Numlock News: May 29, 2020 • Crystals, Frozen, Money Laundering

By Walt Hickey

Laundering

The U.S. Justice Department has charged 28 North Koreans and five Chinese citizens with laundering $2.5 billion through the global banking system to fuel the hermit kingdom’s nuclear weapon program. The government says they used over 250 shell companies to shuttle the money around — through China, Austria, Libya, Kuwait, Thailand and Russia — using the Foreign Trade Bank as their vehicle. Two former presidents of the bank were charged with conspiracy, bank fraud, money laundering, and operating a criminal enterprise.

Katie Benner, The New York Times

Insurance

California is slightly more flammable than insurers had previously determined, and it’s causing some problems when it comes to pricing out fire insurance. From 2012 to 2016, for every dollar that California homeowners paid in insurance premiums, about 50 cents was paid out in claims. That’s sustainable — insurers made some money, sure, but more importantly the aggregate risk they assessed was accurate and they priced policies correctly. But then in 2017, that ratio was $2.01 paid out for every dollar in premiums, and in 2018 it was $1.76. In wildfire-prone areas of the state — the “wildland-urban interface” — it’s becoming increasingly difficult to secure fire insurance, and many realtors report having trouble moving properties as a result.

R.J. Lehmann, R Street

Renewables

For the first time in 134 years, in 2019 the United States consumed more energy from renewable sources than it did from coal. Coal use was down 15 percent in 2019 while renewable use was up 1 percent. Coal use produced 11.314 quadrillion BTUs in 2019 — down from 22.749 quadrillion BTUs in 2007 — while renewables produced 11.46 quadrillion BTUs in 2019. That’s the lowest level of U.S. coal use since 1964.

Katherine Blunt, The Wall Street Journal

Nearly Complete

A tissue sample from 1966 has turned up a nearly complete sequence of HIV, making it the oldest known nearly complete gene sequence of HIV, according to findings published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The previous oldest complete genetic sequence was from a blood sample taken in 1976. This is all remarkable because the virus that causes AIDS was only discovered in 1983, but existed well before then, mutating to become the global epidemic it is today. HIV is believed to have spilled over into humans at some point in the early 1900s, and this discovery is part of an effort to search through old preserved tissue samples to find the antecedents of today’s HIV. The sample was from a lymph node biopsy from a 38-year-old man, one of 1,645 specimens collected in Central Africa from 1958 to 1966 that were being evaluated. The oldest fragments of HIV are from 1959 and 1960.

Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience

Insta

Instagram will follow YouTube in allowing its most popular users to make money directly from the platform, sharing 55 percent of revenue from the ads it rolls before IGTV clips. This isn’t mere benevolence for the people that make the platform in any way valuable, it’s also to cash in on a surge of usage. Views of live videos were up 70 percent from February to March, according to the company. While viewership was up, production wasn’t, as YouTube’s revenue share incentives were for some reason more rewarding than Instagram’s “you’ll put it on here for free and you’ll like it” pitch.

Sarah Frier, Bloomberg

Frozen Foods

In the week ending May 16, Americans spent $15.5 billion in the frozen food aisle, up 40.2 percent over the same week a year ago. The surge in interest for Hot Pockets and TV dinners also led to an explosion in sales of where to stash them, with sales of standalone freezers up 195 percent in April 2020 compared to April 2019. Some brands were seeing serious growth: PF Chang’s was up 113 percent over a 10-week period, Gardein was up 62 percent, and Bertolli was up 34 percent. Remember folks, any food can be a frozen food if you have too much of it and you need to make a call on those sausages before the weekend. Except tomatoes, they’re like the Bucky Barnes of foods; a real snack going into the ice, but if you freeze them you won’t enjoy what comes out on the other side, and you’ll wish you could do something, anything to fix them.

Alicia Wallace, CNN

Crystals

The market for crystals is a $1 billion business, as what diamond dealers call “near-gemstones” are doing just fine while the rest of the jewelry market bottoms out. It certainly helps that people ascribe some funky meanings to them, whereas people only ascribe like one or maybe two meanings to a diamond. This year will be a rough one for diamonds: the $76 billion diamond business is projected to suffer a 20 percent dent this year. Meanwhile, quartz, amethyst, citrine and malachite are selling just fine.

Hannah Elliott, Bloomberg

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