Curated Insights 2019.07.19

Disneyland makes surveillance palatable—and profitable

Despite these familial concerns, Disney’s data mining never faced the sort of scrutiny that Silicon Valley has. The reason is fairly simple: Disney World is the real-world manifestation of a walled garden, a family-friendly environment without a perceived risk of children being exposed to inappropriate content like on YouTube or Twitch. Wired once called this data-driven customer relationship “exactly the type of thing Apple, Facebook and Google are trying to build. Except Disney World isn’t just an app or a phone—it’s both, wrapped in an idealized vision of life that’s as safely self-contained as a snow globe.”


Ray-Ban owner in talks for GrandVision at $8 billion value

By adding GrandVision, which sells prescription glasses, contact lenses and other eyecare products, EssilorLuxottica would gain more than 7,000 stores in more than 40 countries. GrandVision operates under retail brands including Brilleland and For Eyes. In addition to its well-known sunglass labels, including Oakley, EssilorLuxottica owns store chains like LensCrafters and Pearle Vision.

EssilorLuxottica’s interest in GrandVision comes only two months after the company defused a leadership dispute that weighed on its shares. The eyecare maker, the result of a merger of France’s Essilor and Italy’s Luxottica, said in May that it would seek a new chief executive officer — an effort to find a compromise between Chairman Leonardo Del Vecchio and Vice Chairman Hubert Sagnieres. The dispute flared up after the companies sealed their $53 billion merger last year, with Del Vecchio saying he wanted to appoint his deputy as CEO and Sagnieres countering that the Italian was making false statements in an effort to seize control of the group.


Shopify and the power of platforms

This is how Shopify can both in the long run be the biggest competitor to Amazon even as it is a company that Amazon can’t compete with: Amazon is pursuing customers and bringing suppliers and merchants onto its platform on its own terms; Shopify is giving merchants an opportunity to differentiate themselves while bearing no risk if they fail.

Curated Insights 2019.07.12

Spotify’s moats, management, and unit economics

Podcasting is a relatively nascent industry that is booming. As the #2 podcast player in the world, Spotify should benefit greatly from this trend. While Apple continues to dominate podcasting, their share has quickly fallen from 80% to 63% the past few years. Meanwhile, Spotify has been gaining share every year.

Around 85% of Spotify’s content is controlled by the three big record labels, plus MERLIN (a digital rights agency that represents thousands of independent labels). It’s great when a company has captive customers that results in pricing power. It’s not great when a company is a captive customer of their suppliers and thus has less control over their costs. With that being said, Spotify has a lot of power over the record labels as well.

In 2018, streaming accounted for 47% of global recorded music revenue—and Spotify has almost 70% market share of global streaming revenue. Look at the below chart showing industry revenues over time (purple is streaming revenue). If the major record labels want to continue enjoying the growth they’ve experienced the past few years, they have to work with Spotify.

China’s total number of births dropped over 10% last year

The total number of births in China last year dropped by 2 million from 2017, the National Bureau of Statistics announced at a news conference on Monday. The massive drop — from 17.23 million to 15.23 million — indicates that China’s birth rate last year was the lowest the country has seen since famine-stricken 1961.

Curated Insights 2019.07.05

How Honda survived a trade war with the US and won over Americans

Today, Honda, Nissan (NSANF), Toyota (TM) and Subaru (FUJHF) all operate manufacturing plants across the United States, with Toyota and Mazda planning a new $1.6 billion auto assembly plant in Alabama that will employ around 4,000 people when it opens in 2021. Last year, Japanese car makers created 1.6 million jobs in the US, according to the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association.

While Japanese car makers claim to build one third of all vehicles in the United States, and purchased $61.2 billion in US auto parts in 2018, many of those cars use imported Japanese parts, which were worth $16 billion last year.

Air conditioning is the world’s next big threat

Because of the combination of population growth, rising incomes, falling equipment prices and urbanization, the number of air-conditioning units installed globally is set to jump from about 1.6 billion today to 5.6 billion by the middle of the century, according to the International Energy Agency.

BNEF expects electricity demand from residential and commercial air conditioning to increase by more than 140% by 2050 – an increase that’s comparable to adding the European Union’s entire electricity consumption. Air conditioning will represent 12.7% of electricity demand by the middle of the century, compared to almost 9% now, it thinks.

Curated Insights 2019.06.28

Facebook, Libra, and the long game

And this is when this bet would pay off for Facebook (and the second point I missed in my earlier analysis): the implication that digital currencies will do for money what the Internet did for information is that the very long-term trend will be towards centralization around Aggregators. When there is no friction, control shifts from gatekeepers controlling supply to Aggregators controlling demand. To that end, by pioneering Libra, building what will almost certainly be the first wallet for the currency, and bringing to bear its unmatched network for facilitating payments, Facebook is betting it will offer the best experience for digital currency flows, giving it power not by controlling Libra but rather by controlling the most users of Libra.

Forget the mall, shoppers are buying Gucci at airports

For the first time last year, Estée Lauder Co. generated more revenue at airports globally than at U.S. department stores, which for decades had been beauty companies’ biggest sales driver … “Very few channels have almost guaranteed traffic,” said Olivier Bottrie, who heads Estée Lauder’s global travel-retail business. “When a department store goes away, it’s not a major catastrophe. But if a major airport went away, it would be a major catastrophe.”

Employees who stay in companies longer than two years get paid 50% less

Staying employed at the same company for over two years on average is going to make you earn less over your lifetime by about 50% or more …

In 2014, the average employee is going to earn less than a 1% raise and there is very little that we can do to change management’s decision. But, we can decide whether we want to stay at a company that is going to give us a raise for less than 1%. The average raise an employee receives for leaving is between a 10% to 20% increase in salary.

Curated Insights 2019.06.14

A conversation with Scott Kupor of Andreessen Horowitz, author and speaker at Lean Startup Conference 2019

I’m pretty sure this is not a fundable idea, but here goes! I’ve long been interested in health and, in particular, the role of food choices in determining health. I also believe that if people understood what was in fact healthy – not an easy task given the difficulty in producing scientifically rigorous studies on nutrition – and if they had the luxury of time to prepare healthy meals, they would in fact do so. We’ve certainly made progress over the last twenty or so years in addressing some of these challenges – there are more restaurants that do more to cater to the health-informed and of course we have the plethora of ingredient and meal home delivery services.

But what I think is missing is the perfect substitute for a home cooked meal that caters precisely to the ingredients/nutritional needs of the individual. I’d love to be able to order a meal that incorporates the precise ingredients I want and is made from the precise recipe I provide – just as I would do if I had the time (and patience) to do it on my own. This of course is probably why this will never work as a business – I’m not sure mass customization works economically. But, I am fascinated by the new “cloud kitchens” type models that are being formed and am hopeful that maybe they will crack the code on this.

Meatless future or vegan delusions? The Beyond Meat valuation

In 2018, the meatless meat market had sales of $1-$5 billion, depending on how broadly you define meatless markets and the geographies that you look at. Defined as meatless meats, i.e., the products that Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods offer, it is closer to the lower end of the range, but inclusive of other meat alternatives (tofu, tempeh etc.) is at the upper end. No matter which end of the range you go with, it is small relative to the overall meat market that is in excess of $250 billion, just in the US, and closer to a trillion, if you expand it globally, in 2018. In fact, while the meat market has seen slow growth in the US and Europe, with a shift from beef to chicken, the global meat market has been growing, as increasing affluence in Asia, in general, and China, in particular, has increased meat consumption, Depending on your perspective on Beyond Meats, that can be bad news or good news, since it can be taken by detractors as a sign that the overall market for meatless meats is not very big and by optimists that there is plenty of room to grow.

The big question that we face is in estimating how much the shift towards vegan and vegetarian diets will continue, driven by health reasons or environmental concern (or guilt). There is also a question of whether some governments may accelerate the shift away from meat-based diets, with policies and subsidies. Given this uncertainty, it is not surprising that the forecasts for the size of the meatless meat market vary widely across forecasters. While they all agree that the market will grow, they disagree about the end number, with forecasts for 2023 ranging from $5 billion at the low end to $8 billion at the other extreme. Beyond Meat, in its prospectus, uses the expansion of non-dairy milk(soy, flax, almond mild) in the milk market as its basis, to estimate the market for meatless meat to be $35 billion in the long term.

The wealth detective who finds the hidden money of the super rich

The top 0.1% of taxpayers (170,000 families) control 20% of American wealth, the highest share since 1929.

The top 1% control 39% of U.S. wealth, and the bottom 90% have only 26%.

The bottom half of Americans combined have a negative net worth.

Curated Insights 2019.05.31

China, leverage, and values

This is the true war when it comes to technology: censorship versus openness, control versus creativity, and centralization versus competition. These are, of course, connected: China’s censorship is about control facilitated by centralization. That, though, should not only give Western tech companies and investors pause about China generally, but should also lead to serious introspection about the appropriate policies towards our own tech industry. Openness, creativity, and competition are just as related as their counterparts, and infringement on any one of them should be taken as a threat to all three.

Long Zillow. Short real estate agents?

Return on homes sold before interest expense (4-5% target):
$255,000 x 4% = $10,200 per house x 60,000 houses = $612 million.

Adjusted EBITDA before adjacent opportunities (2-3% target):
$255,000 x 2% = $5,100 per house x 60,000 houses = $306 million.

Their email says something like this:

Mr. Prescott,

We noticed you have looked at this house on 523 Elm St. seven times over the past month. Great news! This house just became part of our inventory😁

We are prepared to offer you $275,000 for you current house.

We will sell you 523 Elm St. for $315,000.

Since you have $100,000 of equity in your current house (they know this because they financed it), we are prepared to offer you a 15-year mortgage for $215,000 at a 3.5% interest rate.

Your TOTAL out-of-pocket expenses for this transaction will be $4,300 (people like certainty; moving will $100 dollar you to death).

In addition, here are three dates we can move you out of your current house, and into your new house.

Attached are some repairs we think this house will need and what they will cost. If you choose to go forward with any of them, we will proceed with the repairs, and the costs will be rolled into your mortgage at no additional out-of-pocket cash for you.

This offer will expire in 72 hours.

Again, your total OUT-OF-POCKET cash, should you accept this offer, will be $4,300 dollars. And not a penny more.

If you would like proceed, just click “Accept this Offer” and one of our agents will be in touch with you shortly…

Cordially,
Future Zillow

The inside story of why Amazon bought PillPack in its effort to crack the $500 billion prescription market

Spending on U.S. prescription medications is approaching $500 billion a year and growing up to 7% annually, according to IQVIA, a provider of health data. Roughly 60% of American adults have at least one chronic illness, such as heart disease, cancer or diabetes, and 40% have two or more, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The retail drug market for prescriptions has been dominated by large pharmacy chains, including CVS and Walgreens, and independent pharmacies, which all count on a few middlemen known as pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) to negotiate prices, as well as a handful of large drug distributors.

Field notes: Highlights from Huawei

Huawei has about 700 mathematicians, 800 physicists, 120 chemists, six or seven thousand basic research experts, and more than 60,000 engineers. We have compiled more than 15,000 research experts to turn capital investment into knowledge. We have more than 60,000 practical personnel to develop products and turn that same knowledge back into capital [into revenue]. We have always supported scientists outside the company to conduct research.

Curated Insights 2019.05.17

Uber's biggest underestimation would be thinking its competition was just the taxi and limousine market in the U.S., a $4.2 billion opportunity. That turned out to be way too small. Instead, Uber's revised total addressable market is all vehicle and public transport trips, according to its S-1 filing. That's now a $5.7 trillion market size.

The investor who turned down Uber at a $5m valuation

In its 2010 seed round, Uber raised $1.6m according to Pitchbook, giving it a $5.4m valuation. On Friday, it closed its first day of trading publicly with a valuation of around $70bn. That was significantly below the $100bn valuation the company had recently hoped to achieve, but it still meant early investors were able to cash in on huge returns.

But he was wary. Having lived in London for many years previously, he said he knew how strong the taxi lobbies were. In Los Angeles, he knew that everyone had their own cars and never took cabs. This was clearly going to be a niche, local service for certain cities only, he thought. 

WeWork wants to become its own landlord with latest spending spree

Neumann took control of 65 percent of WeWork’s voting equity as part of a 2014 funding deal—while celebrating, he partied so hard he broke a floor-to-ceiling window in his office, according to a person familiar with the incident—and since then, he’s been known to make company-level decisions on what look, from the outside, like whims. When WeWork sold bonds for the first time a year ago, it originally planned to sell $500 million worth, but the final number was $702 million, because 702 was deemed a lucky number, a source familiar with the matter says. Neumann referred a question on the number to his general counsel, who declined to comment. It’s unclear what strategic value WeWork’s investment in an indoor wave pool company offered, but Neumann does love to surf.

Curated Insights 2019.05.10

Why you’ll never invest in the next big short

Greenblatt’s Gotham Capital funded Burry’s investment fund when he decided to quit medicine and become a full-time investor. They even took an ownership stake that was rewarded handsomely when Burry’s value investments performed well right out of the gate. But when Burry got interested in betting against the housing market in 2005-2006, Greenblatt, along with many other investors in the fund, balked.

Burry so believed in his bet against these terrible housing loans that he eventually put a gate on his fund. In hedge fund speak, this means he made it harder for his investors to withdraw capital. Greenblatt and company threatened to sue and it almost forced Burry to give up on his trade of a lifetime:

“If there was one moment I might have caved, that was it,” said Burry. “Joel was like a godfather to me—a partner in my firm, the guy that ‘discovered’ me and backed me before anyone outside my family did. I respected him and looked up to him.”

Of course, Burry was proven right. By June 2008 his fund was up nearly 500% from its inception in 2000 versus a gain of just 2% in the S&P in that time. He and his investors made out like bandits from his housing short. Greenblatt is a legend and he almost let one of the greatest trades ever made slip away because he didn’t understand it. But can you blame him?

In 2006, the S&P 500 was up more than 15% while Burry lost close to 20% because the housing market had yet to roll over. Burry was a tried and true value investor so betting against the housing market was an enormous style drift on his part. And gating your fund after a horrendous year isn’t a great signal to investors. If someone like Greenblatt nearly whiffed on the greatest trade of all-time, what chance would you have at seeing something like this through?

Burry sent an email in the fall of 2008 to some of his friends that read: “I’m selling off the positions tonight. I think I hit a breaking point. I haven’t eaten today, I’m not sleeping, I’m not talking with my kids, not talking with my wife, I’m broken.” It’s hard enough to make money when the markets are in upheaval but Burry was basically betting against the entire system here. You get the sense from reading Lewis’s book that, although they made a ton of money, the people who pulled this off didn’t delight in the situation even after being proven right. It exacted a toll on everyone involved.

To his founding investor, Gotham Capital, he shot off an unsolicited e-mail that said only, “You’re welcome.” He’d already decided to kick them out of the fund, and insist that they sell their stake in his business. When they asked him to suggest a price, he replied, “How about you keep the tens of millions you nearly prevented me from earning for you last year and we call it even?”

Larry Fink, Barclays and the deal of the decade

Mr Fink swooped. In March 2009, he began negotiating with Bob Diamond and John Varley, then president and chief executive of Barclays respectively. The $15.2bn cash-and-stock deal they announced in June transformed BlackRock into a financial services colossus and ultimately changed the shape of the global investment industry. Barclays, in turn, managed to avoid a government bailout but it has since been accused of selling its crown jewel.

In one stroke the purchase made BlackRock the world’s largest fund manager, with $2.8tn in assets. Ten years on, it oversees $6.5tn and has a market value of more than $74bn. More importantly, it ensured the company, which was then best known as an active fixed income manager, had a large foothold in part of the asset management industry known as passive investing. BGI, through its iShares brand, was a leader in exchange traded funds, where funds passively track an index of shares instead of making active bets on stock prices of different companies. Since 2009, assets managed in ETFs globally have ballooned from just over $1tn to a record $5.4tn.

Barclays secured a 19.9 per cent BlackRock stake as part of the BGI deal, which was valued at $13.5bn when announced but rose to $15.2bn when it completed six months after a 62 per cent surge in BlackRock shares. “Selling that stake in 2012 turned out to be a bad move,” said Mr Weight. The divergence in fortunes of the respective shareholders has been stark. BlackRock has outperformed Barclays by 470 per cent in common currency terms since the BGI deal. During the decade Barclays shares have dropped more than 40 per cent, while BlackRock is up 160 per cent.

Curated Insights 2019.05.03

James Harden and alpha

Advantage is only an advantage if others don’t have the same advantage.

Do you meet with company management? So do 30 sell-side analysts and 100 buy side analysts and PMs every quarter. Do you build your own, bespoke, earnings models? So does half the buy side. Do you interview competitors, customers, and suppliers? So does half the buy side. Do you pull credit-card history, satellite images, and other big data in real time? So does half the buy side. If you think you have a sustainable informational edge, you’re either deluding yourself, or you have inside information.

We are not playing an information game. Everyone has the information. The question is how objective can you be when you process it, and might Mr Market see the same information with bias?

Vanguard patented a way to avoid taxes on mutual funds

To understand how the process works, consider an investor who owns a portfolio of stocks. If one is sold for more than what it cost, capital-gains tax is due on the difference. Theoretically, owning stocks through a mutual fund or ETF works the same way. If the fund sells a stock for a profit, the taxable gain shows up on each investor’s end-of-year Form 1099. But thanks to an obscure loophole in the tax code, ETFs almost always avoid incurring taxable gains.

The rule says that a fund can avoid recognizing taxable gains on an appreciated stock if the shares are used to pay off a withdrawing investor. The rule applies to both ETFs and mutual funds, but mutual funds rarely take advantage of it because their investors almost always want cash.

ETFs use it all the time, because they don’t transact directly with regular investors. Instead, they deal with Wall Street middlemen such as banks and market makers. It’s those firms, not retail investors, that expand the ETF by depositing assets or shrink it by withdrawing. These transactions are usually done with stocks rather than cash. The middlemen, in turn, trade with regular investors who want to buy and sell ETF shares.

Trading with middlemen presents ETFs a tax-cutting opportunity. Whenever one of these firms makes a withdrawal request, an ETF can deliver its oldest, most appreciated stocks, the ones most likely to generate a tax bill someday.

If the ETF wants to cut its taxes further, it can generate extra withdrawals just to harvest the tax break. A heartbeat is when an ETF asks a friendly bank or market maker to deposit some stock in the fund for a day or two, then take different stock out. Some critics call these trades an abuse of the tax code. But with the help of heartbeats, most stock ETFs, even ones that change holdings frequently, are able to cut their capital-gains taxes to zero.

Thanks to winnings on stocks like Monsanto, the fund reported $6.51 billion of capital gains in 2018. But for the 17th straight year since it got an ETF share class, the fund distributed no taxable gains to investors. The ETF ensured that the vast majority of the gains, $6.49 billion, weren’t taxable. The balance was probably canceled out by tax losses from earlier years.

You’re not getting enough sleep—and it’s killing you

He ran down all the ways in which sleep deprivation hurts people: it makes you dumber, more forgetful, unable to learn new things, more vulnerable to dementia, more likely to die of a heart attack, less able to fend off sickness with a strong immune system, more likely to get cancer, and it makes your body literally hurt more. Lack of sleep distorts your genes, and increases your risk of death generally, he said. It disrupts the creation of sex hormones like estrogen and testosterone, and leads to premature aging. Apparently, men who only sleep five hours a night have markedly smaller testicles than men who sleep more than seven.

Don’t drink caffeine or alcohol. Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning (even on the weekends). Sleep in a cool room. If you are lying awake in bed, listening to the litany of worries your brain is churning through, get up, go into a different room, and do an activity, then return to bed when you’re ready. “You wouldn’t sit at the dinner table waiting to get hungry, so why lay in bed waiting to get tired,” he told a TED attendee who’d asked for advice. Meditate to calm your nervous system and your mind. Don’t default to sleeping pills, which are “blunt instruments that do not produce naturalistic sleep,” he said. Eventually, he said, he may be able to offer an “affordable, portable” brain-stimulating device that would use transcranial direct-current stimulation to help people have deeper sleep.

Curated Insights 2019.04.26

Spotify’s stock is risky because the music industry is not changing fast enough

The international market is a different story. Tencent Music Entertainment Group (TME) dominates China. (Spotify has taken a minority stake in the company.) Outside of China, Spotify is the clear global market leader, with an estimated 31% market share, ahead of Apple (AAPL), at 17%; Amazon.com (AMZN), at 12%; and Sirius XM Holdings (SIRI), which now owns Pandora, at 11%, according to Credit Suisse . YouTube’s paid music services are still relatively small, but one survey found that free YouTube videos accounted for nearly half of the time that people in 18 countries spent listening to music.

Most of the world doesn’t pay for streaming music, choosing to listen on the radio or to pirate content, which still accounts for 38% of the market, Credit Suisse says. The bullish case for Spotify implies that many of those people can be persuaded to pay up. Even bearish analysts expect the company to more than double its global paid subscriptions over the next five years.