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Economic policy makers seeking successful models to emulate apparently have an abundance of choices nowadays. Led by China, scores of emerging and developing countries have registered record-high growth rates over recent decades, setting precedents for others to follow. 

While advanced economies have performed far worse, there are notable exceptions, such as Germany and Sweden. "Do as we do," these countries' leaders often say, "and you will prosper, too."

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Economic policy makers seeking successful models to emulate apparently have an abundance of choices nowadays. Led by China, scores of emerging and developing countries have registered record-high growth rates over recent decades, setting precedents for others to follow. 

While advanced economies have performed far worse, there are notable exceptions, such as Germany and Sweden. "Do as we do," these countries' leaders often say, "and you will prosper, too."

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U.S. Federal Reserve Vice Chair Janet Yellen testifies during a Senate Banking Committee confirmation hearing on her nomination to be the next chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, on Capitol Hill in Washington November 14, 2013.

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Digital addiction: Is it real or a symptom of other problems?

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The morning's topic glowed on a big screen: "Social Media Burn-out." Strange, but the 70 hash-tag junkies who attended the August breakfast for Kansas City's Social Media Club appeared mostly fit and happy. Joking, checking their phones, tweeting here and there, munching fruit and whole-grain bagels.

They didn't look sick.

Yet consider the terminology many therapists and researchers use to describe our tight embrace of new technologies: Internet addiction. Or IA, for short. Mental health experts debate the breadth and meaning of the term - if such a malady even exists.

Some contend that excessive computer time leads to insufficient outdoor time, or "nature deficit disorder." The worst sufferers, perhaps, could benefit from digital detox, a getaway from the gadgets that can hook us.

The American Psychiatric Association recently recommended further research into a condition it labeled Internet Gaming Disorder. In the latest version of the APA's diagnostic manual released in May, the group pointed to warning signs in Asia, where too much gaming has landed kids in hospitals.

Can online, all the time, really make you ill?

Try Googling "cyberpsychology." The verdict is split.

One speaker at the burnout breakfast - Brooke Beason, who specializes in social media for an ad agency - recalled the withdrawal symptoms she experienced when giving up Facebook for Lent.

For "40 days and 40 nights," Beason said, she fought the impulse to reach for her phone and post at all hours. "There were a couple of occurrences where I could feel my blood pressure rise," she told the crowd. But over time she felt a greater sense of self-control.

Ramsey Mohsen spoke next.

Director of social media at the digital marketing group DEG in Overland Park, Kan., Mohsen challenged the thinking that a well-wired geek must, on occasion, go cold turkey. His advice: Stay connected, but do not become a servant to gadgetry.

"You control the technology - not the other way around," he insisted.

Mohsen admitted being as tech-obsessed as anyone. He spoke, after all, with the new Google Glass device wrapped around his skull.

Next month, the Internet Addiction Treatment and Recovery Center will open to inpatients at Pennsylvania's Bradford Regional Medical Center.

The center's director, psychologist Kimberly S. Young, said the four-bed hospital unit will be the nation's first to provide medically based detoxification for electronics addicts.

Programs to unplug people from all things digital are in vogue.

The scenic Digital Detox retreat in California offers "four days of serenity and bliss" without devices, enabling the brain "to once again think in truly novel and surprising ways." (So says the retreat's website.)

What Young and Bradford Regional have in mind, however, is a clinical intervention - to rescue gadget addicts whose sleepless lives are crumbling. "We're not horseback riding," Young said.

The treatment plan: Keep patients for 10 days. Medicate, if needed, to stabilize them. After 72 tech-free hours, carefully integrate devices back into their world - because after their release, smartphones, laptops and game consoles will still be out there, seducing them.

Through counseling, the recovery center staff will identify underlying issues - relationship problems, for example - that cause some people to escape to the joystick or keypad.

Whether or not anyone will seek treatment is an open question.

"If Internet addiction is a problem," said Young, who is convinced the disease is real, "you'll see patients."

Parents of game-obsessed youth with poor grades already have expressed interest. But because the American Psychiatric Association does not deem Internet addiction an official diagnosis, health insurers aren't likely to cover treatment, Young said.

Studies estimate that 4 to 10 percent of Americans struggle with keeping computer use in check. Some surveys suggest an even bigger problem for young adults: One New York University found that nearly half of its freshmen dropouts frequently had stayed up all night on the Internet while enrolled.

Young was among the first researchers to explore the mysterious lures of the information superhighway, beginning in 1994.

"When the Web got started, (the addictions) were chat rooms and pornography," Young said. "In the late '90s, it was day trading. Then it was gambling, social media and online gaming."

The mental health community is far from sold that the Web itself is fueling addiction. Gambling and pornography were claiming addicts long before the dot-com days.

And as for obsessions that require the Web - round-the-clock Twitter checks, online World of Warcraft marathons - many psychiatrists question the harm.

"To use a label - a term like addiction - nobody wants to do that lightly," said Chester Day, chief psychiatrist at the Wyandot Center for Community Behavioral Healthcare in Kansas City, Kan. "Nobody wants to be presumed ill just pursuing a passion."

When considering which illnesses to include in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders - the bible of the psychiatric profession - the association balked at listing Internet Gaming Disorder as a disease, but did endorse further study.

Proposals to include broader ailments such as "Internet addiction" or "pathological computer use" were rejected by the DSM-5 review board.

"I don't believe that the DSM-5 has settled the controversy over what I have called pathological use of electronic media," or PUEM, said Ronald Pies, professor of psychiatry at State Universities of New York and the Tufts University School of Medicine.

"We have a lot of case reports and anecdotes, but not many carefully done studies that examine the underlying causes of PUEM," he said. "If a very socially anxious, somewhat depressed teenager spends 12 hours a day on the Internet, does this represent an addiction to the Internet?

"Or is it really an expression of his intense awkwardness and anxiety about dealing face to face with people?"

Holly Hemphill, a marriage and family therapist in Liberty, says she sees computer issues flare in 80 percent of the couples she counsels.

"It's a huge problem," she said. "When men are spending too much time on the computer, it's usually gaming. For women, it's Facebook. ... Sometimes, social media or computer games become a third party in the relationship, almost another person that partners feel they're competing with."

Hemphill knows couples who resort to locking up devices to prevent Web access; each spouse keeps the access code for the other's smartphone.

Still, is it fair to blame the gadgets - or even an addiction to the gadgets - when couples can't get along?

Some studies suggest technology truly is the culprit, because those gadgets may be affecting our brains.

In China, scientists in 2011 analyzed the brains of college students considered to be computer addicts, those who were online at least 10 hours a day. Parts of the students' prefrontal cortex and cerebellum were smaller than similar areas in a control group deemed not addicted.

Skeptics countered that the study could not establish that computer overuse caused the reduced brain areas; maybe the brain shapes determined how efficiently people accessed the Internet.

A plethora of brain imaging research shows that areas associated with drug addiction light up during computer use. Online gaming, in particular, will trigger the release of dopamine, the chemical that gives us pleasure.

And many psychological studies cite withdrawal symptoms when people cut back on device dependency. Commonly, fingers twitch. Thoughts wander. Irritability sets in.

The good news: A Stanford University study found that more than 90 percent of people who reported a desire to spend less time online were successful.

The benefits of unplugging, if only for a few days, include "startling cognitive improvement" and "an almost 50 percent increase in creativity," according to a report issued last year by the University of Kansas.

KU psychologist Ruth Ann Atchley led a team on a backpacking trip in Utah to gauge the creative intelligence gained from experiencing nature.

Using the Remote Associates Test, a word-association exercise long used by psychologists, Atchley found that creativity scores spiked in the wild.

The test was then given to 120 participants on outings to Alaska, Colorado and California. Similar improvements were charted.

"We think that (creative intelligence) peaks after about three days of really getting away, turning off the cellphone, not hauling the iPad, and not looking for Internet coverage," Atchley said.

Gene Willis surrendered all social media for Lent. As a marketing director for a digital publisher in Kansas City, he knew giving up his networks at home would be a challenge.

"Absolutely, I had an itch" to check the Twitter, Facebook, GetGlue and FourSquare apps on his phone every morning in bed, Willis said.

Text-free living changed Willis more than he expected.

"At times, when I'd be more apt to go to my phone just out of boredom, I'd turn and talk to someone," he said. "I took note of the simple things around me."

There are moments to disconnect even for the ultra-wired Mohsen, who wore Google Glass at the burnout breakfast.

In June, he surprised his girlfriend with a marriage proposal. How cool would it have been to capture her reaction in high definition, looking straight into Mohsen's eyes?

Nah. He set Google Glass aside. And when she accepted his proposal, the couple kept the news to themselves.

"We were going to make that our night," Mohsen said, "and not trust anything to social media."

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Why hopes of Spain’s recovery may be ‘far too optimistic’ | the corliss group barcelona economy

Upbeat growth and unemployment reports from Spain led the country's stocks to rally on Tuesday, but some economists warned that hopes of an imminent recovery remained unrealistic.

Spain's benchmark stock index, the IBEX 35, traded nearly 2 percent higher after the Bank of Spain released a report that estimated the economy shrank by only 0.1 percent in the second quarter — its smallest decline since it slid back into recession at the end of 2011.

The Bank of Spain's quarterly bulletin is viewed as an accurate indicator of official gross domestic product (GDP) data, which are due on July 30. If the official numbers are in line with this estimate, it will suggest a deceleration in the pace of contraction. Spain's economy shrunk by 0.8 percent in the last quarter of 2012, and by 0.5 percent in the first quarter of 2013.

"If proven correct, this would be a stronger-than-expected GDP figure, more clearly signaling that the worst of the crisis is behind the country… and, in our view, would be consistent with positive growth for the second half of 2013," Antonio Garcia Pascual, chief euro area economist at Barclays Investment Bank, said on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Spain's ABC newspaper reported that official data out on Thursday will show the biggest quarterly fall in unemployment since before the economic crisis. Spain's rate of unemployment was 27.2 percent in the first quarter, and analysts expect it to fall to 26.7 percent in the second quarter.

Hopes of an upturn in Spanish corporate activity were also boosted on Tuesday, after the Netherlands' KPN reported that Telefonica was buying its mobile operation E-Plus for 5 billion euros ($6.6 billion).

Nonetheless, Ben May, a European economist at Capital Economics, panned hopes that a recovery was on the horizon for Spain.

"Given these developments we have revised up our GDP forecasts slightly. We now expect the economy to contract by about 1.7 percent this year, compared to our previous forecast of a 2 percent fall. Nonetheless, we continue to think that the consensus forecast for GDP growth of 0.3 percent in 2014 is much too optimistic," May said in a research note on Tuesday.

The Bank of Spain attributed the softening in Spain's economic downturn to strong exports performance, but May said the positive impact was unlikely to last. He forecast that GDP would continue to fall in 2014, perhaps by as much as 1.5 percent.

"We expect weak demand in Spain's major export destinations to mean the boost from the external sector will fade over the coming quarters. And with the fiscal squeeze, housing slump and private sector deleveraging set to continue for some time to come, domestic demand is likely to contract significantly further," he said.

Antonio Garcia Pascual, Barclays' chief euro zone economist, was more sanguine about Spain's prospects, but said the recovery would still be weak.

"Spain is very likely to print some positive growth in the second half of the year. However it is important to remember that the recovery will be very gradual (surely not v-shaped), as the economy is emerging from this crisis highly leveraged and credit constrained," Pascual told CNBC.

Economists also flagged Spain's unstable political situation as a risk to any economic up tick.

"Political stability is being questioned in several of the periphery states at the same time, from Portugal to Spain to Italy…The risk is that political infighting and self-assessment detracts attention from necessary economic adjustments," said Deutsche bank economists Gilles Moec and Mark Wall last week.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy confirmed he will appear before parliament on August 1 to face questions about the corruption scandal miring his People's Party. Rajoy has so far denied any participation in the affair, which involves allegations of a party slush fund and illegal donations.

Moec and Wall warned that Rajoy's authority would be diminished if he is not rapidly cleared of charges, adding: "In general,institutional meltdown will be avoided in Spain, in our opinion. The question is whether a period of self-assessment distracts the government from the job in hand."

Barclays' Pascual added that an abdication by Rajoy would have "incalculable" results for the euro zone.

"While the market is not expecting PM Rajoy to step down or the government to fall (correctly in my view), if that were to happen, the impact of that scenario would be incalculable for Spain and the rest of the euro area," he said.

In the meantime, a wave of Spanish company results out later this week could provide further indication of whether Spain's economy is on the up. Iberdrola will post second quarter numbers on Wednesday, followed by Telefonica on Thursday and Banco Popular and Caixa Bank on Friday.

Jose Wynne, head of FX research at Barclays Investment Bank, said investors should also await further economic data before judging whether Spain was recovering.

"Latent risks will linger, but flash PMI [purchasing managers' index] numbers for July, together with M3 data and the G2 lending survey next week, seem key ahead of the next European Central Bank policy decision," said Wynne.

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These Stocks Vulnerable To China's Slowdown

A U.S.-style financial crisis brewing in China threatens to cut both private and public spending there, potentially tanking an economy that many American corporations dearly need to be healthy now. Without the grand economic growth China has provided in recent years, expect some version of the warning “lower due to a slowdown in China” to show up prominently in U.S. earnings reports this year. There are many likely sufferers.

Rumblings about an economic slowdown in Chinese have been heard for months, fueled by signs of a nascent credit crunch as well as a real estate boom that’s led to a massive amount of empty space. The warnings have taken on more authority in recent days as investors watched a drop in China’s stock market help bring down U.S. stocks.

For a fuller exploration of China’s looming economic problems, see Jonathan Laing’s excellent article in Barron’s.

Plenty of U.S. companies could miss growth targets if Chinese consumers cut back on their spending – an inevitability if an economic crises fully presents. The core component of Yum Brands YUM -1.46%’ (YUM) growth plan is building more KFC’s and Pizza Hut fast food joints in China, where it already operates some 4,200 restaurants. Apple AAPL -1.76% (AAPL), which got 15% of its sales from China last year, is planning on expanding its bigger market share there with a phone that costs more than those of competitors. Starbucks SBUX -1.96% (SBUX) is on course to have 1,000 stores in Mainland China. The Macau (China) operations for Wynn Resorts WYNN -1.28% (WYNN) contributed 72% of the casino company’s total net revenue last quarter. General Motors GM -0.41% (GM) sells more vehicles in China than any other automaker, and investing in its joint ventures there is a key part of its growth strategy.

You can use the YCharts Stock Screener to, say, track all the China-sensitive stocks mentioned in this article, or another list of stocks, and analyze their vulnerability in more depth. Worried that higher-PE ratio stocks would fall harder?

In recent years, China propped up sales for those companies — oftentimes with double-digit annual gains – while U.S. and European consumers were stingier with their money. Share prices rose at least in part on expectations of a quickly expanding middle class in China that would have pocket change to spend on their non-essential products. If the Chinese growth fades now, while it’s still hard to drum up revenues elsewhere, revenue growth may not look this good later.

A slowdown in government and industry spending there also would hit a rash of U.S. earnings. General Electric (GE), for example, has been a major contractor in the power infrastructure projects China’s government has pushed in recent years. Revenues from China rose 20% in 2012. Its 10-K notes only Australia as a region with a higher growth rate. (GE doesn’t provide a thorough breakdown by country. It says about 57% of its revenues, excluding finance operations, came from international operations.) Overall, GE revenues excluding finance (a division it purposely shrank) grew barely 5% last year. Long before China worries, its share price performance was already somewhat constrained by worries about growth. A slowdown in China certainly won’t help it.

Much of the China news from Caterpillar (CAT) has involved a problematic mining equipment company acquisition there that led to the company taking a $580 million write down in January. But an economic crisis in China would create a far more pervasive problem for Caterpillar, and any company involved with mining. Gold prices, oil prices and coal prices often fall when the Chinese economy shows signs of weakness, and that makes Cat’s chances of selling mining equipment anywhere go down. Cat shareholders felt the brunt of that relationship last year when worries about China’s economy started to grow.

Microsoft (MSFT) is right now hiring thousands of employees in China following its launch there of Windows Azure, a cloud computing product that thrives in an environment with a lot of thriving young companies and business generally healthy enough to spend on tech. U.S. companies Stryker (SYK) and Medtronic (MDT) each made major acquisitions recently to get into the medical devices market in China. Their success depends on continued growth of a middle class that can afford better medical services. Investors in Cirrus Logic (CRUS), like many Apple parts suppliers, are going to be disappointed if those budding middle classers in China don’t grow into great consumers after all.

U.S. shareholders have clearly benefitted from China’s growth, which helped pretty-up revenue numbers for a wide variety of businesses when the rest of the world wasn’t much help. There’s still not a lot of growth in the rest of the world. Any reduction in China’s growth now is going to hurt.

Dee Gill, a senior contributing editor at YCharts, is a former foreign correspondent for AP-Dow Jones News in London, where she covered the U.K. equities market and economic indicators. She has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist and Time magazine. She can be reached at You can also request a demonstration of YCharts Platinum.
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