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The best-performing sector of the American stock market this year, bar energy, has been the "consumer discretionary" category — the companies that sell the things we like to buy but don't have to buy.

Expand chart
Data: FactSet; Chart: Chris Canipe/Axios

The big picture: It's also been one of the main drivers of the market as a whole. While the broad stock market is up a very impressive 332% from its 2009 lows, consumer discretionary stocks are up a stunning 630%.

  • To be sure: A large chunk of that growth is thanks to just two stocks: Amazon and Netflix. But it's worth pausing to appreciate that two of the highest-flying technology stocks (three, if you include Apple) get most of their revenues by selling their products directly to consumers. That certainly wasn't the case in the days of the Wintel duopoly of Microsoft and Intel.
  • Neither Amazon Prime nor Netflix is a necessity in life. But both of them have already passed 100 million paying subscribers. (For scale: There are about 125 million households in the U.S.)

The bottom line: We're in a virtuous cycle, where record-low unemployment (just 3.7%, in September) feeds into job security, heightened consumer confidence and higher spending. In turn, that drives corporate growth in profits and headcount.

  • None of this is reliant on low interest rates. The healthy economy means that the Fed will keep on hiking, as a glance at the two-year bond yield will attest. Long bond yields, too, are hitting five-year highs. It almost feels like we're back to normal.

Go deeper

The pandemic could be worsening childhood obesity

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The 10-month long school closures and the coronavirus pandemic are expected to have a big impact on childhood obesity rates.

Why it matters: About one in five children are obese in the U.S. — an all-time high — with worsening obesity rates across income and racial and ethnic groups, data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey show.

Dave Lawler, author of World
5 mins ago - World

Biden's Russia challenge

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The Biden administration has already proposed a five-year extension of the last treaty constraining the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals, announced an urgent investigation into a massive Russia-linked cyberattack, and demanded the release of Russia’s leading opposition figure, Alexey Navalny.

Why it matters: Those three steps in Biden's first week underscore the challenge he faces from Vladimir Putin — an authoritarian intent on weakening the U.S. and its alliances, with whom he’ll nonetheless have to engage on critical issues.

The podcast business is booming, but few are making money

Data: PwC Global Entertainment & Media Outlook; Chart: Michelle McGhee/Axios

Nearly every major media and entertainment company is pouring lots of cash into launching new podcasts. But many of them aren't making big money — at least not yet.

Why it matters: As is the case with most new technologies, when it comes to podcasts, consumer adoption has outpaced monetization.