Sunday, July 29, 2007

Do Bottled Water Containers Hurt the Environment?; Are Critics Merely "Following the Money?"

Recent Discussion About Bottled Water Mirrors Recycling

Bottle Water and Recycling: .93
Aquafina and "Tap Water" = .88
Dasani and "Tap Water" = .93
Aquafina and recycling = .89
Dasani and recycling = .94

There has been a huge spike in the amount of discussion about bottled water since mid-June 2007. Interestingly, discussion about bottled water correlates highly with discussion about recycling [see above]. Additionally, there is a rise in media coverage relating to this issue. For example, there was an article at CNN on Friday, July 27, 2007. Some key themes mentioned in the article which mirror consumers’ discussion about bottled water include:

1. New Aquafina labels saying that bottled water made with tap water
2. Maker Pepsi says it's reasonable to say where water comes from
3. Critics of bottled water say containers are wasteful
4. Many buyers say bottled water is more convenient

I ran a few correlations which turned out to be extremely high. Interestingly, consumers discussion about bottle water correlates rather high with recycling. This is mostly due to consumers expostulating over that fact that bottled water containers (i.e. plastic bottles) are extremely wasteful. And while I agree that water containers are wasteful, I do not feel critics arguing are looking at all the facts. Soda, milk and beer are also sold in plastic containers among others. Therefore, I ask two questions.

1. Why is all the recent hype about bottled water only?
2. Why are Pepsi (Aquafina) and Coca-Cola (Dasani) brought up most within media coverage and consumers discussion online?

Personally, I feel their are a lot of critics taking aim at Pepsi and Coca-Cola since they feel the companies are making a lot of money selling tap water. A co-worker of mine brought up a similar situation that occurred in the late 80's/early 90's which makes a lot of sense to me. The cardboard/paperboard industry started attacking plastic milk jugs as "health hazards" because they claimed that see-through milk containers (plastic) made vitamins leach out of the milk quicker than if milk came in cartons, which protected milk from sunlight/exposure by not being see-through. The first waves of PR/media coverage were about the "negative health effects of plastic containers for milk," but it wasn't until someone dug deeper that it became apparent the cardboard/paperboard industry was behind the campaign. They were trying to convince milk producers to keep using cardboard when everybody was switching to plastic. My co-worker went on to say, "Who's behind this one attacking plastic containers again? Aluminum can companies? Just a thought ("follow the money" is always a good ideas when these sorts of things hit)." And I couldn't agree more.

Consumers complaining about negative effects of plastic containers on our environment should do more to push things that better our environment such as recycling, alternative fuels and solar power. Consumers like to be motivated. Unfortunately, helping the environment is not important to a lot of people. Many consumers find it expensive and inconvenient. For example, recycling centers are few and far between where I live. I have to drive 20-30 miles out of my way to drop off recyclable goods. Additionally, it costs extra money to sign up for recycling services where I live (which I pay by the way). My point is that critics and consumers looking to improve the environment should lobby for reasons to get people excited about helping the environment (i.e. incentives, tax benefits, etc). I think we are moving in the right direction. Owners of hybrid vehicles are now able to get tax benefits. Likewise, consumers and businesses should be reward for doing other things to help the environment (i.e. installing solar power panels on a home or business instead of using electricity, volunteering in a community clean up project, ride share, etc...). And don't get me wrong, big business has a certain amount of social responsibility to help keep the environment safe and clean. However, going after businesses should not be only recourse. We should all be "thinking green" and "doing our share for cleaner air."

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Professional Sports Leagues Face Major Issues

The NFL, NBA and MLB are all in the midst battling issues which have huge implications. Michael Vick has given the NFL a huge bone to chew over allegations that he is involved in a dog fighting ring. MLB is hampered by steroids discussion magnified by Barry Bonds passing Hank Aaron for the most sacred record in all of sports, the home-run record. And finally, the NBA is being bombarded by negativity around organized gambling and game fixing schemes.

The graph above shows a discussion timeline for some of the hot topics currently being talked about in pro sports. The Michael Vick dog fighting issue tops the list. Despite receiving more buzz, sports fans don't feel Michael Vick's dog fighting woes puts NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in the worst situation. A poll on ESPN's Sportsnation reveals most sports enthusiasts feel David Stern is in the worst position among commissioners in charge of pro sports leagues.

I do believe the NBA is in the worst position among the pro sports leagues since accusations of referee Tim Donaghy fixing games questions the integrity of the sport. However, the NFL and MLB both have issues they must attend to on their own. Also, do not forget that cheating and scandals have been a part of sports in the past. The Chicago White Sox supposedly threw the 1919 World Series which led to a victory for my beloved Cincinnati Reds. And do not forget Pete Rose betting on the game. Baseball overcame similar issues in the past. Likewise, the NBA will recover, but it has to deal with it in the present. Similarly, I feel all three leagues will recover, but not overnight.

Can Online Discussion be used to Predict Interest in Exchange Traded Funds (ETF's)?

A co-worker of mine came to me a few days ago and asked whether exchange traded fund (ETF) discussion has trended down and if so, would that be a leading indicator that ETF popularity will be decreasing. Therefore, I set up a small project to see whether a correlation between online buzz and trading volume existed. The results are very surprising.

First I wanted to see how online discussion about ETF's in general was trending. Discussion rose significantly from October 2006 to April 2007. However, discussion started to level off, then pick up again in early July 2007.

Second, I wanted to see how trading volume for specific ETF's trended over time compared to online discussion. Therefore, I looked at two ETF's, PowerShares Gldn Dragon Halter USX China (PGJ) and iShares MSCI Malaysia Index (EWM). Interestingly, there seems to be some correlation between online discussion and trading volume for ETF's. PGJ's average trading volume has a .79 correlation with online discussion about the fund while EWM's average trading volume has a correlation of .84 with online discussion. Overall, these are rather impressive.

Now I am not a finance guru by any stretch of the imagination. However, I do think this analysis provides some insight. Discussion volume and trading volume for both ETF's peak between January and March. Interestingly, share prices for both began to flatten.

I am not saying that online discussion should be used when evaluating whether to purchase an ETF, but it does warrant some attention. Typically, higher trading volumes indicate that more investors are buying (stock price goes up) or selling (stock price goes down) a particular stock.

I have yet to determine the cause and effect relationship between online buzz and trading volume for ETF's. However, I'm sure it is possible if I am able to review "real time" information about how people are talking. For example, Apple shares plunged $8.00 on Tuesday, July 24, 2007 when the first wave of "activation" numbers came through. I could have speculated increased trading volume would follow if consumers were saying things like "I'm going to be selling my Apple stock since iPhone sales were disappointing." In contrast, increases in trading volume may cause online discussion if investors discuss the transaction after the fact (i.e. "I sold my Apple stock today since iPhone sales were lower than expected").

* Average trading volume information came from Yahoo finance historical information for EWM and PGJ.

On a separate note, I'm sorry for not leaving a post in a while. I have been very busy trying to complete the purchase of my first home. I close on August 21, 2007. Feel free to send an e-mail to or leave a comment regarding anything I've posted today or in the past.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Live Earth Gives iPhone a Run For Its Money

I found an some interesting information at Pete Blackshaw's blog, He says "The buzz jury is still out, but there's just no question the Live Earth global concert is giving iPhone buzz a run for the money. Whether it's sustainable (pun intended) or not will take time to determine, but the concert does appear to have succeeded in generating a significant, and growing, global conversation on the global warming issue.

Personally, I think it will be interesting to see how long the iPhone maintains high buzz levels. Buzz has lowered considerably since its official release. Also, the iPhone is receiving negative buzz regarding its battery replacement. Negative word-of-mouth concerning battery replacement and distribution (i.e. availability through AT&T / Cingular only) may actually keep the iPhone from becoming as popular as many hope.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Shawn Drops iPhone in Houston

I came across a video titled “Shawn drops iPhone in Houston” on YouTube. It posted on June 29, 2007 and has more than 547,366 views and 970 comments. Consumers commenting feel the video is funny since someone dropped their new iPhone. They make comments such as “omg thats funny” and “wow that guy has butter fingers lol it's probably broken now”. Shawn, the person who drops their iPhone, essentially shakes it off saying the iPhone should be ok since it has a plastic covering.

Interestingly, I came across some other videos [below] at YouTube from consumers critiquing Shawn for dropping his iPhone. One person does not understand why people find the video titled “Shawn drops iPhone in Houston” so funny. Another consumer feels Shawn is an "idiot" for dropping his iPhone.

I do not know about you, but I think the guy in the above video may have some issues. Additionally, I hint a bit of jealousy. Perhaps he was waiting in line for 12+ hours for an iPhone only to find out his local vendor was out-of-stock. I guess that would drive me insane enough to complain about someone else's misfortune (i.e. Shawn dropping his iPhone).

I wish I could meet the guy in this video because I would seriously tell him to Lighten Up, figuratively and metaphorically. This video is so dark it would scare Darth Vader!

The girl in this video needs to "chill out." And who is she calling an "idiot?" She is over-reacting more than Shawn. Shawn is the one who dropped the iPhone, not her.

Unfortunately, Shawn is not getting a lot of love from consumers online. However, that should not be of any concern to him. He has an iPhone and they do not. Go Shawn!

Videos like the two above lead me to have more sympathy for the consumers critiquing Shawn rather than Shawn himself. And Shawn is the one who dropped the iPhone. Some of these consumers just need to get a life, or a job. Afterwards, they can afford to buy their own iPhone and drop it so others can post videos about them on YouTube. Seriously, I have yet to meet someone who has never dropped something. I do not feel dropping something is worth being overly-criticized for, even if it is an iPhone.

I have heard that Shawn was able to replace his dropped iPhone for a new one. However, I cannot confirm this. Therefore, I am asking all of my readers to give me the "inside scoop" as to whether Shawn was able to replace it. Please provide a link to a source confirming that Shawn's iPhone was indeed replaced if possible. Also, is Apple doing anything to capitalize on good Public Relations (PR) if the iPhone was replaced? Any information on these two questions would be greatly appreciated.

The video titled "Shawn drops iPhone in Houston" on YouTube is becoming fairly viral. I have a few tips for Apple if they want to capitalize this incident.

1). Hold a press conference or post a formal video on YouTube letting consumers know what they are doing to help Shawn (i.e. replacing the iPhone). I understand there may be some legal issues since Apple will not want to let people know that they will replace every iPhone simply because it is dropped. Apple's legal department will be able to tackle this issue though.

2). Shawn could be the spokesperson for the new iPhone. I feel this may be beneficial for both Apple and the general public. Shawn is the subject of much ridicule online, but he did respond positively in the video by talking about the positive attributes of the product such as the plastic covering. Personally, I do not feel it is a bad thing when a lemon can be made into lemonade.

3). Apple should use this incident to encourage consumers to purchase products (i.e. plastic coverings, holders) and services (i.e. insurance plans) to protect their new iPhones. The iPhone is not cheap and I'm sure more consumers are sure to drop theirs.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Mickey Mantle Pepsi Card

Pepsi recently ran a promotion that included three special Topps baseball cards in each 24-pack of Pepsi. Upon opening one pack, I found a 2007 Topps baseball card that had Edgar Renteria on the front, and Mickey Mantle's stats on the back.

A unique error on a baseball card is a rare find and any true collector knows that. I immediately called Pepsi's customer service at 1-800-433-2652 to report the error and find out if was going to be corrected. I reached a customer service representative who immediately forwarded my request to Pepsi's promotions department.

I am pleased to say that someone from Pepsi's promotions department called me back within a thirty minutes after my initial call. I received a corrected Mickey Mantle card in the mail several days later. I commend Pepsi for their quick response to the situation. This is yet another great example why I feel Pepsi is an outstanding brand.

I've been trying to find out the value of the corrected Mickey Mantle card. It is currently selling on eBay for about $50, which is not a bad return-on-investment (ROI) for a 24-pack of Pepsi. I feel the value of the corrected version may go up as more people find out about the rare card.

An eBay screenshot along with a picture of the Mickey Mantle card are shown below.