By Walt Hickey
We’re off in observation of Independence Day tomorrow, have an excellent weekend, thanks so much for reading. The book club is voting on what to read next, now’s a great time to join as we’re nearly wrapping up The Radium Girls.
New York, hit by a surge in one-way rentals where people got the heck out of Dodge, is now in a bit of a rental car deficit, and it’s making it harder for the rest of us who rode it out to get a lift out of town. The average one-day Avis rental car price in New York hit $289.38 on May 25, up from a recent low of $117.37 towards the end of April and fully 25 percent higher than the pre-pandemic February average. While trips this summer by air are projected to drop 73.9 percent and trips by rail, cruise or other are projected to slip 85.5 percent, automobile trips will see only a mild decline of 3.3 percent between July 1 and September 30, according to an AAA survey.
The past six weeks have seen the return of Germany’s soccer league and one fascinating observation from the Bundesliga is that the home field advantage seriously does diminish when there are no fans besides cardboard cutouts and the occasional sex doll in the stands. The number of home victories dropped 10 percentage points, from 43 percent under typical conditions to 33 percent in empties. Home teams scored fewer goals in the empty stadiums (1.43 per game) than they did in the full ones (1.74 per game) and the probability of a shot on goal actually scoring slipped a percentage point to 11.11 percent. In the 83 games analyzed, home teams were penalized more for fouls in empty stadiums than full ones. Listen, everything about this situation sucks, but this experiment is easily the greatest thing to happen to instructors of Statistics 201 since the development of gambling.
Vacation, All I Ever Wanted
Bosses really, really want people to take vacations. Based on an analysis of the 3,000 companies that use the HR software Zenefits, there were only about 63,000 requests to take vacation in April and May. Last year, there were about 120,000 such requests over that time period. Data from rival Namely backs that up, finding that employees across 1,300 firms used 14 percent less time off in May of this year compared to May 2019. This is an issue because for companies with use-it-or-lose-it policies, workers are leaving time off on the table because they’re not down to blow the time on a staycation, but for companies where days off can accrue, they fear December is going to be a ghost town.
For the first time since Gallup began asking the question in 1965, more Americans want immigration increased than those who want immigration decreased. Despite immigration being the entire conceit of the American experiment, over the past decades larger percentages of Americans have wanted to reduce it than increase it. In 1995, 65 percent of Americans wanted to decrease immigration, 24 percent wanted it kept at the present level and 7 percent wanted it increased. Since then support for increased immigration has risen steadily, now standing at 34 percent as of Gallup’s latest survey. Compare that to those who seek to decrease immigration, now just 28 percent of respondents. Overall, 77 percent of Americans think immigration is a good thing for the country, the highest level in decades.
You’ll Be Back
This weekend will see the unprecedented release of Hamilton on the streaming service Disney+, which is consequential for a whole suite of reasons — like how it’s technically the highest selling indie film ever, was pulled from the 2021 calendar to hit on a streaming service, and is a rad musical that now lots of people get to see — not the least of which is Disney’s timing to lift their offer of a free trial to Disney+ right before the film would hit. The company hit 54.5 million Disney+ subscriptions back in May, and should easily hit its goal of 60 million to 90 million by 2024. Still, when you’ve got skin in the game, you stay in the game, but you don't get a win unless you play in the game, and Hamilton is presumably seen as an opportunity to lock viewers in ahead of what may be a dip come November when annual trials lapse. The churn rate for streaming video on demand services hit 35 percent in 2019, up 25 percent over 2018, so building up a cushion of paying Hamilton viewers rather than free riders is strongly desirable.
Mirror, a company that produces smart mirrors that facilitate workout videos, was purchased by athletic wear company Lululemon for $500 million. That a promising home fitness startup would choose now to cash out, just as their business becomes one of the only games in town — sales of Mirrors have doubled since the beginning of the pandemic — is a bit of an enigma. This year 28 percent of gym-goers are expected to cancel their memberships, and from March 26 to May 1 alone the fitness club business lost an estimated $3.5 billion in revenue. The main reason for the sale is that Mirror is a distant second in the “extremely expensive home fitness” niche behind Peloton, which will pull in something like $1.74 billion in revenue this year. Selling out to Big Spandex may be enough to keep Mirror in the fight.
No Tiller, All Killer
Over 900 million acres were farmed in the United States in 2017, and 104 million of those acres were farmed no-till. That’s up 8 percent since 2012, and means that those acres were farmed without plowing or cultivation techniques that disturb the soil and kill weeds, but also disrupt the microbial life of the soil and cause topsoil loss and watershed destruction. The trade-off of no-till is then relying on chemical weed control, which can be some gnarly stuff. One solution in development is robotic mowers that keep weeds at bay while allowing plants to grow without a chemical shock and awe campaign. The future of this — one being worked on by a U.K. based agricultural robotics startup — is more targeted weed removal with devices that could autonomously patrol for weeds in fields. Chemical weed control costs between $25 and $60 per acre, so a device below that is the target.
This week for the Sunday edition I spoke to Ethan Klapper who wrote “September struggle? A trifecta of issues could make September one of the most difficult months yet for airlines” for his newsletter Bluer Skies. We talked all about the holding pattern of aviation in 2020, it was a great conversation, you should check it out and consider becoming a paid subscriber so you can get the Sunday editions. Ethan can be found on Twitter and at Bluer Skies.
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