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Y Combinator, one of best-known Silicon Valley accelerators, has an impressive track record of success. With well-timed investments in Dropbox, Stripe, and Airbnb, the startups in the company’s portfolio are now worth an aggregate of $600 billion in market capitalization.

While Y Combinator has made a clear impact on the tech sector, the company also launched an internal side project in 2007 that would end up becoming highly influential in a different and surprising way.

Its user-powered news aggregator called Hacker News, which is now visited by 20 million people per month, has become a mainstay for entrepreneurs, tech professionals, and venture capitalists around the world. Using a Reddit-like interface, users can upvote and downvote articles that they think have the most relevance to trends and issues affecting the tech sector.

Data Mining For Trends

Today’s charts come to us from Variance Explained, and they help to paint a picture of what topics have been trending on Hacker News over the last 3.5 years.

Using data from over 1 million subject lines, we can see which topics are being mentioned with increasing frequency by the site’s community of technology influencers.


As you can see, words like “AI”, “artificial”, “bot”, “deep”, “neural”, and “learning” are key terms that have growing interest within the community. It shows that the buzz around AI and deep learning is widespread and happening on multiple fronts.

Donald Trump was also a hot topic of debate in Hacker News, as evidenced by the increase in mentions.

Cooling Off

Here are some of the words in the community used with decreasing frequency over the same 3.5 year timeframe:

The fastest-declining words in Hacker News titles

Over time, as the rubber hits the road, we get to see which ideas have staying power.

Google Glass, as cool as it was, ended up not directly revolutionizing how we use augmented reality. Likewise, Edward Snowden’s revelations about the NSA and surveillance seemed to have also dropped out of discussion.

On the flipside, some of these concepts also seem to have transitioned to the mainstream. Bitcoin and other altcoins, for example, are now more popular than ever before with a market capitalization of over $100 billion. Likewise, iPads, Gmail, and Kickstarter are pretty ubiquitous, but it could be argued that discussion on these topics is now pretty staid for the idea-hungry folks that frequent Hacker News.

Blockchain vs. Bitcoin

It’s also interesting to see the contrasting popularity of two related terms among Hacker News participants.

Bitcoin-related talk, at least on Hacker News, was hot in late-2013 after the price skyrocketed for the first time. The blockchain, on the other hand, took some time to pick up steam among influencers.

The popularity of Blockchain vs. Bitcoin on Hacker News

Fast-forward to today, and the concept of the blockchain is much more fleshed out.

It took time, but the blockchain is now considered to be a foundational technology that is affecting everything from how how stock markets work, to the proof of ownership for digital assets.

Courtesy of VisualCapitalist

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The Winners And Losers Of A Cashless Society

Courtesy of: The Money Project


There is a global push by lawmakers to eliminate the use of physical cash around the world. This movement is often referred to as “The War on Cash”, and there are three major players involved:

1. The Initiators
Governments, central banks.
The elimination of cash will make it easier to track all types of transactions – including those made by criminals.

2. The Enemy
Criminals, terrorists
Large denominations of bank notes make illegal transactions easier to perform, and increase anonymity.

3. The Crossfire
The coercive elimination of physical cash will have potential repercussions on the economy and social liberties.

Is Cash Still King?

Cash has always been king – but starting in the late 1990s, the convenience of new technologies have helped make non-cash transactions to become more viable:

  • Online banking
  • Smartphones
  • Payment technologies
  • Encryption

By 2015, there were 426 billion cashless transactions worldwide – a 50% increase from five years before.

Year # of cashless transactions
2010 285.2 billion
2015 426.3 billion

And today, there are multiple ways to pay digitally, including:

  • Online banking (Visa, Mastercard, Interac)
  • Smartphones (Apple Pay)
  • Intermediaries ( Paypal , Square)
  • Cryptocurrencies (Bitcoin)

The First Shots Fired

The success of these new technologies have prompted lawmakers to posit that all transactions should now be digital.

Here is their case for a cashless society:

Removing high denominations of bills from circulation makes it harder for terrorists, drug dealers, money launderers, and tax evaders.

  • $1 million in $100 bills weighs only one kilogram (2.2 lbs).
  • Criminals move $2 trillion per year around the world each year.
  • The U.S. $100 bill is the most popular note in the world, with 10 billion of them in circulation.

This also gives regulators more control over the economy.

  • More traceable money means higher tax revenues.
  • It means there is a third-party for all transactions.
  • Central banks can dictate interest rates that encourage (or discourage) spending to try to manage inflation. This includes ZIRP or NIRP policies.

Cashless transactions are faster and more efficient.

  • Banks would incur less costs by not having to handle cash.
  • It also makes compliance and reporting easier.
  • The “burden” of cash can be up to 1.5% of GDP, according to some experts.

But for this to be possible, they say that cash – especially large denomination bills – must be eliminated. After all, cash is still used for about 85% of all transactions worldwide.

A Declaration of War

Governments and central banks have moved swiftly in dozens of countries to start eliminating cash.

Some key examples of this? Australia, Singapore, Venezuela, the U.S., and the European Central Bank have all eliminated (or have proposed to eliminate) high denomination notes. Other countries like France, Sweden and Greece have targeted adding restrictions on the size of cash transactions, reducing the amount of ATMs in the countryside, or limiting the amount of cash that can be held outside of the banking system. Finally, some countries have taken things a full step further – South Korea aims to eliminate paper currency in its entirety by 2020.

But right now, the “War on Cash” can’t be mentioned without invoking images of day-long lineups in India. In November 2016, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi demonetized 500 and 1000 rupee notes, eliminating 86% of the country’s notes overnight. While Indians could theoretically exchange 500 and 1,000 rupee notes for higher denominations, it was only up to a limit of 4,000 rupees per person. Sums above that had to be routed through a bank account in a country where only 50% of Indians have such access.

The Hindu has reported that there have now been 112 reported deaths associated with the Indian demonetization. Some people have committed suicide, but most deaths come from elderly people waiting in bank queues for hours or days to exchange money.

Caught in the Crossfire

The shots fired by governments to fight its war on cash may have several unintended casualties:

1. Privacy

  • Cashless transactions would always include some intermediary or third-party.
  • Increased government access to personal transactions and records.
  • Certain types of transactions (gambling, etc.) could be barred or frozen by governments.
  • Decentralized cryptocurrency could be an alternative for such transactions

2. Savings

  • Savers could no longer have the individual freedom to store wealth “outside” of the system.
  • Eliminating cash makes negative interest rates (NIRP) a feasible option for policymakers.
  • A cashless society also means all savers would be “on the hook” for bank bail-in scenarios.
  • Savers would have limited abilities to react to extreme monetary events like deflation or inflation.

3. Human Rights

  • Rapid demonetization has violated people’s rights to life and food.
  • In India, removing the 500 and 1,000 rupee notes has caused multiple human tragedies, including patients being denied treatment and people not being able to afford food.
  • Demonetization also hurts people and small businesses that make their livelihoods in the informal sectors of the economy.

4. Cybersecurity

  • With all wealth stored digitally, the potential risk and impact of cybercrime increases.
  • Hacking or identity theft could destroy people’s entire life savings.
  • The cost of online data breaches is already expected to reach $2.1 trillion by 2019, according to Juniper Research.

As the War on Cash accelerates, many shots will be fired. The question is: who will take the majority of the damage?

Courtesy of Infographics

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Last year was a bad one for many companies selling expensive fashion, handbags, and jewelry. For the first time since the financial crisis of 2008, the global market for personal luxury goods failed to grow, stalling at €249 billion (about $258 billion).  Will Trumps tax proposal send their sails soaring or will his proposed tariffs interfere?

The good news is that 2017 should see a return to growth, according to a Dec. 28 report on the global luxury market by management consulting firm Bain & Company, only it won’t look anything like the boom years from 2010 to 2015, when global sales of such goods jumped 45%, fueled by Chinese consumers with high-end appetites. The slowing of China’s economy and its government’s ongoing crackdown on corruption, paired with turmoil in the US and Europe from Brexit, terrorism, and the US presidential election, have created a “new normal” of low single-digit growth and intense competition. The years ahead will produce “clear winners and losers,” Bain says, determined by which brands can read the field and respond best.

China is at the center of this shift. Today Chinese shoppers account for 30% of all sales of personal luxury goods. While Bain foresees the Chinese market improving again after contracting slightly in 2016, it isn’t likely to return to its former rate of expansion, which insulated brands’ bottom lines from other problems. “We expect around 30 million new customers in the next five years coming from the Chinese middle class,” Claudia D’Arpizio, a Bain partner and lead luxury analyst, told Quartz in an interview last year. “But this is nothing comparable to the past big waves of demographics entering [the market]. This new normality will mean mainly trying to grow organically in the same consumer base, being more innovative with product, more innovative with communication.”

Exane BNP Paribas echoed the thought in a December research note to clients. “The peak of the largest nationality wave ever to benefit luxury goods is behind us,” the authors wrote. “Brands need a new paradigm, other than opening more stores in China and bumping up prices.”

The period luxury is entering could see some of its slowest growth since it started opening up to a mass audience around 1994. That was the year, D’Arpizio noted, that “the jeweler of kings and queens,” Cartier, launched its first lower-priced line for mainstream consumers. Other brands followed in search of greater sales, and names “like Gucci, Prada, also Bulgari were really growing, doubling size every year, sometimes triple-digit growth rates, opening up to 60 stores every year and covering all the capitals across the globe,” she said.

Global market for personal luxury goods, 1994-2016

Around 2001 came another period of expansion when brands became global retailers, not just selling wholesale, amid a spate of acquisitions that would eventually create today’s giant luxury conglomerates, including LVMH and Kering (previously Gucci Group). By the time of the financial crisis, luxury had conquered much of the US, Europe, and Japan, and then China came along to offer more unfettered growth.

There’s no new China, however, at least not now. The next big luxury market is likely Africa, particularly countries such as Congo, Angola, and South Africa. But D’Arpizio estimated this scenario won’t come about for seven to 10 years, meaning only moderate expansion for some time.

“In the new normal, we expect a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 3% to 4% for the luxury goods market through 2020, to approximately €280 billion,” Bain’s report says. “That is significantly slower than the rapid expansion from the mid-1990s to the late 2000s.”

Other characteristics of this new period include more shoppers making purchases at home. Last year, local purchases exceeded tourist purchases by five percentage points, the first time since 2001 that has happened.

And digital sales will keep growing. Last year they accounted for 8% of the industry.

Courtesy of QZ

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