The Checkup of the Future
“This could be the greatest medical achievement in history,” said our science-and-wealth maven Stephen Petranek.
Coming from him, I couldn’t help but sit up and take notice.
See, like me, Stephen has a journalism background. We cast a skeptical eye at anything that smacks of hyperbole. “I tend to avoid overstating possibilities,” he hastened to add.
But his verdict stands: We’re looking at “the most amazing diagnostic achievement in all of medical history.”
Flash-forward to five years from now: “It’s checkup time,” said Stephen, “and you go to the doctor’s office.
“She gives you one test, and one test only. She asks you to breathe into a puffy plastic bottle connected to a machine about the size of a shoe box. That’s right, just breathe — the same thing you do 18,000 times a day. Breathe out. Breathe into the device.”
Scientists have known for years that your breath reveals more about the state of your health than you could ever imagine. But coming up with a way to extract that information in a useful way — a way that could save your life — has proven elusive.
All that is changing now…
“Suppose, for example, that your heart is failing, but it’s not obvious yet,” Stephen explained.
“Perhaps you’ve had a tiny heart attack that caused some chest pain, but you toughed it out — it wasn’t scary enough to get you into an emergency room. That will show up in your breath.
“It will show up as pentane and acetone, two hydrocarbons produced by the body when your heart develops weakness. It will also show up if you’ve just walked into an emergency room with chest pains.
“Or suppose you are developing liver disease, but you’re months, if not years, away from feeling lousy enough to find a doctor and complain. That will show up in your breath too, as trimethylamine. Your body uses an enzyme to remove naturally occurring trimethylamine, but the enzyme diminishes when your liver starts going south.”
This miracle machine is a variation on a device that’s been around for decades — a mass spectrometer.
“It can tell you exactly what’s in anything, atom by atom,” Stephen explained here in The 5 nearly a year ago.
“Archaeologists need it to carbon-date rocks in the field. Toothpaste companies need it to determine if Chinese manufacturers are adding toxic sweeteners to the product. Fish wholesalers need it to determine if they’ve got contaminants in their catch. NOAA needs it to sample air quality in hundreds of locations. Drug researchers in the Amazon need it to analyze biological samples on the spot. Anesthesiologists need it to determine the health of a patient by analyzing what they are breathing out. Geologists need it to sample rock for oil precursors…
“When I was in college,” Stephen went on, “the ‘mass spec’ in the physics lab that I used was the size of an office, was incredibly complicated and sucked up massive amounts of power.”
As with nearly every kind of technology, miniaturization has transformed the mass spec over the years. The device Stephen described that will be a fixture of every doctor’s office and emergency room in five years? It weighs 12 pounds. It’s about as big as a box of detergent. And it runs on a 12-volt battery.
It’s proven technology, finally being commercialized. One day, it might save your life. But before that happens, you can invest in it right now.
“I cannot overemphasize what a breakthrough this is,” said Stephen, bringing us full circle.
Out of respect for his paying subscribers, we’re withholding the name and ticker of the company. Last spring, he foresaw a short-term catalyst in the firm, and his readers grabbed a 70% gain in less than two months.
Then the share price settled back down. It’s back within pennies of his buy-up-to price. We don’t know how long it’ll stay there, so we urge you to check out Stephen’s presentation right away…
The major U.S. stock indexes have recovered some of yesterday’s losses. The S&P 500 is back above 2,100. Gold still hovers a bit above $1,200. The euro has dipped below $1.10 for the first time since 2003.
Crude has seesawed back above $50, at $51.38. Libya’s on-again-off-again production is off again. That’ll happen in a war zone.
Among the noteworthy earnings reports today — Joy Global (JOY), a $4 billion mining machinery firm. The global slowdown has slashed its earnings in half. And the share price has been cut nearly as badly since last fall…
JOY also announced a share buyback to the tune of $50 million during the latest quarter. That’s $533 million of buybacks in less than two years. Normally, traders see buybacks as a good thing. But not when a company depletes its cash reserves in the process.
Last September, our Dan Amoss warned readers of the gone-but-not-forgotten 5 PRO about the firm’s buyback binge. Readers who shorted JOY then are sitting pretty now.
Consider Joy Global a harbinger, Dan warns this morning. “It’s one of many companies that can’t afford its buyback program… and will likely be forced by financial weakness to abandon it.
“So will most other economically sensitive companies that have binged on buybacks.
“When it’s all said and done, they’ll have depleted cash, higher debts and depreciated plant and equipment. The worst offenders will risk bankruptcy a few years from now — all so executives can support their stock option values as they cash out, play the Wall Street earnings gaming process and generally spoil the long-term health of the company for short-term benefit (like politicians).”
Among other things traders are chewing on this morning — China’s latest GDP target, “around 7%” this year, Premier Li Keqiang told the National People’s Congress.
It’s moments like these when we’re reminded China has still a centrally planned economy in a way the United States does not (yet). As we the watched coverage this morning direct from the source — China’s state-run English-language CCTV News — we learned the government has all manner of “economic targets”…
Not 15.4%… not 15.2%… but 15.3%.
What a sham. We wonder what Li said behind the scenes when his speech was over. Longtime readers will recall that years before he became premier, he said China’s sky-high GDP figures were “man-made and therefore… unreliable.” He said so to the U.S. ambassador one night. We learned this from the diplomatic cables pinched by Chelsea Manning in 2010.
If Li really wants to know what’s going on with the Chinese economy, he follows only three numbers — electricity consumption, rail cargo volume and bank lending.
In the years since, analysts have tried to construct a “Li Keqiang Index” from these figures to keep a pulse on China. One measure pegs the number at 9.16 at the start of 2014, and 3.88 by year’s end.
Buried within the earnings release from the aforementioned Joy Global this morning is this: “Slowing housing market activity and a movement towards consumer-driven growth has China adjusting to a new normal level of economic activity.”
You don’t say…
[As long as we brought it up: Why is Private Manning doing 35 years in Leavenworth while Gen. David Petraeus skates with no jail time? Petraeus spilled Top Secret material to his paramour. None of the documents given by Manning to WikiLeaks had that high level of classification.
Something to think about the next time you’re told the difference between us and China is the “rule of law”…]
The War on Small Business, Obamacare edition: Many growing businesses have a new paperwork headache this year — IRS forms that demand painstaking detail about employee costs for their health care plans.
“Though completed forms aren’t due until next January,” says The Wall Street Journal, “many employers are scrambling to get procedures in place now to collect the data. The new process entails measuring every individual full-time worker’s total monthly out-of-pocket cost for an employer health plan this year.”
By enduring this rigamarole, small-business owners will “help” the IRS determine whether their health care coverage meets the feds’ “affordability” guidelines. Isn’t that nice?
“It’s just one more thing we’ve got to worry about,” says Tommy Cain, the Alabama-based owner of five grocery stores. Indeed, it’s a colossal pain for any employer that keeps its own books and prepares its own tax returns.
Sure, you can outsource the process to a payroll firm, but the costs can be steep — as high as a $400 “setup” fee, and 40 cents per employee. (Sorry, Intuit says it won’t support the forms on its do-it-yourself small-biz tax software.)
The best way to avoid these requirements: Make sure your small business never expands to more than 50 employees.
Yeah, that’ll revive the great American middle class…
The Bank of Canada has kindly requested that Canadians stop “Spocking” their fivers.
Ever since Star Trek star Leonard Nimoy died last week, Canadians have been paying tribute by altering the image on their five-dollar bills. It seems Nimoy bore a striking resemblance to Wilfrid Laurier, Canada’s prime minister at the turn of the 20th century.
Before and after an act of Spocking…
The Bank of Canada is not amused. It acknowledges Spocking is a legal act but, “there are important reasons why it should not be done. Writing on a bank note may interfere with the security features and reduces its life span. Markings on a note may also prevent it from being accepted in a transaction.”
Fair enough. But then the central bank’s statement went over the edge. “Furthermore, the Bank of Canada feels that writing and markings on bank notes are inappropriate as they are a symbol of our country and a source of national pride.”
Paper money. Symbol of the country. National pride. Sheesh…
And if you’re wondering, no, Leonard Nimoy was not Canadian. William Shatner, however, is…
“You only got part way to the question the reader raised yesterday,” reads our first item in the mailbag — addressing the paradox of an exploding money supply amid depressionary conditions.
“I do not have the raw numbers, so I cannot do the crunching for you, but I will suggest a methodology:
“Take entire year-over-year money supply growth including quantitative easing and any other mechanisms. Subtract identifiable portion of that growth which went into purchasing Treasury paper. The remaining amount is what hit the rest of the economy (both real and merely financial).
“Meanwhile, take the price appreciation (inflation) of Treasury paper and pro rata back it out of the overall alleged growth of GDP. Use that reduced GDP growth number for comparison with size of said money supply ‘remaining amount’ to obtain a sense of growth of personally experienced GDP versus growth of personally experienced money supply.
“The ratio of personally experienced stuff is likely a whole lot less than the Shadow Stats’ stated proper inflation. So on a personal level, the economy is collapsing because less is happening than the inflation numbers imply ought to be happening.
“In a booming economy you might find prices higher, but either you or your sibling, or a neighbor at least, also got a wage boost, so the pie does seem to be bigger despite using uncomfortably distorted numbers. Can you say Nixonian stagflation?”
The 5: You might be onto something. Inflation as calculated by Shadow Stats was 9.3% last year. It’s run between 9-11% since 2009.
In the teeth of the 1973-75 recession, inflation ran 11%.
“Is it my imagination,” reads another follow-up to yesterday, “or does that Jack Lew signature look like a consecutive series of zeroes?
“If so, I say they keep it. When anthropologists examine our money years from now, it will be the perfect epitaph.”
“Why,” a reader inquires after yesterday’s episode, “would you refer to the IRS paperwork requirement for Obamacare as a ‘scam’? Your biases, apparently, know no bounds.
“Oh wait, excuse me, this must be just another expression of your lighthearted, whimsical nature.”
The 5: We detect a bit of sarcasm there…
The 5 Min. Forecast
P.S. A new month is underway, and once again, our Zach Scheidt is out to help each of his premium subscribers generate at least $1,000 in income.
Last month, he smashed the target. Readers had the chance to amass $4,019. Maybe he set the bar low to avoid eating his shoes.
And so far this month, he’s off to a flying start — $570.
Eager to see how he does it? Want in on the action? Check this out.