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Daily Archives: May 6, 2022

Chuckles of the Day




The Insemination Man Is Coming

Mary, a blonde city girl, marries an older New Zealand dairy farmer.

One morning, on his way out to check on the cows, old farmer John says to Mary, “The insemination man is coming over to impregnate one of our cows today. I drove a nail into the 2 by 4 just above the cow’s stall in the barn. You show him where the cow is when he gets here, OK?”

So then the farmer leaves for the fields. After a while, the artificial insemination man arrives and knocks on the front door. Mary takes him down to the barn. They walk along the row of cows and when she sees the nail, she tells him, “This is the one… right here.”

Terribly impressed by what he seemed to think just might be another ditzy old blonde gal, the man asks, “Tell me lady, how did you know this is the cow to be bred?”

“That”s simple. By the nail over its stall”, Mary explains very confidently.

Then the man asks, “What’s the nail for?”

She turns and walks away, and with complete confidence, says, “I guess it’s to hang your trousers on.”

* * * * * * *

Shot 6 Times in the Back

Last Thursday night, an elderly woman from Houston, Texas was arrested, jailed, and charged with manslaughter for shooting a man 6 times in the back as he was running away with her purse. The following Monday morning, the old lady was called in front of the arraignment judge, sworn in, and asked to explain her actions.

The woman replied, “Your Honor, I was standing at the corner bus stop for about 15 minutes, waiting for the bus to take me home. I had just cashed my social security check at the bank earlier in the day. I was there alone, so I had my right hand on my pistol that my late husband gave me for protection. The pistol was in my purse, that was hung over my left shoulder. All of a sudden I was being spun around hard to my left. As I caught my balance, I saw a man running away from me with my purse. I looked down at my right hand and I saw that my fingers were wrapped tightly around my pistol. The next thing I remember is saying out loud, “No way punk! You’re not stealing my money.” I raised my right shaking hand, pointed my pistol at the man running away from me with my purse, and squeezed the trigger of my pistol repeatedly!”

When asked by the arraignment judge, “Why did you shoot the man 6 times?”

The woman replied, under oath, “Because, when I pulled the trigger the 7th time, it only went click.”

The woman was acquitted of all charges. Don’t mess with old folks ya hear.





Charts: Inflation Rate and GDP Growth Rate of G20 Countries

Based on latest available data

Source : Trading Economics

高通脹時代來臨

陸炎輝 wrote . . . . . . . . .

這兩天是美國聯儲局公開市場委員會議息的日子,市場一般預期聯邦基金利率會上調0.5厘。如果屬實,將會是聯儲局自2000年3月以來首次作半厘幅度的加息。在過去22年間,若聯儲局決定加息,每次都只會增加0.25厘的息率,反映是次決策的不尋常。除息率外,市場也關注聯儲局什麼時候開始「縮表」,也就是減少債券持有量。眾所周知,這些關注都源於美國通脹率持續按月攀升,從去年3月的2.6%(按年)增加至本年3月的8.5%。

通脹升溫已發展為全球目前的主要經濟問題之一。在發達經濟體群組中,有60%經濟體的通脹率已高於5%,比一般2%的目標通脹率高出3個百分點。在比較不受重視的新興經濟體群組中,已有接近一半的經濟體通脹率達到7%。國際貨幣基金在上月發表的《世界經濟展望》報告中,預測發達經濟體本年的平均通脹率會達到5.7%,而新興市場及發展中經濟體更高達8.7%,比去年1月的預測分別高了1.8和2.8個百分點。故英倫銀行和澳洲儲備銀行於本周舉行的議息會議同樣受到市場關注。

疫情令供需此消彼長

自兩年前新冠肺炎疫情爆發,各國政府和央行迅速實施了相當具擴張性的財政和貨幣政策。以美國政府為例,它先後注入5萬億美元資助個人、企業和提升醫療設施;聯儲局亦重啟量化寬鬆,在3個月內共購買了2.43萬億美元債券,使其資產由2020年3月中的4.67萬億美元迅速增加至6月中的7.1萬億美元。相比2008年金融海嘯後的第一次量化寬鬆,從當年9月中開始計算,要到5年後才能達至同樣規模的債券購買。

為應付新冠肺炎,美國在經濟政策上出手之重,遠超其在醫療上的應對措施。在重拳出擊下,新冠疫情為美國帶來的經濟衰退比預期短暫,經濟需求持續處於較高水平。在勞動力市場方面,美國的失業率在2020年5月曾飆升至14.7%,但隨後持續迅速回落,在今年3月已下跌至3.6%,接近歷史低位。

另一方面,新冠肺炎導致經濟的供應追不上需求,背後成因是供應鏈斷裂、物流的阻塞、運輸費用高漲和主要原材料缺乏等等。供應和需求此消彼長,物價自然拾級而上。美國的通脹自去年3月開始上升,多月來首次高於聯儲局訂下的平均2%目標。聯儲局初期並不以為然,主席鮑威爾多次強調通脹只是「過渡性」(transitory)。但到去年11月,通脹率飆至約7%時,他才改變口風,承認以「過渡性」來形容當前的通脹水平已不合適,並在立場上由鴿派轉為鷹派。明顯地,聯儲局在相當一段時間內低估了通脹的程度和持續性,引發市場討論聯儲局是否落後於形勢(behind the curve)。

聯儲局公開市場委員會在每次會議都要求會員預測當年及未來兩年的GDP增長率、通脹率及聯邦基金利率等。這些預測都會以不記名的方式記錄下來,並公開發表。翻查有關數據,去年會議就今年通脹率所預測的中位數介乎於2%至3%之間,明顯低於今年首季平均約8%的水平。即使隨着時間的推移,聯儲局有上調通脹預測,但仍然持續低估實際情況,而且在政策上沒有足夠地提高利率。

聯儲局偏離泰勒原則

聯儲局有所謂雙重使命(dual mandate),即貨幣政策要達到最高就業和平均2%的通脹率。利率要維持在什麼水平,才能達到這些政策目的?驟眼看來,這並不是容易解答的課題。但貨幣經濟學中有一個著名的泰勒規則(Taylor’s Rule)可幫助計算有關利率。即使答案不及自然科學般精準,但也可作為參考,而且泰勒規則有按不同設定衍生的不同版本,可加強決策者理解情況。簡單而言,泰勒規則中有一個簡單的組成部分:如果通脹上升x%的時候,名義利率要提高多於x%,才能透過增加實質利率減少經濟活動,從而有效壓抑、紓緩通脹。經濟活動主要決定於實質利率而非名義利率。

泰勒原則被聯儲局列為良好貨幣政策的三大要素之一【註】。但回顧過去一年,相對於通脹由去年3月的2.6%上升至今年同月的8.5%,聯儲局只在今年3月加息0.25厘,明顯背離了之前接受的良好政策。決定貨幣政策的公開市場委員會成員或許礙於加息對金融市場的影響而有所顧忌,將貨幣政策規則置諸腦後。猶記得前聯儲局主席貝南奇在2013年6月量化寬鬆期間提及減少買債的可能性,隨即引發債券市場的「削減恐慌」(taper tantrum)。

在過去數年間,聯儲局每年2月發表的《貨幣政策報告》中,均有一節討論貨幣政策規則,但今年2月的報告卻刪去這一節。有趣的是,竟然有人在聽證會上關注到這一點並詢問鮑威爾。鮑威爾只說下年度的報告會重新加入,並未提供任何解釋。在史丹福大學任職的泰勒教授猜測,按貨幣政策規則的方程式演算出來的利息,會遠高於市場所見,故保留此章節只會令聯儲局尷尬。

當貨幣政策未能追上通脹,名義利率的增加低於通脹的上升幅度時,即實際利率下跌,鼓勵更多經濟活動,進一步刺激通脹,造成惡性循環。若到這個時候才下定決心打擊通脹,名義利率必須大幅度增加,但這自然會引發經濟衰退。在八十年代初,聯儲局主席沃爾克在收拾七十年代高通脹的爛攤子時,需要將最優惠利率增加至20厘以上,造成接近10%的失業率。

異常幣策難重回正軌

在通脹時期,僱主或僱員都會對價格和工資上升有一定的預期。通脹愈高,預期通脹也愈高。日子久了,預期通脹形成一定的剛性,反過來影響真正的通脹。如果眾多的僱員都預期通脹是10%,那他們都不大願意接受低於10%的工資增長。另一方面,如果眾多的僱主預期通脹是10%,他們也會將產品價格調高至少10%。僱員看見物價上升,自然覺得自己要求的加薪是合理的。僱主為應付勞動成本上升,自然也覺得提高產品價格是合理的。在經濟互動的結果下,通脹自然會維持在約10%的較高水平。

若央行有良好的貨幣政策記錄,在市場建立了一定信用,那市場對通脹的預期便會建基於央行的政策指引。但聯儲局在過去一年間並未能預測到通脹的高速增長,甚至曾對市場表示當前的高通脹不過是過渡性的現象。一眾小市民不知就裏,只覺得通脹來得防不勝防。為保護個人利益,自然便會提高通脹預期,並對聯儲局的聲明存疑。這都使聯儲局遏抑通脹的政策事倍功半。

除了上述情況,今年2月底爆發的俄烏戰爭更嚴重影響全球能源和糧食價格。目前戰況膠着,政經前景極不明朗。但無論戰事如何演變,短期內都是負面情況居多,特別是對歐洲經濟而言。

在2008年金融海嘯後,各主要央行的寬鬆貨幣政策沒有導致高通脹,但已經使全球經濟吸納了不少流動性。在新冠疫情後,極度擴張性的貨幣政策所注入的大量資金,自然輕易地帶動物價上升。要把這14年間出現的異常貨幣供應帶回復正軌並不容易,再加上新冠疫情、中美博弈、俄烏戰爭、去全球化、氣候變化等因素對經濟的影響,全球通脹大概會持續處於一個較高水平。低通脹時代已漸行、漸遠、漸無聲。


Source : HKU

Genetically Modified Space Lettuce Could Help Keep Astronauts’ Bones Healthy on Long Trip to Mars

Laura Brehaut wrote . . . . . . . . .

Astronauts took their first bite of space lettuce in 2015. “Outredgeous” red romaine made history as the inaugural food to be grown, harvested and eaten in orbit — though astronauts still have a way to go until they can make a salad. To grow flowering plants such as tomatoes, cucumbers and bell peppers, they’ll have to fill in for bees as pollinators.

Even on its own, without other salad components, the space lettuce tasted “awesome,” according to American astronaut Kjell Lindgren. Albeit with a touch more bitterness than Earth-grown lettuce because, just like humans, the plants were stressed by microgravity on the International Space Station (ISS).

Space lettuce doesn’t just taste great. It’s nutritious, too. A 2020 study published in the journal Frontiers in Plant Science found it contained the same vitamins and minerals as lettuce grown on Earth.

Now, in a proof of concept funded by NASA through the Center for Utilization of Biological Engineering in Space (CUBES), researchers at University of California, Davis, College of Engineering are developing transgenic lettuce that could one day provide medicine as well as morale-boosting food on the ISS and beyond.

NASA anticipates sending humans to Mars in the 2030s and expects a one-way trip to take roughly nine months. To mitigate bone density loss on the 225 million-kilometre deep-space journey, the researchers have developed a genetically modified lettuce that produces a bone-stimulating drug.

“In microgravity there are a number of physiological effects on the human body, one of which is the reduction in bone mineral density,” Kevin Yates, a graduate student working with professor Karen McDonald and adjunct professor Somen Nandi at UC Davis, explained in a presentation at the spring meeting of the American Chemical Society.

“So, normally in the gravity of Earth, the body constantly breaks down bone and rebuilds it to repair microfractures and to regulate the supply of calcium in the blood. But this goes out of balance in microgravity.”

Studies have shown that exercise alone is not enough to prevent bone density loss in space, said Yates. If their proof of concept is successful, astronauts could grow their own treatment on long spaceflights, such as the roughly 21-month round-trip journey to Mars (nine to get there, three to wait for suitable planetary alignment, and nine to return to Earth).

Deep-space journeys would require astronauts to carry and replenish supplies of perishable medicines, such as parathyroid hormone (PTH), which is the injectable drug used to protect their bones. Transgenic seeds would make for lighter, more robust cargo.

The researchers chose lettuce as their vehicle for PTH because it has been grown successfully on the ISS, says Nandi in an interview with the National Post. It’s also very productive: One plant generates thousands of seeds.

“You get this biological amplification of the amount of material,” McDonald said in the presentation. “So, it’s a very simple and cost-effective way to make a therapeutic.”

The team landed on two types of lettuce for their proof of concept: romaine and crisphead (a.k.a. iceberg). The former grows well in the conditions they would expect to have in space; they selected the latter because it showed the best performance in their initial selection.

When growing plants in space, it’s important to consider their phenotypes and morphology, Yates says in an interview with the National Post. “You have to consider how much area do you need to grow a plant? How tall does it get? How spread out are the leaves? How susceptible is it to tipburn from getting too much light?

“So, you want to pick a plant that’s best suited to grow in the type of plant reactor you’re going to grow it in.”

Astronauts would need to eat about eight cups of lettuce a day to get the desired dosage. Since that’s a lot of salad, the researchers are trying to increase the amount of the drug so that astronauts don’t have to consume as much.

“We’re optimistic that we can … (improve it),” says Nandi. “So, this is not a final number.”

Yates adds that the behaviour of the molecule — which is composed of two parts — will also affect the dosage. Once they have tested it in animal models, they will be able to determine how the two parts bind. “That also can affect the dose by potentially halving it.”

Further testing is needed to determine the bioavailability of the lettuce’s bone-stimulating medicine, Nandi says. The team is also evaluating other factors, such as how much of the drug the plants can produce, which leaves contain the highest levels and the ideal harvest time.

The researchers hope to test the lettuce in space conditions and analyze its stability over multiple generations to ensure it maintains its production level.

While the lettuce grown on the ISS has proven to have a pleasantly bitter, rocket-like taste, the flavour of the team’s transgenic variety remains to be experienced. Before humans can eat it, animal studies and clinical trials need to be done to test its efficacy and safety.

But Yates hopes that it will taste “every bit as delicious as regular lettuce and that it would be a good break from powdered and dehydrated food that long-duration space travellers might otherwise be eating most of the time.”

Nandi notes that “the opportunity is outstanding” for their transgenic lettuce on Earth as well as in deep space.

At CUBES, they specialize in using biology to solve challenges in low-resource environments. The technologies they design for use on spacecrafts or planetary surfaces can improve life on Earth too.

“There are places where medicine is needed, but it’s not feasible to set up a facility that can manufacture therapeutic proteins. But it would be possible to build a greenhouse, for example, and grow plants to produce medicine,” says Yates.

“So, a lot of things that we develop for spaceflight also definitely have applications on Earth.”


Source: National Post

China Orders Government, State Firms to Dump Foreign PCs

China has ordered central government agencies and state-backed corporations to replace foreign-branded personal computers with domestic alternatives within two years, marking one of Beijing’s most aggressive efforts so far to eradicate key overseas technology from within its most sensitive organs.

Staff were asked after the week-long May break to turn in foreign PCs for home-made alternatives that run on operating software developed domestically, people familiar with the plan said. The exercise, which was mandated by central government authorities, is likely to eventually replace at least 50 million PCs on a central-government level alone, they said, asking to remain anonymous discussing a sensitive matter.

The decision advances China’s decade-long campaign to replace imported technology with local alternatives, a sweeping effort that covers everything from semiconductors to networking gear and phones. It’s likely to directly affect sales by HP Inc. and Dell Technologies Inc., the country’s biggest PC brands after local champion Lenovo Group Ltd.

Lenovo erased losses to climb as much as 5% on Friday morning in Hong Kong, while software developer Kingsoft Corp. also recouped its earlier decline to gain 3.3%. On mainland Chinese exchanges, Inspur Electronic Information Industry Co., a Chinese server maker, gained 6% while peer Dawning Information Industry Co. jumped more than 4%.

The replacement effort reflects Beijing’s growing concerns around information security as well as a confidence in homegrown hardware: the world’s biggest laptop and server makers today include Lenovo, Huawei Technologies Co. and Inspur Ltd., while local developers such as Kingsoft and Standard Software have made rapid strides in office software against the likes of Microsoft Corp. and Adobe Inc.

The campaign will be extended to provincial governments later and also abide by the two-year timeframe, the people said. The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and State Council Information Office didn’t respond to faxed requests for comment.

China has been encouraging use of home-made IT products in government agencies for at least a decade, regularly barring certain products from government procurement lists. In response, U.S. IT giants such as Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co. and Microsoft have set up joint ventures with firms backed by the Chinese government, to secure orders from the richest state-owned companies.

That process has long been dogged by inadequacies in Chinese-developed software and circuitry, forcing users to rely on imported equipment. That changed in recent years, as local champions such as Inspur and Lenovo gained global market share, though their products still rely on cutting-edge American components such as processors from Intel Corp. or Advanced Micro Devices Inc. As of Friday, HP-branded machines were still available for purchase on a website used by central government procurement bodies, though it’s unclear if transactions would go through.

The latest central government directive is likely to cover only PC brands and software, and exclude hard-to-replace components such as processors from Intel and AMD, the people said. China will mostly encourage Linux-based operating systems to replace Microsoft’s Windows. Shanghai-based Standard Software is one of the top providers of such tools, one person said.

Certain agencies, including state-owned media and cybersecurity bodies, may continue to buy advanced foreign equipment under special permits as they always have, one of the people said. That permit system could be tightened in future, the person said.


Source : BNN Bloomberg