Economic Digest – January 2017
Life expectancy rates in the US fell last year for the first time in more than two decades with death rates tied to eight of the ten leading causes of death all on the rise. The last time life expectancy fell was in 1993 in the midst of the HIV/Aids epidemic. Drops have otherwise been rare as life expectancy has incrementally increased since the end of the Second World War. Rises in death rates from heart disease, accidents (including drug overdoses) and Alzheimer’s disease were among the primary factors in the decline. There were also moderate increases in deaths from strokes, diabetes and suicide.
Pension-fund assets in OECD countries have grown by 54 per cent over the past ten years to US$25-trillion. In Australia, the number of pension schemes has soared by 83 per cent over this period and the value of the funds by 167 per cent. The industry’s search for returns in a low-interest world has prompted a consolidation in other countries, though. Britain saw the biggest decrease in funds in absolute terms: last year there were 48,000 fewer schemes than in 2005. In the same decade, the size of the average British pension fund increased by 229 per cent to $62-million.
The UN wants to ensure universal access to modern energy services by 2030. However, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reckons that 1.2-billion people, or 16 per cent, of the world’s population lacked access to electricity in 2014. By 2030, it predicts the number will still be around 784-million. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest level of energy poverty: 65 per cent of the population is still off the grid. India is a brighter spot with 81 per cent of people connected, almost double the rate in 2000. China boasts full power access; it has just completed the largest electrification programme in history.
For decades the ability of Swiss rescue dogs to find missing people has been legendary. Now they are getting help from the air with drones. They will be using drones to scour tracts of the countryside to find missing people. It is estimated that 3,000 people go missing in Switzerland each year. According to authorities this can be due to dementia or hikers running into heath problems while out in the countryside. The drones will be equipped with thermal imaging equipment and night-vision cameras. Which should make searching much quicker, easier and more efficient.
Mexico is on track to have overtaken Canada as the No 2 exporter to the US in 2016, a sign of how economic ties have deepened between the two countries. Shipments from Mexico totalled US$245-billion for the first ten months of the year, ahead of Canada’s $230-billion. At the end of 2015, the two countries ended up tied in exports to the US. The growing links between Mexico and the US hinge on motor vehicles. Mexico has won several new factories over the past six years
Canadian fishers pull 200-million pounds of lobster from Atlantic waters each year, most of it destined to be eaten elsewhere. In 2015, the sale of lobster exports, whether live, frozen, steamed, tinned in brine or otherwise, totalled over C$2-billion. Canada’s major trading partner is still the US but direct sales to China have more than quadrupled from 1.3-million to 5.8-million pounds. From 2011 to 2015, exports to the US have increased 38 per cent. In comparison to other Canadian food exports, Canola seeds are worth $4.8-billion and wheat $7.5-billion.
Favourable weather conditions in 2016 have resulted in higher yields of Maple products across Canada, up 39 per cent and with a value of C$487-million. Quebec continued to account for over 90 per cent of the production with 11.2-million gallons in 2016, up 38 per cent from 2015. In New Brunswick, production increased 23 per cent to 528,000 gallons, while in Nova Scotia production more than doubled from 19,000 gallons in 2015 to 48,000 gallons in 2016.
China has unveiled the biggest shiplift in the world at the massive Three Gorges Dam. Standing at more than 40-storeys high, the incredible feat of engineering represents the final stage of construction of the dam. Ships weighing up to 3,000 tonnes travel 113 metres either up or down to continue their journey on the mighty Yangtze River. At about 40 minutes for each trip, it is a quick and efficient alternative to locks which are used by larger vessels.
Spending on pet foods and products in the US has risen by about 40 per cent over the past ten years, to US$43-billion, a remarkable rate of growth. Last year, Americans spent more than $400-million on Halloween costumes for pets. Much as Airbnb has offered travellers an alternative for staying in a hotel, some companies are giving pet owners an alternative to kennels when away from home by paying for a sitter close to home. Where, by and large, the pets get better treatment. The cost is around $30.00 a night with the majority going to the sitter and around a fifth to the company. Home –stays for dogs are now cropping up in many different countries, including Australia, Britain and Brazil.
Interest in travel to Cuba is experiencing an unprecedented surge, but at least four British tour operators have stopped taking bookings to the country as its infrastructure struggles to cope with demand. There is still not enough hotel capacity and one company found that complaints were damaging the reputation of the company. Everything has been affected: hotel rooms, car rentals, local guides and it is expected that 2017 might even be worse. In 2015, the number of people visiting the Caribbean island increased by 17 per cent over the previous year and in the first six months of 2016 the increase was 12 per cent.
University of Leicester in the UK are warning that bagged salad can fuel the growth of food-poisoning bugs like salmonella and make them more dangerous. Scientists say the moist environment combined with nutrients leaching out of chopped leaves create the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. They advise people to eat bagged salad on the day it is bought. They warn that consumers should treat bagged salads as temperature-sensitive food products like milk and ice-cream.
Long associated with extravagance in Japan, golf is flagging. Clubs have trimmed green fees as the level of golf-playing among Japanese has fallen by over 40 per cent since a high in the early 1990s. As elsewhere, courses are in oversupply; Japan has over 2,300, half of Asia’s supply. More than 120 have closed since 2010. Entrepreneurs have converted about 70 into solar-panel plants encouraged by state subsidies for alternative energy production following the Fukushima nuclear-power plant disaster.
Makers of scanners used in airports are testing new technology that could soon make taking liquids and laptops out of carry-on bags a thing of the past, speeding up security lines for passengers. Manufacturers are developing and testing new scanners using computed tomography (CT) imaging which produce more detailed images than a regular X-ray. Because liquids and electronic devices will not need to be removed from the new scanners, fewer trays of belongings and images of their contents will be required.
A recyclable folding cycling helmet made of paper has won a recent international award. The EcoHelmet is designed for people who use bike-sharing schemes and might not always have a helmet with them. The design was tested at the Imperial College in London. The helmet uses a honeycomb structure to protect the head which is good at absorbing impact and the helmet is coated with a material that makes it rain resistant for between three to four hours. The helmet is designed for a limited number of uses and will deteriorate and weaken over time but should cost less than US$10.00.
The harvest in Italy recently concluded, the world’s second largest producer of olive oil after Spain was on course to produce only 290,000 tonnes of oil compared with 470,000 in 2015 and an historical average of 400,000 tonnes. That means retail prices will likely go up by as much as 30 per cent. In Canada and the US, average annual consumption of olive oil a person is only 1.1 kilograms. In Italy, it is 13kg and even higher in Greece.
Tajikistan has begun building the Rogan which is expected to become the world’s tallest dam. At a planned 335m tall (1.100 feet) it will be the higher than the Jinping-1 Hydropower Station in China (305m). Tajikistan, Central Asia’s poorest country has suffered electricity shortages for years This dam will put an end to this, producing enough power to satisfy the country’s energy needs with electricity to spare for export to Afghanistan and Pakistan However, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan fear that water will be diverted from their cotton and wheat fields. The project will be funded by the World Bank.
The UN weather agency recently announced the highest wave on record, a giant that towered 19 metres (62.3 feet) above the North Atlantic. This six-storey high wave was in between the UK and Iceland and set a world record. The previous high record was 18.3 metres in 2007. The height was measured by an automated buoy, a vital tool for oceanographers which sends back data on sea currents, temperatures and swells for seafarers, climate researchers and others.
The Swiss food giant, Nestle, says it has made a scientific breakthrough that can sharply cut the sugar in its chocolate. The company which makes Kitkat and Aero says its researchers have found a way to structure sugar differently so that it uses 40 per cent less without affecting the taste. Nestle says it is patenting the findings and expects to start using the new sugar across its range from 2018. Nestle has been cutting sugar across its range of products since 2007 when it introduced a global policy of sugar reduction.
Many people do not know the significance of the small stickers found on fruit, a number that is more important than most people realize. The are called PLU codes, which stands for “product look up.” If there are just four numbers on a sticker it means the fruit was conventionally grown with the use of pesticides. If there are five numbers on the sticker and they begin with the number 8, that fruit has been genetically modified. If there are five numbers and they begin with the number 9, that means the fruit was grown organically. If a fruit does not have a PLU number, eat at your own risk?
A vegetarian café in England is refusing to accept the new five pound note after it emerged that the currency contains animal products. There was an outcry from vegetarians and other groups when it was revealed that the polymer used for the notes contains tallow, a type of animal fat. A petition calling for the tallow to be removed gained more than 120,000 signatures within a few days of being posted.