Curated Insights 2020.01.24

The man who’s spending $1 billion to own every pop song

What Mercuriadis is doing with Hipgnosis isn’t so much innovative as it is opportunistic. With a fertile contact list from his decades as an artist manager, the ability to raise at least another billion from investors, and a healthy amount of hubris, he located an opening in the music industry and is going all-in on exploiting it. Ultimately, his goal with Hipgnosis — which went public on the London Stock Exchange in June 2018 — is to own 15% to 20% of the overall publishing market. “Everyone that writes songs today can be confident that the financial community understands that as these songs become proven, they are predictable and reliable,” Mercuriadis says.

When Spotify launched in 2008, Mercuriadis became intrigued by streaming music. Central to Spotify’s user experience was the ability to create personalized playlists by culling songs from all genres and artists. The start-to-finish thread of a full album was becoming less important to streaming adopters. In decades past, he observed, the majority of artists wrote their own songs. Kurt Cobain wrote all the lyrics and much of the music for Nirvana’s 1991 album, Nevermind. Contrast that with Adele, who worked with 10 different songwriters for her 2015 smash, 25. “It became clear to me that the power was shifting from the artist to the songwriter,” Mercuriadis says. “But the songwriters weren’t in a position to reap the benefits.”

With Hipgnosis Songs Fund, Mercuriadis bypassed all of them. Songwriters are able to generate revenue from three sources: mechanical royalties (the sale or legal download of a song), performance royalties (paid every time a song is heard in public, whether it’s a live performance, on TV, or in a movie; played in a bar or restaurant; or streamed), and synch fees (song licensing for use in movies, video games, and commercials). Mechanical royalties are the only stream with a set rate; performance and synch royalties are negotiated percentages. Synchs are often more lucrative for the songwriter, since they generally split 50% for the writer and the artist, with the label taking its cut from the artist’s piece of the pie. Synch is where Hipgnosis Song Fund could make them money, as Mercuriadis explained to the 177 hedge fund and private investors he pitched between 2015 and 2018.

Today, the business operates like a cross between an investment fund and a talent management agency. While Mercuriadis brokers the catalog deals, each of his 19 employees is responsible for monetization opportunities for a portfolio of songs. He plans to at least double the number of people working for him this year. “I want to get rid of the word ‘publishing,’” he says. (His preferred description: “song management.”) “Major publishers have small staffs working with hundreds of thousands of songs. We’re shooting for thousands of songs and having synch managers who are each responsible for a much smaller amount,” he says. “We’ll make a lot more money than anyone else.”

Pincus acknowledges that Hipgnosis may have other deals in the works that would offset the high prices he’s paying — and indeed, Mercuriadis is working on diversifying beyond songwriter catalogs. The company just purchased the masters of UK band the Kaiser Chiefs, which gives it complete ownership of the recordings. Purchasing producers’ rights is another new point of emphasis. Mercuriadis bought Jeff Bhasker’s inventory (the Grammy’s 2016 Producer of the Year behind “Uptown Funk”), along with the entire 1,855-song output from Brendan O’Brien, best known for his work with Pearl Jam. There are also the merchandising possibilities: Mercuriadis’ yet-to-be-announced mega-deal with that iconic female artist reportedly includes, in addition to the thousands of songs the artist has written, the use of her image and likeness. This deal will cost Mercuriadis well into the nine figures but has the potential for him to eventually sell more T-shirts than the Gap.

Outdoor advertising market poised to eclipse newspapers

The so-called “out of home” segment accounts for about 6.5 per cent of the $600bn global advertising market but stands out as the only traditional media that continues to grow as others give ground to Google and Facebook.

In 2020 advertisers will spend $40.6bn on outdoor posters and “street furniture”, about $4bn more than on newspapers, according to estimates from GroupM, the media buying agency. By 2024 GroupM expects outdoor advertising to exceed spending on newspapers and magazines combined, having expanded at an annual rate of between 2.5 and 4 per cent.

There’s a link between hiking the minimum wage and declining suicide rates, researchers say

State-level increases of $1 in minimum wage corresponded with a 3.4 percent to 5.9 percent decrease in the suicide rates of people with a high school diploma or less in that age group. Emory University researchers analyzed monthly data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia between 1990 and 2015.


As jobs cap 10 years of gains, women are workforce majority

Women overtook men to hold the majority of U.S. jobs for the first time in a decade, while employers added positions for a record 10th straight year, pointing to a growing and dynamic economy heading into 2020.

The number of women on nonfarm payrolls exceeded men in December for the first time since mid-2010, the Labor Department said Friday. Women held 50.04% of jobs last month, surpassing men on payrolls by 109,000.

Curated Insights 2019.11.22

The new dot com bubble is here: it’s called online advertising

The benchmarks that advertising companies use – intended to measure the number of clicks, sales and downloads that occur after an ad is viewed – are fundamentally misleading. None of these benchmarks distinguish between the selection effect (clicks, purchases and downloads that are happening anyway) and the advertising effect (clicks, purchases and downloads that would not have happened without ads).

It gets worse: the brightest minds of this generation are creating algorithms which only increase the effects of selection. Consider the following: if Amazon buys clicks from Facebook and Google, the advertising platforms’ algorithms will seek out Amazon clickers. And who is most likely to click on Amazon? Presumably Amazon’s regular customers. In that case the algorithms are generating clicks, but not necessarily extra clicks.

I had never really thought about this. Algorithmic targeting may be technologically ingenious, but if you’re targeting the wrong thing then it’s of no use to advertisers. Most advertising platforms can’t tell clients whether their algorithms are just putting fully-automated teenagers in the waiting area (increasing the selection effect) or whether they’re bringing in people who wouldn’t have come in otherwise (increasing the advertising effect).

What powered such a great decade for stocks? This formula explains it all

Shockingly, a vast majority of the gains over the past decade can be explained almost exclusively by improving fundamentals. Earnings growth and dividends explain nearly 97% of the annual returns for the 2010s. So the change in valuations have played a minor role in explaining the gains during this cycle.

The 1980s and 1990s both experienced a massive repricing in terms of valuations outpacing the underlying corporate fundamentals. The 2000s saw a correction in terms of both fundamentals and sentiment because of the strong performance in those prior decades.

The mining of media (or the “streaming wars” are just a battle)

Today, however, the marginal cost of distributing content to an incremental consumer is approximately zero. And the consequence here is profound. Under this model, the unit economics of all viewers/subscribers improve as you add more viewers/subscribers (e.g. a $100MM show costs $100MM irrespective of how many users you have, but the per user cost goes down). This doesn’t mean giving away said service for free or at an artificially low price solve for profitability. However, it does mean that the more people who have your service, the less you require from each subscriber to generate a profit. And if you have a guaranteed business model – say, selling another iPhone, Showtime subscription, ad impression, datapoint, or two-year wireless subscriptions – there are incentives to maximize your userbase (more people you can upsell to) and the amortization of fixed costs (the higher your unit contribution).

Alibaba aims to deliver with $16bn courier venture

When it set up Cainiao six years ago, Alibaba was an asset-light company, spending only Rmb2.5bn that year. The logistics arm was a joint venture alongside a group of Chinese courier firms, a retailer, and a property company. In 2016, a group of private investors poured in a further Rmb10bn.

The original plan was to use Alibaba’s data in partnership with the networks of the courier companies. “We established Cainiao because we hope to use the power of our infrastructure, and the power of our data, to help these delivery companies, to provide better service to consumers,” said Jiang Fan, president of Tmall and Taobao.

But today, Alibaba is moving, like Amazon, to build out its own delivery platform, acquiring stakes in delivery companies, running a network of warehouses and installing 40,000 lockers across China so that customers can pick up their parcels.

In part, it has been forced to improve delivery by its rival JD.com, which has offered same day delivery in some Chinese cities for years. By contrast, shoppers have complained that items bought from Alibaba’s Tmall and Taobao platforms could be stuck in transit for days and battered by the time they arrived at your door.

The beauty of Singles Day

In fact, Estée Lauder broke its 2018 sales record a mere 25 minutes after pre-sales for the e-commerce festival started, and was the first brand in the history of 11.11 to reach one billion RMB in pre-orders alone. Meanwhile, the beauty brand that landed at the top of the list by midnight on November 12 was L’Oréal Paris, which surpassed Estée Lauder along with L’Oréal Group-owned Lancôme in the final 11.11 beauty ranking. These two brands, along with fourth-place Olay, also achieved over 1 billion RMB GMV in sales.


Why Nike quit Amazon, but doubles down on Tmall

Nike may have chosen to forgo its partnership with Amazon, but working with local e-tailers has become vital for consumer brands in China. 100% of activewear brands now sell on Tmall, and 82% sell on rival JD.com. As traffic to Baidu continues to decline and consumers begin their purchase journey on Tmall, the ecosystem is increasingly important as a content and marketing platform. According to Gartner L2’s most recent data, 96% of index activewear brands include video on Tmall, and 65% feature celebrity content on the platform. 83% of tracked activewear brands feature a “brand zone” at the top of search results, where brands put marketing messages front-and-center to crowd out third-party sellers.

Balsa shortage threatens wind power rollout

Better known for its use in model aircraft, table-tennis bats and surfboards, balsa is a key component of many wind turbine blade cores because it is both strong and lightweight. Prices have almost doubled in the past 12 months and suppliers are warning that the balsa shortage threatens a bottleneck in new wind farm developments next year. The wood is grown almost exclusively in Ecuador, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. Producers in the Latin American country have benefited from the shortage, saying prices are likely to keep rising next year.

BlueMountain: the hedge fund that lost its way

As it outlined its conviction to investors last December, BlueMountain said the shares could be worth $60 because the market was overestimating the utility’s wild fire liabilities. BlueMountain’s opening $200m bet on PG&E had been at an average share price of close to $46. Last November, it added another 3.7m shares at an average share price of about $24, regulatory filings show. Late last month PG&E shares slumped to a record low of below $4 after the company cut off power to almost 3m Californians in an attempt to avoid the risk of more wild fires. Analysts at Citigroup have warned that the stock may become worthless.

Curated Insights 2018.09.21

Brent Beshore: Learning to pole vault

Marketing will only get you where you’re going faster. If your product isn’t valuable, marketing will help put you out of business, fast. The best way to build trust and generate attention is to be relatively excellent. I say “relatively” because some markets are more efficient/mature than others. The less developed a market, the less valuable you have to be in absolute terms. You just have to be better than everyone else. I don’t want to try to outcompete smart, well-read, and hard working people. I want to find the lowest bar to jump over and then get good at pole vaulting.

Picking your field is arguably more important to your success than your current skill and future capacity. In some segments of business, everyone makes lots of money and the very best do outrageously well. In other areas, even the very best often declare bankruptcy. It’s a base rate analysis. Assume you’re only going to be mediocre, then explore what business and life look like if that’s true. So choose your field wisely and get good at what you’re doing before trying to make noise.

AI has far-reaching consequences for emerging markets

Without a cost incentive to locate in the developing world, corporations will bring many of these functions back to the countries where they’re based. That will leave emerging economies, unable to grasp the bottom rungs of the development ladder, in a dangerous position: the large pool of young and relatively unskilled workers that once formed their greatest comparative advantage will become a liability – a potentially explosive one.

The result will be an unprecedented concentration of productive capacity and wealth in the hands of the elite AI companies, almost all of which are located in the US and China. Of the US$15.7 trillion in wealth that AI is forecast to generate globally by 2030, a full 70 per cent will accrue to those two countries alone, according to a study by consulting firm PwC.

Spotify will now let indie artists upload their own music

According to a recent report by The NYT, artists working with labels may see much smaller percentages. The report said that Spotify typically pays a record label around 52 percent of the revenue generated by each stream. The label, in turn, then pays the artist a royalty of anywhere from 15% to as high as 50%. If artists are dealing directly with Spotify, they could be making more money.

Labels suggested that they could retaliate against Spotify for overstepping. The NYT had also said. They may do things like withhold licenses Spotify needs for key international expansions, like India, or not agree to new terms after existing contracts expire. They could also offer more exclusives and promos to Spotify’s rivals, like Apple Music, which has surged ahead in the U.S. and is now neck-and-neck here with Spotify for paid subscribers.

A music upload feature also means artists who own their own rights could break out big on Spotify if they catch the attention of playlist editors – something that Spotify now makes it easier for them to do, as well. In addition, having indies upload music directly means Spotify could better compete against Apple Music by attracting more artists and their fans to its platform.


Apple’s neural engine = Pocket machine learning platform

If you have followed many of the posts I’ve written about the challenges facing the broader semiconductor industry, you know that competing with Apple’s silicon team is becoming increasingly difficult. Not just because it is becoming harder for traditional semiconductor companies to spend the kind of R&D budget they need to meaningfully advance their designs but also because most companies don’t have the luxury of designing a chip that only needs to satisfy the needs of Apple’s products. Apple has a luxury as a semiconductor engineering team to develop, tune, and innovate specialized chips that exist solely to bring new experiences to iPhone customers. This is exceptionally difficult to compete with.

However, the area companies can try with cloud software. Good cloud computing companies, like Google, can conceivably keep some pace with Apple as they move more of their processing power to the cloud and off the device. No company will be able to keep up with Apple in client/device side computing but they can if they can utilize the monster computing power in the cloud. This to me is one of the more interesting battles that will come over the next decade. Apple’s client-side computing prowess vs. the cloud computing software prowess of those looking to compete.


Tim Cook reveals in interview that the Chinese consumer is different because they don’t carry the burden of the desktop era

China has not experienced the so-called stage of the desktop Internet, but directly embraced the mobile Internet. Therefore, Chinese consumers do not have the burden of the desktop Internet era. This explains to some extent why China’s mobile payment share is so high. In other countries, the mobile payment process is much slower. In fact, they just have no more attempts.”

Perhaps Apple’s delay in advancing Macs and angering the pro community comes from this deep seated attitude that it’s a “burden” holding back the advancement of their iOS agenda.

The best company you’ve never heard of

With no true competitive threats, wide-moat commercial real estate data provider CoStar Group is a borderline monopoly. The other companies in the space are predominately small startups focused on crowdsourcing data. These companies can’t replicate the intangible assets from the vast cost and effort associated with compiling the data the company offers to its customer base.

Given the importance customers place on the underlying data, CoStar also keeps competitors at bay with a switching cost moat source. It’s just too risky to switch sources. Strong platform effects found throughout CoStar’s product offerings earn the company a network effect moat source, too.

The company continues to increase its coverage and boasts that it covers every building in the country, widening the gap between itself and its fragmented competition. The firm recently established itself as a leading provider of rental data with its acquisitions of Apartment Finder and Apartments.com. CoStar is only 30% penetrated in its target market for apartments, so we see room for growth in this area.

Moreover, CoStar is only 15% penetrated in the broker community and 7% penetrated with institutional investors, two groups we can see the firm going after. As several investments are integrated and benefits are realized, we project CoStar’s economic profit to steadily increase over the next several years, reflecting our positive moat trend rating.

Here’s why Yelp and Grubhub could keep rising

“Grubhub is in the early stages of enabling the shift to online of the still offline dominant restaurant takeout businesses and driving the improved consumer experience that comes with it,” they wrote. About “90% of delivery and pickup orders still come from offline, making the phone book, print out menus and walk-ins the number one competitor to Grubhub and its peers.”

How early is the shift? “We estimate Grubhub has about 40% market share of the third-party online delivery/pickup industry which itself we estimate has a 4% penetration of the $250 billion restaurant takeout industry,” they wrote. “Its early mover and scale advantage—about 85,000 restaurants on its platform in 1,600 cities—has allowed Grubhub to offer, in our view, the best consumer value across its competitors.”


Why Yelp could rise 200%

If we can introduce ourselves to those advertisers with a good ‘til canceled $300, $400 a month, $10, $20 a day kind of service proposition, what we’re finding is it really opens up our sales funnel. It makes our product more competitive in the marketplace. It allows us to get into third-party sales channels that we haven’t been in before. And we’re now kind of one quarter into it and we had this quarter, the first quarter, about 140% as many new or net customer additions in this quarter as we’ve had in any prior quarter and kind of 2x the run rate that we’ve normally seen when we were selling the term contract. And, now, we move to the non-term contract.

In the long-term, our tests and our analysis all show that the LTV of a cohort of advertisers that we bring in today will be quite a bit higher. And what we’ve seen in our tests is that we continue to sell the sort of long and strong loyal long-term advertisers under the new pricing model just as we always have, but on top of that we’re introducing ourselves to a lot more new customers along the way

Yelp is in the early days of elevating the consumer experience by expanding the number of transactional features such as Request-A-Quote from a home service professional or book a restaurant reservation or spa appointment. Request-A-Quote lead volume grew 27% from the first to the second quarter of 2018 and topped 5.5 million delivered requests in the second quarter. During that same short timeframe, revenue attributable to Request-A-Quote increased by more than 50%, surpassing a $35 million annual run rate at the end of the second quarter. The company is not yet fully monetizing Request-A-Quote, which we believe could accelerate free cash growth even further. We like finding misunderstood, yet promising, and free embedded call options within the companies we invest in and hope Request-A-Quote proves to a second material avenue for free cash per share growth.


GGV Capital: Unpacking Xiaomi’s IPO

Instead of paying for users, Xiaomi actually gets paid at least 5% gross margin through hardware to get users…it’s a very different model from almost any other internet services model out there. So if this is sustainable, and to make sure this is sustainable is to have a lot more hardware products out there that the middle class can buy, and use that portfolio of hardware devices to get paid for acquiring users, so that internet services can scale thereafter…There’s definitely elements of Muji and Uniqlo in a different field for Xiaomi, there’s definitely elements of a Costco model of subscription plus very low cost to make sure more products are affordable by the rising consumer class, there’s definitely elements of Amazon in there as a platform to sell many products and being very focused at delivering a superior experience…

If we look at the number of internet users coming online, the next 1.5bn internet users coming online between now and 2030, most of that growth will come from the 74 countries that Xiaomi is in already. So when people ask me if Xiaomi is coming to the US or not, they completely miss the point, the growth is coming from the existing countries that Xiaomi’s already in…

Xiaomi has over 18 apps, each with monthly active users of over 50mn. It also has 38 apps, each with over 10mn MAUs. In aggregate, it did over 1.5bn RMB in internet services revenue in 2017, which already puts them as a top 25 internet services only company in the world. The most popular [app] that people know is probably Xiaomi Video, which has an interesting way of becoming aggregation services. It doesn’t license content from anyone, what it does is it aggregates content from all the top Chinese video apps, each of which have already licensed the content and whenever a user clicks on a video, it takes you to the content from its partners but within the app itself, so you can have a more integrated experience. It charges advertising revenue and also subscription from the users…and they share that revenue with its partners that provide the original video content. So, it can focus on providing the most comprehensive collection of content to the user, at the same time, so far, they don’t have to spend much money on acquiring the content itself.”


Tesla, software and disruption

It’s pretty clear that electric disrupts the internal combustion engine, and everything associated with it. It’s not just that you replace the internal combustion engine with electric motors and the fuel tank with batteries – rather, you remove the whole drive train and replace it with sometime with 5 to 10 times fewer moving or breakable parts. You rip the spine out of the car. This is very disruptive to anyone in the engine business – it disrupts machine tools, and many of the suppliers of these components to the OEMs. A lot of the supplier base will change.

We will go from complex cars with simple software to simple cars with complex software. Instead of many stand-alone embedded systems each doing one thing, we’ll have cheap dumb sensors and actuators controlled by software on a single central control board, running some sort of operating system, with many different threads (there are a few candidates). This is partly driven by electric, but becomes essential for autonomy.

Tesla’s first bet is that it will solve the vision-only problem before the other sensors get small and cheap, and that it will solve all the rest of the autonomy problems by then as well. This is strongly counter-consensus. It hopes to do it the harder way before anyone else does it the easier way. That is, it’s entirely possible that Waymo, or someone else, gets autonomy to work in 202x with a $1000 or $2000 LIDAR and vision sensor suite and Tesla still doesn’t have it working with vision alone.

‘Flash Boys’ exchange IEX wins first listing

The U.S. corporate-listings business, in which companies pay fees to an exchange for services tied to being the primary venue for the company’s stock trading, has for years been an effective duopoly of the NYSE and Nasdaq. A third big exchange group, Cboe Global Markets Inc., lists exchange-traded funds and its own shares, but hasn’t made a bid to attract other companies. NYSE parent Intercontinental Exchange Inc. and Nasdaq earned a combined $684 million from listings last year, according to the two exchange groups.

“We at Interactive Brokers understand that being the first listing on a new exchange may entail certain risk, but we think that individual and institutional customers who own and trade our stock will receive better execution prices and that advantage will outweigh the risk,” Mr. Peterffy said in a press release announcing the move.

Because of China’s outsized workforce, the density of automation usage lags other countries: 68 robots per 10,000 industrial workers, compared with 631 bots for every 10,000 manufacturing staff in South Korea, the global leader in automation. Singapore, Germany and Japan all have higher densities of automation than China. China wants to more than double that usage density to 150 for every 10,000 workers by 2020. To do so would require massive amounts of government help.

‘Made In China 2025’: a peek at the robot revolution under way in the hub of the ‘world’s factory’

A skilled factory worker earns about 36,000 yuan a year in wages and benefits in China’s poorer provinces and second-tier cities, away from the coast. Total remuneration can exceed 60,000 yuan in cities nearer the coast and along the eastern seaboard, like in the Pearl River and Yangtze River deltas. A 200,000 yuan robot that can do the job of three humans can recoup its capital cost in 22 months in central provinces, or in a little over a year in coastal cities. In the face of rising prices pressures for labour, energy and rents, such a cost advantage would be attractive to many manufacturers.

China’s total spending on research and development is estimated to have risen 14 per cent last year to 1.76 trillion yuan, according to the Ministry of Science and Technology.

“Among the thousands of so-called Chinese robotics companies – including robot and automated equipment producers as well as those who only provide automation integration solutions – only about 100 firms could mass produce the main body and core components of high-end and middle-market industrial robots, such as servo motors, robot controllers and speed reducers,” he said. “We lack original research and have already tried to catch up by copying advanced technology. But neither technology-related mergers and acquisitions nor copycat [production] can close the gap in the short term.”

He said many domestic robotics manufacturers were still developing the traditional core parts of robots, like servo motors, robot controllers and speed reducers. But these parts would not be the core components of the future, he said.

Don’t take asset allocation advice from billionaires

One of the best ways to stay out of trouble with your finances is to focus all of your energy on your own circumstances and ignore what other people say or do with their money. Not only will it likely save you from making a grievous financial error but it will also make you happier. Constantly comparing yourself or your portfolio to others can be exhausting.

This is how to raise emotionally intelligent kids: 5 secrets from research

Don’t argue the facts. Feelings aren’t logical. You wouldn’t expect the new employee to know how to find the bathroom and you shouldn’t expect a child to know how to handle emotions that, frankly, you still have problems dealing with after decades of experience. Don’t immediately try to fix things. You need to establish you’re a safe ally before you can solve anything. Understanding must precede advice, and, just as with adults, they decide when you understand.

The critical distinction Gottman realized is that it’s important to accept all feelings — but not all behavior. If you skip immediately to problem-solving, the kid never learns the skill of how to deal with those uncomfortable emotions. You want to use “empathetic listening.” Get them to talk. Help them clarify. Validate their feelings (but, again, not necessarily their behavior). They need to feel you really understand and are on their side.

Providing words in this way can help children transform an amorphous, scary, uncomfortable feeling into something definable, something that has boundaries and is a normal part of everyday life. Anger, sadness, and fear become experiences everybody has and everybody can handle. Labeling emotions goes hand in hand with empathy. A parent sees his child in tears and says, “You feel very sad, don’t you?” Now, not only is the child understood, he has a word to describe this intense feeling. Studies indicate that the act of labeling emotions can have a soothing effect on the nervous system, helping children to recover more quickly from upsetting incidents.

As we have discussed earlier, the implications of teaching a child to self-soothe are enormous. Kids who can calm themselves from an early age show several signs of emotional intelligence: They are more likely to concentrate better, have better peer relationships, higher academic achievement, and good health. My advice to parents, then, is to help your kids find words to describe what they are feeling. This doesn’t mean telling kids how they ought to feel. It simply means helping them develop a vocabulary with which to express their emotions.

In an ideal world, we’d always have time to sit and talk with our kids as feelings come up. But for most parents, that’s not always an option. It’s important, therefore, to designate a time—preferably at the same period each day—when you can talk to your child without time pressures or interruptions.

Curated Insights 2018.01.21

JD.com’s Richard Liu decodes the Chinese consumer

No one wants to take a bag, and put it on a table when a lot of ladies have the same bag with the same style. They want to find something special. Something you cannot find in your circle…But if you look at China, there are more and more young people, and their income is relatively very small, but they want to spend time to find fashion, maybe not as expensive as luxury brands, but still very fashionable. Maybe not big brands, [but rather] small brands, or niche brands.

Commerce platforms for them are the best way to convert their customers to buying. And at the same time, for JD, we are not just a sales platform; we are a brand-building platform. We spend more and more resources to help build the brand — to strengthen the brand is as important as the sales side.

We will use two different ways to cover the entire globe. The first is our South [East] Asian channel. We will set up [a] subsidiary there and copy the Chinese business model. Build a local team, buyer team, logistics system and last mile delivery team, everything the same as in China. In Indonesia we have been operating for almost two years, and we will go to Thailand very soon.

But for Europe and [the] US we will use a cross-border business model. We have been thinking about this for many years. If you just copy another model or local players do exactly the same thing as them, you cannot find an advantage. So we will cooperate with Chinese local brands and bring them to the US and Europe. They need us, and we also need them, because the brand quality is very good and price is not as high. We will choose them, pick them up and bring [them] to the US and Europe. I think people will love these kinds of Chinese brands.


Alibaba’s AI outguns humans in reading test

“That means objective questions such as ‘what causes rain’ can now be answered with high accuracy by machines,” Luo Si, chief scientist for natural language processing at the Alibaba institute, said in a statement. “The technology underneath can be gradually applied to numerous applications such as customer service, museum tutorials and online responses to medical inquiries from patients, decreasing the need for human input in an unprecedented way.”


Keyence: Leading Japan’s new wave of tech giants

Keyence is a beneficiary of the AI, robotics, and industrial-automation boom. Sales of its factory automation sensors have been particularly strong in China, where labor costs are rising. As manufacturing grows more data intensive, factories require more sensors and vision systems to collect data and become “smarter.” Plus, a large proportion of Internet of Things spending is on sensors and connectivity. “Keyence has the highest exposure to upgrade-and-innovation demand,” says Jay Huang of Sanford C. Bernstein. Keyence, with its diversified customer base, is one of least exposed to cycles of single trends like the iPhone, he says, and has more than half the global market share for 3-D vision systems —a market growing 30% a year—and rising sales in China.


Facebook’s motivations

The key thing to remember about Facebook — and Google’s — dominance in digital ads is that their advantages are multi-faceted. First and foremost are the attractiveness of their products to users; that attractiveness is rooted not only in technology but also in both data and people-based network effects. Second is the depth of information both companies have on their users, allowing advertisers to spend more efficiently on their platforms — particularly on mobile — than elsewhere. The third advantage, though, is perhaps the least appreciated: buying ads on Google and Facebook is just so much easier. They are one-stop shops for reaching anyone, which means competitors need to not have similar targeting capabilities and user engagement, but in fact need to be significantly better to justify the effort.


Adapt or die is Marchionne’s stark farewell message to carmakers

Carmakers have less than a decade to reinvent themselves or risk being commoditized amid a seismic shift in how vehicles are powered, driven and purchased. Auto companies need to quickly separate the stuff that will be swallowed by commodity from the brand stuff.

While the car industry has always been tough — Chrysler and GM both went bankrupt during the financial crisis — in the past the mistakes were self-induced, Marchionne said. Now the tumult is being driven by outside forces, and it’s coming faster than people expect, he said — a surprising view, given that Fiat is perceived to be behind some competitors in adapting. He said the company is positioned well, and rather than pour money into competing with Silicon Valley, the industry should try to identify the best solutions coming from tech companies and reduce its exposure to products that aren’t going to be easily defended.


Ensemble Capital: Prestige Brands update

Owning these strong brands, in small niche markets, results in Prestige generating the highest profit margins in their industry. While Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson might be a lot more well known, Prestige Brands turns every dollar of revenue into 34 cents of profits while P&G and J&J manage to squeeze out just 26 cents of profits.

It is important to recognize that Prestige is a brand management company more than a product producer. They outsource most of the capital-intensive production aspects of the business. This capital light, outsourcing approach means the company only employs 520 people, generating an amazing $1.7 million per employee. In comparison, most health care and consumer staple companies do closer to $500k per employee and Apple, which has the highest revenue per employee in the technology industry does only slightly more at $1.9 million. Until their acquisition of Fleet a year ago, Prestige had only 259 employees and was doing an amazing $3.1 million per employee.


How Roku morphed from a quirky hardware startup to a TV streaming powerhouse

For about two years, Roku considered building its own TV set in-house. “Then we decided: No, that’s a way to lose a lot of money,” remembers Wood. Instead, the company teamed up with Chinese firms looking to enter the U.S. market and willing to undercut the competition with budget-priced TV models — a strategy Sappington calls “a very smart decision.” And with millions of active users and growing brand awareness, Roku was able to talk to TV makers eye-to-eye and demand that they not change a thing about its software. “We had a big enough brand that they were willing to do those kinds of deals,” Wood says.

But to really understand Roku, you have to look beyond the streaming boxes, sticks and even TVs. “People think of Roku as a hardware company,” says Martin. “It is not.” Rather, the firm is leveraging hardware to acquire users, which can then be monetized via advertising and licensing fees. “The goal was always to generate revenue by monetizing the platform,” says Wood. “As our scale started to approach 5 million active accounts, that’s when we said, ‘Now we can start focusing on monetization.’”

Still, his message to Hollywood is clear: Roku is already in the content business, and it wants to be top of mind as studios think about windowing their content. “We are a very viable outlet,” says Holmes. “We should be one of their first calls.”


China’s top movie ticketing app said to plan $1 billion IPO

China’s box-office receipts rose 15 percent last year to 52 billion yuan ($8 billion), making it the world’s second largest movie market after the U.S. Almost 80 percent of movie tickets in the country are sold through mobile apps, and Maoyan Weying is the largest ticketing provider with a 52.5 percent market share as of the third quarter 2017, according to researcher Analysys.


Didi has a brilliant plan to contain the threat of China’s bike-sharing services

Already, Ofo and arch rival Mobike have chipped away at Didi’s share of short journeys and struck deals with local governments with the aim of solving congestion problems. Now, they are looking to expand beyond that. Mobike, for example, has tested ride-sharing services. Mobike and Ofo both claim over 100 million registered users, so action is best taken sooner rather than later. The question is whether Didi’s move is too late.

This devilish strategy works because Ofo and Bluegogo have no choice but to be a part of the platform due to their ties with Didi. Ofo counts Didi as an investor and is already integrated into its app, while Didi swooped in to save Bluegogo after it went broke. It’s no surprise that Mobike, the other bike-sharing unicorn which no Didi connection, didn’t elect to be a part of the program.

Techmate: How AI rewrote the rules of chess

No top chess player would take such a big risk, he says. But this computer seems to have “such control over the board, it’s almost as though it has an intuition something good will happen”. His verdict on its overall game-playing ability: “It’s incredible. It’s hard for me to get my head around it.”

All computers before this, as he describes it, worked by brute force, using the intellectual equivalent of a steamroller to crack a nut. People don’t operate that way: “Humans are flexible because we know that sometimes we have to depart from the rules,” he says. In AlphaZero, he thinks he has seen the first computer in history to learn that very human trick.

Predictions about the imminent rise of the machines have always turned out to be wildly over-optimistic. Herbert Simon, one of the pioneers of AI, forecast in 1965 that computers would be able to do any work a human was capable of within 20 years. When today’s experts in the field were asked when that moment would come, only half picked a time within the next 30 years.


This army of AI robots will feed the world

If robots can prevent herbicides from having any contact with crops, it means that 18 classes of chemicals previously considered too damaging to be widely sprayed suddenly become viable. “We’re both ratcheting down the volume of chemicals that need to be used, but also expanding how many types can be used,” Heraud says. In other words, Blue River’s success might be the worst thing that could happen to the herbicide industry, or it could open up an avenue to sell new products.

His next step, with Deere’s backing, will be to move Blue River’s robots beyond herbicides to fertilizers, the culprits behind toxic algae blooms, which are killing fish and making lakes unswimmable. Farmers typically spend up to 10 times more annually on fertilizers than weed killers—about $150 billion a year. But the shift is a big leap for a robot. It must gather a range of visual signals—the colors, sizes, and textures of a plant’s leaves—and from this data extrapolate the plant’s health and how much nourishment it needs. “It’s a ton more processing power, but it’s doable,” Heraud says.

The next link in this technological chain could be a kind of agricultural Swiss Army knife: a robot that can apply not only herbicides and fertilizers but also insecticides, fungicides, and water all at once, delivering only as needed.

The implication of plant-by-plant—rather than field-by-field—farming is not just the prospect of vast reductions in chemical usage. It could also, in theory, end monocropping, which has become the new normal—cornfields and soybean fields as far as the eye can see—and has given rise to the kind of high-calorie, low-nutrient diets that are causing heart disease, obesity, and Type 2 diabetes. Monocrops also leach soil nutrients and put food supplies at risk, because single-crop fields are more susceptible to blight and catastrophe. Modern farmers have been segregating crops in part because our equipment can’t handle more complexity. Robots that can tend plants individually could support intercropping—planting corn in with complementary crops such as soybeans and other legumes.

Bright outlook for the economy and stocks

But I worry that this tax cut is happening at a time when the U.S. economy doesn’t need fiscal stimulus. And longer term, what will tax cuts do to the federal deficit? The deficit was going to be rising as a percentage of GDP anyway, partly for structural reasons relating to the aging of the baby boomers. A $1.5 trillion tax cut will add an additional $300 billion to $400 billion interest-rate burden in the next few years.

In the past 10 years, American companies made an inordinate effort to think about how to move people or structures outside the U.S. for nonproductive purposes—basically, to increase earnings per share. By moving toward a territorial system of taxation and bringing our corporate tax rate in line with the rest of the world’s, we can get back to having managers focus on productive investments, greater efficiency, and value creation. This will unlock the strength of America and drive GDP growth. Simply, the absence of a major negative is a positive. This is a generational change. While inflation potentially is a fear for the stock market, you have to be positive on the S&P 500, even though we are 102 months into an expansion.

Having covered the auto-parts industry for 50 years, I am seeing more companies announce that they are going to relocate to the U.S. And the U.S. is a magnet not only for American, but also for foreign companies locating here because the U.S. is a big market.

But now the Fed is starting to allow $30 billion of Treasuries, more or less, to mature into the market each month. There is a chance—I’d call it a base case—that the rhetoric and actions of the ECB will have to become more hawkish, given economic growth in Europe. That means the ECB might start to pull back on quantitative easing. Central-bank balance sheets could start to decline, in the aggregate, sometime during 2018. If that happens, the stock market will go down. Quantitative easing, cumulatively, has been highly correlated to the gains in the S&P 500 and global stock markets. Central-bank footings, or assets, went from $6 trillion pre-financial-crisis to $22 trillion subsequently. Bankers are talking about bringing that down to $16 trillion or $17 trillion. Maybe it drops more quickly. It is undeniable that central-bank asset buying has been a prop for the markets.


Some great thoughts on network effects from Anu Hariharan on Twitter:

Often misunderstood – Network Effects is not the same as scale

One simple way to test for that is ask this question – what is the “barrier to exit” for the user?

If the barrier to exit for the user is low, then there is no network effect. This implies it is easy for users to switch from your service

Ride sharing services (Uber, Lyft) don’t have a network effect (in other words demand side economies of scale). Users often switch apps if it takes longer than 5 mins ETA or if there is surge pricing on one

However ride sharing does have supply side economies of scale and therefore opportunity for select players to have monopolistic share in a market

On the other hand apps like Facebook, LinkedIn have very strong network effect – because the barrier to exit for the user is really high!

A user has invested time and effort in building a social graph on these platforms with connections, history of exchanges and in some cases even maintain them. It is not easy for customers/ users to switch easily and therefore the “barrier to exit” for the user is really high

What if everyone got a monthly check from the government?

Kela’s researchers originally envisioned the experiment as the first in a series that would help them understand the implications of expanding basic income nationwide. “With basic income, there will be a lot of winners, but there will be a lot of losers also,” Kangas says. “We have to study the losers.” For one thing, he points out, to provide Finns with the level of financial security they enjoy under their current system, basic income payments would have to be at least twice those of the trial. And to pay everyone, the country would have to change its tax structure.

The wealthiest would be relatively unaffected by such a change because their taxes are already high, but a swath of middle- and upper-middle-class Finns would pay more in taxes than they’d get back in basic income. In national polls, when the possibility of a 55 percent flat tax was raised, the percentage of Finns who supported basic income dropped from 70 to about 30. “We would need to implement another study for the whole population to understand it,” says Miska Simanainen, a tax specialist who was part of Kangas’s team. No such studies are planned.

Trust is perhaps the most radical aspect of basic income. Handing out money requires a government to have faith that people know what’s best for themselves—that, on the whole, they have enough intelligence and foresight to put their financial resources to good use. In almost every basic income study conducted so far, this faith has been borne out. The little money wasted on vices is more than offset by what is spent on groceries or child care. But trusting that this will hold true universally requires an even bigger leap of faith. In 2016, Switzerland’s citizens overwhelmingly voted down a proposal that would’ve given them each the equivalent of $2,555 a month. Surveys showed they didn’t think it was right for people to be given something for free.


Savvy Investor Awards 2017: The Best White Papers

Savvy Investor is the world’s leading research network for institutional investors. Since the site launched in 2015, the Savvy Investor research team has curated over 20,000 investment and pensions papers, placing it in a unique position to judge the best white papers of 2017. The official announcement of winners was made on December 5.

The accolade of “Best Investment Paper 2017” is awarded to the CFA Institute Research Foundation for the paper, “Financial Market History: Reflections on the Past for Investors Today.”


Why dolphins are deep thinkers

One day, when a gull flew into her pool, she grabbed it, waited for the trainers and then gave it to them. It was a large bird and so the trainers gave her lots of fish. This seemed to give Kelly a new idea. The next time she was fed, instead of eating the last fish, she took it to the bottom of the pool and hid it under the rock where she had been hiding the paper. When no trainers were present, she brought the fish to the surface and used it to lure the gulls, which she would catch to get even more fish. After mastering this lucrative strategy, she taught her calf, who taught other calves, and so gull-baiting has become a hot game among the dolphins.

How to guard against moat erosion

A wet moat, called a douve or wet ditch, formed a very efficient obstacle against the assaulting army. However, wet moats could be something of a mixed blessing; they were inconvenient in peacetime, which meant that unofficial bridges were often erected – with subsequent argument and indecision about the right moment to chop them down in an emergency. Besides, water might dangerously erode the base of the wall, and stagnant water might be a year ‘round health hazard for the inhabitants of the castle.