Economic Downturn Sucks The Fat From The Cosmetic Surgery Biz

As belts tighten and families trim the fat from their budgets, it is poignantly ironic that one of the first things to be chopped from the list of luxuries in certain families is getting their own bodies chopped up. I mean, of course, that great American pastime: cosmetic surgery.

An article in the San Diego Union-Tribune recently examined the sassy, slenderizing effects of the downturn on the cosmetic surgery industry, which raked in $13.2 billion in 2007. The news isn’t good:

“‘We're seeing fewer consultations,’ said Dr. Robert Singer of La Jolla. ‘During a time of downturn in the economy, practices see fewer shoppers.’”

“Shoppers” meaning people who want pieces sucked/chopped/frapp├ęd out of them. At this point, the doctors speculate that the reason is simply that the money isn’t there. Mom and Dad aren’t willing to shell-out for little Helvetica’s new nose when they are wondering how they’ll even pay for her college. Before long, however, our problems may just correct themselves. I.e. food prices will have us all slimming down the old-fashioned way by natural starvation.

While this is good news for people like me with a hideously twisted body image (So...hungry...), it comes as little comfort to doctors and medical suppliers. One example:

“Mentor Corp. of Santa Barbara reduced the upper range of its sales estimates for 2008 by $15 million in part because of declining sales of its breast implants in the United States.”

What have we become when young women can’t afford to take that first step towards becoming a silicon-based life form? Is this the same world in which Norman Rockwell limned his immortal painting, "Freedom from Flatness?" But wait...There may be another explanation for all of this: Americans may still be leaving cartilage and fat on the OR floor, but far, far away from home.
The international medical tourism trade is booming. For the same price or less, medical tourism firms and affiliated hospitals are offering the same procedures you find at your local Mom n’ Pop Lipo Stop, but in destinations like Brazil, India and Thailand, allowing people to recover in a more clement, relaxing climate. NuWire discussed the medical tourism industry and how investors might take advantage of it as it grows, including a list of the top 5 places to invest. Thailand didn’t make the cut because military coups don’t do much for one’s convalescence.
Having been hospitalized a number of times throughout Asia, I can vouch for the fact that the staff in those countries is equally if not more capable than the staff in American hospitals. And having also lived and been hospitalized in Atlanta, I’d say that the Thai doctors spoke better English, too, so you needn’t worry about communication issues.

So while the Nip/Tuck set may be facing thinner times, the news isn’t quite so dismal for the rest of us. On the next family trip to Costa Rica, mom can regain the full, supple lips she’s chewed away with nervous tension, dad can come back missing half of his intestinal tract, and little Helvetica can go to prom with a brand new schnoz. Best of all, investors who give people a place to rest while they recuperate and face the uncertainty and agony of their mutilation might walk away with a severe case of obesity...of the wallet.

This was a guest post by Trenton Flock, Web Editor at NuWire.

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Oldest Americans Are Happiest

Those who are looking forward to their retirement are looking forward to the happiest time of their lives, according to a new study. The oldest Americans are the happiest, "and older adults are more socially active than the stereotype of the lonely senior suggests," according to an Associated Press article.

"The two go hand-in-hand—being social can help keep away the blues."

"A certain amount of distress in old age is inevitable, including aches, pains and deaths of loved ones and friends. But older people generally have learned to be more content with what they have than younger adults," according to the article.

The study, which included 28,000 people aged 18 to 88, found that "there were ups and downs in overall happiness levels during the study, generally corresponding with good and bad economic times. But at every stage, older Americans were the happiest," according to the article.

"In general, the odds of being happy increased 5 percent with every 10 years of age."

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Presidential Candidates Reach Out To Young Voters

In the midst of a drawn-out presidential campaign, Democratic senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, both vying for their party's nomination, are courting young voters.

They both appeared on Stephen Colbert's satirical news show, "The Colbert Report," which is immensely popular with the young demographic. Choosing to appear on "The Colbert Report" may have proven to be a wise decision for the candidates, because a recent study, to be published in an upcoming issue of PS: Political Science & Politics, has confirmed that the purported "Colbert Bump" actually exists.

"Democrats who appeared on the show raised about 44 percent more money after their appearance than they did before. Republicans, on the other hand, didn't fare as well after their Colbert appearance. Their appearance either had no effect, or a slightly negative one," according to a LiveScience article.

Thus, Republican nominee John McCain might want to steer clear of "The Colbert Report."

Obama has also drawn the attention of younger voters by making a reference to a popular Jay-Z song in a recent speech. In describing how presidential candidates need to overcome negative attacks, he motioned as though he was brushing something off his shoulders, an apparent reference to the Jay-Z song "Dirt Off Your Shoulder." Ben Smith of Politico called the allusion a "generational dog whistle," meaning that it's a reference that only young voters will be able to understand.

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Many Americans Cannot Afford Homes

Housing prices are falling around the country, but many Americans still cannot afford to buy a home. In fact, in an earlier post, I cited a study that found that 60 percent of Americans plan not to buy a home in the next two years.

"In many parts of the country, housing increases have outpaced wage growth for almost a decade. Census data released in 2006 revealed that between 2000 and 2005, the burden of housing costs grew sharply," according to a Bankrate.com article.

The article cites a recent study done by the Center for Housing Policy (CHP) called "Paycheck to Paycheck: Wages and the Cost of Housing in America." The study looked at 210 U.S. metropolitan areas and the wages earned by workers in 60 different occupations.

"Registered nurses, who typically have high salaries, were unable to purchase a median-priced home in 108 of the markets," according to the article. "The study also found that retail salespeople and food-preparation workers couldn't afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment in any of the markets. It based affordability on the metrics that a family or person should not spend more than 30% of household income on rent and utilities while homeowners should not spend more than 28% of their income on the mortgage, taxes and insurance."

Also according to the article, "The Housing Affordability Index measures the cost of housing against median family income. The National Association of Realtors, or NAR, which calculates the index, considers that the typical family makes enough money to buy the typical used home, assuming a 20% down payment and a traditional 30-year mortgage.

"In 2000, the NAR pegged the index at 129.2, meaning the typical family had 129% of the income necessary to pay for the typical used house. That figure dropped to 104.9 in June 2007, even though the 2000 median family income of $50,732 rose to $59,157 during the period.

"That's because the median price of a home in 2000 was $139,000, but by June 2007 prices peaked at a whopping $229,200. In those seven years, the median price of homes increased 64.9%, while median incomes rose just 16.6%."

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Recession Forces Teens To Curb Spending

In a previous post, I talked about how the tightening job market would bode poorly for teens--there will be more competition for fewer summer jobs.

A recent Associated Press article documented another way in which the slowing economy is affecting life for teenagers: the recession has made frugality cool.

"Teen hiring has slumped by 5 percent since March 2007, with many mom-and-pop stores, which typically hire younger workers, laying off employees. Hiring in the overall job market fell by just 0.1 percent during the same period," according to the article.

Because of the recession, "jobs for teens are less plentiful, and parents who supply the allowances are feeling the economic pinch themselves," according to the article. "The stalwart retailers of teen apparel, such as Abercrombie and American Eagle Outfitters Inc., are reporting sluggish sales, defying the myth that teen spending is recession-proof: It holds up longer, but can eventually fold."

Teenagers always want to be trendy, but now they have less money to spend on trends. So, "Last week, Ellegirl.com, the teen offshoot of Elle magazine, launched a new video fixture called Self-Made Girl, which shows teens how to make clothes and accessories. The first video offers tips on how to create a prom clutch," according to the article.

For those who aren't crafty (such as myself), thrift shops, consignment stores and second-hand stores are all great options for saving money on close. An added bonus is that buying used clothes allows people to reduce their carbon footprints.

"Kerstin Block, president and co-founder of Buffalo Exchange, a Tucson, Ariz.-based chain that sells second-hand clothing, said Gap jeans there run $9 to $20. A new pair runs $50 to $60. Block noted that buying second-hand is also appealing to a growing eco-friendly sentiment among teenagers," according to the article.

"Economists say this teen spending slump could be the worst in 17 years, when teen frugality led to the demise of once-hot Merry-Go-Round Enterprises Inc. and ushered in an era of flannel shirts and torn jeans," according to the article.

I grew up in Seattle, and had no idea that flannel and ripped jeans were popular because they were cheap. I just thought everyone was into grunge. And while we're on the subject, the 14th anniversary of Kurt Cobain's tragic death was this month. May the voice of his generation rest in peace.

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Global Food Prices Up 40 Percent Since Mid-2007

In my previous post on rising food prices, I noted that more and more people were using food banks as a result of the skyrocketing costs.

Food prices have increased 40 percent globally since mid-2007, according to the Associated Press.

But the crisis of rising food prices is so dire in Haiti that it has led to riots. "Haitian lawmakers fired Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis over the rioting," according to the AP.

In response, the United Nations will distribute 8,000 tons of food, along with other help, to Haiti. "Food provided by the World Food Program will focus on children, pregnant women and nursing mothers in the north, west and central regions of Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere," according to the AP.

Once again, I am encouraging readers to make a donation, large or small, to a food bank near them. I purchased staples such as cereal, peanut butter, beans, soups, pasta, rice and macaroni and cheese (okay, okay, macaroni and cheese is not a staple--nor is it particularly healthy--but it is easy, quick and delicious) and took them to a public drop-off point for Northwest Harvest, Washington State's hunger relief agency, which provides 18 million pounds of food to more than 300 food banks annually. It didn't cost me a lot of time or a lot of money, and my small donation will help free someone from deciding whether to buy groceries or their prescription medication.

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Sixty Percent Of Americans Won't Buy A Home In Next Two Years

With the economy hurtling downwards, a seemingly endless string of polls measures the public's perception of the recession. A recent poll shows the pessimism Americans are feeling about the real estate market. One finding of the Associated Press-AOL Money & Finance poll was that, "Sixty percent said they definitely won't buy a home in the next two years, up from 53 percent who said so in an AP-AOL poll in September 2006," according to an AP article.

Additionally, the poll found that "more than a quarter of homeowners worry their home will lose value over the next two years. Fully one in seven mortgage holders fear they won't be able to make their monthly payments on time over the next six months," according to the AP. Fear of foreclosure, heightened by the rising number of foreclosure filings, has many afraid of losing their homes.

Investors looking to sell properties these days will likely not be heartened to hear that, according to the poll, only 11 percent are certain or very likely to purchase a home soon. In 2006, that percentage was at 15.

"The number envisioning falling prices in their area has grown to one in four, while four in 10 think prices will rise, a decrease from two years ago. Expectations for rising prices are highest in the South, with Westerners likeliest to predict they will drop," according to the AP.

There are many markets on the West Coast that have bucked the trend of falling property prices thus far, but residents of those areas clearly expect that trend to come to an end.

In 2006, when the poll was last conducted, the subprime lending crisis was just beginning to appear on many people's radar screens. At that time, about 20 percent of those polled had adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs), compared to about 10 percent of those recently polled. Lending practices have changed as the fallout of the subprime lending crisis has become more apparent and widespread.

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SBA Study Finds Men And Women Entrepreneurs Have Different Motivations

The verdict is in: Men and women are, in fact, different, an SBA study has found--at least in terms of entrepreneurship.

The study found that gender does not affect the performance of any particular new venture, but that several other factors do. "Differing expectations, reasons for starting a business, motivations, opportunities sought and types of businesses…vary between the genders, and these result in differing outcomes," according to the study.

Below are excerpted the highlights of the study:

• Men had more business experience prior to opening the business and higher expectations.
• Women entrepreneurs had a larger average household size.
• The educational backgrounds of male and female entrepreneurs were similar.
• Women were less likely than men to purchase their business.
• Women were more likely to have positive revenues, but men were more likely to own an employer firm.
• Female owners were more likely to prefer low risk/return businesses.
• Men spent slightly more time on their new ventures than women.
• Male owners were more likely to start a business to make money, had higher expectations for their business, and did more research to identify business opportunities.
• Male entrepreneurs were more likely to found technologically intensive businesses, businesses that lose their competitive advantage more quickly, and businesses that have a less geographically localized customer base.
• Male owners spent more effort searching for business opportunities and this held up when other factors were controlled for.
• Differences between women and men concerning venture size and hours are explained by control variables such as prior start-up and industry experience.
• Researchers and policymakers need to understand that studies which do not take into account the differing nature of men- and women-owned firms could result in misleading results.

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Rising Food Costs Lead More People To Food Banks

Food prices are rising across the board these days. Over in InvestorCentric, Eric wrote earlier about the rising price of corn, which recently surpassed $6 per bushel--a record. But it's not just the price of corn that's going up: Food prices are rising across the board and around the globe.

"Cost increases are affecting most countries around the globe, with prices for dairy products up 80 percent, cooking oils up 50 percent, and grains up 42 percent from 2006 to 2007," according to Slate.

"At $1.32, the average price of a loaf of bread has increased 32 percent since January 2005. In the last year alone, the average price of carton of eggs has increased almost 50 percent," according to a recent MSNBC article.

"Ground beef, milk, chicken, apples, tomatoes, lettuce, coffee and orange juice are among the staples that cost more these days, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics," the MSNBC article said.

"A 12-ounce can of frozen, concentrated orange juice now averages $2.53 — a 67-cent increase in just two years," according to the article. "And a carton of grade A, large eggs will set you back $2.17. That's an increase of nearly $1 since February 2006."

What's behind the huge food price increases?

The rising energy costs taking bigger chunks out of consumers' wallets are one culprit. Rising energy costs are contributing to a secondary cause of the price increases: Increased interest in biofuels, such as corn-based ethanol.

"In 2006, 14 percent of the total corn crop in the United States was converted into ethanol; by 2010, that figure will rise to 30 percent. When the production of corn intended for human or animal consumption decreases, prices go up," according to Slate.

Finally, weather is an issue. Inclement weather has negatively affected the Corn Belt and Australia has experienced a draught while Argentina has experienced flooding. These weather conditions have all decreased harvests and exports.

The rising prices are leading to another increase: An increase in the number of people going to food banks.

"Nationwide, a family of four on a moderate-cost shopping plan now spends an average of $904 each month for groceries, an $80 increase from two years ago, according to the USDA," according to the MSNBC article.

"America's Harvest, which distributes nearly 2 billion pounds of food and grocery products each year to more than 200 food banks across the country, estimates that its overall client load increased by 20 percent in the fourth quarter of 2007," according to the article.

With costs of necessities rapidly increasing, times are tough for a lot of people. So I encourage everyone who can spare a little--investors, I'm talking to you--to make a donation to their local food bank.

Next week, I will set aside the money I usually spend on my daily Grande soy blueberry misto, no water, poured over lots of ice (yes, I have seen When Harry Met Sally, and no, I am not quite as picky as Sally) and instead, buy food to donate to a local food bank.

If you make a donation, large or small, I'd love to hear about it!

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