Curated Insights 2017.10.08

Alibaba’s Cainiao fee potential huge, loss ‘negligible’?

Most investors know Cainiao for its data and software business. This has been a critical element behind the success of BABA and eCommerce adoption in China, addressing several friction points in the logistics supply chain. Key issues include China not having a reliable postal code system and the systems dependence on paper weigh bills. Data is scattered, non-standardized and assets are highly fragmented (over 90% of logistics vehicles in China are owned by individuals). Cainiao’s Data Intelligent Network was built to utilize data and technology to coordinate resources across a vast supply chain. In just a three year time frame, adoption of eShipping labels has grown from single digits to +70% and is approaching ubiquity. This is enabling real-time data and tracking across the entire delivery chain…”

“… While Cainiao is seeing tremendous growth providing fulfillment services to merchants, we see potential for an Fulfillment By Amazon (FBA)/Prime-like flywheel with closer alignment of Cainiao and Tmall. We estimate that Amazon.com charges merchants 16% of GMV [gross merchandise value] on average for FBA services, compared to Tmall commissions at 2.2% of reported GMV last year…”


Amazon’s war to the door

Even without mass purchases of jets, trucks and couriers, the package preparation and delivery process is growing more expensive for the company. Amazon’s fulfillment costs — the company’s spending on packaging-and-distribution centers and related expenses – were $8.87 billion in the nine months ended Sept. 30, or 12.4 percent of the company’s net sales in the period. In 2012, they were 10.5 percent of net sales. Amazon’s costs for shipping are also creeping up, from 8.4 percent of revenue in 2012 to 11.7 percent in the three months ended Sept. 30.


Why restaurants hate GrubHub Seamless

Seamless takes a percentage, not a flat fee, of the total food and beverage amount, even though its involvement is the same whether an order is for $10 or $250. When you search for restaurants on Seamless, you may have noticed that, in the default view, the results appear to be random, but they’re actually arranged by who paid what. The more results there are, the harder it is for a restaurant to stand out—which makes restaurants likelier to pay more to increase their exposure.

“Their sales rep makes it perfectly clear that you need to pay a minimum of 20% to exist, and the more you pay, the more you appear in the first pages. Even by paying over 30%, we’re only on the second or third page. So some restaurants pay even more than that! But we could feel the difference when we jumped from 15% to over 30%: We multiplied by 10 our orders from day 1. We don’t make money on Seamless, however. Thirty percent is our break-even point. But it’s helpful for marketing—maybe a customer will try us and then come back in person. I don’t know why anyone would pay anything other than the minimum, because what’s the point of paying 17% to get on the seventh page of results?”

Tech giants play the Game of Thrones

Facebook has pulled off this incredible hat trick with what is arguably the best acquisition in technology in the past 20 years, and that’s Instagram. At the time, people were saying that the child-CEO has really screwed up here and paid $1 billion for a company with only 19 people. By most standards, if you try to value Instagram now, it’s probably worth somewhere between $60 billion and $150 billion. So it has put an afterburner effect on the company, as has likely WhatsApp. They keep finding growth.

If we were to look at everything you have ever put in that search query box, we would probably come to the conclusion that you trust Google more than any priest, rabbi, boss, mentor, coach, professor. If something goes wrong with your kid, your whole world stops. You start praying and you look for some sort of divine intervention that sees everything and then sends you back an answer. Will my kid be all right? So you type “symptoms and treatment of croup” into Google. We trust Google more than any other entity. It is our god.

The way you identify an industry ripe for disruption is you look at whether the price increases are greater than inflation and justified with underlying innovation. The one industry that is most ripe for disruption is education. I think Apple’s roots in education give it unbelievable license to go into that business. I mean, my class generates $160,000 in tuition for each night I teach. They don’t pay me that much. My agent, NYU, takes a 97% commission on that. But when you think about that, it’s ridiculous, and it has some very negative outcomes for our society in the form of debt on young people. So what could Apple do to really change their role and to think different? Start the largest creatively driven low-cost university in the world.

Margrethe Vestager, the commissioner on competition in the European Union, seems to be the only regulator in the world who is levying real fines against these people. You are going to see the first $10 billion-plus fine against one of these four companies in the next 12 months, and it is going to come out of Europe. The real estate isn’t going up in Hamburg. It’s going up in Palo Alto. America gets a lot of the benefits of these four companies, with some of the downside. Europe gets all of the downside and not much upside. The war is going to start, as it has throughout history, on the continent of Europe.

 

Bulldozers can show you where the economy’s going before the official data do

It’s released around the tenth of each month, faster than almost any other economic data. For Japan, the figures have a good correlation with industrial production data, which shows the output and sales of the nation’s industrial giants like Toyota Motor Corp., Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., and Komatsu itself.

The company collects data from about 140,000 machines in operation in Japan, 110,000 in China, 50,000 in Europe and 70,000 in North America. Rival Caterpillar Inc collects the same kind of data but doesn’t disclose it due to its customer contracts, according to a company spokesperson in Japan.

“It does work as a reference point,” said Yoshikazu Shimada, an analyst at Tachibana Securities Co. in Tokyo who covers Komatsu. “It shows data on public sector works, and data on China especially affects the global economic overview. Komtrax is part of the data that shows you what state the world economy is in.”


Warren Buffett and truck stops are a perfect match

It was No. 15 on the Forbes list of America’s largest private companies, and the chain’s 750 locations across North America generate more than $20 billion of annual revenue.

In fact, gas-station chains are known to have the kind of stable, predictable earnings and business longevity (perhaps even in a self-driving-truck world) that Buffett seeks in takeover targets. Their margins on gas sales go up when oil prices drop. And as fuel margins became more volatile over the past year, the major chains have turned to acquisitions to gain scale and reduce that volatility, as well as spending to upgrade locations.

This is why it makes sense for Pilot Flying J to have the financial backing of Berkshire amid the competitive pressure. Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc., the owner of Circle K, has been scooping up convenience-store businesses in Europe and North America, such as CST Brands for $4.4 billion in a deal that closed in June. Earlier this year, Seven & i Holdings Co., owner of 7-Eleven, bought about 1,100 Sunoco shops and gas retailers to expand its U.S. footprint.

Will new tariffs dim the solar-power boom?

Solar power generates only a pittance of U.S. electricity—about 1%. But it’s growing at a furious rate, accounting for 39% of new electricity generation in the U.S. last year, more than any other source. From 2010 to mid-2017, the total installed solar capacity in the U.S. leaped from 2.3 gigawatts to 47.1 gigawatts, enough to power 9.1 million homes, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, or SEIA, a trade group. That boom was fueled by government subsidies and a decline in the price of solar cells, which have dropped 40% since the start of 2015.

Petri says tariffs would do more harm than good because they will drive up cell prices. “Will that add jobs? Not likely,” he wrote. “High tariffs will just raise the prices of imported panels and kill installation jobs.” While the industry employs about 260,000 people, 65% of those are in installation or sales, according to a 2016 report issued by the nonprofit Solar Foundation. Only 38,000 work in manufacturing. Because of that imbalance, tariff opponents say it’s much more likely that tariffs will hurt overall U.S. employment than help it.

But couldn’t tariffs persuade Chinese manufacturers to shift production to the U.S., thus boosting employment? Petri is skeptical, particularly because the tariffs are temporary. Foreign manufacturers won’t spend money on building U.S. factories that will become obsolete so fast, he argues.

First Solar’s thin-film technology has always been cheaper than silicon, and the company is launching a new series of panels that will be even more cost-effective. If tariffs raise the price umbrella of competing silicon modules, First Solar can raise its own prices and still go to utility-scale developers and offer to rescue their stranded projects with its thin-film panels. Every penny of these price boosts would fall to its bottom line, and it could demand equity in those projects.


Europe hits Ireland over $15B in unpaid Apple taxes; Luxembourg liable for $294M in Amazon taxes

“Ireland has to recover up to 13 billion euros in illegal State aid from Apple,” she said, referring to this 2016 ruling on the tax issue for the most valuable tech company in the world, which Ireland had appealed. “However, more than one year after the Commission adopted this decision, Ireland has still not recovered the money, also not in part. We of course understand that recovery in certain cases may be more complex than in others, and we are always ready to assist. But Member States need to make sufficient progress to restore competition. That is why we have today decided to refer Ireland to the EU Court for failing to implement our decision.”

“Luxembourg gave illegal tax benefits to Amazon. As a result, almost three-quarters of Amazon’s profits were not taxed. In other words, Amazon was allowed to pay four times less tax than other local companies subject to the same national tax rules,” she said in a statement. “This is illegal under EU State aid rules. Member States cannot give selective tax benefits to multinational groups that are not available to others.”

Yes, You get wiser with age

Empirical studies have shown that older people are better than younger ones in terms of control over emotion, knowing themselves better, making better decisions that require experience, and having more compassion and empathy towards others.

There are quite a few strategies, and again, these are for successful physical aging, cognitive aging, psychosocial aging. There is strong evidence in favor of them. One is calorie restriction. Second is physical activity, exercise. Very important. Even people in wheelchairs can have some physical activity. Then there is keeping your brain active, do something that is somewhat challenging. Not too stressful, but somewhat challenging. There is socialization, an appropriate degree of socializing. Then comes attitude and behavior, resilience, optimism, compassion, doing things for others, volunteering activities. What they do is they give a purpose to life, and that makes you happier. And there are other strategies like meditation for reducing stress.

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