Curated Insights 2018.02.11

Why Expedia or Priceline might just be the next great hotel brand

“I think we [in online travel] have all innovated on the service layer, and most of the people in the room are working on the service layers, but the true innovation is going to be actually owning and operating the assets — the airplanes, the hotels, not so much the cars actually. But that aspect is hugely capital intensive, and it’s ripe for some new ideas, and someone will get there. I have a $100 billion, so it won’t be me. If you own and operate the hardware, you can do a lot more on the innovation side than from the service and software layer.”

“Online travel agencies are seeing their revenues go down and it costs them more to advertise on Google because the search criteria are going up. The search price is going up, and the online travel agencies had a tough third quarter. I think they see the writing on the wall. We’ve had overtures with online travel agencies reaching out to us and trying to find ways to partner more [with us].”

“They have to evolve because there are fundamental threats to their existence. They have to have a good relationship with hotels or they won’t have anything to sell.”

“The key point that we want to reinforce is that hotel commission rates are in the 10 to 15 percent range for the large chains and 15 to 25 percent for smaller brands that make up the bulk of Booking.com’s inventory. This compares to airline commission rates that are anywhere from zero to one or two percent in most developed markets. The rationale for the airline inventory is having a complete product to drive traffic, but the margins on those bookings themselves are much lower than for hotels. Booking.com has recently added airlines, but this is simply pushing traffic into its Kayak platform …”

“They were aggregating similar independent hotels with their own brands and it was a scale play. But they didn’t have access to every single hotel in a market. To compete with the online travel agencies who are spending several billion dollars a year in marketing is an expensive undertaking. Just because you have the capability of having content doesn’t mean you’ll be successful in bringing customers to your site, or doing it in a way that’s economically viable to run a business. I’m not surprised it didn’t work; AccorHotels at heart is a hotel brand company and hotel operator.”

What really matters most to consumers today, he said, isn’t the brand itself but the rankings and reviews associated with an individual hotel property. “The first thing a customer checks are the rankings and the commentary. That’s a much better quality assurance than a brand can provide. People choose to stay at an Airbnb based on social ratings and comments from users. They don’t need assurance that there’s a brand on it. That’s part of the dynamics and in essence, the brands are disappearing and what prevails is distribution. If I get the best distribution from an online travel agency, why would I sign up with another company?”

Tackling the internet’s central villain: The advertising business

And for all its power, the digital ad business has long been under-regulated and under-policed, both by the companies that run it and by the world’s governments. In the United States, the industry has been almost untouched by oversight, even though it forms the primary revenue stream of two of the planet’s most valuable companies, Google and Facebook.

The report chronicles just how efficient the online ad business has become at profiling, targeting, and persuading people. That’s good news for the companies that want to market to you — as the online ad machine gets better, marketing gets more efficient and effective, letting companies understand and influence consumer sentiment at a huge scale for little money.

But the same cheap and effective persuasion machine is also available to anyone with nefarious ends. The Internet Research Agency, the troll group at the center of Russian efforts to influence American politics, spent $46,000 on Facebook ads before the 2016 election. That’s not very much — Hillary Clinton’s and Donald J. Trump’s campaigns spent tens of millions online. And yet the Russian campaign seems to have had enormous reach; Facebook has said the I.R.A.’s messages — both its ads and its unpaid posts — were seen by nearly 150 million Americans.


Why JP Morgan, Daimler are testing quantum computers that aren’t useful yet

Chip experts say the phenomenon known as Moore’s Law that drove exponential gains in computing power for decades is now ending. Quantum computing could be a way to revive the rate of progress, at least in some areas. “If you can successfully apply it to problems it could give you an exponential increase in computing power that you can’t get” through traditional chip designs, says Bob Stolte, CTO for the equities division inside JPMorgan’s investment bank.

If and when they arrive, quantum computers won’t be good at everything. But physicists and computer scientists have proven, using theory, that even a relatively small quantum processor could do more than a phalanx of conventional supercomputers on some problems. Conventional computers work on data using bits that can be either 1 or 0. Quantum computers encode data into devices called qubits that can enter a “superposition” state in which they might be considered both 1 and 0 at the same time, allowing computational shortcuts.

The path to tackling other problems on the wish lists of Daimler and JPMorgan is less clear. Brecht says the automaker also hopes quantum computers could optimize routes for delivery vehicles, or the movement of parts through factories. Some problems in finance, such as adjusting portfolio risk, can boil down to similar math.


Why we didn’t invest in Ecolab

Integral to Ecolab’s moat in the Institutional segment is its direct sales force that provides customers with “high touch” relationships. Not only are these relationships hard to replicate, but no competitor is remotely close to matching Ecolab’s 26,000-plus salesforce. Ecolab estimates this figure is two-to-five times larger than any competitor’s.

Ecolab benefitted mightily over the last 10-20 years from inept competition. Its main competitor for North America institutional cleaning business is Diversey, which was most recently sold to Bain Capital in 2017 by Sealed Air. This was the fifth time Diversey had been sold in the previous 21 years. As a consequence of being passed around like a hot potato for two decades, Diversey’s strategy was inconsistent. Ecolab capitalized on many of Diversey’s mistakes.

We also had concerns about S.C. Johnson re-entering the institutional cleaning business, Bain Capital’s push into the European hygiene market, and potential impacts from food service automation.

We further concluded that the acquisitions of Nalco and Champion diluted Ecolab’s overall moat by diminishing the impact of the wide-moat Institutional operations. Indeed, we think the two deals were motivated by growth rather than by ROIC. If that’s the case, it would support our thesis that the Institutional business is a legacy moat with slower growth potential. Otherwise, we would have expected management to reinvest capital that was used in M&A back into the cleaning business.

An inventor of the VIX: ‘I don’t know why these products exist’

In my wildest imagination I don’t know why these products exist. Who do they benefit? No one, except if someone wants to gamble -– then, OK, just go gamble… And who exactly made money? The VXX from its inception in 2009 is down, what, 99%, even after this move… It’s kind of sad that these products exist in the first place, but it’s hard to stop it. If you stop this, something else will come up. Bitcoin will come up.


This physics breakthrough could help save the world

…the turbulence created when we pump air, water, oil, gas and other substances through countless miles of ducts and pipes. Thanks to its confounding effects, fully 10 percent of all the electrical energy produced on Earth gets wasted.

They investigated, for example, the effect of extra stirring from rotors placed inside a pipe, or by the injection of jets of fluid along the pipe walls. Intuition suggests that these would increase turbulence, and they do, but in both cases the flow downstream quickly returns to the smooth state. More important, the interventions can reduce the overall friction associated with turbulence by as much as 90 percent, something few researchers would have expected.


The magnetic field is shifting. The poles may flip. This could get bad.

The dangers: devastating streams of particles from the sun, galactic cosmic rays, and enhanced ultraviolet B rays from a radiation-damaged ozone layer, to name just a few of the invisible forces that could harm or kill living creatures.

Solar energetic particles can rip through the sensitive miniature electronics of the growing number of satellites circling the Earth, badly damaging them. The satellite timing systems that govern electric grids would be likely to fail. The grid’s transformers could be torched en masse. Because grids are so tightly coupled with each other, failure would race across the globe, causing a domino run of blackouts that could last for decades.

Curated Insights 2017.09.24

Ferrari bets racetrack wins will lead to showroom sales

Ferrari’s financial success over the past 15 years has “been achieved on the back of Formula One,” the CEO said in March, adding that the company couldn’t afford many more losing seasons without suffering financially.

But there is little empirical evidence that winning races translates into increased sales. AllianceBernstein, a wealth manager, argues Ferrari doesn’t need Formula One. “There can’t be a soul on earth who doesn’t know that Ferrari makes fast red cars, with excellent technology and that it has a motor sport heritage,” AllianceBernstein wrote in a report last month, adding that Lamborghini, Porsche and other high-end brands have no trouble selling cars despite being absent from Formula One for many years.

While Ferrari doesn’t reveal its estimates for the financial and promotional benefits it derives from Formula One, Mercedes said that in 2016 it got the equivalent of $3 billion in advertising value from the team.

For years, the company limited its sales to no more than 7,000 cars annually to stoke demand. Now, Mr. Marchionne plans to raise that limit to 10,000 in the coming years, while also moving Ferrari into new areas such as home furnishings and technology products.


Liu Qiangdong, the ‘Jeff Bezos of China’, on making billions with JD.com

It was just three years ago that China overtook the US as the largest e-commerce market — but last year China’s total online retail transactions hit an estimated $750bn, nearly double the figure in the US. Most analysts predict China’s online retail market will more than double again by 2020, by which time Chinese online purchases are expected to exceed those of the US, UK, France, Germany and Japan combined.

The contradiction between Alibaba’s much larger market share and profits but smaller revenues is explained by the rivals’ different business models. Like Amazon, JD.com controls most of the supply chain and delivers goods from its own warehouses directly to customers, so it counts online sales as revenues. Alibaba, by contrast, is essentially an internet platform and payment system for other companies and individuals selling to consumers online and earns the bulk of its revenue from advertising.

“I was the first and only stall in that market to put price labels on everything and give official receipts; from day one I never sold any counterfeits and I soon had the best reputation,” he says. “A lot of rich people in China cannot sleep well because they did too many wrong things but I never made any dirty money ever so I can sleep very well.”

What’s the true TAM of search?

To truly appreciate the nature of information distribution, we need to think in a broader context and challenge some assumptions: what if “online advertising”, or even “advertising” is not the right way to measure the TAM (total addressable market) for the search engine business?

If we correctly define the role of search engines, we can see that what they are really designed to address is actually something much broader – “search cost”. Search cost is the biggest component of what economists label as “friction cost” in an economy and it can exist and be addressed in many different forms.

All of that excess rent is a form of marketing that brands and retailers pay to address “search cost”. In a purely online environment, the physical location is disintermediated and what companies would otherwise pay in excess rent in an offline setting would presumably get re-allocated in the form of Amazon commissions or Google keyword ads.

Actually, most of the time, new technological developments have a tendency to shrink the TAM as technology is usually deflationary (the search engine being an exception), so be careful when you see IR slides of tech companies where management takes an estimate of the market size today and declares that number as their company’s financial destiny – it most likely overstates the actual TAM.


Google Travel is worth $100 billion — even more than Priceline

Our estimate of $11.2 billion in Google travel revenue in 2016 would mean that travel accounted for 13 percent of Google’s total Google Segment revenue and 12 percent of the company total (includes the so-called other bets part of the business). Google’s total Google segment operating margin is in the low 30s, but the core AdWords business is likely much higher (meta would likely be in the 25 percent range).

Given a margin profile that is likely above Priceline and digital ad spend growing more than 20 percent per year, the value of the travel business would warrant a similar price-to-sales multiple as Priceline; off of 2016 results, Priceline trades at over 8x revenue. As mentioned earlier, using a 7x multiple on our estimated 2017 numbers for Google, the Google travel business could be worth as much as $100 billion or 15 percent of Google’s $650 billion market cap.

Online travel companies would like to diversify away from Google, but no other digital marketing tool offers the same commercial intent of a Google search.


Gaming sector primer

The gaming sector is the most attractive industry I see today due to: relative low price point and inelasticity; highly addictive products; cyclical defensive; ability for some to capture consumer surplus; consistent high margins and ROE. The downsides are: difficulty in developing new IP; high rate of reinvestment.

Imagine being able to sell $5 worth of coca cola to someone and $5000 worth to someone else, suddenly the need to build a massive horizontal distribution platform is terribly wasteful and your efforts are better spent capturing a smaller share of premium clients, which is made possible by the internet and ubiquitous mobile phones.

Today the gaming sector in China is dominated by mobile due to the ubiquitous nature of phones compared to the lack of platform penetration of console and to a lesser extent PC games. As a result, the two Chinese companies which dominate the gaming space, Tencent and Netease, which together control arond 80% market share, were able to leapfrog the traditional console/pc game market and focus largely on mobile and are in my opinion global leaders at the art of capturing consumer surpluses.


The death of (many) brands

Companies with a trusted brand could earn excess economic returns so long as the cost of building the brand costs less than the premium consumers were willing to pay for a product due to the brand. Because brands have historically be very durable (notice the global brands that were built in the 1950 are still dominate today), they created an economic moat that caused these companies to generate outstanding returns for shareholders.

Costco leverages their scale to identify high quality, good value products and deliver them to consumers. This process reduces the value of brands and allows Costco customers to confidently buy non-brand products or products with limited brand recognition. In this way, Costco has managed to earn excess economic returns, even while selling the products in their stores at close to cost.

Now, however, the era of search cost brands is coming to an end. The moats are being breached. Over the long term, we do not believe that these types of brands will provide a significant competitive advantage to their owners and the companies will be forced to compete directly on quality and value instead of earning a return for selling reduced search costs.


China’s electric car push lures global auto giants, despite risks

From high-speed trains to wind turbines, China has long prodded American, European and Japanese companies to hand over their know-how in exchange for access to its exciting new market. Then Chinese companies have used that knowledge and lavish government support to take on foreign rivals. China wants the big players to share their electric car knowledge, too. The foreign automakers face new Chinese regulations that put heavy legal pressure on them to transfer electric-car technology to their local partners.

The joint ventures alone may not make China a leader in electric cars. G.M., Volkswagen and other major automakers have made regular cars with Chinese partners for decades, and China had hoped its automakers would learn how to make their own worldbeating brands. Instead, Chinese automakers grew comfortable making Chevrolets and Volkswagens for local drivers. Only recently have foreign automakers begun exporting Chinese-made cars to buyers back home.

More broadly, global automakers feel that they must grow in a country that has become the world’s largest car market, one almost as big as the American and European markets combined.


Materialize.X is using machine learning to disrupt the $300B engineered wood industry

A lot of engineered wood is created using an adhesive called urea-formaldehyde, which has recently been labeled by the FDA as a toxic carcinogen…The startup has created a patented non-toxic adhesive to serve as an alternative to urea-formaldehyde. Materialize.X plans to license to chemical companies, or engineered-wood manufacturers so they can make the adhesive on site, the method for making this adhesive.

…created software that uses machine learning to take in all those variables and make slight changes to the manufacturing process that can greatly improve the quality of the final product. Examples of these changes are adjusting the amount of adhesive used or increasing the pressure in the bonding process depending on the variables listed above.


The new Texas gold rush: Buying sand for fracking

Texas energy producers have typically bought the millions of pounds of sand that each well requires from mines located far from their drilling fields. After oil prices collapsed in late 2014, though, cost-conscious drillers reconsidered their well designs and recipes for the slurries they blast underground to unleash fuel from shale formations. Many West Texas drillers discovered that they could replace sand they had been shipping from mines 1,300 miles away in Wisconsin with finer grades found in dunes nearby. Doing so eliminates rail costs that sometimes are equal to or more than the sand itself.

The prospect of tens of millions of tons of Permian sand coming to market could drive down sand prices that have been rising nationally, Mr. Handler said. Analysts say that prices rose to as much as $45 a ton earlier in the year, from as little as $15 a ton last year.

Hedge-fund manager Daniel Loeb is among those betting that sand stocks will fall further. In an April letter to his Third Point LLC investors, Mr. Loeb cited the “important shift” from special sand mined in the Midwest to abundant sand within drilling basins, including West Texas.

Superpower India to replace China as growth engine

The number of people aged 65 and over in Asia will climb from 365 million today to more than half a billion in 2027, accounting for 60 percent of that age group globally by 2030, Deloitte said in a report Monday. In contrast, India will drive the third great wave of Asia’s growth – following Japan and China — with a potential workforce set to climb from 885 million to 1.08 billion people in the next 20 years and hold above that for half a century.

“India will account for more than half of the increase in Asia’s workforce in the coming decade, but this isn’t just a story of more workers: these new workers will be much better trained and educated than the existing Indian workforce,” said Anis Chakravarty, economist at Deloitte India. “There will be rising economic potential coming alongside that, thanks to an increased share of women in the workforce, as well as an increased ability and interest in working for longer. The consequences for businesses are huge.”


Why machine learning funds fail

The complexities involved in developing a true investment strategy are overwhelming. Even if the firm provides you with shared services in those areas, you are like a worker at a BMW factory who has been asked to build the entire car alone, by using all the workshops around you. It takes almost as much effort to produce one true investment strategy as to produce a hundred. Every successful quantitative firm I am aware of applies the meta-strategy paradigm. Your firm must set up a research factory where tasks of the assembly line are clearly divided into subtasks, where quality is independently measured and monitored for each subtask, where the role of each quant is to specialize in a particular subtask, to become the best there is at it, while having a holistic view of the entire process.


The case for & against cryptocurrencies (for those tired of all the noise)

The strongest cases for the existence of cryptocurrencies in my mind include: (1) allowing for a decentralized Internet in which value is accrued to infrastructure, protocols and applications that serve market needs; (2) allowing electronic trade across actors who may not know or trust each other without middlemen who take a heavy toll / tax on the transaction; (3) allowing for (the potential of) a more stable currency than one’s own government for citizens who may live under despotic or irresponsible regimes.

The simple case against cryptocurrencies includes three completely related factors: (1) powerful governments who won’t tolerate the loss of monetary control or illegal activities; (2) societal pressure to regulate cryptocurrency will increase as more people are duped, as more fraud is discovered, as more hacks occur and as more market participants collaborate to manipulate the value of the currencies themselves; (3) erosion of trust as first-time cryptocurrency participants get duped, lose money and develop skepticism for the asset.

There is a fascinating story in “The Ascent of Money” by Niall Ferguson in which Ferguson describes how the modern corporation emerged. About 400 years ago merchants from the Netherlands were sending ships to Asia in search of spices widely desired in Europe. More than 50% of all ships that sailed wouldn’t return so groups of people banded together and formed the Dutch East India Company to share the risks and the rewards of their conquests.

This is amongst the first examples of the modern corporation. The company brought back spices and reaped profits that went back into building more ships and sailing back to Asia. The company didn’t distribute the profits to individual shareholders who instead were issued the modern form of a share certificate for their ownership. Because they couldn’t monetize this ownership they started selling shares of their ownership to others, thus perhaps the first stock market and transaction dating back to the early 1600s.

No sooner did people start selling shares in these companies than market speculators started spreading false stories about merchant ships being sunk or about large spice conquests to drive up or down the price of these stocks through false information and manipulation. So oversight became necessary to establish trust in the value of these assets.


What Jamie Dimon got wrong about bitcoin and tulips

Mackay confused two distinct eras. He reports stories from around 1610 about high prices paid for individual bulbs. What he failed to realize is that people were not paying for single flowers, but for the entire breeding stock — or a significant portion of it — of popular new tulip varieties. People have continued to pay higher inflation-adjusted prices for new tulip and lily bulbs to this day.

A quarter century later, a futures market grew up around fractional interests in low-priced, ordinary tulip bulbs. In premodern Europe investment returns were very high, 20 percent or 30 percent per year on low risk investments, but laws and customs prevented anyone not in the merchant class from taking advantage.

Holland accidentally created a loophole by allowing contracts for fractional interests in tulip bulbs for the convenience of the industry. These were needed because the price of popular new bulbs was higher than even rich individuals could afford. In the early 1630s ordinary people discovered that these contracts could serve as money to support business and investment. These contracts then became “monetized,” as happens to all assets used as bases for monetary activity. That means their value decoupled from the use value of the underlying asset and became determined by demand for money services.

By 1637, contracts for fractional interests of low-priced tulip bulbs had risen to 20 times the price of the actual bulbs, reflecting the explosion of economic activity they stimulated. In February 1637, the market collapsed; six weeks later it was outlawed.


What Jamie Dimon is missing about Bitcoin

It’s no secret that Bitcoin and other digital currencies may dramatically fall in value at any time. How can an asset whose value jumps by 20 percent some days, and which no one can accurately value, plausibly not also suffer huge declines? But that’s a long way from Bitcoin being a worthless fraud.

Of course, fiat currencies like the dollar have the backing of a sovereign nation. Digital currencies are obviously far more speculative, have been around for only a few years, and don’t have a government’s underlying support. But almost all currencies today are conjured up from nothing — the euro didn’t even exist 20 years ago — and their value is largely dependent on trust.

His firm conjured up its own currency: Chase Ultimate Reward points, its credit card loyalty program. Millions of customers have accumulated billions of points, trusting in Chase’s promise that this currency can be converted into cash or used for travel and other delights. And they hope that Chase won’t unilaterally choose to devalue them…

But new use cases for digital currencies are just starting to take shape. They are now being used to create value in the way that Silicon Valley has traditionally done so: regulatory arbitrage. Ride-hailing got its start avoiding onerous taxi medallion costs; Airbnb avoided hotel taxes and regulations; and YouTube played fast and loose with copyright rules.

Curated Insights 2017.08.06

The data that transformed AI research—and possibly the world

Today, many consider ImageNet solved—the error rate is incredibly low at around 2%. But that’s for classification, or identifying which object is in an image. This doesn’t mean an algorithm knows the properties of that object, where it comes from, what it’s used for, who made it, or how it interacts with its surroundings. In short, it doesn’t actually understand what it’s seeing. This is mirrored in speech recognition, and even in much of natural language processing. While our AI today is fantastic at knowing what things are, understanding these objects in the context of the world is next. How AI researchers will get there is still unclear.

“One thing ImageNet changed in the field of AI is suddenly people realized the thankless work of making a dataset was at the core of AI research,” Li said. “People really recognize the importance the dataset is front and center in the research as much as algorithms.”

Apple Glasses are inevitable

There is room for Apple to create value by controlling both the hardware and software comprising AR glasses. The sum will be greater than its parts. Apple’s big bet on AR will represent the catalyst for turning glasses and sunglasses into something more. An engaged base of iOS developers experimenting with ARKit will give Apple Glasses a hospitable app environment.

Apple’s success with Apple Watch has done much to calm some of my fears and hesitation regarding face wearables. With 29 million Apple Watches sold to date, Apple has turned the dynamic of tech meeting fashion on its head. Apple has been able to get people to wear an item that was increasingly losing its place in a smartphone world.

The idea of a product having a “killer app” has been misconstrued over the years. The iPhone really doesn’t have a killer app. Instead, the device itself has turned into the killer app – the most valuable computer in our lives. In addition, the iPhone’s role in our lives has evolved over time – a true sign of value. Apple Glasses would provide an improved view of the world to its user. For some, this will come in the form of clearer vision plus additional context. Others will gain value just from receiving additional context.


The Priceline party, the world’s largest online-travel company

Over the past decade Priceline’s pre-tax earnings have grown at a compound annual rate of 42%, faster than Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Alphabet. It also boasts a 96% gross margin. Its share price has risen by more than 50% over the past 12 months, about four times faster than the broader stockmarket. On July 26th the firm’s market value rose above $100bn.

Priceline’s focus on accommodation helps explain why it is more profitable and more highly valued than Expedia, a rival online-travel company that operates sites such as Orbitz, Travelocity, Trivago and Hotels.com. Expedia does more business booking flights, but these are not as lucrative. Online-travel firms take a meaty commission of 15-18% of a hotel room’s price, compared with a slim 3-4% for airfares.

The most dangerous rival, however, may well come from somewhere else entirely. “We’re all waiting for the moment when a big Chinese company comes in and tries to take market share,” says Erik Blachford, a former boss of Expedia. Ctrip, a giant based in Shanghai and worth an estimated $30bn, is the obvious candidate. But if it indeed makes a move, Priceline will not necessarily suffer. Not only is its Chinese business growing nicely, but it has also invested nearly $2bn in Ctrip’s debt and equity. Small wonder that some analysts consider Priceline the best-run internet company after Amazon.


Why Alibaba could double in two years

China online advertising is $50 billion market, currently Alibaba has about 20% market share. Entire online advertising market will grow at 15% to 20% for next eight years, I expect Alibaba to take incremental share and possibly increase to 30%+ market share of online ads in five years.

AliCloud is No. 1 in China by a huge margin.

Alibaba has a ton of equity investments made over the years. Core holdings include a 33% stake in Ant Financial, 30% stake in Weibo, and 47% in logistics network operator Cainiao.


Amazon moves into self-distribution with Woody Allen’s ‘Wonder Wheel’

Amazon is moving into self-distributing its own movies, putting it on the path to becoming a full-fledged film studio.

With their deep pockets and big ambitions, Amazon and Netflix have upended the film distribution landscape, although they have taken different approaches. Netflix is solely focused on servicing its streaming service subscribers. Amazon believes in premiering movies in theaters before offering them on its Prime digital service. With the move into self-distribution, Amazon now offers all of the services that a traditional film studio boasts — from financing to production to rolling out a picture in cinemas.


Amazon’s ‘Beehive’, drone-carrying trains reinforce focus on logistics tech

CB Insights’ analysis shows that the retail giant has been focused on shortening the distance between warehouses and consumers for some time. They have considered various formats for expanded warehouse networks, including flying warehouses, mobile truck-based mini warehouses, underwater warehouses, local re-stocking stations for drones, and a multi-level drone-docking fulfillment center.


This Amazon threat just got even more real

Already, the price transparency that’s characteristic of Amazon’s consumer e-commerce platform has exposed major flaws in Grainger’s model, forcing the company to roll out price cuts that have squeezed its margins and darkened its EPS outlook. In the face of Amazon’s staggering customer growth, Grainger CEO DG Macpherson’s admission earlier this year that the company hasn’t been able to acquire a new customer under its namesake brand in years and has struggled to use digital marketing to draw business becomes even more worrisome.


Foursquare eyes Amazon Alexa partnership as its tech is quietly built into Snapchat and Apple Maps

In the past four years, the company has been shopping its technology around to other companies, a task that turned out to be surprisingly easy. In an interesting development, Foursquare has found that a lot of companies looking for data or location tech come to Foursquare before Facebook or Alphabet’s Google because those two giants are trying to kill those companies who need help. “We’re like the independent broker of this awesome technology and you’re not tying yourself to Google or Facebook, yet you get these great tools to build competitive products,” Crowley explained.

The partnerships take different formats, with Foursquare sharing its tech in exchange for exposure, revenue or partnership deals, he explained. Facebook and Google haven’t teamed up with Foursquare due to competing products and because the Silicon Valley players have built up their own ecosystems, he said. But that’s a rare exception. Snapchat, Twitter, Uber, and Pinterest are using a version of its geotagging tech. Samsung’s new Galaxy S8 phone, launched in April, has Foursquare baked in to tell users where their photo was taken and what it was taken of. Finally, Apple is using Foursquare in its Apple Maps product.


Redfin set out to disrupt real estate—it was harder than it looked

Zillow and Trulia make money by referring customers to independent real estate brokers. Redfin, in contrast, aimed to disrupt the real estate business by becoming a real estate brokerage itself.

In a traditional real estate transaction, the agent on each side of the deal gets a three percent commission. Redfin offered a do-it-yourself model where buyers would do more of the work themselves, lowering Redfin’s costs and allowing it to pay thousands of dollars in rebates.

This approach sounded great in theory, but there was a big problem: customers hated it. Buying or selling a home is a complex, stressful, and often once-in-a-lifetime transaction. People wanted a personal agent who had plenty of time to understand their situation, answer questions, and guide them through the steps of the home-buying process. Redfin’s early approach—with an ever-changing cast of agents showing homes and writing offers but not doing much else—left most customers unsatisfied.

…some of the biggest opportunities for innovation were on the seller’s side of the market, because sellers ultimately set the terms of real estate transactions. And because home sellers tend to be older and more risk-averse, it has taken longer for Redfin to build up a customer base on the seller’s side of the market.


A look back in IPO: Google, the profit machine

Sources are saying that Microsoft was previously courting Google, pursuing options ranging from a kind of merger to an outright takeover. It appears that their overtures failed to materialize any deal, so now the Redmond will have to wait; Google is headed in the IPO direction, and if there’s a merger to be had, it’s likely going to be with a post-IPO Google.

“It’s still expensive at these levels,” said Will Dunbar, managing director with Core Capital Partners, a venture capital firm with no stake in Google. “There will be substantial competition in the near future and that’s one of the things that gives me pause about the price.”

Janco’s Pyykkonen adds that he was hearing it was difficult for traders interested in short-selling Google to find shares to borrow from the banks and brokers involved in the auction.

And according to an informal poll on CNN/Money, 85 percent of more than 23,000 respondents said that they did not plan on buying shares of Google once it began trading.

Inside Jeffrey Katzenberg’s plan to revolutionize entertainment on mobile screens

Katzenberg’s plan involves nothing less than the creation of a whole new species of entertainment targeting 18- to 34-year-olds: short-form video series produced with budgets and production values you might expect from primetime TV, along with top-shelf creatives on both sides of the camera. For example, imagine a drama akin to “Empire” or “Scandal” but shrunk to 10-minute episodes made for mobile consumption. Or a five-minute talk show, or a two-minute newscast — all with high-profile talent attached.

Disney CEO Bob Iger, whose company is considering producing for what Katzenberg has tentatively dubbed New TV, sees the merits in the idea. “The explosion of short-form video is obvious to all of us, but a lot of what we’ve seen is the production of amateurs — user-generated content,” Iger says. “Taking a professional approach to this kind of content, we haven’t seen that yet in a concerted way, and I think that’s a smart thing to try.”


Alphabet wants to fix renewable energy’s storage problem — with salt

It can be located almost anywhere, has the potential to last longer than lithium-ion batteries and compete on price with new hydroelectric plants and other existing clean energy storage methods. “If the moonshot factory gives up on a big, important problem like climate change, then maybe it will never get solved,” said Obi Felten, a director at X. “If we do start solving it, there are trillions and trillions of dollars in market opportunity.”

X is stepping into a market that could see about $40 billion in investment by 2024, according Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Roughly 790 megawatts of energy will be stored this year and overall capacity is expected to hit 45 gigawatts in seven years, BNEF estimates. Existing electrical grids struggle with renewable energy, a vexing problem that’s driving demand for new storage methods. Solar panels and wind farms churn out energy around midday and at night when demand lulls. This forces utilities to discard it in favor of more predictable oil and coal plants and more controllable natural gas “peaker” plants.

A new book ranks the top 100 solutions to climate change. The results are surprising.

The number one solution, in terms of potential impact? A combination of educating girls and family planning, which together could reduce 120 gigatons of CO2-equivalent by 2050 — more than on- and offshore wind power combined (99 GT). Also sitting atop the list, with an impact that dwarfs any single energy source: refrigerant management. Both reduced food waste and plant-rich diets, on their own, beat solar farms and rooftop solar combined.

Our models include a lot of things that were excluded from other models. One is land use. It’s given passing reference, but hasn’t been given much credibility by the IPCC. They don’t include, for example, farmland restoration — over a billion hectares of abandoned land all over the world. We know how to regenerate that, using animals, using cover, using no-till. Is there a transition cost? Yeah. But it’s a big sink.

First of all, let’s be honest: The US has never led in this area. Ever. When they’ve tried on an executive level, they’ve never been supported by Congress. States have led, cities have led, but never the federal government. Now the federal government is what it is. When [Trump] was elected, I went over every one [of the Drawdown solutions]. I said, “What can the [US federal] government do?” And it really isn’t that much.


The world’s first floating wind farm could be a game changer for renewable power

The first floating wind turbine has been placed about 20 km (12 miles) off the coast of Peterhead in Scotland. Another four turbines will be added to the farm, which together will generate enough energy to power 20,000 households.

Floating wind turbines cannot currently compete with fixed turbines, which have seen their cost plummet by more than 30% since 2012. However, Statoil believes that as floating wind farms are built at scale, they will soon be able to compete with traditional offshore wind turbines without subsidies.


It goes completely against what most believe, but out of all major energy sources, nuclear is the safest

Based on historical and current figures of deaths related to energy production, nuclear appears to have caused by far the least harm of the current major energy sources. This empirical reality is largely at odds with public perceptions, where public support for nuclear energy is often low as a result of safety concerns.

Whilst the share of energy production from renewable technologies is slowly growing, 96 percent of global energy production is produced from fossil fuels, nuclear and traditional biomass sources. Our global transition to renewable energy systems will be a process which takes time—an extensive period during which we must make important choices on bridging sources of energy production.

 

In fund management, churn is not necessarily burn

What may be more surprising is that we found no evidence of any relationship across all other styles of US equity fund, even in small-caps where the costs of trading are noticeably higher. On average, high turnover US equity funds have been able to add at least enough value to offset the additional transaction costs they incur. The moral is that pursuing a reduction in transaction costs without considering the consequences is misguided. Consistency between investment process and turnover is more important than the level of turnover itself.


Cities’ success leaves them vulnerable in the next downturn

But the specialization of high-end jobs and wealth in cities could end up being their undoing. The city model of old was like a grocery store — a balanced mix of all types of different products, from milk and bread to a pharmacy to some splurge items like cupcakes and Champagne. In tough times, cupcake and Champagne sales might fall, but people are still going to buy their milk, bread and toiletries, keeping the store afloat.

Cities today increasingly resemble endless aisles of Champagne and cupcakes. If tough times strike again — perhaps in a tech downturn, or in a stock market crash — the pain will be concentrated here. And while the well-paying white-collar jobs migrating to cities now are coveted, there’s no guarantee the best jobs will always be urban. The next economic cycle may well bring a different pattern.


Many Indians don’t know the real architect behind the country’s economic reforms

On that monsoon day in Hyderabad in 2015, no one could recall that a long-time inhabitant of that city, Pamulaparthi Venkata Narasimha Rao, PV as he was always known to the Telugus, was, in fact, the author of the most radical shift in India’s economic policy since Jawaharlal Nehru’s famous Industrial Policy Resolution of 1956. Nehru’s resolution had declared that India would strive to establish a “socialistic pattern of society”. In 1991 PV moved away from that pattern to unleash private enterprise.

PV was India’s first “accidental” prime minister, and a path-breaking one. He took charge of the national government and restored political stability; assumed leadership of the Congress, proving that there was hope beyond the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty; pushed through significant economic reforms; and steered India through the uncharted waters of the post-Cold War world.


NASA has a way to cut your flight time in half

…NASA will begin taking bids for construction of a demo model of a plane able to reduce the sonic boom to something like the hum you’d hear inside a Mercedes-Benz on the interstate. The agency’s researchers say their design, a smaller-scale model of which was successfully tested in a wind tunnel at the end of June, should cut the six-hour flight time from New York to Los Angeles in half.

Over the next decade, growth in air transportation and distances flown “will drive the demand for broadly available faster air travel,” says Peter Coen, project manager for NASA’s commercial supersonic research team. “That’s going to make it possible for companies to offer competitive products in the future.” NASA plans to share the technology resulting from the tests with U.S. plane makers, meaning a head start for the likes of Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Boeing, and startups such as Boom Technology and billionaire Robert Bass’s Aerion.