Current Events in December 2016

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2016

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    A closer look at the chemicals in e-cigarettes

    Researchers warn flavorings can become toxic when vaporized

    Electronic cigarettes are growing in popularity as current smokers find they can get their nicotine fix by inhaling the vapor produced by these devices.

    More concerning to health officials is the growing use of e-cigarettes by teens and young adults. Not only do health officials worry e-cigarettes could eventually lead to smoking, they are increasingly focusing on the chemicals that are present in e-cigarette vapor.

    Researchers writing in the American Chemical Society (ACS) journal Environmental Science & Technology looked at what happens to e-liquid flavorings when they're heated up. Their study reports some flavorings, when vaporized, break down into toxic compounds. These compounds, they say, tend to exceed occupational safety standards.

    Heat can alter chemistry

    The researchers say knowing what compounds are present in e-cigarettes isn't enough. They say there needs to be more information about how these chemicals change once heated to the point of becoming water vapor.

    The study cites previous research that has shown that subjecting e-cigarette chemicals to heat produces aldehydes and other toxic compounds. In this study, the researchers wanted to focus on what happens when flavoring agents are heated up.

    They tested a wide range of e-cigarettes, some with flavorings and some without. They found the amount of potentially harmful compounds produced by heat varied widely across the different products tested.

    In general, however, the researchers concluded that just a single puff of flavored vapor contained levels of aldehydes exceeding the safe thresholds for occupational exposure by factors of 1.5 to 270. Unflavored e-cigarettes produced significantly lower levels of aldehydes.

    7,700 different flavors

    According to the American Lung Association, there are 500 brands of e-cigarettes on the market with 7,700 different flavors. While e-cigarettes now fall under Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulation, the association says it could be another two years before the FDA has a full grasp on the chemicals present in these products.

    “We don't presently know what is in e-cigarettes,” the Lung Association says on its website. “However, in initial lab tests conducted in 2009 the FDA found detectable levels of toxic cancer-causing chemicals, including an ingredient used in anti-freeze, in two leading brands of e-cigarettes and 18 various cartridges.”

    The Lung Association also has raised concerns about flavorings used in e-cigarettes, saying just because they have been safe to consume in food does not mean they are also safe to inhale.

    Electronic cigarettes are growing in popularity as current smokers find they can get their nicotine fix by inhaling the vapor produced by these devices....

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      Job cuts fall to lowest level of the year in November

      Terminations in the retail sector led the way

      U.S.-based employers announced plans to cut their payrolls by 26,936 workers in November, putting the pace of downsizing at the lowest level of the year.

      Outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas says that puts job cuts 12% lower than they were in October and down 13% from the same month a year ago.

      Last month’s total was the lowest of the year, falling below the previous low of 30,157, recorded in May. It was slightly higher than last December’s 23,622 job cuts, which was the lowest monthly total since June, 2000, when employers announced just 17,241 planned layoffs.

      So far this year, employers have cut 493,288 jobs, a year-over-year decline of 5.5%.

      Retail sector loses big

      The heaviest job cutting came in the retail sector -- of which there are 4,850 announced terminations, most due to the bankruptcy of American Apparel, which could affect nearly 3,500 workers.

      Those losses are more than offset, though, by the surge in holiday hiring. Challenger tracked 317,000 retail hiring announcements in September.

      “These represent just a small fraction of the jobs being created, since most retailers, including the thousands of small, independent stores across the country, do not formally announce hiring intentions,” said Challenger, Gray & Christmas CEO John A. Challenger.

      Overall, retail job cuts are down 12% from a year ago with employers planning to cut 57,969 workers from their payrolls. Even with the decline, year-to-date retail job cuts rank third among all industries, behind computer and energy.

      “Barring an unlikely December surge in downsizing, the year-end job cut total should remain well below the 598,510 layoffs announced last year,” Challenger said. “Even if the new administration creates some uncertainty among corporate forecasters, most employers are in a strong enough position to take a wait-and-see approach when planning for next year.” 

      U.S.-based employers announced plans to cut their payrolls by 26,936 workers in November, putting the pace of downsizing at the lowest level of the year....

      Personal income and spending post gains in October

      First-time jobless claims last week were on the rise as well

      Consumers found themselves with more money in their pockets in October, spent part of it, and saved the rest.

      The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) reports personal income increased $98.6 billion, or 0.6%, while disposable personal income -- what's left after taxes are paid -- also increased 0.6%, or $86.5 billion.

      October's increase in personal income was due in large part to gains in employee compensation and personal interest income.

      Spending and saving

      Personal consumption expenditures (PCE), the value of goods and services, increased $38.1 billion, or 0.3%. That advance reflects increases in spending for durable and nondurable goods, which were mostly offset by a decrease in spending for services.

      Personal outlays, which is the sum of PCE, personal interest payments, and personal current transfer payments, rose $40.4 billion.

      The PCE price index, a measure of inflation, increased 0.2%. When the volatile food and energy categories are excluded, what's known as the core PCE price index was up 0.1%.

      Personal savings totaled $860.2 billion in October, while the personal saving rate -- personal saving as a percentage of disposable personal income -- was 6.0%, a gain of 0.3% from September.

      The complete report is available on the BEA website

      Jobless claims

      Ninety-one weeks and counting.

      That's how long the number of initial jobless claim filings have been below the 300,000 mark -- the longest streak since 1970.

      The Department of Labor (DOL) reports that in the week ending November 26, there were a seasonally adjusted 268,000 first-time applications for state unemployment -- 17,000 more than during the previous week.

      The four-week moving average, considered by economists to be a better gauge of the labor market because of its lack of volatility, was up just 500 from the previous week to 251,500.

      The full report may be found on the DOL website.

      Photo (c) laufer – FotoliaConsumers found themselves with more money in their pockets in October, spent part of it, and saved the rest.The Bureau...

      Pending home sales inch upward in October

      The advance took them above their 2006 level

      It wasn't much, but pending home sale were higher in October for a second straight month.

      The National Association of Realtors reports its Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI) edged up 0.1% to 110.0 from a slight downward revision of 109.9 in September.

      With last month's small increase, the forward-looking indicator based on contract signings is now 1.8% above its October 2015 level and at it's highest point since July.

      "Most of the country last month saw at least a small increase in contract signings and more notably, activity in all four major regions is up from a year ago," said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. "Despite limited listings and steadfast price growth that's now carried into the fall, buyer demand has remained strong because of the consistently reliable job creation in a majority of metro areas."

      Yun expects existing-home sales to close out the year at a pace of around 5.36 million, which surpasses 2015 and is the highest since 2006.

      "Low supply has kept prices elevated all year and has put pressure on the budgets of buyers," Yun pointed out. "With mortgage rates expected to rise into next year and put added strain on affordability, sales expansion will be contingent on more inventory coming onto the market and continued job gains."

      Regional showing

      • The PHSI in the Northeast eked out a 0.4% increase in October to 96.9, and is now 3.9% above a year ago.
      • In the Midwest the index jumped 1.6% to 106.3 for a year-over-year gain of 1.2%
      • Pending home sales in the South dipped 1.3% to an index reading of 120.1 and are still 0.8% above where they were the year before.
      • The index in the West climbed by 0.7% to 108.3 and is now 2.5% above a year ago.

      It wasn't much, but pending home sale were higher in October for a second straight month. The National Association of Realtors reports its Pending Home ...