Numlock News: June 20, 2022 • Lego, Jokr, Ransom
By Walt Hickey
In a shocking and unheard-of turn of events, a major corporation with a substantial theme park operation underestimated reanimated dinosaurs with devastating consequences. Disney Pixar’s Lightyear ($51 million) lost the weekend at the box office to Jurassic World Dominion, which made $58.7 million. There’s still some good news for Lightyear, as that’s the best opening for an animated film in the pandemic era, but it is a miss from expectations. Most encouraging, though, is that this is the first weekend since the onset of the pandemic where three big studio movies are actually all pulling solid numbers, as Top Gun: Maverick dipped a paltry 15 percent to make $44 million domestically in its third weekend.
In Indonesia, the inflation focus is on Indomie, a brand of instant noodles that is extremely popular in the country. With wheat prices rising, and Indomie serving as the staple dish for millions — demand for instant noodles in Indonesia was 13.27 billion servings in 2021, behind just China which ate 43.99 billion servings — the government, economists and consumers are all looking to see if and when the price of a package begins to increase. Indomie noodles sell for 2,800 rupiah on average, but the wheat that goes into them now goes for 11,600 rupiah a kilogram, up 13 percent year over year. So far, prices for the product itself haven’t budged, but everyone’s nervous about what could happen if it does even as little as 50 rupiah.
Ransomware, the hacking scourge that’s affected everything from hospitals to universities to water systems, has been a difficult threat to contend with. However, to the luck of countries like Japan, it’s actually been predominantly targeted at countries in Europe and North America, mostly because the Japanese language has formed a bit of a moat when it comes to repelling digital attackers, as mediocre Japanese in an email is a pretty reliable signal that a scam is afoot. Last year, for instance, Japan saw just 146 ransomware incidents, a figure that is likely an undercount but is still vastly less than the volume of attacks seen in their Western counterparts. That said, the moat is beginning to fail, and Japan is now a country full of vulnerable targets: New AI translation software is making it easier to imitate Japanese speakers to a level where the bamboozle actually works out.
As newly legal sports gambling sweeps the country, it’s becoming increasingly clear that this has had a pretty devastating impact for problem gamblers. After all, that $4.29 billion in sports betting revenue has to come from somewhere, and the estimated 7 million Americans with gambling problems are an easy target. Those at risk of addiction or in recovery are finding it difficult to avoid the casino when it’s in their very phone, and already the boom is causing a substantial number of busts: The National Problem Gambling Helpline Network logged 270,000 calls, texts and chats last year, up 45 percent over 2020 and the highest level in six years. While other countries ban or regulate advertising for gambling — Italy banned it, the U.K. banned celebrity spokespeople, and Belgium and Australia are weighing restrictions — in the U.S. gambling ads are treated the same as any other.
U.S. toy sales are up 37 percent over the past two years, hitting $28.6 billion in 2021, and a rising demographic for toys and games is increasingly adults. A 2021 toy industry survey of parents found that 65 percent were buying board games just for themselves or other adults, 61 percent were buying art and building sets for adults, and 53 percent were buying collectibles for adults. This demo has been a rising target for the industry, with Lego cranking out pricey and intricate sets explicitly for their grown fans, and other brands popping up segments with more expensive items for their adult buyers.
Ocean shippers are tacking a host of fees on to freight costs, including demurrage bills for storage and detention fees for not returning an empty container on time, but are now doing so in such a widespread and unchecked manner on containers that are waylaid by the very system the ocean shippers are failing to maintain. This means that in some cases, the shipping companies are profiting from the logistical snarls they themselves caused. Needless to say, business is great: The operating margin at the largest carriers hit an eye-watering 57 percent in the first quarter. One reason it’s got this bad? The regulator, a rinky-dink government operation called the Maritime Commission with a $31 million budget and 128 employees, is ill-matched against the $214 billion profit shipping business.
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Jokr, one of several “instant” delivery services promising 15-minute delivery on items ordered over app, has yanked its business out of the United States, the latest in a series of instant delivery companies to die or give up. Jokr had $288 million in venture funding and a $1.3 billion valuation, but the per-delivery costs were reportedly breathtakingly bad. According to internal data, Jokr’s New York City business was operating at a loss that meant it was losing $159 per order as of August 2021. That report also saw projections that the U.S. business — which to be clear most recently encompassed nine locations in New York and Boston — would lose $74 million in 2022 and $84 million in 2023.
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