Half full

MARKETS

  • Energy: Oil prices dropped after President Trump announced he fired national security advisor John Bolton. Bolton was seen as a hawk on Iran, a major oil producer currently under U.S. sanctions.
  • Fixed income: Historically low yields are clearly troubling JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon. "I don't think we'll have zero rates in the U.S., but we're thinking about how to be prepared for it, just in the normal course of risk management," he said at a conference yesterday.

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ECONOMY

Not a Whole Lot of ConCensus About the Economy

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The U.S. economy got its 2018 report card from the Census Bureau yesterday. The message? Something like when your boss says, "Love your energy, but I see some opportunities for growth."

For the glass-half-full types...

  • The U.S. poverty rate fell to 11.8%, its lowest level since 2001 and the first time in 11 years it's significantly ducked under the 2007 rate. While 38.1 million people still live below the federal poverty line, it looks like we've put the Great Recession behind us.
  • Median household income surpassed $63,000/year for the first time, although some policy experts note that if you adjust for inflation, median income isn't much higher than it was in 1999 or 2007.
  • The number of people employed full-time and year-round rose 2.3 million from 2017.

As for those who see things as half-empty...
The Bureau's Current Population Survey is viewed as the gold-standard portrait of health insurance in the U.S., and it did not paint a pretty picture. The survey said the number of people without health coverage rose to 27.5 million, or 8.5% of the population, in 2018.

  • That's up from 7.9% in 2017 and the first time that figure has increased annually since the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010. One of President Obama's signature policies, the ACA added coverage options for poor and some middle-income people, which drove down the uninsured rate.

What happened?

Experts consulted by the WaPo point to...

  • The Trump administration imposing limits on safety net programs like Medicaid for immigrants.
  • States cracking down on eligibility and work requirements.

Bottom line: This B- report means both the Trump administration and its opponents will use the data as evidence of success or failure of the economy.

TECH

Wake Up! The Apple Event Is Over

To summarize yesterday's Apple event: If you can't impress, at least don't disappoint. Here's what Tim Apple and his crew unveiled in Cupertino...

Services

With smartphone sales declining, Apple's (+1.18%) putting emphasis on its services division. In August, it launched a credit card with Goldman Sachs, and yesterday it released details on upcoming entertainment and gaming platforms:

  • Apple TV+ launches Nov. 1 for $4.99/month, undercutting streaming rivals including Netflix ($8.99) and the upcoming Disney+ service ($6.99).
  • The Apple Arcade gaming service launches Sept. 19 also for $4.99/month.

But it's called the iPhone event for a reason

Apple revealed three new iPhones: the 11, 11 Pro, and 11 Pro Max.

Most noticeable were the camera upgrades, including Night Mode and the ability to take multiple videos simultaneously. Unfortunately for Apple, the three-camera design has been thoroughly memed for its resemblance to fidget spinners, as have the "slofies" (slo-mo selfies).

Zoom out: The Arcade and Apple TV+ launches will show us how well the services pivot is working.

Some Apple housekeeping...in Monday's Breakroom quiz, we said the iPhone 7 Plus screen is bigger than the iPhone XS Max screen. That was incorrect and we regret the error.

E-COMMERCE

Ma Moonwalks Into Retirement

Jack Ma retired as chairman of Alibaba the only way Jack Ma knows how: with a four-hour rock show in an Olympic stadium.

In the last 20 years, Alibaba's matured into a $460+ billion juggernaut with footprints in artificial intelligence, financial services, and cloud computing. It's helped Ma, a former English teacher who co-founded the company, reach $41.8 billion in net worth and elevated him to the highest ranks of China's Communist Party.

Ma is handing chairmanship of the world's largest e-commerce group to CEO Daniel Zhang, so that Ma can focus on initiatives including rural education, philanthropy, and women's empowerment.

He's not going far. Ma is sticking around as a lifetime member of Alibaba Partnership (an influential group of management partners) and retaining a 6.2% share. He'll be #1 on Zhang's speed dial as Alibaba grapples with competition from other tech companies and slowing Chinese and global economies.

+ A "Ma"ntage of Jack's greatest hits...

  • Dancing at Alibaba's "Annual Party."
  • Singing tunes from The Lion King to employees.
  • An interview with Andrew R. Sorkin about the future of online trade and globalization.

FOOD

McDonald's Would Like Robots With That

McDonald's announced its third tech deal of the year yesterday when it agreed to acquire Apprente, a voice AI company McDonald's hopes will make its drive-thru as smooth and convenient as a maple syrup delivery app. The financial terms weren't disclosed.

Apprente's tech directly translates speech to meaning, skipping the transcribing part that other "speech-to-text" AI relies on. McDonald's has already been testing it in select restaurants, so...that may have been a robot taking your Filet-O-Fish order.

McDonald's Web Services may not be far off: McDonald's is gunning to be the tech-savviest fast food spot in the strip mall. Earlier this year it spent a reported $300+ million buying Dynamic Yield, a personalized data startup.

  • Apprente's staff will be the founding members of McD Tech Labs, a Silicon Valley-based group focused on innovation. First step: repairing the ice cream machines.

Bottom line: Wired argues this is a "defensive" move by McDonald's, ensuring it gets access to key AI tech before Wendy's and Burger King can get their hands on it.

AVIATION

It's Quiet at British Airways. Too Quiet.

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To be fair, it's kind of hard to get a plane in the air when you have no one to fly it. Beginning on Monday, British Airways pilots went on strike for 48 hours over a pay dispute between the pilots union and the airline. It was the first pilots' strike in BA history.

The airline was forced to cancel nearly 1,700 flights, causing travel headaches for 195,000 passengers. More disruption is expected today.

WHAT ELSE IS BREWING

  • EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager will keep her job terrorizing Big Tech for five more years...and she'll be even more powerful.
  • Peloton priced its shares between $26 and $29 for its IPO. It's aiming to raise as much as $1.2 billion.
  • Stripe, the $23 billion payments company, introduced a corporate credit card.
  • Electric truck-maker Rivian is raising $350 million from Cox Automotive. Amazon and Ford are already investors.
  • Bloomberg Philanthropies said it's launching a $160 million effort to ban flavored e-cigarettes in the U.S.

BREAKROOM

Yacht Appraiser
Octopus, the iconic superyacht that belonged to the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, is up for sale. Even as far as superyachts go...this one's pretty super.
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  • At 414 feet, it's significantly longer than a football field.
  • Octopus has been loaned out for scientific and rescue missions.
  • At full capacity, there are almost 2.5 crewmen for every guest.
  • It comes with two landing pads and a helicopter hangar.

So, what's the asking price?

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Breakroom Answers


Yacht Appraiser
$326 million

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Sep 11, 2019
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