Saturday, July 31, 2010

Today Is Milton Friedman's Birthday

In honor of Milton Friedman's birthday (July 31, 1912 – November 16, 2006). A one on one interview in which he discusses many economic topics of relevance today.

Thirty-five years after this interview, the US still faces many of the same problems, which reinforces his point that government is often ineffective in solving problems.

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Friday, July 30, 2010

Energy Density, Innovation, Gas Tax, Supply Chains And Economic Shifts

A comment I posted to "Innovation, and the Gas Tax" on The Bellows by Ryan Avent:
In response to high gasoline prices in Europe, Europe did not innovate. Europeans reduced their miles driven (actually the number of hours gasoline engines run) and reduced the weight and size of their vehicles, including the number and weight of passengers and cargo the vehicles can carry, which then require less fuel.

If they had been able to innovate, such as to produce a much more fuel efficient gasoline engine, they would own larger cars and drive greater distances. Most mileage improvements have come from changes to the vehicle body and not the engine, such as air drag reduction and lighter materials

There is a fundamental natural problem. For practical energy sources, gasoline has the second highest energy density only surpassed by nuclear power.

Alternatives to gasoline as an energy source have not materialized because other energy sources are like the energy differences between fire and sunlight.

Innovators have not been able to find a practical alternative dense energy source. Many of the popular media alternatives, such as hydrogen, pose great dangers. Hydrogen interacts with its container, weakens it, and is highly explosive. Batteries contain and are manufactured with highly toxic heavy metal and rare materials, many of which are in short and limited supply. Batteries move more serious and harmful environmental issues from the car to the manufacturing and disposal facilities. Large batteries can also be explosive.

It is not clear that reducing passenger miles will help reduce carbon. If I will not drive to the Home Depot 10 miles away, hardware stores will have to move closer to where I live and within my acceptable driving distance. Supply trucks will drive the additional distance that I forego to bring the goods to the stores and more often because there will be more, smaller stores, with less inventory storage space, closer to more people. There maybe total carbon savings depending on relative fuel efficiencies or there may not be.

Additionally, 45 percent of a barrel of oil becomes gasoline. If gasoline use declines, the question is how much can oil barrel production switch to non-gasoline products. About 25 percent of a barrel of oil is use to make plastics and other products. One has to look at the price change that will occur in the other products. The price may go up or down. My guess is the prices will go up, because if they were currently more profitable than gasoline, production would have shifted to produce more of the other products than gasoline to maximize earnings. That means with less gasoline usage, the price of the other products from oil will rise to recover costs formerly recovered by gasoline's higher profitability.

Changing byproduct costs, such as plastics, lubricants, etc. that are widely used in the US economy will cause dramatic production and price shifts. These economy wide production shifts may or may not increase carbon production.

Most analysis about price changes (taxes) to gasoline look at the carbon reduction from the reduction to total miles driven. Driving shorter distances and using less gasoline will cause economic shifts to oil barrel production and the retail product supply chain in the US. The economy wide effects to the supply chain of reducing passenger miles will offset in part or in total the benefits of reduced passenger miles. Most European countries that place taxes on gasoline for cars recognize the need for increased trucking and do not place the same burden of taxation on trucks and other delivery vehicles.
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Erica Goldson's Inspiring Valedictorian Speech

From Erica Goldson's excellent 2010 valedictorian speech at Coxsackie-Athens High School:
We are not enlivened by an educational system that clandestinely sets us up for jobs that could be automated, for work that need not be done, for enslavement without fervency for meaningful achievement. We have no choices in life when money is our motivational force. Our motivational force ought to be passion, but this is lost from the moment we step into a system that trains us, rather than inspires us.
Read Erica's complete valedictorian speech here.

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Injunction Order Against Arizona Immigration Law

Copy of US District Judge Susan Bolton's injunction decision stopping enforcement of parts of Arizona's immigration law, SB 1070, is available here and here and below.

Arizona Immigration Law Preliminary Injuction
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BP Oil Spill Is Not A Catastrophic Environmental Disaster

From The TIME article, "The BP Spill: Has the Damage Been Exaggerated?" by Michael Grunwald, July 29, 2010:
Marine scientist Ivor Van Heerden, another former LSU prof who's working for a spill response contractor, says "there's just no data to suggest this is an environmental disaster. I have no interest in making BP look good — I think they lied about the size of the spill — but we're not seeing catastrophic impacts,"
LSU coastal scientist Eugene Turner ... says the BP spill will be a comparative blip; he predicts that the oil will destroy fewer marshes than the airboats deployed to clean up the oil. "We don't want to deny that there's some damage, but nothing like the damage we've seen for years," he says.
The good news does suggest the folly of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal's $350 million plan to build sand berms and rock jetties to protect marshes and barrier islands from oil. Some of the berms are already washing into the Gulf, and scientists agree that oil is the least of the problems facing Louisiana's coast, which had already lost over 2,000 square miles of wetlands before the spill.
Read the complete TIME article here.

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Video - NJ Gov. Christie And Teachers' Salaries

From RealClearPolitics:
Christie: First of all, they're [Teachers are] not taking any cuts. I asked them to take cuts, and they said no. So, what cuts are they taking? These teachers are still getting their four or five percent increases. That interplay that you just saw was about me trying to convince people that they need to take a freeze, but, in the end, they didn't. The state teachers union said--they had a rally in Trenton against me. 35,000 people came from the teachers. You know what that rally was? The "me first" rally. "Pay me my raise first. Pay me my free health benefits first. Pay me my pension first. And everybody else in New Jersey, get to the back of the line." Well, you know what? I'm not going to sit by and allow that to go unnoticed, so we'll shine a bright light on it, and we'll see how the people react. But I think we are seeing how the people of New Jersey are reacting, and that's how you make it politically palatable in other states in the country. Just shine a bright light on greed and self-interest."

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Do Teachers Have The Voting Power To Give Themselves Raises?

Teachers are the largest professional group in the US workforce today. There are more elementary and secondary teachers than doctors, lawyers, and engineers, etc.

"During the 1999–2000 school year, a total of about 3,450,000 teachers worked in public and private elementary and secondary schools across the country—representing about 2.7 percent of the overall U.S. workforce that year. Elementary and secondary school teachers constituted a greater percentage of the workforce than physicians (0.5 percent), legal professionals (0.8 percent), postsecondary faculty (0.9 percent), engineers (1.0 percent), firemen and law enforcement workers (1.0 percent), registered nurses (1.5 percent), or any other professional group that year. Elementary and secondary school teachers constituted about the same percentage of the workforce as all secretaries and administrative assistants (2.7 percent) and slightly less than retail workers (2.8 percent) (U.S. Department of Labor 2002)." From National Center For Education Statistics, Special Analysis 2005.

Many teachers also live in communities where there is school budget voting. I suspect teachers are more likely to go to the polls to vote to approve larger school budgets and teacher salary increases..

When you add together the budget votes of spouses and close relatives of teachers, it is not surprising that salaries of teachers are rising.

They have the voting power to give themselves and other teachers raises, under the guise of improving children education.

The above was also posted on The Beacon, "Why More Spending Doesn’t Produce Better Schools."

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

UK Proposal For New Approach To Financial Regulation

The UK Treasury's 76 page proposal for new financial regulation is available here and here and below.

UK New Approach to Financial Regulation

Medical Competition Saves Lives Without Raising Costs

From "Death by Market Power: Reform, Competition and Patient Outcomes in the National Health Service" by Martin S. Gaynor, Carnegie Mellon University, Carol Propper, University of Bristol and Rodrigo Moreno-Serra, University of York, July 2010.
we estimate the impact of the introduction of competition on not only clinical outcomes but also productivity and expenditure. Our data set is large, containing information on approximately 68,000 discharges per year per hospital from 162 hospitals. We find that the effect of competition is to save lives without raising costs. Patients discharged from hospitals located in markets where competition was more feasible were less likely to die, had shorter length of stay and were treated at the same cost.
Ungated, free copy of the research paper is available here.
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Monday, July 26, 2010

Broad Basel Agreement On Bank Capital Reform And Contingent Capital

The oversight body of the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision issued a press release that it reached broad agreement on the overall design of bank capital and liquidity reform.

In particular, there is agreement on the definition of capital, the treatment of counterparty credit risk, the leverage ratio, and the global liquidity standard. Noteworthy, there is agreement on contingent capital, a capital conservation buffer and a counter-cyclical capital buffer.

The Committee will finalize the requirements before the end of the year and agreed to finalize the phase-in arrangements at its meeting in September.

The specifics of the proposal are available here.

The press release is available here.
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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Not Enough Health Care But Walmart Doesn't Run Out Of Shampoo

From "Britain Runs Out of Health Care, but Walmart Doesn't Run Out of Shampoo" by Doug Reich on THE RATIONAL CAPITALIST blog:
Isn't it amazing that McDonald's seems to know just how many hamburgers to have on hand? Isn't it amazing that Walmart seems to have just enough shampoo, toothpaste, and shaving cream on hand? Isn't it amazing that you can be driving in the middle of nowhere, stop at a gas station, and the Coca-Cola company has somehow managed to have a cooler full of soft drinks on hand which you can purchase for a few cents? Have you ever walked into one of these stores and been directed to a representative of a Primary Drink or Primary Shampoo Trust who determines whether you really need these products and decides how much, what brand, and even more important, when you will receive them? Have you ever been encouraged by the company not to buy their product or to only buy a very limited amount?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Monday, July 19, 2010

Does Teen Drug Rehab Cause Addiction?

Increasingly, substance-abuse experts are finding that teen drug treatment may indeed be doing more harm than good. Many programs throw casual dabblers together with hard-core addicts and foster continuous group interaction. It tends to strengthen dysfunctional behavior by concentrating it, researchers say. "Just putting kids in group therapy actually promotes greater drug use," says Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
From "Does Teen Drug Rehab Cure Addiction or Cause It?" by Maia Szalavitz, Friday, July 16, 2010,

Where Did The Jobs Go? A Comment

A comment I posted on The New York Times blog post, "Mystery for White House: Where Did the Jobs Go?"
The rise in unemployment is a mystery unless one is willing to include the political agenda of the current administration as a possible cause. The excessive unemployment for this economic downturn and the lack of job creation as the economy rebounds shows that employers are shifting away from labor/worker and into capital/machinery and process improvements.

Contrary to the current administration's causality of blaming the past, employers base their hiring decisions on expectations about the future. The likely future cost increases for employees increases an employer's willingness to utilize more machinery and capital in production of goods and services, while reducing the number of employees.

Employers are acting rationally to an expected increase in the cost of labor. The new healthcare law significantly increases the cost of employing labor versus capital. Many other proposals from the Obama administration, such as card check, increase the cost of labor to companies. Obama's anti-business, pro-union policies give employers the impression that more costs are likely in the future.

Employers have responded as anyone does to increase costs. They have chosen cheaper equivalent alternatives. Employers are shifting away from workers to machinery in response to the administration's policies of increasing the costs of hiring workers.

The Democrats and the President see businesses as bottomless pits of cash and profits. Employers have logically reacted to the administration's business philosophy and are attempting to reduce their future costs by employing fewer workers and using more capital as the economy grows. Unfortunately, it takes time to switch to more capital and machinery, which adds to the slowness of the economic recovery.

It is unlikely that the current administration will change its view of business, which means that the economy is unlikely to improve until those in office see business and capitalism as their friend and not as their enemy.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Fair Analysis Of SEC Goldman Settlement: Will The Court Accept It?

From "The SEC’s strike suit" by Larry Ribstein on July 18, 2010, on Truth on the Market blog:
The bottom line is that this suit [SEC vs Goldman Sachs] has proved to be no more than a common "strike" suit, no better than the sort of private securities class actions that triggered Congressional reform 15 years ago. Instead of attorneys’ fees, the SEC’s objective appears to have been purely political. In the end it extracted a ransom payment from Goldman so the firm could reclaim its reputation and get back to business.

The court must now review the settlement. It should take a cue from the dissenting Commissioners and reject it because of the puzzling and troubling inconsistency between the amount of the settlement and Goldman’s meaningless admissions. The SEC should have to prove exactly what Goldman did wrong. This will force Goldman to either litigate or make a meaningful settlement. Goldman is hardly an object of pity at this point. In any event, the issues here go far beyond Goldman to, among other things, the proper role and function of the SEC.

It is sad that the SEC not only cannot be trusted to find fraud, but that it can no longer be trusted to litigate and settle cases involving the supposed frauds that it finds. But this is where we find ourselves in the days following 'financial reform."
[Definitional link for strike suit added].

Read much more about the Goldman case and settlement from Larry Ribstein here.

Final Version Of Dodd- Frank Financial Reform As Passed By Congress

On 7/15/2010, Congress passed financial reform by the Senate agreeing to conference report, 111-517 (in Congressional Record H4977-5202), by Yea-Nay Vote, 60 - 39. Record Vote Number, 208.

The complete 848 page text of the final version of financial reform, now known as "Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act" is available here and at alternate site here. It is also embedded below.

Dodd Frank Wall St Reform and Consumer Protection Act

[The law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP has summarized and analyzed the new law.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Obama Effect Of Taxing The Rich And Ending Bush's Tax Cuts?

Remember Obama's tax the rich and do not extend the Bush tax cuts?

From The New York Times article, by Motoko Rich, July 16, 2010, "The Rich Catch Everyone Else’s Cutback Fever"
"One of the reasons that the recovery has lost momentum is that high-end consumers have become more jittery and more cautious," said Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Analytics.

The American consumer accounts for an estimated 60 percent of the country’s economic activity.

But the Top 5 percent in income earners — those households earning $210,000 or more — account for about one-third of consumer outlays, including spending on goods and services, interest payments on consumer debt and cash gifts, according to an analysis of Federal Reserve data by Moody’s Analytics. That means the purchasing decisions of the rich have an outsize effect on economic data.

Retail sales reports and surveys indicate that high earners have grown more cautious....

CBO’s Economic Forecasting Record 2010 Update

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) regularly evaluates the accuracy of its economic forecasts by comparing them with the economy’s actual performance and with others’ forecasts. Such evaluations help guide CBO’s efforts to improve the quality of its forecasts and are also intended to assist Members of Congress in their use of the agency’s estimates.

CBO’s Economic Forecasting Record 2010 Update:

CBO’s Economic Forecasting Record 2010 Update

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Goldman's SEC Settlement Documents

Copies of Goldman Sachs' Consent to Judgment and Proposed Final Judgment via The Wall St. Journal Servers.

Goldman Sachs Consent Judgment 07-15-10

Goldman Sachs SEC Proposed Judgment 07-15-10

Does Unemployment Insurance Have Macro-Economy Benefits?

A comment I posted on capitalgainsandgames blog, "Sense and Nonsense About Extending Unemployment Insurance" posted by Andrew Samwick:
In the aggregate, to continue to consume, the unemployed can use savings (including decreasing any additions to savings). Additionally, they can borrow from relatives and friends, sell assets (sell one of their two or three cars and become a one car family, sell their home for a positive amount and become a renter or move in with relatives, cash in a whole life insurance policy, etc.) or while eligible spend unemployment insurance benefits.

Since unemployment benefits are a fraction of workers' previous wages and do not completely replace workers' wages, all the alternatives listed above to continue consumption cause a decline in consumption or a decline in incremental savings. It is unlikely that unemployment insurance is enough to continue a mortgage payment.

Unless one shows that the marginal effect, in the aggregate, of consumption after receiving unemployment benefits is greater than consumption using private alternatives, such as savings, unemployment benefits do not increase aggregate economic consumption and do not benefit the macro-economy.

In individual cases, unemployment payments may decrease hardship, where borrowing from relatives or friends is not available. However, one must remember that there are hardship alternatives in the US for destitute families, such as food stamps, Medicaid, etc, and it is unclear what the incremental benefit of unemployment insurance payments is to the unemployed.

It seems more of a class distinction. Unemployed workers can claim they are receiving unemployment benefits instead of government assistance. It may be a distinction without a difference to the macro-economy.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Sensible Example Of Way For States To Save Money

From the Associated Press, "Conn. dropping car window registration stickers" in The Journal News:
Connecticut officials say the state will save about $800,000 yearly when it discontinues front window car registration stickers and makes other changes.

State Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Robert Ward says the stickers are unnecessary now that troopers can instantly check a vehicle's registration status electronically.
If only all the states looked at all departments and services for ways to improve productivity, increase efficiency and reduce unnecessary requirements before they sought tax increases. We probably could lower taxes and still maintain the same level of services.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Court Denies Obama Gulf Drilling Moratorium During Appeal

Reuters is reporting:
A U.S. appeals court on Thursday refused to suspend deepwater oil drilling while the merits of the case are considered but another moratorium is expected and, with it, likely more litigation.

New York Times article here.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Marginal Effects Of Unemployment Insurance

There is a lot of discussion in the popular press by economists, politicians and others about the economic effect of extending the term of unemployment insurance.

One should look at the marginal effect of unemployment payments versus no unemployment payments.

Some unemployed are in two wage earner families, have savings, have retirement funds, can rely on family or friends for help, or can borrow until they get re-employed. In these cases, unemployment payments substitute government unemployment spending and debt for private spending. There is no increase in overall consumer spending but there is an increase in government debt.

For the destitute unemployed, there are other government programs, such as food stamps, Medicaid, Disability benefits, Social security for the older unemployed, etc., which become available. In these cases, overall government debt does not increase by extending unemployment payments. The debt just switches program budget categories.

So, the question is how many people fall into the categories not covered by those with available resources and those eligible for other government programs.

To have no income or liquid savings and be ineligible for a government program generally means one has illiquid assets, such as a house, jewelry, auto, etc. whose value exceeds the eligibility thresholds. These programs require converting the assets into cash and spending down, which unemployment insurance does not require. In these cases, one will substitute government debt of unemployment payments for private spending, but overall consumer spending will not increase.

Unemployment substitutes government money for private funds and may increase government debt, if an unemployed individual without resources is illegible for other government programs.

The above is similar to a comment I posted on "Basic Econ: To Stimulate One Group, You HAVE to De-Stimulate Some Other Group, Net Effect = 0" on Carpe Diem by Mark Perry.

Copy Of USDOJ Complaint Against Arizona Immigration Law

Copy of USDOJ Complaint Against Arizona Immigration Law.

US Motion for Preliminary Injunction.

USDOJ press release with links to supporting documents.

US Federal Complaint Against Arizona Immigration Law

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Text Of Controversial Arizona Immigration Law, SB 1070

Text of Arizona Immigration Law as web document.

Text of Arizona Immigration Law as PDF document.

Arizona Immigration Law

Taxes Will Rise Without Congressional Action

from "Why Taxes Are Going Up" by Donald Marron:
CBO’s bottom line is thus simple: tax revenues will rise faster than the economy even if Congress does nothing new. Indeed, revenues may rise faster than the economy even if Congress enacts substantial tax cuts. Our long-run fiscal dilemma exists because the scheduled growth in future spending is even larger than the scheduled growth in future revenues.
Read Marron's complete blog post here.

World Keeps Defying The Pessimists

From "Down with Doom: How the World Keeps Defying the Predictions of Pessimists" by Matt Ridely:
In fact every single one of the dooms I had been threatened with had proved either false or exaggerated. The population explosion was slowing down, famine had largely been conquered (except in war-torn tyrannies), India was exporting food, cancer rates were falling not rising (adjusted for age), the Sahel was greening, the climate was warming, oil was abundant, air pollution was falling fast, nuclear disarmament was proceeding apace, forests were thriving, sperm counts had not fallen. And above all, prosperity and freedom were advancing at the expense of poverty and tyranny.

I began to pay attention and a few years ago I started to research a book on the subject. I was astounded by what I discovered. Global per capita income, corrected for inflation, had trebled in my lifetime, life expectancy had increased by one third, child mortality had fallen by two-thirds, the population growth rate had halved. More people had got out of poverty than in all of human history before. When I was born, 36% of Americans had air conditioning. Today 79% of Americans below the poverty line had air conditioning. The emissions of pollutants from a car were down by 98%. The time you had to work on the average wage to buy an hour of artificial light to read by was down from 8 seconds to half a second.
Read his complete article here.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The US Lawsuit Over Arizona's Immigration Law Will Backfire, Is Shortsighted

The United States' lawsuit to invalidate Arizona's enactment of an immigration law will cause more harm than good to immigrants in the US.

The judges, including appellate and likely also US Supreme Court, who will hear and decide this case, will write judicial opinions clarifying their reasoning for their decisions to uphold or overturn in whole or in part Arizona's immigration law.

The court decisions will define the boundaries of allowable immigration law by the states. All states, including inland states, do have certain rights to protect their borders and to seek out those who have committed crimes at the state and federal level, but clearly, their rights are not as encompassing as the federal rights.

The court will have to articulate a set of rules for allowing or disallowing a state to enforce rules about its borders and about seeking out persons within its borders who have committed crimes.

Once rules are established, state legislators can attempt to write legislation that complies with the rules and bans illegal immigrants. Some of these laws in whole or part will survive further lawsuits and become the blueprint for other states to follow.

Additionally, before a court considers a constitutional argument to a law, the court will consider whether there are other reasons, such as federal preemption, to invalidate the state law. Unconstitutionality is a last resort of a court.

If the courts overturn the Arizona law, more likely than a finding of a violation of the US constitution, the court will find that federal law preempts the Arizona law.

The court decision finding preemption will cite specific federal laws. There will be call by the states and by the majority of US citizens that support Arizona's law for the Congress to amend the cited federal laws to allow states to control illegal immigration within their borders.

The lawsuit will open a Pandora's Box. In the end, it will establish a blueprint for allowable state laws about immigration and more states will enact laws than if there were no lawsuit.

The lawsuit will also pressure Congress to modify any federal laws to allow states to enact their own illegal immigration enforcement laws.

In the end, either the Obama administration will lose the lawsuit outright or it will establish an outline for states legally to enact illegal immigration laws. It is a shortsighted move by Obama.

Blogger's Call To Buy BP Gas

From The Voice of Reason, " Buy BP! Gas, That Is!":
The reason is that I refuse to let the President and Democrats play their games with me, and I prefer to support the 80,200 BP employees and the 300,000 people who are dependent on BP for their incomes rather than the villification agenda of President Obama and his cronies.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Erosion And Not Oil Leak Are Major Cause Of Louisiana Coastal Damage

From "Determining oil spill's environmental damage is difficult" by David A. Fahrenthold, Washington Post Staff Writer, Monday, July 5, 2010:
But Paul Kemp of the National Audubon Society said he flew over the same area and saw a different picture: The oil's damage was relatively small, at least in comparison with the marsh's existing problems.

"Here, we have a patient that's dying of cancer, you know, and now they have a sunburn, too," Kemp said. "What will kill coastal Louisiana is not this oil spill. What will kill coastal Louisiana is what was killing it before this oil spill," including erosion and river-control projects that have reduced the buildup of new land, he said.

Happy July 4th

Thursday, July 1, 2010

House Passed Version of Financial Reform, HR 4173

Copy of the final version of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, HR 4173, "Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010" as passed by the US House of Representatives on June 30, 2010, by a vote of 237-192.

Link to the HR4173 Conference Report (72MB, 1200 pages). Alternate download site for Conference Report.

HR4173: Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010

Intrade Higgs Boson 2013 Discovery Contract Jumped 60+ Percent

The Intrade contract security closing price for discovery of the Higgs Boson particle before December 31, 2013, jumped over 60 percent yesterday. The contract closed at 49 and the previous close was 30.
Price for Observation of the Higgs Boson Particle at

The contract ID of this contract is: 700243, "Higgs Boson Particle to be observed on/before 31 Dec 2013."