Curated Insights 2018.04.22

Disneyflix is coming. And Netflix should be scared.

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

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

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

Zillow, aggregation, and integration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Car dealerships face conundrum: Get big or get out

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

Your future home might be powered by car batteries

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

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

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


Blockchain is about to revolutionize the shipping industry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Casualties of your own success

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

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

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

Debt recycling

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


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

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

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

Curated Insights 2018.01.07

The $100 billion venture capital bomb

Son must deploy $20 billion, or a fifth of the fund, every year for the next five years to meet investors’ terms and their expectations in a market that many already consider overvalued.

Son explained to Hauser that there was a big new wave of computing coming — the sixth, in Hauser’s estimation, following on from the mainframe, the minicomputer, the workstation, the PC, and mobile. This next wave would automate processes in industrial manufacturing and on consumer devices. Son said Arm could uniquely capitalize on this new order as the leading processor manufacturer behind the Internet of things.

“This is the company,” Son said in a televised interview. “No one can live on the earth without chips — it’s in cars, refrigerators, everywhere. So if chips are the things everyone needs, and one company has a 99 percent market share, there must be a barrier. They’re not monetizing well enough. But if I own it, we can monetize it much better. I think the company is going to be more valuable than Google.”

Aside from its 95 percent domination of smartphones, Arm has 34 percent of the global processors market. There are currently 110 billion Arm processors in the world. The company has forecast a total of one trillion by 2035. As the applications get more advanced — be that a car, a washing machine, or a drone — they demand smarter processors, which are more expensive to produce in-house. “We price our fee at a tenth of the cost of what it would cost to develop it yourself,” Thornton notes. “So when you’re staring down the barrel of $100 billion and ten years to develop that processor yourself, we can say it will cost $10 billion from us and you can have it instantly. This is why we have expanded so rapidly over 20 years. One by one, design team by design team, we will become the processor of choice in those markets.”

“Arm Holdings has an insight into the future. When Arm makes a contract with a new business venture, providing the Internet of things for automobiles or farming, Arm will know what is in the pipeline for the Internet of things two years ahead.” SoftBank, in turn, gets a head start on funding companies for a market that doesn’t yet exist.

Analysts say SoftBank, which declined to comment for this article, is at work on vertical integration: Foxconn builds devices, Arm supplies the chips, and SoftBank-owned Sprint and OneWeb, an Internet satellite company, operate the networks on which the devices run. Vision Fund portfolio companies will reap the benefits of these partnerships. SoftBank sits in the middle, introducing high-growth prospects from the fund to one another and to the infrastructure on which their success rides.

Units of time are the new currency

Buffett’s not wrong, but technology has changed the nature of competition. While businesses were once considered only as valuable as the dividends they paid out, the “impenetrable” moats that let companies spit off excess cash are dwindling. A moat today is simply a temporary buffer that helps a company get ahead of the next innovation cycle. When you compound time, you’re creating and recreating value faster than the current innovation cycle.

This is the formula for compounding time into a utility and beyond: 1) Reduce friction for your customers and yourself. Use the time you save to build your utility. 2) Compound time by investing in the ecosystem and getting other companies to integrate with your product. Other companies will integrate with you to save themselves time, building on top of your platform and giving you time to invest in the next great business. 3) Buy other people’s time to defend your utility and stay relevant. Smartly acquiring new products helps you maintain your utility.

Jeff Bezos: “All service interfaces, without exception, must be designed from the ground up to be externalizable. That is to say, the team must plan and design to be able to expose the interface to developers in the outside world. No exceptions.” While this created more work in the short-term, it broke Amazon down into hundreds of micro-services that communicated via APIs. By making all services accessible via API, Amazon drastically reduced the time it took to deploy new features and functionality.

Google’s machine-learning algorithms are reportedly five to seven years ahead of the competition. By keeping TensorFlow to itself, Google would have maintained its lead time — similar to how moats are created by stockpiling assets. But by taking the opposite approach and giving TensorFlow away for free, Google created a utility.

Building a traditional moat will be antithetical to building a great business. The only way to survive is to extract the core of your business and spread it out to compound returns on time. First, you have to save time for your customers and even yourself. Then, you have to invest it forward by co-operating with other products in your ecosystem. Finally, you have to acquire new innovation to maintain your lead.


Why has Waymo taken so long to commercialize autonomous taxis?

To estimate the rate at which passengers will tolerate autonomous taxi errors, we analyzed the manually driven car statistics to set the hurdle. On average human driven cars break down roughly once every 50,000 miles and crash once every 240,000 miles,2 thus offering perspective on acceptable tolerance rates for autonomous vehicle SIFs and UFs.

Supporting this hypothesis, its cars seem to have had difficulty making left turns. One possible explanation is that it has chosen not to vertically-integrate, outsourcing vehicle production to partners like Fiat Chrysler and then taking engineering shortcuts by integrating its sensor suite into a product manufactured away from its controls. In contrast, Tesla’s and Cruise Automation’s (GM) manufacturing operations are vertically-integrated, which could become an important source of competitive advantage.

We are skeptical of that negative conclusion for a number of reasons. Today, Waymo probably is trying to maximize its failure rate to identify faults and root them out. Some stretches of road are trickier and some intersections more difficult to navigate than others.

Getting my fix of Starbucks

SBUX has been successful engendering loyalty from its customers as well- Starbucks Rewards has 13.3mm members in the US and an incredible 36% of all dollars tendered in the stores is transacted through the loyalty program (US Company operated stores).

In the US- the average new SBUX location generates revenue of $1.5mm (average unit volume or AUV) and generates a year 1 store profit margin of 34% or $510k. Based on an average store investment of $700k in the US, this results in an ROI of ~75%. Compare this to a McDonalds with an ROI of ~30%, an average fast casual operator at ~40% or even Chipotle (at its peak before the food illness issues) at ~70%. This means that the average SBUX store earns back its investment a third of the way into its second year – very compelling unit economics. The math likely changes with higher investments in Reserve stores and premium Roasteries in the coming years but if these seek to elevate the overall SBUX experience and thus drive pricing power through the entire system, it’s the right move for the long term.

Starbucks is a well-positioned company led by a smart management team playing “the long game”. While store growth in more mature markets and continuing competition in premium coffee may be a drag to future growth, Starbucks benefits from a moat in the form of a strong brand and a loyal, repeat customer that can be extended into more markets and into more than just coffee. And I believe that this moat is sustainable under the right leadership team that understands that Starbucks delivers an experience that extends far beyond just selling coffee. The sustainability of the moat is predicated on continued investment to elevate the store experience and thus drive pricing power. Management has demonstrated a willingness and enthusiasm to invest and has ample runway to do so while also rewarding shareholders with share repurchases.

How big tech is going after your health care

Now, as consumers, medical centers and insurers increasingly embrace health-tracking apps, tech companies want a bigger share of the more than $3 trillion spent annually on health care in the United States, too. The Apple Heart Study reflects that intensified effort.

Each tech company is taking its own approach, betting that its core business strengths could ultimately improve people’s health — or at least make health care more efficient. Apple, for example, has focused on its consumer products, Microsoft on online storage and analytics services, and Alphabet, Google’s parent company, on data.

Last year, Facebook made it more appealing for pharmaceutical companies to advertise their medicines on the platform by introducing a rolling scroll feature where drug makers can list their drug’s side effects in an ad. Such risk disclosures are required by federal drug marketing rules.


Western Digital, Nvidia on board with ‘RISC-V,’ so pay attention, says Benchmark

Any investor interested in learning how adoption of RISC-V stands to disrupt the CISC and RISC processor domains, including discrete processors and/or processor IP (cores and architectures) embedded within simple MCUs as well as advanced ASICs. Additionally, RISC-V stands to disrupt R&D development roadmaps for merchant and captive SoC companies. For example, if Western Digital truly intends to adopt RISC-V in storage products, Marvell will need to reconsider usage of Arm cores. This could lower the upfront licensing and royalty costs for Marvell; however, it may require a revamping of Marvell’s storage controller design flow. Processor IP companies such as Arm Holdings, Synopsys, Cadence Design, Imagination Tech and even CEVA, Inc. could see an impact.

China removes 1,400 baby formula products from shelves

The regulations, effective Jan. 1, require factories making formula to register those products with China’s Food and Drug Administration and pass safety inspections. Plants are limited to working with three brands, and those brands can make only three different products each. China’s FDA has approved 940 infant-formula products from 129 factories so far, the agency said. That compares with more than 2,300 formulations available to parents before Jan. 1.

That vaulted Nestle, Danone and Reckitt Benckiser Group Plc into the top spots in the $20 billion market, according to Euromonitor International.

Capturing those families will be crucial. With the relaxation of China’s one-child policy, Reckitt Benckiser anticipates about 20 million babies being born annually, which could trigger an annual growth rate of at least 7 percent in the infant-formula category during the next five years, said Patty O’Hayer, a spokeswoman. The company bought Mead Johnson for $16.6 billion last year, and its Enfa and Enfinitas brands were approved for sale. Asia generated half of the Enfa lineup’s $3.7 billion in sales for 2016.

The Paris-based company wants to deploy technology such as laser printing to make tampering more difficult and QR codes to ensure traceability of a product back to the factory — moves intended to assure Chinese parents concerned about food safety.

Cancer deaths fall to lowest rate in decades

While a number of breakthrough, high-cost drugs have improved the outlook for people with some deadly cancers, the biggest cause of the decrease in deaths is that Americans are smoking less. The report found decreased smoking rates, and improved detection and treatment, have led to sharp declines in the rate of lung, breast, prostate and colorectal cancer deaths.

How blockchain technology is redefining trust

‘Regulators will like that blockchain-based transactions can achieve greater transparency and traceability– an “immutable audit trail”,’ Masters says. In other words, it could help eliminate the kinds of fraud that come from cooking the books.

How do typical loans work? A bank assesses the credit score of an individual or business and decides whether to lend money. The blockchain could become the source to check the creditworthiness of any potential borrower, thereby facilitating more and more peer‑​to‑​peer financing.

Consider traditional accounting, a multi-billion industry largely dominated by the ‘big four’ audit firms, Deloitte, KPMG, Ernst & Young, and PwC. The digital distributed ledger could transparently report the financial transactions of an organization in real time, reducing the need for traditional accounting practices. And that is why most major players in the financial industry are busy investing significant resources into blockchain solutions. They have to embrace this new paradigm to ensure it works for, not against, them.

In the patent, Goldman describes SETLcoin as having the potential to guarantee ”nearly instantaneous execution and settlement“ for trades. It would mean all the capital the bank is required to keep in reserve, to hedge against the risk of transactions if they don’t settle, would be freed up.

The blockchain raises a key human question: How much should we pay to trust one another? In the past year, I’ve paid my bank interest and fees, some hidden, to verify accounts and balances so that I could make payments to strangers. I’ve spent thousands of dollars on lawyers to draw up contracts because I am not quite sure how another person will behave (and to sort out a few incidents where trust broke down). I’ve paid my insurance company to oversee the risk around my health, car, home, and even life. I’ve paid an accountant to reconcile an auditing issue. I’ve paid an estate agent tens of thousands of dollars essentially to stand between me, the prospective buyer, and the current owner to buy a house. It would seem we pay a lot for people to lord over our lives and double-check what’s happening. All these ‘trusted intermediaries’ are part of the world of institutional trust that is now being deeply questioned.

Today, it is circa 1993 for blockchain technologies. Even though most people barely know what the blockchain is, a decade or so from now it will be like the internet: We’ll wonder how society ever functioned without it. The internet transformed how we share information and connect; the blockchain will transform how we exchange value and whom we trust.


Bitcoin-is-Worse-is-Better

It’s not the decentralized aspect of Bitcoin, it’s how Bitcoin is decentralized: a cryptographer would have difficulty coming up with Bitcoin because the mechanism is so ugly and there are so many elegant features he wants in it. A cryptographer’s taste is for cryptosystems optimized for efficiency and theorems; it is not for systems optimized for virulence, for their sociological appeal. Centralized systems are natural solutions because they are easy, like the integers are easy; but like the integers are but a vanishingly small subset of the reals, so too are centralized systems a tiny subset of decentralized ones. It may be that Bitcoin’s greatest virtue is not its deflation, nor its microtransactions, but its viral distributed nature; it can wait for its opportunity. If you sit by the bank of the river long enough, you can watch the bodies of your enemies float by.

Gyms ditch machines to make space for free weights

In recent years the 420-location chain has scaled back cardio and weight machines to 50% of floor space from about 66%. The gym devotes the other half of floor space to free weights and functional training, which includes things like kettlebell swings and body-weight exercises with TRX suspension straps. It has also expanded its studio group-exercise classes.

“I prefer to do classes, because the teacher pushes me farther than I would push myself,” she says. “I get bored on cardio machines or on the weight machines.”

The shift away from machines is even more pronounced overseas. In 54 gyms of varying price levels in the U.K., members’ time spent on cardio machines dropped 7% between 2013 and this year, even as the total number of gym visits increased, according to an analysis from Edinburgh-based tracking firm GYMetrix.

The Remarkable Early Years of Warren Buffett (Part 1)

The risks of buying a home that’s too big

“The biggest house isn’t necessarily the best house or even the best investment. An older, smaller home with a shorter commute, bigger lot or greater remodel potential may appreciate more. In fact, many fancy new homes can lose value quickly if a developer builds newer homes nearby, while older areas may have more enduring land value.”

“You want enough space to live comfortably, but you don’t want to heat, clean and pay taxes on space you aren’t utilizing.”

Long-term returns. The money saved in buying a right-size home could pay dividends in the future—literally. A $20,000 savings each year over the life of a 30-year mortgage could result in a nearly $1.2 million nest egg if invested in a stock market portfolio earning 4% a year, Ms. Adam says. The annual savings, when compounded over time, is likely to exceed the appreciation in your home’s value over the term of the mortgage.

Curated Insights 2017.12.17

Disney and Fox

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Researchers train robots to see into the future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A caution from the world’s biggest shipping line

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

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

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


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

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


Salmon open flood gates for human consumption of GM animals

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


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

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

More moats, more profits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 2017.07.09

Massive Chinese Brainpower Is the Next Really Big Thing

The large scale and low cost of Chinese brainpower is another game changer. Suddenly thousands of engineers can be ramped up in a matter of days. And this phenomenon is starting to ripple through industry after industry. What is the impact on the pharmaceutical industry if companies can now access tens of thousands of scientists cheaply? If your competitor is opening a research and development center in China with 10,000 technical specialists, how big of a problem is that for you? Chinese brainpower is starting to impact many industries – often in unexpected ways.”


Could India become the best-performing stock market of the next ten years?

India’s estimated domestic consumption growth of 12 percent y-o-y through 2025 is forecast at more than double the global average of 5 percent — poised to triple to $4 trillion by 2025.

India will have the largest middle class globally by 2027. Currently, only 5% (27 million) of the 519 million strong workforce is classified as “urban middle,” earning more than $11,000 per year.

A structural shift of household savings into equities is helping propel Indian stock markets. A Morgan Stanley analysis concludes that domestic equity savings are on-track to rise by $525 billion over the next decade. The government is also taking steps to increase public-equity exposure.


We are still waiting for the robot revolution

Our chief economic problem right now isn’t that the robots are taking our jobs, it’s that the robots are slacking off. We suffer from slow productivity growth; the symptoms are not lay-offs but slow-growing economies and stagnant wages.

…Imagine an economy that was the exact opposite of one where the robots took over, and it would look very much like ours.

…productivity growth stalled before the financial crisis, not afterwards: the promised benefits of the IT revolution petered out by around 2006.


Could Amazon Spur a CapEx Boom Rather Than Disinflation?

Younger investors haven’t yet seen a Capital Expenditure bubble. What went in the mid-aught’s was a debt and real estate bubble and what’s going on now is a buyback bubble. (Yes, everything is a bubble).

But in the mid- to late 1990’s, we had the CapEx bubble to end all CapEx bubbles (involving computers and wireless telephony), and it was good for the economy (for awhile). The 1950’s featured an infrastructure CapEx bubble (the Interstate Highway System), the 1960’s had its “Space Age” CapEx bubble and the late 1800’s enjoyed a railroad CapEx bubble.

These spending sprees were unlike the debt bubble of the 2003-2007 period in that, when the dust settled, at the very least they had left something useful behind (roads, rails, fiber optics, jets and rocket technologies). The last bubble we had only left behind unpaid loans and financial losses.


Watch Out, Intel. New Types of Chips Are Gaining Ground

“If I look at the latest generation of microprocessors, this year, performance only went up by 3%.”

While Intel’s microprocessor is broadly useful, running everything from scientific computing to spreadsheets, the TPU focuses on a specific problem such as speech recognition so it has power where it counts. It has 3.5 times as much memory as a comparable Intel part in a chip half the size. “We threw out a lot of stuff that was not needed. Instead of the Honda for everyone, we are making these Formula One race cars for some things.”

…the TPU went from sketch to finished chip in just 15 months whereas the latest Intel processors take years to develop. “We are at a paradigm shift in computing architecture. This is a big revolution in terms of the technology approach. Intel is working for two years to squeeze out 10% improvements in performance, and this can get you 10 times the performance, while being less expensive than Intel’s most complex parts.”


Tencent Dominates in China. Next Challenge Is Rest of the World

…the company was also learning how to cut its losses and play to its strengths. In 2013, Tencent gave up on its floundering search business, turned it over to a competitor, Sogou Inc., and invested $448 million in Sogou instead. The following year it sold its equally unsuccessful e-commerce initiative to JD.com Inc. and invested $214 million in JD for a 15 percent stake. Before these deals, Tencent “was involved in everything.” After the deals, “it only focused on what it did best and entrusted other sectors to partners.” Zhang gives much of the credit for these moves to Lau. “Martin is first and foremost a great business analyst. He knows what wars to fight.”

“It’s a little bit like the Godfather Don Corleone saying, ‘I’m going to make you an offer you can’t refuse.’ If you don’t take their money, and they invest in a competitor, it can be deadly.”

Beyond Bitcoin: How Blockchain Is Changing Banking

The government, for its part, hasn’t even settled on what Bitcoin is. The Internal Revenue Service considers it an asset; the Commodity Futures Trading Commission says it’s a commodity; and Treasury Department regulators have described it as a “virtual currency.” Fed Chair Janet Yellen has said the agency has no authority to oversee Bitcoin, but has encouraged central bankers to study it.

“…half of the people in the group are looking for a solution; the other half are there uniquely to obstruct progress.”

Moats & Knights, Part Deux

1. Has management been forthcoming about competitive challenges or do they downplay the threat of new entrants?

2. Does management have the right financial incentives in place or has the board set up low hurdles to make sure large bonuses are realized, regardless of performance?

3. Does management know what the company’s advantages are and have plans in place to extend and strengthen those advantages?

4. Does management have meaningful personal ownership in the business (and thus have skin in the game) or are they akin to mercenaries? 

5. Does management have a track record of sacrificing short-term results for long-term results or do they seem to play the quarterly earnings game?


What I Believe Most

Incentives are the strongest force in the world. They cause otherwise good people to do awful things, and vice versa. They’re also the most misunderstood and counterintuitive force in business. Brent Beshore: “I want to know what motivates people. The problem is not that they won’t tell me, because they will. The problem is that none of us know the truth, even about ourselves. The only thing to do is watch someone over a very long period of time and try to piece it together.”

There are five sources of edge: 1) Learn faster than your competition, 2) empathize with stakeholders more than your competition, 3) communicate more effectively than your competition, 4) be willing to fail more than your competition, and 5) wait longer than your competition.