May 26, 2023

Today's Topics

Hello! Here’s a list of the worst times to travel this Memorial Day weekend. If your plans are already set in stone, bad luck. Enjoy the break, however you're spending it. Today we explore:

  • Participation: Charting 60+ years of women in the workforce.
  • Fashion cycle: Abercrombie is trying to mount a comeback.
  • Counting sheep: New Zealand's sheep-to-human ratio has dropped.
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Record level

During the pandemic, the female labor force shrunk to levels not seen for 5 years, causing some to worry that the unemployment rate for women may not recover, with talks of the great “she-cession” continuing into 2022.

April data from the BLS, however, suggests that the she-cession has faded. That’s due in large part to prime working age women, defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as those aged 25-54, becoming more active in the labor force, with 77.5% of that cohort now in work or seeking employment — the highest number on record.

There's a multitude of possible explanations for the record figure, from economic necessity caused by inflation, to the still-warm labor market, to long-term societal shifts, and the rise of flexible work post-pandemic. That last factor has particularly benefitted working mothers — 71.6% of women with children under 18 now participate in the US labor force, well up from February 2020 figures, as many feel more enabled to juggle home and work responsibilities.

The 77.5% participation figure reflects decades of change in the US workforce. At the start of 1960, just over 42% of women aged 25-54 were in the labor force, compared to more than 97% of all men of the same age. That gap has narrowed in the 60 years since, hitting its slimmest point last August when the prime-age male participation rate only outweighed the female equivalent by 11.5%.

Rags & riches

Abercrombie & Fitch has been in the fashion wilderness for more than a decade, but this week the company, which also owns Hollister, had some good news to report as sales rose 3% year-over-year. That helped A&F ring up a profit in the quarter, sending shares soaring 31% on Wednesday, the second-best day in Abercrombie’s 27 years as a public company.

At one time the epitome of cool for millennial teenagers, Abercrombie’s brands have been somewhat lost over the last decade, as detailed in last year’s Netflix documentary White Hot. Changing consumer tastes, backlash against the company's elitist attitudes — the CEO once said the company was actively only targeting the “good-looking, cool kids” — as well as racial and religious discrimination lawsuits, hurt sales. All of that came alongside a shift in buying habits, as shoppers moved online. Interestingly, the $836m of sales Abercrombie reported in its latest quarter is almost exactly the same as the $836.7m that the once mall-centric company managed 11 years ago — adjusted for inflation that figure would be down 27%.

Under the new leadership of Fran Horowitz, and with a fresh creative direction, the brand has undergone a makeover. The iconic moose motif was dropped and the company started an effort to appeal to a broader audience, expanding its range of sizes beyond L, switching the "models" title for store employees to "brand representatives", ditching its shirtless male greeters, closing underperforming stores, and leaning into logo-free, casual clothing ranges. So far, it’s working. Sales for the Abercrombie & Fitch brand specifically were up 14% in the most recent quarter.

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The fallen flock

New Zealand’s famed sheep-to-human ratio fell to a new low in 2022, dropping under 5:1 for the first time since national flock figures were first recorded in the 1850s — some way down from when the wooly creatures would regularly outnumber humans by over 20x in the nation.

Last year, the number of sheep in New Zealand fell to 25.3 million, a ~400k drop from the year before, while its (human) population experienced growth not seen since before the pandemic. This is semi-concerning news for anyone whose knowledge of New Zealand largely centers around this trivia, Lord of the Rings filming locations, Jacinda Ardern, and the All Blacks.

Counting sheep

However, a chief from the organization behind the latest data was quick to point out that the nation still retains its world-leading status on the measure, noting that “Australia currently has three times as many sheep… though their ratio is only around three sheep to every Aussie”.

New Zealand was in its peak-sheep era in the early 1980s, when the wooly number sat at 70 million and the human population was around 3.2 million. At the height of the ratio, there were enough for New Zealanders to shepherd flocks of over 22 each. With the wool industry in decline for decades — the price nearly halved from 2013-21 — farmers are reportedly looking to the greener pastures of forestry to make money, cutting the ratio dramatically.

More Data

New York is reportedly sinking under the 1.68 trillion pound weight of its skyscrapers.

• Misguidance: company earnings forecasts are wrong around 70% of the time.

• Cash seems to be back in fashion, with 69% of Gen Z reporting that they’re using notes and coins more than they were 12 months ago.

S&P 500 heavyweights Microsoft and Apple have added over $1 trillion to their collective market value this year, accounting for nearly 50% of total gains for the index.


• Explore the transformation digital nomads from the US are having on places around the world.

• Visualizing some of the 4,708 different household types in the US.

Quick cut: Chip giant Nvidia had a bumper day yesterday, adding billions in market cap on the back of a strong rise in demand due to AI. But how many "Zooms" worth of market cap did Nvidia add in a single day?

Answer here.

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