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Economic Digest

Business Without Borders ®

Economic Digest – April 2016


The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared Zika a global emergency meaning that research and aid will be fast tracked to tackle the infection. The WHO alert puts Zika in the same category of concern as Ebola. The infection, which had been previously identified in 2014 in French Polynesia, has been linked to cases of microcephaly in which babies are born with underdeveloped brains. There have been 4,000 reported cases in Brazil and 3,000 in Colombia alone since October. The priority will be to protect pregnant women and their babies from harm and to control the mosquitoes that are spreading the virus.


Exports of second-hand vehicles to the United States from Canada have soared to their highest levels since 2002, driven by a weakening Canadian dollar. Almost 200,000 previously owned or “used” vehicles from Canada were imported in 2015, more than double the total from a year earlier largely driven by the exchange rate imbalance and the weaker Canadian dollar.


Mention the phrases “greenhouse gases” and “global warming” in the same breath and most people will think of carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels such as coal and oil. But CO2 is not the only greenhouse gas and fossil fuels are not the only source of such gases. A surprising and neglected one is the world’s ruminant livestock—cattle, sheep and so on. Ruminants play host to bacteria that digest the otherwise indigestible grass and other cellulose-rich plants these animals eat. According to the UN, the world’s domesticated ruminants produce a hundred million tonnes of methane each year, and methane is a gas 25 times more powerful than CO2. Methane is now responsible for about 14 per cent of global warming since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. 


Despite the anaemic state of the global economy, companies from mainland China are investing abroad like never before. Chinese firms closed overseas deals worth US$61-billion last year. This was up by 16 per cent on 2014 and is the highest level on record.  What is more, these firms are not all chasing natural resources such as oil and copper, as in the past. Last year saw investment in an entertainment conglomerate, a US social network, and an obscure German maker of machinery to produce rubber and plastic


According to the most recent OECD statistics, Canada continues to outperform the United States, getting more bang for its health-care buck. On average, Canadians outlive Americans by more than 2.5 years, while spending almost six per cent less as a percentage of GDP. Compared to the rest of the OECD, Canadians live longer than average lives, but spend more to do so. Current top OECD expenditure as a percentage of GDP is the US with 16.4 per cent. Next are Germany, Netherlands, Sweden and France with 11 per cent. Canada spends 10.2 per cent while the OECD average is 8.9 per cent of GDP.


The largest known prime number has been discovered by a computer at a university in Missouri in the US. Prime numbers, such as two, three five and seven, are divisible only by themselves and one, and play an important role in computer encryption and help make sure that online banking, shopping and private messaging are secure. The new prime number is more than 22-million digits long, five million longer than the previous largest known prime.


Canada is aiming to supplant the United States as the Western Hemisphere’s dominant wheat exporter, as its invigorated grain-exporting sector cashes in on weakening currency and cheap freight rates. Canada overtook the US in 2014-15 in wheat export volumes for the first time exporting 24.1-million tonnes. It is forecast to fall short of eclipsing US shippers in 2015-16 with both countries trailing top exporter Russia, The once large gap is steadily narrowing with US exports forecast this year at a 44-year low and Canadian shipments up nearly 30 per cent during the past decade,


Our growing need for exotic fruit is helping to promote much-needed investment in Madagascar. In Europe they are often seen as a luxury or a festive treat but almost 6,000 miles away in Madagascar they play a different role as the lifeblood to a rural and desperately poor farming community. Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world and its undeveloped logistics and infrastructure means it is unable to make the most of its agricultural sector. Alongside vanilla, cloves and pepper, lychees are one of the country’s few valuable exports providing a vital income to around 30,000 families.


A new Oxfam report has highlighted the growing gap between rich and poor. The world’s 62 richest billionaires own as much wealth as the poorer half of the world’s population. The wealth of the poorest 50 per cent dropped by 41 per cent between 2010 and 2015. In the same period, the wealth of the richest 62 people increased by US$500-billion to $1.76-trillion. The charity claims that only higher wages, crackdown on tax dodging and higher investment in public services can stop the divide widening.


A Chinese company has claimed a world first by unveiling a drone capable of carrying a human passenger. The electric-powered drone can be fully charged in two hours, carry up to 100kg (220lb) and fly for 23 minutes at sea level. A company video shows the Elang 184 looking like a small helicopter but with four propellers spinning parallel to the ground in a similar configuration to other drones. The cabin fits one person and a small backpack and is fitted with air-conditioning and a reading light.


Boeing cemented its position as the world’s biggest aircraft manufacturer after delivering a record 762 planes last year.  This figure exceeds Boeing’s previous forecast that it would deliver between 755 and 760 aircraft. Airlines, especially fast-growing carriers in the Middle East and Asia have been on a spending spree in recent years.  As of last December Boeing’s backlog of orders stood at 5,795, representing more than seven and a half years of production at the current rate.


In the Joux Valley in Switzerland the traditional craft of watch making is flourishing. It’s not just the leading companies that have workshops in the Jura Mountains but also highly skilled independent craftsmen. The most complicated watch ever made was unveiled late last year in Geneva before being whisked off to its mysterious buyer in New York. The buyer paid an estimated US9-million for a watch that has 57 special features and 2,826 parts. Switzerland produces 3 per cent of the world’s watches but that 3 per cent is worth $24.3-billion, almost as much money as the rest of the world makes with the other 97 per cent.


The total number of estimated entries and exits at British railway stations in 2014-15 reached nearly 2.8-billion. Almost all the top-10 busiest stations were in London, except for Birmingham’s New Street station which had 35.3-million passenger entries and exits at the station last year. The top three stations in London were: Waterloo station, 99,442,742, Victoria: 85,337,996 and Liverpool Street with 63,631,246 entries and exits. In contrast, the top three quietest stations in Britain were: Shippea Hill in Cambridgeshire with 22 entries and exits, Coombe in Cornwall with 26 users and Teeside Airport, in Darlington with 32 entries and exits.


With hundreds of thousands of books published every year, the choice of what to stock can prove bewildering for booksellers. The owner of one small bookshop in Tokyo has taken an unusual approach to the problem. The shop, located in the Ginza district offers just one title to its customers. The store opened last May stocking multiple copies of just one title, which changes weekly. This approach seems to have gained the sympathy of a lot of people and has received visitors from all over the world. So far, 2,100 books have been sold.


New calculations show that our already sizeable water footprint is 19 per cent bigger than we thought. The study is based on a century’s worth of observational data drawn from 100 river basins across the world.  It reveals a significant increase in the water being “lost” to the atmosphere as a direct result of human activity. This occurs through evaporation from land and water surfaces and from plants as they transpire. The old estimates of water consumption add up to a staggering number: 9,100 cubic km per year, an amount that is about twice the size of Lake Michigan. It is now estimated to be closer to 10,700 cubic km a year.


Sales of gin in the UK are expected to top US$2-billion for the first time this year as younger drinkers supplement their taste for vodka with shots from a new generation of artisanal distilleries. Sales are estimated to top $2.6-billion by 2020.  Vodka sales remain by far the largest and their dominance has continued after soaring by 8 per cent over the past five years to reach $6.9-billion in 2015, accounting for 61 per cent of the total UK white spirit market’s value.


Scientists in Birmingham have invented a new device which they say can differentiate between counterfeit goods and the real thing. The have come up with a special label which manufacturers can attach to a product. It can be read by a smartphone and should be impossible to fake.


Farmers need to dramatically cut the amount of antibiotics used in agriculture because of the threat to human health. Some infections are becoming almost impossible to treat because of the excessive use of antibiotics. Scientists warned recently that the world is on the cusp of the “post-antibiotic era” after discovering bacteria resistant to the antibiotic collistin, the medication used when all others have failed. In the US alone, every year 3,400 tonnes of antibiotics are used on patients, while 8,900 tonnes are used on animals.


Apple Inc. is working with partners in the US and Asia to develop new wireless charging technology that could be deployed on its mobile devices as soon as next year. Meanwhile, a British technology company has claimed a major smartphone breakthrough by developing an iPhone that can go for a week without charging, running instead off a built-in hydrogen fuel cell.


The past 30 years in Europe have likely been the warmest in more than 2000 years. The new study used tree ring records and historical documents to construct yearly temperatures going back 2,100 years. According to the study, Europe has seen an increase in summer warming of 1.3C between 1986 and 2015. In this period there has also been an increase in severe heat waves, most notably in 2003, 2010 and 2015. The 2003 event was linked to extra deaths of thousands of elderly people due to heat stroke, dehydration and increased air pollution.


More than 3,200 US prisoners have been released early because of a software glitch. The bug miscalculated the sentence reductions prisoners in Washington State received for good behaviour.

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