Tuesday, February 14, 2012

1989 Radio Shack Cell Phone Commercial

In today's dollars, the $799 sale price would be about $1,450, and the full price of $1,139 would be more than $2,000.

HT: Peter Krieger

NY Times on the Minimum Wage: 1987 vs. 2012

New York Times editorials on raising the minimum wage:

"Raising the minimum wage by a substantial amount would price working poor people out of the job market. A far better way to help them would be to subsidize their wages or - better yet - help them acquire the skills needed to earn more on their own.

An increase in the minimum wage to, say, $4.35 would restore the purchasing power of bottom-tier wages. It would also permit a minimum-wage breadwinner to earn almost enough to keep a family of three above the official poverty line. There are catches, however. It would increase employers' incentives to evade the law, expanding the underground economy. More important, it would increase unemployment: Raise the legal minimum price of labor above the productivity of the least skilled workers and fewer will be hired.

The idea of using a minimum wage to overcome poverty is old, honorable - and fundamentally flawed. It's time to put this hoary debate behind us, and find a better way to improve the lives of people who work very hard for very little."

2. From 2012, "Raise New York's Minimum Wage":

"It is time for New York to raise its minimum wage enough to help more than 600,000 struggling workers. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is vigorously pushing a bill to raise the minimum to $8.50 an hour immediately and to adjust it each year for inflation. This should not be a controversial measure. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo supports an increase, as does Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Only Republican state senators are resisting, using the same stale argument that a minimum wage increase is bad for business. The Senate Republican leader, Dean Skelos, argues that the measure “could be a job killer rather than a job promoter.” That contention has been proved wrong time and again."

MP: How to explain this regression in economic reasoning over the last 25 years at the New York times? Paul Krugman joined the NY Times in 1999? Economic amnesia? None of the current editorial staff ever took high school or college economics?

Related: See Don Boudreaux's response to the most recent NY Times editorial.  

We Should All Get Valentine's Day Cards from Big Sugar for the $4B We Paid Them in Higher Prices

In an article today on American.com today titled “Bitter Sweet: How Big Sugar Robs You,” Michael Wohlgenant and Vincent Smith provide some timely Valentine’s Day commentary and report that:

“For decades, sugar beet and sugar cane farmers and processors have been the beneficiaries of a sugar program that stealthily drives up sugar costs—and, consequently, the cost of that heart-shaped box of chocolates (see chart above of U.S. sugar prices vs. world prices). Over the past 30 years, the annual burden on U.S. consumers has averaged over $3 billion in higher food prices.”

On Valentine’s Day, it’s appropriate that Wohlgenant and Smith remind us that the “hand on your back pocket billfold today is not your sweetheart’s, it’s the sugar lobby’s,” which lifted almost $4 billion from American consumers last year, read more here at The Enterprise Blog.

Auto Affordability is the Highest Since 2009 and Will Boost Car Sales in 2012: Great Time to Buy

From Comerica Bank:

"The purchase and financing of an average-priced new vehicle took 23.1 weeks of median family income in the fourth quarter of 2011, the best affordability reading since the third quarter of 2009. Consumers on average spent $1,050 less (a decrease of 4.0 percent) on new cars in the fourth quarter. 

“Auto affordability improved at the end of 2011, boosted by gains in personal income that were, in turn, supported by stronger job creation,” said Robert Dye, Chief Economist of Comerica Bank in Dallas. “Household credit conditions are also improving, as shown by the low household financial obligations ratio, which measures total debt payments as a percentage of income. When you put those two concepts together, it means that households are increasingly willing to take on a reasonable amount of debt by purchasing an attractively priced automobile. Those favorable trends are allowing consumers to feel more confident about unleashing their pent-up demand for automobiles. Favorable affordability and improved job growth mean more upside potential for auto sales in early 2012.”

MP: See related CD post showing that the household financial obligations ratio fell to an 18 year-low in 2011 at 16.5%, the lowest level since 1993, which will contribute to ongoing gains in car sales in 2012 as mentioned above, along with low interest rates, increased affordability, new models, and improving labor market conditions, which together bode well for making this the best year in auto sales since 2007.  

It's also interesting to note that over the last 15 years, auto affordability has consistently increased, and new cars today are about 20% more affordable than in the mid-1990s.  Reasons for increased affordability over time likely include falling financing costs, rising incomes, and super-competitive pricing.  Add in quality and safety improvements, and better options (OnStar, satellite radio, navigation, etc.), and there's probably never been a better time than today to purchase a new vehicle.     

Natural Gas Boom Energizing The Chemical Industry

"U.S. chemical companies are the latest beneficiaries of the nation's natural gas drilling boom. Long focused on cheap gas sources elsewhere in the world, companies are now looking to expand here. A surplus of natural gas has pushed down prices, making it more attractive for chemical companies that use lots of gas to reopen shuttered plants and build new ones.
"We wouldn't have to go back very far — literally just seven or eight years — and the picture for the industry here in North America was pretty uncertain," says Randy Woelfel, CEO of NOVA Chemicals in Calgary, Alberta. He says high oil prices sent a lot of petrochemical manufacturing overseas to the Middle East and Asia. But now, low natural gas prices and the ethane-rich Marcellus Shale have changed everything.

"That means ... that we'll be back in the hiring business, rather than the consolidation and survival/cost-cutting mode that NOVA was clearly in for much of the last decade," Woelfel says."
Related: This December 2011 study by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, "Shale gas: A renaissance in US manufacturing?" predicts the following:
  • U.S. manufacturing companies (chemicals, metals and industrial) could employ approximately one million more workers by 2025 because of abundant, low-priced natural gas.
  • Lower feedstock and energy cost could help U.S. manufacturers reduce natural gas expenses by as much as $11.6 billion annually through 2025.

Santorum Is Now Leading Romney in the Polls, But Romney Is Still Way Ahead on Intrade: 4.5-to-1

The most recent Real Clear Politics polling average is showing Santorum (30.2%) with a 1.6% lead over Romney (28.6%), while the Intrade odds aren't even close: Romney's odds are 75.5% and Santorum is at 16.5% (see chart above), meaning that Romney is still a 4.5-to-1 favorite over Santorum. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Economics of Valentine's Day

Featuring George Mason economist Chris Coyne.

Markets in Everything: Geeky Valentine's Gifts

Including heart-shaped mittens for two pictured above, more here.

Valentine's Day for Economists, Using Graphs

There's more here at "14 Ways An Economist Says I Love You" with graphs and diagrams.

HT: Mike LaFaive

More on a New, Emerging World Energy Map

With America's abundant supply of natural gas selling at close to historic-low levels, it seems natural that the next step would be to export it, and that's exactly what's starting to happen.  A Wall Street Journal article today features one natural and growing market for natural gas, Japan, which has almost doubled its imports of natural gas since 1995, and by 12% in the last year.  Following last year's earthquake and tsunami, Japan has closed 51 of its 54 nuclear and electric utilities have switched to natural gas.
And we can expect increased demand for natural gas from other countries in Asia and Europe, as some countries like Germany are moving away from nuclear power.  

From the WSJ article:

"The growing demand for natural gas around the globe coincides with a transformation of the U.S. market for the fuel thanks to the unlocking of gas in long-untapped shale formations. Officials in Washington expect the U.S. to turn into a net gas exporter over the next few years.

Exporters can take advantage of a gaping price difference. In the U.S. natural gas goes for about $2.50 per million British thermal units. The price in Japan for the same quantity is about $16."

MP: Drill, drill, drill = cheap natural gas = exports, exports, exports

HT: Bob Wright

Higgs: Immiseration of Personal Interest Income

Last week I had a CD post on how the Fed's zero interest rate policy has significantly reduced personal interest income and it generated a lively discussion. Robert Higgs had a related post last Friday titled "The Fed's Immiseration of People Who Live On Interest Earnings," here are some of his comments:

"Fed’s policy of acting to hold interest rates well below free-market rates in recent years has had the effect of greatly diminishing the earnings of people who rely on interest income. Such people include especially many retirees who do not wish to hold risky assets with substantial variability of earnings. In the past, many retired people have held the bulk of their wealth in the form of bank certificates of deposit, bonds, and bond-heavy mutual funds, hoping that their incomes would be secure and predictable when they were no longer working. The Fed’s actions in recent years have taken a heavy toll on such people’s earnings."

MP: Bob refers to a graph showing personal interest income in nominal terms, displays a graph of the PCE price index, and discusses how the effects of reduced personal interest income would be even more dramatic if adjusted for inflation.  The chart above combines those two charts into one, and displays real personal interest income adjusted for inflation, which supports Bob's conclusions that: a) real personal interest income has dropped by more than a third since 2008, from $1.4 trillion to $973 billion, and b) the flow of personal interest income today at $973 billion has only about 77% of the purchasing power of personal interest income in 2000 ($1.26 trillion).

Bob concludes:

"It is plain that the Fed is acting in a way that impoverishes a definite class of persons—those heavily dependent on interest earnings for their income—and, moreover, that a policy of keeping interest rates on low-risk assets near zero must eventually wipe out such persons’ incomes completely. In that event, people who worked and saved over a working lifetime, taking personal responsibility for guaranteeing their self-sufficiency during their elderly, nonworking years, will be able to survive only at the mercy of the providers of private and public charity.

The link between the Fed’s policies and this undeniable effect is too direct and too obvious for anyone, including the Fed’s managers, to overlook or misunderstand. We may only conclude, then, that the Fed’s managers either: 1) want to wipe out the retirees and others who rely heavily on interest earnings, or 2) consider these people’s immiseration an acceptable price to pay in order to achieve other objectives. Can any decent person approve such policy making?"

HT: Warren Smith

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Gender Pay Gap? There's An App For That Coming

Politico.com reported this week that "The Obama administration recently launched a software development competition designed to help achieve equal pay in the workforce for American women. The competition has several prize categories, including five scholarships to attend an 8-week design and entrepreneurship program. Another winner will get $5,000 from a private nonprofit to help further develop their app."

It's called the Equal Pay App Challenge, and here's some information from the competition's website:

"Nearly 50 years after President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, on average women are still paid less than their male counterparts for doing comparable jobs – that’s called the pay gap. It means that each time the average woman starts a new job, she’s likely to start from a lower base salary, but it also means that over time the pay gap between her and her male colleagues is likely to become wider and wider.

For the average working woman, the pay gap means $150 less in her weekly paycheck, $8,000 less at the end of the year, and $380,000 less over her lifetime. For women of color and women with disabilities, the disparity is even bigger. Your challenge is to use publicly available labor data and other online resources to educate users about the pay gap and to build tools to promote equal pay."

Here's an example of how the app might work for some women, based on these salary data:

Enter Your Marital Status: Single

Enter whether you work full-time or part-time: Full-time

Enter the number of children you have: Zero

Do you work in a large U.S. city? Yes

Enter your age: Under 30 years old

Enter your city of employment below, and the Equal Pay App will report the gender pay gap for your demographic group in your geographic area.  A negative (positive) pay gap reflects lower (higher) median full-time salaries for women in your group (single, childless, under 30 years old) compared to your male counterparts.

Atlanta: +20% pay gap in favor of women

Memphis: +20% pay gap in favor of women

New York City: +17% pay gap in favor of women

Los Angeles: +12% pay gap in favor of women

San Diego: +15% pay gap in favor of women

Charlotte: +14% pay gap in favor of women

Warning: You have uncovered a significant gender pay gap in favor of women, and your employer may be paying single, childless women under 30 years old more than men in that same demographic group.  This could be illegal gender discrimination in violation of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, and you should report this potential violation of federal law to your local Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Thanks for using the Equal Pay App. 

HT: Christina Sommers

Sunday Links

1. Bakken oil boom spreads to Montana as demand increases for commercial property in Billings.

2.  New staggering discovery of 23 billion barrels of oil and gas in Argentina, could double its oil and gas output within ten years. What "peak oil"? Julian Simon is smiling.... (ht: John Sturges)

3. Millions of patients are skipping their primary care doctors, and instead choosing faster, cheaper retail clinics.

4. Stuart Anderson: Analysis of new data obtained from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services reveals the agency has dramatically increased denials of L-1 and H-1B petitions over the past four years, harming the competitiveness of U.S. employers and encouraging companies to keep more jobs and resources outside the United States.

5. MIT offers free independent study course in Microeconomics, with video lectures, multiple-choice quizzes, problem sets and exams. 

Whitney Houston, R.I.P

Whitney Houston singing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl in 1991...... What a voice.  It doesn't get any better than this......

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Interesting Labor Market Facts of the Day

1. In 2011, U.S. manufacturing companies increased employment by 237,000 positions, which was the largest annual increase in manufacturing jobs since a 302,000 gain in 1997.

2. Of the 237,000 new jobs added to manufacturing payrolls last year, 44,300 jobs, and almost 19%, of the new factory jobs were added in the state of Michigan, even though Michigan's overall share of U.S. manufacturing employment is only about 4.3% (504,700 jobs out of 11.81 million nationwide).  Stated differently, Michigan has only about 1 out of every 23 manufacturing jobs in the country, but the state's manufacturers added almost one out of every 5 new factory jobs last year.    

3. As I reported in an earlier CD post, Michigan's jobless rate in December at 9.3% was more than a full percentage point below the 10.4% unemployment rate in the District of Columbia.  The last time Michigan's jobless rate was 1.1% below the District of Columbia's rate was back in August 2001, more than a decade ago.  

4. Government payrolls shrank last year by 271,000, with most of job cuts taking place at the local level (-158,000), followed by reductions in state employees (-77,000) and federal employees (-36,000).  The last time government payrolls fell by that much in one calendar year was 1981, when government contracted by 300,000 jobs. 

White House Switch is A Real Head-Scratcher

Greg Mankiw is understandably left scratching his head over this:

"Consider these two policies:

A. An employer is required to provide its employees health insurance that covers birth control.

B. An employer is required to provide its employees health insurance.  The health insurance company is required to cover birth control.

I can understand someone endorsing both A and B, and I can understand someone rejecting both A and B.  But I cannot understand someone rejecting A and embracing B, because they are effectively the same policy.  Ultimately, all insurance costs are passed on to the purchaser, so I cannot see how policy B is different in any way from policy A, other than using slightly different words to describe it.

Yet it seems that the White House yesterday switched from A to B, and that change is being viewed by some as a significant accommodation to those who objected to policy A.  The whole thing leaves me scratching my head."

Do Medical School Acceptance Rates Reflect Preferences for Preferred Minority Groups?

The chart above (click to enlarge) is an update of  the chart from this CD post from about a year ago, showing medical school acceptance rates for Asians, whites, Hispanics and blacks based on data from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) for the years 2009-2011 (aggregated).

For 2011, the average GPA of students applying to medical schools was 3.53 and the average total MCAT score was 28, and the chart displays the acceptance rates for students applying to medical schools with average GPAs (3.40-3.59) and average MCAT scores (27-29) in the highlighted blue column, and the acceptance rates for those students with slightly higher and slightly lower than average GPAs and test scores in the other columns.  In other words, the table displays acceptance rates by race and ethnicity for students applying to medical school with average academic credentials (or just slightly above or below average).  Here are some observations:

1. For those students applying to medical school with average GPAs (3.40 to 3.59) and average MCAT scores (27-29), black applicants were almost three times more likely to be admitted than their Asian counterparts (85.9% vs. 30%), and 2.4 times more likely than their white counterparts (85.9% vs. 35.9%).  Likewise, Hispanic students with average GPAs and average MCAT scores were about twice as likely to be accepted as white applicants (68.7% vs. 35.9%), and more than twice as likely as Asian applicants (68.7% vs. 30%). 

2. For students applying to medical school with slightly below average GPAs of 3.20-3.39 and slightly below average MCAT scores of 24-26 (first column in the table), black applicants were more than 8 times as likely to be admitted as Asians (67.3% vs. 7.7%), and more than 5 times as likely as whites. 

Bottom Line: In my previous post, I concluded that the medical school acceptance data suggest that medical schools must have admission policies that favor blacks and Hispanics over Asian and white students.  Even if factors other than GPA and MCAT scores (which are probably the two most important ones) are considered for admission to medical school, wouldn't it still be very hard to conclude that admissions policies to medical schools are completely "race-neutral" and completely free of any racial preferences? 

Here's why the issue is important: In some states like California and Michigan, racial preferences in college admissions are prohibited.  For example, Proposal 2 in Michigan states:   

"The University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Wayne State University (all three have medical schools), and any other public college or university, community college, or school district shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting."

The AAMC doesn't provide acceptance data by individual medical school, so we can't conclude that any of the three medical schools in Michigan are practicing racial favoritism in admissions, but it's clear that Michigan state law now expressly prohibits that practice.  And based on national data, is there any conclusion other the obvious one - that U.S. medical schools must be considering race as one important factor in admissions, at least for preferred minority groups (blacks and Hispanics) over non-preferred minority groups (Asians) and whites?   

Friday, February 10, 2012

U.S. Total Freight Shipments (Waterways, Truck, Rail, Air, Pipelines) Hit Record High in December

"The amount of freight carried by the for-hire transportation industry rose 3.9 percent in December from November, the largest monthly rise in 17 years, which brought the level of freight shipments to an all-time high, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ (BTS) Freight Transportation Services Index (TSI) released this week. The BTS reported that the level of freight shipments measured by the Freight TSI, 113.7, surpassed the previous high of 113.3 in January 2005 (see chart above).

Definition: The Freight TSI measures the month-to-month changes in freight shipments by mode of transportation in ton-miles, which are then combined into one index. The index measures the output of the for-hire freight transportation industry and consists of data from for-hire trucking, rail, inland waterways, pipelines and air freight.

Shipments in December 2011 (index level of 113.7) were at the highest level in the 22-year history of the series back to 1990. After dipping to a recent cyclical low in April 2009 (94.3), freight shipments increased in 22 of the last 32 months, rising 20.6 percent during that period. For the full year 2011, freight shipments were up 6.4 percent, the highest full-year growth rate since 2002, and marked the third consecutive year with an increase."

MP: A record monthly gain to a new all-time record high for total U.S. freight activity in December that includes shipments by truck, rail, waterways, pipelines and air provides additional evidence that the U.S. economy is recovering and was gaining momentum at year end. If that momentum continues into this year, we might get a stronger recovery in 2012 than the consensus is expecting.  

Thanks to "Unknown"

2011 Was Best Year Ever for California Exports

Despite an 11.1% jobless rate in December that was the highest in the country except for Nevada's 12.6% rate, the LA Times is reporting that California's exports surged to a new record high of $159.35 billion in 2011.  That was an 11.2% increase over 2010, and after adjusting for inflation, exports last year surpassed the previous historical high in 2000 during the "dot-com" boom.

From the LA Times article:
"Despite a widespread conviction that California has been closed for business, 2011 turned out to be the best year ever for California’s export trade,” said Jock O’Connell, Beacon Economics’ international trade advisor.
Also encouraging was the fact that the exports were led by sales of high-technology goods such as electronics products, industrial machinery and medical equipment, the Beacon report said.
HT: Benjamin Cole

Falling Nat Gas Prices Offset Higher Gasoline Prices

Detroit News -- "Michigan's Consumers Energy said today that its residential natural gas customers are writing checks to the utility that are down about 20 percent compared to a year ago because of a warmer winter and lower natural gas prices.  The Jackson-based utility with 1.7 million customers said an average residential customer this month will pay about $146 for heat they used in January, compared to about $184 a year ago. Bills for natural gas use in December, paid in January, also were down about $28 for the average residential customer from a year earlier, according to Consumers."

The Manufacturing Industry's Secret Success Story

This won't be a big surprise for regular CD readers, but today's Investor's Business Daily features a front page story on the recent strength of American manufacturing:

"If you listen to politicians these days, you'd think the country's manufacturing industry was on its last legs. President Obama told Congress in his State of the Union speech that "we have a huge opportunity, at this moment, to bring manufacturing back," and offered a wide range of tax breaks, worker training programs and other federal projects to do so.

At the other end of the spectrum, GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum talks about the need to "revitalize" the industry. "We went from about 21% of jobs in this country when I was a kid being in manufacturing down to 9%. We lost those jobs overseas. We need to bring them back," he said.

Obama has proposed a big tax break for domestic manufacturers. Santorum wants to zero them out altogether.  But the data show that, despite the picture painted by politicians, manufacturing is a success story at the moment."

Read more here, and also see Nick Gillespie's related blog post on "America's Unsung Industrial Might."

Also, see related Huffington Post article from yesterday on the American manufacturing revival.  

Interesting Facts of the Day: Dollar Stores

1. The combined store count of the four dollar store chains— a total of 21,500 (consisting of 9,600 Dollar Generals, 4,200 Dollar Trees, 6,800 Family Dollars, and 285 99¢ Cent Only Stores)—now exceeds the combined store count of the three national drugstore chains (19,700 for CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid).

2. There are 2.5 times as many Dollar Generals in the U.S. (9,600) as Walmarts (3,858), and both Dollar Tree (4,200) and Family Dollar (6,800) have more stores than Walmart.     

3. There are 5.6 dollar stores in the U.S. for every one Walmart. 

Total U.S. Trade Sets New Record High in 2011

Total U.S. international trade (exports + imports) set a new record of $4.76 trillion in 2011 (see chart above), as both annual exports ($2.1 trillion) and imports ($2.66 trillion) reached record high levels last year, according to today's BEA report.

Other highlights include:

1. Total international trade increased in 2011 by 14% compared to 2010 ($4.175 trillion), and was 35% above the recession-related cyclical low of $3.53 trillion in 2009.  Adjusted for inflation, the increases were 10.5% vs. 2010 and 28.6% vs. 2009.

2. Compared to the previous all-time record high in 2008, total trade for the U.S. last year was above that previous record by 8.7% in nominal terms and by 4% adjusted for inflation. 

3. U.S. exports exceeded $2 trillion for the first time ever last year and increased by 14.5% from 2010 and by 33.5% from the recession-related cyclical low in 2009. 

4. U.S. consumers and businesses purchased a new record high volume of $2.66 trillion worth of consumer products, raw materials and inputs from the rest of the world, which was an increase of 13.8% from the previous year, and 36% more than in 2009.

Bottom Line: What is already getting the most media attention about today's trade report is the "bad news" that: a) the U.S. trade deficit increased in December and for the year, b) the trade deficit with China "soared to a record high" last year, and c) the reason for the trade deficit with China is because it "deliberately undervalues its currency to give its companies Americans an unfair a generous price advantage."  

What won't receive much (any?) media attention is the good news that the total U.S. trade activity (Exports + Imports) set a record high in 2011, reflecting the improvement in both the U.S. and world economies last year.  Foreign consumers and producers purchased a record volume of "Made in the USA" exports, and American consumers and producers purchased a record volume of "Made Outside the USA" imports, which is a positive sign of worldwide economic recovery and vibrancy. 

As Dan Griswold pointed out last year on his blog:

"Politicians and commentators love to focus on the deficit, as though it were a scorecard of who is winning in global trade, but the real measure is the total volume of trade. As economies expand, so does trade, both imports and exports. Exports help us reach new markets and expand economies of scale, while imports bless consumers with lower prices and more choices, while stoking competition, innovation, and efficiency gains among producers."

Related: See "Made on Earth: How Global Economic Integration Renders Trade Policy Obsolete," by Cato's Dan Ikenson, and also Don Boudreaux's post "Made on Earth."

Thursday, February 09, 2012

What Dollar Store Locations Reveal About America

How does the concentration of dollars stores correlate with various socio-economic factors?  Here are some interesting results from a study featured in The Atlantic:
1. The correlation between dollar stores and median income is significant and negative (-.57).
2. Dollar stores are concentrated in states with lower levels of education or human capital. The correlation is again significant and negative, even greater than for income (-.77).

3. The geography of dollar stores also tracks to the country's political divide. Dollar stores are positively correlated with the share of voters who backed McCain (.52) and negatively associated with Obama voters (-.47).

4. Obesity, smoking and crime also come into the picture. They are positively associated with the percentage of adults whose body mass index is greater than 30 (.72) and the percentage that smoke (.6).

5. Dollar stores states are also positively associated with property crime (.34), especially burglary (.54), and violent crime (.3), especially murder and manslaughter (.49).

6. Religion too plays a role. Dollar stores are positively and significantly associated with the percent of people who say religion plays an important role in their daily life (.71).

Rustbelt Recovery: Michigan Has a Budget Surplus And a Lower Jobless Rate Than Washington D.C.

NY Times -- "Over most of the past decade, budget deliberations in Michigan have taken on a glum and familiar monotony: What do we cut now? But the state that experienced an economic downturn earlier, deeper and longer than most of the rest of the country has made an unlikely discovery as its officials closed out its latest financial books: Michigan has a $457 million surplus. Even more surprising: Revenues, which had sunk or had been mostly flat for all but one year since 2000, have grown. Not a lot, but grown.

Lately signs have shifted. Manufacturing jobs, often declared dead by frustrated workers, have picked up. United States automakers have increased production, saying sales are up, and General Motors, only a few years after a federal rescue and bankruptcy, recaptured in 2011 a crown some thought was merely a dusty memory — that of the world’s largest automaker. 
In part, as a result, the unemployment rate in Michigan, which reached 14.1 percent in 2009 and had regularly been among the worst several states in the nation, has lately been among states showing the most significant and continuing rates of improvement, though at 9.3 percent in December it is still above the national average.

By the close of the state’s 2011 budget year, in September, Michigan had collected $8.8 billion in general fund revenues — more than $1 billion less the amount collected in, say, 2000, but noticeably up from the $7.6 billion in Michigan’s coffers in 2010, thanks to growth in state income and sales tax revenues. Officials are now projecting $632 million more in revenues over the next two years than they had been expecting." 

MP: After leading the country for most months in 2008 and 2009 with the highest jobless rate in the country, Michigan's economy has now recovered to the point that it ranked No. 11 for the month of December.  Nine states and even the District of Columbia at 10.4% had higher jobless rates than Michigan's December 9.3% rate.  Nevada now ranks No. 1 in the country at 12.6% and more than three percentage points above Michigan, and California has the second highest state jobless rate for December at 11.1%, almost two full points above Michigan.  

Thursday Morning Links

1. You can now be fined $1,000 for throwing a football or a Frisbee on the beaches of L.A. County.

2. Not only do members of Congress benefit from being exempt from the insider trading laws that apply to the rest of us, but a Washington Post investigation has identified 16 members of Congress who have recently taken actions that provided millions of dollars of benefits for specific programs, groups or organizations that are directly connected to their immediate family members.

3.  The nation known for its iconic windmills --the Netherlands -- is throwing in the towel on offshore wind power, as Dutch officials have determined the country can no longer afford large scale subsidies for expensive wind turbines that cannot produce electricity at economically competitive prices.

4. From Ed Morrissey on the importance of Indiana becoming the first rust belt state to pass right-to-work laws - a milestone event for a manufacturing-based state where unions controlled large portions of the labor force.

5. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin announced this week that 10 states have signed on to her plan to replace aging government vehicles with ones that run on compressed natural gas. Together, the group of states plans to buy 5,000 natural gas vehicles.

HTs to Warren Smith, Dwight Oglesby and Ben Cunningham.

Jobless Claims Fall to Lowest Level Since Apr. 2008

In another positive sign that the U.S. labor market is gradually improving, the Labor Department reported today that the four-week moving average for initial jobless claims fell to 366,250 for the week ending February 4, which is the lowest level since the week of April 26, 2008, almost four years ago (see chart above). This marks the fourth consecutive weekly decline in the four-week moving average, and the ninth decline in the last ten weeks. 

If the current rate of decline in jobless claims over the last few months continues (-4,100 average per week since December), the four-week moving average for initial jobless claims will be back to pre-recession, November 2007 levels by early April. 

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Oil Patch "Boomtown Girls": 1st ND Reality TV Hit?

WILLISTON, N.D. – "Five sisters from a North Dakota boomtown are looking to make a bang on reality TV. A trailer for “Boomtown Girls,” featuring five Williston sisters who work alongside men in the Oil Patch, recently became an Internet sensation locally (watch it above).

But few details are known about what will become of the four-minute video. Representatives from Atlanta-based Lucky Dog Filmworks say they can’t comment yet about “Boomtown Girls.”

The video shows the sisters – Kendel, LeAnna, Kelsey, Terrie and Heather – reflecting about how their hometown has changed with the latest oil boom. One of the sisters, Kelsey Nehring, said the filmmakers are pitching the reality show to various media companies."

HT: Steve Lee

North Dakota Oil Production Sets Another Record in December, Will Likely Pass CA and AK In Months

At the current rate of monthly increases, North Dakota could be the No. 2 oil producing state within months.
The "Economic Miracle State" of North Dakota pumped another record amount of oil during the month of December at a daily rate of almost 535,000 barrels, which was 55% above its output from a year earlier, and only the second time that the state's daily production exceeded 500,000 barrels (see chart above, data here). Oil production in the Peace Garden State has more than doubled from 246,000 barrels per day two years ago, and North Dakota is now producing enough oil to completely displace the imports of crude oil from Colombia (364,000 bpd) or Iraq (422,000 bpd).

Other highlights of today's December production report:

1. The number of wells producing oil in the state increased to 6,211, setting a new record.

2. The amount of oil produced per well also reached a record high of 86 barrels per day in December, which is 56% higher than the 55 barrels per day two years ago, and probably reflects both increasing productivity from fracking technology and drilling in more productive areas.

3. The combination of a record number of wells producing oil at record-setting productivity levels has put North Dakota on a trajectory to surpass both California (543,000 barrels per day) probably last month in January and Alaska (555,000 bpd) in February to become the No. 2 oil-producing state in the U.S. early this year At the current pace of record-setting monthly gains, North Dakota's oil production is currently on track to break the 600,000 barrels per day level by March, break the 700,000 level by next August, and exceed 800,000 barrels per day by the end of this year. At that point, North Dakota oil could be enough to displace either Venezuela's or Nigeria's imports.

4. North Dakota's oil production has now surpassed OPEC-member Ecuador's daily production of 485,000 barrels.

As a result of the ongoing oil boom in the Bakken area, North Dakota continues to lead the nation with the lowest state unemployment rate at 3.3% for December, five full percentage points below the nation's average 8.3% rate for December. There are 16 North Dakota counties with jobless rates at or below 3% for December, and Williams County, which is at the center of the Bakken oil boom, boasts the lowest county jobless rate in the country at just 1%.

Bottom Line: The ongoing record-setting oil production in North Dakota continues to make it the most economically successful state in the country, with record levels of employment and income growth, increasing tax revenues, the lowest foreclosure rate in the country, a strong real estate market, and jobless rates in many counties of the Bakken region below 3%.

Virtual Tour of the Sistine Chapel

From the Vatican: Virtual Tour of the Sistine Chapel

Click and drag arrow to move around and zoom in and out using the + and - symbols in the lower left corner. 

HT: Ryan Stinson

America's Amazing Shovel-Ready Energy Stimulus; And It's Happening Despite U.S. Energy Policy

From the WSJ article “Oil and Gas Boom Lifts U.S. Economy”:

"An energy boom is revving up the U.S. economy. The use of new drilling techniques to tap oil and gas in shale rocks far underground helped add about 158,500 new oil and gas jobs over the past five years, and economists think it has created even more jobs in companies supplying the energy industry and in the broader service industry. U.S. oil production is rising for the first time in decades. Natural gas has become so plentiful that prices recently plunged to a 10-year low.

The economic benefits of rising energy production are spreading far beyond the traditional oil patch, to Ohio and Pennsylvania, Nebraska and New York, North Carolina and Idaho."

Here are 11 examples from the article of how the energy boom is creating jobs and spreading prosperity throughout the U.S. economy:

1. Truck drivers from pretty much anywhere can find work related to the surging energy business.

2. Private-equity firms completed $24.8 billion of energy deals of all types last year, up from $8.5 billion in 2010.

3. The energy industry has discovered so much new natural gas, causing gas prices to drop 39% over the past year, that it is breathing new life into energy-intensive manufacturing such as steel and plastics. Manufacturing plants are returning to the U.S. to take advantage of cheap natural gas, spurring major investments in petrochemical and steel production in the Gulf Coast and Midwest.  Examples of companies expanding production in the U.S. include Dow Chemical, Royal Dutch Shell (plastics), Nucor Steel and Maine Pulp and Paper.

4. Landowners in huge swaths of the country where shale is found are raking in money for leasing their mineral rights.

5. Consumers throughout the U.S. are paying lower bills for heating and electricity because of cheap natural gas.

6. For every new job working in the oil and gas sector, another four are supported by the energy supply chain and by workers spending more money on goods and services.

7. Beyond simply adding jobs, communities from Pennsylvania and Ohio to Colorado and Texas that are home to this energy boom are experiencing a new emotion: optimism.

8. The industry paid out $6 billion in royalties and lease payments from 2008 to 2010 just in Pennsylvania, home to much of the Marcellus Shale, a formation of gas-bearing rock.

9. Community Bank Systems Inc., which operates 170 bank branches in rural New York and Pennsylvania, says it has seen a 20% growth in deposits in regions where there is shale drilling, versus about 5% elsewhere.

10. Thousands of new jobs have been created in Midwest states from the “shale sand boom” that has been created by the increased demand from oil and gas companies for the sand that is one of the main inputs used in the fracking process to help extract oil and gas from shale rock.   

11. Electric utility companies like Siemens AG in North Carolina have started investing in giant, gas-powered turbines to take advantage of historically low natural gas prices.   

MP: What makes this energy stimulus even more remarkable is that it came about in spite of, not because of, any intended government energy policies. As AEI environmental scholar Steve Hayward wrote back in April, "One remarkable aspect of the shale gas revolution is that it was not the product of an energy policy edict from Washington, or the result of a bruising political battle to open up public lands and offshore waters for new exploration. Although the Halliburtons of the world are now big in the field, its pioneers were mostly smaller risk-taking entrepreneurs and technological innovators."

And Steve points out here that U.S. energy policies have actually restricted access to America's vast energy resources, which means that the energy stimulus outlined above could be creating even more jobs and prosperity without those government restrictions.

HT: Dan Greller, who comments that "Somewhere Julian Simon must be smiling."  

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Low Interest Rates Help Borrowers, but Hurt Savers

Mark Calabria at the Cato blog makes an overlooked, but excellent point about the graph above:

"One of the direct results of the Federal Reserve’s zero interest rate policies (red line above) has been a massive reduction in interest income going to households (blue line above). Since 2008, household interest income has fallen by about $400 billion annually (MP: From $1.4 trillion to $1 trillion). That’s $400 billion each year that families have not had to spend.

Now of course you can also argue that families' interest expenses have also fallen, and that would be true, but that just serves to illustrate that much of monetary policy is not about creating wealth, but re-distributing it. Since interest payments are one person's expense and another’s income, Fed driven changes in the interest rate should not increase household income in the aggregate."

MP: It's an important point: every credit transaction involves a borrower and a lender, or we could say the quantity of credit supplied by savers has to equal the quantity of credit demanded by borrowers.  When expansionary monetary policy forces short-term interest rates to approach zero (or even negative like current TIPS yields), it's great for borrowers but bad for savers, but the overall net effect on the economy has to be zero. That is, low interest rates involve a transfer of wealth from net savers to net borrowers, but no net increase in wealth.

Conversely, when contractionary monetary policy raises short-term interest rates, it's great for savers but bad for borrowers and transfers wealth from net borrowers to net savers, with an overall net wealth effect of zero. 

Bottom Line: We should stop pretending that monetary policy that lowers interest rates is good for the overall entire economy, and recognize that it's only good for 50% of the economy and bad for the other 50%. What is more important than low or high interest rates is stable interest rates, which is maybe a case for inflation targeting.

Nearly 500,000 "App Economy" Jobs in U.S.

Related to an earlier post today about how just Apple's iPhone division is now bigger than the entire Microsoft company (based on Q4 sales revenue), there's a new study that was just released today titled "Where the Jobs Are: The App Economy," by Michael Mandel, economist and blogger.

From the Executive Summary:

Nothing illustrates the job-creating power of innovation better than the App Economy. The incredibly rapid rise of smartphones, tablets, and social media, and the applications—“apps”—that run on them, is perhaps the biggest economic and technological phenomenon today. Almost a million apps have been created for the iPhone, iPad and Android alone, greatly augmenting the usefulness of mobile devices.

On an economic level, each app represents jobs—for programmers, for user interface designers, for marketers, for managers, for support staff. But how many? Conventional employment numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics are not able to track such a new phenomenon. So in this paper we analyze detailed information from The Conference Board Help-Wanted OnLine database, a comprehensive and up-to-the-minute compilation of want ads, to estimate the number of jobs in the App Economy.

This analysis shows that the App Economy now is responsible for roughly 466,000 jobs in the United States, up from zero in 2007 when the iPhone was introduced. This total includes jobs at ‘pure’ app firms such as Zynga, a San Francisco-based maker of Facebook game apps that went public in December 2011. App Economy employment also includes app-related jobs at large companies such as Electronic Arts, Amazon, and AT&T, as well as app ‘infrastructure’ jobs at core firms such as Google, Apple, and Facebook. In addition, the App Economy total includes employment spillovers to the rest of the economy.

Moreover, we find that App Economy jobs are spread around the country. The top metro area for App Economy jobs, according to our research, is New York City and its surrounding suburban counties, although San Francisco and San Jose together substantially exceed New York. And while California tops the list of App Economy states, states such as Georgia, Florida, and Illinois get their share as well. In fact, more than two-thirds of App Economy employment is outside of California and New York. Our results also suggest that the App Economy is still growing at a rapid clip, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone."

World-First: Jawbone Created with 3D Printing

Discovery News -- "When surgeons in Belgium replaced the infected lower jawbone of an 83-year-old woman, they needed a fast replacement tailored to fit the patient's existing bone structure, nerves and muscles. That medical dilemma inspired a world-first achievement -- creating a customized jawbone from scratch with 3D printing technology.

3D printing has already helped many DIY innovators create everything from robots to household items on demand based upon digital designs. But the combination of precise designs and rapid manufacturing could have even greater potential for creating customized body parts for medical patients -- especially when transplanted bone structures and organs suffer from short supply."

December Job Openings Highest Since August 2008

Highlights from today's Job Openings and Labor Turnover report from the BLS:

1. There were 3.4 million job openings on the last business day of December, up from 3.1 million in November. The number of job openings has trended upward since the end of the recession in June 2009 (see chart above).

2. Although the number of job openings remained below the 4.4 million openings when the recession began in December 2007, the number of job openings has increased 39 percent since the end of the recession in June 2009.

3. The overall number of seasonally adjusted job openings in December increased over the year by 15.6% and for total private openings by 20.4%.  Openings for government jobs fell by 12.8% over the year.

4. For total job openings and total private openings, the December openings were at their highest levels in 40 months, since August 2008.

5. For manufacturing, December job openings were the highest in more than three and-a-half years going back to May 2008. 

Amazing Fact of the Day: Just Apple's iPhone Alone is Now Bigger Than All of Microsoft

From Henry Blodget at Business Insider:

"Apple's iPhone business alone is now bigger than Microsoft. Not Windows. Not Office. Microsoft. Think about that. The iPhone did not exist five years ago. And now it's bigger than a company that, 15 years ago, was dragged into court and threatened with forcible break-up because it had amassed an unassailable and unthinkably profitable monopoly.

The iPhone also appears to be considerably more profitable than Microsoft. In the December quarter, Apple's iPhone business generated $24.4 billion of revenue. Microsoft's whole company, meanwhile, from Windows to Office to servers to XBox, generated $20.9 billion (see chart above).

If we assume that Apple generates the same operating profit margin on its iPhone business that it generates on its overall business--38%--the iPhone business generated about $9.3 billion of profit in the December quarter. All of Microsoft, meanwhile, generated only $8.2 billion."

MP: Let's hope that the Apple iPhone's phenomenal success doesn't trigger any government antitrust investigations, Congressional inquiries into "windfall profits," or legislation calling for a "Reasonable Profits Board" to control Apple's profits. 

Monday, February 06, 2012

Canadian Oil Renaissance From High Prices and New Technology, or Why Peak Oil is Peak Idiocy

From an article by energy economist Peter Tertzakian in the Calgary Herald:

"We are happy to report that the fundamental principles of economics are working well in the Canadian oil and gas industry, and the results are remarkable. We are witnessing an event that will change the way we think about oil, with many weighty consequences for corporate leaders, investors, policy makers, and purveyors of competitive energy sources. 

After 20 years of steady decline, light and medium oil production is now conclusively trending upward in Alberta. Take a look at the chart above, which could heighten the blood pressure of a few peak oil theorists.

The grey, dashed trend line shows how Alberta’s light and medium oil production was declining by an almost perfectly linear rate of 16,000 B/d every year up until late 2009. This predictable line extends back to the early-1990s, and more generally as far back as the peak of production in the 1970s. Extending the trend line past the recent turning point, I infer that production should have been 284,000 B/d in October 2011, the time of the most recent data point available. However, rather than declining, actual production has jumped up to 375,000 B/d, an increase of 91,000 B/d off the 20-year status quo.

In early 2011, common wisdom among industry veterans was that light and medium quality oil production would rise gently, reaching 375,000 B/d by 2017. The latest data shows the target was achieved six years early. High levels of capital expenditures targeting plays like the Viking and Cardium, along with innovation in drilling and completion techniques, suggest that Alberta’s light oil surge will continue.

I could stop this discussion right here and just file the chart above as an important factoid. Yet a broader interpretation is in order, because the ability to rejuvenate the tired oil-bearing rocks of a 100-year-old basin – a renaissance event that has long been assumed unthinkable by many industry veterans – is a terse validation of basic economic theory that goes back 120 years to Alfred Marshall.

For at least 20 years, highly coveted light oil had been written off as a declining resource in North America, as if the fundamental principles of economics had been violated. They have not. Abruptly rising light oil production in Alberta is a microcosmic event, also occurring in other continental locales, that is likely to have far reaching implications to the energy complex, those who invest in it, and even society at large."

Conclusion: "Human ingenuity in resource development has a long history of exerting "power over nature," just when we think the limits have been reached. New technology in tandem with a high commodity price has historically been a compelling recipe for disruptive changes in supply development. Today’s oil renaissance is no exception."

MP: As Julian Simon taught us, the ultimate resource is human ingenuity and the human imagination coupled to the human spirit, which is infinite and will therefore never reach a finite peak.  Or in the words of Mike Munger "Peak oil is peak idiocy."

HT: Christopher Jones

Markets in Everything: Virtual Retail Clinics

American Medical News -- "When patients walk into a NowClinic at any one of nine Detroit-area Rite Aid pharmacies, they can choose among multiple physicians to see about what's ailing them. Not see in person. See on a computer monitor.

What's going on at these Rite Aids is a merger of multiple trends focused on providing more convenience to patients than, presumably, a physician's office can deliver. Neither telemedicine nor retail clinics are new -- but combining them is.

Rite Aid and OptumHealth joined forces to find a less expensive alternative to traditional clinics, which are staffed by nurse practitioners and physician assistants who are contracted from a local hospital group. Those startup costs have been a factor as to why growth of retail clinics, until a nearly 100-location expansion by CVS' Minute Clinic in 2011, had been mostly flat in recent years. Rite Aid and OptumHealth decided it would be more cost-effective to go with virtual visits -- nurses and physicians seeing patients via a computer screen.

Here's how NowClinic works:

A patient walks into a private room, usually near the pharmacy counter, and registers himself or herself on the computer terminal. Either an account can be created with OptumHealth, or UnitedHealth Group plan members can use their member information, to avoid the registration process on subsequent visits. When registration is complete, the patient goes through a series of computer-prompted questions to get at the problem or complaint. The patient can access several free educational tools or talk with a nurse via video chat.

The services offered at Rite Aid are the same as for the online NowClinic: treatment of allergies, bladder infection, bronchitis, cough and cold, diarrhea, fever, insomnia, nausea, pink eye, rash, seasonal flu, sinus infection, sore throat and viral illness. There's no charge for virtual consultations with a nurse, who also can advise patients whether a doctor visit is warranted.

If the patient would rather talk to a physician -- or the nurse advises that the patient should -- he or she can pay $45 for a 10-minute visit and enter credit card information. The system does not accept insurance coverage, though patients can submit claims to their plan to get reimbursed. Patients can pick a physician from a list with background information, including specialties and customer reviews, for each physician. The physician can help guide the patient to in-person care, if needed, or write a prescription when appropriate."

Employment Trends Index Gains in January

"The Conference Board Employment Trends Index (ETI) increased 0.73% in January to 105.81, from 105.04 in December (see chart above). The January figure is also up 5.9 percent from the same month a year ago.

“The Employment Trends Index has been improving rapidly for four straight months, suggesting somewhat more robust job growth is likely to continue in this quarter,” says Gad Levanon, Director of Macroeconomic Research at The Conference Board. “Beyond that we still remain cautious. We expect sluggish growth in economic activity in the first half of 2012 and therefore we do not foresee the strengthening of the labor market to be sustained in the second quarter of 2012.”

This month’s strength in the ETI was driven by positive contributions from four of the eight components. The improving indicators include Percentage of Firms With Positions Not Able to Fill Right Now, Number of Employees Hired by the Temporary-Help Industry, Industrial Production, and Real Manufacturing and Trade Sales.  The Employment Trends Index aggregates eight labor-market indicators, each of which has proven accurate in its own area. Aggregating individual indicators into a composite index filters out “noise” to show underlying trends more clearly."

MP: Some additional evidence that the U.S. labor market is showing some signs of strength in recent months, and will continue to improve at least through the first quarter of this year.  January marks the 24th consecutive month of year-over-year gains in the ETI following 30 straight months of decline.  

Monday Morning Links

1. Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez has been denied permission to attend a film festival in Brazil, marking the 19th time in recent years that she has been denied an exit visa by the Cuban government.

2. The oil boom in western North Dakota is starting to head to the eastern part of the state.

3.  The credit card has hardly changed since the 1950s. If they really wanted to simplify our lives, the heads of Visa, MasterCard and American Express would take a trip to Kenya and learn about innovative mobile money transfers.

4. Star Parker offers some free advice for Mitt Romney before he discusses America's poor again: Read her book “Uncle Sam’s Plantation.” 

5. When it comes to economic confidence for 2011, Washington, D.C. residents stood apart from the rest of the country with the highest level of economic confidence by far; even second-place North Dakota's oil prosperity and 3.3% jobless rate couldn't come close.  

Markets in Everything: Naming Weather Fronts in Germany, But It Backfired for BMW AG's Mini

WSJ -- "A cold front that has raged across much of Europe over the past week has brought arctic temperatures, icy high winds and dozens of deaths. In addition to its human toll, it has been a marketing snafu for BMW AG's Mini brand.

Germany lets people—or companies—pick and sponsor the names of weather fronts. In recent years, these corporate weather sponsors have ranged from News Corp.'s 20th Century Fox—which paid for the names Yoda, Luke and Leia to promote the "Star Wars" film franchise—to a German online shoe-shopping site, a car dealership and a tax consultant.

A marketing agency for Mini decided that BMW should bet on a sponsorship that would make potential customers associate Mini's new roadster with brisk but sunny weather. For €299 ($394), it bought the name for a 2012 high-pressure area and dubbed it Cooper. It spent another €199 on a low-pressure system and secured the name Minnie.

But as Cooper swept through Eastern Europe, it brought more than the wintry sunshine Mini had hoped for. Temperatures sank to below minus 30 degrees Celsius, or minus 22 Fahrenheit, and more than 250 people have died, mostly in Ukraine, Poland and Romania.

Mini has since issued a statement, saying it regretted the cold snap's "catastrophic proportions" and deaths of its victims. "It was not intentional, and you cannot tell in advance what a weather system will do," it said."

Obama's Intrade Odds: From 50% to 57% in 90 Days

Obama's Intrade odds for re-election have risen gradually and steadily from below 50% in early November to now about 57%.

Smartphones Outsell PCs in 2011 for First Time

FORBES -- "2011 marked the beginning of a major shift toward mobile computing. Smartphone shipments topped PCs for the first time ever last year, by 73 million units, according to figures published by research firm Canalys on Friday.

Last year a total of 487.7 million smartphones were shipped. Only 414.6 million PCs, which include tablet PCs, shipped. That’s a 62.7 percent increase on shipments of smartphones over 2010. It’s yet another important step on the road from isolated, search-oriented computing to a more social, mobile, and inter-connected web. App sales have also exploded, marking a major shift away from traditional software and games."

HT: Bob Wright

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Betting in Everything: Superbowl Prop Bets

Prop bets for the Superbowl, available at Bovada, on almost anything and everything related to tomorrow's game and half-time show.  Hey, you can even bet on whether the coin toss is heads or tails!  Some examples:

How many times will Peyton Manning (Colts quarterback) be mentioned on TV?

How many times will Jim Irsay (Colts owner) be mentioned on TV?

Length of Kelly Clarkson's National Anthem: Over or under on 1 minute and 34 seconds

Kelly Clarkson's wardrobe: Super Bowl 46 or official NFL shirt, Colts Jersey or shirt, Giants Jersey or shirt, Patriots Jersey or shirt, or Anything else

Will Kelly Clarkson forget or omit at least one word of the national anthem?

Will Kelly Clarkson's bare belly be showing when she sings?

Will Madonna wear a hat at any point during the Super Bowl 2012 halftime show?

Will Madonna wear fishnet stockings at any point during Super Bowl 2012 halftime show?

Who will win the coin toss?

Will the team that wins the coin toss win the game?

Will there be a Score in the First 7 min 30 Seconds of the 1st Quarter?

Which team will get the first penalty?

And lots more...........

Update: A gambler won $50,000 on a $1,000 Superbowl bet with 50:1 odds that the first scoring play in the Superbowl would be a safety.  (h/t to Sprewell in the comments)

Schumpeterian Waves of Creative Destruction and Turmoil in the Energy Markets from Shale Gas

From the Washington Post:

"Cheap natural gas has also thrown energy markets into turmoil. It is impossible for almost any other source of electric power to compete, especially coal and nuclear. By trimming fuel bills, cheap gas has reduced incentives for energy conservation and efficiency. And it has left solar and wind, despite their own falling costs, heavily dependent on government mandates in California and roughly 30 other states, including Maryland."