Felix Salmon

How helium is like mortgages

John Kemp might just have delivered the perfect John Kemp column yesterday: 1,700 words on an obscure commodity you probably didn’t even realize was a commodity. In this case, it’s a noble gas: the Federal Helium Reserve (yes, there’s a Federal Helium Reserve) is at risk of imminent shutdown, which in turn threatens everything from the semiconductor industry to MRI scanners. Already, at least one particle accelerator had to delay operations “because of problems obtaining fresh supplies of helium.”

Why fuel-economy standards make sense

Eduardo Porter has a very good explanation, today, of why it makes much more sense, from an economic perspective, to simply start raising gasoline taxes than it does to implement ever-tougher fuel-efficiency standards. But before we get to the meat of his argument, it’s worth correcting his numbers. Here’s his conclusion:

The gold price tells us nothing about inflation

Matthew Bishop and I have a fundamental disagreement when it comes to gold. There’s a “canary in a gold mine,” says Matthew: when the price of gold goes up, “it tells you we should worry about why it’s going up, and what it tells you about the value of paper currency.”

How to get $12 billion of gold to Venezuela

Ever since the news broke last week that Hugo Chávez wanted to transport 211 tons of physical gold from Europe to Caracas, I’ve been wondering how on earth he possibly intends to do such a thing.

Chart of the day: Commodity flows

This chart comes from a presentation on commodity ETFs by my Reuters colleague Andy Home:

Why commodities crashed

If you want to see market reporting done right, I can recommend the 2,000-word Reuters special report on Thursday’s commodities crash. It doesn’t just pick a random news event or gesture vaguely at “worries about economic growth” while saying what prices did: it looks at the mechanisms behind the market moves and what might have caused them.

Fat tail of the day, oil edition

This is what a fat tail looks like: crude oil is down 8.8% today. According to my colleague John Kemp, who knows everything, the standard deviation of oil prices, on a daily basis, is 1.64%. Which means that today’s price movement is equal to 5.4 standard deviations.

Why Glencore’s going public

I can highly recommend the big Reuters report on Glencore, a company likely to go public some time in the second quarter at a valuation somewhere in the neighborhood of $60 billion.

The WSJ vs Christopher Pia

The WSJ is going big today on this shocker from Susan Pulliam, splashing it across the front page of both the newspaper and the website: