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Economic Digest

Business Without Borders ®

Economic Digest – March 2017


Mexicans living abroad sent home almost US$27-billion in 2016, rising 8.8 per cent from 2015. Almost all the money was sent by electronic transfers but about $600-million continues to arrive by cash or by money orders. Remittances have become Mexico’s most important source of foreign income after auto exports of almost $34-billion a year and have far surpassed the $15.6-billion Mexico earns from oil and the $17.5-billion in tourist income Mexico received in 2015.


Some supermarkets in the UK are rationing the number of iceberg lettuce and broccoli customers can buy, blaming poor growing conditions in southern Europe for shortages. Prices have also risen, double in many cases. Weather has been extreme for the time of year where the vegetables are grown. Snow has been covering the Greek islands and there has been snow in Italy and even Spain. Southern Spain provides about 80% of the fresh produce for the EU out of season.


A new study says that Canadians aged 55 and over are the second most likely among comparable countries to stop filling their prescriptions because of cost. The study shows that one in 12 people in that age group skipped their prescriptions. Among countries that have publicly-funded health care systems, Canada is the only one without coverage for prescription drugs. Researchers found that the US has the highest rate of skipped prescriptions with 16.8 per cent of survey respondents deciding not to fill prescriptions. In most other countries fewer than four per cent reported skipping prescriptions due to cost.


Australian scientists have turned ordinary cooking oil into graphene, in a discovery that lowers its cost to produce. Graphene, a strong carbon material, is just one atom wide and conducts electricity better than copper. It is also more than 200 times stronger than steel. Graphene has numerous applications including in electronics, biomedical devices and water filtration. One of the limiting factors up to now in utilizing graphene has been the high price compared to other materials.


Grass carp have now been found in Lake Erie, Lake Michigan and Lake Ontario though it is uncertain how widely they have spread. The voracious grass carp is among four Asian carp species threatening to reach the world’s largest freshwater system.  Grass carp were introduced to the US in the early 1960s to control weed growth in waterways.  Like other Asian carp, some escaped into the Mississippi River and have migrated northward towards the Great Lakes. 23 grass carp have been caught in Canada since 2012. An ominous sign is that some of those caught have been fertile. Grass carp reared in hatcheries, which some states allow, are supposed to be sterilized before being released into the wild.


The future of gin is safe in the UK where horticultural experts have been working to conserve juniper, the spirit’s key ingredient. The National Tree Seed Project has now collected and protected seeds from across the country to be stored in the Millennium Seed Bank. According to recently released figures, UK gin sales are predicted to outstrip Scotch whisky sales by 2020.


There were 334 incidents involving dangerous goods that required a report to Transport Canada in 2015, down 13 per cent from 2014 and almost 40 fewer incidents than the 10 year average dating back to 2006. Over two-thirds, 69.8 per cent, of the incidents occurred in facilities such as terminals or warehouses, while road accidents accounted for just one quarter.  Two thirds of the total number were reported in Alberta and were likely related to the province’s oil and gas industry activities.


Hong Kong is the most visited city in the world according to an analysis of international arrival numbers. It welcomed 26-million visitors in 2015, the most recent year for which comprehensive statistics are available. It beat Bangkok which saw 18.8-million international tourist arrivals. Third was London with 18.6-million visitors followed by Singapore, Paris, Macau and Dubai.


Restaurants and other spaces catering to the public in France have been banned from offering unlimited sugary drinks in an effort to reduce obesity. It is now illegal to sell unlimited soft drinks at a fixed price or offer them unlimited for free. The number of overweight or obese people in France is below the EU average but it is on the rise. Self-service soda fountains have long been a feature of family restaurants in some countries like the UK, where a soft drink tax will be introduced next year. The highest obesity rate in Europe is 26% in Malta and in the UK 20%.


Birth rates in China rose to their highest level since 2000 last year, despite a fall in the number of women of childbearing age. There were 18.46-million births in 2016, an 11.5% increase over 2015. The increase follows the relaxation of China’s strict one-child policy a year ago. More than 45%            of the babies born in 2016 had one or more siblings. By 2020 there are expected to be between 17- and 20-million births every year.


Ambulances and fire trucks in Stockholm, Sweden, have been given the power to stop music playing in nearby cars so that their warning sirens can be heard.  The new alert system overrides loud music and bypasses sound-proofed car insulation so that drivers will not be caught off guard by an approaching emergency vehicle.  It uses a FM radio signal to jam drivers’ speakers and sends a voice alert that an ambulance is approaching. Though the system only alerts cars that have their radio turned on, it is estimated that the system will reach two-thirds of cars on the road.


Researchers have designed a lithium-ion battery that contains a fire-extinguishing material which is released if the battery gets too hot. Flame retardant triphenyl phosphate (TPP) sits inside a shell within the electrolyte fluid. The shell melts when the temperature reaches 150C (302F). In tests, battery fires were extinguished in 0.4 seconds. Lithium-ion batteries power many devices but are a known fire hazard.


United Continental will become the first major US airline to limit its lowest-level customers to one carry-on bag that fits under the seat in front, not the overhead bin, which will be reserved for those who paid more.  The airline made the announcement in unveiling a series of new policies that it hopes will add up to almost US$4.8-billion in cost savings over the next four years.


A UK team has developed 3D barcodes that could help tackle counterfeiting of drugs, watches and other devices. The codes consist of a series of small indentations with precise, slightly different depths, allowing for billions of different combinations. They are deciphered by a device that “reads” the dents using a beam of light. The global market in counterfeit goods, from medicines to motorbike is estimated to be worth US$2-billion, and that value is forecast to rise steeply in the next few years.  Because many pills are produced by injection moulding, the 3D barcodes could be incorporated into that process relatively easily.


China’s car industry boomed last year: the world’s largest auto market saw the number of passenger cars sold swell by 15%, thanks to government tax incentives. New passenger-car registrations in the European Union rose for the third consecutive year. Although17.6-million cars were sold in the US last year, sales are expected to plateau or decline.


The accounting, tax preparation, bookkeeping and payroll services industry generated C$18.3-billion in operating revenues in 2015, up seven per cent from the previous year. Operating expenses rose seven per cent to yield a profit margin of 27.6 per cent. The industry’s revenue came primarily from auditing and other assurance services (29%) and tax preparation (25%). Management consulting services accounted for another 11%. Most of the industries revenue came from firms operating in Ontario (42%), followed by those in Quebec (19%) and BC and Alberta (14%) each.


They were the medium of choice through much of the 1980s and ‘90s. Now, it is one of the fastest-growing musical formats in terms of sales with both collectors and record labels trying to keep up with demand. In the last six months, one cassette-dubbing service in Canada has made about 3,000 tapes.  It is claimed that the audio quality on a good cassette deck is almost as good as vinyl and the production costs are much cheaper.


Vancouver has once again been ranked as one of the least affordable housing markets in the world. It was the only Canadian city to crack the top ten list, coming third behind Hong Kong and Sydney, Australia, out of 406 markets in the world. This is the second year in a row Vancouver ranked third after hitting second place in 2014. Toronto is not far behind Vancouver in terms of unaffordability.


The European Food Safety Authority has published its initial risk assessment of using insects as a source of protein for human consumption and animal feed. It concludes that risks to human and animal health depend on how the insects were reared and processed. The UN suggests that edible insects could provide a sustainable source of nutrition for a growing population. It is estimated that more than 1,900 species of insects are now consumed on a regular basis around the world.


The world is set to use more energy for cooling than for heating. The world faces a looming and potentially calamitous cold crunch with demand for air conditioning and refrigeration growing so fast it threatens to smash pledges and targets for global warming. Worldwide power consumption for air conditioning alone is expected to surge 33-fold by 2100 as developing world incomes rise and urbanisation advances. Artificial cold is a relatively recent phenomenon: the first domestic air conditioning unit appeared in 1914 and the first home fridges in 1930.


Volvo is testing technology in Australia that can detect kangaroos. The car’s brakes are then automatically applied if the software thinks a collision is about to happen. According to figures from car insurers, kangaroos are involved in most animal-car collisions in Australia. There are estimated to be around 60-million kangaroos in Australia. In Sweden, research has been done involving larger, slower moving animals like elk, reindeer and cows.


Humans have been exploiting honeybees for almost 9,000 years according to archaeological evidence. Traces of beeswax have been found on ancient pottery from Europe, the Near East and North Africa, that suggests the first farmers kept bees. Prehistoric people may have domesticated wild bees or gathered honey for medicines and food. The honey bee has been part of human culture for centuries, appearing in cave paintings depicting honeycombs, swarms of bees and honey collecting. Recent DNA studies suggest that the honey bee originated in Asia around 300,000 years ago and spread rapidly across Europe and Africa. 


The amount of cargo sailing on the St. Lawrence Seaway has sunk to the lowest levels in seven years amid a plunge in demand for coal and iron ore, two of the waterways main commodities.  Total freight volumes for 2016 fell by three per cent to 35-million tonnes, led by 10 per cent drops in coal and 14 per cent in iron ore. The slowdown comes even as grain shipments continue their climb and the 3,700- kilometre route enjoys its longest shipping season since 2008 due to a mild spring. 


Following an audit, the Nigerian government has cut US$20-million from the state’s payroll after removing 23,846 allegedly non-existent workers from its monthly wage bill.

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