The 8 Most Fascinating Things I Read This Week

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 the eight most fascinating ones I read this week.

1. Pitchforks ready
Henry Blodget of Business Insider shares two facts sure to make many readers' blood boil: Corporate profits as a percentage of GDP are now at an all-time high, while workers' wages as a percentage of GDP are at a post-war low:


Source: Federal Reserve.

2. The new boom
TheWall Street Journalwrites what I'm convinced will be the biggest story of the next few decades:

America will halve its reliance on Middle East oil by the end of this decade and could end it completely by 2035 due to declining demand and the rapid growth of new petroleum sources in the Western Hemisphere, energy analysts now anticipate.

3. Greedy when others are fearful
Warren Buffett famously advises to be greedy when others are fearful. With the Greek stock market down about 90% in the last five years, hedge fund manager George Elliott is getting excited. According to Bloomberg:

"When Argentina defaulted, they had incredible returns on the stock market but incredible volatility on the currency as well so it was pretty hard to start making allocations," he said. "If Greece remains in the euro, we think this is going to be an incredible investment opportunity from a risk-return perspective." Conversely, the return of the drachma, which Elliott predicts won't happen, means investors could buy stocks more cheaply. ...

"It takes time to convince [investors], but when you show them the numbers and you really do not focus on the macro but the micro of individual companies, then people start to get excited," said Elliott, who's been raising money for the Greek fund since October. "At the same time, we are extremely lonely. We are one of the few people out there feeling optimistic."

4. Fleeting influence
The day after Standard & Poor's downgraded U.S. Treasuries last summer was one of the best days for Treasuries in history. After Moody's downgraded major banks like Citigroup (NYS: C) and JPMorgan Chase (NYS: JPM) last week, the market again is asking why anyone pays attention to ratings agencies. Says Bloomberg:

Moody's Investors Service suffered a downgrade of its own as markets responded to the company's rating cuts of 15 of the world's largest banks by bidding up the value of their stocks and bonds. ...

"We view the Moody's downgrade as another overhyped story of 2012," David Trone, analyst at JMP Securities LLC, wrote to his clients. "The corporate market thinks for itself and credit rating agencies are often lagging indicators."

5. Seizing to prevent further seizures
Millions of homes are underwater, or worth less than the mortgages owed on them. That's a major reason the housing market is so decrepit. Yale economist Robert Shiller has an idea to clear the problem, leveraging the law of eminent domain in the mortgage market. He wrote in TheNew York Times:

[Eminent] domain law needn't be restricted to real estate. It could be applied to mortgages as well. Governments could seize underwater mortgages, paying investors fair market value for them. This is common sense too. The true fair market value for these mortgages is arguably far below their face value, given the likelihood of default, with its attendant costs.

Professor Hockett argues that a government, whether federal, state or local, can start doing just this right now, using large databases of information about mortgage pools and homeowner credit scores. After a market analysis, it seizes the mortgages. Then it can pay them off at fair value, or a little over that, with money from new investors, issuing new mortgages with smaller balances to the homeowners. Taxpayers are not involved, and no government deficit is incurred. Since homeowners are no longer underwater and have good credit, they are unlikely to default, so the new investors can expect to be repaid.

The original mortgage holders, the investors in the new mortgages, the homeowners and the nation as a whole will generally be better off. There will surely be some who may not agree, like the holdout farmer opposing the highway, but eminent domain ought to be able to push ahead anyway.

6. Obamacare facts
Poll after poll shows Obamacare is unpopular -- until you take the time to explain to people what it actually does. Then it becomes pretty popular. Ezra Klein in the Washington Postgives 11 important facts about the act. A few standouts:

  • By 2022, the Congressional Budget Office estimates (link opens PDF) the Affordable Care Act will have extended coverage to 33 million Americans who would otherwise be uninsured.
  • The law requires insurers to spend between 80 and 85 percent of every premium dollar on medical care (as opposed to administration, advertising, etc). If insurers exceed this threshold, they have to rebate the excess to their customers. This policy is already in effect, and insurers are expected to rebate $1.1 billion this year.
  • Families making less than 133 percent of the poverty line -- that's about $29,000 for a family of four -- will be covered through Medicaid. Between 133 percent and 400 percent of the poverty line -- $88,000 for a family of four -- families will get tax credits on a sliding scale to help pay for private insurance.

7. Help not wanted
Big, innovative, companies like Google (NAS: GOOG) and Facebook (NAS: FB) are hiring briskly -- if you have a good degree, a padded resume, and the applicable experience. For the other 99-some-odd percent of the world, it's tough and getting tougher. WritesTheWall Street Journal:

Between 90 and 95 million low-skill workers around the world could be without jobs by 2020 because there simply won't be enough positions available for them to apply for, according to a new report from the McKinsey Global Institute.

8. Presented without comment: Large Americans
According to a study published in Biomedical Central:

North America has 6% of the world population but 34% of biomass due to obesity. Asia has 61% of the world population but 13% of biomass. ... One tonne of human biomass corresponds to approximately 12 adults in North America and 17 adults in Asia. If all countries had the BMI distribution of the USA, the increase in human biomass of 58 million tonnes would be equivalent in mass to an extra 935 million people of average body mass, and have energy requirements equivalent to that of 473 million adults.

Enjoy your weekend.

The article The 8 Most Fascinating Things I Read This Week originally appeared on

Fool contributor Morgan Housel doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article. Follow him on Twitter @TMFHousel. The Motley Fool owns shares of Facebook, JPMorgan Chase, and Citigroup. The Fool owns shares of Google. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Google. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

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