Opinion

Ben Walsh

from Counterparties:

Payment plans

Ben Walsh
Nov 12, 2013 23:08 UTC

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The world of payments constitutes a big, profitable, sometimes less than competitive industry that has attracted a long list of well-funded startups.

Square, a company whose card reader plugs directly into mobile phones, has talked to Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley about going public next year, the WSJ reports. The company has annual net revenues of an estimated $110 million to $165 million, and expects to process $30 billion in purchases next year. That’s a big number in comparison to the $90 billion that mobile payments are expected to reach in 2017, but it’s minuscule compared to the volume MasterCard and Visa do annually: those two companies, which dominate the credit card market, together handle more than $5 trillion in purchases each year.

Square is also adding financial heft to its board in the form of former Goldman Sachs CFO David Viniar, who joined Square’s board of directors last month. Viniar is replacing Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who always planned to serve only a single year. Starbucks will remain Square’s largest customer. Schultz, according to market researcher Rick Oglesby, is the “key decision maker” on how and when to more widely roll out Square Wallet, the company’s mobile payment app aimed at consumers.

In June, Clinkle was the hot payments startup, and it raised a $25 million seed round to fund development of an electronic wallet app. But many e-wallets are already out there, and none of them has caught on. Felix dug into the reasons why mobile payments haven’t taken off, including the simple fact that they’re often just harder to use than a card (although Square Cash is making some inroads on this front). The problem, a consultant specializing in payments told Dan Rowinski, is that “the general inertia, and lack of traction in the emerging payments market within North America, is not something that one solves with a better market strategy and a mobile app”.

from Counterparties:

We didn’t build that

Ben Walsh
Nov 6, 2013 23:03 UTC

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The US government isn’t just cutting spending, Matthew O’Brien writes, it’s cutting the best kind of spending: particularly in “things like infrastructure, schools, and scientific research. The kind of things the economy needs to grow, but the private sector won't invest enough in”. The FT’s Robin Harding, Richard McGregor, and Gabriel Muller chart the fall in US public investment, showing that it has reached “its lowest level since demobilisation after the second world war”.

Earlier this year, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the country’s infrastructure a grade of D+. As Ezra Klein and others have repeatedly pointed out for quite some time, this decline in public investment has come at precisely the time when the US government can essentially borrow for free.

from Data Dive:

The decline of America’s middle-class neighborhoods

Ben Walsh
Nov 5, 2013 15:29 UTC

New research shows a steady increase in the extent to which Americans are geographically divided by income. The below charts are from a paper by Kendra Bischoff and Sean Reardon, professors at Cornell and Stanford respectively, on what they refer to as "residential segregation by income". (h/t to Kevin Drum)

They find a shrinking number of Americans live in middle class neighborhoods, and a growing number of people living in poor, affluent, or high income areas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Drum worries the trend means that the "well-off have less and less interaction with the poor outside of the market economy, and less and less empathy for how they live their lives."

Apple > Goldman (in revenue and profit per employee)

Ben Walsh
Nov 1, 2013 18:28 UTC

Fortune’s Philip Elmer-Dewitt finds an interesting chart in a research note from ISI’s Brian Marshall. Apple is bringing in far, far more revenue per employee than other US tech companies.

Marshall’s takeaway: “The scale [Apple] is executing on is nothing less than astonishing”. And not only does Apple beat out its tech peers, it sits above the US banks in both revenue and profit per employee for the most recent four quarters.

Apple is generating more revenue and profit per employee than the biggest banks, companies that are at least partially set up to deliver eye-popping per employee financial performance. Marshall’s statement applies more broadly than perhaps he intends. Apple’s performance is indeed “nothing less than astonishing”, and not just in comparison to tech companies.

from Data Dive:

Tablet wars: Apple cedes market share to Samsung

Ben Walsh
Nov 1, 2013 14:55 UTC

Today is the release date for Apple's new iPad Air. Globally, Apple continues to dominate the growing tablet market. But as these Reuters charts show, in the last year, Samsung has been gaining ground, more than doubling the number of tablets it has shipped, and taking market share from Apple:


As for the new iPad sales, the crowd at Apple's flagship New York store this morning does not appear to be the crazy launch day that the company was expecting (via Joe Weisenthal):

 

 

 

 

 

from Counterparties:

All consuming inflation

Ben Walsh
Oct 28, 2013 21:56 UTC

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Why, during the Great Recession, with a sputtering economy and increased unemployment, didn’t prices fall in the US? Instead, prices have risen, albeit much slower than normal. A new paper by economists Olivier Coibion and Yuriy Gorodnichenko puts that question in more precise, academic terms: why has the US had really low levels of inflation, when instead, they assert, economic theory says there should have been disinflation (falling prices)?

The reason prices didn’t fall in the Great Recession, the researchers find, is that businesses follow households’ lead on inflation expectations. And households have an unorthodox way of setting their inflation expectations: they pay a lot of attention to gas prices, which rose after the financial crisis. This is a marked difference from how academics and businesses gauge inflation: they intentionally exclude oil prices from their primary inflation metrics, in part because they are so volatile.

from Counterparties:

You can’t wish away QE

Ben Walsh
Oct 23, 2013 22:13 UTC

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Beyond being released on a Tuesday, there wasn’t much interesting about yesterday’s mildly disappointing report that showed the economy added 148,000 jobs in September. With the debt ceiling standoff in the past (or at least on hold until February), the focus was back on the taper.

Jon Hilsenrath thinks the weak jobs number “assures that the Fed won’t act at its October 29-30 policy meeting” and “this raises the bar to action in December”, because by then we will have better information about how the shutdown affected the economy. Hilsenrath argues that the Fed is in a bind because it has tied its policies to the unemployment rate:

Part time work in America

Ben Walsh
Oct 23, 2013 13:53 UTC

After the financial crisis, the number of Americans who want full time jobs but are stuck in part time jobs rose sharply. In recent months, however, America’s workforce has slowly moved away from part time work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s behind the increase? America’s still-not-quite-there-yet recovery. Here’s the NYT’s Catherine Rampell:

When the recession began, 16.9 percent of those working usually worked part time. That share rose sharply in 2008 and 2009 and has not fallen much since then. Today the share of workers with part-time jobs is 19.2 percent. This would not be so troubling if people were electing to work fewer hours. But that is not the case. Basically all of the growth in part-time workers has been among people reluctantly working few hours because of either slack business conditions or an inability to find a full-time job.

from Counterparties:

Greenspan shrugged off

Ben Walsh
Oct 21, 2013 22:12 UTC

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Based on the reviews of his new book “The Map and The Territory”, Alan Greenspan’s stock has fallen precipitously since he left the Federal Reserve to widespread acclaim in 2006.

Bloomberg’s Daniel Akst calls the book infuriating, writing that the “plodding text oscillates maddeningly between equivocation and chutzpah”. Akst slams Greenspan for calling the financial crisis “almost universally unanticipated”, despite what Akst says were “a host of indicators that were pointing to trouble”. Akst is frustrated that despite the book’s subtitle (“Risk, Human Nature, and the Future of Forecasting”), and the author’s self-professed expertise in economic forecasting, how Greenspan could have not seen danger ahead is barely explored. Furthermore, Greenspan’s claimed concern for federal deficits is undercut, Akst writes, by his endorsement of both of President Bush’s rounds of tax cuts.

from Counterparties:

Twitter economics

Ben Walsh
Oct 16, 2013 21:57 UTC

Welcome to the Counterparties email. The sign-up page is here, it’s just a matter of checking a box if you’re already registered on the Reuters website. Send suggestions, story tips and complaints to Counterparties.Reuters@gmail.com.

As its mid-November IPO approaches, Twitter is losing money at an accelerating pace. The company’s amended filings show that last quarter it approximately doubled revenues to $168.6 million compared to a year ago, while its net loss more than tripled to $64.6 million. Fortune’s Stephen Gandel digs into the new numbers, and how Twitter changed the way it's booking revenue:

Twitter derives most of its revenue from advertising. Most of the deals it strikes with advertisers are not fixed upfront... Twitter says that in most instances it only counts the revenue from a deal after the services have been delivered and the company knows how much it will get paid. But it says in some more complicated deals, it resorts to estimating what it might get paid.

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