Numlock News: November 5, 2020 • Hydrogen, Storms, Pix

By Walt Hickey

Hydrogen

The European Union is investing as much as 470 billion euros into hydrogen infrastructure with the goal of building up market share for hydrogen-powered vehicles and factories, which BloombergNEF believes could be a $700 billion business by 2050. On paper, the case is clear: renewable electricity isn’t super good at things that require intense heat, like industrial uses, but burning hydrogen is, and it’s possible to make hydrogen using renewable electricity.

Will Mathis, Bloomberg

Flee to the Hills

With staff freed up by major tech conglomerates based in the Bay Area to work wherever, many are moving to the states in the Rockies. Bozeman, Montana had a population of 50,000 in 2019, and this year alone has seen the median home price increase from $432,500 to $515,000. Realtors in the area report that as much as 95 percent of their new clientele is from the Bay Area, flush with cash from high-paying tech salaries and equity holdings and looking to get a little more air. Because if there’s anything locals in the Mountain West love it’s Californians.

Katherine Bindley, The Wall Street Journal

Eta

Hurricane Eta has formed, making it the 28th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season and the 12th hurricane to form in 2020. This ties the record for most named storms in a given season, and further, there have been 12 hurricanes in a year only three other times. Back in the middle of September the World Meteorological Organization ran out of typical names to give the storms and had to fall back on the tried-and-true “Greek letters? Sure, Greek letters” strategy. While some of this is certainly the ability to detect storms better from satellites than we could have three or four decades back, this storm season has been punishing by any metric, with twice the average number of named storms.

Justine Calma, The Verge

Man Vs. Robot

A great victory has been won in the eternal war between humankind and the machines, as the powerful Walmart corporation has ended its efforts to install robotics on to the shop floor to count inventory. Attempting to automate this task has been a project of Walmart for some time, including the incorporation of thousands of six-foot tall robots announced to be rolled out to 1,000 of its 4,700 locations in January, actually making it into 500. It turns out that while the floor-scrubbing robots are useful, the inventory ones weren’t sufficient to replace humans.

Sarah Nassauer, The Wall Street Journal

Debt

China has lent large amounts of money to many developing countries, and critics contend — though China disputes — that this is in pursuit of “debt-trap diplomacy,” where a powerful country offers money to a less powerful one, and when the less powerful one defaults, the powerful country will take important resources like ports, natural resources, or infrastructure. China’s loans typically have interest rates of 3 percent or more, compared to International Monetary Fund and World Bank loans where the interest is about 1 percent. Critics point to the China-Sri Lanka relationship — where Sri Lanka signed a 99-year lease on the port of Hambantota in 2017 — as a key example, and there are others. Regardless of the broader motivations, lots of African nations are in the hole to China, and the pandemic has exacerbated default risks. Zambia — home to voluminous copper reserves — is a particularly interesting case, as the country owes $12 billion in total, of which $3.4 billion, or 29 percent of its external debt, is to China, up 8 percentage points from four years ago.

Takeshi Kumon and Iori Kawate, Nikkei Asian Review

Pills

Hims, a mail-order pharmaceutical company, is poised to bring in $138 million in revenue this year, up 66 percent from 2016. The company intends to go public with a valuation of around $1.6 billion, with their telemedicine business booming mid-pandemic as they turn younger buyers on to their products. Listen, this is an email newsletter, and email spam filter systems have been specifically calibrated over the past three decades to nuke mass emails that discuss in-depth the primary profit drivers of that $1.6 billion company, so allow me to be incredibly circuitous here: they make most of their money selling stuff to men that helps them fix A Cosmetic Problem Of The Hat Region and drugs to treat Issues That Grownups Sometimes Have over the internet.

Kristen V Brown and Gerrit De Vynck, Bloomberg

Pix

Brazil’s Central Bank will launch a national instant payment system called Pix, which will be free to use by its citizens and mandatory for major banks to implement. It’s required for the 34 banks with 500,000 clients or more to roll out, and that group serves 90 percent of the 175.4 million Brazilians with bank accounts. As a result, this change could revolutionize digital payments in the country. Right now, fast money transfers cost 10 Brazilian reais in fees, or about $2. Pix will be effectively free for consumers: the Central Bank charges banks 1 Brazilian centavo, or $0.0018, for every 10 transactions, which may or may not be passed on to clients. The losers are poised to be point-of-sale and card machine operators, one of which — Rede — is projected to lose $2.6 billion with the rollout. The five largest banks in Brazil make $440 million a year from same-day money transfer fees. Those banks are also in danger, and the free price point of Pix will likely undercut their offerings.

Priscila Bellini, Rest of World

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