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”.

Regional Notes 2018.04.06

Singapore issues first fines to Airbnb hosts for violating rental laws

In a first for the country, two men were fined SG$60,000 (US$45,800) each for unauthorized lettings at four apartments using the U.S.-based rental platform, Reuters reports. Singapore’s law prevents public housing rentals that are under six months — or three months in the case of private housing — without the explicit permission of the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).

Poly Glass Fibre looks overseas to offset weak local demand

“Demand in Southeast Asia is there, just that the price may be lower. But the recent anti-pollution drive in China is something advantageous to us because supply from China dropped and we see prices coming up again.”

In Southeast Asia, Fong said there are only three manufacturers of glass mineral wool insulation and Poly Glass Fibre is the only one in Malaysia. “The other two are based in Thailand and they mainly serve their home market, which is big enough. One of them even focuses specifically on the automotive segment,” he said.

“We are currently using about 65% of our capacity. Ideally we hope to reach 90%, but it would take two to three years to build up orders for our new line. So in the next one or two years, we don’t think we will do much in terms of expansion.”


LSK eyes another 30%-40% earnings growth in FY18

Securing a US-based customer represents LSK’s entry into the North American market, even as it continues to expect growth from its key customers in Asia. In particular, the group has continued to see strong growth in sales in South Korea, a market in which it enjoys a dominant position due to the group’s reputation for offering high-quality products, said Kong Sim.

Another area the bedding manufacturer has set its sights on is the e-commerce space. According to Kong Sim, the group has seen encouraging response for its products on Chinese online marketplace Taobao and it is planning to explore e-commerce opportunities on a much bigger scale. “This is part of our plan to go direct to our customers and cut out the middle man,” he said, adding that LSK has been in talks with Alibaba and its peers, and is currently on a learning curve.

Furniture exports hit RM10.13bil last year

The United States is the largest importer of Malaysian furniture in 2017 valued at RM3.59bil, followed by Singapore (RM790.1mil), Japan (RM785.6mil), Australia (RM710.5mil) and the United Kingdom (RM476.1mil).

Regional Notes 2018.03.30

China’s push for tech self-sufficiency threatens Asia’s exporters

But at the same time, there’s been a spike in sales to China of precision metal working machines and equipment for making chips from firms like Japan’s Yaskawa Electric Corp. With a Chinese state-backed fund gearing up to pour as much as $31.5 billion into homegrown semiconductor manufacturing, there’s potential for trade flows to start to shift.

Yet the direction is clear: Beijing is aiming higher and it has the resources to reach its destination. And that will mean difficulties for many companies around the region. “China, in a very short period of time, is rapidly going up the value chain,” said Gary Hufbauer, senior fellow and trade specialist at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, speaking from Taos, New Mexico. “They will produce the things that Korea and Japan are now producing, and Korean and Japanese firms have a big challenge to try to keep ahead on the technology.”


Uber pulls out of Southeast Asia, selling operation to rival Grab

The cease-fire marks a victory for Grab as well as SoftBank Group Corp., the biggest shareholder in both companies. Masayoshi Son’s firm is pushing to reduce competition in a Southeast Asian ride-hailing market forecast to reach $20.1 billion by 2025. Uber and Grab, together with two other SoftBank-backed ride-hailing firms — India’s Ola and China’s Didi Chuxing — provide about 45 million rides a day, according to SoftBank presentation material in February.


Regulators to ensure Grab-Uber deal will not erode competition

“We will ensure that no one single market player dominates the sector to the detriment of commuters and drivers,” an LTA spokesman said. The LTA added that it was reviewing a regulatory framework to license private-hire car operators “to keep the private-hire car and taxi industries open and contestable”.

The CCS said Singapore’s competition laws prohibit mergers that may result in a “substantial lessening of competition”, and indicated that it could “require the merger to be unwound or modified” to prevent an erosion of competition. It said it could also issue “interim measures” before it made up its mind.

The taxi company agreed in December to pay some $640 million for a 51 per cent stake in Uber’s Singapore rental car fleet. ComfortDelGro spokesman Tammy Tan said: “We are reviewing all aspects of the proposed tie-up with Uber Technologies, which is currently under review by the CCS.”

Pentamaster plans dividend in two years

“Currently, 50% of our exports go to mainland China, including to US-based multinational corporations located there. We expect the exports to rise to 60% in the near future. The business opportunity is great which is why we are expanding our facilities.”

“I think KWAP is seeing the potential in the future of technology we are in — 3D sensing. It is going to be used a lot in autonomous cars and electric vehicles. We have developed a 3D sensor testing capability to test the component that can be used in telco, automotive and smartphones.”

He said five years ago, PCB only focused on automotive handlers without test solutions, which “anyone could do”, so he built the handler with tester as a complete ecosystem to reduce competition.

“We are also looking to secure more IARM business from the US. We have secured a few now. This segment has a lot of growth potential because of Industry 4.0 where factories look to becoming fully automised. Our technical sales unit in Sunnyvale, US, would be able to discuss with clients regarding requests for quotations and proposals. Proximity to our clients is key, hence we see our US business growing. More so now with the US placing 30% tariff on raw materials which would make manufacturing in US expensive.”


US tariffs may hurt Malaysian technology firms

However, a report last Friday by Nomura highlighted US trade protectionism and a sharper-than-expected slowdown in China as bigger risks to the Malaysian economy, as exports account for 71% of GDP. “We estimated Malaysia’s ultimate exposure to the US — including via intermediate goods to China for assembly into final products destined for the US — at 10% of GDP, about half of which is in electronics products,” the research house said, adding that another 8% is exposed to China’s final demand.


Minimal impact on M’sia from US tariffs

This is because Malaysia’s trade exposure to both China and the US accounted for 25% of its total trade, she said, pointing out that Malaysia was impacted by Washington’s earlier move to impose tariffs on solar panels.

Malaysia is the largest exporter of solar cells and panels to the US, accounting for 24% of total US imports of the products last year. Meanwhile, the country’s steel and aluminium exports to the US of US$300 million in 2016 accounted for only 1.8% of total exports to the US.

In 2017, China was Malaysia’s second-largest export destination, constituting 13.5% or RM126.2 billion of total exports, while the US was the third-largest export destination, accounting for 9.5% or RM88 billion of Malaysia’s total exports.

Bank Negara cautions of severe property market imbalances

“Such (the purchase of non-residential properties) financing accounted for 26.1% of banks’ exposures to the property market or 13.5% of banks’ total outstanding loans. End-financing for the purchase of shops accounted for the bulk (40%) of banks’ exposures to non-residential properties or 5.4% of banks’ total outstanding loans. Exposures (via end-financing) to the office space and shopping complex segments, where oversupply is particularly acute, accounted for 3.2% of banks’ total outstanding loans,” it said.

Based on Bank Negara’s analysis, the incoming supply of 38 million square feet of new office space in Klang Valley is expected to drive vacancy rates to an all-time high of 32% by 2021 (1997: 5.1%; historical high in 2001: 25.3%), far surpassing levels recorded during the Asian Financial Crisis (AFC).

The incoming supply of 140 new shopping complexes by 2021 across Klang Valley, Penang and Johor is expected to worsen the oversupply condition in this segment. In 2016, major states such as Penang, Klang Valley and Johor already had higher retail space per capita (10.5, 8.2 and 5.1 square feet per person, respectively) relative to regional cities such as Hong Kong and Singapore (3.6 and 1.5 square feet per person, respectively). This will continue to exert downward pressure on occupancy rates and rentals.


Malaysians’ income weighed down by low-wage foreign workers

“In Malaysia, our salaries and wages are low, as half of the working Malaysians earn less than RM1,700 per month and the average starting salary of a diploma graduate is only about RM350 above the minimum wage. The low-income segment of Malaysian households face many challenges with regard to their income level. Since 2014, the bottom 40% (B40) population’s income expanded by 5.8% on an annual basis. However, expenditure grew at a faster pace of 6%, reflecting the rising cost of living. It is high time to reform our labour market by creating high-quality, good-paying jobs for Malaysians,” he said at a media briefing after the release of the central bank’s 2017 annual report here yesterday.

From 2011 to 2017, the share of low-skilled jobs in Malaysia increased significantly to 16% compared with only 8% in the period of 2002 to 2010. Apart from that, local economic sectors that rely on foreign workers such as agriculture, construction and manufacturing also suffer from low productivity.

Company Notes 2018.03.23

AirAsia in talks to set up Myanmar airline

…in talks with a potential partner to open an airline serving Myanmar, in a move that would help the low-cost carrier cover up to 95% of the Southeast Asian travel market.

“Once you’ve covered Vietnam and Myanmar, you’ve got all the big (Southeast Asian) populations. Vietnam — we’re talking about October, we’ve had great support from the Vietnam government and we have a great partner. My team are very bullish. It’s not going to be a big airline there, because the airport infrastructure is not there. But it is 50 million people and it will develop over time.”

“The biggest asset is our data,” Fernandes said. “While southeast Asian companies like (Indonesian ride-hailing company) Grab have to go out and spend a fortune to build that brand and data, we have 89 million customers travelling with us every year and we have data going back 18 years. We’re more than an airline — that’s the message for 2018. (Like) Amazon is more than a bookseller.”


Apex Healthcare goes into e-commerce

“[At full capacity,] SPP Novo is designed to increase our solid production capacity by up to three times, but we will be fitting out with approximately double the capacity upon commissioning by [the] end of 2018,” said Kee.

He added that about RM130 million of its revenue is derived from the manufacturing segment, and about half of this is from solid products. A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that if Apex doubles its solid product capacity, the group may see an increase in its solid product sales to RM130 million.

“For Europe, we are working on contract manufacturing opportunities,” said Kee, noting that the group is in the midst of evaluating merger and acquisition targets, as well as joint-venture opportunities in Europe and other developed markets. “The EU GMP certification will enable the group to stay ahead of the game, ensuring the best quality of its products,” he added.

Are REITs a good buy now?

According to Bloomberg data, the average dividend yield for the 18 listed REITs on Bursa Malaysia, as of yesterday, stood at 6.14%. In comparison, the 10-year Malaysian Government Securities’ (MGS) yield has been held at 3.9% to 4% since Bank Negara Malaysia’s key rate hike in January. MGS is the typical benchmark to which investors use to compare REITs, which are seen as a comparatively riskier investment.

But analysts told The Edge Financial Daily the rising average REIT yield is more reflective of a decline in share prices, rather than being driven by growth in distribution per unit (DPU). Hence, investors seeking to buy on weakness should consider REITs on a case-by-case basis.


Airbnb collaboration with Malaysia previews taxes on Internet economy

The San Francisco-based home-sharing company is moving to finalize a deal with tax authorities, which will apply a new tourism tax of RM10 ($2.55) per night to Airbnb members who rent out five rooms or more. The tourism levy presages an agreement on goods and services taxes.

But Southeast Asia’s third-biggest economy will start collecting tax from Airbnb hosts with at least five rooms, whether in one or multiple properties. Airbnb typically signs what it calls voluntary collection agreements with governments to transfer hotel and tourism tax payments from its members to the authorities. The decade-old company said it has transmitted half a billion dollars’ worth of such taxes to more than 340 jurisdictions globally.


Divestment appetite in Southeast Asia more than doubles, says EY survey

“More than two-thirds (68%) said that their decision to divest was directly influenced by the evolving technological landscape. About half (51%) of Southeast Asian companies said that the need to fund new technology investments will make them more likely to divest — using the proceeds to improve operating efficiency (79%), and address changing customer needs (87%) in their core businesses,” said EY in a statement today.


Malaysia tells tech entrepreneurs to give it a second look

Still, Malaysia lags behind its neighbors in drawing investments. Singapore attracted $7.2 billion in tech startup capital from 2012 through September 2017, the most in Southeast Asia, according to CB Insights. Indonesia pulled in $4.6 billion, while Malaysia got $1.3 billion during the same period.

Curated Insights 2018.02.18

Amazon’s latest ambition: To be a major hospital supplier

The pilot is customized for the hospital system’s catalog of supplies, the official said, allowing employees to compare prices the system negotiates with its distributors against those in the Amazon Business marketplace. In response to questions about these efforts, Amazon said it is building technology to serve health-care customers, and seeking to sell hospitals on a “marketplace concept” that differs from typical hospital purchasing, which is conducted through contracts with distributors and manufacturers.

So far, some hospitals have been reluctant to buy supplies from Amazon Business, for reasons including lack of options and lack of control over purchases and shipping, which hospitals closely safeguard to ensure prompt arrival of goods.

Hospitals typically contract for assurances that products will be available and delivered securely, she said. “It’s a little different than being out of a size 6 dress. I can’t be out of a six French catheter,” said Ms. McCready, who oversees the hospital system’s $3 billion annual budget for supplies, contract services and pharmaceuticals. Ensuring continuity of product supply is also crucial, said Donna Drummond, Northwell’s senior vice president of consolidated business services. When doctors and nurses reach for a familiar product, they know its specifications. Jumping online to look for the best deal could disrupt that continuity, she said. Northwell is “not ready to move from our current model,” Ms. Drummond said, but added: “We are open to a competitive market.”

Fees and administration, marketing and shipping costs account for an estimated 20% to 30% of health-care supply costs, according to a November research report by Citigroup Global Markets Inc. “There’s a lot of people with fingers in the pie,” said Rob Austin, an associate director with Navigant Consulting Inc. and former hospital supply-chain executive. “There is a huge opportunity.”


Amazon threat has Maersk racing to stop clients becoming rivals

It’s not just a question of a smooth delivery, said Skou. Giant retailers like Amazon also want better information about shipments to manage supply chains as effectively as possible. Maersk is rolling out a new digitization strategy to modernize an industry in which bookings often still take place by phone. Last month, it formed a joint venture with IBM to develop the use of blockchain technology to manage and track cross-border trade.

“The ability of Maersk to understand the market and integrate with a big company like Amazon is very clever,” Benito said. “They realize that Amazon can be a disruptor, so it’s better to try and work together.”

How delivery apps like Seamless and Uber Eats may put your favorite restaurant out of business

In 2016, delivery transactions made up about seven per cent of total U.S. restaurant sales. In a research report published last June, analysts at Morgan Stanley predicted that that number could eventually reach forty per cent of all restaurant sales, and an even higher percentage in urban areas and among casual restaurants, where delivery is concentrated. Companies like GrubHub maintain that the revenue they bring restaurants is “incremental”—the cherry on top, so to speak, of whatever sales the place would have done on its own. They also argue that delivery orders are a form of marketing, exposing potential new customers who might convert to lucrative in-restaurant patrons. The problem is that as consumers use services like Uber Eats and Seamless for a greater share of their meals, delivery orders are beginning to replace some restaurants’ core business instead of complementing it. (In the Morgan Stanley survey, forty-three per cent of delivery patrons said that a meal they ordered in was replacing one they would have otherwise eaten at a restaurant.) And, as delivery orders replace profitable takeout or sit-down sales with less profitable ones—ostensibly giving restaurants business but effectively taking it away—the “incremental” argument no longer holds. “It’s total bullshit, and you can quote me on that,” Justin Rosenberg, the C.E.O. of the Philadelphia-based fast-casual chain Honeygrow, told me. “I’ve spoken to C.F.O.s of bigger fast-casuals, and they’ve said the same thing.”

It’s worth noting that, even while charging restaurants steep rates, most delivery platforms are not yet profitable, either. Their hope is that order volumes will one day become high enough—and couriers will deliver enough orders per hour—to push them into the black.


Airbnb reportedly built an internal hedge fund that makes $5 million per month

According to Bloomberg, Tosi “quietly built a hedge fund within the company’s finance department. He used a portion of capital from the balance sheet to buy stocks, currencies, and fixed-income securities, mimicking the treasury fund he ran at Blackstone. The side project represented 30 percent of the company’s cash flow last year and made about $5 million a month for Airbnb, the people said.”

New DNA nanorobots successfully target and kill off cancerous tumors

“Using tumor-bearing mouse models, we demonstrate that intravenously injected DNA nanorobots deliver thrombin specifically to tumor-associated blood vessels and induce intravascular thrombosis, resulting in tumor necrosis and inhibition of tumor growth,” the paper explains.

DNA nanorobots are a somewhat new concept for drug delivery. They work by getting programmed DNA to fold into itself like origami and then deploying it like a tiny machine, ready for action.

Saving for old age: the global story (part II)

This country for old men and women would have had 222m people in it, assuming it was launched at the end of 2015. Assume all Chinese move there on their 60th birthday, and by 2025 you would expect the population of Oldland to be 300m.

It is well known that savings rates in China are already high. If greater portions of these savings are shifted into a funded pensions infrastructure which looks anything like that of the US, this would boost demand for the kinds of assets pension funds usually buy: stocks and bonds.

It may already be happening. The Willis Towers Watson report states that China has the fastest compound annual growth rate of pension assets over the past five years, at 18 per cent. The second highest, at 13 per cent, is South Korea. The third is Hong Kong, at 10 per cent (HK also has the fastest 10 year growth rate — there is no such figure for China).

Audio boom: how podcasters make a living

The defining year for podcasting was perhaps 2014, when NPR launched Serial, a true-crime series that became a global phenomenon and the fastest podcast to reach 5m downloads on iTunes. It triggered a wave of wannabes. That year, Apple installed the podcast app into its operating system — suddenly iPhones had podcasts on the home screen. Today there are more than 500,000 active shows on iTunes, including content in more than 100 languages.

In 2006, only 22 per cent of Americans had heard the term “podcasting”, according to Edison Research and Triton Digital. Last year it was 60 per cent. Thirty-one per cent of 25- to 54-year-olds said they had listened to a podcast in the past month compared with 16 per cent four years earlier. Networks such as Gimlet, or the crowdfunded Radiotopia, have helped to professionalise podcasts by attracting large audiences and advertising revenues.


An ‘iceberg’ of unseen crimes: Many cyber offenses go unreported

To many criminologists, academics and law enforcement leaders, crimes like car theft are anachronisms in a modern era in which the internet’s virtual superhighways have supplanted brick-and-mortar streets as the scenes for muggings, prostitution rings or commercial burglaries. They see dips in traditional violence and larceny as offset by a twin phenomenon: A surge in the evolving crimes of the digital era, and the fact that they are not fully captured in law enforcement’s reporting systems.

The wealth of Sapiens

True wealth is not money. It’s the option to buy what you truly need. If money can’t buy what you need, you’re on even footing with the poorest person out there. Wealth is a society where you can trust complete strangers with your child’s life. Wealth is having friends, colleagues and family who support you. Who take care of the things you can’t, without hesitation. Wealthy is when strangers rent you cars for 1-way trips at 3am over the internet.

Curated Insights 2018.02.11

Why Expedia or Priceline might just be the next great hotel brand

“I think we [in online travel] have all innovated on the service layer, and most of the people in the room are working on the service layers, but the true innovation is going to be actually owning and operating the assets — the airplanes, the hotels, not so much the cars actually. But that aspect is hugely capital intensive, and it’s ripe for some new ideas, and someone will get there. I have a $100 billion, so it won’t be me. If you own and operate the hardware, you can do a lot more on the innovation side than from the service and software layer.”

“Online travel agencies are seeing their revenues go down and it costs them more to advertise on Google because the search criteria are going up. The search price is going up, and the online travel agencies had a tough third quarter. I think they see the writing on the wall. We’ve had overtures with online travel agencies reaching out to us and trying to find ways to partner more [with us].”

“They have to evolve because there are fundamental threats to their existence. They have to have a good relationship with hotels or they won’t have anything to sell.”

“The key point that we want to reinforce is that hotel commission rates are in the 10 to 15 percent range for the large chains and 15 to 25 percent for smaller brands that make up the bulk of Booking.com’s inventory. This compares to airline commission rates that are anywhere from zero to one or two percent in most developed markets. The rationale for the airline inventory is having a complete product to drive traffic, but the margins on those bookings themselves are much lower than for hotels. Booking.com has recently added airlines, but this is simply pushing traffic into its Kayak platform …”

“They were aggregating similar independent hotels with their own brands and it was a scale play. But they didn’t have access to every single hotel in a market. To compete with the online travel agencies who are spending several billion dollars a year in marketing is an expensive undertaking. Just because you have the capability of having content doesn’t mean you’ll be successful in bringing customers to your site, or doing it in a way that’s economically viable to run a business. I’m not surprised it didn’t work; AccorHotels at heart is a hotel brand company and hotel operator.”

What really matters most to consumers today, he said, isn’t the brand itself but the rankings and reviews associated with an individual hotel property. “The first thing a customer checks are the rankings and the commentary. That’s a much better quality assurance than a brand can provide. People choose to stay at an Airbnb based on social ratings and comments from users. They don’t need assurance that there’s a brand on it. That’s part of the dynamics and in essence, the brands are disappearing and what prevails is distribution. If I get the best distribution from an online travel agency, why would I sign up with another company?”

Tackling the internet’s central villain: The advertising business

And for all its power, the digital ad business has long been under-regulated and under-policed, both by the companies that run it and by the world’s governments. In the United States, the industry has been almost untouched by oversight, even though it forms the primary revenue stream of two of the planet’s most valuable companies, Google and Facebook.

The report chronicles just how efficient the online ad business has become at profiling, targeting, and persuading people. That’s good news for the companies that want to market to you — as the online ad machine gets better, marketing gets more efficient and effective, letting companies understand and influence consumer sentiment at a huge scale for little money.

But the same cheap and effective persuasion machine is also available to anyone with nefarious ends. The Internet Research Agency, the troll group at the center of Russian efforts to influence American politics, spent $46,000 on Facebook ads before the 2016 election. That’s not very much — Hillary Clinton’s and Donald J. Trump’s campaigns spent tens of millions online. And yet the Russian campaign seems to have had enormous reach; Facebook has said the I.R.A.’s messages — both its ads and its unpaid posts — were seen by nearly 150 million Americans.


Why JP Morgan, Daimler are testing quantum computers that aren’t useful yet

Chip experts say the phenomenon known as Moore’s Law that drove exponential gains in computing power for decades is now ending. Quantum computing could be a way to revive the rate of progress, at least in some areas. “If you can successfully apply it to problems it could give you an exponential increase in computing power that you can’t get” through traditional chip designs, says Bob Stolte, CTO for the equities division inside JPMorgan’s investment bank.

If and when they arrive, quantum computers won’t be good at everything. But physicists and computer scientists have proven, using theory, that even a relatively small quantum processor could do more than a phalanx of conventional supercomputers on some problems. Conventional computers work on data using bits that can be either 1 or 0. Quantum computers encode data into devices called qubits that can enter a “superposition” state in which they might be considered both 1 and 0 at the same time, allowing computational shortcuts.

The path to tackling other problems on the wish lists of Daimler and JPMorgan is less clear. Brecht says the automaker also hopes quantum computers could optimize routes for delivery vehicles, or the movement of parts through factories. Some problems in finance, such as adjusting portfolio risk, can boil down to similar math.


Why we didn’t invest in Ecolab

Integral to Ecolab’s moat in the Institutional segment is its direct sales force that provides customers with “high touch” relationships. Not only are these relationships hard to replicate, but no competitor is remotely close to matching Ecolab’s 26,000-plus salesforce. Ecolab estimates this figure is two-to-five times larger than any competitor’s.

Ecolab benefitted mightily over the last 10-20 years from inept competition. Its main competitor for North America institutional cleaning business is Diversey, which was most recently sold to Bain Capital in 2017 by Sealed Air. This was the fifth time Diversey had been sold in the previous 21 years. As a consequence of being passed around like a hot potato for two decades, Diversey’s strategy was inconsistent. Ecolab capitalized on many of Diversey’s mistakes.

We also had concerns about S.C. Johnson re-entering the institutional cleaning business, Bain Capital’s push into the European hygiene market, and potential impacts from food service automation.

We further concluded that the acquisitions of Nalco and Champion diluted Ecolab’s overall moat by diminishing the impact of the wide-moat Institutional operations. Indeed, we think the two deals were motivated by growth rather than by ROIC. If that’s the case, it would support our thesis that the Institutional business is a legacy moat with slower growth potential. Otherwise, we would have expected management to reinvest capital that was used in M&A back into the cleaning business.

An inventor of the VIX: ‘I don’t know why these products exist’

In my wildest imagination I don’t know why these products exist. Who do they benefit? No one, except if someone wants to gamble -– then, OK, just go gamble… And who exactly made money? The VXX from its inception in 2009 is down, what, 99%, even after this move… It’s kind of sad that these products exist in the first place, but it’s hard to stop it. If you stop this, something else will come up. Bitcoin will come up.


This physics breakthrough could help save the world

…the turbulence created when we pump air, water, oil, gas and other substances through countless miles of ducts and pipes. Thanks to its confounding effects, fully 10 percent of all the electrical energy produced on Earth gets wasted.

They investigated, for example, the effect of extra stirring from rotors placed inside a pipe, or by the injection of jets of fluid along the pipe walls. Intuition suggests that these would increase turbulence, and they do, but in both cases the flow downstream quickly returns to the smooth state. More important, the interventions can reduce the overall friction associated with turbulence by as much as 90 percent, something few researchers would have expected.


The magnetic field is shifting. The poles may flip. This could get bad.

The dangers: devastating streams of particles from the sun, galactic cosmic rays, and enhanced ultraviolet B rays from a radiation-damaged ozone layer, to name just a few of the invisible forces that could harm or kill living creatures.

Solar energetic particles can rip through the sensitive miniature electronics of the growing number of satellites circling the Earth, badly damaging them. The satellite timing systems that govern electric grids would be likely to fail. The grid’s transformers could be torched en masse. Because grids are so tightly coupled with each other, failure would race across the globe, causing a domino run of blackouts that could last for decades.

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.


Curated Insights 2017.10.15

86-year-old billionaire iPhone chipmaker retires just as his industry heats up

“Since we established ourselves, fabless companies began to mushroom worldwide. Most of the innovations in the semiconductor industry in the last 30 years came from those fabless companies. That’s probably my biggest pride, to have caused a lot of innovations in the industry.”

Liu and Wei inherit a company that is about 30 times larger than local rival United Microelectronics Corp. and commands 59 percent of the $50 billion global foundry market.

Growing chipset demand from China spells another opportunity for TSMC: the country spent $227 billion importing integrated circuits in 2016, according to data from Chinese customs authorities, the fourth consecutive year that chip imports have exceeded $200 billion.


Nvidia, Intel, Marvell: Look how they’ve slimmed down! Says Stifel

“The end markets of semiconductors have changed dramatically over the past 10 years,” he observes, given how much automotive and industrial, two industries with longer product cycles, and therefore more predictable revenue, have taken from more volatile industries.

Another reason for rising valuations is simply scarcity: “In 2007 there were roughly 118 publicly traded semiconductor companies. Today there are roughly 55.”


Shopify S-1 analysis – Smiling all the way to $10B

How are they able to sustain more efficient growth as they scale? The first reason is Shopify has been able to grow their contract value by 14% annually. The average subscription payment by merchant has remained flat over the past four years. Instead of growing subscription revenue on a per customer basis, Shopify is capturing more share of GMV. The chart above shows the merchant services revenue generated per billion dollars of gross merchandise value by Shopify. You can see that figure has quite nearly doubled in four years. In other words, as Shopify merchants sell more, Shopify benefits Proportionately from the growth in GMV, but also at an increasing slope because they capture almost twice as much in fees as they have been historically.

Consequently, merchant services now account for greater than 50% of revenue up from just above 20% four years ago. The gross margin on the software business has remained 78% over the past four years, while merchant services gross margin has fallen from 50% to 30%. Overall gross margin has fallen from 80% to 54%. But that is an advantageous trade considering the massive revenue growth.

Citron exposes the dark side of Shopify the FTC will take notice

Out of the claimed 500,000 websites, Shopify has about 2,500 “Plus” clients and maybe another 20,000 “Advanced”. So where are the other 450,000 + websites?

The majority of Shopify’s customers are not SMB merchants; rather, they are people who are buying a system and Shopify goes as far as to supply them a theme and inventory.


Ikea puts Latin America, Southeast Asian markets in its sights

Ikea has more than 400 stores in 49 markets across Europe, North America, the Middle East, Asia and Australia.

According to Ikea’s plans, it will have opened its first store in South America within the next five years, which is the same timeframe it has set for its expansion into Vietnam and the Philippines. As South America is a new region, it’s likely to enter two or three markets there around the same time in order to secure supply and production, Loof said.

Ikea plans to add 22 new stores this year, up from 14 new stores in 2017. In the future, Ikea will probably open some 25 new stores annually, Loof said. Ikea’s website attracted 2.3 billion visitors last year, while its stores got 936 million visits.


Singapore home-sharing quietly grows despite the rules

Airbnb said its travelers to Singapore typically stay 4.1 nights compared with 3.6 for the average tourist, and three-quarters of listings are outside of traditional hotel districts, allowing tourism spending to accrue in areas that don’t usually host outside visitors.

In a February debate in Parliament, Louis Ng Kok Kwang, a lawmaker for the ruling People’s Action Party, urged the government to regulate rather than ban home-sharing services, noting that the approach so far is inconsistent with how Singapore treated car-sharing businesses, such as Uber Technologies Inc. and Grab.


How we’re solving the LIDAR problem

Strobe’s new chip-scale LIDAR technology will significantly enhance the capabilities of our self-driving cars. But perhaps more importantly, by collapsing the entire sensor down to a single chip, we’ll reduce the cost of each LIDAR on our self-driving cars by 99%.

Strobe’s LIDAR sensors provide both accurate distance and velocity information, which can be checked against similar information from a RADAR sensor for redundancy. RADARs typically also provide distance and velocity information and operate under more challenging weather conditions, but they lack the angular resolution needed to make certain critical maneuvers at speed. When used together, cameras, LIDARs, and RADARs can complement each other to create a robust and fault-tolerant sensing suite that operates in a wide range of environmental and lighting conditions.

 


India stock market could triple in a decade

” … The sectors poised to benefit the most are consumer-oriented and financials. Total online shoppers in India are set to skyrocket from 60 million to 475 million in 2027, while online retail as a percentage of total retail will grow even faster, from 2.2% today to 12.1% in a decade. Unsurprisingly, Amazon.com, China’s Alibaba Group Holding and South Africa’s Naspers have been aggressively investing billions of dollars in India. Morgan Stanley figures Softbank alone has invested some $46 billion in local e-commerce and on-line payments, ride-hailing, and real estate platforms.

As for the financials, Morgan Stanley sees total loans increasing 11 percentage points to 78% of GDP by 2027; total mutual fund assets under management jumping more than ten-fold over the same period; and collected life and general insurance premiums spiking, as well. Fin-tech companies should see exponential growth …”


Bitcoin’s academic pedigree

Nakamoto’s genius, then, wasn’t any of the individual components of bitcoin, but rather the intricate way in which they fit together to breathe life into the system. The timestamping and Byzantine agreement researchers didn’t hit upon the idea of incentivizing nodes to be honest, nor, until 2005, of using proof of work to do away with identities. Conversely, the authors of hashcash, b-money, and bit gold didn’t incorporate the idea of a consensus algorithm to prevent double spending. In bitcoin, a secure ledger is necessary to prevent double spending and thus ensure that the currency has value. A valuable currency is necessary to reward miners. In turn, strength of mining power is necessary to secure the ledger. Without it, an adversary could amass more than 50 percent of the global mining power and thereby be able to generate blocks faster than the rest of the network, double-spend transactions, and effectively rewrite history, overrunning the system. Thus, bitcoin is bootstrapped, with a circular dependence among these three components. Nakamoto’s challenge was not just the design, but also convincing the initial community of users and miners to take a leap together into the unknown—back when a pizza cost 10,000 bitcoins and the network’s mining power was less than a trillionth of what it is today.

The history described here offers rich (and complementary) lessons for practitioners and academics. Practitioners should be skeptical of claims of revolutionary technology. As shown here, most of the ideas in bitcoin that have generated excitement in the enterprise, such as distributed ledgers and Byzantine agreement, actually date back 20 years or more. Recognize that your problem may not require any breakthroughs—there may be long-forgotten solutions in research papers.

Academia seems to have the opposite problem, at least in this instance: a resistance to radical, extrinsic ideas. The bitcoin white paper, despite the pedigree of many of its ideas, was more novel than most academic research. Moreover, Nakamoto didn’t care for academic peer review and didn’t fully connect it to its history. As a result, academics essentially ignored bitcoin for several years. Many academic communities informally argued that Bitcoin couldn’t work, based on theoretical models or experiences with past systems, despite the fact that it was working in practice.

The lessons of Leonardo: How to be a creative genius

Be curious about everything. Leonardo’s most distinctive trait was his passionate, playful and occasionally obsessive curiosity. He made lists in his notebooks of hundreds of subjects, both marvelous and mundane, that he wanted to explore…Some of his curiosity involved phenomena so commonplace that we rarely pause to wonder about them. “Why is the fish in the water swifter than the bird in the air when it ought to be the contrary, since the water is heavier and thicker than the air?”

Observe attentively. His curiosity was aided by the sharpness of his eye, which focused on things that the rest of us barely notice. One night he saw lightning flash behind some buildings and for that instant they looked smaller, so he launched a series of experiments to verify that objects look smaller when surrounded by light.

The best reason to learn from Leonardo, however, is not to get a better job but to live a better life. Having immersed myself in his world for several years, I have resolved to be more observant of phenomena that I used to ignore.