A unified Cuban peso, the Times Square ball and cashless Sweden
When the world wakes up on January 1, there is usually some nostalgia for the year gone by — but maybe not this year.
People around the world were all too ready to say goodbye to 2020, the year the coronavirus pandemic upended life as we know it and caused significant social, economic and political disruptions.
Determined to surprise us to the very end, the final week of 2020 held some big business news stories. Read them, share them, then say goodbye once and for all to 2020.
The number of official currencies in Cuba after the island’s government officially endedits dual currency system, pegging the Cuban peso to 24 to $1. It is the first time the communist island has devalued its currency since the 1959 revolution that swept the late Fidel Castro to power.
Cuba’s economy has struggled against a US embargo for decades and the Trump administration upped sanctions against the island, freezing relations once more after an era of rapprochement under former President Barack Obama.
The Cuban government’s latest currency move also means the country’s convertible peso, or CUC, which was also used for government business, has been eliminated and will be removed from circulation in June. Now there’s one peso to rule them all — but that hits Cubans working in sectors like tourism who were once paid in CUCs hard.
US legislators are still battling over whether to up direct coronavirus relief aid payments to Americans from $600 to $2,000. Outgoing President Trump insisted on the move after signing a long-negotiated $900bn stimulus package on Sunday.
Democrats in the House of Representatives passed a measure approving the $2,000 cheques, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — whose net worth stands at an estimated $34m, according to nonprofit OpenSecrets — blocked a quick vote. The fate of the $2,000 cheques remains in limbo as more than 10 million Americans ring in the New Year without jobs.
30 to 40 million
That’s the number of Americans at risk for eviction when moratoriums expire, according to an analysis by the nonprofit Aspen Institute.
New York passed a sweeping law extending its eviction and foreclosure moratoriums until May 1 and bolstering credit protections for people struggling to pay their rent, mortgage or property taxes during the coronavirus pandemic.
But a national moratorium from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has only been extended until January 31. Moratoriums don’t provide rent relief or forgiveness — so tenants are on the hook for back rent (and in some states, any late fees charged by landlords) when they expire.
And that back rent really adds up. In the New York City borough of Manhattan, for example, the median asking rent was $2,800 per month in November, according to real estate data from StreetEasy.
And while that’s a 10-year low for the pricy island, a person who hasn’t been paying rent since the moratorium began would owe 10 months of back rent when it expires – a whopping $28,000.
Increased unemployment benefits passed in the latest stimulus bill might help people pay some or all of their rent now, but are likely not enough to help pay back rent, too.
Bitcoin surged to its highest price ever this week, heading for $29,000 for the first time.
The popular cryptocurrency has seen its value quadruple this year, and it was on track to post its biggest monthly gains in December since 2019. Bitcoiners are definitely popping the bubbly this morning.
Less than 10 percent
The number of payments people in Sweden make in cash, according to research from the country’s central bank.
The European country is one of the first to mull moving to a fully digital currency enabled by the same blockchain technology Bitcoin uses, Bloomberg News reported. Sweden’s government launched a review about the feasibility of going fully digital this week that’s slated to end in 2022.
The number of times a huge ball has dropped to ring in the New Year in New York City’s Times Square. A 318-kilogramme (700-pound) ball made of wood and iron was first used to mark the midnight transition from 1907 to 1908 and the concept been a sensation ever since, according to Times Square’s official website.
The New Year’s Eve ball wasn’t dropped in 1942 and 1943, however, due to a “dimout” ordered in the city during World War II. Instead, partygoers observed a moment of silence and the ringing of chimes.
To bid adieu to the wild year that was 2020, a ball decked out with 2,688 Waterford Crystal triangles and 32,256 LED lights dropped at midnight like always — but the thousands of people who usually pack the area known as the “crossroads of the world” were at home in their pyjamas because of COVID-19.
Here’s to ringing in 2022 in person. To that end, wear a mask, wash your hands and get vaccinated when you’re able to.