in the way that, for instance, we have an official federal poverty rate.  It’s not the case that today’s middle class, according to Pew, has the same standard of living as 1971’s middle class– it’s much better off over time.”

  • Christmas psychology: Does economics trump mental health? (Communities Digital News)  Capitalism can be a powerful tool for good, but when consumption is the 'reason for the season,' it turns Christmas and the holiday season into a nightmare.  Capitalism lets us choose, and unhealthy and self-destructive traits like greed are the ones Americans choose to feed with their holiday season pampering.

  • Oil Producers Face Crude Change of Economics (Bloomberg)  Gemma Godfrey, founder and chief executive officer at Moo.La, and Bloomberg's Will Kennedy discuss the pain faced by oil producers as prices continue to drop and how the industry may restructure business for 2016. 

  • Automation potential and wages for US jobs (McKinsey)  McKinsey analyzed the detailed work activities for 750+ occupations in the US to estimate the percentage of time that could be automated by adapting currently demonstrated technology.  Click on graph for data rich interactive infographic at McKinsey.

job.automation.mckinsey


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