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September 21, 2018

Global Market Comments
September 21, 2018
Fiat Lux

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(MONDAY, OCTOBER 15, 2018, ATLANTA, GA,
GLOBAL STRATEGY LUNCHEON)

September 17, 2018

Global Market Comments
September 17, 2018
Fiat Lux

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September 13, 2018

Global Market Comments
September 13, 2018
Fiat Lux

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September 12, 2018

Global Market Comments
September 12, 2018
Fiat Lux

THE FUTURE OF AI ISSUE

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August 27, 2018

Mad Hedge Technology Letter
August 27, 2018
Fiat Lux

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Why Alibaba is the First Stock to Buy with the Outbreak of Trade Peace

According to the government agency, China Internet Network Information Center, the Chinese Internet community has surpassed 802 million, which only represents a 57.7% penetration rate, miles behind the 89% penetration rate in America.

The gargantuan scale of the Chinese Internet world means China has three times as many Internet users than America, and this is a big deal.

The additional 30 million added to the Chinese Internet ecosphere in the first half of 2018 shows the scale in which local Chinese tech companies are playing with and use to their clear-cut advantage.

Ostensibly, most business strategies in China revolve around scaled tactics as the backbone to operations.

There is even more room to expand in the Middle Kingdom and one clear victor sits atop the parapet looking at the riffraff below and that is Chinese Internet conglomerate Alibaba (BABA).

Alibaba, led by Chinese Internet pioneer Jack Ma, posted its highest-performing growth quarter in the past four years.

Total quarterly revenue ballooned an incredible 61% YOY to $11.8 billion, highlighting the dominant position Alibaba possesses in the Chinese e-commerce landscape.

If you want to know what Amazon (AMZN) is going to do next watch Alibaba.

Profit margins were somewhat sacrificed in the process because of M&A activity that saw Alibaba move into the physical supermarket business snapping up 35 Hema supermarket locations then reinvesting into the business. Echoes of Whole Foods?

Alibaba did not stop there, funneling another $3 billion into food delivery app ele.me, which plans to merge its operations with Yelp (YELP) lookalike app Koubei.

If you thought Silicon Valley moves at a rapid pace, the Chinese Internet space moves faster than lighting.

Alibaba last year dipped into the retail segment as well pocketing a department store chain with 29 stores along with 17 shopping malls.

Alibaba is the closest replica the world has to Amazon and thus is an ideal barometer of the health of the overall Chinese consumer and a peek under the complicated hood that is the Chinese economy.

Alibaba also provides onlookers at how China and its Internet behemoths are coping with the global trading war that has invaded the news headlines from its outset.

The short answer to all this is that China is coping quite well and by no means is ready to back down.

Indeed, there will be peripheral pressures exerted from the fringes, but the core engines remain intact and Chairman Xi can fall asleep in his Beijing abode more than peacefully.

A reason for the stalemate between the two governments is that both are quietly confident they have the levers in place to absorb whatever Molotov cocktails the other has to throw at them.

Investors would be mad to dismiss China’s capabilities after experiencing a mesmerizing economic rise enriching hundreds of millions of Chinese nationals that can be found comfortably living in western megacities in luxury real estate often with a real estate portfolio dotted around the world.

Alibaba’s management made it known on the earnings report that it is not worried much about the trade war because it is largely focused on the domestic Chinese consumer, which has been one of the best economic stories of the past decade.

The overseas expansion unfolding under Alibaba’s tutelage is away from the western world and predominantly focused on Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe where cheap, value-for-money hardware and software allows citizens at these income levels to participate in the e-commerce game.

These individuals can’t afford iPhones on a salary of peanuts. And Alibaba has targeted the undeveloped world as a potential lever of substantial growth.

The regulatory harshness of the west has shut out Huawei and ZTE from its shores. Australia followed suit as well, banning the two telecom companies even though it enjoys a better relationship with Beijing than Europe or North America.

China has already planned a workaround because the engines driving the Chinese tech miracle are semiconductor companies such as Micron (MU), which sells boatloads of DRAM memory chips to Chinese tech companies that flood the world with smartphones and other gadgets.

Beijing has already formulated a plan to circumvent American chips by tapping Korean, European, and Japanese chips to replace the current American supply that could vanish at any time.

Shenzhen-based chip company HiSilicon fully owned by Huawei is responsible for supplying Huawei with chips and is the biggest local designer of integrated circuits in China.

This is what the future of China looks like when China can finally build up the adequate supply necessary to achieve its plans to dominate global technology, America, and the world.

But the plan is still in the process of playing out. The awkwardness was highly visible when the administration’s ban of selling U.S. manufactured components to telecommunications company ZTE resulted in the company almost shutting down until a last-second change of heart by the administration.

The near-death experience will invigorate ZTE to muster its own local supply of chips to avoid the unreliable foreign supply and a deja vu feeling.

American chip companies won’t be able to enjoy the Chinese market for long as all these negative experiences for Chinese companies has forced Chinese tech companies to search and secure a guaranteed chip supply.

At the same time, Chinese local smartphone players have gone from 0 to 60 in no time with companies that barely existed a few years ago, such as Oppo, Vivo coming into the fore along with Huawei picking up 43% of the global smartphone market.

This is bad news for Apple as local competitors are learning fast and furious how to build premium smartphones via re-engineering the current technology or through forced technology transfers.

These companies subsequently offer these phones at the lowest possible price point. And at some point in the near future Apple could be expendable if Chinese smartphones start to display the type of quality the best phones show.

Chinese domestic consumption and investment comprise 90% of the GDP growth in China and are propped up by three robust trends including real wage growth boosting the middle-class population, high savings rate that of which Americans would be jealous, and easy access to credit vehicles.

When I was recently in the Middle Kingdom, it was highly evident that as the generations became younger, their quality of life was higher than their parents.

The opposite is happening in America with millennials earning demonstrably less than their parents’ generation while the American middle class is shrinking at an accelerated pace.

Beijing knows this and hopes to wait things out as it feels time is a positive variable for China and not America.

It is true that if this trade war took place in 20 years in the future, China would be in a stronger strategic position to extract whatever concessions it desires because even though Chinese growth is slowing, it is still growing at 6.5%.

And if you don’t believe what I just said then just look at Alibaba’s cloud division, which grew 93% YOY opening artificial intelligence-based data centers around Europe to battle Amazon (AMZN) and Microsoft (MSFT).

Europe was once Elysian Fields for American tech companies, but with European regulators going after American tech and China encroaching on European turf, the future looks a lot less certain for the FANGs there than ever before.

Alibaba’s operating margins dipped 10% YOY but the slide will be returned to shareholders in the future in the form of high-quality revenue and is worth the investment into the most innovative ideas of tomorrow.

I did not even mention the large stake Alibaba has in Ant Financial, which operates the ubiquitous digital payment app Alipay.

It would be analogous to Amazon if it owned Visa.

Alibaba is one of the best tech companies in the world headed by a former Chinese English language teacher in Hangzhou.

If America becomes too difficult or expensive with which to do business, Alibaba and Chinese tech will just recalibrate their strategy to deeper infiltrate the confines of Southeast Asia and the rest of the undeveloped world.

Any price war on undeveloped soil favors the Chinese as they have mastered scale better than anyone on the planet.

The stellar Alibaba numbers also mean the trade war has no end in sight as each player thinks they have the upper hand. But it also means the tech giants from both countries will come out unscathed and will lead their country’s respective equity markets higher for the foreseeable future.

 

 

 

The Jeff Bezos of China – Alibaba’s Jack Ma

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Quote of the Day

“Technology is nothing. What's important is that you have a faith in people, that they're basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they'll do wonderful things with them,” – said Apple cofounder and former CEO Steve Jobs.

 

August 24, 2018

Global Market Comments
August 24, 2018
Fiat Lux

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June 25, 2018

Global Market Comments
June 25, 2018
Fiat Lux

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China?s View of China

I ran into Minxin Pei, a scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who imparted to me some iconoclastic, out-of-consensus views on China?s position in the world today.

He thinks that power is not shifting from West to East; Asia is just lifting itself off the mat, with per capita GDP at $5,800, compared to $48,000 in the US.

We are simply moving from a unipolar to a multipolar world. China is not going to dominate the world, or even Asia, where there is a long history of regional rivalries and wars.

China can?t even control China, where recessions lead to revolutions, and 30% of the country, Tibet and the Uighurs, want to secede.

China?s military is entirely devoted to controlling its own people which make US concerns about their recent build up laughable.

All of Asia?s progress, to date, has been built on selling to the US market. Take us out, and they?re nowhere.

With enormous resource, environmental, and demographic challenges constraining growth, Asia is not replacing the US anytime soon.

There is no miracle form of Asian capitalism; impoverished, younger populations are simply forced to save more, because there is no social safety net.

Try filing a Chinese individual tax return, where a maximum rate of 40% kicks in at an income of $35,000 a year, with no deductions, and there is no social security or Medicare in return.

Ever heard of a Chinese unemployment office or jobs program?

Nor are benevolent dictatorships the answer, with the despots in Burma, Cambodia, North Korea, and Laos thoroughly trashing their countries.

The press often touts the 600,000 engineers that China graduates, joined by 350,000 in India. In fact, 90% of these are only educated to a trade school standard. Asia has just one world-class school, the University of Tokyo.

As much as we Americans despise ourselves and wallow in our failures, Asians see us as a bright, shining example for the world.

After all, it was our open trade policies and innovation that lifted them out of poverty and destitution. Walk the streets of China, as I have done for four decades, and you feel this vibrating from everything around you.

I?ll consider what Minxin Pei said next time I contemplate going back into the China (FXI) and emerging markets (EEM).

fxi baba bidu jd

China - ParadeChina: Not All It?s Cracked Up to Be

The Death of Retail

I stopped at a Wal-Mart (WMT) the other day on my way to Napa Valley.

I am not normally a customer of this establishment. But I was on my way to a meeting where a dozen red long stem roses would prove useful. I happened to know you could get these for $10 at Wal-Mart.

After I found my flowers, I browsed around the store to see what else they had for sale. The first thing I noticed was that half the employees were missing their front teeth.

The clothing offered was out of style and made of cheap material. It might as well have been the Chinese embassy. Most concerning, there was almost no one there.

So I was not surprised when the company announced that it was closing 267 stores worldwide. The closures amount to only 1% of Wal-Mart?s total floor space. Some 10,000 American jobs will be lost.

The Wal-Mart downsizing is only the latest evidence of a major change in the global economy that has been evolving over the last two decades.

However, it now appears we have reached a tipping point, and a point of no return. The future is happening faster than anyone thought possible. Call it the Death of Retail.

I remember the first purchases I made at Amazon 20 years ago. The idea was so dubious that I made my initial purchases with a credit card with a low $1,000 limit. That way, if the wheels fell off, my losses would be limited.

This is despite the fact that I knew Jeff Bezos personally as a former Morgan Stanley colleague. And how stupid was that name, Amazon? At least he didn?t call it ?Yahoo?.

Today, I do almost all of my shopping at Amazon (AMZN). It saves me immense amounts of time while expanding my choices exponentially. And I don?t have to fight traffic, engage in the parking space wars, or wait in line to pay.

It can accommodate all of my requests, no matter how bizarre or esoteric. A WWII reproduction Army Air Corps canvas flight jacket in size XXL? No problem!

A used 42-inch Sub Zero refrigerator with a front door icemaker and water dispenser? Have it there in two days, with free shipping.

In 2000, after the great ?Y2K? disaster that failed to show, I met with Bill Gates Sr. to discuss the foundation?s investments. It turned out that they had liquidated their entire equity portfolio and placed all their money into bonds. It turned out to be a brilliant move, coming mere months before the Dotcom bust.

Mr. Gates (another Eagle Scout) mentioned something fascinating to me. He said that unlike most other foundations their size, they hadn?t invested a dollar in commercial real estate.

It was his view that the US economy would move entirely online, everyone would work from home, emptying out city centers and rendering commuting unnecessary. Shopping malls would become low rent climbing walls and paint ball game centers.

Mr. Gates? prediction may finally be occurring. Some counties in the San Francisco Bay area now see 25% of their workers telecommuting.

It is becoming common for staff to work Tuesday-Thursday at the office, and from home on Monday and Friday. Productivity increases. People are bending their jobs to fit their lifestyles. And oh yes, happy people work for less money in exchange for personal freedom, boosting profits.

The Mad Hedge Fund Trader itself may be a model for the future. We are entirely a virtual company, with no office. Everyone works at home across the country and around the world.

You may have noticed that I can work from anywhere and anytime (although sending a Trade Alert from the back of a camel in the Sahara Desert was a stretch).

The cost of global distribution is essentially zero. Profits go into a bonus pool shared by all. Oh, and we?re hiring, especially in marketing.

You can see this in the business prospects of traditional brick and mortar retailers last year, which were dire.

As a result, Macy?s (M) stock plunged by a shocking -53%, Nordstrom (JWN) by -43%, and Best Buy (BBY) by -39%. Value players have mistaken the present low prices and subterranean price earnings multiples for a ?Black Friday? sale.

It has been like leading lambs to the slaughter.

Yes, some of this was caused by record warm temperatures on the US East coast, which led many to cancel their purchases of a new winter coat. But it is also happening because the entire ?bricks and mortar? industry is getting left behind by the march of history.

Sure, they have been pouring millions into online commerce and jazzed up websites. But they all seem to be poor imitations of amazon, with higher prices. It is all ?Hour late and dollar short? stuff.

In the meantime, Amazon soared by 150%, and was one of the top performing stocks of 2015. It is thought that Amazon accounted for a staggering 25% of all the new growth in US retail sales last year.

And here is the bad news. Bricks and Mortar retailers are about to lose more of their lunch to Chinese Internet giant Alibaba (BABA), which is ramping up its US operations and is FOUR TIMES THE SIZE OF AMAZON!

There?s a good reason why you haven?t heard much from me about retailers. I made the decision 30 years ago never to touch the troubled sector.

I did this when I realized that management never knew beforehand which of their products would succeed, and which would bomb, and therefore were constantly clueless about future earnings.

The business for them was an endless roll of the dice. That is a proposition which I was unwilling to invest in. There were always better trades.

I confess that I had to look up the ticker symbols for this story, as I never use them.

However, I also missed the miracle at Amazon. I could never grasp their long tail strategy and their 100 X multiples. I have had to admire it from the sidelines. At least I wasn?t short.

You will no doubt be enticed to buy retail stocks as the deal of the century by the talking heads on TV, Internet research, and maybe even your own brokers.

It will be much like buying the coal industry (KOL) a few years ago, another industry headed for the dustbin of history. That was when ?cheap? was on its way to zero.

So the next time someone recommends that you buy retail stocks, you should probably lie down and take a long nap first. When you awaken, hopefully the temptation will be gone.

Or better yet, go shopping at Amazon. The deals are to die for.

To read ?An Evening with Bill Gates Sr.?, please click here.

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AMZN 1-15-16

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Wal-MartThe Death of Retail?