January 26, 2024

Today's Topics

Good morning! PayPal's CEO promised to "shock" the world on the company's innovation day... but the AI product launch fell flat, with shares falling as much as 6% during trading yesterday. Today we explore:

  • Entrepreneurs, unleashed: New businesses are booming.
  • Capital punishment: America's severest penalty has sparked debate once again.
  • The Mac at 40: Apple's iconic PC enters a new decade.
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Hustle culture

A swathe of fledgling entrepreneurs have taken the plunge and set up their own companies, with review site Yelp counting a record number of new business openings last year. All told, Yelp tallied a total of 762,200 new ventures in 2023, representing a 20% uptick on 2022.

The data confirms a similar finding from analysis of governmental filings, which has revealed a pandemic-inspired "entrepreneurship boom", as an increasing number of Americans take their economic fates into their own hands.

Golden handcuffs

The Yelp report categorizes the new businesses by industry, finding a particular boom in the home services sector, with hundreds of new endeavors set up across carpentry (up 54%), masonry and concrete services (up 40%), and contractors (up 33%). Those new companies might be looking to capitalize on the “golden handcuff” phenomenon, as sky-high mortgage rates and property prices leave people investing in their current homes, rather than moving to new ones.

Elsewhere, the leisure sector also saw a resurgence, with the number of new hotels and travel services up 28% on last year and restaurant openings up 10%, with major boosts for creperies and hot pot spots, which were up 63% and 53%, respectively.

Related reading: Yesterday's better-than-expected 3.3% US GDP growth and rising consumer sentiment suggests the US economy is holding up well.

Capital punishment

The US Supreme Court declined to block the execution of an Alabama death row inmate using nitrogen gas, making Kenneth Eugene Smith, who was convicted of murder in 1989, the first American to be executed by the untested method on Thursday evening.

Alabama had previously tried to execute Smith by lethal injection 2 years ago, but officials failed to locate a vein before the warrant expired. Now, a nationwide debate has been sparked about whether using nitrogen asphyxiation is ethical. The UN had called on Alabama to stop the execution, warning that it might cause "grave suffering".

While nitrogen makes up 78% of the air we breathe, when inhaled at a high concentration it causes cell breakdown due to oxygen depletion. As the drugs used in lethal injections have become harder to source due to pharmaceutical sales restrictions, Alabama is 1 of 3 states where using the inert gas has been legalized, alongside Oklahoma and Mississippi; however, a formal execution protocol was only established last August.

More broadly, in part due to the pitfalls of the widely-used injection method, America’s death row has shrunk considerably since the turn of the century: the execution-awaiting inmate population sank from 3,593 in 2000 to 2,331 in 2022, according to data from the Death Penalty Information Center. The actual number of executions has also declined: in 1999, there were 98 executions, a figure that has fallen to an average of ~18 in the last 5 years, although there are 26 executions scheduled in the US this year.

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Feeling old yet?

On Wednesday, the Apple Mac, or Macintosh as it was known until circa ‘99, officially hit 40 years old — a milestone for the revolutionary personal computer that will undoubtedly have a few of its early adopters feeling their age this week.

The Steve Jobs-developed Apple Macintosh 128K hit stores on January 24th, 1984, branded as a means to transform computing from a pursuit reserved for experts to a “computer for the rest of us”, with an iconic and Orwellian Super Bowl ad directed by Ridley Scott airing 2 days before the launch.

Small Mac

Apple’s longest-running product has been on quite a journey since that first computer, as different iterations of the Mac have attracted wide-ranging audiences, from college students to rival company CEOs. Today, the Mac range is obviously not a core focus like the iPhone, but the category remains crucial for maintaining the all-important ecosystem, ensuring all of your Apple devices integrate seamlessly. And, while it's easy to dismiss 8% of Apple’s revenue on paper, Macs still represents an eye-watering $29bn in sales.

The earliest Mac set customers back $2,495 at the time — or some ~$7,000 in today’s money — suggesting there may be a substantial future for Apple’s new Vision Pro, which starts at $3,499.

More Data

• It’s been a supersized week for fast food fans, with McDonald’s announcing the return of the 4-patty Double Big Mac and Subway launching a new range of foot-long snacks.

Klarna, the popular Swedish fintech company, is rolling out a $7.99 subscription model for a premium version of its buy-now-pay-later plan, essentially turning it into a pay-monthly-buy-now-pay-later service.

• Stallone, Statham, Shazam, and Winnie the Pooh: the stars and movies that are up for the worst in cinema awards at this year’s Razzies.

Microsoft is laying off some 1,900 Activision Blizzard and Xbox employees, ~8% of its entire gaming division.

• The Ingenuity chopper — or “the little helicopter that could”, as one NASA chief put it — has flown for the final time after sustaining damage on its historic 3-year Mars mission.

Hi-Viz

• Finale countdown: a statistical analysis of the TV shows that did (and didn’t) stick the landing.

Off the charts: Union membership has fallen again, but what percentage of American workers in the private sector belong to a union? [Answer below].

Answer here.

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