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Economic Digest

Economic Digest – November 2017


Statistics Canada reports that the median income of Canadian households rose from C$63,457 in 2005 to $70,336 in 2015, a 10.8 per cent increase. An important factor in the economic story of Canada over the decade was high resource prices that drew investment and people to Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador, helped the construction sector, and more generally filtered through the economy as a whole. This census paints a picture of the income of Canadians in 2015 before the effects of the oil price slowdown in 2015 and 2016 were fully felt. This boom in the resource sector coincided with a decline in the manufacturing sector, with fewer jobs in this sector in 2015 than in 2005. The bulk of these manufacturing job losses were in Ontario and Quebec.


The tall green shoots of maize are now an increasingly common sight in Britain. In 1985 less than 25,000 hectares were devoted to the crop. By 2016, nearly 200,000 were. Maize is full of starchy energy, responds well to organic fertilizers, has a short growing season and can be cultivated in a range of soil types, including sandy soils. In the 1990s dairy farmers began using maize as a high-energy feed for cows. Then, a decade ago, the plant began to be used as a form of green energy. A quarter of the maize grown is now sent to anaerobic-digestion facilities whose methane output will power generators that feed electricity into the national grid.


The record heat that baked Northern California over the Labour Day weekend left wine grapes shrivelling on the vines, reducing many of them to raisins before the normal harvest and turning what was looking to be a promising vintage into a year that looks more uncertain. Three straight days of triple-digit Fahrenheit temperatures in the wine making region dehydrated the wine grapes, sometimes causing some wines entire metabolic process to shut down. Watering the vines can help counteract the dehydration, but many winemakers try to avoid irrigation too close to harvesting for fear of diluting the berries’ flavours. Winemakers say they will have to put grapes that taste overripe into lower quality, less expensive wine blends.


Authorities in China have detained five people as they investigate 300 tonnes of dead pigs uncovered in southern mountains, the latest in a string of scandals over the mishandling of sick livestock. China is stepping up its fight on air, soil and water pollution with a new round of inspections to enforce tough new measures against anyone infringing environmental-protection laws. In 2013, 6,000 rotting pig carcasses floated down a river that supplies tap water to the commercial hub of Shanghai, drawing attention to a disease-ridden pig farm industry lacking in oversight. China is home to the world’s largest swine flocks, as pork is its staple meat.


Consumer Reports claim that if you rely on US labels for information about a product’s environmental impact and fair trade policies, you should know that certain claims on coffee packaging labels are essentially meaningless. Terms including “ethically/sustainably farmed”, “shade grown”, and “direct trade” lack any legal definition or industry standards. But you can rely on certain seals to indicate the conditions under which the coffee was grown. Reliable labels include: “USDA organic”, “Fair Trade Certified”, “Bird Friendly Habitat” and “Rainforest Alliance Certified”.


Panipat in India is known as the “cast-off capital” and is home to 150-200 mills which take in discarded clothes from Western countries and turn them into recycled cloth. Mills employ women who meticulously extract zips, chains and buttons from T-shirts, winter jackets and denims using long blades usually used to chop vegetables. The industry employs around 20,000 people and brings in annual revenues of US$62-million. Workers manage to sell off baubles and trinkets scavenged from the cast-off clothes but must share the proceeds with mill owners. Employees receive about $1.80 a day for manually ripping up around 100 kilograms of garments.


The average American household belongs to 28 loyalty schemes. The country is home to 3.8-billion scheme memberships in total, up from 2.6-billion in 2012. More than half of these accounts go unused. Frequent-flyer programmes, introduced in the 1970s, were the first examples of modern loyalty schemes.


New studies find micro plastics in salt from the US, Europe and China, adding to evidence that plastic pollution is pervasive in the environment. Researchers believe the majority of the contamination comes from microfibers and single-use plastics such as water bottles, items that comprise the majority of plastic waste. Up to 12.7-million tonnes of plastic enters the world’s oceans every year, equivalent to dumping one garbage truck of plastic per minute into the world’s oceans.


Business owners of all kinds are being drawn to Canada’s religious real estate as these properties present both square footage and charm. More of Canada’s churches are being sold partly because of dwindling congregations, the arrival of mega-churches and high real estate demand. Some of these religious buildings are being reborn because business owners see their secular potential. The church sale business is particularly robust in the Vancouver area as land values continue to soar.


A UK lifestyle publication is warning that wedding costs are getting out of control. With as many as four dresses, a bevy of bridesmaids, photos taken by a drone, a hen-do, website and a stag weekend. Country Life is urging people to rein it in saying that modern weddings have begun to take on the look of an “arms race”. Figures from the 2016 wedding season put the average cost of a UK wedding at US$37,000 rising to $52,000 in the London area. One website found that out of 20,000 weddings, four per cent of them cost more than $135,000. There were 250,000 weddings last year in the UK and 111,000 divorces.


The government of Nigeria has announced the award of a US$6.5-billion contract to build what will be the largest power plant in the country. The 3,050-megawatt Mambila hydroelectric project will be delivered by a consortium of Chinese state-owned construction firms. The megaproject will feature four dams between 50 and 150 metres tall, and take six years to complete. The plant has been in development for over 30 years. In 2007 the Nigerian government awarded a $1.4-billion contract to two Chinese construction firms for a 2,600 megawatt plant, but the agreement broke down. Despite being one of the largest economies in Africa, over 40 per cent of Nigerians live without access to electricity.


Rare furnishings and fabrics in England’s historic houses are under growing threat from an epidemic of clothes moths. English Heritage says that moth numbers have doubled in the past five years, most likely because of warmer weather. A new species has been found feeding happily on the ancient wool carpets and tapestries under their care. Only a handful of the 2,400 species of moths found in the UK pose a threat to clothing, upholstery, furs and even stuffed animals.


A national study in the UK shows that R&D grants to firms significantly boosts growth and creates jobs. US$10.8-billion led to growth worth over $58-billion and created around 150,000 jobs. The study tracked 15,000 high-tech firms which received government R&D grants. It found that on average these firms employed 23 per cent more people after six years compared to firms that did not receive grants. Turnover grew by 28 per cent and productivity by six per cent over the same period.


Officials in the cruise industry are warning that Vancouver may soon be unable to accommodate the growing tourism demand without investing in its facilities and that Canada is lagging behind other cities such as Seattle that are investing heavily in their port infrastructure. The Port of Vancouver shut down the Ballantyne Pier to cruise ships in 2014, leaving Canada Place as the city’s only remaining cruise ship terminal. Vancouver’s cruise passenger traffic grew from a low of 600,000 passengers in 2010 to 827,000 passengers in 2016. The average capacity of cruise ships has increased by 138 per cent to 3,100 passengers. The average vessel length has also increased by 50 per cent, up to 300 metres.


A simple device to cut the weight of UK washing machines could save fuel, cut carbon emissions and reduce back injuries. A typical budget washing machine is weighted by 25kg of concrete to stop it moving while on a spin cycle. The alternative would be to include a plastic container that is filled with water, but only once the machine is in place. By replacing the concrete with empty containers, the weight of the machine is cut by a third. With around 3.5-million washing machines sold each year in the UK, the device could save around 44,625 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year.


A school in northern China has been criticised for enforcing iPad learning as part of its new curriculum. The school told parents that using an iPad will improve classroom efficiency and promised that the school will manage an internet firewall so parents would not have to worry about students using the device for other means.


There are now more adults in the world classified as obese than underweight, a major study has found. The research, led by scientists from Imperial College London compared body mass index (BMI) among almost 20-million adult men and women from 1975 to 2014. The study pooled data from adults in 186 countries, found that the number of obese people worldwide had risen from 105-milion in 1975 to 641-million in 2014. More obese men and women now live in China and the US than in any other country. By 2025, the UK is projected to have the highest levels of obese women in Europe.


An AI programme has beaten a team of six poker players at a series of exhibition matches in China. The programme won a landslide victory and US$290,000 in the five day competition. An earlier version of the program beat four of the world’s best poker pros during a 2-day game earlier in the year. The AI systems were the work of a computer science professor at the Carnegie Melon University. Researchers commonly use matches like these to hone AI programmes reasoning skills and strategic decision making.


Smartphones with batteries that fully charge in five minutes could be available to consumers next year. The technology is in pilot production at two Asian battery makers and production could begin in the first quarter of 2018.The technology was first shown off in 2015 by an Israeli start-up at the CES show in Las Vegas


Caring for aging parents costs Canadians C$33-billion a year according to a new study, and lower income Canadians bear the largest dollar burden when it comes to their aging parents. The average annual cost in terms of out-of-pocket expenses for those with parents over 65 is US$300. The share of Canadians aged over 65 will climb from 17 per cent to 22 per cent by 2027. Low income Canadians tend to have low-income parents largely because their parents are less likely to have money and savings. Women take 30 per cent more time off than men caring for an aging parent.


A 26-carat ring purchased in a car boot sale in the UK in 1980 for US$13 was recently sold at auction by Sotheby’s for $847,667. The original owner believed it was just a piece of costume jewellery