Contact Me:

Get to Know Jeff Bezos’ Almost-Ex, MacKenzie Bezos, Who Could Soon Be One of the World’s Richest Women

Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos are divorcing after 25 years of marriage. While the Amazon founder’s name is well known, the news has left some people wondering, who is MacKenzie Bezos? Who is the wife of the richest man in the world, someone who has led a relatively private life as the partner of the powerful founder and executive?

MacKenzie Bezos was also instrumental in the founding of Amazon in 1994, a year after marrying Jeff in 1993. She was one of the first employees at the online bookseller, according to USA Today. MacKenzie and Jeff were married six months after they first met at Wall Street hedge fund firm D.E. Shaw, where Jeff was a vice president and interviewed MacKenzie. Together, they have four children.

But she is perhaps best known as the author of several novels, including Traps and her debut, The Testing of Luther Albright, which won an American Book Award. She studied at Princeton University and served as a research assistant to famed author Toni Morrison, who called Bezos “one of the best students I’ve ever had in my creative-writing classes” in a 2013 Vogue profile. And in 2014, she founded an anti-bullying organization, Bystander Revolution.

In 2018, the Bezoses also jointly committed $2 billion of their combined fortune to create the Day One Fund, which will fund a network of preschools in low-income communities as well as support existing nonprofits that assist homeless families.

MacKenzie may also soon be one of the world’s richest women. Jeff Bezos is worth roughly $139 billion, and under communal property laws in Washington State, that could mean each individual Bezos could walk away from the marriage with around $69.5 billion. That would make MacKenzie roughly 26 times richer than Oprah Winfrey and 100 times richer than the Queen of England, according to Marketwatch. She would also end up with some serious real estate holdings, as the Bezoses reportedly own at least five homes around the country.

Jeff Bezos announced the couple’s plan to divorce in a tweet posted Wednesday. MacKenzie Bezos has yet to release her own statement.

Before You Quit Your Day Job for a Startup, Make Sure You Can Answer These 7 Questions

I’ve heard pitches from more than 20,000 entrepreneurs over the last two decades.  The top question I’m asked (other than “Will you invest in me?”) is, “Is my idea any good?”

Wantreprneuers from far and wide track me down to get my blessing before they quit their well-paying job to start a startup. Over the decades and in conjunction with other angel investors and venture capitalists, I’ve developed a seven-question list that potential founders should ask themselves before coming to ask me.

If your answer to all seven of these questions is “yes,” your idea is probably excellent. If not, you have some work to do.

1. Are you obsessed with the industry, customers, or problem?

Successful founders love what they do. They would learn about the industry, customer segment or problem even if they weren’t being paid. To be successful, you must be obsessive about your startup opportunity.

The difference between obsessive and caring is quite large. Caring is a given, and it’s not enough. Being obsessive means that you think about something dozens a time a day. If you aren’t obsessive, you won’t be able to accumulate the insights needed to garner strategic advantage–insights that only come from focusing on something for thousands of hours. 

2. Can you build the solution? 

Ideas are worthless until combined with relentless execution. You must be able to execute both your idea and your product. At the very least, you need to be able to create a prototype or minimum viable product, something you can get into the hands of early adopters and generate early proof of concept traction.

3. How elastic is demand?

Pain killer or vitamin? Cost saver or revenue generator? The best opportunities solve unmet market needs where demand is inelastic. This yields better margins in the long run and quicker traction in the short run.

Your opportunity must satisfy a need, not a want. A need is something you can’t live without. Air, water, and food are the classic examples. A want is something you can live without, like fancy shoes or expensive cars.

As the price of wants go up, demand for them peters out. Startups that satisfy needs will always have easier times attracting early adopters and generating revenue. 

4. Is the market large and growing?

Today, the market for anti-hacker security is hot. The market for thoroughbred horseshoes is not. Why focus on a small win? You’re investing your blood, sweat, and tears. Make sure the win is worth it.

By the way, the risk is actually much greater when you focus on a niche. Since you have less pool to swim in, you have less chance to learn through iteration. Always focus on bringing your solution into a market that is large and growing. It’s OK to start with a niche, but there must be lots of room to grow.

5. Are you exponentially better?

If you’re entering an extant market, you’re automatically at a disadvantage with sunk costs and less brand recognition than your competitors. To overcome that, you must be ten times faster, cheaper, stronger, and lighter than every other company in your industry to get people to switch from incumbent products.

Netflix killed Blockbuster by offering ten times the quantity of content at one-tenth the cost. Your solution must be exponentially better than any alternatives.

6. Are you ready to go all in? 

Design thinking and the Lean Startup method allow you to start most businesses as a side hustle. Your long-term goal still needs to be full time, all the time, all in. No one has ever changed the world with half measures.

7. Do you have frictionless access to early adopters?

Early adopters are customers who have the problem you solve, and are currently trying to solve that problem with a radically less efficient method. Before spell-check software, we used third party proofreaders, which were ten times more expensive and time consuming.

To be successful, you need a clear and low cost to get early adopters and turn them into your beachhead. Make sure you’re able to get your product directly to customers.

The Trump Administration Just Revealed a Brutal Truth About the Shutdown That Nobody Saw Coming

Late on Friday, we heard a brutally honest truth, attributed to senior Trump administration officials, about how unprepared we were for this unexpectedly long shutdown–and what that could mean for our economy and our counry.

Ironically, it came just hours after the Trump administration released some really great economic news: 312,000 new jobs in December. Those are fantastic numbers, but they’re pre-shutdown numbers. 

And they only highlight how much we suddenly have to lose. Here’s the money quote, as reported late Friday by The Washington Post:

The Trump administration, which had not anticipated a long-term shutdown, recognized only this week the breadth of the potential impact, several senior administration officials said.

The officials said they were focused now on understanding the scope of the consequences and determining whether there is anything they can do to intervene.

By next weekend, the partial government shutdown will be the longest in U.S. history, and the “scope of the consequences” that the administration is now trying to understand suddenly seems quite severe.  

Much of the problem comes from the fact that the government can’t pay and distribute literally hundreds of billions of dollars that are owed to Americans while it’s shut down. And that is likely to have a huge ripple effect on the economy. Here are a few examples.

$100 billion in tax refunds that won’t be issued on time

We start with the IRS, which cannot legally distribute people’s tax refunds during a shutdown. In any event, it’s super-understaffed (just 12 percent of IRS employees are working). Here are what the numbers looked like last year, according to The Wall Street Journal:

  • February 2, 2018:    $12.6 billion in refunds paid
  • February 16, 2018:    $101.2 billion in refunds paid
  • March 30, 2018:        $212 billion in refunds paid

None of that would get paid out under current plans. To put it in context, the dollar amounts here are roughly the annual economic output of entire cities, like Austin and Denver.

“That would hurt retailers that rely on consumers who file their taxes early and spend their refund money in February or March. And any such pullback in spending would weigh on the overall economy,” the AP reported.

Almost $5 billion in ‘food stamps’ won’t be paid

Next up is Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). About 38 million Americans rely on SNAP, aka “food stamps” each month, but it’s no not funded in a shutdown.

January payments did go out, thanks to an emergency reserve. The government has enough left to afford about 63 percent of February’s tally. So, about $3 billon out of roughly $4.7 billion would be paid.

After that, if the shutdown lasts into March, the SNAP funds go to zero. While the total amount here is a lot less than the tax refunds, it’s extremely important to some people — and to businesses that rely on them as customers. 

Maybe $5 billion a month in federal salaries

About 800,000 federal workers are either on unpaid furlough or working without pay. What’s the total impact?

In 2015, the average annual federal salary was $84,500. Multiply that by 800,000, divide it by 12 months, and I get about $5.6 billion per month. 

In previous shutdowns, Congress ultimately authorized back pay, so let’s and assume that will happen here too. Meanwhile however, people can’t spend money in January and February if they don’t have it.

It has second and third order effects, too as businesses that count on these employees as customers also get paid less.

All the other government spending and its effects

My colleague Chris Matyszczyk wrote earlier about how the pilots’ union at Delta and United wrote to President Trump urging him to end the shutdown because it affects “the safety, security and efficiency” of the aviation industry.

Already we’re seeing TSA screeners, calling in sick rather than show up to work without pay. Beyond that, air traffic controllers, maintenance personnel and air marshals are not getting paid

Would you want to fly in a situation like that if you didn’t have to? What happens to the airlines, and to the businesses that rely on them? Pick an industry, the story is the similar.

This article isn’t about the border wall, and it’s not about which political side is at fault. You can blame whomever you like. But if the shutdown that nobody expected continues, it’s starting to look like it could well be brutal.

Samsung, Huawei supply majority of own modem chips, Qualcomm says

SAN JOSE, Calif. (Reuters) – The two largest smart phone makers in the world supply a majority of their own modem chips to help their devices connect to wireless data networks, according to evidence presented at an antitrust trial for chip supplier Qualcomm Inc (QCOM.O).

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Qualcomm is seen during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain February 27, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo

A trial between the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and Qualcomm kicked off in a federal courtroom in California on Friday, with the regulators arguing that Qualcomm engaged in anticompetitive patent licensing practices to preserve a monopoly on modem chips. The case is being closely watched because it may shed light on the likely eventual outcome of the global legal battle between Apple Inc (AAPL.O) and Qualcomm.

Apple has alleged that Qualcomm engaged in illegal business practices, and Qualcomm in turn has alleged Apple violated its patents, scoring victories in China and Germany last month.

Qualcomm has argued its licensing practices follow long-established industry norms and that it charges broadly the same licensing rates that it had for many years before it ever started selling chips.

That has become a big market for Qualcomm, which controlled 59.6 percent of the $15.3 billion market for 4G modem chips in 2017, according to IDC’s Phil Solis, who studies mobile chips for the research firm.

But Bob Van Nest, an attorney representing Qualcomm in the case, also sought to show that Qualcomm is not dominant in the world’s two biggest handset makers.

During opening arguments, Van Nest’s presentation said that Huawei [HWT.UL] internally sources 54 percent of the modem chips it puts in its devices and gets only 22 percent of its modems from Qualcomm, with the remainder coming from other unnamed makers. Samsung (005930.KS) internally sources 52 percent of the modem chips it uses, with 38 percent from Qualcomm and the rest from other makers, according to the presentation.

Huawei and Samsung did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Also, the FTC’s case centers not on the overall modem chip market – which includes slower chips that go into cheaper handsets – but rather the market for speedy “premium” chips where Qualcomm is among the only options.

Huawei and Samsung are both large diversified technology corporations that make many other products aside from premium-priced smart phones. Huawei’s HiSilicon unit supplies the chips for its high-end phones such as its Mate and P series. Samsung’s chip division supplies processors and other components for many of its handsets and is also a dominant global supplier of memory chips beyond its own products.

The two firms are also Apple’s fiercest rivals in the market for premium smart phones costing $700 or more. Apple depends entirely on Intel Corp (INTC.O) and Qualcomm for modem chips, though the iPhones released in 2018 use Intel modems exclusively.

Technology news publication The Information last month reported here that Apple was designing its own modem chip, citing Apple job listings and a source briefed on Apple’s plans. Apple declined to comment on its plans.

For the second quarter of 2018 – the most recent figures available from IDC – Apple was the third-largest smart phone supplier by volume, with Samsung and Huawei in first and second place, respectively.

Reporting by Stephen Nellis; Editing by James Dalgleish

The Simple Engineering That Will Keep NYC's L Train Rolling

Ever since the last of the brackish water slithered out of the Canarsie Tunnel in the aftermath of 2012’s Superstorm Sandy, New Yorkers have been bracing for the pain. Public transit officials have long warned that the water damage to the 94-year-old tunnel, full of just-as-old subway equipment, would eventually require a long, painful, deeply inconvenient rehabilitation. That’s the tunnel that runs under the East River, carrying many of the L subway train’s 400,000 daily riders from popular Brooklyn neighborhoods like Williamsburg and Bushwick into Manhattan.

The surgery was scheduled for April 2019, when the stretch of L train that takes New Yorkers across Manhattan and into Brooklyn was scheduled to shut down for a 15-month repair job. Ahead of what they officially deemed the “L-pocalypse,” local officials created piles of plans to ramp up bus service, encourage biking, and run new ferry routes, and everything else they could think of to keep all those commuters from taking to cars and making already bad traffic fully catastrophic.

Those plans (as well as wilder ones proposed by concerned citizens) became a lot less necessary Thursday morning, when Governor Andrew Cuomo called a surprise press conference to proclaim that no, the L train won’t close completely, and yes, it will still be fixed for the future.

The new plan for the next few years is to keep the train open and running as normal during weekdays, whilst doing repairs on nights and weekends (the details remain fuzzy). The board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the subway, has yet to adopt the new plan, which was proposed by a commission of half a dozen engineers based at Columbia and Cornell Universities that Cuomo assembled last month, two years after the decision was made to close the line. But the agency put out a press release Thursday afternoon saying it “accepted the recommendations.”

Curious politics are clearly at work here, but New Yorkers are unlikely to care, as long as the subway keeps running. And if it does, it’ll be thanks to two bits of subway engineering infrastructure: benchwalls and cable racking.

Let’s start with benchwalls. If the train stopped in the tunnel and you had to get out, these are the stretches of concrete, running along each wall and resembling big benches, that you’d be walking on. Facilitating emergency exits is one of their main functions—without them, you’d have to jump out of the train, onto the ground and risk hitting the third rail. Benchwalls also hold most of the goodies that make the subway work, including the power and communications cables. When workers were building the line, which started service in 1924, putting the cables in the concrete was the best way to protect them from things like hungry rats and water damage.

Over the past century, those benchwalls have started to deteriorate, a process accelerated by the flooding from Hurricane Sandy. Explaining its full shutdown plan in 2016, the MTA said the tunnel’s bench walls “must be replaced to protect the structural integrity of the two tubes [east and west] that carry trains through the tunnel.”

Replacing these things involves jackhammering away concrete, removing the rubble, replacing the cabling inside, setting new concrete, and having it dry. It’s work you can’t do overnight or on weekends, because any one section takes several days. And you can’t run trains without leaving a walkway to lead people to safety in an emergency.

The new plan involves giving those benchwalls a bit of a demotion. They’ll still be used for emergency egress, but they won’t hold the cables anymore. Instead, the L train will use a “cable racking” system, in which new power and comms lines will be strung up and attached to the sides of the tunnel, above the benchwalls. Turns out, their protective jacketing has advanced since the Prohibition Era. “We’ve had tremendous progress in materials,” says Peter Kinget, a Cornell electrical engineer who served on the panel. , If the jacketing catches fire, it doesn’t produce noxious fumes. It’s impervious to vermin and H2O, obviating the need for the concrete armor. The workers will also shore up the sections of benchwall that are crumbling with fiber reinforced polymer, Cuomo says, leaving the old, inactive cables entombed inside.

That decoupling of the benchwall’s duties is a big deal, because it makes the work much easier to execute. You can cut back service at night and on weekends (by running trains in just one of the tunnel’s twin tubes) and have workers slip underground, setting up the racks and new cables segment by segment. During normal hours, the train operates as it usually does, pulling power from the cables already in the benchwalls. Once the work is done, the MTA will switch the trains over to the new set of cords.

Cable racking has been used for new metro lines in London, Hong Kong, and the Saudi capital of Riyadh, Cuomo says. This would be its first use in the US, and the first time it’s been used to fix up an existing line.

“It’s a clever solution,” says Matt Cunningham, a civil engineer and global director of infrastructure for Canadian engineering firm IBI. It’s cheaper and easier than replacing all the cable-filled benchwalls, and it’s a proven method. “It’s going to work.”

Which brings up the unanswered question of why this idea is just surfacing now. Why not before the MTA decided on the full shutdown, then spent two years preparing for it? It makes Cuomo the politician who averted the traffic-spewing L-pocalypse—but it also makes one wonder why he didn’t come to the rescue earlier. (He’s been governor of New York since 2011.) In his press conference, he presented this as new solution, which is true if you compare it to the techniques used to build the subway in the previous century, but not if you take a slightly narrower view. “It’s not new technology that’s only now become available,” Cunningham says.

Of course, limiting service during nights and weekends to make this fix will still inflict some suffering, and the MTA has a terrible record of mismanaging this sort of operation, so any promises about deadlines or costs should be doubted. “You’re not getting a root canal on five teeth, you’re getting a root canal on three teeth,” says Allan Rutter, of Texas A&M’s Transportation Institute. “There’s gonna be pain.”

In infrastructure as well as in dental surgery, you’ve got to accept some drilling and discomfort. But less is definitely more.


More Great WIRED Stories

How Can We Best Prepare for Job Automation?

The best way to prepare is to transition away from things that are largely routine and predictable. Try to find a role that is largely focused on tasks that are not easy to automate.

I think this generally includes 3 areas:

  1. Creative work — where you are building something new, thinking outside the box in non-predictable ways, etc.
  2. Human-centered work — where you build sophisticated relationships with people. This would include caring roles, as with a nurse or social worker, but also business roles where you need a need understanding of your clients.
  3. Skilled trade work — this includes jobs that require lots of mobility, dexterity and flexibility in unpredictable environments. Examples would be electricians or plumbers. Building a robot that can do these jobs is probably far in the future.

What you do NOT want is to be the person who’s only role is to sit in front of a computer performing some predictable task–like cranking out the same report again and again. If you have a job like this you should worry and look to transition in other roles in the 3 areas I listed above.

One very important part of adapting is to realize that future careers will nearly all require continuous learning. So whether you are concerned with yourself or your children, a focus on learning–getting good at it and truly enjoying it–will be one of the most important components of success.

This question originally appeared on Quora – the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. More questions:

Published on: Jan 3, 2019

The Day Apple Dreaded: iPhone Sales Falter in China and the Company Revises Sales Down

Trading on Apple shares was halted as the company warned of much lower sales than the guidance it had issued just two months ago. A punishing holiday season turned into lower than expected iPhone sales, which are the economic engine of the company. After-hours trading immediately sent shares down by more than 7 percent.

The guidance issued at the company’s last earnings announcement was for revenue between $89 billion and $93 billion, expenses of $9 billion to $9.1 billion, and gross margins between 38 percent and 38.5 percent.

The new guidance pegs revenue expectations at $84 billion, sharply below the low end of the previous estimates. Gross margin will be roughly 38 percent, at the low end of the previous range. Total expenses will be about $9.25 billion, or above prior estimates.

The earnings announcement for the holiday quarter won’t happen for a few weeks yet.

According to a letter from Tim Cook to investors, there are multiple reasons for the cut. He said that the company knew the timing of its iPhone launches could be a problem, shifting back as they did by a fiscal quarter. The number of launches was complex and caused logistics problems getting everything built and shipped. In addition, a strong dollar made overseas sales costlier for buyers.

But those were constraints on the top end of sales. The big issues were “expected economic weakness in some emerging markets.” Specifically, the big slowdown was in Greater China. “In fact, most of our revenue shortfall to our guidance, and over 100 percent of our year-over-year worldwide revenue decline, occurred in Greater China across iPhone, Mac and iPad,” the letter said.

At the heart was a slowing economy in China, in part likely because of the trade war with the U.S., but also a result of purely internal problems in the country. Whatever the balance, the result was “fewer iPhone upgrades than we had anticipated.”

Cook went on and tried to put some shine on the situation, pointing to almost 19 percent year-over-year growth in the combination of services, Macs, iPads, and wearables and other products. But while good for the future, that doesn’t matter.

Apple faces what happens to many businesses, particularly smaller ones. They become prisoners of one product line or a particularly big customer. When that happens, all you can do is try to diversify, because the day will come when the source of money trips and what was a profitable dependence begins to hit financial results.

Apple has tried to do that, but none of the new growth comes close to the magnitude of the iPhone contribution. And China was supposed to be the new engine of growth when none of the other product lines–iPads or Watches–showed itself possessing the potential once shown by the company’s smartphones.

The 10,000 Foot View of Your Business You Must Take Before Picking a Software System

That’s so vague, and that’s exactly the reason why so many companies struggle to make meaningful process working “on the business”, year after year. Let me help to clarify these confusing terms, and give you the direction that you need to make a dent this year.

The “system” is the tool that you use to get the job done. It could be a big piece of machinery, but for most of us, it is the different software tools that your company runs on.

“Processes” are the sequence of steps that you and your team take to do the work — the actions, regardless of the system. The problem is, too many entrepreneurs start with the system.

Instead of focusing on how you manage a client project, you focus on how the project management tool works.

You can get lost in a sea of software, and end up jumping ship from one to the next chasing features that may or may not matter to your business. But, if you understand your process first, it’s like going to the grocery store with a list, and not an empty stomach.

I was working with a retail store once that used spreadsheets to manage their inventory, credit card terminals for each sale, PayPal for online transactions, handwritten sheets for their packing lists, and a bloated database tool for customer information. Instead of stepping back and looking at the business as a whole, they solved one problem at a time with another software, creating a complicated mess of their operations.

It shouldn’t be so hard. Whatever industry you’re in, here’s how to fine tune your process first to make sure you’re investing in something that can stick. 

Map your process.

Break out the sticky notes! I’ve banned those little yellow clutter-causers from my office, except for when we’re working on processes. Then, we break them out of their special hiding place and go nuts!

If you don’t have sticky notes, use a whiteboard or a blank sheet of paper, and draw each linear step in your product fulfillment or service delivery process. Each step (or sticky) should represent a significant step in your process. So, combine small things like “open this URL” and “go to this page” and “enter this password” into something broader like “log into online store.”

Your core company process should stretch from how you attract prospects, close a sale, onboard the customer, deliver the product or service, collect payment, and and continue to engage the customer. 

Find your bottlenecks.

The simple act of writing out the steps of your process is bound to surface some inefficiency. Where in your process are there bottlenecks — or slow downs — today? Where are there too many handoffs where information or tasks could flow more seamlessly from one person or department to another?

Now, you don’t need to fix your entire process in one sitting. That isn’t the point. But, you do want to identify where you have some work to do. These inefficiencies or areas for improvement could be supplemented or solved with the right system. You are building your shopping list. 

Become a ‘manual’ master.

A client hired me once wanting to build a custom software for a new way to facilitate meetings. The idea was full of assumptions about how the users would behave, and what problems they were trying to solve. 

Instead, I suggested that he use index cards to replicate the functionality manually, and offline, for a full month before we quote out the software. That way he could validate some assumptions before investing a dime in a custom software project. The idea was dead a weak later, and he saved a lot of money. 

Similarly, think of the software tools and systems that you invest in a way to improve the efficiency of your manual process, not a gamble on a brand new, untested way to work.

Scale with a system.

Now, with a proven manual process and a wish list of requirements, you are ready to go system shopping. 

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the thousands of tools available. If you’re software shopping, check out review sites like Capterra an G2Crowd, or maker communities like Product Hunt to see how each system is differentiated before diving into demos. 

With hardware, consider renting a device before making a big purchase, or talking to another customer that is successfully using the equipment. 

The system you ultimately select should increase your capacity by eliminating bottlenecks and making your proven process more efficient. Your process shows you generally how to get from point A to point B, like a path through the woods. As you test that process, the “path in the woods” gets more and more defined, and perhaps you invest a little in clearing the leaves and branches, or building stairs on a steep hill. 

When do decide to build a highway from point A to point B — your system —  you should be confident in the path, and eager to increase the traffic down the route. 

Got a McDonald's or Burger King Coupon? Here's the Smart, Surprising Thing to Do With It. (You Only Have 3 Days)

This is a story about a smaller restaurant chain trolling McDonald’s, Burger King, and other giants of the business. And it’s kind of brilliant. Before the details, a quick explanation.

The fast food industry is a smart and fun one to follow no matter what business you’re in, and for two big reasons.

First, there’s the pure scale. Make a menu change at McDonald’s for example, and you’re upending the routines of hundreds of thousands of hungry Americans. You can learn a lot just by watching how they develop and test new products.

But second, there’s the marketing.

Think of McDonald’s, which spends $2 billion a year on marketing and ads. That’s half the entire value of its much smaller competitor, Wendy’s. It’s an incredible chance just to unpack what they do, and figure out why they think that various ideas will work.

Which brings us to some shoot-the-moon marketing campaigns that can actually turn the big chains’ efforts on their heads.

The only catch? You had to place the order from a McDonald’s restaurant. (Technically, just being within 600 feet was close enough to trigger the offer.)

Of course, Burger King isn’t small; just smaller than McDonald’s. But it shows how if you’re creative, you can use a competitor’s strength–in that case the fact that there are roughly twice as many McDonald’s in the U.S. than there are Burger King locations–to your advantage.

But what if you don’t have 1.7 million Twitter followers and a full time social media marketing operation, like Burger King, to get word of your deal out.?

What if you don’t even have a mobile app (or a burning desire to get people to download your app, which is what the Burger King promotion and so many others these days are all about)?

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: Smoothie King.

Again: not exactly tiny, although very small compared to McDonald’s and Burger King. Smoothie King has close to 800 stores, heavily concentrated in warmer weather parts of the country.

It’s privately held, and even if you’ve never tried it, you might recognize the name from the $40 million naming deal it has for the NBA New Orleans Pelicans home arena (“Smoothie King Center“).

Now, like its bigger competitors, Smoothie King also has a rewards app, and it’s launched a contest to try to incentivize people to download and use it. (The “Change-a-Meal Challenge.”)  

But what attracted me to this whole thing is how Smoothie King is kicking off its promotion: By letting you use any coupon from any other fast food restaurant — McDonald’s or Burger King included — at Smoothie King.

It’s good for only one day, New Year’s Eve, and regardless of the competitor’s coupon’s value, it gets you $2 off a smoothie at Smoothie King on December 31.

And in truth, I don’t know how many people would take advantage of it. But that doesn’t really matter in a way; what matters in this social media age is whether you can find a truthful, fun way to troll your competitors and turn their strengths to your advangage.

As a marketing strategy, I think it’s brilliant.

As for the Smoothies, well, I don’t know. I’m writing this from New Hampshire, and it looks like the nearest Smoothie King would be a three hour drive away. You’ll have to let me know in the comments.

2019 Is The Year Of A New Economic Expansion Record

I will say, flat out, that I didn’t think December would be a down month, and it is shaping up to be the worst December since 1931. Needless to say, the economic environment today is very different than the time of the Great Depression, so the parallels are difficult to draw, despite the similarity of the stock market performance. Based on the latest consensus estimates from Factset, EPS growth for the S&P 500 is going to be 20.6% in 2018 with another 7.9% in 2019, along with 5.3% revenue growth to boot. If the S&P 500 ends 2019 where it is today, that would mean that share prices would have failed to respond to a compounded EPS growth rate of over 30% in two years (1.206 x 1.079 = 1.301).

If the economy is still growing in the second half of 2019, this will become the longest economic expansion in the history of the United States. I think it will continue for all of 2019. This means that, with a growing economy and growing earnings, this latest selloff is unlikely to be the start of a bear market.

My 2018 annual prediction – that the U.S. dollar would rally in 2018 – has worked out well, despite a very poor performance in the first quarter (for my full prediction, see December 18, 2017 Marketwatch article “Ivan Martchev’s 2018 predictions: Gold will sink, and the dollar will rally”). It needs to be noted that the dollar is up a lot more against emerging markets currencies than the old U.S. Dollar Index, which contains only developed market currencies. This more notable outperformance against emerging markets currencies for the dollar is likely to persist in 2019.

Recessions do not start with unemployment at a 49-year low of 3.7% (charted, below) and the economy growing at around 3%. Before a recession can start, the economy needs to slow, and the unemployment rate needs to stop falling and begin turning higher because of the economic slowdown. That takes time.

UnemploymentRate.png

Graphs are for illustrative and discussion purposes only. Please read important disclosures at the end of this commentary.

While a slowdown is likely to begin in 2019, the recession will most likely happen in 2020 or 2021.

Can the Stock Market Go Down in a Good Economy?

Yes, a stock market can go down in a good economy, as it is has been doing recently. For a protracted bear market, we need to see a shrinkage in earnings per share for the S&P 500 Index. The more the EPS for the Index shrinks, the more the index goes down. This happened in the recessions of 2001 and 2008

In the year 2000, the stock market was overvalued but it took a while for the air to come out of the bubble before it bottomed in March 2003. In the year 2007, the financial system almost blew up with unregulated mortgage lending and repackaging of no-documentation loans into fascinating securities with oxymoronic names for AAA-rated sub-prime CDOs. The 1929 and 2008 declines were most similar, as they had to do with financial system leverage and cascading losses as the leverage was unwinding. Unfortunately, there were also serious mistakes on the fiscal side (tariffs that caused a collapse in global trade) and monetary front (tightening that caused banks to fail) in the 1930s. The 1974 decline was due to a big oil price shock.

While there is monetary tightening at present, it is not being done in a weak economy. And where tariffs are concerned, they are, so far, being used as a negotiating tactic. The Trump administration would argue that there has been progress on the trade front with Canada, Mexico, South Korea and even with the European Union, so this does not seem to be a full-blown global trade war, at least for now.

The most extreme example of the stock market going down in a good economy would be 1987.

DJIAversusFundsRate.png

The 1987 market was the new Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan’s trial by fire, where he felt compelled to jump in with a few interest rate cuts, the same way he cut interest rates after the market sold off 25% in August and September of 1998 at the tail end of the Asian Crisis and the Russian sovereign debt default. Regrettably, the fortitude displayed by the famous Time magazine cover (below), dubbed “The Committee To Save The World,” is hopelessly missing at this very moment.

TimeMagazine.jpg

I think the present volatility of the stock market is not due to the hiking of the fed funds rate alone, but also to the more disruptive overall quantitative tightening, which demonstrates itself via the rising Fed balance sheet runoff rate, which went from $20 billion in January to the present $50 billion/month rate.

BalanceSheetVersusDJIA.png

Letting bonds mature (and not reinvesting the proceeds) also results in large repurchase agreement activity, which sucks excess reserves out of the financial system. Sucking electronic cash out of the financial system may be the simplest possible explanation as to why the stock market is doing what it is doing. (Enterprising minds are urged to carefully read the paper “The Federal Reserve’s Balance Sheet and Earnings: A Primer and Projections” by Fed economists Seth Carpenter, Jane Ihrig, Elizabeth Klee, Daniel Quinn, and Alexander Boote. There are other similar papers available from the Federal Reserve.)

ExcessReserves.png

In my experience, sharp selloffs in a good economy tend to reverse themselves as the economy keeps growing and so does the earnings-per-share (EPS) for major stock market indexes like the S&P 500. Some of those “good economy” sharp selloffs – as in 1987 and 1997 – required active government intervention in order to stabilize the market, while others took care of themselves.

Still, in the present uncharted territory of quantitative tightening, I would have felt a lot better if Gary Cohn were the Fed Chairman. He ran a large investment management organization (Goldman Sachs Asset Management) and had extensive experience as a trader before becoming an executive and a CEO-in-waiting. One certainly needs a lot of theoretical experience to be a successful Fed Chairman, like Ben Bernanke proved, but in the situation that we have now, practical experience would also count for a lot.

Disclosure: *Navellier may hold securities in one or more investment strategies offered to its clients.

Disclaimer: Please click here for important disclosures located in the “About” section of the Navellier & Associates profile that accompany this article.