Curated Insights 2018.06.17

What helps or hurts investment returns? Here’s a ranking

An unexpected challenge in performing this exercise is a tendency for some elements to offset others. For example, changes in profits could be offset by widening or contracting price-earnings ratios; sentiment might offset valuation; returns tend to vary inversely with risk. Why does this matter? Because in the real world, one hand giveth while the other taketh away. This concept of cancellation matters a great deal to total portfolio returns.

The overall cost of a portfolio, compounded over 20 or 30 years, can add up to (or subtract) a substantial amount of the returns. One Vanguard Group study noted that a 110 basis-point expense ratio can cost as much as 25 percent of total returns after 30 years. That does not take into consideration other costs such as trading expenses, capital-gains taxes or account location (i.e., using qualified or tax-deferred accounts). The rise of indexing during the past decade is a tacit acknowledgment that on average, cost matters more than stock-picking prowess.

Those people born in 1948 not only managed to have their peak earning and investing years (35-65) coincide with multiple bull markets and interest rates dropping from more than 15 percent to less than 1 percent. They also lucked into a market that tripled in the decade before retirement.

Behavior and discipline > Humility and learning > Longevity and starting early > Valuation and year of birth > Asset allocation > Costs and expenses > Security selection


The forging of a skeptic

I think another thing people have gotten confused about is the sustainable competitive advantage and the moat. Durable competitive advantage and moats are not the same thing as brands. People sometimes use these terms interchangeably. I have also seen people ascribe competitive advantages to brands that don’t have them. For example, retailers — retailers have brands. We all know what Macy’s is, but retailing is fundamentally a bad business.

In essence, the merits of a brand are not the brand itself; they are the qualities of the product that create the consumer loyalty. What attracted him, ultimately, to Coca-Cola is that Coca-Cola’s formula make you more, not less, thirsty, and supposedly has been tested to prove that it doesn’t wear out the palate, no matter how much is consumed. This implies infinite sales potential. The cute commercials and cheery red logo create an association in people’s minds with those qualities. They aren’t what makes it Coca-Cola.

While there are moats that include brands, a brand is not a moat. The moat is whatever qualities are innate to the business that make it difficult to compete with

Worried about big tech? Chinese giants make America’s look tame

They have both funded ventures that offer online education, make electric cars and rent out bicycles. For the giants, such initiatives represent new opportunities for people to use their digital wallets — Ant Financial’s Alipay and Tencent’s WeChat Pay — and new ways to collect data on consumer behavior. Analysts at Sanford C. Bernstein counted 247 investment deals by Tencent in recent years and 156 by Alibaba, though given the pace of the companies’ deal-making, they said their database was “likely to be perennially incomplete.”

In a report this week, Morgan Stanley predicted that by 2027, the total market in China in which Alibaba could be making money will be worth $19 trillion — more than Amazon’s potential market worldwide.

‘As long as they’re unfriendly, it’s a sign they have confidence’

Keyence keeps up compound sales growth of 14 per cent a year (1986-2016) even with sales in the billions of dollars. It takes seemingly simple products such as barcode readers and sells them for five times the cost of manufacture.

Keyence’s first secret is its production outsourcing. It buys raw materials in bulk and sends them to component suppliers; it collects the components and sends them to assemblers and performs the final inspection of goods itself.

The second secret is what Keyence really sells: not a product, but a way to make a factory more efficient. Graeme McDonald, machinery analyst at Citigroup in Tokyo, says the group’s sales engineers “can often provide an idea of how to improve your manufacturing set-up literally on the site with an idea of the payback time and return on investment”. It offers quick victories — such as a sensor to replace manual inspection, for example — not risky projects. “The products they sell are not capital expenditure, they’re cost to the factory manager,” says Mr Noguchi. If the manager can save a $40,000 salary with a $20,000 gadget, they will sign off quickly, without worrying how much Keyence earns.

The products are high quality, if not necessarily unique. Keyence has a modest research budget and less than a tenth of the US patents held by rival automation companies such as Fanuc.

Fanuc in trouble? Talk to the (robot) hand

Fair enough, it’s a tough world for all iPhone dependents. Here’s a wrinkle in the bear-case thesis, though: Overseas shipments of robots and Robodrills from Yokohama, while down elsewhere, are up sharply to Asia. The volume of robots shipped by the port – mostly Fanuc’s – remains close to its highest in decades, at about 5,000 units in April. The company’s backlog of orders is near to its highest in more than two years, according to Bernstein analysts.

How e-commerce with drone delivery is taking flight in China

It is still waiting to earn back its investment in drone-delivery infrastructure, although it says that making a delivery by drone costs a fifth of the price than by man-and-van, once the driver’s labour is taken into account. Liu Qiangdong, JD’s chief executive, says drone delivery will cut costs by 70% once it is scaled up across the country. Villagers tend to buy washing powder, accessories for their phones, maternity goods and fresh food. The firm has made 20,000 such deliveries to date.

JD may have added drones to daily Chinese village life, but whether they will make financial sense for the company over time remains to be seen. Current models of drone are pricey, although JD says the cost will gradually come down as it scales up the network and builds more drones (it plans to sell those it makes to other firms, as well as use them for its operations). The government approves of its operations in rural areas, and is planning to build a new train station in Suqian next to JD’s drone base. If JD can use drone delivery to cut its costs and attract rural shoppers, that will help the firm compete with its arch-rival in e-commerce, Alibaba, which has not, as yet, seen the value of drone delivery. JD hopes that will prove to be a mistake.


Internet lending is booming in China

The balance of online consumer loans in China has grown about fivefold between 2015 and 2017, reaching 350 billion yuan ($54.6 billion), according to Chinese research company Analysys. According to a survey conducted by research specialist Analysys in December 2017, people between the ages of 24 and 35 accounted for more than 70% of consumer borrowers in China.

Chinese consumers, especially people born in 1980 and later, are less squeamish than their older peers about buying on credit. But the total balance of consumer loans in China is still about 60% lower than that in the U.S. and is expected to continue growing. Analysys estimates that the balance of internet loans in China will more than double to 720 billion yuan in 2019, compared with 350 billion yuan in 2017. That flow of credit will likely give a lift to the Chinese consumer market.

The scooter economy

The mistake in Kalanick’s thinking is two-fold: First, up-and-until the point that self-driving cars are widely available — that is, not simply invented, but built-and-deployed at scale — Uber’s drivers are its biggest competitive advantage. Kalanick’s public statements on the matter hardly evinced understanding on this point. Second, bringing self-driving cars to market would entail huge amounts of capital investment. For one, this means it would be unlikely that Google, a company that rushes to reassure investors when it loses tens of basis points in margin, would do so by itself, and for another, whatever companies did make such an investment would be highly incentivized to maximize utilization of said investment as soon as possible. That means plugging into the dominant transportation-as-a-service network, which means partnering with Uber.

My contention is that Uber would have been best-served concentrating all of its resources on its driver-centric model, even as it built relationships with everyone in the self-driving space, positioning itself to be the best route to customers for whoever wins the self-driving technology battle.

Why you should read those boring 10-K filings

The vast majority of the text changes are concentrated in the Management Discussion and Analysis (MD&A) of the 10-K. These disclosures also tend to be more negative than positive, perhaps because the reports are typically drafted by lawyers who tilt toward disclosing negative trends more than positive ones. When the authors applied natural language text processing to evaluate the changes, they found that 86 percent reflected negative sentiment shifts and only 14 percent positive shifts. Furthermore, the text differences contain useful information for predicting future earnings: Changes in the 10-K written text today predict earnings surprises in the future.

Given this negative bias to the textual changes and their ability to predict future earnings, the study shows that companies with 10-K text modifications experience noticeably lower future stock returns than other firms. For example, the authors construct a portfolio that goes long on companies with no material textual changes and shorts firms that contain such changes. That portfolio earns an abnormal positive return of up to 7 percent per year above the market.

Curated Insights 2018.06.10

Laying the pipes of a post-advertising world

Brands have always fought for a place in consumers’ hearts, and then relied on their loyalty for repeat business. Pipes are structural relationships that don’t rely on such fickle factors. They are built on more vertically integrated distribution channels and behave more like utilities — a way into people’s homes and lives attached to an account.

Amazon is the ultimate pipe. Their entire value is that they bring things to you — the things can change as necessary: movies, pickles, sneakers. They own the interface, the invisible moving parts, and the household. They understand your preferences intimately and have become arbiters of choice in many homes. Alexa, buy batteries. You get a big pack of generic batteries, rated 4.5 stars for a good price delivered to your home. Do we really need brands with brand managers and media agencies competing for our attention or do we just need batteries for the remote? If pipes offer simplified decision making, better value and validation — then brands as we know them lose their value.

Advertising was unsustainable from the beginning, for two key reasons. Firstly, when a market fills up, everyone needs to shout louder to get heard, until the noise drowns everything out and a vicious cycle sets in to the detriment of all. Secondly, advertisers pay to reach people, but the audience also pays, with perhaps the most precious resource of all, their attention. You pay attention, and our attentions are more burdened than ever. This is the perfect recipe for people to opt out, should we give them a way to, and we have. In a very short span of time, ads have gone from having captive audiences to being avoidable. Social feeds are designed to skip over anything that doesn’t interest you. Fast forwarding over TV ads is great, but watching ad free content (Netflix) is even better.

Not adapting carries the risk of becoming a price taker in the long run. Adapting can be either through building your own pipe infrastructure, not an easy task and especially difficult for companies not born out of technology, or renting someone else’s pipe and ceding power to them and again facing the potential of long term decline. Disney has chosen the former. Soon they will launch their subscription video competitor to Netflix. With a lot on the line, a transformation of epic proportions lies ahead. Whether it’s successful or not, it speaks volumes that the owner of the most magical brands in the world is entering the pipe race.

The list of advantages pipes and subscriptions have over brands and ads is overwhelming: more consistent income and cash flow, lower marketing costs, better access to customers, more flexibility and control of customer experience, better valuations and access to capital, better quality data and potential for AI. As these factors compound, the shift in the balance of power will accelerate.

Spotify uproar points to the power of the playlist

The furor reflects a reality of today’s music business: Playlists are the new radio, helping major artists rack up millions of streams and connecting lesser-known acts with new fans.

But the findings highlight how influential Spotify can be in determining which songs, albums and artists succeed in the streaming era, he adds. Justin Barker, group director of streaming strategy for PIAS, a U.K.-based group of record labels that works with musicians such as Father John Misty, says that for the majority of its new artists, roughly 60% to 80% of streams are on playlists owned and operated by Spotify.

Spotify has become “a very powerful intermediary,” Mr. Waldfogel says. “The music industry used to get bent out of shape about how much market share Walmart would have. This makes that seem quaint.”


Here’s what Fiat Chrysler’s five-year road map looks like

Adjusted Ebitda will rise to between 13 billion and 16 billion euros by 2022, up from about 6.6 billion in 2017. The 2017 figure excludes the Magneti Marelli parts unit that Fiat Chrysler plans to spin off at the beginning of 2019. Fiat Chrysler also said it will spend about 45 billion euros on capital investments as it tries to harness an evolving automotive market place driven by electrification, connected services and self-driving cars.

Fiat Chrysler plans to form a captive financial unit in the U.S. The company has an option to buy out its existing partner, Santander Consumer USA Holdings Inc., and has initiated discussions, Palmer said. Such a move could add $500 million to $800 million in incremental pretax earnings within four years, he said. Fiat could also start its own business, in which case the company envisions about $100 million in incremental profit. A captive finance unit will allow Fiat Chrysler to “participate more fully in capturing value from emerging platforms,” Palmer said, for example by securitizing vehicle fleets and offering access to service providers on a per-mile basis.

Jeep is targeting 1/12 of all sport utility vehicle sales worldwide by 2022, implying a will more than doubling of deliveries to as many as 3.3 million units, based on Bloomberg calculations from the presentation. Maserati will target Tesla Inc. with a full-electric sports car that reaches more than 186 miles per hour. All Maserati powertrains, including the electric ones, will be supplied by Ferrari NV, the supercar maker spun off from Fiat Chrysler in 2016.

Google emerges as early winner from Europe’s new data privacy law

The reason: the Alphabet ad giant is gathering individuals’ consent for targeted advertising at far higher rates than many competing online-ad services, early data show. That means the new law, the General Data Protection Regulation, is reinforcing—at least initially—the strength of the biggest online-ad players, led by Google and Facebook Inc.

Havas SA, one of the world’s largest buyers of ads, says it observed a low double-digit percentage increase in advertisers’ spending through DBM on Google’s own ad exchange on the first day the law went into effect. On the selling side, companies that help publishers sell ad inventory have seen declines in bids coming through their platforms from Google. Paris-based Smart says it has seen a roughly 50% drop. Amsterdam-based Improve Digital says it has experienced a similar fall-off for ads that rely on third-party vendors.

It took a $1 billion IPO for people to see why Adyen matters

By 2017, Adyen was processing in excess of $122 billion in payments for the year, an increase of 61 percent from the year before, and generated $1.2 billion in revenue, according to financial filings. Uber Technologies Inc., Netflix Inc., Spotify Technology SA, and Facebook Inc., are all customers.

Despite its success so far, Adyen still has some ways to go to catch up with the largest payments firms — Vantiv, Chase Paymentech and First Data each handle about $1 trillion annually — but Adyen differs from many of its rivals in a number of ways: Its transaction processing fees are typically lower than those of other young e-commerce oriented payments firms such as Stripe or Square, and it can handle transfers in more currencies and payment types than Chase Paymentech or Vantiv.

Olivier Bisserier, the chief financial officer at Booking.com, an Adyen customer, told Bloomberg in 2016 that he liked that Adyen was willing to “think like a tech company” rather than a bank. When Booking.com expanded into Argentina, Adyen helped build its payments processing gateway for that market at a time when larger payments processors were refusing to do so until the travel site could show significant sales volumes from the new geography.

Janitors are becoming millionaires thanks to this stock’s 9,500% rally

Sunny Optical’s affluent employees have benefited from the largesse of Wang Wenjian, who started the company in Yuyao, a small city on China’s eastern coast, in 1984. When Sunny Optical restructured from a so-called village and township enterprise into a joint-stock company in the 1990s, Wang took the rare step of distributing stakes beyond top management and later organizing the holdings into a trust that now has about 400 holders and owns 35 percent of the Hong Kong-listed company. Leaving a 6.8 percent stake for himself in 1994, Wang allowed quality inspectors, company cooks and cleaners to subscribe for shares at a negligible cost based on their position and years of service.

“When money gathers, people will be apart; when money is scattered, people will gather.”

Curated Insights 2018.06.03

How will GDPR affect digital marketers?

  • Organisations with an existing marketing database must re-solicit every person’s consent (via an explicit opt-in) since individuals may have been added to the database without their consent.
  • All opt-out consent boxes must be replaced by opt-in (without the box being pre-checked).
  • Collection and processing of data to deliver your core service (e.g. fulfil orders) can continue unchanged, but if you wish to use historical data for marketing purposes, you need consent.
  • Personalised ad targeting based on an individual’s specific behaviours, such as that offered by many programmatic media companies, is illegal without active content. However, targeting based on broad interest-based audience segments is permissible so long as individuals cannot be identified.
  • The purchasing or sharing of personal data (such as email lists) is prohibited unless each person in the list has expressly permitted their details to be passed on to third parties. Event organisers, for example, can no longer share lists of attendees with sponsors.
  • Where data must be passed to another organisation for legitimate business reasons, you should ensure they are also compliant with GDPR. This is particularly important if data is passed to organisations outside the EU who may be less familiar with its data protection obligations.
  • Your customers now have the right to ask what data you hold and to have their data deleted permanently.
  • Any breach of personal data integrity (e.g. through theft, hacking, or incompetence) must be notified to the authorities within 72 hours. Organisations should audit who has access to personal data and ensure they are aware of their GDPR security obligations.

The iPhone may not be what finally pushes Apple over $1tn

The performance of this services division, largely overseen by senior vice-president Eddy Cue, has been a model of consistency when placed next to the feast-or-famine performance of the iPhone. Since 2006, it has grown at an average rate of 23 per cent year on year, according to Gene Munster, a veteran Apple analyst turned investor at Loup Ventures.

If it was valued like other “software as a service” companies such as Adobe, Dropbox or Intuit, Mr Munster reckons, at a multiple of 10 times 2018’s estimated revenues, Apple’s services business would be worth $381bn all by itself. 

For Google, all roads lead back to search

Underpinning this is the mobile business, which has given Google’s search engine a new lease of life. With smartphone users carrying out more frequent internet searches, the “paid clicks” — the number of times users click on its advertisements — jumped 59 per cent in the first three months of this year, continuing an acceleration seen over recent quarters. Even with average ad prices falling 19 per cent, the result has been a pick-up in growth.

The question now is whether Google’s newer businesses will extend this momentum into new markets in the years to come. Foremost among them is YouTube. The online video arm already has $20bn in annual revenue and could grow at 20-30 per cent a year for the next five years, forecast Mark Mahaney, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets. The potential is enormous: YouTube’s revenue represents only around 10 per cent of the amount spent globally on traditional TV advertising.

Google’s cloud computing business, meanwhile, could represent an even bigger opportunity. The cloud market is projected to be worth nearly $250bn by 2021, according to tech research firm Gartner.

That could one day make driverless cars a huge business for Google. Analysts at UBS forecast that Waymo’s technology lead will translate into revenues for Alphabet in 2030 that are equivalent to 80 per cent of its entire group revenue in 2020.

Marchionne’s finale entails expanding Jeep, shrinking Fiat

Jeep — which accounts for more than 70 percent of profits, according to analysts’ estimates — will increasingly become the focal point of the group. Marchionne is set to target doubling the brand’s sales volume by 2022 from about 1.4 million vehicles last year. The growth is based on expanding Jeep’s presence in Asia, Brazil and Europe as well as widening its product offering with hybrid variants starting next year. Marchionne has already indicated that he sees chances to double the group’s profit in the coming five years on booming Jeep sales.

Buffett proposed $3 billion Uber investment but deal crumbled

Under the proposed agreement, Berkshire Hathaway would have provided a convertible loan to Uber that would have protected Buffett’s investment should Uber hit financial straits, while providing significant upside if Uber continued to grow in value, said the people, who spoke under condition of anonymity because the discussions were private. Buffett’s initial offer was well above $3 billion, one of the people said.

During negotiations Uber Chief Executive Officer Dara Khosrowshahi proposed decreasing the size of the deal to $2 billion, one person said, hoping to get Buffett’s backing while giving him a potentially smaller share of the company. The deal fell apart after the two sides couldn’t agree on terms, one of the people said.


Airbnb founders go it alone in China after refusing merger offer

Tujia remains keen to cut a deal—although both sides deny formal talks—and says it’s simply waiting for Airbnb executives to accept reality. “We would love to issue shares in Tujia in exchange for Airbnb’s China operations,” says Tujia Chief Financial Officer Warren Wang. Until Airbnb is ready, “we will prove ourselves and show our muscle,” he said. “If Airbnb needs more time to understand that they or any other foreign tech companies just can’t do that well in China without a local partner, once we show them they’ll sit down and talk about a deal.”

Home-sharing in China differs from the U.S. and Europe, where travelers are accustomed to a rich bed-and-breakfast culture and many hosts rent out their primary homes while they’re away. In China, hosts don’t want strangers in their own homes. Instead, home sharing has thrived because a national building boom left a glut of empty apartments in the hands of real estate firms and property investors. With homes vacant, local home-sharing companies are tapped to clean, list and manage properties.

Initially, Airbnb operated a skeleton operation in China with 30 people, focused on attracting mainlanders going overseas. Chinese tourists took 131 million overseas trips and spent $115 billion abroad last year, according to the China National Tourism Academy. But after noticing a surge of Chinese tourists using Airbnb abroad and thriving local home-sharing apps, the company in 2015 decided to expand its domestic China business. It’s a market well worth chasing: The domestic tourism industry took in 4.57 trillion yuan ($710 billion) in 2017, up 15.9 percent from the year before, according to the China National Tourism Administration. Unlike small hotel rooms, home stays let Chinese travel with extended families, cook Chinese fare and bring pets.

A Fed report this week found that gig work is a very small share of family income. For over 75% of gig workers, these activities account for 10% or less of their family income. This picture is also confirmed when looking at the ride-sharing market, see first chart below. The total number of Uber drivers in the US is 833,000 and translated into full-time full-year jobs there are about 100,000 Uber drivers. Comparing these numbers with US economy-wide employment of 148mn shows that the gig economy is more myth than reality. Another way to look at it is to think about how small a share of your total income goes to car services. If you still are not convinced, take a look at the second chart below, which shows the share of people who are self-employed. Why is the gig economy getting so much attention? It is probably because many people in Manhattan now use ride-sharing apps and mistakenly think that what they are seeing is representative for the rest of the economy.

Curated Insights 2018.05.27

Borrow…If you dare

Your problem is the margin. With $10,000 to start, if you borrowed millions, you would lose all of your equity. In fact, having a leverage ratio more than 4:1 ($30,000 borrowed) would have wiped you out in most years. It’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when.

As soon as he said it, I knew he was right. I had forgotten one of the simplest ideas in finance: the path matters. The problem is that while we know that you will get an a high return by the end of the year, if you hit a bad patch of too many negative return days in a row (which is normal), the leverage will wipe you out completely. In other words, the journey is more important than the destination.

The point of all of this is that even when we know the future with certainty, borrowing money isn’t a surefire solution to win big. Given we will never know the future with any degree of certainty, leverage is one of the most dangerous things you can do as a retail investor, so I do not recommend it. If Warren Buffett only levered 1.6:1 on average throughout his career, and he is arguably the greatest investor of all time, what chance do you stand of using leverage properly?

Your investment journey will effect you far more than your investment destination. Just because you know the market should get 7% on average each year doesn’t mean you won’t live through sharp declines and decades of no real returns. These kinds of events are rare, but they happen and they can affect how you perceive markets.

The Bill Gates Line

This is ultimately the most important distinction between platforms and aggregators: platforms are powerful because they facilitate a relationship between 3rd-party suppliers and end users; aggregators, on the other hand, intermediate and control it.

Of course that is the bigger problem: I noted above that Google’s library of ratings and reviews has grown substantially over the past few years; users generating content is the ultimate low-cost supplier, and losing that supply to Google is arguably a bigger problem for Yelp than whatever advertising revenue it can wring out from people that would click through on a hypothetical Google Answer Box that used 3rd-party sources. And, it should be noted, that Yelp’s entire business is user-generated reviews: they and similar vertical sites are likely to do a far better job of generating, organizing, and curating such data.

Presuming that the answer is the image on the right — driving users to Yelp is both better for the bottom line and better for content generation, which mostly happens on the desktop — and it becomes clear that Yelp’s biggest problem is that the more useful Google is — even if it only ever uses Yelp’s data! — the less viable Yelp’s business becomes. This is exactly what you would expect in an aggregator-dominated value chain: aggregators completely disintermediate suppliers and reduce them to commodities.


If we end up sitting around in self-driving cars watching ads, Google is going to make billions

New research from UBS predicts that US autonomous-vehicle revenue will reach $2.3 trillion by 2030—and 70% of the estimated is expected to come from selling experiences to the former drivers. The biggest opportunity—$1.2 trillion—will be in robo-taxi services, moving people and things around in autonomous vehicles.

The second-biggest opportunity, or $472 billion, will be in in-car monetization: selling ads or services against the time spent in the car not driving. Not surprisingly, UBS thinks Waymo—or more broadly, Google’s parent company Alphabet—will be the dominant player in this category, perhaps capturing 60% of the revenue. UBS thinks Waymo’s combined opportunities in services and software make Waymo worth $75 billion today, or roughly 11% of Alphabet’s current valuation.


Netflix misunderstandings, pt. 1: Netflix’s content budget is bigger than it seems

While it might seem pedantic to criticize statements such as “Netflix will spend between $7 billion and $8 billion on content in 2018,” the distinction is critical. To point, Netflix’s 2018 spend is likely to be closer to $12B. Not only is this nearly 50% more than publicized, it means that Netflix will spend more on non-sports content than any of its traditional TV peers (e.g. Disney, Time Warner, NBCUniversal) – even when their many individual networks are consolidated on a corporate basis. What’s more, the disconnect between Netflix’s cash spend on content and amortization expense has grown substantially over time. In 2012, this ratio was 1.1x (cash spend 10% higher than amortization). In both 2016 and 2017, it was 44%. As a result of this growth, the impact of conflating or confusing the two has also grown.

Netflix’s critics and competitors typically focus on the fact that, while profitable on an accounting basis, Netflix keeps spending more cash than it generates from operating its business. The company burned $2B in cash in 2017 (up from $1.7B a year earlier), and expects that figure to grow to $3–4B in 2018. What’s more, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has promised that negative free cash flow will continue for “many years” and the company continues to accumulate debt (raising annual interest expenses) and content liabilities (increasing the amount it’ll need to pay suppliers over time). However, this cash loss only exists because Netflix is funding next year’s content against this year’s revenue. Netflix could have chosen to stabilize its 2018 content offering at 2017 levels (i.e. not ramp up spending), and its actual cash spent would have been just $6.2B (roughly equivalent to its content amortization) – a “savings” on the books of $2.7B. And had the company done this, it would would have generated $700MM in cash, not lost $2B.

Making sense of mortgages: The problem, and the opportunity

The single most important chart for any portfolio manager or investor – The power of diversification (low correlation)

Of course, the picture represents ideal conditions. There is some bad news with this free lunch. It is hard to find. You will not find many low correlated asset classes and those return to risk values can be volatile. The incremental improvement is strong with the first few diversifiers but there are diminishing returns after that initial boost.

In a practical sense, the first asset class you add to an equity portfolio will be bonds. It has been the great diversify for the last decade or two, but once you get beyond bonds and commodities, the ability to find those low correlation assets becomes much harder. This is the true value of alternative strategies

What does this chart mean in reverse? If there is an increase in correlation across asset classes, the return to risk will fall even if the return to risk of any given strategy stays constant. This is will be the incredible shrinking free lunch and is why it is so important to find strategies or investments that have stable correlation relative to traditional asset classes.

Return is critical but hard to forecast. Volatility is important and leads to downside risks. Unfortunately, many forget the power of covariance and its impact on diversification, yet this is component to portfolio construction that can have a strong impact.

Next climate challenge: A/C demand expected to triple

The amount of energy needed for cooling will triple, reaching a level equal to China’s total power demand, the new report finds. As the world warms in response to human-caused climate change, the need for air conditioning will become more acute, particularly in the Middle East and South Asia. IEA estimates that left unchecked, air conditioning will account for 18 percent of the total worldwide increase in CO2 emissions by 2050. And rising demand for cooling is “already putting enormous strain on electricity systems in many countries,” IEA said.

Regional Notes 2018.05.25

Malaysia’s credit rating threatened by GST removal

“In 2017, GST revenue was RM44.3 billion or 3.3% of GDP. Unless the government introduces other offsetting measures at least over the next one to two years, the GST’s removal will have a net negative effect on government revenue, even accounting for some budgetary cushion from higher oil prices.”

“Beyond 2018, the reintroduction of the SST will create a revenue shortfall of 1.7% of GDP if the GST remains at zero. The ministry of finance said it will announce specific measures that will cushion the shortfall. According to the government, the rationale for eliminating the GST is that it will ultimately boost private consumption and economic growth, adding to the tax coffers through improvements in corporate and motor vehicle taxes, and excise and import duties. We do not include these effects in our assumptions because we do not expect a sizeable multiplier effect.”

“While it will uplift consumer sentiment in the short term, the actual consumer spending trend would depend on the impact of the GST removal on general prices. We foresee ‘price stickiness’ to be a major challenge for policymakers as businesses may, for example, be reluctant to reduce prices due to profiteering and a general belief that most businesses will not reduce prices.”

Malaysia’s 1 trillion Ringgit government debt explained

Federal government debt of 686.8 billion ringgit, or 50.8 percent of gross domestic product

Government guarantees of 199.1 billion ringgit, or 14.6 percent of GDP. The government is committed to paying the debt of entities which are unable to do so, including 42.2 billion ringgit for Danainfra Nasional Bhd, 26.6 billion ringgit for Prasarana Malaysia Bhd and 38 billion ringgit for 1MDB.

Lease payments for public-private projects of 201.4 billion ringgit, or 14.9 percent of GDP. The government is obligated to pay for rental, maintenance and other costs on a number of projects, such as construction of schools, hospitals and roads.

NTPM to spend RM50mil on expansion

“Our selling price has been adjusted by about 10% already, but still that is not sufficient. So, the profit has dropped. For this reason, we need to increase our market share to sell more. The growth of the tissue paper business in the domestic market is less than 3% a year, which is in line with global growth. In Vietnam and Indo-China, however, the growth is faster, which is why we are expanding the Vietnam operations.” Lee said the group was targeting to double the contribution from Vietnam by 2019 to RM80mil from RM40mil.

The tissue paper business generates about 65% of group revenue, while the personal care segment contributes 35%. Some 90% of the personal care business is generated from the local market. Despite the challenging and highly competitive local market conditions, the group succeeded in raising the revenue from the personal care segment by 9.4% to RM199.9mil in 2017.


Vitrox expects 2018 to be another growth year

“In the first three months of 2018, we have secured accumulated sales orders of about RM105mil, which will keep us busy for the next three months. The March book-to-bill ratio is 1:2, which means that for every 100 units of products we ship out, we receive 120 units of new orders in the same period. The current book-to-bill ratio is even higher.”

Curated Insights 2018.05.20

The spectacular power of Big Lens

There is a good chance, meanwhile, that your frames are made by Luxottica, an Italian company with an unparalleled combination of factories, designer labels and retail outlets. Luxottica pioneered the use of luxury brands in the optical business, and one of the many powerful functions of names such as Ray-Ban (which is owned by Luxottica) or Vogue (which is owned by Luxottica) or Prada (whose glasses are made by Luxottica) or Oliver Peoples (which is owned by Luxottica) or high-street outlets such as LensCrafters, the largest optical retailer in the US (which is owned by Luxottica), or John Lewis Opticians in the UK (which is run by Luxottica), or Sunglass Hut (which is owned by Luxottica) is to make the marketplace feel more varied than it actually is.

Now they are becoming one. On 1 March, regulators in the EU and the US gave permission for the world’s largest optical companies to form a single corporation, which will be known as EssilorLuxottica. The new firm will not technically be a monopoly: Essilor currently has around 45% of the prescription lenses market, and Luxottica 25% of the frames. But in seven centuries of spectacles, there has never been anything like it. The new entity will be worth around $50bn (£37bn), sell close to a billion pairs of lenses and frames every year, and have a workforce of more than 140,000 people. EssilorLuxottica intends to dominate what its executives call “the visual experience” for decades to come.

For a long time, scientists thought myopia was primarily determined by our genes. But about 10 years ago, it became clear that the way children were growing up was harming their eyesight, too. The effect is starkest in east Asia, where myopia has always been more common, but the rate of increase has been uniform, more or less, across the world. In the 1950s, between 10% and 20% of Chinese people were shortsighted. Now, among teenagers and young adults, the proportion is more like 90%. In Seoul, 95% of 19-year-old men are myopic, many of them severely, and at risk of blindness later in life.

Del Vecchio paid $645m (£476m) for Ray-Ban. During the negotiations, he promised to protect thousands of jobs at four factories in the US and Ireland. Three months later, he closed the plants and shifted production to China and Italy. Over the next year and a half, Luxottica withdrew Ray-Ban from 13,000 retail outlets, hiked their prices and radically improved the quality: increasing the layers of lacquer on a pair of Wayfarers from two to 31. In 2004, to the disbelief of many of his subordinates, del Vecchio decided that Ray-Ban, which had been invented for American pilots in the 1930s, should branch out from sunglasses into optical lenses, too. “A lot of us were sceptical. Really? Ray. Ban. Banning rays from the sun?” the former manager said. “But he was right.” Ray-Ban is now the most valuable optical brand in the world. It generates more than $2bn (£1.5bn) in sales for Luxottica each year, and is thought to account for as much as 40% of its profits.

The Moat Map

Facebook has completely internalized its network and commoditized its content supplier base, and has no motivation to, for example, share its advertising proceeds. Google similarly has internalized its network effects and commoditized its supplier base; however, given that its supply is from 3rd parties, the company does have more of a motivation to sustain those third parties (this helps explain, for example, why Google’s off-sites advertising products have always been far superior to Facebook’s).

Netflix and Amazon’s network effects are partially internalized and partially externalized, and similarly, both have differentiated suppliers that remain very much subordinate to the Amazon and Netflix customer relationship.

Apple and Microsoft, meanwhile, have the most differentiated suppliers on their platform, which makes sense given that both depend on largely externalized network effects. “Must-have” apps ultimately accrue to the platform’s benefit.

Apple’s developer ecosystem is plenty strong enough to allow the company’s product chops to come to the fore. I continue to believe, though, that Apple’s moat could be even deeper had the company considered the above Moat Map: the network effects of a platform like iOS are mostly externalized, which means that highly differentiated suppliers are the best means to deepen the moat; unfortunately Apple for too long didn’t allow for suitable business models.

Uber’s suppliers are completely commoditized. This might seem like a good thing! The problem, though, is that Uber’s network effects are completely externalized: drivers come on to the platform to serve riders, which in turn makes the network more attractive to riders. This leaves Uber outside the Moat Map. The result is that Uber’s position is very difficult to defend; it is easier to imagine a successful company that has internalized large parts of its network (by owning its own fleet, for example), or done more to differentiate its suppliers. The company may very well succeed thanks to the power from owning the customer relationship, but it will be a slog.

How much would you pay to keep using Google?

Part of the problem is that GDP as a measure only takes into account goods and services that people pay money for. Internet firms like Google and Facebook do not charge consumers for access, which means that national-income statistics will underestimate how much consumers have benefitted from their rise.

Survey respondents said that they would have to be paid $3,600 to give up internet maps for a year, and $8,400 to give up e-mail. Search engines appear to be especially valuable: consumers surveyed said that they would have to be paid $17,500 to forgo their use for a year.


There is another

Spotify has better technology, merchandising (like discovery playlists), and brand. Unlike Apple Music, being a pure-play (as opposed to being owned by a tech giant) gives Spotify more cred among purists, young people, and influencers. The instinct / T Algorithm cocktail has resulted in a firm with 170M users, 75M of whom are premium subscribers. The firm registered €1B this quarter, representing 37% growth. Spotify accounted for 36% of premium music subscribers globally.

What takes Spotify to $300B, and true horseman status? They launch video, and become the most successful streaming entertainment firm, full stop. Netflix’s legacy is on the second most important screen, TV. Spotify was raised on the most important – mobile. Netflix needs to become Spotify before Spotify becomes Netflix. Nobody has cracked social and TV, and as half of young people no longer watch cable TV, if Spotify were to launch video and captured any reasonable share and engagement via unique playlists, then cable and Netflix would begin ceding market cap to Spotify.


Subscriptions for the 1%

The problem with these minuscule conversion rates is that it dramatically raises the cost of acquiring a customer (CAC). When only 1% of people convert, it concentrates all of that sales and marketing spend on a very small sliver of customers. That forces subscription prices to rise so that the CAC:LTV ratios make rational sense. Before you know it, what once might have been $1 a month by 20% of a site’s audience is now $20 a month for the 1%.

There is a class of exceptions around Netflix, Spotify, and Amazon Prime. Spotify, for instance, had 170 million monthly actives in the first quarter this year, and 75 million of those are paid, for an implied conversion of 44%. What’s unique about these products — and why they shouldn’t be used as an example — is that they own the entirety of a content domain. Netflix owns video and Spotify owns music in a way that the New York Times can never hope to own news or your podcast app developer can never hope to own the audio content market.

The Apple Services machine

It is this hardware dependency that makes it impossible to look at Apple Services as a stand-alone business. The Services narrative isn’t compelling if it excludes Apple hardware from the equation. Apple’s future isn’t about selling services. Rather, it’s about developing tools for people. These tools will consist of a combination of hardware, software, and services.

Apple currently has more than 270 million paid subscriptions across its services, up over 100 million year-over-year. Apple is in a good position to benefit from growing momentum for video streaming services including Netflix, HBO, and Hulu. It is not a stretch to claim that Apple will one day have 500 million paid subscriptions across its services. Apple isn’t becoming a services company. Instead, Apple is building a leading paid content distribution platform.

Tencent Holdings Ltd. delivered two major milestones when it reported its earnings Wednesday: record quarterly profits and more than one billion monthly active users on its WeChat platform. The social media and gaming giant, which has been leery of barraging its users with ads, also declared it had raised the maximum number of ads that customers see on WeChat Moments from one a day to two. The app has become China’s most popular messaging service and is integral to driving everything from gaming and payments to advertising for Tencent.

MoviePass: the unicorn that jumped into Wall Street too soon

“The growth-at-all-costs strategy is being funded these days by the venture community, not the public market. The last time we saw the public markets fund a growth-at-all-costs strategy was the 1999 internet bubble, and we all know how that ended.”

The prospect of steep declines in a company’s valuations once it hits the public markets is one reason why U.S. companies are waiting longer to go public. Overall, U.S. companies that have gone public this year have done so at an average market capitalization of $1.1 billion, according to Thomson Reuters data, a 44 percent increase from the average market cap during the height of the dot com craze in 1999. At the same time, companies are now going public 6.5 years after receiving their first venture capital backing on average, more than double the three years between initial funding and going public in 1999.

Cerebras: The AI of cheetahs and hyenas

The specialist starts out with a technology optimized for one specific task. Take the graphics-processing unit. As its name denotes, this was a specialist technology focused on a single task–processing graphics for display. And for the task of graphics, graphics-processing units are phenomenal. Nvidia built a great company on graphics-processing. But over time, the makers of graphics-processing units, AMD and Nvidia, have tried to bring their graphics devices to markets with different requirements, to continue the analogy to hunt things that aren’t gazelle. In these markets, what was once a benefit, finely tuned technology for graphics (or gazelle-hunting), is now a burden. If you hunt up close like a leopard and never have to run fast, having your nose smooshed into your face is not an advantage and may well be a disadvantage. When you hunt things you were no longer designed to hunt, the very things that made you optimized and specialized are no longer assets.

Intel is the classic example of a generalist. For more than 30 years the x86 CPU they pioneered was the answer to every compute problem. And they gobbled up everything and built an amazing company. But then there emerged compute problems that specialists were better at, and were big enough to support specialist companies—such as cell phones, graphics and we believe AI. In each of these domains specialist architectures dominate.

We are specialists, designing technology for a much more focused purpose than the big companies burdened with multiple markets to serve and legacy architectures to carry forward. Specialists are always better at their target task. They do not carry the burden of trying to do many different things well, nor the architectural deadweight of optimizations for other markets. We focus and are dedicated to a single purpose. The question of whether we—and every other specialist– will be successful rests on whether the market is large enough to support that specialist approach. Whether, in other words, there are enough gazelle to pursue. In every market large enough, specialists win. It is in collections of many modest markets, that the generalist wins. We believe that the AI compute market will be one of the largest markets in all of infrastructure. It will be the domain of specialists.


This $2 billion AI startup aims to teach factory robots to think

What sets Preferred Networks apart from the hundreds of other AI startups is its ties to Japan’s manufacturing might. Deep learning algorithms depend on data and the startup is plugging into some of the rarest anywhere. Its deals with Toyota and Fanuc Corp., the world’s biggest maker of industrial robots, give it access to the world’s top factories. While Google used its search engine to become an AI superpower, and Facebook Inc. mined its social network, Preferred Networks has an opportunity to analyze and potentially improve how just about everything is made.

At an expo in Japan a few months later, another demo showed how the tech might one day be used to turn factory robots into something closer to skilled craftsmen. Programming a Fanuc bin-picking robot to grab items out of a tangled mass might take a human engineer several days. Nishikawa and Okanohara showed that machines could teach themselves overnight. Working together, a team of eight could master the task in an hour. If thousands — or millions — were linked together, the learning would be exponentially faster. “It takes 10 years to train a skilled machinist, and that knowledge can’t just be downloaded to another person” Fanuc’s Inaba explained. “But once you have a robot expert, you can multiply it infinitely.”

China buys up flying schools as pilot demand rises

In September Ryanair axed 20,000 flights due to a rostering mess-up made worse by pilot shortages. This forced the low-cost carrier to reverse a longstanding policy and recognise trade unions and agree new pay deals — a move that it said would cost it €100m ($120m) a year from 2019.

China is on course to overtake the US as the world’s largest air travel market by 2022, according to the International Air Transport Association.

US aircraft maker Boeing predicts China will need 110,000 new pilots in the years through to 2035, and its airlines are expected to purchase 7,000 commercial aircraft over the next two decades.

China’s aviation market grew by 13 per cent last year, with 549m passengers taking to the skies, double the number who flew in 2010. Growth is being driven by the rising middle class, an expansion of routes by Chinese airlines and the easing of visa restrictions by foreign governments keen to attract Chinese tourists.

California will require solar power for new homes

Long a leader and trendsetter in its clean-energy goals, California took a giant step on Wednesday, becoming the first state to require all new homes to have solar power.

The new requirement, to take effect in two years, brings solar power into the mainstream in a way it has never been until now. It will add thousands of dollars to the cost of home when a shortage of affordable housing is one of California’s most pressing issues.

Just half a percent

If you save $5,000 a year for 40 years and make only 8% (the “small” mistake), you’ll retire with about $1.46 million. But if you earn 8.5% instead, you’ll retire with nearly $1.7 million. The additional $230,000 or so may not seem like enough to change your life, but that additional portfolio value is worth more than all of the money you invested over the years. Result: You retire with 16% more.

Your gains don’t stop there. Assume you continue earning either 8% or 8.5% while you withdraw 4% of your portfolio each year and that you live for 25 years after retirement. If your lifetime return is 8%, your total retirement withdrawals are just shy of $2.5 million. If your lifetime return is 8.5% instead, you withdraw about $3.1 million. That’s an extra $600,000 for your “golden years,” a bonus of three times the total dollars you originally saved.

Your heirs will also have plenty of reasons to be grateful for your 0.5% boost in return. If your lifetime return was 8%, your estate will be worth about $3.9 million. If you earned 8.5% instead, your estate is worth more than $5.1 million.

Keep your investment costs low.
Slowly increasing your savings rate over time.
Consistently saving while treating investment contributions like a periodic bill payment.
Bettering your career prospects to increase your income over time.
Avoiding behavioral investment mistakes which can act as a counterweight to the benefits of compounding.

Regional Notes 2018.05.18

Japan seeks private sector’s help with blowout health costs

Faced with an aging crisis that’s projected to push up heath-care spending by more than 50 percent in the decade through 2025, the economy ministry is leading efforts for local governments to draw on the expertise of private companies.

The focus in Japan is preventive medicine, which could in time cut trillions of yen from government spending, according to Shinichiro Okazaki, an official overseeing the effort at the economy ministry in Tokyo. The nation’s annual health-care spending is forecast to reach 54 trillion yen ($500 billion) in 2025, according to the health ministry.


Short-term transitional issues expected in shift back to SST

“GST as you know covers everyone, retailers and traders. On the other hand, sales tax only covers manufacturers while services tax covers certain prescribed services such as professional services, so there must be a thought process on the transition to SST. Also there are still GST issues hanging around such as liabilities to be settled, so having transitional rules in place is going to be a challenge, and it is not something that can be done overnight.”

Meanwhile, there is the issue of how the government would make up for the shortfall in revenue with the abolishment of GST. Last year alone, some RM44 billion was collected in GST revenue. SST, according to chairman of the board of trustees of the Malaysian Tax Research Foundation SM Thanneermalai, used to only contribute about RM17 billion to the government’s coffers before GST came into force on April 1, 2015.

“That, to some extent, resulted in discontent for many, particularly in the B40 group, who were not previously taxpayers from the outset. Despite the fact that there are a multitude of exempt and zero-rated items, GST still translates into a significant amount for the B40 through its impact on prices, so the abolishment is most certainly a boon for this group of Malaysians. But it is left to be determined if the abolishment of GST will result in retail prices being adjusted downwards and in what manner and form.”


Malaysia sees favorable growth outlook as policy risks mount

The government must still outline how it will raise enough revenue to fill the GST gap in order to keep the budget deficit under control. The Finance Ministry said on Thursday the move will be “cushioned by specific revenue and expenditures that shall be announced soon,” with plans also to re-introduce a sales-and-services tax.

A revenue squeeze may prompt the government to cut back on spending, while a review of infrastructure projects could put a halt on construction, curbing growth in the economy. “It’s encouraging to see that the new government is already taking action to try and rationalize unnecessary and unproductive government expenditure,” said Goh. “We think that would actually help in keeping the fiscal balance in check.”

The gridlocked streets of Manila have become the latest battleground for Grab, despite the fact that it controls more than 90 percent of the ride-hailing market in the Philippines. With just 35,000 vehicles on its app to service as many as 600,000 requests a day, Grab has struggled to keep up with demand in areas like Manila, where an estimated 19 percent of commuters use ride-hailing, nearly double the average in other Southeast Asian capitals, according to Boston Consulting Group Inc. The challenge has created an opening for startups like Hype Transport Systems Inc. and Ipara Technologies and Solutions Inc., both of which plan to start services this month.

A Saudi-backed Asia refinery is going to be a fuel juggernaut

“The immediate impact from RAPID will lead to more Malaysian exports of diesel and jet fuel, while also reducing the need to import as much gasoline,” said Joe Willis, a senior research analyst for refining and oil products at Wood Mackenzie Ltd. in Singapore. “For middle distillates, Johor is conveniently located next to the Singapore storage hub.”

The RAPID project, operated by Malaysia’s state-owned Petroliam Nasional Bhd, known as Petronas, is due to start operations in 2019 with 300,000 barrels a day of crude-processing capacity. That’s a massive increase for the Southeast Asian country, which has a total 660,000 barrels of daily capacity now, according to Willis.

Still, Chin is hopeful the overall impact will be limited in the long-run. When RAPID reaches full utilization in early 2020, Asian refiners will be scrambling to meet a bump in appetite for the fuel as maritime rules that start in 2020 push shippers to replace dirtier fuels with cleaner ones like diesel, Chin said.

“With new mega refineries starting up in China and Saudi Arabia by the first quarter next year, there could be a brief window of weakness in diesel cracks before IMO effects kick in,” he said, referring to the upcoming maritime regulations to be implemented by the International Maritime Organization.


Willowglen sees challenging year ahead

“This year, I am not too sure, it could be quite a testing year. We should be all right in the longer term, [but] in the immediate term, there [could be] not much improvement compared [with] last year, it could be even worse.” This is due mainly to issues in project execution and delaying of awards from clients who are still resolving technical issues, especially those that are infrastructure-related.

While more than 70% of its revenue was contributed by its primary market of Singapore, with the balance coming from Malaysia, the group said it will continue its exploration of business opportunities elsewhere, especially in Vietnam, where it commenced operations a year ago. He assured that the group will not exit the Indonesian market — where it is involved in trading as well as the provision of hardware and software consulting services — but instead work on restrategising operations there to improve efficiency.

Curated Insights 2018.05.13

Who’s winning the self-driving car race?

Only Waymo has tested Level 4 vehicles on passengers who aren’t its employees—and those people volunteered to be test subjects. No one has yet demonstrated at Level 5, where the car is so independent that there’s no steering wheel. The victors will also need to pioneer businesses around the technology. Delivery and taxi services capable of generating huge profits is the end game for all.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. predicts that robo-taxis will help the ride-hailing and -sharing business grow from $5 billion in revenue today to $285 billion by 2030. There are grand hopes for this business. Without drivers, operating margins could be in the 20 percent range, more than twice what carmakers generate right now. If that kind of growth and profit come to pass—very big ifs—it would be almost three times what GM makes in a year. And that doesn’t begin to count the money to be made in delivery.

Waymo had three collisions over more than 350,000 miles, while GM had 22 over 132,000 miles.

After Waymo, a handful of major players have demonstrated similar driving capabilities. It’s hard to say anyone has an edge. One advantage for GM: There’s a factory north of Detroit that can crank out self-driving Bolts. That will help GM get manufacturing right and lower costs without relying on partners. Right now, an autonomous version of the car costs around $200,000 to build, compared to a sticker price of $35,000 for an electric Bolt for human drivers.

Musk wants to use cameras and develop image-recognition capabilities so cars can read signs and truly see the road ahead. He has said Tesla is taking the more difficult path, but if he can come up with a better system, he will have mastered true autonomy without the bulky and expensive hardware that sits on top of rival self-driving cars. “They’re going to have a whole bunch of expensive equipment, most of which makes the car expensive, ugly and unnecessary,” Musk told analysts in February. “And I think they will find themselves at a competitive disadvantage.”

China’s got Jack Ma’s finance giant in its crosshairs

The rules will force Ant and some of its peers that straddle at least two financial industries to obtain licenses from China’s central bank and meet minimum capital requirements for the first time, according to people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified discussing private information. The companies’ ownership structures and inter-group transactions will also be restricted, the people said, adding that the rules need approval from China’s State Council and are subject to change.


Starbucks: A big deal should mean a sharper focus

The deal appeared positive because it ”accelerates the reach of Starbucks’ channel development segment globally by providing Starbucks with a strong distribution partner; and enables Starbucks to step up shareholder returns.

CEO Kevin Johnson said as much on the conference call. “We’ve been very focused on streamlining the company in a way that allows us to put our focus and energy behind the highest priority value creation drivers for the company,” he said. “And certainly, our retail business in the U.S. and China are the two big growth engines.”


Tinder: ‘Innovation’ can help it fight off Facebook

“In digital, and especially on mobile, there is always one brand that defines each core use case,” Ross wrote. “In dating, it is Tinder, whose user base and subscription base continue to explode globally. We don’t see that changing, even with scaled competition from Facebook.”

Tinder’s brand, scale and “freemium” model—with free basic access and the opportunity to pay up—should continue to make it appealing to users (particularly younger ones) even as new competitors emerge, according to Ross. “There is no real reason for singles not to still use the platform,” he wrote.

“The hard paywall brands tend to be those that are for the more serious online dater,” Ross noted, including older users and those seeking comparatively long-term relationships. “This is not only where Facebook has said it will focus, but also where it can best leverage its data and recommendation capabilities.”


Why A.I. and cryptocurrency are making one type of computer chip scarce

Crypto miners bought three million G.P.U. boards — flat panels that can be added to personal and other computers — worth $776 million last year, said Jon Peddie, a researcher who has tracked sales of the chips for decades. That may not sound like a lot in an overall market worth more than $15 billion, but the combination of A.I. builders and crypto miners — not to mention gamers — has squeezed the G.P.U. supply. Things have gotten so tight that resellers for Nvidia, the Silicon Valley chip maker that produces 70 percent of the G.P.U. boards, often restrict how many a company can buy each day.


PayPal: How it can fight back against Amazon Pay

“Given its two-sided network of 218 million consumers in the PayPal digital wallet and 19 million merchants for whom PayPal provides online & mobile merchant acquiring services, plus Xoom and Braintree, PayPal benefits from one of the most extensive payments ecosystems globally. Within this ecosystem, PayPal offers the best mobile wallet with an 89% conversion ratio from shopping cart to payment, creating strong consumer and merchant lock-in.”

It has other ways to provide incentives. “PayPal enjoys strategic alliances with Visa, Mastercard, Google, Facebook, Apple, Alibaba, Baidu, and a number of financial institutions, including Bank of America and HSBC, allowing it access to a vast customer base and potential consumer incentive plans,” they wrote, noting an HSBC offer to pay customers $25 if they link their cards to PayPal.

Etsy CEO: ‘Signs of progress’ in boosting repeat business

Etsy isn’t trying to become a place people shop every day, but it does want people to shop there more often. (The company cites figures saying 60% of customers buy just once a year.) It said both new and repeat buyers were up 20% year-over-year in Q1, which Silverman called “early signs of progress.”

Management wants to increase the “lifetime value” of a shopper by creating a cycle in which the company pays an acceptable rate for a new user, converts them to a buyer and then a repeat buyer, and then translates the money that buyer provides into more efficient marketing that acquires more new customers.

As Warren Buffett’s empire expands, many jobs disappear

Despite Buffett’s folksy image, Berkshire has thrived for years by keeping things lean and buying companies that—in his own words—are run by “cost-conscious and efficient managers.” The result? Buffett hasn’t shut down many operations during his five decades atop the firm. But more than two dozen of his companies employ fewer people today than they used to.

Berkshire often doesn’t note in the data when one of its businesses buys another, which can make it seem like there’s hiring when the conglomerate is just absorbing people. The company also doesn’t always make clear when units are combined or spun out of others.

The formula behind San Francisco’s startup success

Losing money is not a bug. It’s a feature. Not making money can be the ultimate competitive advantage, if you can afford it, as it prevents others from entering the space or catching up as your startup gobbles up greater and greater market share. Then, when rivals are out of the picture, it’s possible to raise prices and start focusing on operating in the black.

You might wonder why it’s so much better to lose money provided by Sequoia Capital than, say, a lower-profile but still wealthy investor. We could speculate that the following factors are at play: a firm’s reputation for selecting winning startups, a willingness of later investors to follow these VCs at higher valuations and these firms’ skill in shepherding portfolio companies through rapid growth cycles to an eventual exit.

Cheap innovations are often better than magical ones

Much of what we call “artificial intelligence”, say the authors, is best understood as a dirt-cheap prediction. Sufficiently accurate predictions allow radically different business models.

If a supermarket becomes good enough at predicting what I want to buy — perhaps conspiring with my fridge — then it can start shipping things to me without my asking, taking the bet that I will be pleased to see most of them when they arrive.

Another example is the airport lounge, a place designed to help busy people deal with the fact that in an uncertain world it is sensible to set off early for the airport. Route-planners, flight-trackers and other cheap prediction algorithms may allow many more people to trim their margin for error, arriving at the last moment and skipping the lounge.

Then there is health insurance; if a computer becomes able to predict with high accuracy whether you will or will not get cancer, then it is not clear that there is enough uncertainty left to insure.


The future of digital payments? Computational contracts, says Wolfram

Wolfram anticipates at least three levels of computational contracts, from minor transactions (less than $50) to mid-level (thousands of dollars) and high-end (in the millions).

“The lowest level–typically involving small amounts of money–one will be happy to execute just using someone’s cloud infrastructure (compare Uber, AirBnB, etc.),” he writes in his blog post. “There’s then a level at which one wants some degree of distributed scrutiny, and one expects a certain amount of predictability and reliability. This is potentially where blockchain (either public or private) comes in.

“But at the highest level–say transactions involving millions of dollars–nobody is going to realistically want to completely trust them to an automated system (think: DAO, etc.). And instead one’s going to want the backing of insurance, the legal system, governments, etc.: in other words one’s going to want to anchor things not just in something like a blockchain, but in the ‘weightiest’ systems our current society has to offer.”

A hedge-fund fee plan that only charges for alpha

Consider a hypothetical traditional hedge firm that has $1 billion of assets under management and another that charges a fulcrum fee of 0.75 percent, plus a quarter of the profits. If the markets rise 10 percent and the fund outperforms by 200 basis points, or 2 percent, a traditional hedge fund would charge $20 million (2 percent of $1 billion), plus a performance fee of $24 million (20 percent of the $120 million in gains) for a total of $44 million. Our hypothetical fulcrum fund would charge $12.5 million — a management fee of $7.5 million (0.75 percent of $1 billion), and a performance fee of $5 million (25 percent of the 2 percent above-market gain). The breakdown of the $24 million performance fee portion of the traditional hedge fund works out to $20 million for plain old beta and $4 million for alpha. That total is five times more than what the fulcrum shop charges for investment gains.

Now imagine a scenario where the market is up by 10 percent and a fund is up only 8 percent, or has 2 percent underperformance. The traditional hedge fund would have charged $20 million (2 percent of the $1 billion in assets under management) plus a performance fee of $16 million (20 percent of the $80 million in gains) for a total of $36 million dollars. Meanwhile, the fulcrum fund would charge $7.5 million (the 0.75 percent management fee), but it also would give a refund of $5 million (25 percent of the 2 percent, or $20 million, in underperformance). The net charge to clients would be $2.5 million. This is a small fraction of the amount charged by a standard hedged fund.

Why winners keep winning

With that 20% initial advantage, the final market share increases significantly. What is even more amazing is that this advantage was only given in the first round and everything after that was left to chance. If we were to keep increasing the size of the starting advantage, the distribution of final market shares would continue to increase as well.

The purpose of this simulation is to demonstrate how important starting conditions are when determining long term outcomes. Instead of marbles though it could be wealth, or popularity, or book sales. And most of these outcomes are greatly influenced by chance events. We like to think in America that most things come down to hard work, but a few lucky (or unlucky) breaks early on can have lasting effects over decades. If we look at luck in this way, it can change the way you view your life…

I ask you this question because accepting luck as a primary determinant in your life is one of the most freeing ways to view the world. Why? Because when you realize the magnitude of happenstance and serendipity in your life, you can stop judging yourself on your outcomes and start focusing on your efforts. It’s the only thing you can control.

Regional Notes 2018.05.11

Govt support is crucial in the expansionary rubber glove industry, says MARGMA

Rubber glove manufacturers said today government support is crucial in an expansionary industry like rubber gloves where the world demand is now at 268 billion pieces and Malaysia produces 63% of it.

“We look forward to working closely with the new government in sustaining the rubber glove industry and maintaining global leadership as a premier producer and exporter of medical-grade rubber gloves. The export of rubber gloves is worth an estimated RM18.8 billion in 2018,” said Low.

Kossan to spend RM1.5b on new base

Kossan Rubber Industries Bhd’s sizeable acquisition of more than 800 acres (323.75ha) of land in Bidor, Perak may have “surprised” analysts, but its founder views it as a natural progression given the robust global demand for gloves. The project is expected to take six years to eight years to complete at an estimated cost of RM1.5 billion, Lim said in an interview with The Edge Financial Daily.

Kossan bought the 56-acre plot in Batang Berjuntai and 98-acre plot in Kuala Langat in 2013 and 2017 respectively, for an aggregate sum of RM130 million.

“We can’t finish that sizeable land [in Bidor]. Technically, for us, 300 acres would be good enough. So after we put up infrastructure for our own use, we will try to subdivide and sell some pieces of [extra] land to invite some of our suppliers to come and put up their factories,” said Lim. “To go for a bigger space is all in line with our future development. While we will still do what we are doing here at our existing plants, we will most likely go for segregation to achieve specialisation,” Lim said.


Datasonic sees net profit surpass RM100m in FY19

Abu Hanifah believes the potential to expand its smart ID and e-Passport project both in Malaysia and overseas is huge. “We have been receiving a lot of inquiries from neighbouring countries, particularly about our passport products,” said Abu Hanifah, adding that countries in Africa and the Middle East have also expressed interest in its products.

“We have built the next-generation e-Gate, which cuts the time [for passengers passing through the gate] by almost half to less than seven seconds. We have patented it for nine months locally and will patent it internationally. This technology is the first in the world.” The new e-Gate system will no longer use fingerprint scanning, but will feature facial recognition technology instead. It will have two cameras; one of which will first identify the passengers before entering the auto-gate while waiting in line, and the second camera will reidentify the passengers upon passing through the auto-gate.

“Under this e-driving licence, we have proposed to the ministry of transport a one-stop solution where users can apply for a digital driving licence through the web. Users can also renew their driving licence, road tax and also pay their summons [online],” Abu Hanifah said, adding that Datasonic hopes to kick-start this project after the 14th general election.

Curated Insights 2018.05.06

WeWork’s $20 billion dream: The lavishly funded startup that could disrupt commercial real estate

The company makes money primarily through rent arbitrage: charging its members more than it has to pay its landlords. The principal means of accomplishing this is by packing a lot of people into its locations. In WeWork’s buildings, the average square footage per person hovers around 50 square feet. This compares to 250 sq ft for commercial offices industry-wide. Despite this small footprint, members pay an average of $8,000 per year, with WeWork capturing a healthy 30 – 40% operating margin, according to the company.

WeWork is shifting from leases to co-management deals. In this scenario, landlords might pay for the renovation and buildout of offices and/or split membership profits 50/50, similar to the management agreement popularized by the hotel industry. Neumann says WeWork has followed this strategy nearly 100% of the time in markets like India and Israel.

In cities where there are numerous WeWork locations, each additional location serves to drive down membership churn. Artie Minson, WeWork’s former COO and current President, has noted, “in cities where WeWork opened more locations, membership cancellations declined.” While the vast majority of WeWork’s membership plans assign its members to a location, it does let members switch between locations.

First, it can quickly expand at scale, opening between 500K – 1M sqare feet per month. And second, it can design spatially efficient offices in non-identical locations. Both of these accomplishments rely on defensible strategic advantages, namely, a control of the complete building lifecycle and a mastery of data-informed design.

Why Amazon and Google haven’t attacked banks

Cloud spending by banks is expected to skyrocket. By 2021, banks globally are forecast to spend more than $12 billion on public cloud infrastructure and data services, up from $4 billion last year. By many metrics, the cloud business offers better opportunities to tech firms than, say, retail banking. Overall cloud-industry revenues are growing at about 60% year-over-year, Jefferies estimates. Meanwhile, retail-banking revenue, comprising products such as checking accounts and cards, at most big banks is growing at a fraction of that rate. And any real foray into banking or financial products could also entail substantial regulatory issues and expense.

Experts say Tesla has repeated car industry mistakes from the 1980s

Robots are supposed to allow production of more cars with fewer workers, but one ironic consequence of over-automation is that it can actually require more workers. Ingrassia and White report that GM’s Hamtramck plant had around 5,000 workers on its payroll in the mid-1980s, compared to 3,700 workers at a nearby Ford plant with many fewer robots. Yet the Ford plant was “outproducing Hamtramck by a wide margin.”

This kind of rapid iteration works well in the software industry because a programmer can change one line of code and then re-build the entire project with the click of a button. But physical manufacturing isn’t like that. Car design decisions have to be translated into physical tooling that takes months to build and fine-tune. And rapid iteration is a nightmare for suppliers, Shook added. “I talked to a supplier and asked ‘who’s your worst customer'” Shook said. “The answer was Tesla. How can you be a good supplier when you don’t know when you’re supposed to deliver?”

Free cash flow to whom?

Alphabet has 1,000 shares trading at $50. They buy back 100 shares for $500. They should now have 900 shares. However in their financial statements, it says they now have 1100 shares, due to 200 shares being issued to employees. Those 100 net new shares are worth $500, which we then subtract from the financial year’s free cash flow, to arrive at a new Free Cash Flow with Hypothetical Cash Compensation™ metric.

When a company’s share price is rising, prospective employees are more than happy to be paid in stock units that incrementally mature over four years. Companies with the best-performing stocks will be able to attract the best talent, which (all else being equal) should improve the performance of the business, and therefore increase the share price in a virtuous cycle.

But that cycle can effectively function as a type of confidence game as well. While it makes good times look especially good, it can make the bad times far worse. In a severe share-price decline, engineers will likely be reticent to receive stock-based compensation instead of cold hard cash, which would put pressure on operating margins and cash flow. And as share prices fall, companies would have to pony up more stock to provide the same compensation, and further dilute the shareholder base.

Air pollution kills 7 million people a year, WHO reports

Nine of 10 people around the world are exposed to dangerously high levels of pollutants that can lead to cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Air pollution levels were the highest in the eastern Mediterranean and southeast Asia, where in some areas airborne toxins were five times WHO limits and disproportionately affected the poor and most vulnerable. About 3 billion people are breathing deadly fumes from domestic cooking stoves and fires. Household air pollution caused an estimated 3.8 million deaths in 2016.

The Grumpy Economist: Basecoin

The Fed was founded in 1907 in part to provide an “elastic currency,” exactly the lesson missing from bitcoin and at the center of basecoin. Alas, the Fed trades money for treasury bonds, backed by taxes, not for Fed bonds backed by future seignorage. And laws against using foreign currency or issuing private currency help a lot. Basecoin buyers will soon learn the lesson that bonds cannot pay more interest than money in a liquid market, and that claims to future seignorage cannot back money in the face of competitive currencies.


Ray Dalio: An unconventional take on success

Everything I’ve done with a singular focus on economics has fallen short. Everything I’ve pursued because I believed in the intrinsic value has exceeded expectations. Assessing a business based on unit economics is especially popular today. But a durable competitive advantage comes from the value it creates for its stakeholders. If you get that right, the unit economics will follow. Economics is not always an accurate reflection of intrinsic value. The same can be said of a career.