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Slump Ending for Solar Manufacturers

by APICS staff |   2013 | 13 | 21

Solar manufacturers are recovering from a two-year slump even faster than tech companies bounced back after the dot-com bubble burst in the late 1990s, Bloomberg News reports. The BI Global Large Solar Energy Index, which tracks 15 manufacturers, dropped 87 percent from its February 2011 peak, but has regained 55 percent in the past year. In comparison, the Nasdaq Composite index hit its low in October 2002 and only regained 37 percent of its March 2000 peak value during the next year.

“The worst is probably behind us,” says Jenny Chase, lead solar analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “We’ve just gone through a big trough in solar supply.” Solar providers such as California’s SunPower, which increased its stock more than fivefold this year, are leading the rally as solar panel prices stabilize. Solar installations at power plants and rooftops are expected to increase 40 percent this year.

In the past year, investors put $205 billion into clean-energy projects. Some solar manufacturers are even getting boosts despite not turning a profit in the last year, including China’s Yingli. Chase expects the recovery to continue into 2014 and prices to remain stable. Manufacturers are “a lot less depressed,” she says.

FDA Questions Safety of Imported Spices  

Imported spices may not be as safe as you think. The US Food and Drug Administration says that nearly 7 percent of imported spices tracked over a three-year period were contaminated with salmonella, the Associated Press reports. This represents two times the salmonella risk of other foods inspected.

The FDA examined spices imported from several countries over a three-year period, including India, Mexico, Thailand, and Vietnam. In 2009 and 2010, black pepper found in salami sourced from China, India, and Vietnam caused hundreds of illnesses. The FDA says spices caused around 2,000 confirmed illnesses since 1973 in 14 outbreaks, many of which affected children.

During the study, 749 spice shipments were turned away from the United States due to salmonella contamination, while 238 were denied due to “filth,” including containing insects, excrement, hair, and other materials. Since some spices are later treated to eliminate pathogens, and most people eat only small amounts, spices cause fewer consumer illnesses compared to other foods, the FDA says.

Data Analysis Key to Automakers Engaging Customers

Large automakers such as Chevrolet and Nissan are relying as much on consumer data as on creative ideas to market their cars, AdAge reports. Chevy is “microtargeting” Porsche 911 and other premium two-seat car owners rather than pushing out national TV and print ads for its 2014 Corvette Stingray. The company works with publishers such as Hearst and Condé Nast to compile lists of these owners, and urges them to test-drive Stingrays at local dealers or professional race tracks around the United States.

Meanwhile, at Nissan, data is used to examine key consumer insights that can be turned around quickly and used as best practices, says Dave Mazur, Nissan North America’s vice president of market intelligence. “Difficult-to-use” items are one of the biggest customer complaints, and Nissan sets its focus on these as an area for improvement, surveying its dealerships to see which ones are successful or failing at showing new owners how to navigate difficult features. Nissan evaluates both the most frequently encountered problems but also the severity of those problems.

Collecting and analyzing data is a large part of automakers’ marketing and research budgets, says Tom Libby, senior forecasting analyst for Polk, an auto consultancy firm. Companies purchase and examine everything from demographic data, registration data, transactional data, and engage in frequent customer satisfaction surveys.

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