Data points

Published November 27, 2023
A sign is pictured on an ATM cash machine at a branch of a NatWest bank in central London. British bank NatWest announced last week it was planning to close another 19 branches across England, Wales and Scotland.—AFP
A sign is pictured on an ATM cash machine at a branch of a NatWest bank in central London. British bank NatWest announced last week it was planning to close another 19 branches across England, Wales and Scotland.—AFP

Is the US headed for a recession?

Richer Americans are curtailing their spending ahead of Black Friday, a worrisome sign for an economy that has so far depended on the US consumer to stave off a recession. In the three months ahead of the all-important holiday shopping season, a group of retailers that cater to the upper middle class — including Apple, Coach and Nordstrom — saw its biggest sales drop in two years. The malaise also hit top-performing malls in wealthier areas, even as overall retail-sales figures march higher. Affluent shoppers often have an outsized impact on shifts in consumer spending because they have money to splurge when times are good but are quicker than the wealthy to pull back when feeling pressured. So a hit to the brands, retailers and shopping malls that cater to richer Americans foreshadows potential weakness ahead for the US economy.

(Adapted from “Is The US Headed For A Recession? Look At What Richer Americans Do On Black Friday,” by Leslie Patton and Laura Bejder Jensen, published on November 21, 2023, by Bloomberg)

Financial extortion online

Scammers posing as teen girls befriend boys online, share nude photos of a girl and then ask for nude photos in return. Once the boy reciprocates, the schemer demands money to be sent by a peer-to-peer payment app and threatens to share the boy’s photos with his social-media followers if he doesn’t pay. Previously, online sextortion largely involved paedophiles blackmailing kids into sending photos or videos. These new scammers focus on money. Three years ago, the US’s National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children received fewer than 10 reports of this sort of financial extortion. Last year, it received more than 10,000. In a survey of more than 6,000 teens and young adults in the US and five other countries conducted by Snapchat’s parent company, 65pc of respondents said they or their friends have been targeted in schemes where unknown attackers obtained explicit personal imagery or other private information.

(Adapted from “Teen Boys Are Falling For A Snapchat Nude-Photo Scam. Here’s How to Avoid It,” by Julie Jargon, published on November 18, 2023, by The Wall Street Journal)

India’s struggling food system

India is a leading producer of milk, wheat, rice and sugar. But while feeding the world, its farmers are struggling. Half of India’s farmers lack access to financing sources to buffer against shocks, McKinsey & Company estimates. The agricultural system that feeds India’s 1.4 billion people still relies on tens of millions of ill-equipped smallholders. Many of the millions who still don’t get enough food in India are farmers themselves. Successive governments have struggled to stem suicides among cultivators.. Organic farming has increased significantly in India in recent years, in part because of government support. Ahead of national elections next year, the country’s politicians are renewing pledges to fix the farming sector.

(Adapted from “India’s Food System Is Under Strain, And Farmers Are Paying The Price,” by Pratik Parija, published on November 15, 2023, by Bloomberg)

Missing rare Kit Kats

Shell email accounts, phantom truckers, supply-chain fraud and one seriously bewildered cargo freight broker. This is the long, strange story of one stolen load of valuable cargo in the form of 55,000 rare Kit Kats. Sought-after Kit Kat flavours like melon, matcha latte and daifuku mochi are a booming business. In Japan, enthusiasts clamour for the rarer flavours, with some sold for just a few weeks or only in a specific region. In the United States, obsessives fawn over the collectables, comparing reviews on Japanese snack blogs and shelling out for limited editions. Danny Taing, the founder of a New York company that sells Japanese snacks in subscription boxes, had bought $110,000 worth of the sweets, expecting to make about $250,000 in total revenue. The shipment arrived Stateside from Japan, but it went missing somewhere along its cross-country journey.

(Adapted from “How To Hijack A Quarter Of A Million Dollars In Rare Japanese Kit Kats,” by Amelia Nierenberg, published on November 8, 2023, by The New York Times)

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, November 27th, 2023

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