It may not be as sleek and intimidating as Robocop (or Skynet's Terminator) but California-based Knightscope's recently unveiled line of K5 robots will “predict and prevent crime with an innovative combination of hardware, software and social engagement.” While everyone from Jamba Juice to McDonalds is looking at robotizing their workforce away from minimum-wage-hike-demanding, bathroom-break-needing, healthcare-expecting, sleep-requiring humans, it seems everyone from your local mall cop to replacing police in neighborhood watch is now under threat as the automation of the American workforce moves from science fiction to science fact.
While joking about potential terrorist plots is below us, the fact that New Jersey police are investigating the appearance of suspicious white powder at several hotels near the site of the Superbowl was too close to an "Onion" headline for us to ignore. As AP reports, the FBI is investigating the substance (found in envelopes - which we suspect were not marked with player's names). No injuries or overnight bouts of unexplained euphoria have been reported.
While we are sure it is hard to make ends meet on the minimum-wage-paying positions at fast food restaurants these days; the lengths that one McDonald's employee in Pittsburgh went to subsidize her income could be a little much. As CNN reports, Shantia Dennis, 26, would drop a handy baggy of heroin in drive-thru customers' boxes if they uttered the secret phrase "I'd like to order a toy" with their food order. Police recovered over 50 bags of heroin and a small amount of marijuana... brings a whole new meaning to the term "Happy Meal".
This chart shows the year over year change in a very important data series. Guess what it is.
Following last night's surprise event, which was China's HSBC PMI dropping into contraction territory for the first time since July, which in turn sent Asian market into a tailspin, the most relevant underreported news was a speech by International Monetary Fund Deputy Managing Director Naoyuki Shinohara who said that "As long as steady progress is being made toward the 2% target, we do not see a need for additional monetary accommodation in Japan." He added that while exit from unconventional monetary policy "is still very likely some way off for the euro area and Japan, I believe that the moment to start planning is now." This warning - an echo of prcisely what we said yesterday - promptly roiled the Yen, sending it far higher and sending the EMini futures sliding by over 10 tick in no time: a drop from which they have not recovered yet.
One of Warren Buffett’s greatest investment ideas concerned “economic moats.”
While McDonalds "coffee is hot" warning labels and litigation was a farce of lowest-common-denominator American exceptionalism; SirGriorgio Clardy, a Portland pimp, is suing Nike for not specifying that his trainers could be used as a dangerous weapon. As NBC News reports, Clardy is seeking $100 million from the Oregon sportswear company after he was sentenced to 100 years in prison for brutally beating a 'john' with his sneaker (apparently unaware of their potential for danger when one stomps on the face of another human being).
Worried that Starbucks is running out of real estate? Concerned that McDonalds will be unable to fill its quota of minimum-wage employees as urban sprawl caps out? Have no fear for as the following map shows, there is plenty of room left in the world for the chains to expand... and of course, where there is a Starbucks there is mass affluence, right? Of course, extremes of heat and cold will require a little adaptation but that's what free easy money is for...
With a seemingly endless line of talking-heads willing to ignore essentially every study that has been undertaken with regard the effects of raising the minimum-wage; and propose what is merely populist vote-getting 'benefits' for the ever-increasing not-1% who benefitted from Ben Bernnake's bubbles - we thought the following burger-flipping robot was a perfect example of unintended consequences for the fast food industry's workers. With humans needing to take breaks, have at least 4 weekend days off per month, and demanding ever-increasing minimum-wage for a job that was never meant to provide a 'living-wage', Momentum Machines - a San Francisco-based robotics company has unveiled the 'Smart Restaurants' machine which is capable of making ~360 'customized' gourmet burgers per hour without the aid of a human. First Jamba Juice, then Applebees, next McDonalds...
Of all the case studies in our "it is easier to get into Harvard than to get a job at X" series (flight attendants, Goldman summer interns, McDonalds, etc), this one may be our favorite because it captures at its core, just how "strong" the US economic "recovery" truly is for all those who don't have a spare million or two in financial assets to throw at the levitating, centrally-planned markets. As the WaPo reports, when a Maryland ice cream plant, shut down in 2011 and subsequnetly was brought back to life when a Co-op of dairy farmers purchased it in the summer of 2013 to process milk and icream, sent out "jobs wanted" notices to fill some three dozen open job positions, it got a surprise: 1,600 applicants (and counting) "a deluge" - 44 applicants for every position - or nearly three times more difficult than getting into Harvard to get a simple job... To make ice cream!
With 1.3 million Americans having lost (or about to lose) their emergency unemployment benefits, President Obama is back from vacation and ready to re-start the blame-and-shame game (supported with the now ubiquitous crowd of needy entitled onlookers, ready to faint on command). As he explains, "this is money that helps pay the bills while folks work hard to find their next job..." as long as it's well-paying and not at McDonalds. Of course, the uncomfortable truth is...
*BOEHNER SAYS EXTENSION OF UNEMPLOYMENT AID MUST BE PAID FOR
But that's what the rich are for, right?
It is time to crank up the Looney Tunes theme song because Wall Street has officially entered crazytown territory. Stocks just keep going higher and higher, and at this point what is happening in the stock market does not bear any resemblance to what is going on in the overall economy whatsoever. So how long can this irrational state of affairs possibly continue? Stocks seem to go up no matter what happens. If there is good news, stocks go up. If there is bad news, stocks go up. If there is no news, stocks go up. On Thursday, the day after Christmas, the Dow was up another 122 points to another new all-time record high. In fact, the Dow has had an astonishing 50 record high closes this year. This reminds me of the kind of euphoria that we witnessed during the peak of the housing bubble. At the time, housing prices just kept going higher and higher and everyone rushed to buy before they were "priced out of the market". But we all know how that ended, and this stock market bubble is headed for a similar ending.
McDonalds' internal employee resource website McResource Line has been no stranger to surreal, farcical scandals in the past several weeks. First, it was revealed that the site was offering MCD workers tips, telling employees to find second jobs, apply for food stamps and sell their things to weather a financial crisis. The site had also given advice on how to tip au pairs, doormen, personal trainers and pool boys. The irony meter went off the charts following a study released in October by UC Berkeley Labor Center and University of Illinois that said 52% of families of fast food workers receive assistance from a public program like Medicaid, food stamps, the Earned Income Tax Credit or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Still, none of this even remotely compares to the latest debacle at the world's largest fast food maker, when on one of the resource website pages, McDonalds basically strongly urged its employees to eat... elsewhere. Fast forward to today when in the aftermath of these humiliating revelations we find that the McResource site has been taken down and that MCD workers are no longer strongly advised to eat elsewhere.
As the non-government worker 'slaves' away, working 80 hours straight at Toys'r'Us, or earning an 'unlivable' wage at McDonalds, President Obama as used an executive order to activate a 1% pay raise for all government workers. As the WSJ reports, the 4.4 milion federal employees are receiving their first across-the-board pay bump since a 2% increase in January 2010 (though notably agency directors must meet this cost within their existing budgets - not collecting any new funds to pay for it). Of course, even by government statistical standards, this is still not keeping up with inflation, but hey, it's better than nothing.
Yields for many staple crops (like wheat) essentially hit a wall about ten years ago. After decades of miraculous gains in the amount of tons, bushels, and kilograms per acre we have been able to extract from the Earth, productive capacity has largely plateaued. In other words, we have maxed out what we can pull out of the soil for now. And the amount of soil per person that’s in production is in serious decline. This spells out an obvious case for investing in agriculture… and even more specifically, to own farmland.