⏭ Back to the future
Costco’s got a new item flying off the shelves. The members-only warehouse is now selling 1-ounce gold bars, available in two designs, for under $2,000 each – right around the current market price of $1,835 per ounce.*
In its recent earnings call, the company’s CFO said the gold is “typically gone within a few hours” of appearing on its website, noting a two-bar limit per member.
Shiny, new interest in buying precious metals often stems from feelings of uncertainty about the future, sometimes viewed as a hedge against market forces or a potential recession. Indeed, half of Americans (52%) said inflation is one of their biggest money concerns for their golden years, according to a recent Empower study.
This week, we’ll take you back to the future – looking at scientific breakthroughs, who’s moving In-N-Out, and what infinity dollars would fetch.
– The Editors
🏆 Eyes on the Prize: The Nobel Prize in medicine was awarded to two scientists, Hungarian-American Katalin Karikó and American Drew Weissman, for mRNA discoveries that are credited with helping to slow the pandemic. Karikó is the 13th woman to win in medicine, and was a senior vice president at BioNTech, which partnered with Pfizer to make one of the COVID-19 vaccines. The recognition carries a cash award of 11 million Swedish kronor ($1 million USD)* from a bequest left by the prize’s creator, Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel.
🏢 Back to the office: The office building, that is. With a sluggish commercial real estate market, many colleges and universities looking to expand have snapped up office buildings at bargain prices. George Washington University bought a 10-story office last year, paying $11.5 million for a property valued at $230 million* in Washington, DC. With office attendance in big cities just half of pre-pandemic rates, and the national office availability at north of 24%, more cubicles may soon be campus collaboration spaces.
🛍️ Not back to the mall: To the strip mall instead. As part of a profitability strategy known as Polaris, retailer Macy’s closed about 80 locations, primarily in traditional shopping malls, and just announced its plan to open 30 small-format stores* in suburban shopping centers by 2025 in locations with high foot-traffic tenants including grocery and value-priced stores. Some investors have been bearish on the fate of malls, due in part to shifts in consumer behavior like online shopping. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, retail e-commerce sales for the second quarter of 2023 rang the register at $277.6 billion, up 7.5%* from the same period last year.
Hello, early 2000s – and 1940
The 30-year mortgage rate has topped 7.5% for the first time since 2000, and the wear-and-tear on home buyers’ budgets is real. The monthly cost of a new mortgage is now 42% of U.S. median household income* – 10 percentage points higher than just before the 2008 housing crisis.
As the Wall Street Journal reports, the majority (61%) of all outstanding U.S. mortgages have a rate below 4% – which likely means supply may tighten as many owners stay put. The index of home-purchase applications also fell to the lowest level since 1995.* Some people, especially younger generations, are making themselves right at home – their parents’ home. Recent Empower research shows that 41% of GenZers view living with family as a practical way to get ahead financially. The share of U.S. adults ages 18 to 29 who are living with family is at roughly the same level as in the 1940s.*
FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried is currently on trial facing charges for defrauding investors out of $8 billion dollars.*
Bestselling author and financial journalist Michael Lewis is out with a new book detailing the meteoric rise and meltdown of SBF’s cryptocurrency exchange. Its title, “Going Infinite,” is derived from the “infinity dollars” Bankman-Fried said he needed* to altruistically combat existential risks, such as an apocalypse started by artificial intelligence.
In real life, books about financial implosions are big business. Lewis’ hit chronicling the market crisis of ‘08 in “The Big Short” was adapted for the silver screen, grossing $133 million* at the box office and starring Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt.
It’s baaaaaack. Fast-casual restaurants are a hearty business with a market size of $42.8 billion* this year, and growing. Famous regional chains may be coming to a town near you. Cali’s In-N-Out and Texas’ Whataburger are expanding* to places like Idaho, Missouri, and the Las Vegas Strip.
- LTOP (lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle)
- Cheese, please
- Bring on the bacon (and everything else, too)
- I’m a purist – keep it plain
- I’ll have the chicken tenders
Would you like AI with that? In last week’s poll, 38% of readers said they’ve used artificial intelligence for brainstorming, writing assistance (25%), and 13% are generating doctored-up selfies.
See you in three months
Bill Gates popularized the concept of a "think week” when he shuts himself away from work and technology to read and ponder new ideas. How does four weeks to three months sound?
Enter (or briefly exit via) the sabbatical, a leave of absence some companies are offering as part of their benefits packages to reinvigorate and retain employees after a certain milestone, typically five years. As of 2019, 16% of employers* offered a sabbatical program, of which 5% are paid programs, per the Society for Human Resource Management.
Research published in the Harvard Business Review* found that employees who took sabbaticals reported feeling more confident, inspired, and recharged; at the same time, it opened up opportunities for people filling in to test and learn new skills.
In a robust labor market with 336,000 jobs added in September,* it’s just one way employers are competing for talent and addressing workplace well-being.
Another win-win approach: talking about money. According to Empower research, half of people (50%) say more open dialogue on financial matters with their employer would improve their experience and motivate them to work harder.
As of October 9, 2023, EAG holds shares of Costco Wholesale Corporation (COST) in advisory client accounts and does not hold Macy’s Inc. (M).
*Third-party data is obtained from sources believed to be reliable; however, Empower cannot guarantee the accuracy, timeliness, completeness, or fitness of this data for any particular purpose. Third-party links are provided solely as a convenience and do not imply an affiliation, endorsement, responsibility, or approval by Empower of the contents on such third-party websites.
The content contained in this blog post is intended for general informational purposes only and is not meant to constitute legal, tax, accounting or investment advice. You should consult a qualified legal or tax professional regarding your specific situation. No part of this blog, nor the links contained therein is a solicitation or offer to sell securities. Compensation for freelance contributions not to exceed $1,250. Third-party data is obtained from sources believed to be reliable; however, Empower cannot guarantee the accuracy, timeliness, completeness or fitness of this data for any particular purpose. Third-party links are provided solely as a convenience and do not imply an affiliation, endorsement or approval by Empower of the contents on such third-party websites.
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Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. (CFP Board) owns the certification marks CFP®, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, CFP® (with plaque design), and CFP® (with flame design) in the U.S., which it authorizes use of by individuals who successfully complete CFP Board's initial and ongoing certification requirements.
Advisory services are provided for a fee by Empower Advisory Group, LLC (“EAG”). EAG is a registered investment adviser with the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and subsidiary of Empower Annuity Insurance Company of America. Registration does not imply a certain level of skill or training.