The Weekender: The End of March & It’s Madness 🏀

WELCOME BACK TO THE END OF MARCH MADNESS

Welcome back to a new edition of The Weekender… where the importance of American values is losing value, the youngest generation of adults can’t afford their credit cards, and the Metaverse will offer no reprieve from the struggles of modern life. Also, renewable energy becomes more powerful in the United States, AMZN investigates buying AMC, and China tells us they will be the leader of the New World Order. March is definitely going out like a Lion. The Weekender is here to help you sort it out. The water’s warm.

P.S. Did you Know? March was named for the Roman God “Mars”.

Are American Values on the Decline?

According to a survey conducted with NORC at the University of Chicago, Americans may be pulling back from values that once defined the U.S. traditional values such as patriotism, religion, having children, and community involvement have declined. When the questions were first asked in 1998, 70% of people surveyed deemed patriotism very important, and 62% said so of religion. Only 38% of respondents said patriotism was very important this year, and 39% said the same for religion. All age groups, including seniors, attached far less importance to these priorities and values than when asked about them in 1998 and 2019. But younger Americans, in particular, place low importance on these values, many of which were central to their parents’ lives. Money is the only thing that many people (43%) value more. Events like the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks or the financial crisis of 2008 may have factored into these results. However, there is a dramatic difference in the results from 1998, 2019, and 2023 because the data was collected differently. According to Echelon Insights’ Patrick Ruffini, the March 2023 survey was collected via an online panel, and the data previously collected was via a telephone survey. Surveying the exact same types of respondents online and over the phone will yield different results. These results are due to social desirability bias, which is the tendency to answer questions in a way that will make people look favorable to others. Typically when people answer poll questions over the phone, they will have more of a social desirability bias because they are physically speaking to another person, making them want to have their answers appear to be more upstanding. The 2023 survey most likely does a better job of revealing an accurate state of patriotism because the data from the previous waves was possibly triggered by social desirability bias. So, while the polls from 2023 seem true to today’s society, it’s hard to tell what they measured out to be in 2019. Read more at The Wall Street Journal.

Quick to Swipe: Gen Z Racks Credit Card Debt

Chronic inflation is hurting Americans of all ages, but especially Gen Zs, and it is becoming apparent in their rapidly increasing credit card debt. A new report by Credit Karma, based on data collected from 78.2 million of its users on January 6, 2023, demonstrated Gen Z Americans (born between 1997 and 2012) held an average of $2,781 worth of credit card debt in the fourth quarter of 2022. Although this generation’s total debt comprises a smaller average debt than others, they are the only group to see more past-due accounts. Unpaid mortgages, student loans, credit cards, medical payments, and auto leases seem to be getting the best of Gen Z. What raises concerns for the youngest generation of adults is not the quantity of debt, but how rapidly it is growing. While Gen Z’s credit card debt totals were the lowest of all generations, it grew 6% overall during the fourth quarter. Although the labor market is putting on a strong performance with some commendable wage growth, inflation and rising living costs are too much to counteract for Gen Z. Likely, Gen Z is not receiving wage growth since they are in the opening years of their careers. These factors are leading to more 18 to 29-year-olds choosing to live with their parents at a rate the United States has not experienced since the Great Depression. For any Gen Z members experiencing this, Yahoo Finance recommends these three steps to reduce your debt and increase your credit score: cut expenses, get a side hustle, and stretch every dollar. While inflation and cost of living rise, financial jurisprudence is essential to avoid a poor credit rating hurting prospects years down the road. Read more at Business Insider.

The Metabolism of the Metaverse is Slowing Rapidly

The exciting promises of virtual reality (VR) are seemingly no longer becoming an actual reality. Walt Disney Co., the premier brand in modern entertainment, closed the division developing metaverse operations. Microsoft Corp. acquired a VR platform in 2017, and just six years later, it was shut down. Even Mark Zuckerberg, who famously changed his company name from Facebook to Meta Platforms, feels far more comfortable reporting the company’s artificial intelligence (AI) growth than its VR work. The trend of tech companies focusing their resources on just about everything besides VR has more going on behind the scenes than just a suppressed interest in the subject. According to Futurism, the tech sector has laid off tens of thousands of employees in 2023 to increase corporate profitability (some of whom worked on metaverse projects), as it has seen far more fruitful endeavors in the world of AI, where profit is nearly guaranteed as opposed to a potential revenue stream from VR. There is still a sliver of hope for those who remain interested in, intrigued by, or devoted to the Metaverse. Tommy Hilfiger debuted its metaverse hub just in time for Decentraland’s Metaverse Fashion Week. The new-age fashion brand, Hypebeast, is partnering with scotch whisky icon Johnnie Walker on a Metaverse music festival aptly dubbed “Walk Beyond in the Metaverse.” While mainstream interest and tech resource funding for metaverse operations are more-or-less in slowed freefall, there are still niche opportunities to engage in virtual reality. Read more at The Wall Street Journal.

Renewables Become All the Rave

For the first time in the United States, electricity generated from renewables surpassed coal in 2022. After passing in 2022, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is driving investment in climate and clean energy initiatives. The legislation influenced the number of renewable energy projects that went online in 2022 and are expected to accelerate renewable energy development further. Growth in wind and solar drove the increase in renewable energy and contributed most of the electricity produced by renewables domestically in 2022. Hydropower, biomass, and geothermal sources contributed to the growth as well. California has a large lead amongst other states in solar generation, producing 26% of the national utility-scale solar electricity, followed by Texas and North Carolina. Texas dominates wind generation, making up 26% of national wind power. Iowa and Oklahoma (which saw one of the biggest wind farms in the country begin operations last year) followed, with Iowa leading in proportion of renewable energy produced. Renewable energy is becoming the most affordable source of new electricity in much of the country, causing this booming growth. Although, some challenges lie ahead as the proportion of renewable energy that supplies the energy grid increases. Existing energy grids were built to deliver power from a consistent source, and renewables such as solar and wind generate power sporadically. Meaning battery storage, long-distance transmission, and other factors will be needed to help address these challenges. With big strides being made in the renewable energy sector, the country still relies heavily on the burning of fossil fuels. In 2022, natural gas was the largest source for electricity generation, with lower greenhouse gas emissions than coal-fired power plants. The Inflation Reduction Act should help significantly accelerate these clean energy projects as we continue reducing emissions. Read more at The Associated Press.

Amazon Under the Bright (Movie) Lights

Amazon may be buying a ticket into one of their biggest premieres yet: movie theaters. According to report, Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, has ordered his investment advisors and top entertainment chiefs to explore acquisition plans for AMC Entertainment. If this is the case, Amazon can use AMC’s nearly 600 theaters across North America, Europe, and the Middle East as “marketing weigh stations.” They would be used for promoting Amazon Prime movies for awards contention, cross-selling services such as grocery delivery, serving local distribution hubs, and collecting crucial data from AMC’s annual 200 million customers. Just a few months ago, Amazon announced plans to spend more than $1 billion a year to produce movies that will air in theatres, aiming to release between 12 and 15 movies annually. If Amazon proceeds with the deal, it will have a place to put its films. As discussions about the offer remain in the air, it would give a lifeline to AMC as its financial status plunged after the COVID-19 pandemic. The cinema chain’s stock traded at $34 a year ago and now languishes at $4 – making it just a drop in the bucket for Amazon, which has been on a spending spree over the past several years, buying Zappos, Audible, Whole Foods, and MGM. However, AMC’s chief Adam Aron continues to fight for the theater’s independence. AMC started to rebound after studios released blockbusters like Avatar and Top Gun sequels. AMC expects a 75% increase in 2023 films grossing $100 million or more compared to last year. While AMC continues to hold on, time could be running out as it executes a 10-for-1 reverse stock split that folds in AMC’s preferred units, which many Wall Street analysts predict will dilute the market value. Read more at the Reuters.

INTERNATIONAL SPOTLIGHT

While China is Playing Chess, the Competition Plays (Chinese) Checkers

Last week’s meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin left the two countries in an off-kilter power balance as China provided an economic lifeline to Russia without officially backing the country’s offensive in Ukraine. Jonathan Ward, who founded the U.S.-China competition consultancy, Atlas Organization, told Insider that “the China-Russia relationship is deeply skewed in Beijing’s favor.” At the same time, China implements a massive global public relations campaign to portray itself as an advocate for peace in Ukraine, despite largely reiterating Russian talking points. As Russia deteriorates its relationship with the West amid its actions in Eastern Europe, Russia will inevitably become more dependent on China for economic support. This relationship plays directly into President Xi’s hands as he enacts plans to make China the center of the “New World Order.” Russia and China are on stable ground with one another, but their approaches to increasing international dominance could not be more different. While Russia is opting for military operations to retake Ukraine, China is leveraging its massive economy to hurl itself toward the top. China is operating somewhat behind the scenes, though not invisibly, to create an influential bloc in Africa by investing heavily in the continent’s infrastructure to leverage its untapped resource pools. As China seeks to become the top dog of the geopolitical landscape in the 21st century, the European Union (E.U.) is re-evaluating its position and relationship with The Red Dragon. President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen called for the E.U. to be bolder against China as the country begins expanding its economic and political influence. As the U.S. continues to provide for the Ukrainian war efforts by sending 31 M1A2 Abrams tanks to the country, Vice President Kamala Harris visits numerous African countries in a bid to rebuild ties to the continent. While the world awaits the outcome of the refreshed partnership between Russia and China, the U.S. and E.U. are left to strategize economic and militaristic reactions. Read more at The Wall Street Journal.

DATA POINTS

  • 10: The number of confirmed tornadoes that struck Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee last week. The EF-4 tornado flattened much of Rolling Fork, Mississippi, killing 25 people. President Joe Biden approved a disaster declaration for parts of Mississippi after tornado-spawning storms shredded homes last weekend.
  • 50.7%: The percentage of women who account for more than half of the college-educated labor force in the U.S. Today, there are more women ages 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree and more education in the labor force than before the pandemic.
  • $240,000: The dollar amount that Chipotle agreed to pay some of its former employees after closing its Augusta, Maine, restaurant where its employees tried to unionize. The settlement payouts range up to $21,000 and will be given to each of the affected workers.
  • $1.27 million: The amount a rediscovered painting by Flemish 17th-century painter Pieter Brueghel sold for at auction in Paris. The painting, “L’Avocat du Village (the Village Lawyer),” has been hidden in a family house in Northern France behind a door for years.
  • 7: The number of people killed in a Pennsylvania chocolate factory explosion that occurred last week. Officials with the candy company, R.M. Palmer, have acknowledged the explosion in a statement shared on its website.
  • 26%: The percentage of adults in the U.S. who have some type of disability, which is approximately 61 million people. People with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual, or sensory impairments, which may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.
  • 8,100: The number of gallons of water-soluble acrylic polymer solution (a latex finishing material) that was released into the Delaware River, just a few miles upstream of a key water intake for Philadelphia’s Baxter Water Treatment Plant. The spill resulted from an “equipment failure” at a Trinseo PLC plant that makes acrylic resins and sent residents scrambling to buy and stock up on weeks of bottled water from nearby stores.
  • 72%: The percentage of the team’s offense (baskets and assists) that Iowa Hawkeyes basketball player, Caitlin Clark, was responsible for during the NCAA Women’s March Madness Tournament. Clark registered 41 points, 10 rebounds, and 12 assists—known as a 40-point triple-double—becoming the first player in NCAA Tournament history to achieve this statistic and wear the title.

 

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