Data Dive Thu, 10 Nov 2016 21:44:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 When money doesn’t buy everything Tue, 02 Jun 2015 14:17:12 +0000 The 2016 presidential race is already expected to be the most money-soaked in history, reports Reuters' Emily Flitter. With billionaires backing several of the contenders, campaign finance watchdog groups fear heavy spending by these ultra-rich Americans will warp the election. Big spenders, though, don't always get their candidates into office. As this Reuters graphic shows, large sums of money don't always translate into victory at the polls. Indeed, studies of the 2012 and 2014 elections by the Sunlight Foundation, a Washington-based non-profit that tracks political spending, show that most groups backed by billionaires had less success swaying election outcomes than groups controlled by trade organizations or professional political strategists.

The most effective spender? Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose pro-Republican Independence USA  group scored a 100 percent success rate in getting its candidates elected.billionaires

]]> 0 When fools rush in… Fri, 15 May 2015 18:48:14 +0000 If you want to see the greater fool theory in action, look no further than at what’s happening in the stock market. Since the year 2000 the average small-cap stock in the Russell 2000 Index is up 151% while the average blue chip in the Dow Jones Industrial Average has gained only 57%.



As a result, small-cap stocks now seem absurdly overpriced. According to investment research firm MSCI, the average small-cap stock’s price-earnings ratio is 29. The historical average P/E for stocks is about 15.

That’s why GMO, a well-respected mutual fund shop, recently put out one of its grimmest forecasts for small stocks — returns of -1% annualized for the next seven years or -3.2% after deducting inflation. High quality blue chips, by contrast, are expected to deliver 2.7% a year.

Yet investors keep pouring money into small-caps. According to Morningstar, small-cap exchange traded funds have experienced $3.3 billion in inflows in 2015 while large-cap ones have seen $35.9 billion in outflows in 2015.

The thing about bubbles is that speculators often realize stocks are overpriced, but think they’ll get out before the crash.  Both fools and angels know that’s always easier said than done.

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Now available from Wal-Mart: sunlight Fri, 15 May 2015 18:17:42 +0000 Wal-Mart is getting into the sunlight business.

Bowing to shareholder pressure, the retail giant will begin disclosing state-level details about its lobbying spending, Reuters’ Nathan Layne reported this week. The move is intended to provide further transparency into the millions of dollars that the company uses to gain influence on public policy.


As this Reuters graphic shows, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, in 2014 Wal-Mart doled out $7 million to lobbying groups including the Podesta Group and (former Oklahoma Senator Don) Nickles Group. State-level data from those that require it show that Wal-Marts spent additional hundreds of thousands in states like Texas, Florida and California, all of which have hundreds of Wal-Mart outlets.

Overall, Wal-Mart is nothing if not a bipartisan donor: top recipients for the 2014 campaign cycle included the National Republican Congressional Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

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The USDA’s honey bee report is a buzzkill Thu, 14 May 2015 19:32:49 +0000 The USDA just released a report on the state of America’s honey bees, and the news is not that sweet.


As this Reuters graphic shows, beekeepers reported a loss of 42.1 percent of their colonies in 2014/2015. Summer losses were 27.4 percent, and for the first time on record exceeded the winter rate, which was 23.1 percent. More than two-thirds of the 6,128 beekeepers surveyed reported winter loss rates above the 18.7 percent rate deemed the tipping point for economic sustainability. 

Bees impact 50-80 percent of the global food supply, so the issue extends beyond healthy sweeteners. A Cornell University study reported that insect pollinators contribute $29 billion to the U.S. farm economy, and the country has an estimated 2.74 million managed bee colonies which pollinate one-third of the country’s fruit and vegetable crops.

Indeed, the situation is serious enough to attract Washington’s attention: A subcommittee of the House Committee on Agriculture convened this week for a public hearing on pollinator health.

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The surprising numbers in Verizon’s AOL buy Wed, 13 May 2015 17:35:59 +0000 Verizon’s decision to purchase AOL made headlines, but in the realm of global telecom mergers it is little more than a side note.

TelecomDeals051315-620As this Reuters graphic shows, once debt is factored in, the Verizon acquisition is just the 13th biggest global deal so far this year. A number of the top 10 deals aren’t as much mergers as piecemeal purchases of desirable parts of one company’s business, and it’s unclear whether AOL will be kept intact or disassembled for parts.

So far, Verizon hasn’t done much to telegraph its intentions for AOL, though cannibalizing and/or relaunching some of the company’s components seems an option. AOL has discussed spinning off The Huffington Post, which is valued at as much as $1 billion, and many analysts see AOL’s mobile advertising capabilities as the company’s main asset.

AOL’s 2000 merger with Time Warner is generally regarded as a catastrophe, but those who bet on the company when it was subsequently spun back off look have made out pretty well. AOL’s stock closed at $23.50 on its first day back on the market back in 2009—that’s less than half of the $50 per share offer that Verizon made this week.

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Low oil prices have cost tens of thousands of American jobs Tue, 12 May 2015 18:42:32 +0000 EnergyLayoffs051215

As this Reuters graphic shows, planned layoffs in the energy sector have grown precipitously this calendar year, reflecting badly bruised oil prices. According to the outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas, employers announced workforce reductions totaling 61,582 in April–53 percent higher than the same month a year ago. So far this year, employers have announced 201,796 planned job cuts, which marks a 25 percent increase from the 161,639 layoffs tracked in the first four months of 2014. This is the largest four-month total since 2010.

While low oil prices provide a net employment increase for the majority of U.S. states, those particularly invested in oil production are seeing the employment pinch coincide with a dramatic fall in oil and gas severance-tax revenues.  Last week the number of active oil rigs in the U.S. fell again for the 22nd straight week, and the 668 working rigs is off 58 percent from an October high of 1,609. Every oil drilling project in the world has a break-even price, beneath which production becomes a self-inflicted wound to one’s bottom line. As they ride out the price slump, U.S. producers appear to be choosing painful job cuts over shooting themselves in the foot financially.

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How an El Nino works Mon, 11 May 2015 16:48:48 +0000 After one of the most dispiriting winters in memory, we could use a break from the weather. Alas, the winds may not be blowing in our direction.


As this Reuters graphic shows, El Ninos recur every three to eight years, and it has been five years since the last one.  The conditions for an El Nino, which is characterized by consecutive months of particularly warm Pacific Ocean temperatures, were met last June. Then in February, Pacific trade winds began to stagnate, allowing the warm waters and storm clouds to drift east toward the Americas.

Predictions from meteorologists in AustraliaJapan and the U.S. all recently increased their probability of an event this year, to as much as 70 percent. Aside from months of deluge in the U.S., the effects of an El Nino could include the warmest year on record, and then, if combined with further Arctic ice melt, a particularly cold winter in Europe.

When the strongest El Nino on record occurred in 1997-98, a 75-year-old Californian named Al Nino received angry phone calls demanding answers. If the rains come again this year, let’s hope people maintain better poise.

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Who will rule Britannia? Thu, 07 May 2015 17:29:14 +0000 British citizens are heading to the polls today in what is expected to be the closest election in decades, but the real outcome may not be known for some time.

BritPolls050715-620As these Reuters graphics show, the Conservative and Labour parties are neck-and-neck, with each earning between 30 and 35 percent of the projected vote in the most recent tallies from six major polling outfits. In all likelihood neither party will reach a majority in the country’s 650-person parliament, meaning that they will need to either broker a formal coalition government with the country’s smaller parties, or run a limited-power minority government.

Beyond control of one of the world’s largest economies — with a nuclear arsenal to boot — major issues at stake include whether the Great Britain should leave the European Union and the fate of Scotland independence movement. British law allows for two-thirds of parliament to call an early election at any time, and a simple majority can put a no-confidence vote in motion, which could also lead to another election.

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Banking on where Millennials will put their money Wed, 06 May 2015 17:12:57 +0000 Millennials are famous for disrupting many of their parents’ institutions, but they may be fairly traditional investors.


As this Reuters graphic shows, according to the Pew research Center, millennials now number 75.3 million, slightly edging baby boomers for America’s most populous generation. The number of Americans in their early-30s will soon be higher than at any time in history, and for many this coming of age will arrive with a number of adult life’s traditional trappings — and a predicted $7 trillion in spending power by the end of this decade.

Working from the belief that millennials aren’t really that much different than past generations, Smead Value Fund’s Bill Smead is betting on twentysomethings’ emergence into parenthood, devoting two-thirds of his portfolio to companies that will cater to the parents of Generation Z. Companies like Gannett, JP Morgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway line his fund, present under the philosophy that family life makes formerly unsexy concepts like banking, home ownership and community interest suddenly appealing.

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Mapping Boko Haram’s decline in Nigeria Tue, 05 May 2015 20:44:07 +0000 As this Reuters graphic shows, since launching a counter-attack against Boko Haram in January, the Nigerian army and some 8,700 allied troops have systemically contained the Islamist fighting force. 


Nearly 700 girls and women were freed this past week during the push to confine the group in the Sambisa Forest. Some of those freed described Boko Haram soldiers as dispirited and in disarray, lacking guns, ammunition and working vehicles, and openly criticizing their leadership while speaking of desertion.

It has been over a year since the Islamist terrorist organization Boko Haram kidnapped 276 girls from their school in Chibok, prompting world-wide outrage under the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag. More than 200 of those girls are still missing, among the more than 2,000 girls and women that Amnesty International says were taken by the Islamist group since the beginning of last year. UNICEF believes the 1.5 million people displaced by the fighting in northeastern Nigeria includes 800,000 children.

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