Luxury’s Chess Masters Prepare for a New Game

anastasios pallis


A series of strategic shifts in the boardrooms and back rooms of the world’s biggest luxury groups — LVMH, Kering and Richemont — has been underway in recent months.

A Gucci store in Paris.CreditCharles Platiau/Reuters

On a sunny day earlier this month, scores of suited men and women found themselves in a low-rise building on the outskirts of Florence, Italy, walking by bright hand-painted murals of birds of paradise, wildflowers and dreamy-eyed women wearing turbans, T-shirts and rhinestone-encrusted sunglasses.

The location? The new Gucci ArtLab. The occasion? An investor day for Kering, Gucci’s parent company, with Marco Bizzarri, the chief executive of Gucci, taking on a starring role in front of the assembled crowd. His topic: A master plan to make Gucci the largest luxury brand in the world.

“It’s not a question of if,” he said, “but when.”

The brand had just posted record annual sales of 6.2 billion euros, or about $7.1 billion, in 2017, a 45 percent increase from the prior year. Now it planned to reach €10 billion in annual sales and a 40 percent operating margin by 2019.

To do so, Kering, which has holdings in fine jewelry and watches as well as fashion, confirmed a wider strategy already underway to narrow its focus to five of its premium houses: Gucci, Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen and Bottega Veneta.

The implications of such a shift are becoming increasingly clear. They reflect not only a strategic housecleaning at Kering, but also the quiet reorganizations that have been taking place at LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and Richemont, as the world’s three biggest luxury groups prepare for what may be a new stage of acquisitions and consolidation.

“This moment signals the end of an important chapter for Kering,” said Thomas Chauvet, head of European luxury goods equity research for Citibank. “After almost 30 years of asset rotations and churning through their portfolio, they have reinvented themselves as a pure luxury player.”

This change in focus has expressed itself in a flurry of hirings, firings and asset disposals over the first part of this year, as Kering reorients its focus away from small and midlevel brand acquisitions — “they have realized these brands need a lot of help and do not move the profit needle at all,” said Mr. Chauvet — and toward their Big Five.

The designer Stella McCartney at her men’s spring 2019 show in Milan.CreditLuca Bruno/Associated Press

First, in January, came the long-anticipated spinoff of the German sports brand Puma, a clear step toward a long-term commitment to luxury that was welcomed by shareholders. Next, in March, it was announced that after a 17-year partnership the British designer Stella McCartney would buy back the 50 percent stake that Kering owned in her namesake fashion business. And earlier this month, days after Bottega Veneta said that it had parted ways with its longtime creative director Tomas Maier in favor of a 32-year-old unknown, Daniel Lee, Kering confirmed that it was in talks to sell its 51 percent stake in Christopher Kane back to the British designer and that Mr. Maier’s namesake business would cease operations.

These moves followed the divestiture of Sergio Rossi in 2015, and, analysts said, suggest that Brioni, the Italian men’s wear brand, and Altuzarra, the American women’s wear brand in which Kering has a minority stake, might well be next.

“I see it likely that these moves may be a preamble to more meaningful luxury-focused M&A down the road,” Luca Solca, head of luxury goods research at Exane BNP Paribas, wrote in an email, referring to the Kane, Maier and McCartney news.

The designer Tomas Maier at the Bottega Veneta fall 2016 women’s show in Milan.CreditAlessandro Garofalo/Reuters

Not all of Kering’s smaller brands face an uncertain future: Boucheron and Qeelin are still in the pack (fine jewelry, like top-tier fashion and leather goods, can offer higher margins and faster organic growth potential than more accessibly priced brands). Still, the shift in mind-set at Kering has come at a time where other major luxury groups are also rethinking their hands.

Earlier this month, after a 108-year silence, Chanel published its first financial earnings report (widely considered a shot across the bow to any potential bidders, like Bernard Arnault at LVMH).

Recently Richemont, the Swiss luxury group that now owns 17 upscale brands such as Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels and Montblanc, has disposed of smaller, underperforming labels like Shanghai Tang and Lancel and made a series of key strategic purchases to ramp up its digital retail network. Earlier this month it announced the completion of its takeover of the luxury e-commerce site Yoox Net-a-Porter after an offer of €2.8 billion, along with a deal to buy Watchfinder, a pre-owned premium watch specialist that sells online and through boutiques.

Dior Men, spring 2019.CreditValerio Mezzanotti for The New York Times

And LVMH — by far the most dominant of the conglomerates with around 60 brands encompassing not only fashion, jewelry, and cosmetics but also wines and spirits and a market capitalization of €140.4 billion, more than twice the size of either Kering and Richemont — completed the equivalent of a cabinet reshuffle of the men’s wear lines in its major fashion houses, moving Kim Jones from Vuitton to Dior Men, hiring the streetwear star Virgil Abloh as artistic director of Louis Vuitton men’s wear, and shifting Kris Van Assche from Dior Homme to Berluti.

Then, in June, Antoine Arnault, 41, Mr. Arnault’s eldest son and Berluti’s chief executive, was given the added responsibility of LVMH head of communications and image, reflecting an increased level of external scrutiny on the market leader. And earlier this week, the group also confirmed that LVMH was divesting itself of a minority stake in Edun, the eco-friendly fashion label started by the singer Bono and his wife Ali Hewson.

The moves have increased speculation about avenues for growth.

“As an investor, if you buy Kering right now, you are basically buying Gucci and a fundamentally fashion-focused stock which is more prone to cyclical ups and downs: It remains a risk for investors worried about putting all their eggs in one basket,” said Erwan Rambourg, global co-head of consumer and retail research at HSBC. “If you buy LVMH, you get a buy into a much more balanced and diversified portfolio with a greater spread across product categories.”

François-Henri Pinault, Kering’s chief executive, at the group’s general meeting in Paris in April.CreditEric Piermont/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Hence the belief in the market that, although the Kering group share price has grown by more than 35 percent this year, its chief executive, François-Henri Pinault, could now be looking for bigger luxury assets with which to capture investor interest, bolstered by recent changes to the French tax code that have improved flexibility around corporate deal making.

Kering declined to comment on its plans, but Mr. Chauvet of Citibank said: “Gucci will account for over 70 percent of group operating profit in 2018, and there will be some desire to rebalance the portfolio away from Gucci” — whether that is by bolstering performance and investment in other brands, or by “deliberately bringing another brand that is more sizable than in the past to the platform.”

In March, Exane BNP Paribas published a report looking at the possibility of a merger between Richemont and Kering, asking, “Why separate Puma just now? Why push Gucci so hard? Why secure control of YNAP (Yoox Net-a-Porter)?” and noting “Richemont and Kering are complementary: Kering is strong in soft luxury, Richemont is a champion in hard luxury. The combination would create significant scale advantage.”

The suggestion has been firmly rebuffed by both groups.

Still, after a rocky few years, the global luxury market has regained its luster. Buoyant results, bolstered by strong demand in China, have not only boosted bottom lines but contributed to a cash buildup waiting to be deployed. Kering appears to be readying itself to lead that charge.

Elizabeth Paton is a reporter for the Styles section, covering the fashion and luxury sectors in Europe. Before joining The Times in 2015, she was a reporter at the Financial Times both in London and New York. @LizziePaton

Vanessa Friedman is The Times’s fashion director and chief fashion critic. She was previously the fashion editor of the Financial Times. @VVFriedman


This article is from NYT – go to source

For Local Newspapers, Angry Readers Are a Given. But Killings Send Shivers.

anastasios pallis
anastasios pallis

Kathy Best, the editor of the Missoulian and Ravalli Republic newspapers in Montana, recalled that when a reporter wrote about a man who had pleaded guilty to intimidating a library employee, the man “created websites in the reporter’s name, with a photo of a tombstone.”

“When your newspaper is covering a community, it’s a much more intimate relationship that you have with readers,” Ms. Best added. “And they let you know, up close and personal, when they’re unhappy with what you do.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists is known more for tracking press freedom around the world, but last year, with political divisions deepening and President Trump labeling the news media the “enemy of the American people,” it began documenting attacks on journalists in the United States. Since then, the organization has documented physical violence directed at more than 60 journalists, especially those covering protests.

In an article published Friday, Kyle Pope, the editor of the Columbia Journalism Review, wrote about his experience as an editor of a weekly in Manhattan. A disgruntled woman, whom Mr. Pope described as a “neighborhood eccentric,” was upset about an article describing her as a hoarder who had threatened her neighbors.

Before the article was published, the woman showed up at the offices, he wrote, “angry and incoherent and demanding to speak to our reporter.” The situation was defused without violence, as most are across the country, but in the wake of Thursday’s shooting, it gave Mr. Pope pause.

“Local newsrooms are accessible for a reason — it’s part of what makes them integral to the life of their communities,” Mr. Pope wrote. “People come in to buy ads. Readers bring in photos of their kids’ sports teams. Tipsters drop by with gossip.

“It is heartbreaking, but necessary, to recognize that the openness that defines local news likely carries too high a risk; local newsrooms, at least for now, may have no choice but to fortify themselves.”

This article is from NYT – go to source

Newspaper Shooting Shows Widening Use of Facial Recognition by Authorities

anastasios pallis
anastasios pallis

SAN FRANCISCO — When the police apprehended a suspect for the shootings at The Capital Gazette’s newsroom in Annapolis, Md., on Thursday, he refused to divulge his name. So the authorities identified the man, Jarrod Ramos, using a different method: facial recognition technology.

The revelation shone a spotlight on just how easily and how quickly officials can pinpoint suspects using a technology that is increasingly pervasive in law enforcement. Over the past few years, facial recognition has been quietly adopted by the authorities across the United States — including at the local policing level — and become part of the standard law enforcement toolkit.

Sixteen states let the Federal Bureau of Investigation use the technology to compare the faces of suspected criminals to driver’s license and ID photos, according to a report from the Georgetown Law Center on Privacy and Technology. And thanks to recent improvements to facial recognition by some of the world’s largest tech companies, its influence in policing is likely to grow.

“Face recognition is one of the most important developments in crime fighting since the discovery of fingerprinting in the 19th century,” said Joseph J. Atick, a pioneer in face recognition technology and executive chairman of ID4Africa, which works with African governments to institute national identification systems. “It’s hard to imagine a police department in the United States with more than 10 to 15 cops in it that does not have access to face recognition.”

The use of the technology in the Capital Gazette shooting comes amid a broader debate about facial recognition’s role in policing. Proponents see it as a powerful tool for catching criminals, but civil liberties experts have warned that it can be an instrument of mass surveillance that threatens people’s ability to anonymously go about their business.

That debate has heated up as tech companies like Amazon have recently drawn criticism for providing facial recognition technology to law enforcement agencies. Last month, more than two dozen civil rights organizations asked Amazon to stop selling its facial recognition system — called Rekognition — to the authorities.

The civil rights groups argued that Rekognition was overly powerful — according to Amazon’s web site, it can not only track individuals, it can also detect “up to 100 faces in challenging crowded photos,” as well as license plates captured by traffic cameras. That means the system could potentially ensnare many ordinary citizens, rather than being limited only to people committing crimes.

In the case of the Capital Gazette shooting, police did not use facial recognition in a way that violated people’s privacy, according to experts in the technology. They noted that the police were merely confirming the identity of a suspect whom they already had in custody, as opposed to trying to find a criminal in an enormous database of people.

Timothy Altomare, chief of the Anne Arundel County Police Department in Maryland, said on Friday that the police used the Maryland Image Repository System to identify Mr. Ramos when he did not cooperate with investigators. They initially tried to learn Mr. Ramos’s identity through his fingerprints, he said. But with the fingerprint identification moving slowly, they quickly switched to facial recognition.

Specifically, a photo of Mr. Ramos was sent to the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center, which searched the repository of driver’s license photos and mug shots to find a match, said Mr. Altomare.

“We would have been much longer in identifying him and being able to push forward,” Mr. Altomare said about why the image system was used.

The progression of facial recognition technology has been rapid. Computing systems can now examine a photo or video footage of a face and match it to an image in an existing database of faces, all with an accuracy that rivals human sight, something that was not possible just five years ago. These systems also typically scan databases far quicker than human analysts.

Even in the technology’s earliest days, it piqued the interest of intelligence agencies and law enforcement officials. American military and intelligence agencies used facial recognition for years in Iraq and Afghanistan to identify potential terrorists. More recently, it has caught on at dozens of police departments around the United States to pursue drug dealers, prostitutes and other conventional criminal suspects.

That adoption is likely to accelerate as more companies — such as Amazon, NEC and Cognitec — widen their facial recognition offerings. The hardware and software that underpins the technology has also become less expensive, pushing myriad start-ups and other companies to enter the market.

Police departments and individuals can even build similar technology on their own with relative ease.

The authorities identified Jarrod Ramos as a suspect for the shootings at The Capital Gazette’s newsroom using facial recognition technology.CreditReuters

“If a police department hired me for a summer internship, I could cook them up a decent face recognition algorithm — not that I am offering my services,” said Jonathan Frankle, an artificial intelligence researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who helped write a study of face recognition technology at the Georgetown Law Center for Privacy and Technology.

Questions about privacy and concerns about potential misuse of facial recognition are also likely to increase, especially as the systems require a large database of images that faces can be matched against. The F.B.I. has a database that spans 400 million images, according to a recent report from the General Accounting Office. The Maryland Image Repository System contains millions of images from motor vehicle records.

Many local law enforcement agencies may run criminal searches against state databases of driver’s license photos, involving millions of citizens in a kind of government surveillance they didn’t sign up for, said Jennifer Lynch, a senior staff lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights organization.

“People who are in a driver’s license database did not agree to be part of a criminal search every time the police are looking for a suspect,” Ms. Lynch said. “A civil photograph should not be subject to search for criminal purposes.”

One added concern is that face recognition systems sometimes make mistakes, matching an image to the wrong person. “Depending on how good your image is, the accuracy can vary wildly,” Mr. Frankle said.

That’s especially so when photos are taken by overhead security cameras, which do not always provide a clear and straightforward image. Even in good conditions, face recognition technology fails at least part of the time. And those failures may increase as databases of potential suspects grow and there are more chances of mistaken outcomes, said Mr. Frankle.

“The accuracy of these systems depends on so many things, including the size of your database,” said Mr. Frankle. “The technology may get worse as the database gets bigger.”

Follow Cade Metz and Natasha Singer on Twitter: @CadeMetz and @natashanyt

Cade Metz reported from San Francisco and Natasha Singer from New York. Matthew Haag contributed reporting from New York.

This article is from NYT – go to source

Time Split to the Nanosecond Is Precisely What Wall Street Wants

anastasios pallis
anastasios pallis

SAN FRANCISCO — Computer scientists at Stanford University and Google have created technology that can track time down to 100 billionths of a second. It could be just what Wall Street is looking for.

System engineers at Nasdaq, the New York-based stock exchange, recently began testing an algorithm and software that they hope can synchronize a giant network of computers with that nanosecond precision. They say they have built a prototype, and are in the process of deploying a bigger version.

For an exchange like Nasdaq, such refinement is essential to accurately order the millions of stock trades that are placed on their computer systems every second.

Ultimately, this is about money. With stock trading now dominated by computers that make buying and selling decisions and execute them with blazing speed, keeping that order also means protecting profits. So-called high frequency trading firms place trades in a fraction of a second, sometimes in a bet that they can move faster than bigger competitors.

The pressure to manage these high-speed trades grows when the stock market becomes more volatile, as it has been in recent months, in part to prevent the fastest traders from taking unfair advantage of slower firms.

“The financial industry has easily become the most obsessed with time,” said Balaji Prabhakar, a Stanford University electrical engineer who is one of the designers of the new synchronization system.

Because the orders are placed from locations around the world, they frequently arrive at the exchange’s computers out of sequence. The new system allows each computer to time stamp an order when it takes place.

As a result, the trades can be sorted and executed in correct sequence. In a networked marketplace, this precision is necessary not only to prevent illicit trading on advance information known as “front-running,” but also to ensure the fair placement of orders.

The importance of technical advances in measuring time was underscored by European regulations that went into effect in January and that require financial institutions to synchronize time-stamped trades with microsecond accuracy.

Being able to trade at the nanosecond level is vital to Nasdaq. Two years ago, it debuted the Nasdaq Financial Framework, a software system that it has envisioned eventually trading everything from stocks and bonds to fish and car-sharing rides.

The new synchronization system will make it possible for Nasdaq to offer “pop-up” electronic markets on short notice anywhere in the world, Mr. Prabhakar said. He cited the World Cup as a hypothetical example of a short-term electronic marketplace.

“There are tickets needed, housing, people will need transportation,” he said. “Think of an electronic market almost like a massive flea market hosted by Nasdaq software.”

To go from trading equities to managing all sorts of financial transactions will require more than an order of magnitude speedup in the company’s networks of computers. It will be possible only if all of the exchange’s computers agree on time with nanosecond accuracy.

A generation ago, computing usually took place in a single mainframe or personal computer. Now it is routinely spread across thousands of independent processors in machines that can be separated by a few feet or entire continents.

Chip designers have long struggled to maintain the precise timing needed to order mathematical operations inside individual computing chips. And synchronizing these vast ensembles of them has become the limiting factor in the speed and processing power of what Google describes as “planetary-scale” computers.

“It’s kind of mind-boggling,” said Peter Hochschild, a Google software engineer who specializes in the challenges associated with spreading software and data across networked computers. “Inside a processor, an enormous amount of stuff happens in a billionth of a second.”

A billionth of a second is roughly the time it takes light to travel one foot. It has long been viewed as a crucial measure in computing. In the 1960s, the computing pioneer Grace Murray Hopper would hand out 11.8-inch lengths of wire to illustrate how designing smaller electronic parts would create faster computers.

Distance has become even more significant as software has begun to escape the boundaries of individual computers and make its way into the cloud — the web of giant computer data centers that have come to blanket the planet.

They are near dams to take advantage of cheap hydroelectric power and in cold climates to save on cooling costs. Microsoft has even begun submerging them in the ocean to take advantage of power generated by tidal surges.

Because software and data are no longer in the same place, correctly calculating the order of the events that may be separated by feet or miles has become the dominant factor in the speed with which data can be processed.

“So much of our expectation about computing being correct depends essentially on knowing this order,” said Krishna Palem, a theoretical computer scientist at Rice University.

In the world of cloud computing, entire databases are scattered among different computers and data centers.

That has created tremendous challenges for the designers of electronic commerce systems. The new software synchronization standard under which Nasdaq’s system would work, known as Huygens, is intended to replace a 33-year-old Network Time Protocol, or N.T.P., as well as more expensive approaches that have relied on atomic clocks and global positioning satellites.

Huygens, named for the Dutch physicist Christiaan Huygens, who invented the pendulum clock in 1656, uses so-called machine-learning techniques to synchronize a network of computers to within 100 billionths of a second. In contrast, the N.T.P. standard can synchronize computers no more accurately than a millisecond, or one thousandth of a second.

To ensure that buyers and sellers are treated fairly, Nasdaq has for decades looked for ways to ensure that trades are processed in the order they are placed.

While building a network for Nasdaq in the 1990s, Brian Reid, a computer scientist at Digital Equipment Corporation, experimented by coiling large rolls of cables of different lengths in a Massachusetts warehouse in order to insert tiny delays in the time it took data to travel in a network to make sure that messages were delivered fairly. He then employed timing information from satellites to synchronize clocks at different locations.

Google would later use this method to synchronize computers based on GPS data and atomic clocks to make sure that their database system could correctly order transactions. But since the system requires super-accurate clocks and satellite receivers, it is more costly than the software-based Huygens approach.

Mr. Reid built his original system in an era when the Securities and Exchange Commission required that all stock sales be entered by humans.

“Five millisecond accuracy in clock synchronization pleased everyone,” he said. “It took much longer than five milliseconds to press the ‘Enter’ key on the big green terminals that people used.”

Follow John Markoff on Twitter: @markoff.

This article is from NYT – go to source

Wealth Matters: Can Artificial Intelligence Keep Your Home Secure?

anastasios pallis
anastasios pallis

Mr. Silva said any security plan started with the basics — good locks, strong doors, an alarm system — and could be expanded to full perimeter screening with either monitoring enhanced with artificial intelligence or more traditional motion detectors and alarms. Celebrities and other well-known people may want to build a safe room in their homes, he said, or have their own command centers.

“Before you start prescribing medicine, you need to diagnose the condition,” Mr. Silva said. “A risk assessment is really crucial.”

Christopher Falkenberg, a former Secret Service agent and the president of Insite Risk Management, said that with threats being made so easily over social media, he needed to help clients control their personal information and who had access to it.

He said his firm used existing technology and had created some of its own programs to track what was being said about clients online.

“We used to be concerned with a small circle of people with information about you — the gardeners, the people who were on the property,” Mr. Falkenberg said. “We can’t vet all the people online the way we used to vet the gardener. We have to talk to clients about controlling the information that they personally put out there.”

At a minimum, what any security program hopes to do is make a home less attractive to criminals.

“We’ll never reduce the crime rate in East Hampton or Greenwich,” Mr. Falkenberg said. But, he added, “if we can make it that much more difficult to target our people, we’ll have achieved our goal.”

A few months ago, Mr. Manganiello and Ms. Vergara’s home was targeted again. But this time, their new system from Edgeworth with geofencing technology and A.I.-enabled cameras detected three men before they could get close to the house.

“As they were trying to figure out where to come in, the command center was guiding the police to our house,” Mr. Manganiello said. “They were able to apprehend them and their getaway driver before they could even touch the house.”

This article is from NYT – go to source

Banks Are Paying Out Billions to Shareholders. We Put the Numbers in Context.

anastasios pallis
anastasios pallis

The nation’s largest banks, back to making big profits a decade after the financial crisis, are set to pay out billions of dollars to their shareholders.

The banks’ regulator, the Federal Reserve, signed off on the payments after the banks passed annual stress tests, whose results came out on Thursday. The Fed carries out the tests, which were introduced after the crisis, to assess how big banks would fare in a deep recession.

After passing, the six largest United States institutions are now free to distribute over $125 billion in stock buybacks and dividend payments. One revealing exercise is to compare the size of the banks’ requested payouts with the profits that analysts expect the banks to make in the second half of this year and the first half of next, the period covered by the capital plans. On average, those six banks plan to distribute 102 percent of their profits to shareholders.

Wells Fargo asked to pay out 141 percent of the earnings that Barclays’ analysts expect it to generate over the next 12 months, the highest of the bunch. The Fed, as punishment for a string of scandals, has told Wells Fargo that it cannot increase the size of its balance sheet until the Fed is satisfied that the bank has rectified its problems. As a result, Wells Fargo appears to be paying out capital it might otherwise have used to finance a greater amount of loans. Its payout ratio in 2017 was 99 percent, according to Barclays.

Citigroup, whose fortunes have picked up in recent years, could pay out 128 percent of its earnings after the latest stress tests, compared with 119 percent in 2017.

Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs have much lower numbers, 80 percent and 69 percent. To get the Fed’s approval for their capital plans, both firms had to reduce their requested payouts. The two banks’ percentages may be lower because the stress tests effectively leave them with less capital to distribute. And that might happen because the tests may be tougher on Wall Street activities than, say, traditional lending.

Another reason may be that Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs simply have less excess capital, resulting in there being less to distribute in each stress test cycle.

This article is from NYT – go to source

G.M. Says New Wave of Tariffs Could Force U.S. Job Cuts

anastasios pallis
anastasios pallis

General Motors warned Friday that another wave of tariffs being considered by the Trump administration could force the company to scale back its business and cost American jobs.

In comments submitted to the Commerce Department, the automaker said that the tariffs, if approved, could drive individual vehicle prices up thousands of dollars, stifling demand. Such costs would need to be borne either by consumers or the company.

Last month, President Trump ordered an investigation into whether imported cars and automotive components could pose enough of a national security risk to warrant tariffs of as much as 25 percent. If he goes ahead, it would intensify a global trade war that has engulfed allies and adversaries. In recent months, the administration has imposed tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, along with measures targeted at China.

Carmakers, in particular, have been caught in the middle of the trade fight. They rely heavily on metals to build their cars, including parts from overseas. The president’s threat to pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement could also hurt the industry supply chain.

Several other automakers and manufacturing organizations, including the National Association of Manufacturers, BMW and Volvo, have also submitted comments on the tariffs under consideration for foreign automakers and part suppliers.

“Increased import tariffs could lead to a smaller G.M., a reduced presence at home and abroad for this iconic American company, and risk less — not more — U.S. jobs,” General Motors wrote in its comment.

The tariffs would result in “broad-brush trade barriers that increase our global costs, remove a key means of competing with manufacturers in lower-wage countries, and promote a trade environment in which we could be retaliated against in other markets,” the company said.

General Motors pointed to other potential consequences, including “less investment, fewer jobs and lower wages” for its employees.

“The carry-on effect of less investment and a smaller work force could delay breakthrough technologies and threaten U.S. leadership in the next generation of automotive technology,” the company wrote.

A G.M. spokeswoman, Dayna Hart, said that the company had no contingency plans calling for job cuts, but that it was “something that could happen.”

“We are still assessing the impact,” she added.

General Motors wrote in its comment that it has 47 manufacturing facilities, 25 service part facilities and 110,000 employees in the United States, where it conducts most of its research and development, design, engineering and other work.

Follow Tiffany Hsu on Twitter: @tiffkhsu

Neal E. Boudette contributed reporting.

This article is from NYT – go to source

Doctor, Your Patient Is Waiting. It’s a Red Panda.

anastasios pallis
anastasios pallis

BOSTON — Hoppy, a young red panda, was the first patient of the day, carried — and anesthetized — into the exam room so he could get a physical.

Then Mildred, a 24-year-old barnacle goose, wobbled painfully across the floor as veterinarians analyzed her gait. They couldn’t see any improvement 10 days after an earlier exam. Replacement of the degenerating joints isn’t an option for a goose. Maybe acupuncture could help?

Next up was Sofina, an 8-year-old diabetic lemur that had done well on insulin shots for six years, but displayed troubling new symptoms. She kept her right hand clenched, though she could use it when necessary — reminiscent of a human diabetes patient coping with neuropathy.

This was a typical morning for three veterinarians at the Franklin Park Zoo. But it was a fairly unusual one for the Harvard Medical School student alongside them.

Although medical students usually stick to the human species, Harvard med students have been signing up for rotations at the zoo during their final months of training. The clinical elective, offered for the last three years, is also intended to reinforce the idea that animals and people share the same environment.

Outbreaks of infectious diseases like Ebola and Lyme disease are stark reminders of how vulnerable people are to a dysfunctional ecosystem, said Dr. Eric Baitchman, vice president of animal health and conservation at Zoo New England, which operates the Franklin Park Zoo in central Boston, and the smaller Stone Zoo in nearby Stoneham, Mass.

“Most medical students don’t get that side of the picture,” Dr. Baitchman said, noting that it is often human logging, bushmeat consumption and other man-made habitat changes that trigger such crises. “Human activities can have direct influences on our own health,” he said.

[Like the Science Times page on Facebook. | Sign up for the Science Times newsletter.]

Dr. Sharon Deem, director of the Institute for Conservation Medicine at the St Louis Zoo, said zoos and medical specialists have worked together for decades, but there have only been modest collaborations between zoos and medical schools.

What Harvard Medical School and Zoo New England are doing is more formal and longstanding than any other program she’s aware of. “Eric and his team are at the forefront of what is hopefully going to be a common thing, but it’s not right now,” she said, speaking of Dr. Baitchman. “I feel like the wick is lit now and it’s got enough momentum that it will light the candle at the end.”

People also have a profound need for animals and nature, Dr. Deem said, citing things like therapy dogs and the restorative power of a walk in the woods. “These have positive physical and psychological impacts that we shouldn’t overlook,” she said.

Several students who completed the rotation said they were surprised by how much they learned during a month at the zoo. One tested a gorilla for heart disease, another treated a bat who had broken a wing in a fight, and another spent part of his first day struggling to keep an African tortoise from ambling out of an X-ray machine while he tried to check it for bladder stones.

“Seeing him being shy helped me come out of my shell,” said Dr. Gilad Evrony, the first Harvard medical student to do a rotation. Dr. Evrony, now a pediatrics resident at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York, wrote about his zoo experience in 2016 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“I would never have predicted that I would spend my final month of medical school performing fetal ultrasounds on a pregnant gorilla, phlebotomizing a 500-pound tapir with hemochromatosis, caring for a meerkat in heart failure, and investigating medical mysteries across the animal kingdom,” he wrote in the article.

He also observed: “For nearly every disease I saw at the zoo, the simple question of why certain species, human or nonhuman, are susceptible to it, while others are not, raised immediate possibilities for research. Nearly every day at the zoo, the veterinarians and I would make fascinating, unexpected connections between human and veterinary medicine.”

In an interview, he said the stint at the zoo inspired new respect for the complexity of veterinary medicine. “I really had to overcome some bias that I think pervades much of medicine, that human physiology and disease is unique and that veterinary medicine does not have much to teach us,” Dr. Evrony said.

He and other students in the elective said they were repeatedly struck by how much they learned from treating species other than their own.

Dr. Travis Zack, now a resident in internal medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, said he gained new insights into a rare form of human chronic lymphocytic leukemia by treating the zoo’s 13-year-old black swan, Merlot, for the same disease. The swan appeared to be responding well to a human leukemia drug.

“We think of these as human diseases, but they’re really diseases that occur across the animal kingdom,” said Dr. Zack, who also has a doctorate in biophysics, and works at the Broad Institute, a genetics research institute affiliated with Harvard and MIT.

Of course, Drs. Zack, Evrony and their peers are not the first to realize that there’s a lot to learn from the animal kingdom. The vaccine for smallpox, for instance, was developed after Edward Jenner at the turn of the 19th century recognized that milkmaids were protected against smallpox because they’d already been infected with a related disease from cows.

Flies, worms, fish and mice have long been research laboratory staples. But many of those animals don’t naturally develop the same diseases as humans, so the ailments have to be created through genetic manipulation or other means, some of which raise ethical concerns.

Dr. Elisa Walsh, another student who did the rotation, said she was impressed by the range of evolutionary changes among animal life, solving problems in different ways. “It’s just incredible how much diversity there is,” she said.

She collaborated on a project with a nearby hospital that is using ultrasounds to test gorillas for heart disease — aimed at learning more about the disease in humans and other great apes.

She also learned about tricky diagnoses, and how to to improvise, she said. Among other animals, Dr. Walsh treated an aging Macaw named Henry that suddenly couldn’t fly. Rolling him into an MRI machine to figure out what was wrong was an “interesting experience,” she said. After diagnosing him with a small stroke, she and the veterinarians devised a physical therapy regimen to help him recover his ability to fly. “Thankfully it had a good ending,” she said.

One morning at the Franklin Park Zoo, Wataru Ebina had a few ideas for tests that might help identify what was going on with Sofina the lemur. The veterinarians suspected that the animal’s newfound resistance to insulin might have been caused by Cushing’s disease, an endocrine problem triggered by too much of the stress hormone cortisol.

But testing cortisol levels requires several exams over time, which is tricky for an animal that won’t pee in a cup or stay still for a blood draw. Medical tests cause animals tremendous anxiety, which drives up their cortisol levels. And taking them out of their social environment for repeated testing can upset the social dynamics and hierarchy of all five of the lemurs that share a habitat.

Dr. Ebina, who also has a doctorate in stem cell biology, offered several suggestions, based on what he knew from human treatments, but allowed that none was a great option for a lemur.

In the end, Dr. Megan Watson, an associate veteran, decided they would get a urine sample first, by strategically placing a plastic sheet under her. Then Sofina was briefly anesthetized to get a blood sample. The results didn’t suggest Cushing’s disease, so the vets have tried another form of insulin that seems to be helping.

Hoppy, the male red panda who is now 3 years old, taught Dr. Ebina different lessons. The student helped the vets carry the sedated animal in a dog crate. Inside the zoo’s hospital, they slid Hoppy carefully out onto the metal exam table. A veterinary technician slipped a mask over its face, and positioned the tongue out of the way.

Dr. Ebina gingerly inserted a tube down Hoppy’s throat, intubating him to make sure he could breathe.

“How much to push the tube in is very different” than in human patients, Dr. Ebina said.

As a technician took Hoppy’s temperature, the medical team checked his eyes: his pupils were constricted but looked healthy; his ears, no problems; his abdomen: “No obvious masses. Not distended.” They moved each of his limp limbs to ensure he had a full range of motion, and squeezed his furry paws to poke out and inspect each extended claw.

“It’s all the same anatomy,” Dr. Ebina said, a few minutes later with the exam successfully completed, and Hoppy’s X-rays displayed on a nearby computer. “Seeing an animal that looks completely different but is actually similar reinforces the anatomical concepts that we learn, which is very helpful for my education going forward.”

Later, driving the red panda back to his exhibit space at the front of the zoo, Dr. Alex Becket, an associate veterinarian, reported that Hoppy seemed to be recovering well from the anesthesia. He hadn’t vomited, appeared aware of his surroundings, and had begun grooming himself to get back to normal. Although the elective program is supposed to teach species interdependence, Hoppy hadn’t quite gotten the message. “He’s trying to get the stink of human off of him,” Dr. Becket said.

This article is from NYT – go to source

Vocations: The Art of Making a Bespoke Mattress

anastasios pallis
anastasios pallis

After touring with a band in 2000, I was broke and answered an ad for a job at Savoir. In the interview, the owner, Alistair Hughes, asked if I knew how to sew.

I was a bit cocky in my answer and added I would be an asset to his company. “We’ll see,” he said, and asked me to stitch some materials as a trial. When I was called with the job offer, I was shocked: I’d never had a full-time job before.

What goes into making one of your beds?

We use only natural materials, such as curled horsetail, cashmere, lamb’s and yak wool, and cotton. The mattress is finished using a hand-slipped closure and hand side stitching. The topper is made of hand-teased horsetail with a lamb’s-wool outer layer and a natural case that uses our trademarked Trellis ticking. The bed is completed with bespoke upholstery and a headboard selected to match the preference of each client.

Is that why they are so expensive, with prices ranging from $13,000 up to $250,000?

We do use the best materials, but when I am asked that question, I reply that your health is your wealth. You don’t need all the research that’s out there to prove that if you sleep well, your health is better.

Do you add any personal touches to the process?

I put so much heart and soul into the ones I make that I call them “my children.” I like things neat and looking good. I’m all about precision. My personality is unique — I have my own sartorial styles — and this complements the company ethos. Each bed is made to order and unique. I was honored to be selected to create our Royal State Bed, which retails for more than $175,000.

Continue reading the main story

This article is from NYT – go to source

One County Thrives. The Next One Over Struggles. Economists Take Note.

anastasios pallis
anastasios pallis

Loudoun County, Va., and Jefferson County, W.Va., share bucolic countryside and a 14-mile border. But there are two big differences between them that capture something fundamental about our age.

Economically, Loudoun County is humming from the technology boom in Washington’s suburbs, with the number of businesses rising 49 percent from 2005 to 2015. But on the other side of that border, Jefferson County doesn’t have the same economic dynamism: The number of businesses in the county fell 11 percent in the same period, according to census data.

The two counties have diverged politically, too. Back in 2004, both favored George W. Bush for president by a similar, moderate margin. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won Loudoun by 17 percentage points; Jefferson favored Donald J. Trump by 15 points.

It is a chasm you can find nationwide, according to calculations by Jim Kessler of the think tank Third Way. In 2004, there was just a two-percentage-point gap in how the presidential candidates fared between counties that had gained businesses versus those that had lost them in the preceding decade. In 2016, that was a 15-point gap, with the places that had lost business favoring Mr. Trump.

This divergence is more than a statistical curiosity. It is one more piece of evidence for a shift that is causing some leading thinkers on economic policy to make location and geography more central to their work.

Historically, within the same country, poorer places have tended to converge with richer places. Policymakers and macroeconomists could focus on trying to improve overall national well-being, with confidence that a higher growth rate or lower unemployment would be, over time, widely shared.

But averages can mask a lot of discontent. If growth in jobs, incomes and output is concentrated in a few areas, the overall national numbers might look perfectly fine even as people in huge areas of the country feel despair and a lack of opportunity.

Path dependence may be one cause of recent trends. In a place with a depressed economy, for example, the most ambitious people move to places with more opportunity, leaving an even bleaker situation behind.

Elisa Giannone, a Princeton economist, found in a recent working paper that from 1940 to 1980 the wage gap between poorer and richer cities in the United States converged at an annual rate of 1.4 percent — but that on average there has been no such convergence since then.

Enrico Moretti, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, has done extensive work arguing that the divergence has roots in the rise of more technologically intensive industries combined with the offshoring of lower-skilled work, such as manufacturing. Many of the thriving areas are places where these technologically advanced companies and their employees cluster.

In what is surely a related pattern, Joseph Parilla and Mark Muro of the Brookings Institution found that not only are there big differences in the productivity of different regions — how much economic output is generated per worker — but that the high-productivity regions are also pulling away from the low-productivity ones.

This body of work — focused on how differences in regional economies can explain broader challenges — is attracting more notice from economists and policymakers who have tended to look at things from a national perspective. They’re realizing it may not be enough to worry about overall levels of G.D.P. or employment or wages, when those headline numbers can mask big problems.

“Convergence used to be the order of the day,” said Larry Summers, the Harvard economist and former Treasury secretary. “Now if anything divergence is the order of the day. There’s a lot more to understand, but at a minimum we need to start recognizing place as a legitimate construct in our thinking.”

Mr. Summers, known for his work on macroeconomics, began arguing around the time of the 2016 election that economics researchers needed to start taking regional divides more seriously as a contributor to bigger problems. To that end, he recently wrote a paper with his Harvard colleague Edward Glaeser, a leading scholar of urban and regional economics, and Benjamin Austin that examined how the rising rate of nonemployment among prime-aged men in parts of the American heartland had fed into social dysfunctions.

The paper says targeted tax subsidies in those areas could create broad benefits. So, for example, if the earned-income tax credit, which enhances the after-tax income of low-income workers, were more generous in lagging areas than in thriving ones, it might pull more people into the work force and offer greater social and economic benefits than the current one-size-fits-all version.

But the more widespread idea that these geographical differences are really important to understanding the economy doesn’t necessarily translate to a coherent set of policies.

“I think what’s happening is we may have a better understanding of the dynamics of these lagging regions, and we may be able to better describe what is contributing to that, but we don’t have a new set of ideas policy-wise to address them,” said Amy Liu, director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution.

Would it be better, for example, to help people stay, or to help them go? Invest in transportation infrastructure or better schools, or ease relocation to more dynamic places?

Mr. Kessler, the vice president for policy at Third Way, says the Democratic Party needs to put this divide at the center of its policy agenda.

“Income inequality is a moral issue, but this is a different type of inequality — it’s inequality of opportunity,” Mr. Kessler said. “The question is how do you make sure that more people who do not have a college degree or come from the right place are able to have opportunity.”

His organization has proposed, among other things, a public fund to support small-business loans in the struggling regions, nationwide broadband internet and vouchers to help the unemployed move to places where there are more jobs.

Individual proposals aside, experts haven’t formed a consensus on how to make economically moribund places feel more like economically dynamic ones. But it is clearer than ever that this divergence explains much of what ails the United States’ economy, and just maybe its politics, too.

This article is from NYT – go to source