September 11, 2023

Today's Topics

Today, millions of Americans reflect on the September 11 attacks and remember the lives lost and sacrifices made on that morning 22 years ago. Our charts today explore:

  • Long-awaited delivery: Instacart's IPO is here.
  • IRS audits: Millionaires are in the crosshairs.
  • Thirsty: Microsoft's water usage was up 34% last year.
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A long-awaited delivery

Instacart is — finally — gearing up to make its debut on the public market, with the grocery delivery company targeting a valuation range of $8.6bn to $9.3bn, a significant discount from its lofty $39bn price tag in March 2021.

Instacart’s impending IPO, along with listings for chip-designer Arm and marketing firm Klaviyo, is poised to serve as a major litmus test for the US market after an almost two-year freeze-out that’s seen high-profile private tech companies like Stripe, Canva and Reddit, adopt a “wait and see” approach to timing their public market debuts.

Pixel-perfect produce

Apoorva Mehta, a former supply chain engineer at Amazon, tested nearly 20 different services before finding his niche with Instacart in 2012. The company initially took root in San Francisco, but grew quickly to other US cities, before expanding into Canada in 2017. Despite losing key investor support from Whole Foods in 2018 — which had been responsible for ~10% of Instacart’s sales — the company could rely on major partnerships with Costco and Kroger. By 2019, Instacart was shipping $5bn+ worth of groceries a year. Then Covid hit.

With lockdowns and restrictions, Instacart became a sensation, and daily app downloads skyrocketed an astonishing 218% in March 2020. That propelled Instacart to new heights, eventually reaching its peak valuation of $39bn, trailing only SpaceX as the most valuable US-based unicorn. However, as the era of social distancing began to wane, and VC funding began to dry up, Instacart’s $39bn valuation passed its use-by date.

The IRS is cracking down on the wealthiest taxpayers, announcing on Friday that the agency will pursue 1,600 millionaires who owe at least $250k each in overdue taxes, with “dozens” of revenue officers focusing on the millionaires who haven’t coughed up in full.

Death and taxes

Nothing is certain except death and taxes, or so the saying goes, but in the last decade or so, your chance of being audited by the IRS has dropped precipitously — particularly if you’re a millionaire. In 2012, the IRS carefully combed through the tax affairs of some 41,000 individuals who had reported more than $1 million in earnings. In 2019, however, just ~14,000 got the same treatment, and in 2020 the number fell to a low of 11,331.

What are my chances?

It's not just millionaires that are getting audited less — rates have dropped across the board since 2010 as the number of IRS agents fell from ~14,700 in 2010 to just 8,350 in 2020. All told, the agency audited 3.8 tax returns out of every 1,000 in 2022, giving the typical citizen a 0.38% chance of being audited. Although the rates have fallen, millionaires were still the most likely to get "looked into", with 2.4% of those earning $1m+ getting audited.

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Thirst bots

Until someone finds a better way to contextualize large volumes of liquid, we’ll put it like this: in 2022, Microsoft consumed enough water to fill over 2,500 Olympic-sized swimming pools as it continued to fuel and cool its growing stable of AI tools and projects.

Every time you ask the ChatGPT-powered Bing to inspire you with recipe ideas — which honestly might not be that often — it’s thirsty work for the bot. Researchers estimate that, owing to the cooling processes required for the hardware, ChatGPT almost guzzles a full 16-oz bottle of water for every 5-50 prompts it’s fed.

Water hoarding

Microsoft, along with a growing list of companies like Meta and Alphabet, has set 2030 as a deadline for restoring more water to the environment than it consumes for operations, otherwise known as being “water positive”. However, building and maintaining models like the Microsoft-backed GPT-4 requires a lot of computing and hardware, which produces a lot of energy and heat... and in turn requires a lot of water to cool systems within data centers so they don't overheat, resulting in the sort of consumption MSFT saw last year.

In 2022, the company’s water use was up 34% from the year before, with ~6.4 million cubic meters — or 1.7 billion gallons — consumed. That figure becomes even more stark when compared to Microsoft’s usage in 2017, just 5 years prior, when the company sunk ~1.95 million cubic meters of water, a whopping 228% less.

More Data

• JM Smucker wants to run its Uncrustables playbook again, as the company announces plans to buy Twinkies-maker Hostess Brands for $5.6bn.

• Suits and ties are out — only 3% of workers wear business professional outfits anymore, with far more opting for the casual look.

Beyoncé's request that those going to the Renaissance Tour on her birthday wear silver sent Etsy searches for appropriate attire up by 25%.

Yogurt company Chobani’s search for a ghostwriter for its CEO’s LinkedIn posts, paying $278,000 a year, has now been filled.

Hi-Viz

• Charting the biggest Hollywood hits and flops of 2023 so far.

Off the charts: Which 20-year-old pop sensation’s second album Guts, released on Friday to rave reviews, were we charting about back in 2021 as her debut single shattered records? [Answer below].

Answer here.

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