8 Fascinating Reads

Happy Friday! There are more good news articles on the Web every week than anyone could read in a month. Here are eight fascinating pieces I read this week.

Getting by

Student loans aren't just for tuition, writes The Wall Street Journal:

Some Americans caught in the weak job market are lining up for federal student aid, not for education that boosts their employment prospects but for the chance to take out low-cost loans, sometimes with little intention of getting a degree ... At one of Capella's master's programs, the typical graduate left with about $30,200 in student debt even though tuition, fees and book costs totaled roughly $18,800.

Knowledge

Wikipedia may save your life, writes The Advisory Board:

Patients and physicians turn to Wikipedia for health care information more than any other source, according to a new IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics report.

According to the report, 50% of physicians said they have consulted the site for information on certain medical conditions. IMS found that Wikipedia's top 100 English pages for health care topics were each accessed an average of 1.9 million times during the past year. 

The market was down

I love this satirical piece by B.J. Novak:

Nobody knew why the market was down that day. But it didn't stop everyone from having a theory.

"Worries over Spain's role in the EU brought the market down today," said a woman on the radio. "The market had an off day today, due to uncertainty in oil futures," announced a man on television. "Market Slightly Down as Health Care Details Come into Focus" wrote a newspaper writer.

The truth was no one knew why the market was down. It started the day, just... down. It stayed down most of the day. It had an up moment for a little bit around lunch, but was still, just, down.

Blue skies smiling at me

Here are the happiest, and least happy, states in America, according to Gallup:

Know your customers

Ford (NYSE: F  ) is allegedly designing its trucks for a target audience: Fat men:

Ford has gone to great lengths to ensure that the 2015 Ford F-150 can handle stereotypical pickup truck drivers: big ass'ed American men.

The Detroit News found out Ford had 'hefty men' weighing between 265 and 275 pounds working 10 hour days developing the 2015 Ford F-150. Their task: Get in and out of the truck "at least 10,000 times over a week" to make sure the seats were up to the girth of American pickup owners.

Parched

The Economist writes about California's drought: 

Farmers flood the land to grow rice, alfalfa and other thirsty crops. By one account, over the years they have paid just 15% of the capital costs of the federal system that delivers much of their irrigation water. If water were priced properly, it is a safe bet that they would waste far less of it, and the effects of California's drought--its worst in recorded history--would not be so severe.

Keep it simple, stupid

The University of California invested in a complex, high-fee derivative investment. Total shocker this occurred

The University of California has lost tens of millions of dollars, and is set to lose far more, after making risky bets on interest rates on the advice of Wall Street bankers.

University officials agreed to the financial deals – complex contracts known as interest rate swaps – because they believed they could save money in the midst of an aggressive building spree.

But the deals are now costing the university an estimated $6 million a year, according to its financial statements.

And university accountants estimate the 10-campus system will lose as much as $136 million over the next 34 years that it is locked into the deals. Those potential losses would be reduced only if interest rates start to rise.

Payoff

Ben Bernanke is enjoying retirement, writes CNNMoney

Bernanke, who was paid $199,700 as chairman of the Federal Reserve last year, is now commanding as much as $250,000 per speech, according to Reuters. And he's got three speaking engagements on his calendar this week alone.

Enjoy your weekend. 

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Read/Post Comments (9) | Recommend This Article (18)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On March 07, 2014, at 1:56 PM, SMFT wrote:

    When I lived in Sacramento, I used to drive by the huge rice-paddies alongside the Sacramento River. It always blew me away that the arid "savannah" environment of this locale could be a rice-growing center. Then, I learned that, as part of the old trade war with Japan (when they crushed us with auto imports - during Reagan Presidency) we negotiated a trade deal which obligated Japan to import rice from the U.S. - at prices well above going market rates. If I owned land, and had water rights alongside the delta, it was, essentially, a license to print money - so why the hell not, right? Worst part? The Japanese thought the California grown "Japonica" rice was sub-standard. It mostly got used in production of cooking wines.....

    Perhaps this quota still exists?

  • Report this Comment On March 07, 2014, at 4:16 PM, kyleleeh wrote:

    The area in Sacramento that we grow rice is in the delta. It's already a natural wet land, from all the rivers converging there. It's not like we grow rice in Death valley. Rice farmers were attracted to the area in the first place because it was already flooded.

  • Report this Comment On March 07, 2014, at 6:55 PM, dannyclyde1 wrote:

    Morgan, I generally very much enjoy your references and articles. The Wall Street Journal article showing more student debt than the cost of the tuition, books and fees shouldn't be surprising in that it just means that the student needed additional funds for living while in school that they weren't able to replace with a job.

  • Report this Comment On March 08, 2014, at 10:24 AM, XXF wrote:

    Is the University of California one supposed to be satire as well? Interest rate swaps are basically the least complex financial instrument there is, and based off of the description I can tell you the type they have, a variable to fixed rate swap, was entered into because the University is risk averse and wanted to manage their risk of rising interest rates by getting a fixed rate on variable debt issues.

    That's like saying "Wall Street Bankers" tricked Jim and Phyllis into getting a 4.25 percent fixed rate mortgage when they could have had a 3.25 variable rate mortgage. Well yeah, they could have, but they were risk averse and there is a chance of interest rates rising up to 10% during the course of their mortgage so they were willing to pay a higher fixed rate. The exact same thing at the University.

    It just isn't as good a story without the scary "Wall Street Bankers" though. Pitiful.

  • Report this Comment On March 09, 2014, at 6:53 AM, gkirkmf wrote:

    RE: Ben Bernanke is enjoying retirement.....

    This is just another way that corporate bribes are paid to politicians, X presidents and congressmen also being part of the group receiving them. We probably need a law.... Anyone care to write it?

    How about we tax all income earned after their time in office over the federal poverty level, at 100%, for all congressional members, federal court justices, the president and VP, and all federal appointees, until such time as they have paid back all the salary and expenses paid to them during their time in office... excluding of course any income received as a result of genuine labor (fast food work, coal mining, etc.).

    Anyone else have one?

  • Report this Comment On March 09, 2014, at 10:35 AM, Mathman6577 wrote:

    I think the Economist really needs to wake up and write about the true reason for the lack of water available to small-time farmers in the eastern portion of California's Central Valley. And it's not due to the fact that the farmers are wasting it or have not paid "their fair share". One reason is that to protect certain types of fish (yes, fish) environmental groups have been pressuring the government to write laws and issue regulations that have the net effect of diverting water elsewhere (into the SF Bay for example).

    There is plenty of water available (and at a fair price) -- the problem is that is being wasted because of an obstructive group of misguided people.

    P.S. I don't want to hear about any "studies" (likely performed by the same group of obstructionists).

  • Report this Comment On March 09, 2014, at 10:39 AM, Mathman6577 wrote:

    @ XXF: Good point about the Wall Street influence on the Univ. California investing system. If someone told you to jump off a cliff would you? Greedy people sometimes do stupid things to try to make money w/o really working for it or understanding it. I guess they missed Warren Buffett's annual letter -- make "simple" investments. What he meant by "simple" is that you need to understand the risks associated with it (not that it is simple to begin with).

  • Report this Comment On March 09, 2014, at 5:50 PM, Mega wrote:

    Yeah, agree with XXF. A lot of municipalities are whining and trying to blame bankers for simple interest rate swaps deals that they entered into. You can bet they wouldn't be complaining if interest rates had gone the other direction.

  • Report this Comment On March 10, 2014, at 12:16 AM, lowmaple wrote:

    XXF: yes insurance cost money. People pay for life insurance and of course the sellers are doing it to make a profit. Ask Warren.

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