Axios Closer

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December 19, 2023

Tuesday ✅.

Today's newsletter is 667 words, a 2½-minute read.

🔔 The dashboard: The S&P 500 closed up 0.6%.

  • Biggest gainer? Enphase Energy (+9.1%), the energy technology company, a day after announcing an operational restructuring that included layoffs and facility closures.
  • Biggest decliner? FactSet Research (-2.1%), the financial data and software company, cut its fiscal-year revenue outlook.

1 big thing: Signs of life

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

New-home construction surged in November as the nation continues to grapple with a housing shortage, Nathan writes.

Driving the news: Single-family home starts hit a 19-month high of 1.145 million units in November, the Census Bureau reported today.

  • That was up 18% from October and 9.3% from November 2022.

What they're saying: "The extreme lack of existing inventory on the market continued to support newbuild demand and construction activity in November," Capital Economics property economist Thomas Ryan wrote today.

Meanwhile, mortgage applications jumped 21.8% in November, compared with a year ago, the Mortgage Bankers Association reported today.

  • "Lending on new construction has been the one bright spot in an otherwise slow year for purchase originations," MBA chief economist Mike Fratantoni said in a statement.
  • Even more good news for the housing market? While mortgage rates remain elevated based on recent historical levels, the average 30-year fixed rate dipped below 7% last week after topping out around 8% in the fall, according to Freddie Mac.

Yes, but: New-home activity is not evenly spread out.

  • "Most of the housing starts were in the South as hybrid work continues to be a boon for households seeking lower cost of living," notes Jeffrey Roach, chief economist for LPL Financial.

The bottom line: Existing inventories are still extremely tight, but the housing market is showing signs of life.

2. One, two punch

Data: PurpleLab HealthNexus; Chart: Axios Visuals

Far from a replacement for surgical weight-loss procedures, anti-obesity drugs are increasingly being paired with them, Axios' Tina Reed writes.

By the numbers: The number of bariatric surgeries performed in the U.S. increased slightly between 2021 and 2022 after the new highly effective class of drugs, known as GLP-1 agonists, exploded on the market, according to medical claims data from FAIR Health.

  • Meanwhile, the number of bariatric surgery patients who were subsequently prescribed medications like Wegovy more than tripled between 2021 and 2023, according to claims data from health tech company PurpleLab.

Zoom out: The data tracks with anecdotal reports from surgeons and health care experts on the benefits of the pairing.

Go deeper

3. What's happening

📺 Comcast confirmed that hackers accessed sensitive information of nearly 36 million Xfinity customers. (TechCrunch)

💵 Swiss regulators want more authority after the collapse of Credit Suisse. (CNBC)

4. One connector, with access for all

Tesla's EV charging plug has emerged as the standard connector. Photo: Celal Gunes/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The VHS vs. Betamax debate in the EV charging world is over: The Tesla plug is the winner, Nathan writes.

Why it matters: Until recently, automakers have been split over two different types of electric vehicle connectors.

Driving the news: The White House today said it's embracing the Tesla standard after SAE International (formerly the Society of Automotive Engineers) said it's doing the same, AP reported.

  • Tesla's North American Charging Standard provides clarity for equipment suppliers and expands charging access "for current and future EV drivers across the country," the U.S. Joint Office of Energy and Transportation said today in a statement.

The bottom line: Today's announcement is significant, though the writing had been on the wall.

5. Don't call it a comeback

The actor Ron Livingston, playing office worker Peter Gibbons, looks over a cubicle in the 1999 movie "Office Space." Photo: Twentieth Century Fox via Getty Images

And you thought the cubicle was an goner, Nathan writes.

State of play: First, open-office plans were all the rage — then the pandemic supercharged remote work.

  • That seemed like enough to seal the fate of the forlorn, flimsy office half-walls.

The intrigue: "And yet cubicles, like scrunchies, are back, spurred by demand from employers and employees alike," the New York Times writes, citing research that global sales of cubicles and partitions are expected to jump from $6.3 billion to $8.3 billion over the next five years.

  • A big factor: Workers returning to the office want quiet spaces, NYT says.

💭 Nathan's thought bubble: Cubicles might make it easier to focus, but they won't stop the constant flow of interruptions in the modern workplace.

  • Yes, I'm looking at you, Slack.

6. What they're saying

"Until the threat of these tariffs returning is fully removed, the uncertainty will continue to restrict American Whiskey export growth in our most important international market."
— Distilled Spirits Council CEO Chris Swonger in a statement praising the Biden administration for negotiating the extension of a suspension of the European Union's retaliatory tariffs on American whiskey.

Today's newsletter was edited by Pete Gannon and copy edited by Sheryl Miller.

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