Another Year of Waiting for Recognition from Forbes

Columnist Jeff Brown laments that he's once again left off Forbes' list of the wealthiest Americans. That factoid kicks off a list of surprising nuggets of financial wisdom.

Did You Know?

• The “Forbes 400” list of the richest Americans ($1.7 billion is the price of admission) is out and, once again, your humble correspondent was bemused not to find himself on the list. There are a couple of docs, but they made the Big Bucks in things, not services. Pharmaceuticals and medical devices would seem to be the way to go.

• In related news, last year Big Pharma spent $3.5 billion on about 700,000 docs (everyone except me, apparently) for “consulting, speeches, travel, and meals,” in spite of an accumulating number of laws and regulations constricting suchlike. Contrary to vigorous denials from most docs, research shows that such expenses really pay off for the drug companies in terms of changing prescription patterns, according Dr. Aaron Kesselheim of Harvard, published in ProPublica.org.

• In general economic news, the US has added jobs for 57 consecutive months, the longest streak since World War II. The unemployment rate is down to 5.3%, the lowest in seven years, according to FiveThirtyEight.com.

• Lest you think we have therefore learned something from the Great Recession, The Wall Street Journal has found that the US government now stands behind 60% of the financial industry’s total liabilities, a whopping $26 trillion. That is $15 trillion in explicit guarantees of insured bank deposits, $6 trillion for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (mortgages) and the rest in implicit guarantees based on past bailouts. And the “too big to fail” banking industry is more consolidated than ever. One of this election season’s issues is why not break up the biggest banks and financial firms the way the trust-busters did a century ago? Then we can afford to let the miscreants fail without hurting the rest of us.

The Atlantic reports that last year Americans spent $70 billion (oh how easy it has become to throw such numbers around) on the lottery in 43 states. That’s an average of $300 per adult and is more than was spent in all 50 states on sports tickets, books, movie tickets, video games, and recorded music combined. I recall a statistician who claimed that the odds of winning the lottery were so great that you had the same chance of winning whether or not you bought a ticket.

• For you market watchers, Fortune reported a study in which in the three days after a CEO mishap, such as an affair, arrest or allegation of lying, the average drop in stock value was $226 million.

• Likewise, Bloomberg.com reported a study in which mispricing, high trading frequency and price instability were related to high levels of serum cortisol. As in young men. Young women, whose estrogen moderates the cortisol allegedly, fared much better in such measures.

• Did you know that China now buys about one-eighth of the world’s oil, one-quarter of its gold, one-third of its cotton and half of all base metals?

• If you have been anywhere near a commercial airplane in the last few years, you know that the experience of flying, once a joy, has become downright unpleasant. On-time arrivals last year dropped to 76%, lost, stolen, or delayed luggage is up 13%, passengers getting bumped rose 3% and complaints overall jumped 22%. And that doesn’t even include the TSA experience, “security theater.” All the more reason to buy that NetJets private plane card.

• From Silicon Valley comes the news that the number of “angels,” the people involved in so-called seed investing, the status symbol hereabouts, has risen from about 1,000 of them five years ago to 3,000 last year. That would seem to parallel the rise in the stock market that has provided the means for such activity.