National / International News
A merger in the pharmaceutical industry is up in the air after the U.S. Treasury Department cracked down on what are called corporate inversions. Illinois-based AbbVie is reconsidering a $54 billion deal to buy UK rival Shire. More on inversions and why the Obama administration wants to stop these deals from happening. Plus, Netflix has quietly raised prices for a service almost no one uses: streaming video in 4-K, or ultra-high-definition, used to be available for eight or nine dollars a month. Now, a subscription is $12 a month. Only a few manufacturers make devices with 4-K displays. So, why raise the price on a service that's not in high demand? And the price of oil is falling that's partly because the oil industry's been booming in this country. Well, a consequence of that growth is a shortage of regulators who oversee drilling.
The U.S. is the biggest importer of Mexican avocados—We eat about 1.7 billion pounds a year. But Mexico is eyeing an even larger market: Asia.
Behind 20-foot-doors in a chilly warehouse, hundreds of thousands of avocados are ripening in cardboard boxes.
“We take the rooms up as far as 72 degrees,” says Luis Galicia. He’s the assistant manager at Mission Produce’s ripening center in Grand Prairie, Texas.
Customers want to sell and use avocados at different stages of softness. So, Galicia explains, the avocados are heated to ripen only a certain amount, and then chilled at about 38 degrees.
The avocado business, he says, is hot. Mexican avocado sales increased by about 30 percent the first half of this year—and that’s not the result of a Chipotle rush or a Super Bowl guacamole bump. Yes, avocados are a popular condiment for sandwiches at Subway and breakfast items at Denny’s, but the real growth is happening in Asia. Japan is already the second largest importer of Mexican avocados. And in the first six months of 2014, Mexico sent nearly $3 million dollars worth of avocados to China.
Eduardo Serena, Marketing Director of the Mexican Avocado Industry, says for the first time, the industry will have marketing campaigns specifically designed for China and Japan.
“The thing with China is there isn’t an avocado consuming habit,” she says. “People aren’t familiar with the fruit yet.”
Right now, Serena says the most popular ways to eat avocados in Japan is with sushi, or fried.
“In China in particular, they like to use as smoothies as a juice, and also of course in soups,” Serena says. In today’s avocado awakening, there’s no wrong way to eat the fruit.
So go ahead, toss on the Tabasco, limón, or soy sauce.
Until recently, streaming Netflix video in 4K, or ultra-high-definition display, was available for $8 or $9 a month. It now requires a $12 dollar-a-month subscription.
Only a few manufacturers make devices with 4K displays, and it’s probably not too late to be the first on your block to get one.
"We’re expecting 10 million of these 4K TVs to be sold this year, worldwide," says Eric Smith, who looks at home-entertainment devices for Strategy Analytics. "And most of them are in China, actually."
But prices are dropping, and sales will probably go up. Smith says in a few years, a third of new TVs may be 4K.
Strategy Analytics projects that sales of ultra-high-definition TVs will climb in the next few years.Eric Smith/Strategy Analytics
Overall, getting 4K will mean paying more: a new TV, and probably more bandwidth, since the sharper picture takes four times as much data.
For Netflix, producing shows like “House of Cards” in 4K means spending more. The company says that’s why it's raising prices.
But, despite the costs, the tech ramp-up in video will continue.
"We’ll get to three-dimensional, eventually we’ll get to holographic projection," says Larry Hettick, who looks at consumer services for Current Analysis, a telecom consultancy. "And as the price point becomes bearable to consumers, then eventually they’re going to pay for it."
Medicare’s open enrollment period runs from October 15 to December 7.
The open enrollment is for Medicare Part D, prescription drug coverage, and for private Medicare Advantage plans. You can enroll in Medicare at age 65. The open enrollment period is when you tweak your coverage.
“It’s a little bit like eating your spinach," says Tricia Neuman, director of Medicare policy research at the Kaiser Family Foundation. "Nobody likes to do it.”
Neuman says most seniors are reluctant to change their Part D prescription plans, but should consider it.
“Just to be sure that there are no surprises," she says. "That might mean having greater difficulty seeing a doctor or difficulty getting a prescription you want to fill.”
Medicare is getting a few surprises from baby boomers. Almost two million more are expected to enroll this year.
They smoked less than their parents—Their problem is obesity.
“They’re likely to cost more than their parents did but not just because of living longer lives," says Kate Baicker, a health economist at Harvard. "But also because of having more complicated health conditions."
Conditions like diabetes and heart disease, for instance.
Regulators in Wyoming are hemorrhaging employees. The state’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration lost a quarter of its inspectors last year. The state’s Oil and Gas Conservation Commission fared no better. And Mark Watson, the oil and gas supervisor, says rehiring, especially for specialized positions, is extremely difficult.
“They're in demand and we don't pay as much,” he says.
“You know, that job," he says, "we’re competing with someone in industry that might have 20 years of experience and we probably would pay 50 percent less than what they could get in industry.”
That’s right. 50 percent less. Watson says he’s talked to new graduates whose first offers out of college are $25,000 more than he makes as the state’s top oil and gas regulator. And it’s not just him. Nationwide, petroleum engineers working in industry make 70 percent more than those working for governments, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“In the boom times, I’ll say, we especially have a hard time competing with industry when it comes to recruiting and retaining people,” says Michael Madrid, who heads the minerals division of the Bureau of Land Management in Wyoming. Right now, Madrid’s division is actually mostly staffed.
But there’s concern about the future, and not just in Wyoming. A recent report by the Government Accountability Office says BLM offices nationwide could find themselves short-handed as the boom continues. And Madrid says that would be bad for everyone, including industry.
“The work will eventually get done, but there’s long, significant delays if we’re short-handed,” he says.
Which is bad for those who want to keep the boom booming.
This story comes from Inside Energy, a public media collaboration focused on America’s energy issues.