Economy: Big bump for middle-class incomes
The bottom line
■■The legal marijuana industry in the U.S. could grow to be worth $50 billion over the next decade, eight times its current size, according to a recent market analysis. Nine states have pot-related initiatives on the ballot this November, five to legalize the drug for all adults and four to allow it for medical use. Bloomberg.com
■■Openings for manufacturing jobs have averaged 353,000 a month this year, the highest level in 15 years. Many employers say they’re having a difficult time finding workers with the skills needed to fill today’s increasingly technology-focused manufacturing roles. The Wall Street Journal
■■This month’s bankruptcy of Hanjin Shipping, the world’s seventh-biggest container shipper, has left $14 billion in cargo stranded at sea, as ports worldwide refuse to admit Hanjin ships over fears that docking firms will not be paid. The South Korean firm says it will take as much as $154.5 million to unload its ships’ 400,000 stranded cargo containers. Reuters.com
■■The stigma of a headlinegrabbing scandal sticks with a company’s managers, even if they had nothing to do with it. Executives who have scandal-plagued companies on their résumés are paid nearly 4 percent less for future jobs than their peers, new research shows. Harvard Business Review
■■Mandatory paid sick leave appears to be faring well in New York City, by far the biggest of 26 U.S. cities to have passed such legislation. In a survey of city businesses, 85 percent of employers said the 2013 law had had no effect on their business costs, 91 percent reported no reduction in hiring, and 94 percent said there had been no effect on business productivity. Slate.com
“Middle-class Americans and the poor enjoyed their best year of economic improvement in decades in 2015,” said Jim Tankersley in The Washington Post. Median household income hit $56,500 last year, up from $53,700 in 2014, the Census Bureau reported this week. The 5.2 percent uptick— fueled by an improving job market, low inflation, and rising wages—is the biggest increase since the bureau began tracking median income in the 1960s. The poverty rate also fell by 1.2 percent, “the steepest decline since 1968.” In inflation-adjusted terms, the average household still makes 1.6 percent less than it did in 2007. But economic officials hailed the report as clear evidence of progress. “Everything you look at is what you’d want to see or better,” said Jason Furman, chairman of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers.
“The improvement was across the board to a remarkable degree,” said Neil Irwin in The New York Times. “Incomes rose for black families, white families, Hispanic families, and Asian-American families. It rose for young people and in households headed by middle-aged adults and older people.” And there’s little reason to think the figures are a statistical aberration. A broad swath of recent data suggests that incomes “have finally started to rise in a meaningful way.”
Health: Weight Watchers’ Oprah bump fades
“Oprah Winfrey’s halo effect on Weight Watchers is disappearing fast,” said Matt Krantz in USA Today. Shares in the struggling diet-program company slumped this week after CEO James Chambers announced his resignation, effective at the end of this month. Weight Watchers stock surged last October after Winfrey took a 10 percent stake in the company and a seat on the board. But shares have plunged 66 percent since November—the company’s post-Oprah peak—with flat revenue and the company struggling to reinvent its pricey diet program amid competition from no-cost weight-loss apps.
Tech: Airbnb unveils anti-bias measures
After months of criticism, Airbnb is cracking down on discrimination by its hosts, said Deborah Todd in Reuters.com. In a report released last week, the online rental marketplace announced a series of changes to its platform meant to discourage racial bias. Airbnb says it will downplay the use of user photos on its website and increase the availability of instant bookings. It will also prevent hosts from booking guests if they have previously told someone their listing is unavailable for the same time frame.
Energy: New Texas oil field discovery
Oil-and-gas giant Apache Corp. is trumpeting what could be “one of the biggest energy finds of the past decade,” said Bradley Olson and Erin Ailworth in The Wall Street Journal. Apache announced last week that its discovery of a new oil field in West Texas reveals the equivalent of at least 2 billion barrels of oil. “Conservative estimates” put the oil field’s value at $8 billion, though Apache says it could ultimately be worth 10 times more. Some analysts caution that “oil and gas discoveries touted as game changers have historically produced less than advertised.”
Agriculture: Bayer clinches Monsanto takeover
Bayer sealed the deal for Monsanto this week, said Camila Domonoske in NPR.org. The German pharmaceutical and chemical company’s $66 billion takeover of U.S. agribusiness giant Monsanto “will create the world’s largest supplier of seeds and agricultural chemicals.” The final purchase price is $4 billion more than Bayer’s original bid in May, making Monsanto the largest-ever foreign acquisition by a German company. The deal, which still has to win regulatory approval, is the latest in a “wave of consolidation” among companies that sell seeds and pesticides to farmers, including DuPont’s proposed merger with Dow Chemical.
Is your product tough? Ask a bear.
“Eight bears with a demonstrated aptitude for raiding trash cans, breaking into parked vehicles, or burgling chicken coops have seen their skills put to use as product testers,” said Harriet Torry in The Wall Street Journal. Outdoor companies hoping to market their coolers, camping equipment, and trash bins as “bearresistant” must first submit their products to a 60-minute mauling session with the residents of the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center outside Yellowstone National Park. The bears, who can no longer live in the wild because of their taste for human food, bite, claw, and smash their way into test items that bear keepers fill with treats like peanut butter and fish. The center tests 40 to 80 products per year, charging manufacturers $500 for the bears’ services. One grizzly, Kobuk, has become so skilled at defeating lids, latches, and casings that he’s been nicknamed “The Destroyer.”