Taking stock of the Bond market

Is delaying the new Bond film’s release an economic predictor?

Eon Productions has once again delayed the release of the newest Bond film, No Time to Die. First the film was going to hit theaters earlier this year in April. Then it was going to debut at Christmastime. Now it’s scheduled for release on a yet-to-be-determined day in 2021.

Accuse me of pedantry, but “yet-to-be-determined” means it isn’t really scheduled at all.

While movie theaters survived radio, TV, and streaming, all predicted to spell the industry’s doom, Covid 19 is a Bond villain the likes of which the industry has never before encountered. Bond fans, it seems, are only figuratively dying to see the next Bond film.

Beyond the fact that this Bond fan’s Inner Walter Mitty must wait a bit longer for the 25th installment in the Bond franchise, the delay may be something of an economic harbinger.

Delaying the release of “Bond 25” is more than a mere matter of making fans wait. Cinemark, AMC, and Regal have shut down. PYMNTS.com put it this way:

“No Time To Die” had been something of a tentpole hope for theater operators looking to recoup some lost ticket sales in 2020 with a film more or less considered a “lock” with loyal Bond fans worldwide. But now, the movie is the latest in a long line of big blockbuster titles that have been bumped to 2021. And while there are a handful of blockbusters—like “Wonder Woman 1984,” “Dune,” and Pixar’s “Soul”—officially still on the calendar for later this year, their status is looking increasingly tenuous as well.

The closures portend job losses, non-performing real estate assets, an overextended Hollywood holding an inventory of already-produced films—and a resultant ripple effect from people working in the industry, from gaffers to concession stand workers who will soon be unable to pay their bills.

All of which will take its toll on the payments business, especially with slow to no sales at sites like Fandango.

Earlier this summer, the movie industry pinned resurgence hopes on Tenet. Yet despite high praise from critics and viewers, Tenet bombed at the box office. It seems there are few people willing to share a theater with potential covid-spreaders, even seated six feet apart.

Direct-to-streaming releases have been moderately successful for films like Disney’s new live-action Mulan, Orion’s Bill and Ted Face the Music, and Amazon Prime’s Borat 2: Subsequent Moviefilm. Even so, the streaming experience for viewers pales in comparison to going to a theater. And the revenues pale as well.

Offbeat predictors

It will not be news to readers of this blog that it takes more than correlation to establish causation. Otherwise, we’d have to concede (speaking of movies) that Nicolas Cage films cause swimming pool deaths, eating cheese increases your likelihood of death by entanglement in bed sheets, and that suicide by hanging, strangulation, and suffocation increases in the U.S.’s spending on science, space and technology. (For these and other hilarious instances of correlation, check out Tiger Vigen’s delightful Spurious Correlations website.)

So, is the movie industry a leading-edge indicator? Maybe. Maybe not. You can quote me on that.

If anyone should know not to confuse correlation with causation, economists should. That doesn’t stop them, however, from seeking the golden fleece in the form of offbeat predictors. Some are better than others. Take, for instance, the Underwear Index, espoused by no less than former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan. Per Investopedia:

The foundational assumption behind this theory is that men tend to view underwear as a necessity instead of a luxury item, meaning that product sales will remain steady, except during severe economic downturns. Critics of this theory suggest that it may be inaccurate for several reasons, including the frequency with which women purchase underwear for men, and an assumed tendency for men not to purchase underwear until it is threadbare regardless of the performance of the economy.

Fatherly put it more simply: “Want to know the economic forecast? Check your underwear.”

There’s something surreal in the thought of prominent economists sitting around debating the portent of underwear sales. But that’s just the beginning. Consider the “Hemline Index.” According to MarketWatch, it is …

… one of the better-known alternative gauges. The index is the brainchild of George Taylor, a professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, who theorized that women’s hemlines rise during economic booms and fall during lean times. 

In 2012, Business Insider reported, “This morning, we learned that makeup sales were way up, which scientists believe is a bad sign for the economy.” And then there’s a 2018 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research that said:

… for recent recessions in the United States, the growth rate for conceptions begins to fall several quarters prior to economic decline. Our findings suggest that fertility behavior is more forward-looking and sensitive to changes in short-run expectations about the economy than previously thought.

Not to be overlooked are: the lipstick index (which, according to NPR, covid has pretty well ended), the haircut index (ditto), the Big Mac index, and the dry cleaning index.

None of the above has proved itself a reliable long-term predictor. As for Bond, one sample is hardly enough to draw any sort of firm conclusion. Notwithstanding, the walk-in theater industry is feeling a little shaken, if not stirred.

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