January 31, 2024

Today's Topics

Hello! Today is the last day of January, a month marked by enacting positive changes for the new year, with a — surprisingly high 87% of people who made resolutions reportedly having kept at least some of them. Today we explore:

  • Realty check: America's housing market in one map.
  • Two-to-one: Flutter's US expansion is paying off.
  • Microsoft search: Bing hasn't unseated Google, but it's still a huge business.
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Realty check

With mortgage rates and house prices both somewhat inexplicably rising in recent years, the US housing market has been frozen. Owners haven’t been looking to remortgage at higher rates, and would-be buyers have struggled to make offers in one of the most unaffordable markets on record, sending home sales to their lowest levels in 28 years.

But, national price statistics tell only one part of the story, as the US isn’t just one market: it’s thousands.

The Home Value Index, released by internet portal Zillow, reports data on the value of a typical home across more than 3,000 US counties. Zillow’s index found that home prices rose 3.2% between Dec ‘22 and Dec ‘23, as the post-Covid housing bubble in Texas and other Southern states burst and competitive areas in the Northeast and Florida heated up. Indeed, if you’ve ever wanted to move to Austin, now might be the time, with prices reportedly down ~20% from their 2022 peak. Looking ahead, Zillow expects a similar hike in house prices this year, forecasting a 3.5% rise.

Thawing out

Despite rising house prices, however, there are some more signs of movement in the market. Redfin data showed that mortgage-purchase applications were up 8% this January from the end of last year, and the National Association of Realtors also reported that pending home sales climbed 8.3% month-over-month in December — the biggest increase since June 2020 — as higher consumer confidence and slightly lower mortgage rates begin to ripple through the housing market.

Two-to-one

Flutter Entertainment, one of the world's largest gambling companies and the owner of FanDuel, made its debut on the New York Stock Exchange on Monday.

The move makes Flutter a dual-listed company, trading on both London and New York’s markets — although the company is looking to pivot its primary listing over to the States "as soon as practicable". Making the US-centric transition would reflect the company’s broader ambitions to go all-in on the American market, which has boomed since the Supreme Court delegated the decision of legalizing sports betting to individual states in 2018.

Doubling down

Just a week after the Supreme Court ruling, Flutter’s management took a gamble, exchanging its own US assets — reportedly worth $612m — and $158m in cash for a ~60% stake in a newly combined entity with FanDuel. That bet has paid off. Sports betting has soared, with the US market now accounting for 43% of the company’s business, up from just 12% in 2020 — mirroring the rapid expansion of the industry as a whole, which has grown more than 5x to some ~$8 billion in just 3 years.

Although online sports gambling is yet to be legalized in some 26 states, several of these are expected to soon follow suit, strengthening the odds that Flutter will deepen its US expansion.

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Microsoft has been on a winning streak: having recently dethroned Apple as the world’s most valuable company, hitting a $3 trillion market cap, the tech behemoth has also just posted revenue of ~$62 billion for its second quarter, up 18% on last year — with AI boosting the company’s cloud unit significantly.

But, not all of its AI-related products have been hits.

Bada Bing, bada boom

A year ago, Microsoft executives proudly announced that ChatGPT would be infused into its products, starting with the company’s Bing search engine, which had historically lagged well behind its big tech peer Google. At a time when any mention of AI was enough to send pundits into a frenzy, the news was hailed as a seismic moment for the company. But, 12 months on, Bing hasn’t quite made the impact that execs were hoping for, with Bloomberg recently reporting that Bing’s share of the search market has barely budged, climbing just 1% to 3.4%.

Indeed, Microsoft’s Search & News Advertising (mostly comprised of revenue from Bing) reported quarterly revenues of $3.2bn, reflecting just 8% growth and slower than the progress made by the company overall. That’s a mild disappointment in an otherwise knock-out year; but, when you’re Microsoft, even one of your slowest growing divisions — with a product that’s derided by many — is enormous. Indeed, the $3.2bn Search & News Advertising figure recorded last quarter was still larger than the revenues of the NYT, Etsy, Peloton, Instacart, and Papa John’s combined.

More Data

• Ready, headset, go: Apple has already sold ~200,000 Vision Pro headsets via pre-order, according to a MacRumors report, as the long-awaited product officially launches on Friday.

• An explorer who embarked on an $11m expedition to find Amelia Earhart's airplane using sonar claims to have located it in the Pacific Ocean — almost 87 years after it vanished.

• Elon Musk announced that his Neuralink company successfully implanted a wireless brain chip in a human — using a robot to surgically place 64 flexible threads into the part that controls movement.

• A new map estimates that England's total 390,000 km of hedgerows could go around the Earth nearly 10x if lined end-to-end.

Hi-Viz

• Speak like a local: international idioms from a multilingual Urban Dictionary.

Off the charts: Which TV show was the most streamed series of 2023, racking up ~58 billion viewing minutes last year, despite premiering nearly 13 years ago? [Answer below].

Answer here.

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