Curated Insights 2018.09.28

The problem with compounders

What is most important is you find a business with the correct business model that can grow sales. The sales engine of the company is the most important aspect, and also the one most overlooked by investors and analysts. Sure, cost structure matters, and business model matters as does “capital allocation”, which is what they do with the tiny bit of leftover money, but what matters most is sales.
Herein lies a problem. How do you determine that a small company with the correct business model will grow sales at a high rate? The only way to do that is to visit the company and talk to management. But talking to management isn’t enough. You need to sit down and discuss their sales strategy, understand who their employees are and evaluate the ability to execute on their plan.

This is clearly a dark spot for most analysts and investors. How do you determine if the sales manager is selling you, or knows what they’re talking about? Especially if there isn’t much in the way of results to look at? I believe it’s possible, but instead of having a solid background in financial analysis you need to have sales experience and understand the sales process. Instead of reading the newest book on investing strategies your bookshelf should be full of books on pricing, call strategies, how to approach demos, and prospecting. It’s also worth remembering that enterprise sales is a different beast from consumer sales, or small business sales.

When you start to put all the pieces of this puzzle together it starts to become more apparent why everyone didn’t invest in Starbucks, or Microsoft, or Oracle when they were tiny companies. To truly catch a compounder when they’re in infancy you need a set of skills that few investors possess. It’s not impossible to build out that skill set. Understanding this paradox also helps to expose the myth that buying high growth companies is a surefire way to success. Buying high growth companies IS a surefire way to success if you can buy them when they’re small enough and their market is large enough.


Different kinds of smart

Everyone knows the famous marshmallow test, where kids who could delay eating one marshmallow in exchange for two later on ended up better off in life. But the most important part of the test is often overlooked. The kids exercising patience often didn’t do it through sheer will. Most kids will take the first marshmallow if If they sit there and stare at it. The patient ones delayed gratification by distracting themselves. They hid under a desk. Or sang a song. Or played with their shoes. Walter Mischel, the psychologist behind the famous test, later wrote:

The single most important correlate of delay time with youngsters was attention deployment, where the children focused their attention during the delay period: Those who attended to the rewards, thus activating the hot system more, tended to delay for a shorter time than those who focused their attention elsewhere, thus activating the cool system by distracting themselves from the hot spots.

Delayed gratification isn’t about surrounding yourself with temptations and hoping to say no to them. No one is good at that. The smart way to handle long-term thinking is enjoying what you’re doing day to day enough that the terminal rewards don’t constantly cross your mind.


Investors want managers’ stories — Not track records — Data show

Seventy-seven percent of asset managers thought their messages were differentiated from peers, but only 21 percent of consultants believed that managers’ messages varied, according to Chestnut’s research. In addition, 75 percent of consultants who participated in the study, said their number one search criteria was investment process and portfolio construction. Manager narratives in the eVestment database, for example, get 3,000 views each month. Chestnut had 122 institutional investors and consultants participate in the study.

Amazon’s clever machines are moving from the warehouse to headquarters

Going forward, Amazon will need fewer people to manage its retail operations, a decided advantage over rivals like Walmart Inc. and Target Corp., which are both spending heavily just to catch up. “This is why Amazon is the 800-pound gorilla,” says Joel Sutherland, a supply-chain management professor at the University of San Diego. “Nobody else has the resources and expertise to pull all of these emerging technologies together to remove humans from the process as much as possible while making things more reliable and accurate.”

Faith in the technology grew as it improved. Workers were happy to see tedious tasks like managing inventory spreadsheets delegated to machines that did the work more quickly and accurately. “The numbers don’t lie,” Kwon says. “It’s a better model.”

A key turning point came in 2015 when the value of goods sold through the marketplace exceeded those sold by the retail team, the people say. The retail team, which had far more employees, watched its importance fade and money funneled into projects like Amazon Web Services and Alexa. It didn’t help that the marketplace generated twice the operating profit margin of the retail business—10 percent versus 5 percent, according to a person familiar with the company’s finances. In many international markets, the retail team has never turned a profit, the person says.

In annual sales meetings, a team of 15 people overseeing a retail category would see their growth outperformed by one person from the marketplace team, the people say. The lines between the teams began blurring. Amazon retail vendors had once enjoyed such advantages as video and banner advertising and access to daily deals that get millions of hits a day; now marketplace merchants got the same perks. Many brands became more interested in selling on the marketplace, where they—not the Amazon retail team—controlled prices, images and product descriptions.

“Computers know what to buy and when to buy, when to offer a deal and when not to,” says Neil Ackerman, a former Amazon executive who manages the supply chain at Johnson & Johnson. “These algorithms that take in thousands of inputs and are always running smarter than any human.”


Instagram’s CEO

This dynamic, by the way, was very much apparent when Snap IPO’d a year-and-a-half ago; indeed, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel, often cast as the anti-Systrom — the CEO that said “No” to Facebook — arguably had the same flaw. Systrom offloaded the building of a business to Zuckerberg; Spiegel didn’t bother until it was much too late.

Controlling one’s own destiny, though, takes more than product or popularity. It takes money, which is to say it takes building a company, working business model and all. That is why I mark April 9, 2012, as the day yesterday became inevitable. Letting Facebook build the business may have made Systrom and Krieger rich and freed them to focus on product, but it made Zuckerberg the true CEO, and always, inevitably, CEOs call the shots.


Now Facebook needs to worry about the Instagram founders’ next move

Tech companies with non-compete agreements for employees of up to one year rarely enforce them in full—especially in California, where courts have routinely thrown them out or severely restricted the scope of such agreements, Ted Moskovitz, a former SEC lawyer-turned-tech-entrepreneur, tells Barron’s. “California courts are extremely hostile to non-competes, and typically only enforce them where there is some other concern, like theft of trade secrets involved,” Moskovitz says. “California’s economy is highly reliant on innovation and the bringing to market of new ideas.”

The greater issue, he says, is whether Systrom and Krieger are taking proprietary and/or patented intellectual property with them.


Exclusive manager interview on Facebook

Imagine 100 years from today. My great great grandkids will have the ability to see who I was, what I was like, who I spent time with (if I give permission to Facebook to share my account prior to my death…?). This is a wonderful service for future generations. How could a company replicate such a wonderful service? All the photos, memories, comments, stories, and effort that we’ve put into the platform for the last 14 years has created a network and a legacy that I don’t believe will be easy to move or replace. We believe the moat around Facebook is getting wider everyday.

That being said, short-term data shows declines in user numbers for the youngest cohorts. This should be expected. Facebook becomes more interesting for people as they get older. As you age a mature you are posting pictures of your wedding day, your first child, your parents holding grandchildren, etc. You spend time staying in touch and looking at the lives of people that use to be very important in your life, like your brothers or friends from college, old work colleuges, etc. When you’re in high school you live with your family, you don’t have many friends that are scattered across the world, and you’re too cool to stay in touch with Mom and Dad. SnapChat makes way more sense for this young cohort. You can send inappropriate and temporary images as you discover who you are. I wouldn’t expect Facebook to ever really dominate the youngest cohorts, but I do expect that as this cohort matures many of them will spend less time and SnapChat and more time on Facebook. Priorities change overtime and Facebook definitely plays a critical and positive role in the world today.

Sirius XM’s deal to buy Pandora is a win for legacy media

It turns out that costly physical infrastructure and traditional linear programming don’t always doom media companies in their battle against digital upstarts. That’s a particularly relevant point today as Comcast bulks up to continue its battle against Netflix.

Sirius has a sticky business model, in which car buyers predictably turn on the Sirius XM radios that come pre-installed in new cars. We’re at the point where a growing number of used cars are being re-purchased with those same Sirius radios still installed, making used-car buyers a growing market for Sirius. But a satellite radio subscription still can’t match the ease of use or cost of Pandora’s smartphone app, which ranges from free to $10 a month for unlimited music.

In an investor presentation on Monday, Sirius noted that Pandora expands the company’s presence “beyond the vehicle,” while diversifying Sirius’ revenue stream by adding the country’s “largest ad-supported digital audio offering.” Sirius sees opportunity for cross-promotion between its 36 million paying subscribers and Pandora’s 70 million active listeners. The bulk of Pandora’s users are non-paying customers, but the company does have about six million paying subscribers. Sirius can now try to sell its subscription package into Pandora’s large user base.


Blackstone executives have eyes on new prizes

Blackstone has grown five-fold since its initial public offering in 2007, reaching nearly $440 billion in assets, largely on the back of private equity, real estate, hedge funds, and credit. Over the last 12 months, Blackstone has brought in a record $120 billion in investor capital.

Speaking at Blackstone’s Investor Day on September 21, president and COO Jon Gray stressed that Blackstone’s business requires very little capital. Of the $439 billion it manages, only $2 billion represents balance-sheet investments. Instead, it invests the assets of its clients, largely pension funds, endowments, and other institutions. Some of the firm’s future and early-stage initiatives, such as private wealth, involve tapping more mainstream investors.

Insurers are facing increasing regulatory capital requirements and continue to be squeezed by low interest rates. “They have no choice but to move into alternatives and private credit,” said James. Insurance companies, which hold a majority of their assets in fixed income are a natural fit with Blackstone, which is one of the largest originators of credit assets. Blackstone will both manage the assets for insurers like it does for any institution, and buy mature books of business where it takes on the entire balance sheet and manages both liabilities and assets. “This is a larger and more profitable business than simply having accounts to manage. There are hundreds of billions of insurance assets being sold as we speak,” he said.

Ronaldo: Why Juventus gambled €100m on a future payday

There are early signs the bet is paying off. While in secret talks to sign Ronaldo, Juventus increased average season ticket prices by 30 per cent. All 29,300 have been sold. On match day the Juventus stadium superstore is doing a brisk trade in Ronaldo replica shirts, costing up to €154.95 — among the highest prices in Europe. For his home debut, fans travelled from all over the world while television networks spent days trailing his arrival in Turin.

To sign the striker Juventus agreed to pay Real Madrid a €100m fee over two years, a further €5m in payments that will ultimately be paid to clubs that trained him as a young player, and about €12m in fees to his agent, Jorge Mendes. Ronaldo’s four-year contract provides a salary worth more than €50m a year after tax, according to reports. The remuneration package will also allow Juventus to use his “image rights”, so that the player — who earns an estimated $47m a year in personal endorsements — can also be used in Juventus promotional campaigns. Financial services firm KPMG estimates that, including the transfer fee, amortised over the duration of his contract, Juventus will pay around €340m, or €85m a year for Ronaldo’s services.


This 24-Year-Old built a $5 billion hotel startup in five years

Oyo employs hundreds of staffers in the field who evaluate properties on 200 factors, from the quality of mattresses and linens to water temperature. To get a listing, along with a bright red Oyo sign to hang street-side like a seal of good-housekeeping approval, most hoteliers must agree to a makeover that typically takes about a month. Oyo then gets 25 percent of every booking. Rooms usually run between $25 and $85.

Agarwal wouldn’t give sales numbers, but he said the number of transactions has tripled in the last year, with 90 percent coming from repeat travelers — and no money spent on advertising. There are now 10,000 hotels in 160 Indian cities, with more than 125,000 rooms, listed on the site, he said. That’s about 5 percent of India’s total room inventory, according to RedSeer estimates.

China claims more patents than any country—most are worthless

As of last year, more than 91 percent of design patents granted in 2013 had been discarded because people stopped paying to maintain them, according to JZMC Patent and Trademark data compiled for a Bloomberg query. Things aren’t much better for utility models with 61 percent lapsing during the same five-year period, while invention patents had a disposal rate of 37 percent. In comparison, maintenance fees were paid on 85.6 percent of U.S. patents issued in 2013, according to the United States Patent and Trademark Office.


The future of fish farming may be indoors

Bio-security routines that require sanitizing hands and dipping shoes in disinfectant bins minimize the risk of disease and the need for antibiotics that other forms of aquaculture heavily rely on, says Peterson, who has advised Nordic Aquafarms regarding best practices. However, just one employee who fails to complete the process correctly or neglects other basic protocol could contaminate the operation—with pathogens potentially looping through the recirculating system and killing an entire tank of fish. Large-scale companies could guard against this with monitoring equipment that lets them respond quickly to any issues, Peterson says, adding that strict government permits require routine monitoring that would also detect unusual levels of discharge in wastewater.

The real environmental toll of big indoor systems will depend on the capacity of local infrastructure, including the water supply, Timmons says. Recirculating systems can recycle more than 90 percent of tank water but some of it does get lost to evaporation or absorbed in solid waste each day. He calculates that a farm the size of the Belfast facility would (after the initial tank fill) consume about 1.65 billion liters of freshwater per year—roughly equivalent to the water use of about 12,000 people. But he notes even in a town of fewer than 7,000 people, like Belfast, this is within the capacity of the local aquifer—and is dwarfed by the volume of water the farm would recycle each year. In more drought-prone regions indoor aquaculture facilities could release wastewater for irrigating agricultural fields, reducing the water burden, Timmons adds.


Scientists finally crack wheat’s absurdly complex genome

This is already happening. Using the completed genome, the team identified a long-elusive gene (with the super-catchy name of TraesCS3B01G608800) that affects the inner structure of wheat stems. If plants have more copies of the gene, their stems are solid instead of hollow, which makes them resistant to drought and insect pests. By using a diagnostic test that counts the gene, breeders can now efficiently select for solid stems.


Nearly half of cellphone calls will be scams by 2019, report says

Nearly half of all cellphone calls next year will come from scammers, according to First Orion, a company that provides phone carriers and their customers caller ID and call blocking technology.

The Arkansas-based firm projects an explosion of incoming spam calls, marking a leap from 3.7 percent of total calls in 2017 to more than 29 percent this year, to a projected 45 percent by early 2019.

Everything you know about obesity is wrong

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 80 percent of adults and about one-third of children now meet the clinical definition of overweight or obese. More Americans live with “extreme obesity“ than with breast cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and HIV put together.


35 years ago today, one man saved us from world-ending nuclear war

Petrov did not report the incoming strike. He and others on his staff concluded that what they were seeing was a false alarm. And it was; the system mistook the sun’s reflection off clouds for a missile. Petrov prevented a nuclear war between the Soviets, who had 35,804 nuclear warheads in 1983, and the US, which had 23,305.

A 1979 report by Congress’s Office of Technology Assessment estimated that a full-scale Soviet assault on the US would kill 35 to 77 percent of the US population — or between 82 million and 180 million people in 1983. The inevitable US counterstrike would kill 20 to 40 percent of the Soviet population, or between 54 million and 108 million people.


Market research tricks

If you ask a question as close as possible to the claim you want to make, and ensure you survey a representative national sample of category users, any national chain in any category will beat competitors that are superior but only regionally available.

As a result of this research and ad campaign, one of Jimmy Dean’s regional competitors actually did its own research, but only in its regional area. The company found that it could beat Jimmy Dean in its region, and made its own ads that said in effect, “Did you really want to eat a breakfast sausage that people in both New York and San Francisco ate? No, you want (our) brand that tastes better to people like you and me here in (their local region).”

And because Taco Bell is pretty much ubiquitous, and enough people everywhere will vote for it because they haven’t found good, authentic Mexican food in their areas, it wins this title. There is no way that local restaurants, or even good regional chains, could compete with the sheer numbers of a national chain.

Curated Insights 2018.04.08

The most important self-driving car announcement yet

The company’s autonomous vehicles have driven 5 million miles since Alphabet began the program back in 2009. The first million miles took roughly six years. The next million took about a year. The third million took less than eight months. The fourth million took six months. And the fifth million took just under three months. Today, that suggests a rate on the order of 10,000 miles per day. If Waymo hits their marks, they’ll be driving at a rate that’s three orders of magnitude faster in 2020. We’re talking about covering each million miles in hours.

But the qualitative impact will be even bigger. Right now, maybe 10,000 or 20,000 people have ever ridden in a self-driving car, in any context. Far fewer have been in a vehicle that is truly absent a driver. Up to a million people could have that experience every day in 2020.

2020 is not some distant number. It’s hardly even a projection. By laying out this time line yesterday, Waymo is telling the world: Get ready, this is really happening. This is autonomous driving at scale, and not in five years or 10 years or 50 years, but in two years or less.


Facebook, big brother and China

Whether users are OK with this is a personal judgment they make, or at least should be making, when using the services. In open and democratic societies, perhaps users are less worried about what large corporations, who can be secretly compelled to hand over data to the state, know about them. Users are protected by the rule of law, after all. If they are going to see advertising in exchange for content, storage and functionality, then they would rather see relevant than irrelevant advertising alongside their web pages, emails, photos, videos and other files. Most citizens are not criminals and not concerned about what the state knows – they just want to share their holiday photos and chat with each other and in groups via a convenient platform, knowing that Facebook can mine and exploit their data.

But in authoritarian states such as China which control what their citizens can see and which lack a reliable rule of law, such networks pose a bigger threat. Tencent, for example, with its billion active accounts, knows the social graph of China, who your friends and associates are, where you go, what you spend (if you use their payment app) and what you say to each other and in groups on the censored chat platform. Similarly Sina Weibo. The state security apparatus has access to all of this on demand, as well of course as access to data from the mobile phone operators. So even if you stay off the Tencent grid, if you use the phone network then the state will know a lot about anyone you call who is a user of these platforms, as well as being able to profile you based on your repeated common location with other users. All of this data is likely to be accessible to the state in China’s forthcoming Orwellian Social Credit System, a combination of credit rating with mass surveillance. Knowledge is power. No wonder then that China won’t allow Facebook into the game.

Nvidia announces a new chip… But it’s not a GPU

The new chip, NVSwitch, is a communication switch that allows multiple GPUs to work in concert at extremely high speeds. The NVSwitch will enable many GPUs – currently 16 but potentially many more – to work together. The NVSwitch will distance Nvidia from the dozen or so companies developing competing AI (artificial intelligence) chips. While most are focused on their first chips, Nvidia is building out highly scalable AI systems which will be difficult to dislodge.


Nvidia: One analyst thinks it’s decimating rivals in A.I. chips

[Nvidia CEO] Jen-Hsun [Huang] is very clever in that he sets the level of performance that is near impossible for people to keep up with. It’s classic Nvidia — they go to the limits of what they can possibly do in terms of process and systems that integrate memory and clever switch technology and software and they go at a pace that makes it impossible at this stage of the game for anyone to compete.

Everyone has to ask, Where do I need to be in process technology and in performance to be competitive with Nvidia in 2019. And do I have a follow-on product in 2020? That’s tough enough. Add to that the problem of compatibility you will have to have with 10 to 20 frameworks [for machine learning.] The only reason Nvidia has such an advantage is that they made the investment in CUDA [Nvidia’s software tools].

A lot of the announcements at GTC were not about silicon, they were about a platform. It was about things such as taking memory [chips] and putting it on top of Volta [Nvidia’s processor], and adding to that a switch function. They are taking the game to a higher level, and probably hurting some of the system-level guys. Jen-Hsun is making it a bigger game.

Nervana’s first chip didn’t work, they had to go back to the drawing board. It was supposed to go into production one or two quarters ago, and then they [Intel] said, ‘We have decided to just use the Nervana 1 chip for prototyping, and the actual production chip will be a second version.’ People aren’t parsing what that really means. It means it didn’t work! Next year, if Nervana 2 doesn’t happen, they’ll go back and do a Nervana 3.


Apple plans to use its own chips in Macs from 2020, replacing Intel

Apple’s decision to switch away from Intel in PC’s wouldn’t have a major impact on the chipmaker’s earnings because sales to the iPhone maker only constitute a small amount of its total. A bigger concern would be if this represents part of a wider trend of big customers moving to designing their own components, he said.

Apple’s custom processors have been recently manufactured principally by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Ltd. Its decision may signal confidence that TSMC and other suppliers such as Samsung Electronics Co. have closed the gap on Intel’s manufacturing lead and can produce processors that are just as powerful.

Live Nation rules music ticketing, some say with threats

Ticket prices are at record highs. Service fees are far from reduced. And Ticketmaster, part of the Live Nation empire, still tickets 80 of the top 100 arenas in the country. No other company has more than a handful. No competitor has risen to challenge its pre-eminence. It operates more than 200 venues worldwide. It promoted some 30,000 shows around the world last year and sold 500 million tickets.

Though the price of tickets has soared, that trajectory predates the merger and is driven by many factors, including artists’ reliance on touring income as record sales have plummeted.

Live Nation typically locks up much of the best talent by offering generous advances to artists and giving them a huge percentage of the ticket revenue from the door. Why? Because it can afford to. It has so many other related revenue streams on which to draw: sponsorships for the tour, concessions at venues, and, most of all, ticket fees. The fees supply about half of Live Nation’s earnings, according to company reports.

Critics say enforcement of the consent decree has been complicated by what they call its ambiguous language. Though it forbids Live Nation from forcing a client to buy both its talent and ticketing, the agreement lets the company “bundle” its services “in any combination.” So Live Nation is barred from punishing an arena by, say, steering a star like Drake to appear at a rival stop down the road. But it’s also allowed, under the agreement, to redirect a concert if it can defend the decision as sound business.

Roku’s business is not what you think

That’s far from the only ad inventory Roku has access to. The Roku Channel offers free-to-watch popular movies, which Roku sells ad time against. Many of Roku’s “free” channels are ad supported, with Roku having access to all or some of the ad time on many of those channels (not all of them).

While selling ads is the biggest piece of the company’s Platform business, there are some auxiliary sales as well. See those Netflix, Amazon, Pandora, YouTube, etc. buttons on your Roku remote? The company was paid to put them there. Additionally, some TV brands have licensed the right to include Roku OS right into their television set, another source of revenue.

All told, Platform revenue is 44% of total sales, and growing rapidly. In fact, it more than doubled in 2017, and has increased more than 3-fold over the past 2 years. Even better, Platform revenue carries a gross margin near 75%, meaning that already it makes up 85% of Roku’s gross profitability. Completing the trifecta of good news, Platform sales are far more recurring and reliable in nature than hardware sales, giving the company a firmer footing from which to expand their business. Bottom line here? Roku is not really a commodity hardware maker. It is more of a consumer digital video advertising platform.

There is no shortage of ways to get streaming content. And all of them are fighting tooth-and-nail for users. Google and Amazon practically give away their devices to get users into their ecosystem. Against that lineup, it really has very few competitive advantages. There is no meaningful lock-in to the platform. It is really quite simple and painless for a consumer to switch from a Roku to a competing offering. Getting new customers is even more of a dog fight.

Netflix makes up over 30% of streaming hours through Roku’s platform, but the channel provides essentially no revenue back. Same for Amazon, Hulu, and the most popular ad-supported video network in the world, YouTube. Roku relies on monetizing Roku Channel and other, less prominent content channels. However, there is nothing stopping those other channels from switching to a different ad provider, or (if they are large enough), building out their own.


Alibaba is preparing to invest in Grab

Alibaba leaned heavily on its long-time ally SoftBank — an early backer of Tokopedia and Grab — to get the Tokopedia deal ahead of Tencent. That’s despite Tokopedia’s own founders’ preference for Tencent due to Alibaba’s ownership of Lazada, an e-commerce rival to Tokopedia. SoftBank, however, forced the deal through. “It was literally SoftBank against every other investor,” a separate source with knowledge of negotiations told TechCrunch. Ultimately, Alibaba was successful and it led a $1.1 billion investment in Tokopedia in August which did not include Tencent.

CRISPR recorder

While the Cas9 protein is involved in cutting and correcting DNA, the Cas4 protein is part of the process that creates DNA and genetic memory. CRISPR evolved from a bacterial immune defense system in which bacteria destroy viral invaders. Now we are beginning to understand how bacteria detect the invaders and remember the encounters. With Cas4, bacteria can record these encounters in their DNA, creating a permanent ledger of historical events.

Our understanding of Cas4 is rudimentary, but its potential applications are provocative. Not only will it timestamp key events, but it should be able to monitor how an individual’s body works and how it reacts to different kinds of bacteria. A Cas4 tool should be able to fight antibiotic resistance, an important use case addressing a significant unmet need.

How do wars affect stock prices?

Our research is not alone in reaching this conclusion. A 2013 study of US equity markets found that in the month after the US enters conflict, the Dow Jones has risen, on average, by 4.0 percent—3.2 percent more than the average of all months since 1983. A 2017 study found that volatility also dropped to lower levels immediately following the commencement of hostilities relative to the build-up to conflict. During the four major wars of the last century (World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the First Gulf War), for instance, large-cap US equities proved 33 percent less volatile while small-cap stocks proved 26 percent less volatile. Similarly, FTSE All Share and FTSE 100 volatility has historically fallen by 19 and 25 percent over one- and three-month horizons following the outbreak of conflict.

Regression to lumpy returns

Missing a bull can be even more detrimental than taking part in a bear. Following the two huge bear markets we’ve experienced this century, many investors decided it was more important to protect on the downside than take part in the upside. Risk is a two-way street and I’m a huge proponent of risk management, but investors have taken this mindset too far. Missing out on huge bull market gains can set you back years in terms of performance numbers because you basically have to wait for another crash to occur, and then have the fortitude to buy back in at the right time. I have a hard time believing people who missed this bull market because they were sitting in cash will be able to put money to work when the next downturn strikes.


How to talk to people about money

In the last 50 years medical schools subtly shifted teaching away from treating disease and toward treating patients. That meant laying out of the odds of what was likely to work, then letting the patient decide the best path forward. This was partly driven by patient-protection laws, partly by Katz’s influential book, which argued that patients have wildly different views about what’s worth it in medicine, so their beliefs have to be taken into consideration.

There is no “right” treatment plan, even for patients who seem identical in every respect. People have different goals and different tolerance for side effects. So once the patient is fully informed, the only accurate treatment plan is, “Whatever you want to do.” Maximizing for how well they sleep at night, rather than the odds of “winning.”

Everyone giving investing advice – or even just sharing investing opinions – should keep top of mind how emotional money is and how different people are. If the appropriate path of cancer treatments isn’t universal, man, don’t pretend like your bond strategy is appropriate for everyone, even when it aligns with their time horizon and net worth.

The best way to talk to people about money is keeping the phrases, “What do you want to do?” or “Whatever works for you,” loaded and ready to fire. You can explain to other people the history of what works and what hasn’t while acknowledging their preference to sleep well at night over your definition of “winning.”

Earnings Call Digest 2017.11

Facebook (Q3 2017 Results) – Earnings Call Transcript

Our community continues to grow, now with nearly 2.1 billion people using Facebook every month and nearly 1.4 billion people using it daily. Instagram also hit a big milestone this quarter, now with 500 million daily actives.

The reason I’m talking about this on our earnings call is that I’ve directed our teams to invest so much in security on top of the other investments we’re making that it will significantly impact our profitability going forward, and I wanted our investors to hear that directly from me. I believe this will make our society stronger, and in doing so will be good for all of us over the long term. But I want to be clear about what our priority is. Protecting our community is more important than maximizing our profits.

Over the next three years, the biggest trend in our products will be the growth of video. This goes both for sharing, where we’ve seen Stories in Instagram and Status in WhatsApp grow very quickly, each with more than 300 million daily actives, and also for consuming video content.

In messaging, today already more than 20 million businesses are communicating with customers through Messenger. Now we’re starting to test business features that make it easier for people to make the same kinds of connections with businesses through WhatsApp.

We’re now using machine learning in most of our integrity work to keep our community safe. When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, we used AI to look at satellite imagery and identify where people might live and need connectivity and other resources. Progress in AI can unlock a lot of opportunities.

Facebook has over 6 million active advertisers, and we recently announced that Instagram has over 2 million advertisers. The vast majority of these are small and medium-sized businesses, which are a major source of innovation and create more than half of all new jobs globally. These businesses often have small ad budgets, so the ability to reach people more effectively is really valuable to them.

Video is exploding, and mobile video advertising is a big opportunity. Until recently, ads were only eligible for Ad Breaks if they also ran in News Feed. But in Q3, we gave advertisers the option to run ads in videos alone. We’re seeing good early results, with more than 70% of Ad Breaks up to 15 seconds in length on Facebook and Audience Network viewed to completion, most with the sound on.

I would say not all time spent is created equal. That’s why I tried to stress up front that time spent is not a goal by itself here. What we really want to go for is time well spent. And what the research that we found shows is that when you’re actually engaging with people and having meaningful connections, that’s time well spent, and that’s the thing that we want to focus on.

I do think your point is right that not all kinds of content can be supported by ads, no matter how effective we make that. That said, the current model that we have for at least getting some of the lighthouse content onto the platform is to pay up front. And what we would like to transition that more to over time and what an increasing amount of the content is, is revenue shares for ads shown in the videos. And as we do better and better on the monetization there, that will support people with higher production costs and doing more premium production and bringing their content to the platform. And we’ve certainly found on the Internet and YouTube and in other places that there are whole industries around creators with different cost structures than traditional Hollywood folks who can produce very informative and engaging content that a lot of people like and enjoy and that builds communities and that helps people connect together in a way that definitely can be supported by this ad model.


Apple (Q4 2017 Results) – Earnings Call Transcript

Turning to Services. Revenue reached an all-time quarterly record of $8.5 billion in the September quarter. A few quarters ago, we established a goal of doubling our fiscal 2016 services revenue of $24 billion by the year 2020, and we are well on our way to meeting that goal. In fiscal 2017, we reached $30 billion, making our Services business already the size of a Fortune 100 company.

The reason I’m so excited about AR is I view that it amplifies human performance instead of isolates humans. And so as you know, it’s the mix of the virtual and the physical world and so it should be a help for humanity, not an isolation kind of thing for humanity…Apple is the only company that could have brought this because it requires both hardware and software integration, and it requires sort of making a lot of – or giving the operating system update to many people at once. And the software team worked really hard to make that go back several versions of iPhone so that we sort of have hundreds of millions of enabled devices overnight.

But in terms of price elasticity, I think it’s important to remember that a large number of people pay for the phone by month. And so if you were to go out on just the U.S., since that tends to be more of the focus of this call, you look at the U.S. carriers, I think you would find you could buy an iPhone X for $33 a month. And so if you think about that, that’s a few coffees a week. It’s let’s say less than a coffee a day at one of these nice coffee places…In terms of the way we price, we price to sort of the value that we’re providing. We’re not trying to charge the highest price we could get or anything like that. We’re just trying to price it for what we’re delivering.


Alibaba Group (Q2 2018 Results) – Earnings Call Transcript

In the 18 years since Alibaba was founded, China’s per capita GDP grew by a compounded annual rate of 14%. By comparison, the per capita GDP of the United States grew 3% during the same period. We all understand the magic of compounding. When you compound at 14% rate over 18 years, which is the life of Alibaba, the average Chinese citizen is 10 times better off today than in 1999 with per capita GDP growing from $870 to $8,100.

Today, China’s per capita GDP is still only 1/7 of the per capita GDP of the United States. Based on the track record of sustained income growth over the past years as well as on the backbone of a modern Internet infrastructure and productivity gains from technology, I’m very optimistic that China will continue to experience real income growth for years to come. This will translate into a rising middle class characterized by ever-increasing and higher-quality consumption. And this long-term secular trend bodes well for Alibaba.

Our cloud computing business continues to defy gravity. Revenue increased by 99% year-over-year. We continue to multiply our product portfolio, including the introduction of a new relational database and a state-of-the-art server developed in-house that serve the needs of large enterprise customers.

Mobile MAUs on our China retail marketplaces reached 549 million in September, an increase of 20 million over June quarter. Annual active consumers on our China retail marketplace reached 488 million, a net add of 22 million from the 12 months period ended June.

And the key thing is that the data-driven logistic network, actually we are – Cainiao is not going to be a logistic company and we are not interested into building another logistics company. Instead, we will work with a lot of logistic companies, delivery companies to build a network across the world.


Live Nation Entertainment (Q3 2017 Results) – Earnings Call Transcript

Our concerts business is our flywheel, attracting over 30 million fans to shows globally in the quarter, which then drove record results in our onsite ticketing and advertising business. Through October, we have sold 80 million tickets for concerts in 2017, up 20% year-on-year. Digging deeper into concerts, strong global demand for concerts through the third quarter drove a 16% increase in attendance to 65 million of fans at our 20,000 shows in 40 countries.

With the success of the concert flywheel, we’re promoting more shows for more fans, more effectively pricing and selling tickets and delivering a better experience than ever. As a result, we will spend over $5 billion producing concerts this year, making Live Nation far and away the largest financial partner to musicians.

With over 1,000 sponsors across our onsite and online platform, Live Nation is a global leader in music sponsorship, providing brands with opportunities to reach our core audience.

There is no artist that’s dying to put tickets on a secondary platform as a solution. That isn’t how they build their brands with their fans. What they want to do is figure out how to price it right and then make sure their fans actually have a shot to buy the ticket, not deliver it to the on-sale, have the scalper buy it, and their fan in Boston ends up paying 3 times the price.

We think Fan Verified and then you add on presence from the digital perspective are a real important combination for these artists of the future, who now believe they have some shot at controlling and delivering to their fans the price point at the exact price they want. And so, we think this is a pivotal product – suite of products that we’ve developed in Ticketmaster. It’s under a new division within Ticketmaster called Artist Master where we have a new leadership team waking up every day, making sure that we can deliver artist products, so the artists can deliver their tickets to their fans at better pricing and at the price they want.


Tesla (Q3 2017 Results) – Earnings Call Transcript

In fact, there’s 10,000 unique parts, so to be more accurate, there’re tens of thousands of processes necessary to produce the car. We will move as fast as the least competent and least lucky elements of that mixture. So while the vast majority are going incredibly well, there are some problem areas.

The primary production constraint really, by far, is in battery module assembly. So a little bit of a deep dive on that. There are four zones to module manufacturing it goes through four major production zones. The zones three and four are in good shape, zones one and two are not. Zone two in particular, we had a subcontractor, a systems integration subcontractor, that unfortunately really dropped the ball, and we did not realize the degree to which the ball was dropped until quite recently, and this is a very complex manufacturing area. We had to rewrite all of the software from scratch, and redo many of the mechanical and electrical elements of zone two of module production.

The ramp curve is a step exponential, so it means like as you alleviate a constraint, the production suddenly jumps to a much higher number. And so, although it looks a little staggered if you sort of zoom out, that production ramp is exponential with week over week increases.

There’s vastly more automation with Model 3. Now the tricky thing is that when one automation doesn’t work, it’s really harder to make up for it with men and labor. So with S or X, because a lot less that was automated, we could scale up labor hours and achieve a high level of production. With Model 3, it tends to be either the machine works or it doesn’t or it’s limping along and we get short quite severely on output.

I think that we will be able to achieve full autonomy with the current hardware. The question is, it’s not just full autonomy, but full autonomy with what level of reliability, and what will be acceptable to regulators. But I feel quite confident that we can achieve human level – approximately human level autonomy with the current computing hardware. Now regulators may require some significant margin above human capability in order for a full autonomy to be engaged. They may say, it needs to be 50% safer, 100% safer, 1000% safer, I don’t know. I’m not sure they know either.



Qualcomm (Q4 2017 Results) – Earnings Call Transcript

We are very excited about the increased momentum in 5G around the world. We are leading the industry and are accelerating the commercial launch of 5G across millimeter wave and sub-6 gigahertz in early 2019. We recently announced the world’s first 5G data connection achieved on the Snapdragon X50 modem chip set, and our leading 5G 3GPP standards development, ongoing prototype efforts and are supporting global 5G new radio trials.

Gigabit LTE is the first step in network operator’s transition to 5G, and there are now 41 operators in 24 countries supporting Gigabit LTE. We have demonstrated download speeds of greater than 1 gigabits using our X20 LTE modem in the U.S. with both Ericsson and Verizon, as well as Nokia and T-Mobile. Most leading device-makers are rapidly adopting Gigabit LTE into their device portfolios.

In the premium tier, our gigabit-enabled Snapdragon 835 now has more than 120 designs launched and in development, including recent flagship devices like the Samsung Galaxy Note 8, Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL, LG V30, and the Xiaomi Mi MIX 2. We have also introduced new high-tier and mid-tier Snapdragon products to further expand our competitive position in China across all tiers.


Trupanion (Q3 2017 Results) – Earnings Call Transcript

Lifetime value of a pet grew to $701 in the quarter, reflecting improvements in retention and in optimizing our cost-plus pricing strategy by subcategory. As lifetime value increases, we are able to increase our allowable tax spend and invest more aggressively in testing of new acquisition initiatives, with a goal of understanding whether they can meet our internal rate of return targets over time.

Total enrolled subscription pets increased 15% year-over-year to approximately 359,000 pets as of September 30. Monthly average revenue per pet for the quarter was $52.95, an increase of 9% year-over-year. Average monthly retention was 98.61%, consistent with the prior year period.

We want to be cash flow positive. The other guardrails are internal rate of return. And for any significant investments that we’re making, we are targeting internal rates of return of greater than 30% and hopefully, closer to 40%. When we’re doing some different testing or some long-term initiatives, maybe they’re a little bit lower, but on a blended basis, we want to be over 30%, internal rate of return closer to 40%. So those are probably the guardrails that we’re using. When I talk about how much more we’ve learned, it’s really driven around increasing the velocity of hospitals in our same-store sales initiatives. And order of magnitude may be we’ll invest an additional $2 million or $3 million next year than we otherwise would have anticipated. So definitely inside of our guardrails, but long term and foundational.

Well, the biggest opportunity, this is the overall market. I mean, we’re still in a very low underpenetrated market. And I’ll be saying this for the next 5 years. If you look at the number of pets that have some form of medical insurance, we’re over 1%, but we’re still under 2%. We want to try to grow the category growth. When we think about how to do that, it’s all around veterinarian first and making it normal and key. We have historically been growing the company by adding stores. Over the next few years, we feel it will become important for us to work on the same-store sales.

So as a reminder, our goal is to eliminate a slow cumbersome reimbursement model, where a pet owner fills out a bunch of paperwork and puts it in the mailbox and wait for 2 to 3 weeks to see if they are going to get paid. We think the problem we’re solving for pet owners is making it easier for them to budget for if and when their pet become sick or injured. And part of solving that problem is being able to pay hospitals directly at the time of invoice. Part of that solution is being able to integrate with practice management software in a way that makes the process very quickly. Our goal is to pay these invoices in under 5 minutes from the time those created. We like the results that we’re getting. But we want to speed up the velocity of the – number of places that we’re rolling it out now that we’re better at it. And we’re still in relatively early days to learn how to speed up the velocity, now that we like the results we get on a per hospital basis.


Tucows (Q3 2017 Results) – Earnings Call Transcript

The General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR is a piece of legislation passed by the European Union to enforce tougher more consistent guidelines on organizations that operate across the region and particularly, global Internet companies and deals with customer data and product deployments. These guidelines impact the millions of domain names that we have registered to European end-users. So, we need to comply along with everyone else by May 25, 2018. This will require a significant investment in engineering. However, its work that needs to be done by everyone across our industry and across many industries and it plays to our engineering strengths. Also, other governments are starting to the EU’s lead and pass their own legislation. So, while the work will cause some pain in the short-term if we do it well better and faster than others, it could create some opportunities in the future.

This deal gives us access to the Otono eSIM platform. eSIM allows mobile users to choose and switch between networks without needing to insert and activate traditional SIM cards. In coming quarters, eSIM should allow Ting to support high-profile smartwatches and other exciting new connected devices. In coming years, eSIM should allow Ting customers to move seamlessly between networks on almost any device imaginable.


Chegg (Q3 2017 Results) – Earnings Call Transcript

In just four years the results have been dramatic, which Chegg now serving nearly ten million visitors in a month according to ComScore and we expect to have around four million paying customers in 2017. Further, we expect to have more Chegg Services subscribers than textbook customers for the first time in our history. Our Chegg Services revenue has grown from just $25 million in 2012 to what we expect will be over $180 million in 2017.

And given our new adjusted EBITDA guidance today, we will go from a company who was losing $16 million in adjusted EBITDA right before our IPO, to a company that is now forecasting nearly $45 million in adjusted EBITDA for 2017. This turnaround has helped us go from a company using over $100 million in cash each year to support a slow growth textbook business to a high growth, high margin learning company that now produces free cash flow. It’s been a successful transition and we feel like we’re just getting started.

As powerful as Chegg Study is already, we believe the service will become even more relevant to an increasing TAM, as we continue to expand its content and capability. To that end, we recently announced the acquisition of Cogeon, developer of the app Math 42, an adaptive A.I.-driven Math application, which has been downloaded over 2 million time. Math is the universal need and unfortunately a universal problem as 64% of U.S. students are not prepared for college level math, and over 40% of U.S. students take at least one remedial math course.

Even though students look to A.I.-driven tools to help augment their learning, we know that one-on-one human help will continue to be critical in the learning process, which is why we continue to invest in Chegg Tutors. In the third quarter, we saw the time students spent on the site increase, with an average student now spending 188 minutes in tutoring sessions throughout the semester in key subjects like computer science, calculus, statistics, finance and accounting.

The magic of what we are building is the ability to have access to millions of millions of millions of students and their records and their history, all the data about them it’s in our proprietary student graph, and then the ability to do matching based on that uniquely done by how we are capable of doing it versus others. So, we met with all the players in the space. Obviously, everybody would like access to this Chegg audience, but we believe what working on is going to be special and unique and has the opportunity to be huge.

So, we don’t see a reason with such high gross profit margins to change the price. But we do know we have significant pricing power, given the fact of not only the test results which you can just look at the usage. We have record usage in terms of how often they use it, how many pages they consume, what they use for the number of questions that they’re asking, the number of the subjects that they’re asking it in. I mean Chegg Study has become a beast, and we just — what we want to do is be able to grow as big as we can and invest in as much as we can and continue to increase the TAM. So we don’t have to think about pricing at this point, but we do know we have pricing power.

We actually believe and we try to say this on the last couple of calls which is the more we invest in the product, the more content, the more formats that we deliver that content, the more subjects, the greater the Q&A that we add. That the TAM is probably two to three times the size just in the U.S. alone about original number we gave out. And that’s because, it will cover the other 50% of subjects that we don’t cover. And it will go deeper in the subjects that we do cover. So we want wide at first now we’re going deeper. So we’re freshmen all the way through the seniors on key majors and that was not a year ago, the plan.


Workiva (Q3 2017 Results) – Earnings Call Transcript

…our ability to integrate Wdesk with more than 100 cloud, SaaS, and on-premise applications including Oracle ERP Cloud has expanded our TAM to $16.2 billion.

We continue to gain market share in the SEC compliance market, where Wdesk is considered a best practice. We’re also seeing more demand for Wdesk from foreign private issues that use IFRS taxonomy because they’ll be required to submit their SEC filings with XBRL tagging starting December 15.

We finished Q3 with 2,991 customers, a net increase of 295 customers from Q3 of 2016, and a net increase of 83 customers from Q2 2017. Our subscription support revenue retention rate excluding add-ons was 96.5% for the month of September 2017, compared with 96.1% in June 2017, and 95% in September 2016. Customers being acquired or ceasing to file SEC reports, accounted for a majority of the revenue attrition, consistent with our experience to date. With add-ons, our subscription support revenue retention rate was 108.6% for the month of September 2017, compared with 106% in June 2017, and 108.7% in September 2016. Increased subscription revenue on non-SEC use cases from existing customers continues to be the primary driver of our add-on revenue retention rate.

 

Curated Insights 2017.08.20

Apple has the best business model for generating cash

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Amazon looks to new food technology for home delivery

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

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

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

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

Facebook buys computer vision startup focused on adding objects to video

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

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

The world’s shipping companies are going super-sized

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The death of the internal combustion engine

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

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

Housing for the long run?

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

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

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


Sustainability of hedge-fund reinsurers questioned

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

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

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


ASEAN at 50

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

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

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