Aug 24, 2017

The future of data storage might be frozen

David Goldman / AP

Researchers at the University of Manchester in the UK have shown that by controlling the magnetic properties of individual molecules, it could be possible to create hard drives that can store 30+ terabits of data per square centimeter, New Scientist reports.

  • Because the molecules are unstable, they have to be frozen to -213° Celsius. With those temperature requirements, this won't work for amping up your cell phone storage.
  • Hard drives on desktops are divvied up into small magnetized areas that encode data in the direction of molecules' magnetic fields. Until now, this approach has limited how small a hard drive can be because single molecules can't remember their magnetic direction. The researchers were able to do get a molecule to do that at -213°C.
  • What's next: They want to make it work at -196°Celsius so it can be used in data centers cooled with liquid nitrogen. Another possibility? Space-based data centers operating at a cool -270°C.

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Surprise billing may be about to get worse

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

The problem of surprise medical billing — which Congress failed to solve last year — is about to get worse, thanks to a feud between an insurance giant and a company that employs thousands of doctors.

The big picture Parents who have babies in intensive care, women with high-risk pregnancies and people who need anesthesia could receive unexpected bills in the mail as a result of the fight between Mednax, the physician-staffing firm, and UnitedHealth Group.

Companies are behaving like it's a recession

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Despite historically low interest rates, U.S. companies are being unusually frugal, holding back on issuing new debt and pumping up their balance sheets with cash.

Why it matters: Historically, when interest rates are low and the economy is strong, companies have levered up to increase capital expenditures and buy assets in order to expand. The opposite is happening now.

  • In the short term, that means the country is less at risk for economic collapse, but it also shows that American businesses are investing less in the future.

What they're saying: "That is highly unusual, as being late cycle this is precisely when companies are supposed to lever up," credit strategists at Bank of America Global Research said in a recent note.

By the numbers: Net debt declined on a year-over-year basis in the fourth quarter of 2019 for the first time in nearly a decade, Bank of America's data show, meaning companies are issuing less new debt and reducing current obligations at an uncommon rate.

  • 25% of companies reduced their debt levels in 2019 by at least 7.8%.
  • Those numbers are rarely seen during economic booms, BofA strategists note, and are much more akin to "what we see on a more forced basis during and in the aftermath of recessions."

What's happening: Despite increased profits from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, CEOs and company leaders have told Axios the uncertainty of the U.S.-China trade war and fears of an imminent recession discouraged big-ticket spending during 2019.

  • Rather than use their tax savings for investment or expansion, they largely socked it away.
  • Data from accounting firm PwC shows company cash holdings rose to $2.4 trillion, the highest amount in decades, a company spokesperson said.

The intrigue: It's not just net debt: Companies have added very little gross debt, dating back to the second quarter of 2017, BofA's data show, the continuation of a "remarkable development."

  • "As we have argued, it is indeed different this time."

Between the lines: Investment grade companies that would be in the best position to issue very cheap debt to finance investment projects or mergers are pulling back in part because they spent so much between 2014-2017 pursuing large-scale M&A.

  • The data show that most companies are improving their fundamentals, but most are BBB-rated, the lowest end of the IG scale.

Coronavirus kills 2 Diamond Princess passengers and South Korea sees first death

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. U.S. numbers include Americans extracted from Princess Cruise ship.

Two elderly Diamond Princess passengers have been killed by the novel coronavirus — the first deaths confirmed among the more than 600 infected aboard the cruise ship. South Korea also announced its first death Thursday.

The big picture: COVID-19 has now killed more than 2,200 people and infected over 75,465 others, mostly in mainland China, where the National Health Commission announced 118 new deaths since Thursday.

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