Monday, July 24, 2017

What To Do With Your Cash?

First off, don't be this guy:
Alleged meth kingpin Zhenli Ye Gon remains in custody in the US fighting extradition to Mexico.
That's Zhenli Ye Gon
I repeat, do not be him. More after the jump.

From Zerohedge:
Have you moved a material percentage of your financial portfolio to cash? Have you become so concerned about the meteoric ramp upwards in asset prices that you find it wiser instead to move to the sidelines, build "dry powder", and wait to re-enter the markets at saner valuations?
If so, you have my sympathies.
The past 5+ years have been brutal for savers pursuing this strategy. I know this well, as I'm one of those folks, too.

The Mother Of All Financial Bubbles As we've chronicled for years here at, the global central banking cartel started flooding the world with liquidity (aka, money printed from thin air) in response to the arrival of the Great Financial Crisis in late 2008. And they never stopped.

The chart below shows how the combined balance sheets of the major world central banks (Fed, ECB & BOJ) are 3.5x higher today than their pre-crisis levels less than a decade ago. (And if we included the PBOC in this chart, the cumulative total would be 18.8 Trillion!):
All that liquidity has to go somewhere. And, as hoped by the central banking cartel, it has found its way into the financial markets, pushing the price of nearly every asset class to record extremes. And then higher still....
The problem with bubbles is that they force one to decide whether to look like an idiot before the peak, or an idiot after the peak. 

Back to Mr. Ye Gon. He had a problem that may be familiar to our readers. He liked having some mad money available and kept it at home. But like the cat lady who starts out with three and is then quoted as the hazmat team shows up, "It kinda got away from me".

Zhenli had cash in cabinets:

He had cash in closets:

He had so much cash it was a fire hazard:

The Mexican government took it away.
$207 million in currency.

Don't be Zhenli.

"SoftBank Emerges as the Lead Financier for Uber Rivals"

From Bloomberg, July 24:
Uber Technologies Inc. is at risk of losing out on another big chunk of the global market.

Grab, the leading provider of ride-hailing services in Southeast Asia, said Monday it raised $2 billion from Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp. and China’s Didi Chuxing and expects to receive another $500 million from new and existing backers. The money will help Grab, which already dominates the region, defend its turf against Uber in one of the San Francisco company’s most important global markets after retreats from China and Russia.

Uber’s rivals are piling on a company in crisis. While a series of scandals at Uber culminated in the ouster of Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick in June, its competitors in China, India, Brazil and Singapore have raised a total of about $9 billion to accelerate their expansions. The money, primarily from Masayoshi Son’s SoftBank, jeopardizes Uber’s push for global dominance and its $69 billion valuation.

“This funding round is a great threat to Uber,” said Zhou Xin, an internet consultant at Beijing-based Trustdata.“If Uber loses Southeast Asia, it will significantly curtail its value proposition as a global operation.”

International markets have proven brutal. Uber sold its business in China to Didi after a fierce battle that saw each company burning through more than a billion dollars a year at one point as they fought for drivers and riders with rich subsidies. Uber negotiated a similar move in Russia this month as it seeks to narrow losses.

Now, Uber is trying to compete with its leadership in turmoil. Kalanick stepped aside after a lawsuit by Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo over trade secrets, a U.S. criminal probe over a software tool for evading regulators and an investigation into alleged sexual harassment and discrimination. Several lieutenants, including ally Emil Michael, have also left.

"Uber is serving millions of riders and and drivers in over 55 cities across Southeast Asia, and is expanding rapidly to meet strong demand for ridesharing and food delivery,” the company said in an e-mailed statement. “With positive regulatory momentum behind the industry in the region, we are continuously investing in the app and talented local teams to ensure the very best experience for everyone, everywhere we operate."

SoftBank’s Son is emerging as the primary financier behind the anti-Uber alliance. In April, he led a $5.5 billion investment in Didi aimed at giving the Chinese ride-hailing startup a war chest to invest in new technologies and foreign expansion. SoftBank also sprinkled money into Brazil’s largest ride-sharing startup 99 and India’s Ola, and is in discussions to back Uber’s U.S. competitor Lyft Inc, people familiar have said.

“SoftBank missed the chance to invest in Uber before it became the leading ride-sharing platform in the U.S.,” said Masahiko Ishino, an analyst at Tokai Tokyo Securities. “Other regional ride-sharing companies still need capital to get up to speed.”...MORE
Also at Bloomberg, yesterday: 
SoftBank, Didi Hand $2 Billion to Uber's Biggest Asian Rival

AI: Jeffries Takes A Critical Look At IBM's Watson (IBM)

From the Supercomputer mavens at Top500:

Financial Analyst Takes Critical Look at IBM Watson
A report published by James Kisner, an equity analyst at global investment banking firm Jeffries, shot a few holes in IBM’s Watson and the company’s cognitive computing strategy. Along the way, Kisner offered some interesting insights into the AI market and some of the major players competing in the space.

The thrust of the report was that even though Watson is currently one of more mature cognitive computing platforms in the market, customer deployments have relied on expensive service and consulting engagements with IBM, which would limit broader adoption. The report also found that other firms were out-recruiting IBM for available AI talent and this would degrade the company’s competitive position in the long-term.

Kisner concluded that IBM is likely investing more money into Watson than it’s currently recouping in sales. At least that’s his best guess. As the report notes, IBM has been reticent to share financial data on Watson, both on the investment side and the revenue side.  According to a recent 10-K disclosure from IBM though, the company has spent $15 billion on its cognitive computing efforts from 2010 through 2015, which doesn’t include the $5 billion in AI-related acquisitions, such as The Weather Channel and Truven Health. Watson R&D is certainly a decent chunk of this overall spending, but no one outside of IBM knows for sure.

Regarding the high price of servicing Watson, Kisner refers to it a “Cadillac” solution, writing: “Our checks suggest that IBM’s Watson platform remains one of the most complete off-the-shelf platforms available on the marketplace. However, many new engagements require significant consulting work to gather and curate data. Our checks suggest that Watson is a finicky eater when it comes to data enterprises can feed it – in other words, IBM has very exacting standards for data preparation. The halt of and cost overruns in the MD Anderson engagement with Watson epitomize our concerns here.”

The latter refers to the MD Anderson Cancer Center ditching its Watson pilot project in 2016 after switching to a new database, which would have entailed additional integration work. At that point MD Anderson had already sunk $62 million into the effort. As a result, the center was not able to deploy the technology for clinical use.

As Kisner notes, the irony here is that a significant portion of Watson’s revenue is going to be generated from consultation, which is the very thing he believes will hinder its wider adoption. That’s not to say that IBM can’t make a going concern out of the business. As the AI space matures, there’s likely to be an array of offerings from providers aimed at different levels of users – from consumers to Fortune 500 companies. IBM is going to be focused at the high end of that spectrum.

Another factor to be consider is the relative value of the intellectual property in Watson, all of which lies in its software.  According to Kisner though, in the world of AI today, it is data and talent that have the most value, not the algorithms. Moreover, much of software, especially the deep learning frameworks, in the AI space developed by Google, Microsoft, Amazon and others, is now open source, and thus widely accessible. Although Watson is available as a cloud service, complete with an API interface, it charges a fee ($0.0025) for each API query.

On the data side, IBM owns the meteorological dataset from its Weather Channel acquisition, as well as Truven Health’s database. But compared to the data repositories available to the web giants like Amazon, Google and Facebook, IBM’s data resources are much more limited in scope and size.
Talent is also a problem for IBM, says Kisner. For this, he used AI-related job openings as a sort of proxy for a company’s ability to recruit individuals. When looking at the data, companies like Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple had many more job opening in this area that IBM. (Amazon had 10 times as many as IBM.)...

Here Come the FANGs; Alphabet Reports Today, Facebook and Amazon Later This Week

From Investors' Business Daily:

One FANG, One 95+ Stock: Both 2% Off Buys With Earnings Monday

The Nasdaq composite, S&P 500 index and Dow Jones industrial average will start the week near record highs. Monday is light for earnings, but it does boast quality. Google parent Alphabet (GOOGL) reports after the market close, ahead of fellow FANG stocks Facebook (FB) and Amazon (AMZN) later this week. Cadence Design Systems (CDNS) also is on tap late while IBD 50 stock Hasbro (HAS) releases results before the market open.

The Google parent is expected to deliver earnings of $8.15 a share excluding various items, according to Zacks Investment Research. Some estimates have $8.25. Either way, it would be a slim decline from $8.42 a year earlier. Complicating the earnings report will be a $2.74 billion fine from the European Union.

Net revenue should rise to $20.825 billion, up 19% vs. a year earlier.

While Alphabet gets the vast majority of its revenue in online advertising, cloud computing has become a growth area. Amazon may be looking over its shoulder regarding its dominant Amazon Web Services division in regards to Google and Microsoft (MSFT), which reported booming cloud gains last Thursday.

Alphabet has a Composite Rating of 95, which means it outperforms 95% of all stocks based on a variety of proprietary IBD ratings including earnings. All-time winning stocks often have Composite Ratings of 95 or better near the start of big runs.

Alphabet shares rose 0.1% to 993.35 on Friday stock market trading, about 2% below a new flat-base buy point of 1,008.71. An aggressive investor could see 994.09 as alternative entry.

Alphabet is up 25% in 2017, but that makes it a laggard next to fellow FANG internet giants Amazon (up 35%), Facebook (43%) and Netflix (NFLX) (52%).

Facebook reports earnings on Wednesday while Amazon is due Thursday....MORE

Ag Futures: Today's Word is Volatility

We'll see what today's crop progress report brings, in the meantime here's what Chicago brings:
Symbol Last Chg
Corn 385-0-8-4
Soybeans 1002-2-20-0
Wheat 491-2-8-0

From Agrimoney:
AM markets: speedy US cold front pushes grain prices lower

The grain traders who a couple of months ago were begging for more market volatility have certainly had their wish granted.
Futures started the week with another big move – this time downwards, and sufficient in corn to produce a gap in the chart for the December lot, with Monday's price high so far, at $3.89 ¼ a bushel, more than $0.03 below the bottom of the trading range for the last session.
The contract stood down 1.7% at $3.86 ¾ a bushel as of 09:30 UK time (03:30 Chicago time).
The cause of the selling was, again, primarily down to changes in the US Corn Belt weather, this time for the better in production terms.
As David Tolleris at noted, this weekend "there was significant rain over the north eastern 25% of Iowa, with some  areas getting as much as 7 inches of  rain.
"This heavy rain extended into the north east 25% of Illinois and north west Indiana, with a second area over south west Indiana near the Kentucky state line."
'Heat pretty much over'
Sure, Mr Tolleris also noted that central and western areas of Iowa, the top corn-growing state, as well as eastern Nebraska and northern Missouri missed out on expected rain.
However, on a more positive note for growers, a cold front has "clearly come in 6-12 hours fast.
"As a result the threat of 95-100 degree Fahrenheit temperatures over Iowa, northern Missouri and downstate Illinois is pretty much over with for the time being."...


Insurance: "...The Future of Insurtech"

From Daily Fintech, July 20:

Midas Touch Interview with Sam Evans of Eos Venture Partners on the future of Insurtech
Venture Capitalists make their living by getting the timing right on trends. Too early is not good. Too late is not good. Getting it right is hard. That is why the best make so much money. That is also why it is interesting to interview those with that Midas Touch.

There are generalist VC. There are Fintech specific VC. Even more specific is an Insurtech specific VC. We decided to interview somebody leading that market – Sam Evans of Eos Venture Partners.

The Bridge Funding model
Eos see themselves as a bridge between the Insurance incumbents (Insurance carriers, Reinsurance and Brokers) and the entrepreneurs. In VC terms, the LPs (Limited Partners) are Insurance companies. Those LPs expect financial returns for sure and Eos Venture Partners will get paid based on those returns. However the strategic returns are more important.

B2B2C and Level 3 Partnership Maturity
Sam talked about the problems of the B2C model for startups (high CAC and the needs for a big marketing budget) and the problems of the B2B model (long and uncertain sales cycles).
Sam did not call it B2B2C, but that is effectively what the alternative that is neither B2C or B2B is called. This is what we refer to as Level 3 in Partnership maturity in the mega trend we have been calling the “great Fintech convergence” (see this post from December 2015).
  • Level 1: Incomprehension. The other party just looks strange and it is hard to imagine a productive conversation. Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. Incumbents are older white men in suits and ties. Entrepreneurs are Millennials in casual clothes (skewing too male, but that is another story). Of course all stereotypes are wrong but they do impact how we see things.  Whether the incomprehension is based on fear or disdain, the reaction is the same – inertia. Incumbents seek to overcome the incomprehension problem by funding Accelerators and Hackathons. There is still a problem getting that understanding from the few people interacting with the startup ecosystem to the mainstream line of business managers – but it is a start.
  • Level 2: Funding. Banks take minority equity stakes in Fintech ventures through their Corporate Venture Capital (CVC) unit. This is the level that most relationships have reached. (Funding while still in Incomprehension mode is clearly dangerous).
  • Level 3: Strategic. This is where the relationship drives needle-moving revenues and profits for both parties. This may or may not include an equity relationship; the strategic relationship comes first.
Startups also go through three levels of understanding:
  • Level 1: Incomprehension. Incumbents are dinosaurs and our amazing UX will crush them (B2C). Or they are customers and as long as they pay top dollars upfront for our technology we love them (B2B).
  • Level 2: Funding. Lets pitch them for our Series A.
  • Level 3: Strategic. We want revenue share – that is a scalable model. So we know that means we also have to share risk. We will have a pragmatic discussion about branding.
This is what Sam Evans was referring to when he describes being a bridge.

How Insurance and Banks are different
Banks were slow to react to the threat/opportunity of Fintech. The first answer was Level 2. Clearly this does not scale. Not all Banks can have a Corporate VC unit. Even the best have to work hard to get great deal flow and eventually face the strategic dilemma of which comes first – financial or strategic returns....

Sunday, July 23, 2017

She Tried Soylent. It Didn't Go Well

From Everywhereist:

I Tried Soylent. It Didn’t Go Well.
Last week, I decided to try Soylent.

For those unfamiliar with this “food” product, Soylent is a high-protein drink designed to appeal to lifehackers, dieters, and doomsday cult members who are maybe a little shy and don’t want to come out of their bunker for communal meals. It has an incredibly long shelf-life, and provides you nutrition without all the pesky side-effects that food usually has, like chewing, tasting like something, and being an excuse for human interaction.

As a bonus, it also apparently gives you raging diarrhea, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Because I’m a blogger, and continually told that my life has relatively little value, my body becomes fair game for “creating content”. In the past I’ve tried Paleo, quit sugar for a month, and engaged in a series of workouts designed for double-jointed 19-year-olds who were probably genetically engineered in a lab inside Lululemon’s headquarters.

The point is, since I’m a woman who writes things on the internet, I’m continually told by trolls to “Drink bleach and die.” So I thought, Why don’t I drink something that is marginally better than bleach and instead of dying, I’ll write about it? Thanks for the idea, trolls! I hope you take a moment from your non-stop rage masturbation to reflect on how much I appreciate you.

So … What IS It, Anyway?

It’s a drinkable meal replacement created by computer developers with absolutely zero background in nutrition or culinary sciences. According to the company’s own website, this was the moment of inspiration that led the founders to create Soylent:
Living off a diet of frozen corn dogs and ramen, they grew frustrated with the effort and cost associated with purchasing, preparing, and consuming food that was neither healthy nor enjoyable.
Now, you can understand why I was slightly concerned about ingesting something developed by guys who felt that the prep work for corn dogs and ramen was too much for them. Also, please explain to me how much time and effort is possibly spent purchasing those food items. You can literally buy them at a gas station.

Let me be clear: my body is not a temple. Today I’ve consumed a spoonful of raw cookie dough, and two slices of blueberry pie. At the time of me writing this, it is 9:57am. My eating habits roughly resemble those of someone who is high, because I am, in fact, often high.

But all of it was homemade and goddamn delicious. The point is, I derive a lot of joy from food because I’m not a sociopath.

Soylent takes its name from a 1960s sci-fi thriller starring Charlton Heston (the website maintains they actually got the idea from the book on which the film is based. Sure, guys. Sure.) In the movie, there’s a massive food shortage, and Soylent is the food replacement that everyone eats, and the most popular flavor is Soylent Green, which Heston’s character discovers is actually made from human flesh.
I’m going to repeat that, in case that paragraph was so batshit crazy that your brain rejected it. The inventors saw a movie in which people are unknowingly eating processed food that is made from humans and they thought “WE SHOULD NAME OUR PROCESSED FOOD AFTER THAT.”
Are we all on the same page of this ludicrous book titled Oh My God, What is Happening? Great.
The Experiment
I decided to replace two meals a day with Soylent every day for a week. That’s fourteen bottles.
It did not end well. It didn’t even begin well.
Soylent comes in a variety of flavors with ambiguous, litigation-safe names like “nectar” and “cacao.” There’s a caffeinated variant, if you want to avoid a high-maintenance lifestyle that requires you to drink coffee. Or, for you DIYers, you can buy Soylent in a powdered form, in case you like your Soy Protein Isolate Meal Replacements to have a more “homemade” touch.
I ordered a 12-pack from the Internet, and a few days later it arrived on my doorstep. The box said that I didn’t need to refrigerate Soylent, and that pregnant women should consult a doctor before drinking it, and you shouldn’t have arguments with your spouse within earshot of the package because it will anger the Soylents inside. Also, you are cautioned not to drink too much of the stuff. No, really. The actual label of the product tells you to maybe not drink it.
I was somewhat concerned because now even Soylent itself was like, “Hey maybe this is a bad idea.”
I mean, I can eat an entire bag of Fritos and at no point does the packaging say, “Whoa. Maybe slow down and consider some carrot sticks.”

I took a look at the ingredients and it was basically a list of characters from The Hunger Games.
Copper Gluconate. Manganese Sulfate. Pyridoxine Hydrochloride. Mmm, oat fiber. Never one to pass up an opportunity to drink canola oil mixed with rice starch, I started the project.
Day 1.
9:37 am: I take my first sip. Soylent tastes like milk left over in Lucky Charms, minus the sweetness. It’s thick; like swallowing cold pancake batter – and has a vaguely oaty taste to it....

More than likely related:

Soylent Ingredient Provisioner Pooh-Poohs Diarrhea Accusation, Cuts Off Gruel Maker's Algae Flour Supply
Soylent's New Food Bar Is Giving People Diarrhea
Disruption: Soylent Says It Knows Why It Is Making Its Customers Poop and Puke
If interested see also (no diarrhea, I promise):
Andreessen Horowitz on Soylent: It's not just Soylent, It's the Soylent community (GPRO)

The Future of Food Is Food
Soylent, the sludge-like drink that claims to replace real food, valued at $100 million

"A Massive 1,109-Carat Rough Diamond Is Too Large to Sell"

What's the next step after "First World Problems"?
From Town&Country:

The "Lesedi La Rona" stone didn't find a buyer at auction last summer.*
A massive, tennis ball-sized rough diamond, the second largest ever unearthed, has been deemed too large to sell. Found by the Lucara Diamond Corporation in Botswana, the stone has since been named Lesedi la Rona, which means "our light" in Tswana, the language spoken in the area.

The owners originally sought a buyer for the rough cut, placing the stone up for auction last summer, but after the 1,109-carat rock failed to meet the $70 million minimum reserve price set by Sotheby's, industry insiders say the gem will be cut

"It's only the second stone recovered in the history of humanity over 1,000 carats. Why would you want to polish it?" Lucara's chief executive told Fortune. "The stone in the rough form contains untold potential... As soon as you polish it into one solution, everything else is gone."
However, the stone is so large that it cannot be accurately assessed. 

"When is a diamond too big? I think we have found that when you go above 1,000 carats, it is too big - certainly from the aspect of analyzing the stones with the technology available," Panmure Gordon mining analyst Kieron Hodgson told Fortune....MORE
The rock had been even bigger but a  373-carat hunk broke off before the sorting process got to them.
Graff's newest acquisition

Flying taxis to transport passengers in Moscow in 2018

As noted back in 2016:
As the only analysts covering the nascent as-yet-theoretical autonomous electric flying taxi market we intend to be the the go-to source for all things autonomous electric flying taxi and/or theoretical....
There have been some developments.
From TASS:
MOSCOW, July 20. /TASS/. First self-flying taxis will appear in Moscow as soon as the year 2018 after relevant legislation is approved, the head of the Russian company ATM Freight Drones told TASS on Wednesday.

The company tests unmanned aerial vehicles in a Moscow technology park.

"The theme is rather expansive since it features technical aspects, which we have managed to overcome, and legal aspects as well," Alexander Atamanov said. "We have put forward an initiative to amend the current legislation so that personal drones can be used for transportation of cargoes and passengers. Moscow government’s position is positive but much depends on the federal authorities. So, if we manage to do it, Moscow will become one of the most innovative capital cities in the world. I think that the most positive scenario is one year."

There should be "a narrow echelon of 10-15 meters above the ground, flyovers, underpasses, rivers, and railways where transport goes," he said.

Flying taxis are "tested in fenced areas", in the Moscow and Skolkovo technology parks, he said. No traffic jams

At first, flying taxis will be available for short distance trips. A special app should be downloaded on the mobile phone to call a flying taxi. Fares are not expected to be higher than the current taxi rates.
High speeds and no traffic jams are main advantages of flying taxis, Atamanov said....MORE
Meanwhile, it appears the much heralded Dubai taxi service, which was due to begin service in July, has been delayed a bit.
From The National (UAE):

World's first self-flying taxi coming to Dubai 'within months'
Velocopter can carry two passengers in complete safety and will have new laws to guide operations, the RTA says.

The world’s first autonomous flying taxi is expected to be in the air by the end of the year, Dubai transport officials have revealed.

The German-designed Volocopter will begin testing in the final quarter of 2017, followed by a five-year evaluation period.

The RTA also announced that it is working with the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority to develop the world’s first autonomous aviation laws and operational guidelines. Because the Volocopter carries only passengers, its occupants do not need a pilot license.

A new video released by the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) shows what it might be like to travel in the pilotless aircraft, which can carry up to two passengers and is powered by 18 electric rotors....MORE
If interested see also:
Airbus Reveals Ambitious Plan for Autonomous Flying Taxis
The Effect Of Airbus' Cash Squeeze On Their Autonomous Flying Taxi Project Is Probably Nil
Uber to Challenge Airbus in the Autonomous Electric Flying Taxi Business

Bugsy Siegel: A Love Story

A good story well told.
From Los Angeles Magazine, September 29, 2014:

On June 20, 1947, gangster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel was slain in Beverly Hills, his body riddled with bullets. One family claims to know who did it. Is one of the nation’s most famous cold cases heating up?
This is not your Ozzie and Harriet family, needless to say,” Robbie Sedway tells me one afternoon in May. We are sitting together in the dining room of his Pacific Palisades condo. In front of him is a cardboard box, and he is riffling through its contents: photos of made men, murderers convicted and otherwise, even a bona fide movie star. For Robbie, this is what passes for family memorabilia. Adjusting his glasses, he pulls out a posed portrait of his mother, Bee. Once she was a gangster’s wife. She married Jewish mobster Moe Sedway when she was 17 and he was 41, and soon she became the confidant of Sedway’s old friend and business partner, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel.

Robbie, a 71-year-old realtor, hands me a sheaf of yellowed newspaper clippings about his dad, Moe (“Czar of Vegas,” reads one headline). A treasured business card is embossed with Moe’s name and a glossy red bird. “The Flamingo,” it says. “Vice-president.” In the 1930s and ’40s, Bee and Moe lived a glamorous L.A. life. They had a huge Beverly Hills mansion with maids upstairs and down, a Cadillac custom painted to match Bee’s copper hair, a 5-carat diamond that hung on a chain around Bee’s neck. Now Robbie’s parents and their fortune are long gone, and he is the keeper of the artifacts they left behind. His second wife, Renee, joins us at the table as he pulls out a taped two-hour interview that his mother granted to documentary filmmakers in 1993. Most of the interview ended up on the cutting room floor, but there’s good stuff there, Robbie says. Next he offers me a ragged Xerox copy of a 79-page typewritten book proposal, which his mother called Bugsy’s Little Lunatic. The book was not written; the proposal never went to market.

In 2007, Robert Glen Sedway was diagnosed with throat cancer, which he beat. It’s been dormant, but suddenly it’s back. His build is still solid, and he has most of his thick silver hair, but he has begun moving more slowly and wipes his eyes often with a tissue. The time is right, he’s decided, to tell me the story he’s heard again and again but that has never been repeated outside his family. There is no one left to tell him no. Not his father, whose heart failed in 1952 while on a cross-country flight to Miami when he was just 57. Not his mother, who died in a Corona rest home in 1999 at the age of 81. Not Robbie’s only sibling, Dick, a sometime heroin user with multiple sclerosis who died in 2002, when he was 65.

“I’m at a point in my life where my health is not good,” says Robbie, shrugging when I ask him, Why break your silence now? “Everyone’s been wondering for 67 years. I mean, why not?”
That’s about the moment when the front door of the condo pops open, swinging wide. Robbie’s wife is startled and gets up from the table. After 20 seconds, the door shuts again, seemingly of its own accord, and Renee goes to see if there’s anyone outside. There’s not. Renee turns to her husband. “Your mother was here,” she whispers to him. “Bee just entered the house.”

Everyone knows that the longer a case remains unsolved, the harder it is to crack. That’s why most of us raise an eyebrow whenever someone steps up decades after the fact and announces that they can identify the Zodiac Killer, say, or take you to the exact spot in the Bermuda Triangle where Amelia Earhart’s plane is rusting away. Today Robbie is that someone. He says he knows who killed Bugsy Siegel. He says he can close the Beverly Hills Police Department’s most famous open case—a murder that, except for perhaps the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa, is America’s greatest unsolved Mob mystery. Contrary to speculation, he says, Siegel wasn’t killed in a dispute over money. He was killed for love. “It’s a love story,” Robbie says. And his mother, Bee, was at the center of it all.

More than 50 years ago, Robbie says Bee told him the identity of Siegel’s killer. Several weeks ago he promised to tell me. Since then, I’ve been striving to temper my excitement with skepticism. So when Robbie’s wife insists that 15 years after Bee died, she remains a ghostly presence in their house, I try not to roll my eyes. Renee and Robbie may believe that Bee is as domineering in death as she was in life, but I’m not so sure. Still, I have to admit: I feel as if I’ve been chasing phantoms.

Returning to Renee and Robbie’s condo a few weeks later, I tell them that I’ve stumbled across a photo of Bee, taken backstage at the Paradise Cabaret in New York in the mid 1930s. I found it during that most mundane of reportorial exercises (a Google search) after I set out to envision the world that the teenage Bee inhabited when she was a vaudeville dancer. I didn’t think I’d find Bee herself—just images of the Paradise, where she performed two shows a night. But then in an uncaptioned photo there she was, bright-eyed and bare shouldered, a grinning sprite of a 17-year-old girl.....MUCH MORE 

Automation: "Professionals and Managers: You’re Next"

Last Saturday Mr. Musk said* to the National Governors Association:
“There certainly will be job disruption. Because what’s going to happen is robots will be able to do everything better than us, I mean, all of us.”
which many in the audience took to mean their kissing babies and cutting ribbons gig might be at risk.
This focused the attention of the politicians.

And the latest, from City Journal:

Automation may replace skilled workers sooner than you expect.
Here’s the dirty little secret about automation: it’s easier to build a robot to replace a junior attorney than to replace a journeyman electrician. And that fact helps explain why economists and politicians are feeling misgivings about “creative destruction,” which, up to now, they have usually embraced as a net good for society. Technology and automation, they’ve argued—correctly—boost productivity and create more jobs overall (even as some kinds of work get eradicated).

In the age of the algorithm, though, they’re not so sure any more, and no wonder: instead of creative destruction coming to factories and farms, it’s sweeping through city centers and taking white-collar jobs. The chattering classes have talked and written for years about the “end of work.” Doubtless many fear that the end of their work is in the offing, this time around.

Understandably, most of the media focus has been on the replacement of manual labor—real robots doing real tasks provide better visuals than an invisible service “bot” in the cloud. But focusing on hamburger-flipping androids is a distraction from where the real revolution is taking place. In any case, automation doesn’t really explain the decline in factory employment: manufacturing-sector investment in information technology has been flat or declining for more than a decade; and productivity, a critical indicator of (and the purpose of) automation has also been flat. Factories are actually underinvested in technology.

But Silicon Valley has been busy building software that will transform businesses, particularly those associated with shopping malls, Hollywood, hotels, taxis, newspapers, broadcast TV, finance, and even education. Some algorithms can teach basic math better than most humans with a B.Ed. Next up are the many paperwork tasks currently administered by bureaucrats and regulators....MORE 
*At the conference Mr. Musk also said:
"The thing that is the most dangerous — and it is the hardest to ... get your arms around because it is not a physical thing — is a deep intelligence in the network.

"You say, 'What harm can a deep intelligence in the network do?' "Well, it can start a war by doing fake news and spoofing email accounts and doing fake press releases and by manipulating information"
but I imagine the Governors were still thinking "Not my job, the people need me!"

Here's the C-SPAN video and transcript segments.

"'Miscalculated' Qatar blockade has backfired, says former UK Middle East chief"

From al-Araby:
The Saudi-led Qatar blockade was a miscalculated move that lacked strategy and backfired, the former the head of Britain's Foreign Office Middle East desk said.

The decision to impose an all-out blockade and sanctions on the tiny Gulf emirate backfired, Sir William Patey said, noting instead of the intended regime change, the blockade had in fact boosted the emir's support across the country.

“This has all the hallmarks of a policy that has not been thought through. It does not smack of a considered strategy,” Patey said at roundtable discussion in London organised by the Conservative Middle East Council on Saturday.

“It is not a smart move even if you are sympathetic to their vision. It is a short cut to achieve something quickly and I think they miscalculated and I think they did think that with Trump behind them, Qatar would back down.

"They raised these stakes because they thought Qatar would back down in the end, so I think they were a bit surprised," he said, noting "the Qataris are rallying round their leadership"....MORE
Also at al-Araby:
UAE rejects dialogue with Qatar 'until it revises policies'
Bin Salman 'exploited rival's painkiller addiction' to become Saudi heir

Saturday, July 22, 2017

"Norway Takes Lead in Race to Build Autonomous Cargo Ships"

We'll reprise our headline from mid-May:
He May Not Have Received His Nobel Prizes But The World's First Fully Electric Autonomous Container Ship Will Be Called the Birkeland

Last month Norway and Yara celebrated the 150th anniversary of the birth of the company's co-founder: "The Birkeland Anniversary 2017".

And here's the latest from the Wall Street Journal:
OSLO—Two Norwegian companies are taking the lead in the race to build the world’s first crewless, autonomously operated ship, an advance that could mark a turning point in seaborne trade.

Dubbed by shipping executives the “Tesla of the Seas,” the Yara Birkeland now under development is scheduled in late 2018 to start sailing fertilizer 37 miles down a fiord from a production facility to the port of Larvik. Using the Global Positioning System, radar, cameras and sensors, the electric ship is designed to navigate itself around other boat traffic and to dock on its own.

The vessel will cost $25 million, about three times as much as a conventional container ship of its size, but its backers say without need for fuel or crew it promises to cut annual operating costs by up to 90%. The 100-container ship is scheduled to be in the water toward the end of next year, though initially it will be tested with a human at the controls.

The Birkeland is being jointly developed by agriculture firm Yara International ASA and Kongsberg Gruppen AS A, which builds guidance systems for civilian and military uses.

Petter Ostbo, Yara’s head of production who leads the project, said the company would look to invest in bigger ships and use them for longer routes once international regulations are in place for crewless vessels. “Maybe even move our fertilizer from Holland all the way to Brazil,” he said.

The International Maritime Organization, which regulates maritime travel, doesn’t expect legislation governing crewless ships to be in place before 2020.

Shipping executives say autonomous vessels will be popular for short sea routes, but doubt they will replace oceangoing ships that move thousands of containers across continents with an average crew size of around 25.

“It’s not a matter of technology, which is already there, but a business case,” said Lars Jensen, chief executive of SeaIntelligence Consulting in Copenhagen. “Autonomous ships are expensive to begin with, and have to be built very robust, because if they break down, the cost of getting a team to fix them it in the middle of the ocean will be very high.”...MUCH MORE
Just as long as the big blue boat doesn't become pirate-bait.
I'd watch for raiding parties out of Denmark.

Questions America Wants Answered: "Are Macro Gods in Big Trouble?"

The thing I don't understand in stories like this on macro or in "funds fleeing commodities" stories is:
In two-sided markets the ability to choose long or short is a big source of alpha generation (the rare 'true' arb opportunity is another) so someone who fails to make money is—almost by definition—exposing themselves as a bit of a scam, leveraged beta gussied up as 2-and-20 alpha.

From Bloomberg via Pension Pulse:
Saijel Kishan of Bloomberg reports, Markets No Longer Make Sense to Macro Managers:
Financial markets no longer make sense to macro managers like Mark Spindel.

After spending three decades focusing on things like economic trends, currency moves, politics and policy, Spindel has been confounded by markets shaped by low volatility, algorithms and more. He finally gave up and closed his nine-year-old hedge fund.

“I felt the intensity of following markets at a time of increasing political and economic confusion very hard,” said Spindel, founder of Potomac River Capital in Washington. “My entire career had centered on an understanding of monetary politics and I had trouble getting my head around it all. It was exhausting.”

These are troubled -- and troubling -- times for macro managers, those figurative heirs of famed investor George Soros who were once dubbed the masters of the universe. They’ve barely made money this year and once again, their returns pale next to those of cheaper index funds. Many investors are looking elsewhere.

Andrew Law at Caxton Associates has posted record losses. Alan Howard had the worst first-half in his hedge fund’s history. Even the old hands in the business such as Louis Bacon haven’t been spared from losing money. And Soros’s son, Robert, conceded last month that his family firm has made fewer macro bets amid “lackluster” opportunities.

It’s enough to make a macro man wonder: in an age of untested central bank measures and algorithms, can this classic hedge fund style pay off like it used to?

Opaque Markets

The old guard made their fortunes when markets were more opaque, less efficient and when they had access to market information privy only to a few. Price trends were easier to latch onto, leverage heavily used and competitors fewer. Today, funds face an onslaught of technology that’s disseminating information more quickly and widely, while some algorithms are able to spot -- and capture -- price anomalies almost instantly. And computer models can more cheaply follow market trends.

Macro managers posted their worst first-half since 2013, losing on average of 0.8 percent after a 1 percent decline in June, according to Hedge Fund Research Inc. data. The managers returned less than 1 percent annually over the past five years. The broader hedge fund industry returned 3.7 percent in the first half after barely making any money last month, and returned about 4.9 percent annualized over the past five years, the research firm said.

After winning a brief reprieve at the end of 2016 in the wake of President Donald Trump’s election win, macro managers’ fortunes reversed this year as the dollar and oil declined, stocks rallied and a political crisis erupted in Brazil. Volatility in equity and currency markets also fell to their lowest in years. In recent weeks, though, the dollar and Treasury yields have risen amid a hawkish tone from developed-nation central banks.

Investors have lost patience with the strategy. They pulled about $3.8 billion from discretionary macro managers in the first quarter, the fifth straight quarterly outflow, while adding $4.9 billion into computer-driven macro funds, HFR data show.

For years, managers have blamed central bank policies for their failure to deliver stand-out profits. Low interest rates globally made it harder to make money from differences among nations, they say. And as computers probabilistically forecast economic and market data, some managers say it’s a challenge to compete with algorithms that can be a driver of short-term price action, and create shorter and sharper investment cycles.

Disconnected Markets

Spindel, a former investment chief at a World Bank unit, is searching for answers to why macro didn’t work for him. Things started going awry for the 51-year-old just after Greece skirted Grexit two years ago. Spindel was wrong footed by China’s currency devaluations and Brexit -- at times trading from his couch at home during the night to keep abreast of political developments overseas.

Over a salad lunch during a visit to New York last month, Spindel recounted times when he got his economic forecasts right but market predictions wrong. He referred to charts that show a declining relationship between economic-data surprises and bond yields, and discussed how he was perplexed by new central bank measures.

“The dispassion felt harder in the Grexit-Brexit window,” Spindel said, whose fund generated an annualized 11 percent return from 2007 to July 2015. “Markets had become increasingly disconnected with economics and politics.”

In addition, increased regulation and fee pressure made it more expensive to run his $760 million firm, he said. After losing 12 percent through September last year, he returned money to clients.

Elephant in Room

“The elephant in the room is that macro should have done well in the past seven or so years because of all the political and economic events,” said Adam Duncan, a managing director at Cambridge Associates, a Boston-based firm that advises clients on investing. “Yet no one has made any money. The idea that the opportunity set hasn’t been there is just not true. Markets have been moving all over the place.”...MUCH MORE

Gig Economy, 18th Century Style

Interestingly (or not, your call) the two-wheeled one-horse open carriage was introduced around the time this article focuses on:
Gig and miniature horse

From The Conversation:
The Uber pool of the 18th century. James Pollard - The London-Faringdon Coach passing 
The Taylor Report, the UK government’s recent major review of modern work, paid particular attention to the “gig economy”. This is the idea that the traditional model of work – where people often have a clear career progression and a job for life – has been upended. It encompasses “self-employed” Uber drivers to the web developer freelancers and it allows workers more freedom – but also denies them benefits and protective regulation.

While it might seem that long-established ways of working are being disrupted, history shows us that the one person, one career model is a relatively recent phenomenon. Prior to industrialisation in the 19th century, most people worked multiple jobs to piece together a living. Looking to the past uncovers some of the challenges, benefits and consequences of a gig economy.

The diaries of three men in 18th-century Britain that I have found give a fascinating insight into how middle class people – the supposed beneficiaries of today’s gig economy – made multiple employments work. Edmund Harrold, a resident of Manchester in the early 18th century was a barber by training and title. He rented a small shop, shaved customers’ heads, bought and sold hair, and crafted wigs. In the hours unfilled by this he worked as a book dealer, and eventually as an auctioneer, selling various items in alehouses within Manchester and in outlying towns. He lent out money when he had it, earning 10% interest on his holdings.

Another enthusiastic embracer of the gig economy was Thomas Parsons, working as a stone carver in the city of Bath in 1769, as well as an amateur scientist – work that we might normally classify as leisure. In the West Country, John Cannon took jobs as an agricultural labourer, excise man, failed maltster, and teacher.

Like people earning money through the gig economy today, the three men were thrown into a world of precariousness. They had independence but fretted frequently about having enough money to pay bills, and feared the potential for failure. Parsons agonised about his ability to pay his debts, noting in one entry....MUCH MORE

Making the World a Better Place, One Pizza At a Time

From Yahoo Finance:

The pizza-making robots that want to change the world
HBO’s comedy “Silicon Valley” makes fun of the way even boring startup tech companies adopt the same mission statement: “To make the world a better place.”

But serial entrepreneur and former Microsoft executive Alex Garden isn’t shy about stating his new company’s path to making the world a better place—through pizza. It’s not just any pizza, though. Zume pizzas are made by robots, and they’re cooked in pizza ovens inside delivery trucks.

“One of the founding principles of this company is that every American has a right to a healthy meal they can afford,” he told me. “If you look at pizza, what is it? It’s high-quality bread, and high-quality organic vegetables, and meats and cheeses. All of these things are things that are good for you in moderation. And the number of calories really is a function of how much sugar is in the food. Zume Pizza is half the calories per slice, roughly half the cholesterol and half the fat, of any of the national leading chains.”

How? “The main reason is sugar,” says Garden, whose pizzas range in price from $10 for a cheese to $20 for a pineapple express.

“We don’t put any extra sugar in the sauce. We don’t put any extra sugar in the dough. And we let our dough age for 24 hours; during that process, the fermentation of the dough further reduces the sugar in it.”

He also has much to say about where he gets his ingredients—directly from the providers, without the warehouses and distribution channels that, say, Pizza Hut (YUM) or Domino’s (DPZ) employ. He uses software—predictive algorithms—to know what he’ll need when. He makes his sausage and tomato sauce in-house.

But that’s not the most headline-grabbing feature of Zume pizza, which was founded in 2015 and currently delivers in Mountain View, California, and surrounding areas. The biggest feature is the robots.

The robots
Inside the Zume kitchen, robots are displacing more human workers every passing month. These days, one robot presses out the dough into the familiar flattened circle; a second and third (Pepe and Giorgio) squirt tomato sauce or white sauce onto each pie; a fourth (Marta) spreads the sauce around (“perfectly, but not too perfectly,” Garden says). Humans apply the toppings, but then a fourth machine (Bruno) scoops up the pizza from the conveyor belt and delicately lays it into the baking oven; a fifth (Leonardo) chops it neatly into eight slices with a single, 200-pounds-of-force stroke....MORE
Coincidentally an earlier post was:
CDC Report: 100 Million Americans Either Diabetic or On Their Way

Supercomputers "The 49th TOP500 List was published June 20, 2017 in Frankfurt, Germany."

We're usually more timely posting the list but reality keeps intruding on the blog stuff.
A couple things to point out, we've made a few mentions of the Swiss supercomputer Piz Daint, here's one of them from last November:
NVIDIA Builds Its Very Own Supercomputer, Enters The Top500 List At #28 (NVDA)
...To be clear, this isn't someone using NVDA's graphics processors to speed up their supercomputer as the Swiss did with the one they let CERN use and which is currently the eighth fastest in the world or the computer that's being built right now at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and is planned to be the fastest in the world (but may not make it, China's Sunway TaihuLight is very, very fast)....
You can see the results of the upgrade in the current list, Piz Daint went from 8th fastest to 3rd fastest in the world. 

Possibly also of interest, NVIDIA's 'puter has been bumped down to #32, behind Facebook's AI/machine-learning supercomputer which is based on NVIDIA's DGX-1 and uses NVDA chips as their graphics accelerator.
From Top
June 2017
In the latest rankings, the Sunway TaihuLight, a system developed by China’s National Research Center of Parallel Computer Engineering & Technology (NRCPC) and installed at the National Supercomputing Center in Wuxi, maintains its top position. With a Linpack performance of 93 petaflops, TaihuLight is far and away the most powerful number-cruncher on the planet.

Tianhe-2, (Milky Way-2), a system developed by China’s National University of Defense Technology (NUDT) and deployed at the National Supercomputer Center in Guangzho, China, occupies the number two position with a Linpack mark of 33.9 petaflops.  Tianhe-2 was the number one system in the TOP500 list for three consecutive years, until TaihuLight eclipsed it in June 2016.

The new number three supercomputer is the upgraded Piz Daint, a Cray XC50 system installed at the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre (CSCS). The upgrade was accomplished with additional NVIDIA Tesla P100 GPUs, doubling the Linpack performance of the system’s previous mark of 9.8 petaflops in November 2016, which itself was the result of a significant upgrade. Piz Daint’s current Linpack result of 19.6 petaflops enabled the system to climb five positions in the rankings.

As a result of the Piz Daint upgrade, Titan, a Cray XK7 system installed at the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory, drops to number four in the rankings. Its Linpack mark of 17.6 petaflops has remained constant since it was installed in 2012.
Rounding out the top 10 are:
  • Sequoia (17.2 petaflops), an IBM BlueGene/Q system installed at the DOE’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, at number five;
  • Cori (14.0 petaflops), a Cray XC40 system housed at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC), at number six;
  • Oakforest-PACS (13.6 petaflops), a Fujitsu PRIMERGY system running at Japan’s Joint Center for Advanced High Performance Computing, at number seven;
  • Fujitsu’s K computer (10.5 petaflops), installed at the RIKEN Advanced Institute for Computational Science (AICS), at number eight;
  • Mira (8,6 petaflops), an IBM BlueGene/Q system installed at DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory, at number nine; and
  • Trinity (8.1 petaflops), a Cray XC40 system running at Los Alamos National Laboratory, at number ten.
With the two Chinese supercomputers and one Swiss system occupying the top of the rankings, this is the second time in the 24-year history of the TOP500 list that the United States has failed to secure any of the top three positions. The only other time this occurred was in November 1996, when three Japanese systems captured the top three spots....MORE
TOP 10 Sites for June 2017
For more information about the sites and systems in the list, click on the links or view the complete list.
Rank System Cores Rmax (TFlop/s) Rpeak (TFlop/s) Power (kW)
1 Sunway TaihuLight - Sunway MPP, Sunway SW26010 260C 1.45GHz, Sunway , NRCPC
National Supercomputing Center in Wuxi
10,649,600 93,014.6 125,435.9 15,371
2 Tianhe-2 (MilkyWay-2) - TH-IVB-FEP Cluster, Intel Xeon E5-2692 12C 2.200GHz, TH Express-2, Intel Xeon Phi 31S1P , NUDT
National Super Computer Center in Guangzhou
3,120,000 33,862.7 54,902.4 17,808
3 Piz Daint - Cray XC50, Xeon E5-2690v3 12C 2.6GHz, Aries interconnect , NVIDIA Tesla P100 , Cray Inc.
Swiss National Supercomputing Centre (CSCS)
361,760 19,590.0 25,326.3 2,272
4 Titan - Cray XK7, Opteron 6274 16C 2.200GHz, Cray Gemini interconnect, NVIDIA K20x , Cray Inc.
DOE/SC/Oak Ridge National Laboratory
United States
560,640 17,590.0 27,112.5 8,209
5 Sequoia - BlueGene/Q, Power BQC 16C 1.60 GHz, Custom , IBM
United States
1,572,864 17,173.2 20,132.7 7,890
6 Cori - Cray XC40, Intel Xeon Phi 7250 68C 1.4GHz, Aries interconnect , Cray Inc.
United States
622,336 14,014.7 27,880.7 3,939
7 Oakforest-PACS - PRIMERGY CX1640 M1, Intel Xeon Phi 7250 68C 1.4GHz, Intel Omni-Path , Fujitsu
Joint Center for Advanced High Performance Computing
556,104 13,554.6 24,913.5 2,719
8 K computer, SPARC64 VIIIfx 2.0GHz, Tofu interconnect , Fujitsu
RIKEN Advanced Institute for Computational Science (AICS)
705,024 10,510.0 11,280.4 12,660
9 Mira - BlueGene/Q, Power BQC 16C 1.60GHz, Custom , IBM
DOE/SC/Argonne National Laboratory
United States
786,432 8,586.6 10,066.3 3,945
10 Trinity - Cray XC40, Xeon E5-2698v3 16C 2.3GHz, Aries interconnect , Cray Inc.
United States
301,056 8,100.9 11,078.9 4,233

"Relative Finger Lengths and The Voices of Bankers [research study]"

From Improbable Research:

Relative Finger Lengths and The Voices of Bankers [research study]
Comes yet another discovery about relative finger lengths. The new study is:

Prenatal exposure to testosterone (2D:4D) and social hierarchy together predict voice behavior in bankers,” Erik Bijleveld, Joost Baalbergen, PLoS ONE, vol. 12, no. 6, June 28, 2017, e0180008. The authors, at Radboud University and Utrecht University, The Netherlands, explain:
“Prohibitive voice behaviors are employees’ expressions of concern about practices, incidents, or behaviors that may potentially harm the organization…. In a sample of bankers, we used 2D:4D (i.e., the ratio of the length of the index finger to the length of the ring finger)  [and we] used a self-report scale to measure prohibitive voice. For low-ranked employees, lower 2D:4D was related to using less voice. No such relation was found for high-ranked employees. [Our] findings are consistent with the ideas that (a) people low in 2D:4D tend to strive to attain and maintain social status and that (b) remaining silent about perceived problems in the organization is—at least for low-ranked employees—a means to achieve this goal….
“In any case, by bridging management science and neuroendocrinology, this research suggests a new, biological way of thinking about people’s decisions to (not) use voice.”...MORE
A quick heads-up, Improbable's Ig Nobels are just around the corner:
Tickets for the 27th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony go on sale THURSDAY, JULY 20, 2017, at noon (US eastern time). We expect (based on experience) the tickets will get snapped up quickly.
The Harvard Box Office handles all ticket sales. The physical ticket office [now in a temporary location in Farkas Hall, 10 Holyoke Street, Cambridge] is open some (but not all!) days from noon to 6 pm.Telephone (+1) 617-496-2222.
The web site is open 24 hours, every day.
Tickets: $75 / $65 / $55 / $35
Student tickets: $70 / $60 / $50 / $30
Ig Glorious tickets....