Curated Insights 2018.07.06

What would happen if China started selling off its Treasury portfolio?

And the perennial threat that China would sell its Treasuries. That could happen as a byproduct of a decision by China to push its currency down—if China signals that it wants a weaker currency, the market would sell yuan for dollars, and controlling the pace of depreciation would require that China sell reserves. Or could happen even if China maintained its current basket peg and shifted its portfolio around—selling Treasury notes for bills, or selling Treasuries and buying (gulp) Bunds (if it can find them—it might end up buying French bonds instead) or JGBs.

If Treasury sales came in the context of a decision by China that it wanted a weaker currency to offset the economic impact of Trump’s tariffs (or simply a decision by the PBOC that it needed to loosen monetary policy in response to a slowing Chinese economy, and thus to no longer follow the Fed), the disinflationary impulse from a weaker yuan (and a broader fall in most Asian currencies and a rise in the dollar) would likely be more powerful than the mechanical impact of Treasury sales. That is the lesson of 2015-16.

Treasuries sales in a sense are easy to counter, as the Fed is very comfortable buying and selling Treasuries for its own account. I have often said that the U.S. ultimately holds the high cards here: the Fed is the one actor in the world that can buy more than China can ever sell.

Who has the best business model (and it’s not Google or Facebook)

Staying on the topic of streaming video, this is a relevant example of how shared-value transactions gives Amazon a potential structural advantage over the leader in the space: Netflix. Success in streaming video requires great video content, and Netflix will spend $8 billion this year buying video rights. The way Netflix funds this hefty content bill is that they have 120 million customers who pay them $10 each month directly, and then they take half of that fee collected from every subscriber and spend it on content. So every subscriber pays for content equally (about $5 per user per month) as Netflix earns the exact same amount from their best users as their worst users.

Amazon too will spend a significant sum buying video content (about $5 billion this year). But their content bill is paid entirely differently. Instead of only depending on a percentage of Prime membership fees (which are the same for every user) to fund their content budget, Amazon can pay for content using revenue from purchases of books, diapers, toilet paper, laundry detergent, and more (and this spend is most definitely not the same for every user). As Bezos has said: “When we win a Golden Globe, it helps us sell more shoes”. Amazon’s best users are able to purchase significantly more goods than their average user, and these funds can be indirectly applied to fund video content that everyone shares value from.


Dropbox vs. Box: The story of enterprise SaaS multiples

By digging deeper into the operating margins, we find that the difference between the two companies seems to come down to the approaches of their growth strategies. Dropbox has grown primarily through a highly efficient marketing function and self-serve model, while Box has grown through a traditional, and more expensive, enterprise sales model.

This story hides some major issues with Dropbox. Their strategy for years has been to go after the consumer cloud storage market, which never made sense, as that market is highly competitive and has limited revenue potential. Box decided long ago to pivot to the enterprise, while Dropbox went through numerous failed acquisitions and internal initiatives, attempting to build products in everything from email to payments. They built a strong consumer brand in the process but ultimately decided to double down on enterprise. We think it’s too late.

The cloud storage and file hosting industry, including all the related services, doesn’t seem to be protected by a particularly wide moat. All of the major technology names are active in this field as well, including Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Apple. All of these companies have the added advantage of pre-existing customer relationships. The main advantage Dropbox would need is the ability to provide differentiated services to enterprises. However, we haven’t seen evidence of Dropbox’s ability to effectively build differentiated enterprise products. As they are forced to expand their market, we believe they will face stiff competition that will make it more difficult to grow. On the other hand, the 500 million users may be the key to unlocking growth within enterprises that enterprise sales teams couldn’t effectively crack.

The Airbnb challenger you’ve never heard of (by name)

Airbnb has reportedly spent only $300 million on marketing since its inception in 2008. “We don’t acquire customers by buying them. We acquire customers by providing a superior experience and having offerings around the world,” a spokesperson emailed.

Booking spent $4.5 billion on marketing last year alone. Yet Fogel admits that it still lags in consumer awareness. The brand is much better known in Europe, where it was founded. “The product is just as good here as anywhere else … and therefore we should have much more [awareness],” he says, noting that Booking.com only came to the US in 2013. Booking Holdings’ other brands, like Priceline and Kayak, have loyal bases of users, Fogel says. But Booking.com makes up the vast majority of the company’s revenue, and the name change from Priceline to Booking Holdings shows what executives consider their crown jewel.

Airbnb is fighting back with two high-end tiers of hotel-like offerings and luxury accommodations, Airbnb Plus and Beyond by Airbnb. The company emphasizes that 3.5 million of its listings are exclusive and that business travel now makes up 15 percent of its bookings. Beyond that, Airbnb has been selling tourist activities to its customers through its Experiences product for two years.


A $6 billion China startup wants to be the Amazon of health care

WeDoctor’s data comes from several sources, but one of the most important is the hundreds of hospitals in its network whose doctors plug information into a central database — with consent from patients who may want to switch care-givers. They could also upload their own records. The company then profiles users, classifying them in buckets based on age, gender, region or symptoms. That’s a potent advertising aid to drugmakers and insurers, Chen says. That leeway to commercialize patient information comes with caveats: WeDoctor stresses data is anonymous and it doesn’t share it with third parties.

That’s just one piece of the money-making puzzle. WeDoctor also takes a cut on consultation fees via its app or smart speaker. The 4,000 yuan box has a screen in the front and comes with a year’s access to doctors online.

Those clinics complement “online hospitals.” WeDoctor’s won licenses to operate 10 such platforms that offer real-time chats with doctors. This also lets the best clinicians, usually working out of big hospitals that keep fees artificially low, to earn more on the side. Top doctors can demand 3,000 yuan per session, WeDoctor says.

WeChat Impact Report 2018 shows impressive social impact

WeChat-driven information consumption reached RMB 209. 7 billion
WeChat accounted for 34% of the total data traffic of users
WeChat drove RMB 333.9 billion traditional consumption, covering travel, food, shopping, tourism, etc.
WeChat contributed the employment of 20.3 million persons in 2017, more than twice the 2014 figure
The number of stores accepting WeChat Payment in Japan was multiplied by 35 in 2017

China isn’t playing tech catch up – it’s leapfrog and it may get dirty

According to business managers, many of those three million annual science and technology graduates lack crucial analytical and communication skills, and are barely employable. Similarly, a large proportion of those 430,000 research papers have little or no scientific value. And many of China’s 1.4 million yearly patent applications are destined to prove worthless. In fact, fewer than 20 per cent of China’s applications even claim to be for new inventions; the vast majority are for lower-tier design or utility model patents, which typically cover minor incremental changes to existing products.

Inventive economies generate handsome international income streams by licensing their technologies to foreign companies, which then pay them intellectual property royalties. In 2016, China earned just US$1 billion from the rest of the world in intellectual property payments. In contrast it paid out US$24 billion (and according to many critics, it should have paid a great deal more). Now compare those numbers with the equivalent figures for the US, which last year earned US$128 billion from licensing its intellectual property to other countries, while paying out US$48 billion. Meanwhile, Japan earned US$35 billion, and paid out US$18 billion.

The thought father: Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman on luck

One of the most amusing episodes in the book comes when Kahneman visits a Wall Street investment firm. After analysing their reports, he calculated that the traders, who were highly prized for their ability to “read” the markets, performed no better than they would have done if they made their decisions at random. The bonuses that they received were, therefore, rewards for luck, even though they found ways of interpreting it as skill. “They were really quite angry when I told them that,” he laughs. “But the evidence is unequivocal — there is a great deal more luck than skill involved in the achievements of people getting very rich.”


Better ways to learn

“When you are cramming for a test, you are holding that information in your head for a limited amount of time,” Mr. Carey says. “But you haven’t signaled to the brain in a strong way that’s it’s really valuable.”

One way to signal to the brain that information is important is to talk about it. Ask a young student to play “teacher” based on the information they have studied. Self-testing and writing down information on flashcards also reinforces learning.

“Sleep is the finisher on learning,” Mr. Carey says. “The brain is ready to process and categorize and solidify what you’ve been studying. Once you get tired, your brain is saying it’s had enough.”

Curated Insights 2018.04.01

Amazon is already reshaping health care

All three of the biggest U.S. PBMs will be tied to three of the country’s biggest insurers. CVS, Express Scripts, and UnitedHealth process more than 70 percent of all U.S. prescriptions. Post-merger, three companies will insure more than 90 million people in some capacity, process more than 3.5 billion prescription claims, and generate more than $500 billion in revenue.

The merging companies have claimed huge cost savings will flow to consumers from these deals, but I’m skeptical. Research suggests costs can actually end up rising in some cases of health-care consolidation. Less competition means more pricing power for the companies that remain. Markets with more insurers have lower premiums, while prices rise when hospitals buy physician groups. Though these are vertical deals, they will add to the market power of major players in already heavily consolidated industries, which seems like a recipe for monopolistic behavior.

Regulation could protect Facebook, not punish it

If the government instituted new rules for tech platforms collecting persona information going forward, it could effectively lock in Facebook’s lead in the data race. If it becomes more cumbersome to gather this kind of data, no competitor might ever amass an index of psychographic profiles and social graphs able to rival Facebook’s.

We’ve already seen that first-time download rates aren’t plummeting for Facebook, its App Store ranking has actually increased since the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke, and blue chip advertisers aren’t bailing, according to BuzzFeed. But Facebook relies on the perception of its benevolent mission to recruit top talent in Silicon Valley and beyond.


Facebook knows literally everything about you

But my favorite thing is probably peer-to-peer payments. In some countries, you can pay back your friends using Messenger. It’s free! You just have to add your card to the app. It turns out that Facebook also buys data about your offline purchases. The next time you pay for a burrito with your credit card, Facebook will learn about this transaction and match this credit card number with the one you added in Messenger. In other words, Messenger is a great Trojan horse designed to learn everything about you.

There’s one last hope. And that hope is GDPR. Many of the misleading things that are currently happening at Facebook will have to change. You can’t force people to opt in like in Messenger. Data collection should be minimized to essential features. And Facebook will have to explain why it needs all this data to its users. If Facebook doesn’t comply, the company will have to pay up to 4 percent of its global annual turnover. But that doesn’t stop you from actively reclaiming your online privacy right now.


How Facebook helps shady advertisers pollute the internet

Those who were caught and banned found that this was only a minor setback—they just opened new Facebook accounts under different names. Some affiliates would buy clean profiles from “farmers,” spending as much as $1,000 per. Others would rent accounts from strangers or cut deals with underhanded advertising agencies to find other solutions.

Affiliates say Facebook has sent mixed signals over the years. Their accounts would get banned, but company salespeople would also come to their meetups and parties and encourage them to buy more ads. Two former Facebook employees who worked in the Toronto sales office said it was common knowledge there that some of their best clients were affiliates who used deception. Still, the sources said, salespeople were instructed to push them to spend more, and the rep who handled the dirtiest accounts had a quota of tens of millions of dollars per quarter.

How Alibaba and Tencent became Asia’s biggest dealmakers

The reach of Tencent and Alibaba in their home market dwarfs that of the big tech groups in the US. While the latter accounts for less than 5 per cent of all venture capital flows in their home market, Alibaba and Tencent account for 40-50 per cent of venture capital flows in mainland China, according to data from McKinsey.

The downside is that their new investors might have different agendas than simply the financial performance of the new companies. The risk is that Alibaba and Tencent might be willing to sacrifice their interests in the companies they back if their own goals shift.

But he worries that entrepreneurs might also be forced to prematurely choose sides in the rivalry between the competing ecosystems of one or the other internet giants in ways that can leave a young company exposed.


SoftBank Vision Fund CEO explains plan to build the biggest network of tech companies in the world

The fund aims to be the largest shareholder in 100 technology companies around the world after it has finished investing all of its money, he said. The goal is to create the biggest ecosystem of tech companies in the world.

Part of the strategy will include investments strategically moving operations beyond their home markets and into other countries, where they can be linked with other holdings in the fund, Misra said. The fund will actively push many of its investments to work with each other, creating a web of companies controlled, or heavily influenced, by SoftBank and its CEO Masayoshi Son, Misra said.

Dropbox and Box were never competitors

Vast majority of Dropbox’s combined business and consumer revenue of more than a $1 billion came from consumers. Dropbox has always offered an attractive consumer storage tool. “Dropbox is primarily a consumer company with 500 million users, [with] only about 300,000 teams using their business offering.” For now though, even with this business push, Pelz-Sharpe points out that most of Dropbox’s business customers are small teams of 3 or more people with a dash of larger implementations. “Nor are people building much on top of Dropbox in the way of business applications – it remains primarily a very efficient file sharing system,” he explained.

This in contrast to Box, which has been working primarily with large enterprise companies for years to solve much more complex problems around content. Aaron Levie from Box said he’s absolutely rooting for Dropbox, but they have always been going after different markets, since Box decide to go enterprise about two years into its existence. “We are fundamentally building two very different companies. Both are large markets. While there is no limit to the scale they could become, we have built a very different business around how do you serve [large companies] and deal with unstructured company data — and it’s a very different product set [from Dropbox],” Levie told TechCrunch.


Micron: You don’t know how big this memory stuff is, says Instinet

DRAM and NAND storage have become the choke point in system level performance across multiple applications; cloud vendors, for example, are boosting memory content to speed up performance. These cloud companies are very sophisticated about hardware architecture. Vendors are spending tremendous amounts of capital to reduce wait times in servers. This means maximizing the amount of memory around the processor and greater use of NAND flash.

Robots could replace surgeons in the battle against cancer

Moll says he focused on lung cancer for two reasons. It’s the deadliest cancer, killing 1.7 million people a year globally, according to the World Health Organization. (That’s double the next-highest total, for liver cancer.) And it’s the perfect proving ground, he says, for medical robots.

No medical regulator in the world has approved fully robotic surgery, so for now surgeons who sign up for Auris’s pilot program will drive the bot. The doctor guides the scope through the lung, starting in the trachea, with a video screen to help navigate. A camera view is on the screen’s left side, and a CT-scan-created map and turn-by-turn directions are on the right. Auris tracks the probe’s precise location, in part, by comparing data from the camera view to the 3D map, and by using an electromagnetic sensor that works a bit like a miniature GPS. The idea is to collect data after every surgery and feed it back into the navigation software, improving it over time.

Say goodbye to the information age: it’s all about reputation now

We are experiencing a fundamental paradigm shift in our relationship to knowledge. From the ‘information age’, we are moving towards the ‘reputation age’, in which information will have value only if it is already filtered, evaluated and commented upon by others. Seen in this light, reputation has become a central pillar of collective intelligence today.