Globetrotting: News from around the world — June/July 2014

News on the US luxury housing market, the top restaurant in the world, recent advice from hedge fund managers and new applications for quantum dots.

REAL ESTATE

Home, very sweet home

Prices for luxury homes in the US are going through the roof, reports Bloomberg. Barry Rosenstein, hedge fund manager at Jana Partners LLC, just set a US single-family home price record with the US$147-million purchase of an 18-acre beachfront home in East Hampton, NY. Earlier this year, a Los Angeles mansion was scooped up by a European billionaire for US$102 million — in cash.

Overall, purchases costing US$1 million or more rose 7.8% in March from a year earlier. But that should not be seen as a reflection of the overall market. Transactions for US$250,000 or less, which represent almost two-thirds of the market, plunged by 12% during the same period.

"[A]verage citizens in the US are looking at this [activity at the top end] like it’s happening on another planet," says Jonathan Miller, president of New York-based appraiser Miller Samuel Inc. "[I]t’s a phenomenon happening to a tiny fraction of the top 1% ... a few dozen people."

HAUTE CUISINE

Things are cooking in Copenhagen

a man in front of noma restaurant

Who would have guessed that the country known for flaekesteg and The Little Mermaid would also play host to the world’s top-ranked restaurant? It’s Noma in Copenhagen that came in No. 1 on Restaurant magazine’s 2014 list of "The World’s 50 Best Restaurants." Second and third spots went to El Celler De Can Roca in Girona, Spain, and Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy. Meanwhile, France just missed the top 10 with Mirazur in Menton, in 11th place. As for Canada? Better luck next time.

INVESTING

Hedge hawks

Hedge funds are notorious for their contrarian investment ideas. Yet almost 3,000 investors, traders and brokers recently put down US$5,000 to hear five hours of ideas from some of the world’s largest hedge fund managers at the Sohn Investment Conference in New York. Two gems:

Invest in Russia. Sound counterintuitive? Financial newsletter author James Grant seems to think otherwise. He noted that Russian oil company Gazprom "is the worst managed company in the world, and that’s why you should buy it!"

Don’t count on the Nasdaq. It will crash, said David Einhorn, founder and president of Greenlight Capital, and darling stock Athenahealth will drop 80%. Following his prediction, the stock plunged by 10%.

SCIENCE

Quantum leaps

As researchers learn more about quantum dots, they are finding applications for the technology in everything from digital displays to renewable energy.

Quantum dots are ultra-small bits of semiconductor matter that can be synthesized with near-atomic precision. Because of their superior light-emitting properties, they are already being used as the basis for quantum dot displays — seen, for example, in the newest generation of the Kindle Fire ereader. Now, researchers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, in collaboration with scientists from the University of Milano-Bicocca in Italy, have shown that the same properties can be applied in solar panels by helping to harvest sunlight more efficiently. This means house windows could one day double as solar panels and thus become large-area energy generation units.