Morning Brew - ☕ Chocolate crisis

Why chocolate giants are warning of higher prices...
March 18, 2024 View Online | Sign Up | Shop

Morning Brew

It’s Skinny

Good morning. March Madness is here, but the real madness is believing you have a chance at filling out a perfect bracket. The odds of that are 1 in 9.2 quintillion if you were to pick each of the games via coin flip, but if you know something about basketball, they improve to a mere 1 in 120.2 billion.

Knowing your bracket is doomed to fail, why not bet on the power of spite? Although he was fired last Monday, Long Beach State head coach Dan Monson led his team to a conference title and punched a ticket to the men’s tournament. Monson will coach Long Beach State through the end of the season, and he’ll be using timeouts liberally so he can focus on scrolling through LinkedIn.

Neal Freyman, Dave Lozo

MARKETS: YEAR-TO-DATE

Nasdaq

15,973.17

S&P

5,117.09

Dow

38,714.77

10-Year

4.304%

Bitcoin

$68,200.10

Southwest

$28.35

*Stock data as of market close, cryptocurrency data as of 1:00am ET. Here's what these numbers mean.

  • Markets: The three major indexes closed lower last week after several hotter-than-expected inflation reports lowered hype levels for Fed rate cuts. Airlines like Southwest (down 18% last week) are also struggling: Yes, Boeing’s safety problems are forcing them to cut back on routes, but they’re also facing other challenges like reduced leisure demand and higher fuel costs.
 

FOOD

The chocolate crisis is here

Hershey's chocolate bar Scott Olson/Getty Images

The global chocolate industry is facing its worst crisis since Johnny Depp played Willy Wonka. Demand for chocolate is vastly outweighing the available cocoa supply, leading to skyrocketing cocoa prices that will inevitably make chocolate treats more expensive in supermarkets around the world.

The price chart for cocoa is something your algebra teacher would use to describe the term “exponential.” On Friday, benchmark cocoa futures surged to a record $8,018 per metric ton, a 25% increase last week alone and 215% higher than last year.

The price spike has caused large African cocoa processors—which take raw cocoa and turn it into something usable for chocolate companies—to slash production, since they can no longer afford to buy beans.

Why are cocoa prices so high?

The first thing you need to know about cocoa trees is that they only flourish in a narrow band around the equator, which is why four West African countries (Ivory Coast, Ghana, Cameroon, and Nigeria) produce almost 75% of the globe’s cocoa supply, according to Bloomberg Opinion’s commodity expert Javier Blas. Ivory Coast alone produces nearly half of the world’s cocoa, Reuters notes.

Due to bad weather, bean disease, and a lack of investment in new trees stretching back decades, recent cocoa harvests have been dreadful, resulting in a yawning gap between supply and demand.

  • The cocoa market will be short 374,000 tons this season, up from a shortfall of 74,000 tons last season, according to the International Cocoa Organization.
  • Of course, supply is only one side of the price equation: As chocolate has transitioned from a luxury item to one you can easily pick up before catching a movie, global demand has doubled in the last three decades, Blas notes.

Does this mean chocolate could get more expensive?

Actually, it already has. Prices for chocolate products at US retail stores grew 11.6% in 2023 compared to the previous year, according to market research firm Circana. And going forward, confection companies Hershey and Cadbury-maker Mondelez warned they’ll have no choice but to pass on higher cocoa costs to consumers.—NF

     

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WORLD

Tour de headlines

Vladimir Putin Mikhail Klimentyev/Getty Images

Vladimir Putin extends reign as Russia’s president. The man who was allowed to score eight goals in a hockey game found even less resistance in his country’s election, which the White House called “obviously not free nor fair.” Three days of voting with no oversight at the polls or any meaningful opposition ended with Putin winning six more years as Russia’s leader, a position he has held as prime minister or president since 1999. There was pushback from citizens on Sunday—thousands of supporters of late opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who died in an Arctic prison last month, made their voices heard at a noon protest at polling centers. Still, with his landslide victory, Putin could soon overtake Stalin as Russia’s longest-serving leader in more than 200 years.

Netanyahu calls Schumer’s comments “inappropriate.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shot back at scathing criticism from Senate Majority Chuck Schumer last week, saying Israel is not a “banana republic” and countries should not meddle in the electoral affairs of other democracies (Schumer called on Israel to hold new elections). Meanwhile, the first shipment of aid to Gaza by sea in almost 20 years—about 200 tons of food—arrived on Saturday, organized by chef José Andrés’s Central Kitchen charity.

Fraud trial of “Britain’s Bill Gates” begins today. In what prosecutors have called the “largest fraud in the history” of Silicon Valley, UK tech mogul Mike Lynch faces 16 counts of criminal conspiracy and fraud stemming from the $11 billion sale of his software company, Autonomy, to Hewlett-Packard in 2011. HP accused Autonomy of “serious accounting improprieties” in November 2012, when HP announced an $8.8 billion write-down of its value. A 2022 civil case in London found Lynch liable for defrauding HP; in May 2023, he was extradited to stand trial in the US.

DEFENSE

Elon Musk is being enlisted to protect the US

A photo of a rocket taking off for a Starlink mission in Nov. 2019 "Starlink Mission" (CC BY-NC 2.0) by Official SpaceX Photos

SpaceX CEO and terminally online memelord Elon Musk is becoming an increasingly vital figure in the US defense system.

The company that’s been in the news lately for its moonbound megarocket was awarded a $1.8 billion contract in 2021 to build a spy network of hundreds of Starshield satellites for the National Reconnaissance Office, Reuters reported over the weekend. The low-Earth orbit satellites would support ground forces and enhance the ability of the US to locate targets globally.

The SpaceX partnership reflects the US’ urgent efforts to win the latest iteration of the space race.

  • China announced plans earlier this month to create its own constellation of low-orbit satellites to compete with Starlink.
  • US intelligence officials warned in February that Russia is developing a nuclear space weapon capable of destroying satellites.

Musk’s satellites have been a geopolitical football: Ukraine has claimed that Russia is using thousands of Musk’s Starlink satellite terminals to gain a tactical advantage during its invasion, starting a squabble with the Biden administration. Starlink, however, is a separate entity from Starshield, which is designed for military or government uses.

Go down the rabbit hole: The New Yorker dug into the US government’s reliance on Musk for national security.—DL

     

TOGETHER WITH SMARTASSET

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CALENDAR

The week ahead

Iowa's Caitlin Clark Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images

The Madness has arrived: It’s once again the season for people who don’t watch college basketball to suddenly find themselves screaming at their TVs because an unpaid 19-year-old missed a free throw. The NCAA men’s and women’s college basketball tournament brackets were announced on Sunday, signaling the start of a countrywide dip in worker productivity for the next week. The men’s tournament starts Tuesday; the women’s side gets going on Wednesday.

Will Wall Street bet on Reddit? On Thursday, Reddit will become the first social media platform since Pinterest in 2019 to go public. Reddit (ticker: RDDT) will list shares at a valuation of up to $6.4 billion with a unique caveat—a chunk of exclusive IPO stock will be set aside for the platform’s most loyal users. Unfortunately for Reddit, many of those loyal users are bearish about the IPO and have expressed interest in shorting the stock when it goes public.

A flurry of central bank meetings: The Fed meeting that wraps up on Wednesday could offer insight into when interest rates may come down. There’s virtually no chance Chair Jerome Powell will lower rates this week, but he is expected to discuss whether two or three rate cuts are in store for the rest of the year. Meanwhile, the Bank of Japan could hike rates for the first time since 2007, which would bring an end to the world’s last remaining negative interest rate.

Everything else…

  • Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang will deliver the keynote address at the AI giant’s buzzy GPU tech conference today.
  • It’s the first day of spring on Tuesday.
  • World Down Syndrome Day takes place on Wednesday. Watch this viral PSA.
  • It’s Global Recycling Day today, which gives you an opportunity to think about the detritus you create and an excuse to reuse a joke from earlier in the newsletter, just like how Hollywood reused Willy Wonka with Johnny Depp.

GRAB BAG

Key performance indicators

Redwoods in California Filippo Maria Bianchi/Getty Images

Stat: Did you know that Britain has more than six times as many giant sequoia trees as California? No one did until last week, when researchers published the first-ever study into the UK’s redwood population and found they were thriving. Because they’re much younger, the British redwoods are not as tall as their American counterparts—and are way more defensive about Kate Middleton conspiracy theories—but they could catch up in height, given that redwoods can live for 3,000+ years. How’d these trees get to the UK in the first place? They were brought over from their native California by 19th-century Victorians, who viewed the giant trees as a status symbol.

Quote: “i am running out of money”

Dune superfan Mac has seen Dune: Part Two in theaters 18 times as of Saturday, and says he’s taking a financial hit from his obsession. Mac, who has been chronicling the cinematic journey on X, told Inverse following his 14th viewing that he became addicted to Dune after reading the book in 2018 and saw the first film 20x in theaters and more than 200x on streaming. Mac is clearly not alone in his love for the movie—Dune: Part Two is nearing $500 million at the global box office and is currently the highest-grossing film of the year.

Read: The case against banning TikTok. (Techdirt)

NEWS

What else is brewing

  • A volcano in southern Iceland erupted for the fourth time in three months, prompting an emergency declaration.
  • Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is reportedly close to naming a running mate for his independent presidential bid: Nicole Shanahan, an attorney, entrepreneur, and former wife of Google founder Sergey Brin.
  • New Hampshire voters are suing the perpetrators of the Joe Biden deepfake robocalls leading up to January’s presidential primary in the state, NBC reports.
  • Meta is being investigated by the FDA and prosecutors in Virginia for possible involvement with the sale of illicit drugs on the company’s social media platforms, per the WSJ.
  • Shigeichi Negishi, the inventor of the karaoke machine, died at age 100.

RECS

Monday to-do list image

Learn: Eight techniques for evaluating someone’s character.

Read across America: The Atlantic picked its list of the great American novels. How many have you read?

Watch: The Last Repair Shop is free on YouTube. It won the Academy Award for best documentary short film.

Cook: Sheet pan recipes for the kitchen’s underrated powerhouse.

Find your perfect fit: Made by women for women, Andie Swim offers three levels of coverage + support in sizes XS-3XL. Yes, please. Get 20% off with code BREW20.*

*A message from our sponsor.

GAMES

The puzzle section

Turntable: We “X”pect big things from you in today’s Turntable. Play it here.

Map trivia

Today’s puzzle comes from a website that gives you an unlabeled map and asks you to figure out what it’s showing.

In the map below, the size of each country is proportional to a particular statistic. The colors on this map are irrelevant; they are only there to help you distinguish one country from another. What statistic does it represent?

A map of the world for the quizWeeklymap.org

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ANSWER

The total number of pigs in each country.

Source

Word of the Day

Today’s Word of the Day is: detritus, meaning “waste or debris of any kind.” Thanks to Terry from Monticello, KY, and many others for a suggestion we’d never throw away. Submit another Word of the Day here.

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