Economic Digest – December 2016
For the first time, Canadians are spending more on Internet access than television subscriptions from the country’s telecom and cable companies with demand soaring for streaming video and music services. Telecom and cable companies brought in a total of C$8.92-billion in revenue from cable, satellite and internet-enabled television subscriptions in 2015, while they collected $9.81-billion from the supply of Internet connections. Appetite for music and video streaming and other data-intensive activities led to a 44 per cent jump in wireless data usage in 2015 compared with 2014, and a 40 per cent jump in the volume of data used in the home.
Transport Canada says new cars and small trucks will have to be equipped with rear-view camera systems starting in May 2018. The requirement for back-up visibility brings Canadian standards in line with those in the US. The department says it is a safety measure because children, disabled persons, the elderly and others are vulnerable to back-up mishaps. It is estimated that such accidents killed 27 people and injured more than 1,500 from 2004 to 2009.
Electric car maker Tesla Motors says it will end free use of its worldwide charging-station network. The company says cars ordered after January 1, 2017, will get roughly 1,600 kilometres worth of credits at the supercharging stations. After those credits are used, owners will have to pay fees. Cars ordered or sold before January 1, will still get free charging. Tesla did not yet specify the fees but says charging would cost less than the price of a comparable gasoline-fuelled car. Prices may fluctuate over time and vary by regional electricity costs.
Prices for a food staple of vegetarians across the globe are plunging from record highs earlier in the year after Canada, the world’s top exporter, began its largest harvest ever and output rose in the US and India, the biggest consumer. Supplies are also increasing for other so-called pulse crops, including chickpeas and dried beans. This is good news for India where pulses are eaten at almost every meal and a quarter of supply is imported. Canada will see its lentil production jump 36 per cent this year to a record 3.2-million tonnes while pea output climbs 44 per cent to an all-time high of 4.6-million tonnes.
Plastic pollution in the sea gives off a smell that attracts foraging birds, scientists have found. The discovery could explain why seabirds such as albatross swallow plastic causing injury or death. The smell, similar to the odour of rotting seaweed, is caused by the breakdown of plankton that sticks to floating bits of plastic. About 90 per cent of seabirds have eaten plastic and may keep some in their bellies, putting their health at risk.
Canadians are happy buying their books and music on the Internet but are yet to embrace online grocery shopping. According to a recent survey of 1,000 Canadians, 92 respondents said they shopped online but only 15 per cent said they had bought groceries on the Internet. While almost 40 per cent of online-shopping spending was linked to entertainment purchases, just 4 per cent was tied to food and groceries.
Two years ago, high food prices encouraged US farmers to expand operations. Now, a strong dollar and competing supplies from Brazil to Ukraine have left the world’s top food exporter with a massive crop glut. In storage now are: corn, 44.1-million tonnes, soybeans, 5.3-million tonnes, frozen fruit, 690,000 tonnes, poultry, 595,000 tonnes, cheese 562,000 tonnes and over 150,000 tonnes of butter.
Cautious Canadian consumers are buying fewer drinks when they eat out squeezing a line of business that has traditionally been a strong profit centre for restaurants. Many restaurant-goers are instead simply asking for tap water, a trend that is being driven by consumers’ desire to save money and make healthier choices. Beverage orders have been declining by about 5 per cent a year for the past four years, resulting in a C$75-million loss in revenues in the past year alone.
Millions of children across Africa suffer from malnutrition. It may spend less time in the news headlines than Ebola or the Zika virus but Vitamin A deficiency is a much bigger public health problem in sub-Saharan Africa and far deadlier. Now, it is hoped to tackle this problem with a special type of sweet potato that can deliver an extra vitamin hit which is being developed in Uganda. They are orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, rich in a colour pigment called beta-carotene, which is vital in preventing Vitamin A deficiency.
Canada is the third most sleep-deprived country, with nearly a third of Canadians feeling as though they do not sleep enough. The UK and Ireland are the only two countries that finished ahead of Canada in the ranking of 13 countries with 37 and 34 per cent respectively of survey respondents saying they do not get enough sleep. The US tied with Canada for third place.
Poland is to press ahead with building a new canal to bypass a stretch of land and water controlled by Russia in order to show its neighbour that Poland is a sovereign country. The canal will cut through a narrow strip of land separating the Vistula Lagoon in the north-east of Poland and the Baltic Sea. At the moment, all maritime traffic from the Polish port of Elblag has to go through the Russian controlled waters to reach the Baltic. Work on the US$350-million project, which will be 5,881 yards long and 87 yards wide, should start in 2018 and be completed by 2022.
Despite a surge in cheap imports, Canadian duck producers are planning to boost production due to growing consumer demand spurred on by celebrity chefs and the reopening of the Mexican market. The country’s oldest processor of domestic Pekin duck is spending C$30-million to build a facility in a former beef plant in Quebec. Canada’s three largest producers expect overall annual production to double from the current level of 5.5-million
A 12-year-old girl from Knoxville, Tennessee has devised a computer programme which could help doctors prevent a dangerous reaction to medicines. The programme, or to be more precise algorithm, would be used by doctors as they screen patients as part of their routine medical care. Its purpose would be to identify any genetic mutations which could trigger a dangerous or possibly fatal reaction to prescribed drugs. According to the latest figures available, adverse reaction to drugs is the fourth most common cause of death in the US.
The Canadian government has announced it will spend C$350-million to help the Canadian dairy to compete against European imports under a free-trade deal, but the amount falls short of farmers’ expectations. The previous Conservative government had promised $4.3-billion over 15 years to compensate dairy, poultry and egg farmers, but that pledge dissolved with the election loss last year.
The banana is a staple food for millions and a top food commodity. But it has been threatened for decades by Panama disease, a multi-strained fungus that has wiped out plantations. A recent Dutch study has found that quarantine measures have failed to contain Tropical Race 4, a strain that has begun spreading beyond East Asia. The top world banana exporting countries are: Ecuador, 30%, Costa Rica, 12%, Guatemala and Colombia, 11%. The Philippines exports 16% of the world’s total.
A message in a bottle found more than 108 years on may be the world’s oldest a maritime association has said. The bottle was released in the North Sea between 1904 and 1906 and recently found by a woman on a beach in Amrum, Germany. Inside, a postcard asked that it be sent to a Maritime Biological Association in the UK where the bottle was returned. The bottle was one of 1,000 released as part of marine research.
Business-jet deliveries are dropping and likely will not rebound before 2018. As many as 8,600 new planes are expected to be delivered from 2016 through 2026, down from 9,200 in last year’s outlook according to a survey of 1,500 business-jet operators. Worldwide sales of those aircraft are estimated at US$255-billion, down from $270-billion in the previous study. The introduction of new models in 2018 should stimulate sales.
Audi is introducing technology that will allow its cars to communicate with traffic lights. It will tell drivers when lights are due to turn green and when they will not make it before a light turns red. It is meant to make driving less stressful rather than a safety aid.
Iceland is about to tap into water as hot as lava. A new drilling rig will soon penetrate the area around a magma chamber several kilometres below ground where molten rock from the inner Earth heats up water which will eventually be piped up to the surface. It is a huge engineering challenge and one that may usher in a new age of geothermal power production. Iceland is a nation built on about 130 volcanoes.
Scotch whisky export volumes have returned to growth for the first time since 2013 on the back of a 41 per cent increase in shipments to India. The increase, making India the third-biggest export market at 41-million bottles is amazing considering the 150 per cent customs duty on Scotch.
University tuition fees keep rising relentlessly across most of Canada, Statistics Canada reports. On average, undergraduates pay 40 per cent more in tuition than they did 10 years ago. The average undergraduate paid C$6,373 for the 2016-17 year close to a three per cent increase from 2015-16. The only exception was Newfoundland and Labrador where the province’s only university is maintaining a tuition freeze despite provincial cutbacks. Ontario is the highest at $8,114. Among professional programmes, dental students paid the most at $21,012, followed by medicine at $13,858 and law at $11,385. At the graduate level, MBA students paid the most at $27,574.
A 16-year-old British girl has earned US$100,000 from a website she has developed to help Chinese people name their babies. She came up with the idea after a family visit to China when she was asked to give an English name to a newborn baby. In China, it is considered important to have an English name for future study or business with the UK.
Five million smart phones will be given to farmers in Pakistan in an effort to improve knowledge of modern farming techniques such as receiving free alerts about the use of pesticides for their yields. Large numbers of farmers in countries such as India and Kenya have recently been experimenting with smartphone technology.
A new record has just been set by a robot for the fastest-solved Rubik’s Cube. The Sub1 Reloaded Robot took just 0.637 seconds to analyse the toy and make 21 moves so that each side showed a single colour. This beats a previous record of 0.887 seconds. By contrast, the official Rubik’s Cube record for humans is 4.904 seconds which was set by a 14-year old boy in 2015.