Numlock News: December 14, 2020 • Block Em, Sock Em, Robots
By Walt Hickey
Hyundai is buying Boston Dynamics, the company behind all those gangly, doggish robots, from current owner SoftBank. They’re buying an 80 percent stake in the company, which values it at $1.1 billion. Boston Dynamics has had a journey since spinning out of MIT in the 1990s, being bought by Google in 2013, then sold to SoftBank in 2017. While lots of the Boston Dynamics bots are experimental or prototypes, Hyundai is pretty enmeshed in the bot biz, producing lots of industrial robotics for uses in factories as well as working on development of exoskeleton suits.
In an 8-0 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that three Muslim men who wanted to sue FBI officials for financial damages were clear to proceed, finding that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act allowed suits against individual agents. It’s a really interesting case: in 2013, Muhammad Tanzir, Jameel Algibhah and Naveed Shinwari say the FBI attempted to recruit them to become informants, and when they declined the offer they allege the agents retaliated by putting them on no-fly lists, preventing them from getting on any plane that arrives, departs, or passes through the U.S. This, they argue, carried significant financial damages, and they would like to sue to get them. The Justice Department wanted the case thrown out, though the court unanimously held the case could proceed.
On March 11, 2020, nationwide foot traffic in movie theaters was 108 percent of what it was on March 1, and then some stuff happened, and on April 1 foot traffic in cinemas was just 12 percent of that pre-virus level. Since then, there hasn’t been any serious rebound, and on November 8, it was 27 percent of the pre-COVID level. Part of that’s been the slimmer slate of offerings — there have been 57 wide releases in 2020, down from 131 in 2019 — but the foot traffic figure pretty directly tracks with polling of the percentage of people who said they’re currently comfortable going to the movies, which came in at 24 percent of respondents according to the most recent tracking polling in early December.
Many people who normally reside in cold places will spend their winters in warm places, so many in fact that they’re a significant economic contributor to the destination economy. “Cold places” is an apt description of “most of Canada,” but the Canadian snowbirds have been prevented from going to Arizona and Florida owing to, shall we say, asymmetries in public policy, and their absence is noted. Visit Florida estimated just 15,000 Canadians arrived to Florida between April and September, down 99 percent from the same period last year, a year in which 3.6 million Canadians visited the Sunshine State. According to the Arizona Office of Tourism, last year 964,000 Canadians were responsible for $1 billion in spending, a substantial chunk of the $26.5 billion reaped from tourism.
Television networks deal out “make-goods” to advertisers when the actual tune-in audience falls short of the audience the networks promised back when the deals were struck, and this year they’ve been busy. Lots and lots of sports have been down this year, and going into the season the NFL ratings would have had to be up 15 percent to make up for that underdelivery on the part of those other sports. Unfortunately, the NFL is having performance troubles of its own, with ratings in the first 13 weeks of the season down 7 percent. Lots of that has been attributed to the shambolic, exhausting and nationally mortifying election, which drew lots of eyeballs that otherwise would have normally been focused on a shambolic, exhausting and nationally mortifying NFC East.
For a hot second there, the trendy and risky investment for people who wanted to throw money at high-risk-high-reward speculative developing industries was in the marijuana business. Pot remains federally illegal, but lots of states — 35 of them to be specific — have since legalized marijuana in some fashion, and speculation from the industry sees potential for a federal change under a Biden administration. This means not only that decades of work to legalize cannabis appears poised to end in success, but also that pot stocks are now boring. The new money is in psychedelics, which are now beginning to follow some of the same business strategies that got the cannabuisiness booming. Psychedelics have been legalized in a few cities and one state — Oregon — and while that may turn some investors off, for those pursuing risk it’s exactly what one wants to hear, as we’ve inexplicably hit a point in society where the marijuana industry is practically mature. There are about 25 companies on the Canadian Stock Exchange in the psychedelic business, even though — and stop me if you’ve heard this one before — they are federally illegal substances in Canada.
Last week, a U.S. District Court certified a class action lawsuit against the UFC, which is being sued by six fighters who allege the mixed martial arts promotion abuses monopoly power to stymie competition in the hiring market, which stifles wages and removes employment opportunities. This class certification means that this suit has the potential to go from a half-dozen fighters to thousands, and in the event that pans out, the damages at stake could be considerable. According to the suit, the UFC controls 90 percent of revenues generated by elite-tier MMA fights, and only 20 percent of revenues flow down to the fighters. That would be significantly lower than athlete shares in the NBA, MLB, NFL and NHL, where the collective bargaining athletes get 48 percent to 50 percent of revenue.
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