Weekly reading 25th June 2022

What I wrote last week

Books on Payments

Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade and took away abortion rights

Business

Inside the Reinvention of Albertsons Cos. The over-arching theme of Albertsons’ plan moving forward is to use technology and data to make decisions so that efficiency can improve and so does customer engagement. Grocery is a hard business. Margin is low and competition is fierce. Albertsons said their goal was to have shoppers complete grocery shopping at their stores without visiting rivals’ footprint while offering local assortments. It means that the selection has to be broad, but the stores at the same time cannot expand in size forever. They also need to keep a close eye on costs and margin as well. That would require a lot of data analytics, coordination in the case of omni-channel shopping and great execution.

($) Retailers’ Inventories Pile Up as Lead Times Grow. On top of the ever-changing consumer behavior and sky-high inflation, retailers now have to deal with long lead times in production which make it even more difficult to match demand with supply while keeping costs in check. Hold a lot of the wrong inventory to avoid supply chain and production issues, and you will be punished like Walmart or Target. Be nimble with inventory and you don’t have well-stocked shelves to woo customers. Hard times ahead.

Consumer watchdog eyes crackdown on credit card late fees as inflation threatens to increase them. If CFPB introduces regulations on late fees, it will affect how issuers generate revenue from credit cards. Late fee is a significant source of revenue by itself, but it also encourages consumers to pay off balance to avoid further penalty. If late fees are further capped or even outright banned, such an incentive will go away and consumers may carry more balance. It will increase risks and reduce revenue for issuers. It’ll be interesting to see how this develops.

($) Canada to Compel YouTube, TikTok and Streamers to Boost Domestic Content. I am generally supportive of having the right kind of regulations in place to help businesses. Hence, I would be in favor of the Canadian government giving these streamers incentives to promote Canadian creators’ work. I am not; however, ok with a government mandating a preference of local content.

($) GM and Ford, Driving to Beat Tesla, Turn on Each Other. An interesting read on how two iconic American car manufacturers are going at each other for market shares in the EV area.

($) How Singapore Got Its Manufacturing Mojo Back. “In courting factories like this, Singapore has become a rare wealthy country to reverse its manufacturing downturn. The city-state had faced industrial decline, with World Bank figures showing manufacturing falling to 18% of gross domestic product in 2013, from 27% in 2005. Then manufacturing made a comeback in Singapore, rising to 21% of GDP in 2020, according to the World Bank’s latest figures. Singapore has aggressively wooed highly automated factories with tax breaks, research partnerships, subsidized worker training and grants to local manufacturers to upgrade operations to better support multinational companies, among other enticements. There’s a caveat: Singapore’s success has come by automating away many jobs. It has more factory robots per employee than any country other than South Korea. Business executives say Singapore has succeeded because it has a welcoming, low-tax government and a strong base of English-speaking science, engineering and mathematics graduates and manufacturing managers. Relatively loose immigration laws make it easy to hire foreign engineers.  Executives also say they trust intellectual-property protection laws in Singapore, unlike in places like China where they sometimes worry their partners will copy their products.”

Source: Twitter

Other stuff I find interesting

Japan to subsidize TSMC’s Kumamoto plant by up to $3.5bn. Semiconductor companies get handsome subsidies from governments from all over the world. Japan will give TSMC $3.5 billion while Europe hands Intel billions of euros to build a plant there. That goes to show how countries value the strategic importance of semiconductor going forward

Why America Will Lose Semiconductors. A good run-down of problems that America faces in semiconductor. It’s a nice complementary read to the previous link

Friendly fungi help forests fight climate change. “A 2016 study led by researchers from Imperial College London revealed that one particular type – ectomycorrhizal fungi – enables certain trees to absorb CO2 faster (and therefore grow faster) than others. This is known as the “CO2 fertilisation effect”. These fungi live in the root system of a host tree. In a symbiotic relationship, fungi help the tree to absorb more water, carbon and other nutrients. In exchange, the tree provides food for the fungi by photosynthesising. Ectomycorrhizal fungi have also been found to slow down the process of rotting; decomposition breaks down all that locked-away carbon and releases it into the atmosphere. So the fungi, in effect, have two methods of fighting global warming.”

The most dangerous place on Earth. “Nestled on Lithuania’s southeastern border, Druskininkai opens onto a narrow notch of strategic territory known as the Suwałki Gap. Stretching about 100 kilometers along the Lithuanian-Polish frontier, between Belarus in the east and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad to the west, Western military planners warn the area would likely be one of the Russian president’s first targets were he ever to choose to escalate the war in Ukraine into a kinetic confrontation with NATO.”

($) Erdogan Is Hung Up on the Power One Kurdish Woman Has in Sweden. “Amineh Kakabaveh’s journey from Peshmerga fighter to Kurdish refugee and then Swedish lawmaker has thrust her into her adopted homeland’s standoff with Turkey. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is holding up Sweden’s application to join the NATO alliance, saying it harbors “terrorists” — his catch-all label for those with links to Kurdish militancy — and he’s hinted at Kakabaveh’s influence as a particular problem.”. Just an amazing story by Amineh

Stats

Edmunds reported that the average price of an EV exceeded $60,000

Since November 2021, more than $2 trillion in cryptocurrency value has evaporated

Covid vaccines saved 20 million lives in the first year

TikTok had $4 billion in revenue in 2021. Its US-based users spent on average 29 hours on the platform, compared to 16 hours on Facebook and 8 on Instagram

Source: IMF

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%