Numlock News: March 24, 2020 • Moons, Power, Beer
By Walt Hickey
Cheap No More
Coal is the dirtiest, and also historically the cheapest energy source, but owing to a total collapse in the oil market, coal stands as the world’s most expensive fossil fuel on an energy-equivalent basis. Australian Newcastle Coal traded at $66.85 per ton on Friday, which is the energy equivalent of a $27.36 priced barrel of oil. Brent Crude Oil Futures ended at $26.98 per barrel. Coal’s place as dirty, yet also expensive fuel could further push towards preferring cheaper liquid natural gas, perhaps in Japan, a prime export market for Australia’s coal.
Despite a year-long fling with 2020 CD3, Earth is back to having one and only one moon. In case you haven’t been reading the astronomy tabloids, back in February it was revealed Earth had picked up a miniature moon for the previous year, perhaps longer, a body termed 2020 CD3. On March 7, that brief affair concluded, with 2020 CD3 now orbiting the sun. These kinds of “temporarily captured objects” come and go — though in this case it was only the second such object after a TCO observation in 2006 — and 2020 CD3 may indeed return to Earth sometime in March 2044, though not close enough to fall back into an orbit.
China is doing a soft re-opening of its movie theaters, with 486 cinemas open for business on Friday, a first since the onset of coronavirus in their country. By Monday that figure rose to 507, and most of them were empty all weekend: total box office haul was $2,000 nationwide on Friday, and in Guangdong not a single ticket was sold. That’s somewhat tactical — a rush to the theaters was probably not the best plan for the recovery — and the offerings were re-runs, like a 2019 crime thriller. It’s not all good news though: some of the few authorized American films on the docket are Green Book and A Dog’s Purpose.
While the streets may be a ghost town out there, for the trucking business it’s Thanksgiving-tier traffic on the roads. Trucking shipments to grocery stores and discount retailers were up 56 percent on average from March 15 to March 19 compared to the same week of 2019, and the average daily trucking volume was 17 percent higher than the week before Thanksgiving of 2019, which was the busiest weekend of last year. This is thanks to the trend of the past two decades for grocery stores to keep only a four to six week supply on hand, down from what once was months of inventory on site. The transition was profitable and sensible during the normal times, but can lead to a wipeout when demand surges unexpectedly.
The volume of beer sold in China was 45.49 million kiloliters in 2018, which was down about 10 percent from 2013. Though the volumes are down, sales are actually way up: in value terms, China spent about $93 billion on beer in 2018, which was up 37 percent over that same period. That’s thanks to a combination of rising affluence — people are willing to spend more money for the same volume of suds — and a decline in beer drinking among the youth, who prefer wine. This has prompted a major change at China Resources Beer, which sells about 11.4 million of those kiloliters and is the largest brewer in China. It’s one reason they bought the Chinese operations of Heineken last April, and another reason they’re upping the premium beer’s output capacity by 50 percent by 2021. The other side of that is brewery closures to cut back on the cheap swill nobody wants fo buy anymore, with China Resources’ plants down to 74 from the 98 it had at the end of 2016.
A class-action lawsuit against Facebook has released redacted documents they allege demonstrate that the top brass at Facebook were aware of issues with an advertising metric for years. The “potential reach” metric that informs advertisers of potential audience size is the subject of the suit, which was filed in 2018 by a small-business owner. The argument is that the projected reach included fake and duplicated accounts. That turns out to be a pretty good argument: the company’s own estimates suggest that duplicate accounts in Q4 of 2019 represented 11 percent of its 2.5 billion monthly active user counts. On top of that, Facebook estimates that 5 percent of those accounts are fake. Back of the napkin, that’s 400 million B.S. accounts out there in the breeze; in the first three quarters of 2019, Facebook nuked 5.4 billion fake accounts.
Genscape, an energy research company, estimates that demand for electricity in New York City and San Francisco is down by 300 megawatts to 600 megawatts since residents were ordered to shelter in place. That’s about the equivalent of a mid-sized gas power plant. A company called PJM Interconnection LLC is the largest market for wholesale power in the United States, covering 13 states in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic. On March 16, they revised their daily demand forecast down from 100,000 MW of load to 94,500, and actual demand came in at 95,500 MW. In northern Italy, power demand was down 18 percent to 20 percent last Monday through Wednesday compared to last year.
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