Boom and bust?

中国日报网 2018-02-13 11:48



Boom and bust?Reader question:

Please explain this sentence, with “personal boom and bust” in detail: From the great migration into the Great Plains to the ghost towns of today we hear the stories of “personal boom and bust”.

My comments:

Here, “personal boom and bust” refers to people’s successes and failures, especially in money matters. In other words, rags to riches, riches to rags. Fortunes made, fortunes lost.

“Boom” refers to times when they’re prosperous, with their fortunes growing rapidly whereas “bust” refers to the hard times when they’re broke and penniless.

The great migration into the Grain Plains reminds me of Mark Twain (1835-1910)’s time, more or less – when the first railroads were built in America, something like that.

Anyways, the Great Plains refer to the vast flatlands west of the Mississippi River and east of the Rocky Mountains. Early pioneers moved from the Atlantic coast into the Great Plains to claim land, raise cattle and make a fortune. Later on of course people moved further into the Wild West. During this period, many fortunes were made – followed by bankruptcies and many personal tragedies.

After initial success, people’s ambitions began to explode. Some began to invest in gold mines, for example, in California.

Even Alaska.

Anyhow, the first millionaires were created during this time, the Gilded Age, in Mark Twain’s words.

Then there were a lot of failures, too. Of course. Just as there are bumper harvests, there are bound to be lean years. In one of Mark Twain’s novels – The Gilded Age: A tale of today, if memory serves – one of the households lit a candle in the stove to give a semblance of the feel of warmth in the dead of a cold winter night.

Like day turns into night, the wheel of fortune turns round and round. Like the ocean having waves and troughs, the economy and human life in general all experience ups and downs. Like mountains having peaks and valleys, the economy has its boom and bust cycles as well.

On the personal level, human life is quite a roller coaster ride.

Ok, this is it, the migration into the Great Plains produced millionaires as well as huge setbacks and failures thereafter.

It’s easy to talk about times of the long past, but in actuality, some of those failures led to broken families, houses sold and, in the worst case, suicides.

By the way, “the ghost towns of today” suggest that many places of the Great Plain are experiencing a bust right now. A prolonged bust, you may say.

All right, let’s read a few more media examples to get a better feel for “boom and bust”:

1. Amazon villages that cut down their forest may make a quick buck, but ultimately end up just as poor and low down on the social ladder as when they started out, say researchers. A study of nearly 300 communities in the Brazilian Amazon shows that deforestation leads to social and economic “boom and bust”.

Ana Rodrigues of the Centre for Functional and Evolutionary Ecology in Montpellier, France, and colleagues say the Brazilian government needs to find ways of hoisting Amazon communities out of poverty without relying on deforestation.

In the study, the researchers used data on life expectancy, and levels of income and education from 286 municipalities in the Amazon.

They grouped the communities depending on how much they had deforested their land, ranging from those that lived in pristine or near-pristine forest to those that had completely deforested their village area. In the middle were communities located at the “frontier” of deforestation, where cutting, clearing and logging activities were on-going.

Grouping the communities in this way meant the researchers were able to compare the income, life expectancy and education levels according to how extensively the regions were deforested.

Short-lived boom

“We found that the level of development in a region that has been through deforestation is indistinguishable from in a region prior to deforestation,” says Robert Ewers of Imperial College London.

The data showed that although welfare rapidly improves during deforestation, this socio-economic boom is short-lived. Moreover, a region that is being deforested attracts migrants eager to make a quick buck or set up a farm. Not all of these leave once the forest is cut down, so once the wave of deforestation has passed through a community, it is more populated than before.

The researchers say the boom is probably due to a number of factors, including better roads and therefore better access to healthcare and schools. For a short while, the community benefits from the natural resources of the forest, and makes money off the timber and the farms that are set up in the cleared lands. But the soil is rapidly degraded making farming and cattle ranching unsustainable. “A lot of that land ends up being abandoned,” says Ewers. “The small scale cattle ranchers are likely to move on.”

Keeping the forests

Large farms do persist but “my guess is that a lot of that income goes to a wealthy few,” he adds. Because the soil is degraded, farms – mostly large soy farms – can only survive by importing fertilisers. They also tend to be highly mechanised and so do not employ many local people.

“The alternative is to compensate for non-deforestation,” says Rodrigues. She hopes that UN negotiations seeking to set up a way of financially rewarding regions that maintain their forest may lead to more sustainable socio-economic booms and fewer busts.

- Amazon deforestation leads to economic boom and bust, NewScientist, June 11, 2009.

2. It is human nature to believe that whatever happens to us is unique. Bitcoin is no exception to this rule.

Discussions about bitcoin and its impact are everywhere at the moment.

If you are a supporter, bitcoin is a digital messiah and an unprecedented paradigm shift in the evolution of currency. The rapid escalation in its price over the last year is based on clear fundamentals, such as its clear advantages over traditional currency and its growing permeation into wider society.

The recent spate of unwelcome headlines, like the ones inspired by Mt. Gox, is an unfortunate part of building this brave new world, the broken fortunes of a few paving the path to good money for us all.

If you are a detractor, bitcoin is an irrational delusion. It is anarchic and the tool of choice for the modern cyber criminal. It destabilises our attempts to forge a more resilient economy, particularly after the last few years of financial turmoil, with Mt. Gox being but the latest example to show how truly Wild West this digital frontier is. Our only hope lies in effectively corralling Pandora's new technology genie before it can do too much harm.

Both are partisan positions, charged with emotion. Their hyperbole is the clearest evidence yet that bitcoin is fated to repeat the perennial cycle of boom and bust, seen with every hopeful innovation since records began.

- Why Bitcoin is Fated for Boom and Bust,, April 13, 2014.

3. SunEdison stock is a classic Wall Street boom-and-bust story, with shares rocketing over 2,000% before eventually losing almost all of their value. The volatility was largely driven by operational fluctuations attributable to deteriorating fundamentals in the solar industry.

SunEdison Inc., which builds and operates renewable power plants that use solar and wind energy, was bought by MEMC Electronic Materials in 2009. In 2013, MEMC adopted the SunEdison name to reflect a more concentrated focus on solar energy. After the company filed for bankruptcy in April 2016, SunEdison stock was delisted from the New York Stock Exchange, where it had previously traded under the tickers WFR and SUNE. SunEdison stock now trades on the over-the-counter (OTC) market under the ticker SUNQE.

MEMC Electronic Materials, a supplier of silicon wafers to semiconductor and photovoltaic cell companies, entered the solar industry in 2006, growing to hold 14% of the solar wafer market by the following year. The company's financial results raised alarm among investors in 2008, as it struggled with difficult conditions in the electronic wafer market. Sales fell and gross margin was squeezed amid inventory overhangs and a difficult pricing environment.

MEMC Electronic Materials purchased privately held SunEdison LLC in 2009 for $200 million, deepening the firm's exposure to the solar market. Results improved in 2010, though top- and bottom- line performance was still well below prior levels. This coincided with relative share price stability in SunEdison stock throughout 2010.

Falling silicon prices placed extreme pressure on the company's revenues, prompting it to take capacity offline and reduce headcount by nearly 20% in 2011. SunEdison recognized nearly $1.3 billion in expenses related to restructuring and asset impairments. Results suffered again in 2012, as revenue declined and a net loss was reported. The departure of the chief financial officer also dealt a blow to investor confidence.

Restructuring sparked optimism in 2013. The company spun off its electronics wafer business, retaining the solar wafer and solar energy operations. The spinoff of SunEdison Semiconductor (NASDAQ: SEMI) provided a $94 million cash injection, and the legacy firm changed its name to SunEdison Inc. to reflect its shifting focus. A leaner expense structure and better liquidity provided hope to investors that a turnaround was underway in SunEdison stock.

A $2.2 billion prospective acquisition of Vivint Solar (NYSE: VSLR) was ill-received by the market, and the significantly worse-than-expected earnings that followed in August 2015 motivated a rapid decline in SunEdison stock, as investors began to doubt the viability of the business model. Facing another large contraction in revenues, falling liquidity ratios and rising financial leverage, the firm began taking drastic steps to protect its financial health.

SunEdison repeatedly delayed its annual filing, citing material weaknesses in internal controls that jeopardized the accuracy of reporting. The company filed for bankruptcy in April 2016 and spun off its subsidiaries TerraForm Power Inc. (NASDAQ: TERP) and TerraForm Global Inc. (NASDAQ: GLBL). The company also obtained new financing to meet short-term obligations and pursue continued operations.

- SunEdison: A Classic Wall Street Boom-and-Bust Story,, October 9, 2017.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣 编辑:丹妮)

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