Numlock News: January 23, 2020 • Offshore, Impossible Burgers, Djibouti

By Walt Hickey

Emotional Support Animals

The Department of Transportation announced a plan to hike the eligibility requirements for what’s considered to be an emotional support animal for the purposes of flying. The new rules will slim the definition to dogs that have received training to perform tasks for a person with a disability, including dogs that are psychiatric service animals. According to the airline industry, the number of emotional support animals riding flights jumped from 481,000 in 2016 to 751,000 the following year, and the designation of “service animal” on unaccredited beasties has led to altercations and, at times, injuries. Airlines, which absolutely do not want to have to call the shots on what is and what isn’t “emotional support” but were also tiring of the menagerie in coach, are presumably delighted.

Lori Aratani, The Washington Post

Impossible

Burger King has seen sales slow down for the Impossible Whopper, and the chain will cut the price of the imitation meat burger amid the decline. The sandwich had been retailing for a suggested price of $5.59 per sandwich but now has been added to a two-for-$6 promotion as it. According to the largest franchisee in the U.S., sales had declined from 32 daily Impossible Whoppers sold per store to 28 sold per store per day, on average. The trend is heating up, though: McDonald’s is testing a fake meat burger in Canada and Sysco, the food distributor, is introducing a plant-based patty in the U.S. soon.

Leslie Patton and Deena Shanker, Bloomberg

Peacock

Comcast’s NBC Universal makes $11.8 billion from cable revenue annually, and the company — which, again, sells cable — is attempting to thread the needle of how one designs a viable, profitable streaming service without cannibalizing the main offering. That’s the mission behind Peacock, the NBC streaming service that will come out this year. The plan is a tiered strategy: One costs $0 per month, has 7,500 hours of programming on it, has ads, offers next-day streaming of NBC shows in their first season and has some movies and classic shows. The next tier up costs $5 per month with advertising, or $10 per month without, and contains 15,000 hours of programming, and full seasons of original programming, Olympics and sports coverage plus the whole library. That puts its offerings shy of the $15 per month HBO Max, with 10,000 hours of content, but ahead of Disney+, with 7,500 TV episodes, 500 movies at $7 per month.

Natalie Jarvey, The Hollywood Reporter

No Will

The billionaire founder of the fifth-largest conglomerate in South Korea died over the weekend at 97. Not only did he pass without establishing which of his two sons would succeed him, he also died without a will. Follow this: The younger brother, Shin Dong-bin, owns 11.7 percent of Lotte Corp directly and, when accounting for companies he controls, 21.2 percent. If the elder son, Dong-joo, were to inherit his father’s shares and then spent all his cash buying the rest, he’d have 19.07 percent. However, 11.1 percent in Lotte is held by Hotel Lotte. That’s crucial because 28 percent of that hotel’s stock is held by an employee union, which — if Dong-joo manages to win them over, and convince them to throw their weight behind him — could keep him in the mix for control of the company.

Shuli Ren, Bloomberg

Fish

There are about 200 species of freshwater megafauna, enormous catfish and aquatic creatures that roam rivers. This includes massive stingrays and 600 pound catfishes. New research shows how at-risk these enormous animals are, as a new paper says the population of freshwater megafauna was down 88 percent between 1970 and 2012. That included a 94 percent decline in fish megafauna, and Southern China and South Asia saw a wipeout: a 99 percent decline in freshwater megafauna fish.

Rachel Nuwer, New York Times

Trade

Djibouti has the largest and best-equipped port on the East Africa coastline, the Doraleh terminal. In 2004, DP World (a Dubai-based port owner) signed a 25-year deal to operate the terminal and own a third of it, but two years ago Djibouti nationalized the port, took control, forced DP World out and went into business with China Merchants Ports Holdings. There’s been an ongoing suit about that, but what’s at stake is access to one of the most important trade routes in the world. The Horn of Africa is strategically important to access the Red Sea — about 12 percent of all seaborne trade passes through en route to the Suez Canal — and Djibouti is home to both U.S. and Chinese military installations.

Costas Paris, The Wall Street Journal

Offshore

The IRS and Microsoft are locked in legal combat over the company’s ambitious tax minimization strategy. In 1989, Microsoft opened a CD manufacturing facility in Humacao, Puerto Rico, which opened as a result of a tax break due to expire in 2005. In 2004, the company was convinced by KPMG to double down: Puerto Rico has an autonomous tax system despite being a U.S. territory, and Microsoft convinced Puerto Rico to grant them a tax rate near 0 percent. That’s when things really got going: Microsoft sold their intellectual property to the subsidiary, and routed the North American profits to them, rather than being in the U.S. where they’d face a 35 percent tax. In 2006, Microsoft had stashed $1 billion offshore. By 2017, that had accumulated to $140 billion.

Paul Kiel, ProPublica

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