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.”