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Economic Digest – June 2017

EXPORTS

There were 43,255 exporting enterprises of goods in Canada in 2016, with export sales totaling C$442.2-billion. This was down for the first time since 2013. Exports remained highly concentrated in 2016 with the top 20 exporters accounting for nearly one-third of all sales, and the largest 500 exporters in Canada, representing about one percent of all exporters, were responsible for over three-quarters of total export sales. Consequently, the vast majority of exporters tended to have relatively low export sales, three-quarters of which had sales of under $1-million.

PORK

As China’s economy has grown, so too has its consumption of pork. The average Chinese person eats 40kg a year, up from 12kg in 1980. China has 20 percent of the world’s population but consumes 50 percent of all pork. It has struggled to meet demand but shortages have caused large swings in prices. To smooth this boom-and-bust cycle, officials have used price controls, subsidies and even a strategic pork reserve.

VACATIONS

Recreational vehicles are a quintessentially American invention: more than two-thirds are made in the US. Nationally, sales surged to 430,000 units last year, a 40-year high. At the inexpensive end, they sell for as little as US$5,000 for a caravan but deluxe versions cost up to $1-million and are typically equipped with a bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom that are bigger than in many European apartments. A decade ago, the average age of an RV owner was 49 and over 90 percent were white. But stereotypes are now changing. The fastest growing customer demographic is the 35 to 44-year-old and ethnic minorities make up a sixth of new customers. Last year, less than 1 per cent of RVs produced in the US were exported (excluding Canada).

POWER

For the first time in 130 years, Britain’s electricity network generated power over a full day without having to use coal. The linchpin of the Industrial Revolution, coal now fuels only around 10 per cent of Britain’s electricity generation as coal-fired power stations are phased out.

TOURISM

The US is a clear cut winner in the tourism balance of trade. Without it, the US$500-billion goods and services deficit would have been significantly larger in 2016. Foreigners spent US$207-billion on US travel last year, compared with $121-billion spent by Americans in the rest of the world. The result is a hefty $86-billion tourism trade surplus. However, The US is putting this generous gift to the economy at risk among warnings that millions of foreign travelers are now considering shunning travel to the US.

WATER

In 2015, half of Canadian households treated their drinking water. The most frequent reason was to improve the taste, odor or appearance of the water. The most common water treatment technique was the use of jug filters, which were reported by 25 per cent of Canadian households. In general, households that owned their own home were more likely to treat their water. Households in Newfoundland were most likely to treat their drinking water (65%) while Quebec household were least likely (39%).

GERMANY

Despite an influx of 1.2-million refugees over the past two years, Germany’s population is facing a near-irreversible decline. According to the UN predictions, two in five Germans will be over 60 by 2050 and Europe’s oldest country will have shrunk to 75-million from 82-million. Since the 1970s, more Germans have been dying than are born. Fewer births and longer lives are a problem for most rich countries, but the consequences are more acute for Germany where birth rates are lower than in Britain and in France. If it were still a country, East Germany would be the oldest in the world.

PORTS

Singapore has once again emerged in top place in a ranking of Maritime Capitals of the World. The study by a Norwegian consultancy firm looked at 24 objective indicators and garnered survey responses from more than 250 industry experts across all continents. Singapore was also ranked first in 2012 and 2015. It was ranked number one in the following three categories: Shipping, Ports and Logistics, and Attractiveness and Competitiveness. The maritime nation also scored impressive results in the remaining two categories: second place in Maritime Technology and fourth place in Finance and Law.

HOMELESSNESS

A private organization has pledged US$100-million to fight chronic homelessness in San Francisco, the largest donation of its kind to the city and possibly the biggest privately funded push to end homelessness anywhere. Despite the efforts of the past five city mayors, homelessness in San Francisco has only appeared to get worse. At any given time, there are roughly 2,000 chronically homeless living on the streets of San Francisco. The population to be addressed by the grant from the Tipping Point Community is defined as those who have been on the streets for at least a year and who have a mental or physical disability.

FUEL

Peat, also called turf, is a brown soil-like characteristic of boggy acidic ground consisting of partly decomposed vegetable matter. It is widely cut and dried and used in gardening and as fuel. It imparts a delicious smell to whiskey and emits an agreeable aroma when burned. It is also a cheap source of energy. In Ireland, peat is used for six per cent of its energy. But peat is also one of the dirtiest fuels available emitting 23 per cent more carbon dioxide than coal. Ireland is unusual among developed countries in burning peat for energy on an industrial scale. As a precursor to coal, it has been used on the island for at least 1,000 years. Peat may at last be on its way out as Ireland turns to another energy source of which it has unlimited quantities: wind. The use of wind power in Ireland has tripled in the last decade and now provides a quarter of Ireland’s power.

LUMBER

US manufacturers of bed frames are asking the US Department of Commerce to exempt those types of products from duties imposed on Canadian softwood lumber shipments. In letters to the Commerce Department, US bed manufacturers are complaining that they have become collateral damage in the trade war. The industry says that the technical requirements for bed frames require that they be made from wood that has small knots and fine grain, characteristics that are found only with softwood species like spruce, pine, and fir grown in colder climates like those in Canada. The trees are also less susceptible to squeaking; snapping or warping compared with lumber from the southern US.

AVOCADOS

If you are a lover of guacamole get ready to pay more for the green fruit. Avocado prices have risen to a record due to surging demand and reduced harvests from major producers Mexico, Peru, and California. In many cases, prices are double that of last year. Analysts expect prices to remain at elevated levels after a growers strike in Mexico and drought in California led to a severe supply crunch.Mexico supplies 82 per cent of avocado shipments into the US. And California production is forecast to be down about 44 per cent. Avocado consumption has grown dramatically after the fruit’s taste and health properties turned it into a major food trend. Avocado has the highest protein and oil content of any fruit.

BANDAGES

Scientists have announced that smart bandages that can detect how well a wound is healing and send a progress report to the doctor will go on trial next year. The dressings are fitted with tiny sensors which can pick up blood clotting or spot infections and wirelessly send data back to a clinician. The smart bandage could also connect to a patient’s smartphone, which can also keep track of other health concerns, such as inactivity or diet, that could be preventing healing.

KNIVES

The small French town of Thiers has been making knives since the 15th and possibly the 13th century according to ancient grindstones found in a nearby river which powered the mill paddlewheels. There are currently over 200 family-owned workshops in Thiers (population 11,600) producing knives worth anything from US$100 to $1,000 and all are made by hand.

SICKNESS

Hotels in Spain might be forced to scrap all-inclusive packages for British holidaymakers due to a large rise in the number who are claiming hotel food made them ill. A travel association has reported a 434 per cent increase in the number of gastric illness claims made by Britons since 2013 A Spanish law firm claims a legal loophole is making it too easy for holidaymakers to pursue false sickness claims against Spanish hotels. Spanish insurance companies are starting to increase their premiums for hoteliers or even to stop covering them against sickness on all-inclusive holidays. The issue has also been reported by Portuguese, Egyptian and Tunisian hoteliers.

CATERPILLARS

A caterpillar that munches on plastic bags could hold the key to tackling plastic pollution. Researchers at Cambridge University have discovered that the larvae of the moth, which eats wax in beehives, can also degrade plastic. Experiments show the insect can breakdown the chemical bonds of plastic in a similar way to digesting beeswax. Each year, about 80-million tonnes of plastic polyethylene are produced around the world for use in shopping bags and food packaging among other things, but they can take hundreds of years to decompose completely. If the chemical process used by the larvae can be identified, it could lead to a solution to managing plastic waste.

FINLAND

Every since the collapse of communications giant Nokia Corp four years ago, Finland has been struggling to develop an industry that could deliver jobs and growth. It may finally have found one thanks to the soaring global demand for cruise ships. Finland is riding the wave as the cruise industry has been riding the demand for bigger and better ships. The number of people taking cruises is expected to hit a record 25.3-million this year, up 21 per cent in just five years. Finland has become a world leader drawing on its long history of boat building. and nearly 50,000 Finns are now employed in the marine sector working for one of the 1,500 companies that provide a myriad of supplies such as design work, welding, steel processing and outfitting.

INCENTIVES

Employees working extra hours are to get vouchers to help with housework such as cleaning and ironing under a pilot-scheme in south-west Germany. Those working extra hours who are covered by social insurance are able to get a subsidy of US$8.60 an hour for additional time worked and get vouchers that can be redeemed at agencies supplying domestic services. The publicly funded scheme is aimed at both supporting family life and reducing the shadow economy. Around 80 per cent of helpers employed in German households are unregistered. The scheme was inspired by a similar one in Belgium.

LIONFISH

Normally found in the tropical waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, the highly venomous lionfish as been spotted off the coast of Italy for the first time, having been accidently or deliberately introduced. The lionfish has sharp spines that are coated in a poisonous mucous that is harmful to humans and other fish. Lionfish reproduce quickly and have a voracious appetite.

DRYING

A tumble dryer that is claimed to dry clothes twice as fast has been developed in the US. The machine uses high-frequency sound waves instead of heat to dry laundry. As well as speeding up the drying process, it is expected to use up to 70 per cent less energy than conventional dryers. Another advantage of ultrasonic technology is that it appears to generate far less lint, which, as well as causing extra wear on fabric, can fade clothes over time.

SECURITY

A prison work programme in Ohio has backfired after two inmates built computers from PCs they were supposed to be dismantling for recycling and hid them in the ceiling of a training room. On the hard drive were found articles about making drugs, explosives and credit cards as well as passes issued to inmates allowing them to access other parts of the prison.