by ilene - February 16th, 2011 11:09 pm
iConomics is a word I’ve created to capture the state of doing business in a world that Apple ($AAPL) owns and the rest of us just live in.
Regular readers know that I am a fairly astute observer of market trends and themes. While lots of ink has been spilled about Apple’s ascendancy, no one has really yet formulated a good list of takeaways from it all. Below are what I view to be the key lessons for companies in the Era of Apple…
1. Don’t just invent the product, invent the market:
Nobody knew they needed an in-home Keurig machine to make cup after cup of coffee until Green Mountain Coffee ($GMCR) convinced them that they did. In much the same way, Microsoft had tried and failed repeatedly to kickstart a market for tablet computers over the last decade. Each failure was blamed on there being no market for the devices. Funny, Apple’s iPad came into the world with a similar lack of a market for tablets – so it had to invent one.
2. Pick needy partners:
Jamie Dimon awoke to his destiny in early 2008 as one of the few remaining pillars of strength in the financial world. While all the other bank CEOs were running around trying to do deals with each other, Dimon’s JPMorgan ($JPM) was busy partering with the government. He and his resources were needed so badly that he was handed Bear Stearns almost for free – a price he voluntarily raised it on his own because it was such an embarrassingly good deal. As the government got even more needy, it handed its new partner Washington Mutual while simultaneously eating all the bad debt – too good to be true. In much the same way, Apple launched its iPhone with the neediest of partners – the combining Cingular/AT&T ($T) colossus that, above all, needed a hit phone to overcome their patchwork coverage network. Apple was handed a monumental opportunity to have its untested hardware pushed to millions of new customers.
3. Consumer tastes are overrated:
Steve Jobs isn’t one of those guys who test-markets stuff to death. Rather than try to innovate by committee, he relies on his own taste and the prowess of his designers and engineers. And it works. He is delivering functionality like music-playing, web-accessing…
by ilene - January 30th, 2011 10:13 pm
Courtesy of John Mauldin, Thoughts From The Frontline
The Recent GDP Numbers – A Real Statistical Recovery
Consumer Spending Rose? Where Was the Income?
A Bubble in Complacency
Rosie, Las Vegas, Phuket, and Bangkok
This week I had the privilege of being on the same panel with former Comptroller General David Walker and former Majority Leader (and presidential candidate) Richard Gephardt. A Democrat to the left of me and a self-declared nonpartisan to the right, stuck in the middle and not knowing where the unrehearsed conversation would take us. As it turned out, to a very interesting conclusion, which is the topic of this week’s letter. By way of introduction to those not familiar with them, David M. Walker (born 1951) served as United States Comptroller General from 1998 to 2008, and is now the Founder and CEO of the Comeback America Initiative. Gephardt served in Congress for 28 years, was House Majority Leader from 1989 to 1995 and Minority Leader from 1995 to 2003, running for president in 1988 and 2004.
Some housekeeping first. We have posted my recent conversation with George Friedman on the Conversations with John Mauldin web site. And on Saturday we will post the Conversation and transcript I just did with David Rosenberg and Lacy Hunt, which I think is one of the more interesting (and informative!) ones I have done. You can learn more about how to get your copy and the rest of the year’s Conversations (I have some really powerful ones lined up) by going to www.johnmauldin.com/conversations. Use the code “conv” to get a discount to $149 from the regular price of $199. (If you recently subscribed at $199 we will extend your subscription proportionately. Fair is fair.)
The Recent GDP Numbers – A Real Statistical Recovery
Now, before we get into our panel discussion (and the meeting afterward), let me comment on the GDP number that came in yesterday. This is what Moody’s Analytics told us:
“Real GDP grew 3.2% at an annualized pace in the fourth quarter of 2010. This was below the consensus estimate for 3.6% growth and was an improvement from the 2.6% pace in the third quarter. Private inventories were an enormous drag on growth, subtracting 3.7 percentage points; this bodes very well for the near-term outlook and means that current demand is very strong. Consumer spending, investment and…
by ilene - November 4th, 2010 5:23 pm
Courtesy of The Pragmatic Capitalist
Great commentary right now on CNBC by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. He succinctly summarizes what QE is doing. Coffee prices have risen almost 50% since QE2 rumors first began in August. Schultz says the price rise is hurting his business and that he will not be passing the costs along to the consumer. He says the only people benefiting from this price rise are the commodity speculators because the consumer remains too weak to accept the price rise.
So what do we have? It’s quite literally a ponzi scheme. We have a Fed that has openly admitted that they want prices “higher than they otherwise should be”. And speculators are taking them up on their offer by borrowing in dollars and buying any and all inflation hedges. Meanwhile, the real economic benefit of this all is nil. In fact, it is doing nothing but generating margin compression, excess volatility in financial markets and promoting the financialization of this country – the same thing that nearly destroyed it just two years ago.
by ilene - October 29th, 2010 3:18 am
Courtesy of Gordon T Long of Tipping Points
In September 2008 the US came to a fork in the road. The Public Policy decision to not seize the banks, to not place them in bankruptcy court with the government acting as the Debtor-in-Possession (DIP), to not split them up by selling off the assets to successful and solvent entities, set the world on the path to global currency wars.
By lowering interest rates and effectively guaranteeing a weak dollar through undisciplined fiscal policy, the US ignited an almost riskless global US$ Carry Trade and triggered an uncontrolled Currency War with the mercantilist, export driven Asian economies. We are now debasing the US dollar with reckless spending and money printing with the policies of Quantitative Easing (QE) and the expectations of QE II. Both are nothing more than effectively defaulting on our obligations to sound money policy and a “strong US$”. Meanwhile with a straight face we deny that this is our intention.
It’s called debase, default and deny.
Though prior to the 2008 financial crisis our largest banks had become casino like speculators with public money lacking in fiduciary responsibility, our elected officials bailed them out. Our leadership placed America and the world unknowingly (knowingly?) on a preordained destructive path because it was politically expedient and the easiest way out of a difficult predicament. By kicking the can down the road our political leadership, like the banks, avoided their fiduciary responsibility. Similar to a parent wanting to be liked and a friend to their children they avoided the difficult discipline that is required at certain critical moments in life. The discipline to make America swallow a needed pill. The discipline to ask Americans to accept a period of intense adjustment. A period that by now would be starting to show signs of success versus the abyss we now find ourselves staring into. A future that is now significantly worse and with potentially fatal pain still to come.
Unemployed Americans, the casualties of the financial crisis wrought by the banks, witness the same banks declaring record earnings while these banks refuse to lend. When the banks once more are caught with their fingers in the cookie jar with falsified robo-signing mortgage title fraud, they again look for the compliant parent to look the other way. Meanwhile the US debt levels and spending associated with protecting these failed…
by ilene - September 14th, 2010 4:14 am
Courtesy of The Pragmatic Capitalist
Two of the primary drivers of the economic recovery are now becoming headwinds. In an interview on CNBC yesterday Jan Hatzius of Goldman Sachs described why he is more bearish than the consensus. His primary concerns are the inventory and stimulus headwinds. In a similar strategy note UniCredit expressed the same concerns and provided some more detail. They believe these two trends alone could shave 6 to 7 points from GDP:
“Our expectation of a significant growth slowdown is largely based on the assumption that the growth at the end of 2009/ beginning of 2010 was supported primarily by temporary factors, whose contribution will not only decline in the course of this year but is even likely to become negative. As the following chart illustrates, the fiscal program (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) and private inventories added roughly 5 percentage points to growth in both the fourth quarter of 2009 and the first quarter of 2010. In the spring, this contribution already dwindled to half a percentage point, and in the second half of 2010 as well as 2011 both components are likely to shave roughly 1½pp off growth. The swing is, therefore, a considerable six to seven percentage points.”
Here’s hoping for a consumer recovery in 2011….Unfortunately, we probably shouldn’t count on it.
by ilene - September 8th, 2010 10:53 pm
Courtesy of Mish
Consumers have had enough of high interest rates on credit cards but its a case of one plastic for another. Bloomberg reports Cardholders Prefer Debit as Credit-Card Use Falls
Americans are shunning their credit cards and using debit to avoid incurring more debt, said Javelin Strategy & Research.
Total payment volume for debit cards surpassed credit-card volume for the first time in 2009 and will continue to eclipse it in 2010, according to a report released today by the Pleasanton, California-based market-research firm that specializes in financial services.
At San Francisco-based Visa Inc., the world’s biggest payments network, the total payment volume for debit cards increased by 7.9 percent in 2009 to $883 billion as credit-card volume declined by 7.3 percent to $764 billion. Volume for debit cards at No. 2 MasterCard Inc. in Purchase, New York, rose by 5.8 percent and 2.8 percent at No. 4 Riverwoods, Illinois-based Discover Financial Services.
Fifty-six percent of consumers said they had used a credit card in the past month compared with 87 percent who said they had in 2007, according to the study, which surveyed 3,294 people in November 2009 for that question. Other findings were based on data collected online from 5,211 respondents in March 2010 and 5,000 consumers in November 2009. If the rate of decline continues, 45 percent of consumers will reach for a credit card in 2010, the study said.
Another cause for reduced credit-card use is financial reform aimed at protecting consumers, which has decreased the number of new cards given and cut available spending limits, the Javelin report said. Federal legislation that limits overdraft fees, caps on fees banks charge merchants for debit-card transactions and credit-card legislation mean banks have to recoup losses and are only giving cards to the most creditworthy borrowers, the study said.
Younger people also favor debit over credit because of the immediate nature of making a payment, which means the shift to debit will be long-term, said Van Dyke. And since younger cardholders favor the convenience of debit cards, they won’t turn to cash or checks, he said.
Purchase transactions generated by credit and debit cards in the U.S. totaled more than 27 billion from Jan. 1 through June 30, according to the Nilson Report, an industry
by ilene - September 4th, 2010 7:18 pm
Courtesy of John Mauldin at Thoughts From The Frontline
The Last Chapter
Let’s Look at the Rules
Six Impossible Things
Killing the Goose
Home and Then Europe
This week you will get a kind of preview as this week’s letter. I am desperately trying to finish the first draft of my book and am one chapter away from having that draft. I have promised my editor (Debra Englander) that she would see a rough draft next week, and the final version will be delivered on the last day of September. More on that process for those interested at the end of the letter. But this week’s letter will be part of what will probably be the 4th or 5th chapter, where we look at the rules of economics.
There is just so little writing time left that I have to focus on that book for a little bit. I am writing this book with co-author Jonathan Tepper of Variant Perception (who is based in London), a young and very gifted Rhodes scholar with a talent for economic analysis and writing. We each write the first draft of a chapter and then go back and forth until the chapter has been much improved. Alas, gentle reader, you will only get my first draft. You will have to wait for the book to get the new, improved version. But this is the last one I have to write. And Jonathan has done all his initial chapters. We are on the home stretch.
But first, my partners at Altegris Investments have written a White Paper entitled "The New Normal: Implications for Hedge Fund Investing." It is a very instructive read. If you are in the US and have already signed up for my Accredited Investor letter, you should already have been sent a link or a copy. If not, and you are an accredited investor (basically net worth of $1.5 million or more) and would like to see the paper, or are interested in learning more about how hedge funds, commodity funds, and other absolute-return strategies might fit into your investment portfolio, I suggest you click on www.accreditedinvestor.ws and fill out the form, and a professional will get back to you. And if you live outside the US and are interested, I have partners around the world who can work with…
by ilene - September 2nd, 2010 10:33 am
Rick’s updated economic charts are less than encouraging – consumer demand is not improving, nor is the recession over as measured by consumer demand for discretionary durable goods. But Rick would argue against a simple Great Recovery and possible a double dip, in favor of a continuation of the original, complex "dip" – The Great Recession. – Ilene
Courtesy of Rick Davis at Consumer Metrics Institute
The "Great Recession" that began in 2008 has had many nuances, some of which can only be seen in data with higher resolution than that provided by the BEA or NBER. Our day-by-day profile of consumer demand helps us understand triggering events while also making it clear that many recent changes in consumer behavior have begun to linger — much as the recession itself now appears to have done.
We have previously reported that consumer demand for discretionary durable goods is now at recessionary levels after starting to contract on a year-over-year basis on January 15, 2010. On the surface this would indicate a "double-dip" recession following the 2008 economic event. We may have inadvertently promoted the "double-dip" aspect of 2010′s contraction by often graphing the two events superimposed upon each other in our "Contraction Watch" chart — as though they were independent episodes:
But to even a casual observer there is something unsettling in the above chart, especially if we’ve been told that the "Great Recession" was a once-in-a-lifetime event that required once-in-a-lifetime amounts of new national debt to fix. Clearly, the 2010 contraction already appears well on the way to equaling or exceeding the "Great Recession" in severity despite those "fixes."
By the end of August, the 2010 contraction had out-lasted the "Great Recession" in duration, and was contracting at a rate that we might expect to see only once in every 15 years. But it is highly unlikely that two fully independent contractions this severe would happen only two years apart — just as the 1937 recession is not generally thought to be just another closely spaced severe recession, but is rather seen in the proper context.
by ilene - August 30th, 2010 4:18 am
Courtesy of Doug Short
Regular visitors to dshort.com know I follow Howard Silverblatt’s earnings spreadsheet on the Standard & Poor’s website. Free registration is required to access this data. I’ve received several requests for more specific details on where to find the spreadsheet. It is fairly well hidden. Here are two links to help frustrated seekers: step one and step two.
I follow the "As-Reported" earnings and top-down estimates for future earnings (see column D in the spreadsheet). The chart below shows the higher estimates of future earnings from the most recent spreadsheet, dated August 24th, and three earlier spreadsheets (February 17th, April 28th, and July 15th).
The latest earnings estimate for 2Q 2010 is 67.20. Friday’s close gives us a P/E ratio of 15.84, which is close to the average trailing 12-month P/E of 15.48. Beyond the 2Q, the chart illustrates increasing optimism about next year’s earnings. The August 24th estimate of $80.20 for 4Q 2011 at today’s P/E would put the S&P 500 at 1,270 at the end of 2011. That’s a gain of 19.3% from the latest close.
But will as-reported earnings really live up to these estimates? Last month Howard Silverblatt pinpointed the problem for earnings in a Bloomberg article No Sales Means No Jobs Means No Recovery. His concluding remarks are worth repeating here:
I look to sales as a future indicator. On this basis, earnings are running ahead of Q1 2010, but sales are flat, and that’s the problem. It’s great that companies have improving earnings, but those improvements are due to high margins, which were the product of cost cuts — specifically job reductions, the very thing that we need to improve now. Until companies and consumers start to spend more, the job front will not get better, but they won’t spend more until they believe things are getting better. The stimulus programs were supposed to jump start the economy and break the downward cycle by convincing both groups that better times were here. But so far we’re not seeing the sales or the jobs; but earnings are good, at least for now.
by ilene - August 29th, 2010 1:01 pm
Charles presents the dark side of social media and argues that along with hip hop and fast-food, it is a mechanism to wreck the best within us and turn us into over-consuming, desensitized airheads and zombies. He argues that the "global marketing complex" is designed to undermine "our sense of internal security by objectifying the measures of self-worth." Let’s say this is so, but has it ever been different and are hip hop, fast foods and social media really just new tools and devises to accomplish this goal? – Ilene
Courtesy of Charles Hugh Smith, Of Two Minds
The shock troops of Corporate Empire actively undermine traditional culture, health and engagement with the real world, clearing the way for colonization and passive consumption.
The defenders of hip-hop, fast food and social media are legion. Critics of these Corporate Empire shock troops are labeled (and thus dismissed) as fusty social "conservatives," anti-technology Luddites and "liberal" busy-bodies getting in the way of "consumer’s right to choose" their own music, food and hobbies.
The irony is the most passionate defenders of hip-hop, fast food and social media are unaware that they are actually defending the storm troopers of Corporate Empire.
Yes, there are hip-hop atists with positive messages, and fast-food giants attempting to improve the range of their offerings, and examples of social media enabling political resistance.
But all these arguments, justifications and polemics boil down to the equivalent of all the arguments, justifications and polemics in favor of corporate fascism, colonialism and Empire: the trains run on time, we’re spreading "civilization" to the "primitives," capitalism and technology will free the oppressed classes, etc.
The spirited defense is not coincidence, for hip-hop, fast food and social media are the shock troops of Corporate Empire. While marketed by defenders as either essentially harmless "youth-oriented" avenues of self-expression or the progressive vanguard of individual choice, they are the active agents of Corporate Empire "soft power," undermining traditional cultures, human health and engagement with the real world --the subtle, largely invisible realm of unconscious assumptions and propaganda I term the politics of experience.
Once traditional sources of stability and health have been undermined, dismantled and replaced with a mono-culture of marketing that glorifies self-absorption, conspicuous consumption and personal worth measured by broadcasted "likes" and other visible measures of popularity, then the Corporate…