Friday, August 19, 2016

Pennsylvania Mining - the end or the beginning

Just an update with July data on my running tally of how the mining industry is doing across central Pennsylvania. See previous posts for more discussion of the metric.  But I think I am calling this one and by my count, Central Pennsylvania has now given back all of the employment gains in mining that came after the expansion of unconventional gas (i.e. fracking) came to the state. If the data says 98%... well, this is July data so I am sure before August began a few weeks ago we crossed my arbitrary Rubicon by setting the baseline as the 2005 average.  But again, the question is how negative this trend will go given the slope is pretty dire right now.  


Monday, August 15, 2016

Pennsylvania coal employment down 97%+

Few would have predicted that coal would be so much in the news this election season. Lots has been impacting the coal industry across the country and Pennsylvania has long - did I say long - been coal country.

I myself have been fascinated with the news headline that came out last week that Kentucky coal jobs hit lowest level since 1898.  The earth shattering factoid generating that headline was that the number of Kentucky coal miners dropped to 6,465 in the 2nd quarter of 2016, a low not seen since before the turn of the (19th) century.

Of course I had to ask what the comparable factoid for Pennsylvania? Has Pennsylvania coal mining employment dropped to levels of 1898? The latest published data itemizing coal mining employment specifically for Pennsylvania says there were 5,922 employed in coal mining as of the 4th quarter of 2015.  How does that compare to past coal mining employment in Pennsylvania?

I will admit not being able to find a clean dataset of coal employment going back far enough to answer that directly, But how about looking back just to 1898.  Is Pennsylvania back to 1898 levels?   Actually no, and not even close.  If you add up employment in both Anthracite and Bituminous mining, you get a Pennsylvania employment total in excess of 223 thousand in 1898 - a year that was likely a few decades before employment levels peaked remarkably.

By those numbers, Pennsylvania coal mining employment is down down over 97% from 1898 levels.  How far back do you need to go to get a Pennsylvania employment level under 5,922?  Hard to say given how far back you need to go. At least for Anthracite mining - which was the predominant type of coal mined in the state in that era - you have to go back to 1850 to get a lower employment count (p. 434).

So I didn't lie, Pennsylvania coal jobs are down 97% or more.  The title does not specify what the reference year was.   So when there is politispeak about how mining can/will come back, the first question you might ask is what year, or what century, the state's employment level can be rolled back to.

Which leads to an obvious, and possibly more pertinent, question.  What have been recent employment trends in Pennsylvania coal mining?  Here is the annual employment data since 2001, a time series that is remarkable stable when you think about it given all that has been happening across the industry elsewhere.

For reference here is the tabular data for that chart:

2001 8,421
2002 7,964
2003 7,062
2004 7,212
2005 7,415
2006 7,592
2007 7,420
2008 7,872
2009 7,685
2010 7,772
2011 8,454
2012 8,619
2013 8,002
2014 7,306
2015 6,428


Monday, August 08, 2016

I want my Bitcoin MAC machine

So how do you trade in Bitcoin? Some limited establishments will take Bitcoin for paying various bills, but how do you easily acquire and sell Bitcoin. I mean easily, not mining new Bitcoin   which requires running your computer for hours/days/months on end  or getting involved with some of the ethereal trading exchanges you can create accounts on to trade Bitcoin. What was once one of the biggest trading exchanges for Bitcoin was Mt. Cox, but if you call up their website these days, you will see why that is not an optimal path to buying – or what is really important, selling – bitcoin. Why can’t you get Bitcoin the way you get ‘currency’ normally via a conveniently located Bitcoin MAC Machine ATM?

It turns out there actually are Bitcoin ATM machines and there are even some in Pittsburgh. Well, actually there are all of two Bitcoin ATMs. According to there are a total of 2 ATM machines within a hundred miles of Pittsburgh. I can't begin to vouch if the ATMs they have listed there, and mapped even, is a complete list.

Some ATM machines allow you to only purchase Bitcoin (purchase or exchange?... depends on whether you define Bitcoin as a currency or not.) Other ATMs allow exchange both to and from dollars. One ATM listed in Pittsburgh where you can only ‘buy’ Bitcoin is at the One Stop Mini Mart on the Blvd of the Allies. But that is reported to be non-operational as I write.

The sole machine listed where you can both buy and sell Bitcoin in Pittsburgh  and so the only place where you can trade your Bitcoin to get cold hard US cash  is at the Quick Stop on Liberty Ave. at the seam of Lawrenceville, Polish Hill and the Strip District. I would love to get a comment from anyone who has actually used this machine, or any other local Bitcoin ATM? Seriously, does it work and why use it?

The debates over whether Bitcoin is or isn’t a currency are still really only beginning. The thing I do wonder about is why Bitcoin is legit enough to be used at a range of retail establishments, and legit enough to have ATMs, why was the Ice Cream money that one local establishment created just a few years ago was deemed to be illegal. Ice cream may not meet the technical definition as a store of value, but compared to blockchains?

And with full disclosure I have no business relationship with these folks, so I won’t be getting a commission if you to this site to procure your own Bitcoin ATM machine (only $14K).