Explaining Southern California's economy

Honda electrifies City of Torrance with Fit EV

Honda

Honda delivers a 2013 Fit EV to the city of Torrance as a part of the Honda Electric Vehicle Demonstration Program.

I unfortunately missed the delivery of Honda Fit EVs (for "electric vehicles) to the City of Torrance last week. I regret that because this was actually an important move for Honda. As I pointed out in conversation with the Wall Street Journal's car critic, Dan Neil, on "AirTalk" as the Detroit Auto Show was kicking off, Honda is going through something of an identity crisis. It was hit hard by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan that roiled the global auto supply chain. But Honda has also struggled to retain customers and lost market share in the past year to Ford, Nissan, and Hyundai, as well as General Motors and Toyota. 

That's the bad news. The Fit, on the other hand, is the good news. This compact hatchback has been a big hit for Honda. It might be the best small car made by humans on Planet Earth (although Ford and Chevy have some excellent small rides these days, as well — the competition is fierce).

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The Wall Street financial crisis, perfectly visualized at Art Center in California

Leave it to a designer educated in California to create what might be the best explanation of the Wall Street financial crisis. Jonathan Jarvis graduated from Art Center College of Design in 2009 and got hired by Google. He was recently asked back to the prestigious art and design school — perhaps best known for schooling car designers — to elaborate on his experiences at Art Center and beyond and accept an award, but also to talk about "The Crisis of Credit Visualized."

It's a superb piece of information delivery. If you want to understand why everything went horribly, horribly wrong in 2008, just watch it (the entire animation lasts about 11 minutes — a miracle of concision). What's truly impressive is that Jarvis says that he knew nothing about finance before undertaking the project. 

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Welcome to the era of slow U.S. economic growth

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Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

Secretary of the Treasury Timothy F. Geithner (L) and William C. Dudley (R), President and Chief Executive Officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, listen to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke (C) speak during a hearing of the House Financial Services Committee on Capitol Hill March 24, 2009 in Washington, D.C.

The fourth quarter of 2011 was much better for the U.S. economy than the year as a whole. But if you can believe it, it actually disappointed many economists. The economy grew at a rate of 2.8 percent, a vast improvement over the sub-2-percent growth that typified the year. But we were looking for 3 percent GDP growth

I know, I know — 0.2 percent doesn't sound like such a big deal. Unless your yearly GDP is $14.5 trillion and you need to add something like 350,000-400,000 jobs each and every month to bring unemployment down to pre-crisis levels (nationally, it's at 8.5 percent now).

This is from Reuters:

The Fed on Wednesday said it expected to keep interest rates at rock bottom levels at least through late 2014, and Chairman Ben Bernanke said the central bank was mulling further asset purchases to speed the recovery.

The central bank warned the economy still faced big risks, a suggestion the euro zone debt crisis could still hit hard.

"We're still repairing the damage done by the financial crisis. On top of that we face a more challenging world. We have a lot of challenges ahead in the United States," U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Prospects of sluggish growth could hurt President Barack Obama's chances of re-election in November.

The economy grew 1.7 percent in 2011 after expanding 3 percent the prior year, and the unemployment stood at a still-high 8.5 percent in December.

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Why Apple doesn't build anything in the U.S.

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Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

Apple Store in Beijing.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away — well, actually, it was just the USA — Apple made stuff in America. In fact, it manufactured its computers in California, right in its own Cupertino back yard. As Minyanville points out, until 1992, Apple hardware was made in the USA. Now iPhones and iPads are made anywhere but.

I know, 1992 seems like a century ago. There was no Web to speak of, and certainly no smartphones or tablets. Computers were not yet truly ubiquitous in the workplace. They were far from common in homes. But the writing was on the wall.

So why did Apple move its production overseas? Good question, and one that the New York Times recently asked:

Apple executives say that going overseas, at this point, is their only option. One former executive described how the company relied upon a Chinese factory to revamp iPhone manufacturing just weeks before the device was due on shelves. Apple had redesigned the iPhone’s screen at the last minute, forcing an assembly line overhaul. New screens began arriving at the plant near midnight.

A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day.

“The speed and flexibility is breathtaking,” the executive said. “There’s no American plant that can match that.”

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Diet Mountain Dew: Pepsi's billion-dollar baby

The Diet Dew does a billion bucks in sales.

The Chicago Tribune reports that Diet Mountain Dew brings in $1 billion a year in sales. That's enough for PepsiCo, which produces the Diet Dew, to buy every many, woman, and child in America two 20-ounce bottles, with some change left over. And that 20-ounce bottle is very popular. Here's the Trib:

Diet Mountain Dew was introduced in 1988. According to the company, it is now the top-selling 20 ounce diet soft drink by volume in convenience stores and gas stations.

So you can see where the billion comes from. Interestingly, the other two billion-dollar Pepsi brands are Brisk tea and Starbucks beverages. Only one of those is an iridescent green color and contains few calories while invoking the storied history of American moonshine-making, so if that's what you look for in a drink, Pepsi has you covered.

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