By Walt Hickey
A Genuine Spooktacular
It: Chapter Two, a film based on the eternal terror of returning to your hometown after time away, had the second-largest domestic opening weekend of a horror film with $91 million, coming in behind only its predecessor, It. That’s good for the biggest opening for an R-rated film this year, plus it pulled in another $94 million globally. Fully 64 percent of its ticket buyers were aged 18 to 34, meaning that younger people came out in serious numbers, which if I recall correctly is exactly what the clown wants, you fools!
In brick-and-mortar stores, $17 out of every $100 is spent on private-label brands, those store-brand knockoffs of popular brand-name products. Online, companies like Amazon are making a play into the generic brand world, as only 3 percent of sales of packaged goods are private label online, and on Amazon it’s only 1 percent, presenting an opportunity. The average private-label store brand is 20 percent cheaper than the name brand, but there're ways to play around with that number: when one retailer made a 60 percent cheaper battery, consumers assumed they were junk, so the store ended up reducing the price only 25 percent and saw a sevenfold sales bump.
A study this week found what those in the scientific community classify as a “huge bummer.” Among 450,000 Europeans tracked over 16 years, those who drank prodigious amounts of artificially sweetened beverages were 26 percent more likely to die prematurely than those who rarely consumed such beverages. By comparison, those who had two or more glasses of sugar-sweetened beverages were 8 percent more likely to die prematurely than those who had less than one glass per month. Realistically, it’s still unsettled whether artificial sweeteners are responsible for the adverse outcomes or if those who have an otherwise unhealthy lifestyle are more likely to prefer artificially sweetened beverages. For example, after a night of carousing in my dissolute youth* I said the sentence, “can I have four cheese dogs and, uh, a diet coke,” which is the exact kind of entangled bad behavior that drives the researchers’ uncertainty.
*several weeks ago
A quick plug for a friend: I don't try to cover the big day-to-day U.S. politics in Numlock, but my friend Judd Legum has a wonderful newsletter called Popular Information that does. Check it out at Popular.info.
Pre-Owned Old Cars
Demand for pricey collector cars has collapsed, according to an analysis of the disastrous 2019 Monterey Car Week, which you may recall for the utter fiasco related to a botched auction of a ‘39 Porsche a few weeks back. In 2017, 77.5 percent of cars costing more than $1 million were successfully auctioned, which fell to 66.7 percent last year and just 48.5 percent last month. A similar collapse was seen in cars costing $500,000 to $1 million, which saw their sell-through rate collapse from 76.1 percent in 2018 to 57.8 percent in 2019. After peaking in 2015 at over $180,000, the average price of a collector car has since slipped to $149,510. The success of auctions for $100,000 to $250,000 cars dropped 12 percentage points, but on the bright side younger buyers are ensuring the sub-$100,000 market stays strong, so if you’re in the market for a ‘91 Nissan Stanza it’s going to be just fine.
WeWork may control about 71 percent of the working inventory in the U.S. co-working market, but regardless of the success or failure of their tumultuous IPO, the business model of agilely renting out space to companies piecemeal rather than in bulk is here to stay. Flexible space operators accounted for 7.6 percent of total office footage leased in the U.S. in 2018 — 13.4 million square feet — and as of August 2019 it’s already hit 8.6 percent. Co-working grew at an average annual rate of 23 percent from 2010 to 2017. Interestingly, it’s the big cities with below-average rates of adoption — 4 percent of New York’s office space is flexible — presumably because a start up attempting to subvert entrenched New York City real estate interests is like a moth thinking it can just run through the bug zapper.
In the U.S., the number of National Flood Insurance Program policies has fallen from 5.65 million in 2011 to 5.2 million flood insurance policies in 2018. This is seen acutely in the very 59 counties that saw evacuation orders related to Hurricane Dorian. Collectively they saw the number of flood insurance policies drop 31 percent over the period, from 734,445 policies to 508,731 last year. In Palm Beach County, the number of federal policies fell 37 percent over the period. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has set a goal of doubling the number of Americans with flood insurance by 2023.
Since 1912, 1,605 dams have been removed in the United States. Dam removal happens for several reasons: sometimes municipalities want to restore the ecology and commerce of an uninterrupted water body, sometimes dams are so old that the amount of money required to insure them gets more expensive than the cost of removal, and sometimes they’re just so antiquated that their hydroelectric potential isn’t worth screwing with the water system anymore. The pace of dam removal has been on the rise, as 2017 and 2018 were the busiest years for dam removal ever, with 91 and 99 dams removed, respectively. Hydroelectric projects can be money-losing, and have to be re-licensed every 50 years, with costs that can hit hundreds of millions of dollars.
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