8 Fascinating Reads

Happy Friday! There are more good news articles, commentaries, and analyst reports on the Web every week than anyone could read in a month. Here are eight fascinating ones I read this week.

History 
The blog Calculated Risk made an awesome animation on how America's age distribution has changed over the the last century, and will change over the next half-century: 

U.S. Births per Year

Efficiencies
Josh Brown writes about a world where everyone invests in index funds:

You may want to consider that there is a major paradox at work here -- the more successful passive investing is in converting the masses, the less successful it will be going forward. The last thing a passive indexer should want is for everyone to stop guessing and trading in the markets. Massive amounts of speculation is what fuels the winship of the passive approach over other strategies. If there were only a handful of institutions left picking stocks and the whole world was sitting in a Vanguard fund, the returns of the pros would probably become incredible thanks to all the unexploited inefficiencies. 

Misconceptions
Analysts at JPMorgan attack the idea that investors are overweight bonds and underweight stocks:

It is often mentioned that the large inflows into bond funds over the past five years have made retail investors very overweight bonds and we should thus see a full reversal of these inflows over the coming years. This is incorrect. The AUM [assets under management] of bond funds as % of the sum of equity and bond funds (both mutual funds and ETFs) is very close to its historical average. Similarly the AUM of equity funds as % of the sum of equity and bond funds (both mutual funds and ETFs) is also very close to its historical average. That is, there is no evidence that retail investors are very overweight bonds or very underweight equities. If anything, the opposite is more likely to be true...

Productivity
The Atlantic writes a good piece on globalization and productivity:

Fifty years ago, the four most valuable U.S. companies employed an average of 430,000 people with an average market cap of $180 billion. These days, the largest U.S. companies have about 2X the market cap of their 1964 counterparts with one-fourth of the employees. That's what doing more with less looks like.

Reversal of fortunes
Bloomberg writes on the end of the gold boom:

"We're holding trash bags," said Philip Mann, 53, who with his wife put about $160,000, half their retirement savings, into gold and silver coins starting in 2009. They're now worth at least 40 percent less, including sales mark-ups, he said. The drop forced him to cash out a 401(k) retirement plan, losing money to penalties. It also drained resources for two sons' college bills and the planned purchase of a new home, said Mann, a retail supply chain manager in Portland, Tennessee.

Demography
The New York Times writes on an aging Europe:

In its most recent census, Germany discovered it had lost 1.5 million inhabitants. By 2060, experts say, the country could shrink by an additional 19 percent, to about 66 million.

Demographers say a similar future awaits other European countries, and the issue grows more pressing every day as Europe's seemingly endless economic troubles accelerate the decline. But bogged down with failed banks and dwindling budgets, few are in any position to do anything about it.

Fine print
Be careful renting textbooks from Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN  ) , writes Insider Higher Ed:

Students who rent textbooks through Amazon.com's Warehouse Deals may be unknowingly agreeing to an unusual condition: They are not permitted to cross state borders with their books.

According to the Textbook Rental Terms and Conditions page on Amazon.com, when renting through Warehouse Deals, which is an Amazon subsidiary, "You may not move the textbook out of the state to which it was originally shipped. If you wish to move the textbook out of that state, you must first purchase the textbook."

Explanations
Derek Thompson made a great video explaining why bottled water is so expensive. Watch it here. 

Enjoy your weekend.

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  • Report this Comment On August 16, 2013, at 2:55 PM, kyleleeh wrote:

    With regard to the Atlantic article, the numbers on employment in large firms have also changed due to restructuring. In the 50s a company like GM had complete control of it's vertical supply chain, that is they made everything that went into their cars. Today parts production has been subcontracted out and GMs much smaller work force just does final assembly with parts made by other workers, at other companies, in other countries.

    Despite all the claims I have read about automation and productivity killing manufacturing jobs, I keep coming back to one statistic: At the height of US manufacturing employment in the 70s we had about 25 million factory workers, Europe had about the same at that time. Today China alone has over 100 million factory workers. So how has productivity eliminated manufacturing jobs when more people then ever are working in manufacturing? It's because workers at subcontracting companies, in other countries don't get counted in the productivity numbers for the final company over here. Apples productivity per employee only looks huge because they don't count the 700k sub contractors in Asia producing Apple products. I don't think it's productivity that's reducing manufacturing jobs so much as statistical analysis.

  • Report this Comment On August 17, 2013, at 1:53 PM, herky46q wrote:

    Hope Josh Brown is wrong. He touches on a topic I wondered about feared would happen if everyone bought index funds. By the way, the link takes me to his site but it says the page does not exist.

    Also, neat bar graph animation. Wish there was a way to pause it.

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