By guest contributor Paul Hodges
I suggested in an earlier post that chemical prices were an excellent leading indicator for the health of the global economy. The data highlighted that firms were finding it difficult to pass through crude oil related price increases. In turn, this was a warning that both the global and Chinese economies might be slowing faster than generally supposed. This caution since seems to have been amply justified.
Thus a new initiative by the American Chemistry Council (ACC) deserves watching. The ACC is the trade body for the US chemical industry, and it has developed a new Chemicals Activity Barometer which aims to provide early warning of changes in the wider US economy.
We launched the FT’s economically-weighted medal table on Sunday night.
Rather than ranking the table in the conventional format – gold medals followed, where equal, by silver medals and finally bronze medals – we are ranking counties by their performance against a benchmark developed from four economic models. These predict success on the basis of socioeconomic factors that have been shown to contribute to Olympic performance historically.
Even on our weighted measure, China leads with its 12 medals, representing 4.6 more than would be expected at this stage of the games. Italy’s seven medals place its over-achievement to date hundredths of a percentage point behind. Great Britain, by contrast, is near the foot of our table, underachieving by 2.8 medals so far. Read more
Over the next two weeks, the Olympic “medal table”, ranking nations according to the number of gold, silver and bronze medals their athletes have collected in London will be widely reported.
But there will be few surprises: The United States, China and Russia will almost certainly top the table, followed by the smaller wealthy countries. Great Britain will most likely fare better than usual, because the host nation usually does.
Population, GDP per capita, past performance and “home advantage” appear to have a strong relationship to nations’ Olympic success, a common-sense observation that has long been demonstrated by social science.
Substantial academic literature, stretching back to the 1950s, has been produced by economists, sociologists and political scientists using statistical techniques to relate nations’ macroeconomic conditions to their Olympic performance, and forecasting upcoming games.
Typically, these take the form of regression analyses that use historical macroeconomic data as independent variables to account for participating countries’ medal share at the Olympics.
During the London games, the FT will use
three four such models as a benchmark to rank our medal table according to teams’ ability to outperform models that account for their size, wealth and other socioeconomic factors: Read more
There has been speculation recently that the government is planning to divert millions of pounds in NHS funds from deprived urban areas in the north, to leafy, Conservative voting constituencies in the south.
This stems from health secretary Andrew Lansley’s recent comment that “age is the principal determinant of health need” and that distribution of the £100bn budget for the NHS in England should “get progressively to a greater focus on what are the actual determinants of health need.”
Somewhere along the line, those comments were interpreted by a generally cheesed-off medical profession that Mr Lansley intends to introduce an “age-only” NHS allocation formula, switching substantial NHS funds from, generally younger, Labour-voting constituencies in north to the octogenarians who thrive in the Conservative-voting villages of the south.
It’s a good story, which might even contain elements of the truth, but the reality, as ever, is a little more complicated.
At present, five separate allocation formulae are used to divvy up different bits of the £100bn NHS pot to different areas of England. The largest share – the hospital care budget – is divided up using one formula, while four others – mental health, GP prescribing, health inequalities (more on that in a later post) and maternity – are each allocated using their own separate formula. (Think for a second about the demographics driving the demand for maternity services as opposed to, say, hip replacements, and you will grasp why this makes sense.)
Health economists and statisticians frequently tweak and argue over these formula in order to move, hopefully, ever closer to the Holy Grail: a distribution of health resources which is fairly distributed on the basis of health need. Read more
by guest contributor Paul Hodges
Shale gas developments in the US have sparked a wave of euphoria about the opportunity for a renaissance of its domestic manufacturing base. Petrochemicals should be one of the main beneficiaries, as the ethane produced from shale gas discoveries now provides the US with some of the cheapest feedstock in the world.
Major producers including Dow Chemicals, Shell and Chevron Phillips have already announced plans to build new ethane-based capacity. Others are likely to join them. Current estimates suggest total US ethylene capacity could therefore increase by 25 to 30 percent from today’s 27 million tonnes.
However, one key factor has the potential to spoil the story – much of this new capacity will need to be exported in the form of polyethylene (PE) and other major plastics. Yet as the chart shows, based on data from Global Trade Information Services, US net PE exports have actually been declining since 2010, even though its cost advantage from shale gas was increasing. Read more
Today’s EU foreign ministers meeting to discuss the possible relaxing of sanctions against Myanmar is the latest sign of diplomatic relations easing between the desperately poor south east Asian state and the west.
As relations improve, and investors and businesses eye up opportunities, its worth remembering just how poor Myanmar is compared to its neighbours. Read more
The global economic recovery “remains on life support”, according to Tracking Indices for the Global Economic Recovery, the Brookings Institution-Financial Times index of the world economy.
The Tiger index, which is designed to track the global recovery on a set of macroeconomic, financial and confidence variables, shows a weakening of growth momentum in the emerging markets as well as an anaemic recovery in advanced economies. Read more
Markets promptly react to flash releases of economic indicators and large sums of money are lost or made based on zero-point-something percentage points of GDP growth. But, in the excitement of new economic data, it is worth remembering how data is subject to frequent and quite substantial revisions.
Notoriously, in 2010 Japan’s most watched economic indicator was drastically revised downwards, slicing off a full 3.5 percentage points from the annualised growth rate first reported for the third quarter of 2009, prompting soul searching about the quality of Japanese economic data. But revisions occur across many countries and not only after the flash releases.
An OECD database of the various edition of the monthly publication of the Main Economic Indicators (MEI) shows how widespread the issue is. Read more
By Paul Hodges
Chemical prices might not be the first forecasting indicator that springs to mind, but over the recent economic crisis benzene in particular has highlighted economic shifts well before more traditional metrics.
Benzene’s 40 million tonnes of global sales are a key raw material for a very diverse group of end-products, including polystyrene cups, nylon clothing and carpets, pesticides and dyes. Equally, as it is produced from crude oil, benzene provides a highly-sensitive barometer of consumer reactions to changing energy prices.
A key metric is its price premium to naphtha (its oil-based feedstock). The chart above shows this metric since the crisis began in (using ICIS pricing data).
• Typically, the premium has found a floor at $150/tonne
• But it collapsed during October 2008, remaining very weak until February 2009
• The depth of the downturn was also demonstrated by the premium becoming a discount
• It then staged a sharp recovery, which took it back above the $150/t level
Therefore, benzene highlighted, well ahead of other indicators, both the downturn in the wider economy and the equally sudden upturn. Its recent performance therefore merits close attention. Read more
Find out how your living standard compares.
Select the range of years that contains your date of birth and watch as the graphic draws the spread of UK household incomes for people of your generation.
The popular and oft-quoted definition of a recession is two successive quarters or more of falling output, usually referred to as the ‘technical’ definition.
It is of course not really very ‘technical’ – and surprisingly is entirely unofficial. It is an easily measurable and easily understood rule of thumb that suits headlines rather than analysis. Read more