Curated Insights 2018.01.21

JD.com’s Richard Liu decodes the Chinese consumer

No one wants to take a bag, and put it on a table when a lot of ladies have the same bag with the same style. They want to find something special. Something you cannot find in your circle…But if you look at China, there are more and more young people, and their income is relatively very small, but they want to spend time to find fashion, maybe not as expensive as luxury brands, but still very fashionable. Maybe not big brands, [but rather] small brands, or niche brands.

Commerce platforms for them are the best way to convert their customers to buying. And at the same time, for JD, we are not just a sales platform; we are a brand-building platform. We spend more and more resources to help build the brand — to strengthen the brand is as important as the sales side.

We will use two different ways to cover the entire globe. The first is our South [East] Asian channel. We will set up [a] subsidiary there and copy the Chinese business model. Build a local team, buyer team, logistics system and last mile delivery team, everything the same as in China. In Indonesia we have been operating for almost two years, and we will go to Thailand very soon.

But for Europe and [the] US we will use a cross-border business model. We have been thinking about this for many years. If you just copy another model or local players do exactly the same thing as them, you cannot find an advantage. So we will cooperate with Chinese local brands and bring them to the US and Europe. They need us, and we also need them, because the brand quality is very good and price is not as high. We will choose them, pick them up and bring [them] to the US and Europe. I think people will love these kinds of Chinese brands.


Alibaba’s AI outguns humans in reading test

“That means objective questions such as ‘what causes rain’ can now be answered with high accuracy by machines,” Luo Si, chief scientist for natural language processing at the Alibaba institute, said in a statement. “The technology underneath can be gradually applied to numerous applications such as customer service, museum tutorials and online responses to medical inquiries from patients, decreasing the need for human input in an unprecedented way.”


Keyence: Leading Japan’s new wave of tech giants

Keyence is a beneficiary of the AI, robotics, and industrial-automation boom. Sales of its factory automation sensors have been particularly strong in China, where labor costs are rising. As manufacturing grows more data intensive, factories require more sensors and vision systems to collect data and become “smarter.” Plus, a large proportion of Internet of Things spending is on sensors and connectivity. “Keyence has the highest exposure to upgrade-and-innovation demand,” says Jay Huang of Sanford C. Bernstein. Keyence, with its diversified customer base, is one of least exposed to cycles of single trends like the iPhone, he says, and has more than half the global market share for 3-D vision systems —a market growing 30% a year—and rising sales in China.


Facebook’s motivations

The key thing to remember about Facebook — and Google’s — dominance in digital ads is that their advantages are multi-faceted. First and foremost are the attractiveness of their products to users; that attractiveness is rooted not only in technology but also in both data and people-based network effects. Second is the depth of information both companies have on their users, allowing advertisers to spend more efficiently on their platforms — particularly on mobile — than elsewhere. The third advantage, though, is perhaps the least appreciated: buying ads on Google and Facebook is just so much easier. They are one-stop shops for reaching anyone, which means competitors need to not have similar targeting capabilities and user engagement, but in fact need to be significantly better to justify the effort.


Adapt or die is Marchionne’s stark farewell message to carmakers

Carmakers have less than a decade to reinvent themselves or risk being commoditized amid a seismic shift in how vehicles are powered, driven and purchased. Auto companies need to quickly separate the stuff that will be swallowed by commodity from the brand stuff.

While the car industry has always been tough — Chrysler and GM both went bankrupt during the financial crisis — in the past the mistakes were self-induced, Marchionne said. Now the tumult is being driven by outside forces, and it’s coming faster than people expect, he said — a surprising view, given that Fiat is perceived to be behind some competitors in adapting. He said the company is positioned well, and rather than pour money into competing with Silicon Valley, the industry should try to identify the best solutions coming from tech companies and reduce its exposure to products that aren’t going to be easily defended.


Ensemble Capital: Prestige Brands update

Owning these strong brands, in small niche markets, results in Prestige generating the highest profit margins in their industry. While Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson might be a lot more well known, Prestige Brands turns every dollar of revenue into 34 cents of profits while P&G and J&J manage to squeeze out just 26 cents of profits.

It is important to recognize that Prestige is a brand management company more than a product producer. They outsource most of the capital-intensive production aspects of the business. This capital light, outsourcing approach means the company only employs 520 people, generating an amazing $1.7 million per employee. In comparison, most health care and consumer staple companies do closer to $500k per employee and Apple, which has the highest revenue per employee in the technology industry does only slightly more at $1.9 million. Until their acquisition of Fleet a year ago, Prestige had only 259 employees and was doing an amazing $3.1 million per employee.


How Roku morphed from a quirky hardware startup to a TV streaming powerhouse

For about two years, Roku considered building its own TV set in-house. “Then we decided: No, that’s a way to lose a lot of money,” remembers Wood. Instead, the company teamed up with Chinese firms looking to enter the U.S. market and willing to undercut the competition with budget-priced TV models — a strategy Sappington calls “a very smart decision.” And with millions of active users and growing brand awareness, Roku was able to talk to TV makers eye-to-eye and demand that they not change a thing about its software. “We had a big enough brand that they were willing to do those kinds of deals,” Wood says.

But to really understand Roku, you have to look beyond the streaming boxes, sticks and even TVs. “People think of Roku as a hardware company,” says Martin. “It is not.” Rather, the firm is leveraging hardware to acquire users, which can then be monetized via advertising and licensing fees. “The goal was always to generate revenue by monetizing the platform,” says Wood. “As our scale started to approach 5 million active accounts, that’s when we said, ‘Now we can start focusing on monetization.’”

Still, his message to Hollywood is clear: Roku is already in the content business, and it wants to be top of mind as studios think about windowing their content. “We are a very viable outlet,” says Holmes. “We should be one of their first calls.”


China’s top movie ticketing app said to plan $1 billion IPO

China’s box-office receipts rose 15 percent last year to 52 billion yuan ($8 billion), making it the world’s second largest movie market after the U.S. Almost 80 percent of movie tickets in the country are sold through mobile apps, and Maoyan Weying is the largest ticketing provider with a 52.5 percent market share as of the third quarter 2017, according to researcher Analysys.


Didi has a brilliant plan to contain the threat of China’s bike-sharing services

Already, Ofo and arch rival Mobike have chipped away at Didi’s share of short journeys and struck deals with local governments with the aim of solving congestion problems. Now, they are looking to expand beyond that. Mobike, for example, has tested ride-sharing services. Mobike and Ofo both claim over 100 million registered users, so action is best taken sooner rather than later. The question is whether Didi’s move is too late.

This devilish strategy works because Ofo and Bluegogo have no choice but to be a part of the platform due to their ties with Didi. Ofo counts Didi as an investor and is already integrated into its app, while Didi swooped in to save Bluegogo after it went broke. It’s no surprise that Mobike, the other bike-sharing unicorn which no Didi connection, didn’t elect to be a part of the program.

Techmate: How AI rewrote the rules of chess

No top chess player would take such a big risk, he says. But this computer seems to have “such control over the board, it’s almost as though it has an intuition something good will happen”. His verdict on its overall game-playing ability: “It’s incredible. It’s hard for me to get my head around it.”

All computers before this, as he describes it, worked by brute force, using the intellectual equivalent of a steamroller to crack a nut. People don’t operate that way: “Humans are flexible because we know that sometimes we have to depart from the rules,” he says. In AlphaZero, he thinks he has seen the first computer in history to learn that very human trick.

Predictions about the imminent rise of the machines have always turned out to be wildly over-optimistic. Herbert Simon, one of the pioneers of AI, forecast in 1965 that computers would be able to do any work a human was capable of within 20 years. When today’s experts in the field were asked when that moment would come, only half picked a time within the next 30 years.


This army of AI robots will feed the world

If robots can prevent herbicides from having any contact with crops, it means that 18 classes of chemicals previously considered too damaging to be widely sprayed suddenly become viable. “We’re both ratcheting down the volume of chemicals that need to be used, but also expanding how many types can be used,” Heraud says. In other words, Blue River’s success might be the worst thing that could happen to the herbicide industry, or it could open up an avenue to sell new products.

His next step, with Deere’s backing, will be to move Blue River’s robots beyond herbicides to fertilizers, the culprits behind toxic algae blooms, which are killing fish and making lakes unswimmable. Farmers typically spend up to 10 times more annually on fertilizers than weed killers—about $150 billion a year. But the shift is a big leap for a robot. It must gather a range of visual signals—the colors, sizes, and textures of a plant’s leaves—and from this data extrapolate the plant’s health and how much nourishment it needs. “It’s a ton more processing power, but it’s doable,” Heraud says.

The next link in this technological chain could be a kind of agricultural Swiss Army knife: a robot that can apply not only herbicides and fertilizers but also insecticides, fungicides, and water all at once, delivering only as needed.

The implication of plant-by-plant—rather than field-by-field—farming is not just the prospect of vast reductions in chemical usage. It could also, in theory, end monocropping, which has become the new normal—cornfields and soybean fields as far as the eye can see—and has given rise to the kind of high-calorie, low-nutrient diets that are causing heart disease, obesity, and Type 2 diabetes. Monocrops also leach soil nutrients and put food supplies at risk, because single-crop fields are more susceptible to blight and catastrophe. Modern farmers have been segregating crops in part because our equipment can’t handle more complexity. Robots that can tend plants individually could support intercropping—planting corn in with complementary crops such as soybeans and other legumes.

Bright outlook for the economy and stocks

But I worry that this tax cut is happening at a time when the U.S. economy doesn’t need fiscal stimulus. And longer term, what will tax cuts do to the federal deficit? The deficit was going to be rising as a percentage of GDP anyway, partly for structural reasons relating to the aging of the baby boomers. A $1.5 trillion tax cut will add an additional $300 billion to $400 billion interest-rate burden in the next few years.

In the past 10 years, American companies made an inordinate effort to think about how to move people or structures outside the U.S. for nonproductive purposes—basically, to increase earnings per share. By moving toward a territorial system of taxation and bringing our corporate tax rate in line with the rest of the world’s, we can get back to having managers focus on productive investments, greater efficiency, and value creation. This will unlock the strength of America and drive GDP growth. Simply, the absence of a major negative is a positive. This is a generational change. While inflation potentially is a fear for the stock market, you have to be positive on the S&P 500, even though we are 102 months into an expansion.

Having covered the auto-parts industry for 50 years, I am seeing more companies announce that they are going to relocate to the U.S. And the U.S. is a magnet not only for American, but also for foreign companies locating here because the U.S. is a big market.

But now the Fed is starting to allow $30 billion of Treasuries, more or less, to mature into the market each month. There is a chance—I’d call it a base case—that the rhetoric and actions of the ECB will have to become more hawkish, given economic growth in Europe. That means the ECB might start to pull back on quantitative easing. Central-bank balance sheets could start to decline, in the aggregate, sometime during 2018. If that happens, the stock market will go down. Quantitative easing, cumulatively, has been highly correlated to the gains in the S&P 500 and global stock markets. Central-bank footings, or assets, went from $6 trillion pre-financial-crisis to $22 trillion subsequently. Bankers are talking about bringing that down to $16 trillion or $17 trillion. Maybe it drops more quickly. It is undeniable that central-bank asset buying has been a prop for the markets.


Some great thoughts on network effects from Anu Hariharan on Twitter:

Often misunderstood – Network Effects is not the same as scale

One simple way to test for that is ask this question – what is the “barrier to exit” for the user?

If the barrier to exit for the user is low, then there is no network effect. This implies it is easy for users to switch from your service

Ride sharing services (Uber, Lyft) don’t have a network effect (in other words demand side economies of scale). Users often switch apps if it takes longer than 5 mins ETA or if there is surge pricing on one

However ride sharing does have supply side economies of scale and therefore opportunity for select players to have monopolistic share in a market

On the other hand apps like Facebook, LinkedIn have very strong network effect – because the barrier to exit for the user is really high!

A user has invested time and effort in building a social graph on these platforms with connections, history of exchanges and in some cases even maintain them. It is not easy for customers/ users to switch easily and therefore the “barrier to exit” for the user is really high

What if everyone got a monthly check from the government?

Kela’s researchers originally envisioned the experiment as the first in a series that would help them understand the implications of expanding basic income nationwide. “With basic income, there will be a lot of winners, but there will be a lot of losers also,” Kangas says. “We have to study the losers.” For one thing, he points out, to provide Finns with the level of financial security they enjoy under their current system, basic income payments would have to be at least twice those of the trial. And to pay everyone, the country would have to change its tax structure.

The wealthiest would be relatively unaffected by such a change because their taxes are already high, but a swath of middle- and upper-middle-class Finns would pay more in taxes than they’d get back in basic income. In national polls, when the possibility of a 55 percent flat tax was raised, the percentage of Finns who supported basic income dropped from 70 to about 30. “We would need to implement another study for the whole population to understand it,” says Miska Simanainen, a tax specialist who was part of Kangas’s team. No such studies are planned.

Trust is perhaps the most radical aspect of basic income. Handing out money requires a government to have faith that people know what’s best for themselves—that, on the whole, they have enough intelligence and foresight to put their financial resources to good use. In almost every basic income study conducted so far, this faith has been borne out. The little money wasted on vices is more than offset by what is spent on groceries or child care. But trusting that this will hold true universally requires an even bigger leap of faith. In 2016, Switzerland’s citizens overwhelmingly voted down a proposal that would’ve given them each the equivalent of $2,555 a month. Surveys showed they didn’t think it was right for people to be given something for free.


Savvy Investor Awards 2017: The Best White Papers

Savvy Investor is the world’s leading research network for institutional investors. Since the site launched in 2015, the Savvy Investor research team has curated over 20,000 investment and pensions papers, placing it in a unique position to judge the best white papers of 2017. The official announcement of winners was made on December 5.

The accolade of “Best Investment Paper 2017” is awarded to the CFA Institute Research Foundation for the paper, “Financial Market History: Reflections on the Past for Investors Today.”


Why dolphins are deep thinkers

One day, when a gull flew into her pool, she grabbed it, waited for the trainers and then gave it to them. It was a large bird and so the trainers gave her lots of fish. This seemed to give Kelly a new idea. The next time she was fed, instead of eating the last fish, she took it to the bottom of the pool and hid it under the rock where she had been hiding the paper. When no trainers were present, she brought the fish to the surface and used it to lure the gulls, which she would catch to get even more fish. After mastering this lucrative strategy, she taught her calf, who taught other calves, and so gull-baiting has become a hot game among the dolphins.

How to guard against moat erosion

A wet moat, called a douve or wet ditch, formed a very efficient obstacle against the assaulting army. However, wet moats could be something of a mixed blessing; they were inconvenient in peacetime, which meant that unofficial bridges were often erected – with subsequent argument and indecision about the right moment to chop them down in an emergency. Besides, water might dangerously erode the base of the wall, and stagnant water might be a year ‘round health hazard for the inhabitants of the castle.

Curated Insights 2017.12.10

The impossibility of intelligence explosion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Google’s AlphaZero destroys Stockfish in 100-game match

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Proof Work aims to decentralize medical data by using the blockchain

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Curated Insights 2017.11.26

What Tesla’s big rig must do to seduce truckers

In North America alone, the largest heavy duty freight trucks—Class 8 semis—account for about $30 billion in sales each year, or more than 250,000 new trucks, according to industry data tracked by Bloomberg. Class 8 trucks, which have a loaded weight rating of at least 33,000 pounds, come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from trash trucks and cement mixers to city buses all the way up to tractor-trailers whose drivers spend days and nights living on the road. The most common day cab delivery trucks cost around $100,000, and big rigs with sleeper cabins are about $150,000.

Batteries are the single most expensive component of an electric truck, and the battery of a cross-country hauler could cost $100,000 even before they build the truck around it. But that upfront investment can be offset by cheaper operating costs. Running a truck on electricity saves tens of thousands in fuel costs as well as savings of roughly 7 cents a mile on lower maintenance costs. And if the autonomous driving system is good enough to run without a driver, it could also dramatically cut labor expenses, which add about 57 cents for every mile on the road.

Any range less than 400 miles is likely meant for local and regional deliveries, the sort of thing done by UPS and FedEx or the type of hub-and-spoke model used by giant retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to move goods from distribution centers to stores or warehouses. If Tesla wants to go after the longest routes to replace what are known as “over-the-road” trucks, which feature sleeping cabins for multi-day driving stretches, the company will need a range of at least 500 miles—or else a way to charge an electric truck that’s faster than anything in use now. The battery needs for each of these categories would be different, and so would the costs.

Perhaps Tesla’s biggest advantage over other truck makers is that its semi will share some core parts with the Model 3. Musk disclosed during an earnings call in May that the semi uses “a bunch” of Model 3 motors, which sit in line with the truck’s axles. These relatively cheap electric motors will give the semis unparalleled electric torque for getting quickly up to speed with a heavy load.


This man is leading an AI revolution in Silicon Valley—and he’s just getting started

Booming demand for its products has supercharged growth at Nvidia. Over the past three full fiscal years, it has increased sales by an average of 19% and profits by an astonishing 56% annually. Nvidia meanwhile has so far managed to retain its roughly 70% market share in GPUs despite competition from formidable rivals—among them Intel and AMD—who want their share of the billions in chip sales to come from this new tech revolution. “IBM dominated in the 1950s with the mainframe computer, Digital Equipment Corp. in the mid-1960s with the transition to mini-computers, Microsoft and Intel as PCs ramped, and finally Apple and Google as cellphones became ubiquitous,” wrote Jefferies equity analyst Mark Lipacis in a July note to clients. “We believe the next tectonic shift is happening now and Nvidia stands to benefit.”

“We believed this model of computing could solve problems that general-purpose computing fundamentally couldn’t. We also observed that video games were simultaneously one of the most computationally challenging problems and would have incredibly high sales volume. Those two conditions don’t happen very often. Video games was our killer app—a flywheel to reach large markets funding huge R&D to solve massive computational problems.”

“In the future, companies will have an A.I. that is watching every single transaction—every business process—that is happening, all day long. Certain transactions or patterns that are being repeated. The process could be very complicated. It could go through sales to engineering, supply chain, logistics, business operations, finance, customer service. And it could be observed that this pattern is happening all the time. As a result of this observation, the artificial intelligence software writes an artificial intelligence software to automate that business process. Because we won’t be able to do it. It’s too complicated.”

“We’re seeing early indications of it now. Generative adversarial networks, or GAN. I think over the next several years we’re going to see a lot of neural networks that develop neural networks. For the next couple of decades, the greatest contribution of A.I. is writing software that humans simply can’t write. Solving the unsolvable problems.”

Google advances their future smart clothing vision with focus on delivering an ‘interactive garment’

Notably the user is able to trigger various different types of functionalities through interactions with the interactive garment, such as by touching or swiping the user’s shirt sleeve. In addition, by enabling the triggering of functionality through interactions with a wearable garment, instead of a device, the user does not need to fiddle around with the user interface of a smartwatch or smartphone in order trigger a functionality. In fact, the user may be able to provide the gesture to the interactive garment without even looking at the garment. In addition, a simple gesture to a garment is discreet and thus enables the user to trigger functionalities in a crowded setting without the need to take out their smartphone or other electronic device.


Apple’s ginormous share of industry profit expands, says Canaccord

Apple is capturing more and more, at 72% of total industry profits, up from 68% in the July quarter, while Samsung’s share dipped slightly to 24%. Looking ahead, Walkley thinks Apple’s share of all smartphone units shipped in 2018 will expand to 14.5% from an expected 13.3% this year, while Samsung’s share he thinks will dip to 19.1% from 20.2%. He expects Huawei and Xiaomi, two big privately held Chinese vendors, to both see share rise in 2018, at 11% and 6.4%, respectively. They won’t do as well, however, as Oppo and Vivo, two other Chinese competitors, who may capture 7.8% and 7.5% of the market next year, he opines.


Why Apple’s HomePod is three years behind Amazon’s Echo

The Echo is a truly standalone product at the center of an ecosystem. The cloud-based operating system has made it easy for developers to create thousands of skills or voice-activated apps. By contrast, the HomePod is essentially an extension of the iPhone, like an accessory. When someone asks the HomePod to open a third-party app, the request won’t go directly to the cloud, as with the Echo, but to an iPhone. As a result, developers can’t write apps for the HomePod. They must create tweaked versions of existing iPhone apps. What’s more, Apple has limited the kinds of apps to messaging, to-do lists and notes. If Alexa is the beating heart of the Echo, Siri is almost an afterthought.


Asia’s consumers snubbing global brands for these products

In Indonesia’s $1.3 billion instant-coffee market, the disparity is more pronounced. During that period, Javaprima gained about 12 percentage points for a 33 percent share, while Nestle lost 1.4 percentage points to 16 percent. Nestle declined to comment on the Indonesian market. Javaprima is capitalizing on local trends, such as demand by women and new coffee drinkers for a smooth and creamy brew, director Agus Susanto said.

Nestle’s revenue from Asia, Oceania and Africa fell 23 percent between 2012 and 2016 to 14.5 billion francs ($14.7 billion). To capture more Asian consumers, the company introduced ready-to-drink cold coffees in the region, opened branded cafes at Chinese universities and formulated a Cafe Viet lineup.

Pechoin, owned by closely held Shanghai Pehchaolin Daily Chemical Co., saw its market share jump fivefold between 2012 and 2016, according to Euromonitor. The parent company had revenue of about $1 billion in 2016. The newfound popularity came partly at the expense of the L’Oreal Paris label, which lost more than a fifth of its market share in the same period. Pechoin, founded in 1931, focuses on herbal products and claims to be one of China’s first cosmetics brands.

L’Oreal remains the No. 1 beauty group in China, and the nation’s increasing demand for luxury cosmetics bodes well for its premium positioning, the company said. Paris-based L’Oreal also has boosted efforts to tailor products for Asia. In 2014, it bought Magic, a Chinese brand known for skincare masks, a popular local beauty ritual. The company also introduced a liquid foundation that uses a cushion applicator popularized in South Korea, and it’s competing with Amorepacific Corp. for the Muslim cosmetics business in Southeast Asia.

A new kind of self-sustaining fishery could offset the worst impacts of animal farming

The Ocean Farm 1 – created by leading salmon farming company SalMar – is the first offshore fish farm capable of complete automation in feeding and monitoring fish. According to SalMar, the farm can mature up to 1.5M fish in just 14 months. If the experimental facility proves viable (and environmentally sound) it may compel more companies and governments to use offshore fish farms to help grow our global food supply.

But American seas are newly open for business: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced a rule in 2016 that allows for large-scale fish farming in federally controlled waters three or more miles offshore. In Europe, the regulatory environment has been more friendly. The EU embraced policy changes recommending the shift of aquaculture offshore back in 2002; by 2008, offshore farms were operational in Norway, Ireland, Italy, Spain, and several other countries. Norway is arguably the aquaculture capital of the world: Fish farming helped Norway produce around 1.18M metric tons of salmon in 2016, and fish contribute $8B annually to Norway’s economy – accounting for about 8% of its exports.

Developing only 1% of Indonesia’s suitable ocean area could produce more than 24 million tonnes of fish per year or over 3.9 × 1011 individual 4 cm bivalves. If consumed entirely within Indonesia, this volume of additional fish production would increase seafood consumption per capita sixfold. In fact, there is already considerable activity working to expand Indonesian aquaculture.


Asia’s richest banker spots a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity

For India, it’s a $207 billion mess, a pile-up of bad loans years in the making that’s dragging on growth. For the nation’s wealthiest banker, it’s the kind of opportunity that very rarely presents itself. What has billionaire Uday Kotak salivating is the government’s attempt to finally draw a line under delinquent loans, with recent steps to overhaul India’s bankruptcy laws and recapitalize state-owned banks. The moves are intended to lift a burden from the country’s banks and encourage them to accelerate lending, supporting economic growth.

The sense among some Indian executives that they could walk away from their debts without facing consequences was a major factor limiting past efforts to bring delinquent loans in check. The government’s announcement last month that it will inject a record 2.1 trillion rupees into state-owned banks is another sea change, in that it should give the lenders sufficient capital to write off bad loans weighing down their balance sheets.


Billionaire Kotak says Indian banks need to cut costs: Q&A

Debt markets and other segments will put pressure on the bank loan markets because they are working at much narrower spreads between the investor and the issuer. This is going to be one of the biggest challenges at a time when non-bank sectors like mutual funds, insurance, debt capital market and so on are dis-intermediating on the one hand, and technology is commoditizing the lending business at the other.

First is the formalization of finance. For instance, you see a reduction in the cash economy as less money is going into land and real assets, especially in rural India. That money is going into the formal economy which is a mega change which we are seeing. The second trend which we are seeing is the broad-basing of financial services. As finance became broader, savers wanted to look at things in addition to or beyond bank deposits. So money is going into mutual funds, insurance and equities markets. The third is digital. It, combined with Aadhaar (India’s biometric identification program), is a very potent force. We are at about 1,360 branches now. In the past we would have thought we would need about 5,000 branches. But with the digital economy, Aadhaar and customer behavior changes, we believe we can do with less.


Traffic is piling up—and so are its costs

Last year, congestion cost each U.S. driver $1,400 on average, for a total of nearly $300 billion, according to Inrix’s latest annual scorecard. The cost reflects wasted fuel, decreased productivity and lost time, which might include longer delivery times or missed meetings. The biggest losers are the most congested cities.

“We find that 49% to 61% of ride-hailing trips would have not been made at all, or by walking, biking or transit,” the researchers reported.

First digital pill approved to worries about biomedical ‘big brother’

Experts estimate that so-called nonadherence or noncompliance to medication costs about $100 billion a year, much of it because patients get sicker and need additional treatment or hospitalization.

The technology could potentially be used to monitor whether post-surgical patients took too much opioid medication or clinical trial participants correctly took drugs being tested. Insurers might eventually give patients incentives to use them, like discounts on copayments, said Dr. Eric Topol, director of Scripps Translational Science Institute, adding that ethical issues could arise if the technology was “so much incentivized that it almost is like coercion.”

This ex-trucker has some questions about the Tesla Semi

This first version of the Semi will not replace the dozens of thousands of trucks on huge regional or coast-to-coast runs, clocking 2,000 to 5,000 miles per week.

I understand acceleration is a core Tesla brand value, but I’m far more interested in braking. An 80,000-pound tractor trailer needs about 550 feet to come to a complete stop from 55 miles per hour, and I spent a surprising portion of every driving shift trying not to obliterate car drivers who weren’t aware of that fact. Show me how much the Semi can lop off that braking distance.

Companies like Wal-Mart and JB Hunt that have placed orders for Tesla Semis have the routes, terminal control, and money for terminal infrastructure to make the most of the Semi, so we’ll see what the production unit looks like in 2019 (hopefully) and parse the feedback after 10,000 miles of road duty. Don’t be surprised to see more mirrors.


Can carbon-dioxide removal save the world?

Carbon-dioxide removal is, potentially, a trillion-dollar enterprise because it offers a way not just to slow the rise in CO2 but to reverse it. The process is sometimes referred to as “negative emissions”: instead of adding carbon to the air, it subtracts it. Carbon-removal plants could be built anywhere, or everywhere. Construct enough of them and, in theory at least, CO2 emissions could continue unabated and still we could avert calamity. Depending on how you look at things, the technology represents either the ultimate insurance policy or the ultimate moral hazard.

As a technology of last resort, carbon removal is, almost by its nature, paradoxical. It has become vital without necessarily being viable. It may be impossible to manage and it may also be impossible to manage without.

Building arks, rather than trying to predict The rain

“One thing I’ve come to as an investor, is recognizing that there are a lot of ways to make money in the market. There are a lot of investment approaches and philosophies that can do very well, but all of them test the investor in one way or another. Therefore, it’s important for you to figure out how to align your investment philosophy with your own personality – so that when the investment philosophy inevitably tests you, you’re the sort of person who will pass the particular types of tests required to successful manage your investment strategy.”


What is blockchain technology?

The blockchain is still in its nascent stages. However, blockchain technology promises to entirely reshape money, middlemen, and trust. Ultimately, blockchain is as much a political and economic hypothesis as a technological one. Blockchain technology provides a new way to think about how we agree on things. For the first time, multiple untrusted parties can create and agree on a single source of truth, without the use of a middleman. The technology’s implications for traditional middlemen and corporate players are therefore potentially enormous. As the landscape evolves, the future of blockchain will likely take on forms yet to be imagined.

It’s fructan, not gluten, that’s causing stomach problems, says new research

The scientists found that the participants only developed bloating symptoms after eating fructan-containing bars. Other bars, including those with gluten, did not cause the distress. This led the researchers to conclude that fructan, not gluten, may be behind the bowel problems. One big reason it’s important to figure this out – people who are on a gluten-free diet were found to have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes by other recent research.


To solve problems caused by sitting, learn to squat

In the past half century, epidemiologists have been forced to shift how they study movement patterns. In modern times, the sheer amount of sitting we do is a separate problem from the amount of exercise we get. Our failure to squat has biomechanical and physiological implications, but it also points to something bigger.

“Every joint in our body has synovial fluid in it. This is the oil in our body that provides nutrition to the cartilage,” Jam says. “Two things are required to produce that fluid: movement and compression. So if a joint doesn’t go through its full range—if the hips and knees never go past 90 degrees—the body says ‘I’m not being used’ and starts to degenerate and stops the production of synovial fluid.”

Curated Insights 2017.11.19

Winners and losers In the patent wars between Amazon, Google, Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft

Google: The full stack AI company

A startup might achieve a breakthrough in an AI vertical, but reaching hundreds of millions of users could take years. The same breakthrough in Google’s hands could be “turned on” for a billion users overnight. Users benefit immediately, while Google’s products become sticker and more valuable.

Google is already seeing a similar benefit. While competitors are using off the shelf processors for deep learning, Google’s TPU provides higher throughout, reduced latency and, perhaps most importantly, reduced power consumption. Because data center construction is Google’s largest capital spending line item and power its highest operating cost, the TPU meaningfully reduces both Google’s capex and opex.

Google’s AI efforts have built a fully integrated company that spans algorithms, data, hardware, and cloud services. This approach helps funnel the world-class AI of Google’s consumer products to its enterprise offerings, providing Google Cloud with a competitive edge. Bringing chip design in-house increases Google’s AI moat by improving performance, lowering latency, and reducing cost. Perhaps most critically, vertical integration enhances its organizational agility: Google can steer all parts of its organization to bring a new product or service to market. Consequently, Google’s AI will be at the forefront of the innovation for years to come.


How Facebook figures out everyone you’ve ever met

Shadow contact information has been a known feature of Facebook for a few years now. But most users remain unaware of its reach and power. Because shadow-profile connections happen inside Facebook’s algorithmic black box, people can’t see how deep the data-mining of their lives truly is, until an uncanny recommendation pops up.

Facebook doesn’t like, and doesn’t use, the term “shadow profiles.” It doesn’t like the term because it sounds like Facebook creates hidden profiles for people who haven’t joined the network, which Facebook says it doesn’t do. The existence of shadow contact information came to light in 2013 after Facebook admitted it had discovered and fixed “a bug.” The bug was that when a user downloaded their Facebook file, it included not just their friends’ visible contact information, but also their friends’ shadow contact information.

It’s what the sociologist danah boyd calls “networked privacy”: All the people who know you and who choose to share their contacts with Facebook are making it easier for Facebook to make connections you may not want it to make. Shadow profile data powers Facebook’s effort to connect as many people as possible, in as many ways as possible. The company’s ability to perceive the threads connecting its billion-plus users around the globe led it to announce last year that it’s not six degrees that separate one person from another—it’s just three and a half.

“Mobile phone numbers are even better than social security numbers for identifying people,” said security technologist Bruce Schneier by email. “People give them out all the time, and they’re strongly linked to identity.”


Will Amazon disrupt healthcare?

Amazon is exceptional at developing formulas to increase efficiency and decrease waste — two vital elements sorely lacking in the current healthcare paradigm.

Baby boomers may be tethered to their in-person interactions with physicians and pharmacists, but millennials are not. They are Amazon’s target audience.

Amazon has several key advantages in a world of personalized medicine — loads of storage space because of its AWS business, sophisticated predictive algorithms, and long-standing, data-rich relationships with millions of “patients”.


How Netflix works: the (hugely simplified) complex stuff that happens every time you hit Play

Netflix estimates that it uses around 700 microservices to control each of the many parts of what makes up the entire Netflix service…And that’s the tip of the iceberg. Netflix engineers can make changes to any part of the application and can introduce new changes rapidly while ensuring that nothing else in the entire service breaks down.

Turns out that Netflix and Amazon’s partnership turned out to be a huge win-win situation for both companies. Netflix turned out to be AWS’s most advanced customers, pushing all of their capabilities to the maximum and constantly innovating upon how they can use the different servers AWS provided for various purposes — to run microservices, to store movies, to handle internet traffic — to their own leverage. AWS in turn improved their systems to allow Netflix to take massive loads on their servers, as well as make their use of different AWS products more flexible, and used the expertise gained to serve the needs of thousands of other corporate customers. AWS proudly touts Netflix as it’s top customer, and Netflix can rapidly improve their services and yet keep it stable because of AWS.


People watch Netflix unabashedly at work (and in public toilets, too)

About 67% of people now watch movies and TV shows in public, according to an online survey it commissioned of 37,000 adults around the world. The most popular public places to stream are on planes, buses, or commuting, the survey found. But 26% of respondents also said they’ve binged shows and movies at work. People in the US were more likely to stream from the office, while users around the world were more likely to stream during their commutes.

For Netflix, mobile still makes up a small chunk of overall viewing. Netflix said it was about 10% as of 2016. But the company also said half of its users stream from a smartphone during any given month. Its audience is now around 110 million subscribers worldwide.


Will traditional auto makers steal the future from Tesla?

Even if electric cars take off in the early to mid-2020s when their cost is likely to be comparable to gas- and diesel-powered vehicles, Garschina thinks the major global auto makers will still dominate the business. Credit Suisse auto analyst Daniel Schwarz recently wrote that auto makers would emerge as winners from simpler, less capital-intensive production of electric vehicles over the next 10 years.

Investors might not be giving the auto industry credit for manufacturing skills honed over decades. As Tesla has found, mass-producing automobiles isn’t easy; the company continues to lose money and grapple with production woes. “The more we learn about new technologies, the clearer it becomes that the key auto makers won’t be disrupted overnight,” says Arndt Ellinghorst, a European auto analyst with Evercore ISI.

Morgan Stanley has estimated that it could take $2.7 trillion of infrastructure investment by 2040 to support a global electric fleet, including 473 million home chargers and seven million super-charging stations. It’s unclear where all that money will come from. The additional need for electricity would be equivalent to current U.S. demand.


These hot restaurants aren’t on maps, only in apps

Virtual restaurants, with their low overhead, are allowing restaurateurs to shift away from the capital-intensive model that kills 60% of new restaurants in their first five years toward something decidedly more techy.

By far the biggest company in the app-driven food-on-demand space is Grubhub. It is so invested in virtual restaurants that two years ago it lent one of its own customers, Green Summit Group, $1 million to expand. Green Summit, which launched in 2013, has kitchens throughout New York City, Todd Millman, its co-founder, says. There might be up to 10 different “restaurants” In a single kitchen. Though they appear on Grubhub as separate establishments, each with a distinct cuisine, all the food might be prepared in the same kitchen by the same staff.

In San Jose, Grubhub competitor DoorDash has built out its own kitchen space. There is one tenant so far, a pizzeria called the Star. (More are on the way, DoorDash says.) To save on rent, DoorDash built the facility in a disused portion of the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds. One month in, the Star’s savings have been notable, says Ben Seabury, chief operating officer of the 1100 Group, which owns the virtual restaurant. Typically, 30 cents of every dollar that comes into one of his restaurants goes to labor, says Mr. Seabury. But without waiters, bartenders and dishwashers, that cost is just 10 cents on the dollar—and even less when demand is high.

Virtual restaurants tap into a larger trend: Americans’ increasing aversion to cooking for themselves. For the first time ever in 2016, Americans spent more at eating and drinking establishments than on groceries, according to U.S. Census data. The food-delivery market is a small slice of that sector: It is only $30 billion in 2017, but Morgan Stanley estimates it could balloon to $220 billion within a few years.

 

Digitizing cash transactions could become quite profitable

Turning financial data into an asset is an early stage opportunity. On a global basis, more than 80% of transactions still occur in cash. Indeed, companies and, at some point, consumers have yet to digitize more than 1.4 trillion transactions per year, roughly equivalent to the number of Google searches per year. Our research indicates that the information associated with digital cash transactions could generate approximately $100 billion of revenue per year.

While we believe that disrupting and digitizing cash transactions represents a large “fintech” opportunity, the benefits are unlikely to accrue to the traditional financial services industry, as it lacks the requisite innovation agility, cost structure, and technical abilities to access and exploit it. Instead, innovative technology companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Tencent that already are transforming big data into big revenue, probably will capitalize on this opportunity.

Companies with the ability to develop deep and dynamic insights into consumer purchasing behavior will be in the best position to capitalize on this $100 billion revenue opportunity. Square, Tencent, Facebook, Amazon, and Alibaba are building the most precise consumer profiles, enabling them to offer value added services like capital loans and insurance either now or in the not-to-distant future. We believe these companies are building significant moats, or barriers to entry, with “value loops” generating more data from their consumers and building products that take increasing share in the marketplace.


Hasbro sets its sights on Mattel

Hasbro has held up relatively well. Chief Executive Brian Goldner has forged close ties to Hollywood, where the company is producing movies and is a favored partner for creating toys tied to films. In recent years, Hasbro won the coveted license for Walt Disney Co.’s Disney Princess characters and has long made toys tied to the media company’s “Star Wars” franchise. Hasbro is also more advanced in telling stories and creating content around its large brands, including a string of feature-length films for its Transformers franchise and more-recent launches like a My Little Pony movie.

Both Hasbro and Mattel were stung by the Toys “R” Us bankruptcy, which threw a major sales channel into turmoil and prompted them to stall deliveries to the retailer, but Mattel’s problems run deeper. The new regime laid out a plan that would keep the company in turnaround mode for a few more years as it tries to fix problems that it blamed on past management. Those included a proliferation of new toys with little staying power that heaped additional costs and complexity onto Mattel’s supply network.

A bigger concern was that a tie-up could trigger change-of-control clauses in the numerous licensing agreements with the likes of Disney, Nickelodeon and others.

Free games fuel $370 billion stock rally – and fears of a crash

In free-to-play games, 2% of players typically generate around 50% of revenue, according to consultancy Yokozuna Data. High-rollers often spend at least $500 per month. Today, the industry generates $100 billion in revenue with about 70 percent coming from in-game goods and services, according to Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

The industry is exploring dark territory. Last month, an Activision Blizzard Inc. patent surfaced which described how machine learning could be used to entice players to spend more. For example, a player could be paired with a teammate who owns a special paid item, and then encourage the player to buy it too.


It’s amazingly cheap to acquire a fleet of Airbus jets

Bill Franke’s airlines are generally fast-growing and profitable, in part because of low expenses and using the latest fuel-efficient jets. All three have exclusively adopted the A320 jet family for cost reasons too, as it makes it easy to swap flight crews and maintenance is less complicated.

Instead of buying jets outright, Frontier, Wizz and Volaris use sale-and-leasebacks. This makes financial sense. One industry observer says the cost of lease finance might be half that of funding an aircraft with equity because of the flood of cheap capital, much of it Chinese. By avoiding ownership, airlines also sidestep residual value risk. If a plane’s value falls, that’s the leasing company’s problem, not Franke’s.


Bob Lutz: Everyone will have 5 years to get their car off the road or sell it for scrap

We don’t need public acceptance of autonomous vehicles at first. All we need is acceptance by the big fleets: Uber, Lyft, FedEx, UPS, the U.S. Postal Service, utility companies, delivery services. Amazon will probably buy a slew of them. These fleet owners will account for several million vehicles a year. Every few months they will order 100,000 low-end modules, 100,000 medium and 100,000 high-end. The low-cost provider that delivers the specification will get the business.

These transportation companies will be able to order modules of various sizes — short ones, medium ones, long ones, even pickup modules. But the performance will be the same for all because nobody will be passing anybody else on the highway. That is the death knell for companies such as BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi. That kind of performance is not going to count anymore.

Car dealers will continue to exist as a fringe business for people who want personalized modules or who buy reproduction vintage Ferraris or reproduction Formula 3 cars. Automotive sport — using the cars for fun — will survive, just not on public highways. And like racehorse breeders, there will be manufacturers of race cars and sports cars and off-road vehicles. But it will be a cottage industry. The era of the human-driven automobile, its repair facilities, its dealerships, the media surrounding it — all will be gone in 20 years.


Sean Stannard-Stockton interview: Shifting competitive landscapes

Today, if you log-on to Amazon and type in what you’re looking for – not a brand name, but a type of product – the #1 ranked item, regardless of brand, is likely to have thousands of reviews. If those reviews are say 4 or 4 ½ stars or better – with reviews from thousands of people, most consumers will happily purchase the item, no matter what the brand is. In this case, Amazon has effectively not just become a logistics provider, not just made shipping easy, not just benefitted from network effects, but it has inserted its own brand into the purchasing behavior – and so the consumer says, ”I trust Amazon and Amazon’s reviews so much that I don’t need to spend time searching or depending on a brand name, I can simply purchase the product no matter what its brand is.”

 

U.S. to dominate oil markets after biggest boom in world history

By 2025, the growth in American oil production will equal that achieved by Saudi Arabia at the height of its expansion, and increases in natural gas will surpass those of the former Soviet Union, the agency said in its annual World Energy Outlook. The boom will turn the U.S., still among the biggest oil importers, into a net exporter of fossil fuels.

Reflecting the expected flood of supply, the agency cut its forecasts for oil prices to $83 a barrel for 2025 from $101 previously, and to $111 for 2040 from $125 before.

 

I always used that as a metaphor for businesses. The customers pour in the Tender Vittles and in the U.S., when you had a union, they would fight and spill the whole bowl of Tender Vittles. In the end, no one could eat anymore. I looked at U.A.W. “It’s insane, they’re going to kill their company.” Sure enough, they damn near did. General Motors was almost bankrupt. In Germany, the unions have representatives on the board of the company. Yes, they say, “The first thing” — that this bowl of Tender Vittles — “we have to make sure that the bowl is there. We can fight all we want, but don’t spill the bowl.” You don’t destroy your company. That was not the attitude of Anglo-Saxon unions, either in England or the U.S.


Countries with the most farmland

The USDA now estimates that there is 15%-20% more farmland on earth than we expected. That’s 250 to 350 million more hectacres! With this addition, the USDA estimates there’s 1.87 Billion acres of farmland on earth.

In terms of total net cropland, this new study declares India as number 1.

 

 

Electric cars’ green image blackens beneath the bonnet

The Earth’s ozone hole is shrinking and is the smallest it has been since 1988

Warmer-than-usual weather conditions in the stratosphere are to thank for the shrinkage since 2016, as the warmer air helped fend off chemicals like chlorine and bromine that eat away at the ozone layer, scientists said. But the hole’s overall reduction can be traced to global efforts since the mid-1980s to ban the emission of ozone-depleting chemicals.

In June, scientists identified a possible threat to the recovery, believing dichloromethane — an industrial chemical with the power to destroy ozone — doubled in the atmosphere over the past 10 years. If its concentrations keep growing, it could delay the Antarctic ozone layer’s return to normal by up to 30 years, according to the study published in the journal Nature Communications.


How much is the Great Barrier Reef worth? Economists just figured it out

It came up with a value of A$56 billion ($43 billion) based on an asset supporting tens of thousands of jobs and which contributes A$6.4 billion to the economy. “Valuing nature in monetary terms can effectively inform policy settings and help industry, government, the scientific community and the wider public understand the contribution of the environment, or in this case the Great Barrier Reef, to the economy and society,’’ the Deloitte report said. “The tight and unforgiving deadline the Great Barrier Reef is up against necessitates an understanding of its true value to know what kind of policy action is required in response.’’


Why do we love pets? An expert explains.

In his latest book, Bradshaw argues that our fascination with pets is not because they’re useful, nor even because they’re cute, and certainly not because they’ll make us live longer. Instead, he writes, pet-keeping is an intrinsic part of human nature, one rooted deeply in our own species’ evolution.

People with animals, or as simply described as having a friendly dog with them, instantly become more trustworthy in the eyes of the person who’s encountering that person or having that person described to them.

The idea that simply getting a pet is going to make you happy and de-stress you is not going to work if you don’t do the homework about what the animal needs.

Both dogs and cats are carnivores — the cat is a very strict carnivore. The idea that we can continue to essentially farm the world in a way that provides enough meat for dogs and cats to eat, let alone humans, is probably not sustainable. Whether it will be possible for people to continue to keep these animals, or what kinds of substitutes they find if it does become impossible, I think is going to be fascinating, if somewhat painful for the people involved.

 

Why $450 Million for this painting isn’t crazy

Would 7.5 million people a year pay an average of 9 euros to visit the Louvre if La Gioconda, as the painting is sometimes called, weren’t there? If just a million of them passed on it, the museum would lose the entire amount paid for “Salvator Mundi” over 50 years.

It’s difficult to imagine anyone hoping to make much of a profit on a resale after paying such an outrageous price. But building a museum’s pitch for visitors around it could be a way to make economic sense out of the deal.

Curated Insights 2017.11.12

(Guardian: Apple secretly moved parts of empire to Jersey after row over tax affairs)
(BBC: Paradise Papers: Apple’s secret tax bolthole revealed)
(Apple: The facts about Apple’s tax payments)

“US multinational firms are the global grandmasters of tax avoidance schemes that deplete not just US tax collection, but the tax collection of almost every large economy in the world.”

“Apple claims to be the largest US corporate taxpayer, but by sheer size and scale it is also among America’s largest tax avoiders … [It] should not be shifting its profits overseas to avoid the payment of US tax, purposefully depriving the American people of revenue.”

One theory is that AOE “bought” the rights owned by ASI taking advantage of an incentive called capital allowance. This means that if a multinational buys its own intellectual property through an Irish subsidiary, the cost of that purchase will generate many years of tax write-offs in Ireland.


This is how Amazon could invade the pharmacy business

Drug delivery would also add to the value of Amazon Prime membership. Customers who pay the $99-per-year price for Prime membership are its most loyal customers, and Amazon is constantly looking for ways to increase the value of membership to keep shoppers from using competitors.

In generics especially, there are numerous markups along the way that Amazon could eliminate or pare back to capture market share.

Amazon already owns wholesale distribution licenses in at least 13 states and could build its own pharmacy business from scratch, restructuring the drug supply chain in the process. For now, these wholesale licenses may be part of Amazon’s business-to-business sales effort, which would focus on hospitals, doctors’ offices and dentists. In the longer term, however, the drug-distribution licenses could be the first step in building a hub-and-spoke model for drugs that could eventually serve consumers.

There are thousands of different drugs and dosages with prices that vary widely among drugstores and insurance plans. This makes it hard for patients to know when they are getting the best deal.


Tesla hits bumps in pursuit of mass market

Potential problems uncovered include workers in its Fremont plant manually operating robots that should be automated, several cost overruns and delays from suppliers because of late changes to design specifications, and difficulties sequencing parts once they arrive at the plant leading to a large number of unfinished vehicles coming off the line.

 

In multiple instances, the company shipped cars from the factory that lacked key parts such as computer modules, digital displays, or even seats. These parts were flown to Tesla-owned dealers, who then assembled them into the vehicle before completing the shipments to customers, according to several people familiar with the practice.


 

Apple acquired InVisage with well over 100 patents on quantum dot technology for advanced cameras and beyond

Apple’s acquisition of InVisage is very exciting as iPhone cameras are becoming a key feature to keep their smartphones ahead of the pack. Advancing video will be very exciting to see come to the iPhone and beyond. Between the advances in Quantum Dot technology and depth cameras, they have expertise in many markets that Apple could tap into over time.

Why AI is the ‘new electricity’

The U.S. and China lead the world in investments in AI, according to James Manyika, chairman and director of the McKinsey Global Institute. Last year, AI investment in North America ranged from $15 billion to $23 billion, Asia (mainly China) was $8 billion to $12 billion, and Europe lagged at $3 billion to $4 billion. Tech giants are the primary investors in AI, pouring in between $20 billion and $30 billion, with another $6 billion to $9 billion from others, such as venture capitalists and private equity firms.

Where did they put their money? Machine learning took 56% of the investments with computer vision second at 28%. Natural language garnered 7%, autonomous vehicles was at 6% and virtual assistants made up the rest. But despite the level of investment, actual business adoption of AI remains limited, even among firms that know its capabilities, Manyika said. Around 40% of firms are thinking about it, 40% experiment with it and only 20% actually adopt AI in a few areas.

The reason for such reticence is that 41% of companies surveyed are not convinced they can see a return on their investment, 30% said the business case isn’t quite there and the rest said they don’t have the skills to handle AI. However, McKinsey believes that AI can more than double the impact of other analytics and has the potential to materially raise corporate performance.


Why multi-cloud is the next big thing in technology

Why has cloud become so indispensable to so many companies? Because pretty much every company has become a software company, and they all need to deliver their software faster and to more people than ever before.

Avoiding lock-in and saving cost; Differentiation; responding to cloud vendor pressure; resiliency, redundancy, performance and data sovereignty; M&A and consolidation; access to resources.

A recent survey by RightScale found that 85% of enterprises now have a multi-cloud strategy, up from 82% in 2016. This creates immense opportunities for startups that can help companies work seamlessly across various different cloud providers. Startups that promise cloud neutrality – not being locked into one particular vendor – will have significant advantage in this new battlefield.


A decade after DARPA: Our view on the state of the art in self-driving cars

Developing a system that can be manufactured and deployed at scale with cost-effective, maintainable hardware is even more challenging. We are innovating across the sensing hardware and software stack to lower costs, reduce sensor count, and improve range and resolution. There remains significant work to be done to accomplish these conflicting objectives and get the technology to reliably scale.

Testing stochastic systems requires a significant number of repetitions generated by real-world data for it to be representative. That means we must gather millions of miles of road experience to teach the software to drive with confidence. (Imagine needing to drive millions of miles to get your driver’s license!) But not all miles are created equal, so “accumulated miles” is not an expressive enough metric to track progress. Think of it this way: The skills you acquired learning to drive in a quiet Midwestern town will not translate should you find yourself driving in the heart of Manhattan.

We’re still very much in the early days of making self-driving cars a reality. Those who think fully self-driving vehicles will be ubiquitous on city streets months from now or even in a few years are not well connected to the state of the art or committed to the safe deployment of the technology. For those of us who have been working on the technology for a long time, we’re going to tell you the issue is still really hard, as the systems are as complex as ever.


How many robots does it take to fill a grocery order?

The U.K.’s biggest online grocer hit a milestone this year: Ocado Group Plc put together an order of 50 items, including produce, meat and dairy, in five minutes. Fulfilling a similar order at one of the company’s older facilities takes an average of about two hours. The secret: a fleet of 1,000 robots that scurry about a warehouse snatching up products and delivering them to human packers.


Thanks to Wall St., there may be too many restaurants

There are now more than 620,000 eating and drinking places in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the number of restaurants is growing at about twice the rate of the population.

“Everybody thinks their brand has what it takes to succeed in the marketplace. You look at a location that looks good, but everybody is looking at the same place and they all come in, and the result is you get oversaturation.”

Sales at individual chain restaurants, compared with a year earlier, began dropping in early 2016, analysts reported. A majority of restaurants reported sales growth in just four of the last 22 monthly surveys from the National Restaurant Association. Before that, most restaurants had reported growth for 20 consecutive months, from March 2014 through October 2015, the survey found. As Americans work longer hours and confront an ever-growing array of food options, they are spending a growing share of their food budget — about 44 cents per dollar — on restaurants.

The shuttering of restaurants could have a major impact on the labor market. Since 2010, restaurants have accounted for one out of every seven new jobs, and many restaurateurs complain that it has become increasingly difficult to hire and retain workers.


Menu prices will tell the future of inflation

Take a company like the Cheesecake Factory. In its third-quarter earnings report back in 2013, when the labor market was looser, labor costs represented 32.1 percent of revenue. Operating margins were 8.2 percent. Fast forward to the third-quarter earnings report this year. Labor costs had risen to 34.9 percent of revenue, and operating margins had shrunk to 6.2 percent. In its conference call, the company guided wage growth in 2018 to 5 percent, in line with many of its peers. As labor pressures have eaten into margins and profits, perhaps not surprisingly, the company’s stock is flat over the past four years.

Lucky for the restaurant industry, even while labor costs have been rising, food costs have been falling. Cheesecake Factory’s cost of sales as a percentage of revenue has fallen to 22.9 percent, from 24.0 percent in the third quarter of 2013. Without this, margins would be even lower.

The cost of eating out has been going up at a rate of only 2.4 percent per year, less than wage growth in the industry.

Jeff Bezos’s guide to life

On raising kids: Jeff and his wife let their kids use sharp knives since they were four and soon had them wielding power tools, because if they hurt themselves, they’d learn. Jeff says his wife’s perspective is “I’d much rather have a kid with nine fingers than a resourceless kid.”

…decided “the best way to think about it was to project my life forward to age 80” and make the decision that “minimized my regrets. You don’t want to be cataloguing your regrets.” And while you might feel remorse for things you did wrong, he said more often regrets stem from the “path not taken” like loving someone but never telling them. “Then it was immediately obvious” that he should leave to start Amazon. “If it failed, I would be very proud when I was 80 that I tried.”

On space entrepreneurship: The key to opening the opportunities of space is reducing the price of getting objects out of Earth’s gravity. “We have to lower the cost of admission so thousands of entrepreneurs can have startups in space, like we saw with the Internet”, noting how web companies exploded in popularity as infrastructure costs came down.


Peak farmland, peak timber, peak car travel, peak child

About 1970 a great reversal began in America’s use of resources. Contrary to the expectations of many professors and preachers, America began to spare more resources for the rest of nature, first in relative and more recently in absolute amounts. A series of decouplings is occurring, so that our economy no longer advances in tandem with exploitation of land, forests, water, and minerals. American use of almost everything except information seems to be peaking, not because the resources are exhausted, but because consumers changed consumption and producers changed production. Changes in behavior and technology liberate the environment. – Nature Rebounds, Jesse Ausubel

Curated Insights 2017.11.05

This company’s robots are making everything and reshaping the world

Earlier this year, during one of Fanuc’s rare open houses, Vice President Kenji Yamaguchi told investors that about 80 percent of the company’s assembly work is automated. “Only the wiring is done by engineers,” he said. And when you have lots of efficient robots making your other robots, you can sell those robots more cheaply—about $25,500 for a new Robodrill. (You can find a well-used older model on EBay for $8,500.) Volkswagen Group, for instance, pays about 10 percent less for Fanuc robots than it paid for ones it previously purchased from Kuka AG, a German company.

Fanuc manages to offer these savings while maintaining 40 percent operating profit margins, a success that Yamaguchi also traced to the company’s centralized production in Japan, which is made possible, even though most of its products are sold outside the country, by the 243 global service centers that keep its robots operational. The company even profits from its competitors’ sales, because more than half of all industrial robots are directed by its numerical-control software. Between the almost 4 million CNC systems and half-million or so industrial robots it has installed around the world, Fanuc has captured about one-quarter of the global market, making it the industry leader over competitors such as Yaskawa Motoman and ABB Robotics in Germany, each of which has about 300,000 industrial robots installed globally. Fanuc’s Robodrills now command an 80 percent share of the market for smartphone manufacturing robots.

Orders from the U.S., though, are dwarfed by those from China—some 90,000 units, almost a third of the world’s total industrial robot orders last year. Sales to China amounted to about 55 percent of the $5 billion Fanuc’s automation unit generated in the fiscal year ended March 2017. The International Federation of Robotics estimates that, by 2019, China’s annual industrial robot orders will rise to 160,000 units, suggesting Fanuc will be insulated from any slowdown in the world’s second-largest economy. Yoshiharu told investors at his most recent Q&A session in April that the company expects demand in China to outstrip supply even after Fanuc opens a factory next August in Japan’s Ibaraki prefecture. The facility will be dedicated solely to keeping up with Chinese demand.

The result of Nishikawa’s insight was the Fanuc Intelligent Edge Link and Drive, or Field. The system, introduced in 2016, is an open, cloud-based platform that allows Fanuc to collect global manufacturing data in real time on a previously unimaginable scale and funnel it to self-teaching robots.


Apple should shrink its finance arm before it goes bananas

Apple does not organise its financial activities into one subsidiary, but Schumpeter has lumped them together. The result—call it “Apple Capital”—has $262bn of assets, $108bn of debt, and has traded $1.6trn of securities since 2011.

Since Jobs died, its assets have risen by 221%, twice as fast as the company’s sales, reflecting Apple’s huge build-up of profits. Its investments are worth 32% of Apple’s market value, and its profits (investment income, plus gains on derivatives, less interest costs) have been 7% of Apple’s pre-tax profits so far this year. It is also sizeable compared with other financial firms. Consider four measures: assets, debt, credit exposure and profits.

In 2011 a majority of its assets were “risk-free”: cash or government bonds. Today 68% are invested in other kinds of securities, mainly corporate bonds, which Apple says are generally investment grade. The shift may explain why Apple’s annual interest rate earned on its portfolio (2%) is now higher than that of the four other Silicon Valley firms with money mountains, Microsoft, Alphabet, Cisco and Oracle. In total, they still have 66% of their portfolios squirrelled away in risk-free assets.

Its foreign operation swims in cash while its domestic one drowns in debt. Profits made abroad are kept in foreign subsidiaries. That way Apple does not pay the 35% levy America charges when earnings are repatriated. Some 94% of Apple Capital’s assets are “offshore” and cannot be tapped for ordinary purposes. The domestic business must do the hard work of paying for dividends and buy-backs. Its profits are not big enough to cover these, so it borrows. Domestic net debts have risen to $92bn, or five times domestic gross operating profits. Each year Apple must issue $30bn of bonds (including refinancing), similar to the average of Wall Street’s five largest firms.


To understand the benefits of tax reform, start by understanding Apple’s taxes

Now we have the numbers that answer the basic question: What accounts for the difference between what Apple pays and the official 35% rate? Page 56 of its 10K shows the numbers. Once again, if Apple had faced the full 35% rate, it would have paid $21.46 billion in federal taxes (as well as another $990 million to the states). Instead, it paid $10.444 billion in cash, and accrued $5.241 billion in U.S. tax owed on foreign profits, but deferred to be paid later. That’s the total of $15.685 billion that it booked in tax expense on its income statement. The difference between that number and the approximately $21.5 billion it would have paid at the 35% rate is the almost $5.6 billion exclusion for “indefinitely invested foreign earnings.”

Surprisingly, companies such as Apple with an extremely large proportion of foreign sales, could actually pay more U.S. taxes in cash each year under the current proposals. That’s because elimination of deferrals and the exception for reinvested earnings would sent more money to the Treasury even at the far lower minimum rate.

 

Google’s profits are exploding because the web is massive

The bigger the web grows, the more valuable Google becomes. And, with more than one billion websites in the world and more than 4 billion people with regular access to the Internet, finding your needle in that haystack is the fundamental problem of Internet use. As the tech writer Ben Thompson wrote, “Google is the king of aggregators because, when information shifted from scarcity to abundance, discovery became the point of leverage, and Google was better at discovery than anyone.”

Second, the migration of attention from print and television to the internet—both desktop and mobile—has created a advertising duopoly for Google and Facebook. As these slides from the last Kleiner Perkins internet presentation show clearly, mobile is the future of media attention and Facebook and Google’s share of digital ad revenue is growing faster than the rest of the industry combined.


How Google’s quantum computer could change the world

Early next year, Google’s quantum computer will face its acid test in the form of an obscure computational problem that would take a classical computer billions of years to complete. Success would mark “quantum supremacy,” the tipping point where a quantum computer accomplishes something previously impossible. It’s a milestone computer scientists say will mark a new era of computing, and the end of what you might call the classical age.

That potential is a result of exponential growth. Adding one bit negligibly increases a classical chip’s computing power, but adding one qubit doubles the power of a quantum chip. A 300-bit classical chip could power (roughly) a basic calculator, but a 300-qubit chip has the computing power of two novemvigintillion bits—a two followed by 90 zeros—a number that exceeds the atoms in the universe.

Volkswagen AG is testing quantum computers made by Canadian firm D-Wave Systems Inc. In March, the companies said that, using GPS data from 10,000 taxis in Beijing, they created an algorithm to calculate the fastest routes to the airport while also minimizing traffic. A classical computer would have taken 45 minutes to complete that task, D-Wave said, but its quantum computer did it in a fraction of a second.

Such a complex and expensive setup means that Google and its peers will likely sell quantum computing via the cloud, possibly charging by the second.


Google has a new plan for China (and it’s not about search)

Rather than another splashy product launch, Google’s latest China strategy is a grassroots effort focused on getting developers in the country trained and hooked on its AI building blocks. It’s similar to the way business software startups get employees using their services before corporate IT departments notice. Once the tools become popular, companies often accept the technology and sign up for full service.

It’s hard to find a place as fertile for AI as China. The country has one of the fastest growing TensorFlow developer communities in Asia, despite the fact that Google’s cloud services are unavailable there. The Chinese government has made AI a national priority. Scores of Chinese companies are deploying machine-learning systems — AI software that automatically adjusts to data — to update banking services, identify faces in crowds and control drones.

Beijing-based Wang Xiaoyu said TensorFlow was a vital tool for her podcast startup CastBox.FM. Developing her own tools would’ve required a team of 20 expensive machine-learning specialists. Instead, she turned to TensorFlow and hired a single Chinese PhD graduate with TensorFlow experience capable of producing the same results. Her company is now worth about $60 million with more than 8 million users downloading her app.

Ricky Wong, an investor who often works in China, analyzed the location of the first 5,000 developers to access the tools and found more came from Beijing than all of Silicon Valley.


Tech goes to Washington

I still believe that, on balance, blaming tech companies for the last election is, more than anything, a convenient way to avoid larger questions about what drove the outcome. And, as I noted, the fact is that tech companies remain popular with the broader public.

What this hearing highlighted, though, is the degree to which the position of Facebook in particular has become more tenuous. The fact of the matter is that Facebook (and Google) is more powerful than any entity we have seen before. Magnifying the problem is that, over the last year, Facebook has decided to “take responsibility”, and what is that but a commitment to exercise their control over what people see?

More broadly, it is hard to escape the conclusion that tech companies have been unable to resist the ring of power: the end game of aggregation is unprecedented control over what people see; the only way to handle that power without risking the abuse of it is a commitment to true neutrality. That Facebook, Twitter, and Google — which, by the way, holds just as much if not more power than Facebook, but without the attendant media scrutiny — have committed to fixing the Russian problem is itself more problematic than those urging they do just that may realize.

Inside Fort Botox, where a deadly toxin yields $2.8 billion drug

Scientists differ over how much of the toxin would be required to inflict massive damage. Data on the topic is scarce, and that may be intentional. But a study published in 2001 in the Journal of the American Medical Association said that a single gram in crystallized form, “evenly dispersed and inhaled, would kill more than 1 million people.” Experts are divided over what it would take to effectively weaponize the toxin, but the mere possibility of a botulism bomb has the U.S. government on edge. That puts Allergan in a remarkable position. The government’s vigilance enhances the company’s own secrecy, and together they give Botox a near-monopoly that is almost unassailable. Allergan says Botox has more than 90 percent of the market for medical uses of neurotoxins and 75 percent of the market for cosmetic uses.


Gene therapy helped these children see. Can it transform medicine?

Spark’s product, named Luxturna, is designed to help a subset of LCA sufferers with a mutation in a gene known as RPE65 — who number about 6,000 in northern America, Europe and the other developed markets the company hopes to enter. But its approval would have much broader implications for the way we fight sickness and disease. 

Drugs are designed to fight illnesses by cajoling the body, opening up one biological pathway or closing down another. Gene therapy takes a different approach, replacing the faulty or missing DNA that is causing the disease in the first place and helping the body fix itself. Because it tackles the illness at its biological root, it could offer a one-time treatment for an array of genetically driven conditions that have either had poor options or none at all, from haemophilia and Parkinson’s to Huntington’s disease, cystic fibrosis and myriad rare diseases. It opens up the possibility of that thing still so elusive in modern medicine: a cure. 


Patient deaths show darker side of modernized Chinese medicine

Having struggled for decades to rein in the sector, regulators have recently begun pushing for an overhaul of Chinese medicine injections, seeking to weed out unsafe and ineffective products. But the process could take up to a decade, given the complexity of these intravenous pharmaceuticals.

Still, due to the history of lax regulation, many injectables based on Chinese medicine haven’t been evaluated in strict scientific clinical trials. That means the reactions they set off in the body aren’t fully known. Chinese medicine is based on centuries of practical experience. But it is traditionally taken orally, which gives the digestive system a chance to shield patients from harmful chemicals. Injecting the concoctions into the bloodstream can heighten side effects.


This budget airline is buying seaplanes to reach areas others can’t

SpiceJet Ltd. is in talks with Japan’s Setouchi Holdings Inc. to buy about 100 amphibious Kodiak planes that can land anywhere, including on water, gravel or in an open field. The deal, valued at about $400 million, would help SpiceJet capitalize on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitious plan to connect the vast nation by air without waiting for billions of dollars in upgrades to colonial-era infrastructure.

India’s airlines handled 100 million domestic passengers last year, making it the No. 3 market behind China and the U.S. To handle growth, India will need at least 2,100 new planes worth $290 billion in the next 20 years, Boeing Co. estimates.

“The basic logic for this is that in India, we need last-mile connectivity,” Singh said. “The amphibian plane opens up a lot of areas, creates a lot of flexibility.”

“High-end tourists use amphibious aircraft at exotic locations all over the world,” said Amber Dubey, a New Delhi-based partner and India head of aerospace and defense at KPMG. “There’s no reason why it can’t be successful in India.”


This doctor turned $15,000 into a $1.6 billion beauty empire

“We focus on mid-end customers because they’re the biggest group of people,” said Suwin, who trained as a doctor before becoming an entrepreneur. “The high-end segment is small and very competitive.”

In mainland China, Beauty Community sells through online channels including Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s Tmall platform. The country’s beauty market is forecast to grow at an average of 9 percent a year until 2020, outpacing the 5 percent expansion expected in Thailand, according to Euromonitor.

Beauty Community is the ninth biggest company in Thailand’s cosmetics industry, with a 3.1 percent share of a fragmented market, according to Euromonitor. L’Oreal leads, with 12 percent, followed by direct sales company Better Way (Thailand) Co. and Estee Lauder Cos. The firm aims to have 450 shops domestically in the next three years, under brands such as Beauty Cottage and Beauty Buffet.


Debating where tech is going to take finance

The point of most innovations in consumer finance has been precisely to reduce its presence in our lives: Instead of talking to a bank teller to get money, you use an ATM. Instead of physically walking into a broker’s office to talk about which stocks to buy, you buy index funds through a web page. Or, now, you click to enroll in an app and it does all of your asset-allocating and stock-picking and tax-harvesting and so forth for you. I think that a lot of financial technology is heading in the direction of perfecting that vanishing act, so that in 20 years you’ll just think about financial things less than you do now.

The EU’s definitive defeat: digital tax plans and a declaration of surrender to Silicon Valley

The EU has a huge competitiveness issue already, and due to the eurozone’s lack of innovation, especially in its Mediterranean member states, the sovereign-debt crisis is never going to be resolved. The European Central Bank is, in some ways unlawfully, keeping Europe’s south afloat and will do so for some more time, but at some point there will be a crisis of unprecedented proportions–either an acute and dramatic crisis or an extended depression from which the eurozone as an economic area won’t really recover.

By now the EU appears to have given up on its ambitions for the digital economy. Instead, its focus is on a new tax that could lead to a full-blown trade war with the U.S. and would definitely harm European companies and consumers in the end.

There are structural reasons for which the EU not only lacks major players like Apple and Google but why it’s highly unlikely that any of its startups will, as an independent company, ever reach that level.

Unfortunately, the Commission’s tax initiative has drawn support even from normally libertarian, free-market and fiscally conservative parties such as Germany’s FDP, whose secretary-general said last week that she wants to impose higher taxes on the likes of “Apple, Google, and Facebook.”


China’s critical role in technology and geopolitics

There are 214 private companies in the world valued at $1 billion or more, known as unicorns. Slightly more than half (108) are,as you would expect, based in the United States, but 55 are in China, with the remaining 51 located in other countries throughout the world. Of the top ten unicorns, China has four (including numbers two and three) and the U.S. has six. China’s innovation has been engineering-based rather than science-based and it is consumer-focused and efficiency-driven. Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent together represent 16% of world net digital advertising revenue and 20% of world net mobile Internet ad revenue. Google and Facebook are the leaders with a combined 43% of net digital and 51% net mobile ad revenue.

China’s investment in research goes beyond information technology. Prior to 2010, the country committed almost $10 billion to research with biotechnology a focal point. The Chinese biotech industry has been growing at 30% and is valued at over $10 billion today. There are more than 580 biopharma companies. Chinese scientists have transformed normal adult cells into embryonic stem cells and produced live mice from these lab-produced cells. There are two major state funding sources – the State High-Tech Development Program and the Basic Research Program. China is the third largest filer of patents, after the United States and Japan.

An issue of concern for many investors is the level of Chinese debt, which has risen from 149% to 269% of GDP over the past decade. Increasing debt has accounted for two percentage points of China’s 7.25% growth from 2012 to 2016. There is also the worry that there are a number of non-performing loans on the books of the banks and “shadow” banks, but the adverse effects of these has been deferred by the country’s growth.


The conventional view of China’s problems may be all wrong: Q&A

If migrants are allowed to live and settle in cities and they spend as much as normal Chinese, the savings rate would fall. Consumption would increase by 2 or 3 percentage points of GDP, which is the entirety of the trade surplus.

What’s unique in China and doesn’t happen anywhere else is this migrant worker phenomenon. In any other country, you don’t have a hukou policy. Hukou is a link to savings, and then links to global trade surpluses. That’s a real strange link. This never would have been a logical way of thinking about it in any other country.

If you liberalize hukou, it reduces pressure to save. It increases your incentive or opportunity to consume. This increases demand for resources. It doesn’t require credit expansion or generation or stimulus. Therefore, you have GDP growth without debt buildup, which is exactly what you need. It’s a simple reform with tremendous impact. Allow people to live in Beijing and Shanghai where jobs pay more, and productivity will be higher.


Backlash against Chinese products ramps up in India

Two-way trade statistics tell the tale. India’s deficit with China has ballooned nine-fold over a decade to $49 billion in 2016 as China’s manufacturing edge stacks the odds against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s three-year-old ‘Make-in-India’ program. The result: India’s current account deficit is worsening again, threatening the outlook for an economy already straining under the fallout of a snap ban on high-value notes a year ago and a new sales tax.

“The imbalanced trade relationship reflects the fact that India’s manufacturing sector remains strongly underdeveloped. Unless it is able to develop its manufacturing sector so that it can produce a large share of the growing demand for goods in its economy, India’s economic growth will be constrained by rising current account deficits and/or inflation and their consequences.”

“No one is capable of competing with the Chinese.”


Abandoned land in Japan will be the size of Austria by 2040

A private research group headed by a former government minister today warned that the area (link in Japanese) of vacant land and homes could by 2040 be as big as Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido—about 83,000 sq km (32,000 sq miles), or the size of Austria. The area is currently about 41,000 sq km, slightly bigger than Japan’s southern island of Kyushu.

Hiroya Masuda, the former minister who chaired the group, warned in a 2014 book that about 900 cities, towns, and villages in Japan would be extinct by 2040.

Singapore is finding it harder to grow, literally

By filling the sea along its coasts with imported sand, the tiny island nation has expanded its physical size by about 24 percent since 1960, according to data from the Singapore Land Authority.

The government has plans to continue expanding its land size and said in a 2013 proposal that it expects to increase its land size to 296 square miles by 2030 to further support economic and population growth.

Supersized family farms are gobbling up American agriculture

Farms with $1 million or more in annual sales—only 4% of the total—now produce two-thirds of the country’s agricultural output, the largest portion since the U.S. Agriculture Department’s census began tracking the statistic in the ’80s.

Three-quarters of America’s farmed cropland is controlled by 12% of farms, USDA data show. The number of million-dollar-plus revenue farms more than doubled between 1992 and 2015, while the ranks of smaller farms, with revenue between $350,000 and $999,999, fell by 5%, as farmers get older and have a hard time making consistent profits. USDA researchers, in a December report, said consolidation is likely to continue.

An average farm household in the Colby area needs income of at least $50,000 annually to get by, said Mr. Wood, the agricultural economist, which has become harder to generate from a smaller farm. “The big guys can cover their costs and have money left over to grow,” Mr. Wood said. Smaller farms, he said, “are going to struggle.”

Curated Insights 2017.08.20

Apple has the best business model for generating cash

Apple’s $64B of operating cash flow was nearly as much as that of Alphabet ($36B), Facebook ($19B), and Amazon ($17B) combined. In essence, Amazon is doing as well financially as Facebook. Google is generating as much cash as Amazon and Facebook put together. Apple is generating nearly as much cash as Amazon, Facebook, and Google combined.

Apple’s $51B of TTM free cash flow is $3B more than the free cash flow produced by Alphabet, Facebook, and Amazon combined. In what may come as a surprise, Apple is bringing in 70% more free cash flow than Microsoft, who is still considered to possess one for the more lucrative business models in existence.

Apple is a design company focused on selling tools capable of fostering superior experiences. Scale is considered a byproduct of a properly functioning business model. Facebook and Google are service companies focused on offering free, data-capturing services to as many people as possible. The business models are dependent on achieving scale in order to access as much data as possible. Amazon is a retail platform company focused on getting you to buy more stuff over time. Scale in terms of purchase volume is needed in order for the cash flow/reinvestment cycle to continue.

Instead, we have non-hardware companies pontificate how hardware won’t matter in the future. In reality, the opposite will likely occur. Hardware will matter more going forward. The wearables industry represents a good example of this in practice. Meanwhile, the way smartphone and tablet components are mattering more now than ever to AR and AI is another hole in the “hardware won’t matter” thesis.


No one knows how much money WeChat is making, and investors are too bullish to care

…the success of Honor of Kings as an example of WeChat’s indirect influence on Tencent’s revenue growth. “When you go into the game, it becomes all about playing with your WeChat friends, and looking at their scores and achievements,” he says. Honor of Kings is currently ranked the top-grossing game in China’s iOS App Store (registration required), and four other Tencent titles fill out the top 10.

…pointing to WeChat’s low take on payments (Stripe and PayPal each charge about 3%) and its aggressive discounts, speculates it’s a loss leader. Tencent executives, meanwhile, have downplayed its role in making money for the company. “We consider payment at this point in time as to [sic] infrastructure service rather than a service that generates profit for us. And I think that status will maintain for quite some time.”

“Payments are the gateway to lending. And because you’re tracking the same consumer across so many platforms, you know the credit score of the consumer and you have very few non-performing loans.”


How Baidu will win China’s AI race—and, maybe, the world’s

But to train the algorithms that will deliver the intelligence to transform our cities, it needs data. To wit: The company with the most data wins.

Clearly, he saw more opportunity across the Pacific: In China, 731 million people—nearly twice the entire population of the United States—are online. Says Lu: “China has the structural advantage.”

We’re the first major company to clearly separate the perceptual and the cognitive layer. Perceptive capability and the cognitive are related, but they are quite different. Most of the [other] AI platforms bundle them together.

But one thing I learned is that in this race to AI, it’s actually more about having the right application scenarios and the right ecosystems.

It’s just like the phone ecosystem today. The phone ecosystem is the largest silicon software ecosystem. I believe the same thing will happen for the autonomous system. The car is going to build a larger ecosystem. And the same set of capabilities—hardware, sensors, chip sets, software—will be used to build industry robots, home robots. We want to have hundreds of companies and universities all at work on this, building a very large ecosystem. Then we can build robots, build drones, and build all those autonomous systems. So, to me, autonomy is a key.

…because China is highly, highly fragmented. There’s more than 250 car OEMs [original equipment manufacturers], unlike the United States, which is a heavily concentrated industry. None of the OEMs will have the full capabilities to build out deep R&Ds. With our code base that we released on July 5, [we will make it possible for] one person to assemble a vehicle in three days that can do autonomous driving in limited forms and start on R&Ds.

We’re competing against nobody. We enable each OEM, whether it’s Bosch, Continental, or Nvidia, to be able to do more.


Amazon has largest A.I. platform in the world, its machine learning guru boasts

Despite the lack of notoriety, “inside Amazon we’ve been doing machine learning for over twenty years,” he notes, and anyway, “We have more machine learning running on the platform than anywhere else” he claims, meaning AWS is doing more A.I. than Google or any other facility in the world.

“Today, machine learning is very technical,” he says, but overtime, and with Amazon’s help, it is going to be simpler and simpler to apply machine learning to any number of different applications, “and to do it with high accuracy.”

Wood noted another important development, the shift from just the “training” phase of A.I., where a computer deduces patterns, to the “inference” stage, where it responds to user requests based on what it’s learned.

…what he thinks of machines making machines, meaning, machine learning being able to design new algorithms for machine learning, a kind of self-reflexive moment in A.I. “Absolutely,” says Wood, “It’s already happening. There are customers on AWS who are training bots to to make algorithms.” One example is something called Bandits, where machines face off against one another, with one machine trying to deduce learning models while the other is trying to trick it with falsehoods.

Amazon expands program that pays Alexa developers for top-performing voice apps

It’s notable that the Alexa platform has managed to attract a sizable group of developers ahead of any formal compensation program, or support for traditional app monetization business models, like freemium apps, paid apps, and advertising. Despite this, Alexa’s app store has grown to over 15,000 skills in a relatively short period of time – after all, the Echo speaker – Amazon’s first Alexa device – wasn’t even available to the public until July 2015.

That said, direct payouts for skills is a program that can only be sustained for so long. Eventually, developers will demand more control over their businesses, rather relying on some inscrutable algorithm. In the meantime, Amazon will face competition from rivals, including Google Home and Apple’s forthcoming HomePod – both from companies who have a better understanding of how an app store ecosystem works.


Amazon in talks to offer event ticketing in U.S.

…the U.S. ticketing market as ripe for attack. Consumers dislike ticket fees, and venue owners, sports leagues and teams want more distributors for their tickets as they seek to boost sales. Access to tickets could be another means to lure members to the Amazon Prime shopping club. For music acts and sports teams, selling tickets through Amazon could help sell their merchandise.

Amazon has had conversations to partner with Ticketmaster as a potential way to get into ticketing in the United States, but those conversations have stalled over who would control customer data, according to sources with knowledge of the conversations.

Ticketing would likely make money for Amazon, which has a patchy record of profitability. Ticketmaster generated $1.6 billion in revenue from initial sales of tickets to events in 2016, according to estimates by research firm BTIG. That figure does not include revenue from the reselling of tickets, which BTIG estimates at $250 million.


Amazon looks to new food technology for home delivery

If the cutting-edge food technology comes to fruition, and Amazon implements it on a large scale, it would be a major step forward for the company as it looks to grab hold of more grocery customers shifting toward quick and easy meal options at home.

The pioneering food-prep tech, known as microwave assisted thermal sterilization, or MATS… The method involves placing sealed packages of food in pressurized water and heating them with microwaves for several minutes, according to 915 Labs.

“They obviously see that this is a potential disruptor and an ability to get to a private brand uniqueness that they’re looking for. They will test these products with their consumers, and get a sense of where they would go.”

“They have to leapfrog to MATS because they don’t have the refrigerated supply chain like we have in the U.S.”

Facebook buys computer vision startup focused on adding objects to video

…could be useful as Facebook pursues additional video filter creation technology, both for its live streaming efforts, and for platforms like Instagram Stories.

…being able to add objects to live video and remove them or cover them over on the fly is also something that can be put to interesting use in the emerging field of augmented reality.

The world’s shipping companies are going super-sized

A massive consolidation is underway in the $500 billion global industry and the survivors now enjoy big economies of scale and increased demand, one year after excess capacity caused the sector’s worst-ever crisis — the bankruptcy of South Korea’s Hanjin Shipping Co.

These super-sized shipping companies wield much more pricing power over manufacturers and retailers like Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Target Corp. The five biggest container lines control about 60 percent of the global market, according to data provider Alphaliner. Shipping rates are climbing, and an index tracking cargo rates on major routes from Asia is about 22 percent higher than it was a year earlier.

“Since the demise of Hanjin Shipping, flight to quality has become more noticeable in the container shipping business,” said Um Kyung-a, an analyst at Shinyoung Securities Co. in Seoul. “That’s why the market is becoming more and more dominated by top players with big ships and those that don’t have could become more and more obsolete.”


The awesome but mostly unknown story of Carlsberg beer in China (Part 1, Part 2)

It was a daring strategy. Inland China was the one region that was not yet dominated by the large SOE brewers. It was still open territory. But you also need to have a picture in your mind of Western China circa 2003. It was the poorest part of China. It was a massive and undeveloped territory. There was little infrastructure and even less money.

A review of Sunny’s Carlsberg presentation in 2006 is fascinating. Western China had exceptionally low per-capita beer consumption. In Eastern China in 2005, it ranged from 30-80 liters per person, but in Tibet and Ningxia it was only 10-15 liters. And in Yunnan and Xinjiang it was closer to 3 liters. That could of course mean big growth one day. More likely, it meant small money in difficult geographies for the foreseeable future.

Across the board, it was a strategy of regional dominance. They were building a competitive advantage based on local economies of scale in marketing, distribution and production. And they were racing to become a giant in the West.


Deep learning could discover new plant species hidden in centuries of herbarium data

…but the valuable info in these slowly vanishing temples to the plant kingdom needs to be modernized in order to be of use to an increasingly digital-first scientific community.

They trained a plant-identification algorithm on a quarter million images of plant samples, and set it to work IDing new sheets. It matched the species picked by human experts exactly 4 out of 5 times, and 90 percent of the time the correct species was in the algorithm’s next few guesses.

“People feel this kind of technology could be something that will decrease the value of botanical expertise,” study co-author Pierre Bonnet told Nature. “But this approach is only possible because it is based on the human expertise. It will never remove the human expertise.”

CRISPR’d pigs offer hope for the human organ transplant shortage

The findings represent an important breakthrough in the potential for xenotransplantation, or the use of animal organs in humans. Currently there are more than 117,000 men, women and children on the donor waiting list in the U.S., 22 of whom die each day from lack of a matching donor. The ability to use a pig heart, lungs or other body parts could shore up the shortage and save numerous lives.

This is the first time researchers have been able to demonstrate they were able to inactivate PERV and open the way for xenotransplantation without cross-species contamination.

CRISPR holds enormous potential to wipe out diseases in both humans and animals, upend our food system and has many other applications we likely don’t see yet. Just last week, U.S. scientists were able to demonstrate they could successfully CRISPR out a faulty heart gene mutation in human embryos. However, there is still a lot to take into account before applying the technology to fully formed human beings.


The death of the internal combustion engine

And then there is oil. Roughly two-thirds of oil consumption in America is on the roads, and a fair amount of the rest uses up the by-products of refining crude oil to make petrol and diesel. The oil industry is divided about when to expect peak demand…

Meanwhile, a scramble for lithium is under way. The price of lithium carbonate has risen from $4,000 a tonne in 2011 to more than $14,000. Demand for cobalt and rare-earth elements for electric motors is also soaring. Lithium is used not just to power cars: utilities want giant batteries to store energy when demand is slack and release it as it peaks. Will all this make lithium-rich Chile the new Saudi Arabia? Not exactly, because electric cars do not consume it; old lithium-ion batteries from cars can be reused in power grids, and then recycled.

Housing for the long run?

Housing beat stocks mostly because the returns were less than half as volatile. Thanks to the magic of compounding, this created a performance gap of more than 2 percentage points each year, on average, since 1950, with an even bigger gap if you start the clock in 1870.

Housing has beaten stocks since 1950 because rental income has been better than dividend income, not because house prices have grown more than stock prices.

It’s possible to imagine a world where most housing is owned by large diversified investment trusts that anyone can invest in, but until then, “housing for the long run” is not a practical investment strategy.


Sustainability of hedge-fund reinsurers questioned

Such reinsurers generally engage in “low-margin and low-volatility (property/casualty) reinsurance business,” and try to generate returns for investors through hedge fund investment or other strategies.

The fund reinsurers’ strategy is a half success, as they outperform traditional reinsurers’ investment record. This is still not enough to offset underwriting losses, says S&P, leaving the fund reinsurers trailing their more established brethren in total return.

“We continue to believe that HFRs need to focus as much on the additional risks of their overall strategies as they do on the higher investment returns,” S&P said, adding that “HFRs will continue to evolve, learn from their earlier brethren’s mistakes, and nibble at the edges of the reinsurance market as they carve out a niche for themselves.


ASEAN at 50

Southeast Asia is one of the world’s most diverse regions. Its 640 million people include 240 million Muslims, 120 million Christians, 150 million Buddhists, and millions of Hindus, Taoists, Confucianists, and Communists. Its most populous country, Indonesia, is home to 261 million people, while Brunei has just 450,000. Singapore’s per capita income of $52,960 per annum is 22.5 times that of Laos ($2,353). This diversity puts Southeast Asia at a distinct disadvantage in terms of fostering regional cooperation. When ASEAN was founded in 1967, most experts expected it to die within a few years.

But ASEAN defied expectations, becoming the world’s second most successful regional organization, after the European Union. Some 1,000 ASEAN meetings are held each year to deepen cooperation in areas such as education, health, and diplomacy. ASEAN has signed free-trade agreements (FTAs) with China, Japan, India, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand, and established an ASEAN economic community. Today, ASEAN comprises the world’s seventh-largest economy, on track to become the fourth largest by 2050.

Yet ASEAN’s long-term progress is undeniable. Its combined GDP has grown from $95 billion in 1970 to $2.5 trillion in 2014. And it is the only reliable platform for geopolitical engagement in the Asia-Pacific region, unique in its ability to convene meetings attended by all of the world’s great powers, from the United States and the European Union to China and Russia.

Curated Insights 2017.08.06

The data that transformed AI research—and possibly the world

Today, many consider ImageNet solved—the error rate is incredibly low at around 2%. But that’s for classification, or identifying which object is in an image. This doesn’t mean an algorithm knows the properties of that object, where it comes from, what it’s used for, who made it, or how it interacts with its surroundings. In short, it doesn’t actually understand what it’s seeing. This is mirrored in speech recognition, and even in much of natural language processing. While our AI today is fantastic at knowing what things are, understanding these objects in the context of the world is next. How AI researchers will get there is still unclear.

“One thing ImageNet changed in the field of AI is suddenly people realized the thankless work of making a dataset was at the core of AI research,” Li said. “People really recognize the importance the dataset is front and center in the research as much as algorithms.”

Apple Glasses are inevitable

There is room for Apple to create value by controlling both the hardware and software comprising AR glasses. The sum will be greater than its parts. Apple’s big bet on AR will represent the catalyst for turning glasses and sunglasses into something more. An engaged base of iOS developers experimenting with ARKit will give Apple Glasses a hospitable app environment.

Apple’s success with Apple Watch has done much to calm some of my fears and hesitation regarding face wearables. With 29 million Apple Watches sold to date, Apple has turned the dynamic of tech meeting fashion on its head. Apple has been able to get people to wear an item that was increasingly losing its place in a smartphone world.

The idea of a product having a “killer app” has been misconstrued over the years. The iPhone really doesn’t have a killer app. Instead, the device itself has turned into the killer app – the most valuable computer in our lives. In addition, the iPhone’s role in our lives has evolved over time – a true sign of value. Apple Glasses would provide an improved view of the world to its user. For some, this will come in the form of clearer vision plus additional context. Others will gain value just from receiving additional context.


The Priceline party, the world’s largest online-travel company

Over the past decade Priceline’s pre-tax earnings have grown at a compound annual rate of 42%, faster than Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Alphabet. It also boasts a 96% gross margin. Its share price has risen by more than 50% over the past 12 months, about four times faster than the broader stockmarket. On July 26th the firm’s market value rose above $100bn.

Priceline’s focus on accommodation helps explain why it is more profitable and more highly valued than Expedia, a rival online-travel company that operates sites such as Orbitz, Travelocity, Trivago and Hotels.com. Expedia does more business booking flights, but these are not as lucrative. Online-travel firms take a meaty commission of 15-18% of a hotel room’s price, compared with a slim 3-4% for airfares.

The most dangerous rival, however, may well come from somewhere else entirely. “We’re all waiting for the moment when a big Chinese company comes in and tries to take market share,” says Erik Blachford, a former boss of Expedia. Ctrip, a giant based in Shanghai and worth an estimated $30bn, is the obvious candidate. But if it indeed makes a move, Priceline will not necessarily suffer. Not only is its Chinese business growing nicely, but it has also invested nearly $2bn in Ctrip’s debt and equity. Small wonder that some analysts consider Priceline the best-run internet company after Amazon.


Why Alibaba could double in two years

China online advertising is $50 billion market, currently Alibaba has about 20% market share. Entire online advertising market will grow at 15% to 20% for next eight years, I expect Alibaba to take incremental share and possibly increase to 30%+ market share of online ads in five years.

AliCloud is No. 1 in China by a huge margin.

Alibaba has a ton of equity investments made over the years. Core holdings include a 33% stake in Ant Financial, 30% stake in Weibo, and 47% in logistics network operator Cainiao.


Amazon moves into self-distribution with Woody Allen’s ‘Wonder Wheel’

Amazon is moving into self-distributing its own movies, putting it on the path to becoming a full-fledged film studio.

With their deep pockets and big ambitions, Amazon and Netflix have upended the film distribution landscape, although they have taken different approaches. Netflix is solely focused on servicing its streaming service subscribers. Amazon believes in premiering movies in theaters before offering them on its Prime digital service. With the move into self-distribution, Amazon now offers all of the services that a traditional film studio boasts — from financing to production to rolling out a picture in cinemas.


Amazon’s ‘Beehive’, drone-carrying trains reinforce focus on logistics tech

CB Insights’ analysis shows that the retail giant has been focused on shortening the distance between warehouses and consumers for some time. They have considered various formats for expanded warehouse networks, including flying warehouses, mobile truck-based mini warehouses, underwater warehouses, local re-stocking stations for drones, and a multi-level drone-docking fulfillment center.


This Amazon threat just got even more real

Already, the price transparency that’s characteristic of Amazon’s consumer e-commerce platform has exposed major flaws in Grainger’s model, forcing the company to roll out price cuts that have squeezed its margins and darkened its EPS outlook. In the face of Amazon’s staggering customer growth, Grainger CEO DG Macpherson’s admission earlier this year that the company hasn’t been able to acquire a new customer under its namesake brand in years and has struggled to use digital marketing to draw business becomes even more worrisome.


Foursquare eyes Amazon Alexa partnership as its tech is quietly built into Snapchat and Apple Maps

In the past four years, the company has been shopping its technology around to other companies, a task that turned out to be surprisingly easy. In an interesting development, Foursquare has found that a lot of companies looking for data or location tech come to Foursquare before Facebook or Alphabet’s Google because those two giants are trying to kill those companies who need help. “We’re like the independent broker of this awesome technology and you’re not tying yourself to Google or Facebook, yet you get these great tools to build competitive products,” Crowley explained.

The partnerships take different formats, with Foursquare sharing its tech in exchange for exposure, revenue or partnership deals, he explained. Facebook and Google haven’t teamed up with Foursquare due to competing products and because the Silicon Valley players have built up their own ecosystems, he said. But that’s a rare exception. Snapchat, Twitter, Uber, and Pinterest are using a version of its geotagging tech. Samsung’s new Galaxy S8 phone, launched in April, has Foursquare baked in to tell users where their photo was taken and what it was taken of. Finally, Apple is using Foursquare in its Apple Maps product.


Redfin set out to disrupt real estate—it was harder than it looked

Zillow and Trulia make money by referring customers to independent real estate brokers. Redfin, in contrast, aimed to disrupt the real estate business by becoming a real estate brokerage itself.

In a traditional real estate transaction, the agent on each side of the deal gets a three percent commission. Redfin offered a do-it-yourself model where buyers would do more of the work themselves, lowering Redfin’s costs and allowing it to pay thousands of dollars in rebates.

This approach sounded great in theory, but there was a big problem: customers hated it. Buying or selling a home is a complex, stressful, and often once-in-a-lifetime transaction. People wanted a personal agent who had plenty of time to understand their situation, answer questions, and guide them through the steps of the home-buying process. Redfin’s early approach—with an ever-changing cast of agents showing homes and writing offers but not doing much else—left most customers unsatisfied.

…some of the biggest opportunities for innovation were on the seller’s side of the market, because sellers ultimately set the terms of real estate transactions. And because home sellers tend to be older and more risk-averse, it has taken longer for Redfin to build up a customer base on the seller’s side of the market.


A look back in IPO: Google, the profit machine

Sources are saying that Microsoft was previously courting Google, pursuing options ranging from a kind of merger to an outright takeover. It appears that their overtures failed to materialize any deal, so now the Redmond will have to wait; Google is headed in the IPO direction, and if there’s a merger to be had, it’s likely going to be with a post-IPO Google.

“It’s still expensive at these levels,” said Will Dunbar, managing director with Core Capital Partners, a venture capital firm with no stake in Google. “There will be substantial competition in the near future and that’s one of the things that gives me pause about the price.”

Janco’s Pyykkonen adds that he was hearing it was difficult for traders interested in short-selling Google to find shares to borrow from the banks and brokers involved in the auction.

And according to an informal poll on CNN/Money, 85 percent of more than 23,000 respondents said that they did not plan on buying shares of Google once it began trading.

Inside Jeffrey Katzenberg’s plan to revolutionize entertainment on mobile screens

Katzenberg’s plan involves nothing less than the creation of a whole new species of entertainment targeting 18- to 34-year-olds: short-form video series produced with budgets and production values you might expect from primetime TV, along with top-shelf creatives on both sides of the camera. For example, imagine a drama akin to “Empire” or “Scandal” but shrunk to 10-minute episodes made for mobile consumption. Or a five-minute talk show, or a two-minute newscast — all with high-profile talent attached.

Disney CEO Bob Iger, whose company is considering producing for what Katzenberg has tentatively dubbed New TV, sees the merits in the idea. “The explosion of short-form video is obvious to all of us, but a lot of what we’ve seen is the production of amateurs — user-generated content,” Iger says. “Taking a professional approach to this kind of content, we haven’t seen that yet in a concerted way, and I think that’s a smart thing to try.”


Alphabet wants to fix renewable energy’s storage problem — with salt

It can be located almost anywhere, has the potential to last longer than lithium-ion batteries and compete on price with new hydroelectric plants and other existing clean energy storage methods. “If the moonshot factory gives up on a big, important problem like climate change, then maybe it will never get solved,” said Obi Felten, a director at X. “If we do start solving it, there are trillions and trillions of dollars in market opportunity.”

X is stepping into a market that could see about $40 billion in investment by 2024, according Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Roughly 790 megawatts of energy will be stored this year and overall capacity is expected to hit 45 gigawatts in seven years, BNEF estimates. Existing electrical grids struggle with renewable energy, a vexing problem that’s driving demand for new storage methods. Solar panels and wind farms churn out energy around midday and at night when demand lulls. This forces utilities to discard it in favor of more predictable oil and coal plants and more controllable natural gas “peaker” plants.

A new book ranks the top 100 solutions to climate change. The results are surprising.

The number one solution, in terms of potential impact? A combination of educating girls and family planning, which together could reduce 120 gigatons of CO2-equivalent by 2050 — more than on- and offshore wind power combined (99 GT). Also sitting atop the list, with an impact that dwarfs any single energy source: refrigerant management. Both reduced food waste and plant-rich diets, on their own, beat solar farms and rooftop solar combined.

Our models include a lot of things that were excluded from other models. One is land use. It’s given passing reference, but hasn’t been given much credibility by the IPCC. They don’t include, for example, farmland restoration — over a billion hectares of abandoned land all over the world. We know how to regenerate that, using animals, using cover, using no-till. Is there a transition cost? Yeah. But it’s a big sink.

First of all, let’s be honest: The US has never led in this area. Ever. When they’ve tried on an executive level, they’ve never been supported by Congress. States have led, cities have led, but never the federal government. Now the federal government is what it is. When [Trump] was elected, I went over every one [of the Drawdown solutions]. I said, “What can the [US federal] government do?” And it really isn’t that much.


The world’s first floating wind farm could be a game changer for renewable power

The first floating wind turbine has been placed about 20 km (12 miles) off the coast of Peterhead in Scotland. Another four turbines will be added to the farm, which together will generate enough energy to power 20,000 households.

Floating wind turbines cannot currently compete with fixed turbines, which have seen their cost plummet by more than 30% since 2012. However, Statoil believes that as floating wind farms are built at scale, they will soon be able to compete with traditional offshore wind turbines without subsidies.


It goes completely against what most believe, but out of all major energy sources, nuclear is the safest

Based on historical and current figures of deaths related to energy production, nuclear appears to have caused by far the least harm of the current major energy sources. This empirical reality is largely at odds with public perceptions, where public support for nuclear energy is often low as a result of safety concerns.

Whilst the share of energy production from renewable technologies is slowly growing, 96 percent of global energy production is produced from fossil fuels, nuclear and traditional biomass sources. Our global transition to renewable energy systems will be a process which takes time—an extensive period during which we must make important choices on bridging sources of energy production.

 

In fund management, churn is not necessarily burn

What may be more surprising is that we found no evidence of any relationship across all other styles of US equity fund, even in small-caps where the costs of trading are noticeably higher. On average, high turnover US equity funds have been able to add at least enough value to offset the additional transaction costs they incur. The moral is that pursuing a reduction in transaction costs without considering the consequences is misguided. Consistency between investment process and turnover is more important than the level of turnover itself.


Cities’ success leaves them vulnerable in the next downturn

But the specialization of high-end jobs and wealth in cities could end up being their undoing. The city model of old was like a grocery store — a balanced mix of all types of different products, from milk and bread to a pharmacy to some splurge items like cupcakes and Champagne. In tough times, cupcake and Champagne sales might fall, but people are still going to buy their milk, bread and toiletries, keeping the store afloat.

Cities today increasingly resemble endless aisles of Champagne and cupcakes. If tough times strike again — perhaps in a tech downturn, or in a stock market crash — the pain will be concentrated here. And while the well-paying white-collar jobs migrating to cities now are coveted, there’s no guarantee the best jobs will always be urban. The next economic cycle may well bring a different pattern.


Many Indians don’t know the real architect behind the country’s economic reforms

On that monsoon day in Hyderabad in 2015, no one could recall that a long-time inhabitant of that city, Pamulaparthi Venkata Narasimha Rao, PV as he was always known to the Telugus, was, in fact, the author of the most radical shift in India’s economic policy since Jawaharlal Nehru’s famous Industrial Policy Resolution of 1956. Nehru’s resolution had declared that India would strive to establish a “socialistic pattern of society”. In 1991 PV moved away from that pattern to unleash private enterprise.

PV was India’s first “accidental” prime minister, and a path-breaking one. He took charge of the national government and restored political stability; assumed leadership of the Congress, proving that there was hope beyond the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty; pushed through significant economic reforms; and steered India through the uncharted waters of the post-Cold War world.


NASA has a way to cut your flight time in half

…NASA will begin taking bids for construction of a demo model of a plane able to reduce the sonic boom to something like the hum you’d hear inside a Mercedes-Benz on the interstate. The agency’s researchers say their design, a smaller-scale model of which was successfully tested in a wind tunnel at the end of June, should cut the six-hour flight time from New York to Los Angeles in half.

Over the next decade, growth in air transportation and distances flown “will drive the demand for broadly available faster air travel,” says Peter Coen, project manager for NASA’s commercial supersonic research team. “That’s going to make it possible for companies to offer competitive products in the future.” NASA plans to share the technology resulting from the tests with U.S. plane makers, meaning a head start for the likes of Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Boeing, and startups such as Boom Technology and billionaire Robert Bass’s Aerion.

Curated Insights 2017.07.30

Capital accumulation, private property, and inequality in China, 1978-2015

Between 1978 and 2015, China moved being from a poor, underdeveloped country to the world’s leading emerging economy. But relatively little is known about how the distribution of income and wealth within the country changed over this period. This column presents the first systematic estimates of the level and structure of China’s national wealth since the beginning of the market reform process. The national wealth-income ratio increased from 350% in 1978 to 700% in 2015, driven mainly by the increase of private wealth.

The top 10 stocks in the S&P 500 at year-end every five years going back to 1980

The biggest stocks

…it’s not that out of the ordinary for a handful of stocks to account for a large portion of the stock market’s gains. This is just the nature of the beast with the stock market. There are very few big winners and lots of big losers over the long haul.

The top 5 companies today are all technology companies (we can quibble on how to define some of these firms but they are mostly tech firms). This has some people worried. Maybe it should cause us some concern but look at the top 10 companies in 1980 — the list was dominated by energy companies, a much more cyclical industry.

Both Citigroup and AIG were on the top 10 list in 2000 and 2005. These were two of the companies that were responsible for nearly taking down the entire financial industry and have suffered enormous losses because of it. Since the end of 2005, Citigroup is down 86% while AIG has fallen more than 95% in market cap.

If it cracked down on password sharing, Netflix could probably make $400 million more a year

If 6% of that audience, or 4 million US households, stopped borrowing passwords and signed up for their own Netflix memberships, Netflix could stand to make as much as $391 million more a year. That’s if each of those new members signed up for Netflix’s cheapest plan, which is $7.99 a month in the US.

Tesla and Elon Musk’s moment of truth with first mass-market car

“No one can produce a car that size, and with that amount of battery, at a lower cost than General Motors.”

Maintaining premium pricing while fending off some of the big carmakers will not be easy. It has been tempting for investors to view Tesla as the latest in a line of disruptive Californian companies that will go on to dominate a new industry, says Bruce Greenwald, a professor at Columbia Business School. But he adds that, unlike Apple and Google, there are no “moats” to protect its business from competition and it does not dominate any single market.

Artificial intelligence is not as smart as you (or Elon Musk) think

…as strong as AlphaGo was at its given task, it actually couldn’t do anything else but play Go on a standard 19 x 19 board. He relayed a story that while speaking to the DeepMind team in London recently, he asked them what would have happened if they had changed the size of the board to 29 x 29, and the AlphaGo team admitted to him that had there been even a slight change to the size of the board, “we would have been dead.”

“In chess, machines dominate the game because of the brute force of calculation and they [could] crunch chess once the databases got big enough and hardware got fast enough and algorithms got smart enough, but there are still many things that humans understand. Machines don’t have understanding. They don’t recognize strategical patterns. Machines don’t have purpose,” Kasparov explained.

 

 

The myth of drug expiration dates

The dates on drug labels are simply the point up to which the Food and Drug Administration and pharmaceutical companies guarantee their effectiveness, typically at two or three years. But the dates don’t necessarily mean they’re ineffective immediately after they “expire” — just that there’s no incentive for drugmakers to study whether they could still be usable.

Tossing such drugs when they expire is doubly hard. One pharmacist at Newton-Wellesley Hospital outside Boston says the 240-bed facility is able to return some expired drugs for credit, but had to destroy about $200,000 worth last year. A commentary in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings cited similar losses at the nearby Tufts Medical Center. Play that out at hospitals across the country and the tab is significant: about $800 million per year. And that doesn’t include the costs of expired drugs at long-term care pharmacies, retail pharmacies and in consumer medicine cabinets.


Do probiotics really work?

The idea that consuming probiotics can boost the ability of already well-functioning native bacteria to promote general health is dubious for a couple of reasons. Manufacturers of probiotics often select specific bacterial strains for their products because they know how to grow them in large numbers, not because they are adapted to the human gut or known to improve health. The particular strains of Bifidobacterium or Lactobacillus that are typically found in many yogurts and pills may not be the same kind that can survive the highly acidic environment of the human stomach and from there colonize the gut.

Many researchers think personalized probiotics are the most promising path forward for patients with compromised gut microbiomes.


Should you feed your kid probiotics?

A pill with “40 billion live organisms” is not going to help your child lose weight or “boost” their immune system. It won’t stop your baby from crying on an airplane, protect your toddler’s teeth from decay, lessen the duration of a cold or flu, or cure acid reflux. It’s a billion-dollar industry with virtually no medical oversight.

There’s no credible evidence that the regular consumption of a probiotic yogurt will make your child or you any healthier. But this doesn’t stop marketers from suggesting that it’s a delicious panacea…Food manufacturers may not like to admit it, but it is difficult to control the types of organisms that grow in these live cultures, despite industry standards set to determine what types of bacteria should be in yogurt.


Buy time, they’re not making any more of it

According to a study published Monday in the journal PNAS, people who buy time by paying someone to complete household tasks are more satisfied with life. And it’s not just wealthy people. Across a range of incomes, careers and countries, timesaving purchases were correlated with less time-related stress and more positive feelings. Yet the researchers’ surveys showed that very few individuals think to spend money in this way.

“People are notoriously bad at making decisions that will make them happier,” Whillans [Ashley] said. She suspects the abstract nature of time may be to blame. “We always think we’re going to have more time tomorrow than we do right now,” she said, so we’re hesitant to trade money, which is concrete and measurable, for time, which is much more uncertain.

Why does the other line always move faster?

At the supermarket checkout, should you pick the shorter line or the line where people have fewer items? I have gotten into heated arguments with people who insist on a particular way. And yet, the discussion is actually moot since there is a bigger issue: the entire question is flawed. Mathematically you are bound to wait in long lines because the game is rigged against you.


Why you should never eat food on planes, and other jet-set tips

…at superhigh altitude, your digestive system shuts down completely. Someone said to me it’s like being under anesthesia. So when you get off the plane, everything restarts and [your digestive system] has so much more work to do and so it makes you more tired.

Curated Insights 2017.07.23

The limitations of deep learning

…the only real success of deep learning so far has been the ability to map space X to space Y using a continuous geometric transform, given large amounts of human-annotated data. Doing this well is a game-changer for essentially every industry, but it is still a very long way from human-level AI.

To lift some of these limitations and start competing with human brains, we need to move away from straightforward input-to-output mappings, and on to reasoning and abstraction. A likely appropriate substrate for abstract modeling of various situations and concepts is that of computer programs.


Machines poised to take over 30% of work at banks, McKinsey says

Cognitive technologies — applications or machines that perform tasks once requiring human thought — are now cheap enough that banks can deploy them across operations facilitating trades or other capital-markets business. Automating tasks will “free up capacity” for staff to focus on higher-value work, such as research, generating new ideas or tending to clients.

Machine learning — which uses algorithms to identify patterns in large sets of data — can help sales and trading staffs understand positions faster and predict what flows will look like.

Natural language processing can perform legal and regulatory tasks by scanning through records, emails and recordings to translate them into structured data.

Cognitive agents can act as in-house personal assistants or service centers; think of help desks for trading staffs that have issues with their systems.

Robotic process automation — in which machines handle repetitive tasks — is particularly effective in banks’ middle offices, where it can help with end-of-day valuations and extract data.

Smart workflow tools — including document scanning and automated data entry — can speed the process of signing up new clients.

Netflix provided a new set of documentation, along with its customary earnings report, discussing how it accounts for its spending on content

Netflix surges 11%: sub adds crush estimates; discloses ‘content accounting’

“In continued success, we will deploy increased capital in content, particularly in owned originals, and, as we have said before, we expect to be FCF negative for many years. Since our FCF is driven by our content investment, particularly in self-produced originals, we wanted to provide some additional context on our content accounting at our investor relations website.”

Amazon Prime and other subscription businesses: How do you value a subscriber?

“[Understanding] the actual unit economics in the underlying business…requires analyzing the ‘true’ contribution margin of the business; not simply looking at gross or net revenue and the proper contra-revenue treatment, and not even looking just at gross margin as defined by the company. Many companies embed costs that are truly variable (for instance customer support, marketing, credit card processing) below the gross margin line. If you want to know if the business model truly hunts, you must pay careful attention. Otherwise, you may have simply found a company that is simply selling dollars for $0.85.”


Amazon is buying products from some US retailers at full price to build global inventory

The new program, which follows a similar rollout in Europe, is the latest move by Jeff Bezos to build up a complete catalog, even if Amazon can’t make much money on the products in question. In some cases, Amazon is approaching these third-party merchants after the manufacturer has declined to distribute the products through Amazon.

“When items are unavailable in a particular geography, we provide customers with selection from another marketplace. This offers customers a wider selection of great brands and helps sellers increase sales.”


Vanguard, the Amazon of asset management

What Vanguard’s founder, Jack Bogle, and company do have going for them is a unique ownership structure. Fund investors double as the shareholders. This allows Vanguard to essentially operate at cost, spending incremental profit on lower fees.

Vanguard has benefitted from a killer combination in recent years—low cost and quality performance. This is because although the firm distributes ETFs and actively managed funds, they specialize in passive, index-based investing—a style which has surged in popularity amid widespread underperformance across the active manager community.

Investing is a game of probability. Why would anyone want to pay 6x more for a product with a 90% likelihood of being inferior? The average actively managed mutual fund fee is 0.72%—6x higher than Vanguard’s 0.12% annual fee. And roughly 90% of those funds are underperforming Vanguard’s ultra-cheap option.


In urban China, cash is rapidly becoming obsolete

Ant Financial and Tencent were set to surpass credit card companies like Visa and Mastercard in total global transactions per day in the coming year. The key is that both companies are able to provide payments on the cheap, partly by allowing smaller vendors to make use of a simple printout of a QR code or their phone, instead of an expensive card reader. A back-end system that stores a record of user accounts, instead of having to communicate with a bank, also keeps costs down.

As the country builds its entire consumer economy around two private smartphone payment platforms, it is slowly locking out people unable to get onto those networks, and locking itself into those companies.