Numlock News: July 6, 2022 • Wildfires, Insurance Scams, Almonds
By Walt Hickey
About 7,600 farms in California are responsible for 82 percent of the global supply of almonds. Because of the way the industry works, those farms don’t get paid until the almonds are actually delivered to their overseas buyers. This is particularly an issue this year, as there are about 1.3 billion pounds of unsold almonds piled in processing and packing facilities awaiting shipment, a solid chunk of the 2.9 billion pounds harvested in all of 2021. The reason is that large commercial shipping carriers can make lots more money by sending empty containers from North American ports back to Asia rather than waiting to load up U.S. goods for export, and as a result, despite unchanged demand, almond exports are down 13 percent this year.
The Indian government offers citizens a life insurance policy where for the equivalent of about $4 per year their survivors can get $2,600 upon death, which just on paper is a pretty astounding value. Organized crime has picked up on this, and thus there has been a spate of on-paper killings that leave the actual person alive but dead in the eyes of the insurance paperwork, particularly in impoverished areas where record-keeping is scant. Insurance companies, which had long looked the other way in order to recruit policyholders, have lost an estimated $28 billion over seven years ending in 2012. Last year the Indian life insurance industry sold 30 million policies, and the largest insurer — Life Insurance Corporation of India — controls $500 billion in assets and serves about two-thirds of the market with 250 million policyholders.
For the past two years, China has beaten the United States in terms of box office ticket sales, a trend that appears to have reversed in 2022. China’s ticket sales are just at $2.6 billion in the first six months of the year, down 38 percent year over year compared to 2021. In North America, ticket revenue is at $3.7 billion, more than triple the $1.11 billion seen in the same period of 2021. The issue for Hollywood is that China’s diminished box office is in no small part due to the U.S. films often not getting released in China the way they have been over the past several years. While U.S. movies were worth $1.9 billion in Chinese ticket sales in the first half of 2019, this time around Hollywood movies have only made $400 million in China despite tearing it up in the rest of the world.
According to LinkedIn data, remote job listings accounted for only 18.4 percent of paid job postings in May but nevertheless attracted 53.5 percent of the total applications, as solid sign that the demand for remote and hybrid work is significantly outstripping central office-bound work. That 53.5 percent is up from a mere 2.9 percent as of January 2020. Indeed, dangling remote work as an offer for a job when the job is in fact in an office has become a somewhat pervasive problem on many job boards, with some listings over-promising on the remote nature of a job.
From 2010 to 2019, the Forest Service used about 30 million gallons of fire retardant per year in the annual fight against forest fires. In 2020, for the first time ever, the government used over 50 million gallons, a volume exceeded once again last year, and the cost of those chemicals over the two years reached close to $200 million. The government is looking into newer, potentially more effective chemicals to use, such as a magnesium-chloride chemical that could replace an ammonium-phosphate retardant now used. The other critics come from those who argue that the money is actually better spent on the ground, paying ground crews to dig fire lines rather than bombard fires with chemicals from above.
Captagon is a cheap type of speed that is being mass produced by the Assad regime in Syria and exported across the Middle East. The traffic in the drug was estimated to be worth $5.7 billion in 2021, with the bulk of production in Syria and Lebanon and the bulk of consumers in the Persian Gulf states. Cheap stuff can go for 50 cents a pill, pricier stuff for $25 a pill, but the main point is that it’s become a fairly instrumental pillar of the war-ravaged Syrian economy. In 2020, seizures of Syrian captagon hit $3.4 billion, which would be an order of magnitude higher than the $122 million volume in their top legal export of olive oil.
Shifts in office versus remote work trends have also illuminated a new reality, where the overall quality of any number of suburban office parks has been found to be wanting. While many office buildings in an urban core tend to at least be in busy neighborhoods with other merits, and are pushed to remain modern due to the amount of nearby competition, suburban office parks have had a harder time rebounding. One reason? An estimated 57 percent of suburban office space nationwide is old enough to be considered functionally obsolete, and in the New Jersey suburbs of New York City that figure is estimated to be 72 percent.
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