Curated Insights 2018.05.20

The spectacular power of Big Lens

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

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

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

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

The Moat Map

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

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

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

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

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

How much would you pay to keep using Google?

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

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


There is another

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

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


Subscriptions for the 1%

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

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

The Apple Services machine

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

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

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

MoviePass: the unicorn that jumped into Wall Street too soon

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

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

Cerebras: The AI of cheetahs and hyenas

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

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

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


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

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

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

China buys up flying schools as pilot demand rises

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

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

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

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

California will require solar power for new homes

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

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

Just half a percent

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

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

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

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

Regional Notes 2018.05.18

Japan seeks private sector’s help with blowout health costs

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

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


Short-term transitional issues expected in shift back to SST

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

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

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


Malaysia sees favorable growth outlook as policy risks mount

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Willowglen sees challenging year ahead

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

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

Curated Insights 2018.05.13

Who’s winning the self-driving car race?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Starbucks: A big deal should mean a sharper focus

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

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


Tinder: ‘Innovation’ can help it fight off Facebook

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

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

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


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

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


PayPal: How it can fight back against Amazon Pay

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

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

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

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

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

As Warren Buffett’s empire expands, many jobs disappear

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

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

The formula behind San Francisco’s startup success

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

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

Cheap innovations are often better than magical ones

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

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

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

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


The future of digital payments? Computational contracts, says Wolfram

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

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

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

A hedge-fund fee plan that only charges for alpha

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

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

Why winners keep winning

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

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

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

Regional Notes 2018.05.11

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

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

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

Kossan to spend RM1.5b on new base

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

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

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


Datasonic sees net profit surpass RM100m in FY19

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

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

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

Curated Insights 2018.05.06

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

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

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

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

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

Why Amazon and Google haven’t attacked banks

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

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

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

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

Free cash flow to whom?

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

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

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

Air pollution kills 7 million people a year, WHO reports

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

The Grumpy Economist: Basecoin

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


Ray Dalio: An unconventional take on success

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

Regional Notes 2018.05.04

Malaysia vote battle heats up with focus on jobs for young

The jobless rate “hides a lot of unpleasant things in the labor market: low pay, low productivity, low skill and a high number of foreign workers,” Zakariah Abdul Rashid, executive director of the Malaysian Institute of Economic Research, said at a conference in Kuala Lumpur in April. “Those unemployed are the youth, highly-qualified individuals who can’t get jobs.”

Foreign labor has underpinned that rebound. The central bank estimates that about 82 percent of the net jobs created in 2016 went to non-residents. Unemployment among 15 to 24 year olds stood at 10.8 percent last year, according to the World Bank, while joblessness among local graduates has increased more sharply than non-graduates since 2011, data from the central bank shows.

Documented overseas workers accounted for 12 percent of the labor force last year, after a steady decline from 16.1 percent in 2013, according to central bank data. Still, adding in the unregistered workers may boost the total amount of foreign labor to as high as 40 percent according to some estimates.

J-beauty: Japan’s sleeping giant awakens

The sleeping giant of the beauty industry, “J-beauty” has woken up. Long eclipsed by the success of K-beauty, the $13bn South Korean business built on insatiable demand for innovative sheet masks, snail extract creams and convoluted skincare routines (most recently resulting in Unilever’s purchase of skin-whitening brand Carver Korea for €2.27bn), J-beauty, its older, more sophisticated sister, is now re-entering the spotlight. The Japanese business has benefited from the growth in Chinese tourists, following limits imposed on travel to Korea by the Chinese government and a surge of enthusiasm for the Olympics in 2020. Japanese beauty exports are tipped to exceed $2.75bn this year.

As Okabe puts it: “K-beauty is driven by trends, it meets those tentative needs of the consumer which are hot or of the moment, whereas J-beauty is something far more sustainable, authentic and eternal.” While J-beauty can’t possibly compete with the entrepreneur culture of Korea, which has the manufacturing speed and efficiency to bring cutting-edge trends to market quickly, K-beauty can’t compete with Japan’s far more delicate and intricate beauty rituals, their obsession with beauty (Euromonitor reports that Japan has the highest per capita spend on skincare and cosmetics) and their long-term investment in technology.

Curated Insights 2018.04.29

Amazon shareholder letter 2017

In the very first lesson, the coach gave her some wonderful advice. “Most people,” he said, “think that if they work hard, they should be able to master a handstand in about two weeks. The reality is that it takes about six months of daily practice. If you think you should be able to do it in two weeks, you’re just going to end up quitting.” Unrealistic beliefs on scope – often hidden and undiscussed – kill high standards. To achieve high standards yourself or as part of a team, you need to form and proactively communicate realistic beliefs about how hard something is going to be – something this coach understood well.

The football coach doesn’t need to be able to throw, and a film director doesn’t need to be able to act. But they both do need to recognize high standards for those things and teach realistic expectations on scope. Even in the example of writing a six-page memo, that’s teamwork. Someone on the team needs to have the skill, but it doesn’t have to be you. (As a side note, by tradition at Amazon, authors’ names never appear on the memos – the memo is from the whole team.)

How China is buying its way into Europe

We analyzed data for 678 completed or pending deals in 30 countries since 2008 for which financial terms were released, and found that Chinese state-backed and private companies have been involved in deals worth at least $255 billion across the European continent. Approximately 360 companies have been taken over, from Italian tire maker Pirelli & C. SpA to Irish aircraft leasing company Avolon Holdings Ltd., while Chinese entities also partially or wholly own at least four airports, six seaports, wind farms in at least nine countries and 13 professional soccer teams.

Importantly, the available figures underestimate the true size and scope of China’s ambitions in Europe. They notably exclude 355 mergers, investments and joint ventures—the primary types of deals examined here—for which terms were not disclosed. Bloomberg estimates or reporting on a dozen of the higher-profile deals among this group suggest an additional total value of $13.3 billion. Also not included: greenfield developments or stock-market operations totaling at least $40 billion, as compiled by researchers at the American Enterprise Institute and the European Council on Foreign Relations, plus a $9 billion stake in Mercedes-Benz parent company Daimler AG by Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co. chairman Li Shufu reported by Bloomberg.

Is Google cheap?

According to Net Market Share, Google has around 82 per cent of the entire online search market. That figure includes China, where they are banned. Bing has around 5 per cent of the pie so, if the 3 trillion figure for Search holds true, Microsoft’s competitor processes 6,022 searches per second, versus Google’s 96,450.

Our readers may also point out Alphabet’s dependence on advertising revenues, a historically cyclical business which is an easy tap to turn off for many corporations in economic downturns. That being said, one could easily counter by mentioning the good ship Alphabet’s serene sail through the currently stormy waters of the wider advertising world. Or the fact that there are very few alternatives in terms of audience reach.

We have not even accounted for Google’s famed ‘Other Bets’ line — a collection of misfit, moonshot investments including self-driving software Waymo, health-data laboratory Verily Sciences and Alphaville favourite, smart-city planner SideWalk Labs.

Open, closed, and privacy

To focus on simply Google and Facebook, though, is to miss how much other data collection is going on: ad networks are tracking you on nearly every website you visit, your credit card company is tracking your purchases (and by extension your location), your grocery store is tracking your eating habit, the list goes on and on. Moreover, the further down you go down the data food chain, the more likely it is that data is bought and sold. That, of course, is as open as it gets.

First, it is even more unlikely that a challenger to either will arise without meaningful access to their proprietary data. This, to be fair, was already quite unlikely: the entire industry learned from Instagram’s piggy-backing on Twitter’s social graph that sharing data with a potential competitor was a bad idea from a business perspective.

Second, Google and Facebook will increasingly be the only source of innovations that leverage their data; it will be too politically risky for either to share anything with third parties. That means new features that rely on user data must be built by one of the two giants, or, as is always the case in a centrally-planned system relative to a market, not built at all.

Third, Google and Facebook’s advertising advantage, already massive, is going to become overwhelming. Both companies generate the majority of their user data on their own platforms, which is to say their data collection and advertising business are integrated. Most of their competitors for digital advertising, on the other hand, are modular: some companies collect data, and other collect ads; such a model, in a society demanding ever more privacy, will be increasingly untenable.


Facebook beats in Q1 and boosts daily user growth to 1.45B amidst backlash

Zuckerberg says one of his biggest regrets is that Facebook didn’t get to shape the mobile ecosystem because the company was still small when iOS and Android launched. That’s why Zuckerberg is adamant about Facebook having a major role in the future of virtual reality and augmented reality, which he sees as computing platforms of the future.

Global recorded music revenues grew by $1.4 billion in 2017

Global recorded music revenues reached $17.4 billion in 2017, up from $16 billion in 2016 — an annual growth rate of 8 percent. Streaming revenues in particular have contributed to this growth, and were up 39 percent year-over-year to reach $7.4 billion, or 43 percent of all revenues. But perhaps the biggest story of all is the growth of artists without labels. With 27.2% year-on-year growth this was the fastest growing segment in 2017.

Investing and business lessons from Aileen Lee (Cowboy Ventures)

Venture investors are looking for large addressable markets. How big is the market? What is the problem that you’re trying to solve? Who’s on your team? And how relevant is the team to that problem? What is the product that you’ve built, if you have built something? Or what do the wireframes look like? What kind of traction or feedback have you gotten from the market in terms of whether people are going to like the product, or whether they do like the product? What does the financial model and the economic model look like? What are you going to do with the money?” “What is the mission and vision of the company? Venture investors are looking for a big mission and vision that’s quite ambitious and that can be backed up by, ‘Here’s where we want to be and here’s how we’re going to get there over time. This is what we want to get done the next 12 months or the next 18 months.’

If you don’t attack a big market, it’s highly unlikely you’re ever going to build a big company. Great markets make great companies. We’re never interested in creating markets – it’s too expensive. We’re interested in exploiting markets early. I like opportunities that are addressing markets so big that even the management team can’t get in its way.

Why is China treating North Carolina like the developing world?

It’s about 50 percent cheaper to raise hogs in North Carolina than in China. This is due to less-expensive pig-feed prices and larger farms, but it’s also because of loose business and environmental regulations, especially in red states, which have made the U.S. an increasingly attractive place for foreign companies to offshore costly and harmful business practices.

How?

The market is all about discounting and expectations. It always has been and it always will be.

On January 31, 2006, Google Inc. announced its financial results for the fourth quarter of 2005: revenues up 97%, net profit up 82%. It’s hard to imagine how such phenomenal growth could be bad news. But Wall Street’s analysts had expected Google to do even better….Google’s stock fell 16% in a matter of seconds, and the market in the shares had to be officially halted. When trading resumed, Google, whose stock had been at $432.66 just minutes earlier, was hammered down to $366…Google earned about $65 million less than Wall Street had expected, and in response Wall Street bashed $20.3 billion off Google’s market value.

Basis—the “stable” cryptocurrency with $133 million invested—explained

Basis coins won’t be directly backed by dollars or any other asset. Instead, the Basis blockchain will attempt to adjust the supply of Basis coins over time to maintain a peg to the dollar, much as foreign central banks expand and contract their own money supplies to maintain a stable currency value.

The more consequential change is the addition of a third asset class called bonds. When the value of Basis coins falls, the system creates new bonds and sells them for Basis coins. Each bond has a face value of one Basis coin (and hence $1), but investors can acquire them at a market-determined discount.

Then, during a subsequent expansion, the system pays back these bondholders before paying anything out to shareholders. Bondholders get their money back in a first-in-first-out order, with the oldest bond being repaid first.

In effect, buying a bond amounts to making a bet that the demand for coins will rebound in a timely fashion. The less confident the market is that this will happen, the steeper the discount—a bond might sell for 0.8, 0.5, or even 0.2 Basis coins—and the greater the potential profit.

Kids worldwide spend less time outdoors, and then need glasses

Eyeglass sales are expected to double globally between 2012 and 2026, and the amount of time people are spending indoors may be a leading cause. By 2050, half of the global population, or almost 5 billion people, are projected to be nearsighted, up from a quarter, or 1.4 billion, in 2000.

Interestingly, however, while outdoor time helps to prevent nearsightedness, it doesn’t seem to affect its progression once it develops. The same recent summary suggests that the rapid rises in Asia are related in part to outdoor time: “The limited questionnaire data available suggests that the time that children spend outdoors is lower in the developed countries of East and Southeast Asia.”

Regional Notes 2018.04.27

Grab’s acquisition of Uber Southeast Asia drives into problems

Go-Jek won’t, of course, take all the Uber alums, but these conditions certainly put it in a good position to cherry pick critical new hires to fill out its business outside of Indonesia. Other Grab rivals, including well-funded logistics startup NinjaVan, food delivery companies Deliveroo and FoodPanda, bike-sharing startups, and even the likes of Facebook, WeWork, Google and Netflix are understood to have hastily arranged interviews with Uber’s departing Southeast Asia staff in a bid to suck up new talent. That’s precisely the scenario that Grab is trying to avoid.

Integrating the ‘unbanked’ into a cashless society

In Malaysia, the population of the unbanked stood at 8% or two million of the country’s 24 million adults, according to Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) in its Financial Stability and Payment Systems Report 2017. While this may seem small in comparison to regional neighbours such as Indonesia and the Philippines whose unbanked make up more than half the population, there is still a need to address this segment if Malaysia aims to be a full-fledged cashless society.

Lotte Chemical Titan sees no margin pressure ahead

“Our business is a margin game. As long as there is demand coupled with a limited supply, our margin will be maintained. Currently, there is limited supply capacity, and there are no new plants coming on stream until 2019.”

The group is looking to build a naptha cracker with a capacity of one million tonnes, next to its existing plant in Merak, Cilegon, Banten province of Indonesia. The mega project, estimated to cost between US$3 billion and US$4 billion, will take about three to four years to complete. Indonesia remains a crucial market for the group, as it is a net importer of petrochemicals backed by a huge population of nearly 300 million.

“When we sell in Indonesia and Malaysia, we enjoy a slight premium over international prices. [So] we are looking at duplicating our Malaysian facilities in Indonesia, and increasing the capacity as well.”


Hap Seng to buy Mercedes’ commercial vehicle business

Hap Seng said it and MBM will jointly undertake a stock take in respect of the fixed and current assets to determine the final purchase consideration. The group opines that the proposed acquisition will enable it to participate in the wholesale distribution of Mercedes-Benz and Fuso commercial vehicles in a growing domestic market.

On completion, Hap Seng Trucks will be responsible for handling the import, assembly, wholesale distribution and after-sales services of Mercedes-Benz and Fuso commercial vehicles in Malaysia. However, the business transfer is conditional upon Hap Seng obtaining the licence to import complete knocked down components from the international trade and industry ministry, which is required to carry on the business.


Nestle Malaysia hopeful to achieve RM400m sales from new products in 2018

Last year, the food and beverage manufacturer’s new products launches contributed about RM380 million sales. Hofbauer pointed out the company’s sales target contribution from new products would derived about 10 per cent of its domestic sales. Hofbauer said Nestle will also be allocating RM180 million in capital expenditures to grow its culinary and confectionery products as well as to enhance infrastructure manufacturing.

Currently, domestic consumption contributes about 80 per cent of Nestle Malaysia’s sales, while remaining 20 per cent for export market. “We export to over 50 countries including in the Middle East and South East Asia to Nestle’s affiliates,” he said, noting that the export value constitutes about RM1 billion. Nestle Malaysia manufactures and markets more than 500 halal products and the country is the biggest Halal producer for Nestle.


PetDag upgrading petrol stations and opening 15 new stations

The company, which has a capital expenditure of RM300mil for the year, has seen its previous and ongoing promotions boost fuel and non-fuel sales, with its retail segment continuing to be its highest revenue contributor.

“We have the largest network in Malaysia today with about 1,045 stations. The key focus for us will not be to grow the network much, although we are looking at opening 10 to 15 new stations. We are focusing more on upgrading our existing stations and particularly our convenience stores to boost sales. In 2017 and moving into 2018, we already have initiatives to assist dealers face the challenging market. We are revising the licence fee, providing better royalty programmes and offering better sales incentives for our dealers.”

“The volatility (in crude oil and pump prices) impacts working capital and gains or losses on inventory. To manage this, we are pushing for ultimate efficiency in managing inventory – our inventory holding days are now between four and four-and-a-half days.”

In the commercial segment, the company holds about a 70% share of Malaysia’s aviation jet fuel market, and recently secured deals with three more international airlines.

Intraday short selling measures claims first victim – Unisem

“To a certain extent, perhaps IDSS would exaggerate the downward pressure on stocks, but it won’t be severe. Regulated short selling (RSS) has already been in the Malaysian market for a while. In the latest measure, Bursa Malaysia further allows the PDT to do IDSS, which simply means they need to close out their positions within the day.”

RSS involves borrowing shares of a company’s stock and selling it with the hope it can be bought back at a later date at a lower value. Meanwhile, naked short selling involves betting that the stock will go down in price without actually borrowing the stock or finding out if there is available stock to borrow in order to short it. This can cause further volatility or leave a stock open to manipulation. RSS was banned in Malaysia in September 1997, but was reintroduced in 2007. Investors can participate in RSS so long as they have a stock borrowing and lending agreement approved by the Securities Commission.

Curated Insights 2018.04.22

Disneyflix is coming. And Netflix should be scared.

But in film, as in television, Disney relies on middlemen to deliver its content—and middlemen always take a cut. To buy a ticket to see a Disney film in theaters, you pay an exhibitor that keeps about 40 percent of the ticket price. What if Disney bypassed the middlemen and put a highly anticipated film like Black Panther on its streaming service the same day it opened in theaters—or made the film exclusive to subscribers? In the short term, sacrificing all those onetime ticket buyers might seem financially ruinous. But the lifetime value of subscriptions—which renew automatically until actively canceled—quickly becomes profound. If the film’s debut encouraged just over 4 million people to sign up for an annual subscription to a $10-a-month Disneyflix product—about the same number of subscribers that Netflix added the quarter it debuted its original series House of Cards—Disney would earn a net revenue of nearly $500 million in just the first year. Black Panther was a massive hit as a theatrical release; it could have been even bigger had it been used to transform onetime moviegoers into multiyear Disneyflix subscribers.

The math might make this seem like an easy call for Disney, but let’s not underplay how radical this move would be, and how seismic the effects on the existing entertainment industry. In recent years, the theatrical-release business has been carried by blockbusters—and Disney has been perhaps the most reliable producer of those. From 2010 to 2017, films earning more than $100 million have grown from 48 percent to 64 percent of the domestic box office, according to the research firm MoffettNathanson—and Disney has made the year’s top-grossing film in six of the past seven years. If Disney moves its films, en masse, to a proprietary streaming platform, it would smash movie theaters’ precious window of exclusivity and leach away crucial revenue. Exhibitors such as AMC and Regal may find themselves on an accelerated path to bankruptcy or desperate consolidation.

In this vision, Disneyflix wouldn’t just be Netflix with Star Wars movies—it would be Amazon for Star Wars pillowcases and Groupon for rides on Star Wars roller coasters and Kayak for the Star Wars suite at Disney hotels. That’s a product that could rival Netflix and create the kind of profits Disney has enjoyed during its unprecedented century of dominance. The company just has to destroy its own businesses—and the U.S. entertainment landscape—to build it.

Zillow, aggregation, and integration

To quickly summarize, I wrote that Aggregators as a whole share three characteristics:

  • A direct relationship with users
  • Zero marginal costs to serve those users
  • Demand-driven multi-sided networks that result in decreasing acquisition costs

This allows Aggregators to leverage an initial user experience advantage with a relatively small number of users into power over some number of suppliers, which come onto the platform on the Aggregator’s terms, enhancing the user experience and attracting more users, setting off a virtuous cycle of an ever-increasing user base leading to ever-increasing power over suppliers.

Not all Aggregators are the same, though; they vary based on the cost of supply:

  • Level 1 Aggregators have to acquire their supply and win by leveraging their user base into superior buying power (i.e. Netflix).
  • Level 2 Aggregators do not own their supply but incur significant marginal costs in scaling supply (i.e. Airbnb or Uber).
  • Level 3 Aggregators have zero supply costs (i.e. App Stores or social networks)

Remember, Zillow is in nearly every respect already an Aggregator: it is by far the number one place people go when they want to look for a new house, and at a minimum the starting point for research when they want to sell one. They own the customer relationship! What has always been missing is the integration with the purchase itself — until last week. Zillow is making a play to be a true Aggregator — one that transforms its industry by integrating the customer relationship with the most important transaction in its respective value chain — by becoming directly involved in the buying and selling of houses.

Here, though, Zillow’s status as an almost-Aggregator looms large: we now have years’ worth of evidence that realtors will do what it takes to ensure their listings appear on Zillow, because Zillow controls end users. It very well may be the case that realtors will find themselves with no choice but to continue giving Zillow the money the company needs to disrupt their industry.


Facebook to put 1.5 billion users out of reach of new EU privacy law

If a new European law restricting what companies can do with people’s online data went into effect tomorrow, almost 1.9 billion Facebook Inc users around the world would be protected by it. The online social network is making changes that ensure the number will be much smaller.

The change affects more than 70 percent of Facebook’s 2 billion-plus members. As of December, Facebook had 239 million users in the United States and Canada, 370 million in Europe and 1.52 billion users elsewhere.

In practice, the change means the 1.5 billion affected users will not be able to file complaints with Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner or in Irish courts. Instead they will be governed by more lenient U.S. privacy laws, said Michael Veale, a technology policy researcher at University College London. Facebook will have more leeway in how it handles data about those users, Veale said. Certain types of data such as browsing history, for instance, are considered personal data under EU law but are not as protected in the United States, he said.


Why all my books are now free (aka a lesson in Amazon money laundering)

One reader forwarded this article on Amazon Money Laundering written by Brian Krebs. He argues that serious money laundering is going on with stolen credit cards: “Reames said he suspects someone has been buying the book using stolen credit and/or debit cards, and pocketing the 60 percent that Amazon gives to authors. At $555 a pop, it would only take approximately 70 sales over three months to rack up the earnings that Amazon said he made.”

My guess is eventually you’ll see the government step in, fine the crap out of Amazon, which will then be followed by a multi-billion dollar class-action lawsuit.

The iPhone X generated 5X more profit than the combined profit of 600+ Android OEMs during Q4 2017

The iPhone X alone generated 21% of total industry revenue and 35% of total industry profits during the quarter and its share is likely to grow as it advances further into its life cycle. Additionally, the longer shelf life of all iPhones ensured that Apple still has eight out of top ten smartphones, including its three-year-old models, generating the most profits compared to current competing smartphones from other OEMs.

Apple remained the most profitable brand, capturing 86% of the total handset market profits. Further splitting profits by model, the top 10 models captured 90% of the total handset profits.

Car dealerships face conundrum: Get big or get out

Dealers say they need to as much as triple revenue in the next half-decade to offset shrinking margins and increasing competition from companies that didn’t exist a decade ago…These developments have helped fuel consolidation of the 16,800 U.S. dealerships into the hands of fewer owners. The top 50 dealer groups are poised to book more than $175 billion in revenue this year, compared to $144 billion when Mr. Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. entered the sector four years ago.

Your future home might be powered by car batteries

By allowing car batteries to serve as a residential power source, Nissan says its vehicle-to-home service cuts utility bills by about $40 per month. Still, only about 7,000 car owners have adopted the system in the six years since it started, a tiny number compared with the 81,500 Leaf EVs that Nissan has sold so far in the country.

A small test this winter showed how hard it is just to get people to charge their cars at the right time. (Selling power back to the grid is a separate can of worms.) Nissan and the utility convinced 45 of their own employees to install home chargers and try monitoring electricity demand on weekends, using a smartphone app. Even though volunteers got free shopping points on Amazon as a reward for buying power when there was glut, only about 10 percent succeeded.

It’s a slow beginning, but Nuvve Chief Executive Officer Gregory Poilasne says vehicle-to-grid systems could eventually speed up the adoption of electric vehicles once people realize their batteries can earn them money. Poilasne says his clients make more than $1,000 per car each year by trading power to the spot market.


Blockchain is about to revolutionize the shipping industry

Should they succeed, documentation that takes days will eventually be done in minutes, much of it without the need for human input. The cost of moving goods across continents could drop dramatically, adding fresh impetus to relocate manufacturing or source materials and goods from overseas.

“This would be the biggest innovation in the industry since the containerization. It basically brings more transparency and efficiency. The container shipping lines are coming out of their shells and playing catch-up in technology.”

In 2014, Maersk followed a refrigerated container filled with roses and avocados from Kenya to the Netherlands. The company found that almost 30 people and organizations were involved in processing the box on its journey to Europe. The shipment took about 34 days to get from the farm to the retailers, including 10 days waiting for documents to be processed. One of the critical documents went missing, only to be found later amid a pile of paper.

Chinese money floods U.S. biotech as Beijing chases new cures

Venture-capital funds based in China poured $1.4 billion into private U.S. biotechnology firms in the three months ending March 31, accounting for about 40 percent of the $3.7 billion that the companies raised in the period overall, according to data provider PitchBook. At the same time a year earlier, Chinese funds invested $125.5 million, only about seven percent of the total.

China once lagged other countries in drug spending despite its large population, but outlays have expanded over the past decade. In 2012, China surpassed Japan to become the second-largest global drug market behind the U.S., according to a report from health-technology firm Iqvia, formerly known as QuintilesIMS. It could spend as much as $170 billion by 2021, compared to $116.7 billion in 2016, the firm said.

Selling drugs in China is also getting easier. Western companies usually waited for approval elsewhere before starting clinical trials in China because of the country’s cumbersome rules. But those restrictions have been relaxed, leading U.S. companies to view China as a more important market, and making Chinese investors hungry for to share in the returns from new therapies.

Technique to beam HD video with 99 percent less power could sharpen the eyes of smart homes

Backscatter is a way of sending a signal that requires very little power, because what’s actually transmitting the power is not the device that’s transmitting the data. A signal is sent out from one source, say a router or phone, and another antenna essentially reflects that signal, but modifies it. By having it blink on and off you could indicate 1s and 0s, for instance.

Assembly and rendering of the video is accomplished on the receiving end, for example on a phone or monitor, where power is more plentiful. In the end, a full-color HD signal at 60FPS can be sent with less than a watt of power, and a more modest but still very useful signal — say, 720p at 10FPS — can be sent for under 80 microwatts. That’s a huge reduction in power draw, mainly achieved by eliminating the entire analog to digital converter and on-chip compression. At those levels, you can essentially pull all the power you need straight out of the air.

Casualties of your own success

I valeted at a hotel in college. We parked 10,000 cars a month. And we banged one of them up every month, like clockwork. Management found this atrocious. Every few weeks we’d be scolded for our recklessness. But one accident in 10,000 parks is actually pretty good. If you drive twice a day, it’ll take you 14 years to park 10,000 times. One bent fender every 14 years is a driving record your insurance company won’t bat an eye at. The only reason we seemed reckless is because we parked so many cars. Size (or volume) put a negative spotlight on us that being less busy with the same parking skills would have masked. Big companies deal with this too. Chipotle sells half a billion burritos a year. You, at home, washing everything in bleach, could never make one carnitas burrito a day for half a billion days (1.4 million years) and expect to avoid a foodborne illness.

One is that everything moves in cycles. You can’t extrapolate the benefits of growth because growth comes attached with downsides that go from annoying at one size to catastrophic at another. Rising valuations that come with investment growth is the clearest example, but it’s everywhere: Headcount, media attention, AUM, and influence have downsides that can eventually grow faster than their benefits. Remembering that volatility is attracted to outlier growth puts many things about business and investing in context.

The second is size is associated with success, success is associated with hubris, and hubris is the beginning of the end of success. Some of the most enduring animals aren’t apex predators, but they’re very good at evasion, camouflage, and armour. They’re paranoid. I always come back to the time Charlie Rose asked Michael Moritz how Sequoia Capital has thrived for three decades, and he said, “We’ve always been afraid of going out of business.” Paranoia in the face of success is extremely hard but in hindsight it’s the closest thing to a secret weapon that exists.

Debt recycling

By investing a total of $55,097.13 I was able to purchase 3 properties over a 5 year period, with a combined value of just over $1,000,000. Two years later I sold one of the properties, using the proceeds to reduce the leverage of the remaining portfolio. I was able to recover my $55,000 of cash contributions, and still be left with equity worth over $473,000. At that point I could have sold a second property and used to proceeds to fully pay off the mortgage on the remaining property. This could have provided me with rent/mortgage free accommodation for the rest of my life, or alternatively contributed $26,000 in annual free cash flow towards covering my own lifestyle costs.


Why ‘sleep on it’ is the most useful advice for learning — and also the most neglected

Walker relates problem solving to the REM phase of sleep, demonstrating that it is in this critical stage of unconsciousness that we form novel connections between individual chunks of knowledge. REM sleep is where our ideas crystallise and recombine into new, creative thoughts.

The premise of adaptive timetabling does not fit will with a standardised model that runs on a fixed clock. Sleep does not lend itself to the measurement paradigms of today’s education system. Education is mired in empiricist dogma, hell-bent on measuring whatever it can, and then assigning importance only to what has been measured. It should be evident that the nature of problem solving, so much of which is rooted in unconscious thought, is holistic and beyond the blunt tools of written assessment. Any timed exam that seeks to capture students’ problem solving skills within a fixed period is, by the findings of neuroscience, a contradiction in terms.

Regional Notes 2018.04.20

China replaces U.S. as top export market in another Asian nation

“The center of trade for Asia has clearly shifted to China from the U.S.,” said Eugenia Victorino, an economist at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group in Singapore. “Trade protectionism isn’t helping and Asian nations will realize more and more that when it comes to trade, China now punches a heavier weight.”

China has displaced the U.S. over the past decade as the top export market for many Asian economies, including Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines. India is one of the few countries in the region that still counts America as a bigger market for goods than China.

Vietnam’s exports to China surged about 15 times to $50.6 billion in the decade through 2017, compared with a fourfold increase to the U.S. to $46.5 billion, according to import data compiled by the IMF. With exports accounting for almost 100 percent of gross domestic product in 2017, being overly reliant on one market can pose risks for the economy. To counter that, Vietnam is pursuing free trade deals with Japan and other countries in Europe and has also joined 10 other nations in March in signing a Trans Pacific trade pact.

India may become surprise victim of trade war, Rabobank says

A tariff war will reduce exports and lead to imported inflation, which will hurt Indian purchasing power and investments, according to the Rabobank study. That could mean as much as 2.3 percent of missed GDP growth for India by 2022. This goes against the argument that India is relatively insulated from a trade war, given its low share of total world exports of just 1.7 percent.

Besides a possible trade war, a faster-than-expected tightening of U.S. monetary policy will lead to capital outflows. Rabobank’s models estimate India losing $22 billion in capital flows by 2022, with the scenario getting complicated further, in case political instability hits India. The South Asian nation heads into a national election early next year.

Singapore releases public consultation on Airbnb-style home-sharing

Condominium owners who want to rent out their property for short-term stays can do so if owners holding on to at least 80 per cent of the development’s share value agree to allow such rentals, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) has proposed. In a statement, URA said the framework will look at how short-term stays can be applied to developments with common property, such as condominiums, fire safety requirements, the role of management committees and how to regulate the platform operators, among other things.


Cost of living not the problem, low income is — MIER

“Our labour market pays very little in nominal income, it is very slow-paced and the skill level of our labour market is not improving. This aggregate number [of 3.3%], it hides a lot of unpleasant things in the labour market; low pay, low productivity, low skill, and the high number of foreign workers.”

Malaysia’s labour productivity stands at US$54,400 (RM211,616) compared with Singapore’s US$125,400, according to the MIER. According to the Department of Statistics, Malaysia achieved labour productivity value of RM85,031 in the fourth quarter of 2017.

Zakariah pointed out that the minimum wage policy represents a significantly lower proportion of the median wage, so that means there is a lot of room for an increase in minimum wage. However, he also acknowledged that many small and medium enterprises could not afford to pay the living wage of RM2,700 prescribed by Bank Negara Malaysia.

PUC to invest RM90mil in 11Street

Assuming that PUC reached its investment target, it would end up with as much as 24% stake in 11Street Malaysia, with ADS holding 37% and SKP at 39%. The investment amount translates to an implied valuation of 100% equity interest in CPSB ranging from RM333.33mil to RM375mil. Post signing of the definitive agreements, PUC will have the right to nominate and appoint the chief executive officer and chief marketing officer at 11Street Malaysia.

From 2015 to 2017, 11Street Malaysia reported an achievement of more than 300% growth in gross merchandising value (GMV), 160% growth to over 13 million product listings, and 200% increase to 40,000 sellers registered on its platform. As of Dec 31, 2017 11Street Malaysia recorded a GMV of approximately RM427mil and total monthly unique visitors (UV) of 13.5 million for the month of December 2017.


JAKS Resources puts property ambition on hold

The group has no plans to acquire more land for development amid a soft property market that is favourable for big-scale developers. “When the market picks up and if the opportunity arises, we may re-enter the property market. For now, we will stay away from property development.”

In the next two years, JAKS sees the US$1.87 billion 2x600mw coal-fired thermal power plant in Hai Duong Province, Vietnam, driving the group’s profit growth. “Construction of the power plant is currently 22% complete and is targeted to reach 50% by the end of the year. There is a strong indication that work on the project will be expedited for full completion in 2020. As such, 2018 and 2019 are crucial years for us,” Lam Poah said.

In Malaysia, JAKS is eyeing to participate in public infrastructure projects involving road works, bridges, hospitals and sewerage treatment plants. “We are focused in terms of going into areas where we are strong and the chances of us winning the projects are high. We look at smaller, pocket projects such as water pipe replacement or sewerage plant instead of going after mega projects where we can’t compete with the big boys,” said Si Eeng.


Signature MD baffled by group’s stock slump

“If it’s overreaction to the slow property market, this one is a very long-winded overreaction. They compare our business to other fast-moving consumer products, where they expect the revenue or profit to be steady and consistent. Our business depends on projects and their timing. No doubt we’re down now [with the slow property market]; that’s our challenge and we have to look at how to mitigate that and improve our retail business. Also, last time our projects order book grew because we couldn’t recognise [revenue] yet as the project sites not ready, as new ones came in. That gave the impression we’re flourishing. But when projects kick off as we recognise revenue, the order book will be reduced. But that doesn’t mean we have no prospects. We still have our retail. Should I be worried about getting new projects? I think the developers should worry first. If they don’t launch, they have nothing to sell. So if they continue to have business, so will we.”

Started in 2015, the cash vouchers scheme has secured letters of award (LoAs) for about RM50 million worth of kitchen cabinetry from some 30 projects — of which about 90% are yet to be realised. Revenue realisation is slow because it will depend on completion of project, sale, and handover of units to home buyers. “It’s the opposite of our project business — where the awards are slow but realisation [of revenue] can be fast,” Tan said.


Chin Well to make Vietnam focal point for fastener ops

“In July, the Vietnam facility will start to manufacture a new range of fasteners for South-East Asian market. These new fasteners will be used to connect reinforced concrete bars used in high-rise buildings.”

“We have plans to tap into the European market with our DIY fasteners. Currently, the Vietnam facility produces about 60,000 tonnes of fasteners per year. We foresee the operations in Vietnam to contribute about 50% to Chin Well revenue in two years, compared to 30%-40% now.”

Penang residential overhang more than doubles in 2017

The residential overhang in Penang more than doubled to 3,916 units worth RM3.82 billion in 2017 from 1,896 units worth RM1.47 billion in 2016. Similarly, the unsold [units] under construction recorded a 13.9% increase with 9,249 units (2016: 8,119 units).

The primary market recorded fewer new launches with 3,879 units in 2017, down by 31.3% against 5,646 units in 2016. Sales performance for the new launches last year – of which condominiums and apartments accounted for 65% – was promising at 39%. As at end-2017, there were 497,396 existing residential units with another 44,046 units of incoming supply and 24,597 units in planned supply.


‘Repopulating’ George Town via co-working, co-living spaces

“We want to repopulate George Town, so we want to have co-living spaces on the first floor of these shophouses, while the ground floor is used for commercial activities, preferably traditional trades and artisans,” newly appointed MBPP mayor Yew Tung Seang told the news portal.

The report also revealed that MBPP has worked with George Town World Heritage Inc (GTWHI) and Think City to restore a row of council-owned shophouses on the famous Kimberley Street, as the pilot project for co-living and commercial spaces for artisans.

“Rental will be kept affordable so that people will want to come back to live in George Town,” Yew told the news portal. It is hoped that such efforts will make the inner city of George Town “a liveable space for all”.