Tidbits

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Welcome to Tidbits

Your periodic look into what's new, relevant, and thought-provoking in the world of finance and beyond.

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May 2024

1. We Love Our Cars: It surprises no one to say that Americans love their cars - and avoid public transportation like the plague.  A recent graphic by Voronoi put numbers around it. North Americans use cars as their method of transportation 92% of the time. Public Transportation comes in at 5% and Biking/Walking at 4%.  Worldwide average comes in at 51% - 26% - 22%.  Lowest is China at 19% - 46% - 35% (source: Voronoi - How people Get Around, May 8 2024)
2. Reason Behind the Beauty: This weekend gave American’s a unique opportunity - to view the beauty of te Aurora Borealis without spending the $5k to fly to Norway.  the reason - a cluster of solar storms and flares on the surface of the sun that is 17x the diameter of Earth (about 135K miles across).  As a side effect, you may experience issues with cell phone coverage (Source:  1440 Daily Digest, May 11 2024)
3. Space Geeks Prepare: Most people have heard the name Dark Matter - fewer know much about it. Brief synapses: it is estimated to make up 85% of the mass of the universe, it has never been seen, and it is used to “fix” newton’s gravity calculations when you start trying to apply it to galaxies and stars.  Only true space geeks know that there is another theory that has been challenging it since the 1980’s called Mond.  That theory took a bit hit from a research paper just released that used data from the satellite that crashed into Saturn in 2017.  Click the source link to read the summary (Source: The Conversation, May 9 2024)
4. Inflation Watch: There is always one issue that dominates the market and the economy more than all others.  At present it is inflation.  Until it breaks, the fed will not drop interest rates.  It is the topic with every cab driver, cocktail party, and grocery check-out line.  How are we doing? It is being stubborn.  Latest numbers are for March.  All things auto lead the way with Gas, Car Insurance and Car Maintenance all up around 2% for the month. Housing is still a mess.  Rent and Home purchase equivalence are both up around 5.8% from last year. The rate of growth has been slowing (down from 6% in July of 23) but is still a major driver.  Wage inflation has returned to normal range.  So, we are feeling the impact doubly (expenses are still increasing, but pay increases are not keeping up).  We expect to have another 6 months before we start to feel any real break.  (Source: NAA Inflation Tracker, April  2024)
5. Will I Be Happier In Retirement: A recent study of retirees by Mass Mutual says - Yes, you probably will be. 8% of survey respondents said that they were unhappier due to being lonely.  25% said they were neither more or less happier.  The rest were giddy.  Most common reasons listed: More time with loved ones, more time for hobbies, and more time to exercise.  Hard to believe they spent actual money on that research question. (Source: Mass Mutual Retirement Happinesss Study, May 2024)
6. Made Whole + a Profit: Investors in FTX will get their money back + an 18% gain. The CEO announced that they have been able to recover $8B of missing assets to repay the $11.2B owed to creditors.  98% of all customser (those who invested $50k or less) will receive 118% of their investments.  teh proposal is in front of a federal bankruptcy court for approval.  (Source: 1440 Daily Digest, May 9 2024).
7. Test Your Nerdiness: Mariam Webster (the dictionary people) have a cute little quiz.  It shows you the opening line of famous novels.  You have to pick the title.  Not to brag, but I went 13 out of 17.  (Source: Webster Latest Quizes, May 13 2024)
8. Need Some Cash? The Arizona Commerce Authority has recently partnered with 3 Community Development Financial Institutions on a Loan Guarantee program for small startups and non-profits.  The program will provide loan guarantees to lenders for up to 50% of the principal.  (Source: Arizona Innovation Connection, May 10 2024). 
9. To Fix the Problem, We Need to Address the Cause: In a study released by Journal of American Medicine, 67% of the homeless population have mental health disorders.   The study analyzed 85 studies mainly from Canada, Germany, and the US involving more than 48 K participants.   Of the homeless, 77% have lifetime prevalence of disorders.  40% have substance abuse issues.  Next most comon issues were antisocial disorder and major depression.  (Source: JAMA Two-Thirds of Unhoused People Have Mental Health Disorders, May 10 2024)
10. After the Fact Budget Advice: As I type this on the airplane back to the states, I just read an article with the most interesting title “How much should you spend on a Vacation?"  My first response was simply - A Lot.  The article gives the guideline that 5-10% is a good target, with some warnings around Luxury Creep.  It should have included a section on Instagram Temptation.  (Source: Of Manliness How Much Should You Send on a Vacation?  March 8 2024)

March 2024

1. Silver Tsunami: More Americans are turning 65 than any time in history. Some want to work longer – There is a public push by pilots to raise the mandatory retirement.  A 2023 Report found that 20% of Americans age 65+ are still working with over 60% of them working full time. It’s almost double from 1987.   On the other side, the stock market performance has been cited as causing a recent spike in new retirements.  Fidelity Investments reported that the number of $1m+ 401k accounts grew by 20% from the previous quarter.  The Fed model has dramatically under predicted the number of seniors retiring every year since 2020.  This year, we had roughly double the number of American retire than their model predicted.  (Side note: when an employee retires, they are removed from the labor pool, which lowers the unemployment rate).  (Source: CNBC, As baby boomers hit ‘peak 65’ this year, what the retirement age should be is up for debate Feb 8 2024, Pew Research Older Workers Are Growing in Number and Earning Higher Wages Dec 14 2023; Financial Advisor Mag, Number of 401(k) Millionaires Swells Back Toward Record Feb 27 2024)

2. MythBusters Needs To Try It: In direct opposition to my wife’s belief, a recent article busts the myth that you need to close your iPhone (or Android) apps.  A lot of us do it.  As soon as the battery on our phone hits yellow, we start up-swiping to close all our apps.  Technically, it does nothing for us.  As far back as 2016, Apple’s SVP of software engineering confirmed that closing apps does not impact battery life.  In reality the apps are not “running” they are in a frozen state, the system just shows a screenshot of the app. Also, closing the app does not block the company’s ability to track you.  The apps can track your activity even if the app is not running.  If you want to affect battery life, turn off the Background App Refresh in your settings – that actually works.  (Source: Gizmodo, Stop Closing Your iPhone’s Background Apps Feb 19 2024)

3. How Do I Enroll? 93-yr-old Dr. Ruth Gottesman, one of the early investors in Berkshire Hathaway, donated $1B to a medical school in one of the poorest areas of the Bronx.  The grant will cover the tuition costs for all students at the school in perpetuity. This is the largest single gift to any medical school in US history.  It is the second university to offer free medical school in New York (NYU announced it would cover all tuition in 2018).   (Source: ABC News, A New York City medical school goes tuition-free thanks to a $1 billion gift, Feb 26 2024). 

4. Inflation Watch: It’s still cooling.  Shelter costs have remained stubborn, but other areas have responded.  First rate cut has been pushed back to the second half of the year and are looking for 2-3 cuts this year, down from 6 cuts starting in January.  January Consumer Price Index(CPI) fell to 3.1% year-over-year.  It’s on a slow decline since July 22 when it was around 7%. The Fed is not as concerned about CPI as they are Personal Consumption Expenditure (PCE).  The Fed used to focus on CPI up until year 2000, when they made the switch.  PCE is considered a broader measure. Currently, the 6-mo PCE is at 1.8% - which is below their 2.0% target – therefore, no rate cuts needed.  Employment compensation is another big factor with regard to inflation – the Quit Rate (% of people quitting a job to take another) continues to slip – which is a sign of inflation slowing.  Employment compensation growth is continuing to slip.  It is on its weakest pace since 2Q21. Both of those measures show that the once crazy-hot job market is slowing down.  (Source: Natixis Investment Managers – Weekly Email, Inflation Data is Boring Again Feb 13 2024 & Still at 5000 Feb 20 2024)

5. Let There Be Light: A team at University of Chicago has created a pacemaker that is made of a tiny engineered membrane – about 100x thinner than human hair with no moving parts to provide electronic stimulation to the heart.  The unit is powered by light.  Light is passed by a optic fiber tube inserted into the body.  When the pacemaker is no longer needed, it dissolves into the body.   It is still a long way from consumer use, but the future looks bright! (Source: University of Chicago News, Ultralight membrane can regulate heartbeats with the aid of an optic fiber  Feb 21, 2024)

6. Here’s Looking at You Kid: The newest generation of satellites are powerful enough to make out individual facial features from low earth orbit. Albedo Space is launching their first of 24 satellites in early 2025 with this functionality.  Current civilian imaging satellites can differentiate objects as small as 1 foot in diameter.  Albedo is targeting around 4 inches. Military already has satellites at least that capable.  In 2019, Trump posted an image on this X account of a failed Iranian satellite launch with resolution at 4 inches.  The article discusses how satellite technology is being used by journalists and public safety teams.  (Source New York Times, When Eyes in the Sky Start Looking Right at You, Feb 20, 2024  Wired, Trump Tweeted a Sensitive Photo. Internet Sleuths Decoded It, Sept 3 2019) 

7. Jumping the Chasm: It looks like EVs are now hitting their Technology Acceptance Chasm.  The chasm is part of technology adoption curve.  It’s the point where a technology crosses over from Early Adopters to Mainstream.  During the Early Adopter stage, they are the rage – stock prices rise, they dominate the news and it is touted about how it will change the world (like AI right now). When it hits the transition point, more articles appear about the difficulties (charging infrastructure, range, accidents) and stock prices take a hit.  Welcome Electric Vehicles.  Even though overall sales are up 31% from last year, the stock prices have taken the beating from their peak price.  Lucid – down 95%.  Rivian – down 94%, Nikola – down 99%, Polestar – down 91%.  Apple dropped its car project. This doesn’t spell doom for the technology, just part of the process of moving from the “hottest ticket” to the new normal.  We have gone through this process with most all technological advances: Railroads, Nuclear power, Dot.com, Solar, EV, and AI will be next. (Source: Chartr, Batteries Drained: EV Startups are Struggling to Maintain Momentum, Feb 28 2024)

8. Maybe We’ll Just Rent: The average American has to make +$100k per year to afford the median-priced home.  Unfortunately, the median household income in the country is only $75k.  Comparing the Median Priced home to the Median Household Income and you get the Price-to-Income ratio.  Right now, that ratio is 5.8.  The ratio has grown steadily since 1985, (when the ratio was 3.5).  In the 2007 crazy days, it was around 4.  A lot of factors contribute to the ratio growth.  Low interest rates have been a big factor.  With low rates, less of the monthly payment goes to interest, and more can go to principal - which allows for home prices to increase.  Real Estate investment is another factor.  26% of low-priced and 14% of mid-priced US homes in the 4th quarter of 2023 were purchased by real estate investors. (Source: Visual Capitalist, Charted: US Median House Prices vs. Income Feb 27 2024; Redfin, Investors Bought 26% of the Country’s Most Affordable Homes in the Fourth Quarter – The Highest Share on Record Feb 14 2024)

9. History Nerds Prepare: The longtime keeper of the Vatican archive is retiring after 45 years.  His reflections have become a book called Secretum -  being published this month.  He touches on topics like the fate of the archives during Napolean’s seizure of the archives, WWII’s Pope and the Nazi’s, to the protecting the letter denying King Henry VIII the annulment so he could marry Anne Boleyn.  Unfortunately, so far, it’s only published in Italian and for the Dan Brown fans, there was no illuminati revelations. (Source: AP The keeper of the Vatican’s secrets is retiring. Here’s what he wants you to know Feb 19 2024) (Amazon – Kindle Store)

10. Don’t Let Your Spouse See You Reading This One: In anti-honor to valentines day, there is a group that annually releases their divorce articles around the holiday.  The article, called If Cupid’s Stupid, Separate Smart – is a simplistic guide with breath-taking advice like “play fair”, but it links to a couple of more thought-provoking articles on Preventing Marriage or Divorce from Derailing your estate plan and dealing with issues surrounding adult children in Gray Divorces.   Just a little light hearted reading for some people’s alone time. (Source: Wealth Management, If Cupid’s Stupid, Separate Smart Feb 9 2024)

11. It Aint Over Til Its Over: Despite sanctions, sizeable budget deficit, and battlefield losses, Russia has the money to keep the war going for a few more years, according to several recent economic analysis.  Russia had started preparing for a Post-Sanction world after their 2014 invasion of Ukraine.  They can be relatively self-sustainable due to their Oil, metal and wheat production.  The war time economy has created a boon for the economy. The table below compares the war impact on Russia vs. Ukraine:

All is not rosy.  The loss of manpower, inflation, and an unpopular war all will have a toll on how long they can stay committed, but economically, they are holding on. (Source Business Insider, How Russia has avoided bankrupting itself after 2 years of waging war in Ukraine, Feb 18 2024: International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database Feb 2024; Statista Economy & Politics, Feb 2024)

January 2024

1. Inflation Watch: Annual inflation for December came in at 3.4%.  Slightly up from November’s 3.1% buy much lower than June 2022’s peak of 9.1%.  It has been under 4% since May.  Shelter is still the biggest contributor – being responsible for over ½ of the inflation increase from last year.  Most analysts are predicting the Fed to cut rates around 3 times in 2024 with the first cut coming in the March – June timeframe.  (Source: CNBC, Consumer prices rose 0.3% in December, higher than expected, pushing the annual rate to 3.4%, Jan 12 2024)

2. And It’s Not Even April 20th: The Department of Health and Human Services has recommended that Marijuana be reclassified.  Currently it is a Schedule ! drug – the same as heroin. The report proposed classifying it as a Schedule III drug – on the same level as steroids and ketamine.  The group release a report to back up their recommendation.  You can read it here.  One of their main conclusions is that Cannabis Use Disorder – aka psychological dependence – ranges from 10%-20% in people who regularly use.  That rate is lower than tobacco, alcohol and opiates.  (Source: Forbes, FDA Review Finds Marijuana Eligible for Less Strict Classification, Jan 16 2024).

3. Let’s See What Changes: Half of the world’s population are heading to the polls at some point this year.  Some of the major countries include: UK, Tiwan, India, Mexico, Pakistan, Austria and of course US.  Technically Russia does, but I think the winner of that election was announced about 5 years ago.  There are a couple of articles out there discussing the major campaign issues in some of these races.  (Source: Over 50 countries go to the polls in 2024. The year will test even the most robust democracies Jan 10, 2024)(Source: New York Times, Elections and Disinformation Are Colliding Like Never Before in 2024 Jan 11 2024)

4. Suez Siesta: The attacks by the Houthi are making a noticeable impact.  Freight traffic through the Red Sea has dropped 65% since the attacks on shipping vessels started.  Over the past 4 years, the region has averaged 450,000 to 550,000 containers per month.  Even during Covid, that number held.  Since the start of the attacks, the number has dropped to around 200,000.  It has had a small impact on global trade, where it resulted in a 1.3% drop from November to December and has increased shipping times by around 20 days. (Source: Kiel Institute for the World Economy, Cargo volume in the Red Sea collapses, Jan11 2024) 

5. Great Minds…. Coinbase, during their testimony with the Fed stated that buying Crypto currencies on their exchange is closer to collecting Beanie Babies than investing in a stock or bond.  That has been one of my “go to” analogies on Crypto for years.  It is nice to see that I am not alone, even if they were slamming their own product to try and not fall under SEC oversight.  Coinbase’s argument is that buying a crypto currency is closer to buying a beanie baby than to buying into Beanie Baby LLC – no ownership.  The SEC’s stance is based on the 1946 Supreme Court decision that defined a security as "investment of money in a common enterprise with a reasonable expectation of profits to be derived from the efforts of others." (Source: Yahoo!Finance, Coinbase tells judge that buying crypto is just like collecting Beanie Babies, Jan 18 2024)

6. Who Wants a Benie Baby? It was 10 years in the making, but the first US Exchange Traded funds that invest and hold Bitcoins has begun trading.  On its initial trading day, $4.6B changed hands   The SEC approved 11 and 10 started trading on Jan 11th.  The funds act similar to the Gold ETFs, where the fund company holds Bitcoins directly on behalf of its shareholders There were ETFs and trust previously available that were crypto-related, but not ones approved by the SEC to hold Bitcoins directly.  (Source: Reuters, US bitcoin ETFs see $4.6 billion in volume in first day of trading, Jan 11, 2024)

7. Great Job Everybody: The overall market return for 2023 was good.  The after a bloody first have of the year, the Bond market bounced back enough to end the year with a good solid 5.5% return.  The S&P 500 had a great year. Full year return was 26%. This year, the acronym was the “ Magnificent 7” – Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Meta, Tesla and Nvidia. Those 7 stocks blew the door off with a combined return of 71%.  The other 493 stocks in the S&P 500 returned just 6%. The gains in 2023 have helped to erase the bad taste that 2022 left, when the S&P delivered a -18%.  (Source: Various including: Blackrock Student of the Market,  Slickcharts,  Fortune, Motley Fool, Jan 2024)

8. Bad News for Netflix and Chill’ers: Netflix has dramatically slowed their spending on original content. In 2023 they released 130 fewer original programs.  A decline of 16%.  They peaked their spending in2020 and 2021 when they targeted a new release every week.  Their goal now is to focus on Quality over Quantity.  They have dropped their goal down to 25-30 new shows per year.  Om  (Source Bloomberg, Netflix Cuts Over 100 Shows In Major Programming Shift Nov 2023

9. Tetris is Owned: The first human in history has officially defeated Tetris.  The final screen is called the Kill Screen, and before this week, only an AI computer had been able to reach the level.  Enter 13yr old Willis Gibson from Oklahoma.  (Source: business Insider Until now, only AI could beat Nintendo's Tetris. Enter this 13-year-old kid. Jan 3 2024)

10. One Way to Deal with Rising Ocean Level: Japan’s most recent earthquake that hit the Noto Peninsula on Jan 1 raised the coastline up 820 feet - more than 2 football fields. Entire ports are now land locked and will need to be rebuilt. (Source: Life Science,  Japan’s coastline moved over 800 feet after the devastating Jan 1 earthquake, Jan 15 2024)

And One for the Ultra Geeks...

11. What does it mean to have Consciousness: How do you explain consciousness? When does it occur? How does it occur?  These questions have plagued many scientific and psychological fields for eternity?  With the rise of AI, a new version of the question has been posed – can AI become conscious? What are the ramifications if they do?  Currently, there are dozens of theories around how the brain produces consciousness, but these theories are incredibly difficult to test.  A group of Neuroscientist and Philosophers have devised a way to test the theories.  Interesting read if you are so inclined. (Source: Nature,  The consciousness wars: can scientists ever agree on how the mind works? Jan 17 2024)

November 2023

1.  Poverty In America: Reading The Color of Money this month caused me to deep dive into poverty and homelessness.  I found some powerful charts – well worth burning some hours exploring  Some takeaways:  The largest category of people in poverty: Single Female households (31%).  Largest age group in poverty: Children under 18(15.3%).  Race with highest percent: American Indian/Alaska Native (24.3%) followed by Black (19.5%) (Source: Percent of people in poverty USAFacts Oct 27,2023)

2.  Stil Going… Like the Energizer Bunny, the Economy is still going.  In the face of inflation, raising rates, and global tensions, the US economy grew by 4.9% in the third quarter.  The biggest driver was consumer spending.  It jumped by 4% this quarter vs. a 0.8% jump in Q2.  Consumer spending is responsible for about 2/3rds of GDP.  Spending by businesses surged 8.5% and the Government spending increased 4.6%.  Analysts believe this may be the peak GDP for a while.  Numbers this strong may result in additional rate raises by the Fed.  (Source: CNBC US DGP Grew at 4.9% Oct 26, 2023)

3.  Legal Bullying: The Supreme Court is hearing arguments this week on a couple of cases involving social media blocking, but not in a way you would expect.  In the first case, two parents went on the Facebook and Twitter accounts of a couple of southern California school board members to repetitively criticize them.  The School Board members blocked the parents.  The parents have sued the board members for violating the parents First Amendment rights.  In the second case, a resident in Michigan took to the Facebook page of the City Manager to complain on his handling of the pandemic.  The city manager blocked the resident. The cases focus on if an account is considered personal or a channel for official communication. It also will address what actions are considered State Actions vs. private actions.  The outcome may have impact on corporate use of social media. (Source: SCOTUSblos Justices consider liability for officials who block critics on social media. Oct 30 2023)

4.  Oohh You Smell Nice: Unilever, the maker of Dove,  reported a 15% surge in deodorant sales.  They attribute much of the surge to workers returning to the office and increased socializing after lockdowns. (Source: The Guardian Surge in Unilever’s deodorants sales, Oct 26 2023)

5.  Shark Tank Effect: UBS portfolio advisory group has upped their recommended allocation for wealth investors toward private equity, private debt and real estate.  They have raised their recommendation by 50% (from 16% of the portfolio to 22%).  They cite long term performance, easier exits, and lower minimums as the driver behind the change. (Source: Barrons – Penta  The Super-Rich Look to Boost Allocations to Alternative Investments Oct 31 2023 )

6.  What is Going On? The infant death rate for the US has increased significantly increased this year for the first time in 20 years. The average rate increased 3% from 2021 to 2022. Death rates between 21 and 22 spiked 30% in Iowa and 15% in Missouri and Georgia. On average, the US death rate is 5.6/1,000 births.  If you review by race, it actually looks worse.  The average infant death rate for Black is 10.86.  For Native American it is 9.06.  To put that in perspective, North Korea – 10, Iran – 11, Nicaragua 11, Japan – 2, UK - 4 (Source: Wall Street Journal The Death Rate for Babies in America Rose for the First Time in 20 Years Nov 1 2023,  The World Bank, Mortality rate, infant , Oct 31 2023)

7.  But do they experience Man-o-Pause: Researchers have recently published a report documenting that Chimpanzees experience menopause starting around the age of 50.  This is only the second species to join the ranks of Menopause participants.  Whales are the other species.  (Source: Science.com Evidence for menopause in wild chimpanzees Sept 22, 2023).

8.  Unreal Estate: The cost to buy vs. rent a home is the most out of balance in the last 27 years.  According to CBRE, the average new monthly mortgage payments are now 52% more expensive than the typical ren on apartments.  The last time the buy premium was near this high was 2006 when it was 33% more expensive to build vs. buy.  Starting in 2006, the ratio decline consistently – bottoming out in 2012 when buying was 24% cheaper.  The climb this year has been even more dramatic when you factor in that the buy vs. rent ratio was at 0% in Oct of 2021.  (Source: CBS News, Home prices and rents have both soared. So which is the better deal? Oct 26, 2023)

9.  That’s a Big Unicorn: OpenAI, the parent of ChatGPT has a current valuation of $86B. 3X its valuation from the first of the year.  It trails both TikTok and SpaceX  for most valuable tech startups.  It attracted 100m users in its first 2months and has become the default description of AI (like Kleenex is to facial tissues). The CEO has said the company has no plans to go public l. (Source: Bloomberg ChatGPT Firm OpenAI Is in Talks to Sell Shares at $86B Valuation Oct 18, 23)

10.  Side Benefit from Lockdown: The CDC just released the Youth Riks Behavioral Survey results.  It looks at various trends and factors over the last 10 years.  Teens have been doing better as of late.  The study showed declines in all of the following areas: Teens who have Ever Had Sex, Had Sex with 4+ Different Partners,  Currently Drink Alcohol, or Currently Use Marijuana.  Unfortunately, there were increases in Hopelessness, Suicide, and Sexual Violence  (Source: CDC YRBS Data Summary & Trends 2023).

11.  The Quiet One: Other social media sites: Facebook X, Snapchat get all the press, but quietly, Pinterest is nearing 500m (482m) daily users.  That is 30% more than Twitter/X.  Usage in US and Canada has stabilized after a number of US users quit them in 2021, but growth in the rest of the world has been on a sprint since Q4 2021.  (Source: Yahoo! Finance, Pinterest Hits Record-Breaking Numbers Thanks to Gen Z ,  Oct 31 2023).

12.  A More Literate World: Our World in Data just released their deep dive into global education.  Here are a couple of takeaways – Literacy is still on the rise.  Back only in 1980, 44% of adults age 15+ could not read and write.  As of 2020, that number has dropped to 13.2%.  There are 5x as many Asians with no education than Africans.     The percentage of people who have completed high school (secondary education) has grown from 37% in 2000 to 58% by 2021.   (Source: Our World in Data –Literate and illiterate world population Oct 24 2023)

September 2023

1.  The One that Got Away: Ring Doorbell went on Shark Tank back in 2013 (called DoorBot at the time).  Every so often, and especially on it’s 10th anniversary of the episode, stories pop up about The Sharks’ biggest regrets. Only one investor wanted to play, but they wanted 10% of the company and 10% of sales.  The CEO spent the last $20k of their funds to appear on the show.  Although they didn’t walk away with an investor, the appearance increased the sales of their product by 5x.  5 years later, the company sold for somewhere between $1.2-$1.8B.  (Source: Whatever Happened to Doorbot After Shark Tank Season 5? Housedigest.com Sept 12,2023)

2.  But, Still Not an Appropriate Wedding Gift... Prenups appear to be breaking into mainstream.  A recent survey found that ½ of US adults were open to signing a prenup.  Up 8% from 2022.  41% of Gen Z and 47% of Millennials who are engaged or married stating that they have one in place.. An online site called HelloPrenup is projected to do 25x more prenups in 2023 over 2021. (Source: Axios.com America embraces prenups, Sept 24 2023)

3.  It’s That Time Again: No, we aren’t talking about fall, we are talking about government shutdown.  Congress has a deadline of Sept 30 to avert a federal government shutdown.  If a shutdown happens, it will be the 22nd time in the last 50 year.  Our longest shutdown lasted 34 days.  Right now, the focus is on 4 appropriations bills in the House.  (Source: Axios.com The history of government shutdowns and how long they last  Sept 24, 2023)

4.  Treatment May Be Coming: Combine Artificial Intelligence and a Failed Clinical Trial to come up with a new way to treat Depression. One difficulty in treating sever depression is the lack of objective results.  The trials primarily rely on patient self-reporting.  While working on a Deep Brain Stimulation treatment, the patients did not report a major improvement as compared to placebo.  Researchers applied AI to identify brain patterns associated with severe depression.  The model was able to distinguish between patients that responded to the treatment and those who didn’t with 90% accuracy.  The treatment still failed to produce long term changes, but researchers may have developed an objective model to effectively evaluate potential treatments.  (Source: Nature.com Is depression lifting? Sept 22, 2023).

5.  Housing Watch: With the increase in interest rates, one of the most common questions relates to the residential housing numbers for AZ.  On the positive side, permits are still going strong.  Permit request in Greater Phoenix for August was 44% higher than July and stronger than the second half of 2022.  Closings are lower for Arizona, New Home closings are down 1% year-to-date.  Resale closing are down 15%. Listings are the hardest hit.  July listing were down 33% over last year.   Nationwide, Existing single-family sales were down 1.4% while the median price increased 0.6%.  The National Association of Realters’ released the updated Housing Affordability Index.  It has dropped to its lowest level in nearly 40 years.  (July 1985 to be exact).  (Source: Elliott D Pollack Monday Morning Quarterback Sept 25, 2023 National Association of Realtors Housing Affordability Index Sept 13 2023)

6.  Inflation Watch: We believe we are near peak on interest rates.  The Fed paused the interest rate increase last week, but left the door open to another increase before the end of the year.  However, the impact of the rate raise is filtering through the economy.  Gas prices, grocery bills restaurant tabs, all are rising.  Property taxes have increased by 20-30% in most cities.  Household debt has increased by 17% since the beginning of the pandemic. Americans have been able to service the debt so far, but as student loans begin to kick back in, and increasing credit card interest rates, we will watch those numbers closely over the next quarter..  (Source: Monday Moring Quarterback, Elliott D Pollack Sep 25, 2023, Statista – https://www.statista.com/chart/19955/household-debt-balance-in-the-united-states/US Consumer Debt Piles Up to $17 Trillion, May 22 2023)

7.  Let’s See if He will Beat the Average: In November of 2022 Edwin Castro (31 yrs. old) won the $2.4B lottery.  He took the cash option (good choice), and after taxes, walked away with $628m.  The story talks about his >$765m in real estate he has purchased in the past year.   Let’s see how he does over the long haul.  Nearly 1/3 of all lottery winners declare bankruptcy and they are more likely than average Americans to declare bankruptcy within 3-5 years.  (Source: USA Today – Winner of $2.4 billion Powerball lottery purchases third home for $47 million Sept 13 2023, Next Gen Personal Finance Question of the Day: What percent of lottery winners eventually go bankrupt? Jan 1/ 2023).

8.  The Side Hustles Have It: According to the US Census Bureau a whopping 3.1m new business application have already been filed in 2023.  With 1/3rd of them expecting to have payroll and hiring employees.  This is the second highest start since 2013 (2021 being the only year with a higher number).   (Source: US Census Bureau –Business Formation Statistics Sept 18 2023)

9.  You Want Fries With That? The world of fast food is changing.  Digital sales – orders made on the McDonalds app or through partners like Uber currently make up 40% of its total sales.  Drive thru and app purchases are continuing to grow, while in-restaurant dining declines.  In response, McDonalds plans to launch smaller restaurants, reduce seating and even removing the self-service drink machines by 2032.  (Source: CNN.com McDonalds is getting rid of the self-serve soda machines. Sept 12 2023 – this also wins the title of Most Clickbait Article Title for the month)

10.  Instead of Casual Friday, Maybe We Will Launch Fancy Friday: 70% of US workers wear casual clothes on the job these days. 41% go with business casual.  31% wear casual street clothes (T-shirs and Jeans).  23% wear a uniform leaving a mere 3% who say wearing a business professional clothing is the norm.  This Gallup survey did NOT include self-employed.  (Source: Gallup Casual Work Attire Is the Norm for US Workers Sept 8 2023 )

11.  Just Don’t Book Titanic 2? Cruising is making a big comeback this year.  The Cruise line industry, devastated by Covid, is finally back.  In 2019, the industry pulled in 29.7m passengers.  During 2020 and 2021, those numbers dropped to 5.8m and 4.8m (Who actually took a cruise on purpose during those days?).  This year, the industry is estimating to record 31.5 m passengers. Welcome Back!  The extra cash will help the firms recover from prior years.  Carnival racked up operating losses of $4.4b last year and $7.1b in 2021. (Source Cruise Lines International Association - State of the Cruise Industry 2023,  May 2023).

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