Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Economy: Sex On Campus

Recently the online version of the U.K.`s Daily Mail had an interesting headline: "Finance students are the most promiscuous on campus" (dailymail). The article refers to polls that show that students of economics have the most sex partners on campus (5 on average), beating all other faculties. The authors regard this result as a surprise because students of economics are "traditionally seen as being among the most hardworking and conscientious of students - perhaps even a little dull".

Being an economist by myself I consider the result as quite natural. Students of economics may just practice what they study! Economics is about demand and supply (including mating partners) and about rational behaving. Economists assume that people continously compare benefits and costs of their behavior (homo economicus).

The professors Richard McKenzie and Gordon Tullock describe this in their book "The Best of the New World of Economics" (amazon.com), which includes a chapter on “Sexual behavior” including "A model of sexual behavior". Sex, as with any action, is worth committing to as long as its causes gains that are higher than its costs (maximizing of utility). "For every act there is a cost, and it is this cost that will determine whether or not (or how much) something will be done", they write.

Sex, and especially promiscuous dating, has a lot of costs. For instance the time (and energy) which is lost for studying. Promiscuous dating could therefore threaten the success of the studies. But, as the statistics shows, for many students sex very often creates greater gains than losses.

Another economist, Prof. Gary Becker, who received the Nobel price in 1992, wrote about the economy of the family including a theory of marriage. Promiscuous dating on the campus could result in a better knowledge of the other sex and develop communication skills and hence be a part of a selection process to find the most appropriate mate. In the language of economist the cost of sex could be an investment in human capital (knowledge) and hence an investment into the future.

Recently 2 economists, Lloyd Shapley and Alvin Roth, won the Noble Prize "for showing the best way to match people with what they really want", writes Slate (slate). Both scientists applied game theory to explain and support different kind of matching, including marriage.

I wouldn´t be surprised if clever financial students use game theory and other knowledge, that they have acquired during their studies, for choosing their mates and allotting their time they invest into them.





Monday, October 29, 2012

Stock Market: What Investors Could Learn From US Consumers

The stock market is still singing the blues. It seems that investors are scared by the alleged fiscal cliff (possible expiration of US public debt contracts which could cause massive tax rises), European debt crises and speculation on a hard landing of the Chinese economy. But the US consumer don´t give a f…..k.

This morning we got news that "U.S. consumers increased their spending in September by the fastest rate since late winter" (marketwatch). Last month consumer spending rose a seasonally adjusted 0.8%. The U.S. economy expanded at a 2% pace in the third quarter, up from 1.3% in the prior three-month period, largely because consumers boosted outlays, writes Marketwatch.

The US consumers are definitely more optimistic than the despondent investors. In spite of the gloomy headlines in the media they believe into the future of the US economy and the companies. Helpful are the gains on the stock market (S&P 500 rose 12% year to date) and the recovery of the US home market.

This is good news for the global economy. Consumer spending represents as much as 70% of the U.S. economy and is usually the biggest driver of growth. When Americans buy more goods and services, Volkswagen, Samsung, Gucci et. al. will export more goods to the US. Hence US consumers have been the engine of the recent stock market rally of the last 12 months.

I recon that the investors could learn from the consumers and return to the stock market. The ongoing consumer optimism is a major force for the stock market and will revitalize the rally because the rising costumer spending will drive company profits and stock prices further north.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Stock Market: Why This Earnings Season Is Encouraging!

The stock market is singing the blues again. "Concern about a worsening of the earnings picture has sent the S&P 500 down 3.5 percent from this year’s high on Sept. 14", writes Bloomberg (bloomberg). They also report, that "earnings at about 70% of the index’s companies beat analysts’ estimates", but "third-quarter sales missed forecasts at 60% of companies" (bloomberg). It looks like  the investors are focusing on the bad revenue numbers and ignore the profits. "Weak earnings spark selloff", comments the Wall Street Journal (online.wsj.com).

I reckon that this is a misjudgment and could lead to a (positive) correction in the coming weeks. The solid numbers of earnings beats shows that the S&P companies are still very efficient and productive. They manage to generate solid profits in spite of the sluggish global economy! When the world economy has overcome its weak phase this efficiency should lead to a strong profit growth again and hence generate remarkable gains on the stock market.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Oil: Game Over?

According to Bloomberg, today Iran threatened, "to halt all oil exports if sanctions intensify" (bloomberg). And Iran`s oil minister Rostam Qasemi claimed: "The lack of Iranian oil in the market would drastically add to the price” (bloomberg).

But the price of oil didn't respond with a price jump today. Quite to the contrary, Brent Crude, the future for the international variety of oil, fell around 1% to $108.4.

I believe this reaction is another proof that oil is the mother of all bubbles. For years oil has been expensive because of continuous speculation on possible supply disruptions from Iran and other nations in this region. Therefore oil prices didn`t represent the supple/demand situation on the markets anymore.

The high oil price induced an expansion of oil production, for instance in the U.S. and Iraq, and simultaneously curbed the demand for oil. I reckon this led to an overproduction and an oil glut on the markets.

Hence, I reckon the oil price is overstrung. The over supply is now pushing the oil price down. Even if Iran would realize it´s thread, the price of oil wouldn´t rise much because of the flood of oil from other producers and the high stocks. The vain saber rattling of Iran is a sign that the world doesn`t need their oil anymore.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Restaurants/Lifestyle: Pure, Köln

Köln (Cologne, Germany) doesn´t really compete with New York City, of course. But recently - during a short Germany visit from my American girlfriend - we found a place we will miss there.

As we walked on Cologne`s Breite Straße a cafe/bar/restaurant there caught our eyes because of its design and illumination: Pure (pure-cologne.de/). The place is in a small glass pavilion, which reminds me a bit of the famous Apple store on New York`s Fifth Avenue - and it glowed in a purple light. The design made us curious and we took a look on their menu. The description and names of the dishes almost looked like  poems.

We decided spontaneously and took our dinner there. Starters :"In Chili gebratenes Steak von der Jakobsmuschel auf Pastinaken-Trüffelstampf" (in chili fried steak from scallop on pounded parsnip ) & "Roastbeef rosé gebraten auf Gartensalad mit Röstkartoffeln and Sauce Remoulade" (roast beef medium rare on garden salad with fried potatoes and sauce remoulade).
Endres: "Heilbutt an sautierten passepierre und Kartoffelroulade" (halibut  at sautéd "passepiere" and potato roulade) & "Doradenfilet in Zitronenöl gebraten an Blattspinat" (filet from gilt head fried in lemon oil at leave spinach).
Desserts: "Panna Cotta auf Waldfruchtspiegel" & "Warmes Schokoladentörtchen mit flüssigem Kern an Pistazieneis und frischen Früchten" (warm chocolate tarte at pistachio ice cream and fresh fruit).

Their menu, which you can find here (pure  and pdf pure),  offers a lot more food and varieties of beers, cocktails and other drinks. Our food and the bottle of chardonnay that accompanied our dinner were delicious and reasonable priced (you can find their prices on their website).

New York city has a lot of ritzy places, but most of them serve just sandwich and burgers. You have to be very lucky to find such a menu for reasonable prices. Bravo Cologne and bravo Pure.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Travelling: Mercedes-Benz Museum, Stuttgart

Last week I travelled to the south of Germany to show my American girlfriend the area where I grew up. We stayed 2 nights in Stuttgart, the cool and wealthy capital of the federal state Baden-Württemberg (wikipedia). The "Schwabenmetropole" (Swabian metropolis, referring to the Swabian dialect spoken there) is spread across a variety of green hills (some of them are used as vineyards) but also is the heart of a dense industrial area hosting world market leaders like Daimler Benz, the maker of the prestigious Mercedes,  Porsche and Bosch (engineering & electronics).

The highlight of our Stuttgart visit was the Mercedes-Benz Museum (mercedes-benz-classic.com). This automotive show is a must see. The exhibition is located between the Mercedes factories in Bad Cannstatt, one of Stuttgart´s suburbs. You can easily reach the place by S-Bahn (S1) which also has a stop at Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof (main station).

The museum shows the evolution of the automobile from the inventions by Karl Benz, Gottlieb Daimler & Wilhelm Maybach through the high-tech transport system of our times. The device of the show, "tradition meets innovation", is well chosen. The collection is a travel through time and you can learn a lot about the evolution of technologies, because engines developed by Benz, Daimler & Maybach also were used for powering trains, boats and planes, as you can see there.

The exhibition is accompanied by presentation boards and movies about the industrial revolution, which was heavily promoted by the invention of cars and their further development, and also gives a glimpse on the history of Germany as an important industrial country.

The exhibited engines are combined with movies and sound effects (for instance from car races) which generate a fascinating multimedia show. Some of the exhibited motors & cars are quite beauties, comparable with pieces of modern art.

The building, which hosts the exhibition, is a piece of art by itself and a marvel of modern architecture. We went up by elevator to the highest floor where the chronological structured exhibition starts and walked then down following a tour which is shaped like the double helix of DNA. The walk was pure pleasure and is highly recommended.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Movies: The Paperboy

The days are getting colder now. Here is something what could you make sweating again: The movie "The Paperboy" (imdb). It`s a tale about sex and violence in the swamp. Two journalists plus a sporty young man and an adventurous groupie of death of row inmates are trying to free a convicted murderer whom they regard as innocent. The plot is set in Florida in the year 1969 and also reflects the political "redneck" situation of this era including the then racist climate in the southern US.

Director Lee Daniels, who also wrote the script, used a novel by Peter Dexter. He seems to like rough jokes, including strongly indecent behavior and almost explicit sex scenes, and delivered a nasty but highly entertaining product. He got a lot of support by the well chosen cast. Seeing Nicole Kidman again on the big screen was a pleasure. The Hollywood icon incarnated as the flirtatious member of the "the prisoner is innocent team". In Germany we would say, she is the type who lets "nothing burn down" ("lässt nichts anbrennen"). Kidman radiated more heat than a nuclear reactor. Her beauty was the spice which turned the film into a hot dish.

John Cusack impressed as the swamp bred death row inmate. He delivered a toxic blend of sickness, sexual greed and carelessness. Matthew McConaughey delivered his familiar coolness even that his character was more broken than in the fabulous "Killer Joe" (drivebycuriosity).

The cinematography also was well done. Roberto Schaefer, the cinematographer, enriched the plot with interesting and sometimes surprising views. Especially the shots of Florida`s lush nature got me caught. The swampy forest seemed to have a life of their own.


If you like dark humor and politically not so correct movies, this flick could warm you up.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

New York City: Variety Is The Spice Of Life

New York City is said to be a melting pot. But I reckon, that this is not correct. Yes, there are a lot of different ethnic groups. But, they don´t mingle much, usually they live side by side and keep their identity.

Take for instance the Chinese. In Manhattan you could hear a lot of people who speak Cantonese, Mandarin or another Chinese dialect - and not just in Chinatown. There are plenty of laundry shops and convenience stores operated by the busy Chinese who usually prefer to speak the language of their ancestors. When I am there I get the feeling having jumped around the globe.

This also applies for Spanish. I hear this language very often in the (budget) gym I have been visiting or in plenty of the bodegas (small groceries) in my neighborhood. Many official anouncements, for instance in the subway, are written in 2 languages, English & Spanish, catering the uge part of the US population coming from Puerto Rico, Mexico and other Latin American countries.


Other ethnic groups, like Indian, Ukrainian or Russian, are nursing their cultural identity too.

I believe that the diversity of cultures is one of the most valuable assets of the metropolis. The assortment of different ethnic populations gives New York even more life. It´s entertaining and you could learn a lot from the variety of foreign cultures.

Part of the advantage is the spectrum of restaurants which serve Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Ukrainian and other ethnic focused cuisines. Variety is the spice of life and the kick of New York City.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Movies: The Master

It`s fall again, time for Hollywood to send the prospective Oscar contenders onto the screens. One of them is "The Master", directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, an icon of independent cinema (imdb.com). The movie tells the story of a disturbed American World War II returnee who gets involved with a charismatic cult leader. Watching this highly ambitious opus caused mixed impressions for me. I got two wow-effects and one so-so impression.

The strongest wow effect came from the gorgeous cinematography which should at least earn an Oscar nomination. I was enchanted by the visual magic of  Anderson and his cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr.. Both - and the digital post production - created pictures to dream of. I had the luck to see one of the rare the 65mm versions which were projected in 70mm onto some selected screens  (here is a list imdb.com). I have never seen the sea so beautiful and so blue as on this screen - just one of a lot of fascinating pictures. The whole movie was a feast for the eyes.

I got the second wow effect from the superb acting. 2 members of the fine cast could be Oscar contenders too: Philip Seymour Hoffman & Joaquin Phoenix. It was a grace to watch Hoffman as a charismatic cult leader. He showed the eloquence, brilliance and charm of this enigmatic figure but also his stubbornness and anger, when he was questioned or doubted.

Phoenix, on whom the film focused, impressed as a traumatized young man trying to adapt to an unfamiliar world. You could read in his face how he fought with himself and his environment.  But sometimes it was stressful to watch the furor and irrationality of this character. The rest of the cast, especially Amy Adams as the cult leaders wife, who displayed total trust in her husband´s exotic theories, enhanced the joy of the movie.




But the plot left a so-so impression. Before the film reached the cinema theaters there was a lot of ado about an alleged connection with L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. But Anderson didn`t show much interest into the beliefs and claims of this cult/church. Instead his script focused on the relationship between the cult leader and the disturbed ex-soldier. It wasn´t really clear to me what caused the strong tie between these so different personalities.

Maybe the master saw him as a pet, in one scene he called him "a wild animal". Maybe he used him as a guinea pig for his theories, maybe he just enjoyed the power he had on this feral young men, at least temporary. This incertitude limited the joy watching "The Master". But considering the masterful cinematography & acting the film wasn`t so bad.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Economy: US/China - Don`t Bite The Hand That Is Feeding You

The US election campaign is getting more and more heated and noisy. Some of the election pledges are irritating, to say it at least. If we believe the media then the Republican candidate Mitt Romney utters an anti-China rhetoric which could lead to severe economic disturbances if he would win and would stick to that.

The Republican contender tries "to brand himself the most protectionist or biggest China basher in the presidential race", writes Forbes (forbes.com). Romney labels China as a "currency manipulator" and accuses the second largest economy of the world of stealing American technology and intellectual property", reports NPR (npr.org).

Even some of Romney`s business friends fear that his anti-China talk could escalate into trade sanctions, including punitive tariffs on Chinese goods, and also could lead to blocking government purchases of Chinese goods (cnn.com). The worst case scenario would be a full blown trade war with China.

This conflict would be insane and could lead to a kind of economic suicide because both nations are benefitting a lot from trading with each other:

1. For years China has been financing a large part of the US public deficit  (ritholtz.com). China is now the largest foreign creditor of the US and the Chinese government (including their central bank) owns more than a trillion dollar of US government bonds (wikipedia). A trade war could provoke the Chinese to get rid of these bonds or to dump at least a large part of them. This could trigger turbulences on the financial markets, putting bond prices and dollar exchange rate under pressure and raise the US interest rates significantly.

Higher interest rates would endanger the already fragile economic upswing. Furthermore: If the US government has to pay higher interest rates for its debts than it would need more tax money to service them or to sell more bonds which would translate into an even higher debt.

2. US consumers are enjoying now relatively low prices for clothes and other goods which are imported from China including smart phones and many other electronic devices. A trade war would trigger price hikes for many goods hurting especially Americans with a low income. If US consumers have to spend more money for a lot of goods they would have less money to spend for other goods and services, for instance restaurants. This (negative) income effect could slow down the whole US economy  and destroy American jobs.

3. Many US companies like Caterpillar (construction equipment), General Motors, Starbucks (already 700 stores in China) and McDonald´s have been exporting large parts of their products to China or doing business there. In a full blown trade war they could loose their Chinese markets which would reduce their revenues & profits drastically and could destroy many jobs in the US.

4. Another large part of the US economy, including shops, hotels, restaurants, have been benefiting from the fledging tourism from China. A trade war could erase those incomes and could ban the US from the fast growing market of the expanding Chinese middle class tourists and shoppers.

But there is hope. I don´t really believe that Romney would stick to his anti-China announcements if he would win in November. During election campaigns contenders usually use strong words to get the attention from prospective voters, in the China case from labor unions and some nationalists. Romney`s anti-China rhetoric might be just the result of the fire that the nominees are feeding now. Very often a winner of an election gets milder and more pragmatic when he tries to implement his election program.

And the power of any president is limited by the highly complicated political structure in the U.S., called "checks and balances ". Whatever a  president intends, he has to deal with the Congress and the Senate. The political process gives the opposition a lot of possibilities to intervene and weaken his policy.  I also hope that Romney´s business friends and counselors are warning him about the serous consequences of a trade war.  And being a politician he also could realize that the mess he would create could seriously hamper his chances to govern more than one election period.