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Morning Brew

Masterworks

Good morning. TFW Wawa says it’s expanding to new states, but those states aren’t yours .

The real “Everything Store” (sorry, Amazon) said it is opening its first stores in Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky in 2025. And it’s already planning on slinging Tastykakes in Alabama, North Carolina, Georgia, and the Florida Panhandle in 2024.

Watch your back, Casey’s.

Sam Klebanov, Max Knoblauch, Matty Merritt, Neal Freyman

MARKETS

Nasdaq

11,082.00

S&P

3,963.51

Dow

33,781.48

10-Year

3.487%

Bitcoin

$17,212.27

Oil

$71.79

*Stock data as of market close, cryptocurrency data as of 5:00am ET. Here's what these numbers mean.

  • Markets: For the first time this month, all three major indexes closed higher on the same day (teamwork!). And despite a small bump yesterday, oil has been slumping hard, which has been nothing short of fantastic news for American drivers. US gas prices ($3.33/gallon, on average) are now lower than they were last year at this time, and seem headed below $3.
 

GEOPOLITICS

Brittney Griner is free

Brittney Griner in Russian jail Natalia Kolesnikova/Getty Images

Russian authorities released WNBA star Brittney Griner yesterday in a high-profile, 1-for-1 prisoner swap brokered by UAE and Saudi leaders.

Griner had been in Russian detention since February following her arrest at a Moscow airport on drug charges (she was carrying vape cartridges containing less than a gram of cannabis oil in her luggage). Despite insisting that her action was accidental, she received a nine-year prison sentence for drug smuggling and was transferred to a penal colony last month.

In exchange for Griner’s release, the US agreed to free Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was less than halfway into serving a 25-year prison sentence. The deal comes amid heightened tensions between the two countries following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

President Biden welcomed Griner’s wife, Cherelle, at the White House yesterday, and she thanked the administration for its efforts and described feeling “overwhelmed with emotions.”

So who is Viktor Bout?

Bout made a fortune arming warlords in Africa and the Middle East after the fall of the Soviet Union, and he was the inspiration for Nicolas Cage’s character in the 2005 movie Lord of War.

In 2011, the US government convicted Bout on charges related to a sting operation that exposed his willingness to sell surface-to-air missiles to insurgents in South America. Bout claims he is an innocent businessman, and Russian officials have said he is a victim of politically motivated prosecution.

Given Bout’s notoriety, some critics say that the deal shortchanged the US and handed Russian President Vladimir Putin a win amid military failures in Ukraine. Observers pointed out the asymmetry of the swap: an athlete guilty of at most occasionally hitting a weed vape was exchanged for an infamous arms dealer with the moniker “Merchant of Death.”

What about other US prisoners in Russia?

While Griner is coming home, another American in Russian custody isn’t: former US Marine Paul Whelan, who is serving a 16-year sentence in Russia for espionage (Whelan maintains his innocence). He told CNN yesterday that he was “greatly disappointed” that more hadn’t been done to secure his release.

Senior administration officials said that Russia refused to consider freeing Whelan, but Biden vowed to “never give up” attempting to bring him home.—SK

        

TOGETHER WITH MASTERWORKS

A Banksy got everyday investors 32% returns?

Mm-hmm, sure. So, what’s the catch? 

We know it may sound too good to be true. But it’s not only possible, it’s happening—and thousands of investors are smiling all the way to the bank, thanks to the fine-art investing platform Masterworks.  

These results aren’t cherry-picking. This is the whole bushel. Masterworks has built a track record of 8 exits, the last 3 realizing +13.9%, +17.8%, and +21.5% net returns even while financial markets plummeted.

But art? Really? Okay, skeptics, here are the numbers. Contemporary art prices:

  • outpaced the S&P 500 by 131% over the last 26 years
  • have the lowest correlation to equities of any asset class
  • remained stable through the dot-com bubble and ’08 crisis

Got your attention yet? Morning Brew readers can skip the waitlist with this exclusive link.

WORLD

Tour de headlines

Gamer Joe Brady/Getty Images

Judgment day arrives for Microsoft. We warned you that the FTC could sue to block Microsoft’s $69 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard imminently, and yesterday it happened. Regulators filed a lawsuit against the tech giant, alleging that its plan to buy the Call of Duty-maker would give it an unfair advantage over rivals in the gaming industry. It’s the most significant antitrust action brought against Microsoft in more than 20 years, and could be a legacy-defining case for FTC Commissioner Lina Khan, who has pledged to crack down on Big Tech consolidation.

Marriage protection bill heads to Biden’s desk. The Respect for Marriage Act, a landmark bill that would enshrine protections for same-sex and interracial marriages at the federal level, passed in the House yesterday, with 39 Republicans joining all Democrats in support. The bill was approved by the Senate late last month and now heads to President Biden for his signature. Democrats pushed marriage protections forward at lightning-speed after Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas hinted about scrapping rights like same-sex marriage in his opinion on overturning Roe v. Wade in June.

Philly’s “boy in the box” now has a name. In 1957, a young boy was found dead, badly beaten, in a cardboard box in northeast Philadelphia. But after more than 60 years of not being able to identify the boy, Philly police said yesterday that they finally learned his name: Joseph Augustus Zerilli. Officials said they’re hoping the announcement will elicit tips to help them get to the bottom of the city’s oldest unsolved homicide; they haven’t yet determined who was responsible for Zerelli’s death.

LABOR

The strike of record

New York Times walkout Francis Scialabba

Thousands of Wordle streaks came to a screeching halt yesterday as New York Times readers joined in a digital picket line with the 1,100+ unionized employees who staged a 24-hour strike—the paper’s biggest labor dispute in more than 40 years.

The New York Times Guild warned of the walkout last week, claiming that management had been “dragging its feet” in bargaining before a year-end deadline. The union has been tensely negotiating a new agreement with Times management for the last 20 months, with the primary sticking points being wages (which have not kept up with inflation, according to staffers), return-to-office policies, and retirement benefits.

Striking staffers asked readers to avoid engaging with NYT content, including articles, Wordle, the crossword, and The Daily podcast, for the duration of the strike.

While media companies including CNN, BuzzFeed, and Morning Brew have cut staff in recent weeks, citing advertising pullbacks and a tough macroeconomic environment, the Times has remained on offense, acquiring brands like The Athletic and Wordle this year. In its most recent earnings report, the company projected an adjusted operating profit of $320 million–$330 million for 2022.—MK

        

STREAMING

Finally, an ad in your Disney movie

Disney+ logo on TV with "skip ad" buttons. Francis Scialabba

After bringing back the office log flume, newly reinstated CEO Bob Iger will oversee Disney+’s latest update: commercials. Disney+ launched a cheaper, ad-supported option yesterday for $7.99. At the same time, its ad-free version also got a $3 price hike, to $10.99.

Everything will be SFW: There will be no political or alcohol-related ads, marketers won’t be allowed to target viewers under 18, and anyone watching on “kids mode” will have ad-free viewing.

More like Disney-. Despite seeing steady growth in Q3—with 12 million new subscribers—Disney+ is hemorrhaging money and reported a $1.5 billion loss in the same quarter. For that reason and others, the board decided two weeks ago to boot CEO Bob Chapek and bring back legendary CEO Bob Iger to turn things around. Though, to be clear, it wasn’t Iger’s decision to let your Andor viewing be interrupted by a Downy commercial—the company first teased the ad-dition back in March.

Everyone’s doing it: Of the major streamers, only Amazon and AppleTV+ haven’t introduced an ad option. Even Netflix, which tsk tsked ads for years, finally launched an ad tier last month. Disney-owned Hulu was one of the first streamers to offer an ad tier, which accounts for a majority of its subscribers.—MM

        

GRAB BAG

Key performance indicators

Stadium 974 Mike Egerton/PA Images/Getty Images

Stat: Just hours after Brazil booted South Korea from the World Cup on Monday, crews got to work dismantling the venue that hosted the match: Stadium 974. That means Stadium 974 hosted just 13 matches in its 13 months of existence, including seven at the World Cup. As the first temporary stadium used for the World Cup, Stadium 974 will be stripped down and perhaps rebuilt as a tournament venue in another country. Btw, the World Cup returns to action today with two quarterfinal matches: Brazil vs. Croatia and Argentina vs. the Netherlands.

Quote: “It was not a good investment.”

Kevin O’Leary should maybe stick to investing in things like pimple popping toys. Shark Tank’s “Mr. Wonderful” admitted he was paid $15 million to act as FTX’s spokesperson. And of the ~$9.7 million he put into crypto, “it’s all at zero,” he told CNBC. Like Tom Brady and other celebs, O’Leary hyped FTX on social media and TV over the past year; now, he’s being named in a class-action lawsuit over the exchange’s implosion.

Read: Ben Thompson breaks down what OpenAI’s new chatbot might mean for homework. (Stratechery)

QUIZ

Quiz the season

Weekly news quiz

The feeling of getting a 5/5 on the Brew’s Weekly News Quiz has been compared to finding one more La Croix in the fridge.

It’s that satisfying. Ace the quiz.

WHAT ELSE IS BREWING

  • Maxine Waters, the chair of the House Financial Services Committee, said she doesn’t plan to subpoena SBF to testify at next week’s hearing about FTX’s collapse.
  • Iran executed a man who was arrested in relation to widespread anti-government protests. It’s the first (known) time the death penalty has been used in connection with the protests.
  • Celine Dion said she has a rare neurological disorder that causes muscle spasms, and won’t be able to perform planned shows in Europe next year.
  • George Newall, the co-creator of Schoolhouse Rock, died at 88.

FROM THE CREW

Biz conversations that matter to you

Business Casual logo

The Brew’s Business Casual podcast discusses the business topics relevant to your life. Check out these recent popular episodes:

This editorial content is supported by Purple Mattress.

BREW'S BETS

Year-end music roundups: The 100 best recordings of 2022, Pitchfork’s 50 best albums of the year, and the 60 best albums of the year according to some guy in Chicago.

Get lost in the sauce: Here are the condiments and sauces that are worth becoming mildly obsessed with.

SF may have lost out on Aaron Judge…but the city looks real pretty in this bike tour video.

Chart your course: With Teachable, you can create, build, manage, and own online courses. They make it easy to turn your expertise into a scalable online biz + maximize your earning potential. Start for free today.*

A treat for the feet: Pick out a box of colorful and cozy socks from Bombas for everyone on your list. They come in festive gift boxes—aka no wrapping required. Shop now.*

*This is sponsored advertising content.

GAMES

The puzzle section

Jigsaw: Sit and roll over for today’s National Dog Show jigsaw puzzle. Play it here.

Friday puzzle

You have an 11-minute hourglass and a seven-minute hourglass. You need to measure exactly 15 minutes. How do you do it?

AROUND THE BREW

The future of marketing

The future of marketing

Bots aren’t stealing copywriting jobs. Instead, AI-powered tools can simplify content creation and management for marketers. Read how here.

Every data or finance person needs Excel Dictionary’s “Freak in the Sheets” ornament for their tree. Get yours or gift yours before they are gone. Shop now.

’Tis the season...for cyber threats. With IT Brew’s “smishing” guide, IT pros can effectively educate employees and protect their companies.

ANSWER

Start by flipping both hourglasses at the same time. When the seven-minute hourglass runs out, immediately flip it over to start it again. Then, once the 11-minute hourglass runs out, flip the seven-minute one back over again. Once that one runs out, 15 minutes will have elapsed.

✢ A Note From Masterworks

See important Regulation A disclosures.

         

Written by Neal Freyman, Max Knoblauch, Sam Klebanov, and Matty Merritt

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