Curated Insights 2018.02.18

Amazon’s latest ambition: To be a major hospital supplier

The pilot is customized for the hospital system’s catalog of supplies, the official said, allowing employees to compare prices the system negotiates with its distributors against those in the Amazon Business marketplace. In response to questions about these efforts, Amazon said it is building technology to serve health-care customers, and seeking to sell hospitals on a “marketplace concept” that differs from typical hospital purchasing, which is conducted through contracts with distributors and manufacturers.

So far, some hospitals have been reluctant to buy supplies from Amazon Business, for reasons including lack of options and lack of control over purchases and shipping, which hospitals closely safeguard to ensure prompt arrival of goods.

Hospitals typically contract for assurances that products will be available and delivered securely, she said. “It’s a little different than being out of a size 6 dress. I can’t be out of a six French catheter,” said Ms. McCready, who oversees the hospital system’s $3 billion annual budget for supplies, contract services and pharmaceuticals. Ensuring continuity of product supply is also crucial, said Donna Drummond, Northwell’s senior vice president of consolidated business services. When doctors and nurses reach for a familiar product, they know its specifications. Jumping online to look for the best deal could disrupt that continuity, she said. Northwell is “not ready to move from our current model,” Ms. Drummond said, but added: “We are open to a competitive market.”

Fees and administration, marketing and shipping costs account for an estimated 20% to 30% of health-care supply costs, according to a November research report by Citigroup Global Markets Inc. “There’s a lot of people with fingers in the pie,” said Rob Austin, an associate director with Navigant Consulting Inc. and former hospital supply-chain executive. “There is a huge opportunity.”


Amazon threat has Maersk racing to stop clients becoming rivals

It’s not just a question of a smooth delivery, said Skou. Giant retailers like Amazon also want better information about shipments to manage supply chains as effectively as possible. Maersk is rolling out a new digitization strategy to modernize an industry in which bookings often still take place by phone. Last month, it formed a joint venture with IBM to develop the use of blockchain technology to manage and track cross-border trade.

“The ability of Maersk to understand the market and integrate with a big company like Amazon is very clever,” Benito said. “They realize that Amazon can be a disruptor, so it’s better to try and work together.”

How delivery apps like Seamless and Uber Eats may put your favorite restaurant out of business

In 2016, delivery transactions made up about seven per cent of total U.S. restaurant sales. In a research report published last June, analysts at Morgan Stanley predicted that that number could eventually reach forty per cent of all restaurant sales, and an even higher percentage in urban areas and among casual restaurants, where delivery is concentrated. Companies like GrubHub maintain that the revenue they bring restaurants is “incremental”—the cherry on top, so to speak, of whatever sales the place would have done on its own. They also argue that delivery orders are a form of marketing, exposing potential new customers who might convert to lucrative in-restaurant patrons. The problem is that as consumers use services like Uber Eats and Seamless for a greater share of their meals, delivery orders are beginning to replace some restaurants’ core business instead of complementing it. (In the Morgan Stanley survey, forty-three per cent of delivery patrons said that a meal they ordered in was replacing one they would have otherwise eaten at a restaurant.) And, as delivery orders replace profitable takeout or sit-down sales with less profitable ones—ostensibly giving restaurants business but effectively taking it away—the “incremental” argument no longer holds. “It’s total bullshit, and you can quote me on that,” Justin Rosenberg, the C.E.O. of the Philadelphia-based fast-casual chain Honeygrow, told me. “I’ve spoken to C.F.O.s of bigger fast-casuals, and they’ve said the same thing.”

It’s worth noting that, even while charging restaurants steep rates, most delivery platforms are not yet profitable, either. Their hope is that order volumes will one day become high enough—and couriers will deliver enough orders per hour—to push them into the black.


Airbnb reportedly built an internal hedge fund that makes $5 million per month

According to Bloomberg, Tosi “quietly built a hedge fund within the company’s finance department. He used a portion of capital from the balance sheet to buy stocks, currencies, and fixed-income securities, mimicking the treasury fund he ran at Blackstone. The side project represented 30 percent of the company’s cash flow last year and made about $5 million a month for Airbnb, the people said.”

New DNA nanorobots successfully target and kill off cancerous tumors

“Using tumor-bearing mouse models, we demonstrate that intravenously injected DNA nanorobots deliver thrombin specifically to tumor-associated blood vessels and induce intravascular thrombosis, resulting in tumor necrosis and inhibition of tumor growth,” the paper explains.

DNA nanorobots are a somewhat new concept for drug delivery. They work by getting programmed DNA to fold into itself like origami and then deploying it like a tiny machine, ready for action.

Saving for old age: the global story (part II)

This country for old men and women would have had 222m people in it, assuming it was launched at the end of 2015. Assume all Chinese move there on their 60th birthday, and by 2025 you would expect the population of Oldland to be 300m.

It is well known that savings rates in China are already high. If greater portions of these savings are shifted into a funded pensions infrastructure which looks anything like that of the US, this would boost demand for the kinds of assets pension funds usually buy: stocks and bonds.

It may already be happening. The Willis Towers Watson report states that China has the fastest compound annual growth rate of pension assets over the past five years, at 18 per cent. The second highest, at 13 per cent, is South Korea. The third is Hong Kong, at 10 per cent (HK also has the fastest 10 year growth rate — there is no such figure for China).

Audio boom: how podcasters make a living

The defining year for podcasting was perhaps 2014, when NPR launched Serial, a true-crime series that became a global phenomenon and the fastest podcast to reach 5m downloads on iTunes. It triggered a wave of wannabes. That year, Apple installed the podcast app into its operating system — suddenly iPhones had podcasts on the home screen. Today there are more than 500,000 active shows on iTunes, including content in more than 100 languages.

In 2006, only 22 per cent of Americans had heard the term “podcasting”, according to Edison Research and Triton Digital. Last year it was 60 per cent. Thirty-one per cent of 25- to 54-year-olds said they had listened to a podcast in the past month compared with 16 per cent four years earlier. Networks such as Gimlet, or the crowdfunded Radiotopia, have helped to professionalise podcasts by attracting large audiences and advertising revenues.


An ‘iceberg’ of unseen crimes: Many cyber offenses go unreported

To many criminologists, academics and law enforcement leaders, crimes like car theft are anachronisms in a modern era in which the internet’s virtual superhighways have supplanted brick-and-mortar streets as the scenes for muggings, prostitution rings or commercial burglaries. They see dips in traditional violence and larceny as offset by a twin phenomenon: A surge in the evolving crimes of the digital era, and the fact that they are not fully captured in law enforcement’s reporting systems.

The wealth of Sapiens

True wealth is not money. It’s the option to buy what you truly need. If money can’t buy what you need, you’re on even footing with the poorest person out there. Wealth is a society where you can trust complete strangers with your child’s life. Wealth is having friends, colleagues and family who support you. Who take care of the things you can’t, without hesitation. Wealthy is when strangers rent you cars for 1-way trips at 3am over the internet.

Curated Insights 2018.02.04

Ingvar Kamprad, Ikea’s Swedish billionaire founder, dies at 91

Kamprad was known for driving an old Volvo, recycling tea bags and taking home little packets of salt and pepper from restaurant visits. He was known as “Uncle Scrooge” and “The Miser” in the Swiss village of Epalinges, near Lausanne, where he moved in the 1970s before returning to Sweden a few years ago. He also avoided wearing suits and ties and traveled coach when flying.

Ikea’s corporate culture mirrors Kamprad’s celebration of frugality. Executives of the company travel on low-cost airlines and lodge in budget hotels. Its employees follow a basic pamphlet written by Kamprad in 1976, “The Testament of a Furniture Dealer,” which states that “wasting resources is a mortal sin,” and stipulates Ikea’s “duty to expand.”

The name Ikea is made up of the founder’s initials and the first letters of the Elmtaryd farm and Agunnaryd village where he was raised. His flat-pack furniture was invented by Ikea employee Gillis Lundgren in 1956 when he tried to fit a table into the back of a car. Realizing the table was too bulky, Lundgren removed the legs. Storing and selling Billy book shelves or entire kitchens in pieces has let Ikea cut storage space and fill its trucks with more goods. The concept of having customers pick up most of their own furniture in adjacent warehouses and transport it home for self-assembly also helped drive down costs.

How Amazon’s ad business could threaten Google and Facebook

But Amazon has a huge set of data that Facebook and Google can’t access—namely, its own. Already, more than half of all online searches for products start on Amazon, and of those a majority end there, according to various surveys. That figure has grown every year that pollsters have tracked it.

The Amazon Advertising Platform lets advertisers manage ad buys across multiple advertising exchanges, and it has quietly become as familiar to marketers as its equivalent from Google-owned DoubleClick.

Amazon also needs to expand the number of places it can sell advertisements, which is one reason the company bought videogame-streaming behemoth Twitch and is investing so heavily in its own streaming-video offerings.

How Apple built a chip powerhouse to threaten Qualcomm and Intel

…by designing its own chips, Apple cuts component costs, gets an early jump on future features because it controls research and development and keeps secrets away from frenemies such as Samsung…Those ultimately failed or stumbled because chip-making is the sport of kings: It’s brutally expensive and requires massive scale. Apple has wisely focused on designing its silicon (for its system on a chips, Apple uses reference designs from Arm Holdings Plc). Manufacturing is left to others, including Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co.

An investment pro who’s seen it all still sees upside for stocks

Over 40% of Standard & Poor’s 500 revenues now comes from abroad.

No other country is shrinking its equity base to the extent we are. We’re now in our ninth year of share buybacks equal to 3% of the market value of all S&P 500 stocks, based on Laszlo Birinyi’s work.

For 20 years, the average price/earnings ratio has been 19.3. If you go back 50 years, it’s 15.6 times. In periods where inflation grew 3% or less—which is 22 of the past 50 years—the P/E of the market was 19.7.

AlphaZero and the curse of human knowledge

Using self-play to recursively improve an agent’s ability to play a game isn’t new. Why hasn’t this method yielded a champion chess or Go engine until 2017? Historically, systems that improve via self-play have been very unstable. Previous attempts often ended up in cycles, forgetting and relearning strategies over and over rather than improving to superhuman levels. Or sometimes the agent would get stuck, failing to improve after achieving moderate success.

AlphaZero’s main contribution was solving these problems. After lots of experiments, DeepMind developed a series of new tricks and discovered a value function and tree search that reliably learned through self-play alone. They then leveraged their engineering talent and infrastructure resources to demonstrate that the system could work on the massive scale required to master complicated games such as chess and Go (the version that played Stockfish employed 5,000 custom machine learning chips).


Even if you knew the cards…

One of the (many) reasons I stopped heeding the macro forecasts of others and quit trying to come up with my own is that even if you knew what the future data would be, you’d still not be able to predict how people would react to it. You could certainly try, but markets are set up to confound us, not confirm our hypotheses.

Company Notes 2017.6.16

On earnings calls

Malaysia segment recorded higher profit before tax mainly due to higher sales orders from key customers, including the new box built orders from key customers. The new production lines that were commissioned earlier are now running at optimal capacity. – V.S. Industry in a filing with Bursa Malaysia

“Our clients are experiencing brisk sales growth with their new products, effective marketing campaigns and enhanced distribution channels. We will ride on our clients’ growth, supporting them in every step of the way with our integrated manufacturing capability to produce quality products in the quantity required by them on a timely basis.” – V.S. Industry MD SY Gan


Local competition was more intense with some distributors offering enormous cash incentives at an unprecedented level, thus putting further pressure on our strategy to sell at the full price offered with value added packages.

The contraction in profit margin was also partly caused by the Mazda CX-5 run-out programme as more sales incentives were given in anticipation of the arrival of the all-new model.

Demand for passenger cars is expected to be soft as the weak job market and uncertainty will likely cause customers to defer their purchases…will continue to focus on driving sales at full selling prices with value offerings as this will in the longer term augur well for the Mazda brand image and popularity.” – Bermaz Auto in a filing with Bursa Malaysia


Management undertook measures to curtail further losses in future such as the closure of non-performing restaurants and outlets. These measures led to impairment of fixed assets and intangible assets.

…expects Starbucks to maintain its revenue growth momentum, and the price adjustment in the previous quarter is expected to mitigate the negative impact from the fluctuating Ringgit Malaysia and poor results of KRR operations in Malaysia. – Berjaya Food in a filing with Bursa Malaysia


The decrease in licensing revenue was due to loss of content recovery for a sports channel. The decrease in subscription revenue was mainly due to lower package take-up.

…re-positioning its business with emphasis towards personalization, mobility and interactivity with customers, focusing on executing its key strategies on: (1) digitalising our legacy business; (2) rapidly scaling our digital ventures; (3) deepening strength in verticals and building a robust innovation pipeline… – Astro Malaysia in a filing with Bursa Malaysia


Shipment of furniture from our Malaysian factories increased substantially as a result of the coming on-stream of new products, including panel based bedroom models. Contribution from the panel based bedroom models for the US market increased to 20% from 5% previously.

Shipment of furniture from our Vietnamese operations was also higher in line with the improvement in the US economy and its efforts to ship higher value orders to the US. – Poh Huat Resources in a filing with Bursa Malaysia


…the increased business volume and the aggressive stance to invest more to upkeep its outlets and getting more talents to join its workforce for the expansion plan.

…is confident that Bison can maintain its competitive edge and position in the Convenience Store segment. Bison is in progress with its action plans. However, there is a delay in the commissioning of its distribution center in Johor Bahru due to the plan to enlarge and install a better-equipped facility. – Bison Consolidated in a filing with Bursa Malaysia


The strong engagement achieved brought in a fresh new wave of customers and additional referrals which were successfully converted into sales by many projects in the Klang Valley, Iskandar Malaysia and Penang. – Eco World Development in a filing with Bursa Malaysia

Interest in all three projects in the UK remain healthy bolstered by good construction progress on site and positive developments in the surrounding areas where the projects are located.

…will continue to seek out well-located development sites in London, Sydney and Melbourne where it has established a strong track-record and customer following to replenish its land bank. – Eco World International in a filing with Bursa Malaysia

“We will see profit recognition beginning in FY18 as handover commences in phases starting with London City Island and Embassy Gardens…Our plans for the second half of 2017 include the completion of the proposed acquisition of 80% of the issued capital in Eco World-Salcon Y1 Pty Ltd and the launch of the Yarra One development in Melbourne.” – Eco World International CEO Teow Leong Seng


The increase in revenue was due to higher ASP as a result of the increase in raw material costs although business volume was lower. – A-Rank in a filing with Bursa Malaysia


…has been incurring losses for the past 5 years as a result of softening demand for the fixed wing pilot training market in Malaysia mainly due to local major airlines cutting back on their training program for new pilots. Due to lack of business in the fixed wing pilot training, the mechanical engineering division which specializes in oil, gas and petrochemical has become the significant contributor in terms of revenue.” – APFT in a filing with Bursa Malaysia


By December 2018, Top Glove is projected to have 31 glove factories, 628 production lines and a production capacity of 59.7 billion gloves per annum. It will also continue to explore synergistic M&A and JV, as well as new set-ups, particularly in closely related industries such as nitrile latex factory, packaging materials (glove inner boxes) and condom factory, towards enhancing shareholder value.” – Top Glove in a filing with Bursa Malaysia


On corporate development

…is considering the pursuit of a separate listing of its automated solution business on the Main Board of the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong Limited…will undertake a reorganization of its subsidiaries involved in the automated solution business and these subsidiaries will continue to remain as subsidiaries of Pentamaster upon completion of the proposed listing. – Pentamaster in a filing with Bursa Malaysia


“It has to be [listed] eventually as we need funds and a listing will be a way to marshal funds from the market. We want to expand overseas as well, but we need a strong brand first…We won an award that puts us on par with Mount Elizabeth Hospitals in Singapore, which has helped with our branding.

“It will take a couple of years, although we could list now if we wanted to, because we have the track record. But it might not give us the value that we want so we’d rather wait for a few years.” – Sunway chairman Jeffrey Cheah during AGM


…despite management’s efforts to reorganise Anzpac’s remaining lithography printing business in its non-tobacco customers, the Board is of the view that Anzpac’s business is no longer viable or sustainable. – Tien Wah Press in a filing with Bursa Malaysia


On regional properties & construction

“We look forward to working with our partner Hongkong Land on this exciting new development, which will bring office space of the highest quality to Singapore’s premier Central Business District.” – IOI Properties CEO Lee Yeow Seng

“Our new joint venture allows Hongkong Land to expand its portfolio of prime commercial properties in Marina Bay and demonstrates our long-term confidence in the Singapore property market. We are delighted to partner with IOI Properties to deliver the exceptional levels of design, construction and management that our tenants expect.” – Hongkong Land CEO Robert Wong


“We are open to opportunities overseas. If there is a good point to go abroad, then why not? But we are not in a hurry as we have enough land bank in Malaysia to keep us busy.

“You need to have deep pockets and really understand the market well. At the moment, the outlook for foreign [property] markets may not be very bullish than it was before although I would say it is healthy.

“Seeing the current slowdown in the property market, it’s a good opportunity for us to lock in more land as there is less competition among developers, which means we have more choices in terms of location.

“We have enough [cash] to readily acquire more land so it does not make sense for us to merge with anybody. When you merge with another developer, you must have a good rationale, whether it’s to improve cash flow, increase land bank or leverage on others’ expertise.

“It is not easy to manage a construction arm. So what we do is we have qualified contractors come back [to us] with better terms and costing, while we manage our own staff. If you have your own construction division and it doesn’t perform well, you will end up with higher costs than what you would incur if you subcontract work instead.” – Mah Sing MD Leong Hoy Kum


“…venturing outside the Klang Valley because the yields are better. Also, it is a tough market to find a property that meets our criteria. The Klang Valley has become a saturated location [in terms of the retail market].

“…that the asset must have opportunities for further value creation in the future through the creation of an additional lettable area in the long term.” – Hektar REIT asset manager Hisham Othman


“For Singapore’s manufacturing segment, we don’t foresee it to be very material because the deep tunnel sewerage system — the megaproject in Singapore — the award will likely be at the beginning of next year. For this year, I think Malaysia is going to overshadow Singapore in terms of order replenishment.” – Kimlun CEO Sim Tian Liang


On staying competitive with better efficiency

“Yes, there are short-term benefits from a weak ringgit, but it also leads to a situation where customers would ask for a reduction in prices and the competition from the market [becomes more intense]. Volatile movements in the ringgit are therefore not good for business.

“I would say being more efficient in production to stay ahead of the competition is a better driver for glove makers, rather than a weak ringgit.” – Careplus CEO Lim Kwee Shyan


“We want to be more efficient with our operations. Our working culture is to be more efficient, [to be able to] understand the market and expand our business…I think it’s a better way than waiting for a problem to arise as problems are always there. We need to make sure that we run faster than our competitors.” – Luxchem CEO Tang Ying See


On Malaysia tourism tax

“Local hotel operators are dealing with an environment of low occupancy rate for the past two years [and] hotel operations would be [further] affected if Malaysians cut down traveling frequency.

“Those who are registered may represent only 15% of all the hotels, so the tax would create an uneven level playing field.” – Deloitte Malaysia partner Senthuran Elalingam


“…traveling to Sarawak was already expensive as compared to Bali, Hong Kong and Taiwan, with travelers having to fork out RM1,145 for one way or RM2,000 for a return flight ticket from KL to Sibu…But one can fly from KL to Bangkok return at only RM409, making it difficult to promote Sarawak due to such a high fare.” – Malaysian Association Hotels (Sarawak chapter) honorary secretary-general John Teo Peng Yew