March 3, 2023

Today's Topics

Hello! More than 200,000 people opened Monday's newsletter, the first time we've hit that milestone. Truly, thank you all for reading (or at least looking at the charts). Today we're exploring:

  • Split bill: Buy now, pay later giant Klarna is struggling.
  • 50-50: US offices are half full (empty).
  • Off track: How common are train derailments?
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This week, “buy now, pay later” (BNPL) company Klarna announced its losses had deepened a further 47% on the year prior, reporting a cool $1 billion loss for 2022.

Lose now, profit later(?)

Klarna competes in the increasingly crowded BNPL space. For those unfamiliar, such services allow almost anyone to pay for things in instalments. A new TV. Clothes. Makeup. Vacations. Pretty much anything can be BNPL'd — even a $12 vodka cranberry can be split over 4 payments if you really want.

By primarily making money from the merchant, rather than charging interest to the customer, Klarna offers an “alternative” to the fees often charged by credit card providers. After raising funding at a $5.5bn valuation in 2019, Klarna rode the pandemic wave, raising billions of dollars at increasingly eye-watering valuations, with reports in Feb ‘22 of a potential $60bn valuation.

But, like so many startups, Klarna has had to pull the handbrake. It's slowed down on its aggressive expansion into the US, as investor sentiment turned against fast-growing, cash-burning businesses, towards more sustainable (read: profitable) business models. The company maintains that it’s on course to get back into the black, but investors have lost confidence. Since its peak, Klarna has been forced back to the negotiating table at lower and lower valuations — most recently raising $800m at a $6.7bn valuation.

Office half full

3 years on from the start of the pandemic, American workers seem to be half-in-half-out, with US office occupancy hovering around the 50% mark, per data on office turnstile entries from Kastle Systems.

Interestingly, the US is quite unique in that fact, with other parts of the world heading back to the office in much greater numbers. As noted in the WSJ, office occupancy in Europe and the Middle East is back to 70-90%, while occupancy in some Asian cities is back towards 100%.

Workplace consultants have posited that one reason Americans have been more reluctant to resume their commute could simply be an issue of literal work space. Indeed, American homes tend to be larger relative to many European and Asian countries, with an average of 2.4 rooms per person in the US, making home-working more comfortable. Another reason could be the particularly tight labor market in the US, which has given employees more bargaining power to push for flexible arrangements.

Office half empty

While most workers say they prefer at least the option to work remotely, the low rate of office occupancy has damaged the economies of many inner cities. Local businesses in metropolitan areas like New York and San Francisco are struggling to bounce back, local authorities are missing the tax revenue, and mass transit systems like trains and buses in many major cities are still running nowhere near capacity.

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Emergency services are monitoring the fallout from a train derailment earlier this week in Florida after a 30,000-gallon tanker carrying propane gas was found on its side.

While officials said that there appeared to be “no leakage at this time”, the situation is drawing comparisons with the East Palestine derailment in early February, with the hazardous extent and health concerns caused by that incident still unknown. The Florida derailment also came on the same day as a tragic incident in Greece, where a collision between a freight and passenger train claimed the lives of 57 people.

Tracking the data

With recent incidents in Ohio, South Carolina, Texas and now Florida, it may feel like the number of derailments in the US has suddenly increased — but they have actually been a common phenomenon for years.

Indeed, the Federal Railroad Administration, which has been monitoring annual train accidents across America since 1975, has recorded more than 12,500 derailments in the last decade alone. That’s equivalent to some 21 trains veering off track every single week.

Fortunately, most of those incidents don’t cause a loss of life, or spill toxic material over an entire town. In fact, derailment numbers in general have fallen, roughly halving since 2000.

More Data

TikTok is so addictive that the company itself is trying to limit the amount of scrolling by under 18s — requiring the re-entry of passwords after 60 minutes on the app.

Aston Martin losses more than doubled last year to £495m, though shares surged 14% on promise of profitability this year.

• The moon could be getting its own time zone, with each moon day potentially lasting as long as 29.5 Earth days.


• An interesting exploration on how hit songs are rediscovered decades later.

• Great data viz on why California is still in drought, despite recent storms and snowfall.

Off the charts: A blaze tore through a part-constructed skyscraper in which Chinese city? Hint: it has nearly 200 more skyscrapers than anywhere else in the world. [Answer below].

Answer here.

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