Curated Insights 2017.12.31

Google Maps’s Moat

In other words, Google’s buildings are byproducts of its Satellite/Aerial imagery. And some of Google’s places are byproducts of its Street View imagery…so this makes AOIs a byproduct of byproducts. Google is creating data out of data.

With “Areas of Interest”, Google has a feature that Apple doesn’t have. But it’s unclear if Apple could add this feature to its map in the near future. The challenge for Apple is that AOIs aren’t collected—they’re created. And Apple appears to be missing the ingredients to create AOIs at the same quality, coverage, and scale as Google.

And as we saw with AOIs, Google has gathered so much data, in so many areas, that it’s now crunching it together and creating features that Apple can’t make—surrounding Google Maps with a moat of time.

Google likely knows what’s inside all of the buildings it has extracted. And as Google gets closer and closer to capturing every building in the world, it’s likely that Google will start highlighting / lighting up buildings related to queries and search results.

Apple to hit $1 trillion in market value in 2018

Today, Apple has an estimated 900 million customers. Many are buying services that include music streaming, movie rentals, applications, online storage, extended warranties, and digital payments. Apple’s recent purchase of Shazam, a service for identifying music clips, shows how Apple can add features to subscription services like Apple Music. Growing 23% in the past fiscal year, services account for 13% of Apple sales—and an estimated 20% of gross profit.

IPhone generates 60% of Apple’s revenue; there are an estimated 800 million active devices that provide a vast and growing base for services. A recent UBS survey of smartphone users in five key countries shows that retention rates have been climbing and stand at 85% for iPhone, versus 71% for Samsung and 78% for phones that use Android software. In other words, switching services isn’t common, but when it occurs, Apple generally wins.

Another upside source got less theoretical this past week with the passage of a sweeping corporate tax cut. Apple sits on more than $250 billion in cash and investments held overseas as a tax dodge, about a fifth of the total for all U.S. companies doing likewise. To bring that money home for dividends or stock buybacks, it would have had to pay the top corporate tax rate of 35%. The new law cuts the top rate to 21%; imposes a mandatory, one-time 15.5% tax on overseas cash and equivalents; and switches to a territorial tax system to reduce offshore avoidance.

For shareholders, the cake is the tax savings; the icing is that Apple loses its incentive to hold cash overseas. The second helping of cake with icing is that Apple has already booked enough to cover anticipated tax charges. Epoch’s Pearl reckons Apple could get a mid-single digit boost to ongoing earnings from the lower tax rate, and as much as a 7% increase from bringing home cash and buying back stock.

 

The near future of electric cars: Many models, few buyers

Electric cars—which today comprise only 1 percent of auto sales worldwide, and even less in the U.S.—will account for just 2.4 percent of U.S. demand and less than 10 percent globally by 2025, according to researcher LMC Automotive. But while consumer appetite slogs along, carmakers are still planning a tidal wave of battery-powered models that may find interested buyers few and far between.

Magna International Inc., for example, the largest auto supplier in North America, is having vigorous debates over whether to add capacity to tool up for electric cars when its executives don’t see much demand for them over the next eight years. The company predicts EVs will only grow to between 3 percent and 6 percent of global auto sales by 2025, said Jim Tobin, chief marketing officer at the Canadian company.

Industry executives convinced drivers will abruptly exit their internal combustion engine vehicles in favor of electrics may find themselves too overzealous, with LMC forecasting gasoline-powered engines will still make up about 85 percent of U.S. new car sales in 2025. But that shift could accelerate as electrified vehicles reach price parity with gasoline-powered cars, which Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts will happen by 2029 or sooner for most models.


Riders in Alphabet’s driverless car will be insured by startup Trov

So-called usage-based insurance, which changes in response to the customer’s needs or actions, has become popular among both traditional insurers and startups like Trov. A common example is car insurers’ use of devices to track a driver’s behavior and then offer discounts for good driving.

Trov CEO Scott Walchek said what appealed to Waymo was Trov’s ability to measure risk in what it calls “micro-durations.” The company asked if Trov’s technology for only assessing risk during periods when its users swiped on their coverage could be repurposed to cover passengers for the length of a ride in a Waymo vehicle. Trov developed a solution, Mr. Walchek said.


Kuka plans for robot domination in China and your garage

China is the world’s largest and fastest-growing automation market. Sales of robots in China, which amount to about one-third of the global demand, grew by 27 percent last year, compared to just 12 percent in Europe and 8 percent in the Americas, according to the International Federation of Robotics. With 68 robots per 10,000 Chinese manufacturing workers, far fewer than the 189 in the U.S. and 631 in South Korea, there’s room for growth and rising factory wages are powering more automation. “We want to become number one in China,” says the Kuka executive, noting that their market share for robots last year was around 14 percent (that puts it among the top three suppliers).

Along with its push into non-auto industrial robots, Kuka aims to leverage Midea’s sales networks and company connections to start producing consumer-focused robots too. The companies are jointly building a large industrial park near Guangzhou that will have R&D, technology development, a robotics training center, and critically, a production facility. “We are increasing capacity. That is the first step,” says Reuter. “For Kuka, the park will be a very, very important step towards becoming number one.”

Driver shortage sends truck haulage rates higher

The shortage of drivers comes as the industry looks to a future with self-driving, autonomous trucks. There are currently more than 3m truck drivers on the road in the US, with the job offering one of the highest levels of pay for non-college graduates. Last year, the median salary for drivers with three years’ experience tipped $57,000, according to the National Transportation Institute.

However, Mr Leathers warned that buzz around the technology could discourage people from working as drivers. “The last thing I can afford, and we can afford, is for our rhetoric on driver-assist or autonomous to get out in front of reality and [for us to] start seeing enrolments and interest in the field drop before the technology is ready to really engage,” he said.

Which nation does the world trust most? (Hint: Follow the Dollar)

America’s current 24 percent share looks much diminished compared with 30 percent in 2000 but about the same as the 26 percent share in 1980. It’s simple to cherry-pick a start date that makes American decline look bad, but the reality is that China is gaining global economic share at the expense mainly of Europe and Japan. America is a tested economic superpower, having survived 21 recessions and a Great Depression since 1900. China remains untested, having suffered not one outright recession since its modern renaissance began around 1980. It has yet to be seen just how well China will weather such a test, which is inevitable for any large economy.

Nearly 90 percent of bank-financed international transactions are conducted in dollars, a share that is close to all-time highs. When individuals and companies borrow from lenders in another country, they increasingly borrow in dollars, which now account for 75 percent of these global flows, up from 60 percent just before the global financial crisis in 2008.

In a dollar world, most countries are happiest when the dominant currency is cheap and plentiful. A strong dollar raises the cost of borrowing, which slows global economic growth and has often triggered debt crises in the emerging world. A weak dollar has the opposite effect, which is why the weakening of the dollar this year offers more evidence of its dominance: Partly as a result, the world is enjoying an unusually broad recovery encompassing every major economy.

Instead, the renminbi has gained no ground as a reserve currency and probably won’t as long as China’s financial markets remain largely closed, underdeveloped and subject to government meddling. History also suggests that economic size alone will not be enough to propel China to financial superpower status. From 1450 through the late 1700s, the leading reserve currency was held by smaller countries — first Portugal, followed by Spain, the Netherlands and France. These nations were all major trading and military powers with credible financial systems, but not one was the world’s largest economy. Throughout those centuries, the leading economy was primarily China. It never gained the advantages of having the leading reserve currency because, then as now, its financial system lacked credibility.


China’s $100 billion smartphone maker

Oppo makes $14 of operating profit apiece, Vivo $13 and Xiaomi a mere $2, Counterpoint reckons. That is of course minimal compared with the $151 per device they estimate Apple Inc. made, and $31 at Samsung Electronics Co.

Oppo and Vivo appear to be much more pure-play hardware businesses. This is risky, because customer loyalty is fickle and any margins they make leave them open to price competition. But at least they’re banking profits today instead of hoping for some future “economies of ecosystem” that may never come.


Chinese populism lives in a video app

According to one analysis, 70 percent of Kuaishou’s users earn less than $460 per month, 88 percent haven’t attended university, and a majority live in less developed parts of China. Kuaishou has managed to attract them by forgoing celebrity videos and promoted content in favor of algorithms that recommend items that other users like. It’s an approach that leaves users with the impression (if not the reality) that their videos have a fighting chance to be viewed. And that attracts users who know they’d be wasting their time posting content to sites focused on fashion, luxury and city life.

Indeed, even as other video platforms see their growth stunted by Chinese government oversight and brutal competition, Kuaishou expands. Today it’s the fourth largest social-media platform in China, behind WeChat, QQ and Sina Weibo. That’s why it’s a smart bet for investors like Tencent Holdings Ltd, which pumped in $350 million in March 2017. China’s smaller cities already produce 59 percent of China’s gross domestic product and retain significant commercial and cultural pull, both for those who still live in them and for the hundreds of millions who’ve migrated away.


Chinese consumers now rule the world. Get used to it

As China’s expansion increasingly depends on consumption, its growth will be not only more internally driven, but also less resource- and credit-intensive. Imports of premium goods and services will increase. This market will be more and more attractive to multinational firms and investors.

One significant byproduct: China’s politically-sensitive trade surplus will continue to shrink and the current account surplus, the broadest measure of capital flows, might contract even more. This, in turn, may exert downward pressure on the yuan.

China to overtake U.S. economy by 2032 as Asian might builds

The report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research in London sees India leapfrogging the U.K. and France next year to become the world’s fifth-biggest economy in dollar terms. It will advance to third place by 2027, moving ahead of Germany.

In 2032, three of the four largest economies will be Asian — China, India and Japan — and, by that time, China will also have overtaken the U.S. to hold the No. 1 spot. India’s advance won’t stop there, according to the CEBR, which sees it taking the top place in the second half of the century.

Also by 2032, South Korea and Indonesia will have entered the top 10, supplanting the Group of Seven nations of Italy and Canada.

Company Notes 2017.12.29

Binasat Communications Q1 FY2018 Results

The Group operates within the support services for the telecommunication network industry in Malaysia. The Group is expected to benefit from the future plans and strategies as disclosed in the Prospectus of the Company dated 13 December 2017. These include building a new teleport facility, enhancing our operations and maintenance service and fiber optic installation and commissioning capability and sourcing for business opportunities in ASEAN countries, particularly Vietnam, Myanmar and Laos.

PUC buys into leisure site photography firm

Under the deal, PUC will issue 64.6 million new shares — or slightly over 4.5% of its enlarged share capital — at 32.2 sen per share or RM20.8 million, while the balance of RM32 million will be paid on a staggered basis when Pictureworks meets its profit guarantee as outlined in the agreement, according to a filing with Bursa Malaysia.

Pictureworks provisions imagery capture and distribution platforms for major theme parks and other leisure and entertainment sites including the Shanghai Disney Resort in China, Hong Kong Disneyland Resort, Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay, Legoland Malaysia, and Kidzania Kuala Lumpur. It also holds the international licensing of imagery systems including Harry Potter: The Exhibition and Game of Thrones: The Touring Exhibition, among others. Currently, the Pictureworks group’s imagery system services are being offered in more than 30 sites.

The 33% stake in Pictureworks is valued at between RM57.05 million and RM73.3 million by FHMH Corporate Advisory Sdn Bhd, according to the announcement. Cheong has guaranteed that Pictureworks will achieve a PAT of RM14.8 million in FY18 and another RM20.5 million in FY19. Any shortfall will be compensated by Cheong, said PUC. “PUC expects that moving forward, its share of earnings from its 33% equity interest in Pictureworks may contribute 25% or more of the net profits of the PUC group and/or may result in a diversion of more than 25% of the net asset of the PUC Group,” it added.


2018 World Cup to bring cheer to breweries

“Note that due to the time difference between Malaysia and Russia, we can expect one match to kick off at 8pm Malaysian time, every day, during the event.”

Beer excise duty rose to RM175 per 100% volume per litre on March 1, 2016, from RM7.40 per litre previously, while the 15% ad valorem (according to value) tax was removed. “The new regulation on the legal purchasing age for alcoholic beverages, which raised the age from 18 to 21 effective Dec 1 2017, may encourage youngsters to switch to easily-available contrabands.”

“Beer and stout, which are typically of lower alcohol by volume, are taxed at a higher rate than wine and spirits, which contain higher alcohol levels.”


Broadnet’s moves raise concern with TM, TNB

“For starters, TNB wants to know for sure if the Government has a golden share in Broadnet and if they are compelled to collaborate with the company,” said the sources.

“In some ways, Broadnet would be a competitor to TM. So it is only natural for the company to seek clarification as TM itself is indirectly owned by the Government through Khazanah Nasional Bhd,” said a source.

Minister Salleh last week was quoted as saying that the Nationwide Fiberisation Plan would, among other things, leverage TNB’s extensive fibre trunk network. “We do not encourage monopolies or exclusive arrangements as this may slow down the deployment of broadband infrastructure,” Salleh was quoted as saying by Bernama. The NFP, he said, was in line with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s announcement in this year’s budget, which was to double broadband speeds at lower prices by 2019.


Only World Group sees a return to glory days

“[With] the new outlets, coupled with the reopening of [14] outlets [at Genting Highlands] and the stabilisation of the indoor theme park operations at The Top at Komtar Tower in Penang, we should return to our glory days.”

The group’s net profit for FY17 also took a huge hit from the temporary closure of 14 outlets at First World Hotel in Genting Highlands in February this year due to the ongoing redevelopment and transformation of Resorts World Genting. Its earnings for FY17 more than halved from RM12.57 million the previous year.

OWG is building an integrated attraction zone on 70,000 sq ft of land called Ripley’s Believe It or Not Adventure Land within Resorts World Genting, following the closure of its previous site as part of the relocation and renovation works under the Genting Integrated Tourism Plan (GITP).

“If we can reach our target of [holding] 52 weekend events or 108 events a year at The Top, it would see our food service operation equalising if not more than the other segment. This can possibly happen in less than five years because our order book for the banquet hall is filling up,” she said.The group is also reopening its F&B outlets at the Sky Avenue mall, as well as a new food court at Genting Premium Outlets.


Comfort carves its own niche, supplies premium specialty gloves

“Prospects for the rubber glove manufacturing sector remain strong, with increasing demand arising from switching trends towards nitrile glove. Nitrile glove now accounts for 61% of Malaysian rubber glove export. As overall demand for nitrile gloves increases, the market is seeing a rise in segmentation and differentiation, leading to higher demand for specialty gloves.”

Curated Insights 2017.12.24

Why Tesla wants a piece of the commercial trucking industry

But above all, it’s business opportunity—and trucking is the physical embodiment of a thriving economy. Trucks moved more than 70% of all U.S. freight and generated $676 billion in revenue in 2016, according to the American Trucking Associations. Some 33.8 million trucks were registered for business purposes in 2016. Almost 4 million of them were categorized Class 8, denoting the largest freight trucks.

Other autonomous trucking startups are in hot pursuit. TuSimple, a company that has operations in China and San Diego and is backed by Nvidia and Sina Corp., plans to test fleets on two routes: one 120-mile stretch between Tucson and Phoenix and another segment in Shanghai. Meanwhile Nikola Motor is designing and building its own driverless, hydrogen fuel cell–powered Class 8 truck—“the iPhone of trucking,” says CEO Trevor Milton. “In the next eight years, you’re going to see a complete transformation of trucking,” he adds.


In China, a three-digit score could dictate tour place in society

In 2015 Ant Financial was one of eight tech companies granted approval from the People’s Bank of China to develop their own private credit scoring platforms. Zhima Credit appeared in the Alipay app shortly after that. The service tracks your behavior on the app to arrive at a score between 350 and 950, and offers perks and rewards to those with good scores. Zhima Credit’s algorithm considers not only whether you repay your bills but also what you buy, what degrees you hold, and the scores of your friends. Like Fair and Isaac decades earlier, Ant Financial executives talked publicly about how a data-driven approach would open up the financial system to people who had been locked out, like students and rural Chinese. For the more than 200 million Alipay users who have opted in to Zhima Credit, the sell is clear: Your data will magically open doors for you.

Zhima Credit is dedicated to creating trust in a commercial setting and independent of any government-initiated social credit system. Zhima Credit does not share user scores or underlying data with any third party including the government without the user’s prior consent.”

The State Council has signaled that under the national social credit system people will be penalized for the crime of spreading online rumors, among other offenses, and that those deemed “seriously untrustworthy” can expect to receive substandard services. Ant Financial appears to be aiming for a society divided along moral lines as well. As Lucy Peng, the company’s chief executive, was quoted as saying in Ant Financial, Zhima Credit “will ensure that the bad people in society don’t have a place to go, while good people can move freely and without obstruction.”

For those with good behavior, Zhima Credit offers perks through cooperation agreements that Ant Financial has signed with hundreds of companies and institutions. Shenzhou Zuche, a car rental company, allows people with credit scores over 650 to rent a car without a deposit. In exchange for this vetting, Shenzhou Zuche shares data, so that if a Zhima Credit user crashes one of the rental company’s cars and refuses to pay up, that detail is fed back into his or her credit score. For a while people with scores over 750 could even skip the security check line at Beijing Capital Airport.


Tencent and Alibaba go abroad to push for growth and know-how

“[Tencent] are willing to look at anything they think will help them to export what they know in China to other countries,” he says, describing the company’s efforts as a China-inspired “third way” of doing M&A. “The deals they are doing tend to be very strategic, and the size of the deals is typically hundreds of millions of dollars or single-digit billions, whereas those by Anbang, HNA and the rest are tens of billions of dollars and unrelated with nothing strategic about it,” says one banker.

Meituan-Dianping, the biggest company in food delivery, ticketing and other services that was valued at $30bn in its latest fundraising, gives Tencent access to swaths of merchants and customers in physical restaurants and stores. “This capability is not something Tencent has in-house, but it’s something that will be beneficial to help it grow its ecosystem. We can push Tencent payments, and small merchants to work with Tencent platforms. And Tencent can bring their traffic to us, provide infrastructure, mapping, cloud services. So this is very complementary.”


Facebook: The bear case will only gain momentum, says Moffett Nathanson

Bull case is predicated on its massive scale […] 2.1 billion monthly users and 1.4 billion daily active users, representing 58% and 39% of the globe’s Internet users […] the level of scale, reach and gigantic trove of data that comes with it clearly has immense value for targeted marketers […] still growing MAUs at respectable rates […] growth is even more impressive in the developing regions [….] 17% CAGR in the Rest of World over the past three years has and has sourced more than a third of its growth from here over that period […] immense base of advertisers […] staggering 6 million advertisers in November of 2017 […] this diversification is a huge asset […] very different than traditional media where, in areas like Network TV, the top 100 clients generally represent 2/3 of ad dollars […] still has a huge opportunity in international and messaging […] in every country except France, Canada, China, the U.S., and the U.K., WhatsApp is the dominant IM platform with more than 60%+ penetration […] We think that if it can get the formula right, it already has a significant user foothold and runway for ramping revenue quickly […] Street estimates look too conservative [for 2018] Street’s conservatism in forecasting despite years of outperformance is a result of Facebook’s aggressive expectation management […] It’s still really cheap! Facebook currently trades at 19x 2018 EV/Ebitda […] By comparison, Priceline (PCLN) is trading at 18X.

Facebook’s video strategy remains a mystery [….] It hosts this content in its standalone Watch Tab […] We don’t think it has been terribly successful here, and wonder how many users even realize or opt to click the Watch Tab when on Facebook […] Facebook hasn’t been aggressive in approaching studios or smaller video creators for content. It appears that Facebook is slowly trying to tiptoe […] Facebook has really frustrated producers by continually changing what it is looking for […] Engagement amongst younger demos has been waning […] Facebook’s video push is more than simply nice to have, it’s now a must have if it wants to stave off further engagement declines […] Facebook has apparently hit the upper bound of its ad load on core Facebook […] The story has moved from a largely volume driven one to a largely pricing driven one […] businesses that have years of significant double digit volume growth ahead of them certainly look more appealing and greenfield other things being equal than those that have moved into the pricing growth phase of their lifecycle […] Despite the significant traction for Messenger and WhatsApp globally, Facebook’s ability to meaningfully monetize them still remains a major question mark […] [Congressional investigations into Russian advertising, etc.] are just the beginning of a bigger regulatory review of Facebook’s influence on our society and political process. As a result, it could spell years’ worth of incremental investment to help police the problem […] With 82%+ of analysts with a Buy rating on Facebook for the last 3.5 years […] any hiccups in growth or profitability could lead to a downside reaction that is amplified.


Amazon hasn’t figured out drugstores yet. But it will have to

Even so, many shoppers prefer get their medications from a store, which offers peace of mind that their order is correct and the opportunity to speak with a pharmacist. Mail-order prescriptions fell 23 percent from 2012 to 2016, according to Adam Fein, CEO of the Drug Channels Institute, with mail pharmacies dispensing only 10 percent of all 30-day equivalent prescriptions in 2016. And the cash generic-drug market for the uninsured — once eyed by Wal-Mart — is considerably smaller thanks to Medicare Part D and Obamacare. The cash market makes up about 7 percent to 8 percent of all prescriptions, and has been declining slowly along with the number of uninsured people, according to Fein. Revenues from cash-paid prescriptions are about $25 billion a year, he said.The most promising window for Amazon may be the rising out-of-pocket costs shouldered by those with prescription-insurance plans. About half of all insurance plans had deductibles on prescription drugs in 2016, up from 23 percent in 2012, according to Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. If insured drug-takers become more cost-conscious, Amazon could attempt to bring convenient online price transparency to a complex industry that makes it difficult for customers to shop around. Amazon could be encouraged to push through the complexities to increase the value of Prime membership. Two-thirds of Prime members would fill prescriptions through Amazon if the company offered them, according to research by Cowen Inc.

The loopholes drug companies use to keep prices high

The expiration date for the main Revlimid patent will be 2019. But Celgene’s business tactics, also used by other drugmakers, could allow the company to put off unrestricted competition from generics until 2026. That would cost Americans an extra $45 billion just for Revlimid, according to I-MAK, a consumer advocate.

Among the shenanigans: Securing new patents that extend old ones. Keeping brand-name drugs under wraps so generic makers can’t copy them. Filing so-called citizen petitions that gum up the FDA approval process for rivals. Negotiating restrictive deals with drug plans that crowd out less expensive drugs.

Citizen petitions are another way brand-name drug companies delay approval of competitors’ products. The petitions were designed to elicit public concerns about the drugs. The FDA is required to divert resources to address each one. From 2011 to 2015, brand-name drugmakers filed 108 citizen petitions during the approval process for cheaper versions, and 91 percent were denied, according to a paper by Rutgers University Law Professor Michael Carrier. The petitions “can play a crucial role in delaying generic entry,” he wrote. The introduction of cheaper generics can be delayed even after a brand-name patent has been invalidated in court.


A hospital giant discovers that collecting debt pays better than curing ills

The amount of past-due medical debt in the U.S. is about $75 billion, spread among 43 million people, according to estimates from economists at MIT, Northwestern University and the University of Chicago.

As Tenet and other hospital companies struggle to make money providing medical care, they are turning to the profitable and growing business of collecting debt. Most hospitals have finance departments or outside companies that try to ensure they get paid by insurers and patients. But Tenet has gone a step further than most, turning its operation into a separate business line called Conifer and contracting its services to other medical providers.

Collecting payment has become more important as hospitals’ traditional revenue streams come under pressure. Looming cuts to Medicare reimbursements may make as many as 60 percent of U.S. hospitals unprofitable, compared with about 25 percent currently, according to a 2016 Congressional Budget Office analysis.


Blow to Uber in Europe as top court rules it’s a transport service

The judgement means Uber must comply with individual Member States’ transportation regulations, and cannot claim its p2p ride-hailing services are only governed by less restrictive EU-wide ecommerce rules.

In its ruling the court writes that Uber’s “intermediation service… must be regarded as being inherently linked to a transport service and, accordingly, must be classified as ‘a service in the field of transport’ within the meaning of EU law. Consequently, such a service must be excluded from the scope of the freedom to provide services in general as well as the directive on services in the internal market and the directive on electronic commerce. It follows that, as EU law currently stands, it is for the Member States to regulate the conditions under which such services are to be provided.”


Asimov: Engineering biology

Not only do such biological circuit design automation tools give bioengineers the ability to debug biological circuits much like we debug software — with complete detail of what the simulated circuit is doing — but Asimov engineers have also developed modular biological circuit components that don’t have adverse reactions to other parts of the cell. Why does this matter? It’s akin to a computer programmer designing code that is then injected into a running program or existing operating system. These biological building blocks can be easily used downstream by circuit designers — the bio advance in turn facilitates the computer science advance, namely the accurate simulation of biological circuits.

With Asimov’s approach, high-accuracy simulation, and circuit building-blocks, we can greatly speed the development of biological circuits — decreasing their cost, and greatly increasing their sophistication and complexity.

Because biology is everywhere, living cells have applications in everything from food and materials to agriculture to healthcare. In fact, 7 of the top 10 drugs today are biologics, i.e., proteins that have therapeutic properties. These proteins are manufactured in cells at the cost of billions of dollars. Asimov’s technology could drive a dramatic reduction in cost to patients — enabling these drugs to be in the hands of more and more people.

Auctions & power

This results in decaying economics to the advertisers, as more advertisers join the auction to bid on keywords and clicks become more expensive. Google hides behind the overall statistic that its cost-per-click has been routinely getting cheaper on the aggregate even though this is a direct result of the mix shifting from desktop to mobile, where clicks are nearly ⅔ lower than on desktop.

Since Google is effectively a toll road on the internet, capturing over 90% of the searches performed in nearly every country it touches, advertisers are forced to play ball. But they’re not happy. Not many bidders to an auction come away saying, “wow, we got such a great deal.” In fact, the entire online travel industry is starting to find television advertising an equally compelling offer for their businesses over time. Even in real estate transactions, even if there are just two parties bidding on the property, the auction is designed to capture the highest value from the buyers.

The worst case scorched-earth scenario is far worse for Priceline. It’s a particularly bad time for booking.com to open up space for hotels to be bidding on clicks in TripAdvisor’s auctions. At the same time, ctrip.com is getting more aggressive in western markets and third party OTA supply on TripAdvisor has been building, with >80% of listings having a third, fourth or fifth OTA option. Because booking.com charges considerably higher commissions than TripAdvisor, hotels are highly incentivized to divert traffic away from Priceline’s channels.


China’s $189 billion giant of finance reveals a huge bet on tech

In the first nine months of 2017, Ping An got more than 70 percent of its earnings from insurance, with banking and asset management each contributing about 15 percent. Profit from its fintech units amounted to 1 percent of the group’s total, a proportion that Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Steven Lam estimates could increase to 3 percent to 5 percent in five years.

One risk for Ping An is that China’s tech companies are building their own financial services ecosystems. Alibaba and Tencent already dominate the online payments industry and are expanding rapidly into areas including asset management, lending and insurance. Ping An’s Tan argues that the company’s massive cache of financial data (it has nine petabytes of the stuff), combined with its offline resources, make the company’s products “fairly difficult” to replicate.


Beijing’s electric-car push could produce a world-class Chinese auto brand

China already leads globally in EV sales, passing the U.S. in 2015. Sales of new-energy vehicles, or NEVs (EVs, plug-in hybrids, and fuel-cell vehicles), may top 700,000 units in 2017 and 1 million in 2018, says Xu Haidong, assistant secretary-general of the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers. Almost all those cars are Chinese brands. The government has set a target of 7 million vehicles by 2025. To reach that goal, it’s doling out subsidies and tightening regulations around fossil-fuel cars.

“With electric cars, the cards are being reshuffled,” says Wolfgang Bernhart, a senior partner at Roland Berger Strategy Consultants in Munich. “We’ll see significantly more competition.” That could happen far from the mainland. “It’s obvious that Chinese carmakers want to sell their cars abroad,” says Klaus Rosenfeld, chief executive officer of German parts maker Schaeffler AG. “China’s manufacturers know that it will be tough for them to compete on combustion engines in our home market. But the shift to more and more electric cars may become an opportunity for them.”


China is building some of the world’s biggest packaged food companies

Having American brands gives WH Group a way to reach upscale consumers in the country that eats about half of the world’s pork, said Kenneth Sullivan, chief executive officer of Smithfield Foods and an executive director of Hong Kong-listed WH Group.

Chinese per-capita consumption is 39.4 kilograms (87 pounds) a year, and domestic hog farms can’t keep up with demand. U.S. pork exports to China and Hong Kong totaled 545,000 metric tons last year, a 61 percent increase from 2015, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation.

Smithfield can’t export sausage, ham and bacon from its U.S. factories because China prohibits imports of processed meat. So WH Group opened an 800 million-yuan ($116 million) factory in Zhengzhou that will produce 30,000 metric tons of those meats when it reaches full capacity next year.

Truth from zero?

The achievements in Go and Shogi—the Japanese game whose higher depth in relation to Western chess we discussed three years ago—strike us as greater than AlphaZero’s score of 28 wins, 72 draws, and no losses against the champion Stockfish chess program. One measure of greatness comes from the difference in Elo ratings between the machine and the best human players. AlphaGo Zero’s measured rating of 5185 is over 1,500 points higher than the best human players on the scale used in Go. In Shogi, the paper shows AlphaZero zooming toward 4500 whereas the top human rating shown here as of 11/26/17 is 2703, again a difference over 1,500. In chess, however, as shown in the graphs atop page 4 of the paper, AlphaZero stays under 3500, which is less than 700 ahead of human players.

Although AlphaZero’s 64-36 margin over Stockfish looks like a shellacking, it amounts to only 100 points difference on the Elo scale. The scale was built around the idea that a 200-point difference corresponds to about 75% expectation for the stronger player—and this applies to all games. Higher gains become multiplicatively harder to achieve and maintain. This makes the huge margins in Go and Shogi all the more remarkable.

Bitcoin billionaires may have found a way to cash out

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission rejected the use of the Gemini exchange to determine bitcoin prices — which Cboe is using for the daily settlement of bitcoin futures — and has expressed doubts about using an index of exchanges — which CME is using. This creates the possibility that a few million dollars of actual bitcoin transactions, assembled in untested ways, will drive hundreds of millions of dollars of derivative settlement payments, which in turn could set the price for potentially tens of billions of dollars of ETFs.

If, say, 1 percent of all bitcoin were taken off the market and held as option collateral, 4 and financial investors put up cash in one-year derivatives, that could do a lot to stabilize the market. That means both reducing price volatility and giving confidence that market prices represent true trading prices for institutional quantities of bitcoin. This, in turn, could make Cboe and CME cash-settled futures more attractive, and thereby represent a solid base for bitcoin ETFs.

On the other hand, if bitcoin billionaires stay out of the market, institutional investment in bitcoin will remain problematic. Individuals will be able to trade small amounts in a fragmented market of loosely regulated exchanges, but futures and ETFs will not be securely backed by physical bitcoin — their prices will be pushed around by betting sentiment of people who own no bitcoin.

What Is Ethereum?

Note that because every single operation on the EVM is executed by every node, computing on the EVM is expensive. Therefore — and according to Ethereum’s development tutorial — the best current use-cases for Ethereum are for running business logic: “if this, then that.” Other use cases might be prohibitively expensive. Due to current issues around scalability and the size of Ethereum’s blockchain, more computationally-intensive programs will find it difficult and expensive to operate on the EVM.

Here’s another way to think about it: where Bitcoin could help users avoid banks, Ethereum could help users bypass platforms like Facebook, Amazon, or any number of more complex middlemen. Once upon a time, developers of a game or a collectible like CryptoKitties might have launched a Farmville-style game on Facebook, or a physical product on Amazon. Today, instead of doing that or building their own blockchains from scratch, developers can use the EVM to create their own decentralized applications – like Cryptokitties.

Can this man build a better bitcoin?

Vitalik Buterin grasped the significance immediately. Prior to creating Ethereum, Buterin covered the San Jose Bitcoin conference as a correspondent for Bitcoin Magazine, a publication he cofounded. The wunderkind programmer interviewed Ben-Sasson about his breakthroughs, and it left an indelible impression. “Personally, I think zk-SNARKs are a hugely important, absolutely game-changing technology,” Buterin tells Fortune. “They are the single most under-hyped thing in cryptography right now.”

In January 2009, Wilcox became perhaps the first person ever to blog about Bitcoin in a post titled “Decentralized Money” on his personal blog, Zooko’s Hack Log. Satoshi Nakamoto returned the favor several weeks later, linking to Wilcox’s write-up in an addendum to a preliminary release of the Bitcoin software on Bitcoin.org, the newly created project’s home page. Wilcox was one of only three people to receive an honorable mention in the “related links” section. (The others were Nick Szabo, inventor of “bit gold,” and Wei Dai, creator of “b-money.”)

Company Notes 2017.12.22

Berjaya Sports Toto Q2 FY2018 Results

H.R. Owen recorded a decrease in revenue of 8% as compared to the previous year corresponding quarter primarily due to drop in sales from the new and used cars sector during the current quarter as a result of softening demand in the United Kingdom car market as well as the product life cycle of the car models available for sale. It recorded a pre-tax loss of RM4.0 million as compared to pre-tax profit of RM5.1 million reported in the previous year corresponding quarter mainly due to the decrease in revenue and also lower profit margins earned from certain new car sales during the current quarter under review.


Top Glove Q1 FY2018 Results

The improved results followed strong demand growth stemming from developed and emerging markets, where glove demand is rapidly on the rise. Further contributing to demand was the disruption in vinyl glove supply following China’s strict enforcement against polluting industries which benefited both natural rubber and nitrile glove sales. Internally, new capacity coming onstream, as well as continuous improvement initiatives in terms of automation, better production lines and cost-saving were also instrumental in contributing to the strong performance.


Poh Huat Resources Q4 FY2017 Results

In line with the sustained demand for furniture in the US market, our operations continued to enjoy strong orders from customers from the US for both the office and home segment. In particular, shipment of our new ranges of panel based home products from our Malaysian operations to the US has rammed up over the last 12 months as our efficiency improves. In Vietnam, we also commenced shipment of several newer ranges of bedroom sets for which production runs is expected to smoothen over the next few months. Overall the Group expects this trend to continue for the remaining financial year.


Comfort Gloves Q3 FY2018 Results

Nitrile glove now accounts for 61% of Malaysian rubber glove export. As overall demand for nitrile gloves increases, the market is seeing increase segmentation and differentiation leading to an increase demand for specialty gloves. Through dedication to process rationalization and improving operational agility, the Group is confident in capturing greater market share and strengthening margins. The Group is confident that meeting customer expectations and continuous innovation will strengthen our position as the bespoke specialty glove manufacturer.

CAB Cakaran set to fly even higher after record year

Next year, Chuah said the group intends to increase broiler meat capacity to about 7.5 million birds per month, and up to 11 million birds a month for day-old chick. “We will not expand for the sake of expanding. For the broiler business, expansion is not an issue as long as we got the money and the land. But the key question is whether the demand is there,” he said.

Chuah said CAB has budgeted a sum of about RM50 million as capital expenditure for FY18, to upgrade the group’s facilities and machinery. “These upgrades are meant to cater for additional market demand. If we want to grow on a larger scale, we will have to look into the existing market, so we are also on the lookout to buy medium or smaller broiler businesses, especially those businesses that have no second generation successors,” he said.

“The construction will take about 12 months to complete and contribution will likely begin in 2019. We are targeting 4.5 million birds per month for the broiler and three million eggs per day for the layer in 2019. We currently hold 10% of the joint venture, and over the next five years, we have an option to increase our stake to 30% based on the inception price. In that way we don’t have to incur so much expenditure now.”


Kulim plant to boost Osram’s output to near market-leader’s level

“For more than one decade, Osram has been a strong number two in the market for opto semiconductors for lighting with a market share of more than 8%. With our new capacities in Kulim, the gap to the number one (Nichia Corp) will shrink further.”

“In our opto-semiconductor business, we have reached an operating margin of more than 28% before the opening of our new fabrication plant (in Kulim). Our target for the coming years is between 25% and 29%. Of course, the cost factor in Malaysia plays a role but our venture in Kulim is more about raising capacity for a still growing demand.”

“The market continues to be dominated by the replacement of traditional lighting with efficient LED lighting, while the LED share in the automotive segment is growing rapidly in interior lighting, and headlights. We also are developing exciting technologies for autonomous vehicles and using our LED chips; we are enabling new technologies for vehicle sensing, orientation and navigation. Our horticulture lamps are designed to grow leafy greens and herbs in a controlled environment, ensuring plants receive the best light to grow to their fullest potential with improved flavour.”


Techfast to source chemical products from China’s Tecore

Cape and Oriem will be Tecore’s Malaysian business partners to engage in the supply and sale of Tecore’s products, including clear epoxy molding compound and silicone phosphor film.

Techfast said Cape and Oriem will sell these products to its customers, which are multinational companies that engage in the LED business.

The group said Cape and Oriem’s services also include product evaluation testing, customer demand information collation and customer supply chain co-ordination on behalf of Tecore as its local business partners.

e-Conomy SEA spotlight 2017: Unprecedented growth for Southeast Asia’s $50B internet economy

There will be 330M monthly active internet users by year-end 2017, adding over 70M new users since 2015 at 13% CAGR. In Southeast Asia, mobile is the internet, as more than 90% of Southeast Asia’s internet users are on smartphones. It is hard to overestimate the absolute prominence of mobile as the access point and driver of Southeast Asia’s internet economy. Users in Southeast Asia are incredibly engaged, spending an average of 3.6 hours per day on mobile internet,1 more than in any other region in the world.

We estimate that Southeast Asia’s internet economy will reach $50B in 2017. Growing at 27% CAGR, it has outpaced the 20% 10-year CAGR projected in Google-Temasek e-Conomy SEA and is on a solid trajectory to exceed $200 B by 2025. All sectors of the internet economy have experienced solid growth in 2017. Online travel reached $26.6B led by growth in airline and hotel online bookings. Online media touched $6.9B driven by online ads and gaming. E-commerce and ride hailing have been under the spotlight growing the fastest at over 40% CAGR, capturing consumers’ preferences with evolving business models, and attracting the majority of the investments in the region. As a result, they are the focus of Google-Temasek e-Conomy SEA Spotlight 2017.

GLCs are crowding out private investment — IDEAS

“An often-cited concern relates to the preferential treatment that they receive with respect to government procurement. They could also enjoy various other benefits, including direct subsidies, concessionary financing, state-backed guarantees, and exemptions from antitrust enforcement or bankruptcy rules. Hence, GLCs find it easier and more profitable to increase investment in sectors which they already have a significant presence — a level of involvement usually made possible by their special and preferred status to begin with.”

“The results revealed that when GLCs account for a dominant share (60% or more) of revenues in an industry, investment by private firms in that industry is significantly negatively impacted. Conversely, when GLCs do not dominate an industry, the impact on private investment is not significant.”

Curated Insights 2017.12.17

Disney and Fox

With an increasingly high-profile brand, large user base, and ever deeper pockets, Netflix moved into original programming that was orthogonal to traditional programming buyers: creators had full control and a guarantee that they could create entire seasons at a time Each of these intermediary steps was a necessary prerequisite to everything that followed, culminating in yesterday’s announcement: Netflix can credibly offer a service worth paying for in any country on Earth, thanks to all of the IP it itself owns. This is how a company accomplishes what, at the beginning, may seem impossible: a series of steps from here to there that build on each other. Moreover, it is not only an impressive accomplishment, it is also a powerful moat; whoever wishes to compete has to follow the same time-consuming process.

Another way to characterize Netflix’s increasing power is Aggregation Theory: Netflix started out by delivering a superior user experience of an existing product (DVDs) to a dedicated set of customers, leveraged that customer base to gain new kinds of supply (streaming content), gaining more customers and more supply, and ultimately leveraged those customers to modularize supply such that the streaming service now makes an increasing amount of its content directly. What Disney is seeking to prove, though, is that it can compete with Netflix directly by following a very different path.

The implication of Netflix’s shift to original programming, though, isn’t simply the fact that the streaming company is a full-on competitor for cable TV: it is a competitor for differentiated content as well. That gives Netflix far more leverage over content suppliers like Disney than the cable companies ever had.

Netflix isn’t simply adding customers, it is raising prices at the same time, the surest sign of market power. Therefore, the only way for Disney to avoid commoditization is to itself go vertical and connect directly with customers: thus the upcoming streaming service, the removal of its content from Netflix, and, presuming it is announced, this deal.

Whereas Netflix laddered-up to its vertical model and used its power as an aggregator of demand to gain power over supply, Disney is seeking to leverage — and augment — its supply to gain demand. The end result, though, would look awfully similar: a vertically integrated streaming offering that attracts and keeps customers with exclusive content, augmented with licensing deals.

In addition, Disney and 21st Century Fox combined for 40% of U.S. box office revenue in 2016; that probably isn’t enough to stop the deal, and as silly as it sounds, don’t underestimate the clamoring of fans for the unification of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in swaying popular opinion!

GM’s latest weapon in pickup truck wars: Carbon fiber

Pickup sales represent about 16% of the U.S. market, but delivered the bulk of the $25 billion in operating profit Detroit’s Big Three auto makers earned in North America last year, according to analysts. J.D. Power estimates GM’s large pickups fetch $43,220 on average, up about 30% from five years ago, but below the $45,000 transactions on Ford’s F-Series.

Trucks represent a unique challenge for Detroit. Buyers expect ample power to haul boats and construction gear, but regulators are demanding more efficient designs over the next seven years to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and improve fuel economy. That thinking underpinned Ford’s use of aluminum for the market-leading F-Series, which Environmental Protection Agency officials have said they see as already nearly meeting 2025 fuel-economy standards.

Carbon fiber is at least 50-75% lighter than steel and 20-50% lighter than aluminum, depending on the type, according to Ducker Worldwide, a materials consultancy that works with auto makers. It would improve dent resistance and give GM a differentiating feature in the fierce realm of truck marketing, said Richard Schultz, a metals expert at Ducker.

Researchers train robots to see into the future

These robotic imaginations are still relatively simple for now – predictions made only several seconds into the future – but they are enough for the robot to figure out how to move objects around on a table without disturbing obstacles. Crucially, the robot can learn to perform these tasks without any help from humans or prior knowledge about physics, its environment or what the objects are. That’s because the visual imagination is learned entirely from scratch from unattended and unsupervised exploration, where the robot plays with objects on a table. After this play phase, the robot builds a predictive model of the world, and can use this model to manipulate new objects that it has not seen before.

The system uses convolutional recurrent video prediction to “predict how pixels in an image will move from one frame to the next based on the robot’s actions.” This means that it can play out scenarios before it begins touching or moving objects.

China has been building what it calls “the world’s biggest camera surveillance network”. Across the country, 170 million CCTV cameras are already in place and an estimated 400 million new ones will be installed in the next three years.

Many of the cameras are fitted with artificial intelligence, including facial recognition technology. The BBC’s John Sudworth has been given rare access to one of the new hi-tech police control rooms.

World’s largest water diversion plan won’t quench China’s thirst

It’s China’s age-old dilemma: a tug of war between the farms that help feed the nation, and the soaring demands of industry and city-dwellers in the parched northern plains.

Beijing, which gets about 70 percent of its water from the South-North diversion project, is expected to add another 2 million people before the government caps the city’s population at 23 million.

One way to stem the reduction in groundwater is taxes. Last month, the government expanded a water resource tax trial to cover nine municipalities and provinces, with duties ramping up if quotas are exceeded. Regular water tax rates were highest in Beijing and Tianjin, according to China’s finance ministry, and water from underground will be taxed at twice the rate or more than for surface water.

Another option is to import food that requires a lot of moisture to grow — nearly half of China’s farmland has no irrigation system. That’s not straightforward, as China also has a long-standing food-security policy that aims to be largely self-sufficient in staple grains.

Each ton of imported wheat saves China about 500 cubic meters of water and 0.4 acres of farmland, Fang said. The country is already the world’s largest importer of soybeans, but could buy more, as well as meat and dairy products, she said. But an increase in grain imports would put a further strain on global food markets. China’s soybean demand has prompted farmers in Brazil to turn over some 13 million hectares of farmland and forest to growing the crop in the past 10 years, an area about the size of Germany.

Still, in many cases there’s little incentive for farmers to save water. Agriculture uses 62 percent of China’s water, but crops have a relatively low marginal value. So the government bans the sale of agricultural water to industry, which pays 10 times the price, to ensure food supply.


A caution from the world’s biggest shipping line

Decade-old oversupply issues swamped demand for containerized sea trade in the third quarter, a senior official at Maersk Line Ltd. said in an interview last week. Over 90 percent of trade is routed through ships, making the industry a bellwether for the worldwide economy.

Drewry Shipping Consultants expects the container-shipping freight growth rate to drop to less than 10 percent in 2018 from around 15 percent in 2017 as a supply glut hits home. CMA CGM, the No. 3 container shipping company, recently signaled slightly lower rates for 2018 in early negotiations of Asia-Europe contracts, analysts at Credit Suisse Group AG wrote in a Nov. 29 note.

In contrast, the air-freight market is buoyant after years in the doldrums, International Air Transport Association said last week. The development of e-commerce should mean growth rates remain ahead of the pace of expansion in world trade.


The world produces more than 3.5 million tons of waste a day – and that figure is growing

The world generates at least 3.5 million tons of solid waste a day, 10 times the amount a century ago, according to World Bank researchers. If nothing is done, that figure will grow to 11 million tons by the end of the century, the researchers estimate. On average, Americans throw away their own body weight in trash every month. In Japan, meanwhile, the typical person produces only two-thirds as much. It’s difficult to find comparable figures for the trash produced by mega-cities. But clearly, New York generates by far the most waste of the cities I visited: People in the broader metropolitan area throw away 33 million tons per year, according to a report by a global group of academics published in 2015 in the journal of the National Academy of Sciences. That’s 15 times the Lagos metropolitan area, their study found.


Salmon open flood gates for human consumption of GM animals

Engineered to grow at twice the rate of regular salmon, it is also believed to be the first example of a genetically engineered animal bred and sold for human consumption.


The main advantage of the salmon’s shorter lifespan is that the fish can be grown in tanks inland, vastly reducing the cost of transportation and the burden on the environment. “Demand for global protein is increasing,” he says. “We have to do a better job and we have to do it efficiently.”

One area Professor Muir regards as promising is the creation of genetically modified goats’ milk by scientists at the University of California, Davis, which carries a protein found in human breast milk that could, for example, help protect children in the developing world from bacterial infection.

More moats, more profits

Some businesses, however, have structural advantages that enable a stronger defense against competition, enabling high profits over an extended period. As competitive advantages have improved for the leading firms, we believe the ability to shield profits from normal competition has increased, enabling higher overall profits. The high concentration of wide and narrow moats among the largest 100 firms suggests that their elevated profit margins partly reflect the successful defense of competitive positions. In analysis looking at the past 10 years, wide-moat firms have generated more than triple the operating margins of no-moat firms, while narrow-moat firms have posted more than double the returns of no-moat companies. As the moat rating improves, the margins expand, supporting the importance of moats in protecting profits.

Beyond the global growth, the current phase of industrialization also supports more moats. As industrialization has moved from mechanical and mass production to information technology, we have seen an expansion in moats, especially in intangible assets and switching costs. Further, as we move into the next phase of industrialization focused on networking and the exchange of data between machines and humans,3 we expect more growth in profits supported by network effects. Several of the largest companies, including wide-moat firms with strong network effects Alphabet, Facebook, Amazon.com, Alibaba, and Tencent, didn’t exist 30 years ago and now represent more than 10% of the market capitalization of the top 100 firms.

The blockchain economy: A beginner’s guide to institutional cryptoeconomics

But a database still relies on trust; a digitised ledger is only as reliable as the organisation that maintains it (and the individuals they employ). It is this problem that the blockchain solves. The blockchain is a distributed ledgers that does not rely on a trusted central authority to maintain and validate the ledger.

A better metaphor for the blockchain is the invention of mechanical time. “The effect of the reduction in the variance of time measurement was felt everywhere”, Allen writes. Mechanical time opened up entirely new categories of economic organisation that had until then been not just impossible, but unimaginable. Mechanical time allowed trade and exchange to be synchronised across great distances. It allowed for production and transport to be coordinated. It allowed for the day to be structured, for work to be compensated according to the amount of time worked — and for workers to know that they were being compensated fairly. Both employers and employees could look at a standard, independent instrument to verify that a contract had been performed.

Complete contracts are impossible to execute, while incomplete contracts are expensive. The blockchain, though smart contracts, lowers the information costs and transactions costs associated with many incomplete contracts and so expands the scale and scope of economic activity that can be undertaken. It allows markets to operate where before only large firms could operate, and it allows business and markets to operate where before only government could operate.

The blockchain and associated technological changes will massively disrupt current economic conditions. The industrial revolution ushered in a world where business models were predicated on hierarchy and financial capitalism. The blockchain revolution will see an economy dominated by human capitalism and greater individual autonomy.

Company Notes 2017.12.15

VS Industry Q1 FY2018 Results

The lower-than-proportionate growth in profit before tax was largely owing to shift in product mix towards more box-build assembly. Furthermore, there were additional production lines commissioned during the
quarter under review, which resulted in higher operating costs (e.g. setup cost, operators’ salaries etc.) while production output of the new lines have yet to reach optimal level at the time.

Malaysia segment expects the box-build orders from key customers to sustain for the current financial year. On its operations in China, the Group expects improved performance going foward as it has since commenced mass production of new products for key customers in China and this contributes to higher plant utilisation rate.


Kein Hing International Q2 FY2018 Results

…due to the costs incurred for setting up of new production lines, recruitment and development of skilled and semi-skilled workforce at the new factory located in Hai Phong, Vietnam which is yet to achieve the optimal production and sales, higher depreciation charge resulting from new machines invested and the escalating labour costs as a consequence of constraints in labour supply encountered in Malaysia Operation and the wage inflation experienced in Vietnam Operation respectively.


Berjaya Food Q2 FY2018 Results

The results of the Group in the next quarter is expected to be adversely impacted by the one-off losses arising from the disposal of the KRR operations in Indonesia. Other than this one-off exceptional loss, the Group expects Starbucks to maintain its revenue growth momentum to continue contributing positively to the Group. In addition, the management hopes that the operational and menu rationalisation of KRR, being implemented recently, will yield better results for the brand moving forward.


LKL International Q2 FY2018 Resuults

The Group would continue developing the medical devices segment to grow into a significant contributor of group revenue and profitability. At the same time, the Group will be on the lookout to add more high-value medical products to its range to meet customer demand.


Jaycorp Q1 FY2018 Results

A major plant upgrade is due to take place in Jaycorp Green Energy Sdn Bhd (“JGE”) towards the end of 2017. Whilst this will result in the shut-down of operations for 2-3 months, the upgrade should significantly improve the operational efficiency of JGE in the long-term.


Bison Consolidated Q4 FY2017 Results

Operating expenses were higher in line with the bigger outlets network of 356 compared to last year of 294. Mynews had been more aggressive in driving its marketing campaigns and promotions and coupled with the enlarged staff force to support the Group’s expansion contributed to the increased operating expenses by RM17.67 million or 25.8% from last year of RM68.59 million to current year of RM86.21 million. Mynews had achieved its target of opening 70 outlets in the financial year 2017 and with the closing of 8 outlets, ended the year with 356 outlets. Its jointly controlled entity, WH Smith Malaysia Sdn Bhd had also added 3 new outlets during the year and it now has 12 outlets in the Malaysian airports.

The Board remains positive that Mynews is able to deliver profitable results with its on-going efforts to improve products and services offerings and aggressively expanding its foray into ready-to-eat food. Initiatives put in place such as the joint ventures with the Japanese partners to develop the food processing centre is progressing well. The Johor distribution centre is ready for operation pending the final approval by the relevant authorities.


Hiap Teck Venture Q1 FY2018 Results

The decline in steel demand in ASEAN-6 was mainly attributed by the slowing down in the consumption of two biggest steel consuming countries in the region namely Vietnam and Thailand. The decline in steel demand in Thailand and Vietnam are mainly due to destocking activities, slower economic growth and slow uptake in public investment projects.

The continuing efforts by Chinese Government and its plans to cut production capacity will help stabilise the world steel prices which will definitely benefit the local steel industry players.

OldTown gets takeover bid from global coffee maker

OldTown said its shareholders, holding a total stake of 51.45% in the group, have provided irrevocably undertakings to accept the cash offer. These shareholders are Old Town International Sdn Bhd (42.58%), OldTown’s management director Lee Siew Heng (1.34%) and Mawer Investment Management Ltd (7.52%).

“We are deeply honoured that JDE recognises the powerful brand and platform that we have tirelessly built over the past 18 years. We strongly believe JDE is the ideal partner as we continue to serve best-in-class products to our customers. We look forward to drawing on JDE’s deep global expertise and building a highly successful partnership with them. The OldTown team is focused on delivering premium, high-quality products to consumers and we see huge potential in the business. We are excited to work with the OldTown team to rapidly grow the business as part of the broader JDE platform.”


IRB slaps Aeon Credit with extra RM96.82m in tax bill

Aeon Credit said these taxes and penalties were in relation to the IRB varying the loan transaction collaterised by receivables undertaken by the company with a local financial institution to that of a sale of receivables, which the IRB did not specify which provision of the Income Tax Act 1967 in making this variation.

“This is especially so when at all material times, the company had sought professional advice from an independent and reputable audit and tax firm on its accounting and tax treatment and further, the assessments for the years of assessment of 2010 and 2011 are time barred,” it said.

S P Setia Bhd’s unit was slapped with a back tax bill of RM75.38 million last month, but the company said it has grounds to contest the notice. In October, the IRB slapped Cocoaland Holdings Bhd with RM5.89 million in additional taxes and penalties. In September, EcoFirst Consolidated Bhd said it was sued by the IRB over some RM35.47 million in additional taxes and penalties the latter is claiming for. In May, the IRB sought RM80.77 million in additional taxes and penalties from MK Land Holdings Bhd’s wholly-owned subsidiary Saujana Triangle Sdn Bhd, while Magnum Bhd and its wholly-owned subsidiary Magnum Holdings Sdn Bhd were served with notices of assessment for additional taxes and penalties totalling RM476.5 million.

In that same month, Country Heights Holdings Bhd announced that its executive chairman and major shareholder Tan Sri Lee Kim Yew had his fixed deposits of some RM126 million placed in a foreign-owned bank seized by the IRB in relation to RM22.5 million worth of tax liabilities incurred by Country Height’s wholly-owned unit Country Heights Sdn Bhd. The tax liabilities were accrued from the years of assessment of 1997 and 1998. In April this year, the IRB slapped Tenaga Nasional Bhd with an extra RM2.07 billion tax bill for the 2013-2014 tax years. In October 2016, the IRB also went after a subsidiary of Mega First Corp Bhd for RM22.8 million.


AirAsia worth more than meets the eye, group CEO says

AirAsia Bhd has been undermined by analysts as they have not taken into account the group’s growth potential from overseas joint ventures. Fernandes describes the “zero value” given to AirAsia’s Indonesia, Philippines and India businesses by analysts as “bizarre”.

“Our Indian operation could be a 200-plane operation by itself, because of the tourism potential in India and the middle class travelling out of India is massive. If you look at what we have done in China, where 18% of our revenue is coming from there, it shows you the potential. India is a function of how quick we want it to be profitable. It can be profitable now, but we are in a hurry to get to 20 aircraft which will then allow us to fly international [routes], and that is holding back the profitability.”


Loss of Starbucks Korea business ‘a temporary setback’

The loss of the Korean market in 1QFY18 was due to Starbucks Korea deciding to source its store sets — fixtures for the stores — from local manufacturers in order to stick to its timeline for store openings. Federal Furniture has been working on shortening its lead times and that it remains more cost-effective for Starbucks Korea to purchase store sets from Malaysia. As such, Choy foresees contribution from exports to Korea to bounce back within the next six years.

Starbucks Corp is Federal Furniture’s main customer in its manufacturing division — which makes modular caseworks, shop fixtures, and fitting and furniture for corporate customers — and typically accounts for about 90% of the division’s total sales.

The division currently serves Starbucks’ Asia-Pacific market, which comprises Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Cambodia, Vietnam, Australia and India, according to the group’s Annual Report 2017. The division is Starbucks’ first approved caseworks vendor outside the US, and has been the only approved caseworks vendor for its Asia-Pacific market for the past 17 years.

Choy shared that the supply of store sets to Starbucks India will be fully produced in that country by April 2018, as the 76% import duty imposed by Indian regulators has become too prohibitive to continue shipping materials from Malaysia. As such, the group is undertaking strategic outsourcing of its fixtures there while it finalises the setting-up of a legal entity in Bangalore to commence operations there. “Four out of 12 stores that have confirmed to be opened in our financial year 2018 (ending June 30, 2018) will use casework that has been manufactured there,” Choy said. The asset-light model Federal Furniture is deploying in India may be used for its planned entry as Starbucks’ fourth vendor in China.


U Mobile turns Ebitda-positive as it plans for IPO after GE14

“We are already Ebitda positive at this stage, and listing will come after election. Because if we go for listing, we got to look at the market, and the market at this stage is very uncertain. With that uncertainty, there is this overhang, so you don’t see a lot of activities in the market. Next year, the market is going to be as tough as this year, generally retail sentiment is still soft, despite what the GDP (gross domestic product) number says, the retail side is still very soft. From our case, hopefully after the election, whatever negative overhang will be lifted, and that should improve people’s sentiment. Hopefully, that will translate into higher spending.”

“Competition has always been intense, but [industry-wide] Ebitda margin is still largely the same. Next year’s capital expenditure (capex) will be at least RM1 billion. This year’s is already RM1 billion.”

Malaysia moving towards cashless society

Governor Tan Sri Muhammad Ibrahim said effective July 1, 2018 the instant transfer fee of 50 sen will be waived for up to RM5,000 per transaction by individuals and small medium enterprises (SMEs). However, the cheque fee would be increased from 50 sen to RM1.00, beginning Jan 2, 2021 to reflect the higher processing cost.

To encourage the use of the QR code payment, Bank Negara has issued an Interoperable Credit Transfer Framework (ICTF). “For the first time in our history, customers of banks and non-banks will soon be able to transfer funds across the network by just referring to the mobile phone number, identification number or QR code,” he said.

Curated Insights 2017.12.10

The impossibility of intelligence explosion

The first issue I see with the intelligence explosion theory is a failure to recognize that intelligence is necessarily part of a broader system — a vision of intelligence as a “brain in jar” that can be made arbitrarily intelligent independently of its situation. A brain is just a piece of biological tissue, there is nothing intrinsically intelligent about it.

In particular, there is no such thing as “general” intelligence. On an abstract level, we know this for a fact via the “no free lunch” theorem — stating that no problem-solving algorithm can outperform random chance across all possible problems. If intelligence is a problem-solving algorithm, then it can only be understood with respect to a specific problem. In a more concrete way, we can observe this empirically in that all intelligent systems we know are highly specialized.

If intelligence is fundamentally linked to specific sensorimotor modalities, a specific environment, a specific upbringing, and a specific problem to solve, then you cannot hope to arbitrarily increase the intelligence of an agent merely by tuning its brain — no more than you can increase the throughput of a factory line by speeding up the conveyor belt. Intelligence expansion can only come from a co-evolution of the mind, its sensorimotor modalities, and its environment.

In Terman’s landmark “Genetic Studies of Genius”, he notes that most of his exceptionally gifted subjects would pursue occupations “as humble as those of policeman, seaman, typist and filing clerk”. There are currently about seven million people with IQs higher than 150 — better cognitive ability than 99.9% of humanity — and mostly, these are not the people you read about in the news. Of the people who have actually attempted to take over the world, hardly any seem to have had an exceptional intelligence; anecdotally, Hitler was a high-school dropout, who failed to get into the Vienna Academy of Art — twice.

People who do end up making breakthroughs on hard problems do so through a combination of circumstances, character, education, intelligence, and they make their breakthroughs through incremental improvement over the work of their predecessors. Success — expressed intelligence — is sufficient ability meeting a great problem at the right time. Most of these remarkable problem-solvers are not even that clever — their skills seem to be specialized in a given field and they typically do not display greater-than-average abilities outside of their own domain.

So, a person with an IQ of 130 is statistically far more likely to succeed in navigating the problem of life than a person with an IQ of 70 — although this is never guaranteed at the individual level — but here’s the thing: this correlation breaks down after a certain point. There is no evidence that a person with an IQ of 170 is in any way more likely to achieve a greater impact in their field than a person with an IQ of 130.

Why would the real-world utility of raw cognitive ability stall past a certain threshold? This points to a very intuitive fact: that high attainment requires sufficient cognitive ability, but that the current bottleneck to problem-solving, to expressed intelligence, is not latent cognitive ability itself. The bottleneck is our circumstances. Our environment, which determines how our intelligence manifests itself, puts a hard limit on what we can do with our brains — on how intelligent we can grow up to be, on how effectively we can leverage the intelligence that we develop, on what problems we can solve. All evidence points to the fact that our current environment, much like past environments over the previous 200,000 years of human history and prehistory, does not allow high-intelligence individuals to fully develop and utilize their cognitive potential.

And they are only able to succeed because they are standing on the shoulder of giants — their own work is but one last subroutine in a problem-solving process that spans decades and thousands of individuals. Their own individual cognitive work may not be much more significant to the whole process than the work of a single transistor on a chip.

It is civilization as a whole that will create superhuman AI, not you, nor me, nor any individual. A process involving countless humans, over timescales we can barely comprehend. A process involving far more externalized intelligence — books, computers, mathematics, science, the internet — than biological intelligence.

We don’t have to speculate about whether an “explosion” would happen the moment an intelligent system starts optimizing its own intelligence. As it happens, most systems are recursively self-improving. We’re surrounded with them. So we know exactly how such systems behave — in a variety of contexts and over a variety of timescales. You are, yourself, a recursively self-improving system: educating yourself makes you smarter, in turn allowing you to educate yourself more efficiently. Likewise, human civilization is recursively self-improving, over a much longer timescale.

Google’s AlphaZero destroys Stockfish in 100-game match

This would be akin to a robot being given access to thousands of metal bits and parts, but no knowledge of a combustion engine, then it experiments numerous times with every combination possible until it builds a Ferrari. That’s all in less time that it takes to watch the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. The program had four hours to play itself many, many times, thereby becoming its own teacher.

“We have always assumed that chess required too much empirical knowledge for a machine to play so well from scratch, with no human knowledge added at all,” Kasparov said. “Of course I’ll be fascinated to see what we can learn about chess from AlphaZero, since that is the great promise of machine learning in general—machines figuring out rules that humans cannot detect. But obviously the implications are wonderful far beyond chess and other games. The ability of a machine to replicate and surpass centuries of human knowledge in complex closed systems is a world-changing tool.”


CVS’s $68 billion bid to bring one-stop shopping to health care

The buyout would combine the largest U.S. drugstore chain with the third-biggest health insurer. CVS also manages drug benefits plans for thousands of employers and insurers, a business that could help steer some of Aetna’s 22 million customers to CVS pharmacy counters when they fill a prescription. Already, CVS has 1,100 MinuteClinics in its pharmacies, where nurse practitioners and physician assistants provide routine care such as flu shots or wrapping sprained ankles. It’s also trying out hearing and vision centers in a handful of locations. If the merger goes through, CVS plans to build mini-health centers in many more of its 9,700 stores, turning them into places where Aetna members—and customers of rival insurers—get convenient low-level care for ailments and chronic diseases. And having a closer tie to where customers are treated could help Aetna better manage their ailments earlier, more efficiently—and less expensively.

The integration is part of a wide-ranging effort by health insurance companies and the federal government to shift care away from paying for each service and toward paying doctors and hospitals for taking better care of patients and keeping them healthier. The approach, known as value-based care, challenges the industry’s traditional reimbursement models.

CVS and Aetna say they’ll be able to reduce costs by directing some patients to lower-cost sites of care in CVS stores, keeping them out of emergency rooms and hospitals. About 70 percent of the U.S. population lives within 3 miles of a CVS location, according to David Larsen, an analyst at Leerink Partners. “This is going to be appealing to a huge number of people,” says Ingrid Lindberg, president of Kobie Marketing Inc. and a former chief customer experience officer at health insurer Cigna Corp. “There’s a large majority of people who are truly driven by ease and convenience when it comes to their care.”


This company is about to flood the U.S. with cheap HIV drugs

Laurus is one of the world’s biggest suppliers of ingredients used in anti-retrovirals, thanks to novel chemistry that delivers cheaper production costs than anyone else. Now, its chief executive officer, Satyanarayana Chava, wants to use the same strategy selling his own finished drugs in the U.S. and Europe. He predicts some generics that Laurus produces will eventually sell for 90 percent less than branded HIV drugs in the U.S., slashing expenditures for a disease that’s among the costliest for many insurers.

The patent expiries are starting this month when Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.’s Sustiva loses protection. Gilead Sciences Inc.’s Viread follows next month. Both companies didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Though Laurus doesn’t yet make the actual pills those patients take, it’s become a dominant supplier of the key ingredients that make them work. The best way to fight HIV is with a combination of different drugs, and because Viread and Sustiva form key parts of some of the most effective combinations, the inclusion of generic versions of these chemicals could bring down the cost of the whole treatment. One analysis cited by the Department of Health and Human Services found that replacing a three-medicine, branded combination with multiple pills, including a generic version of Sustiva, could save the U.S. $900 million its first year.

Laurus controls about 66 percent of the global market for efavirenz, the chemical name for Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Sustiva, and 33 percent for tenofovir, the chemical name for Gilead’s Viread, according to a report earlier this year by investment bank Jefferies Group LLC.

The hidden player spurring a wave of cheap consumer devices: Amazon

That future? We’re going to get better products for ludicrously low prices, and big brands across a range of categories — the Nests and Netgears of the world — are going to find it harder than ever to get us to shell out big money for their wares.

To hit the $20 price, Wyze licensed the camera’s hardware from a Chinese company, then created its own software. It also cut out just about every middleman, including most retailers. And it’s banking on long-run success. While Wyze is just breaking even on its first camera, its founders believe internet-connected home devices will be a growth category. They plan to establish a trusted brand with the first camera, then release a succession of products that they hope to sell in large numbers, at low prices.

…what was unique about Amazon was that its store encouraged low prices while heavily penalizing companies that made shoddy products. “It’s not a race to the bottom,” Mr. Fung said. “Sellers are forced to create better products at lower pricing, and sellers who aren’t able to do that just get weeded out.”

The classic worry about Amazon is that it puts local retailers out of business. Now another worry is that by exposing global brands to the harsh reality of low-priced competitors, it may put them out of business, too. Mr. Wingo said global brands across a variety of categories — electronics, apparel, home improvement — regularly approached his company looking for a way to compete with low-priced rivals on Amazon.

“There is this erosion of what it means to be a traditional consumer product brand,” Mr. Wingo said. “In a way, Amazon is providing all this information that replaces what you’d normally get from a brand, like reputation and trust. Amazon is becoming something like the umbrella brand, the only brand that matters.”


Proof Work aims to decentralize medical data by using the blockchain

The system, if successful, would be a big disruption to how health care data is handled today – where it’s often accessible only by the doctors and hospitals themselves, and where patients have to make special requests to have a copy of their own medical records. In the future, the goal is to allow patients to walk into a doctor’s office with all their medical records already on their phone.

This isn’t the first attempt to use technology to fix the problem with medical records; others have tried to centralize records for easier access, including Microsoft HealthVault, for example. One of the challenges getting prior systems to work was that healthcare companies aren’t necessarily interested in making it easier for patients to have access to their own medical records, says Suter. After all, the patients could go to another provider.

Pitney Bowes Parcel Shipping Index reveals 48 percent growth in parcel volume since 2014

China, a new addition to this year’s Index and by far the largest market examined, grew parcel volume by 52 percent in one year, increasing from 21 billion parcels in 2015 to 31 billion in 2016. But, even when excluding China’s prolific volumes, the Index forecasts a strong and accelerating pace of growth in parcels throughout the world. On average, the other 12 major markets studied have grown 4.3% annually since 2012 and are projected to grow 4.5% – 5.4% annually through 2021. The United States (at 13 billion) and Japan (at 9 billion) were also among the largest markets by parcel volume. In terms of investment, the United States ranked highest, spending $96 billion on parcel shipments, followed by China at $60 billion and Japan at $22 billion.

“The continued rise of ecommerce globally is keeping the parcel shipping market strong through 2021 as consumers are increasingly looking to online shopping for convenience, price and availability of products from around the world,” said Lila Snyder, executive vice president and president, Global Ecommerce, Pitney Bowes. “As consumer expectations continue to rise, shipping technology and service providers will need to help retailers and marketplaces meet those demands.”


China’s blow to recycling boosts U.S.’s $185 billion plastic bet

China is undoing decades of effort that built a massive scrap recycling industry — the cheapest way to produce plastic products for its growing economy. The country accounted for 51 percent of the world’s plastic scrap imports last year, with the biggest contribution coming from the U.S., according to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, an international trade group. The China ban could shift about 2 percent of global polyethylene plastics supply from recycled to new material.

That’s because the U.S. has become the cheapest place in the world to make plastic, thanks to a fracking boom that’s created a glut of natural gas, the main feedstock for manufacturing. Taking advantage of low gas prices, chemical producers have invested an unprecedented $185 billion to build new capacity in the U.S., according to the American Chemistry Council, an industry group.

Exporting high-value resins to China instead of cheap scrap could help chip away at the U.S.’s $250 billion trade deficit with the nation. For producers, however, China’s ban on importing scrap will boost demand for new plastics by enough to nearly absorb all the new polyethylene output coming online next year in the U.S., Andrews said in the Morgan Stanley report. The effects can already be seen in China’s increased appetite for virgin polyethylene, with imports up 19 percent this year as scrap polyethylene imports dropped 11 percent, he said.

India ‘dream’ plan to cut freight times to 14 hours from 14 days

Japan, seeking to boost ties with India as a counterweight to China, is partly financing the DMIC project and holds a 26 percent stake. Indeed, Japan’s Tokyo-Osaka industrial corridor is an inspiration. NEC Corp. has invested in a joint-venture project with the Indian government that is already providing logistics support along the route.

The goal is to set up a “plug and play” environment for investors, says Jai Prakash Shivahare, managing director of the Dholera Industrial City Development. “We are looking to tie up with anchor investors so that they can also start their construction and in one-and-half-years, when our site is ready, their factories can also be ready.”

Work has now begun in four of the eight manufacturing destinations proposed in the first phase of the industrial corridor. But it has been far from smooth sailing to get to this point as red tape and budget constraints across six states and numerous sprawling ministries slowed progress, causing some to walk away altogether.


BlackRock and Vanguard are less than a decade away from managing $20 trillion

None other than Vanguard founder Jack Bogle, widely regarded as the father of the index fund, is raising the prospect that too much money is in too few hands, with BlackRock, Vanguard and State Street Corp. together owning significant stakes in the biggest U.S. companies. “That’s about 20 percent owned by this oligopoly of three,” Bogle said at a Nov. 28 appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. “It is too bad that there aren’t more people in the index-fund business.”

The argument goes like this: The number of indexes now outstrips U.S. stocks, with the eruption of passive funds driving demand for securities within these benchmarks, rather than for the broader universe of stocks and bonds. That could inflate or depress the price of these securities versus similar un-indexed assets, which may create bubbles and volatile price movements.

We’re not near a tipping point yet. Roughly 37 percent of assets in U.S.-domiciled equity funds are managed passively, up from 19 percent in 2009, according to Savita Subramanian at Bank of America Corp. By contrast, in Japan, nearly 70 percent of domestically focused equity funds are passively managed, suggesting the U.S. can stomach more indexing before market efficiency suffers. There’s even further to go if you look globally: Only 15 percent of world equity markets — including funds, separately managed accounts and holdings of individual securities — are passively managed, said Joe Brennan, global head of Vanguard’s equity index group, in an interview.


A growing number of young Americans are leaving desk jobs to farm

She joined a growing movement of highly educated, ex-urban, first-time farmers who are capitalizing on booming consumer demand for local and sustainable foods and who, experts say, could have a broad impact on the food system.

For only the second time in the last century, the number of farmers under 35 years old is increasing, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest Census of Agriculture. Sixty-nine percent of the surveyed young farmers had college degrees — significantly higher than the general population.

Young farmers are also creating their own “food hubs,” allowing them to store, process and market food collectively, and supply grocery and restaurant chains at a price competitive with national suppliers.

Midsize farms are critical to rural economies, generating jobs, spending and tax revenue. And while they’re large enough to supply mainstream markets, they’re also small enough to respond to environmental changes and consumer demand.

Singapore’s aging ‘time bomb’ will tick louder in 2018

At this rate, seniors in Singapore’s population will make up more than double the share of the youngest residents in 2030. Tan uses a compounded annual growth rate rather than adjusting for potential policy changes or alteration of trends such as fertility rates, meaning officials could still help redraw those lines, or at least make them appear less menacing, over the next decade. With already the oldest population in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the Singapore of 2030 will probably look a lot like the demographics-embattled Japan of 2016.


The Louvre Abu Dhabi is getting the $450 million Da Vinci painting

The New York Times reported later Wednesday that Saudi Prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud was the buyer, citing documents it reviewed. Christie’s declined to comment on the report.

The Louvre Abu Dhabi — a franchise of the Paris original — is a symbol of the oil-rich sheikhdom’s drive to boost its “soft power” credentials. To differentiate itself from neighboring Dubai, Abu Dhabi is targeting affluent tourists looking for culture and art and it has also built hotels, theme parks and malls. The organization behind the museum became one of the most aggressive buyers on the global art market over the last decade. It opened last month with more than 600 artworks for its permanent collection, including such Old Master paintings as Giovanni Bellini’s “Madonna and Child.” Da Vinci’s “La Belle Ferronnière” is on loan there from the Louvre in Paris.

Company Notes 2017.12.08

SCGM Q2 FY2018 Results

The Group foresees the new Kulai factory targeted to be completed in the fourth quarter of current financial year ending 30 April 2018 will contribute positively to its future revenue and net profit following the expansion of its production capacity and installation of new production lines.

Cautious response to Top Glove buy

There is so much upside to the new deal in the making, considering the surgical gloves business offers higher margins due to its product quality, technology and the research and development involved in its production. It is also a market that has high barriers to entry that confront many glove players in a rapidly growing global healthcare industry.

“Our indicative US dollar cost of funding range from 2.5% to 3%, whereas ringgit borrowings cost is at 4.5% to 4.8%, a difference of around 1.5% – which translates to around RM19mil savings per annum,” he says. Therefore, a dollar loan will give us a perfect natural hedge, in the event of currency fluctuations. Ringgit borrowings, may result in mismatch due to the inflow of sales proceeds in dollars,” he elaborates.

“New expansions that has kicked off in the last few years will start generating cash and this will improve our cash flow in FY18. This will be more than sufficient to meet our organic expansion capex of around RM200mil to RM250mil.”


Kelington set to be lifted by gases

The contract, which involves on-site supply of nitrogen gas to a photovoltaic cell manufacturer in Malaysia, will provide a long-term revenue of about RM20mil over a period of ten years.

“We started our operations seventeen years ago to provide ultra high purity (UHP) gas delivery solutions to the electronics and semiconductor industry, which is still our mainstay business. Given our long-built experience and expertise in the field, it is relevant for us to penetrate the industrial gas segment in order to provide an end-to-end service. The venture into the industrial gas segment is a step in the right direction as it is synergistic with our existing core business. In fact, our clients consist of electronic manufacturers who utilise gases in their manufacturing processes.”

Kelington plans to invest up to RM60mil to build a carbon dioxide gas purification plant, which is anticipated to contribute revenue from FY19. “The new venture complements our existing project-based business model of providing engineering services which are usually completed within six to 12 months. In the coming years, demand for liquid carbon dioxide is expected to grow further on the back of rising demand in the food and beverages industry as well as the upcoming roll-out of large infrastructure and construction projects.”


More build-to-suit projects to come — Axis REIT

With limited “Grade A” assets in the market, allowing REITs to embark on build-to-suit projects will enable Axis REIT to create their own “Grade A” assets, said Leong, adding that the promoters of the REIT were previously “builders of industrial assets”. As REITs are only allowed to develop up to 15% of their portfolio, Leong said Axis REIT cannot proceed with redeveloping Phase 2 of the Axis PDI Centre as Phase 1 already takes up about 10% of their assets under management (AUM). Currently, the Phase 2 of Axis PDI Centre is still generating income as a storage yard for cars.

Over 12 years, the REIT’s portfolio has grown from five properties to 39 properties comprising 7.6 million sq ft and 132 tenants, with a total AUM of RM2.25 billion in size. “The yields for our property are pretty good. Overall our portfolio [yield] is almost 9% [per annum],” said Leong. The REIT is targeting to reach RM3 billion in AUM next year, and is looking at yield-accretive acquisitions. With the conclusion of a private placement two weeks ago that raised RM178.75 million, Leong said the exercise will enable Axis REIT to reduce their gearing to 29% from their current 36%. “[With] that, we will be able to allow more breathing space to provide a war chest for Axis REIT for growth next year,” said Leong.


Pensonic now at a crossroads, says CEO

“We have to allocate resources for future businesses to seek transformation in the next five to 10 years. Being in the home appliances segment, we missed out on the mobile phone and personal computer wave in the 1990s till 2000s. We want to make sure we don’t miss out on this digital age, particularly the IoT and wearables segment, which is why we have a consortium with some industry players to come up with a product or concept for the future.”

Pensonic has put together a team to focus on the e-commerce platform and is spending about RM500,000 for the infrastructure, Nelson said. Moving forward, its 700 retailers nationwide will also double up as pickup centres for customers, he said. On smart products, he said some 10 categories of appliances have been identified for value adding, where the group will incorporate the aspect of IoT into the products, which will take into account the evolving needs of customers.


Ajinomoto eyes 50% sales growth in two years

“Ajinomoto Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia are already experienced in diversification, so Malaysia can leverage from their know-how when pursuing this,” Yamamoto said at a briefing on the group’s first half results yesterday.

This year’s performance, Yamamoto said, will be driven by strong sales from its consumer to business segment, supported by product diversification efforts and pricing strategy. But she cautioned that rising production cost could limit its near-term profit growth.

Saudi Arabia is a major export market for Ajinomoto, followed by the United-Arab Emirates and Oman, among other markets in the Middle-East.


GDex expects mid-teen growth in FY18 revenue, says MD

However, stiff competition and the group’s ambition to expand “aggressively” both domestically and regionally over the next few years are likely to add further pressure to the courier service provider’s margins, he said.

This will include allocating between RM30 million and RM50 million per annum for capital expenditure (capex) over the next two years to double its handling capacity, which currently stands at 120,000 parcels a day.

Outside Malaysia, the group only has a presence in Indonesia via its subscription to PT Satria Antaran Prima’s convertible bonds, which it has until 2021 to exercise. Although Teong foresees the local courier industry consolidating in the near future, he said GDex will focus on organic growth in Malaysia instead of considering further acquisitions.


Astro to invest RM100m in JV

“The JV will extend Astro’s online presence among the Malay-language audience, propel its combined monthly unique visitors to approximately 10 million, and is in line with its goal to build Nusantara and Islamic content verticals. In pursuit of our journey of reinvention, Astro is embracing change brought about by digital and mobile while staying true to our core as a consumer-first company. Regionally, we will forge complementary win-win partnerships, as well as identify strategic and opportunistic investments for our growth portfolio, as well as giving us a seat at the table to learn from value creators and disrupters of the future.”


Gamuda says construction supply chain ‘overstretched’

Local contractors may face cost pressures from a tightening supply chain in the years to come as mega infrastructure projects begin rolling out.

Though Gamuda has been touted as one of the biggest potential beneficiaries of the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) project, Lin observed that “foreign funding usually comes with foreign participation”. “In an ironic sense, foreign participation can actually help ease the pressure on the [local] supply chain. But [these projects] will miss out on the benefits of localisation,” he said, adding that the government will have to weigh these factors in making any decision.


Acoustech exits audio business

“The disposal of the unprofitable audio segment will allow the group to focus on and utilise its resources solely for its core segment — property development. The divestment will eliminate any further erosion of the group’s profits that may result from the audio segment’s poor performance.”

“The proposed acquisition will allow the group to consolidate its supply channel and improve efficiency, resulting in longer-term cost savings and to ensure continuous supply of speaker units. By consolidating the supply chain, our group is expected to maintain better quality management and expand the future range of products that it can market to its customers. Currently, the board does not expect additional financial commitment to maintain FPT’s business. [However,] the management expects that further investments in FPT will help generate returns in the longer run through cost savings and faster turnaround for production requests. Therefore, Formosa Prosonic’s management expects FPT’s prospects to be favourable in the longer term based on the anticipated improvement in global demand for consumer electronic products.”

Move over tech. Here come Southeast Asia’s builders

With at least $323 billion in infrastructure spending in the pipeline in Southeast Asia and potentially more expected over the next few years, 2018 could well shape up as the year of builders’ stocks from Indonesia to the Philippines that have been the laggards in a broader market rally this year.

“Infrastructure has been under invested whether it’s clear water, clean air, energy, roads, ports, railways, education, health care — so there are tons of opportunities.”

Malaysia has allocated 210 billion ringgit ($51.6 billion) for projects in the 2018 budget of which 73 percent will go rail and public transport. About 55 billion ringgit allocated to East Coast Rail Link, 50 billion-60 billion ringgit given to Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail and 40 billion ringgit to phase 3 of the mass rapid transit system. Rail, affordable housing, roads and water infrastructure are major segments that will benefit from government’s spending next year, Sharizan Rosely, an analyst at CIMB wrote in a report dated Oct. 30. General election due by August 2018. Biggest construction companies: Gamuda Bhd., IJM Corp. Bhd., Sunway Construction Group Bhd., Malaysian Resources Corp. Bhd.


Klang Valley retail occupancy rate at 5-year low

“As of 3Q17 (third quarter of 2017), total retail stock in [the] Klang Valley stood at 61 million sq ft and estimated pipeline supply for those under construction is currently estimated at 16 million sq ft, comprising 23 projects. This implies an overall growth of 26% to current stock. In recent years, we have witnessed a mall closure in Petaling Jaya, and increasing occupancy stress, low footfall and retailers’ turnover, in some of the newer [and older] malls, matched by slower or worse, no rental growth and [an] increasing need to provide for tenants’ incentives.”

“Some of the newer malls have been struggling to establish market share that is getting more fragmentary and diminishing. “Construction of [the] mass rapid transit network has spurred a wave of transit-oriented developments, and more retail space supply can be expected along the train ride, resulting in overlapping catchments and intensified competition. It is and will continue to be very much impacted by the ongoing structural changes in the market, and not a normal supply-demand disequilibrium, that in the past could be resolved through the passage of time, rising affluence and population.”


Gas price hike to raise steel makers’ costs by RM200m a year

The average natural gas base tariff will be revised upwards by RM3.85 per MMBtu or 14.23% from RM26.46 per MMBtu to RM30.90 MMBtu for the non-power sector, including steel producers, in Peninsular Malaysia from Jan 1 to June 30, 2018. In addition to this, under the new gas cost pass-through (GCPT) mechanism, a surcharge of RM1.62 per MMBtu will apply to all tariff categories due to the higher liquefied natural gas price against the reference price in the base tariff during this period. This translates to an average effective tariff of RM32.52 per MMBtu across all categories, at an average increase of RM6.06 per MMBtu or 22.90%.


A lift for small developers

Smaller property developers will no longer need to just rely on bank financing to ease their cash flows. They can monetise upfront from the cash flows of their billings via a bond issue which potentially takes away businesses from banks.

“This will disrupt property financing in Malaysia, especially for bankers depending on businesses from small developers. Typically, developers need to wait for the three-year construction period before they are able to collect their portion of the development cash flows. For the smaller developers, liquidity is a huge issue.”


Ensure Chinese investments offer locals high-skilled jobs too

But to Wan Saiful, while MCKIP promises high-value investments and to grow the Malaysian economy, the immediate jobs created there have been mostly low-skilled construction jobs. Further, he thinks future jobs will likely be factory-based and that it is uncertain how locals can be transitioned into higher-level jobs once investors leave.

Likewise, he said tens of thousands of jobs have been created for locals in Africa via Chinese investments. “However, these have mostly been low-skilled,” he added. Citing a 2014 academic survey, he said among the 400 companies that invested in 40 African countries 80% to 97% were low-skilled roles which were occupied by locals.

Curated Insights 2017.12.03

A dynamic knowledge tool to understand the issues and forces driving transformational change across economies, industries, global issues and the Forum’s system initiatives.

How to tame Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple

The problem with price regulation is that Google doesn’t charge high prices—at least not to consumers, the traditional victims in monopoly cases. The company initially helped wipe out the profitability of newspapers and magazines, in part, by undercutting the price of print advertising. These days, however, Google can charge hefty prices to advertisers because it controls so much inventory and user data. Advertisers can feel they have no choice but to pay up, while consumers pay precisely zero to do searches or send emails.

Amazon is a “cheetelephant,” said one analyst: an elephant that runs as fast as a cheetah. It’s considerably faster than the regulators and lawmakers who have been caught flat-footed and are now wondering what, if anything, to do about its increasing market power, from books to groceries to moviemaking.

“If you look at the business models of these firms, none of these is a predatory pricing model. These firms are making a lot of money doing what they’re currently doing,” said Penn’s Hovenkamp. Besides, he said, “there are constantly new entrants” that would prevent a company from earning monopolistic profits. For antitrust enforcers, the problem is that by the time you know for sure whether a company predatorily drove rivals out of business, it’s too late to prevent it.

Facebook, in other words, is damned if it does censor and damned if it doesn’t. How is this likely to evolve? One possibility is that Facebook will tire of taking the heat and voluntarily submit to government regulation. A regulated Facebook would still have to employ people and algorithms to scour its website of forbidden materials, as it does today, but at least it could point the finger at lawmakers and regulators if questioned about its choices. The same would go for Google and some companies not covered here, such as Twitter.

It’s a good bet that there will be more such orders in coming years. Governments want money, and the four tech giants have a lot of it. In the meantime, while trying to come up with a better tax system, Europe is toying with the idea of taxing the tech companies’ revenue rather than their profits. The reasoning is that revenue is harder to manipulate. But revenue is a crude measure of a company’s ability to pay taxes. Revenue-based taxation would be too hard on companies with lots of revenue but little profit, and too easy on companies with little revenue but lots of profit.

Under an apportionment system, each country is still permitted to set its corporate tax rate however it chooses. But it will be able to charge its rate only on its little slice of the company’s global profit—a slice that’s determined by an agreed-upon formula. A country can no longer grab a bigger piece of a shrinking corporate-tax pie by cutting its rate below other countries’. In one stroke, the race to the bottom in tax rates is cut short.

Getting low-tax countries to go along with an apportionment system would be tough, though. No country wants to give up what makes it special. So something like the current tax system, albeit with fewer loopholes, is likely to persist for at least awhile. Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon will keep finding ways to pit countries against one another.


Why Tencent Could Become an Advertising Powerhouse Like Facebook

Tencent’s ad revenue could more than double to $11.4 billion by 2019, according to researcher eMarketer. The company is estimated to increase its market share in China’s digital ad space to 15 percent from about 9 percent, eMarketer said.

Social advertising, which relies on information from a user’s network, is still a nascent business in China. The model that drives Facebook only accounts for about 10 percent of mainland digital marketing with e-commerce and search ads still taking the lion’s share. Lau expects that to change. “Social advertising can play a larger role,” said Lau. “In China, we are kind of pioneering the categories” of that.

So Tencent’s chosen to exercise restraint, usually showing just one ad per day on WeChat’s “Moments”, a function similar to Facebook’s news feed, capping inventory by intention. That’s why it earns just $2.10 per daily active user on WeChat, versus Facebook’s $30.10, Morgan Stanley estimates.

To do that, it’s enlisted an army of more than 250 computer scientists to expand in artificial intelligence, focusing on natural language processing, image recognition and user behavior prediction. That investment is showing up in some areas: Tencent worked with BMW to target high-end users based on their friends and location logs, sending them WeChat ads through which they could book test drives. The end game is converting ads into purchases, which is why the company’s exploring also hotels, dining and property, Lau said.


How Tencent could help Snapchat

Integrating gaming into Snapchat might be a good idea – not just because it creates more ways to generate revenue, but also because it can enhance user engagement. Globally, more people watch gaming videos and streams than HBO, Netflix, ESPN, and Hulu combined. As Snapchat strives to add users globally, it would be smart to tap into the millions of gamers worldwide who are already spending hours each day playing games, many of which Tencent has invested in.

“There is a strong likelihood that the redesign of our application will be disruptive to our business in the short term. We’re willing to take that risk for what we believe are substantial long-term benefits to our business.”


Amazon focuses on machine learning to beat cloud rivals

The industry has turned into a race to provide customers tools and functions to use that data in new ways. Those tools are helping speed the transition to the cloud, since companies that don’t have access to them will be at a competitive disadvantage, Jassy said. “We are in a transition stage right now. Relatively few companies will own their own data centers, and those who do will have significantly smaller footprints. That means all of that data is moving to the cloud.”

The cloud computing market will grow to $89 billion in 2021, up from $35 billion today, according to technology research firm Gartner Inc.


Amazon AWS: Is that what the second headquarters is about? Asks Goldman

“While Amazon has never discussed any plans for a spin or any HQ2 plans relative to AWS, it is possible that the location of the new headquarters could provide some insight into the way management is thinking about the positioning of AWS.”

Terry’s curiosity is piqued by the fact that Amazon increasingly competes in the same industries that are customers for AWS, including gaming, healthcare and life sciences. Presumably, a separation of AWS might lessen the conflict there. Terry sees AWS being worth $430 billion, on a sum-of-the-parts basis, equaling 60% of Amazon’s enterprise value.


Broadcom could bid as much as $100 for Qualcomm and still see a payoff, says Canaccord

We assume Qualcomm settles its licensing dispute with Apple with Apple paying roughly half of what it previously paid Qualcomm for iPhone royalties. We also assume Qualcomm settles its dispute with Huawei or the other large OEM currently not paying Qualcomm royalties. We believe Broadcom management has solutions for Qualcomm’s disputes as part of its reasoning to make a bid for Qualcomm, but we have used these assumptions based on our Qualcomm scenario analysis used for our Qualcomm price target in our last published Qualcomm note. We also assume $500M in synergies achieved between Qualcomm and NXP in our scenario analysis including NXP. Further, we assume a 4% interest rate on combined debt for an acquisition with NXP and 3.5% for an acquisition without NXP given larger debt levels needed if the acquisition includes NXP. We also assume $1.5B in F2019 synergies between Broadcom in Qualcomm and a combined company tax rate of 15%.


Beyond Tesla’s semi truck: The future of trucking and transportation

We are currently entering a period of a rapid change in our transportation systems. And as I see it, it’s the innovator’s dilemma playing out in the wild: Incumbents like General Motors are moving too slowly to adapt to an all-electric future—wasting billions of dollars on stock buybacks—while upstarts like Tesla, unencumbered by legacy business models, are forging a path into a clean, fully-electric, fully-autonomous future. (GM has spent almost $17 billion in the last several years buying back its stock, three times what Tesla has spent building Gigafactories.)

One is that the cost of trucking falls by at least 50%, if not more. No driver, double the passive productivity, and in essence, you eliminate most of the safety problems. And by the way, if you apply this [autonomous] technology, many of the concerns we have from a safety standpoint about large trucks go away and you can make the trucks bigger. So, the costs fall at least in half. Transit time falls at half too, because you’re not waiting.

Let’s look at it from a technical standpoint. There are two competencies that keep trucking firms alive. The first one is their ability to match demand and supply; which is very important, and the second is their ability to manage drivers. There’s a modest competency with respect to equipment, but it’s not that important. Well, in the first place, if you if you eliminate the drivers, you eliminate half of the value-added that the trucker provides. And second, if you go to integrated big data, the business of matching capacity to demand becomes much easier. So, what it does is it either eliminates, or dramatically changes the principal competencies of whatever we call this entity which we now call “trucker” provides to the marketplace. So it’s big, big changes.


Why Tesla’s fuel efficiency advantage won’t last

At the early part of the 2000’s trucks getting 5 mpg were common. Today’s fleet is more like 7 mpg. That two miles per gallon increase means diesel used falls from 20,000 gallons a year down to under 15,000 gallons. Best-in-class trucks today might approach 9-10 miles per gallon. That three mpg increase versus fleet average (presumably what Tesla used in its cost calculator) is another 30% drop in fuel use, down to 10,000 gallons. The SuperTruck programs that get 12 or more mpg, (using many of the same aero techniques that Tesla’s Semi uses) would use around 8,000 gallons of fuel. In other words the opportunity to lower the Tesla cost of ownership with fuel savings is currently 15,000 diesel gallons a year, but will soon enough be only half that, using current line-of-sight technologies. At current fleet average diesel costs the savings opportunity on 100,000 miles per year is $37,500 per truck. At current best-in-class the available pool of offset-able fuel cost is $25,000. On future trucks, perhaps not too far distant from Tesla’s launch, is only $20,000 per year. All this assumes you can run a truck 100,000 miles a year in 300 to 500 mile increments.

The future difference between Tesla’s astonishing 19 mpg equivalent and the SuperTruck 12 mpg is only 3,000 gallons a year of diesel equivalent. Compared with the 7,000 gallons per truck per year already in the diesel improvement pipeline, that 3,000 gallons doesn’t look as compelling.


Inside the revolution at Etsy

Inside Etsy, Mr. Silverman’s reorganization has upended parts of the company once considered sacrosanct. Last month, Etsy changed its mission statement. Gone was a verbose commitment “to reimagine commerce in ways that build a more fulfilling and lasting world.” Instead, the mission was reduced to just three words, “Keep commerce human,” accompanied by a spreadsheet outlining its goals for economic, social and ecological impact. And because remaining a B Corp would require the company to change its legal standing in Delaware, where it is incorporated, Etsy will let that certification lapse.


Paytm aims to become largest full-service digital bank

“Digital payments was our entry point, we want to become a vertically-integrated financial services company.”

Payments banks can accept deposits and remittances but cannot lend. Paytm is one of less than a dozen entities that got permits to start payments banks to bring financial services within easy reach of about a fifth of India’s 1.3 billion people who do not have access to organized financial services.

Paytm Payments Bank is majority-owned by Sharma. One97 Communications, which is backed by Alibaba Group Holding, Ant Financial Services and others, holds the remaining 49 percent. The payments bank morphed out of Paytm’s digital wallet which got a huge boost and amassed over a hundred million customers after India took its high currency bills, totaling nearly 90 percent of the value of cash, out of circulation last November.

Sharma may have found a way around the regulatory hurdles that bar lending. One97 Communications will introduce a charge card and offer monthly installment-based loans, he said. “We will launch share trading and insurance products very soon,” said Sharma. “We want to become an Internet-age financial services company.”

Business lessons from Ben Thompson of Stratechery

“Zero distribution costs. Zero marginal costs. Zero transactions. This is what the Internet enables, and it is completely transforming not just technology companies but companies in every single industry.” “Aggregation Theory is a completely new way to understand business in the Internet age.”

“instead of some companies serving the high end of a market with a superior experience while others serve the low-end with a “good-enough” offering, one company can serve everyone…. it makes sense to start at the high-end with customers who have a greater willingness-to-pay, and from there scale downwards, decreasing your price along with the decrease in your per-customer cost base (because of scale) as you go (and again, without accruing material marginal costs). Many of the most important new companies, including Google, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Snapchat, Uber, Airbnb and more are winning not by giving good-enough solutions to over-served low-end customers, but rather by delivering a superior experience that begins at the top of a market and works its way down…”

“Apple and Amazon do have businesses that qualify as aggregators, at least to a degree: for Apple, it is the App Store (as well as the Google Play Store). Apple owns the user relationship, incurs zero marginal costs in serving that user, and has a network of App Developers continually improving supply in response to demand. Amazon, meanwhile, has Amazon Merchant Services, which is a two-sided network where Amazon owns the end user and passes all marginal costs to merchants (i.e. suppliers).”

“Once an aggregator has gained some number of end users, suppliers will come onto the aggregator’s platform on the aggregator’s terms, effectively commoditizing and modularizing themselves. Those additional suppliers then make the aggregator more attractive to more users, which in turn draws more suppliers, in a virtuous cycle. This means that for aggregators, customer acquisition costs decrease over time; marginal customers are attracted to the platform by virtue of the increasing number of suppliers.”

“Breaking up a formerly integrated system — commoditizing and modularizing it — destroys incumbent value while simultaneously allowing a new entrant to integrate a different part of the value chain and thus capture new value.”


Active vs. passive vs. Amazon et al.

“Sectors such as finance, information technology, media, and pharmaceuticals — which have the highest margins — are developing a winner-take-all dynamic, with a wide gap between the most profitable companies and everyone else.”

“I have long described Amazon as a Field of Dreams company, one that goes for higher revenues first and then thinks about ways of converting those revenues into profits; if you build it, they will come. In coining this description, I am not being derisive but arguing that the market’s willingness to be patient with the company is largely a result of the consistency with [which] Jeff Bezos has told the same story for the company, since 1997, and acted in accordance with it.”

“These models have an in-built structure where they are going to tip into winner-take-all areas. The cost of adding a new user gets smaller and smaller the bigger you get. [This starts] creating a competitive advantage that gets harder and harder to bridge.”

It’s not unusual for a few stocks to drive broader market performance in a given year, but we would be foolish to ignore that it has been the same several stocks quite frequently in recent years. Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google are responsible for roughly 20% of the S&P 500’s performance this year, and generated more than the entire return of the index in 2015.


The secret to tech’s next big breakthroughs? Stacking chips

The advantage is simple physics: When electrons have to travel long distances through copper wires, it takes more power, produces heat and reduces bandwidth. Stacked chips are more efficient, run cooler and communicate across much shorter interconnections at lightning speed.

Chip stacking enables totally new capabilities too. Some phone cameras stack an image sensor directly on top of the chip that processes the image. The extra speed means they can grab multiple exposures of an image and fuse them together, capturing more light for dim scenes.

But Mr. Dixon-Warren says the spread of 3-D chips is rapid and their takeover inevitable. A decade ago, this technology was limited almost exclusively to university labs; five or six years ago, it was still hard to find commercial examples. But now it’s popping up all over, in applications like networking and high-performance computing and in high-end wearables like the Apple Watch.


How does Costco sell 18-year-old single malt Scotch for $38?

“Costco has a volume deal with [spirits] companies including Edrington and Diageo. They agree to buy a certain amount of product at a certain price, which is far lower than everyone else is paying. For products like Johnnie Walker Blue or Macallan, it’s virtually impossible to beat Costco on price.”

“If Costco can control the importation of the whisky, get someone to distribute it to them at cost (or at very slim single-digit margins due to high volume) and then sell it at very low margins, then they’re golden.”

Finally, one reason rarely considered for why Costco might be able to offer better pricing is proof. Typically, whisky connoisseurs would want that 25-year-old Scotch to have some decent heft after all those years of concentrating in barrel. Alcohol is a conduit for flavor, after all. But all Kirkland Signature Scotches are sold at 80 proof, meaning that these whiskies are watered down to the absolute lowest legal limit and, thus, Costco is able to empty barrels into way more bottles.


Big oil and auto makers throw a lifeline to the combustion engine

The new lubricants are meant to help auto makers build smaller, turbocharged engines that are still quite powerful, resulting in efficiency gains close to 15% compared with older models. Optimizing internal combustion engines could boost efficiency by an additional 25%—a calculation that might tempt auto makers from spending more on electric-vehicle technology. Other efforts to enhance performance include adding gears to transmissions and making vehicles more aerodynamic.

The gains from engine oil alone are limited, however. Industry experts say the latest lubricants typically boost fuel economy by less than 1%, primarily by reducing the amount of energy needed to pump a piston. Even so, it is a highly cost-effective solution that adds up when spread across millions of vehicles.


‘It’s beautiful’: This Toronto startup is investors’ secret weapon to beating the market

Legal experts say investors may be risking more than their capital when using such alternative data since case law hasn’t yet determined what crosses the line into privacy violations or insider trading, but it’s a risk a growing number of financial institutions are willing to take, especially since in Apache’s case, and many others, it has paid off.

“That is the original alpha source, knowing something the market doesn’t know. It’s beautiful,” he said. “If you can come to them with a genuine information advantage, where they can know something their peers in the market do not know that’s tradable, that’s hugely valuable.”

Quandl is particularly interested in companies that produce what it calls “exhaust” data, or data collected as part of a company’s normal operations without intending to turn it into a revenue source. For example, insurance companies keep records of how many new car insurance policies they sell, as well as which vehicle manufacturer’s model is being insured, which happens to be a great predictor of new car sales before the automakers release the data themselves.

But Quandl faces a dilemma after convincing suppliers to sell their data: the more clients the company sells the data to, the less of an investing edge it provides, making it less valuable. To solve that problem, Quandl uses the data to build a predictive model to make an educated guess about how much money could be invested before the data loses its advantage and then sells it to a limited number of clients accordingly.


About 11% of land in Japan is unclaimed

That’s about 41,000 square kilometers (16,000 square miles), which is equivalent to the size of Japan’s southwestern island of Kyushu, or almost as large as Denmark. By 2040, land equivalent to Japan’s second-largest island of Hokkaido will be unclaimed or abandoned, according to a panel of experts and government representatives. This will cost the nation roughly 6 trillion yen ($54 billion) over the period 2017-2040, including lost development opportunities and uncollected taxes, the panel says.

“Land prices are falling in the depopulating regions,” Yamanome said. “Not only is it impossible to make money by owning some land, but also you can’t get rid of it because regional real estate markets are stale.”


Great products vs. great businesses

A product is something that solves someone’s problem. A business is a product that works so well that people will pay more than it costs to produce.

But losses come in different flavors. There is a difference between a company that loses money because it’s investing in the infrastructure needed to become a profitable company, and a company that loses money because it can’t charge customers a price that reflects what it costs to run the business. But we often conflate the two, treating all loss-making startups with a sense of, “It’s OK, they’re growing.”

Companies are staying private longer than they used to. So venture investors that specialize in the early phase of big-losses-because-we’re-investing-in-what-it-takes-to-build-a-profitable-business have found themselves holding mature companies that in a different era would have been passed onto investors who demanded a sustainable business model with profits. In any other era, Uber, Airbnb, Pinterest, and others all would have been public companies by now. And public markets almost certainly wouldn’t let losses pile up for as long as they have. We’ve seen this with Blue Apron and Snap, whose shares have fallen between 50% and 70% since going public just months ago. Both make amazing products that attracted armies of users, which VC investors oogled over. But public investors took one look at their business models and said, “What the hell is this?!” Who knows what that means for their future as standalone companies.


Pricing power: Delighting customers vs mortgaging your moat

The problem with this source of pricing power is that it comes with an off balance sheet liability. A sort of “negative goodwill” that grows every time you increase prices. While the profits might roll in for awhile, one day the customers will revolt. At the very least, the perceived excessive pricing of the well water will create a huge incentive for customers to try any new competitor that comes to town. While the high pricing makes it look like the company has a competitive advantage, in fact the excess returns are being created by a process that increases the likelihood of a successful competitive assault sometime in the future.


Lessons from a legendary short seller

“Because I never wanted to get up in the morning hoping that things would be getting worse. All intellectuals I think — and I don’t use that as a particularly flattering term — but all intellectuals tend to have a pessimistic streak.”

“I would forget the shorting. I think it’s over. It’s over for one simple reason: If shorts start working, that is, stocks go down for any sustained period of time, a great many people who are not now shorting will start shorting. There is a limited supply of stocks to borrow to sell short. Those stocks that are good shorts tend to be very obvious. As I’ve often said, I can predict with confidence that you’ll die. I cannot predict that you’ll be born, and so failure is analytically obvious and everybody piles into the same short. . . . I do believe if shorting really becomes profitable again, it’s going to become so crowded that most people won’t be able to borrow stock.”

Pulling iron from brain may offer hope in Alzheimer’s fight

The familiar metal is key to numerous brain functions, but too much of it is toxic. Researchers in Melbourne showed two years ago that iron levels in the brain can predict when people will get Alzheimer’s disease. Now, the team aims to show how removing excessive amounts with a drug called deferiprone can stave off the memory-robbing disorder.


Laptops are great. But not during a lecture or a meeting.

Laptops distract from learning, both for users and for those around them. It’s not much of a leap to expect that electronics also undermine learning in high school classrooms or that they hurt productivity in meetings in all kinds of workplaces.


Company Notes 2017.12.01

GHL Systems Q3 FY2017 Results

The Group has successfully deployed since 2015, its TPA merchant acquiring tie-ups with CIMB (physical merchants) and Global Payments (online and physical merchants) and in 2016, additional tie-ups with Alipay (Thailand) and RCBC group (Philippines). GHL group has commenced merchant acquiring for Alipay in Malaysia in 2Q17 and AFPI (Beep card) in Philippines for merchant acquiring in expected in 4Q17. The group remains optimistic of further developing TPA as a key growth engine for the group given the changes in the payment landscape as e-payments gain further traction as driven by not only regulatory directives but also positive changes in consumer preferences towards e-payments.


JHM Consolidated Q3 FY2017 Results

The declined in revenue was mainly due to worldwide components shortage and extended lead times in the supply chain.

The average inventory turnover days has reduced from 53 days to 39 days as a result of the continuing efforts of the Group in improving the inventory turnover efficiently.

Despite of facing the worldwide shortage of raw materials, particularly the passives, the Group’s outlook remains strong and bright with the growing acceptance of LED lamps in automotive market.


Dufu Technology Q3 FY2017 Results

We expect sales to continue to remain favorable towards end of 2017 as our major product is driven by the growth in high-capacity nearline HDDs as well as stabilization of client storage demand. The long-term future of HDDs are likely rests with high capacity HDDs, particularly in data centers serving cloud storage applications. The demand for high capacity storage drives, enhanced performance, and lower storage cost is set to rise. Global internet penetration, the rise in e-commerce in emerging markets, and the current trend for high-resolution media standards are the likely drivers for the continuing rise in global data storage demand.


Perak Transit Q3 FY2017 Results

The outlook of integrated public transportation terminal operations segment is expected to the favourable driven by the Group’s plans for expansion in other part of Perak, whereby the construction of the Terminal Kampar has commenced and it is on schedule. It is expected to be completed by 4th quarter of 2018. In addition to Terminal Kampar, the Group’s plans include similar integrated public transportation terminal in Bidor and Tronoh. As of this juncture, the Group is unable to determine the construction cost for the terminals to be built as the construction project is still at its preliminary stage and the approvals for construction have yet to be obtained from the relevant authorities. In this regards to the status of the Bidor and Tronoh lands, the acquisition of the lands are pending completion subject
to the fulfilment of the condition precedent as announced on 19 January 2017 (Bidor), 18 September 2017 (Bidor), 28 March 2017 (Tronoh) and 27 November 2017 (Tronoh) respectively.

The Group’s bus operations segments outlook is also positive driven by Stage Bus Service Transformation programme as the operation runs all the 19 approved routes since September 2016 with 45 express buses fully delivered in March 2017.


Pos Malaysia Q2 FY2018 Results

The Group’s prospects remain positive as our business continues to be largely driven by the strong e-Commerce growth in Malaysia and we are optimistic that the establishment of the Digital Free Trade Zone (DFTZ) will drive cross-border e-Commerce volume, especially for Malaysian small and medium enterprises (SMEs). This is expected to be positive for the prospects of our e-Commerce related businesses, namely our courier, eFulfilment, air cargo logistics and international mail business.

On the digital front, we are looking to introduce digital services that are relevant to our customers as digitalisation and demographic changes have encouraged us to be more innovative in providing services that suit the changing lifestyle needs of the Malaysian public, especially the younger generation. Accordingly, we expect to launch our Digital Mailbox product in early 2018 that will provide a range of digital services catering to mobile lifestyles. We are confident that our Digital Mailbox will, over time, become a key digital product offering.


EG Industries Q1 FY2018 Results

The Group is in the midst of construction of the IPC hub and expects to begin its IPC operations in December 2017. With the commencement of IPC operations, the Group is expected to obtain more competitive raw material prices through larger scale of procurement activities to maintain its competitiveness in global Electronic Manufacturing Services (“EMS”) market.


CAB Cakaran Q4 FY2017 Results

The integrated poultry farming and processing division’s performance in the next quarter may be moderately affected by the lower average selling price of broilers but will be mitigated by the lower cost of feeds. The recent strengthening of the Malaysian Ringgit and the world wide over supply of corn and soya, has contributed to the lower cost of feeds.

The value added food products manufacturing and trading division’s performance will be impacted by the continuous losses at Farm’s Best Food Industries Sdn. Bhd.. Management expects the performance of this division to show improvement after the measure undertaken to improve operational efficiency as well as the upgrading of facilities are completed over the next few months.


Ta Ann Q3 FY2017 Results

Performance for the palm oil sector is expected to remain as the main profit contributor in the coming quarter. For timber sector, the underperformance is due to the low logs production in compliance with the certification exercise as well as the restricting logs export quota of 20% that took effect in July 2017.

Given to the low plywood inventory in Japan coupled with the infrastructure construction works for the coming Olympics which has accepted the Company plywood products for the said construction works, we expect the timber market to rebound.


OCK Group Q3 FY2017 Results

The Group aims to grow its recurring revenue business via build-own-and-lease and acquiring existing tower sites operators in ASEAN. For our tower leasing business expansion, the Group is leveraging on its established presence in ASEAN and its vast experiences in building telecommunication infrastructures and site maintenance of telecommunication infrastructure. The build-own-and-lease business model is based on building, owning and leasing back the tower sites to telecommunication operators over a long-term period.


Notion Vtec Q4 FY2017 Results

The auto braking plungers business is expected to have a double-digit growth in FY2018 especially in electric and hybrid cars. The production for the lifestyle consumer electronics segment will take to production as soon as possible as it is a high volume product. We have also made inroads to a major MNC production equipment maker in the semi-conductor space which has good prospects. The Group continues to invest in new technologies and diversifying its customer and industry bases.

Finally, due to the need to conserve cash in the light of the fire incident the Board has decided to defer any dividend payment for this and next quarter until things are back to normal.


IQ Group Q2 FY2018 Results

The Group’s first half year performance has been below expectations. Sales slowed during this period and performance was further impacted by some delays in the conclusion of new product sales. IQ is however blessed with considerable opportunity from both new and established business relations with on-going product development and related planned launches in the pipeline. The current volume of product development requirements is good from a new business perspective, but challenging from a resource and timing standpoint. We see that the current conditions will remain throughout the remainder of this financial year, but going forward thereafter we anticipate positive performance as the various new products are rolled out into the market. Improvements to IQ’s R&D structure are already implemented to accelerate results and to better position our speed to opportunity going forward.

Paper mill operations to boost BHS Industries’ earnings

As it stands BHS earlier this month signed a memorandum of understanding with China Nuclear Industry Huaxing Construction Co Ltd to jointly develop the second and third phases of the project. Phase 2 involves a factory with the capacity to produce 100,000 tonnes of box liner paper as well as 120,000 tonnes of corrugated paper. Meanwhile, Phase 3 will involve another factory with a capacity to produce 65,000 tonnes of tissue paper. Interestingly, Lim added that, “We are targeting to give the award on the final negotiation to the Chinese party for the main building of the factory (Phase 1 for 10,000 tonnes wood-free pulp and paper plant).”

Note that BHS has secured a five-year contract from the Malaysian government to publish past examination papers. It also disposed of a plot of land (from the 410-acre GTP project) for RM5.3 million to a third party to develop. The group is still looking for potential partners to jointly develop the project’s fourth and fifth phases. Phase 4 will involve the construction and development of a feed mill with production capacity of 30,000 tonnes of agro-feed using the microbial fermentation technology, as well as a fertiliser plant with a production capacity of 50,000 tonnes of fertiliser using the by-products produced from the biogas plant.

Phase 5 has been earmarked for light industries involving the construction and development of packaging and printing factories. Additionally, BHS is also looking to expand the GTP model to other states. The group signed a memorandum of understanding with Sarawak Land Consolidation and Rehabilitation Authority subsidiary Bau Palm Oil Mill Sdn Bhd (Bapom) on Nov 10 to jointly develop, implement and finance a waste management project to convert the palm oil biomass, which is supplied by Bapom into commercially viable products. On top of that, BHS is actively looking to develop a third GTP in Johor in the near future; a first step before spinning off the concept to other states as well. “We are targeting Johor as there are many palm oil mills over there,” explained Lim, adding that in the next four years the group could be looking at Indonesia for expansion as well.”

Printing and publishing remain the core business of the group, accounting for about 80% of its revenue in FY17. The remaining 20% came from park development and management activities. “[Revenue] contribution is mainly from our book printing and publishing [business] now, but you will soon see it overtaken by GTP Phase 1,” said Lim. He expects the revenue contributions to invert, with 80% of the revenue coming from GTP Pekan and 20% from the existing printing and publishing business.


Top Glove wants to buy Aspion for RM1.3bil to boost profits

Aspion is currently the second-largest producer of surgical gloves in the world, with an annual production of 1.4 billion pieces or an 18% market share. Lim said production at Aspion is projected to increase by another 1.6 billion pieces by 2019 due to the ongoing capacity expansion at its Kulim plant in Kedah. Top Glove has a 12% global market share in this segment, producing 665 million pieces a year. The surgical glove segment, prior to the acquisition, contributed about 5% of Top Glove’s revenue.

Aspion’s Kulim plant houses the company’s most recent technology and research and development centre. It also has manufacturing facilities in Kluang, Johor and Kota Bahru, Kelantan, catering mainly for examination gloves. Aspion owns cutting-edge technology, namely, its Finessis surgical glove which is known to be the only technology capable of reducing the number of viruses (such as HIV) transferred in cases of percutaneous injury.


EG Industries allocates RM30mil for plant expansion

Group chief executive officer and executive director Alex Kang said the expansion, to be funded through bank borrowings and internally generated funds, was to cater to the strong enquiries from customers for box-build contracts, reiterating the company’s stronger proposition in this segment.

“Not only has our box-build segment improved, but also our printed circuit board assembly (PCBA) segment as it remains the main revenue generator for EG Industries.”


Kim Teck Cheong Consolidated to realise its investments in FY19

In March, KTC acquired a 60% equity interest in Grandtop Marketing Sdn Bhd for B$600,000, which is principally engaged in the business of distribution of CPG in Brunei. He said the group plans to further invest in its infrastructure in FY18 — albeit with a smaller allocation — to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. He added that KTC is currently in talks with five to six notable third-party CPG brands in Sabah and Sarawak, which may come on stream in FY18.


Freight Management sees 10% growth in FY18 profit

“There is no such thing as saturation in the market as there are no more avenues to grow. There will always be customers who are looking for improvements in service. We just have to take advantage of our strength to gain market share.”

The sea freight segment will remain the group’s core business. “We have always been very strong in our sea freight segment, so it’s only natural that we try to keep building and growing this particular segment.”

On the group’s e-commerce segment under 65%-owned FM Hubwire Sdn Bhd, Chew said although there is an opportunity to grow, the loss-making business remains a challenge as it is a relatively new area for the group. “We started this about a year ago, but honestly the business has not really gained traction. We are exploring ways to boost the business. Although it may take a while, if we don’t get involved now it will be too late later. It is a challenge now, but we have the resources [to sustain it],” he said. The group, he added, hopes to see some traction in the business by end-FY18, and to turn a profit by FY19.