Numlock News: December 24, 2021 • Punts, Returns, Options
By Walt Hickey
This is the last Numlock News of the year! Thank you all for reading, and welcome to all the folks who joined us in the past year. We’re off next week and will resume on Monday, January 3, 2022. Have an excellent holiday and happy New Year.
Taylor Energy, which is responsible for the longest-running oil spill in the history of the United States, will pay $43 million in civil penalties and cede its $432 million trust fund to the Interior Department to pay for the cleanup. The spill started in 2004, when an underwater mudslide damaged a number of Taylor’s wells 10 miles off the coast of Louisiana. An environmental group discovered the large plume of oil, but the company continued to contend that the bleed was contained. In 2019, the federal government found the spill rate might be 900 times larger than the company’s reports. Taylor sold off its assets in 2008 and put that revenue into the trust fund dedicated to cleanup. A recent ProPublica investigation found that the founder’s widow used the cleanup expenditures to avoid paying income taxes by writing them off.
Artificial Christmas Tree
As if the pile of indignities of being Charlie Brown were not near enough, the character has lost the nigh-undisputed title of “thinnest Christmas tree” to a team of researchers at the Technical University of Denmark. Using cutting-edge graphene technology that’s otherwise being studied for uses in incredibly tiny electronic circuits, a team has produced a 14-centimeter-long Christmas tree that is exactly one atom thick. The graphene is one layer of carbon atoms a third of a nanometer thick. A bacterium is 3,000 times thicker than this Christmas tree. The tree was made to prove out new ways of ensuring quality control of graphene surfaces.
This year the trading of options contracts — once nearly exclusively the domain of professional commercial Wall Street traders — has become a tool of the people, who have utilized them on an unheard-of scale. This past year an average of 39 million options contracts traded every day, up 35 percent compared to 2020. What’s more, retail investors — the kind who use online brokers — are now 25 percent of total options trading activity, which is making it faster, easier, and more efficient than ever for every day customers to completely financially destroy their lives through poorly-thought-out gambling. It’s unclear what kind of long-term impact this widespread availability of financial dynamite in everyone’s pocket will have, but I bet it’s really great and won’t cause anything too bad.
About 10 percent of items sold at retail gets returned after the holidays, a figure that rises to 18 percent for online sales. Last year returns totaled $428 billion, and this year it’s expected to be higher, with the current National Retail Federation projection at $860 billion. Quietly, though, retailers have been working out policies of just telling consumers to keep the stuff they want to return. A return can cost 66 percent of the price of an item, making processing and liquidation annoying and, for lower-margin items, a net loss for the retailer, particularly with borked supply chains. A July survey found 75 percent of customers had been told they can just keep an item they’d been refunded for, with items less than $20 making up 59 percent of the returns compared to 18 percent for items over $50. Retailers are more likely to extend the “just keep it” offer to longer-time customers than first-timers.
Australians are making up a larger and larger percentage of punters in American football owing to a new development pipeline that takes promising Australians with gifted legs in rugby, Australian rules football, or soccer, trains them in the nature of the American game, and puts them on track to get scholarships to American universities. From there, they’ll become the professional surrenderers for college football teams — right now Australians are almost 40 percent of Division 1 punters — and even into the NFL. Since 2009, ProKickers, a Melbourne academy that trains punters, has sent 182 alumni to U.S. colleges. The Aussie rules play they were raised on make them uncommonly good on the fly: when Seattle Seahawk Michael Dickson had a punt blocked earlier this year, he snatched it, picked it up, and punted it again all the way back to the Rams’ 11-yard line, a coolness under pressure developed from years playing in the kick-heavy Australian game.
Spider-Man: No Way Home is projected to make $90 million to $100 million in its second week at the domestic box office, in a week that is incredibly busy at the box office with newcomers like The Matrix: Resurrections, Sing 2, and The King’s Man dropping in cinemas. Under normal conditions, the week between Christmas and New Year’s is a banner time for movies and reliably one of the most profitable corridors of the year, but it’s anyone’s guess if that remains the case. The fourth Matrix is projected to total $40 million to $50 million from Wednesday to Sunday, Sing 2 is projected to land $40 million over the period, The King’s Man is projected to get $15 million to $20 million, and a handful of other smaller movies are projected to collect Oscar eligibility and little else.
Humans change the way freshwater moves across the surface of the Earth in all sorts of ways, like dams and irrigation, and keeping track of those shifts is a monumental task. The aquatic ledger is in constant flux: over the course of 30 years, about 67,000 square miles of water have become land, and another 44,000 square miles of land have become water. But a lot of the satellites we have keeping tabs on such things are more focused on ice sheets and oceans, so the data on rivers and freshwater bodies is rather shallow by comparison: NASA said any single satellite has measured only 5 percent to 10 percent of the largest rivers and 15 percent of water storage changes in lakes.
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This past week, I spoke to Cameron Easley, who wrote “Insurrection. Inauguration. Infection. Inflation. Here’s the News That Broke Through For 2021” for Morning Consult. Having the folks from Morning Consult on to end the year is one of my favorites, and we talked about the year in news, what actually broke through, and of course the big boat that got stuck in the Suez Canal. Cameron can be found at Morning Consult and on Twitter.
Thanks to the paid subscribers to Numlock News who make this possible for a great year. Happy New Year; see you all in the next one.
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