Friday, May 25, 2012

What We’re Reading, 5/25/12

Every morning, we poll the staff and round up their favorite economic, financial and political reads of the day. On our minds this morning: beaches, barbecues, and the impending three-day weekend. (Er — make that oil prices, Tim Cook and really rich CEOs.)

"Gas Prices Moderately Lower as Driving Season Starts," by Clifford Krauss (New York Times). Some good news to get you in the Memorial Day mood: Gas prices are modestly lower now than they were a year ago, which should make traveling easier for all you weekend road-trippers. Even better, tensions with the Middle East have relaxed, making oil prices less volatile overall. Now for the bad news!

"New Signs of Global Slowdown," by Jon Hilsenrath and Joshua Mitchell (Wall Street Journal). A number of brow-furrowing economic reports dropped this week: U.S. business spending on long-term goods is down, business sentiment in Europe declined, manufacturing around the world dropped off and several international organizations cut their 2012 growth forecasts. “A new economic threat is emerging,” Hilsenrath and Mitchell explain, “… activity is slowing in sync around the globe and not just in a few markets with their own isolated problems.”

"J.P. Morgan Gave Risk Oversight to Museum Head Who Sat on AIG Board," by Dawn Kopecki and Max Abelson (Bloomberg). The guys who oversaw risk at J.P. Morgan are about as qualified for the job as your friendly curator — which is to say, not qualified at all. Of the three, none have worked at banks or as financial risk managers. Only one has Wall Street experience, and it is 25 years (!) out of date.

"Obama Stumbles Out of Gate," by Mike Allen and Jim Vandehei (Politico). The race to the 2012 election is a long one, and things that seem to matter now could fade by November. But there’s no ignoring the fact that President Obama is off to a slow start: Between sluggish fundraising and the Bain back-and-forth, he might lose the edge that Democrats expected.

"CSI: Housing Bust," by Beth Raymer (The Atlantic). While your friendly curator doubts that Digital Risk boasts the theme music and cheesy punchlines of a primetime crime show, the company’s work is pretty intriguing. Analysts there look for evidence of bust-era fraud — as in the case of a Las Vegas man who applied for 15 mortgages in a week, or a Michigan woman who refinanced her house five times in five years (and didn’t tell her lender she didn’t have a job).

"The Choice" (The Economist). While the “Grexit” was on everyone else’s minds, The Economist dreamt up another solution to Europe’s fiscal woes: a semi-federalist “superstate,” where countries rely on each other more than they do now. (What horrible portmanteau can we devise for this? The Euperstate, perhaps?) 

"How Tim Cook is Changing Apple," by Adam Lashinsky (Fortune). Apple’s new CEO worked in an Alabama paper mill, eats in the company cafeteria, and cares far more about investors than Steve Jobs did. 

Johns Hopkins Commencement Speech,” by Tim Geithner. Treasury Secretary Geithner talked economic recovery, Barack Obama and public image to graduates at the Nitze School. An excerpt: “If you are going to make a difference, especially in public life, you need to be willing to get close to the flame. You need to be willing to take risk and feel the heat … There was no precedent and no playbook available to any of us, other than the graveyard of mistakes from other crises. But we knew we had to act.”

And in other news: Jack White could teach econ 101, the FTC has its eyes on your POM, people rob banks to pay for dentures, and the country’s highest-paid CEO made — wait for it! — $137.2 million last year.

Happy reading, Tumblers!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

What We’re Reading, 4/5/12

Every morning, we poll the staff and round up their favorite economic, financial and political reads of the day. What we’re talking about over our coffee this morning: China, billionaires and psychopath investors. (Oh, and the four-year low in new jobless claims, which is good news all around.)

"The Dragon’s New Teeth" (The Economist). China’s defense spending could overtake America’s by 2035 — and the implications of that growth are far from theoretical. “Don’t be fooled into believing a Reaganesque arms race will leave China broke and divided as it did the Soviet Union. Beijing is ready for that scenario,” says Letter editor Ken Bazinet. “It’s another argument for wrapping up business in the Middle East and preparing for potential conflict in the Far East.”

"The 401(k): Americans ‘Just Not Prepared’ to Manage Their Own Retirement Funds," by Jia Lynn Yang (The Washington Post). Americans need their 401(k)s now more than ever. Unfortunately, most Americans also need the financial know-how to manage their accounts — and advocates aren’t quite sure how to teach them.

"A Lot of Gas," by Elizabeth Kolbert (The New Yorker). Gas prices have become a major point of rhetoric for Republican candidates, who accuse Obama of failing to bring them down. The problem? “Oil, as it is well known, is a global commodity traded on a global market,” Kolbert writes. “… the Obama Administration gas-price-hike conspiracy theory is nearly a hundred-per-cent hokum.”

"How Investing Turns Nice People Into Psychopaths," by Lynn Stout (The Atlantic). We’re won’t endorse this headline — none of us are psychopaths, after all (!) — but the excerpt from Stout’s recent book takes a very interesting turn through investor psychology. “What, exactly, do shareholders value?” she asks. And how did those values evolve?

"Low Ratings Could End Cable Deal for Gore’s Current TV," by Peter Lauria (Reuters). Have you watched Current TV lately? Neither have we. The channel’s ratings are so low, in fact, that they barely meet the requirement to stay on Time Warner Cable. 

"Twitter, Facebook Now Tools for Big Brother," by David Saleh Rauf (Politico). Mind your Tumbles — Uncle Sam now mines Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and a host of other social networking sites for intelligence information. ”Keep in mind they only mine data you make public,” says reporter John Miley. Then he adds, as an ominous aside: “… well, or so they say.”

"Living Like a Billionaire, If Only for a Day," by Kevin Roose (The New York Times). Roose takes on your friendly curator’s dream assignment: He spends one day living like the Wall Street execs he typically covers, then comes back and writes about it. Chaffeurs, private planes and operas are involved.

Friday, March 30, 2012

What We’re Reading, 3/30/12

Every morning, we poll the staff and round up their favorite economic, financial and political reads of the day. On our iPads and in our inboxes on this lovely Friday afternoon: record-breaking lotteries, record-breaking gas prices, and where we rank on the global pay scale.

"Big Payout, Big Suckers?" By Jordan Ellenberg (Slate). We probably don’t have to tell you that a record $640-million lottery drawing is going down tonight, but you might be interested in your odds. Slate resurfaced this 2001 column by mathematician Jordan Ellenberg — in it, he calculates his odds of winning a $280-million Powerball drawing. ($280 million? Child’s play!) “Is it really worth a buck to a buyer?” Asked digital director Doug Harbrecht after reading. “Depends how much you want the money.”

"Why Even Skeptics Are Buying a Mega Millions Ticket," by Bill Briggs (MSNBC). A look inside our psychological urge to defy even hopelessly poor odds.

"Everyone’s a Winner? The Role of Cognitive Biases in Lottery Playing," by Mark Griffiths. Senior editor Bob Frick dug up this fascinating academic analysis by gambling psychologist Mark Griffith. “It addresses an issue on everyone’s mind right now, and it’s a great summary of lottery psychology,” he says. Well, it’s clearly on your friendly curator’s mind. In other news…

"Full-Court Press" (The Economist). The arguments have ended and a decision’s months away, but that won’t stop us from ruminating on the implications of the health care reform case. Here, The Economist predicts it will “transform the power of the federal government” forever.

"Healthcare History: How the Patchwork Coverage Came to Be," by Bob Rosenblatt (LA Times). An intriguing explainer on the history behind our current insurance system — much of which can be traced back to World War II.

"The Great Gas Mystery: Higher Prices, But Continued Growth," by Andrew Leonard (Salon). Historically, less driving and economic disaster go hand in hand. But Americans are driving far less as gas prices edge toward four dollars a gallon — and the economic outlook seems pretty rosy. What’s going on? Leonard’s theory involves smartphones and social media, of all things.

"Barry Ritholz on the Causes of the Financial Crisis" (The Browser). Barry Ritholz is a noted Wall Street money manager and the man behind The Big Picture. Here, he recommends five books on the financial crisis — and a lot of colorful commentary on where and how the system collapsed.

"Where Are You On the Global Pay Scale?" (BBC). If you do one thing today, try out this quick interactive from the BBC. Your curator was heartened to see how far her entry-level paycheck will stretch abroad.

Friday, March 16, 2012

What We’re Reading, 3/16/2012

On our iPads and in our inboxes this morning: foreclosure, the 40-hour work week, and the strange ties between vasectomies and NCAA basketball. Here are some recommendations from the Kiplinger staff.

"Bring Back the 40-Hour Work Week," by Sara Robinson (Salon). Just in time for the weekend, a new argument for why working fewer hours makes us happier and more productive. Quips web editor David Muhlbaum: “Should I feel guilty for having read this at work?”

"Can It Be … the Recovery?" (The Economist). “The Economist cover story confirms what The Kiplinger Letter has forecast,” says political editor Ken Bazinet. “Yes, there is a global recovery, but it’s not exactly a scorcher.”

"Housed," by Aimee Phan (Guernica). The daughter of a Vietnamese refugee loses her house — and her mother’s American Dream. “After getting turned down for loan modifications, I realized I was not afraid of the possibility of our bank or creditors calling us, demanding their money,” Phan writes. “I was scared of my mother.”

"Young Adults OK With Moving Back Home," by Elizabeth Shell (NewsHour). NewsHour’s Business Desk has a handy take on Pew’s “Boomerang Generation" report, which found that three in 10 young adults have recently lived at home — and three in four of them felt okay about it.

And to end with a little levity — it is Friday, after all! — J.K. Rowling is no longer a billionaire, and more men get vasectomies during March Madness.

As always, please tweet us your reads!