Weekend edition—Snowballing IPOs, more-than-minimum wage, Japanese whisky

Good morning, Quartz readers!

This week, three tech firms—rental booking giant Airbnb, food delivery titan Doordash, and AI software-maker C3.ai—staged massive IPOs, solidifying 2020’s status as the hottest year ever for American stock listings. Airbnb’s valuation doubled in its first day of trading to surge past $100 billion, leaving its CEO speechless. C3.ai also doubled in value on day one, while Doordash rose (merely) 86% and ended its first day worth $72 billion.

And the year isn’t over yet. At this point, companies have raised $167 billion on US exchanges. Before December is over, that figure will swell with expected IPOs from video game maker Roblox, discount e-commerce platform Wish, and fintech lender Affirm. Even accounting for inflation, 2020 will easily surpass the IPO record set in 2000, at the height of the dot-com bubble.

You can thank the pandemic for this year’s splashy stock debuts. Much of 2020’s IPO value comes from tech companies, which have seen their valuations shoot up as coronavirus created massive demand for video conferencing, food delivery, online shopping, and other digital tools that make hunkering down more bearable.

The pandemic also brought a wave of new investors into the stock market. Stuck at home, bored, and without live sports to bet on, millions of Americans made accounts on stock-trading app Robinhood. Investment firm Fidelity saw trading volume rise 97% in the third quarter year over year, while the Nasdaq saw equity options trades go up by half. These novice traders have eagerly piled into IPOs alongside institutional investors.

The situation is raising alarm bells, especially since the last time the US saw a dizzying, tech-led IPO spike in 2000, it was quickly followed by a massive bust. Two decades later, widespread speculation and low federal interest rates have combined to pump valuations up to new heights, despite the fact that 80% of the companies that have gone public this year don’t turn a profit. Hand-wringing analysts called this week’s IPO prices “absurd,” “ridiculous,” and “embarrassing.”

Time will tell whether they—or the millions of new investors who just bought into Airbnb, Doordash, and C3.ai at towering valuations—are right. —Nicolás Rivero

Five things on Quartz we especially liked

The less bare minimum. The US minimum wage is going up, even without help from Washington, which has kept the federally mandated minimum wage at $7.25 for the past 10 years. But it’s risen substantially in states and cities across the country, including areas that tend to vote Republican and might normally be against these increases. As Michelle Cheng and Dan Kopf write, Covid-19 appears to have galvanized support for these workers to get higher pay. —John Detrixhe, future of finance reporter

Cotton confusion. The US may have had the right intentions, but its ban on cotton imports from the quasi-military organization enslaving China’s Uyghur minority still misses the mark. As Marc Bain explains, the ban includes any cotton sourced from Xinjiang, but given the world’s complicated supply chains, it’s unclear what is and isn’t included in the order, and because Donald Trump’s administration won’t clarify, the world’s fashion industry is left scrambling. —Oliver Staley, culture and lifestyle editor

Vaccine, meet bull semen. As vaccines get closer to seeing the light of day, public health officials are trying to sort out distribution. The Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines need to be kept colder than most refrigerators can handle, which is going to make distribution especially hard in warm countries like India. Thankfully, we’ve got a model for cold-storage transportation: bull semen. As Karen Ho and Manavi Kapur report, this branch of the agricultural sector wants to help bring the pandemic to a close. —Katherine Ellen Foley, health and science reporter

Pay it forward. A board with only one person from an underrepresented group often means fellow members don’t accept them as equals. But as Sarah Todd explains, there’s a simple fix to this problem that token board members and allies alike can follow: Make your own appointment contingent on adding another diverse director down the road. It’s a good reminder that all of us have a part to play in promoting equality in the workplace. —Liz Webber, deputy email editor

Let there be ring light. Anne Quito has a Zoom presence that outshines everyone else’s in the Quartz newsroom. Part of her secret is a $20 donut-shaped lamp, an entry-level ring light that’s sufficient to cast a soft glow around a speaker’s face and direct a viewer’s gaze, as she describes in this illuminating piece. The point of buying such glamifying equipment is not to appease your ego, she suggests. Professional speakers forced to work from home say that using a ring light shows respect for your Zoom-fatigued audience. —Lila MacLellan, senior reporter, Quartz at Work

We’re obsessed with Japanese whisky

Image: Giphy

🥃 A straight-up hit. Delicate and light, often holding notes of incense and sandalwood, Japanese whisky is known as a delightful and affordable alternative to peat-heavy Scotch or sweet American bourbon. A tendency to be dismissed as a novelty by global importers and bartenders was reversed in 2015, when the prestigious Whisky Bible named a Suntory single malt the world’s best. Since then, exports, prizes, the number of distilleries, and bottle prices have all skyrocketed. It’s Quartz Weekly Obsession time.

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One membership thing that made us think

Morale lesson. For all that “show me the money” bravado, sports teams, it turns out, mean very little to a city’s economy. Economists see the impact of baseball teams as “small potatoes”—the equivalent of one mid-sized department store at best. In an illuminating analysis for Quartz’s field guide on the sports industry, Dan Kopf gets to the heart of why we root for them in the first place. —Anne Quito, design reporter

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Five things from elsewhere that made us smarter

We’re all in this together. Covid-19 may appear to be an argument against globalization, as global travel carried the virus, leaving nations scrambling to secure vaccines and medical gear while imposing travel bans and quarantines. And yet much of the fight against the virus has been driven by internationally shared knowledge and production capacity. Economist Branko Milanovic takes this realization one step further in Social Europe, arguing that this pandemic is the first truly global event, touching everyday lives across the world in a completely new way, which could spell a new wave of international human solidarity. —Tim Fernholz, senior reporter

Bought it for a song. From Bob Dylan to Blondie, the hip 2020 trend for songwriters is selling off your songbook. As Nic Fildes explains for the Financial Times, the music streaming era has increased the size and predictability of revenue from older hits. Investors have noticed, and groups like the publicly traded Hipgnosis Song Fund are acquiring song rights, turning our listening habits into a new asset class. —Dan Kopf, data editor

The floral network. Underneath forests, fungal links create a network that connects trees to one another, even ones from different species, and allows them to share information. Ferris Jabrs’ fascinating account in the New York Times of how trees stay in touch—and what they share with one another—is both an oxygenating escape from the slow smothering of Covid-19 lockdowns, and the affirming tale of a woman’s determination to prove the genius of her intuition. —Annalisa Merelli, geopolitics reporter

Soaring risk factors. Thanksgiving travel in the US was lower than normal this year because of Covid-19, but the number of domestic flights was still significant, and likely increased the spread of the virus. NBC’s Amy O’Kruk analyzed flight tracking data to show how many airplanes departed from areas with critical levels of Covid-19 risk. It’s a fascinating, sobering, and deeply interactive way of showing a major reason why the US is hitting record levels of cases and deaths. —Karen Ho, global finance and economics reporter

If a tree stays in the forest… For some carbon-intensive industries, like oil and airlines, eliminating fossil fuel use is a monumental challenge that will take decades. In the meantime, many of those companies are spending millions of dollars on carbon offset credits that purport to finance the protection of forests that would otherwise be cut down. But what if those specific forests were never in danger? For Bloomberg, Ben Elgin reports on how the Nature Conservancy has peddled bogus offsets to some of the world’s biggest companies. —Tim McDonnell, climate and energy reporter

Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, talking trees, and ring lights to hi@qz.com. Get the most out of Quartz by downloading our app and becoming a member. Today’s Weekend Brief was brought to you by Susan Howson and Nicolás Rivero.