October 11, 2023

Today's Topics

Good morning. Crypto is in the headlines, not just because of the high-profile case on Sam Bankman-Fried, but because Hamas reportedly used the digital currency to raise funds in the lead-up to its attack. Today we're exploring:

  • Freight rates: Shipping costs have collapsed this year.
  • Stablecoin: A brief history of Bitcoin reveals that 2023 is its least volatile year yet.
  • Neither: A third party option is an increasing preference for voters.
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Ship it!

If you’ve been planning on moving continents — and shipping all of your possessions with you — now is the time, as container shipment prices from China to the US and Northern Europe have fallen by ~90% since the start of 2022.

Major freight companies have been forced to cancel voyages as consumers shift their spending towards services rather than splurging on bulky furniture or appliances as they did during the pandemic, when shipping a 40-foot container from China to the US West Coast cost over $20,000. Today, according to data from the Shanghai Containerized Freight Index, as reported by the WSJ, the figure is closer to $3,000.

Freight rates

It’s hard to overstate the importance of the shipping industry, as approximately 95% of the world’s manufactured goods are moved by container ships. With rates tumbling since 2022, the Fed was already acknowledging the “freight recession” in May, and things have only worsened since for shipping giants like AP Moller-Maersk, with no sign of the usual late summer surge when retailers like Amazon and Walmart typically stock up ahead of the year-end shopping spree.

FTX effects

Sam Bankman-Fried, the founder of the defunct crypto-exchange FTX, is now deep into his fraud trial, with his ex-partner-turned-star-witness Caroline Ellison taking the stand to testify against him yesterday. Ellison, the former CEO of the FTX-affiliated crypto hedge fund Alameda Research, accused Bankman-Fried of orchestrating the siphoning of billions of dollars in customer deposits from FTX into Alameda to conceal losses.

Amidst the scandalous courtroom drama, the release of Michael Lewis's book on the subject, and the news out this week that Hamas has used digital currencies to fund its war machine, the world of crypto has suddenly been thrust back into the spotlight, after what had been a relatively subdued 2023.

Bitcoin is... quite stable?

For the most prominent cryptocurrency, the chaos of the 2020-2022 era seems long gone. Bitcoin, which was often criticized for being too volatile, hasn’t seen a daily gain or loss of more than 10% this year. That's in stark contrast to 2022 and 2021 when it swung outside this range 9 and 11 times, respectively. All told, the price of Bitcoin has risen more than 60% this year, despite the continued crackdown on major exchanges such as Binance and Coinbase.

But, even though Bitcoin is looking a little bit more stable, enthusiasm for the sector more broadly looks to have vanished, with venture capital funding for crypto companies and projects falling to a 3-year low.

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Over the past couple of weeks, two candidates — Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Cornel West — have both announced that they'll be running as independents in the 2024 presidential election.

More options

The news comes after a poll from Gallup, published on October 4th, found that 63% of respondents believed that the US political system would benefit from a third major party — the highest figure for the last 20 years — as the Republican and Democrat campaigns ramp up ahead of the November 2024 election.

Interestingly, this sentiment isn't entirely new 50-60% of US adults have typically expressed a similar desire for a third party, although no such party has stepped forward as a credible contender. In fact, the last time a third party truly emerged was over 165 years ago when the Republican Party supplanted the Whigs in what political historians call a realigning election. Ever since then, however, it’s strictly been a two-horse race.

More Data

Prada x NASA: the fashion giant is helping to design spacesuits for the moon-bound 2025 Artemis III mission.

ExxonMobil has won its prize, signing a $60bn agreement to acquire Pioneer Natural Resources this morning — see our chart on ExxonMobil from Friday for context.

• A 2,749 pound pumpkin has claimed the top prize at the 50th World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off.


• Early birds: charting the rise of the 5pm dinner reservation.

Off the charts: The puck has dropped on the latest NHL season — but which aspect of ice hockey is becoming a rarity, disappearing from most games in recent years? [Answer below].

Answer here.

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