June 16, 2023

☕ Happy Friday! Smart Brevity™ count: 1,472 words ... 5½ mins. Edited by Natalie Daher.

🎯 1 big thing — Backlash price tag: $28 billion

Data: Yahoo! Finance. Chart: Axios Visuals. Correction: The chart was fixed to show the data is based on the S&P 500 index, not S&P Global's stock.

Social issues are creating a market downdraft for America's mainstay brands: Target, Anheuser Busch and Kohl's had a collective $28.7 billion loss in market value since the beginning of April, reports Javier E. David, Axios managing editor for business.

  • Why it matters: Corporate America is caught between widening progressive impulses and increasingly activist conservative consumers.

What's happening: Anheuser-Busch InBev is still feeling the reverberations of its April decision to engage transgender social-media influencer Dylan Mulvaney. Boycotts have come at a cost to both its stock and beer sales.

  • The controversy has shaved billions off its market capitalization amid a 20% swoon in its stock. It's since recovered, but sits well below the 52-week high it hit in March.

Separately, Kohl's and Target have been caught in the cultural maelstrom for selling LGBTQ-themed clothing, with right-leaning protests pressuring their stock prices.

Share this story.

2. 🍻 Bud Light's new effort to make amends

A Bud Light beer vendor at Fenway Park in Boston last month. Photo: Charles Krupa/AP

In a new bid to steady his rattled company, Anheuser-Busch U.S. CEO Brendan Whitworth vowed to protect the jobs of employees and those of independent wholesalers.

  • Sales of Bud Light, a new top target in the culture wars, are off as much as 25%.
  • Axios has learned that Whitworth plans to go on the road around the U.S. this summer to listen to consumers, in connection with Budweiser's MLB sponsorship.

Why it matters: With conservatives in revolt over Bud Light's courting of a transgender influencer, the statement is an effort to fight back and regain market share.

Whitworth said yesterday: "[T]o all our valued consumers, we hear you."

  • A summer ad campaign, which begins next week, will portray Bud Light as "easy to drink and easy to enjoy," he added.

What's happening: After the right savaged Bud Light for its relationship with Mulvaney, sales dropped so sharply that data out this week shows Mexican lager Modelo replacing Bud Light as America’s best-selling beer.

🔎 Between the lines: Yesterday's statement stopped short of the apology that conservatives want. But that could alienate the consumers who have stuck with the brand.

  • "We recognize that over the last two months, the discussion surrounding our company and Bud Light has moved away from beer," the statement says. "We are a beer company, and beer is for everyone."

🖼️ The big picture: As we told you in Axios AM on April 18, two months ago, the Bud Light debacle perfectly captures the cultural, political and social toxicity of America in 2023.

  • During Pride Month, the Bud Light conflagration reflects the new scrutiny of corporate America's commitment to the LGBTQ+ community, Eleanor Hawkins wrote in Axios Communicators.

The CEO signed yesterday's statement with a hopeful: "Here’s to a future with more cheers."

3. 👀 High-flying stocks' new nickname

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Behold the "Magnificent Seven," the emerging shorthand for the seemingly unstoppable septet of big tech firms driving the market higher, Axios Markets' Matt Phillips writes.

  • The Magnificent Seven are: Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, Amazon, Nvidia, Tesla and Meta.
  • Combined, the seven are nearly 90% this year, in a rally fueled by excitement about their exposure to AI and relief at the Fed's move away from interest rate hikes, which hammered tech in 2022.

Why it matters: Bull markets are often defined by groupthink that's expressed in easy-to-remember mnemonic devices. So the emergence of the "Magnificent Seven" suggests a bullish psychology is taking hold.

State of play: The S&P is now up 15.3% in 2023.

  • It's less than 8% from hitting a new record high.

Backstory: The term first burbled up in late May, amid the Nvidia surge.

  • Now CNBC stock-market showman Jim Cramer has latched onto it.

Flashback: In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the "nifty fifty" were a group of seemingly indestructible stocks — including Polaroid, Sears and Eastman-Kodak.

  • In the late 1990s, the "Four Horsemen" — Microsoft, Cisco, Oracle and Intel — led markets uphill.
  • In the mid-2000s, "BRICs" — Brazil, Russia, India and China — was the term of art for fast-growing nations.
  • More recently, the FAANGs — Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google — were the market darlings.

Share this story.

4. 📷 1,000 words: California's record rain

Photos: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The top shot shows a 100% full Lake Oroville, on the Feather River in Northern California yesterday.

  • Below it is the same vantage point in July 2021.

Why it matters: A "historic rainy season recharged reservoirs across the state following years of drought," the L.A. Times reports.

5. 🦠 AI threat: The next pandemic

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The top minds in AI say one of their biggest fears is bioterrorism — perhaps a synthetic pandemic unleashed from a keyboard, Axios chief global tech correspondent Ryan Heath writes.

  • Why it matters: Bioattacks have been assumed to be the province of governments. Now, it could be rogue individuals and organizations.

What's happening: Converting a pathogen into a terror attack previously required many PhDs.

  • But recent genetic engineering advances, combined with AI, have dramatically reduced the skills, money and time needed to engineer a catastrophe.

Case in point: MIT researchers asked undergraduate students to test whether chatbots "could be prompted to assist non-experts in causing a pandemic."

  • Within an hour, the chatbots suggested four potential pandemic pathogens.

The other side: AI could also help biodefense.

  • Biotech researchers tell Axios it may be possible to create antibodies for viruses from scratch in around 2025 — blunting the death and injury rogue actors could inflict. But that's a big maybe.

Share this story.

6. 📈 First look: Biden's economic pitch

President Biden and Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes celebrate the team's Super Bowl win, at the White House on June 5. Photo: Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

President Biden will use a Philadelphia address to union supporters tomorrow to make the economic case for his re-election, Axios' Hans Nichols and Alex Thompson report.

  • Why it matters: Biden is presiding over a healthy — if somewhat confounding — Timex economy: It just keeps ticking.

His challenge is to take credit for a hot labor market and respectable GDP growth in the face of lingering inflation and voters who don't quite share his sunny optimism.

  • The plan is to use the Philadelphia rally to try to persuade a core constituency — labor unions — that there’s a direct link between his policies and an economy that is defying expectations.
  • Republicans also plan to contest the union vote — particularly the United Auto Workers, which endorsed Biden in 2020 but so far has held off over concerns about how his push for electric vehicles will affect the auto industry.

🔭 Zoom out: The president and his top economic advisers take pride in the economy's resilience, privately and publicly snickering at analysts and economists who have predicted its demise.

  • But voters are still skeptical of the president's economic achievements, and Biden’s team knows it has some work to do to persuade them that his economy is working for them.

The bottom line: Biden's goal is to channel the energy from progressive activists and institutional Democratic organizations to build a campaign that's prepared for a difficult race in the fall of 2024.

7. 🏛️ Coming attractions: Book on Capitol intrigue

Reporters surround Speaker McCarthy on May 26 amid debt-ceiling drama. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

N.Y. Times congressional reporters Annie Karni and Luke Broadwater will be out in 2025 with "a rollicking, unvarnished, and deeply sourced account of life inside the Republican Party focusing on the GOP-led 118th Congress."

  • Why it matters: The book will be a "fast-paced insider's account of how Washington works today," according to Penguin Random House, the publisher.

"Each of us had long been toying with the idea of writing a book," Karni told me. "We both see reporting, especially on the Hill, as such a team sport, we decided ... a book ... was a two-person job. And it's also more fun that way."

  • Broadwater added: "I've loved most of my previous beats, including covering Baltimore City Hall and the [Maryland] State House. But there's no better place to take the pulse of American society than Congress."

8. 🌶️ 1 film thing: "Flamin' Hot" @ White House

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Biden, First Lady Jill Biden and film director Eva Longoria arrive at a screening of "Flamin' Hot" — a film about the Flamin' Hot Cheetos origin story — on the White House South Lawn last night.

  • Why it matters: The first lady said the inspiring (but disputed) story of Frito-Lay janitor Richard Montañez "helped change the way companies think about Latino customers, helped establish that this community and the economic power it holds deserve to be taken seriously."
Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán performs at the screening. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Reuters

"But this film isn’t just about Richard," Dr. Biden added. "It's about everyone who has been overlooked and underestimated but reached for a dream anyway."

📬 Thanks for starting your day with us. Please invite your friends to join.