No shortage of Christmas trees this year, but donât expect any red-tag deals
Chimney Pond Farms in Glenville, North Carolina is preparing for the Christmas season by ensuring an adequate supply of Christmas trees. However, the cost of real Christmas trees is increasing due to inflation and rising input costs for growers. Despite this, farms are trying to absorb the cost increases themselves rather than passing them on to customers. The retail price of Christmas trees may vary depending on the retailer's overhead costs and quantities available. Last year, the median retail price of a Christmas tree was $80, but this year's price increases may be milder due to moderated inflation. Chimney Pond Farm is taking measures to absorb cost increases and provide a memorable Christmas experience for their customers. In addition to selling trees, the farm also serves as a wedding venue to generate additional income.
Hollywood box office sales slumped in November
Movie theaters had a disappointing November as several highly anticipated films failed to generate significant box office sales. Domestic theaters earned $553.6 million, a 12% decline from the previous year and significantly lower than pre-pandemic levels. The Thanksgiving holiday corridor also underperformed, grossing $173 million compared to the average of $270 million before 2020. The films "The Marvels" and "Wish" were expected to perform better based on the success of previous Marvel Cinematic Universe and Disney animated films during the Thanksgiving period. However, these movies, along with "The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes" and "Trolls Band Together," potentially competed for the same female audience. Other factors contributing to the disappointing box office included the SAG-AFTRA strike and the delay of the sci-fi blockbuster "Dune: Part Two." Marvel's offering last year, "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever," had a strong opening, but this year "The Marvels" only grossed $46 million. "The Hunger Games" was the top movie over Thanksgiving weekend but still fell short of previous installments. The underperformance in November puts pressure on December, with the delayed "Ghostbusters" sequel and potentially lower box office revenue for "Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom." Despite the slump, domestic theaters have earned $8.26 billion this year, close to expectations for the full year. The industry hopes that the remaining films in 2023 will perform well and carry the momentum into 2024.
TikTokâs recent court victories show just how hard it might be to ban the app
TikTok has recently won two court victories that may make it more difficult for its critics to restrict its operations. In Indiana, a state judge dismissed a lawsuit against TikTok, while in Montana, a federal judge blocked a law that would have banned the app statewide. Both cases highlight the failure of efforts to regulate TikTok, as they did not comply with constitutional requirements or establish jurisdiction. These outcomes reveal the challenges policymakers face in addressing TikTok's alleged problems. Concerns about TikTok's ties to China have led to calls for a ban in the US, but most attempts have been challenged in court. Despite these controversies, TikTok continues to grow its user base and support content creators. The recent court rulings emphasize that state-level efforts have exceeded their authority and raise significant limitations on targeting TikTok. As a result, policymakers should recognize the legal hurdles they must overcome. The judges' opinions were clear and well-reasoned, focusing on legal principles rather than the political arguments surrounding TikTok. The Montana injunction, in particular, provides a strong argument for other judges reviewing similar cases. However, the impact of the Indiana decision may be limited due to the nature of state court rulings and the variation in state laws.
Target date funds: What are they and are they right for you?
If you have a 401(k) plan at work, you likely have the choice to invest in a target date fund, which is a portfolio designed to match your anticipated retirement date. A recent analysis found that the majority of plans offer target date funds and many participants have money invested in them. Target date funds typically consist of a mix of stocks and bonds and their allocation becomes more conservative as retirement approaches. These funds often include index funds and are periodically rebalanced to maintain the desired allocation. Before investing in a target date fund, it's important to review its stated mission, allocation, future glide path, and expense ratio. Additionally, consider your own risk tolerance and investment goals. For those who prefer a hands-off approach to investing, target date funds can be a good option. However, if you're willing to actively manage your portfolio and take more risks, you may find target date funds too limiting.
âBroken windowâ stickers for Tesla Cybertruck quickly sell out
Tesla is selling a window sticker that mimics the cracked windows from the original 2019 Cybertruck unveiling. The sticker, which is designed to fit the Cybertruck's unique window shape, quickly sold out. It costs $55 and is placed on the back-seat window of the driver's side. The sticker does not cover the front driver's side window, which also cracked during the demonstration. Other accessories for the Cybertruck, such as a tailgate ramp and cargo rails, are available on the Tesla website. The truck itself starts at $61,000 for a two-wheel-drive version and goes up to over $100,000 for a four-wheel-drive high-performance model.
Amazon taps SpaceX for satellite launch even though Jeff Bezos has his own rocket company
Amazon has reached an agreement with its competitor, SpaceX, to launch internet satellites. Despite a history of public competition and social media sparring between Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, it is not uncommon for rivals in the rocket launch industry to collaborate. Amazon's satellite launches will be conducted using SpaceX's Falcon 9 rockets, with the first launch expected in mid-2025. This move allows Amazon to compete with SpaceX's Starlink service, which already has thousands of satellites in orbit. Amazon currently has two prototype satellites in space, and it plans to begin beta testing its internet service with customers in late 2024.
Fed Chair Powell: Too early to say when to expect rate cuts
Federal Reserve Chair Powell spoke at Spelman College in Atlanta, cautioning against assuming that the Fed is finished raising interest rates. He stated that the Fed is proceeding carefully to avoid both under- and over-tightening monetary policy. Powell's comments come ahead of the upcoming policy meeting, where it is expected that interest rates will remain steady. While investors anticipate rate cuts next year, Powell and other officials have not indicated any plans for such cuts. Lowering interest rates would benefit the struggling US housing market and lead to lower mortgage rates. The Fed's actions influence mortgage rates as they affect the yield on the 10-year US Treasury note. Central bank officials are relieved by the recent easing of inflation and consumer spending. However, Powell did not rule out the possibility of one more rate hike if inflation proves to be more persistent than expected. Powell emphasized the uncertainty surrounding the current economic situation and the need for cautious decision-making. He also noted that public expectations of future inflation remain stable, except for a recent survey that showed increased long-run inflation expectations. Other Fed officials have acknowledged the conditions for inflation to continue to decline, but some remain skeptical and believe that further policy tightening may be necessary.
Target is taking booze-less spirits mainstream
Target is partnering with Sèchey, an online retailer that sells alcohol-free spirits and wines, to bring popular non-alcoholic drink brands to 450 Target stores across the US. These brands include Kin Euphorics, De Soi, NOPE, Ghia, and Surely. Target aims to offer these drinks to customers for the holiday season and beyond. The rise in demand for non-alcoholic beverages is driven by consumers seeking elevated options and emphasizing wellness. Molson Coors also launched a zero-proof canned cocktail called Roxie in response to customers moderating their alcohol intake. Katy Perry's De Soi was created as an alternative for when she took breaks from drinking while touring or writing music. Perry aims to sell an empowering product that provides clarity and control. De Soi has expanded its presence by adding Whole Foods and Sprouts supermarkets as retailers, with expectations of doubling sales in 2024.
The world may be close to getting its first cargo ship that emits almost no carbon dioxide
According to fertilizer producer Yara International, the world's first cargo ship with minimal planet-heating pollution is expected to be launched in 2026. The ship, called Yara Eyde, will primarily utilize clean ammonia and emit 95% less carbon dioxide than traditional fossil fuel-powered vessels. Yara International aims to demonstrate the potential of this technology for decarbonizing the shipping industry. Shipping currently accounts for approximately 3% of global CO2 emissions. Yara International is collaborating with its subsidiary Yara Clean Ammonia and Norway's North Sea Container Line for the project. The production of ammonia typically involves significant CO2 emissions, but Yara Clean Ammonia plans to provide a combination of "blue" and "green" ammonia, with the former capturing CO2 emissions and storing them underground and the latter using renewable electricity. The ship will initially use biodiesel before transitioning to ammonia, with the biodiesel being carbon-neutral. However, the carbon-neutrality of biofuels is not always guaranteed due to emissions associated with their production. The construction emissions of the Yara Eyde have not yet been estimated, and the combustion of green ammonia can generate nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas. Yara Clean Ammonia plans to include a catalyzer in the ship's engine to mitigate these emissions. Other companies, such as Maersk, have also made efforts to reduce emissions in the shipping industry. Despite the industry's pledge to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, critics argue that this commitment is insufficient considering the urgency of the climate crisis.
Judge dismisses Indiana stateâs lawsuit against TikTok over child safety concerns
A lawsuit filed by the state of Indiana against TikTok has been dismissed by a judge. The lawsuit accused TikTok of falsely claiming the safety of user data and age-appropriate content. The judge ruled that the court does not have jurisdiction over TikTok and that downloading the app for free does not constitute a consumer transaction. Similar lawsuits are still ongoing in other states. Indiana's Attorney General's office stated that they respect the ruling but disagree with it and are considering appellate options. TikTok has not yet responded to the ruling. The lawsuit alleged that TikTok attracts young users with false claims of safety while exposing them to inappropriate content and collecting sensitive data. Indiana also recently joined a lawsuit against Instagram-parent Meta over concerns of addiction and harm to young users' mental health. The attention on these issues has increased following the release of internal documents by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen. Indiana had previously banned TikTok on government devices due to security concerns.
The NBA In-Season Tournament is confusing people. Ratings are still through the roof
The NBA has introduced a new in-season tournament to boost viewership during the middle of the season when fan interest tends to wane. The tournament features unique court designs and jerseys for each team, with the intention of attracting attention and standing out. The colorful courts have received mixed reactions, with some describing them as hideous or horrifying. However, the strategy seems to be working, as games in November saw an increase in viewership compared to the previous year. The tournament offers cash prizes to players and a new trophy for the winning team. The NBA hopes that the tournament will make its television rights more lucrative for potential networks and streaming platforms. Other sports leagues, such as MLB and the NFL, have also made changes to adapt to the competitive media landscape and attract more fans.
Saudi Arabia extends 1 million barrel-a-day cut to oil output
Saudi Arabia, the largest exporter of crude oil in the world, has announced that it will extend its voluntary production cut of 1 million barrels per day for an additional three months. The country's production will remain at around 9 million barrels a day until the end of March 2024. This decision was made after Saudi officials met with other major oil-producing nations in Vienna. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, known as OPEC+, met to discuss further cuts to oil supply. Following this announcement, global oil benchmark Brent crude and US benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude experienced a slight decline in prices. The ministerial meeting, originally scheduled for Sunday, was postponed until Thursday without providing a reason. The delay was reportedly due to disagreements over production levels among some members. Despite efforts to reduce output, Brent and WTI prices have fallen by 13% and 16% respectively since their peak in late September. These price declines have been influenced by record crude oil production in the United States and concerns about declining global demand, particularly in China.
A year after ChatGPTâs release, the AI revolution is just beginning
The ChatGPT logo is shown on a mobile phone screen in front of a computer screen in Ankara, Turkiye. ChatGPT has had a significant impact on the world in the past year, causing both excitement and concern in various sectors of the economy. Its parent company faced internal conflicts but recently announced the return of Sam Altman as CEO. ChatGPT emerged during a time when the technology industry was struggling, and it quickly gained popularity for its ability to engage in human-like conversations and perform various tasks. It became the fastest-growing consumer application in history and sparked an AI competition among companies. However, the full effects of the underlying technology on society are yet to be seen. ChatGPT has influenced education, art, and the labor market, with schools and artists grappling with its implementation and impact on their fields. Studies have shown both positive and negative effects on employment opportunities, with highly skilled freelancers experiencing the most significant impact. The long-term consequences of AI technology are still uncertain, and while some believe in its potential to improve productivity and create new jobs, others have encountered new challenges and unintended consequences. Overall, society is still in the process of understanding and navigating the implications of AI tools like ChatGPT.
US fines PwC $7 million for allowing cheating in audit exams in China
The China branch of renowned accounting firm PwC has been fined $7 million by a US regulator for failing to detect cheating by its staff during internal training exams. The cheating was widespread and involved over 1,000 employees from PwC Hong Kong and hundreds more from PwC China. This is the first time the US agency has enforced penalties against Chinese companies since a 2022 agreement allowing US regulators to inspect and investigate firms in mainland China and Hong Kong. PwC workers were found to have engaged in improper answer sharing during the exams, which violated quality control standards. PwC Hong Kong and PwC China were ordered to pay $4 million and $3 million, respectively. The fine imposed on PwC Hong Kong is the second-highest penalty amount ever issued by the regulator. PwC has been operating in China since 1906 and is the country's largest international accounting firm.
Judge blocks Montanaâs TikTok ban from taking effect on January 1
A federal judge has temporarily stopped Montana's ban on TikTok from going into effect, pending a trial. The judge stated that it was clear the state government was more interested in targeting China's role in TikTok than protecting Montana consumers. Montana's attorney general's office called the halt a preliminary decision and expressed their intention to present a full legal argument. The law, which would have been the first of its kind in the nation, aimed to prohibit TikTok from operating within the state and imposed fines for violations. TikTok and a group of content creators challenged the law, claiming it violated their First Amendment rights. The legal battle is significant as it could impact TikTok's future in the United States. Other states have also attempted to restrict TikTok, but the Indiana lawsuit against the company was recently dismissed. The judge in the Montana case criticized the legislation as driven by paternalistic views and suggested alternative measures could have been taken.
More executives go missing in China â this time linked to troubled shadow bank Zhongzhi
Two Chinese business executives from companies controlled by Zhongzhi, a troubled financial conglomerate, have disappeared, according to statements from their respective firms. This comes after Chinese authorities launched a criminal investigation into Zhongzhi, which recently declared itself severely insolvent. Dalian My Gym Education Technology and Xinjiang Tianshan Animal Husbandry Bio-engineering, both controlled by Zhongzhi, reported that they have been unable to contact their chairwoman Ma Hongying and chairman Ma Changshui, respectively. Zhongzhi, based in Beijing, is a part of China's shadow banking industry and controls several asset and wealth management firms. The company's financial troubles began after the death of its founder in 2021. Concerns about Zhongzhi's finances were first raised when a trust it partially owns missed payments, leading to protests by investors. Zhongzhi has apologized to its investors and revealed that its liquidity has been exhausted. Beijing police have initiated a probe into the company's wealth management unit, suspecting it of illegal activities. The disappearance of business leaders in China has become a common occurrence as the government intensifies its regulatory crackdown on companies.
âPay any price.â Alibabaâs Jack Ma urges reform as rival rattles e-commerce giant
Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, has acknowledged the success of competitor PDD and called for change within his own company. PDD, the group behind Chinese online shopping giant Pinduoduo and US-based retail upstart Temu, reported impressive third-quarter earnings, leading to a significant increase in their stock price. This surge in value has resulted in PDD surpassing Alibaba in market capitalization for the first time. Alibaba employees took note of this development, prompting Ma to comment and encourage his team to provide constructive suggestions and innovative ideas. Ma also congratulated PDD on their performance and emphasized the importance of adapting to the era of AI e-commerce. He expressed his belief that Alibaba will change and called on employees to remain committed to the company's mission and vision. Ma stepped down as chairman of Alibaba in 2019 and has since kept a low profile while remaining a shareholder. Meanwhile, Alibaba's shares have faced challenges, including restructuring, leadership changes, and intense competition. In contrast, PDD has experienced a successful year, partly due to the recovery of the Chinese economy. They have also gained international attention with the launch of Temu, a popular online superstore in markets like the United States and Australia.
GM cuts spending on Cruise self-driving cars
General Motors (GM) has announced that it will be reducing spending at its self-driving car unit, Cruise. GM's CEO, Mary Barra, stated that when operations resume, Cruise's expansion will be more cautious, resulting in substantially lower spending in 2024 compared to 2023. This decision aligns with GM's previous plan to scale back Cruise's operations once testing and ride-hailing services restart. Currently, Cruise has suspended its operations in the United States, where it operates driverless vehicles in multiple cities, primarily in southern states. The suspension was a result of Cruise withholding information and video footage related to an incident where a pedestrian was struck by a Cruise vehicle. Cruise denies any wrongdoing but has paused its public operations throughout the country and experienced the resignation of its CEO, Kyle Vogt. GM has also halted production of its driverless vehicle, the Origin van, and plans to resume operations in only one city, although the specific city and timeline have not been announced. Despite these changes, GM remains committed to autonomous vehicles and continues to support Cruise in its efforts to prioritize trust, accountability, and transparency.
Jamie Dimon says to be prepared for recession
JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon has warned Wall Street about the possibility of rising inflation and a potential recession. He expressed caution about the economy and stated that governments worldwide needing more money for various purposes could lead to inflation. Dimon also mentioned that the labor market in the US has been resilient but acknowledged that inflation is negatively impacting people. He attributed the economic "sugar high" caused by stimulus money and quantitative easing to fading. Additionally, Dimon highlighted geopolitical issues and their potential consequences on energy, food supply, trade, and global relationships. He emphasized the risks of war, nuclear proliferation, climate change, and another pandemic. Dimon stressed the importance of the United States maintaining a strong military and American leadership to preserve the unity of the Western world. Regarding business in China, he stated that JPMorgan Chase follows the guidance of the US government and does not view companies like Shein as a threat to national security. Dimon expressed confidence and stated that he is not afraid of China.
Jezebel to be brought âback to lifeâ after being acquired by Paste Magazine
Jezebel, a feminist blog that recently closed, will be revived after being sold to a new owner. Paste Magazine, a digital media outlet focused on music and culture journalism, announced that it had acquired Jezebel from G/O Media. The editor-in-chief of Paste Magazine expressed excitement about bringing Jezebel back to life and ensuring that its readers can continue to rely on its content. The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the acquisition was an all-cash purchase finalized quickly. G/O Media had previously shut down Jezebel and laid off its staff due to financial challenges. However, the CEO expressed hope in finding a new home for Jezebel, which he believed had a significant impact on women's media. Paste Magazine will begin the search for a new editor-in-chief for Jezebel and prioritize former Jezebel staffers for staffing decisions. Additionally, Paste Magazine acquired the political news site Splinter and plans to relaunch it during the 2024 presidential election campaign.
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