Apr 16, 2019

Axios Future

By Bryan Walsh
Bryan Walsh

Situational awareness: "A woman who said she was raped by JD.com founder Richard Liu filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the billionaire and his company," the AP's Amy Forliti reports.

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Any stories we should be chasing? Hit reply to this email or message me at steve@axios.com. Kaveh Waddell is at kaveh@axios.com and Erica Pandey at erica@axios.com.

Okay, let's start with ...

1 big thing: Wall Street reckons with climate

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Two years of wildfires, storms and floods, killing scores of people, destroying thousands of homes and costing some $500 billion in global damage, have convinced big investors of the vulnerability of their assets — and a vast profit opportunity in the decades ahead.

What's happening: Some of the biggest names on Wall Street are partnering with climate science groups to produce the first countrywide, property-level maps attempting to financially navigate the age of extreme weather-driven calamity.

  • These maps are so granular that they can pick out individual commercial buildings and electric power stations, and thus advise investors about the potential impact to their specific assets across the decades through the end of the century.

The sudden mini-frenzy among investors comes after years of ignoring warnings about a momentous risk to their assets:

  • BlackRock and Rhodium, a consulting firm, this month released a sophisticated program classifying the threat to investments in U.S. municipal bonds, electric utilities, and commercial real estate.
  • Wellington Management, CalPERS and Woods Hole Research Center have produced a similar system for the U.S. with the goal of expanding it to a global analysis.
  • Since 2017, Michael Bloomberg and Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, have pushed the world's leading banks and blue-chip companies to quantify and disclose their climate risk.

Their early conclusion: An all-but oblivious Wall Street is underpricing the risk of intense heat, wildfires, drought, storms and floods to their investments. "Even the scientifically rudimentary things are something the investment community hasn't thought about at all," said Phil Duffy, president of Woods Hole.

The big picture: The BlackRock, Wellington and CalPERS initiatives finally take account of an unignorable fact — some of history's biggest fortunes have been made opportunistically in times of chaos. If one views climate change as a prolonged period of chaos, it makes sense that investors would seek to protect their current ownings, be careful about what they bet on next — and look out for shrewd places to put their long-term money.

For instance:

  • Between 2060 and 2080, up to 26% of metros would likely have 100 days a year of 95 degree heat, up from 1% today, according to Rhodium and the Climate Impact Lab, which it works with.
  • Why it matters: Greater heat reduces the productivity of outdoor labor, increases mortality rates, pushes up spending on air conditioning, and lowers agricultural output.
  • The investment: All that heat could seriously reduce the value of real estate in hot places, like Arizona and Texas, while triggering a rush of property interest in cooler locations like North Dakota, northern Minnesota, Maine and New Hampshire.

"When investors can get a better understanding of risk, it allows them to better identify the opportunities," Brian Deese, BlackRock's global head of sustainable investing, tells Axios.

Their effort is made possible by the advent of big data and more powerful computers: Rhodium's work with BlackRock produced 160 terabytes of data, the group said — more than 10 times the holdings of the Library of Congress.

At the moment — decades before the worst impacts of extreme weather — much of the groups' material focuses on identifying the risks to current investments.

  • Biggest losers: The Gulf Coast, much of Arizona, the South Atlantic. Naples and Key West Florida could lose 15% or more of GDP a year, mostly from coastal storms, BlackRock says.
  • Biggest winners: A net gain along the West Coast in Oregon and Washington state, Maine, and patches of the north-midwest. Jamestown, North Dakota could see its GDP rise by 5.2% a year by 2040, and 6.5% in 2060-2080, under a business-as-usual emissions scenario.

Go deeper: Where climate change will hit the U.S. hardest

2. Main Street's salon boom

New York. Photo: Michael Nagle/Getty

As stores fall to behemoths like Walmart and Amazon, a surprising source of jobs is the salon industry — a retail stronghold thriving because it provides services that can't move online.

Erica writes: The occupations of nail technician and hair stylist are commanding an increasingly large share of retail jobs, and economists are sounding the alarm, saying these are among the least stable and lowest-paying jobs in the country.

New data, provided exclusively to Axios by the online job site ZipRecruiter, shows that postings for salon jobs skyrocketed from 2017 to 2018:

  • Openings in nail care jumped 186% from one year to the next; hair care, 103%; and salon and spa by 150%.

But, but, but: Wages for these jobs have remained flat, despite the boom, says Saba Waheed, research director at the UCLA Labor Center.

  • A recent study by the center found that 78% of nail salon workers earn less than $12.39 an hour — two-thirds of the national median wage in the middle of last year.
  • 30% of nail technicians are self-employed and working without any benefits or labor protections. That's triple the average share in other U.S. industries.
  • Nail salon workers are also predominantly women (81%) and born outside the U.S. (79%).
"It’s an industry of low-cost services and low-wage workers. But if this is a sector that continues to grow, we have to ask ourselves, 'Are we paying too little for the cost of getting our nails done?'"
— Saba Waheed
3. Walmart's robot army

A shelf-scanning bot at Walmart. Photo: Rick T. Wilking/Getty

Walmart has offered a glimpse at how it plans to move its stores into the future, announcing the addition of 3,900 aisle-mopping and shelf-scanning robots to its floors.

By the numbers:

  • 3,900 robots is a massive deployment, but the impact to jobs will be significantly diluted as those bots are spread across 4,700 stores, says Darrell West of the Brookings Institution.
  • Among the bots joining Walmart's workforce: 1,500 autonomous janitors, 300 shelf-scanners, 1,200 truck unloaders, and 900 pickup towers that put items ordered online into a vending machine for customers to retrieve.

Erica writes: Walmart says the workers whose jobs these bots will replace will move to "more fulfilling" customer service work. But can the company really absorb the impact of automation?

What's happening: A common refrain among companies that add scores of bots alongside human workers is that they will free up humans from menial tasks to do more interesting work.

Experts worry that only a portion of humans will actually be "freed up," and the rest face layoffs. But Walmart insists not a single worker will lose their job.

  • In many cases, such as with the truck-unloading bot, the machines are doing jobs that Walmart has long had difficulty filling anyway, says spokesperson Ragan Dickens.
  • Walmart says it also has added 40,000 new online grocery picker jobs — people who assemble shopping bags for online customers — in the last two years.

But, but, but: As robots' capabilities expand, they could come for those and other jobs Walmart says it is setting aside for humans, says Brookings' West. "Automation could threaten jobs because robots likely will perform many routine tasks. The company already has introduced self checkout and is experimenting with automated checkouts."

4. Worthy of your time

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Journalism — powered by 5G (Joshua Benton — Nieman Lab)

Bankers in a world without cash (Dion Rabouin — Axios)

The fight to save the Notre-Dame (Victor Mallet, Harriet Agnew — FT)

The altruistic lives of viruses (Viviane Callier — Quanta)

The world's biggest EV company looks nothing like Tesla (Matthew Campbell, Ying Tian — Bloomberg)

5. 1 cashierless thing: Nick shops at Amazon Go

In Chicago. Photo: Nicholas Johnston/Axios

On a trip to Chicago yesterday, our editor-in-chief, Nick Johnston, visited Amazon Go. As hard as he tried to trick the cashierless system (he dropped a bag of M&Ms into his pocket right as he walked out — not lingering for a second), he was accurately charged (eight minutes after leaving the shop).

As we’ve reported, cashierless systems are lagging in the U.S. In several states, the model is facing a legal backlash. And the behemoth Walmart has decided to roll back its automated checkout technology because it found customers actually like speaking with a human.

We asked Nick if he missed that human touch:

"I am the kind of person who will cross a busy intersection and download an app to test a new kind of store that will help me never talk to another living soul again. I guess that makes me atypical." 
Bryan Walsh