Watching the Tape: A random walk though recent economic, market and business headlines, August 12, 2015

Where one dimension touches or passes through another, it dorms a line of force on the landscape.  – Stephen R. Lawhead

3-D printers will change the world. Almost anything can be printed. Need a pair of shoes? Find a picture and let your printer make them for you. Need a hard-to-find wrench? Just press a button.

3-D printers have come a long way. If you can think of an object, or find a picture of it, a 3-D printer can make it. Below are examples of things you can print (photos from the website of Rock Hill-based 3D Systems*).

This isn’t science fiction. Today’s 3-D printers record the digital image of an object, then recreate the object in plastic, metal, cloth, leather and other materials. You would think everybody wants one, right?

Apparently not. Two of the industry’s biggest players, 3D Systems and Stratasys, reported sluggish sales last week. Both companies reported losses. “3D is flat”, quipped one headline.

Sales are slowing because consumers don’t “get it” – don’t understand why they need a 3-D printer at home – and the early adopters are experiencing quality and reliability problems. (Imagine clearing a jammed shoe from your printer!)

Hewlett-Packard plans to unveil a new model next year expected to work ten times faster than current models. Just a matter of time before you too can make shoes in your home office.

Comment: Meanwhile some of us still can’t operate a plain paper copier.

Last week the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first 3-D printed drug. The drug, called Spritam, will be used to treat epilepsy. Manufactured by Aprecia Pharmaceuticals, the oral drug is printable because it is made of a “porous material”.

Comment: Looks like the way they made dinosaurs in Jurassic Park.

Students go to college to become multi-dimensional, and some students are selling stock in themselves. Stock? It’s the new new way to pay for college. Rather than face a pile of debt after college, some students are selling a share of their future earnings in exchange for tuition. The deal is called an “income-share” agreement. Investors buy stock in the students, and contract for a share of future earings. Financially successful students may eventually pay back more than they would have if they had just borrowed the money. If the students aren’t successful, the investors are left holding the bag. Programs have been introduced in Illinois, California and called “Bet on a Boiler”.
Comment: We were thinking “Gamble on a Gamecock.”
Textbooks are a sure loss, at least financially. NBC News reported last week that the price of college textbooks has risen 1041% from 1977 to 2015, triple the rate of inflation. Cynics claim textbook costs have risen because of the increased availability of student loans.
Comment: The report said some textbooks now cost as much as $500.

  1. Frequent flyer miles seem like a gamble at times, as consumers try to figure out which airline offers the best rewards deal. Last week U.S. News and World Report ranked airlines by their frequent-flier programs. The winner? Alaska Air.
    Great if you’re going to Alaska, right? But the points are transferrable. Alaska Air partners with American and Delta, so you may transfer Alaska Air points to flights on those airlines. The top five frequent programs by consumer ranking:
    1. Alaska Air
    2. American
    3. Southwest
    4. JetBlue
    5. Hawaiian Airlines

Comment: When you get to a million points they’ll put your picture on the tail of the plane. (No. Kidding. That guy is a Native Alaskan.)

2015.08.12 pic7The U.S. economy is a conglomerate of fifty smaller state economies, each of which is comparable to another nation somewhere in the world. The map above, from, compares each state to the closest comparable national economy somewhere else. For example, South Carolina’s economy is closest in size to Vietnam. Georgia’s economy is closest to Norway’s. New York is comparable to Spain. And so on. The Texas economy is the same size as all of Canada’s.
Comment: Oregon!

British bookmakers are setting the odds for a Trump presidency. Two months ago the odds were 150-1, last week they moved up to 14-1. Jeb Bush is 7-2, Marco Rubio is 7-1. Bernie Sanders is given 12-1 odds.
Comment: Shaping up to be a long 15 months.

*Note: 3D Systems is covered by Fintrust Equity Research – the most recent report is available through this link: