Bodies and Brains
Plus: This Week's Featured Place: Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
Issue 62: April 4, 2022
Inside this Issue:
Jobs: Another Month of Gains, but Too Few Bodies and Brains
Oil Off its Recent Highs: As U.S. Taps Reserve Supplies
Race to the Top: Wages Still Rising but Cost of Living Rising More
Who’s the Champ for GDP? Last Year’s Winner was Tennessee
Corpulent Profits for Corporate America: A Big Home Run in 2021
Put that in Your Pipe: Pipeline Firm Says Hydrocarbon Economy Alive & Well
Bay Area Gray Area: How Exactly, Did Silicon Valley Achieve IT Preeminence?
Does Not Commute: For Public Transit, a Massive Dip in Ridership
Great Offense, Shaky Defense: The Parlous State of U.S. Cybersecurity
And This Week’s Featured Place: Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, From John Brown to Tourist Town
Quote of the Week
“Our business will be relevant and healthy for a very long time.”
- Magellan Mainstream Partners, an oil pipeline company anticipating “a slower energy transition pace than many are expecting.”
Lots of new data and developments to digest. So here we go:
First, the latest jobs report. In March, the economy created 431,000 new jobs, another solid gain after adding 750,000 in February and 504,000 in January. There’s no ambiguity here: The U.S. job market is red hot. Companies are fervently hiring. Demand for workers has rarely been greater. The supply of workers, however? That’s still a problem, if easing a bit. The percentage of American adults working or looking for work (the participation rate) is still a full point lower than it was just before the pandemic. It means 1% fewer people are working now versus then, which means 1.6m fewer people. Yet employers have 4.4m more job openings (11.3m currently versus 6.9m in Feb. 2020).
The fact is, there simply aren’t enough people who want to be—or are qualified to be—truck drivers, nurses, childcare workers, construction workers, cybersecurity specialists, airline pilots, fruit pickers, hamburger flippers... you get the point. The Covid plague made things worse, but much of the problem stems from mere demographics. On Bloomberg’s Surveillance program last week, JPMorgan’s Jim Glassman said the number of 20-year-olds in America was growing by 50,000 per month a decade ago—it’s now declining by 50,000 a month. Alex Nowrasteh of the Cato Institute, speaking on the Macro Musings podcast, estimates that sharp immigration curbs since 2015 left the U.S. with between 2.5m and 5m fewer immigrants than had earlier trends continued. The 2010s, in fact, saw the slowest overall population growth in U.S. history—it grew just 7%. More worryingly still, the number of Americans under 18 declined. The retiree population, by contrast, expanded and continues to expand rapidly. The U.S. last week did say it will make more seasonal H-2B worker visas available this summer. These are commonly used for work like landscaping, forestry, food processing, hotel service, amusement park staffing, etc. (Recall the Sitka, Alaska item in last week’s issue about Silver Bay Seafood, a large user of H-2B visas).
Of the 11.3m current job openings by the way, 2.2m are in education and health, with another 2.1m in professional and business services. In terms of total employment, some sectors are still smaller than they were pre-pandemic, none more so than leisure and hospitality, notwithstanding tourism’s strong comeback this year. Manufacturing and health care employment has fallen as well. Employment has grown substantially, by contrast, for professional and business services, along with transportation and warehousing.
Last week’s jobs report separately showed a 4.6% y/y gain in weekly earnings for American workers, or 5.8% excluding supervisory workers. That’s not keeping up with the 7.9% rise in inflation, as measured by the consumer price index (CPI). Nor is that keeping up with another major inflation gauge published last week, namely the Personal Consumption Expenditure (PCE) index. Its y/y increase was 6.4%, or 0.6% just from February to March. Of course, with so many new jobs created, there’s additional spending power in the economy, even if real wages are falling. Total consumer spending in fact rose 0.2% from February to March, though people are getting less for their money with prices up.
Along with its latest PCE report, the Bureau of Economic Analysis gave detailed figures on GDP growth in the final quarter of 2021. Adjusted for inflation, Q4 production rose at a rapid annual rate of 6.9%, following 2.3% expansion in Q3. America’s economy is now worth $24 trillion, with Texas leading the way with 10% GDP growth in Q4. The state is benefitting from both a resurgent energy sector and a red-hot tech sector. For all of 2021, the growth champion was Tennessee, which expanded by nearly 9%. Nashville, like Austin, is emerging as one of the superstar economies of the 2020s. Next on the list of best performers last year were New Hampshire (people migrating from Boston), California (with its thriving tech firms) and Nevada (tourism is coming back). The worst economic performers in 2021? Energy states like Alaska, Wyoming and North Dakota. But don’t be too concerned about them. With energy prices now soaring, 2022 is shaping up to be a blockbuster year for energy economies. Texas, by the way, was also weighed down in the first half of 2021 by low energy prices. It thus ranked just number 19 in GDP growth for the full year despite its Q4 trophy.
Big news in the oil market last week: President Biden announced a large release from the country’s emergency reserves—the largest release ever in fact. The OPEC-plus-Russia alliance, for its part, refrained from any major moves on supply. But the U.S. supply action, along with similar moves by allies, plus growing concerns about demand in China, helped sink WTI below the $100 mark, ending the week at $99 a barrel.
Last week also marked the end of 2022’s first quarter, a turbulent one for markets and geopolitics alike. Following three straight years of extraordinary stock returns, the S&P 500 index fell 5% between January and March. The decline would have been worse if not for gains late in the quarter, including another increase last week thanks to the strong jobs report and the decent consumer spending figures. More specifically regarding stocks, technology companies were hit hardest in Q1, reversing a euphoric run throughout the pandemic (the tech-heavy Nasdaq fell 9% in the quarter). Inflation was of course another defining trend in the quarter, along with spiking commodity prices and rising bond yields (bond prices, conversely, fell 6%, using the iShares Core U.S. Aggregate Bond ETF as a proxy). Progress on supply chain relief was frustratingly minimal during the quarter. All the while, the Fed has turned demonstrably more hawkish.
But Corporate America, by all indications, continues to thrive. We’ll know a lot more when companies start reporting Q1 financial results starting next week (JPMorgan, Wells Fargo, Delta Air Lines and Blackrock get things started on April 13th). Keep in mind that 2021, according to Bloomberg News, was the most profitable year for American corporations since 1950, with aggregate profit margins above 13% during all four quarters of the year. Only once in the previous 70 years, Bloomberg states, had Corporate America earned above 13% for a single quarter.
That sure doesn’t sound like a recession is lurking. But it’s still a concern, especially with lowish long-term Treasury yields suggesting weaker output ahead. Economists are now debating the implications of current inversions along the yield curve—the U.S., for example, is now paying more to borrow for three years (2.58%) than for ten years (just 2.38%). Is the three-year, ten-year comparison even the most relevant one? Do yield curve inversions even merit any attention? Can they really predict recessions?
The yield curve is certainly a hot topic on Wall Street. So is the future of global dollar dominance (more on that in next week’s issue) and the future of globalization. On the latter point, diplomat Richard Haas for one, sees “globalization as a reality, not a choice.” But Adam Tooze of Colombia University points to Brexit, the election of Trump, the collapse of the transpacific trade pact and rising tensions between China and the US as evidence of waning globalization, which could make consumer goods more expensive. US foreign direct investment in China, he notes, peaked in 2008 at $21b, falling to just $9b in 2020.
Back at home, UnitedHealth, America’s sixth largest company by revenues, will buy the at-home care specialist LHC. It’s hardly a trivial purchase—LHC has 30,000 employees. Then again, United has 350,000. The scale of America’s health care sector, including its role in the labor market, never ceases to amaze.
The amazing Fred Smith, founder of FedEx, will retire on June 1 after a half-century at the helm. Giant tech platforms like Google and Amazon face growing momentum to outlaw such firms from unfairly favoring their own products. The Dallas Fed rattled some nerves with talk of a “brewing U.S. housing bubble.” FreightWaves, a publication covering supply chain developments, sees emerging softness in trucking demand. The U.S. agricultural sector is delighted by high crop prices but greatly challenged by high fertilizer prices. President Biden proposed a unique new tax on unrealized gains for ultra-wealthy Americans. Walgreens, with 9,100 stores across the U.S., reported a $1.2b operating profit in its latest quarter. Sales data from automakers highlighted the ongoing impact on sales from the semicon shortage. Columbia University’s Center on Poverty and Social Policy distressingly said the U.S. poverty rate reached 14.4% in February, up from 12.5% in December, the last month in which child tax credits were distributed. Child poverty, it added, jumped from 12.1% to 16.7%.
We’ll get a transcript from March’s Fed meeting this week, perhaps shedding more light on its intentions. Things get more interesting next week, though, as Q1 earnings season gets underway.
Magellan Midstream Partners, based in Tulsa, held an analyst day event in Houston last week. Its company slogan pretty much sums up what it does: “Moving What Moves America.” More specifically, Magellan transports, stores and distributes petroleum products, owning what it claims is the longest pipeline for refined petroleum products nationwide. If you see a pipeline running from a U.S. refinery—to gas stations, airports, railroad depots, truck stops, etc.—there’s a good chance it’s owned by Magellan. Pipelines tend to be the lowest cost method of transporting fuel, though it moves by trucks, railroads and barges as well. At its event, executives spoke at length about the energy transition, referring of course to the shift from hydrocarbons to cleaner and greener forms of energy. They highlighted areas of progress, including battery and battery storage technology, renewable fuels and technologies that capture and store carbon. But it also cited obstacles still in the way: the lack of cost competitiveness of alternatives, questions about power grid readiness, the intermittency of renewable power supply, reliance on subsidies, logistical challenges and uncertainty about feedstocks (the materials used to produce the clean energy). Citing one example, the executives said renewable fuels (including biofuels) are simply not yet profitable without subsidies. Magellan also warned about the potential for “external factors to hasten or slow the pace of the transition.” Geopolitics is one such factor. Government policy could be another.
Walgreens Boots Alliance, better known to Americans as simply Walgreens, reported results for its unusual December-to-February quarter. The company, with annual revenues similar to those of Ford or Verizon, generated $34b worth for the reporting period. Its operating margin adjusted for special items was 4%. In management’s earnings call, CEO Rosalind Brewer said Walgreens was developing its model of providing technology-driven health solutions, including new automated fulfillment centers to handle drug prescription orders. Today, most orders are handled by pharmacists within retail stores. As for retail sales, they rose by double-digits y/y, boosted by purchases of at-home Covid tests. Some profits were sacrificed, however, in the name of investing in local primary health care services. To that end, it purchased a major stake in VillageMD, which is building clinics attached to Walgreens stores. The company also bought a majority stake in CareCentrix, which specializes in home-based health care. Walgreens separately said it’s administered 62m Covid vaccines to date. It’s also seeing an increase in digital sales and in loyalty plan members. Interestingly, it sees digital advertising as a major opportunity. Think about it: with 100m loyalty plan members and 9,100 stores, it can offer potential advertisers a lot of valuable data on consumers.
Astec is a Chattanooga-based firm—with about 4,000 employees—that designs, manufactures and markets equipment used primarily for road building. That requires expertise in asphalt, the pavement material for 90% of all surfaced roads in the U.S. (a small portion of the interstate highway system is paved with concrete). Astec produces equipment for other customers too, including miners, construction firms, demolition experts, power stations and operators of ports and railroad yards. Many of the projects it works on, especially roads, are financed with government money. So naturally, it was pleased to see Congress pass a large infrastructure bill last year. The legislation allocates a massive $548b in government spending to new infrastructure over the five-year period concluding in 2026, some of that specifically apportioned to fund highway and bridge projects. The demand picture for Astec thus looks bright. But as with most companies these days, Astec faces supply chain delays, staffing challenges and input cost inflation. It’s specifically exposed to prices for liquid asphalt, oil, natural gas and steel.
Tweet of the Week
(WFH = Working from Home)
Apparel: According to a Bloomberg report, the modern textile industry is surprisingly one of the largest users of petrochemicals, making them important contributors to global carbon dioxide output. Its output is greater, says the U.N., than international flights and shipping combined. Polyester, a form of plastic derived from crude oil, has “overtaken cotton as the backbone of textile production.” In addition, garments made from polyester and other synthetic fibers are a prime source of microplastic pollution, which is harmful to marine life. Estimates from the consulting firm McKinsey and the World Economic Forum, the Bloomberg report notes, suggest the number of garments produced each year has at least doubled since 2000. Of all the products made from petrochemical plastics, textiles rank number two in volume behind only packaging. And one more stat from the Bloomberg piece: “The U.S. throws away up to 11.3m tons of textile waste each year—around 2,150 pieces of clothing each second.” The textile industry, by the way, was the very first major industry, ushering in the industrial revolution that transformed the global economy. But not always for good. Demand for textiles created demand for cotton, much of it grown by enslaved Americans. A lot of that cotton went to British mills but certainly U.S. mills as well, first in New England before migrating south after the Civil War and later overseas.
Bitcoin: Charles Schwab’s Randy Frederick, speaking on a company podcast, estimates that 85% of all Bitcoin—that’s the first and still most widely-owned cryptocurrency—is held by just 2,000 accounts worldwide. Bitcoin’s creator Satoshi Nakamoto, whoever that may be, alone holds 5% of all outstanding Bitcoin, which is currently worth close to $50b. An NBER paper by Igor Makarov and Antoinette Schoar last fall similarly found a large concentration of Bitcoin ownership among a small group of holders.
Labor: Workforce participation rates have been declining for decades. But nationwide rates vary greatly by state. Annual Labor Department data for 2021 show Nebraska with the highest employment-to-population ratio, at 67.7%. South Dakota was next at 66.4%. On the other end of the pole: West Virginia, with just 51.9%, followed by Mississippi at 52.0%.
Childcare: The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, warns about the risks of a federal program aimed at providing universal preschool. Researcher Colleen Hroncich is the author of a new paper entitled “Universal Preschool: Lawmakers Should Approach with Caution.” It argues that a Biden administration proposal includes mandates on teacher pay and levels of qualification—a prerequisite for states to receive federal funds—that would hurt the viability of many existing preschools. In Hroncich’s words: “Unfortunately, the mandates and regulations that would accompany a federal universal program would likely put many providers out of business.” That’s especially true, she says, of smaller providers, often associated with religious institutions. A few states including Florida already have a program for universal pre-kindergarten for four-year-olds. But funding levels and quality of care and instruction vary a lot. Since 1965, the Federal government has offered a program called Head Start for low-income children. It provides funding to about 1,500 different public, private and non-profit providers across the country, so long as they comply with certain performance standards. There’s also an Early Head Start (EHS) program for children younger than three, started in 1995. Hroncich cites a Department of Health and Human Services study that found the Head Start program had little or no effect on student outcomes that persisted through third grade, despite costing more than $7b per year at the time, or $7,900 per child. “The program now costs more than $10 billion, or more than $10,000 per child.” Other studies though, including some cited by Laura Bauer of the Brookings Institution, show positive effects.
Public Transit: In 2020, America’s public transportation providers (mostly government-run) recorded just 4.7b trips, down dramatically from 10b in 2019. The main reason, of course, was the pandemic and the sudden surge in working from home. According to the Congressional Research Service, about 48% of pre-Covid public transportation trips were made by bus, 38% by heavy rail, 5% by commuter rail, 5% by light rail and 1% by ferry. Most ridership occurs in large metro areas like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Boston and Seattle. The New York City subway is the largest public transit system in the U.S.
Defense: There are seven different regional command centers of the U.S. military. Where are they based? Central Command, in charge of the Middle East, is headquartered in Tampa, Fl. Southern Command, responsible for the Caribbean and Latin America, is in Miami, FL. European Command is based in Germany, as is Africa Command. Northern Command is in Colorado Springs. Indo-Pacific Command is in Honolulu. Finally, there’s the newly-created Space Command, slated to move from its temporary home in Colorado Springs to Huntsville, Al—assuming strenuous efforts by Colorado’s Congressional delegation to stop the move don’t succeed. The U.S. military also operates four “functional” command centers: for strategy (in Omaha, NE), special operations (Tampa), transportation (St. Louis) and cyberspace (Fort Meade south of Baltimore).
Harpers Ferry, West Virginia: There are no coal mines in this part of West Virginia. Instead, Harpers Ferry, located in the state’s northeastern panhandle, is best known for an 1859 revolt against slavery. Today, much of the town’s economy depends on visits from history-minded tourists, eager to see the site of John Brown’s rebellion. Though quickly suppressed by the U.S. Army, the action triggered abolitionist sentiment and Southern unease, contributing to the outbreak of Civil War in 1861. Harpers Ferry happens to be a picturesque little town in the Shenandoah Valley, all the more reason to visit. It overlooks the meeting of two prominent rivers—the Shenandoah and the Potomac—bordering both Virginia and Maryland. No, this is not Las Vegas- or Orlando-volume tourism here; just 300,000 or so arrivals in a good year, most from surrounding areas. The pandemic counterintuitively boosted tourism, at least in 2021, when 310,000 people visited Harpers Ferry National Historic Park (which includes a large swathe of land surrounding the town). That was up 3% from 2019 as Americans, during the Covid outbreak, favored car trips to nearby places rather than more distant trips by plane. Only a few hundred people actually live in Harpers Ferry proper. Those employed in the tourist sector typically commute from nearby towns, including those elsewhere in Jefferson County, population 58,000. In 2020, the county had a per capita income of $55,000, high by West Virginia standards but a bit below the U.S. national average of $60,000. Average housing prices are lower, however. The current unemployment rate is just 2%, partly reflecting the health of local tourism. Nearly a third of Jefferson County’s residents have at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to just 23% for all of West Virginia. Other major employers include Shepherd University with roughly 3,000 students, a local casino, multiple wineries and distilleries, and of course schools and health care facilities. Europe’s TeMa, which builds products for the construction sector, has a factory in the county. Giants Procter & Gamble and Clorox are in a neighboring county. Agriculture (wheat, soybeans, corn, etc.), warehousing and manufacturing complement the tourist sector. Federal agencies including the Departments of Homeland Security and Agriculture, as well as the Coast Guard, have facilities in the county too. Importantly, Harpers Ferry is less than 90 minutes by car from Washington, DC, making it a prime location for “super commuting,” in other words combining remote work with occasional office visits. More convenient are commutes to the Virginia suburbs around Dulles airport, an area booming with defense contractors and IT firms. Dennis Jarvis of the Jefferson County Development Authority notes how 1.8m people live within a one-hour drive of the area, with commuters flowing both in and out. Amtrak and Maryland’s MARC rail, as it happens, run daily trains from the center of town to Washington’s Union station. This also makes it easy for Washington residents to come enjoy a day or two hiking around Harpers Ferry or learning about its intriguing history. That history, in fact, runs deeper than just Civil War-era events. Harpers Ferry first gained attention when President George Washington selected it as one of two sites for a federal armory (the other was in Springfield, Mass.). For a time, it was an ideal place to build guns and many other industrial products thanks to the cheap hydropower provided by the town’s two rivers. A canal, and later a railroad, facilitated movement of raw materials in and finished products out. Cheap labor came from Ireland and Germany. Harpers Ferry was thus one of America’s earliest industrial hubs, featuring not just arms manufacturers but iron foundries, machine shops, sawmills, cotton mills, flour mills, tanneries, blacksmiths, woodworkers and wagon makers. That was before the 1860s. The Civil War would destroy much of the town’s infrastructure. And efforts at post-war revival failed amid recurrent floods and droughts. The second half of the 19th century instead became an age of coal, steel, oil and large factory towns with armies of low-wage workers toiling for giant corporations. During a later war—World War II—the U.S. established Harpers Ferry National Monument, later adding Storer College, a school built after the Civil War for newly freed slaves. Fast forward to 2022, and the eastern panhandle of West Virginia is the fastest-growing area in a state that overall saw population shrink during the 2010s. Jefferson County by contrast grew 7%, and neighboring Berkeley County double that. The contracting coal mine economy? Not in this part of West Virginia. (Sources: U.S. Census, Jefferson County Development Authority, BEA, National Park Service).
Kansas City, Missouri, scored a high-profile business win by securing a new “hyperscale” data center built by Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook. It’s an $800m investment, creating as many as 100 new jobs. It will be, according to the city and the company, “one of the most sustainable data centers in the world,” powered by 100% renewable energy. Touting its strengths to prospective tech companies, Kansas City cites its geographically central location (for improved network connectivity between coastal data centers), its relatively low exposure to natural disasters (i.e., no earthquake or hurricane worries though tornados are a thing), competitive energy prices, renewable power options, an airport upgrade finishing next year and a growing pool of tech talent. Kansas City’s largest private employer, by the way, is Cerner, a health tech company. Other big ones are Ford, Honeywell, Hallmark, Kansas City Southern Railroad, H&R Block and Sprint, now part of T-Mobile.
Economic Development: Sebastian Mallaby, in his new book about venture capital, recounted the tech-sector history of California’s Silicon Valley and Boston’s Route 128 corridor—these were America’s two leading tech hubs in the 1980s. Both benefitted from heavy defense spending, in Boston’s case thanks to giant contractors like Raytheon and Wang. Both cities remain tech powerhouses today, but Silicon Valley ultimately became the premier global hub, for reasons often discussed and debated. Mallaby, speaking on the “Masters of Business” podcast, cites an explanation by the Berkeley sociologist AnnaLee Saxenian. She says Boston’s IT companies tended to have hierarchical and secretive cultures. In Silicon Valley, by contrast, ideas tended to spread more widely. Mallaby compares the entrepreneurs of the area to bees flying around, pollinating flowers. No need to shed any tears for Boston though. It’s become what’s arguably the world’s top center for biotech, supported by world-class universities.
Cybersecurity: “What kind of attacks do you think we should be most concerned about right now?” This was a question posed to Chris Painter, appearing on the “Hidden Forces” podcast. Painter, who once served as the senior White House director for cybersecurity, said ransomware attacks are surely a concern. These are conducted mostly by criminal groups, targeting hospitals, municipal governments and other institutions, locking their computers until the victims pay a ransom, usually in Bitcoin. Nation-state attacks are another worry. Russia, China, North Korea and Iran are the “Big Four” in this realm, often engaging in theft of intellectual property (a top target for China), intelligence or in some cases just money (North Korea). Nation-states have the capability to damage physical infrastructure too, though Painter downplays the risk of a longterm, wide-scale shutdown of the energy grid or something similarly catastrophic—that would just be incredibly hard to pull off. He was quick to note also that America’s nuclear command and control is not connected to the internet so can’t be hacked (though early warning systems could potentially be faked or jammed). The larger point, he concludes forebodingly, is that “there’s almost nothing that’s connected to the internet that is not vulnerable to a dedicated nation-state attacker.” One of Painter’s biggest concerns is the growing risk of so-called “integrity attacks.” These might involve a hacker breaking into a person’s hospital records and changing their blood type. It could involve messing with a person’s financial transactions. And so on.
Cybersecurity: If you’re still not frightened, go read Nicole Perlroth’s 2021 book “This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends: The Cyberweapons Arms Race.” Perlroth covers cybersecurity for the New York Times, and her book explains the rise of merchants, hackers and governments exploiting bugs in software code. It tells the story of cyber-attacks on everything from hospitals to local governments to pipelines to Hollywood studios to centrifuges in Iran. Russia’s exploits are well covered, including its high-profile sabotage of Ukraine’s economy a few years before invading, and its efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Things got really worrying for the U.S. when its own best cyberweapons were stolen. America’s annual losses from cybercrime, Perlroth writes, now eclipse losses from even terrorism. Some speak of a coming “cyber-Pearl Harbor.” The Fed’s Jay Powell has said a cyberattack is something that keeps him up at night.” One person in the book described the current state of cyber-affairs as a soccer game with a really high score, in other words, one in which everyone (including the U.S.) is great at offense but bad at defense. Perlroth writes that it’s “now arguably easier for a rogue actor or nation-state to sabotage the software embedded on a 737-MAX than it is for terrorists to hijack planes and send them careening into budlings.” Yikes.
Cybersecurity: So not to end on such a dark note, let’s remember what Painter (see above) said about a catastrophic attack being extremely difficult to pull off. In the meantime, computer scientists are hard at work designing a new generation of semiconductors with “contamination chambers” designed to wall off any malware, preventing its spread. There are likewise efforts underway to do away with passwords, using biometric or other means of authentication. The end of passwords, in fact, is on MIT Technology Review’s latest list of top ten breakthrough technologies.
So you must be wondering: What are the other nine breakthroughs? Here they are: Covid variant tracking, long-lasting grid batteries, artificial intelligence for protein folding (for devising new medicines), a malaria vaccine, proof of stake (an energy-efficient means of verifying blockchain transactions), a pill for Covid, practical nuclear fusion reactors, synthetic data for artificial intelligence (to avoid privacy and bias concerns) and carbon removal factories.