Numlock News: November 3, 2020 • Turkeys, Taxes, TikToks
By Walt Hickey
Juul Labs — which sells highly addictive nicotine juice tied to a sleek vaporizer and, in the process, may have set back a generation of public health gains in youth tobacco usage — has seen their valuation seriously tank. Two years ago, when tobacco behemoth Altria took a 35 percent stake, the company was valued at $38 billion. Thursday, the company announced to employees that its valuation was now $10 billion, down further from the $13 billion internal valuation from earlier this year. In the first half of the year, Juul had sales of $764 million, but reported a $423 million loss.
In early 2021, the first offshore U.S. wind farm will temporarily shut down for repairs. Located off the coast of Block Island in Rhode Island, erosion means that high-voltage cables are sometimes exposed, and a $30 million fix paid for by the Danish power company that now owns it will be spliced in this coming spring. The wires connecting offshore wind farms to the people who use the electricity are the most complicated component of offshore wind farming, and while the Block Island project is small — 30 megawatts of power, compared to the offshore goal of 28,530 megawatts for the entire northeast — it’s proving useful as a learning experience for an industry primed to explode in popularity to determine long-term issues that may crop up.
In a world desperate for good news, I have some: there were 372 million pounds of butter in cold storage at the end of August, a hoard of butter ready for winter, which is the traditional season for escalating butter usage. The unclear status of the holidays means that butter producers are a little unclear about what the demand situation is going to be, but it’s already a banner year with people staying at home and cooking with butter way more than usual. Land O’Lakes expects butter sales to hit 275 million to 300 million pounds this year, which is about 20 percent higher than a typical year, despite the fact that restaurants — which are 15 to 20 percent of the butter buyers — saw crushed demand. Profit at the cooperative was up 22 percent year-to-date, hitting $66 million in the third quarter.
ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, has leased 62 megawatts of data center space in Northern Virginia, which would make it a top-10 tenant in the NoVa data center market, already the largest such market in the United States. Analysts think this is an indication that ByteDance, which is based in China, will establish some sort of independent stateside housing for its U.S.-based data, which has been a point of consternation for privacy advocates, China hawks, and parts of the U.S. government.
A pertinent question coursing through the $4.3 billion turkey business is a basic one: how many turkeys are we gonna need for this one? It’s an incredibly complicated proposition and the answer is a lot of prep and a lot of guesswork. Grocery chain Kroger’s research found that 43 percent of shoppers plan to celebrate Thanksgiving with only their immediate family, which if true means that the birds people will want may be smaller, but they’re going to need way more of them as normally large gatherings (which would use a single large bird) temporarily splinter into smaller more intimate gatherings (necessitating multiple smaller birds). A lot is at stake, as in 2019 Americans spent $643 million on turkey in November. Walmart will carry 30 percent more turkey breasts in its scores for those who don’t want a full bird. Butterball normally sells 30 percent of the 40 million Thanksgiving turkeys, and they don’t actually think the size of the desired birds will fluctuate all that much, though the amount may: 75 percent of consumers according to their research plan to do a similar-sized or larger turkey than last year. This seems like the best bet: Thanksgiving leftovers are awesome and no need to let a pandemic get in the way of that.
Credit Karma is a financial service that lets people look up credit scores, and in 2016 began offering a free online tax filing service. This was neat, but then Intuit — the company that owns TurboTax, a paid online tax filing service — is now attempting to buy Credit Karma for $7.1 billion. Given that this is pretty much a textbook antitrust objection, the company is reportedly looking to sell the tax prep business to Square, the company that makes those credit card readers for smaller businesses. The online tax prep software world has been rising, with 72 million individuals prepping their own taxes and filing them online in 2020, which was up 25 percent from 2019. By comparison, returns prepped by a tax professional and filed online were down slightly to 80 million returns.
The American West isn’t being burned fast enough: prescribed burns are controlled fires that will eat up the undergrowth that fuels large wildfires, with about 3 million acres of land in the West being burned in this manner annually. Wildfires are winning though. They burn an average of 7 million acres a year, nearing 10 million in bad fire seasons. The issue is that the federal government, which owns 50 percent of the land in the West, has not been investing adequately. While non-federal lands have increased prescribed-fire use by 13.4 percent since 1998, the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management’s prescribed-fire use has been largely unchanged, and only the Bureau of Indian Affairs has increased its prescribed-fire acreage up 3.7 percent since 1998.
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