The Bat Colony’s Bubonic Plague

Bats. They’ve always gotten the short end of the stick. No one wants them as pets, people run in their opposite direction and they’re genuinely creepy. But bats also act as a natural insecticide and farmers rely on them as much as they would an irrigation system or tiller.  

So the fact that a rare disease is killing off millions of the tiny, winged creatures has farmers downright worried. Much of the bat population has become infected with a fungal disease known as white nose syndrome, which manifests itself as a powdery substance on the face of the bats.

The following states have experienced severe bat decimation:

  • New York                                      bat1       
  • Vermont
  • Massachusetts
  • Connecticut
  • Pennsylvania
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia

The problem has gotten so bad that more than 60 organizations have urged congress to approve funding for research of the syndrome.

The Forest Service estimates that the die-off from white nose syndrome means that at least 2.4 million pounds of bugs will go uneaten.

Why should you care? Because fewer bats means more pesticide use on farms, meaning more costs to farmers and hence, higher costs to consumers. The environmental effects of pesticide use are even worse.

Will the East Coast bat population survive this killer disease? Stay tuned.

An End to the Recession in 2009?

That’s what economists are saying. And not just any economists — a panel of 45 economists from the National Association for Business Economics Outlook (NABE). In the report issued yesterday, the panel stated:

  • They expect a further decline in economic activity during the second quarter, making for the most severe economic contraction in over half a century.
  • The near-term weakness is largely due to a sharp retrenchment in business investment.
  • Rising government spending will provide vital support to the economy, as the only major expenditure area posting positive growth in 2009.
  • A modest second-half rebound in real GDP is still expected.
  • Growth in 2010 is slated for a return to near its historical trend, with real GDP rising 2.7% on a fourth quarter- to-fourth quarter basis.
  • Labor productivity remains impressive and is expected to improve.

Chris Varvares, NABE’s president, stressed that though economic recovery is in sight, the economy will continue in a downward spiral for the next several quarters. According to the report, the key downside risks remain continued large job losses, no improvement in credit conditions and further sharp declines in home value.

“The good news is that the NABE panel expects economic growth to turn positive in the second half of this year, with the pace of job losses narrowing sharply over the remainder of this year and employment turning up in early 2010,” Mr. Varvares said.

Though the report claims the next several months will remain challenging for businesses and consumers, let’s hope Mr. Varvares and NABE are correct in their long-range future predictions.

What do you think? Do you agree with NABE’s forecast?


Any Volunteers?

AIG head Edward Liddy has had enough. He is leaving the company.

He has reportedly been talking to the board for a while about his exit strategy and although he will stay on as both chief executive and chairman until a successor is found, I think it’s fair to say that these past few months will not be among his fondest memories.

“This isn’t exactly what I thought I’d be doing in retirement,” he said Thursday in an interview.

From Liddy’s perspective, catering to the demands of all the different “cooks in the kitchen” that now govern AIG is a near-impossible challenge.

He said the job entailed answering to the board, the Fed, the Treasury, Congress and 450 regulatory bodies in 130 countries.

“It doesn’t make sense to have one person do it,” he added.

Instead, he thinks the job he has been doing needs to become two separate roles: a chairman responsible for governance and “walking the halls of Congress,” and a chief exec to run operations.

Sounds like a good plan? Now…Who wants to do it?

A Revolution in Risk Modeling

Let’s hear it for Jesper Andersen and Toby Segaran, two geniuses who saw an opportunity after AAA-rated companies began to fail in the midst of the economic collapse. Their solution?  Sounds obvious — a more effective corporate credit risk modeling system.

So the two entrepreneurs and analytics gurus put their heads together to form, which is:

a project with the goal of making freely available the data, algorithms and tools necessary to perform risk modeling. We believe that risk management is too important to society to be an arcane subject or competitive advantage.

And the risk management community screams “Hallelujah!”

Most of the numbers are crunched by a team of volunteer finance fanatics who rate companies using crowdsourcing. The site even offers an open application programming interface (API), which lets users design their own risk-crunching models.

Will this site serve to forever correct the corrupt and biased ratings of agencies such as AM Best, Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s?  Maybe not, but it’s a great alternative.