May 8, 2023

Today's Topics

Hello! After 1132 days, the World Health Organization officially declared an end to the COVID global health emergency on Friday. Today we explore:

  • Buffett vs. the market: Charting 58 years of Berkshire Hathaway's returns.
  • What controversy? Ticketmaster parent company Live Nation is having a big year so far.
  • Milestone: The unemployment rate for Black Americans has reached a new low.
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Over the weekend, thousands of people descended on Omaha, Nebraska to hear two nonagenarians talk shop. The shop, in this case, is the $700bn+ conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway — still run by 92-year-old CEO Warren Buffett and his business partner Charlie Munger, who is just 8 months away from celebrating his 100th birthday.

Often dubbed the “woodstock of capitalism”, the annual Berkshire shareholder meeting is an event like no other, as Warren and Charlie field questions on the economy, their investments and even some more philosophical questions.

Buffetting the odds

This year’s meeting comes off the back of a good year for Berkshire, as the company outperformed the S&P 500 Index by some 22%. That’s Berkshire's best market-relative year since 2007, although it remains a far cry from the 30-100% outperformance that was common in the early days. Buffett and co. were able to be more nimble with their investments 40 years ago — when they were “only” managing millions of dollars. Now that the sums involved are billions, or tens of billions, there are only so many places to put that kind of cash.

One of those places has been Apple, a company that Berkshire now owns ~6% of, after investing in 2016. That decision has been a masterstroke, as Buffett calls Apple simply a “better” business than pretty much any other it owns, praise that CEO Tim Cook, who was in attendance, would have appreciated. The rest of the company’s sprawling interests range from insurance and railroads to Coca-Cola and candies, though it's been the conglomerate's oil investments that have been paying off in the last year or so.

As always, Buffett’s longstanding view in the United States was on show, saying that if he had his time again, he would still choose to be born in the USA. His other steadfast belief, that people doing "dumb things" creates opportunities, was just as intact.

Getting the band back together

In a clear sign that appetite for in-person music and entertainment events is more than back to normal, Live Nation Entertainment has announced a 73% rise in revenue, taking the company’s sales to a record $3.1 billion in the first quarter and sending shares up 15% on Friday.

The news comes at a tumultuous time for Live Nation, with Taylor Swift, The Cure's Robert Smith and the Senate all taking the company’s Ticketmaster platform to task in recent months over botched ticket sales, additional fees, and competition concerns.


Fans have been seemingly undeterred — or unaware — of the various charges against the concert-promoting, ticket-selling giant. Indeed, an estimated 19.5 million gig-goers attended Live Nation events in Q1. That’s the company’s best start to a year on record, up some 30% on the same period from 2019 and nearly twice as much as 2022’s first quarter, with all of the concert promoter’s markets now open for the first time in 3 years.

With live music reportedly the number 1 leisure category global consumers currently expect to pay more for, Live Nation is gearing up for what it says could be the “biggest year of live music ever”. If those tickets are bought through Live Nation platforms, that could mean a record haul for the company which, as we discussed in November, makes most of its profit — but only a fraction of its sales — from ticketing revenues.

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New data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that the unemployment rate for Black workers in the US fell to a record low in April, dropping to 4.7% — the first time the figure has fallen below 5% in recorded history.

That follows the wider American unemployment rate, similarly sitting at a multi-decade low of 3.4%. It also means that the gap between the Black and white unemployment rate narrowed to 1.6%, the smallest it’s been since records began in the 1970s. The new lows have been underpinned by some exiting the labor force, however, according to Bloomberg analysis.

Indeed, while the new sub-5 figure is down a whopping 12.1% from its peak back in May 2020, the labor force participation rate also slipped by more than a percentage point from the month before. Indeed, 63% of Black Americans were currently employed or looking for work in April, compared to 64.1% the month before.

Go deeper: explore the BLS’s latest job report here.

More Data

• The SEC has just paid out its largest-ever award to a whistleblower, a sum just shy of $279 million. That more than doubles the previous record, of $114 million, awarded in October 2020.

• German engineers are accidentally cutting 100,000 cables a year, because the country collectively doesn't know exactly where it's buried its millions of miles of cables and pipes.

• Ben, of Ben & Jerry's fame, is going solo with a cannabis business that will donate 100% of its profits to help fight racial injustice brought about by the war on drugs.

Twitter has so far convinced ~640,000 users to sign up to pay for Twitter Blue.


• 48% of Americans now worry about the safety of their banked cash, 3% more than in 2008.

• Watch a chatbot learn to write using Jane Austen, Shakespeare, or Star Trek for inspiration with this interactive piece from the NYT.

Off the charts: Which company were we charting below? Hint: A movie about its rise and fall is coming out in the next week. [Answer below].Answer here.

Answer here.

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