New TV? Check it for lettuce.

The second-quarter earnings season continued its relatively good start, providing a lift to stocks. Industrial production expanded modestly, wholesale price increases stayed low, and 21st Century Fox’s rejected acquisition bid for Time Warner Inc. indicated a potential shakeup of the media landscape.

The Dow gained 77 points to close at a new record high, with 21 of its 30 components advancing; the S&P 500 Index rose 8; and the Nasdaq increased by 9. Advancers led decliners by five to four on the NYSE, and decliners led advancers by four to three on the Nasdaq. The prices of Treasuries strengthened. Gold futures gained $2.70 to close at $1,299.80 an ounce, and the price of crude oil rose $1.24 to settle at $101.20 a barrel after a report showed a drop in oil inventories last week.

In Earnings News:

  • Legal settlements totaling $4 billion weighed on Bank of America Corp.’s second-quarter profit, which fell 43% from the prior year to $2.29 billion. Revenue, meanwhile, fell 4.3% to $21.75 billion, due partly to a 59% drop in mortgage originations compared with a year ago. Stock trading revenue sank 14%, but it was offset by gains in fixed-income trading. Bank of America’s shares (BAC) fell 1.90%, due in part to reports that its $13 billion offer to settle mortgage probes was rejected by U.S. officials as too low.
  • Shares of Intel Corp. (INTC) jumped 9.27% after the chip-maker reported higher-than-expected second-quarter profit and forecast a 7% gain in third-quarter revenue. Profit rose 40% to $2.8 billion on revenue of $13.83 billion, up 8%. The company shipped a record amount of chips during the quarter, as sales of PCs and laptops recovered in the face of softening tablet sales. Sales were also helped by Microsoft’s ending of its support for its XP operating system, which prompted many companies to upgrade to newer computers.

In Other Business News:

  • Industrial production rose 0.2% in June, according to the Federal Reserve, slowing from a 0.5% gain in May. Manufacturing increased only 0.1% as a whole, but durable goods manufacturing was more robust, with production up 0.4%. Mining production continued to be strong, up 0.8%, while utilities production declined, down 0.3%.
  • Wholesale prices rose a seasonally adjusted 0.4% in June, according to the Labor Department’s Producer Price Index. Year over year, the index advanced 1.9%. The gains were led by energy (up 2.1%) and gasoline in particular (up 6.4%). Excluding food and energy prices, the Core Producer Price Index rose only 0.1%.
  • 21st Century Fox made an $80 billion cash-and-stock offer for Time Warner Inc., which Time Warner rejected, saying its prospects were better on its own. Time Warner is reportedly also resisting any talks to further a potential deal. The deal would have represented a major change to the media landscape and could have run afoul of antitrust concerns. 21st Century Fox, owner of the Fox News channel, proposed selling Time Warner’s CNN to alleviate potential concerns. 21st Century Fox’s shares (FOXA) dropped 6.22%, while Time Warner’s (TWX) jumped 17.07%, as the offer could propel more interest in buying the company at higher valuations.
  • The economy continued to pick up pace at the start of the summer, according to the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book, a summary of economic conditions throughout the Fed’s 12 districts. All districts reported modest to moderate expansion, with growth in consumer spending, employment, and manufacturing in many districts. The housing market, however, continued to show signs of cooling off in many areas.


It’s a constant game in certain tech-oriented news circles to figure out what various factories in South Korea, China, or Japan are making and then speculate wildly about what that means for Apple’s next iPhone. Experimenting on new touch-capacitive glass? Bigger surface area? Better camera? A Caesar side salad? Wait. Salad?

The Wall Street Journal reports that a number of big electronics manufacturers in Japan, including Toshiba, Sharp, Panasonic, and Fujitsu, are turning idled factories into greenhouses, growing lettuce and other agricultural products instead of manufacturing semiconductors and TV sets. Some of the factories have sat dormant for decades, and given Japan’s relatively small agricultural footprint compared with its population, it couldn’t hurt to dedicate unused space to food production.

Of course, these are technology corporations, so their interests go beyond simply growing and selling food. They’re also testing new high-tech ways to grow food so they can then sell the technology as well. Fujitsu, for example, is experimenting with bacteria-free hydroponic systems with drip-fed fertilizers. Panasonic, meanwhile, is working on a complete sensor system that controls sunlight and temperature depending on what plants need at the moment.

One of the first mass-produced food revolutions of the modern era was the transition to mechanical means of production that gave the plow horses a break. Then came the chemical pest-control revolution, then the genetically modified crop revolution, and then the organic reaction against previous revolutions. Perhaps the next stage will be the indoor electronic revolution, where abandoned or underused factories across the globe are repurposed to grow high-yield crops. If that’s the case, one casualty would be the Illicitly Exploring Abandoned Warehouses industry and whatever horror movies are inspired by it.

Farming is already one of the more technologically advanced industries out there (the apps on my iPad, for example, tend to do useless things like throw angry birds at obstacles; the apps on many farmers’ iPads, by contrast, run sophisticated crop management systems that tie into soil quality analysis, weather reports, and futures pricing). What happens when the high-tech industry itself turns its attention to farming? We can make an educated guess about one thing: If Panasonic and Sharp are involved, there will obviously be about seven more remote controls on a farmer’s coffee table.

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