In a new series called “Elementary Business,” the BBC’s Justin Rowlatt takes a new look at the economy -- using a microscope. He’s tracking the chemical elements that play an important role in the global economy, starting with phosphorous.
Phosphorous is in everything -- DNA, plant life, bacteria. The best known use of phosphorous is probably as a fertilizer. It’s an essential component of modern farming and helps increase the amount of crops a farmer can get from any one field.
And while phosphorous is everywhere, almost all the mineable phosphorous is in…Morocco.
“This is bigger than OPEC,” says Rowlatt “Morocco has a stranglehold on the world’s phosphorous market.”
Phosphorous is such an important part of agriculture today that an increase in the price of phosphorous would lead to higher food prices.
Rowlatt says there are attempts to “recover” phosphorous -- including those at a sewage plant in Slough, in the UK. The folks at that plant believe they could one day extract about 20 percent of the UK’s phosphorous needs from sewage.
The social networking site with 1.2 billion users released a cyberbullying prevention hub with suggestions on how to start conversations, both online and off, and take action on Facebook. It's the first step — but one digital advocacy group says it should have been taken earlier.
Jason Carter, the grandson of the 39th president, launched his campaign for Georgia's top job Thursday. He joins a handful of other relatives of past presidents and vice presidents who will be on ballots around the country in 2014.
New numbers out Thursday show America’s third quarter gross domestic product rose 2.8 percent, well above what economists predicted. The headline number may sound good at first, but it masks signs of ongoing economic weakness deeper in the report.
A bit of digging shows that 0.83 percentage point of the GDP boost came from the change in real private inventories. It may sound like an obscure technicality, but it is not. It’s actually quite simple and simply bad.
“Stores were accumulating a lot of goods to sell, but people weren’t buying them,” says Julia Coronado, chief North American economist at BNP Paribas.
You can see this at Big Fun Toy Store, a Cleveland shop specializing in collectibles. Owner Steve Presser says unexpectedly low third quarter numbers had him feeling as blue as the many Smurf toys lining his shelves.
“What we try to do, of course, is sell through our inventory,” Presser explains. “But if we buy too much in any given month, in this case it was September, I was a little concerned because we were hoping to have a strong summer going into the fall in the final quarter.”
Presser sells My Little Ponies too, but not enough bronies are buying them, an alarming development as his store enters its critical time.
“If I’m a retailer going into the holiday season, I’m very concerned right now,” says Hamilton College economics professor Ann Owen, who is talking about more than just tightwad Pony fans, of course. “Consumer confidence is low. The unemployment rate is still relatively high, and all of that impacts consumers’ decisions about making purchases.”
GDP is more than a single number -- it’s a bit like the Voltron set Presser sells, a big robot made out of several little ones (in that case, with animal heads, which are pretty cool) -- GDP is made of a number of numbers, and in this case, a small one, about inventories, tells us a little more than the big number. It’s an economic warning, but Presser is confident consumer spending will rebound toward the end of the year.
“I’m always a superior optimist and I’m looking for a very, very strong holiday season,” Presser says.
In other words, a seller of heroes and villains is confident good will prevail.
Mark Garrison: Dig a bit into today’s report and you’ll see 8-tenths percent of the boost in GDP came from the change in real private inventories. It may sound like an obscure technicality, but it is not. It’s actually quite simple and simply bad. Julia Coronado is chief economist at BNP Paribas.
Julia Coronado: Stores were accumulating a lot of goods to sell, but people weren’t buying them.
You can see this at Big Fun, a Cleveland toy store specializing in collectibles. Owner Steve Presser says low third quarter numbers had him feeling the color of the many Smurf toys lining the store shelves.
Steve Presser: What we try to do, of course, is sell through our inventory. But if we buy too much in any given month, in this case it was September, I was a little concerned because we were hoping to have a strong summer going into the fall in the final quarter.
Presser sells My Little Ponies too, but not enough bronies are buying them. Hamilton College economist Ann Owen says tightwad Pony fans are an economic nightmare at the worst time.
Ann Owen: If I’m a retailer going into the holiday season, I’m very concerned right now.
Ok, she wasn’t talking specifically about bronies not shopping, but about everybody.
Owen: Consumer confidence is low. The unemployment rate is still relatively high, and all of that impacts consumers’ decisions about making purchases.
GDP is more than a single number. It’s kinda like the Voltron set Presser sells, a big robot made out of several little ones, with animal heads, which I always thought was pretty cool. GDP is made of a number of numbers, and in this case, a small one, about inventories, tells us a little more than the big number. It’s a warning, but Presser’s confident consumer spending’ll rebound toward the end of the year.
Presser: Well, I’m always a superior optimist and I’m looking for a very, very strong holiday season.
In other words, a seller of heroes and villains is confident good will prevail. I'm Mark Garrison, for Marketplace.
The company founded 88 years ago is hurting for cash. Some analysts say RadioShack needs to have a killer holiday shopping season to survive another year. And to get much further, it has to answer a question it's long avoided: Is RadioShack a convenience store for techies, or a brand that inspires customer loyalty?
While RadioShack’s storefront with the red and white awning is familiar, fewer shoppers are venturing inside the store. In downtown San Francisco, Sunday afternoon is peak shopping time. But the RadioShack on Market Street is nearly empty.
There are a couple of creative types like Angel Whitney. She’s here to buy a six volt battery.
“I'm actually making colloidal silver at home. It's silver that you can drink."
Jos Cocquet loves the variety.
"There's all these cool electronic components here, like Arduinos." That's a microcontroller that lets you build your own electronics.
But Cocquet is not here to buy an Arduino, or anything else for that matter. Here's here to do research.
"I'm actually just checking out the floor space because I develop an iPhone case and I want to see what the packaging looks like."
On the other side of the country, in Manhattan, there’s another Radioshack with only one customer. Trish Scanlan just got to America and she’s looking for SIM card to use her international phone. After not finding it at a dozen stores, including RadioShack, she settles on a pre-paid phone.
"They were kind enough to have a very good value phone that I'm buying instead."
From coast to coast, Radioshack is a familiar haven for Do-It-Yourself junkies and last minute shoppers. It’s got something for everyone.
“That’s the problem,” says Michael Pachter, an analyst with Wedbush Securities.
"Radioshack has something like ten thousand different products,” he says, “The stores are cluttered."
Pachter says RadioShack is on its last leg and while its new CEO is a competent man, he doesn’t have enough capital to solve all the company’s problems.
"The CEO is making changes there but it's really a confusing place. It's not a real pleasant experience, and you have to look for the cool stuff."
Pachter says RadioShack does not neatly fit into the well-known tale of 'retail store dies as Internet sales surge.' The company survived as others like Crazy Eddie and The Wiz died.
But now, Radioshack has to build a relationship with a core group of dedicated customers.
“Home Depot has paint matching. You can come in with a chip and they’ll match the paint color. Abercrombie and Fitch has private label merchandise that you want. But RadioShack has neither.”
Last year, RadioShack got a bit of a boost by selling the iPhone. But this past quarter, profit decreased $98.1 million, or 28.8 percent when compared with the same period last year.
RadioShack is now clearing out old merchandise and undertaking minor and major renovations in two thousand stores nationwide.
The company didn't respond to our interview request. Last month on a quarterly earnings call, Chief Financial Officer Holly Etlin curtly dismissed an analyst who asked if the newly remodeled stores are making more money.
"We're not going to engage in commentary on profitability of individual stores. Next question please?"
On that same earnings call, CEO Joseph Magnacca said RadioShack's now going to move on to health gadgets for fitness junkies. But he also wants to win back the Do-It-Yourself crowd Radioshack neglected over the last decade.
"The new RadioShack can be relevant to both audiences by connecting on their shared mindset."
This strategy of casting a wide net, winning back the old customers and recruiting the new -- it just might be what got RadioShack into this predicament in the first place.
Regulators are cracking down on payday loans, leading some companies like Western Sky to shut down their loan operations.
Silicon Valley will soon open up a high-tech water recycling facility, capable of turning treated sewage into crystal clean water. In theory, it should be better than what comes out of kitchen sinks today. The purification is tough, but the hardest challenge is convincing people to drink it, even as freshwater becomes more scarce.