Weekly reading – 17th December 2022

Business

How Walmart is pursuing omnichannel profitability. Automation can indeed help retailers like Walmart pursue profitability. Increased productivity and lower labor costs are the key main drivers, However, it should be pointed out that Amazon has been using automation in their fulfillment centers for years and look at what happened to their eCommerce site. Last quarter, their profitability mostly came from AWS and their US operations suffered a loss. Walmart may have a few short-term wins, but in the long run, will the gains from automation persist?

The global microchip race: Europe’s bid to catch up. Even though the US and Taiwan are the two prominent names when it comes to chip design and manufacturing, Europe has the potential to catch up. It is home to a handful of companies that are indispensable to the industry such as Carl Zeiss SMT, ASML or Trumpf. Without them, ASML would not be able to produce extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUV) machines; TSMC would not have the equipment to manufacture cutting-edge chips; the likes of Apple would be constrained technologically and consumers would be deprived of the latest advances. However, Europe doesn’t own other pieces of the chip value chain nor does it set aside enough capital to compete with other countries. Most importantly, there is a shortage of skilled labor. Europe can address that problem by aggressively wooing talent and taking advantage of the terrible immigration policies of the US that don’t seem to get better any time soon. The question is: will they?

What the Kroger-Albertsons merger means for their private label portfolio. Putting Kroger’s private labels in Albertsons stores and vice versa is an interesting idea, but it would also come at a cost. What makes private labels valuable to retailers is the exclusivity. Breaking that exclusivity may lead to cannibalization of store revenue and perhaps some unintended and unforeseen consequences. What I am interested in is the bargaining power that the combined company would have over suppliers for their private labels. A roster of private labels worth $40 billion in annual revenue must command a lot of respect.

Bob Iger vs. Bob Chapek: Inside the Disney Coup. Great reporting into the frayed relationship between Chapek and the CFO as well as that between Chapek and Iger. Hiring is hard. The fact that Chapek was Iger’s pick and he personally wrote a public recommendation for him just for Iger to be disappointed at his successor is high-profile evidence of that. Moreover, Christine took a lot of risks by pitching Iger on the prospect of returning to the CEO spot and taking the idea to the board. But she did so reportedly from the place of love. You have to love the place you work for enough to rush to a return from a battle with cancer while caring for a sick spouse. Last but not least, I do think the board and Iger himself have to take responsibility for the mess that Disney has been through.

Visa to invest $5 billion in Africa in the next 5 years. There are half a billion people that are unbanked in the continent. Africa is also home to the youngest population on Earth. The growth prospect is limitless. And that’s why Visa commits this amount to tap into that growth. Apparently, their rival Mastercard shares the same feeling

Other stuff I find interesting

($) California Long Ruled U.S. Shipping. Importers Are Drifting East. “The hierarchy of U.S. ports is getting shaken up. Companies across many industries are rethinking how and where they ship goods after years of relying heavily on the western U.S. as an entry point, betting that ports in the East and the South can save them time and money while reducing risk. The share of all U.S. containerized cargo handled by Los Angeles and a neighboring port in Long Beach fell through the first 10 months of the year to a combined 25% as measured by weight, according to census data analyzed by Jason Miller, interim chair of Michigan State University’s supply chain management department. That was their lowest level in nearly two decades, down from a height of 33%

New Zealand bans young people from buying cigarettes for life. I honestly cannot think of a good reason to smoke cigarettes. The argument that small convenience stores would go bankrupt due to lost cigarette revenue should not stop a government from looking out for its citizens.

TikTok’s Secret Sauce. An interesting theory but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of evidence to back up.

Stats

US Vegetable Prices Soar Nearly 40%

Only a quarter of US iPhones are sold through Apple

Nov. ’22 U.S. eGrocery Sales Total $7.7 Billion, a 10% Drop Versus Year Ago

Source: unctad.org

Weekly reading – 25th September 2021

What I wrote last week

Is BNPL replacing credit cards?

My thoughts on Visa’s new benefits for U.S Signature/Infinite cardholders

Articles on Business

When to Buy Now, Pay Later, and When to Just Pay Now. “Affirm doesn’t report payments on its four biweekly payment zero-interest loans, it said, or when consumers are offered a three-month payment option with no interest. Afterpay doesn’t work with credit bureaus at all. Sezzle Up explicitly informs users that it will report on-time payments to Equifax and TransUnion. Affirm doesn’t charge late fees, but late or partial payments can hurt your credit score, and may prevent you from using the service in the future. Sezzle Up also reports delinquencies. Klarna and Afterpay revoke access to their platform until payment is made. Both companies also charge late fees, tacked onto your next payment. Afterpay charges $8, or 25%, of the purchase, whichever is less, while Klarna charges a maximum $7, or no more than 25%, of the past due amount. Klarna said it will contact users to collect payment before charging a late fee.

This delivery app went above and beyond for its workers. Then Uber took over. Cornershop’s original operating model was more beneficial and friendly towards workers. After the acquisition, life became more challenging for drivers. It remains to be seen whether the regulation in Chile will allow workers to unionize and force Uber to recognize drivers as full-time employees. This is a classic case of conflicting interests between gig companies and drivers as well as of the important role that governments play in this conversation.

Why the University of Florida gets a ~$20m cut of Gatorade profits every year. A fascinating story on a wildly popular drink.

The Most Important iPhone Ever. “What makes the iPhone and perhaps Apple special is that it seems to deliver things that nobody asks for but then everybody wants while eschewing overshooting a performance dimension that a few demand but most won’t use. The tragedy of overservice and disruption is that if you don’t shift the definition of performance eventually you run out of demand at the top of the performance curve. That opens you up to “good enough” competition from below. Instead you need to re-define the notion of performance: compete on a new basis, reset expectations. That the iPhone can find new dimensions of performance and hence demand is effectively a solution to the innovator’s dilemma.”

PayPal Introduces Customers to the Next Digital Payments Era with the New PayPal App. “The new PayPal app will introduce new features including PayPal Savings, a new high yield savings account provided by Synchrony Bank, alongside new in-app shopping tools that will enable customers to earn rewards redeemable for cash back or PayPal shopping credit and uncover deals with hundreds of merchants. Additionally, the new app offers PayPal customers a single place to manage their bill payments, get paid up to two days earlier with the new Direct Deposit feature provided through one of our bank partners, earn rewards and manage gift cards, send and receive money to friends, family and businesses, pay with QR codes for purchases and redeem rewards in-store, access and manage credit, Buy Now, Pay Later services, buy, hold and sell crypto, as well as support causes and charities they care about.”

Other stuff

The tangled history of mRNA vaccines

Stats that may interest you

“One in five consumers made a purchase using a “buy now, pay later” service within the last 12 months.

One in six consumers who made a buy now, pay later service purchase regret doing so, commonly citing high interest rates, a lack of options to build credit, or making unnecessary or unaffordable purchases.”

There have been 47 startup venture deals in Africa in 2021 so far with the average deal size of $21 million

CPC on Amazon ads is $1.27 in August 2021, up from 86 cents from a year ago, according to a survey

31% of online grocery shoppers use PayPal, according to a new study by ACI Worldwide and PYMNTS

Fuel Wasted Due to U.S. Traffic Congestion in 2020 Cut in Half from 2019 to 2020

14% of U.S consumers said they switched to an iPhone from another operating system in the last two years, a report said

Weekly readings – 1st August 2020

What I wrote

This sleeping software company has a lot of growth. Learn how the maker of of AutoCAD has a bright future ahead

I gave reasons why I am pessimistic about America’s outlook till the end of the year

Read my thoughts on the antitrust hearing this week

Take a look at this hybrid product of a credit and debit card

My notes on Amazon Q2 FY 2020. A very impressive performance

Business

Paypal’s study on how consumers used their rewards during the pandemic

A good thread on the CEO and Founder of Amazon

American SMBs had an average of $160,000 in sales by selling on Amazon, up year-over-year from about $100,000.

Technology

The Next Generation of Fintech Infrastructure: How API Platforms are Disrupting Banking & Payments

What I find interesting

A story on how Iceland managed to persuade teenagers to stay away from drinking & drugs

The percentage of 15- and 16-year-olds who had been drunk in the previous month plummeted from 42 percent in 1998 to 5 percent in 2016. The percentage who have ever used cannabis is down from 17 percent to 7 percent. Those smoking cigarettes every day fell from 23 percent to just 3 percent.

Source: The Atlantic

This country regrew its lost forest. Can the world learn from it?

The 2nd stimulus package, if passed, is going to be an important event in our fight against Covid-19 and its implications. Both parties offered their own version of the package. The New York Times broke it down visually so that everybody can follow

Image

An excellent commercial ads by Nike. This is very very well-done

Today I learned – 16th February 2020

There are a few things I learned after this informative clip by Al Jazeera Youtube channel

  • There is a conflict between Egypt and Ethiopia regarding the construction of the Grand Renaissance Dam
  • Nile is the only major river in the world that flows from South to North
  • A snapshot history regarding the rights to the water provided by the Nile
  • “Start Here” offers amazing video clips on complicated issues around the world, especially in the Arabic countries

I will continue to read more about the Grand Renaissance Dam conflict. If you haven’t heard about it before, this clip is a pretty good start

China using capital as a strategic competitive advantage

Forget SoftBank. China is a great example of how you can use capital as a competitive advantage.

Yesterday, I came across a clip on China’s investing in one of Montenegro’s infrastructure projects and using it to benefit itself geopolitically. The European country doesn’t have sufficient infrastructure and badly needs capital assistance. China came in and loaned a huge sum of money to the country. The loan came with a few catches. Chinese suppliers would have to be involved in the project. The loan came with interest after the first few years. Failure to pay back the loan could result in China’s repossession a part of Montenegro.

The same thing happened with Sri Lanka. The country had to give China 99-year access to a strategic port due to its inability to pay back what was owed.

African countries such as Kenya and Djibouti face the risk of losing strategic ports to China as a payment for their outstanding debt.

Securing maritime keypoints isn’t the only thing China is after. In Africa, China also lends capital to help with infrastructure projects in exchange for natural resources.

“The Chinese come and they want your iron, your bauxite, your petroleum. In return, they’ll deliver you turnkey projects, where they supply the materials, the technology and the labor, with salaries that are mostly not paid in the country and do not contribute to the economy”

Source: China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa

A booming natural resources exporter, with large exports of gold, cocoa and now oil, Ghana was one of a rapidly growing number of African countries where China had recently structured a huge package deal of loans and investments in order to gain a seat at the banquet. Early in their discussions, it appeared likely that Ghana would agree to a resource-for-infrastructure swap, similar to big financing packages that had been pioneered a few years earlier by Angola and Congo, both large African countries that were immensely rich in oil or minerals, and, significantly, lacking in any meaningful practice of democracy.

In Ghana’s much more vibrant political system, though, public debate helped nudge things in a different and arguably more prudent direction. The country’s recently tapped commercial oil production would not be used as a direct collateral, but paid into an escrow account, as had been the case in Angola. Ghana would remain free to sell its oil on the international market, even if under the contract terms China legally reserved the right to pocket income from its production if Ghana fell behind in its payments

Source: China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa

In Zambia

There, the state-owned China Nonferrous Metal Mining Company bought the mothballed Chambishi Copper Mine, once one of the crown jewels of Zambian mining, for a mere $20 million…

The new Chinese owners poured over $100 million into rehabilitating and modernizing Cambishi, where production resumed in 2003. By 2008, the Chinese buyers had reportedly recoued their investment. And by 2010, according to the Chinese newspaper Southern Weekend, the Chambishi mine was producing a regular profit

Source: China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa

China is in Africa for not only natural resources, but also for food security.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that China doesn’t need African farmland, or indeed that it doesn’t aim to eventually obtain control of as much of it as it can. China has 20% of the world’s population, and only 9% of its farmland. There were only two large developing countries with less arable land per capita: Egypt and Bangladesh, and massive construction, pollution and erosion were whittling away at China’s farmlands all the time.

Vaclav Smil, a prominent environmental scientist who studies China’s land use and food security, has said that as the country’s living standards rise, by 2025 its food needs will far surpass what is available on today’s open market.

Africa alone has 60% of the world’s uncultivated arable land and whatever Beijing declares, it stands to reason that China will come to see its food security as increasingly bound up in bringing that land into intensive production.

Source: China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa

China uses its massive capital to gain influences around the world, help Chinese companies with new businesses and secure natural resources, strategic checkpoints as well as food security while putting in place measures to protect its investments. What’s there not to like? What’s the point of accumulating capital if you can’t put it to great use?

Weekly readings 20th April, 2019

Half of Instacart’s drivers earn less than minimum wage, labor group claims. This is indeed an issue, but I am not sure if there is any wriggle room for Instacart to increase the minimum wage. From what I understand, it’s already a low margin business. Any pay raise for drivers will cut into the margin even further.

America’s Biggest Supermarket Company Struggles with Online Grocery Upheaval. A story on how Kroger has been transforming itself to stay competitive and avoid the ultimate outcome

Zoom, Zoom, Zoom! The Exclusive Inside Story Of The New Billionaire Behind Tech’s Hottest IPO. A profile of the CEO of Zoom, an imminent tech IPO this year. Eric Yuan was denied a US visa 8 times before getting one on the 9th try. Let that sink in.

Here’s How TurboTax Just Tricked You Into Paying to File Your Taxes. I used Turbo Tax this year to file my taxes and ended up paying $100 or so for the service. Though the service is advertised as free, there are numerous hidden fees that will end up on the final page of your application if you are not careful. Plus, several weeks ago, companies like Turbo Tax successfully lobbied Congress to stop IRS from building an online portal, which is a terrible decision.

In African Villages, These Phones Become Ultrasound Scanners. An example of how practical technology can positively influence and save life.

If you can. How millennials can get rich slowly. A short yet great read on personal finance.