Apr 30, 2015

From Data Analyst to Predictive Modelers to Data Scientists

In an earlier posting we argued that much of what is holding companies back from adopting predictive analytics is a lack of understanding about how to recognize opportunities and create value with these tools.  It’s equally as true that once the opportunity is realized there is also a knowledge gap in the nuts and bolts of the process and where and how to acquire the talent to produce and maintain these models.  Developing predictive analytic models is a different process from responding to requests for charts and graphs based on existing information.  It is much more intuitive and creative and requires the mastery of different tools.
The mastery of how to use predictive analytic tools is not common and not easy.  You are unlikely to find competence in predictive analytics anywhere in your management team unless you have specifically hired for it.  Once business leaders recognize the opportunity, they follow one of two paths, or a combination of the two.
Grow Your Own:  Some organizations have set out to hire fully trained and competent predictive analysts.  .  There is a large and growing shortage of people with these skills.  A recent survey of individuals actually performing these tasks estimated that it took between two and eight years to achieve competence.  The shortage of educated and experienced practitioners is just now beginning to be addressed by higher education.  This can be a productive approach but requires investment, sponsorship, and an environment in which these folks can learn to apply their skills to each company’s unique problems.
On the side of the technology industry developing predictive analytic suites there has been a concerted effort to make them simpler to use.  To some extent this has been successful but not to the level these application developers would like you to believe.  These are not tools that your middle managers are going to be able to learn quickly.  Proficiency can only be gained by repeated use, preferably with the coaching and mentoring of highly skilled analysts.  There are still too many ways that these tools can produce the wrong answer.  Be very careful of going down this path.
Outside Consultants:  Much as we would like to avoid expensive outside consultants, this is one area where paying for competence and experience is a good idea.  There are some elements of this practice that really are rocket science.  Using a consulting data scientist as the core of your start-up analytics group where that person serves as instructor and mentor to your in-house dedicated staff is an approach that has proven successful at many companies and grows internal capacity while limiting cost.
Finally, the Complication of Big Data:  In a later post we will address this in more detail, but predictive analytics is now even more complex than it was before, made so by the three horsemen of Big Data:  volume, variety, and velocity.  You can see this in massive data bases in new non-traditional storage formats (volume: Hadoop, NoSQL, and the like), in the new capability to merge and match disparate types of data, some structured, some unstructured, some semi-structured (variety), and in the fast flowing data from sensors and web logs and the desire to take advantage of this in real time (velocity).
From Data Analyst to Predictive Modeler to Data Scientist: Two decades ago the folks who prepared our reports, graphs, and visualizations were ‘data analysts’ who knew how to extract data from relational data warehouses and run it through reporting and visualization tools like Crystal Reports.  Ten years ago, predictive models were built by ‘predictive modelers’ who understood both the extraction and preparation of the data as well as the specialized predictive analytic tools like SAS and SPSS that allowed them to prepare predictive models.  In the last few years, Gartner now declares that we need ‘data scientist’ who have all the above skills but also understand the complexities of the new NoSQL databases like Hadoop and can marry data from many sources and types together to produce useful and profitable predictive models.  The requirement for broader and deeper skills is real and must factor into any business decision to build in-house capacity, as well as vetting potential consultants.
Business sponsors recognize the great value and quick ROI that is possible from predictive analytic programs.  More importantly, they recognize that their competitors also see this and are probably hard at work capitalizing on these competitive advantages right now.  Organizing for the successful implementation of Big Data and predictive analytics can follow several models.  There are challenges to be overcome but thinking through where you are in the development process is worth the effort.

Apr 29, 2015

Sorry kids, we’ll have to eat the house | The Australian

Four things have combined to ensure that the family home will have to become a formal part of the retirement income system through some kind of national reverse mortgage scheme:
1. As Glenn Stevens said yesterday, the price of buying a flow of income has “gone up a lot”, which is another way of saying that the yields on low risk assets have fallen.
2. The government is struggling to meet the $42 billion annual cost of the age pension and will have to do something to at least restrain its growth.
3. Life expectancy is rising much faster than the retirement age, which means people are living much longer in retirement.
4. Because of conservative investment policies during the accumulation phase, superannuation funds are not making up the difference with lump sums.
On Monday, the Centre for Independent Studies proposed that the family home be brought into the equation. Simon Cowan and Matthew Taylor at CIS suggested two things to fix retirement incomes: that the family home be included in the pension assets test and that the government legislate for a default national reverse mortgage scheme, the income from which would be counted in the income test.
The result, according to their research, would be that 98 per cent of pensioners would be better off by an average of $5,900 a year and the government would save $14.5bn off the annual cost of the age pension, or about a third.
The cost, of course, is that the kids will get less inheritance because mum and dad have been living off the equity in the house.
Formally making the family home a retirement income asset, like super, would be a big social change: the system has always been that when you retire you live on the pension and/or savings and when you die the kids get the house.
But something has to give, because of the way the Howard government’s erosion of the tax base has coincided with a big fall in bond yields.
As treasurer during the temporary commodity boom, Peter Costello halved the capital gains tax rate, froze fuel excise indexation and made the retirement income system permanently much more costly by making super tax-free after age 60, loosening the means tests, removing the superannuation surcharge and implementing generous tax breaks in the years leading up to retirement — the “transition to retirement” rules.
The number of pensioners also increased from 1.8 to 2.3m over the past decade, or from 9.2 to 10.1 per cent of the population, massively increasing the cost of the age pension.
Over the same period, the age pension payment (single rate) has increased 71 per cent from $11,629.80 to $19,916 a year — a compound annual growth rate of 5.5 per cent, exactly double the inflation rate.
According to Cowan and Taylor’s research, two-thirds of the increase in the cost of the age pension has come from the rise in the rate and one-third from the increase in the number of pensioners.
Meanwhile over those same 10 years, the 10-year bond yield has more than halved from 5.3 per cent to 2.56 per cent as part of a general decline in the global interest rate structure.
As RBA Governor Mr Stevens asked in a speech yesterday: “How will an adequate flow of income be generated for the retired community in the future, in a world in which long-term nominal returns on low-risk assets are so low?
“Those seeking to (buy an annual flow of future income) -- that is, those on the brink of leaving the workforce — are in a much worse position than those who made it a decade ago.”
The fall in bond yields is not the only reason the cost of buying a low-risk retirement income stream has gone up: life expectancy is increasing rapidly as well, which means the length of annuities has increased as the return available has gone down.
And finally, retirement lump sums are smaller than they should be because during the accumulation phase, super funds employ asset allocation strategies to reduce their volatility at the cost of return.
Saving for retirement is a long-term investment game where short-term volatility is relatively unimportant, yet super funds put large allocations into fixed income and cash assets to smooth out the returns, with the result that end savings are less than they would otherwise be.
According to the CIS research, more than 80 per cent of retirees own their home and the overwhelming majority have no mortgage. They estimate the total value of pensioner home equity at $625bn — about a third of the superannuation savings pool. Pensioners in the “middle wealth brackets” have more than 70 per cent of their wealth tied up in the family home.
Essentially what the CIS is suggesting is that the government regulate a national reverse mortgage scheme in much the same way as private health insurance operates, while forcing pensioners to use it by including the family home in the means test — both asset and income.
It’s an idea whose time has just about arrived, because there’s nowhere else the money can come from.

Apr 27, 2015

Why China’s true growth figures are a mystery | The Australian

When China released its tabulation of first-quarter growth earlier this month, the 7 per cent figure — the worst in six years — stirred fears of a deepening slowdown.
It also raised fresh doubt about the trustworthiness of China’s own statistics.
“Growth Likely Overstated,” said a Citibank report, concluding that actual quarterly growth could be below 6 per cent year to year, depending on the factors weighed. Other research firms put their numbers far lower, with Capital Economics pegging the quarter at 4.9 per cent, the Conference Board’s China Center at 4 per cent and Lombard Street Research at 3.8 per cent.
Efforts to discern China’s actual growth rate have kept economists pinned to their calculators for years, and for good reason.
For one, the figures are suspiciously smooth, with none of the sharp gyrations seen in the US or other economies. The methodology often appears inconsistent or contradictory. Also, no one knows how China accounts for inflation when tabulating its gross domestic product.
Then there are the many ways China’s GDP figures appear to clash with other data points considered more difficult to manipulate. Economists point to the discrepancy between headline GDP growth and industrial production, often seen as a proxy for growth, which grew by 5.6 per cent year to year in March — its lowest level since late 2008.
This came amid weaker recent readings for electricity consumption, investment, industrial profits, manufacturing output and real-estate investment, among others.
This dissecting of the official growth numbers received the roundabout backing of Premier Li Keqiang, who in 2007 as Communist Party chief of north-eastern Liaoning province criticised China’s GDP numbers as “man-made and therefore unreliable,” according to a memo by the US ambassador at the time, later released by WikiLeaks. Mr Li said he found electricity output, rail cargo and bank loans more trustworthy, according to the memo, which has since inspired financial institutions to create their own versions.
China is hardly alone among emerging countries in releasing questionable statistics. But Beijing has come under particular scrutiny because of the size and importance of its economy and the hunger that a growth-starved world has for genuine output. There is also suspicion the shortcomings involve wilful doctoring rather than data-collection problems common to India and other developing countries.
Most economists say China’s National Bureau of Statistics has become more professional in recent years, considering its limited bureaucratic clout and skimpy budget.
As China’s economy pivots away from heavy manufacturing, the bureau has struggled to better reflect the growth contribution from services and consumption over production, the traditional focus, economists say. And it has tried to rely less on data from local officials with an interest in inflating growth to secure promotions.
“Local exaggeration is not the problem it once was, though I assume it is not eradicated,” said Nicholas Lardy, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
The statistics agency hasn’t helped its case. It doesn’t explain its methodology or inflation assumptions and many of its calculations are difficult to reproduce, economists say.
The statistics agency and the National Development and Reform Commission, China’s top economic planning agency, declined to respond to questions.
How the agency obtains GDP figures is “anybody’s guess,” said Hong Kong University of Science and Technology economics professor Carsten Holz, author of a paper on the quality of China’s GDP statistics, citing what he calls an “atrocious lack of transparency.”
Suspicion centres on two major issues: How wilful is the fudging, and does China have a second set of books so leaders know what’s “really” going on?
China has an incentive on both counts. Because it is a one-party state, economic growth takes on over-size importance as a way to prevent social instability that could loosen the party’s grip on power. At the same time, it needs accurate information to plan and even route subsidies to groups that could fuel dissent.
There is no evidence that the Communist Party has a separate set of books, said Harry X Wu, professor at Japan’s Hitotsubashi University and special adviser to the Conference Board.
The fudging question is more difficult to assess, economists say. The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco in a 2013 study that compared China’s GDP figures with a range of domestic and foreign data concluded that actual growth was broadly in line with the official numbers.
Ultimately, said Mr Holz, China’s statistic agency is headed by party cadres and not above adding a touch to its growth figures to reach the politically desirable 7 per cent figure.
“I wouldn’t take the 7 per cent figure too seriously,” Mr. Holz said.
Others believe the number is much further off. “I have to laugh at the official estimates of 7 per cent first-quarter GDP growth. I think that’s completely out of line,” said Mr Wu.

Retail tenancy dispute: Still looking for justice after 17 years

Bob and Dianne Heller still remember the day they arrived at their small business to find the locks had been changed overnight.
For years, the couple had it all: a modest cafe in the heart of suburbia; their dream home set on 1.7 acres;  peace of mind about their future retirement.
But suddenly, a retail tenancy dispute with their landlord erupted and they were evicted without warning, setting in motion a decade-long fight that would eventually cost their house, their shop and most of their savings.
Seventeen years on, Dianne and Bob Heller continue to fight for justice.
Seventeen years on, Dianne and Bob Heller continue to fight for justice. Photo: Arsineh Houspian
It's a David and Goliath battle with shades of The Castle: two small business owners versus a corporate shopping centre; a legal stoush across five different courts; and the dogged pursuit of four state governments, one federal attorney-general, and countless members of the legal fraternity.
"This is about fairness, honesty and integrity," says Mrs Heller, now 71. "If a mistake has been made then somebody should at least acknowledge it."
The Hellers' story stretches back to 1998, when the couple ran a coffee lounge at Ivanhoe Plaza, in Melbourne's north-east. A group of traders started having grievances with shopping centre management, and Mr Heller – a tenant at plaza for almost eight years – had become their unofficial spokesman.
Frustrated that the traders' complaints weren't being heard, the Hellers started withholding a portion of their monthly rent in an act of protest. Months later, after seeking to extend their lease for another five years, they were evicted without warning.
In hindsight, Mr Heller admits docking his rent probably wasn't the best way to bring the dispute to a head. However, he points out the shopping centre continued accepting his payments for almost a year before they changed the locks, and more importantly, the law was meant to protect retail tenants by ensuring they had written notice before being kicked out, including the chance to remedy any purported breaches of a lease. 
To that end, the Supreme Court agreed, finding the couple had been wrongly evicted – a judgment that was also upheld in the Court of Appeal. Yet, in a bizarre twist, the Hellers later returned to the Supreme Court to claim damages, only to have the same judge who had ruled in their favour three years earlier overturn his original decision and side with the landlord.
Legal experts agree this was highly unusual; some even describe it as a grave injustice. Put simply, instead of relying on the finality of its previous decision, the court allowed the landlord to raise a fresh argument that had not been canvassed earlier: that the Hellers had repudiated their lease by withholding part of their rent, and therefore the shopping centre's actions were appropriate. The couple, believing they had already won the case, were completely blindsided.
"Bob went back to the court to seek damages on the basis that he had been wrongfully turfed out, but then the same judge decided that in fact, Bob had terminated the lease at common law, so none of the statutory protections for tenants applied," says constitutional barrister Matt Harvey, one of several lawyers who has offered pro-bono advice to the couple over the years. "That's the real injustice."
Mr Heller tried to appeal the decision, but failed. He later sought leave to take the case to the High Court, but it wasn't granted. The Bracks Government even ended up changing the law to clarify that tenants can't just be evicted without notice – even if they are found in breach of their lease. Unfortunately for the Hellers, the change was not retrospective.
"Put it this way – we must be the only people that ever went to court that had to appeal a judgment from a case they had already won," says Mr Heller, 77. "How's that possible?"
The dining table of the couple's rented Lilydale home is filled with dozens of documents from all the people they've lobbied over the years, initially for legal recourse, but more recently, for an ex-gratia payment from the state government. There are emails to past and present attorneys-general; pleas to small business ministers from successive Labor and Liberal governments; letters to Victoria's chief justice, the Law Institute of Victoria, and countless MPs.
Most of the replies share a similar theme: sympathy with their plight, but no real commitment to address it. A recent letter from federal Attorney-General George Brandis' department, for instance, states that the "laws of Victoria are a matter for the government of Victoria". A request to discuss the case with Attorney-General Martin Pakula remains in limbo. "The Department of Justice and Regulation is examining their request and will provide advice to the Attorney-General in due course," his spokeswoman said.
An Ivanhoe Plaza spokesman said the eviction was justified because "the tenant was in substantial arrears". But Peter Strong, chief executive of the Council of Small Business of Australia believes the case highlights how the retail sector tends to be heavily stacked in favour of landlords, particularly in large shopping centres. Mr Harvey says it not only showed the importance of strong protection for tenants, but also "the need for an inexpensive dispute resolution procedure that is actually compulsory so they don't have to go through the courts".
The Hellers just want some closure. "Obviously it's very distressing," Mr Heller says, "but the fact is, justice must prevail." 

Apr 26, 2015

Top scientists start to examine fiddled global warming figures - Telegraph

Last month, we are told, the world enjoyed “its hottest March since records began in 1880”. This year, according to “US government scientists”, already bids to outrank 2014 as “the hottest ever”. The figures from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) were based, like all the other three official surface temperature records on which the world’s scientists and politicians rely, on data compiled from a network of weather stations by NOAA’s Global Historical Climate Network (GHCN).
But here there is a puzzle. These temperature records are not the only ones with official status. The other two, Remote Sensing Systems (RSS) and the University of Alabama (UAH), are based on a quite different method of measuring temperature data, by satellites. And these, as they have increasingly done in recent years, give a strikingly different picture. Neither shows last month as anything like the hottest March on record, any more than they showed 2014 as “the hottest year ever”.
An adjusted graph from the Goddard Institute for Space Studies
Back in January and February, two items in this column attracted more than 42,000 comments to the Telegraph website from all over the world. The provocative headings given to them were “Climategate the sequel: how we are still being tricked by flawed data on global warming” and “The fiddling with temperature data is the biggest scientific scandal”.
My cue for those pieces was the evidence multiplying from across the world that something very odd has been going on with those official surface temperature records, all of which ultimately rely on data compiled by NOAA’s GHCN. Careful analysts have come up with hundreds of examples of how the original data recorded by 3,000-odd weather stations has been “adjusted”, to exaggerate the degree to which the Earth has actually been warming. Figures from earlier decades have repeatedly been adjusted downwards and more recent data adjusted upwards, to show the Earth having warmed much more dramatically than the original data justified.
So strong is the evidence that all this calls for proper investigation that my articles have now brought a heavyweight response. The Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) has enlisted an international team of five distinguished scientists to carry out a full inquiry into just how far these manipulations of the data may have distorted our picture of what is really happening to global temperatures.
The panel is chaired by Terence Kealey, until recently vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham. His team, all respected experts in their field with many peer-reviewed papers to their name, includes Dr Peter Chylek, a physicist from the National Los Alamos Laboratory; Richard McNider, an emeritus professor who founded the Atmospheric Sciences Programme at the University of Alabama; Professor Roman Mureika from Canada, an expert in identifying errors in statistical methodology; Professor Roger Pielke Sr, a noted climatologist from the University of Colorado, and Professor William van Wijngaarden, a physicist whose many papers on climatology have included studies in the use of “homogenisation” in data records.
Their inquiry’s central aim will be to establish a comprehensive view of just how far the original data has been “adjusted” by the three main surface records: those published by the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (Giss), the US National Climate Data Center and Hadcrut, that compiled by the East Anglia Climatic Research Unit (Cru), in conjunction with the UK Met Office’s Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction. All of them are run by committed believers in man-made global warming.
Below, the raw data in graph form
For this the GWPF panel is initially inviting input from all those analysts across the world who have already shown their expertise in comparing the originally recorded data with that finally published. In particular, they will be wanting to establish a full and accurate picture of just how much of the published record has been adjusted in a way which gives the impression that temperatures have been rising faster and further than was indicated by the raw measured data.
Already studies based on the US, Australia, New Zealand, the Arctic and South America have suggested that this is far too often the case.
But only when the full picture is in will it be possible to see just how far the scare over global warming has been driven by manipulation of figures accepted as reliable by the politicians who shape our energy policy, and much else besides. If the panel’s findings eventually confirm what we have seen so far, this really will be the “smoking gun”, in a scandal the scale and significance of which for all of us can scarcely be exaggerated.
More details of the Global Warming Policy Foundation's International Temperature Data Review Project are available on the inquiry panel's websitewww.tempdatareview.org

Isolated in debt talks, Greek finance rebel gets the cold shoulder - Yahoo Finance

As the buses carrying European finance ministers left for a gala dinner in the Latvian capital on Friday night, one of the party hung back at the hotel and then wandered off alone into the dusk.
Greece's Yanis Varoufakis had other dinner plans, he said, after a bruising first day of meetings in Riga that underlined his isolation as he tries to avert national bankruptcy.
While other ministers were feted by their entourages with food and warm clothing during the meeting in Riga, Varoufakis was seen alone at almost every turn, eschewing aides or any security detail.
"He is completely isolated," a senior euro zone official told Reuters on condition of anonymity. "He didn't even come to the dinner to represent his country," the official said of the event where ministers, serenaded by a Latvian choir, ate salmon and sea bass.
At breakfast before the meeting, Varoufakis and European Central Bank President Mario Draghi avoided eye contact as they picked up food at the buffet, Reuters reporters observed.
The hardening of the mood against Varoufakis risks deepening the divide that Greece must bridge with its creditors if Athens is to avert default.
After three months of largely fruitless negotiations, euro zone ministers warned him on Friday that the radical leftist Greek government will get no more aid until it agrees a complete economic reform plan, before the end of June.
Some countries are so frustrated by what they see as Greece's failure to compromise that one minister said it may be time to prepare for a Greek default.
"NOT SURPRISED"
Varoufakis, the only male minister at the meeting without a tie, said he was unfazed by the tone of Friday's meeting -- which Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the chairman of the euro zone finance ministers, described as "very critical" of Athens.
In a sign of the coolness creeping in, Dijsselbloem referred to Varoufakis as "the Greek colleague" to reporters in Riga, although he addresses him by his first name in meetings.
"I'm not surprised," Varoufakis told reporters. "When you are approaching the end of negotiations, the stance hardens."He denied reports that he had been insulted by ministers in Riga. "All these are false."
While his economic demands have fallen on deaf ears, Varoufakis has become an improbable heartthrob in Germany. ZDF public television lampooned its own news anchor for enthusiastically comparing the minister with Hollywood tough guy Bruce Willis, while Stern magazine published a gushing article on Varoufakis's "classical masculinity".
But some ministers say they resent being lectured by an academic who has studied in Britain, taught in Australia and the United States and challenged the theoretical basis of European policymaking.
While Varoufakis criticizes the spending cuts demanded by international creditors, his euro zone peers insist only painful changes can lift Greece out of one of the deepest economic depressions in Europe since the 1950s.
According to people present in the room, several ministers rolled their eyes, closed their eyes or put their hands over their ears during Varoufakis' interventions at Friday's meeting.




"Eurogroup ministers don't like the fact that he is giving a small lecture when he is speaking to them," one euro zone official said. "And for that reason (chairman) Dijsselbloem stopped him yesterday, saying: 'Yanis, you don't tell us what we want to hear.'"

Apr 24, 2015

Think your management job is safe? Beware the 'iCEO' | Computerworld

The prospect of automation has long sparked fears of jobs lost to robotic replacements, but typically such worries have focused on blue-collar and other low-level positions. Well, the Institute for the Future has a message for all those in the upper echelons feeling complacent about their job security: The iCEO is coming.
In an article published Thursday in the Harvard Business Review, IFTF research director Devin Fidler described the results of an experiment he and his team recently conducted. Specifically, aiming to investigate the possibility of automating upper-level management, they created prototype software dubbed "iCEO."
The software is essentially a virtual management system that automates complex work by dividing it into individual microtasks and then assigning those tasks to workers using tools such as oDesk, Uber and email or text messaging. "Basically, the system allows a user to drag-and-drop 'virtual assembly lines' into place and run them from a dashboard," the article explains.
Fidler's team then put the iCEO through its paces, including a project to oversee the preparation of a large research report on graphene production for a hypothetical prestigious client.
For information on how graphene is produced, iCEO asked workers on Amazon's Mechanical Turk to curate a list of articles on the topic. The resulting list of articles was passed on to technical analysts from oDesk; Elance writers then used them to produce a coherent text. That went on to a pool of experts for review, followed by a sequence of oDesk editors, proofreaders and fact checkers for finalization.
iCEO routed tasks across 23 people from around the world; it created, formatted and prepared 60 images and graphs.
"We stood back and watched iCEO execute this project," Fidler wrote. "We rarely needed to intervene. ... We were amazed by the quality of the end result -- and the speed with which it was produced."
As opposed to taking several weeks for the research portion alone of such a report, iCEO did that piece in just three days. Creating the full report took just weeks rather than months.
IFTF also ran pilot tests focusing on sales, quality assurance and hiring, and the results were surprisingly positive.
The bottom line: "It will not be possible to hide in the c-suite for much longer," Fidler wrote. "The same cost/benefit analyses performed by shareholders against line workers and office managers will soon be applied to executives and their generous salaries."
IFTF will need a year or two to make the technology ready for full-fledged enterprise adoption. How to prepare in the meantime? CIOs should begin by thinking more about dynamic resource routing, since that's at the heart of how technology like iCEO gets things done, Fidler said.
On a broader level, organizational management is on the verge of a major disruption, he added. "We'd love to see people beginning to think through the future of work on a deeper level."

Apr 23, 2015

Greece: bankruptcy looms as cash runs out for wages and pensions | The Australian

Greece will go bust next week, potentially pushing the highly indebted country into default and out of the eurozone and plunging the European Union into an unprecedented crisis.
The head of the Greek treasury admitted yesterday that the government could not pay its bills, including the salaries and pensions of millions of public sector workers that are due at the end of the month.
To avoid default, Athens must pay the despised creditors of the International Monetary Fund and the eurozone before its own citizens. Such an outcome would be deeply humiliating for the leftist government, elected on the pledge to put Greeks first.
Dimitris Mardas, the deputy finance minister, said the treasury coffers were €400 million short of the €1.9 billion needed to honour payroll obligations to state employees. “We have been running on empty since February.”
At a summit in Brussels today, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will appeal to German Chancellor Angela Merkel for more eurozone aid and warn her that Greece is on the brink of bankruptcy and exit from the euro.
EU diplomats and officials are concerned that the left-wing Syriza government will choose to pay public sector workers rather than honour payments due to the IMF of €970 million over the next three weeks, a decision that would push Greece into default.
“There is a strong faction, including the finance minister, that will not stomach the humiliation of paying back foreign creditors while Greeks go hungry,” said a diplomatic source. “This might well be the moment it ends.”
Fears that Greece is about to go bankrupt triggered market turbulence, pushing up the cost of Greek borrowing yesterday to the same levels as at the height of the eurozone crisis in 2012. Greek banks, completely dependent on emergency support from the European Central Bank, are teetering on the brink of collapse after public bodies were forced to withdraw €2.5 billion in cash reserves to help to pay bills.
After a meltdown on the Athens stock exchange, Mr Mardas attempted to qualify his remarks, saying that the state was solvent and that the government was pursuing “alternative options”. He refused to elaborate. Shut out of bond markets, Athens will run out of cash unless it strikes a deal with foreign creditors to unlock bailout aid worth €7.2 billion.
On Monday an emergency presidential decree forced up to 1500 local government bodies to transfer cash reserves to the Bank of Greece for “urgent use” by the state. The measure was demanded by the eurozone and IMF, effectively placing the funds beyond the reach of the government, and has run into fierce resistance from mayors, who see it as an attempt to put international creditors before Greeks.
Giorgos Kaminis, the mayor of Athens, said the confiscation law was “unconstitutional” and vowed to fight it. The Union of Municipalities and Communities said in a statement on Tuesday night: “We are determined to use all political and legal means we can to repudiate the content of the decree.”
Greece could go bust as early as Friday next week, May 1, if it baulks at putting a repayment of €200 million to the IMF before paying state employees. The day is a bank holiday and could be the moment Greece informs international creditors that it cannot pay back debts and moves to introduce capital controls, nationalise local banks and issue a new currency pegged to the euro as it continues to try to negotiate.
Just 11 days later, Greece must pay back another €770 million, again to the International Monetary Fund.
Yesterday the lights went out — literally — in Greece’s biggest tax office, north of Athens, after the finance ministry failed to pay long-overdue power bills. The crisis comes as the Syriza government refuses to implement politically toxic austerity measures and as eurozone hawks, led by Germany, insist that no aid will be forthcoming until it does.
The stalemate has lasted two months, and a meeting of eurozone finance ministers in Riga tomorrow is not expected to deliver a breakthrough.
“The uncertainty is hurting Greece, badly,” said Notis Mitarakis, a conservative MP. “The country cannot continue to limp. It’s high time the government gets a grip of reality and negotiates a deal fast.”
Surveys suggest that public support for the government is waning, with four in ten Greeks disagreeing with its hard-nosed negotiating stance. The same survey shows Mr Tsipras’s popularity dropping to 45 per cent from a record 72 per cent support a month ago

Apr 21, 2015

Want more money and job satisfaction? These are the skills you need | Nick Heath



A poll of more than 25,000 developers reveals the technology jobs that pay big bucks, that are fun and those that plain suck. 
Finding a role that is both satisfying and well-paid can be challenging, especially in a field as fast moving as software development.
To keep pace, developers typically have to refine their skills and learn new technologies throughout their careers, so knowing where to focus their efforts is important.
The programming Q&A site StackOverflow polled more than 26,000 developers worldwide about which computing roles are financially and intellectually rewarding, and which are less so. The results seem to be weighted towards web technologies but the sample size is large enough to throw up some interesting results.
When it comes to the programming languages most widely used among coders, web favourite JavaScript (JS) is the most common - with the JS framework AngularJS and the server-side JS environment Node.js among the few technologies whose popularity has increased over the past two years.
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The most popular technologies and programming languages in 2015
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The most popular technologies and programming languages in 2013.
As might be expected in a market that relies on supply and demand, the languages most widely used by developers are not those that attract the highest pay and perks. Competency in Objective-C, the language used to code iPhone apps among other things, remains the most highly-rewarded skill among the popular languages, with an ability to work with the relatively new Node.js environment also generously compensated.
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Compensation by technology in the US
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Compensation by technology in western Europe
The truly big bucks are reserved for know-how relating to more niche technologies, generally used in the fields of big-data analytics and cloud computing.
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Top paying technologies
The web appears to provide employment for most respondents - with the most common occupation listed as "full-stack web developer" - a role that requires working knowledge of front-end browser-based technologies, server-side languages and databases. Overall, the proportion who class themselves as web and mobile developers was up, while desktop developers fell.
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Breakdown of occupations in 2015
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Breakdown of occupations in 2013
Somewhat surprisingly, it seems executives are among the most satisfied with their roles, with CTOs, CIOs and the like rating their job the highest on a scale of one to five. Interestingly, being an iOS programmer is not only one of the best-paid jobs, it also scores highly for satisfaction. When it comes to thankless tasks, product managers top the list, with graphics programmers and data warehousing experts also less content than their peers.
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Most satisfying job
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Least satisfying job
The programming languages and technologies that generate the most excitement among developers tend to be the more recent creations, such as Apple's Swift andMozilla's Rust, although the venerable C++ also scores highly. The cloud-based CRM platform Salesforce is the technology that developers most loathe working with, alongside Microsoft's Visual Basic programming language and the blogging platform WordPress.
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Most-loved technologies
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Most dreaded technologies
There's good news for those who want to work with computers but don't have formal training. Almost half the respondents don't have a degree in computer science. System administrators were the most likely to be self-taught, while machine-learning developers and data scientists are over 10 times more likely than other coders to have a PhD.
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Breakdown of developers by education
All graphs are crops of the originals from the Stack Overflow developer survey and provided under the following Creative Commons licence.

Apr 20, 2015

Sharper Chinese slowdown provokes local recession fears | The Australian

Weak wages growth and poor company profits are undermining the government’s budget plans, with a key economic forecaster warning that the downturn in China could yet push Australia into recession.
Deloitte Access Economics’ latest review of the economy says the fall in the exchange rate and lower interest rates are so far offsetting much of the damage caused by tumbling commodity prices and the winding down of construction work in the resources sector. “Australia is actually navigating the tricky shoals of transition away for the construction phase of the resources boom as well as could be expected,” the report, compiled by partner Chris Richardson, says.
China, however, is managing an even more difficult transition that could threaten Australia’s outlook. “It is certainly possible to see a scenario in which China’s slowdown becomes a sharper shake-out than we’ve allowed,” Mr Richardson says.
“We’re talking a recession scenario. If China sneezes, Australia will catch pneumonia.”
Although the Reserve Bank would cut rates in such a scenario, it has little further room to move, the report notes. The government would also be likely to deploy a stimulus package, but the political challenge of deficits would limit its size and effectiveness.
Deloitte Access says the narrowing of the budget deficit projected at the mid-year update in December, which envisaged the deficit falling from $40 billion this year to $12bn by 2017-18, “looks increasingly hard to achieve”.
All the key indicators of China’s economic performance are at or below the low points touched during the global financial crisis. This includes industrial production and investment flows into infrastructure, both vital for Australia’s commodity exports.
Even if China is able to stabilise its growth, as Deloitte Access predicts, that may not be enough to stop commodity prices falling further. If commodity prices ­returned to the long-term average levels achieved before the ­resources boom took off in 2002-03, the result would be the loss of a ­further 6 per cent of Australia’s nat­ional income from ­reduced export earnings.
Although economic growth is being helped by the fall in the ­exchange rate and the RBA interest rate cuts, the weakness in commodity prices is having a ­direct ­effect on company profits and on tax revenue.
Company profits are only slightly higher now than in 2006-07 before the GFC, and 8 per cent lower now than in 2011, which marked the peak in commodity prices. Budget revenue is also threatened by poor wages growth, which is expected to remain subdued, with increases of less than 3 per cent until
2016-17.
While low wage growth is helping Australian business recover some of the competitiveness lost during the resources boom, it is also slowing the growth of national income and budget tax revenue.
Efforts by the government to offset the weaker revenue with spending cuts have proven too hard to pass through the Senate, while state governments in Queensland and Victoria have lost office after attempting budget savings.
“Politics is cruelling efforts at state and federal budget repair, while the economy is hurting the fiscal outlook further,” the report says. “That combination says the repair task has grown, but the appetite to tackle it has faltered.

Apr 19, 2015

China's economy is losing altitude fast - CBS News

Is China's economy finally heading for the dreaded "hard landing" that some analysts have been predicting?
The People's Republic still has a financial growth rate that is the envy of many nations. But its reported first-quarter GDP growth of 7 percent, down from 7.3 percent in the fourth quarter of last year, marks China's slowest economic growth rate in six years.
And Beijing's official figure, which some analysts question, may understate how much China is slowing. Seasonally adjusted quarterly growth in the first three months of the year was only 5.3 percent, according to Haver Analytics, the weakest pace of expansion since early 2009.
For the global economy, meanwhile, a precipitous decline in China's growth could propel the fragile ongoing recovery in the U.S., Europe and other parts of the globe into a brick wall.
Top Chinese officials acknowledge the decades-long trend of historic growth appears to be running out of steam.
"The downward pressure on China's economy is intensifying," Chinese Premier Li Keqiang told the Financial Times this week in conceding that growth could slip below 7 percent for the year. "Deep-seated problems in the country's economic development are becoming more obvious. The difficulties we are facing this year could be bigger than last year."
With its economy in danger of losing too much speed, China started lowering interest rates in late 2014 and has bee boosting spending. China watchers expect the country's central bank to engage in more easing in the weeks ahead
China's slowdown is by design, it's worth noting. For years, the world's second-biggest economy has been trying to shrink its manufacturing sector and expand its consumer services, a transition aimed at putting it on a more sustainable, if slower, path to growth.
But obstacles abound. Perhaps the most troublesome has been China's long frothy property market, which is responsible for about 20 percent of the overall economy.
Mark Williams, chief Asia economist for London-based Capital Economics, notes that residential property sales in China fell nine percent year-over-year, while inventories of unsold property rose 24 percent. While a necessary step in deflating a potentially devastating real estate bubble, that has crimped consumer spending, which combined with many Chinese people's propensity to save has weighed on the economy
"A prolonged period of property weakness has long looked inevitable," he said in a recent research note, "given that property completions had accelerated ahead of likely growth of property demand based on factors such as demographics and urbanization."
China's economic challenges are magnified because they are unfolding as China undertakes a historic urbanization plan to move tens of millions of people to its cites in the next decade or so. The Economist, quoting the E-House property consultancy, projects that at the current sales rate it will take about a year-and-a-half to clear China's current inventory of new homes.
But slowing economic growth also means slowing housing sales, which could further drag down the overall economy.