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The Race to the Bottom

Gone are the days of brokers shouting from the trading pits, a bygone era where pimple-faced traders cut their teeth rubbing shoulders with the journeymen of yore.

The stock brokerage industry is at an inflection point with the revolutionary online stock brokerage Robinhood on the verge of shaking up an industry that has needed shaking up for years.

A common thread revisited by this newsletter is the phenomenon of broker apps being low-quality tech.

A broker ultimately serves little or no value to the real players among the deal, usually extracting huge commissions.

Technology and now blockchain technology vie to completely remove this exorbitant layer from the business process.

Well, for the stock brokerage industry, that time is now.

Robinhood is an online stock brokerage company based in Menlo Park, Calif., trading an assortment of asset classes including equities, options, and cryptocurrencies.

So, what’s the catch?

Robinhood does not charge commission.

That’s right, you can invest up until the $500,000 threshold protected by the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC) and you can go along with your merry day trading for free.

The online brokerage industry has been getting away with murder for years.

They got comfortable and stopped innovating – the death knell of any company in 2019.

Effectively, high execution costs reaping massive profits were the norm for brokers, and nobody questioned this philosophy until Robinhood exposed the ugly truth – unreasonably high rates.

Peeking at a monthly chart of brokerage costs will make your stomach churn.

For instance, a trader frequently executing trades with an account of $100,000 would hand over $1836 in commission in 2017 if their account was with Fidelity.

On the cheaper side, Interactive Brokers would charge $854 for its brokerage services to habitual traders per month.

The outlier was Tradier, a start-up brokerage founded in 2014 using the powerful tool of an Application Programming Interface (API) which charged $213 per month to trade frequently.

An API is described as a software intermediary allowing two applications to communicate with each other.

This model helped cut costs for the online brokerage because Tradier did not have to focus its funds on the trading platform that was delegated to various third-party platforms.

Tradier is largely responsible for the aggregation of data and charts thus employing an army of developers to meet their end of the business.

This model is truly the democratization of the online brokerage industry, which has been coming for years.

Costs are cut to a minimum with equity trades at Tradier costing investors $3.49 per order and options contracts costing $0.35 per contract with a $9 options assignment and exercise fee.

Technology has defeated the traditionalist again.

More than 80% of Robinhood’s accounts are owned by millennials – as expected.

Trading cryptocurrencies act as a gateway asset to springboard into other asset classes such as equities and derivative contracts.

Vlad Tenev, co-CEO of Robinhood, indicated that Robinhood will have to modify its radical business model to monetize more of the business in the future, but he is comfortable with the current business model.

But Tenev has already seen fruit borne with the likes of Robinhood applying fierce pressure to the legacy brokerages’ pricing models.

The traditionalists are locked in a vicious pricing war with each other slashing their commission rates to stay competitive.

The longer the likes of Charles Schwab (SCHW) feel it necessary to charge $4.95, down from the January 2017 cost of $8.95, the better the chances are that Robinhood can build its account base rapidly.

Charles Schwab has more than 10 million accounts, only double the number of Robinhood, after being founded in 1971.

The 42-year head start over Robinhood has not produced the desired effect, and it is ill-prepared to battle these tech companies that enter the fray.

Robinhood has been able to add a million new accounts per year. If Charles Schwab relatively performed at the same rate, it would have 47 million accounts open today.

It doesn’t and that is a problem because the company can be caught up to.

The age of specialization is upon us with full force, and customer demand requires care and diligence that never existed before.

Robinhood continues to enhance its offerings of various products adding Litecoin and Bitcoin Cash to the crypto lineup.

Only Bitcoin and Ethereum were offered before.

And there is one more outrageous thing I forgot to tell you.

Robinhood hopes to snatch away the traditional savings account by offering checking and savings accounts with an interest rate almost 30 times larger than most brick and mortar banks – 3%.

These accounts would have no minimum balances or no fees that nickel and dime customers.

The service will conveniently sit alongside its trading app and this move into the industry led by JP Morgan could start to derail Wall Street.

As with most FinTech start-ups, the roll-out of this new service was slightly botched because Robinhood failed to get the go-ahead from regulators concerning ensuring the accounts properly.

All this does is delay the inevitable and by spring 2019, potential customers should be earning 3% in Robinhood’s checking and savings account.

Sign me up!

 

July 26, 2019

Global Market Comments
July 26, 2019
Fiat Lux

Featured Trade:

(JULY 24 BIWEEKLY STRATEGY WEBINAR Q&A),
(FCX), (VIX), (VXX), (UUP), (TLT), (EEM), (ELD), (CEW), (GLD),
(FXA), (FXE), (FXC), (FXY), (FXB), (AMZN),
(TESTING TESLA’S SELF DRIVING TECHNOLOGY),
(TSLA)

July 24 Biweekly Strategy Webinar Q&A

Below please find subscribers’ Q&A for the Mad Hedge Fund Trader July 24 Global Strategy Webinar broadcast from Zermatt, Switzerland with my guest and co-host Bill Davis of the Mad Day Trader. Keep those questions coming!

Q: What are your thoughts on the Freeport McMoRan (FCX) long position here?

A: We could take a profit here. We probably have about 50% of the maximum potential profit, but I want to hang on and go to the max on this because we’re so far in the money. Cash always has a premium ahead on any Fed interest rate decision. But long term, I think the stock could double, and with the earnings report now out of the way, we have room to run.

Q: What can you say about semiconductor stocks?

A: Long term we love them, short term they are too high to chase here. I would wait for any kind of pullback and, better yet, pull back from the other side of the next recession. We’re not seeing an improvement in prices or orders so this is strictly a technical/momentum-driven trade right now.

Q: How do you play the Volatility Index (VIX)?

A: There are numerous ways you can do it; you can buy call options on the (VIX), you can buy futures on the (VIX), or you can buy the iPath Series B S&P 500 VIX Short Term Futures ETN (VXX). We are probably a week away from a nice entry point on the long side here.

Q: Does a languishing U.S. dollar mean emerging market opportunities?

A: It absolutely does. If we really start to get a serious drop in the U.S. dollar (UUP)—like 5-10%—it will be off to the races for commodities, bonds (TLT), emerging stock markets (EEM), emerging bond markets (ELD), emerging currencies (CEW), and gold (GLD). All of your weak dollar plays will be off to the races—that’s why I went straight into bonds, the Aussie (FXA), and copper through Freeport McMoRan (FCX). All of these trades have been profitable.

Q: When should we sell the U.S. dollar?

A: How about now? For any kind of strength in a dollar against the (FXA), (FXE), (FXC) and (FXY), I would be buying any dips on those foreign exchange ETFs. We’re about to enter a six-month – one-year period weakness on the dollar. It could be the easiest trade out there. The only one I would avoid is the British pound (FXB) because of its own special problems with Brexit. You never want to go long the currency of a country that is destroying itself, which is exactly what’s happening with the pound.

Q: Should I start selling pounds?

A: It’s pretty late in the pound game now. We went into Brexit with the pound at $1.65 and got all the way down to $1.20. We’re a little bit above that now at $1.21. If for some reason, you get a surprise pop in the pound, say to $1.25, that’s where I would sell it, but down here, no.

Q: I missed the (FCX) trade—would you get in on the next dip?

A: Yes, we may not get many dips from here because the earnings were out. Today, they were not as bad as expected, and that was keeping a lot of buyers out of the market on (FCX), so any dips you can get, go a dollar out on your strikes and then take it because this thing could double over the medium term. If the trade war with China ends, this thing could make it to the old high of $50.

Q: Is now a good time to refi my home?

A: Yes, because by the time you get the paperwork and approvals and everything else done (that’ll take about 2 months), rates will likely be lower; and in any case you’re looking to refi either a 7/1 ARM or a 15-year fixed, and the rates on those have already dropped quite substantially. I was offered 3.0% for a 15-year fixed loan on my home just the other day.

Q: On trades like (FCX), why not sell short the put spread?

A: It’s really six of one, half dozen of the other. The profit on either one should be about the same. If it isn’t, an options market maker will step in and arbitrage out the difference. That’s something only an algorithm can do these days. I recommend in-the-money call spreads versus shorting sell short vertical bear put credit spreads because for beginners, in-the-money call spreads are much easier to understand.

Q: The Mueller hearings in Congress are today. Is there any potential impact on the market?

A: The market has completely detached itself from Washington—it couldn’t care less about what’s happening there. I don’t think politics have the capacity to affect stock prices. The only possible impact was the prospect of the government shutdown in September. That seems to have been averted in the latest deal between the House and the White House.  

Q: What about Amazon (AMZN)?

A: Like the rest of technology, long term I love it, but short term it’s overdue for a small correction. I’m looking for Amazon to go to $3,000 a share—it’s essentially taking over the world. The antitrust threats will go absolutely nowhere; Congress doesn’t even understand what these companies do, let alone know how to break them up. I wouldn’t worry about it.

Q: I just received an email inviting me to buy a new Bitcoin auto trading system that is guaranteed to make me a millionaire in four months. It is being promoted by Nicole Kidman. Do you think I should try it?

A: I wouldn’t touch this with a ten-foot pole. No, wait. I wouldn’t touch this with a 100-foot pole! Whenever a new type of security comes out, these types of “get rich quick” investment scams come out of the woodwork. Cryptocurrency is no different. Nicole Kidman was probably paid $500,000 to make the pitch by a promotor. Or more likely, Nicole Kidman has nothing to do with these people and they just swiped her picture off the Internet. I hear about these things daily. Follow their plan and you are more likely to get completely wiped out than become a millionaire. There are NO get rich quick schemes. There are only get rich slowly strategies, such as following this newsletter. Click here to see the above-mentioned scam which you should avoid at all cost. Gee, do you think Nicole Kidman would be interested in promoting the Mad Hedge Fund Trader?

 

July 24, 2019

Mad Hedge Technology Letter
July 24, 2019
Fiat Lux

Featured Trade:

(CIAO SILICON VALLEY),
(AAPL), (CRM), (MSFT), (FB), (AMZN), (GOOGL)

Ciao Silicon Valley

Bridgewater Associates Founder Ray Dalio carefully articulates an economic landscape in which the unrelenting chase for short-term tech profits finally catches up meaningfully with the gyrations of tech shares.

All of this could come home to roost and the early manifestations can be found in the housing migratory trends.

The robust housing demand, lack of housing supply, mixed with the avalanche of inquisitive tech money will propel these housing markets to new heights and this phenomenon is happening as we speak.

Salesforce Founder and CEO Marc Benioff has lamented that San Francisco, where ironically he is from, is a diabolical “train wreck” and urged fellow tech CEOs to “walk down the street” and see it with their own eyes to observe the numerous homeless encampments dotted around the city limits.

The leader of Salesforce doesn’t mince his words when he talks and beelines to the heart of the issues.

After relinquishing some of his CEO duties to newly anointed Co-CEO Keith Block, Benioff will have the operational time and a wealth of resources to get on top of the pulse of not only tech issues but bigger picture stuff and he now has a mouthpiece for it with Time Magazine which he and his wife recently bought.

In condemning large swaths of the beneficiaries of the Silicon Valley ethos, he has signaled that it won’t be smooth sailing forever.

In tech wonderland, and he urged companies to transform their business model if they are irresponsible with user data.

The tech lash could get messier this year because companies that go rogue with personal data will face a cringeworthy reckoning as the techlash fury seeps into government policy and the social stigma worsens.

I have walked around the streets of San Francisco myself.

Places around Powell Bart station close to the Tenderloin district are eyesores littered with used syringes that lay in the gutter.

South of Market Street isn’t a place I would want to barbecue on a terrace either.

Summing it up, the unlimited tech talent reservoir that Silicon Valley gorged on isn’t flowing anymore because people don’t want to live there now.

This tech talent, equipped with heart-tugging stories from siblings and anecdotes from classmates getting shafted by the San Francisco dream, has recently put the Bay Area in the rear-view mirror for many who would have stayed if it were 20 years ago.

This is exactly what Apple’s $1 billion investment into a new tech campus in Austin, Texas and Amazon adding 500 employees in Nashville, Tennessee are all about.

Apple also added numbers in San Diego, Atlanta, Culver City, and Boulder just to name a few.

Apple currently employs 90,000 people in 50 states and is in the works to create 20,000 more jobs in the US by 2023.

Most of these new jobs won’t be in Silicon Valley.

Since the tech talent isn’t giddy-upping into Silicon Valley anymore, tech firms must get off their saddle and go find them.

The tables have turned but that is what happens when the heart of western tech becomes unlivable to the average tech worker earning $150,000 per year.

Driving out young people who envision a long-term future elsewhere than the San Francisco Bay Area forces Silicon Valley to adapt to the new patterns revealing themselves.

Sacramento has experienced a dizzying rise of newcomers from the Bay Area itself.

Some are even commuting, making that 60-mile jaunt past Davis, but that will give way to entire tech operations moving to the state capitol.

Millennials are reaching that age of family formation and they are fleeing to places that are affordable and possible to become a new home buyer.

These are some of the practical issues that tech has failed to embrace and to maintain the furious pace of growth that investors’ capricious expectations harbor.

Silicon Valley will have to become more practical adding a dash of empathy as well instead of just going by the raw and heartless data.

We aren’t robots yet, and much of the world still augurs to emotional decisions and disregards the empirical data.

But, instead of physical offices being planted in the Bay Area, the tech industry will heed way to the “spirit” of Silicon Valley with offices in far-flung places.

And remember that all of these new tech talent strongholds will need housing, and housing that an IT worker making $150,000 per year desires.

No wonder why San Jose real estate has dropped in the past year, people and their paychecks are on the way out.

 

 

July 22, 2019

Mad Hedge Technology Letter
July 22, 2019
Fiat Lux

Featured Trade:

(DOES ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE WORK FOR YOU?),
(TSLA), (AMZN), (FB)

Does Artificial Intelligence Work for You?

Anti-A.I. physicist Professor Stephen Hawking was a staunch supporter of preserving human interests against the future existential threat from machines and artificial intelligence (A.I.).

He was diagnosed with motor neuron disease, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, in 1963 at the age of 21 and sadly passed away March 14, 2018 at the age of 76.

Famed for his work on black holes, Professor Hawking represented the human quest to maintain its superiority against quickly advancing artificial acculturation.

His passing was a huge loss for mankind as his voice was a deterrent to A.I.’s relentless march to supremacy. He was one of the few who had the authority to opine on these issues. Gone is a voice of reason.

Critics have argued that living with A.I. poses a red alert threat to privacy, security, and society as a whole. Unfortunately, those most credible and knowledgeable about A.I. are tech firms. They have shown that policing themselves on this front is remarkably unproductive.

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook (FB), has labeled naysayers as “irresponsible” and dismissed the threat. After failing to prevent Russian interference in the last election, he is exhibiting the same defensive posture translating into a de facto admission of guilt. His track record of shirking accountability is becoming a trend.

Share prices will materially nosedive if A.I. is stonewalled and development stunted. Many CEOs who stake careers on doubling or tripling down on A.I. cannot see it die out. There is too much money to lose.

The world will see major improvements in the quality of life in the next 10 years. But there is another side to the coin which Zuckerberg and company refuse to delve into…the dark side of technology.

Defective Amazon (AMZN) Alexa recently produced unexplained laughter because of a mistaken command to start laughing. Despite avoiding calamity, these small events show the magnitude of potential chaos capable of haywire A.I. functions. If one day a user attempts to order a box of tissues and Alexa burns down the house, who is liable?

Tesla’s (TSLA) CEO Elon Musk has shared his anxiety about robots flipping the script on humans. Musk acknowledges that A.I. and autonomous vehicles are important factors in the battle for new technology.

The winner is yet to be determined as China has bet the ranch with unlimited resources from Chairman Xi.

The quagmire with China has been squarely centered around the great race for technological supremacy.

A.I. is the ultimate X factor in this race and whoever can harness and develop the fastest will win.

Musk has hinted that robots and humans could merge into one species in the future.

Is this the next point of competition among tech companies? The future is murky at best.

Bill Gates noted that robots should be taxed like humans.

This reflects the bubble in which the ultra-elite reside.

This comment implies that humans and robots are at the same level. It shows a severe lack of empathy for the 40% of working Americans who will be replaced by machines over the next 10 years.

The West is comprised of a deeply hierarchical system of winners and losers. Hawking’s premise that evolution has inbuilt greed can be found in the underpinnings of America’s economic miracle.

Wall Street has bred a culture that is entirely self-serving regardless of the bigger system in which it finds itself.

Most of us are participating in this perpetual money game chase because our system treats it as a natural part of life.

A.I. will help more people do well in this paper chase to the detriment of the majority.

Quarterly earnings performance is paramount for CEOs.

Return value back to shareholders, or face the sack in the morning.

It’s impossible to convince anyone that America’s capitalist model is deteriorating in the greatest bull market of all time.

Wall Street has an insatiable hunger for cutting-edge technology from companies that sequentially beat earnings and raise guidance.

Flourishing technology companies enrich the participants creating a Teflon-like resistance to downside market risk.

The issue with Professor Hawking’s work is that his timeframe is too far in the future.

Professor Hawking was probably correct, but it will take 25 years to prove it.

The world is quickly changing as science fiction becomes reality.

The year 2020 will signal the real beginning of A.I. in tangible form when autonomous fleets flood main streets and is another step in the direction of human’s overreliance on machines.

People on Wall Street are a product of the system in place and earn a tremendous amount of money because they proficiently execute a specialized job.

Traders are busy focusing on how to move ahead of the next guy.

Firms building autonomous cars are free to operate as is.

Hyper-accelerating technology spurs on the development of A.I., machine learning, and enhanced algorithms.

Record profits will topple, and investors will funnel investments back into an even narrower grouping of technology stocks after the weak hands are flushed out.

Professor Hawking said we need to explore our technological capabilities to the fullest in order to avoid extinction.

In 2019, exploring these new capabilities still equals monetizing through the medium of products and services.

This is all bullish for equities as the leading companies associated with A.I. have a red carpet laid out in front of them.

And let me remind you that technology is still the least regulated industry on the planet even if sentiment has pivoted this year.

The only solution is keeping companies accountable by a function of law or creating a third-party task force to regulate A.I.

In 2019, the thought of overseeing robots sounds crazy.

However, by 2020, it might be as normal as uncontrollable laughter from your smart home device.

July 19, 2019

Mad Hedge Technology Letter
July 19, 2019
Fiat Lux

Featured Trade:

(CLOUD 101)
(AMZN), (MSFT), (GOOGL), (DOCU), (CRM), (ZS)

CLOUD 101

If you’ve been living under a rock the past few years, the cloud phenomenon hasn’t passed you by and you still have time to cash in.

You want to hitch your wagon to cloud-based investments in any way, shape or form.

Amazon leads the cloud industry it created.

It still maintains more than 30% of the cloud market. Microsoft would need to gain a lot of ground to even come close to this jewel of a business.

Amazon (AMZN) relies on AWS to underpin the rest of its businesses and that is why AWS contributes most of Amazon’s total operating income.

Total revenue for just the AWS division would operate as a healthy stand-alone tech company if need be.

The future is about the cloud.

These days, the average investor probably hears about the cloud a dozen times a day.

If you work in Silicon Valley, you can triple that figure.

So, before we get deep into the weeds with this letter on cloud services, cloud fundamentals, cloud plays, and cloud Trade Alerts, let’s get into the basics of what the cloud actually is.

Think of this as a cloud primer.

It’s important to understand the cloud, both its strengths and limitations.

 Giant companies that have it figured out, such as Salesforce (CRM) and Zscaler (ZS), are some of the fastest growing companies in the world.

Understand the cloud and you will readily identify its bottlenecks and bulges that can lead to extreme investment opportunities. And that’s where I come in.

Cloud storage refers to the online space where you can store data. It resides across multiple remote servers housed inside massive data centers all over the country, some as large as football fields, often in rural areas where land, labor, and electricity are cheap.

They are built using virtualization technology, which means that storage space spans across many different servers and multiple locations. If this sounds crazy, remember that the original Department of Defense packet-switching design was intended to make the system atomic bomb proof.

As a user, you can access any single server at any one time anywhere in the world. These servers are owned, maintained and operated by giant third-party companies such as Amazon, Microsoft, and Alphabet (GOOGL), which may or may not charge a fee for using them.

The most important features of cloud storage are:

1) It is a service provided by an external provider.

2) All data is stored outside your computer residing inside an in-house network.

3) A simple Internet connection will allow you to access your data at anytime from anywhere.

4) Because of all these features, sharing data with others is vastly easier, and you can even work with multiple people online at the same time, making it the perfect collaborative vehicle for our globalized world.

Once you start using the cloud to store a company’s data, the benefits are many.

No Maintenance

Many companies, regardless of their size, prefer to store data inside in-house servers and data centers.

However, these require constant 24-hour-a-day maintenance, so the company has to employ a large in-house IT staff to manage them – a costly proposition.

Thanks to cloud storage, businesses can save costs on maintenance since their servers are now the headache of third-party providers.

Instead, they can focus resources on the core aspects of their business where they can add the most value without worrying about managing IT staff of prima donnas.

Greater Flexibility

Today’s employees want to have a better work/life balance and this goal can be best achieved by letting them telecommute. Increasingly, workers are bending their jobs to fit their lifestyles, and that is certainly the case here at Mad Hedge Fund Trader.

How else can I send off a Trade Alert while hanging from the face of a Swiss Alp?

Cloud storage services such as Google Drive offer exactly this kind of flexibility for employees. According to a recent survey, 79% of respondents already work outside of their office some of the time, while another 60% would switch jobs if offered this flexibility.

With data stored online, it’s easy for employees to log into a cloud portal, work on the data they need to, and then log off when they’re done. This way a single project can be worked on by a global team, the work handed off from time zone to time zone until it’s done.

It also makes them work more efficiently, saving money for penny-pinching entrepreneurs.

Better Collaboration and Communication

In today’s business environment, it’s common practice for employees to collaborate and communicate with co-workers located around the world.

For example, they may have to work on the same client proposal together or provide feedback on training documents. Cloud-based tools from DocuSignDropbox, and Google Drive make collaboration and document management a piece of cake.

These products, which all offer free entry-level versions, allow users to access the latest versions of any document so they can stay on top of real-time changes which can help businesses to better manage workflow, regardless of geographical location.

Data Protection

Another important reason to move to the cloud is for better protection of your data, especially in the event of a natural disaster. Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on local data centers in New York City forcing many websites to shut down their operations for days.

The cloud simply routes traffic around problem areas as if, yes, they have just been destroyed by a nuclear attack.

It’s best to move data to the cloud to avoid such disruptions because there your data will be stored in multiple locations.

This redundancy makes it so that even if one area is affected, your operations don’t have to capitulate, and data remains accessible no matter what happens. It’s a system called deduplication.

Lower Overhead

The cloud can save businesses a lot of money.

By outsourcing data storage to cloud providers, businesses save on capital and maintenance costs, money that in turn can be used to expand the business. Setting up an in-house data center requires tens of thousands of dollars in investment, and that’s not to mention the maintenance costs it carries.

Plus, considering the security, reduced lag, up-time and controlled environments that providers such as Amazon’s AWS have, creating an in-house data center seems about as contemporary as a buggy whip, a corset, or a Model T.

 

 

 

July 12, 2019

Mad Hedge Technology Letter
July 12, 2019
Fiat Lux

Featured Trade:

(CLOUD SECURITY ON THE MARCH)
(OKTA), (ZS), (CRM), (AMZN)