Morning Brew - ☕️ MDMA at the FDA

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June 01, 2024 View Online | Sign Up | Shop

Morning Brew

Babbel

Good morning. Today is a bittersweet day at the Brew, because we are saying goodbye to the one, the only: Mary Tobler.

For the past three years, Mary has created the delightful, clever puzzles you see at the bottom of this newsletter, from Mini Crosswords to Word Searches. She’s one of the best in the biz, and we’re sad to see her go—but excited about her opportunity in a new role.

As her grand finale and a way of saying thank you to all the Brew readers who played her puzzles, Mary has created one of her famous Mega Crosswords. Be sure to check it out below.

—Molly Liebergall, Cassandra Cassidy, Matty Merritt, Abby Rubenstein, Neal Freyman

MARKETS

Nasdaq

16,735.02

S&P

5,277.51

Dow

38,686.32

10-Year

4.514%

Bitcoin

$67,535.62

Gap

$28.96

Data is provided by

*Stock data as of market close, cryptocurrency data as of 6:00pm ET. Here's what these numbers mean.

  • Markets: Stocks were mixed yesterday, with the Dow having its strongest day this year. Some AI-related companies, including Dell, faltered, and new inflation data came in right about as expected. Stocks closed out a strong month: The S&P 500 had its best May since 2020 and the Dow its best since 2021.
  • Stock spotlight: Gap, a company that once convinced everyone khakis were cool using swing music, leaped up as investors digested its stellar first-quarter results—including comparable store sales growth at all four of its brands (Gap, Old Navy, Athleta, and Banana Republic) for the first time in a decade. Its new CEO’s efforts to reestablish relevance are paying off.
 

RETAIL

Groceries are gonna have a hot discount summer

Grocery items with discount stickers Anna Kim

You know how it feels impossible to leave your house without spending at least $40? Well, after more than three years of rising inflation that’s made everything from gas to eggs hurt your wallet, this week Walgreens became the latest major retail chain to join the horde of stores trimming prices to lure back cash-strapped customers.

But…“We’re not going to see the return of 2019 pricing,” GlobalData’s managing director of retail, Neil Saunders, told Vox. The average price of groceries jumped 25% over the past four years (outpacing regular inflation), so while some brands, like Amazon Fresh, say they plan to temporarily mark down items by as much as 30%, most products aren’t getting heavy discounts.

  • Walgreens, which has been lowering prices since October, announced plans on Wednesday to discount 1,300 more seasonal, food, health and wellness, and personal care items.
  • Target cut prices on 1,500 products this month—including store brands (Good & Gather unsalted butter is down to $3.79 from $3.99) and name brands like Clorox, Huggies, Pepperidge Farm, and Aveeno—and said it plans to mark down 3,500 more goods this summer.
  • Walmart said this month that rollbacks (Wal-speak for temporary discounts) were up 45% this April compared to 2023, and that price reductions on 7,000 items helped the big-box chain increase its sales last quarter.
  • Aldi is dangling discounted BBQ vibes like a sirloin steak for $6.99 instead of $8.49—but only for the summer.

From their POV: Every retailer wants to be seen as the one that finally lowered prices, and media buzz (like this story!) helps erect that image. Plus, companies that don’t lower prices now risk losing customers to the cheaper lemonade stand, which also makes this a prime time for brands to push discounts on their larger-margined, store-brand labels.—ML

   

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WORLD

Tour de headlines

Billionaire Bill Ackman Sylvain Gaboury / Getty Images

Hedge funder Bill Ackman wants to take his firm public. For now, Ackman, a billionaire and frequent main character on X, is selling a 10% stake in Pershing Square in a private funding round that values it at $10.5 billion, multiple news outlets reported. But in the future, possibly in 2025 or 2026, he’s reportedly looking to take the unusual step of an IPO for his investment firm. Part of the firm is already listed on stock exchanges in Europe, but not in the US. Though Ackman grew to prominence as an activist investor and short seller, his more recent investments have been mellower, unlike his popular social media presence.

Trump’s campaign made bank off his felony conviction. As the guilty verdict in the case accusing Donald Trump of covering up hush money paid to adult film star Stormy Daniels came rolling in, so did the political donations—his campaign said it pulled in a record $34.8 million from small-dollar donors in the hours after the news broke Thursday. Trump, who was found guilty on 34 counts of falsifying business records by a New York jury but maintains his innocence, vowed to appeal in a heated press conference yesterday. President Joe Biden, Trump’s 2024 election opponent, called Trump’s unaccepting response to the verdict “reckless” and “irresponsible.”

Biden throws his weight behind new Israeli cease-fire plan. Yesterday, President Biden laid out the terms of Israel’s proposed deal, saying it could end the eight-month war in Gaza. The three-phase deal begins with a six-week cease-fire, Israel’s withdrawal from populated areas of Gaza, and Hamas’s release of some hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. He urged Hamas to take the deal and Israel to stand by it, saying, “It’s time for this war to end, for the day after to begin.” Hamas released a statement saying it “looked positively” on some of the key elements Biden mentioned. Biden also said Hamas was no longer capable of carrying out another attack on the scale of the Oct. 7 assault that led to the war.

ENERGY

Saudi Aramco readies for mega share sale

A worker stands at a pipeline at the Saudi Aramco oil field facilities Reza / Getty Images

Saudi Arabia is learning this lesson the hard way: Billion-dollar futuristic “giga-projects” in the desert aren’t going to pay for themselves.

That could help explain why the nation’s state-controlled energy giant is poised to sell off a 0.7% stake. Aramco will start taking orders on Sunday for over 1.5 billion shares, with the potential to fetch anywhere between $11 billion and $13 billion.

Under pressure: The sale comes as Saudi Arabia is working through an identity crisis. The oil-rich nation wants to diversify its economy beyond environmentally questionable energy through Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitious Vision 2030 plan.

  • Foreign investors have been wary of putting money into the plan’s flashy, futuristic projects. It’s not without reason: NEOM, a planned high-tech city in the desert, recently reported it was scaling back its development.
  • So, the nation’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), needs to bulk up if it is going to pull off MBS’s plans. Experts believe the PIF will likely receive what Aramco raises from the share sale.

As Jim Nantz would say…it’s shaping up to be a heck of a Sunday. The sale will begin as OPEC+ meets to decide oil output for the rest of the year.—CC

   

TOGETHER WITH THE POINTS GUY

The Points Guy

Protect your points. Have you heard about the Credit Card Competition Act? If passed, this congressional bill could cut credit card cash-back and travel rewards programs. That could make travel more expensive and less accessible for American consumers like you. Wanna take action? Start here.

PHARMA

The FDA side-eyes ecstasy trial data

This image made with the Iseult Magneton 11.7 T MRI shows a brain during a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exam simulation at the Neurospin facilities in the Paris-Saclay Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission. Alain Jocard/Getty Images

An initial review from Food and Drug Administration regulators released yesterday about MDMA’s use to treat PTSD is filled with questions ahead of the agency’s pivotal meeting with outside drug experts on Tuesday.

Lykos Therapeutics tested 195 adults with moderate-to-severe PTSD and claimed that those who received MDMA and talk therapy were more likely to be in remission at the end of the trial than those who didn’t. While the FDA agreed that the drugmaker’s data showed the mind-altering drug could be used to meaningfully treat PTSD, the agency also raised some red flags:

  • The agency said Lykos’s data was “challenging to interpret.”
  • Because the drug is known for its psychedelic effects, the placebo was pretty easily recognized by the control group, the FDA said, which potentially impacts results.
  • The agency also doesn’t know how long a patient would need to undergo treatment, considering that 25% of the participants dropped out before the end of a follow-up study.

More than a party drug: If approved, MDMA would become the first psychedelic-based treatment in the US. The FDA is expected to decide by August 11 with the help of the recommendations of outside experts.

Even if it’s approved, concerns will remain, including the potential for dangerous side effects, the drug’s accessibility, and the patchwork of state regulations it would need to overcome.—MM

   

STAT

Prime number

A platinum AmEx card with Gen Z as the cardholder Alex Castro

Things Gen Z loves: self-care, crew socks…and high-end AmEx plastic. Seems the hottest thing among young people is a 174-year-old financial firm. According to the Wall Street Journal, 75% of American Express’s new consumer premium Gold and Platinum card accounts last year came from Gen Z and millennials. And, interested in maximizing perks, they’re not starting with no-fee cards but going straight for options like the $695-per-year Platinum. Appealing to the young is helping the company thrive: AmEx stock is up more than 25% this year.

NEWS

What else is brewing

  • Moderna got FDA approval for its RSV vaccine for people aged 60+, giving the Covid jab-maker a second product to sell in the US market.
  • The Texas Supreme Court upheld the state’s strict abortion ban, rejecting a challenge from women with severe pregnancy complications who argued its health exceptions are too narrow.
  • Sen. Joe Manchin, formerly a Democrat from West Virginia, said he registered as an independent. Though he’s said he won’t run for reelection, the move raised questions about his future ambitions.
  • Proxy advisor firm ISS urged Tesla shareholders to vote against Elon Musk’s $56 billion pay package, days after fellow advisor Glass Lewis did the same.
  • Costco is not planning to raise the price of its $1.50 hot dog, the retailer’s CFO said when discussing its quarterly earnings.
  • Michelle Obama’s mother, Marian Robinson, has died at age 86.
  • Madonna was sued by a fan who claimed the pop star’s LA concert included “pornography without warning.”

RECS

Saturday To-Do List graphic

How to win book awards: Write a longer novel.

Watch: Why American cheese makes the best mac and cheese.

Play: This game has you guess the hidden Wikipedia entry by uncovering one word at a time.

See the parade of planets: Here’s how to view the rare alignment of six celestial bodies on Monday night.

Plan + protect: Financial conversations today can help you feel more confident about tomorrow. MassMutual can help you make a holistic plan to grow and protect your wealth.*

*A message from our sponsor.

GAMES

The puzzle section

Crossword: Mary went all-out for her final Brew Mega Crossword. Play it here.

Open House

Welcome to Open House, the only newsletter section that buys property based on its significance to iconic American lyricists. We’ll give you a few facts about a listing and you try to guess the price.

Jessica Chastain NYC 4th-floor apartment for sale in Osborne building.Evan Joseph/Sotheby’s International Realty

Today’s home in NYC’s Osborne Apartments was listed by actress Jessica Chastain, but its claim to fame (aside from its numerous hype-ups from Architectural Digest) is that its previous tenants were Adam Guettel, Bobby Short, and Leonard Bernstein (not all at once). Amenities include:

  • 4 beds, 3.5 baths
  • Lobby with Tiffany glass
  • Mirror closet doors to swear you saw Bernstein’s ghost in as you get ready for bed

How much for the musically blessed apartment?

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ANSWER

$7.5 million

Word of the Day

Today’s Word of the Day is: celestial, meaning “of or relating to the sky or visible heavens.” Thanks to Elizabeth from Minneapolis for the otherworldly suggestion. Submit another Word of the Day here.

         
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