National / International News
“It’s not an exaggeration to say as goes the consumer, so goes the economy,” says Scott Clemons, chief investment strategist at Brown Brothers Harriman Private Banking. That’s why consumer confidence is one of the leading economic indicators, it tells us how consumers feel about the economy and what their expectations are, which are clues on how the economy is doing and where it’s going.
But that consumer survey data isn’t free. At least, not all of it.
“The top line data we release publicly, for anyone to avail themselves of,” says Lynn Franco, director of economic indicators at the Conference Board, the source of one the Consumer Confidence Index – one of the two most widely known consumer surveys.
While the top line, or general data, is free, if you want to know more it’ll cost you. “What folks are subscribing to then is the more detailed information,” says Franco.
The Conference Board’s subscriptions to its in depth data start at $629 a month.
That pales in comparison to what the other major source of data charged recently. The University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, which creates its Surveys of Consumers, charged Thomson Reuters more than $1 million a year up through 2014.
That, however, was for exclusive rights to the data. Thomson Reuters with the cooperation of the University supplied the data early to investors who paid extra – on the order of $5000 per month. These subscribers got only a 2 second head start – but that was plenty of time for electronic traders.
Since January of 2015, the University sells its detailed data to Bloomberg, and offers its general data for free simultaneously on its website. While the contract with Bloomberg is not exclusive, Bloomberg is the only one buying the data. The firm ended the practice of selling early access.
Who uses consumer confidence data?
“It ranges from economists to government agencies to retailers,” says Franco.
Economists such as Kristin Reynolds with consulting firm HIS uses the data in conjunction with troves of other data points in forecasting. “We try to look at a trend and look for changes in the direction of the economy,” she says.
That’s gold for just about any industry – all from our feelings!
People like to say Superstorm Sandy was a wakeup call. As it approached New York City in October 2012, businesses there had no choice but to rely on an age-old technique.
"Sandbags!,” says Bryan Koop. He's a vice president of Boston Properties, one of the country’s largest owners and developers of office buildings. “I'm pretty sure those were around when the Romans were building buildings."
In the aftermath of Sandy, East Coast companies like Koop’s went in search of new ways to protect themselves from flooding. Since then many have made hefty investments in one particular product: the AquaFence. Boston Properties sustainability Manager, Ben Myers, says it’s the only good option out there.
"We did look at one inflatable solution that wasn't as easily deployed and was inflatable, so it could puncture and – not work,” Myers laughs.
Boston Properties installed an AquaFence system around its signature property, Atlantic Wharf, which sits adjacent to the Boston Harbor. There’s no sign of anything different with the building until a storm approaches. When one does, a few workers pull out the AquaFence’s Ikea-like interchangeable parts from where they’re stored under the building’s parking lot.
"I've heard stories that when Sandy hit New York, there were trucks were stopped, material supplies were commandeered for the emergency response," Myers says. "This is here, it's secure, we're not waiting for sand or supplies to be shipped in from an outside point."
The team anchors each part of the fence to small hooks usually hidden under bricks surrounding the structure. When they’re done, the AquaFence turns the building into a walled city, with one difference: the side of the wall facing out—toward the encroaching storm water—is connected to a series of panels that lie on the ground. Floodwater is supposed to cover those panels on the ground, weighing them down and strengthening the whole AquaFence.
"We can keep this up piecemeal. We can keep our entrances open, we can keep our parking garage open, right until the last minute,” Atlantic Wharf property manager Barrett Cooke says. “We actually have portable staircases that would be strategically placed near our entrance points that are means for people to easily walk across it."
Forty AquaFences have been installed around buildings in Manhattan and Brooklyn since Sandy. At a couple hundred thousand dollars each, it’s not a small investment. But the AquaFence’s big selling point is that you can put it up when you need it, fast.
“Eight hundred linear feet of fence—going up in a matter of a couple hours,” Koop marvels.
And it’s all reusable. Adam Goldberg, director of the New Jersey-based AquaFence company, says several AquaFences have been through floods multiple times successfully.
“There’s a grain facility in Hungary that has used the panels four times in four years,” he says.
Goldberg says the product is spreading fast—there are more than 50 in the US and another 20 in other countries.
“We had sales increases of about 200 percent, year over year, for the last three years in the US,” he says. “Last year alone we had over 40 projects.”
Amy Garlit is not afraid to admit it: she sometimes drinks Pedialyte when she's hung over.
“If I know I'm going to have a crazy night out I'll buy some in advance for the next day,” she says.
Click the player above to see Marketplace staff try Pedialyte for themselves.
Garlit, 30, says she used to drink Gatorade after a big night out—like a pub crawl—to rehydrate. Then a friend turned her on to Pedialyte a couple years ago.
Pedialyte, an electrolyte-filled drink used to rehydrate kids with stomach flu, is now getting traction among lots of adults like Garlit.
Abbott Laboratories, which makes the beverage, says adult use of the drink has increased by 57 percent since 2012. The top reasons for adult use are stomach flu and hang-overs.
“Today we know that more than a third of our sales actually come from that adult use,” says Michelle Zendah, an Abbott spokeswoman.
Zendah says the company is trying to appeal to its new customer base with flavors like strawberry lemonade and orange. Zendah says they’re “a little more appealing than a Grape or a Fruit Punch that a child would prefer.”
A new social media marketing campaign includes quips like Pedialyte goes well "with both red and white." Wine, that is.
“The question is, how do you keep your marketing mix consistent with the two segments,” asks Carlos Torelli, a marketing professor at the University of Minnesota. He says some parents might find Pedialyte's new identity hard to swallow.
“Because they don't think that the kids should be drinking something that somebody drinks after a hangover,” he says. “Although it might be chemically the same thing, it might look weird.”
Torrelli says it might make sense for Abbott to have two separately branded drinks. The company says it currently has no such plans.
Video produced by Preditorial
It's time for Silicon Tally! How well have you kept up with the week in tech news?
Click the media player above to play along with this week's quiz.