PODCAST: Manufacturing highs and lows, cuteness helps concentration

A "tea cup" poodle puppy dozes off in a mug at a pet shop in Tokyo, Japan.

Today the Greek government submits its budget for 2013. It likely includes billions in controversial cuts; the country's trying to meet the conditions imposed by its creditors elsewhere in Europe. The budget reportedly projects the Greek economy will shrink up to 4 percent -- the sixth year in a row of recession. An enormous effort is underway to keep Greece and other struggling European countries on the euro currency -- "inside the eurozone," as we say. It would be easy to conclude the alternative is unthinkable -- and yet some people are not only thinking about it, they are calling for it.

A bad surprise in U.S. construction spending, which fell in August by the most in a year. The problem was not houses, but non-residential building. Investors may be looking past that to appreciate two manufacturing indexes -- both show expansion, and the ISM index just out this hour shows a good pick-up after three sluggish months.

A European manufacturing index out today shows the 14th straight month of contraction. We've also got the EU's new unemployment report. That shows 34,000 more Europeans out of work in August, including lots of young people -- something EU officials called an "economic and social disaster."

Stock markets in China were closed today, and perhaps it's just as well: A new manufacturing survey shows factory activity slowed for the second straight month. But markets were open for business to greet the bad news in Japan. A survey by the Japanese central bank found sagging confidence among manufacturers there.

Bit more Japan news: A weekend explosion that destroyed a factory near Osaka threatens to disrupt the world's disposable diaper market. Nippon Shokubai was working at full capacity, turning out 20 percent of world supply of a super-absorbant material used in diapers. The plant was a particularly important supplier for China.

The price of oil is on the rise again this morning. That has some folks calling for the White House to release oil from its stockpile. Marketplace's Eve Troeh unravels some of the strategy behind the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

There's a new addition to Monday Night Football. Beyond, of course, the return of union referees. Tonight at Dallas Cowboys Stadium, fans can buy all the usual ballpark staples: Beer, hot dogs... bras, panties. Let us explain.

And finally, leave it to the Japanese -- who else? -- to study how "cuteness" affects our work productivity. According to the Wall Street Journal's "Japan Real Time," researchers showed pictures of animals to students. Then they gave them a series of concentration tests. The people who saw pictures of puppies and kittens performed 44 percent better than those who saw grown up dogs and cats. Just be sure to have a printout of this study on hand next time your boss walks up on you watching YouTube kitten videos on the job.

About the author

Jeff Horwich is the interim host of Marketplace Morning Report and a sometime-Marketplace reporter.

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