The unaffordable healthcare for Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s is one of the diseases that fall under the umbrella term, dementia. The effects are austere. It reduces one’s cognitive responses such that one eventually begins to lose their basic abilities to do even the most fundamental tasks. Out of the blue, it creeps up on you and you slowly begin to question even the most obvious and straightforward things in your life.

First, you find it almost impossible to recall recent events. Then, you start to wonder who the people around you are. Who are these people? The one who keeps calling me dad, what is her name? Are we related to each other? Eventually, that becomes the least of your struggle because you can no longer comprehend anything around you. You no longer know who you are or what your name even is. As time goes on, you lose the most basic human abilities and health care has at that very moment, become your sole reliance. However, what happens when healthcare comes with a price that you just don’t have? (Well, don’t worry because it’s no longer your concern!)

Alzheimer’s disease has been proven to be the most common cause of dementia in the United States. At the moment, there are almost six million Americans who are suffering from that and the statistical data shows that the condition is simply deteriorating. The calculated sum of the healthcare for dementia cases has come to a domineering $277 billion in the United States per year. At first glance, the astronomical figure may seem insanely high but that is not all. The Alzheimer’s Association’s annual report has also taken the liberty to find out the invisible costs. These include the time and effort as well as energy exerted by the patients’ caregivers.

“In 2017, 16 million Americans provided an estimated 18.4 billion hours of unpaid care in the form of physical, emotional and financial support – a contribution to the nation valued at $232.1 billion. The difficulties associated with providing this level of care are estimated to have resulted in $11.4 billion in additional healthcare costs for Alzheimer’s and other dementia caregivers in 2017,” the Alzheimer’s Association reports.

Altogether that makes up about $500 billion, a large portion of the nation’s accumulated wealth. It is no doubt costly to provide for victims of Alzheimer’s disease, or any dementia cases for that matter. On a smaller narrative, each patient requires about $341,000 from the beginning to the end. Of that excessive cost, seventy percent typically come directly out of the families’ pocket. Aside from that, the report has also mentioned that a majority of the people who are providing are women. They are the ones who are looking after their parents, spouses, siblings and even friends who have been taken by dementia.

Women take up two-thirds of the portion that is doing the work whereas one-third of that are the children of the patient. Family, friends and other voluntary members make up 83 percent of the total care provided for these patients. Such arduous work will eventually lead to health problems on those who are providing. Requiring more than twenty hours per week on average, the report takes into consideration the possible heart problems and depression that caregivers often suffer from.

“The sooner the diagnosis occurs, the sooner these costs can be managed, and savings can begin,” Keith Fargo of the Alzheimer’s Association has asserted.

Unfortunately, there is no definite cure for Alzheimer’s disease as of yet. Nonetheless, like any other health issues, the early one is diagnosed, the better it will be overall in terms of time, money and energy. Needless to say, if a patient was diagnosed in early stages, say mild cognitive impairment (MCI) for instance, they could reduce the financial burden. This is because they will be able to better prepare themselves for the impending tragedy. In addition, transforming their lifestyles for the better by working out consistently, being on a healthier diet as well as eliminating unhealthy habits like smoking can aid in the situation.

“While current therapies do not prevent, halt or reverse Alzheimer’s disease, they can temporarily improve and prolong cognitive function in many individuals with Alzheimer’s dementia. An early diagnosis also enables potential safety issues, such as problems with driving or wandering, to be addressed ahead of time. When further testing shows reversible or treatable causes (for example, depression, obstructive sleep apnea or vitamin B12 deficiency) rather than Alzheimer’s disease, early diagnosis can lead to treatment and improvement of cognition and quality of life,” the report concludes.

Featured image via flickr/ Pictures of Money

Amazon continues to flourish

For some time now, Alphabet, the parent company of our beloved Google, has been holding the position of the runner-up, right behind Apple Inc. in the global market. In recent events, has just surpassed Alphabet in acquiring the position of the second most valuable company in the world. This is the first of such occurrence. Apple Inc. has been valued at $889 billion for the past two years. As of now, Amazon’s market capitalization is $7 billion ahead of Alphabet, with $768 billion and $761 billion respectively.

This should not come as a surprise since Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon, has recently been proclaimed by Forbes as the wealthiest man in the world. At a net worth of $130 billion, he holds the label of the first and only centi-billionaire in the United States. Over the past 5 years, Amazon has been experiencing a positive growth in market value. At present, it has acquired a growth of 2.69 percent in its stock price as opposed to Alphabet’s 0.39 percent decrease.

In addition to three of these tech giants, Microsoft is also in the game, placing fourth. The company’s market capitalization is valued at $717 billion as of today.

Due to the comparably small gap between the top three firms, any change in positions between them will not bring about too much of a commotion. Besides, with the obvious and consistent growth that Amazon has seen recently, it is highly possible for it to surpass the rests and safely secure the position as the most valuable company across the world.

Amazon has been venturing towards different industries. They range from shopping to banking as well as healthcare. The Motley Fool has even insinuated at the company’s possible endeavor in being a “major hospital supplier”. With Bezos brisk success in recent years, it would not be surprising if they continue to achieve excellence in any possible plans. To put it briefly, a $5,000 investment in from 21 years ago would have gotten you a million dollars today.

On the other hand, Google is seemingly losing its grip as the firm is already anticipating a further decline, particularly in their share of the country’s advertisement industry. At the moment, Google seems to be directing its effort on the invention and production of hardware like speakers, in order to compete with the other tech giants.

For instance, Apple has found its success in various products, ranging from iPhones to Apple watches. Two years ago, Apple had introduced the AirPods, a pair of wireless earphones. This product was a huge success such that its purchasing demand far surpassed the supply. It is not easy and there are hardly any goods or services, that are not necessities, that can achieve that, especially when it is not the most affordable item. However, Apple has always been able to acquire demand for its product since brand loyalty is one of the most significant element that has led to its top spot in the global market. This is clearly evident from the series of Apple products. For instance, the series of iPhone, up till iPhone X, has consumers queueing up to purchase it. In spite of the passing of the late Steve Jobs, Apple is still coming up with each products’ successor. Take the Apple Watch for instance. From its debut in 2015, the Apple Watch has not lost its popularity within the market. From the first, to Series 2 and the latest Apple Watch Series 3. Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple has revealed that the sales of the newest batch are twice the sale of the second batch.

With Apple’s consistent growth, will Amazon be able to surpass its market value or will Apple be able to hold on to the top spot?

Featured image via flickr/ simone.brunozzi

Why are the cryptocurrencies crashing?

Within the past weekend, Bitcoin has fallen drastically to $7,335.57, at its lowest on Sunday. Fortunately, as CoinDesk conveys, the value of the cryptocurrency gradually recuperated. By Monday afternoon, the value of Bitcoin picked up again returned to an average of $8,585.

Although we can never know for certain the reason underlying such change, many have pointed to the advertising ban of bitcoin throughout the weekend. Sky News has reported the advertising ban for initial coin offerings, token sales and cryptocurrency wallets all across the world that Twitter has supposedly imposed and will be implemented within a fortnight.

Another one of those attempts to reprimand cryptocurrency scams, this move is not unheard of. Several tech giants have already imposed strict rules and regulations on these advertisements early on. In the start of the year, Facebook, runner-up to the world’s biggest online advertisement platform, has announced its plan to impose bans on all cryptocurrencies-related advertisements. Its reason for taking such drastic measures is to avoid circulation of “financial products and services frequently associated with misleading or deceptive promotional practices”. Moreover, just last week, Google has announced its plans to reinforce the financial services policy. Hence, advertisements circling cryptocurrencies, and such will be curbed within three months.

“Facebook was previous, but now Twitter is also rumored. Much of crypto(currency) demand is retail, so this may negatively impact demand,” suggests Joe DiPasquale, the Chief Executive Officer of BitBull Capital.

The former statement remains to be unsubstantiated as Twitter has not disclosed anything.

There was considerable news pointing to the high price of mining as the underlying cause of the fall in bitcoin’s value since last week. That was reiterated by DiPasquale, “Now that it’s dropped below that, there’s less incentive for miners to continue to keep machines on unless they are in a lower-cost energy area or have a way of producing at less than cost”.

The mining of bitcoin includes the utilization of certain software and expensive hardware to solve mathematics equations in order to earn bitcoins. With the current rate, they are now looking at a mere $8,000 for one bitcoin. This, in addition to regulatory issues, have largely impacted the value of bitcoin within the past few weeks.

Initially valued at a fine five figures of $11,000 just a couple of weeks ago, a statement issued by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) expressing its concerns over cryptocurrency exchanges as well as the lack of security and privacy on Binance, a Hong Kong-based cryptocurrency exchange momentarily brought down the value of bitcoin.

According to the grapevine, finance ministers of G-20, as well as governors of central banks, have agreed to consolidate in Buenos Aires, Argentina. A G-20 representative has informed CNBC that these discussions will take place in a private and confidential setting before making its way to the press conference.

The Financial Stability Board (FSB) serves as a regulator for G-20 economies all across the world. They have begun to take actions after receiving a number of calls from various countries regarding the security of cryptocurrencies.

“The FSB’s initial assessment is that crypto-assets do not pose risks to global financial stability at this time,” proclaims Mark Carney, Chair of the Financial Stability Board as well as Governor of the Bank of England.

“Even at their recent peak, their combined global market value was less than 1 percent of global GDP,” Carney continues in an effort to juxtapose the size of cryptocurrency investments with the rest of the global financial system.

“The more speculative coins are being hit particularly hard. Liquidity is among their primary features and many of the holders lack long-term conviction, therefore they’re rotating into larger coins with stronger long-term prospects,” asserted by Spencer Bogart, one of the partners of Blockchain Capital.

He underlines the “potential for a liquidity crunch” as phrased by CNBC. He believes that to be the decisive factor for investors to let go of alternative coins and focus on more prominent cryptocurrencies like bitcoin.

Bitcoin was not the only cryptocurrency that had experienced a fall over the weekend. Ethereum went down by an alarming seventeen percent, reaching a nadir of $460.09, as reported by CoinDesk. That, however, is nothing in comparison to Ripple, which has suffered a decreased of fourteen percent to a meek $0.55. Similarly, the value of bitcoin cash and Litecoin have both deteriorated significantly at about ten percent.

While it may seem like bitcoin may be making a comeback, as people lose confidence in these currencies, the value subsequently decreases, too. Should investors pull out now or continue to await more positive results?

Featured image via flickr/ Zach Copley

United Airlines Attempts to Avoid a PR Mess

United Continental Holdings Inc., the Chicago-based airline has become the airline that has the most controversial issues for some time now. Perhaps you have heard about the David Dao incident. The passenger was physically coerced into leaving the flight because of a mistake made by the airline. They overbooked the flight, leaving no available seat for a customer who had already paid for his seat. That was not the worst part. Dr. David Dao had suffered from a severe concussion in addition to losing a couple of his teeth as well as a broken nose from the violence asserted by the airline employees. Put aside the fact that he was a paying customer like everyone else and deserves to be treated like one. No human being should ever be treated like this, especially a senior citizen.

Truth be told, United Airlines’ awful customer service actually began ten years ago.

There is a song with over 17 million views titled, United Breaks Guitars, by Dave Carroll, a Canadian musician. As the name suggests, Carroll’s guitar was broken by the United Airlines’ baggage handlers. That was not the main problem. It is the fact that they adamantly refused to take responsibility for breaking the singer-songwriter’s $3,500 guitar. Even in the Dr. Dao’s incident, Oscar Munoz, CEO of the United Airlines had criticized the passenger instead of taking responsibility. He did not actually apologize to Dr. Dao until the third statement of apology was issued in response to the controversy.

As a result of this incident, another passenger, Shirley Yamauchi was afraid to stand her ground and became yet another victim of United Airlines. This incident occurred three months after Dr. Dao’s incident. Yamauchi was on a United flight along with her two-year-old toddler. She lawfully purchased two tickets, one for herself and one for her son. However, another passenger showed up with a ticket for her son’s seat, which means that United has once again overbooked the flight. The other passenger proceeded to take his seat, so Yamauchi sought for help from a flight attendant. Like every incident United has had, the employee did not stand by her. In fact, she was told that the flight was full and that there was nothing they could do. In the end, Yamauchi had to place her son on her lap throughout the course of the flight. This was reported by Hawaii News Now.

Within the same month of Dr. Dao’s incident, there were three other unpleasant episodes. First, Lucie Bahetoukilae, a French passenger who had a ticket to fly home, was placed on the wrong plane and sent to San Francisco instead, as reported by WABC. It is understandable for slight miscommunications to occur for the reason that the passenger only spoke French. However, the employee that scanned her boarding pass and the employee who seated her both had the chance to look at her ticket. That was part of their job. What were they doing?

Michael Hohl and Amber Maxwell were two people in love who were flying to Costa Rica to get married. Nonetheless, their day was ruined by the United Airlines, as usual. KHOU reported that when they approached their seats on the plane, they found another passenger who was laid across the seats, fast asleep. Hence, they took a seat in the empty seats nearby. When the flight attendant approached them, the couple openly admitted that they were not in their assigned seats – for a reason – and were willing to pay the additional fee as they were seated at the economy plus spots. Following the instructions of the flight attendant, they returned to their original seats with no problem. Here’s the strange part: a U.S. Marshall came on board and kicked them off the plane. Still, the couple did as they were told with no commotion. On the following Saturday, the airline issued a statement that criticized the couple saying that they “wouldn’t follow crew instructions”. If they did not, would they have gotten off the plane? Wouldn’t they have ended up like Dr. Dao?

The third incident involves Simon, the son of the world’s largest rabbit. Simon was three-foot-long and was anticipated to grow even bigger. According to PEOPLE magazine, a group in Iowa had purchased the enormous continental rabbit for fundraising purposes. Needless to say, the darling creature was found dead when the United flight landed. Guy R. Cook is the attorney who represented the group in Iowa in this proceeding. Based on Cook’s letter to PEOPLE magazine, the airline proceeded to cremate the rabbit’s carcass without permission or instructions from Simon’s owner.

Earlier in that year, Kathleen Considine, the owner of Jacob the golden retriever voiced her complaint about United Airlines through Facebook. After being in United PetSafe program, Jacob was returned to Considine in a distressed condition and subsequently passed away soon after. In a report by WDIV, the airline reiterated the safety and comfort of pets in their PetSafe program – so was Simon the rabbit.

On Monday night, Kokito, a ten-month-old French Pitbull that was placed in a pet carrier passed away after being in the overhead compartment for a three and a half hours long flight. Initially placed under the seats, a flight attendant persistently told the passenger to stow it in the overhead bins. Then, the spokeswoman of the airline came out to justify their mistake by saying that the flight attendant was not aware of the presence of Kokito. Several passengers on board have contradicted this statement as they mentioned that the sound of the dog barking was a clear indication.

Earlier this week, United Airlines has, once again, made a mistake.

Irgo the German Shepherd was scheduled to fly back to Kansas City on a United flight while a Great Dane in the United’s care was bound for Tokyo. However, there was a mix-up within the airline and the two dogs were sent to the wrong locations. Irgo arrived at Tokyo while the Great Dane was sent to Missouri.

Learning from previous mistakes, the United Airlines immediately transported Irgo back to Kansas City, Missouri with a private jet.

UPDATE: Irgo should be arriving about 7:30pm CT at the Wichita airport. He is being flown by private charter, and being treated like the king he is!!! I will update you all when I get my baby back!!

Posted by Kara Swindle on Thursday, March 15, 2018

While we are glad that Irgo is receiving the proper care and treatment, the conscientious approach taken by the airline is ostensible. “It is pennies to try to stop that news,” says Henry Harteveldt, founder of Atmosphere Research Group. He insinuated that though the cost of chartering a private jet may be high, it was a trifling price to pay in order to avoid further controversy, especially because the most recent case of Kokito was less than a week ago.

United Airlines time and time again raised commotions because of their own mistakes and more often than not, they have refused to take responsibility for it. Now, they are taking extreme measures just for the sake of maintaining their reputation. They see these problems and treat them from the standpoint of public relations. The truth is that these are matters concerning life and death.

A statement from the letter written by Cook, the attorney in Simon the rabbit incident, to PEOPLE magazine rightfully concluded the problem with United Continental Holdings Inc.:

“The importance of Simon’s death goes beyond the life of a single rabbit, it reflects an attitude of United Airlines that lacks basic decency and respect for the people and the property it is hired to serve.”

A detailed examination of all of the cases mentioned above reveals the one thing they all have in common. All of these incidents have resulted from a gross negligence and the lack of effort on the airline’s part. All of the incidents could have been prevented if the employees involved had just shown a little more respect and care towards the customers, their pets and their belongings. In fact, it could have been turned around if they had taken the proper responsibility and owned up to their mistakes as soon as these things happen.

More than five incidents have happened within this airline, to customer’s possessions and the people and their pets. Two of them happened under the PetSafe program that they insisted was safe (notice the name of the program) for the pets. They repeatedly overbook their flights and cause inconvenience to the passengers. The chief executive officer himself has shown disrespect by refusing to apologize to Dr. Dao while saying that their employee had taken the correct approach – which is ridiculous.

Why are people still opting for United Airlines’ services? Have they not done enough harm to their customers and to animals? Why aren’t the board members of United Continental Holdings Inc. taking disciplinary actions towards said employees? Is it because the shares were only 0.6 percent lower after everything? Will they not be concerned unless it affects them drastically in terms of money?

On a larger narrative, this is just another side effect of our money-oriented society. There isn’t another reason for overbooking flight besides profit motives. Refusing to take responsibility is just the refusal to pay compensation costs.

When all’s said and done, there is nothing we can do unless the society is willing to act collectively. Unfortunately, the United Airlines essentially acts as a metonymy for the callousness and money-oriented society that we live in. It is the “if it does not concern me, I don’t care” mentality that is perishing the world.

Featured image via flickr/ Ikarasawa

Apple is dominating the tech industry

Back in 2010, there was a virtual magazine subscription called Next Issue, but was rebranded as Texture by Next Issue Media in 2015. Now, Texture has over two hundred magazines available electronically on most systems including Windows, Amazon, Android and iOS. All it requires users to do is to pay a fixed monthly charge and access to articles from all of the magazines will be available in its entirety.

Initially, the application was created by several large magazine issuers collectively and supported by the financial assistance of external investors at a total sum of $50 million. The main idea was to become the dominant platform for tablet (i.e. iPad etc.) users to subscribe to magazines. Since people have been going onto the internet to do so, Google has been that platform for them.

In an era where smart devices and gadgets have become a necessity, it was assumed that magazines too, like other entities, will be highly sought after in electronic form. However, this plan took a hit when The Daily, a highly popular digital magazine by News Corporation went under. Even so, Texture apparently has had couple hundred thousand of clients by 2016 as disclosed by John Loughlin, the CEO of Texture, initially recounted by The New York Post. If that is the case, why did Next Issue Media let go of Texture?

In recent news, Apple, the iOS devices’ company has announced its official acquisition of Texture. Fortunately for those who are not in possession of an iOS device, Apple has confirmed that Android devices will still be able to get a hold on the application. It seems that Texture employees too, are secured in their current post as Apple has procured the staff in addition to the firm. This leads us to the next question. If Next Issue Media is willing to let Texture go, presumably because of its low demand in the market, why is Apple rushing to acquire it and at what cost?

Moreover, Apple, on its own, already offers digital magazine subscription services online. Hence, for what reason could it be for Apple to bid for another magazine service? Eddy Cue, the Senior Vice President of Apple issued a statement as presented below:

“We’re excited Texture will join Apple, along with an impressive catalog of magazines from many of the world’s leading publishers. We are committed to quality journalism from trusted sources and allowing magazines to keep producing beautifully designed and engaging stories for users.”

Likewise, CEO of Texture has also issued a statement to express their contentment:

“I’m thrilled that Next Issue Media and its award-winning Texture app are being acquired by Apple. The Texture team and its current owners, Condé Nast, Hearst, Meredith, Rogers Media, and KKR, could not be more pleased or excited with this development. We could not imagine a better home or future for the service.”

In 2014, Apple has taken over Beats, the brand of quality speakers and headphones. In addition to the gadgets and products, Apple had also taken over their music streaming service. With that, they turned it into the current Apple Music, which is as high in demand as Spotify. Within the same year, Apple once again recruited another brand, BookLamp. This application highly resembles Texture such that books are to BookLamp as magazines are to Texture. None of these is new because Apple has always been on the look to expand its empire. Another case in point is Apple’s recent acquisition of Shazam, another music streaming application.

Though we remain to be in the dark regarding Apple’s possible vision for Texture, an article by Ars Technica have made a suggestion. Even though nothing conclusive was disclosed in the statement issued by Apple’s Senior Vice President, arstechnica shed light on the phrase “trusted sources” and suggests that there’s a hidden meaning behind it. The article refers to the present as a time when reporters and publishers have voiced their opinions about large tech companies like Facebook and Google that are believed to have contributed to the biases in media as they are the one who controls the spread of news. Such actions have become noticeable that many heads have been turned and it has become public knowledge to take the content found on these platforms with a grain of salt.

Nonetheless, that is still just an assumption and we can only wait for Apple to announce their plans for Texture, if any, in the future.

On a different note, however, these multinational tech companies have surpassed mere dominance on the web. Just a couple of weeks ago, Jeff Bezos, the co-founder of Amazon has been proclaimed as the richest man in America. With that said, Amazon and Google, as well as Facebook, have provided digital magazine subscription services at one point or another. One way or another, they are further expanding their empires by dominating the market. At the moment, they are still attempting to grab every opportunity available in their industry. What happens when they have completely monopolized the industry? Will they dive into other industries and in turn dominate the world?

These companies are the perfect example of how the capitalist system is helping the rich get richer while the poor continue to suffer. Shouldn’t we be examining this news through a more economic and political aspect?

Featured image via flickr/ Luke Wroblewski

Twitter is following in the footsteps of Snapchat

In a generation where smartphones are no longer categorized as a luxury item but a necessity, everyone is on some form of social media. As such, the companies behind these social media platforms are competing to get ahead of one another. For one, Instagram began as a mere photo sharing application, but it has since then, added the live recording, boomerang effects and videos etc. Facebook too, offers these things and so much more.

There was a time when each platform has their own key purposes; the one element they are most associated with. Like words are to Twitter as pictures are to Instagram. None of these social media platforms run like that anymore. Now, whatever Snapchat offers, so does Instagram as well as Facebook.

There are always murmurs about possible updates in Snapchat and so on. Just a few months ago, there were talks around CNBC that suggest a potential camera-centric feature in Twitter.

Based on the analytics, Twitter has observed a substantial increase in posts and usage involving video contents throughout the course of 2017. People have been checking out local news as well as sports-related matter in the form of videos. This is so that users will have higher convenience and accessibility to post and to share videos through its platform. An article by Engadget, a technology media outlet has made juxtaposition of this prospective feature with “the location-based snap collections” curated and distributed by Snapchat on its Discover tab. CNBC outlet further explains that there will be a new element, the Twitter Moments. Twitter will then gather these location-based pictures and recordings and subsequently assemble them through Twitter Moments. In this way, a wide range of stories about things going on in the area will conveniently be within reach.

A while ago, Snapchat had disappointed all of its users by introducing advertisements all over their Stories and Discover content. Similarly, Twitter will become the next platform for businesses to place their advertisements on. All in all, this feature will no doubt increase the firm’s revenue through advertising profits.

Nonetheless, nothing has been confirmed at this moment. No information has been revealed about its possible release date as well as whether it will actually present itself at all. Inside sources from CNBC reveals the fact that this notion is somewhat fresh off the boat. It is still way too early to expect its release anytime now.

Still, it seems as though every social media platform is now coming up with distinct features to match what the others offer. Stories, Moments, Live are all features that Facebook and Instagram have implemented following Snapchat. Be that as it may, with Snapchat constantly adding and changing its ways, users are beginning to realize the number of alternative social media platforms there are. They all offer the same features as well as the same conditions. Lots of buzz has surrounded Snapchat since it places advertisements in a strategic spot such that it constantly catches users off-guard, forcing them to watch it. Their recent change in design in order to accommodate more advertisement have caused it to lose their supporters. Many are now deleting their Snapchat altogether since Instagram is slowly becoming the better option.

Conversely, we cannot blame the firms for such actions. Put yourselves in the shoes of the company. What is the main concern and aim of a business if not profit? Profit maximization remains to be the first and foremost priority for suppliers in the market.

This leads to the following questions. Profit motivations aside, is it a good idea for all social platforms to be the same? Will people eventually stick to one particular platform and which one would that be? Are these changes better or worse and for who?

Only time will tell.

Featured image via flickr/ Esther Vargas

Coca-cola introduces a healthy alternative

In an era dominated by the millennials, the demand for certain goods and services have dropped as millennials are known to have a more distinct preference compared to previous generations. As a result, suppliers are attempting to come up with new products that are in compliance with the effective demand. Surveys have found that 42 percent of the respondents seek after health and nutrition in their consumption of food and beverages. Hence, PepsiCo, the main company of several brands such as Pepsi, Tropicana and Gatorade, to name a few, has introduced their new beverage. Bubly, the brand of the new sparkling water, was debuted just last month as the company wishes to exploit the $1.2 billion industry behind sparkling water.

Another one of the most recent companies to undertake this change is Coca-Cola, the long-term consumers’ choice of soda. The negative effects of the consumption of Coca-Cola have become public knowledge for some time now. For this reason, they are pleased to announce the debut of their new beverage, which is a healthier alternative to their original soda. Zico is the name of the new coconut water introduced by the Coca-Cola company. This beverage is the complete opposite of Coca-Cola in terms of the sugar content.

“Coconut water is – and is perceived to be – a better-for-you product,” says Tom Larsen, the general manager of Zico in an interview with Business Insider.

As consumers, we are well aware of the hesitation that comes along with trying new things. This is evidently another problem with Zico, as Meghan Seidner, the Vice President of Zico’s marketing department admits, “The taste can be a bit polarizing for some.” Seidner proceeds to divulge the fact that their statistics have shown that six to seven coconut water have to be consumed before consumers can take a liking to it. This is clearly a hindrance because more often than not, consumers are not willing to spend their money on items that they dislike after the first try – how many people would purchase something they barely like more than three times?

Technavio, a top-rank market-research firm believes that the market for coconut water worldwide will rise from an estimate of $2 billion to over $7 billion within five years. It is believed that in the United States alone, the market for coconut water will reach a sum of $1.5 billion in the next two years. Nonetheless, there is a tremendous number of companies supplying these beverages, which means that the competition is fierce. As a new product, it is no doubt challenging to compete against other brands that have already established a brand loyalty.

Zico have concentrated their efforts in the invention of new flavors recently since the company has, so far, decided that the best approach to counter the aforementioned problem is by allowing consumers to have more options and in turn, hope that they get captivated by one. Aside from the conventional chocolate flavor, Zico also offers jalapeño-mango and watermelon-raspberry flavored coconut water. As of last Friday, Zico debuted their latest addition to the health-conscious beverage series. This selling point of this new coconut water lies behind its concoction of an organic juice and is given the name ZICOCocoLixir.

ZICOCocoLixir was produced because market-researchers have categorized coconut water and cold-press juices as the two beverages with a fast-expanding market. They offer a variety of vegetable-based juices with funny labels using wordplay such as Unbe-leaf-able and Turn Up the Beet.

All things considered, nevertheless, Larsen and Seidner have both stood out to suggest that the endorsement of Coca-Cola as the parent company to these beverages will serve to distinguish them from minor brands.

“We’re going to be a total beverage company across the globe,” the company’s plan for the future reiterated by Larsen, after James Quincy, the CEO of Coca-Cola.

Featured Image via flickr/ Mike Mozart

International Women’s Day as well as Women’s History Month

International Women’s Day, as defined on their website, “is a global day that celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. This day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.”

A number of multinational corporations have made an effort to acknowledge the significance of March 8th, otherwise known as the International Women’s Day. For instance, the KFC divisions in Malaysia have replaced Colonel Sanders with his wife, Claudia as the face of the company for the day. This is an illustration of the appreciation towards hardworking women as Claudia played an integral role in the success of the fast food chain. In addition, the company behind Brawny paper towels have been leading a #StrengthHasNoGender campaign. They have recently announced their decision to switch their famous red flannel-wearing male representative for a female figure in celebration of Women’s History month.

Mentioned in this month’s issue of the New Yorker magazine, Johnnie Walker Black Label, the well-known whisky brand has introduced a new and limited (only available during Women’s History month) edition. Johnnie Walker Black Label the Jane Walker Edition has a unique selling point. Their marketing strategy involves the donation of $1 to a non-profit organization that supports women’s progress initiatives, such as Monumental Women, for every bottle of the Jane Walker Edition sold. The donation could reach a sum of $250,000, depending on the sales.

“Important conversations about gender continue to be at the forefront of culture, and we strongly believe there is no better time than now to introduce our Jane Walker icon and contribute to pioneering organizations that share our mission. We are proud to toast the many achievements of women and everyone on the journey towards progress in gender equality.” – Stephanie Jacoby, the Vice President of Johnnie Walker.

These companies are not the only ones who have made some changes to their iconic elements for the course of Women’s History month to advocate for feminism.

It seems that McDonald’s has just joined the party following recent events. A source from Business Insider reveals the approach taken by the international fast food chain.

“The golden “M” will be flipped into a golden “W” in celebration of women everywhere… We have a long history of supporting women in the workplace, giving them the opportunity to grow and succeed. In the U.S. we take pride in our diversity and we are proud to share that today; six out of ten restaurant managers are women,” communicated by Lauren Altmin, a McDonald’s representative in an exchange with CNBC Make It media outlet.

When the change was first implemented in the Lynwood, California branch, many have assumed that it was an unintentional shift; Some thought it was a prank. However, Patricia Williams, the owner of that particular branch, along with other representatives have stood out to clarify the movement.

“For the first time in our brand history, we flipped our iconic arches for International Women’s Day in honor of the extraordinary accomplishments of women everywhere and especially in our restaurants. From restaurant crew and management to our C-suite of senior leadership, women play invaluable roles at all levels and together with our independent franchise owners we’re committed to their success,” quote Wendy Lewis, McDonald’s Chief Diversity Officer.

McDonald’s is extending their effort by producing the new golden “W” on “packaging, crew shirts, hats and bag stuffers” in addition to the replacement of the former logo on their social media pages. The special edition packaging and products will only be present at exactly one hundred McDonald’s branches.

It is always heart-warming to see our favorite brands advocate for gender equality as well as women’s rights. While many corporations are making a change, it is obvious that some are extending more efforts than others.

Let us come together and celebrate the month of March, Women’s History month in honor of all the women out there.

Featured Image via Flickr/Mike Mozart

Don’t be Alarmed if You Hear Laughter, could be Alexa

Owing to the advancement and innovation in science and technology, we have become the generation that resorts to the utilization of voice-enabled devices in order to complete our daily tasks such as switching the lights on and off, playing music and so forth. Consequently, various companies in that industry – Google and Amazon, to name a few – have begun to offer “smart” devices. Amazon has a series of devices that holds the name of “Alexa”. Few examples are the echo spot, echo dot, echo show, echo plus etc.

Alexa is to Echo devices as Siri is to Apple devices. Alexa was designed to be as human as possible in performing conversational tasks. Although it may have been entertaining in the beginning to have an ostensible artificial intelligence, what happens when it starts to act unpredictably? An issue that has arisen recently clearly demonstrates this situation. Consumers have been complaining about a problem with these Alexa-enabled devices throughout the past couple of days. Apparently, Alexa has been causing a bizarre laughter without being instructed to do so. Some reported that the laughter came after they commanded Alexa to switch off the lights. This subject has been brought up and supported by a large number of consumers.

Many indicated that the Echo devices have laughed despite of the absenteeism of the wake word, which is “Alexa” by default. This issue has captured a lot of attention from media outlets. Aside from media attention, this has also temporarily generated a social trend on the social platform, Twitter. Through Twitter and Reddit, consumers have expressed their distaste because of the element of surprise. Imagine yourself alone at home. Out of nowhere, you hear a strange laughter coming from a close distance. A clear description of this image is certainly frightening and a cause of concern. Users claimed that they have resorted to directly pulling the plug on their Echo devices.

In response to these negative reviews, Amazon has stepped out to address the issue.

The Verge quoted a response from Amazon that says, “We’re aware of this and working to fix it.”

They have since then announced a couple of their upgrades. One of them involves the deactivation of the command, “Alexa, laugh,” with the replacement of “Alexa, can you laugh?” Amazon proceeded to justify this move by suggesting that in this way, false positives are less likely to occur.” To clarify, this means that the Alexa voice detection will have a lower chance of pick up on arbitrary words that subsequently triggers the laughter.

 “We are also changing Alexa’s response from simply laughter to ‘Sure, I can laugh,’ followed by laughter,” added by a representative of Amazon.

In spite of all the improvements made, several people have made remarks regarding a different aspect. In the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, a scene depicting the machine HAL 9000 acknowledging his wicked plans and uttered, “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.” Ultimately, this leads to the discussion of machine versus mankind. Robot overlords rule. Is this another indication of our over dependence on gadgets and devices? It seems as though we are fast approaching a dystopian future as depicted in movies. While we remain gratified and proud of the progress we have made in the field of technology, we should still keep it in moderation when it comes to the utilization of said devices.

At this point, it seems like the only distinction between men and robots is the ability to feel compassion and detect emotions. Should we be trying to create more artificial intelligence? Are we moving forward or bringing an end to the world?

Featured Image via Flickr/Guillermo Fernandes

Jeff Bezos, First Centi-Billionaire in America

Jeff Bezos, the co-founder of Amazon has officially made it all the way to the top of Forbes list of world’s billionaires. Moreover, he has become the first and only person in America to acquire the title of centi-billionaire at a total worth of $127 billion, as determined by the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He has now surpassed other well-known billionaires, like Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft who is estimated at the worth of $90 billion, and Warren Buffet, the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway. Though Bezos was already a centi-billionaire from the sudden development of the Amazon shares last year, he has already earned about $15 billion more in the start of just this year and is expecting further growth.

This is apparent by the four percent increase – in Amazon stocks – in February when the broader market suffered a decline of four percent.

“Bezos has seen his wealth remain in excess of $100 billion, and with the likes of Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Mark Zuckerberg also tipped to reach that eye-watering milestone, it seems we’re entering the era of the centi-billionaire,” articulated by Vishal Chhatralia, the Vice President of Digital Operations for RS Components.  

To illustrate the astronomical extent of his wealth, juxtapositions have been made. To begin with, the ratio of a centi-billionaire with exactly $100 billion juxtaposed with an average American’s wealth (based on the country’s Gross Domestic Product) is 1 to 1.8 million. Likewise, the ratio of an average American’s wealth juxtaposed with Jeff Bezos’ fortune is 2.3 million to one.

Capitalism promotes profitability and long term economic expansion. It is the market system that has led to the United States’ success in today’s global market. However, it is also a system that works by merit. Although it can bring about a vast reduction in the unemployment rate that consequently eliminates the costs and wastes in the society, many have brought up the counterargument concerning the increasing gap in wealth inequality. Ultimately, the decision-making power within the market will fall on the top tier of the society, the centi-billionaires and the government, resulting in the negligence of other consumers’ wants and needs. This is a cause of distress because if the gap of wealth inequality gets bigger without a solution, various form of political instability and radicalization of society will be more likely to happen.

Nonetheless, the neoliberal form of capitalism is believed to be the most satisfactory political economic future so far as it is able to solve the demand problem caused by wealth inequality. This is attributable to the increase in state spending following the increase in profit margins as business proprietors dominate the labor industry. Like the conventional capitalist system, this, too, works by merit and though wealth inequality may become an issue, the increased collective spending can act as a counter against it. The strength of continuing the neoliberal form of capitalism, perhaps with some adjustments to it is that it is currently the most efficient system in maintaining a balanced relationship between the society and economy of a nation. Yet again, this system, without its previous function to ensure a stable growth in the economy, will only result in a decline in the living standard of the majority.

Hence, a centi-billionaire’s decision towards the final placement of their fortune can affect the future of many; ranging from an individual to an entire nation. Prospective centi-billionaires such as Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Mark Zuckerberg have all pledged to return a big portion of their fortunes to the society for the greater good. No such promise has been made by Jeff Bezos. Then again, Bezos and his spouse have been quite the philanthropist for some time now. As alumni of Princeton University, they have previously donated a sum of $15 million to the college. In addition, the United States branch of Reporters Without Borders opened an office in San Francisco, California after receiving a generous donation of $250,000 from Bezos.

Adding to the list is a $33 million donation made to TheDream.US, a scholarship reserved for a thousand immigrant high school students with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status who are receiving tertiary education. His reason for choosing this cause could be traced back to his father. As a sixteen years old Cuban immigrant, his father travelled by himself to the States under Operation Pedro Plan.

All things considered, however, the key aspect to keep an eye on is Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos’ space exploration company. His alleged plan is to support this company by trading off $1 billion worth of Amazon stock annually. Blue Origin centers its research with the goal to acquire technological revolution. Bezos have explained his vision to build an economical space platform to compete with the Internet, despite its current focus on commercial purposes.

“That will be necessary to save the Earth, because without being able to expand into space, human civilization will have to contract,” he justified at a conference held in Los Angeles, California last November.

Featured Image via Wikimedia

Xiaomi: Alternative for Android Smartphones

Attributable to the 21st-century advancement in technology, there are not many folks out there who are not in possession of a smartphone. As a matter of fact, smartphones are no longer considered as a luxury item, instead, they have become a necessity to our generation just like water and oxygen. They are the first thing that we look at every morning and the last thing we have our hands on before we go to bed. As a result, the industry behind all of this technology has skyrocketed in recent years. As the demand for smartphones increases, it should come as no surprise that different brands of suppliers are contending to get ahead.

With the United States’ dominance in the global market, foreign suppliers have long been anticipated to demand entry to the circle. Many have not been able to pass the barriers to entry, in addition to minor factors. This is because the United States has maintained a strict policy in these affairs on the grounds of upholding national security interests. ZTE, one of the smartphone manufacturer that originated from China obtained the position as the third runner-up in the United States market last year. Samsung is another multinational conglomerate company that, as we all know, is a leading smartphone provider.

A recent report from the Wall Street Journal reveals a new player in the competition amidst android smartphone providers across the States. Xiaomi, another multinational firm from China, has made its way into Spain earlier on, after finding success in Southeast Asia and India.

“We’ve always been considering entering the U.S. market,” Lei Jun, the Chairman of Xiaomi, expressed in the event of China’s legislative session that takes place once a year in Beijing, China.

Conversely, Xiaomi is not new to the United States market. They have been the retailer of quality gadgets such as television set-top unit for android, cameras, speakers, headphones and so forth for some time now. Due to the exclusivity of the smartphone market, however, Xiaomi has not been able to navigate through government policies imposed by the United States.

Despite the complicated regulations and proceedings, Jun is determined to overcome these challenges. He insisted that Xiaomi, as a firm, will familiarize themselves with United States rules and regulations in the course of months. At the meantime, they will continue to enhance and upgrade their products based on customers’ demands.

Though this may sound promising, the encounter with Huawei may suggests otherwise. Prior to this, Huawei had introduced its featured smartphone, Mate 10 Pro, in the United States. They were considered as a prospective partner by the local phone service provider, AT&T. In spite of that, their plans ended unsuccessfully due to government interference.

Many people are putting down their iPhones in exchange for Android devices that allow more room for customization. As we look forward to Jun’s promising plans, the anticipation of these smartphones offered by Xiaomi will no doubt be exciting for all the Android users out there! In fact, consumers in Southeast Asia have expressed their approval online since the appearance of Xiaomi gadgets many years ago. With an addition to the competition, other smartphone providers will undoubtedly improve their products in order to keep up. As a consequent to an increased number of substitute products, the manufacturers will have to lower their cost of production in order to compete, which means that the final benefactor in the smartphone market will be the consumers who holds the purchasing power.

The two leading brands, Apple and Samsung, will experience a decrease in value. This is because with more participants in the run for a portion of the pie, their halves become smaller. Replacing the pie with market value shows the loss that Apple and Samsung will suffer from, as more companies get ahead.

Featured Image via Flickr/Jon Russell

Bitcoin plummets as economists, regulators express skepticism of cryptocurrency boom

Bitcoin’s value, which nearly quintupled from the first of the year through the first of September, peaking at $4,950.72 per coin on the latter date, has fallen more than 20 percent this month and over 15 percent in the past seven days, as of 4:15 p.m. EST Wednesday.

The decline comes as a number of regulatory agencies and economic experts around the globe express skepticism regarding Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

China banned Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs)—the means by which creators introduce and raise capital for new cryptocurrency projects—earlier this month, and Chinese news outlet Caixin reported Friday that the country might prohibit cryptocurrency exchanges entirely in the near future, Business Insider notes. 

But, Bloomberg’s Lulu Yilun Chen tweeted Friday that the Chinese government had yet to mandate the shutdown of Okcoin and Huobi PRs, two of the country’s most prominent cryptocurrency exchange platforms.

Some say China will relax the pressure it has placed on the cryptocurrency market once the government has found a viable means of regulating that market.

“China [is] saying, ok, we need to push back on these for now until we figure out how to deal with them,” said Zennon Kapron, director of the Shanghai-based financial technology consultancy Kapronasia, per Reuters, in reference to the country’s ICO ban. Kapron added that he expects the country’s government to eventually ease the ban.

Previous Chinese regulations against cryptocurrencies have proved temporary. The country prohibited the withdrawal of Bitcoin investments in February, but allowed withdrawals to resume in June, Business Insider points out.

Chinese regulators are not the only ones wary of the cryptocurrency boom.

Tuesday, the U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority released a statement cautioning investors about the risks of ICO investors, Business Insider reports. These risks, according to the FCA, include the lack of regulation governing the cryptocurrency market, the volatility of cryptocurrencies, the potential for fraudulent ICOs, and the experimental nature of cryptocurrency projects.

“ICOs are very high-risk, speculative investments,” the FCA’s warning reads. “You should be conscious of the risks involved … and fully research the specific project if you are thinking about buying digital tokens. You should only invest in an ICO project if you are an experienced investor, confident in the quality of the ICO project itself (e.g., business plan, technology, people involved) and prepared to lose your entire stake.”

Also on Tuesday, Business Insider says, JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon predicted an imminent crash of what he sees as the Bitcoin bubble. His prediction, so far, has been self-fulfilling. Dimon said he “would fire any trader that transacted Bitcoin for being stupid” (Business Insider’s paraphrasing).

As of 5:15 p.m. EST, Bitcoin’s value has fallen six percent on Tuesday’s news.

Business Insider notes that early this month, in an interview with Quartz, Yale economics professor and Nobel Prize winning author Robert Shiller, who predicted the crash of the housing and technology markets in his 2000 book “Irrational Exuberance,” called Bitcoin the best example in today’s market of a speculative bubble.

A “speculative bubble” occurs when unrealistic expectations amongst investors of an asset’s future performance drive the market value of that asset beyond any real gains it is capable of accruing.

In the aforementioned book, Shiller argues that the tech bubble formed because “a fundamental deep angst of our digitization and computers” compelled investors to seek a false sense of understanding and comfort by gobbling up tech stocks.

“Somehow Bitcoin…gives a [similar] sense of empowerment: I understand what’s happening! I can speculate and I can be rich from understanding this! That kind of is a solution to the fundamental angst,” Shiller told Quartz.

There is no question that investors have been exuberant about cryptocurrencies this year. ICOs have raised over $2 billion in 2017. The question is whether the exuberance is irrational. As a number of financial experts answer that question in the affirmative, once-exuberant cryptocurrency backers are growing skittish.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons

Chinese authorities crackdown on cryptocurrency ICOs

Monday, the Chinese government banned the practice of creating and selling new cryptocurrencies, Reuters reports

With the rise of Blockchain technology, initial coin offerings (ICOs)—which give investors the opportunity to buy newly-created cryptocurrencies—have gained popularity. In total, Reuters says, ICOs have raised $2.32 billion since the inception of the cryptocurrency market; $2.16 billion of that amount has come in 2017.

In China this year, 65 ICOs have raised a combined 2.62 billion yuan ($394.6-million) and attracted 105,000 investors, according to Reuters.

The value of Ethereum, the cryptocurrency in which most ICOs are transacted, has plummeted on the news. On Sunday, one Ethereum token was worth $349.93. Late Monday, that figure had fallen 14.3 percent to $299.72. As of 1:33 p.m. Eastern Tuesday, Ethereum has recovered slightly; the USD-Ethereum exchange rate sits at 307.56 to one.

The Bitcoin-USD exchange rate has dropped 5.9 percent since midnight Monday morning on China’s news. Late Sunday night, one bitcoin was worth $4,632.46. As of 1:39 Eastern Tuesday, the value of a single bitcoin token is $4,359.07.

The market capitalization of the cryptocurrency industry as a whole dropped 11.66 percent Monday, from $165.095 billion to $145.833 billion. Since midnight Tuesday morning, though, the industry’s market cap has gained 1.7 percent. As of 1:55 p.m. Eastern, the industry is worth $148.358 billion.

“The large price falls can be attributed to panic amongst traders and profit-taking,” said Cryptocompare founder Charles Hayter, per Reuters.

Indeed, China’s announcement had many investors across the internet predicting doom and gloom. A participant in one chatroom set up for an upcoming ICO said “the music has stopped” for the cryptocurrency boom, Reuters reports.

“Sell all your bitcoins now,” another advised, again per Reuters.

The organizer of the ICO to which the chatroom was dedicated, which was meant to launch a new cryptocurrency called SelfSell, has suspended the project.

Regulators around the world are struggling to understand cryptocurrency investment and the risks associated with it, said Zennon Kapron, director of the Shanghai-based financial technology consultancy Kapronasia, per Reuters.

Prior to China’s announcement, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, as well as similar agencies in Singapore and Canada, warned that regulations would likely be needed to control the cryptocurrency market.

The lack of regulation governing cryptocurrency and investment in it is unprecedented. Blockchain, the backbone of cryptocurrency transactions, functions without a centralized overseer.

The nature of investment in cryptocurrency is also unconventional. When one contributes to a fundraiser for a traditional company, one generally receives a share in the company and/or a security. ICO investors, Reuters notes, receive neither.

Therefore, Reuters points out, an investment in a cryptocurrency is little more than a bet that demand for that currency will exceed supply, driving up value. It is a risky bet, considering the volatility of cryptocurrencies.

With risks to investors so high, government regulators are purportedly taking strides to protect their citizens. Cryptocurrency expert and Blockchain proponent Oliver Bussman said, per Reuters, that the lack of private financial advice firms in China obligates the government to be especially vigilant in protecting the finances of its constituents.

Of course, many would argue that it is an investor’s own responsibility to protect him/herself.

Despite some predictions that China’s move spells the beginning of the end of the cryptocurrency boom, many experts believe the regulatory shutdown is but a temporary measure designed to give the country’s government time to develop a strategy by which to handle cryptocurrencies.

“China, in many ways, is no different than the U.S. or Singapore in saying, ok, we need to push back on these for now until we figure out how to deal with them,” Kapron said, per Reuters, adding that he expected regulators in China to eventually ease the ICO ban.

Bussman says, per Reuters, that cryptocurrency technology is too revolutionary, too integral to the future of global economics, to be shutdown. Cryptocurrency, he says, has already worked itself into the fabric of modern investment.

“The initial coin offering is a new business model leveraging blockchain technology and it will remain. This is not the end of the ICO – absolutely not,” he said.

Featured Image via Flickr/BTC Keychain

Best Buy shares plummet despite strong earnings report

Best Buy’s quarter two earnings report, released Tuesday, shattered analyst expectations, Bloomberg reports. But, the company’s stock has plummeted on CEO Hubert Joly’s warning that the sales growth may not be sustainable.

Joly cautioned on the earnings call, per Bloomberg, that investors should not expect comparable sales growth to continue at its second-quarter rate.

As of 12 pm ET Tuesday, Best Buy shares are down 11 percent since the market closed Monday.

For quarter two, the company reported comparable sales growth of 5.4 percent, more than twice analysts’ expectations of 2.1 percent. Quarter two marks the chain’s best comparable sales growth since quarter four of fiscal 2010, Bloomberg reports.

Non-GAAP diluted earnings per share jumped from $0.57 to $0.69 year over year, an increase of more than 21 percent. Sales revenue rose almost five percent year-over-year, from $8.53 billion to $8.94 billion, and came in 3.2 percent above analysts’ expectations of $8.66 billion.

Despite Joly’s warning, Best Buy has revised its full-year comparable sales growth target from 4.5 percent to 5.5 pecent and raised Non-GAAP diluted EPS targets to $0.80/share from $0.75/share (an increase of more than 6.5 percent).

CFO Corie Barry expects “continued positive industry and consumer momentum,” she said in a statement, per Bloomberg, adding that product launches throughout the fall and the holiday season should have a positive impact on Best Buy’s performance.

Still, Barry offers a word of caution regarding the future—particularly the holiday boom, during which discounts and other promotions, Bloomberg points out, cut into the bottom line.

“You can’t always carry trends forward into the fourth quarter,” she said on the call, per Bloomberg. “…there are still a lot of unknowns.”

Best Buy’s success this summer comes as a number of hot new tech products hit the shelves. Nintendo’s new gaming platform, the Switch, and Samsung’s new phone, the Note 8, presumably played a role in boosting Best Buy’s sales numbers, Bloomberg notes.

Sales of smart home devices like the Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa increased as well, as Best Buy made an effort to showcase such devices. Sales of “wearables” like the Apple Watch also climbed.

According to the earnings report, though, pricing pressure in the mobile phone market drove down margins on products like the Note 8, and wearables are inherently low-margin products. A decline in sales of tablets, which are high-margin items, further limited profits.

Still, gross profit increased 4.4 percent, from $2.06 billion to $2.15 billion, while gross profit percentage (i.e. the percentage of revenue that becomes profit) remained flat.

Best Buy’s online revenue increased 31.2 percent “on a comparable basis,” according to the earnings release, while online sales accounted for 13.2 percent of total domestic revenue, an increase from 10.6 percent a year ago.

The company’s online revenue was higher than it has ever been, except during a holiday quarter, Bloomberg reports.

Still, experts doubt whether Best Buy can continue to compete with Amazon, which, according to a consumer survey by Gordon Haskett analyst Chuck Grom (cited by Bloomberg), now controls more than half of online sales across 11 key categories, including electronics and small appliances.

“They are going to get perfect quarters like this every now and again,” Brandon Fletcher, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., said of Best Buy, per Bloomberg.

The company “will continue to face waves of growth and decline,” Fletcher added, “but its base products — printer ink, headphones, etc. — are not related to product launches and those sales are inexorably moving to Amazon and Wal-Mart online.”

Best Buy has succeeded in the stock market despite increasing pressure on the eCommerce front. At Monday’s close, shares had increased more than 60 percent in the past year.

But the company’s own management has asked investors to temper their enthusiasm, and investors are obliging.

Featured Image via Wikimedia Commons

Starbucks stock falls, but one analyst predicts recovery

Since June 2, Starbucks stock has fallen more than 16 percent. Shares dipped just over nine percent (to $54.00/share) in 24 hours after the company released its most recent quarterly earnings report on July 27.

Investors are losing confidence in the iconic coffee brand due to declining growth rates, Daniel Schönberger of SeekingAlpha writes. Though Starbucks reported an 8 percent jump in revenue and a 12 percent increase in earnings per share last quarter, revenue growth has been falling since the first quarter of 2016, and EPS growth has declined from 37 percent in quarter four of 2013.

Still, Schönberger notes that most companies would love to post growth numbers comparable to Starbucks’, and points to a number of promising indicators for the company’s future.

The growth rate of the chain’s comparable sales increased over the most recent quarter. The comparable sales metric compares sales performance at a given store over some period of time. According to Schönberger, the figure is important from a sustainability perspective, as it is cheaper for a company to grow sales at existing locations than to open new stores. In the most recent quarter, Starbucks reported a 5 percent increase in comparable sales, up from 3 percent in each of the two prior quarters.

Still, in the long view, Starbucks’ comparable sales growth is slowing. In quarter four of 2011, comparable sales grew 10 percent. Until 2014, the company consistently reported comparable sales growth in excess of 5 percent.

Through the latter half of 2013, traffic growth accounted for the lion’s share of comparable sales growth. In the fourth quarter of that year, traffic growth began to decline, and increasing margins of individual sales (“ticket growth”) accounted for most of Starbucks’ comparable sales growth. Traffic has remained flat or declined in each of the last five quarters.

To maintain its dominance in the coffee sphere, Starbucks relies heavily on its brand image, Schönberger notes, citing a 2016 Interbrand report that ranks the Starbucks brand as the 64th most valuable worldwide, worth almost $7.5 billion. In 2016, Interbrand says, Starbucks’ brand appreciated 20 percent.

In a coffee sector in which competition is fierce, barrier to entry is low (i.e., it is easy to open a coffee shop), and customers can shift their loyalties with ease, the strength of Starbucks brand, Schönberger says, compels customers to tolerate long lines and high prices to obtain the familiar, quality product Starbucks offers.

Starbucks continues to expand in the U.S. The company opened 244 new stores on American soil last quarter and has opened 1,002 in the past 12 months. Schönberger argues, though, that the chain’s real potential for growth lies in international markets like India, Brazil, and Japan.

In its most recent earnings call, the company said year-over-year revenue in “China/Asia Pacific increased 9 percent while operating income jumped 22 percent. The company is particularly optimistic about its burgeoning presence in China.

“Starbucks’ opportunity for growth in China is unparalleled…” said Johnson.

There are approximately 2,600 Starbucks stores spread across 127 cities throughout China, Schönberger says. Starbucks’ growth in China mirrors its early growth in the U.S. Comparable sales growth is trending upward on the strength of increasing traffic. Starbucks intends to open 500 stores a year in China, CEO Kevin Johnson said in the earnings call.

Of course, there are risks associated with Starbucks’ expansion into China. Should tension between the U.S. and China continue to escalate, exchange rates may become volatile, Schönberger points out. Moreover, Chinese authorities could impose sanctions, even bans, on American businesses.

As of 2:08 Eastern Monday, Starbucks shares are trading at $54.25 apiece. The stock’s 52-week low is $50.84. Schönberger recommends that investors capitalize on the low share prices by picking up stakes in the coffee giant.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons

BitCoin’s value surges despite looming scalability challenges

As of 2:18 Eastern Monday, a single bitcoin is worth $4,282—an all time high for the cryptocurrency, invented in 2008. The bitcoin-USD exchange has soared more than 200% this year, as investors in Korea and Japan increasingly seek to buy the cryptocurrency—some such investors are willing to pay premiums of up to 30%—and May’s New York Agreement helps it to accommodate expansion.

A wide array of investors have jumped on the bandwagon, some more enthusiastically than others. “Whether or not you believe in the merit of investing in cryptocurrencies…real dollars are at work here and warrant watching,” Goldman Sachs analysts wrote in a note to clients, per Bloomberg.

Joshua M. Brown, a financial advisor at Ritholtz Wealth Management, is among those who, despite their skepticism, cannot resist BitCoin’s upside. When the cryptocurrency first became part of investors’ vernacular seven years ago, Brown observed in a blog post in mid-July describing his first-ever BitCoin purchase, it was subject to all the volatility that accompanies a “new and unproven” investment opportunity.

Now, though, the cryptocurrency has been hanging around in the public eye for quite a while, and recent developments such as the New York Agreement may lead to stabilization.

As a limited resource as well as a medium of exchange, Bitcoin has properties of a commodity as well as a currency, Goldman Sachs’ note to clients points out. The United States IRS does not recognize Bitcoin as legal tender but, rather, treats it as property for tax purposes.

BitCoin’s value is not supported by some inherently valuable asset like gold or silver, but the lack of such a standard is par for today’s currencies, according to Tim Courtney, CIO at Exencial Wealth Advisors.

“The first thing to understand is that, just like every other currency, there is no asset backing digital and cryptocurrencies,” Courtney told TheStreet. “In the past, some currencies were backed by gold or silver, but that’s no longer the case.”

Without any sort of backing, Bitcoin derives all of its value from supply and demand. BitCoins, in other words, are only worth what someone is willing to pay for them.

“When you see returns on digital currencies moving up, that means demand for them has outnumbered the sellers out there,” Courtney explained to TheStreet.

BitCoin will face a minefield of obstacles as it scales up to satisfy increasing demand. One such challenge could be unprecedented volatility. In late June, Ethereum, a cryptocurrency similar to Bitcoin, dropped from $300 dollars to $0.10 on a single, multi-million-dollar exchange, CNBC reports.

Courtney observes, per TheStreet, that there was no way to reverse the trades, as there would have been had the crash involved “established assets.”

“…there is no security to your [cryptocurrency] trades if something unexpected happens,” Courtney told TheStreet.

‘”What we’ve been doing in the stock market to prevent flash crashes, they’re nowhere near that in the cryptocurrency market,” adds Joe Saluzzi, co-founder of Themis Trading, per CNBC.

Bitcoin also runs the risk of devaluing itself as it expands, Courtney says. He cites the “constrained supply” of Bitcoin as an integral part of its value—basic microeconomics principles hold that if a commodity is in high demand but short supply, its price will rise.

Yet, as Bitcoin expands to serve increasing demand, it will become less and less scarce, and may, therefore, lose much of its value. In other words, like any other currency that loses its scarcity, Bitcoin will be subject to inflation.

BitCoin has long been vulnerable to cyberattacks. As its popularity grows, it will increasingly become a target for hackers. Exchange services BTC-e and Bitfinex both reported being hacked last week, according to CNBC.

The security and anonymity of BitCoin make it a suitable platform through which to launder money, demand ransoms, and carry out other nefarious transactions. All transactions carried out on contraband distribution websites like the AlphaBay and Hamsa, both of which authorities shut down in July, are conducted via BitCoin. Late last month, alleged BTC-e operator Alex Vinnik was arrested on suspicion of having laundered more than $4 billion his clients generated through a variety of criminal enterprises.

“It’s hard to imagine the IRS, Treasury etc allowing anonymous transactions without any reporting becoming a global standard for US persons,” Brown wrote in his blog post.

Still, Brown says, he is not willing to miss out on the potential upside of an investment in BitCoin. “I’m old enough to realize that just because I don’t see a use for something, that doesn’t mean I won’t be proven wrong by others who do,” he writes.

Judging by the spikes in the cryptocurrency’s value—it seems to hit a new high every day, of late—plenty of other investors are indeed anxious to prove Brown wrong.

Featured Image via Flickr/Zach Copley

Dow Soars to Record High on Apple’s Success; Nasdaq and S&P 500 Stagnate

The Dow Jones rose 0.45% Wednesday, closing at 22,014.51, crossing 22,000 for the first time in history, Reuters reports. It dropped slightly in after hours trading, but as of 11 am Thursday, it has gained another 0.06%, bringing it to 22,029.11.

The Dow’s rise is in large part due to the success of tech giant Apple, which announced its earnings for the third quarter of its fiscal year (ended July 1) Tuesday. The company exceeded analysts’ expectations with 7% year-over-year revenue growth and a 17% year-over-year rise in earnings per share. iPhone sales rose 2% year over year and generated 3% more revenue than they did a year ago. The company’s services-based revenue hit a record quarterly high of $7.2 billion, a 3% increase from last quarter and a 22% jump year-over-year.

Apple stock spiked almost 7% on the news in after-hours trading Tuesday, closing at $149.33/share Tuesday afternoon and opening at $159.51 Wednesday morning. Since Wednesday, the stock has dropped 2.1% as of 11:30 am Eastern Thursday. It is priced at $156.15/share.

Some investors would like to see Apple spend more money to improve its own business operations.

“Apple, at the heart of it, has a lot of consumer exposure, and the consumer is in great shape. But we would like to see some capex [capital expenditure]“ said Mike Baele, managing director at U.S. Bank Private Client Wealth Management in Portland, Oregon, per Reuters.

The Dow has risen 11% this year. It cracked 20,000 in late June and exceeded 21,000 on March 1, per Reuters.

The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq, which have seen success of their own this year—the Nasdaq composite has gained 16.9% since January 3; the S&P 500 is up 9.5% since the same date—saw little change. The former increased by 0.5%, while the latter remained flat.

The Nasdaq and the S&P 500 were hit by the losses of some heavy hitters in the tech sector: Microsoft fell 0.44% Wednesday; Facebook lost 0.33%.

Facebook and Microsoft are both performing well in 2017. The social media heavyweight has risen 46.8% since December 30, and the software giant is up 15.9% since the same date. Both have helped to make technology the leading S&P sector. The S&P’s information tech index has jumped 23% in 2017.

AutoNation, which belongs to Nasdaq as well as the S&P 500, has fallen 6% since releasing its quarter two earnings report, which revealed a 3% drop in year-over-year revenue, and a 1.9% fall in gross profit.

Cardinal Health, which, like AutoNation, is a member of both Nasdaq and S&P, has dropped 11.14% on its most recent earnings report. Though the company’s revenue increased 5% year-over-year, net earnings fell 18%, and earnings per share dropped 16%.

Still, of the 2/3 of S&P companies who have reported their second quarter earnings, 72% have beaten Wall Street expectations, Reuters says. On average, about 64% of companies per quarter “beat the street.”

The economy’s success, Reuters points out, comes despite gridlock in Washington, which is stalling the Trump Administration’s efforts to cut taxes and boost infrastructure spending. Many investors say the political situation has but secondary bearing on the market’s performance.

“The Trump agenda getting done or not is not the difference between positive or negative GDP,” said Brent Schutte, chief investment strategist at Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management Company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, per Reuters. “I continue to believe the Trump potential tax changes are the icing on the cake of an already improving economy.”

The economy is indeed improving. GDP growth is bouncing back after a sluggish 2016, and company performance has been strong in the most recent quarter. The dips of Facebook and Microsoft seem to be but road bumps in a successful market.

Federal Reserve Fines BNP Paribas $246 Million in Connection With Forex Scandal

Monday, the US Federal Reserve Bank fined BNP Paribas $246 million in connection with a widespread scandal involving the fixing of currency markets, the BBC reports. In a press release, the Federal Reserve claimed to have “found deficiencies in BNP Paribas’s oversight of, and internal controls over, FX [foreign exchange] traders who buy and sell U.S. dollars and foreign currencies for the firm’s own accounts and for customer.”

“The firm [BNP Paribas] failed to detect and address that its traders used electronic chatrooms to communicate with competitors about their trading positions,” the statement continues.

In a statement of its own  following the Federal Reserve’s announcement, the bank said it “deeply regrets the past misconduct[,] which was a clear breach of the high standards on which the Group operates.”

That alleged “misconduct” occurred between 2013 and 2016. BNP says it has since “proactively implemented extensive measures to strengthen its systems of control and compliance.” Those measures include an “increase [in] resources and staff dedicated to [control and compliance], [the conduction of] extensive staff training and [the implementation of] a new Code of Conduct which applies to all staff.”

BNP, which operates in 75 countries and serves more than 30 million customers, has been penalized before for its involvement in the scandal. In May, the firm paid $350 million to the New York State Department of Financial Services in a settlement concerning “issues relat[ed] to oversight of its global foreign exchange business,” according to the BBC.

The Federal Reserve alone has levied $2 billion in fines connected to the scandal. Regulatory entities in Europe have also enforced penalties, though the UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) closed its investigation into the matter in March 2016.

Barclays, the Royal Bank of Scotland, Deutsche Bank, and UBS have all been punished.

According to a separate BBC report by Sebastian Chrispin, traders can make substantial profits by manipulating currency exchange rates only slightly.  Traders at HSBC made $162,000 by artificially lowering the sterling-dollar exchange rate just .0035 pounds. In another case,  Citi traders made just under $100,000 by inflating the euro-dollar exchange rate.

Most institutions collect data on the foreign exchange market at the same time everyday—this collection is known as the “fix.” In London, for instance, the fix occurred daily during a strictly defined one-minute window around 4:00 pm. If traders “submit a rush of orders” (BBC’s words) just before the fix, they can give the impression of a spike or a trough in the market.

Alternatively, if traders gain confidential information regarding some event that will happen in the market, they can buy or sell so as to capitalize on the effect that event will have.

Both strategies are more effective if traders work together, either “actively”—by directly speaking with one another—or “implicitly”—by using subtle cues to inform each other as to what certain market participants plan to do.

The Federal Reserve alleges that BNP traders engaged in active collusion, sharing clients’ intentions via internet chatrooms. Such a breach of a client’s confidentiality could “skew his/her pension funds and investments,” according to Chrispin.

Still, some argue that this sort of manipulation of the foreign exchange market is a victimless crime, because the changes in exchange rates are too small to catch the attention of or have any real effect on everyday international travelers.

However, the perpetrators themselves, along with the institutions who failed to detect the traders’ activities, are certainly victims. Countless institutions have been hit with substantial fines, and traders have been fired, if not banned entirely from the industry.

In January, former BNP trader Jason Katz admitted to having “conspired” to manipulate the exchange rate between the US dollar and the South African Rand, and pleaded guilty to “violating US competition law.” The Federal Reserve “permanently prohibited [Katz] from participating in the banking industry,” according to its previously cited press release. The statement continues on to say the Federal Reserve will bar BNP  “from re-employing [all] individuals who were involved in the conduct underlying this enforcement action.”

Amazon Sparks Antitrust Concerns

Amazon Inc. has recently agreed to buy Whole Foods Market Inc. for $13.7 billion as part of their expansion plans. Amazon’s sustained major growth is raising concerns with Wall Street and Washington regarding antitrust policy. Lawmakers are cautious but wish to investigate the potential ramifications this business deal will have on customers.

One U.S. lawmaker, in particular, has called for a hearing on the proposed hearing on the subjects of monopolies and their effects on the consumer base. Amazon’s shares have increased by 34 percent this year, rising to $1,003.21 per share on Friday. Despite the huge growth, market analysts have dismissed concerns regarding Amazon as a trust on the grounds that the company does not have large market concentrations in any one product category, making it unrealistic that a monopoly is established. Furthermore, Amazon has a history of helping to keep prices low and very competitive for customers.

The major concern is not that Amazon has grown too large that it can now dominate the market from a price point of view. The issue is regarding as to whether Amazon has grown to the point where competitors are discouraged and unmotivated to innovate. Competitors risk funding research and development for new services for customers because they might either be bought by Amazon, or inspire Amazon to create or improve on that innovation.

Hedge-fund managers like Doug Kass are betting against Amazon by arguing that the value for the fast-growing online retailer will be eroded by antitrust concerns. Goldman Sachs raised questions concerning the track records of tech company stocks, specifically determining whether stocks were overpriced and investors were overlooking the risks associated with government regulation policy.

Despite the political buzzing regarding Amazon’s growth, it is more than likely that the Whole Foods acquisition will go through. Only now Amazon and similar companies are being placed under scrutiny regarding competition policy, judging how the transaction affects the future of retail grocery stores, and the possible innovation repercussions that may arise. From a more political standpoint, this situation will cast a review of the antitrust laws to ensure they are working effectively to ensure economic opportunity, choice and low prices.

While many investors are now trying to short Amazon based on the value erosion capabilities of government regulation, many analysts are not worried about the Whole Foods deal greatly impacting antitrust policy. Their reasoning is that Whole Foods has just 1.6 percent of the U.S. grocery market, being overshadowed by other competitors such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. at 26 percent of the market, and Kroger Co. at 10 percent. Shifts and enforcing of antitrust policy usually occur when a retailer controls 30 percent or more of a particular market.

For Amazon, the purchasing of Whole Foods indicates a shift in its business model from only selling products online to establishing a physical store location that is intent on attracting customers. This expansion could remain a one-time opportunity to penetrate an important market and establishing a strong position, but it will also likely lead to a collaboration between the online and physical stores, either providing a storefront for online purchases, or a capitalizing on the online selling of groceries. There is speculation that Amazon might use Whole Foods’ retail locations to launch a pharmacy business.

Monopolies are dangerous because they allow companies the ability to influence the market to maximize their profits at the expense of customers, competition and government. By being the dominant force in a market, monopolies are able to set the price that no other competitor can match, limiting choice for the customer as well as competitor innovation.

Monopolies are also able to influence government through the support of certain legislation beneficial to them, which might affect the outcomes of law that are not beneficial to society. This is why the government is so concerned with antitrust laws, and are eager to ensure they are working.

While this is the biggest acquisition of Amazon’s expansion plan, it is doubtful this will be the last, and so it is certain that this issues will arise again in the future.

Featured Image via Flickr/Fumiaki Yoshimatsu

Delta Releases Quarter Two Earnings Reports: Profit Down Despite Unit Revenue Increase

Delta Airlines, Inc. published its earnings report for the second quarter of 2017 on Thursday, according to Reuters’ Alana Wise and Arunima Banerjee. For investors, the report was a mixed bag. Profit fell 21% as compared to quarter 2 of 2016: net income dropped to $1.22 billion from 1.55 billion a year ago. However, passenger unit revenue (PUR), which Reuters says “measures sales according to flight capacity,” rose 2.5%.

Stocks across the industry, which had been trending upward recently as a result of sector-wide increases in PUR, dipped following Delta’s report. Delta’s own shares fell 2% Thursday, closing at $54.35.

Operating costs are soaring as fuel prices rise and “renegotiated contracts with…pilots, flight attendants, and mechanics unions” demand higher payouts from airlines. Delta reports that its salary costs are up 9% as compared to last year, and that fuel costs have risen 18%. Employees also received an additional $338 million in profit shares.

However, there are plenty of reasons to be hopeful about the future of Delta, and of the airline industry as a whole. Delta Chief Financial Officer Paul Jacobson says “the June quarter represented the peak for non-fuel cost pressures this year,” and expects costs to moderate in quarter three.

Moreover, passenger unit revenue is expected to continue to rise; Delta projects that the figure will grow between 2.5% and 4.5% in quarter three. An 18-20% increase in operating revenue is anticipated as PUR continues to climb. In quarter two, operating margin rose by one percent. Total operating revenue was up 3.3% to 10.79 billion.

Matthew Heller of quotes Delta President Glen Hauenstein as saying the quarter two increase in PUR “marked Delta’s return to unit revenue growth after two and a half years.” Delta expected a 2% increase in PUR in the first quarter of the year, but reported a 0.5% decrease instead.

Unit revenue has declined throughout the sector over the past few years, partly because consumers are pressuring airlines to lower fares.  Passenger Revenue per Available Seat Mile (PRSM), a key indicator of unit revenue, fell over 7% across the industry from 2013 to 2016, according to MIT’s Airline Data Project.

Recently, though, unit revenue has been on the upswing. Hauenstein attributes the rise in Delta’s unit revenue numbers to “a strengthening demand environment and our commercial initiatives to provide customers more choice, an innovative experience, and a broader global network.”

The air travel industry is a key element of the United States’ economy, accounting for 7.3% of the country’s jobs and 5.1% of its GDP (data collected by Airlines for America). The success of airlines can boost the overall health of the economy considerably, and when airlines struggle, the economy is liable to dip.

The inverse is also true: when the economy struggles, consumers opt for more affordable modes of travel, and the airline industry suffers. But, as Hauenstein says,  the increase in Delta’s unit revenue suggests that demand is strong. An efficient business should be able to turn a greater profit when a greater demand exists.

Still, given Delta’s earnings reports over the last year or so, and considering Jacobson’s assertion that quarter two marked the apex of Delta’s yearly costs, it seems the June quarter was an aberration. With unit revenue increasing for the first time in years, Delta looks poised to close 2017 well.

As of 2:48 Eastern Time on Friday, Delta stock had risen 1.32% since the market closed Thursday. Since April 17, the stock is up nearly 25%, as investors respond to increases in unit revenue throughout the airline industry. Yes, a 21% decrease in profit is alarming at first blush, but Delta should be fine in the long run.