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8 Fascinating Reads

Thursday - 3/28/2013, 12:06pm  ET

There are more good news articles, commentaries, and analyst reports on the Web every week than anyone could read in a month. Here are eight fascinating ones I read this week.

Going flat
Advertising Age
writes on the decline of soda:

The amount of soda consumed declined 1.2% in 2012 -- down to 1996 levels, with per capita consumption in the U.S. falling to 1987 levels. Still, the major brands increased pricing, leading to a 1.8% rise in retail sales. According to Beverage Digest, the category, which includes energy drinks is worth about $77 billion.

Soda consumption was steady throughout the 1990s, rising about 3% per year, before slowing in 1999. The category has been in decline since 2005.

This likely explains why Coca-Cola and others have diversified into other bottled beverages like water.

Big oil, little oil
Citigroup's commodities team writes on the potentially bleak future of oil. Emphasis from the FT Alphaville:

The combination of an accelerating push to substitute natural gas for oil and ongoing improvements in fuel economy is enough to mean that oil demand growth may be topping out much sooner than the market expects. The shift from oil to gas is already under way in the US, where the shale gas revolution is giving a large economic incentive to make the switch. As the US shift gains pace, politics, greater natural gas availability and environmental concerns are facilitating the trend into the global market, more than compensating for the narrower gas-oil spread.

Supply and demand
USA Today
writes on the falling number of stocks in the market:

The Wilshire 5000 index is a market measure of all the U.S.-based firms that have shares that can be traded. For decades, it's been a proxy for the size, breadth and value of the entire stock market.

But even the Wilshire 5000 can't maintain enough companies to reach its namesake number. There now are 3,678 companies in the index, is down by more than a third in a decade and off by nearly half from its level in 2000, says Wilshire Associates.

The number of publicly traded companies always ebbs and flows, but the current number has fallen steadily since at least 2000. At 3,678, the number of companies available for the public to invest in is much closer to the low of 3,069 in February 1971 than to the high of 7,562 in July 1998.

Down to Earth
The Financial Times writes on falling banker pay:

Investment bankers still get paid much more than other professionals, including doctors and engineers, but for the first time in a generation, the gap is narrowing.

In what remuneration experts say marks only the beginning of potentially the largest adjustment in decades, average pay per head in a sample of nine European and US investment banks has fallen from 9.5 times the private sector average in 2006 to 5.8 times last year, according to research compiled by PwC exclusively for the FT.

Sour Apples
Fast Company
writes a realistic take on Apple :

Apple thrived on this attention and the belief that the next revolutionary product was coming: iPod, iPhone, iPad. What is too easily forgotten is that Apple's quantum leaps were never fast and furious. We forget that six years separated the launches of the iPod and the iPhone, and three years came between the iPhone and iPad. What is more, the pace of adoption of these products, meteoric of late, was not always so. The iPad took two years to sell 100 million units; the iPhone nearly four years; the iPod six.

Is there impatience about what's coming next? Of course. Wall Street is indignant that Apple hasn't announced a wearable computer, say, or a voice-controlled TV. As Lindzon says, "Apple's problem is that it can't dance to what Wall Street wants." But, frankly, it never has.

Perspective
The White House's economic report puts various measures of wealth in perspective, measured against disposable personal income:

He's back
Former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan gives his view on the market rally:

Less than a month after the 1996 streak, then Chairman Greenspan shook stock markets by warning that climbing share prices could be the result of irrational exuberance. That became one of the most famous phrases of his 18-year tenure as head of the central bank. But he has an opposite view today.

"Irrational exuberance is the last term I would use to characterize what is going on at the moment," Greenspan said on CNBC Friday morning. Asked about the recent bull market, he responded, "It's still got a ways to go as far as I can see."

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