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Changing Consumer Behavior [Jan 11, 2009]

At Visa, the No. 1 card company, debit spending could surpass credit this year. The profits on debit cards are not as plump since banks do not collect interest on them. Comerica Bank won the right this year to issue debit cards to the estimated 4 million Social Security recipients who do not have bank accounts. In a basic change, debit is becoming the plastic card of choice for the American public.

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Secrecy [Jan 11, 2009]

Dark pools are electronic venues where funds can buy and sell blocks of shares without publishing bids or offers. The funds value the anonymity of the dark pools and the fact that trades are not public until after their execution. In that way, their orders do not push the price of the stock away from them. Currently, they represent somewhere between 8 and 10 percent of the overall daily U.S. equity volumes, and that is growing fast.

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Financial Complexity [Jan 11, 2009]

Complexity is nature’s way of protecting against change. Natural ecosystems depend upon a bewildering degree of complexity to remain adaptable and resilient. This degree of elasticity in an ecosystem–its ability to absorb harmful interactions or infusions –determines its “fitness” for survival. In this light, complexity is really a fundamental truth for us all, and as such is increasingly a right of every conscious individual.

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Secrecy [Dec 24, 2008]

As the information age intensifies, secrecy becomes important. Steve Jobs of Apple recognizes this truth. Apple Computer Inc. obsessively enforces a strict secrecy policy. In early 2004, for example, Hewlett-Packard cut a deal to repackage Apple’s iPod digital music player and sell it with H-P label. Even though they were partners, Apple did not tell H-P about the new iPod models until the day before they were introduced. Apple rigidly compartmentalizes itself so that even its own employees don’t find out about coming products. It has fired and later sued workers who leaked information.

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Financial Complexity [Dec 15, 2008]

In this tumultuous financial market there are many unusual events. One of the most striking is the Legg Mason Value Trust, run by Bill Miller. He has had an excellent record, beating the S&P 500 every year for the past 15 years. In 2008, however, he lost in the neighborhood of 60 percent. His methods were not revised to fit a new financial environment.

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Electronics [Dec 5, 2008]

“Electricity will be the main shortage of the future.” – Dr. Richard Smalley, Nobel Laureate.
The electric industry in the United States is in terrible shape. We should expect local and regional brownouts and blackouts to become common occurrences “within five years,” reports a senior faculty member from Carnegie Mellon University. Few utilities want to take political, regulatory or financial risks. In such an environment the long-range planning cycle has been broken. It is almost impossible to decide what to build and at what scale.

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