Numlock News: July 14, 2020 • Listerine, Vegas, Mars

By Walt Hickey

Mouthwash

A full 140 years ago, the inventor of Listerine signed a contract stating that the producer of the product would have to pay shareholders in perpetuity. It’s a ridiculous contract, one that means that as long as Listerine exists, some people are getting paid by Johnson & Johnson. A share of those royalties — functionally a license to print an amount of money annually — is up for sale, and 110 bids in the price is up to $340,000 for what essentially is a securitized bag of magic beans. The share kicked out $32,000 last year, and for its part of the bargain the Listerine manufacturers maintained a leading 37 percent share of the $5.2 billion mouthwash market.

Susan Decker, Bloomberg

Mars

Over the next several weeks, an armada of robots will be launched for a multilateral invasion of Mars, with three different countries — the U.S., China and United Arab Emirates — each launching a mission to Mars. The U.S. is sending a rover the size of a car named Perseverance to collect rock samples that will be returned to earth in a decade. China is sending a rover and an orbiter, while U.A.E. is sending an orbiting weather station. The timing is deliberate, as every 26 months Mars and Earth enter an ideal alignment that minimizes travel distance and fuel, so this is the best window to get WALL-E on the Red Planet. The trip is 6 to 7 months, so everyone gets there sometime around next February.

Marcia Dunn, The Associated Press

Vegas

According to McCarran Airport, which serves the gambling oasis Las Vegas, 391,712 passengers went through the Vegas airport in May, down 91.5 percent year over year. When Vegas was shut down — from March to June 4 — McCarren fielded just 110 scheduled flights a day at lowest, a number expected to hit 280 per day in June and 330 per day in August, because Vegas is not exactly known as a metropolis that draws risk-averse tourists with a solid understanding of risk and danger.

Paul Szydelko, Travel Weekly

Books

Net sales of books fell 12.1 percent in May 2020 compared to the same month in 2019. The only category to notch an increase in gross sales over the course of the month was religion, with a mild 0.2 percent increase. The saving grace for much of the business was that peoples’ aversion to returning books ended up padding the numbers a bit; in the first five months of the year, gross sales of books were down 9 percent, but returns also dropped 24.8 percent, so overall net sales were down just 4.5 percent.

Jim MIlliot, Publishers Weekly

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Diversity

Companies may add a Chief Diversity Officer to the c-suite, but an analysis of tenure finds that the position can be a bit of a poisoned chalice, with a complicated portfolio and diminished position to effect broader systemic change within the company. About half of S&P 500 companies have a chief diversity officer, and a 2019 study found that 63 percent of them had been in that role for three years or less. Recruiters are reporting a surge of interest from companies in adding such roles, but whether or not that enthusiasm persists — or is backed up by actual resources and influence — underscores the high turnover in that field.

Chip Cutter and Lauren Weber, The Wall Street Journal

The Movies

Rising cases of COVID-19 have cast new doubt on the likelihood of movies being released widely in theaters in 2020, period. An industry analyst report said it’s seriously unlikely that theaters in the U.S. open before September. That looks like a 70 percent decrease in total box office for the year 2020, a steeper cut than the 55 percent to 60 percent decrease estimated in the previous note. Their estimate for box office revenue in the quarter running July through August is now down 90 percent, a collapse from the previous 65 percent. Even the last three months of the year look dicey: previously, they anticipated a 29 percent decline in box office, a projection now at 50 percent down.

Brent Lang, Variety

Floods

China’s having an incredibly wet summer, with alerts for some 433 rivers flooding across the country. Economic losses from property damage across 13 provinces was estimated to be 25.7 billion yuan ($3.6 billion) as of the end of June. People who live around the controversial Three Gorges Dam are especially worried; on July 8 state media said the reservoir had reached 149 meters out of a maximum of 175 that can be contained. This isn’t unexpected for some, as those living around it and the environmentalists who opposed it cited fears of a breach in their opposition to its construction.

CK Tan, Nikkei Asian Review

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