Week InReview
Friday | Dec 24, 2021
A pilgrimage to comfort.
The 1946 classic ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ was set in a fictional town — so why do so many Americans make an annual pilgrimage to find it? Photo: Alamy
BEDFORD FALLS is fictional, the all-American town where Frank Capra set his Christmas classic 'It’s a Wonderful Life.' Yet Seneca Falls, five hours north of New York City in the Finger Lakes, lays claim to being the “real” Bedford Falls.  

For five days every December, the signs that mark the border of the upstate New York town of Seneca Falls are quietly overlaid with new lettering. Workers at the post office dust off stamps reserved for use just once a year and emblazon outbound mail with the name of a town that cannot be found on any map. Shopkeepers and bar owners hang new placards in their windows, becoming “Nick’s”, “Ma Bailey’s” and “Martini’s”.

The ending [of the film] may be happy, but the subject matter is dark for a Christmas film — as well as suicide, it deals with financial crises, loss and the agony of life not turning out as we had hoped.  

It is the film’s darkness, Capra’s message that the beauty of life cannot exist without the bedfellows of pain and disappointment, that has cemented the movie into the hearts of so many fans, and draws thousands to Bedford Falls each December. And if the original film brought comfort to difficult postwar days, perhaps this year’s festival feels especially needed after the pandemic.  

— Financial Times
let's recap...
Total assets held by the Federal Reserve have jumped sharply during the pandemic, but the current U.S. financial conditions are a puzzle for the central bank and chair Jay Powell. Illustration: FT montage/AP
U.S. financial conditions are near the most accommodative on record, even as the Federal Reserve has begun stepping up its exit from coronavirus crisis-era stimulus measures in a bid to battle elevated inflation. Measures of financial conditions have only marginally tightened since last week’s Fed meeting, according to economists at Goldman Sachs, who produce a closely followed index that takes into account the shifts in the U.S. stock market, borrowing costs for companies, moves in the dollar, and funding costs for the U.S. government. (Financial Times | Dec 23)

The biggest U.S. banks are putting finishing touches on their most profitable year ever and preparing to dole out some massive bonuses, yet the usual sounds of Wall Street’s backslapping and toasts have faded. They’re not only hushed by exhaustion from nearly two years of global pandemic, or even wariness of conspicuous consumption in an age of vast inequality. Industry denizens describe a sense that assignments are unending, trouble is brewing and the real fun is elsewhere. (Bloomberg Wealth | Dec 22)

Sitting atop a haul of strong earnings, companies are planning to spend even more in 2022 on share buybacks and dividends, a trend finance executives don’t expect to slow despite a proposed 1% excise tax on repurchases. (The Wall Street Journal | Dec 22)

A booming U.S. economy is rippling around the world, leaving global supply chains struggling to keep up and pushing up prices. The force of the American expansion is also inducing overseas companies to invest in the U.S., betting that the growth is still accelerating and will outpace other major economies. U.S. consumers, flush with trillions of dollars of fiscal stimulus, are snapping up manufactured goods and scarce materials. (The Wall Street Journal | Dec 21)

The pandemic has shaken up the very foundation of macroeconomic theory — the business cycle. And that could have big consequences for investors. If we are in fact in a new expansion cycle, investors can rest easy knowing that it will likely continue for at least another few years. CIO Sean Bill says, ‘It’s going to get a lot trickier.’ (CIO | Dec 15)
Omicron steals Christmas
A line outside a Covid-19 mobile testing site in the Midtown neighborhood of New York. Photo: Angus Mordant/Bloomberg
(Dec 23) — Omicron's relentless march across the globe has led to fresh records from New Jersey to France. New York City is limiting its New Year's Eve ball drop in Times Square to 15,000 masked and vaccinated revelers while Greece is canceling many Christmas festivities altogether. In another blow to the cruise industry, a Royal Caribbean ship with an outbreak is skipping ports of call until it returns to Florida.

Meanwhile, a U.K. government study is reinforcing earlier findings that omicron is less severe and more contagious, and that boosters are helping lower the risk of hospitalization. But three doses of Sinovac's Covid vaccine, one of the most widely used in the world, showed it failed to protect against the contagious new variant in a lab study.
the cyber cafe
Illustration: MS Tech/Getty Images
The internet runs on free open-source software. Who pays to fix it?
Volunteer-run projects like Log4J keep the internet running. The result is unsustainable burnout, and a national security risk when they go wrong.

Log4j flaw: Attackers are 'actively scanning networks' warns new CISA guidance
A new informational Log4J advisory has been issued by cybersecurity leaders from the U.S., Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the U.K. The guide includes technical details, mitigations and resources to address known vulnerabilities in the Apache Log4j software library.
— ZDNet

Quantum computing: kryptonite for bitcoin and cyber security
“[There’s] a Y2K-level event coming. We just don’t know what the end date is. And if you haven’t already started your journey to become quantum-resistant, you might be too late.” This warning from Peter Bordow, head of quantum technology research and development at Wells Fargo, may sound apocalyptic. But the race is on to secure new encryption algorithms for DeFi, before quantum computers become a present danger.
— Risk
binge reading disorder
Illustration: Inkee Wang for Bloomberg Businessweek
What is company culture if you don't have an office?
Ask executives why they’re desperate to get workers back in offices, and productivity – the corporate north star and initial obsession of pandemic anxiety – suddenly has nothing to do with it.

If you thought hybrid working was hard, wait until 2022
The divide over worker autonomy will widen as the trend for more flexible working gathers pace.

Human brain cells in a dish learn to play Pong faster than an AI
Living brain cells in a dish can learn to play the video game Pong when they are placed in what researchers describe as a “virtual game world”. Many teams around the world have been studying networks of neurons in dishes, often growing them into brain-like organoids. But this is the first time that mini-brains have been found to perform goal-directed tasks.
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