Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Phoniness of the Thoughtpreneur

From Hackernoon, April 5:

Thoughtrepreneurs: The Poison of the Student Startup Scene
What I’m about to say isn’t new. I’m not a thought leader, a visionary, or an original thinker. None of my ideas are innovative. In fact, that’s the whole point of this article.

I came to Penn because of my love for startups and my dreams of becoming an entrepreneur. Ever since working my first ever job at NorthPage, a digital marketing startup back home in Connecticut, I knew that I wasn’t meant for the 9 to 5, suit and tie, cut and dried lifestyle. The fast-paced, high energy, collaborative work involved in growing something from the ground is cumbersome and frustrating, yet highly rewarding. Entrepreneurship is more than just small businesses to me. Entrepreneurship is a vehicle for both social and technological progress, as well as the epitome of the American Dream and free-spirited pioneering. This passion for creating is what attracted me to YouthHack Philly, Penn’s branch of an international community passionate about encouraging entrepreneurship, scaling startups, and fostering new founders. Through the Ventures Accelerator, YH’s startup incubator, as well as all the entrepreneurship panels I’ve listened to at Penn, I’ve come to a troubling conclusion.

Penn has very, very few entrepreneurs. What we do have is an overabundance of thoughtrepreneurs. Thoughtrepreneurs are people who think about potential businesses, instead of creating them. Oh they may have patents pending, an S corporation filing, and a website, but what they do not have is a business. Here at Penn, and especially Wharton, everyone focuses on the idea. That one brilliant, magical thought that rockets Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Evan Spiegel from college students to billionaires in the blink of an eye. That’s just patently false: ideas don’t make great companies, great people with with greater products and the greatest implementation strategies make great companies. I’m probably the millionth person to say this; there are some great articles about echoing these thoughts here, here, here, and here. If you can’t execute, prepare to have your business become executed. Each week I see a Wharton student talk about his great new fintech startup without having written a line of code, a college student talking about her biotech startup before she’s even taken cell biology, and an engineer talking about another goddamn social media app. The same buzzwords get thrown around anywhere you go: analytics, machine learning, blockchain, crowdfunding, 
biotechnology; the list goes on. Instead of having a real product, kids submit their BS brainstorm sketches of ideas as patent applications then go ahead and start pitching. Suddenly Berry Stern is the CEO of Fake-AF Metrics, a cutting-edge industry leader in consumer analytics utilizing proprietary deep learning algorithms to collect, coalesce, and distribute data via a blockchain infrastructure for Fortune 100 clients. The saddest thing here is that he knows as much about this technology and business as I do stringing together random phrases!

The fault in our system lies not in our founders but the entire entrepreneurship ecosystem. Those who act as entrepreneurial support staff, such as myself, help fuel these issues by making teams create marketing campaigns and meet with Venture Capitalists before they even have an initial prototype, and by failing to vet the technology behind a single startup. The issue also lies both with the business and engineering schools for failing to educate and equip students with the knowledge and tools necessary to build actual companies where it seems like the only kids who know how to do anything before senior year are the programmers. That’s why every hot startup starts interviewing “developers” for “coveted internship positions” and a chance to be a part of the next big “disruptive technology” because they can’t build it themselves. Even better is when the freshmen and sophomore biology students create their companies that are about to cure cancer, end AIDS, and reverse Alzheimer’s. It’s all talk....MUCH MORE

The Extent Of The Coming Pension Storm Will Come To Light In 2018 (Don't mention the plague)

From Mauldin Economics:

What Could Go Wrong? For Public Pensions, More Than You Know
September 26, 2017
Here’s a loaded question for you: “What could go wrong?”
In some contexts, it can express mistaken confidence, as in, “Sure I’ll put my hand between that crocodile’s jaws. What could go wrong?”...

...Healthcare Goes on the Books
Local governments often give retired police officers, firefighters, teachers, and other workers a pension plus healthcare benefits.

Healthcare is expensive even in the best circumstances. Imagine your health insurer had promised to cover your medical expenses but hadn’t set aside any cash to pay for it.

Remarkably, that’s exactly what has happened. Governments currently disclose their retiree healthcare liabilities only in footnotes to their financial statements. Many have saved little to no money to cover those future expenses.

That’s about to change.
Starting in 2018, the Governmental Accounting Standards Board—the source of generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) for state and local governments—will force officials to record healthcare liabilities on their balance sheets. Pew Charitable Trusts estimates the national shortfall will add up to $645 billion.
That’s on top of the estimated $1.1 trillion in unfunded pension liabilities they already had. In other words, this giant problem that no one knows how to solve is about to get 59% worse!

Or, more accurately, it’s going to look 59% worse. The healthcare shortfall isn’t new. What’s new is that local governments have to stop obscuring it.
What else could go wrong? Plenty.

Photo: AP
Unbudgeted Crisis Now, let’s add another crisis on top of the already-terrible one that just got 59% worse.
You’ve probably heard about the opioid drug abuse that is killing thousands of Americans. Putting numbers on it is tricky—often, multiple factors contribute to the same death. The Centers for Disease Control estimates opioids played a role in more than 33,000 deaths in 2015. No one thinks the numbers have improved since then.

The deaths aren’t evenly distributed. This Reuters graphic shows the heaviest concentrations in the Midwest, New England, and New Mexico.
It’s probably no coincidence that some of these states also suffered above-average economic pain in the last decade or two....MORE
Oops, cat's out of the bag.
After debating whether to post this, ah WTH.

Plague: 19 Dead in Madagascar as Black Death Continues to Spread

Here's the WHO via Reliefweb pointing out that this outbreak is both pneumonic and bubonic.

Cat, catch rat.

That takes care of the bubonic, leaving only the more contagious pneumonic type.

"New Study Suggests Not Sharing Laughter is an Early Sign of Psychopathy"

Who's laughing now?
No, seriously, who's laughing? You can probably scratch them off your "they might be a sociopath list".

From Sputnik:
A new study from British researchers has found that along with compulsive lying, narcissism and a failure to return video tapes on time, one telltale sign of a psychopath is that they do not share laughter with others.
The team out of University College London studied 92 boys between the ages of 11 and 16. Thirty were a control group, while 62 had exhibited "disruptive behaviors" such as aggression, violence, lying, manipulation, enjoyment of Huey Lewis and The News, and a lack of guilt or a lack of concern. Many of these are the same signs as antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) according to the Mayo Clinic.
After controlling for IQ, age, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and even what their dominant hand was, the boys were subjected to the experiment. Each was hooked up to an MRI and asked to listen to recordings of genuine laughter, forced laughter and forced crying. On a scale of one to seven, the boys were asked "How much does hearing the sound make you feel like joining in and/or feeling the emotion?" and "How much does the sound reflect a genuinely felt emotion?"
The boys who demonstrated the early warning signs for ASPD were less likely to laugh at both genuine and forced laughter. In addition, the MRI revealed that the "disruptive" boys showed less neural activity in response to the laughter and crying than the control group.

The purpose of this experiment was to show that laughter is a social cue, and most people will laugh or smile when another person around them does the same....MORE

"The Inside Story of the Great Silicon Heist"

From Wired, September 26:,c_limit/1017-WI-FFPLYS-04-diptych.jpg
Wasi Ismail Syed had endured a draining day of travel by the time he picked up his rental van at the Pensacola, Florida, airport. He’d left his West Coast home that morning in February 2009, then weathered a lengthy layover in Houston. But rather than pining for a comfy hotel bed, Syed was excited to conduct a bit of late-night business: He was meeting two strangers who called themselves Butch Cassidy and William Smith outside a nearby Walmart.

As he pulled into the store’s parking lot around midnight, the 32-year-old Syed worried that he might be robbed of the $28,000 he was carrying. Cassidy and Smith were already there, waiting for him in a pickup; Syed jotted down its license plate number in case the meeting went sideways. But his worries eased when he shook hands with the two men, who struck him as harmless blue-­collar sorts: Both were in their mid-­fifties with bushy mustaches and receding hairlines, and they spoke in a honeyed southern drawl. Syed sensed they were every bit as nervous as he was.

In a well-lit corner of the parking lot, Cassidy and Smith unloaded the 5-gallon painter’s buckets that filled their truck. Syed pried open one of the buckets’ lids and peered inside. He was pleased by what he saw: a pile of rock-like chunks of a silvery metallic substance. These were fragments of polycrystalline silicon, a highly purified form of silicon that is the bedrock for semiconductor devices and solar cells. Nearly every microchip on earth is forged from the material. And at that moment, due to a global shortage, the average price for freshly manufactured polycrystalline silicon, commonly known as polysilicon, had climbed to $64 a pound.

Syed operated on the periphery of the polysilicon industry as a trader in scrap. He had built a $1.5 million–a-year company by paying cash for any kind of processed silicon he could get his hands on: debris from chip fabricators, broken solar cells, cast-off shavings from the plants where polysilicon is made. He would flip these materials to customers who typically shipped them to China, where scrap silicon is refurbished in noxious chemical baths and recycled into new products. Syed was accustomed to cutting deals with odd characters who’d lucked into their silicon and were eager for money; he never asked many questions about the provenance of their goods.

Cassidy and Smith’s buckets contained 882 pounds of polysilicon, all of which looked to be of relatively good quality. But Syed knew he couldn’t just trust his eyes—it’s easy to get ripped off in the scrap trade. He spent 30 minutes sweeping a handheld resistivity tester over the chunks, to make sure there weren’t any duds mixed into the merchandise. All of the pieces scored above 1 ohm, meaning they were plenty pure enough to be sold to the Chinese for solar panels.

Convinced that he wasn’t being conned, Syed handed over his cash-stuffed envelope and lifted the buckets into his van; he planned to FedEx the product to his customer the next day before flying home. Just before driving away, he asked Cassidy and Smith whether they could get him any more polysilicon at a similarly attractive price. The two older men said they would be in touch.

The moment they got back in their truck, Cassidy and Smith divvied up the cash they’d just earned from their first-ever polysilicon sale—a deal in which almost every dollar was profit. The pair could see they’d stumbled into a potential fortune. And despite the risks they were taking, this was an opportunity they couldn’t pass up.

The 3-mile-long Theodore Industrial Canal is not quite as charmless as its name suggests. Created by an epic dredging operation that began in the late 1970s, the sun-dappled waterway on the outskirts of Mobile, Alabama, attracts small fishing boats and brown pelicans that compete for speckled trout. But the sights and smells of less salubrious activity are impossible to avoid. The canal is ringed by a cement factory, a dock where grimy ships are scrubbed, and a phenol plant that caught fire in 2002. A mile farther west, outside a plant that uses hydrogen cyanide to produce a chicken feed additive, the water sometimes has a sickly green-brown hue, and the air can smell vaguely of ammonia. At the end of the canal, behind a rusting benzene barge and a copse of pines, loom the slender distillation towers of Mitsubishi Polycrystalline Silicon America Corporation.

The Mitsubishi plant is arguably the most high tech member of South Alabama’s “chemical corridor,” a 60-mile stretch that teems with manufacturers of everything from protective coatings to artificial sweeteners to insecticides. After the closure of a massive Air Force base ravaged Mobile’s economy in the early 1970s, state and local governments decided to reinvent the region as a hub for chemical companies, which often situate their plants by rivers, lakes, and bays. (Water is crucial to chemical production as an ingredient, a coolant, and a receptacle for waste.) Today, Mobile’s sales pitch to the likes of DuPont and Evonik touts the area’s weak unions, abundant rail lines, and—crucially—openness to projects that might run into opposition in more green-minded locales.

The Japanese-owned Mitsubishi polysilicon plant, which opened in the late 1990s, hasn’t committed any major environmental sins, but it does burn through vast amounts of energy. The plant’s feedstock is metallurgical-grade silicon, which can be extracted from pulverized chunks of quartzite. In this raw form, silicon exhibits the properties that make the element so essential to the tech industry: It can both conduct and resist electricity—hence the term semiconductor—even at high temperatures. But metallurgical-grade silicon is far too tainted with flecks of iron, aluminum, and calcium to be usable in high tech products that are expected to perform flawlessly for years on end. The material must thus be chemically refined, a process that begins by mixing it with hydrogen chloride at more than 570 degrees Fahrenheit.

After having its impurities removed through multiple rounds of distillation, the resulting hazardous compound, called trichlorosilane, is pumped into a cylindrical furnace containing 7-foot-tall silicon rods shaped like tuning forks. Hydrogen is then added and the temperature is turned up to more than 1,830 degrees Fahrenheit. This causes hyper-pure crystals of silicon to leech out of the trichlorosilane and glom onto the rods. After several days the rods are thick with grayish polysilicon, which is then cut into foot-long cylinders, cleansed with acids until glittery, and packaged in thermally sealed bags for shipment.

When the vast majority of manufacturers reach the end of this process, their polysilicon is as much as 99.999999 percent pure, or “8n” in industry parlance. This means that for every 100 million silicon atoms, there is but a single atom’s worth of impurity. While that may sound impressive, such polysilicon is only pure enough for use in solar cells—relatively simple devices that don’t need to perform complex calculations, but rather just create electrical current by letting sunlight agitate the electrons in silicon atoms. (About 90  percent of all polysilicon ends up in solar cells.)

What the Mitsubishi plant in Alabama produces, by contrast, is 11n polysilicon, marred by just one impure atom per every 100 billion silicon atoms. This polysilicon, known as electronic-grade, is destined to be made into the wafers that serve as the canvases for microchips. Wafer makers melt down 11n polysilicon, spike it with ions like phosphorus or boron to amplify its conductivity, and reshape it into ingots of monocrystalline silicon. These ingots are then sliced into circular pieces about a millimeter thick, at which point they’re ready to be festooned with tiny circuits inside the clean rooms of Micron or Intel.

Mitsubishi’s facility on the Theodore Industrial Canal is one of fewer than a dozen plants worldwide that produce 11n polysilicon. “The barriers to getting to that sort of purity level are extremely high,” says Johannes Bernreuter, founder of a German research firm that covers the polysilicon market. “You have to imagine how many atoms there are in a cubic centimeter of polysilicon, and how only a few atoms of impurity in there can ruin everything.”

There has been no single key to Mitsubishi’s technical success with 11n polysilicon. Insiders credit not only the precision of the engineers who oversee the daily minutiae of the manufacturing process but also the attention that was paid to building the plant and its components to exacting specifications. Yet Mitsubishi’s meticulousness does not seem to have extended to the more elementary task of security....MUCH MORE

"Why did Gilded Age mansions lose their luster?"

Because they're drafty.
And drafty means dust and that means hordes of maids dusting but not the kind of maids you'd like to have dusting, oh no.
No, Mrs. Climateer wants the kind of maids that can beat you in arm-wrestling and jump up on the little shelf on the wainscotting and...where was I?
Expense. The cost of running the big old places is large-by-large.

From Curbed:

TL;DR: They were expensive—even for the super rich 

The Elms in Newport, Rhode Island

Welcome back to Period Dramas, a weekly column that alternates between rounding up historic homes on the market and answering questions we’ve always had about older structures.

Grand mansions are emblematic, if not entirely synonymous, with the Gilded Age.
And that’s no coincidence: The Astors, Vanderbilts, Carnegies, and Rockefellers—just to name a few—used their homes, whether in the country or city, to assert their social dominance, establish a legacy, and generate prestige. 

Built largely between 1890 and 1915, the houses were often designed by popular architects of the time, most notably McKim, Mead, & White, Richard Morris Hunt, and Horace Trumbauer. As the years marched on, the homes ballooned in size—the Breakers in Newport, Rhode Island, for example, has 70 rooms—setting new standards for opulence by drawing from European palaces to inspire their dazzling interiors.

But the halcyon days of the Gilded Age home didn’t last long. By the 1920s, many of the Fifth Avenue mansions of New York City were being torn down. In the 1940s, it was not uncommon to read about Newport mansions being auctioned off.
 Construction of the south facade of Old Westbury Gardens, ca. 1905.
Today, the vast majority of Gilded Age mansions aren’t being used as family homes, and very few are still owned by the original family. If they’ve survived the wrecking ball, many have opened as museums. But why? When did they cease to be private residences and start opening to the public?  

Between 1910 and 1920, two big taxes were imposed for the first time. In 1913, income tax was introduced, and 1916 brought on the modern estate tax. These two taxes seriously curtailed the previously unlimited funds from which many of the wealthiest families of the Gilded Age were drawing.

“These houses were really like hotels,” says Gary Lawrance, architect and founder of the Mansions of the Gilded Age Facebook group and Instagram account. “They had a complete staff running around doing every little thing that needed to be done. When the money ran out, these places started to fall apart due to the lack of funds for maintenance.” 

Lifestyles also changed following World War I. “After the ’20s, domestic service started to decline,” says Lawrance. “You could make comparisons with Downton Abbey! WWI changed things greatly—the whole worldview changed.”
The exterior of The Breakers in Newport, Rhode Island
And in some places—like New York City—real estate landscapes started to shift. Fifth Avenue, once a residential street replete with Gilded Age mansions, was being eyed by real estate developers as it was transitioning into a commercial thoroughfare.
A New York Times article from 1928 features an interview with the developer Benjamin Winter, and explains his multi-million-dollar deals with the Vanderbilts and Astors like this:
“A home now worth $4,000,000 at its present land value is obviously costing $240,000 a year if capitalized at 6 percent,” Winter explains. “Add to this taxes, servants, and other items and the annual upkeep reaches $400,000, which explains why the wealthiest families are content to sell their mansions.”
For the record: $400,000 in 1928 money would be over $5.5 million when adjusted for inflation. As Winter’s interview suggests, we start seeing these houses sell in the 1920s.
Alice Vanderbilt sold 1 West 57th street—the grand chateau-like mansion lauded as the largest house in Manhattan—for $6.1M ($83.2M adjusted for inflation) in 1925, citing how expensive the taxes were on the property. The mansion was demolished—the luxury department store Bergdorf Goodman occupies the site where the mansion once stood....MORE

"Uber, Silicon Valley's Longest Running Soap Opera, Keeps Getting Weirder"

From Forbes:
Pop quiz: What do the government of Saudi Arabia, a now legendary blog post, and a former adviser to President Obama have in common? Answer: They are all linked to Uber, whose year of turmoil took another insane turn yesterday. The ousted CEO Travis Kalanick appointed two members to the board without consulting anyone else on the board, a move he was able to make thanks to the Saudis, and one which prompted David Plouffe -- the erstwhile Obama adviser -- to tweet: "Thinking of my former colleagues at @Uber tonight. The Trump WH seems sane by comparison. Confident Dara will find a way forward." Ouch.

Dara is, of course, Dara Khosrowshahi, the man who replaced Kalanick as CEO and has doubtless already learned he has his work cut out for him. Uber is staring down a ban in London, one of its most critical markets worldwide, and has a boardroom drama that is more that is increasingly more "The Bold And The (Not So) Beautiful" than a Horatio Alger tale.

Kalanick was able to appoint Ursula Burns, the former CEO of Xerox, and John Thain, the former CEO of CIT Group because of a deal he made last year when the Saudi government's sovereign wealth fund invested $3.5 billion in the company. It gave Kalanick control of three board seats, one he used for himself after being ousted as CEO. The other two he has not put in the hands of presumed allies. That one is a woman of color brings needed to diversity to the board but in a rather strange way. That the other is one of the murky figures of the 2008 financial crisis just adds to the intrigue and the oddity. That this privilege was an essentially irrelevant add-on to the Saudi deal just shows that unintended consequences have a way of cropping up at very inopportune times.

Uber itself described the appointments as a "complete surprise" but they couldn't really be shocked. Kalanick's control of those board seats is a major bone of contention in what might be described as Act II of this tragicomedy (Act I being his ouster). Early investor Benchmark, who made its mark betting on eBay, and stands to make 11 figures of profit from buying into Uber, is suing Kalanick over these very board seats. They feared he would pack the board and try to engineer his return as CEO.

But yesterday's move wasn't so much about a plan to reclaim the throne. It was instead about the board's efforts to control and defang Kalanick. A plan was set to be voted on, reports Recode, that would both limit the voting power of early shareholders and also take away Kalanick's power with respect to those board seats. He'd have to give on to Softbank, which bizarrely remains interested in acquiring a multibillion-dollar stake in Uber. The others Kalanick could still give to himself and a selection of his choosing: but only with approval of a board majority.

This nonsense where early investors exercise voting control disproportionate to their shares and where boards are "independent" overseers in name only is part of a greater trend in Silicon Valley during the last decade toward minimal corporate governance and maximum founder control. This trend is celebrated in the Valley, where the founder has become a sort of living demigod, who is ostensibly so capable and brilliant, checks are both unnecessary and only server to interfere with the company's race to greatness.

Facebook is structured in such a way that gives Mark Zuckerberg an extraordinary amount of control. But even that wasn't enough for the company, which recently tried -- and failed -- to allow Zuckerberg to maintain control even while shrinking his stake....MORE

Friday, September 29, 2017

Mining Supervolcanoes For Lithium

From Smithsonian Magazine, August 25:

Will Supervolcanoes Help Power Our Future?
Vast new deposits of lithium could change the global politics of battery production—if we can get at them
A geologist looks out into a caldera in Nevada's McDermitt Volcanic Field. (Tom Benson)
There’s no doubt that in coming years, we’re going to need a lot of lithium. The growing market of electric automobiles, plus new household energy storage and large-scale battery farms, and the current lack of any technology better for storage than lithium ion batteries, puts the future of energy storage in the hands of just a few places around the world where the alkali metal is extracted.

Earlier this decade, researchers from the University of Michigan projected the growth in demand for lithium up until the year 2100. It’s a lot—likely somewhere between 12 million and 20 million metric tons—but those same scientists, as well as others, at the USGS and elsewhere, have estimated that global deposits well exceed those numbers. The issue is not the presence of lithium on Earth, then, but being able to get at it. Most of what we use currently comes from just a few sources, mostly in Chile and Australia, which produce 75 percent of the lithium the world uses, and also by Argentina and China, according to USGS research from 2016.
Looking to solve this problem, Stanford geologists went in search of new sources of the metal. They knew it originates in volcanic rock, and so they went to the biggest volcanoes they could find: Supervolcanoes, which appear not as a mountain with a hole in it, but a big, wide, cauldron-shaped caldera where a large-scale eruption happened millions of years ago. There, they saw high concentrations of lithium contained in a type of volcanic clay called hectorite. Geologists already knew generally that lithium came from volcanic rocks, but the team from Stanford was able to measure it in unexpected locations and quantities opening up a wider range of potential sites.

“It turns out you don’t really need super high concentrations of lithium in the magma,” says Gail Mahood, a Stanford geology professor and author of the study, in Nature Communications, about the discovery. “Many of the volcanoes that erupted in the western U.S. would have enough lithium to produce an economic deposit, as long as the eruption is big enough … and as long as [it] created a situation where you could concentrate the lithium that was leached out of the rocks.”...

Swedish Pension Fund Thwarts Zuckerberg

From Chief Investment Officer:

AP7 calls Facebook abandoning C shares plan an ‘important success for minority owners.’
Swedish state pension fund Sjunde AP-Fonden (AP7) said it has successfully thwarted Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s attempt to create a new class of shares for the social media company.
Zuckerberg had hoped to create a new C class of Facebook shares to allow him to sell off a significant chunk of his shares to fund his philanthropy efforts, without losing control of the company.

AP7, along with Amalgamated Bank and other minority shareholders, sued Facebook over the move, claiming it would degrade the value of their holdings in the company. They estimated that their total loss would have been $10 billion if the plans were carried out. But Zuckerberg abandoned the plan just days before he would have been required to appear in court for the lawsuit.

“It is a total victory,” Richard Gröttheim, CEO of AP7, told Swedish financial newspaper Dagens Industri. “It is a total retreat. It is very gratifying, actually.”

Facebook is the third-largest holding in AP7’s Equity Fund with a market value of SEK3 billion ($370 million).

“For us, the decision to overwrite the new share class is a success for several reasons. To begin with, it had directly damaged AP7’s savers financially when the holding had lost value,” said AP7 in a statement. “In the long run, it had also seriously damaged the opportunity to safeguard the savers’ interests because Mark Zuckerberg had been able to retain a majority of the votes by a few percent of the shares. In other words, it is an important success for minority owners to protect their rights.”...MORE
Here's a Swedish victory dance:

USDA Grain In Storage Report

Corn and soybean futures are up across the board as the report was not as bearish as feared. Wheat down a nickle. Here's the 5-minute corn chart from FinViz:

From DTN/Progressive Farmer via KTIC radio, West Point Nebraska:

USDA Reports Flash Old-Crop Corn Stocks Swell to a 30-Year Record
WASHINGTON, D.C. (DTN) — Old-crop (2016-17) corn ending stocks have swelled to a 30-year record of 2.295 billion bushels, according to estimates published in USDA’s quarterly Grain Stocks report today. While up 32% from last year, that number actually came in below pre-report analyst expectations.

At 301 million bushels, old-crop soybean endings stocks also came in well below pre-report estimates. Only wheat ending stocks, pegged at 2.253 billion bushels, came in near analysts’ expectations.

These numbers are USDA’s estimates of grain supplies as of September 1, which marks the end of the marketing year for the 2016-17 crop.

USDA also released its Small Grains Summary today, with the latest estimates of the 2017 wheat crop, which was pegged at 1.741 billion bushels.

At 2.295 billion bushels as of Sept. 1, USDA believes old-crop corn stocks to be the country’s largest since the 1987-88 crop year, when they swelled to 4.259 billion bushels.

Nonetheless, the 2.295-bb-figure is actually a reduction from the USDA’s estimate in the Sept. 12 World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates Report, which pegged ending stocks at 2.35 billion bushels.

Of the total corn stocks, USDA estimated that 787 million are stored on farms, a 25% increase from last year. Off-farm stocks were pegged at 1.51 billion bushels, a 36% jump from last year.
USDA reported that the June-to-August “disappearance,” or usage, of grain stocks was 2.93 billion bushels, just down from 2.97 billion bushels during the same period last year.

USDA’s estimate of 301 million bushels of soybean stocks stored on Sept. 1 represents a 53% increase from last year. It is also a sizeable reduction from USDA’s Sept. 12 WASDE estimate of 345 million bushels in ending stocks....MORE
And wheat:

Watching For An Early Indicator of Potential Inflationary Pressures: Base Money > M1

Enough qualifiers in the headline? I could drop a maybe in there somewhere.
The fact this is speculative in no way diminishes its importance but we want you to know: at this point it is just informed opinion albeit well-informed opinion.

From Global Macro Monitor, July 25:

This Rhyme Is Different: Base Money > M1

“History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes.” –  Mark Twain (maybe)

We have been speaking a lot about how the liquidity in the market today is different than in the past.   The chart below reflects this better than anything we have seen.
The monetary base in the U.S. has exceeded M1,  the most narrow definiton of money,  since the financial crisis.   The monetary base consists of money in circulation and reserves held at the Fed (see definition below).

The M1 money multiplier is still less than one, which reflects that for every dollar created by the Fed – an increase in the monetary base – results in a less than one dollar increase in the money supply (M1).   Credit and deposit creation of commercial banks  is thus still impaired, though improving and its repairment may be one reason why the Fed is a bit nervous and in tightening mode.

Watch This Space
A rapid turnaround and improvement in the money multiplier, which may be also be reflected in improving bank net interest margins and growing balance sheets,  could act as an early indicator of potential inflationary pressures and a flag that the massive amount of high powered money in the financial system is being converted to credit based money.

The Fed is therefore walking a tightrope of an unstable equilibrium with inflation on one side and deflation on the other, especially if your main policy tool is to pay interest on a large portion of that high powered money.   This, as the markets become increasingly convinced the global economy is now in a “Goldilocks” scenario,  justifying extreme asset valuations and the record low volatility.
Note, the secular decline in the money multiplier, which reflects many factors,  including the almost irrelevance of M1,  foreign capital flows, financial innovation, technology and the rise of non-bank banks.   For example,  private direct lending is all the rage now with hedge funds and other non-bank banks.

Different Kind of Liquidity
The above  illustrates why we are in a period of mainly central bank based liquidity rather than credit based liquidity — which can evaporate almost over night with, say,  a financial or economic  shock — as it did in 2008.

Upshot?  It’s all up to the central banks, mainly the Fed and ECB, and when markets perceive it matters that they are removing money/liquidity from the system.  And there is a lot of it out there, folks.   Flooding the reservoirs with nowhere to go but to overflow into the asset and financial markets.

The stock of reserves in the financial system are what matter now (the Fed’s position), but flows will dominate when the market perceives they are approaching drought level conditions....MUCH MORE

"The New York Times is building out a new philanthropic arm in search of nonprofit funding for its journalism"

The NYT has Carlos Slim ($64.5B net worth) what more do they need?
From Nieman Lab, Sept. 1:
The New York Times will now also be competing for philanthropic funding for journalism.

On the heels of the Guardian’s Monday announcement that it would be setting up a U.S.-based philanthropic arm to raise money from individuals and organizations, the Times announced on Friday that Times veteran Janet Elder will helm a new division focused on securing nonprofit funding sources for its journalism, as well as potential local partners.

From the Times’s press release on the direction of new initiative:
Some easy possibilities come to mind. The New York Times Student Journalism Institute, for example, has nurtured a generation of minority journalists who have enriched our newsroom. Perhaps with additional support the program can help develop talent for the industry as a whole. We also believe that The Times can help with the growing crisis in local news coverage by partnering with other institutions around the country. But mainly, we think there are journalism projects we are eager to pursue that could be more ambitious and have greater impact with outside support.
As was the case when the Guardian formally announced, some questions immediately arose about the increased competition for nonprofit funding of journalism:...MORE
"Facebook’s about to launch its news subscriptions initiative. The New York Times is reportedly sitting out; The Washington Post is in"

"Can You Solve the Million-Dollar, Unsolvable Chess Problem?"

From Atlas Obscura:

The queen of all puzzles.
FACED WITH SEEMINGLY UNSOLVABLE PROBLEMS, historically, people get creative, whether a sword through the Gordian Knot or the threat of one through a disputed baby. But a seemingly “simple” chess problem will require a sharper solution—so sharp, in fact, that researchers at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland believe it could earn its master one of the $1 million Millennium Prizes, from the Clay Mathematics Institute.

The riddle is based on what is known as the Queens Puzzle, first devised in 1850. Eight queens must be placed on a standard chessboard so that no two pieces can take one another. According to a release from the university, “This means putting one queen each row, so that no two queens are in the same column, and no two queens in the same diagonal.” Solutions are not hard to imagine, but the problem becomes more complex when the chessboard grows—say 100 queens on a 100-by-100 chessboard.
New research from computer science professors Ian P. Gent, Christopher Jefferson, and Peter Nightingale refers to a still more challenging variant in which the board is even larger, but some queens have already been placed. In an interview with the Clay Mathematics Institute, Gent said this problem, technically known as the “n-Queens Completion Problem,” falls into a class of high-level math puzzles known as “NP-Complete.” Any algorithm that could solve it, Gent said, could therefore be used indirectly to solve others in the class—and be a contender for the Millennium Prize.

A program of this sort would be far more powerful than anything we currently have, said Gent. “If you could write a computer program that could solve the problem really fast, you could adapt it to solve many of the most important problems that affect us all daily.” This program, he said, would be able to decrypt even the toughest online security, something that would take current software thousands of years to unravel, by scrolling through and then discarding an almost infinite number of solutions until one works. Nightingale, his colleague, questioned whether this is even be possible. 

“What our research has shown is that—for all practical purposes—it can’t be done,” he said....MORE

"The State of AgriFood Tech Startups in Europe"

From AgFunder, September 28:
Editor’s Note: Thomas van den Boezem is program manager at StartLife, a Netherlands-based incubator for agrifood tech startups, cofounded by world-leading agriculture university Wageningen University & Research. StartLife has a portfolio of 200 startups and startup programs across Europe. Here van den Boezem and AgFunderNews editor Louisa Burwood-Taylor write about the developing ecosystem of agrifood tech startups in Europe.
AgFunder CEO Rob Leclerc will be sharing more about Europe’s agrifood tech startup scene and more in an exclusive data presentation to attendees of the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit in London next month.

Europe has always been a dominant force in the food and agriculture industry. The Netherlands, Germany, and France are all top exporters of agricultural products globally. 

Europe is home to world-leading knowledge institutes in food and agriculture, such as Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands, Rothamsted Research in the UK, as well as agrifood giants like Bayer and Nestlé.

Startup activity in food and agriculture innovation is also growing in Europe. In the last three years, investment activity has increased as many support resources for food and agtech startups have emerged, including accelerators, incubators like StartLife and government programs.
In the first half of 2017, investment in European agrifood tech startups represented 21% of global deals, up from 17% in the first half of 2014, when AgFunder records began. And agrifood tech startups in Europe raised $770 million during the period, the second highest ever level for dollar funding levels after the record-breaking first half of 2015 ($1.3bn).

The UK is the most active European country for agrifood tech investment, with 21 startups (out of 79) raising funding in H1. Next come France and Germany, where nine startups raised rounds in each country. Ireland and Italy both contributed eight deals during the period, with Holland contributing five and Sweden four. The remaining countries of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Latvia, Norway, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, and Switzerland contributed three deals or less.

Where does Europe stand out?

Novel ingredients
Europe is home to some large and innovative ingredients companies such as Givaudan, the Swiss company that covers the flavorings and fragrances market, and Döhler, a global provider of technology-based ingredients headquartered in Germany. Both these companies have an excellent track record of collaborating with food and agtech startups.

This strength has translated into startup activity as there are several European agrifood tech startups now operating in the novel ingredients space, for both human and animal food. 

NutriLeads, a StartLife portfolio company, develops proprietary nutritional ingredients with clinically proven health benefits. This year, it raised an undisclosed Series A round to further the development of its lead ingredient, which should support immune function to increase resistance against common infectious diseases.

Simris Alg is another promising ingredient startup, cultivating algae as a food ingredient for the B2B market, as well as developing consumer superfood and supplemental products. The company has raised over $11 million for the expansion of its algae farming operations in Sweden. Meanwhile, Seamore Food from the Netherlands has developed pasta and bacon alternatives from seaweed.

Europe is also home to a small number of insect farming groups aiming to provide protein replacement ingredients for animal feed, particularly fishmeal. Protix out of the Netherlands raised one of Europe’s largest funding rounds in H1, and the largest ever for an insect farming startup, with a $50 million Series B. Ynsect is farming mealworm to produce a fishmeal placement and raised $15.2 million in a Series B funding to scale up its robotics-enabled insect factory in France. Hexafly is another example of an insect farming startup targeting fishmeal, which raised just over $1 million after taking part in the IndieBio EU accelerator in Ireland where the startup is based.

Crop technology
Europe, and The Netherlands in particular, is a leading player in horticulture production. Earlier this month, National Geographic reported on some of Holland’s mind-boggling horticulture achievements. Its vast, high-tech, automated greenhouses have enabled hyper-efficient horticulture production, making the country the world’s second-largest agricultural exporter measured by value, while drastically lowering the amount of water and fertilizer needed....MUCH MORE

Rho, Rho, Rho Your European Boat (intertemporal intermarket macro)

From The Macro Tourist, September 27: 

This summer, did you happen to catch the story of the Reading man who was flattened by a bus? It was all caught on camera (click here to watch it). He got smacked, thrown for a loop, and then in true English fashion, dusted himself off, and headed to the pub for a pint. Well, often that’s how my trading feels these days.

But some positions don’t cause me quite as much stress, and I want to talk about one of those today.
Over the weekend, the Germans went to the polls, and Angela Merkel did not fare quite as well as the market had hoped. Although she still won, it’s not as clean as previous elections. Forming a coalition government will be more complicated, and most importantly, hopes for a move towards a more unified Europe now appear much more difficult.

This has had a predictable effect on the euro.
Suddenly, investors are once again worried about the rise of anti-Euro parties. Spain, Italy - all sorts of separation scenario situations are now on traders’ minds.

And yeah, I understand the concerns. I certainly wouldn’t want to be stuffed full of peripheral European debt. And I know the initial reaction might be to sell all European assets, yet I think that is the wrong response.

This might seem trite, but the scariest thing in today’s market is currency strength. No one wants it. No one can afford it. And at least on a short-term basis, it is probably the most difficult adjustment for the various global economies. Take the United States. Would raising the overnight Fed Funds rate by 50 basis points hurt the American economy? Probably not nearly as much as the accompanying rise in the US dollar. It’s the secondary affects that are the real concern. Countries’ ability to vary monetary policy has become neutered as FX has become the escape valve for differing policies.
Europe’s biggest problem over the past six months has been a strengthening Euro. As investors have recognized Europe’s relative economic strength, they have bought the currency, causing a rally, but most alarmingly, creating a self-defeating economic headwind that has dampened the reason for buying the Euro in the first place.
Going forward, Euro weakness is therefore more important than anything else. Seems absurd, but that’s the world we live in. So although many European stock market bulls might take pause at the recent developments in Germany, as long as it sends the Euro lower, that’s all that matters. You can moan and wail about it being stupid, but how much sense does buying the Yen on North Korean escalations make? None, but that’s what happens. You can fight it, but I would rather take advantage of it.

And I think some European angst that helps the Euro sell off will be welcome.

Now let’s just hope this isn’t a case of “be careful what you wish for, you might get it - good and hard.”

One of my favourite trades.
I haven’t spoken about it lately, but owning super-long-dated Eurostoxx calls is still one of my favourite positions. They definitely have a Hotel California air to them, but for a guy like me that trades too much, the illiquidity is sometimes a godsend. It forces me to hold them for the long haul.
I originally wrote about this trade a year ago, Pretty Sure I am alone in this Trade, and I don’t want to repeat the same argument, but I did want to take the time to highlight an interesting aspect of this trade.

Usually, most equity options are short dated enough that the rho (sensitivity to interest rates) is quite small. But much to my delight, the Europeans list options on the Eurostoxx Index (SX5E) as far out as December 2026! Yup - you read that right! 2026 - nine years from today....MUCH MORE

Thursday, September 28, 2017

More on Northvolt, ABB and the 'World's Greenest Battery'

Combining a couple threads, Wednesday's "Does An ESG Mandate Mean You Can't Invest In Electric Car Companies Using Cobalt Containing Batteries?" and yesterday's "ABB Teams up with Northvolt on Europe's Biggest Battery Plant".

From Wired:

Can This Tesla Alum Build the World’s Greenest Battery?
At Tesla, Peter Carlsson spent nearly five years at Elon Musk’s side, locating various parts of the Model S as the electric car company's global supply chain manager. "The overarching goal of Tesla is to help reduce carbon emissions, and that means low cost and high volume," Musk said back in 2006. "We will also serve as an example to the auto industry, proving that the technology really works and customers want to buy electric vehicles."

Now, as Tesla builds its Gigafactory in the Nevada desert, the company is recapitulating that mission, aiming to reduce not just the energy consumed by its cars, but the energy used to build its battery in the first place. Tesla says the factory will employ rooftop solar and wind turbines for energy, along with a closed loop water system. But Carlsson, who left Silicon Valley in 2015 for his native Sweden, wants to make his own progress toward the goal of green batteries.

In May, Carlsson and fellow former Tesla executive Paolo Cerruti announced plans to build their own $4.5 billion electric battery plant to power electric cars, trucks, ships and, of course, a few Swedish snowmobiles. “We will produce a battery with significantly lower carbon footprint than the current supply chains,” Carlsson said during a September visit to his office in downtown Stockholm. His startup firm Northvolt is raising $120 million for the first phase of the plant, which Carlsson says will produce 32 Gigawatt-hours when fully running in 2023.

How will they do it? Raw materials like graphite and nickel will be sourced from deposits in Sweden, while cobalt will come from a huge refiner in Finland. Renewable energy will flow from Sweden’s hydropower dams. Waste heat will be recycled to keep factory neighbors warm in the winter. Old batteries will get new life through recycling.

The Gigafactory will produce 50 GWhr of batteries when complete (although that might triple with two additional factory segments). Tesla expects to have a net zero energy factory without even a natural gas line. Excess energy from its rooftop solar panels will be stored in wall battery packs, and it will also have an onsite battery recycling facility.

Like Musk, Carlsson says Northvolt’s lithium-ion batteries will have a carbon footprint close to zero. That’s in keeping with Sweden’s goals of a zero-greenhouse-emissions economy by 2045. In addition to satisfying EU environmental rules, Northvolt hopes to appeal to green-minded drivers who are not only looking at the energy costs of driving an electric car, but also count the energy consumed to build the lithium ion battery....MUCH MORE
...But some experts say that the real environmental costs come earlier in the supply chain, when companies obtain lithium, cobalt, graphite, manganese, and nickel for their batteries. “They come in ores that need to be smelted,” says Jennifer B. Dunn, a chemical engineer at the Argonne National Laboratory who researches the environmental footprints of various manufacturing processes. “In addition to the carbon emissions, there can be a lot of sulfur oxide produced, and as Northvolt thinks about their supply chain, these are factors they are going to want to consider."...
It's not so much the Environmental in the ESG equation, if push comes to shove everyone in the chain will rationalize the E. It's the S that gets tricky and we'll have more on that next month.

Resistance Is Futile: Amazon says there are now 5,000 people working just on Alexa (AMZN; BORG)

From Quartz:

Amazon says there are now 5,000 people working just on Alexa
Amazon is going all in on the Echo, its popular smart-home device. Today (Sept. 27) in Seattle, the company unveiled a new version of the Echo, a small mottled-gray cylinder designed to blend into its surroundings, as well as a larger, shinier Echo Plus, and plenty of other stuff.

Perhaps the clearest sign that Amazon is investing big in the Echo and the virtual personal assistant that goes with it, Alexa, came from a comment made by David Limp, Amazon’s senior vice president of devices and services: More than 5,000 people now work just on Alexa.

Five thousand people is a relatively small slice of Amazon’s overall headcount, which hit 382,400 full- and part-time employees in the most recent quarter. Still, it’s a sharp increase from 15 months ago, when Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said there were about 1,000 people working on Alexa and the Echo. “It’s just the tip of the iceberg,” he said at the time.

The Alexa division has been hiring a lot. Last October, Recode reported there were over 400 openings on Amazon’s Alexa job page, from data engineers to machine-learning scientists....MORE

Today In Automation: Robots Packing Cocaine Bindles, 150,000 Per Day

From ZeroHedge:

Robots Have Ushered In An Era Of "Cocaine Deflation" On Wall Street
Brazilian Police have stumbled into a cocaine workshop with robots packing 150,000 cocaine baggies per day. The era of cocaine deflation is upon Wall Street, as drug lords in Brazil are betting on automation to ramp up production.
Source: StockBoardAsset
Perhaps this 'automation' is why Brazil's cocaine prices have suffered such a deflationary collapse...

"Facebook’s about to launch its news subscriptions initiative. The New York Times is reportedly sitting out; The Washington Post is in"

From Nieman Lab:
Facebook is trying to climb out of a maelstrom of bad PR.

It’s turning over several thousand Russia-linked political posts to Congressional investigators. The president is now unhappy with the platform: Facebook has “always been anti-Trump,” Donald Trump whined on Twitter on Wednesday. (Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a response that Facebook is doing it right, because both sides are angry at it, OK?!)

Amid all that, the social media giant is about to launch its new subscriptions initiative, after Zuckerberg himself confirmed last month that Facebook would start testing it with a “small group of U.S. and European publishers.” The program will allow readers to subscribe to these news organizations directly through Facebook — Facebook won’t be taking a cut — and is reportedly launching sometime this week, according to analyst Ken Doctor.

Who are these participating publishers? Many prominent news outlets have already pulled their work from Facebook’s much-touted Instant Articles. The New York Times, Financial Times, and Wall Street Journal owner News Corp are reportedly instead in talks with Facebook’s partner-in-duopoly Google to improve targeting of their subscription services. From Doctor’s reporting in The Street:
Among those not participating in this first phase of the program: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times, I’ve learned. All three continue to talk with Facebook, urging more flexibility in Facebook’s approach — while taking their wish list to Facebook’s now archenemy, Alphabet Inc.’s Google, asking that platform to use its artificial intelligence in better targeting and converting subscription prospects. Those three global publishing giants are among the digital subscription leaders, making their absence from the program high-profile.
The other notable test partners will reportedly be The Washington Post, The Economist, and news outlets from two U.S. newspaper chains, Tronc and Hearst....MORE

Sweet Scam: The University of California Pension Racket

From Pension Pulse:

University of California's Pension Scandal?
Jack Dolan of the Los Angeles Times reports, UC is handing out generous pensions, and students are paying the price with higher tuition:
As parents and students start writing checks for the first in-state tuition hike in seven years at the , they hope the extra money will buy a better education.

But a big chunk of that new money — perhaps tens of millions of dollars — will go to pay for the faculty’s increasingly generous retirements.

Last year, more than 5,400 UC retirees received pensions over $100,000. Someone without a pension would need savings between $2 million and $3 million to guarantee a similar income in retirement.

The number of UC retirees collecting six-figure pensions has increased 60% since 2012, a Times analysis of university data shows. Nearly three dozen received pensions in excess of $300,000 last year, four times as many as in 2012. Among those joining the top echelon was former UC President Mark Yudof, who worked at the university for only seven years — including one year on paid sabbatical and another in which he taught one class per semester.

The average UC pension for people who retired after 30 years is $88,000, the data show.

The soaring outlays, generous salaries and the UC’s failure to contribute to the pension fund for two decades have left the retirement system deep in the red. Last year, there was a $15-billion gap between the amount on hand and the amount it owes to current and future retirees, according to the university’s most recent annual valuation.

“I think this year’s higher tuition is just the beginning of bailouts by students and their parents,” said Lawrence McQuillan, author of California Dreaming: Lessons on How to Resolve America’s Public Pension Crisis. “The students had nothing to do with creating this, but they are going to be the piggy bank to solve the problem in the long term.”

At a UC Board of Regents meeting this month, university officials began discussing next year’s budget and broached the possibility of another tuition increase. Pensions and retiree healthcare topped their list of growing expenses, but it’s unclear whether regents would approve another hike.

Public pension funds are in crisis across the country, and particularly in California. The underlying cause is essentially the same everywhere. For decades, government agencies and public employees consistently failed to contribute enough money to their retirement funds, relying instead on overly optimistic estimates of how much investments would grow.... MORE

Read on, it gets worse.

Alibaba Thinks There's Money To Be Made In the Physical World: Announces $15 Billion Logistics Investment

Moving stuff around seems to still hold promise.
From Forbes:

Alibaba To Invest $15 Billion In Global Logistics And Takes A Controlling Stake In Cainia
China-based Alibaba has acquired a controlling stake in logistics company Cainiao. The e-retailer giant has further announced an intention to invest 100 billion yuan ($15 billion) in its global logistical capabilities over the next five years.

Cainiao currently executes 57 million deliveries a day. Alibaba had owned 47% of Cainiao, but has invested a further RMB5.3 billion (US$807 million) to increase its stake to 51%

“By enhancing the logistics capabilities within the Alibaba ecosystem and extending our investment in this sector,” said Daniel Zhang, chief executive of Alibaba Group, “we are further enabling our New Retail strategy to bring online and offline retail into one seamless experience for shoppers.”

Cainiao was founded four years ago as a collaborative venture to improve the delivery of online purchases across China. The backers were primarily financial institutions as well as other logistics companies but was always considered an extension of Alibaba’s own logistics capabilities....MORE

Let Me Be Clear: I Have No Inside Information On Who Will Win The Man-Booker Prize Next Month (hedge funds, AI and simultaneous discovery)

Over the years we've mentioned one of the oddest phenomena in science, the simultaneous discovery or invention of something or other, the discovery/invention of the calculus by Newton and Leibniz is one famous example (although both may actually have themselves been preceded) but there are dozens if not hundreds of cases. Here's a related phenomena.

On Saturday September 23,  6:28 AM PDT we posted "Cracking Open the Black Box of Deep Learning" with this introduction:
One of the spookiest features of black box artificial intelligence is that, when it is working correctly, the AI is making connections and casting probabilities that are difficult-to-impossible for human beings to intuit.
Try explaining that to your outside investors.

You start to sound, to their ears anyway, like a loony who is saying "Etaoin shrdlu, give me your money, gizzlefab, blythfornik, trust me."

See also the famous Gary Larson cartoons on how various animals hear and comprehend:...
Today Bloomberg View's Matt Levine commends to our attention a story about one of the world's biggest hedge funds and prize-putter-upper of what's probably the most prestigious honor in  literature, short of the Nobel, the Man Booker Award.

On Tuesday September 26, 2017, 11:00 PM CDT Bloomberg posted:
The Massive Hedge Fund Betting on AI

The second paragraph of the story:
...Man Group, which has about $96 billion under management, typically takes its most promising ideas from testing to trading real money within weeks. In the fast-moving world of modern finance, an edge today can be gone tomorrow. The catch here was that, even as the new software produced encouraging returns in simulations, the engineers couldn’t explain why the AI was executing the trades it was making. The creation was such a black box that even its creators didn’t fully understand how it worked. That gave Ellis pause. He’s not an engineer and wasn’t intimately involved in the technology’s creation, but he instinctively knew that one explanation—“I can’t tell you why …”—would never fly with big clients looking for answers when Man inevitably lost some of their money... 
Now that is just, to reuse the phrase, spooky. Do read both the Bloomberg Markets and the Bloomberg View pieces but I'll note right now it's only with Levine you get:
"I imagine a leather-clad dominatrix standing over the computer, ready to administer punishment as necessary."
The Man Booker Award winner will be announced  October 17th.
I have no foreknowledge of the decision.

And In Other Volcano News: More than 120,000 flee Bali’s Mt Agung volcano

There are actually three major volcanoes set to erupt in the Pacific but for now Bali and Vanuatu are more news/insurance-worthy.
From News Corp, Australia:
AS MOLTEN rock heats up and pushes through the volcanic crevice to find weak points to penetrate, there’s one problem for tourists.

DEEP inside the giant volcano that has Indonesian authorities, residents and tourists on edge, magma is rising. 

Molten rock, which has been accumulating for the last 50 years or more, is heating up and slowly dissolving the rock above, while the pressure is pushing through the volcanic crevice and finding weak points to penetrate.

Increased temperature in the groundwater is creating steam filled with gases like sulphur dioxide; it’s been steaming away quite strongly over the last week. Volcanic gases, which smell really bad and are quite dangerous, fill the air.

A plume hovers above off the top of the volcano about 500 metres above the crater’s rim.
It’s getting thicker, pulsating a little bit.

As it’s doing that, the mountain is shaking, there’s deep volcanic earthquakes. 10-15 kilometres below the surface the rocks are melting, interacting with water and ocean sediment, melting, trying to bubble their way up to their source.

Once they do, that’s when Mount Agung will erupt.
Mount Agung, about 75 kilometres from the tourist hub of Kuta, has been shaking since August.

But the issue for experts attempting to map out a possible eruption timeline in Bali is the fact that no one really knows when the giant, rumbling volcano will blow.

It could be in the next ten minutes for all we know. Or the next hour. It could be not at all.

For two weeks, all signs have pointed to an imminent eruption. Indonesian authorities are on standby to divert flights destined for the holiday island as increasingly frequent tremors from Mt Agung stoke fears an eruption could be imminent....MORE
Volcano insurance?
Why yes stranger.
The state of Washington wants everyone to know about "Volcano coverage for your home and auto"

The major property/casualty insurer State Farm has a page devoted to "How Volcano Damage is Covered on Your Insurance"
Here's a testimonial:

Peter: "No, no, no. I read about this in a book once."
Brian: "You sure it was a book? You sure it wasn't nothing?"

Salesman: "How about I let you in on something every home owner needs: VOLCANO INSURANCE!
Now, I have an uncle that knows a lot about volcanos, and he says a volcano is coming THIS WAY."

Peter: "But we've never had any trouble with volcanos."
Salesman: "Well don't you think we're due for one?"

Peter (thinking): Touche, salesman. I too have an uncle.
Peter: Come in.

Dubai starts testing crewless two-person flying taxis

From The Verge:

Dubai has a target for autonomous transport to account for a quarter of total trips by 2030
Dubai has test-flown an uncrewed two-seater drone designed to transport people autonomously. Called the Autonomous Air Taxi (AAT), the city claims the vehicle will be the world’s first “self-flying taxi service.” The AAT is environmentally friendly, powered by electricity, and the prototype version has a maximum flight time of 30 minutes, at a cruising speed of 50 km/h (31 mph), and a maximum airspeed of 100 km/h (62 mph).
The drone was uncrewed and hovered 200 meters high during the test flight, according to Reuters. The AAT, which is about two meters high, was supplied by specialist German manufacturer Volocopter, known for its eponymous helicopter drone hybrid with 18 rotors. The AAT is fitted with optional emergency parachutes and nine independent battery systems. Each battery takes two hours to fully charge, but that charging time will be “significantly reduced” in the final production version of the taxi, the Government of Dubai claims.

There are also plans to make AAT available to the public via a smartphone app that would allow users to book flights and track routes....MORE
July 2017
Flying taxis to transport passengers in Moscow in 2018 
Meanwhile, it appears the much heralded Dubai taxi service, which was due to begin service in July, has been delayed a bit... 

Sept. 2017
Here Comes Another Electric Flying Taxi Startup
October 2016
Uber to Challenge Airbus in the Autonomous Electric Flying Taxi Business
October 2016
The Effect Of Airbus' Cash Squeeze On Their Autonomous Flying Taxi Project Is Probably Nil
August 2016
"Airbus Reveals Ambitious Plan for Autonomous Flying Taxis"
Your move, Uber.... 

ABB Teams up with Northvolt on Europe's Biggest Battery Plant

From Reuters via
Swiss engineering group ABB has joined Northvolt's project to build Europe's largest lithium-ion battery factory in Sweden to cater for expected demand growth for electric cars.

Northvolt aims to reduce reliance on batteries from China and South Korea as European carmakers come under increasing pressure to cut vehicle emissions. Batteries are the biggest single cost of an electric car and VW has called for the creation of a European supplier to compete with dominant Asian players such as Panasonic, LG Chem and China's CATL.

The agreement between ABB and Northvolt covers a supply and technology partnership as well as collaboration on research and product development. ABB Technology Ventures (ATV) will support the initial phase of the project with a 10 million euro ($11.8 million) investment, it said.

Former Tesla executive Peter Carlsson's Northvolt wants the Swedish plant to rival the scale of the U.S. electric carmaker's Gigafactory in the Nevada desert, targeting annual cell production equivalent to 32 gigawatt-hours by 2023.

The factory is expected to start production in 2020. A demonstration line will be ready by 2019, ABB said in a statement.

Carlsson's vision comes against the backdrop of automakers such as BMW, Daimler, VW and Renault-Nissan all planning a rapid ramp-up in electric car production in the coming years....MORE

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

"Vanuatu volcano: Full evacuation of Ambae island ordered as Manaro threat increases"

From the ABC (Australia):

Fears of an imminent volcanic eruption have prompted the Vanuatu Government to order the full-scale evacuation of Ambae island.
Around 8,000 people have already left their homes and headed to evacuation centres in coastal areas.
Vanuatu's Prime Minister Charlot Salwai announced the compulsory evacuation of the entire island, with the aim to have it completed by Friday next week.

The alert level for the Ambae's Manaro volcano was raised to four last Saturday, the second highest level in Vanuatu's alert system, indicating a "moderate" eruption.

Mr Salwai said travel restrictions would be imposed but for now Air Vanuatu said flights to the island were continuing.

Australia had responded to a request for assistance and was helping fund supplies like food, water and shelter, Australia's High Commission in Vanuatu said....MORE
Sept. 24:
And On the Island of Ambae in Vanuatu Over 2/3 of the Population Evacuated Because Of Volcano Manaro Voui
Anyone else thinking it might be time to go with some human sacrifice stuff?
Maybe a politician or two to assuage the cyclone/earthquake/volcano gods?

Today In Hipster News: "Cops cuff 'dark web drug baron' – after he flew to US for World Beard Championships"

From The Register:

Hirsute French hipster 'found with $500,000 in BTC'
A French national and suspected online drug dealer has been collared by US government agents – after he flew to America for the World Beard and Mustache Championships.

Gal Vallerius, 38, was arrested on August 31 after he landed to attend the contest. US Drug Enforcement Administration officials searched his laptop and, it is claimed, uncovered some interesting evidence. The agent alleged they discovered around $500,000 – split 50/50 in Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash – on the computer plus Tor installed, and PGP crypto-keys for someone calling themselves OxyMonster.

OxyMonster is a term of interest for Uncle Sam's drug squad: the moniker is used by a major player in the Dream Market narcotics souk found on the dark web. The DEA has been investigating the bazaar, hidden within the anonymizing Tor network, for over a year and had identified OxyMonster as both an administrator and senior moderator on the site – and also a major seller of OxyContin and Ritalin.

According to court documents [PDF] filed in Florida earlier this month, for the past year and a half, agents in the Sunshine State have been buying small quantities of drugs from the Dream Market, including 100 tabs of LSD, 11 tablets of hydrocodone and 28 grams of crystal meth....MORE
Ha! Amateurs.
Compare/contrast the above with a traveling man and his attorney on their way to the National District Attorneys Association's Conference on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, April 25-29, 1971:
  • We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like "I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive..." And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming: "Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?"
  • The sporting editors had also given me $300 in cash, most of which was already spent on extremely dangerous drugs. The trunk of the car looked like a mobile police narcotics lab. We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls. Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get locked into a serious drug-collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can. 
  • The only thing that really worried me was the ether. There is nothing in the world more helpless and irresponsible and depraved than a man in the depths of an ether binge. And I knew we'd get into that rotten stuff pretty soon.
  • How long can we maintain? I wonder. How long before one of us starts raving and jabbering at this boy? What will he think then? This same lonely desert was the last known home of the Manson family. Will he make that grim connection...
  • No point mentioning those bats, I thought. The poor bastard will see them soon enough.
  • The car suddenly veered off the road and we came to a sliding halt in the gravel. I was hurled against the dashboard. My attorney was slumped over the wheel. “What’s wrong?” I yelled. “We can’t stop here. This is bat country!"
Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas