Numlock News: February 20, 2020 • Pulses, Peanuts, Pick ups
By Walt Hickey
Ready For Pickup
“Schlepping home from the airport” is a major business, and it’s one in a state of great upheaval. Uber and Lyft and other ride share platforms have been muscling in, and the traditional stakeholders — the rental car companies — are even helping them to do so. Hertz said that 68 percent of their $6 billion in U.S. revenue came from airport markets, and Uber said that 15 percent of its rides start or end at an airport. Everyone, though, is making money now: in dozens of cities, Uber and Lyft want to get more drivers without needing their drivers to own the cars, so now they’re renting from vehicles towards the end of their rental lives from places like Avis or Hertz for about $200 per week. This keeps maintenance costs external.
There are lots of different ways to stream music, and if you look at the top artists on each platform you can get a sense for how all music providers are not made equal. The top five artists on Spotify in the U.S. in 2019 were Post Malone, Drake, Billie Eilish, Ariana Grande and Khalid. Meanwhile, on YouTube, the top five artists were YoungBoy, Post Malone, Kevin Gates, Billie Eilish and Lil Baby. The mainstream is actually multiple, different streams: while 5 percent of all U.S. music listening is Latin music, on U.S. video streaming that tripled to 15 percent. Part of that is Spotify costs money to subscribe — 24 percent of those age 16 and older use it in a given week — while YouTube, being free, is more accessible, as 34 percent use it. Spotify has 271 million monthly active users, YouTube has over 2 billion. This is also one reason why fans of artists who perform well on YouTube are arguing that Billboard, the chart producer, undervalue the service by making a song stream worth less there than on Spotify or Apple Music.
New research suggests that previous estimates of the pre-industrial concentration of methane in the atmosphere may have been too high. They measured the carbon-14 isotopes in the air from over 200 years ago to determine how much was biological in origin, so prior to around 1870 when carbon fuels accelerated in use. The new measurement of ambient methane is 10 times lower than the previous research indicates, and since that was our original baseline, that means our estimates of how bad emissions related to fossil fuels are may indeed be an underestimate. Per the researchers, the man-made fossil fuel emissions may be 25 percent to 40 percent higher than originally anticipated, meaning that reducing fossil fuel use may have a greater impact on mitigating the effects of warming than previously imagined.
Colossal orders of peanuts from China have thrown the export market in Senegal — where about two-thirds of the rural population is employed in the peanut business in one way or another — into chaos. Senegal made 1.4 million tonnes of peanuts, and while plenty stay local or are processed within the country, last year 200,000 tonnes went to China. This season, Chinese traders are buying out the whole market, beating the 210 CFA francs per kilo offered by local processors and paying 300 CFA francs per kilo for unshelled peanuts and 525 CFA francs per kilo for shelled peanuts. And while farmers couldn’t be happier, the local processing companies are in a massive bind, putting 1,500 jobs at risk.
While the number of income tax returns handled by U.S. Internal Revenue Service increased by 9 percent over the past decade, the department’s funding and its employees declined by over 20 percent. As a result, just 0.45 percent of individuals and 1.6 percent of businesses end up actually getting their returns audited, among the lowest figures on record. It also means that for those who do get audited, the experience sucks just a bit more: of the 15 million calls its lines received in 2019, employees were able to directly answer just 31 percent, and those that did had to wait an average of 38 minutes to get a hold of a human. This whole situation is one reason that the IRS will deploy agents to make house calls: sending dozens of agents to make upwards of 800 face-to-face visits to encourage individuals who had received $100,000 in income over the year but hadn’t filed a return in recent years to get their act together.
Lentils, peas and chickpeas are more popular than ever, and with plant-based food rising in demand, the “pulse crops” are poised to become a larger slice of agriculture. In 1999, there were only about 500,000 acres of pulse crops in the U.S., mostly in the northwest. In 2018, that hit 2.2 million acres, up from 1 million just four years earlier. Whereas before 80 percent of lentils, peas, and basically all chickpeas had predominantly been exported to India, the Middle East and China, today just 60 percent are, and thanks to the popularity of hummus just half of chickpeas are. It’s only going to get bigger: the market for peas for meat substitutes is projected to pass $21 million by 2026. There remains a long way to go before it becomes as central to American diets as beef: average lentil consumption per person was just two ounces per year in the late eighties, which has since grown to eight to 10 ounces, a far cry from the 220 pounds of meat per person per year.
Blue Apron, the meal kit delivery service, is in a bit of a tailspin. For the last quarter of 2019, the company made $94.3 million, down from $140.7 million in the last quarter or 2018. The total number of customers had shrunk over the course of that year, down 37 percent, to just 351,000 people. Granted, those customers are overall more loyal than they had been — revenue per customer was up 6.7 percent to $269 per customer over the period. Still, they’re investigating the possibility of a sale, merger or lifeline.
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