Category Archives: Cloud Computing

Dollar Falls After Mixed Signals From Trump Administration

Disappointing US GDP and contradictory comments on currency strength at Davos burden dollar

The USD depreciated against majors as soft Q4 GDP numbers on Friday and mixed comments on the desired strength and weakness of the currency made at the World Economic Forum in Davos put downward pressure on the greenback. The Trump administration is pushing its tough stance on trade, but tried to soften the tone in an effort to be more inclusive. Economic fundamentals and monetary policy have been supportive of the currency, but political lack of stability has hurt the buck. Next week the market will focus on the U.S. Federal Reserve and the U.S. non farm payrolls (NFP).

  • US President Trump to deliver his first State of the Union Address
  • Fed anticipated to keep rates on hold at 1.25-1.50 percent
  • US forecasted to have added 184,000 jobs in January

Dollar Confused Ahead of US Jobs Report and Fed Statement

The EUR/USD gained 1.73 percent in the last five days. The single currency is trading at 1.2426 after contradictory statements from the Trump administration confused markets. Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin said on Wednesday that the weaker dollar was good for the US in relation to trade. The USD retreated and the EUR touched three year highs. Next day President Trump said the he ultimately wants to see a strong dollar as the currency is a reflection of the strength of the economy. The USD recovered some ground versus the EUR, but the damage had already been done and the EUR advanced 0.27 percent on Friday.

The first estimate for US GDP for the fourth quarter was released and it was short of expectations at 2.6 percent. The forecast the market was looking for was 3.0 percent, but given its the advanced estimate there will be two more released that could see the final GDP figure higher in the following months.

The EUR has been rising despite the words from European Central Bank (ECB) President Mario Draghi. The central bank kept its rate and massive quantitative easing program untouched. Draghi made sure to mention that stimulus would remain for as long as needed, but had to concede there were few chances it will change interest rates. The ECB President made a comment warning about using verbal intervention to talk down a currency when asked about the Davos statement from Mnuchin.

US President Trump will deliver its first Sate of the Union address on Tuesday, January 30, at 9:00 pm EST. Failing to avoid a government shutdown Trump will focus on the positives during his first year. His achievements in passing legislation came late in 2017 but he is sure to mention the tax reform bill. The stock market record breaking pace and overall strength of the economy while inherited will also be mentioned with the infrastructure plan something to look for in the immediate future. The USD got a Trump bump in late 2016 when just after winning the elections

The U.S. non farm payrolls (NFP) will be published on Friday, February 2 at 8:30 am EST. Economists are expecting the US to add 184,000 positions in January. Last month’s report came in lower than expected but the saving grace for the USD was that hourly wages grew 0.3 percent as expected. There are similar gains forecasted for January wages with a special emphasis on inflationary data as the Fed ponders what to do with stagnant wages despite a strong job component.

The USD/CAD lost 1.38 percent during the week. The currency pair is trading at 1.2323 with a weaker greenback sliding against a stronger loonie. The Bank of Canada (BoC) lifted its benchmark rate 25 basis points earlier in the month and Friday’s release of Canadian inflation coming in even lower than expected at -0.4 percent and validates the slowing inflationary rise view from the central bank.

The uncertain future of NAFTA had previously sapped the loonie from any positive impact from the interest rate hike, but comments this week about the importance trade by the Trump administration have lessened the anxiety about the trade deal. While the US representatives were sure to mention America first, even Trump conceded that America is not alone. The March deadline is fast approaching and negotiations have little to show for it. Elections in Mexico and the United States will make the trade deal a heavy politicized item in 2018. The biggest surprise at Davos from the White House was the apparent softening of their hard line on the Trans Pacific Pact (TPP). The now 11 nation deal was one of the first casualties of the administration and the remaining members agreed to go ahead without the US this week.

Oil prices have been boosted by the weak US dollar and encouraging signs that the global demand for energy is on the rise. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) production cut agreement was instrumental in stopping the free fall of crude. US shale producers were predicted to have ramped up their supply by now, but weather and other factors have stood in their way. The main risk for crude is a sudden revival of the US dollar that could trigger a sell-off in commodities with investors looking to book profits at current three level highs.

Market events to watch this week:

Tuesday, January 30
10:00am USD CB Consumer Confidence
10:30am GBP BOE Gov Carney Speaks
7:30pm AUD CPI q/q
9:00pm USD President Trump Speaks
Wednesday, January 31
8:15am USD ADP Non-Farm Employment Change
8:30am CAD GDP m/m
10:30am USD Crude Oil Inventories
2:00pm USD FOMC Statement
2:00pm USD Federal Funds Rate
Thursday, February 1
4:30am GBP Manufacturing PMI
10:00am USD ISM Manufacturing PMI
Friday, February 2
4:30am GBP Construction PMI

*All times EST

Airbnb Adds Another Man to Its All-Male Board

Outgoing American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault is certainly keeping busy.

After being named to Facebook’s board last week, Chenault has now been added to Airbnb’s board of directors as well.

Read: Airbnb Has Some Breathtaking Listings in ‘Shithole’ Countries

Chenault is the company’s first independent board member, as well as its first African-American. However, critics have pointed out that Airbnb’s board remains all male. The short-term rental site has pledged that its next board hire will be female, saying that it is already in “serious discussions with a number of incredible people.” The company reportedly plans to include a woman before the end of the year.

Both minorities and women have historically been excluded from boards of tech companies—a prestigious and high-paying role. According to TheBoardlist, 68% of unicorn tech companies (those with billion dollar-plus valuations), have no women on their boards.

Read: Facebook Just Acquired This Company Focused on Authenticating ID Cards

Airbnb’s board currently consists of its three founders Brian Chesky, Nathan Blecharczyk, and Joe Gebbia, as well as venture capitalists Jeff Jordan and Alfred Lin. While there have been rumors that Condoleezza Rice, Valerie Jarrett, and Meg Whitman could be named to the board next, Recode reports that sources say these are not the names under consideration.

Airbnb is currently preparing for an IPO. It is valued at $30 billion, making it the second-most-valuable startup in the U.S. after Uber, according to data from CBInsights.

G20 to work on 'answer' to Bitcoin risk: ECB's Coeure

DAVOS (Reuters) – International regulators are looking at the risks poised by cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and will work on their response at their next G20 meeting in March, a European Central Bank director said on Friday.

“The international community is … preparing an answer to that and I would expect, for instance, the G20 discussion in Buenos Aires in March to focus very much on these issues,” Benoit Coeure, a member of the ECB’s board, said at an event at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Reporting By Noah Barkin; Writing by Francesco Canepa and Balazs Koranyi in Frankfurt; Editing by Kevin Liffey

America First? Stunning New Report Says the U.S. Is Actually in 8th Place

I have seen many surveys and research reports over the years that rank all the countries of the world on a variety of different scales: the 50 happiest countries, the top-10 most entrepreneurial countries, even the top-25 countries in equality for women.

Surprisingly, the United States never seems to be at the top of these surveys. The U.S. ranked #13 in the happiest countries survey (Denmark was #1), the U.S. ranked #37 in the most entrepreneurial countries survey (Uganda was #1), and the U.S. ranked #20 in the equality for women survey (Iceland was #1).

So, that said, now that the official doctrine of the White House is “America First,” it’s surprising to me that we actually fell a notch in the latest rankings of “best countries” by U.S. News & World Report released just this week. While the U.S. was ranked the #7 best country in 2017, it fell to #8 in 2018, with Australia rising one notch to take the #7 ranking.

And how did U.S. News & World Report come up with its rankings?

According to the organization’s explanation, each country was scored on 65 different attributes, which were grouped into nine subrankings, including: adventure, citizenship, cultural influence, entrepreneurship, heritage, movers, open for business, power, and quality of life.

While some of the scores on individual subrankings make sense to me (the U.S. was ranked #1 for power, and #3 for both cultural influence and entrepreneurship), some do not (just #33 in adventure, and #43 in open for business??)

Here are the top-5 best countries according to U.S. News & World Report:

  1. Switzerland
  2. Canada
  3. Germany
  4. United Kingdom
  5. Japan

Anyway, as Donald Trump prepares to speak at the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland, we’ll see if his speech has the power to move the needle to a better ranking in 2019.

Remembering Ursula Le Guin, Imaginer of Difficult Worlds

Ursula Le Guin imagined the future for a living, but her most prescient statement may have come in a speech. “I think hard times are coming,” the writer said at the National Book Awards in November 2014, “when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope.”

Three years and change. That’s maybe not so long ago, counting the calendar pages, but counting the cultural shifts? The technological advancements? The political upheavals? Eons. That’s how you know Le Guin’s a genius. In a moment of calm, when the mood was complacent, she paused, looked out of her crystal-ball eyes, and saw, just there on the horizon, the gathering storm.

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That was always her gift. Le Guin, who died Tuesday at the age of 88, had The Sight. Perhaps you know her Earthsea books. The first one, A Wizard of Earthsea, was published in 1968. It’s the story of a boy-wizard who trains at a school for magic and vanquishes an evil—an evil he helped create—that threatens the land. Thirty years later, when J. K. Rowling wouldn’t name Le Guin as an influence, fans filled in the blank. Le Guin did it first! we yelled. She created the tropes.

It wasn’t just the proto-Potters. Le Guin played with gender; her heroes weren’t always white. She lived, as great fantasists do, up to the promise of the genre. The fiction we now call “speculative” derives its power from freedom: freedom from the present, from its norms, its oppressions. Le Guin exploited that freedom and made it her ultimate theme.

Listen to the full speech, if you haven’t already. It’s about the most viral thing to ever come out of a literary ceremony. She talks about integrity. She makes jokes. In my favorite moment, she invokes a cliche: “I really don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river.” Watch how she says it, punctuating each word. It’s not a cliche anymore. It’s like she’s invented the phrase. Hey, maybe she did. With Ursula Le Guin, you only ever got true, startling originality.

Google, Tencent, Sequoia China join $15 million funding for pharma startup XtalPi

BEIJING (Reuters) – Alphabet Inc’s Google, Tencent Holdings Ltd and Sequoia Capital China have joined a $15 million B series funding round for Boston- and Shenzhen-based artificial intelligence (AI) pharmaceutical firm XtalPi Inc.

Sequoia led the round, which brings the startup’s total funding amount to $20 million, XtalPi and Google said in statements on Wednesday.

XtalPi uses AI, cloud computing and quantum physics to improve drug design processes.

The deal is the first co-investment by Google and Tencent since the two companies revealed this month that they have signed a patent sharing agreement, paving the way for cooperation between the two firms.

Google has recently ramped up investment in the Chinese market where its search engine remains blocked. Last month it announced it had launched a dedicated AI lab in the country.

Reporting by Cate Cadell; Editing by Himani Sarkar

Under Armour's Olympic Speed Skating Suit Looks to Defeat Physics

The speed skating suit has always been the technical marvel of the Winter Olympics. With high-tech fabrics and unusual construction, it’s designed to eek out every bit of athletic optimization. In a sport where a thousandth of a second can determine who gets a medal and who doesn’t, athletes rely on technology to give them an edge. “We’re trying to get the body to be more aerodynamic than it is in its natural state,” says Clay Dean, chief innovation officer at Under Armour, the company behind the suit the US speed skating team will wear in PyeongChang this February.

Speed skaters wage a battle with physics every time they race. As their muscular bodies cut through the air at more than 30 mph, they leave a trail of drag in their wake. The key to winning (against physics and humans alike) is to reduce the amount of air resistance a body produces. Part of it is stance—to minimize their body’s effect, skaters fold themselves over, keeping their backs flat like a table top—and part of it is suit.

Under Armour’s new suit is an overhaul to the Mach 39, the controversial uniform that many blamed for the US team’s poor performance in Sochi. In 2014, not a single US speed skater medaled, despite the high prospects going into the Olympics. Under Armour was a natural scapegoat.

In the lead up to the game, the company heralded the Mach 39 as the fastest suit ever designed. The bodysuits were made from a dimpled polyurethane material designed to divert air drag; designers placed a large, latticed vent in the back of the suit to let the athletes bodies breathe. It turned out that the vent allowed too much air to enter the suit, creating a vacuum behind the athletes that slowed them as they skated.

Damien Maloney for WIRED

This year’s suit has no vent. Instead, it’s stitched together from three fabrics like a couture gown. One of those fabrics, a white nylon spandex mix called H1, runs down the suit’s arms and legs in patches. The fabric’s jacquard weave creates an almost imperceptible roughness in the surface. “I would describe it as a very fine grit sandpaper,” says Chris Yu, director of integrated technologies at Specialized, the company responsible for the hundreds of hours of wind tunnel testing the suit underwent.

The texture creates pockets in the surface that make the suit more breathable. It also makes the suit more aerodynamic. Yu explains that anything punching a hole in the air will leave a wake or vacuum behind it. Speed skaters need to make that hole as small as possible. Cylindrical objects like arms and legs are particularly troublesome since wind tends to wrap around them, creating vacuum that can slow skaters’ speed. Anywhere you see the H1 fabric is a trouble spot for wind resistance. Under Armour and Specialized claim the small dimples on the surface of the suit disrupt the airflow ever so slightly, causing the air to re-energize and reattach to the limbs so the vacuum is reduced. “Call it the golf ball dimple effect, if you will,” Yu says.

Golf balls have dimples across the entirety of their surface because there’s no way to account for how the ball will fly through the air. Skaters, on the other hand, move in controlled and predictable ways, making only left turns as they sprint around the track. This predictability allowed the designers to position the H1 material in precise locations on the suit. “You can’t add roughness willy nilly,” Yu says. “If you add too much you’ll introduce more drag; add too little and you’re not re-energizing the air quite enough.”

Damien Maloney for WIRED

Damien Maloney for WIRED

The rest of the suit is made from a stretchy polyurethane fabric that’s designed to lay flush against the skaters skin, even when they’re folded over. Dean says Under Armour decided to sew the suit with an asymmetrical seam that runs from the lower left leg to the right shoulder, which reduces bunching and allows the skaters more freedom of movement during their left turns. It’s a small but significant detail that the design team decided to incorporate after analyzing the particular movements skaters make on the ice—the low stance, swinging arms, and right leg that constantly crosses over the left. They then spent more than two years testing the aerodynamics of the suit inside Specialized’s wind tunnel, ensuring that the suit met performance standards in every position skaters adopt during a race.

In the lead-up to Sochi, Under Armour kept the Mach 39 so tightly under wraps that the athletes didn’t get to test the new design in competition. This time, the athletes have been wearing the suits in practice and competition since last winter, while seamstress nip and tuck the material to tailor-fit it to each skater. It’s a long-term design process, but Dean says it’s worth it to make a suit he eagerly claims is faster, better, and more advanced than what they made for Sochi. “We believe they do give us an advantage,” he says. “It’s a faster skating suit than what we had before.”

It’s an enthusiasm that Dean tempers when he recalls the backlash from the 2014 Olympics. If Under Armour has learned anything in the last few years, it’s that a bit of managing expectations can go a long way. And that a suit, even the fastest in the world, is only a small piece of why athletes find themselves on the podium. “There’s no guarantees in competition,” Dean adds. “All we can do is prove through science, through construction, and through material that we’ve given them the best possible tools to do their job.”

Olympic Tech

Icahn, Deason to jointly push Xerox to explore selling itself, other options: WSJ

(Reuters) – Investor Carl Icahn and Darwin Deason, the biggest- and third-largest shareholders of Xerox Corp, jointly plan to push the printer and photocopier maker to explore options, including a sale of the firm, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday.

Icahn and Deason, who together own 15.7 percent of the photocopier pioneer, have earlier separately called on the company to break off or renegotiate a joint venture with Fujifilm Holdings Corp, saying it was unfavorable to Xerox. Icahn has also called for Xerox CEO Jeff Jacobson to be replaced.

The two shareholders have now formed an alliance and plan to ask Xerox to explore options, including selling itself, breaking off its long-running joint venture with Fujifilm, and immediately firing Jacobson, the Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter. on.wsj.com/2EYCRHd

The Journal had previously reported that Fujifilm and Xerox were discussing deals, including a change of control of Xerox, though not a full sale.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Xerox company is seen on a building in Minsk, Belarus, March 21, 2016. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko/File Photo

In a statement, Xerox said: “The Xerox Board of Directors and management are confident with the strategic direction in which the Company is heading and we will continue to take action to achieve our common goal of creating value for all Xerox shareholders.”

Deason has been asking the company to make public the terms of its deal with Fujifilm, which he called “one-sided”. Xerox has described Deason’s criticism as “false and misleading”.

The five-decade-old joint venture, 75 percent owned by Fujifilm and 25 percent by Xerox, is a pillar of Fujifilm’s business, accounting for nearly half the group’s overall operating profit. It has limited prospects for future growth, however, because of declining demand for office printing.

The reported operating profit of the joint venture, called Fuji Xerox, was about $750 million on sales of $10 billion in the year ended last March.

Fujifilm declined to comment on the Journal report.

Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Makiko Yamazaki in TOKYO; Editing by Peter Cooney and Muralikumar Anantharaman

The Real Reasons Behind The Amazon Prime Monthly Price Boost

source: nyfa edu

It’s no secret that the e-commerce business of Amazon (AMZN) is driven by its Amazon Price subscribers, who spend about double the amount on products served up by Amazon than non-subscribers do.

So when it announced it has boosted its monthly subscriber price from $10.99 to $12.99 for Prime members, and from $5.49 to $6.49 for students, it definitely warrants a look as to what is probably behind the move, which goes into effect on the first payment after February 18.

The new annual costs from the monthly increase will climb from $131.88 a year to $155.88 a year.

It’s important to know that in both increases, the annual fee of $99 for regular customers, and $49 for students, remain the same. This at least partially plays into the reasoning behind the decision.

Also of note, the standalone service fee for its Prime Video membership remains the same at $8.99.

In this article we’ll look at what Amazon is trying to get out of the increase in monthly Prime subscription prices.

Prime growth

While Amazon has never released specific numbers concerning the number of customers subscribing to Prime, the general consensus is that in the U.S. there are about 90 million households subscribing. Again, those subscribers spend about twice as much as customers that don’t subscribe.

Growth for the service has continued to accelerate. In January 2018, the company said “more new paid members joined Prime worldwide this year than any previous year.”

As for the pricing, an Amazon spokeswoman said it was increased because of the “tremendous appetite” Prime subscribers have for the benefits offered in the service, adding, the company is “indifferent” to what payment option customers choose.

I’m going to challenge that assertion a little later in the article. First, let’s look at the variables associated with potential churn.

Thoughts on churn

Some concerns have been raised, and have been for some time, regarding how customers would respond once Amazon inevitably raised its Prime subscription price as the costs of delivering desired services increased.

It has to be kept in mind that Amazon’s performance is driven by Prime subscribers, so when it raised its monthly price, it had to know there was little risk to that customer base in regard to churn.

The first and probably most important thing to consider about the monthly price increase is, if customers were to cancel their subscriptions over $2 a month, or $24 a year, they aren’t the type of customer Amazon is trying to reach with the service in the first place. If they aren’t spending on average like other Prime subscribers do, they are costing the company money to retain them.

So while it’s probable there will be some churn as a result of the increase in subscription price on a monthly basis, it’ll almost certainly be customers that aren’t generating much in the way of e-commerce sales for the company. If its inner data didn’t confirm that, it never would have made the move in the first place.

What’s most interesting about the price move to me is the widening gap between the monthly costs and annual costs, which are now over 50 percent more. I think that’s the key to understanding what’s behind the decision.

I see Amazon trying to change subscribers’ behavior by making it much more desirable to choose an annual subscription against a monthly subscription. Why that’s the case is that it provides more visibility, continuity, and predictability to the performance of the company over time.

The reason why is that the company without a doubt has good customers that pay on a monthly basis. The problem is that with such a large customer base, numerous things can happen that can prompt a quality individual customer to stop their subscription. It could be a loss of a job, divorce, medical bills, or any other unplanned event that causes customers to rethink their financial priorities.

Getting them on an annual payment plan removes much of that risk. That’s because there is no reason to cancel a subscription if it isn’t due for some time. It provides a window of opportunity for the problem to be solved or adjusted to, which removes the level of churn of the types of customers Amazon wants to retain.

Finally, for those that decide to remain on a monthly pay plan, they will probably be good customers that will now provide a larger passive revenue stream with the company doing little to generate the increase in sales.

Most of the churn will come from customers that aren’t contributing much if anything to its bottom line.

Why how people subscribe matter

Now back to the assertion made by the Amazon spokeswoman. The reason I don’t think it’s an accurate statement is because it does in fact matter how people subscribe, and with the widening costs between monthly and annual costs, it is obvious to me the company is trying to push people to buy annually.

If I’m accurate in that assessment, it means the reason for the price increase isn’t to support the added services and their costs, but to get more people to grab a yearly subscription.

Why won’t Amazon come right out and say that? That’s easy. It would be a public relations nightmare for the company to declare some of its Prime subscribers aren’t carrying their weight because they don’t buy many products from the company to offset the costs of delivering premium services.

Conclusion

The costs of delivering premium services to Amazon Prime members are rising. Since Amazon chose to boost costs by targeting the monthly subscription, it suggests it is attempting to push monthly subscribers to its annual subscription plan.

Why it is doing that is in order to produce more predictable results, and in fact, lower churn. The annual service experiences little churn; the churn comes primarily from its monthly service.

So the combination of low-spend customers and an increase in annual revenue and earnings visibility are the primary catalysts behind this increase in monthly prices, in my view.

When considering Amazon will likely lose some fee revenue from this move, it’s obvious to me the company does care about how customers pay. What isn’t being said is that those that drop the plan altogether will no longer be Amazon customers.

What will be left is a better mix of monthly and annual customers, with the monthly customers being those that still spend significantly on its e-commerce platform.

From that point of view, Amazon will get an increase in monthly fees while keeping its best customers on board. That should more than offset the churn coming from the loss of lower-spending customers that are a drag on the service.

Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Google CEO Has No Regrets About Firing Author of Anti-Diversity Memo

Google CEO Sundar Pichai on Friday expressed no regret over the firing of James Damore, author of an infamous memo criticizing Google’s pro-diversity policies and culture.

During an appearance with YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, Pichai said, “I don’t regret it,” when asked about Damore’s firing by Recode head Kara Swisher. He insisted that the firing was primarily a strategic decision for Google. “The last thing we do when we make decisions like this is look at it with a political lens,” Pichai said, according to TechCrunch.

Google has been working to increase its hiring of women. Damore’s memo, which became public in August, argued in part that women might not be biologically suited for careers in engineering or technology. Many commentators felt that retaining Damore after the memo’s distribution would make Google a hostile work environment for women.

Wojcicki also described the firing as “the right decision.”

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Though Google’s priority was internal cohesion, Damore’s memo was broadly criticized by many in the tech sector and beyond, including for faulty interpretations of biological science. Damore quickly revised inaccurate representations that he had completed a Harvard PhD in biology.

At the same time, reports did indicate that Damore’s views were quietly widespread in the lower ranks of Google.

Damore earlier this month initiated a lawsuit against Google, alleging that the company discriminates against white men. That case seems difficult to make on its face, since its most recent diversity report found that the company is 69% male and 91% white or Asian, with black or Hispanic people making up only 3% and 4% of new hires, respectively.