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All The President’s Meh

All The President’s Meh

By Michael Every of Rabobank

US President Biden just gave a press conference to mark the end of his first year in office. Despite a long line of opinion polls all showing extremely low favourable/unfavourable ratings.



All The President's Meh

By Michael Every of Rabobank

US President Biden just gave a press conference to mark the end of his first year in office. Despite a long line of opinion polls all showing extremely low favourable/unfavourable ratings that, unlike former President Trump, even cover the base that voted for him in 2020, Biden gave himself high marks for the last 12 months, stating “I didn’t overpromise. I have probably outperformed.”

That does not seem a particularly objective assessment of 2021, which most neutral US political writers --all three of them-- would probably summarize as “All The President’s Meh”. Of course, the real test will be how the Democrats perform in 2022, as some pundits talk about a ‘once in a century’ shift to the Republicans. (Who, it must be stressed, are basically doing nothing in Congress, while presumed presidential candidate Trump is riffing on the same old November 2020 memes.) Indeed, with suggestions Democrats will primary Senators Manchin and Sinema over their refusal to remove the filibuster, might another two senate seats get dragged into the mix?  

For markets, the key takeaway on the fiscal front was that Build Back Better won’t pass in its current form, but the president suggested parts of it could move separately – which is arguably a more effective political strategy - albeit against what looks like a ticking electoral clock, and as a fiscal cliff looms too. Regarding the Fed, the president underlined it was appropriate they “recalibrate”, but there wasn’t much talk about supply-side/chain inflation as stores start to see bare shelves.

To be fair, nobody is talking about supply chains, except in platitudes. (“Things will resolve themselves in H2, etc.”) As I have said before, market economists and politicians are like interior designers planning new bathroom layouts to zhuzh up an old house while having no idea of how plumbing works. Smelly things ‘just disappear’ and lovely perfumed things ‘appear’ – until their zhuzhing blocks the drains and toilet, which is where we are now.  

The far more significant points raised by President Biden, however, were arguably over Russia-Ukraine. This did not even get an initial headline from Bloomberg – but, trust me, many headlines are likely to follow if one follows what was and wasn’t said, including that:

  • “My guess is he will move in. He has to do something,” for those thinking this was all a bluff.
  • Russia has “overwhelming military superiority,” for those thinking the Ukrainian army might put up a fight with the aid being delivered by the UK (not Germany; and as bureaucracy slows up the Baltic states’ request to ship some of their stock of US arms to Kyiv).
  • NATO is not yet aligned in terms of its response to a Russian invasion.
  • There won’t be a military response. US Secretary of State Blinken yesterday warned Ukraine of difficult days ahead, but that it “stands with them”. He didn’t add “Just much further away.”
  • If Russia invades, its banks will not be allowed to use US dollars – so SWIFT sanctions. However, such enormous “short-term market destabilisation” is reportedly not agreed to by the EU. Could Russian energy, food, and metals be exempt, or EU-Russia trade switch to EUR, and China-Russia trade to CNY? Again, hardly the stick it seems without full global agreement.
  • “It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion and we end up fighting about what to do and not do. If they actually do what they’re capable of doing…it’s going to be a disaster for Russia.” President Biden has infamously misspoken before: he immediately clarified he was talking about the difference between a cyberattack or grey-zone attack and a military move.

Such poor communication from central banks rightly roils markets: from presidents talking about war and SWIFT, this should be even more the case – if only the financial press could understand the gravity of what is implied. Or just pay attention to it. Indeed, in a much sharper comment Biden added if Russia invades Ukraine, it will be “the most consequential thing that has happened in the world, in terms of war and peace, since WW2.” (Unless he really did mean they can invade parts of it, and the West just argues for a few weeks then moves on, which some in Ukraine are apparently interpreting Biden to have meant, despite White House press office denials.) Might that warrant a financial press headline over talk of a Fed need to “recalibrate”? Bloomberg was *still* running with “CHOPPY: Stocks Drop; Selloff Puts Nasdaq into Correction” at time of writing.

Crucially, ominous threats without equally-ominous deterrence, and flubs and/or potential nudge-nudge-wink-winks, must be seen from the eyes of Putin when coming from an administration that: started super-tough on China, but shifted to trying to rebuild bridges when things got heated; pressurizes allies like Saudi Arabia while looking the other way on Iran, even as the UAE is attacked by Houthi drones; withdrew from Afghanistan in a humiliating manner; and is ignoring North Korea, which today stated it will restart nuclear and ICBM tests to develop the power “to fight the US”. As seasoned China-watcher Bill Bishop just tweeted: ‘Is there a “Minsky Moment” concept for geopolitics? Feels like much of DC in deep denial.’

In short, there are many things for the US hegemon to deal with and, relatively, too few resources, as Foreign Policy magazine underlines in ‘The Overstretched Superpower’. Worse, trying to ignore one threat to focus on the major one (which the US sees as China) merely exacerbates the first problem. As we argued in ‘The World in 2030: Fragments of the Imagination’, this is ultimately likely to prompt a set of US --and allied-- policy responses that the Davos crowd won’t like, and which will roil markets in ways we have had hints of recently: supply-chains shortages/inflation; the swings in short-end bond yields; the collapse of some Chinese assets under Common Prosperity; and the Turkish currency.

Meanwhile, the UK yesterday saw “All the Prime Minister’s Meh”, as under-fire BYO faced a very feisty PMQs, his usual combination of waffle and piffle being pitted against digs about The Conservative Party; a rare defection from them to Labour (prompting left-wingers to complain the new guy was too right-wing for them, showing neither party has a stable coalition behind it); and an ex-minister more or less saying “Let’s Go Boris”. However, it seems that for now the “Pork Pie Plot” to force a leadership challenge is not fully-baked. This still leaves GDP looking at politics too.

Australia, in pre-election mode, is wrapped up in “All the Prime Minister’s and the Opposition’s Meh”. And the RBA’s given today’s jobs number, where another 64.8K were added, 41.5K full-time, and the unemployment rate fell to 4.2% from 4.5%, while labor force participation is not far off pre-pandemic levels.

In China, property developers will now be allowed to tap into escrow accounts holding deposits from home buyers. That frees up liquidity, but raises risks for consumers if the firms then fail, implying bailouts, which is probably where a lot of the pick-up in credit growth will be going, rather than new growth: and this all just ends up on the central-bank balance sheet at the end of the day. So does all the new debt from a further expansion of loss-making high-speed trains, also floated today as a possible policy response to an economy weighed down by too many indebted loss-making high-speed trains. China also lowered banks’ 1-year loan prime rate 10bp to 3.70% today, but this again seems to put the “meh” in “Common Prosperity” (it works with my accent) rather than being a radical new solution to existing problems.

Tyler Durden Thu, 01/20/2022 - 08:23

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How Crowded Are Royal Caribbean, Carnival Cruise Ships Right Now?

Both cruise lines have raised capacities slowly. When will Royal Caribbean and Carnival hit normal?



Both cruise lines have raised capacities slowly. When will Royal Caribbean and Carnival hit normal?

When Freedom of the Seas sailed from Miami on July 2, 2021, it marked Royal Caribbean International's (RCL) - Get Royal Caribbean Group Report return to North American sailing after being shut down since March 2020. 

That sailing has less than 1,000 people on it, mostly loyal cruisers eager to get back to sea no matter what the rules were (as well as a fair amount of company executives.

That ship can hold 4,375 passengers at full capacity, according to Ship Technology and on that July sailing, it felt empty and crew seemed to outnumber passengers. 

At night, in the British Pub, the crowd was essentially me, two other journalists, and the occasional person who wandered by. 

That made it, perhaps, too easy to get a drink, and while it was a wonderful experience, that sailing only felt normal when everyone onboard took to the upper decks to cheer sail away and celebrate the Fourth of July,

I sailed on Freedom on that July sailing, then again in September, October, November, December, and then again in May.

I sailed Odyssey of the Seas and Wonder of the Seas in between January and May. 

The crowds got progressively bigger through the fall, but even the December sailing (a three-day weekend, which in pre-pandemic times would be at or near capacity) still had a limited capacity.

Royal Caribbean steadily increased the number of people on its ships, with some slight pauses in that as new covid variants popped up and Carnival Cruise Lines (CCL) - Get Carnival Corporation Report has followed roughly the same model.   

Dukas/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Cruise Lines Capacity Is Coming Back

How crowded will my cruise be? 

This has been a question seemingly every experienced cruiser has asked. In the summer and fall, that answer was "not at all," and later "not as much as usual," but the numbers of passengers onboard has slowly moved back to normal, even reaching it on some sailings.

Cruise lines generally don't offer a lot of comment on why they might be limiting capacity when technically they no longer have. 

Crew concerns, including not being able to onboard new crew members to allow for full sailings due to slow visa processing times and keeping rooms open fr potential covid quarantines have kept some ships below their full complement of passengers.

Demand, of course, factors in as well. Royal Caribbean CFO Naftali Holtz commented on where his company stands now during its first-quarter earnings call.

"I'd like to comment on capacity and load factor expectations over the upcoming period. We plan to restart operations on all remaining ships by the end of June. 

"We plan to operate about 10.3 million APCDs [available passenger cruise days] during the second quarter, and we expect load factors of approximately 75% to 80%," he said. 

"Our load factor expectations reflect the higher occupancy we are seeing in the Caribbean and lower expectations for repositioning voyages and early season Europe sailings."

It's clear that demand is a factor when it comes to why certain sailings are sailing with fewer passengers than others. 

Carnival has had to limit the cabins it has been selling on its United Kingdom-based Cunard line due to staffing issues.

“As you may have seen in the news, the wider impact of Covid-19 is affecting hospitality and is disrupting airlines and as such this is impacting the number of crew members we are able to get to our ships,” said the company in a statement.

“We naturally want to ensure that all guests across the fleet experience the high standards of service on board that they would expect from Cunard and which we are committed to delivering,” the company added. 

“We are therefore limiting the number of guests sailing as we build crew numbers back up."

Normal Cruise Crowds Are Coming

Once staffing issues return to normal — something that is slowly happening — the biggest concern may be whether the economy slows demand. 

Carnival CEO Arnold Donald said he expects his company to get close to normal over the summer during the cruise line's first-quarter earnings call.

"We're well on our way back to full cruise operations, with three-quarters of our capacity having resumed guest operations and a plan to return the balance of the fleet for the summer season. And while the conversation around covid-19 is greatly reduced, we still have to and are successfully actively managing," he said.

And while neither Carnival's nor Royal Caribbean's CEO said it directly, passengers sailing this summer will likely experience passenger counts in line with tradition. 

That does not mean some sailings won't have limited capacities, or sell poorly, but many will not as long as demand remains within historical norms.


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Spread & Containment

Lab, crab and robotic rehab

I was in Berkeley a couple of months back, helping TechCrunch get its proverbial ducks in a row before our first big climate event (coming in a few weeks,…



I got previews of a number of projects I hope to share with you in the newsletter soon, but one that really caught my eye was FogROS, which was just announced as part of the latest ROS (robot operating system) rollout. Beyond a punny name that is simultaneously a reference to the cloud element (fog/cloud — not to mention the fact that the new department has killer views of San Francisco and frequent visitor, Karl) and problematic French cuisine, there’s some really compelling potential here.

I’ve been thinking about the potential impact of cloud-based processing quite a bit the last several years, independent of my writing about robots. Specifically, a number of companies (Microsoft, Amazon, Google) have been betting big on cloud gaming. What do you do when you’ve seemingly pushed a piece of hardware to its limit? If you’ve got low enough latency, you can harness remote servers to do the heavy lifting. It’s something that’s been tried for at least a decade, to varying effect.

Image Credits: ROS

Latency is, of course, a major factor in gaming, where being off by a millisecond can dramatically impact the experience. I’m not fully convinced that experience is where it ought to be quite yet, but it does seem the tech has graduated to a point where off-board processing makes practical sense for robotics. You can currently play a console game on a smartphone with one of those services, so surely we can produce smaller, lighter-weight and lower-cost robots that rely on a remote server to complete resource-intensive tasks like SLAM processing.

The initial application will focus on AWS, with plans to reach additional services like Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure. Watch this space. There are many reasons to be excited. Honestly, there’s a lot to be excited about in robotics generally right now. This was one of the more fun weeks in recent memory.

V Bionic's exoskeleton glove shown without its covering.

Image Credits: V Bionic

Let’s start with the ExoHeal robotic rehabilitation gloves. The device, created by Saudi Arabian V Bionic, nabbed this year’s Microsoft Imagine Cup. The early-stage team is part of a proud tradition of healthcare exoskeletons. In this case, it’s an attempt to rehab the hand following muscle and tendon injuries. Team leader Zain Samdani told TechCrunch:

Flexor linkage-driven movement gives us the flexibility to individually actuate different parts of each finger (phalanges) whilst keeping the device portable. We’re currently developing our production-ready prototype that utilizes a modular design to fit the hand sizes of different patients.

Image Credits: Walmart

This is the third week in a row Walmart gets a mention here. First it was funding for GreyOrange, which it partnered with in Canada. Last week we noted a big expansion of the retail giant’s deal with warehouse automation firm, Symbotic. Now it’s another big expansion of an existing deal — this time dealing with the company’s delivery ambitions.

Like Walmart’s work with robotics, drone delivery success has been…spotty, at best. Still, it’s apparently ready to put its money where its mouth is on this one, with a deal that brings DroneUp delivery to 34 sites across six U.S. states. Quoting myself here:

The retailer announced an investment in the 6-year-old startup late last year, following trial deliveries of COVID-19 testing kits. Early trials were conducted in Bentonville, Arkansas. This year, Arizona, Florida, Texas and DroneUp’s native Virginia are being added to the list. Once online, customers will be able to choose from tens of thousands of products, from Tylenol to hot dog buns, between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Freigegeben für die Berichterstattung über das Unternehemn Wingcopter bis zum 25.01.2026. Mit Bitte um Urhebervermerk v.l.: Jonathan Hesselbarth, Tom Plümmer und Ansgar Kadura von Wingcopter GmbH. Image Credits: © Jonas Wresch / KfW

There are still more question marks around this stuff than anything, and I’ve long contended that drone delivery makes the most sense in remote and otherwise hard to reach areas. That’s why something like this Wingcopter deal is interesting. Over the next five years, the company plans to bring 12,000 of its fixed-wing UAVs to 49 countries across Sub-Saharan Africa. It will cover spots that have traditionally struggled with infrastructural issues that have made it difficult to deliver food and medical supplies through more traditional means.

“With the looming food crisis on the African continent triggered by the war in Ukraine, we see great potential and strong social impact that drone-delivery networks can bring to people in all the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa by getting food to where it is needed most,” CEO Tom Plümmer told TechCrunch. “Especially in remote areas with weak infrastructure and those areas that are additionally affected by droughts and other plagues, Wingcopter’s delivery drones will build an air bridge and provide food from the sky on a winch to exactly where it is needed.”

Legitimately exciting stuff, that.

Image Credits: Dyson

In more cautiously optimistic news, Dyson dropped some interesting news this week, announcing that it has been (and will continue) pumping a lot of money into robotic research. Part of the rollout includes refitting an aircraft hangar at Hullavington Airfield, a former RAF station in Chippenham, Wiltshire, England that the company purchased back in 2016.

Some numbers from the company:

Dyson is halfway through the largest engineering recruitment drive in its history. Two thousand people have joined the tech company this year, of which 50% are engineers, scientists, and coders. Dyson is supercharging its robotics ambitions, recruiting 250 robotics engineers across disciplines including computer vision, machine learning, sensors and mechatronics, and expects to hire 700 more in the robotics field over the next five years. The master plan: to create the UK’s largest, most advanced, robotics center at Hullavington Airfield and to bring the technology into our homes by the end of the decade.

The primary project highlighted is a robot arm with a number of attachments, including a vacuum and a human-like robot hand, which are designed to perform various household tasks. Dyson has some experience building robots, primarily through its vacuums, which rely on things like computer vision to autonomously navigate. Still, I say “cautiously optimistic,” because I’ve seen plenty of non-robotics companies showcase the technology as more of a vanity project. But I’m more than happy to have Dyson change my mind.

Image Credits: Hyundai

Hyundai, of course, has been quite aggressive in its own robotics dreams, including its 2020 acquisition of Boston Dynamics. The carmaker this week announced that part of its massive new $10 billion investment plans will include robotics, with a focus of actually bringing some of its far-out concepts to market.

Another week, another big round for logistics/fulfillment robotics, as Polish firm Nomagic raised $22 million to expand its offerings. The company’s primary offering is a pick and place arm that can move and sort small goods. Khosla Ventures and Almaz Capital led the round, which also featured European Investment Bank, Hoxton Ventures, Capnamic Ventures, DN Capital and Manta Ray.

Amazon Astro with periscope camera

The periscope camera pops out and extends telescopically, enabling Astro to look over obstacles and on counter tops. A very elegant design choice. Image Credits: Haje Kamps for TechCrunch

We finally got around to reviewing Amazon’s limited-edition home robot, Astro, and Haje’s feelings were…mixed:

It’s been fun to have Astro wandering about my apartment for a few days, and most of the time I seemed to use it as a roving boom box that also has Alexa capabilities. That’s cute, and all, but $1,000 would buy Alexa devices for every thinkable surface in my room and leave me with enough cash left over to cover the house in cameras. I simply continue to struggle with why Astro makes sense. But then, that’s true for any product that is trying to carve out a brand new product category.

A tiny robot crab scuttles across the frame. Image Credits: Northwestern University

And finally, a tiny robot crab from Northwestern University. The little guy can be controlled remotely using lasers and is small enough to sit on the side of a penny. “Our technology enables a variety of controlled motion modalities and can walk with an average speed of half its body length per second,” says lead researcher, Yonggang Huang. “This is very challenging to achieve at such small scales for terrestrial robots.”

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Scuttle, don’t walk to subscribe to Actuator.

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Spread & Containment

Asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infections responsible for spreading of COVID-19 less than symptomatic infections

Based on studies published through July 2021, most SARS-CoV-2 infections were not persistently asymptomatic, and asymptomatic infections were less infectious…



Based on studies published through July 2021, most SARS-CoV-2 infections were not persistently asymptomatic, and asymptomatic infections were less infectious than symptomatic infections. These are the conclusions of an update of a systematic review and meta-analysis publishing May 26th in the open access journal PLOS Medicine by Diana Buitrago-Garcia of the University of Bern, Switzerland, and colleagues.

Credit: Monstera, Pexels (CC0,

Based on studies published through July 2021, most SARS-CoV-2 infections were not persistently asymptomatic, and asymptomatic infections were less infectious than symptomatic infections. These are the conclusions of an update of a systematic review and meta-analysis publishing May 26th in the open access journal PLOS Medicine by Diana Buitrago-Garcia of the University of Bern, Switzerland, and colleagues.

Debate about the level and risks of asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infections continues, with much ongoing research. Studies that assess people at just one time point can overestimate the proportion of true asymptomatic infections because those who go on to later develop symptoms are incorrectly classified as asymptomatic rather than presymptomatic. However, other studies can underestimate asymptomatic infections with research designs that are more likely to include symptomatic participants.

The new paper was an update of a living (as in, regularly updated) systematic review first published in April 2020, which includes additional, more recent studies through July 2021. 130 studies were included, with data on 28,426 people with SARS-CoV-2 across 42 countries, including 11,923 people defined as having asymptomatic infection. Because of extreme variability between included studies, the meta-analysis did not calculate a single estimate for asymptomatic infection rate, but it did estimate the inter-quartile range to be that 14–50% of infections were asymptomatic. Additionally, the researchers found that the secondary attack rate—a measure of the risk of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 — was about two-thirds lower from people without symptoms than from those with symptoms (risk ratio 0.32, 95%CI 0.16–0.64).

“If both the proportion and transmissibility of asymptomatic infection are relatively low, people with asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection should account for a smaller proportion of overall transmission than presymptomatic individuals,” the authors say, while also pointing out that “when SARS-CoV-2 community transmission levels are high, physical distancing measures and mask-wearing need to be sustained to prevent transmission from close contact with people with asymptomatic and presymptomatic infection.”

Coauthor Nicola Low adds, “The true proportion of asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection is still not known, and it would be misleading to rely on a single number because the 130 studies that we reviewed were so different. People with truly asymptomatic infection are, however, less infectious than those with symptomatic infection.”


In your coverage, please use this URL to provide access to the freely available paper in PLOS Medicine:  

Citation: Buitrago-Garcia D, Ipekci AM, Heron L, Imeri H, Araujo-Chaveron L, Arevalo-Rodriguez I, et al. (2022) Occurrence and transmission potential of asymptomatic and presymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infections: Update of a living systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS Med 19(5): e1003987.

Author Countries: Switzerland, France, Spain, Argentina, United Kingdom, Sweden, United States, Colombia

Funding: This study was funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (NL: 320030_176233); the European Union Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (NL: 101003688); the Swiss government excellence scholarship (DBG: 2019.0774) and the Swiss School of Public Health Global P3HS stipend (DBG). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

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