Afternoon Coffee: Microsoft to Report First Loss (?), Corn and Soybean Prices Soar

But 1995 was such a good year!
Possible loss looms in Microsoft's fiscal 4Q -- A flopped acquisition may lump Microsoft with the first loss in its 26-year history as a public company when the software maker releases its latest quarterly results Thursday. WHAT TO WATCH FOR: The fiscal fourth-quarter numbers, due out after the stock market closes, will include a $6.2 billion charge to reflect that Microsoft's 2007 acquisition of online ad service aQuantive hasn't yielded the returns envisioned by management. Microsoft Corp. paid $6.3 billion for aQuantive as part of its effort to lure Internet advertisers away from one of its biggest rivals, online search leader Google Inc. But since the deal closed, Google has expanded its share of the online ad market while Microsoft's online division has suffered billions of dollars in losses.

The true price of lobster.
All along the supply chain, people take a cut of lobster price -- By the time that lobster gets to your plate, several people have already taken a nibble. Lobstermen, wholesale dealers and retailers all get a cut of the final price as the state's iconic seafood moves from a trap at the bottom of the Gulf of Maine to the dock and into a retailer's lobster tank. With lobstermen complaining that the price they've been getting recently doesn't even cover their costs, these markups are getting a lot of attention. Dane Somers, executive director of the Maine Lobster Promotion Council, said moving lobster to a Mainer's dinner table is pretty straightforward -- at least locally -- as a handful of people all get a cut. These include the lobsterman, a dealer, in some cases a second dealer, and finally a retailer.

Lolling around the firehouse.
Firefighters Don't Fight Fires -- Over the past 35 years, the number of fires in the United States has fallen by more than 40% while the number of career firefighters has increased by more than 40% (data). (N.B. Volunteer firefighters were mostly pushed out of the big cities in the late 19th century but there are a surprising number who remain in rural areas and small towns; in fact, more in total than career firefighters. The number of volunteers has been roughly constant and almost all of them operate within small towns of less than 25,000. Thus, you can take the above as approximating towns and cities of more than 25,000.) The decline of demand has created a problem for firefighters.

Drought woes.
Corn and Soybeans Reach Records
-- Prices have soared in the past month as hot temperatures and a lack of rain have withered the nation's corn crop, leading analysts to sharply cut their forecasts of what was once expected to be a record large crop. The drought now covers more than half of the continental U.S. and covers a wider stretch of the country than in any drought since 1956, according to the U.S. government. The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Wednesday added 39 counties to its list of regions termed "disaster areas" due to drought so it now includes 1,297 counties in 29 states. Farmers and livestock producers in the added counties are now eligible for emergency low-interest government loans.

- Sheena Moore

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