|March 2012 Edition
Tablet computers are taking the wait out of waiting tables. In one San Francisco restaurant, a Presto tablet computer now takes orders, predicts when the diners' food will arrive, acts as a personal sommelier, provides self-check-out, splits cheques, and calculates the tip. It can either e-mail a receipt or a server can bring a paper one. Restaurants in Europe and Japan are experimenting with similar tablets and some American white tablecloth establishments have begun listing their wines on an iPad.
Brazil has overtaken Britain as the world's sixth largest economy. Brazil's population of 200-million is three times that of Britain. The Brazilian economy grew 7.5 per cent in 2010 but the growth expectancy for this year has been cut to 3.5 per cent. It is predicted that the British economy will overtake France, ranked fifth last year, by 2016 and that India, the world's 10th biggest economy in 2011, will move up to fifth by 2020. The U.S. economy is still the biggest, followed by China,and Japan.
The age of vehicles in the U.S. hit a record high last year raising a critical question for auto makers trying to rebound from the recession. Will Americans replace them and when? The average age rose to 10.8 years in 2011 the tenth consecutive year that U.S. vehicles have got older. U.S. sales peaked at about 17-million vehicles in 2005, but tumbled to 10.4-million in 2009. The forecast is for sales of about 13.5-million this year rising to 16-million by 2015. The level of U.S. sales is critical to Canada's auto industry as about 80 per cent of the two million vehicles made in Canada annually are sold in the U.S.
Tablets and e-readers were extremely popular gifts over the Christmas holidays, in fact the number of people owning them nearly doubled between mid-December and January. A new report shows that 29 per cent of Americans owned at least one tablet or e-reader as of January, up from 18 per cent in early December. Men and women were equally likely to own tablets but women were slightly more likely to own e-readers.
Vancouver is now the world's second least affordable major city in which to buy a house according to the most recent International Housing Affordability Survey. It measures the markets using something called the "median multiple" which is the median house price divided by gross annual median household income. The least affordable is Hong Kong. Vancouver is followed by Sydney and Melbourne, Australia, San Francisco and London. Ironically, Canada was considered the third most affordable market, but it all depends upon where you live.
America's National Science Foundation is warning that the U.S is losing ground fast to Asian rivals, especially China. The ten largest economies in Asia now spend roughly US$400-billion a year on research and development (R&D), as much as America and well ahead of Europe's $300-billion. China's investment leapt 28 per cent last year, propelling it past Japan to become the world's second biggest spender.
Over the past quarter of a century, the amount of water used in the United States has remained stable at around 210-billion gallons (795-million cubic metres) a day. While household consumption has tripled since the 1950s, the amount of water used to irrigate agricultural land and feed industry has declined. Farmers have embraced more efficient sprinkler systems, put more crops under glass, planted more drought-resistant varieties and profited from selling their surplus water to nearby towns. On the industrial side, the use of thermo-electric power, with its need for cooling water, is declining and is now below its 1970 level.
China has just passed a remarkable milestone. In 1980, fewer than a fifth of Chinese lived in cities, a smaller urban population than India or Indonesia. But by the end of 2011, the National Bureau of Statistics reports that more than half of China's 1.35-billion people now live in cities. The country is keen to avoid the pitfalls encountered by other urbanizing places, such as India, Brazil and Africa, which has seen the slide of megacities into megaslums.
Canadian workers are feeling optimistic about 2012, with most expecting to see their wages rise by year's end. A new survey found that 62 per cent of Canadians think it will be a better year for their employers and that 58 per cent expect to have a bigger pay cheque. But less than half (47 per cent) think their employer's benefits will improve. The survey, which covered 29 countries, found that workers in other parts of the world are also very optimistic. In Europe the mood is grimmer with only one-third expecting an improvement.
At this year's Detroit auto show, there was a lot of excitement over the fancy new electric cars and hybrids. Less-noticed has been the fact that auto makers are shifting to smaller and lighter vehicles. This is by far the easiest way to boost gas mileage. A car's weight is responsible for about two-thirds of the energy required to move it, so slimming cars and SUV's down is a simple way to boost fuel economy. Lighter steel and better designs have been bringing the weight of cars down dramatically without hiking the price tag.
Global investment in clean energy hit US$260-billion in 2011, up five per cent from 2010. Solar investment led the way, up 26 per cent to $136.6-billion, benefitting from a 50 per cent drop in the price of photovoltaic panels.
A large mobile operator, O2 is to provide free internet to millions of residents and visitors to London by launching Europe's largest free wi-fi zone. The service will be rolled out across the boroughs of Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea during 2012. It will be powered by a system installed on street furniture, such as lampposts. Westminster welcomes over a million tourists a day, is home to 250,000 residents, employs over half a million people and sees 4,000 business start-ups each year.
This rocky, sun-drenched island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea is cashing in on low taxes, cheap labour and an address inside the European Union to lure hedge funds. Only fund managers headquartered within the EU can market funds within the bloc. There were 500 hedge funds located on Malta at the end of 2011, compared to 165 in 2008. Malta has a population of just 414,000 and is concerned that it will have enough accountants and financial analysts to keep up with demand.
The European Commission plans to lower retailers' costs for accepting debit and credit cards in a renewed challenge to dominant players such as Visa and MasterCard. Bigger card companies generally charge retailers more for their fees which cover costs such as authorizations for transactions. The EU believes that lower fees will increase online commerce and it is consulting with the industry and vendors to establish how much the present fees should be lowered.
Organized crime has tightened its grip on the Italian economy since the economic crisis making the mafia the country's biggest "bank." Organized crime now generates an annual turnover of about US$179-billion and profits of $127-billion. Extortionate lending has become an increasingly lucrative source of income, alongside drug trafficking, arms smuggling, prostitution, gambling and racketeering. It is estimated that about 200,000 businesses are tied to extortionate lenders.
British universities have raised almost C$50-million from fining students for overdue library books in the past six years. With fines as little as 10 pence for each day a book is overdue, it shows that students are returning thousands of books late each year. More than 300,000 books remain unaccounted for. The University of Westminster does not fine students for returning books late. Instead, students are banned from using the library for the length of time that the books are overdue. Some universities bar students from graduating until they pay their fines.
Never mind oil, gold, copper or even corn, the commodity that's really surging these days is lowly orange juice. Futures have climbed nearly 40 per cent since last September, reaching prices not seen since the 1970s. Cold weather in Florida and a drop in production has fuelled much of the recent runup. That could change as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is considering banning imports of Brazilian oranges because farmers there use a fungicide that's not permitted in the U.S. Brazil is the world's largest producer of oranges, having surpassed Florida some years ago.
An English company that advises mobile phone operators tracked 1.1-million users for a 24 hour period. It found that just one per cent of Web surfers generated half of all bandwidth traffic worldwide. About one third of the "extreme users" access the internet on smartphones, a number that will surely grow as so far only 13.2 per cent of the globe's 6.1-billion cellphones are smartphones.
The world's highest cable-stayed bridge has been inaugurated in Mexico. The 1,321 foot tall Balaurte bridge spans a deep ravine in the Sierra Madre mountains in the north. It is part of a new highway crossing some of Mexico's most rugged terrain, from Mazatlan on the Pacific Coast to Durango in the interior. The bridge is so tall that the Eiffel Tower would easily fit under its central span.
Over the past few years China's big banks have been criss-crossing the globe signing a plethora of billion dollar deals with some of the world's poorest countries. Last year, China provided more loans to the developing world than did the World Bank. As the lender to go to for credit-poor governments, China's yuan is replacing World Bank dollars as the cash behind new roads, power stations, hospitals and other infrastructure. In 2010, the World Bank agreed loans of US$11.4-billion to 36 African countries. China granted loan facilities of $13-billion just to Ghana.
A plan has been launched to subsidize the construction and repair of private homes in Cuba, an effort the government hopes will lead to better use of limited funds. Citizens will be eligible for as much as 80,000 Cuban pesos (US$3,300) in aid to build a family home, though most will get far less. Those whose homes have been damaged by hurricanes or other natural disasters will get priority.
The debt crisis in Europe is reverberating in an unlikely quarter. As credit tightens, formally wealthy Britons are turning to pawnbrokers. Diamond rings, Rolex watches, Fender electric guitars, Porches, even a Henry Moore sculpture are languishing at high-end pawnbrokers as business booms in the sector.
Ottawa's National Capital Commission installed seven new ice shacks along the Rideau Canal for skaters to lace up in. Each shack cost C$750,000. By comparison, the average house price in Ottawa is $360,000.