Weekly reading – 16th April 2022

Business

Pricey Jet Fuel Punishes Airlines and Passengers. “Jet fuel, a kerosene-based product akin to diesel fuel, has roughly doubled in price since last April across the U.S., according to S&P Global Commodity Insights, while gasoline has risen about 45%. A fall in exports of Russian diesel in recent weeks has driven Western refiners to shift resources from jet to diesel production, leaving jet fuel undersupplied, S&P Global Commodity Insights analysts said.”

Apple’s privacy focus means fewer app features, slower development, say company’s own engineers. The skeptics or critics that say Apple’s focus on privacy is self-serving should read this article. Of course, when you run a business, I believe your MO should be to maximize revenue and profit. However, what differentiates one company from all the others is its ability to align such a goal with actions that also benefit other stakeholders. In this case, Apple has repeatedly proven that they align their business with user privacy. There are things that the company could have done to further its business interests, but those things were put on shelf because they went against their promise to users on privacy. If that’s not proof of Apple’s intention, I don’t know what is.

Wedgewood Partners First Quarter 2022 Client Letter. Some great commentaries on a few companies such as Meta, PayPal or First Republic Bank.

Amazon sellers face 5% fuel and inflation surcharge to offset rising costs. What sellers get from platforms such as Amazon is traffic, eyeballs and business. However, such dependence also means that in the times of inflation, it becomes more expensive for sellers to generate revenue and profit. You can only pass on the costs to consumers so much before business is lost.

The Chips That Rebooted the Mac. A nice piece by WSJ on Apple’s decision to develop its own chips. Business students should really be encouraged to study Apple for business lessons and insights. The company is a great case study in terms of customer orientation, platform development, business strategy, execution, supply chain, pricing and marketing. The move to rid itself of dependence on Intel and decide their own future is a masterpiece

Intangibles and Earnings. Improving the Usefulness of Financial Statements. Accounting is the language of business. Some companies use sophisticated accounting practices to often hide the true state of their businesses. This article walks readers through how to sort of earnings, investments and the implications on valuations.

Other stuff I found interesting

Why Germany Won’t Keep Its Nuclear Plants Open. It is baffling to me that Germany decides to favor other sources of energy and electricity over nuclear. If there is EVER any silver lining, in addition to laying bare what we should know about Putin already, it’s that Germany starts to move away from Russia and the dependence on its gas and oil

America’s highest earners and their taxes revealed. It’s an informative read, but by no means do I mean that billionaires are legally guilty for successfully exploiting the loopholes to reduce taxes. It’s the lawmakers’ job to make sure high earners pay their fair share AND keep the attractiveness of the US as a business environment. On the other hand, rich folks want to keep as much money as possible. The fact that they can do so without being in jail shows who successfully did their jobs

An example of how China uses technology, surveillance and facial recognition to inflict human rights abuses on its own citizens

Stats

Digital ad revenue in the U.S. jumped 35% to $189 billion last year

Fintech app installs grew by 35% YoY in 2021

In March, total U.S. online grocery sales pulled back 6% to $8.7 billion versus March 2021’s record high of $9.3 billion

Weekly reading – 9th April 2022

Business

From Belonging to Burnout, Five Years at Airbnb. An interesting story from a former employee at Airbnb on the culture and how full-time staff and contractors are treated differently.

Instacart Faces Turbulence After Pandemic Boom in Grocery Delivery. Covid-19 might be a great business boost initially, but for some companies, the pandemic may expose their flimsiness and fragility. Fast is shutting down after raising millions of dollars and riding the wave of Covid. Instacart is another firm whose future looks bleak. Merger talks went fruitless. IPO plan was put on hold. Valuation plummeted. The market that Instacart is in is tough, not only because of the competition, but also because of the unit economics. The $24 billion valuation as of now may likely be looked back as a fond memory in a few months’ time.

Amazon to Spend Billions on Space Launches as SpaceX Ramps Up Satellite-Internet Service. Amazon is authorized to launch more than 3,200 satellites into orbit by 2026, but it must have at least half to be operational by then. The thing is that it hasn’t sent anything up yet.

Banks Weigh Using Zelle to Challenge Visa, Mastercard. Some banks are in favor of curing the fraud issue first while others want to expand the current scope of Zelle beyond P2P payments. I am firmly in the first camp. Fraud is rampant on Zelle and a real serious threat to the service. Why enlarging the scope when such a threat hasn’t been properly addressed?

Octahedron Capital compiles quarterly reports of trends and interesting observations. Here is the latest report.

Other stuff I found interesting

Earth is a desert planet compared to these ocean worlds in the solar system. “Our home planet is a desert compared to some places the solar system, both in terms of its total water volume and the amount of liquid on Earth relative to its size. Consider Jupiter’s ice-encrusted moon Europa, which is smaller than Earth’s moon. Scientists recently used 20-year-old Voyager data to find even more evidence that Europa has twice as much water as our planet. Even tiny Pluto may have an ocean nearly as large as Earth’s.”

Deep Roots. “When you realize you can’t connect one dot without a million other dots entering the picture, you realize how impractical it is to predict what the world will look like in the future. The craziest events – good and bad – happened because little events, each of which was easy to ignore, compounded. Innovation in particular is hard to envision if you think of it happening all at once. When you think of it as tiny increments, where current innovations have roots planted decades ago, it’s more believable – and the range of possible outcomes of what we might be achievable explodes.”

Shanghai’s stunning fall from grace. I am very glad my country didn’t follow what is going on in Shanghai. Am I nervous that we live with Covid nowadays? Yes. But what is happening in Shanghai is just awful. Folks are forced to shelter at home and take rations from the government for an extended period of time. Yes, we had stay-at-home orders in the US but we still could go out and buy groceries. The draconian measures from the government just doesn’t seem to make sense. I get it. They do not want to lose face and admit mistakes, but it’s just horrible to sacrifice others’ lives just for that

Stats

Credit card late fees in the US hit $14 billion in 2019

March Madness Final drew 18.1 million viewers

US teens spend 30% of their daily video consumption on Netflix and YouTube each

Advertising employment gained 3,200 jobs in March 2022

On average, US households spend $148 on groceries in 2022, up from $142 in 2021, due to inflation

16.6% of all US retail sales in 2021 were returned by consumers. The rate of returns of online sales was 20.8%

Weekly reading – 2nd April 2022

Business

FTC Sues Intuit for Its Deceptive TurboTax “free” Filing Campaign. The FTC is suing Intuit for bombarding tax filers with a message that its product is free while 2 out of 3 filers couldn’t use its “free” service in 2020. I am surprised that it took the government this long to go after Intuit and that the IRS has been lobbied away from launching its own free tax-filing website.

Brand Loyalty Takes a Hit From Inflation, Shortages. “Well-known brand names and flashy ad campaigns are no longer enough to command U.S. consumers’ loyalty in grocery stores, retail executives said. As inflation spreads and stretched supply chains leave gaps on shelves, shoppers are becoming increasingly fickle, with availability and price determining what goes into their shopping carts.”

Apple now allows video, music apps to sign up new subscribers without paying fees. “Reader” apps can now display an external link to their website and process payments without using Apple’s own system. There will be a hit to Apple’s bottom line, but I doubt it will be a big one as most of the App Store revenue is concentrated on games which still need to adhere to Apple’s payment rules. The motivation for the move is likely to appease lawmakers and reduce regulatory pressure. To me, it seems a shrewd move, but we’ll see whether it will yield the intended results and how big a financial hit there will be.

Apple wants to bring more financial services in-house. I agreed with Mark Gurman that Apple won’t be a bank in the future. Being a bank brings a lot of regulatory scrutiny and compliance issues. Apple doesn’t need it. The drive to bring more in-house is likely to add more margin, cut the middlemen and improve the customer experience. Why would you need someone else in the middle when you could do more for customers and save money in the process? Apple is about personal computing and improving personal life. Few things are as personal as financial well-being.

Cross River Bank hit $3+ billion valuation and plans to move forward with a crypto-first strategy. Growing their loan balance from $2.4 billion to $24 billion in 7 years is quite an achievement. We often get to know fintech startups such as Marqeta, Affirm or Square, but the banks who partner with these guys don’t receive enough attention. Good to have an article like this on one of such banks.

Stuff that I found interesting

The secret police: Inside the app Minnesota police used to collect data on journalists at protests. The thought that the police have a secret app profiling journalists at protests is disturbing and, as cliche as it may sound, unAmerican.

Technicolor Tokyo. Beautiful and colorful photos of Tokyo at night

How Your Shadow Credit Score Could Decide Whether You Get an Apartment. A nice investigate piece by ProPublica on how poorly regulated the tenant screening industry is and how it is doing real harm to consumers. This is where consumers really need lawmakers to be on their side, not only for the screening issue but also renting in general. Far too often do landlords draw up rental agreements with favorable terms for themselves. Lucky tenants have choices, but less lucky ones have to be legally cornered. Furthermore, tenants are often restricted to exclusive service providers such as Cox for Internet. These providers have all the power to drive up prices every year for the same services and there is nothing that tenants can do about it. It’s just ludicrous.

The Maya—and the maize that sustained them—had surprising southern roots, ancient DNA suggests. The migration from South America might allegedly have resulted in the Maya’s adoption of corn which plays a pivotal role in the Mayan culture

Stats

“In 2020, recycled toilet paper accounted for just 1.6% of sales from U.S. retailers, while the big three — P&G, Kimberly-Clark and Georgia-Pacific — controlled 70% of the market, according to Euromonitor International”

Source: Morgan Stanley
Source: Bloomberg

Weekly reading – 26th March 2022

Business

The 2022 iPhone SE. “There is a profound thoughtfulness and longevity to this design. Like an all-time great athlete, years past their prime, but still pulling their weight on the team, contributing something essential. This is backward compatibility Apple-style — not technical compatibility, but experiencecompatibility. The iPhone SE is the comfort iPhone”

‘Extremely awkward’: Bob Chapek and Bob Iger had a falling out, they rarely talk — and the rift looms over Disney’s future. I remember when Jobs passed away and Cook took over as the CEO, many thought it would mean a bleak future for Apple. Nothing could be further from the truth. As a consequence, even though I personally admire Iger and remain positively cautious about Chapek, what happened to Apple might be repeated for Disney. Yes, Chapek may not be a people’s leader and his promotion of Kareem puts too much power in the hands of his confidante. Yet, even some of his skeptics admit that Chapek is a skilled and determined operator. Perhaps, that’s what Disney needs. We’ll see at the end of FY2024.

Two-Minute Battery Changes Propel India’s Shift to E-Scooters. “Sagyarani, a 38-year-old e-shuttle driver for MetroRide, pulls up to one of startup Sun Mobility’s 14 automated orange-and-black booths, taps her authentication key to open a vacant compartment, inserts a drained battery and pulls out a fully powered pack. That means more hours on the road transporting commuters to metro stations, MetroRide’s main business. Another bonus: it costs just 50 rupees (67 cents) to swap out a single fully discharged battery, which is about half the price of 1 liter (¼ gallon) of gasoline. Swapping in India will be mainly used by the nation’s 1.5 million electric rickshaws that make up 83% of total EV sales. Because swappable batteries deliver a shorter range, they’re a better fit for the low-speed vehicles as opposed to sedans and SUVs, which need high-power batteries to deliver greater distance

European Lawmakers Reach Deal on Sweeping New Digital-Competition Law. “Widely known as the DMA, the legislation could affect many corners of the tech world. It is aimed broadly at limiting the ability of the biggest tech companies from taking advantage of their powerful presence in digital markets—including the app ecosystem, online shopping and online advertising. Provisions in the text, if agreed upon, would allow developers to make their apps available to iPhone users without going through Apple Inc.’s App Store and could limit how sites such as Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Amazon.com Inc. can rank their own products and services ahead of those offered by smaller competitors in search results.”

Other stuff I found interesting

A truly great site on iconic food packaging

An excellent profile of Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS). It’s utterly unthinkable to see how much power a man can have over a country in this day and age. Until you look at the rulers of Saudi Arabia. What is frightening is that some said that when, not if, he becomes a king, Crown Prince MBS will look like an angel.

Inside the Fight Over the Future of New York City’s Outdoor Dining. When I was in New York a few months ago, I was fascinated by the outdoor dining scenes of the city. Industry, entrepreneurship and authenticity. The Open Restaurants program has saved more than 100,000 jobs since June 2020. Evidence of how outdoor dining contributes economically to the city. Personally, I loved to visit some of those restaurants. However, there are downsides. The city can look messy and dirty, and the restaurant outdoor settings take up invaluable parking space that is already in far greater demand than supply can handle.

Stats

The U.S. online grocery market hit $8.7 billion for February

New car total sales are expected to hit 3,228,000 units in Q1 2022, according to J.D Power

“U.S. retail sales of plant-based foods grew 6.2% in 2021 over a record year of growth in 2020, bringing the total plant-based market value to an all-time high of $7.4 billion”

The average price for an Oscar commercial is about $1.71 million

Weekly reading – 19th March 2022

Business

Amazon’s Washington Strategy Wins Few New Friends in the Biden Era. One of the skills I admire in Satya Nadella and Tim Cook is that they manage the relationship with Uncle Sam very well. As unhinged and unpredictable as Trump was, he didn’t attack (much) Microsoft and Apple while being critical of Amazon. Even when a Democrat is in the White House, Amazon also has a rocky relationship with the US government. Now that Andy Jassy is in charge instead of the combative Jeff Bezos, will Amazon finally forge a cordial and productive bond with the White House and Congress?

Taiwan invests in next generation of talent with slew of chip schools. “Taiwan is racing to set up specialised “chip schools” that run year-round to train its next generation of semiconductor engineers and cement its dominance of the crucial industry. Taiwan’s government has partnered with leading chip companies to pay for these schools. The first four were established at top universities last year, each with a quota of about 100 master’s and PhD students, and another has been approved, the education ministry said.” Any country that is serious about their future should have a look at this. I am not saying that having such an initiative is universally applicable, but the consideration for such a strategic asset is. The more

An Oral History of Apple’s Infinite Loop. A very cool collection of Apple anecdotes. He has been gone for over a decade, but fans still love anecdotes about Steve Jobs. At least this fan does.

Discontent With Disney Over Bill Adds to Trouble for CEO Bob Chapek. As a Disney fan and shareholder, I don’t think it’s great in the long term for the company to lose creative and engineering talent for tax breaks. The war for talent is only going to get fierce and expensive from now. Those tax breaks from Florida will look small in the grand scheme of things. I also don’t support Chapek’s move to prioritize business and distribution personnel over creative folks. At Disney, creativity is in its DNA and what differentiates the company from competition. As a result, it should be nurtured.

Most Medical Debts to Be Removed From Consumers’ Credit Reports. While I understand that access to capital is very important, I don’t fully support this policy from credit bureaus. Consumers should know how much debt they have before they go out and borrow more. Otherwise, they’ll be leveraged up to their eyeballs and go bankrupt. Having medical debts reflected in credit reports is a deterrent. Removing it may create unwanted consequences. Financial firms may look at prospects without unaccounted medical debts as higher risks, but eventually they’ll use a wealth of data on their hands to come up with something to help them evaluate those risks.

Other stuff I find interesting

Face-to-face interaction enhances learning, innovation. “New Cornell psychology research finds that sitting face-to-face, rather than shoulder-to-shoulder, enhances learning and innovation – even when we’re learning complex physical skills that should be harder from that perspective. Across ages, test subjects performed better when they could observe not only an instructor’s hands but also their eyes, gaze and facial movements. The researchers propose that face-to-face interaction transmits valuable social information about goals and motivations in addition to visual information about the task.”

A futuristic McDonald’s in Australia is on the cutting edge of experiential retail.

Historical Redlining Is Associated with Present-Day Air Pollution Disparities in U.S. Cities. “Communities of color in the United States are systematically exposed to higher levels of air pollution. We explore here how redlining, a discriminatory mortgage appraisal practice from the 1930s by the federal Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC), relates to present-day intraurban air pollution disparities in 202 U.S. cities. Our findings illustrate how redlining, a nearly 80-year-old racially discriminatory policy, continues to shape systemic environmental exposure disparities in the United States.”

Matthew Klein on the Economic Fallout from the Russia-Ukraine War. A great podcast episode on Russia – Ukraine

Stats

As of February, retail gas prices in the U.S. were up 38% year-over-year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration

Battery Electric Vehicles made up 5.3% of all new models in Romania. In December 2021 alone, the mix hit 17%

3% of the funds invested in African startups between 2013 and 2021 went to female-led endeavors

Total volume was at its lowest level since 1985, with 11.75 million new cars registered in Europe

Weekly reading – 12th March 2022

What I wrote last week

Cuisine in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh), Vietnam

Business

‘Batman’ and the Movie Pricing Predicament. A good article on AMC’s move to charge one more dollar to every ticket for the upcoming Batman movie. Yield management by theaters often involves higher ticket prices in the evening or on Fridays and weekends. Charging more for a specific movie is rare. I look forward to seeing how this will benefit or harm the theaters.

Metaverse is all…hype? Google introduced Google Glass years ago. Today, you’ll have the same odds of seeing that Glass on the streets as finding Nokia’s iconic flip phones. I don’t know what these tech visionaries see, but I won’t bet my money on seeing metaverse or whatever the hell it is in the next 10 years.

Moving money internationally. A fantastic read on SWIFT.

Visa, Mastercard Prepare to Raise Credit-Card Fees. Visa and Mastercard are going to charge higher interchange fees to big merchants while lowering the fees for small merchants whose annual revenue is less than $250,000. Visa said merchants could avoid paying more by offering more transaction data and using its tokenization services. I look forward to seeing how this increase will harm consumers as merchants are likely to pass on the higher expense. It’s no wonder why lawmakers want to look into this sort of duopoly enjoyed by Visa and Mastercard. They simply have too much power

The Three Sides of Risk. “You realize that the tail-end consequences – the low-probability, high-impact events – are all that matter. In investing, the average consequences of risk make up most of the daily news headlines. But the tail-end consequences of risk – like pandemics, and depressions – are what make the pages of history books. They’re all that matter. They’re all you should focus on. Once you experience it, you’ll never think otherwise.”

Fraud Is Flourishing on Zelle. The Banks Say It’s Not Their Problem. “Nearly 18 million Americans were defrauded through scams involving digital wallets and person-to-person payment apps in 2020, according to Javelin Strategy & Research, an industry consultant. When swindled customers, already upset to find themselves on the hook, search for other means of redress, many are enraged to find out that Zelle is owned and operated by banks. Banks say they take fraud seriously and are constantly making adjustments to improve security. But police reports and dispatches from industry analysts make it clear that the network has become a preferred tool for grifters like romance scammers, cryptocurrency con artists and those who prowl social media sites advertising concert tickets and purebred puppies — only to disappear with buyers’ cash after they pay.”

Why Commercials Are Coming to the Biggest Streamers. A good piece on streamers weighing on offering ads.

Other stuff I find interesting

Unleash collaboration with new experiences in Google Workspace. The new features look very sweet. If you are a Google Drive/Docs/Workspace user, check this out!

How U.S. Visa Delays Are Taking a Costly Toll on Frustrated Workers. I can tell you from personal experience that these delays add unnecessary stress to immigrants’ life. My colleague’s PERM application in 2019 took 52 days to get adjudicated. Mine is expected to take 6-8 months.

The story of how Swahili became Africa’s most spoken language. “During the decades leading up to the independence of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania in the early 1960s, Swahili functioned as an international means of political collaboration. It enabled freedom fighters throughout the region to communicate their common aspirations even though their native languages varied widely. Swahili lacks the numbers of speakers, the wealth, and the political power associated with global languages such as Mandarin, English or Spanish. But Swahili appears to be the only language boasting more than 200 million speakers that has more second-language speakers than native ones.”

The Magic of the Japanese Convenience Store Sandwich

Stats

Hertz had more than 3,300 cars stolen each year

“Just one pint of beer or average glass of wine a day may begin to shrink the overall volume of the brain”

Solar power and batteries account for 60% of planned new U.S. electric generation capacity

US merchants paid more than $55 billion in interchange fees to Visa and Mastercard in 2021

Tap-to-pay penetration in the US as of March 2022 is 20%, according to Visa (from KBW Fintech Payments Conference)

What I eat in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam

Here is a collection of what I have eaten so far since landing in Saigon 3 weeks ago. I know that travel during Covid is tricky and exhausting as I experienced it first hand in, but if you can make it to my country and city, I hope this will help you get to know our cuisine. I don’t claim that the list below is the best in class. I visited some shops after some quick Google search while others were just sheer coincidence. Since most of them offer street food, always remember to ask for prices or a menu before making an order to avoid being ripped off.

Broken Rice

If you visit Vietnam, this is one dish that you have to eat. You can have it outside Vietnam, but it’s the most authentic and tasty here. Where to eat: Cay Diep: 58D Cao Thang, Ward 2, District 3. Price: 50,000 VND a plate or Mai: 129 Doan Van Bo, Ward 12, District 4. Around 50,000 VND/plate

Vietnamese broken rice
Figure 1 – Long Xuyen Broken Rice
Vietnamese broken rice
Figure 2 – Vietnamese broken rice

Bún Bò Huế – Vietnamese Spicy Beef Noodle Soup

A very traditional dish in Vietnam that originates from Hue, our old capital. There are plenty of options in Saigon. The shop where I had the above bowl is right at the corner of Phan Boi Chau and Le Loi in District 1. It’s pretty convenient if you wander around Ben Thanh market. Price is about 40,000k a bowl.

Bún Bò Huế - Vietnamese Spicy Beef Noodle
Figure 3 – Bún Bò Huế – Vietnamese Spicy Beef Noodle

Súp Cua – Crab Soup

Easy to eat and delicious. Beware that if you are not used to having an empty stomach, you may need to eat again 1-2 hours after the soup. Sup Cua Doanh: 75 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, District 1. Around 50,000 to 60,000 VND a small bowl

Súp Cua Sò Điệp - Crab Soup
Figure 4 – Súp Cua Sò Điệp – Crab Soup

Noodle Soup – My Tho Style

This shop is small and looks rugged on Tôn Thất Thiệp street in District 1, near Bitexco Tower, but the food is just excellent and not pricey at all for its quality and location.

Hủ Tiếu Mì Mỹ Tho - Noodle Soup Mỹ Tho
Figure 5 – Hủ Tiếu Mì Mỹ Tho – Noodle Soup Mỹ Tho

Laairai Restaurant

This one is a bit biased because the owner is my close friend. Nonetheless, the food is really excellent and the ambience is nice. The prices are a bit high, but understandable if you want to be positioned as an upper market eatery place.

Laairai: 98 Nguyen Dinh Chieu, Da Kao Ward, District 1.

Laairai Restaurant
Figure 6 – Laairai Restaurant

Bột Chiên – Fried Rice Flour Cakes

It’s a small cart on Su Van Hanh Street, District 10. You can see what the cart looks like in the video below. The food is tasty and affordable at only 25,000 VND for a plate

Bột Chiên - Fried Rice Flour Cakes
Figure 7 – Bột Chiên – Fried Rice Flour Cakes

Dumpling

A popular snack here in Vietnam that originates from our annoying neighbor, China. This small cart is located on Co Giang Street in District 1. It doesn’t have a business sign and I forgot to film where it was. But just go to Co Giang Street, near Nguyen Thai Hoc Street and you should see it. Each dumpling costs 4,000 and there is a good variety for you to choose from.

Figure 8 - Há Cảo - Dumpling
Figure 8 – Há Cảo – Dumpling

Sticky Rice

This snack is not healthy as it has a lot of carb, but boy, does it taste good! I miss it tremendously as you can’t find the authentic version in Nebraska. There are countless shops in Saigon, but I got the below from Minh Phung Street, District 6. Only 20,000 VND for a portion like below

Xôi Mặn - Sticky Rice
Figure 9 – Xôi Mặn – Sticky Rice

Bún Riêu

Bún Riêu Gánh: 163 Le Thanh Ton, District 1. At the corner of Le Thanh Ton and Nguyen Trung Truc. Price: about 50,000 VND a bowl

Bún Riêu
Figure 10 – Bún Riêu

Smoothie Phố

This shop is very near and dear to me. It operates from 6pm to midnight 6 days a week. Customers are loyal and love what the shop has to offer: affordable but great smoothie. Don’t take my words for it. Just visit it between 8pm and 10pm and you’ll see a crowd on the pavement and the street. Address: 119 Nguyen Van Cu, District 5.

Smoothie Phố
Figure 11 – Smoothie Phố

Weekly reading – 5th March 2022

What I wrote last week

QR Codes’ popularity in Vietnam

Business

Car Dealerships Don’t Want Your Cash—They Want to Give You a Loan. I am supportive of point-of-sale lending if and only if consumers want that option and aren’t coerced into it. That car buyers are forced into taking a loan to avoid paying a premium is just simply outrageous. Every oversight agency should look into this practice and punish dealers accordingly.

Tinder’s Opaque, Unfair Pricing Algorithm Can Charge Users Up to Five-Times More For Same Service. The research — which spanned five continents — reveals that within a single country, consumers can be quoted up to 31 unique price points for a Tinder Plus subscription. Further, some people are charged up to five times more for the exact same service: In the Netherlands, prices ranged from $4.45 to $25.95. In the U.S., they ranged from $4.99 to $26.99. Consumers International and Mozilla also determined that Tinder’s personalized pricing algorithm can charge older users more money. On average across the six countries investigated, 30-49 year-olds were charged 65.3% more than 18-29 year-olds.

As online grocery surges, brick-and-mortar still resonates with shoppers. Online grocery shopping is still a bit novel, even to a young guy who is supposed to be the prime audience for eCommerce like myself. What stops me from buying groceries online includes retailer websites’ frustrating user experience, the fear that groceries aren’t fresh, the concern about the actual quantity without real visibility and the higher prices. I haven’t been able to find a grocer that addresses these concerns of mine and believe that many have the same.

As GrabFood, ShopeeFood hit Covid wall in Vietnam, smaller apps take aim. “Like most markets in the region, Vietnam’s food delivery space is dominated by two players. One of them is GrabFood, the food delivery arm of Singapore-headquartered super app Grab. GrabFood is dominant across the region, with a GMV of US$7.6 billion in 2021. In Vietnam, it has a 41% market share, according to the Momentum Works report. Matching GrabFood’s 41% is the food delivery arm of another Singapore-based giant—Sea Group’s ShopeeFood. Again, Vietnam is an outlier here, since ShopeeFood is barely present in the rest of Southeast Asia, where foodpanda and Indonesian super app Gojek’s GoFood are the other major players. GrabFood and ShopeeFood still have a significant lead in Vietnam, but conversations with restaurant owners point to a growing disaffection with them. Several owners told The Ken that Grab and Shopee’s commission fee of 25-30% is too high for them to break even. They’re also unhappy with the giants’ heavy discounting strategy—a common tool used to acquire customers. “When they offer promotions to customers, we have to pay 50% of the promotion, and Grab pays the other 50%,” said Diep Nguyen, who runs two cafes in Ho Chi Minh City. “If we want to be featured on a Grab promotion, that costs up to US$38 per week.”

Disney+ Adding Cheaper Ad-Supported Tier. “The value of advertising is significant. Disney’s other major streaming service, Hulu, offers an ad-supported tier for $6.99 per month, and brings in about as much ad revenue from those users as it does subscription revenue. With its wider reach (Hulu only has 45 million subscribers), Disney+ has the potential to generate significantly more ad revenue“. You need to ask Disney’s management for the rationale and substantiating data behind this move. If I can venture my thoughts, this will be a good move for the iconic company. An ads-supported tier of Disney+ with a growing and appealing library of content will expand the company’s reach. The key here is whether Disney can strike the balance between customer experience and profitability. With Hulu, Disney seems to have a decent record. So I give the company the benefit of the doubt.

Hybrid offline/online transactions. An awesome post on the voucher payment system in Japan. If you are interested in payments, Patrick’s blog is a great resource

Stuff that I find interesting

Periods, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and heart health by Harvard University. “Long menstrual cycles and heavy periods3 can be symptoms of a condition called “polycystic ovarian syndrome”, “polycystic ovary syndrome”, or “PCOS”. People with PCOS can have higher levels of androgen hormones. This hormonal imbalance can cause acne, excess facial or body hair, or scalp hair loss. Our preliminary analyses showed that in comparison to participants without PCOS, participants with PCOS were more likely to have a family history of PCOS, have abnormal menstrual cycles, and have a higher prevalence of conditions that can negatively impact heart health. These conditions include pre-diabetic conditions, Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and obesity.”

‘Yes, He Would’: Fiona Hill on Putin and Nukes. “Ukraine was the country that got away. And what Putin is saying now is that Ukraine doesn’t belong to Ukrainians. It belongs to him and the past. He is going to wipe Ukraine off the map, literally, because it doesn’t belong on his map of the “Russian world.” He’s basically told us that. He might leave behind some rump statelets. When we look at old maps of Europe — probably the maps he’s been looking at — you find all kinds of strange entities, like the Sanjak of Novi Pazar in the Balkans. I used to think, what the hell is that? These are all little places that have dependency on a bigger power and were created to prevent the formation of larger viable states in contested regions. Basically, if Vladimir Putin has his way, Ukraine is not going to exist as the modern-day Ukraine of the last 30 years.”

Hikikomori, which describes folks shutting themselves in their rooms in Japan from society. Inclusiveness doesn’t just mean sexual orientation or race. It also includes different profiles and personalities. As our societies advance, we should strive to make folks who have trouble blending in feel accepted and included. What the mother in this article did was admirable. And I hope there are more like her.

Stats

“Long-term, established online grocery customers collectively generated more than 3.5 times the revenue for conventional grocers than new customers did”

“Weekly online grocery sales for stores that offered both pickup and delivery were 44% higher than stores offering only delivery and 55% higher than stores offering only pickup”

Russia and Ukraine contributed 4% and 1% respectively to Visa’s total FY2021 revenue

“Russian and Ukrainian seafarers make up 14.5 percent of the global shipping workforce, according to the International Chamber of Shipping”

QR Codes’ popularity in Vietnam

The perks of living in the States as a Vietnam is that I get to see the differences between the two countries in several aspects. One of them is payments. If contactless and tap-to-pay is more common and popular in the US, QR Codes are much more ubiquitous in Vietnam, at least in the big cities. What you see below is in Ho Chi Minh City, the biggest economic hub in Vietnam. When you venture out to smaller and poorer provinces, things may change significantly.

This is how we paid at a convenience store. The cashier scanned the QR code on a phone to process payments.

In the below clip, we were at a local bakery named Tous Les Jours. You can see different QR Codes for different mobile wallets. Consumers can just scan one and make payments. The nature of the transaction requires immediate confirmation since nobody is going to wait 5′ for a payment to go through.

Even mom-and-pop stores like a sugar cane shop and a photocopy shop below allow payments via QR Codes

A sugar cane shop in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) accepts payments via QR Codes
A local photocopy shop in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) accepts payments via QR Codes

Mobile wallets like Momo strive to acquire and retain users. When we paid for our drinks at the sugar cane shop, we got 50% discount out of nowhere even though the transaction amount was only $1.2.

Momo gives users 50% discount on transactions out of nowhere

Weekly reading – 26th February 2022

What I wrote last week

Travel during Covid, from the US to Vietnam with a transit at Haneda Airport in Japan

Business

Some Companies Ditch Annual Raises and Review Worker Pay More Often. I support the review of pay and performance more often than just once a year. The practice will enable workers to make adjustments more timely and get rewarded for their hard work faster. What’s there not to like?

Craft Beer Snobs Suddenly Love the Humble Lager. “Lagers, which range from the bright yellow pilsner to the darker, full-bodied Märzen, are produced at low temperatures. The slow fermentation and refrigeration process reduces the speed of yeast activity during conditioning, creating a crisp flavor and brilliant color. But keeping the beer in tanks for the weeks it takes to make a lager costs more time and money. Lagers are the most popular style of beer on the U.S. market, according to an analysis by Allied Market Research.”

Inside Peloton’s epic run of bungled calls and bad luck. Epic indeed. It’s a major red flag that a Board of Directors had to tell its CEO to take his ambitious claims down a notch.

Netflix struggles with ambitions in India. I don’t know if Netflix’s alleged 5.5 million subscribers in India is correct, but its struggle to fight Amazon Prime and Disney is widely reported. There is a reason why Netflix cut its prices in India by 60%. According to Financial Times, the company’s struggle stems from the failure to localize its strategy and cater to the India consumers. Time will tell if Netflix will become more competitive in such an important market. “According to one industry veteran, Netflix’s approach “was more like, ‘I have built the plumbing for the whole world, I just need to turn on the tap in India,’ instead of having an India strategy”.

Berkshire Hathaway’s 2021 annual letter. “Whatever our form of ownership, our goal is to have meaningful investments in businesses with both durable economic advantages and a first-class CEO. Please note particularly that we own stocks based upon our expectations about their long-term business performance and not because we view them as vehicles for timely market moves. That point is crucial: Charlie and I are not stock-pickers; we are business-pickers.”

On the Origin of the iPhone

Boeing outsourced $9-per-hour engineers in India to write the software for Boeing 737. If pushed too far, the urge to generate as big a bottom line as possible can mean a world of harm to a company, including human lives. What happened to Boeing and its 737’s deadly crashes are a perfect example of that. I am not saying that $9-per-hour engineers aren’t technically good. The use of these low-pay contractors may not be THE reason for the crashes. It surely adds to the disturbing reports on Boeing’s less than ideal due diligence in manufacturing 737s.

Other stuff I find interesting

Inside Pornhub. An interesting look inside one of the most popular porn sites on the Net as well as the content moderation issue.

USPS is deploying gasoline-powered delivery fleet in a snub to the Biden’s administration’s effort to reduce carbon emissions. It’s a mystery to me that Louis DeJoy is still the CEO of USPS

The digestible Ukraine explainer you’ve been waiting for. Treat it as a starter, not a comprehensive read on the subject. Regardless, it’s mind-blowing that we are at risk of having World War III when the pandemic is still wrecking havoc around the world

Why did renewables become so cheap so fast? A pretty interesting piece on the prices of energy from different sources as well as some alleged reasons for the price movements.

Stats

“Global Consumer Spending in Top 100 Subscription Apps Climbed 41% to $18.3 Billion in 2021”

Apple is the top brand in the US, according to a survey of more than 13,500 consumers by prophet

Ethiopia will spend 5.6% of its gross domestic product, or $6 billion, each year until 2030 to counter the impact of floods, climate-driven diseases, hailstorms and wildfires

Source: Techcrunch