Regional Notes 2018.04.06

Singapore issues first fines to Airbnb hosts for violating rental laws

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

Poly Glass Fibre looks overseas to offset weak local demand

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

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

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


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

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

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

Furniture exports hit RM10.13bil last year

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

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 2017.08.27

Inside Waymo’s secret world for training self-driving cars

Collectively, they now drive 8 million miles per day in the virtual world. In 2016, they logged 2.5 billion virtual miles versus a little over 3 million miles by Google’s IRL self-driving cars that run on public roads. And crucially, the virtual miles focus on what Waymo people invariably call “interesting” miles in which they might learn something new. These are not boring highway commuter miles.

And in both kinds of real-world testing, their cars capture enough data to create full digital recreations at any point in the future. In that virtual space, they can unhitch from the limits of real life and create thousands of variations of any single scenario, and then run a digital car through all of them. As the driving software improves, it’s downloaded back into the physical cars, which can drive more and harder miles, and the loop begins again.

Not surprisingly, the hardest thing to simulate is the behavior of the other people. It’s like the old parental saw: “I’m not worried about you driving. I’m worried about the other people on the road.”

“Right now, you can almost measure the sophistication of an autonomy team—a drone team, a car team—by how seriously they take simulation. And Waymo is at the very top, the most sophisticated.”

And in reality, those 20,000 scenarios only represent a fraction of the total scenarios that Waymo has tested. They’re just what’s been created from structured tests. They have even more scenarios than that derived from public driving and imagination. “They are doing really well,” Peng said. “They are far ahead of everyone else in terms of Level Four,” using the jargon shorthand for full autonomy in a car.


Halliburton and Microsoft do not compute for OPEC

Contrary to conventional wisdom, the oil business is a high-tech one. You don’t map out complex rock formations thousands of feet beneath the ground in three or four dimensions and then drill into them without advanced tools. For example, Total SA, the French oil major, boasts the 19th-most powerful supercomputer in the world, Pangea, which has clocked a speed of more than 5 quadrillion calculations a second (technical note: pretty fast) according to The Top 500 List.

…the average well has less than 10 gigabytes of data associated with it, equivalent to a couple of high-definition movies.

…the company’s teams now have access to more than 80 real-time data streams and sensors embedded in wells, giving them a constantly updated picture of what’s happening beneath the ground. The killer app here, in every sense of the word, is providing crews and their managers with an integrated platform; a suite of sensors and software communicating seamlessly, updating constantly and available to all involved.


Costco is playing a dangerous game with the web

Costco’s reluctance to embrace the web is understandable. Its warehouse club business model is based on selling a limited assortment of bulk-size food and household items at low prices, alongside an ever-changing selection of general merchandise—everything from margarita machines to kayaks. This creates an in-store treasure hunt experience. Both elements are costly and difficult to replicate online.

Potentially more worrisome: Half of Costco’s shoppers are Amazon Prime members, Kantar Retail says, up from 14 percent five years ago. Sharing too many of the same subscribers could be risky, since Planet Retail RNG analyst Graham Hotchkiss says Amazon now offers many bulk-size goods at prices that rival Costco’s. And Amazon’s pending $13.7 billion deal to buy Whole Foods Market Inc. will give it a firm foothold in groceries—the primary reason people shop at Costco, according to Barclays’s Short.


What is Amazon, really?

At last count, Amazon’s delivery infrastructure included more than 180 warehouses, 28 sorting centers, 59 local package delivery stations, and 65 hubs for its two-hour Prime Now deliveries. Investment bank Piper Jaffray estimates that 44% of the US population lives within 20 miles of an Amazon warehouse or delivery station. Amazon’s proposed $13.7 billion acquisition of Whole Foods could add another 431 distribution nodes in bougie neighborhoods to that network.

“Our goal with Amazon Prime, make no mistake, is to make sure that if you are not a Prime member, you are being irresponsible,” Bezos told shareholders in May. The plan is working: 63% of US Amazon users subscribe to Prime, and estimated to reach more than half of American households by the end of the year. Prime doesn’t just lift $99 off of regular Amazon users each year—it’s proven to be a powerful customer loyalty program. The average Prime user spends $1,300 each year on the site, with 78% of Prime users still citing free 2-day shipping as the main reason for coughing up the fee.

The service first reached customers by 2005, and was officially launched in the summer of 2006. Tom Szkutak, Amazon’s CFO at the time, said the business was “exposing the guts of Amazon,” using the knowledge gained from 11 years of building Amazon.com. Today AWS is on a tear. It’s the world’s dominant cloud computing provider, and the nearest competitors aren’t even within shouting distance: Amazon’s servers deliver 34% of the world’s public cloud services, reports Synergy Research Group, while Microsoft, IBM and Google provide 24% combined.


Amazon vs Maersk: The clash of titans shaking the container industry

Manufacturing is new step for Amazon and they won a patent earlier this year to develop a system to rapidly create clothing and other products after a customer order is placed. This forms a cheap and simple method for Chinese exporters as Amazon have effectively wiped out the middle man, acting as a shipbroker for itself and on behalf of smaller companies.

Freight forwarders may find it hard to compete with companies as powerful as Amazon and Maersk, who can afford to develop disruptive technology and prioritize increasing market share over higher profits.

Small independent ship owners will be left behind unless they adapt their business model to seek different shipping routes, for example choosing container lanes that do not feed into deep sea ports where the ultra large container vessels operated by Maersk can only dock.


Great Wall Motor’s better path leads to emerging markets

The Proton purchase not only gives Geely inroads to the Malaysian consumer market but also access to production plants in the region that could be used to manufacture other car brands. Being closer to the end customer would lower production costs. While Proton’s Tanjung Malim plant has the capacity to churn out one million cars annually, it made only 72,000 last year, according to the Malaysian government.

A lean company, analysts estimate Great Wall makes 60 percent of its parts in-house. It spends little on marketing and is the fourth-most-profitable automaker globally by net margin and return on equity. Its return on invested capital ranks number one among 40 manufacturers tracked by Bloomberg Intelligence.


A handful of companies control almost everything we buy — and beer is the latest victim

A whopping 182 beauty brands fall under the massive umbrellas of seven huge manufacturers: Estée Lauder Companies, L’Oréal, Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Shiseido, Johnson and Johnson, and Coty.

A 2015 Morgan Stanley report found that 10 companies controlled 41% of the clothing market. No other retailer had more than 2% of market share. The retailers dominating the market were Walmart, T.J. Maxx, Macy’s, Gap, Kohl’s, Target, Ross Stores, Amazon, Nordstrom, and J.C. Penney.

According to a Bank of America Merrill Lynch chart, in 2014 AB InBev and SABMiller alone controlled about 58% of the beer industry’s $33 billion in global profits.

Winner-takes all effects in autonomous cars

… it seems pretty clear that the hardware and sensors for autonomy will be commodities. There is plenty of science and engineering in these (and a lot more work to do), just as there is in, say, LCD screens, but there is no reason why you have to use one rather than another just because everyone else is. There are strong manufacturing scale effects, but no network effect. So, LIDAR, for example, will go from a ‘spinning KFC bucket’ that costs $50k to a small solid-state widget at a few hundred dollars or less, and there will be winners within that segment, but there’s no network effect, while winning LIDAR doesn’t give leverage at other layers of the stack (unless you get a monopoly), anymore than than making the best image sensors (and selling them to Apple) helps Sony’s smartphone business. In the same way, it’s likely that batteries (and motors and battery/motor control) will be as much of a commodity as RAM is today – again, scale, lots of science and perhaps some winners within each category, but no broader leverage.

Maps have network effects. When any autonomous car drives down a pre-mapped road, it is both comparing the road to the map and updating the map: every AV can also be a survey car. If you have sold 500,000 AVs and someone else has only sold 10,000, your maps will be updated more often and be more accurate, and so your cars will have less chance of encountering something totally new and unexpected and getting confused. The more cars you sell the better all of your cars are – the definition of a network effect.

The more real world driving data that you have, the more accurate you can make your simulation and therefore the better you can make your software. There are also clear scale advantages to simulation, in how much computing resource you can afford to devote to this, how many people you have working on it, and how much institutional expertise you have in large computing projects. Being part of Google clearly gives Waymo an advantage: it reports driving 25,000 ‘real’ autonomous miles each week, but also one billion simulated miles in 2016 (an average of 19 million miles a week).

So, the network effects – the winner-takes-all effects – are in data: in driving data and in maps. This prompts two questions: who gets that data, and how much do you need?

This leads me to the final question: how much data do you really need? Does the system get better more or less indefinitely as you add more data, or is there an S-Curve – is there a point at which adding more data has diminishing returns? That is – how strong is the network effect?


The stereo speaker company giving sight to self-driving cars

Although it will soon face plenty of competition, Velodyne has become the industry’s go-to lidar supplier and is cranking up production to match. Last year, Ford Motor Co. and Chinese Internet giant Baidu pumped $150 million into Velodyne, money the company used to open its “mega-factory” on San Jose’s southern edge.

Lidar works by firing laser beams — thousands per second — at nearby objects and measuring how quickly they bounce back. With the notable exception of Tesla, most companies pursuing autonomous vehicles rely on lidar, along with radar and cameras.

“The prevailing view is that in the near term — at least a decade — you’re not going to be able to execute this safely without lidar,” said Mike Ramsey, research director at Gartner.

“One major automaker told me they had vetted 50 lidar companies,” Ramsey said. “So more than 50 companies exist, but only Velodyne is producing a lidar they can use.”

Now, the race is to cut lidar’s cost. Velodyne’s most popular lidar, about the size of two stacked hockey pucks, sells for $8,000. As it ramps up production, the company hopes to bring prices down to “a few hundred dollars,” Hall said. “We’re in the inventing business, so we’re going to keep working on this thing until we crack that nut.”


The internal combustion engine is not dead yet

Mazda, which now markets no hybrid vehicles, calls the engine Skyactiv-X and says it is scheduled for a 2019 introduction. In simplest terms, the big difference with the new engine is that under certain running conditions, the gasoline is ignited without the use of spark plugs. Instead, combustion is set off by the extreme heat in the cylinder that results from the piston inside the engine traveling upward and compressing air trapped inside, the same method diesel engines use. The efficiency gains come with the ability to operate using a very lean mixture — very little gas for the amount of air — that a typical spark-ignition engine cannot burn cleanly.

…addresses the challenge of gasoline’s future from a somewhat different direction: the practical limitations of battery electric cars. “Holding a gas nozzle, you can transfer 10 megawatts of energy in five minutes,” he said, explaining today’s refueling reality. To recharge a Tesla electric at that rate today, he said, would require “a cable you couldn’t hold.”

By 2050, Dr. Heywood’s studies project, today’s fuel economy could be doubled. “A quarter to a third of that improvement would come from improvements to the vehicle,” he said, in areas like aerodynamics and weight reduction. Other promising areas include variable compression ratios — a technology Nissan plans to introduce next year — and making better use of available fuels.


Wind power is all grown up now

People tend to think of renewable energy companies as the new kids on the block but Vestas Wind Systems A/S, the world’s biggest wind turbine manufacturer, is no pimply teenager. The Danish group entered the turbine business almost 40 years ago and went public in 1998…

The wind industry is consolidating — Siemens merged its wind business with Gamesa in April — and competition is intensifying. This puts pressure on margins and makes it more difficult to lift revenue.

A bigger concern is that more countries are adopting auction-based contract awards. These promote projects that deliver the cheapest electricity as opposed to feed-in tariffs, which guaranteed a fixed electricity price. So life’s getting a little tougher for Vestas.

There are other ways to make money. High-margin maintenance contracts are an increasing share of business. There are opportunities too to upgrade the installed base with those newer, better turbines.


The very symbolic collision of Sotheby’s-Christie’s and Poly-Guardian in China art

If Sotheby’s and Christie’s are purely commercial Giants, then Poly Culture and Guardian are something else. They are certainly Giants, dominating the domestic art auction industry. But Poly in particular is also a direct extensions of the State. Because it turns out, what happens to historic Chinese art is a significant concern to the Chinese government. Part of this sensitivity is about repatriating works that were stolen and misappropriated over the centuries. Many of the works that have been returned can be seen on display at Poly’s headquarters in Beijing.

Poly Auction is now not just one of the top two auction houses in China. It is also the number three art auction house in the world (after Christie’s and Sotheby’s). Their 2013 turnover was over a billion dollars (about one-fourth of Sotheby’s). They sell approximately 10,000 objects each week, with as many as 40 different catalogs per show.

Because at the same time, Poly and Guardian have been expanding internationally. And they are now on Sotheby’s and Christie’s home turf for the first time. Both have moved into Hong Kong. And Poly is now moving aggressively into New York City, where Sotheby’s is headquartered. Thus far, they have focused mostly on finding consignments in the US for sale in China, particularly Chinese collectibles. But Poly’s openly stated ambition is to become the world’s top art auction house. According to CEO Jiang Yingchun, “We are very big in the art auction market in Mainland China but still have a long way to go to become the biggest auction house worldwide”.


It’s hard to keep up with all that lithium demand

Australia is the biggest lithium producer, though Chile and Argentina account for 67 percent of global reserves, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Extracting lithium from the salt flats that dot the arid northern regions of the South American countries is a lot easier and cheaper than digging underground for metals like copper. Producers just pump the brine solution into evaporation ponds, harvesting the mineral once the moisture is gone.

With demand expected to keep rising as electric cars gain a bigger share of the global auto fleet, Argentina and Chile are attracting interest from mining companies because it costs about $2,000 to $3,800 a ton to extract lithium from brine, compared with $4,000 to $6,000 a ton in Australia, where lithium is mined from rock.

Of the 39 lithium ventures tracked by CRU, only four have firm commitments, and all of those are in China, adding about 24,000 tons of annual supply. Another 10 projects representing 400,000 tons are rated “probable” — in Canada, Chile, China, Mexico, Argentina and Australia — but probably only about 30 percent will make it into production, CRU said.

“But we have a window of only 25 years to develop these projects because prices can fall again as soon as a replacement to lithium appears.”


Hunt for next electric-car commodity quickens as prices soar

As one of the key components in the new breed of rechargeable batteries and with supply dominated by the Democratic Republic of Congo, prices have surged at four times the pace of major metals in the past year.

The cobalt market is in a 5,500-ton deficit, according to CRU, with global supply contracting 3.9 percent in 2016.

“The mix of iron and cobalt is tricky. Cobalt is already mined as a byproduct of copper and nickel, but iron has the most negative impact on cobalt, which means processing would be more difficult and more expensive.”

Aging Japan wants automation, not immigration

In the absence of large-scale immigration, the only viable solution for many domestic industries is to plow money into robots and information technology more generally.

With unemployment down to 2.8 percent, companies are increasingly realizing they need to pay up to attract and keep qualified personnel. The other option — increased immigration — is politically difficult.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch forecast IT investment in Japan to rise as much as 9 percent annually in coming years, with the difference in software investment per worker versus the U.S. falling to 5 to 1 by 2020 from about 10 to 1 now.


Who really owns American farmland?

Farmland, the Economist announced in 2014, had outperformed most asset classes for the previous 20 years, delivering average U.S. returns of 12 percent a year with low volatility.

Today, the USDA estimates that at least 30 percent of American farmland is owned by non-operators who lease it out to farmers. And with a median age for the American farmer of about 55, it is anticipated that in the next five years, some 92,000,000 acres will change hands, with much of it passing to investors rather than traditional farmers.

It’s a tenuous predicament, growing low-cost food, feed, and fuel (corn-based ethanol) on ever-more-expensive land, and it raises a host of questions. Is this a sustainable situation? What happens to small farmers? And are we looking at a bubble that will burst?

In practice, our best hope of true stewardship of the land will come from enlightened, committed owner-farmers. But the trend toward treating farmland as a financial investment, and the high prices that have come with it, make it harder and harder for new young farmers to enter the field.

By buying land in other countries and farming it, foreign buyers are able to support their domestic food supply and other markets that depend on agriculture without having to compete for essential products on the global market.

The government of China now controls more than 400 American farms consisting of a hundred thousand acres of farmland, with at least 50,000 in Missouri alone, plus CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations), 33 processing plants, the distribution system—and one out of every four American hogs.


Yesterday’s “plastics” are today’s crypto tokens

Our ability to profit from our investments relies on two things: having the resources needed to purchase the asset and then having a way to sell it — a concept known as liquidity. Tokenizing real-world assets will allow buyers to access assets never before within their reach, and sellers to move assets that were previously difficult to unload. The secret lies in the possibility of fractionalization.

Imagine unlocking cash from the equity in your home without having to borrow or pay interest. Tokenize your home and sell fractions to the public. Buy the tokens back, or pay the investors their value at the time the property is sold.

In the future, you’ll be able to tokenize the value of unused bedrooms and backyards in your home. You’ll be able to tokenize use of your vehicle for Uber driving while you’re away on travel. You’ll even be able to tokenize access to your phone so marketers have to pay you tokens in order to gain access to your attention. Yes, this will happen.

At 5,4000 pounds, the Tesla is no lightweight, and the Aventador is a good 1,200 pounds lighter. But the Ludicrous + enabled vehicle not only beats the Lambo, it sets a world record for the quickest SUV with a quarter mile time clocking in at 11.418 seconds at nearly 118 miles-per-hour.