Weekly reading – 12th November 2022

What I wrote last week

My review of the US Bank Shopper Cash Rewards Visa Signature Credit Card

Business

($) What If Apple Made an E-Bike? On paper, the idea that Apple would change the e-bike/micromobility industry forever with its own product makes sense. The question is: how would an e-bike connect with the rest of the ecosystem? How would all devices complement one another? Apart from transporting a person from A to B, what utility would an e-bike provide?

The Russo Brothers Assemble: Inside AGBO, Their $1 Billion Studio, and When They Might Return to Marvel. Some insights into the entertainment industry

Why we’re leaving the cloud. I am not a fan of DHH, to say the least, but I appreciate his and his company’s perspective on this issue. Indeed, one of the biggest selling points of cloud providers is that you can save time and money renting their infrastructure. I am not saying that it’s impossible. But every buyer needs to do their homework and run a trial to see if that’s the case. My first-hand experience with our company’s transition to AWS is that we have a net positive, but you need to remember that most banks run on mainframes which are expensive to service in the first place.

($) Adobe Is Trying to Spend $20 Billion to Buy Back Its Swagger. I honestly don’t understand why people compared this to Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram. To me, because of the price tag, this deal looks similar to the $19 billion purchase of WhatsApp by Facebook. Nonetheless, I think there is a real chance that regulators would block this deal given the recent developments.

Stack Overflow CEO on how it became the world’s most popular programming site. A few stats on Stack Overflow: 50 million questions & answers, 100 million monthly visitors worldwide, 50 billion visits in the last 14 years, 15,000 organizations that use StackOverflow-for-Teams

Emergency SOS via satellite on iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro lineups made possible by $450 million Apple investment in US infrastructure. There is innovation that doesn’t make headlines, yet improves lives. There is also innovation that grabs all sorts of attention, yet seems to be based on imagination than reality. Meterverse and this Emergency SOS, guess which one improves lives?

The global shipping industry is facing a new problem — too many containers. The demand for shipping dropped significantly, to the point that there are idle containers. I wonder if this is a sign that a recession is coming upon all of us.

Number One in Formula One. As much as I disliked Mercedes’ dominance in F1 the past decade, I have nothing but respect for their achievements because they were earned honestly. Toto Wolff is a magnificent team principal and his leadership lessons shared in this article are invaluable

Other stuff I find interesting

TSMC approaching 1 nm with 2D materials breakthrough. Any company or country still on chips bigger than 20nm is essentially years behind

US Traffic Safety Is Getting Worse, While Other Countries Improve. “The US underperformance in road safety is especially dramatical: 11.4 Americans per 100,000 died in crashes in 2020, a number that dwarfs countries including Spain (2.9), Israel (3.3) and New Zealand (6.3). And unlike most developed nations, US roadways have grown more deadly during the last two decades (including during the pandemic), especially for those outside of cars. Last year saw the most pedestrians killed in the US in 40 years, and deaths among those biking rose 44% from 2010 to 2020. That narrative is hogwash. For proof, look no further than Canada, an equally spacious and car-centric neighbor where the likelihood of dying in a crash is 60% lower.

The Car Safety Feature That Kills the Other Guy. Owning a truck is a waste of space & fuel and it increases risks of collision. For the lift of me, I never get used to sitting in my car next to a truck that is twice as big. “After decades of decline, U.S. road deaths flattened and then began rising about 20 years ago. Some 42,915 people died in crashes during 2021, a 16-year high. Notably, it was also 20 years ago that the American flirtation with SUVs and trucks became an all-out obsession. These vehicles first outsold cars in the U.S. in 2002; they have been gobbling up the market share ever since. SUVs and trucks may leave their occupants feeling safer, but they create grave dangers for everyone else on the street. A 2015 federal study found that an SUV is two to three times more likely to kill a pedestrian than a car is, and economist Justin Tyndall has tied the ascent of SUVs to an increase in pedestrian deaths, which hit a 40-year high in 2021. Cyclist deaths, meanwhile, rose 44 percent from 2010 to 2020.”

India has lost 70 million hectares of farmland since 2015. Climate irregularities which are likely caused by our carbon emissions severely impact India’s agriculture and food security. It could be a global theme one day in the near future

Stats

In highly polluted areas, or if plastic pollution continues to rise in the future, the whales could be eating 150m pieces a day

SEC obtained record $6.4b in monetary sanctions in past fiscal year

90% of electric vehicles sold in France in 2021 were two-wheelers

90% of new vehicles sold in Norway in 2021 were either electric or hybrid

With this credit card, you can earn more than $500 in the first year

US Bank recently announced a new exciting addition to their personal credit card line-up and it’s called US Bank Shopper Cash Rewards Visa Signature Credit Card. Here is what you will get with this card:

  • $250 bonus after spending $2,000 or more within the first 120 days of account opening
  • 6% cash back on your first $1,500 in combined eligible purchases each quarter with two retailers you choose. Every quarter, you’ll have to opt in and choose two retailers, up to 5 days before the quarter ends
  • 3% cash back on on your first $1,500 in eligible purchases on your choice of one everyday category (like wholesale clubs, gas and EV charging stations, bills and utilities)
  • 1.5% cash back on all other purchases. In the event that your spend exceeds the $1,500 threshold at the chosen retailers and accelerator categories above, any additional spend will earn $1.5%
  • $95 in annual fee with the first year’s fee waived
  • Ability to use Real-Time Rewards, which allows cardholders to turn purchases into rewards and redeem rewards on purchases in real time
  • Ability to use US Bank Extend Pay, which is the bank’s Buy Now Pay Later feature, for a monthly fee of around 1.6% of the balance
The list of eligible retailers. Source: US Bank

From a cardholder perspective, this is a seriously good card. The list of eligible retailers is impressive, featuring the most popular stores for the majority of people in America. For the sake of simplicity, let’s talk about what I think will be the most common scenario: groceries at Walmart. Spending $500 a month on groceries at Walmart is common for a family of four people. If a household’s children are all adults and everybody shares one card, it will be even easier to clear the threshold. At 6% cash back, cardholders can get back $90 on $1,500 spend every quarter or $360 every year. Even if you are a single user and spend around $1,000 on groceries at Walmart, it will still result in $240 in annual cash back. Either way, the rewards easily clear the annual fee of $95.

In addition, if you spend $200 on bills & utilities and $100 on gas every month, you can get back $9 a month or $108 a year in cash back. I drive a sedan and don’t rack up mileage, so I spend like $40/month on gas. But to truck drivers or SUV owners, this card presents a great saving opportunity. In short, with all the rewards combined with the $250 bonus offer, a cardholder can earn at least $500 in the first year with this credit card.

From a perspective of somebody who works in the credit card industry, I am excited about this new product and I would love to know how US Bank could make money from it. Let me explain. The 6% cash back category is surely a money loser for the issuer because there is no consumer interchange rate that exceeds even 3.5%. The magnitude of the loss depends on which merchants cardholders pick. Amazon and Walmart typically have an interchange rate of 0.7%, meaning that US Bank would lose $5.3 in rewards on every $100 transaction. Other retailers have high interchange rates, but they will be around 2-2.5% at the most. While EV Charging has an interchange rate of 3%+, meaning that US Bank will break even or generate some marginal revenue on this category, wholesale clubs, gas and utilities are all low-interchange categories. All other purchases that earn 1.5% in rewards should have, on average, negligible net revenue/loss for US Bank. Throw in the one-time $250 bonus offer and you can see why US Bank will definitely lose money on rewards.

The issuer hopes to negate some of the impact with the annual fee of $95, but like I explained above, it will not cover all the rewards if customers are savvy enough. The real driver of revenue and profit for US Bank will be the interest income on APR of up to 28.24%. In the credit card industry, we use the term “Transactors” to describe consumers that pay off their balance regularly and do not revolve. US Bank will get no luck from them. I suspect that the bank will try to acquire as many non-Transactors as possible, hoping that cardholders will appreciate the benefits and spend more than they can afford. To this end, there are three factors that will determine the success of this credit card:

  • Keep cardholders from churning before the first annual comes up. There will be a lot of gamers who sign up for rewards and bonus before leaving to avoid having to cough up $95 in annual fee
  • Educate cardholders on the benefits and how they can have a net gain despite the annual fee. That’s why there is a rewards calculator embedded on US Bank’s product page. But they should do more. Use influencers. Make the use of this credit card as relevant as possible to an average Joe. Explain to them why they should pay an annual fee to get this card instead of other cards with 5% cash back and no annual fee
  • Control charge-off

I already saw online comments saying that the $95 annual fee was a dealbreaker. I totally understand the sentiment, but from an issuer perspective, the annual fee is what brings this card from “impossible to make money” to “having a chance of profitability”. As a consumer, I probably won’t sign up for this card any time soon as I don’t have a big-item purchase lined up and because my spending profile will not benefit me. As somebody who works in the credit card industry, I am excited to see what unfolds next for this product. I haven’t seen anything like it on the market for a while. It’s refreshing and definitely gives us some thoughts on how to construct our portfolio.