Category Archives: News

Travelers Face Soaring Airfares

With the shining sun and Covid restrictions letting up, Americans are eagerly booking vacations and flights for the upcoming summer months. Tired of regulations and staying at home, people are excited for a newfound freedom they’ve missed. Together with the enthusiasm to travel, experts warn of increasingly hefty airfares.

According to the Associated Press, the expected number of travelers this summer is higher than in pre-pandemic times. Prices of domestic flights are selling at rates 24% higher than during this season in 2019 and 45% more than this time last year. Similarly, international flights are going for 10% more than in 2019.

So, why the drastic increase?

According to airlines, there are a few factors. First and foremost is the rise in jet fuel prices. Additionally, there are fewer flights available for booking and many travelers interested in purchasing tickets. In the words of Hayley Berg, an economist for Hopper, “We have more travelers looking to book fewer seats, and each of those seats is going to be more expensive for airlines to fly this summer because of jet fuel.” Lastly, there is a major decrease in staff numbers in comparison to before the pandemic, and this often results in canceled flights.

Bottom line: If you are eager to make up for missed time during the Covid-19 restrictions, go for it – but be prepared to pay the price!

Famed Marilyn Monroe Portrait Sets New Record

In a record-breaking sale, the famous 1964 Andy Warhol portrait of Marilyn Monroe has sold for $195 million. The sale took place at Christie’s auction house in New York.

While estimates before the event had the artwork priced at $200 million, this auction has set new records for 20th century American art. It is the most expensive piece of American artwork ever sold at an auction. It is also the second priciest auctioned piece of art, after Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi” sold for $450 million in 2017.

The sale of the iconic silk-screen portrait was encouraging for many art dealers. Andrew Fabricant, COO of Gagosian Gallery and a top art dealer, explained: “This shows that quality and scarcity are always going to push the market forward. It will give a bump psychologically to everyone’s thinking.”

The artwork, entitled Shot Sage Blue Marilyn, was painted by Warhol two years after Monroe’s death in 1964. It is one in a series of five versions of the portrait, each featuring a different color scheme. After a woman entered Warhol’s studio and fired gunshots at a stack of the paintings, the portraits inherited their titles.

Since the 1980s, Shot Sage Blue Marilyn had been owned by a Swiss art dealer. Proceeds of this memorable sale will go to charity in support of education and health programming for children.

A Reason to Raise Your Spirits

Beam Suntory, one of the largest producers of distilled beverages in the world, has been working to shift its image to higher-end spirits. Its popular Knob Creek bourbon has sported a new look for the past three years, with an updated label design that has brought back its nine-year age statement, and a new line of 12-year and 15-year versions of the whisky. While prices once ranged from $25 to $50 per bottle, prices are now anywhere from $36 to $200. Following the company’s conscious efforts to step into the higher-end market, international sales reportedly rose 11% in 2021.

CEO Albert Baladi said in an interview: “Two years ago, in 2020, we weren’t as affected as a lot of companies, so the bounce back isn’t as strong as some of the other numbers that you’re still seeing, but still I think double-digits against 2019 is quite powerful.” Baladi continued to explain that the spirits industry generally does well even in times of economic crisis, and that raising prices encourages the company to continue upgrading its beverages. An advantage has been that customers are less sensitive to price hikes made to counterbalance inflation, as they’re pleased to pay more for higher-end drinks.

Ready to tap into another beverage line, Beam Suntory has announced plans to expand its ready-to-drink cocktail line and has partnered with Sam Adams brewer Boston Beer. Although unexpected, this trendy market line has proven lucrative and ranked as the fasting growing of any spirit category, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. Beam Suntory’s premixed brands Sauza and Truly Vodka will be released this spring.

China Covid Recovery Means Challenges for Hollywood

With China having largely contained the coronavirus, the movie industry in the world’s number two consumer market is primed to return to pre-pandemic levels in 2021. That presents opportunities and challenges for legacy studios in Hollywood as Western economies struggle to reopen their leisure economies.

Bloomberg reports that ticket sales for Chinese movie theaters during the first five days of the Lunar New Year brought in 5.7 billion yuan ($882 million), a 33% jump over 2019, the  previous record year.

The financial newswire also said shares of Imax China Holding Inc. jumped by 31% in Hong Kong and that Alibaba Pictures Group Ltd. had rallied 35%.

For Hollywood, China’s growing percentage of the global film consumer base has not been seamless, and will likely involve more upheaval. In addition to the obvious language barrier – the gap between Mandarin and English is harder to bridge than between English and European languages – there are also cultural and political hurdles to overcome.

Chris Fenton, a long-time Hollywood executive and author of last year’s Feeding the Dragon: Inside the Trillion Dollar Dilemma Facing Hollywood, the NBA, and American Business, told NewsGram that Beijing is demanding the right to dictate the content of American movies – and getting it.

“(Beijing has) amazing influence over Hollywood,” Fenton told the online Newsgram site. “There are a couple of versions of it. One is a premeditated version of what is censored even before it was written or scripted, which is this idea with any sort of sensitive topics, whether it has to do with Taiwan, or Hong Kong or Tibet … things that have something to do with human rights issues, whatever it is. Those are essentially taboo in Hollywood.”

According to Aynne Kokas, a professor of media studies at the University of Virginia, the issue is not likely to disappear for Hollywood any time soon. “China’s market is now central to any major release,” Kokas told Bloomberg.

“Diminishing market share presents a worrying picture for Hollywood studios” that may have been relying on China to recoup blockbusters’ budgets, she said.

The Federal Reserve Announces Continued Near-Zero Interest Rates

Interest rates will be staying low is the conclusion the Federal Reserve reached in its first meeting since its August decision to keep the benchmark federal funds rate near zero and its last meeting before the November presidential elections.

The Feds renewed its promise to keep interest rates close to zero until a time when they see inflation on a consistent climb.

The decision to keep the benchmark federal funds rate between 0 and 0.25 percent was not a surprise. The low rate has been maintained since March, when the pandemic began to take its toll on the US economy and health. Fed officials expect that the low rates will be maintained at least until 2023. Fed officials also altered their predictions about GDP, saying it would not be as steep a decline as they originally envisioned. They also expect the unemployment rate to reach about 7.6% by the end of this year.

“With inflation running persistently below this longer run goal, the Committee will aim to achieve inflation moderately above 2 percent for some time so that inflation averages 2 percent over time and longer-term inflation expectations remain well-anchored at 2 percent. The Committee expects to maintain an accommodative stance of monetary policy until these outcomes are achieved,” the post-meeting statement declared.