Most Buildings Don’t Work Properly, Who Cares?

 Most Buildings Don’t Work Properly, Who Cares? – At 10,600 feet in the Colorado Rockies, the weather can be extreme. On that night, things got brutal. It was minus 8 degrees Fahrenheit outside, and the wind was howling. Unfortunately, heating equipment failed, so it wasn’t much warmer inside the restaurant (27 degrees), and as a result, two pipes froze solid and burst. Sam’s is not unique. Almost no building mechanical systems operate as they’re supposed to. But nobody knows. Nobody checks. And life goes on. The result is that the planet has a huge fleet of buildings that are badly built and running crappily. Fans run backwards. Vents remain open when they should be closed. Heaters run all summer. And this remains true for the life of the building—some 50-100 years. Most people accept this situation like they would a balky TV thirty years ago—smack it a few times and the channel comes in. That’s how these things work. But the inconvenience masks a broader issue. Buildings use tons of energy: 948 quadrillion BTUs in the U.S annually, to be precise, or the equivalent energy of 16 million Hiroshima sized bombs. This comes at staggering dollar cost and climate impact: in the U.S. at least, these structures are responsible for about a third of total greenhouse gas emissions every year.  Can’t we do better?
 

Portugal needs to raise up to 20b euros -Portugal needs to raise up to 20 billion euros ($A26.02 billion) on international markets in 2011, the national debt agency says, in what will be a key test of the country’s ability to calm jittery investors. Portugal is one of the frailest members of the 16-nation eurozone. Its high debt burden and low growth in recent years have fuelled speculation it may join Greece and Ireland in needing a financial bailout. The Institute for Treasury and Public Credit Management said on Wednesday it intends to issue bonds worth 18-20 billion euros to meet Portugal’s financing requirements next year. It provided no dates for the auctions.

 
Gramley Says Plosser, Fisher May Dissent From Fed Ease Plan – Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia President Charles Plosser and Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher may dissent from Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke’s plan to purchase $600 billion in Treasuries, former Fed governor Lyle Gramley said. “I think Charles Plosser of Philadelphia and Richard Fisher of Dallas probably will dissent from time to time,” Gramley said today in an interview on Bloomberg Television. “It probably isn’t going to affect the outcome of monetary policy decisions. Ben Bernanke still has control of the committee.”.  Plosser said in an interview last week it was a “close call” on whether he would have dissented from the Fed’s Dec. 14 reaffirmation of plans to buy $600 billion in Treasuries through June, expanding record stimulus to try to reduce 9.8 percent unemployment and keep inflation from dropping. Fisher said in November that the move may be “the wrong medicine” for the U.S. economy.As part of an annual rotation in voting on Fed policy, Plosser, Fisher and the heads of the Chicago and Minneapolis Fed banks will cast votes in 2011.
 
Gas Prices Heading Up From 3 Dollars – For the first time since October 2008 the average gas price has crossed the three dollar per gallon mark.
According to AAA, gas prices have climbed four weeks in a row. The average gas price is now $3.03 per gallon in Massachusetts. That is about 44 cents more than you were paying at this time last year.
Area drivers told 22News that they are new having a harder time finding gas stations selling gas below the three dollar price mark. One Springfield driver said that he prefers to stick with his favorite station.
Don’t expect prices to go down anytime soon, either. Predictions for 2011 run as high as four and five dollars per gallon.
 
Pending Home Sales index increases 3.5% in November – From the NAR: Pending Home Sales Continue Recovery  The Pending Home Sales Index,* a forward-looking indicator, rose 3.5 percent to 92.2 based on contracts signed in November from a downwardly revised 89.1 in October [revised down from 89.3]. The index is 5.0 percent below a reading of 97.0 in November 2009. The data reflects contracts and not closings, which normally occur with a lag time of one or two months. This suggests existing home sales in December and January will be somewhat higher than in November.

Pensions Issue Overshadows USPS Outlook For 2011 – Next year looks set to be a more favourable year for the US Postal Service, according to federal regulators – with the exception of its retiree health benefits problem. In its end-of-year report to the US Congress, issued yesterday, the Postal Regulatory Commission suggested that cost-cutting by the USPS over the past two years was having a positive impact.   The regulatory body added that the glaring exception to the outlook for the USPS was the issue of the organization’s overpayments to its healthcare fund for retired postal workers. Ruth Goldway, the Commission’s chairman, said that the improving economy was now strengthening the mail market, but that the Postal Service faced “potential financial insolvency” in 2011 because of its rising debt and the legally-imposed cap on its borrowing. In particular, she highlighted the pension obligations issue as a key problem area, noting that her Commission had found that pay requirements for the USPS, compared to other federal organizations, may have been overstated by as much as $55 billion.

Princeton’s Kenen: No Plausible Alternative to Dollar Now – There’s no credible alternative to the U.S. dollar as the world’s dominant currency, according to a paper to be presented next week at a meeting of top economists. Princeton University economist Peter B. Kenen argues that neither Europe’s nor China’s currency presents a valid substitute–nor an International Monetary Fund alternative to the dollar that was created some 40 years ago. “There is, I submit, no plausible candidate,” Kenen says in a paper that will be discussed Jan. 7 at the annual meeting of the American Economic Association in Denver. The U.S. was attacked by several countries after the Federal Reserve announced in November it would buy more government bonds to lift the economy. Countries with export-led economies including Germany and China accused the Fed of deliberately trying to weaken the dollar. The dollar’s widespread use in world trade gives the U.S. currency a powerful role in the global economy, making countries around the world more sensitive to U.S. economic policy
 
Home Prices Teeter on a Double Dip – A 20-city composite of home prices through October as measured by the S&P/Case-Shiller Indices is teetering on the brink of falling below recent lows in 2009 to create a price new low and achieve the “double dip” in prices long feared by the real estate industry.
Data released today by Standard & Poor’s for its S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices, the leading measure of U.S. home prices, show a deceleration in the annual growth rates in 18 of the 20 MSAs and the 10- and 20-City Composites in October compared to what was reported for September 2010.  The 10-City Composite was up only 0.2 percent and the 20-City Composite fell 0.8 percent from their levels in October 2009. Home prices decreased in all 20 MSAs and both Composites in October from their September levels.
October was the fifth consecutive month where the annual growth rates moderated from their prior month’s pace, confirming a clear deceleration in home price returns.
 
Crash points – In the wake of some bad figures on home prices from the S&P/Case-Shiller index, several writers are pointing to an analysis from Gary Schilling arguing that prices will decline another 20%. I’m not exactly bullish about the American housing market. I don’t think big price increases are likely anytime in the near future, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the drops in prices continue for another few months. Housing isn’t going to lead the economy out of its languid recovery. But, I find the arguments for another big drop in national prices to be rather implausible. Let me begin by reminding people about exactly what is being measured by the Case-Shiller index. The latest figures report prices for the month of October. But the index is actually a three-month moving average, which means that the October figure averages numbers for August, September, and October. What’s more, the sales data are gathered after they’re officially reported by the local deed recording offices, which means that these are closed sales, the contracts for which were probably agreed a month or two beforehand. So the latest data gives a view of sales with contracts that were agreed between June and September.
 
Legislative fight expected on class-size limit — Among proposed solutions to the state’s massive budget deficit is changing a Texas law that holds most elementary school classes to no more than 22 students. Legislative leaders and Comptroller Susan Combs say easing the requirement would save hundreds of millions of dollars and give school districts more flexibility in educating students. But teachers groups, backed by Democrats in the House and Senate, say any change will reverse academic gains in elementary schools and force the elimination of as many as 12,000 teaching jobs. The class-size requirement has been law since 1984. The change would mean an extra three students per class on average in those five grades. The comptroller’s office says that the current average with the 22-pupil limit is 19.3 students per class. Combs said the change would save an estimated $558 million a year, mostly through elimination of thousands of teaching jobs.
 

Survey: Most Baby Boomers Not Counting On Medicare  —

Many baby boomers are worried Medicare will not last through their retirement, according to a new survey by the Associated Press.  The survey found only 20 percent of baby boomers think their Medicare is secure.  The program currently provides medical benefits to 46 million Americans at an annual cost of about $500 billion.  The first baby boomers become eligible for the program in January.

Euro debt crisis likely to spill into 2011, say Danish experts (Xinhua) — The eurozone has been plagued by a sovereign debt crisis throughout 2010, and several financial experts in Denmark warned that the mired situation may extend well into 2011. Interviewed by Xinhua on the cause and impacts of the crisis as well as viable solutions, the experts agreed that the eurozone was getting nowhere in ending the crisis. "The stimulus packages did prevent a complete breakdown, but the eurozone has not yet decided how to handle the government debt crisis in a way that would prevent a repeat of the crisis,"

 

New York May Seize Nassau County Finances as Deficit Reaches $343 Million – A state authority may decide today whether to assert control over Nassau County’s finances, moving beyond an oversight role because elected officials haven’t closed next year’s $343 million budget gap.  The Nassau County Interim Finance Authority, created in 2000 to sell bonds and oversee operations while the county worked out earlier deficits, meets today at 10 a.m. in Uniondale. Nassau, which abuts New York City’s eastern edge on Long Island, has the highest median household income of any county in the state at $92,221, according to census data.  The county’s budget doesn’t meet “the standards of prudence necessary for us to project budget balance,” according to a Sept. 28 authority report. It said the county relied on $61 million of concessions by labor unions that may not happen and on bond sales to pay property-tax refunds, an operating expense.

 
Italy falls short on bond sale, yields rise (Reuters) – Italy failed to sell part of its planned offer of bonds on Thursday, paying sharply higher yields to place 8.1 billion euros ($10.71 billion) of medium- and long-term debt with investors. The sale adds to the 12 billion euros of short-term debt Italy sold on Wednesday, comforting the market on the Treasury’s ability to fund a huge state debt burden and avoid the problems seen by other highly-indebted euro zone economies. But the Treasury sold only 1.3 billion euros of 7-year paper and 836 million of 5-year paper compared to planned sales of up to 1.5 billion and 1.0 billion respectively. "The periphery euro zone countries are under pressure to raise a lot of cash … as the sovereign confidence crisis is not over, so all these auctions are going to be work,"
 
Italy sells 8 bln euros in bonds but rates jump — Italy raised more than eight billion euros (10.6 billion dollars) on Thursday in its final bond auction of 2010, but was forced to pay investors sharply higher interest rates amid eurozone debt crisis fears. Rome placed several maturities of bonds, with the yield on those due in 2021 jumping to 4.8 percent versus 4.43 percent in the previous auction. The yield, or the rate of return it must pay investors, on Italy’s 10-year bonds rose to 4.833 percent on the secondary market on Wednesday evening
 
Bloomberg’s Katrina – Michael Bloomberg has long been an object of affection from Very Serious People: he’s supposedly non-ideological, competent, able to transcend partisan divisions with a single bound. There’s a recurrent fantasy about a Bloomberg third-party candidacy that will Save America. But he just faced a major test of crisis management — and it’s been a Brownie-you’re-doing-a-heck-of-a-job moment. I was wondering why NYC’s storm response was such a mess; it turns out that the city administration basically refused to take the warnings seriously, long after anyone watching the Weather Channel knew that a blizzard was coming. We have yet to find out exactly why. But this was a major fail.
 
 
Blanchard Sees Continued Two-Speed Recovery in 2011 – IMFdirect – Interesting interview with the IMF’s Chief Economist Olivier Blanchard in the Fund’s IMF Survey magazine. He says the two-speed global economic recovery is likely to dominate 2011, with weak growth in advanced economies barely enough to bring down unemployment and emerging markets facing the challenges of success, including how to avoid overheating and handle strong capital inflows. In an assessment of the global economy at the end of 2010, and the prospects for 2011, Blanchard said that countries should continue to focus on rebalancing their economies in the coming year, including structural measures and exchange rate adjustments. “Without this economic rebalancing, there will be no healthy recovery,” he says. Read the full interview here.
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