Car Wars: Hydrogen vs. Electric Vehicles

Posted: January 22nd, 2015 | Author:

The automobile industry is about to get interesting with governments and automakers aligning behind different technologies. Google with the self-driving car. Ford and GM producing next-gen versions of popular models. And now this:


“It’s time to introduce a hydrogen era,”


That was Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo as he announced a government initiative to build out a self-service hydrogen network of stations.

The development comes only two days after Tesla Motors (TSLA) CEO Elon Musk called hydrogen a “dumb” energy storage system.

Toyota (TM) is the pioneer in the FCV field and is building 1.5K Mirai vehicles for the Japanese government. Though taking a cautious approach to rolling out production, the world’s top-selling automaker isn’t ruling out selling hydrogen cars in all markets eventually.


Review: Car and Driver’s deep dive into the Toyota Mirai FCV.

Related: Toyota opens up 5680 patents on fuel-cell technology to other automakers.


What to watch: Abe has endorsed larger fuel-cell subsidies than those offered for electric vehicles in China, Europe, and the U.S. Will more governments take a side in the hydrogen vs electric battle setting up in the automobile industry?

Also in the EV/hybrid game: Ford, General Motors, Nissan, BMW, Daimler, Honda, Mazda, Suzuki, Subaru, Mitsubishi.


Via Seeking Alpha and Reuters



Retailers need a good algorithm

Posted: November 11th, 2014 | Author:

A snap this buy that concept is coming to retail.


Macy’s will announce a visual search app shortly, according to Women’s Wear Daily. The visual search concept has become a major topic in retail. Apps like the one about to be introduced by Macy’s will allow users to upload pictures of outfits they like and receive matches from a retailer’s existing inventory.

Via Seeking Alpha and Women’s Wear Daily


The ability to shop via image search inside an app is a trend that will arrive in time for the 2014 holiday season. The retailer that works out the best algorithm for photo searches just might find itself with a boost in sales.




Meet the new Netflix

Posted: October 11th, 2014 | Author:

There’s no slowdown in Netflix, despite growing competition from Amazon, Hulu, and Apple. If anything the streaming giant has become more aggressive than ever with its international growth and content deals continuing to disrupt the media landscape. Though consumers have seen some changes with the Netflix user interface which have been notable, it’s behind the scenes where the company has taken dead aim at cracking the bundled content model of the pay-TV industry.


What’s new

– Push for Ultra-HD TVs a factor Netflix

– Redbox Instant by Verizon bites the dust

– Netflix and IMAX look to disrupt the Hollywood model

– New international launches for Netflix

via Seeking Alpha


What to watch

– Valuation on Netflix continues to factor in enormous global subscriber growth and margin expansion. With the company’s content acquisition costs always a bit of a mystery, a bet on Netflix factors in the service penetrating even further into digital/mobile/household viewing habits to become a standard.

– NFLX +3.09% over the last 90 days, +22.8% YTD, +38.1% over the last year, P/E ratio 135.9, market cap $27.2B.



U2 is Smart as a Whip

Posted: September 12th, 2014 | Author:

The love-fest between Apple and U2 appears to have had some economic benefit for the boys from Dublin. After giving away its current album for free on iTunes, a quick check of the iTunes best-selling charts reveals 17 U2 titles in the top 100 albums. Even 1987 release The Joshua Tree is throwing its weight around at number 12 on the list.


Those streets without a name are paved with gold.


Via Re/Code and


Tesla Motors and Toyota to Tangle in 2015

Posted: September 12th, 2014 | Author:

Toyota says it has no new or pending battery projects under discussion with Tesla Motors .The announcement is the Japanese automaker’s first official response to a statement from Elon Musk earlier this week that a fresh Tesla-Toyota partnership could happen within a few years.

What to watch: The development could ratchet up the dialogue in the electric car vs. hydrogen fuel cell debate as both automakers have aggressive plans for 2015 for their preferred technology and have been known to take swipes at each other. In the U.S., Tesla’s Model X is expected to outsell the Toyota FCV, while heavy subsidies by the Japanese government could favor the FVC on its home turf.

Tesla vs Toyota

Via The Wall Street Journal and Seeking Alpha



Why the Fed will raise interest rates

Posted: August 22nd, 2014 | Author:

The Federal Reserve will raise interest rates sooner rather than later. Adjust accordingly.

Source: Bloomberg News



Wal-Mart pounces on Amazon DVD stumble

Posted: August 17th, 2014 | Author:

Amazon’s move to pull Disney DVD titles from its website could be backfiring as Wal-Mart aggressively moves into the distribution void.


Pre-orders for Captain America: The Winter Soldier soared 90% after Wal-Mart offered a price cut on the Marvel film to $14.96 vs. the list price of $14.99 on Amazon where consumers can only sign up for an e-mail notification on availability. Analysts note that although DVD sales are only a small piece of the e-commerce pie, any development that levels out the playing field is a boost to Wal-Mart’s online brand.  Global e-commerce sales rose 24% at Wal-Mart in Q2, led by double-digit growth in the U.S. and China.

Via Seeking Alpha


Looking ahead: DVD sales typically peak during the holiday shopping season giving Disney even more leverage in ongoing negotiations with Amazon over pricing. The development also highlights the trouble Amazon may have extracting margin gains easily from retail partners with the Bentonville giant looking over its shoulder.



HBO vs. the Netflix ‘Albanian’ Army: Now it Gets Real

Posted: August 9th, 2014 | Author:

The battle between Netflix (NFLX) and HBO Go appears to be just beginning as HBO hires more software engineers and aggressively looks toward international growth opportunities. Despite active user growth of 35% in Q2 for HBO Go, it’s Netflix (NFLX) which has been the most aggressive streaming content player. CEO Reed Hastings took to Facebook to call attention to what he calls the milestone achievement of the company passing HBO in subscriber revenue:


“HBO rocks, and we are honored to be in the same league,”


During Time Warner’s (TWX) earnings call earlier this week, CEO Jeff Bewkes was spared any direct questions about the Netflix factor. Perhaps just as well after Bewkes in 2010 famously likened the metamorphosis of Netflix into a streaming giant to the Albanian army trying to take over the world.

The growing war for streaming content could help boost studios with a sizable portfolio of titles. Lion’s Gate (LGF) and AMC Networks (AMCX) come to mind.


Sources: Seeking Alpha, Facebook, TWX earnings call transcript




Starbucks is Invading a Grocery Store Near You

Posted: August 3rd, 2014 | Author:


The Starbucks Growth Engine: Eventually Starbucks (SBUX) will saturate the markets in the U.S., Europe, and China with its store footprint, which could bring into the investment matrix the question of growth as pricing and comp sales level out. The rich valuation on SBUX factors in growth from new areas – one of which could be consumer packaged goods.


Starbucks 2.0: There’s something major brewing in grocery stores this summer and it’s a direct result of the forward-looking strategy of the coffee giant from Seattle. The company’s consumer packaged goods are grabbing prime real estate in grocery stores at the end caps and in sections where energy drinks, coffee, and milk products are sold. Reported results from Starbucks for FQ2 and FQ3 – as well as some anecdotal evidence from retail shopping in Florida, Missouri, and Illinois – suggest sales for the CPG channel are accelerating.


Channel Development: Starbucks grew sales 13% and widened margins by 800 bps to 37.1% last quarter in a sector where growth was on the sluggish side. The company forecasts growing margins another 600 bps in FQ4. Early results from the segment indicate the brand is powerful enough to command premium pricing and allow Starbucks to dip into new categories.


Source: Starbucks FQ3 report




Pay-TV bills on the Rise with Mega-mergers on the Horizon

Posted: July 31st, 2014 | Author:

Media stock update: Comcast (CMCSA) and AT&T (T) kept a close eye on their acquisition prizes today as they both showed gains during Q2 for one of the most watched metrics in the pay-TV sector. Time Warner Cable (TWC) grew its average revenue per user (ARPU) by 1.7% to $106.98 and DirecTV (DTV) saw a 4.5% gain to $103.26 in the U.S. Merger synergies for the mega-deals are based on ever-rising ARPUs while scale brings down content and acquisition costs. Today’s read from the pay-TV sector is that the U.S. consumer hasn’t quite hit the breaking point yet on monthly bill charges even with cord-cutting growing and a generation of cord-nevers evolving.

Regulatory watch: The FCC has started its merger review countdown clock by taking comments from consumer groups. Though Comcast maintains in government filings that acquiring TWC will help consumers, the focus on rising monthly pay-TV bills could take the steam out of that argument.

Streaming: A higher level of ARPUs across the pay-TV sector helps broadband providers and streamers such as Netflix and Hulu which can still offer a pricing advantage.


Via DirecTV, Time Warner Cable, and Seeking Alpha




Box Office Math, Algorithm Failure, and Movie Stocks

Posted: July 3rd, 2014 | Author:

A little number-crunching on the relationship between box office totals and the stocks of media companies owning studios leads to a wild lesson in just how meaningless some of the  entertainment press headlines on the so-called success of the large investments made by the studios on their tentpoles and other films. The increasing importance of global movie markets like China and the obtuse studio system of accounting and write-offs, along with a host of other factors, keeps the business of linking weekly box office wins and immediate stock performance a tricky business. A study in wretched failure below:


Stock Returns YTD of Major/Minor Film Studios

20th Century Fox (FOXA) +1.5%

Warner Brothers (TWX) +1.7%

Disney/Buena Vista (DIS) +13.1%

Sony/Columbia (SNE) -2.1%

Universal (CMCSA) +5.0%

Lionsgate (LGF) -8.0%

Open Road Films (via RGC and AMC) +14.9%

Fox Searchlight (FOXA) +1.5%

Relativity Media – IPO expected in 2015.


Correlation of stock returns and studio variables

Box Office GrossA negligible relationship between total box and stock direction exists. The correlation limps in at +0.10463.

Box Office Market ShareA flimsy, bordering on meaningless correlation.

Market Share Gain/LossFox picked up share in 2014, while Disney fell off.  Nothing to see with correlation to stock price, however.  Move on.

Number of Movies ReleasedInterestingly, the strongest negative correlation of all the variables.

Number of Weeks with #1 FilmMore meaningful than box office tallies, but not enough alpha to trade on.

Predicted Oscar NominationsWad up and throw away.

Critical ReviewsLess meaningful than generating long-lasting hits and slightly more relevant than the number of letters in the film’s title.

Social ReviewsCinemaScore ratings and Rotten Tomatoes scores are a great indicator of the legs a movie will have at theaters, but don’t move the needle on the stock return Richter scale. 

Sequel %Not of predictive value.

High budget %Just OK as an indicator of stock returns. A correlation coefficient of -0.28737 isn’t too much to get excited about (1=perfect correlation, 0 = neutral, -1 = negative correlation) – but in this motley bunch of variables it stands out. No surprise – a low high-budget film percentage is optimal.

Average box office per movieAgain nothing to get a stats wizard hopping excited, but a correlation of +0.23245 shows some relationship between stock performance and studios which keep their film slate at a reasonable level to smooth out the average take.

Opening weekend take as percentage of production budget: Wow, this category seems like a winner, but it’s a tease. It can’t even scratch out a 0.25% correlation.

Rentrak numbers: Dumping some Rentrak data in a spreadsheet and running some correlation analysis isn’t going to give anyone an edge on a hedge fund. There’s some reason to think that the follow-through numbers from Rentrak are significant as they relate to DVD and streaming sales but the correlation to stock price is only mildly higher than opening weekend numbers.


It’s nearly a clean sweep of correlation misfires to the point that chaos theory almost seems to reign. Part of the issue is that the movie studios are only a part of the story for the profits at the parent companies. Also, the window on the stock performance might need to be lengthened as studios are known to play with their own reporting. But jeez – hits do matter. Disney franchises from Marvel and Lucasfilm are a major part of the company’s future earnings profile, especially as other segments such as consumer products and theme parks stand to benefit from box office juggernauts. Though trading Lions Gate (LGF) before or after the debut of one of the studio’s films is a dangerous game, where would it be without Hunger Games (1-4) and Divergent (1-3)? After Relativity Media goes public as a pure-play studio stock will it to be subject to the same vagaries?


If you put Nikki Finke in the same room with a quant trader maybe we could get answers.




World Cup 2014: Google Assists ESPN FC

Posted: June 15th, 2014 | Author:

Google is giving a nice assist to ESPN by sending searchers with World Cup queries directly to the ESPNfc soccer site with a click. The action marks the first time Google has sent searchers directly to a third party with which it maintains a commercial relationship ahead of search results or paid advertising. A large embedded ESPNfc video playback option on the Google search page pushes down other organic search results to give ESPN some prime online real estate during the most highly-watched sporting event in the world. What to watch: The cozy relationship between the Disney (DIS) sports juggernaut and Google is interesting to media analysts with Disney sharing more than a little DNA with Apple (Steve Jobs Trust, Pixar).  Where Disney shakes out in the battle for the rights to online TV content is critical to which platform might disrupt the pay-TV model.


Sources: Re/,, Seeking Alpha