Kroger Becomes Latest Commercial Player in Autonomous Driving, With Nuro Partnership

Kroger’s efforts to play catch-up with Amazon in grocery delivery have taken it to the fringes of the “last mile” and a new partnership with an autonomous-driving startup that was hatched by guys who were involved in getting Google’s driverless-car operation off the ground. It’s the latest indication that the commercial logistics business is likely to have much more to do with shaping the early days of self-driven automotive transportation than the consumer side is.

The Cincinnati-based supermarket chain, largest in the United States, said that it will begin piloting an “on-road, fully autonomous delivery experience” with Nuro, maker of the world’s first unmanned road vehicle, in a city that the retailer hasn’t yet announced, beginning this fall.

The partnership will allow customers to place same-day delivery orders through Kroger’s ClickList digital ordering system and Nuro’s app. During the test, orders will be delivered by Nuro’s fleet of autonomous vehicles, with human safety drivers to start out. This will be the first application and deployment of Nuro’s hardware and software.

Domino’s is another non-automotive company that is doing heavy testing of self-driven vehicles for its delivery purposes, and there are and will be more.Among other things, initiatives like Kroger’s and Domino’s are likely to result in a proliferation of varying commercial automotive forms for the autonomous-vehicle era. Without the requirement to accommodate human operators, self-driven vehicles will shed many of the physical constraints that keep today’s human-driven vehicles pretty similar in shape, form and functions.

Nuro’s R1 driverless vehicles were unveiled in January and are thinner and shorter than normal vehicles. R1 “looks like a toaster on wheels, or an oversized, intelligent lunchbox covered in cameras, radar and laser sensors,” said TheVerge.com.

Kroger’s intention is to “change the status quo of grocery delivery through convenience at a low price” and “allow customers to get what they need, when they need it, wherever they are.”

“We have already started to redefine the grocery customer experience and expand the coverage area for our anything, anytime and anywhere offering,” stated Yael Cosset, Kroger’s chief digital officer. “Partnering with Nuro, a leading technology company, will create customer value by providing Americans access to fast and convenient delivery at a fair price.”

Nuro Co-Founder Dave Ferguson, one of the ex-Google guys, stated that “unmanned delivery will be a game-changer for local commerce. Our safe, reliable and affordable service, combined with Kroger’s ubiquitous brand, is a powerful first step in our mission to accelerate the benefits of robotics for everyday life.”

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New Zealand's Z Energy flags possible data breach in online card system

(Reuters) – Fuel supplier Z Energy Ltd on Wednesday said it had been presented with evidence that customer data from its Z Card Online database was accessed by a third party in November 2017.

The database held customer data such as names, addresses, registration numbers, vehicle types and credit limits with the company, Z Energy said in a statement.

The company said it had notified affected customers and advised the Privacy Commissioner of the breach. It said the system in question had been closed since December 2017.

Reporting by Ambar Warrick in Bengaluru

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The Common Drug That Makes Opioid Overdose Five Times As Likely

(Photo by: BSIP/UIG via Getty Images)

Opioid overdoses continue to increase, accounting for nearly two-thirds of all overdose deaths in the US, but a high percentage of those overdoses also include other drugs. A new study shows that the combination of opioids with one common class of drugs in particular is especially risky in the first 90 days of concurrent use. Those drugs are benzodiazepines (often called “benzos”), the class that includes alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium), and clonazepam (Klonopin), meds frequently prescribed to alleviate anxiety.

The study examined data from more than 71,000 Medicare Part D beneficiaries to find out how simultaneous use of opioids and benzos influence overdose risk over time. Patients were divided based on whether they had only taken opioids prior to overdose or had a supply of both opioids and a benzo drug. For those in the group with a supply of both, the researchers subdivided by the cumulative number of days they’d taken an opioid with a benzo.

The analysis showed that overdose risk was five times higher for patients taking both drugs during the first 90 days compared to those only taking an opioid. Risk was doubled for those taking both drugs during the next 90 days. After 180 days, risk of overdose was roughly the same as taking only opioids.

“Patients who must be prescribed both an opioid and a benzodiazepine should be closely monitored by health care professionals due to an increased risk for overdose, particularly in the early days of this medication regimen,” said lead study author Inmaculada Hernandez, Pharm.D., Ph.D., assistant professor at the Univeristy of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy, in a press statement.

The researchers adjusted the results to account for a range of demographic factors and clinical factors, including the number of clinicians that prescribed the drugs. The adjustment revealed that risk increased with the number of clinicians involved — the more clinicians prescribing drugs to any given patient, the greater the risk of overdose. The researchers think this result points to lack of communication between doctors treating the same patient.

“These findings demonstrate that fragmented care plays a role in the inappropriate use of opioids, and having multiple prescribers who are not in communication increases the risk for overdose,” said senior study author Yuting Zhang, Ph.D., of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.

The risk of combining opioids and benzos has been studied extensively, with alarms sounded by multiple public health groups and government agencies, including the US FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The FDA released an emphatic warning earlier this year, citing risk of respiratory depression when taking both drugs because both are potent central nervous system depressants.

Respiratory depression occurs when breathing becomes slow and erratic and the body can’t adequately remove carbon dioxide. In the case of overdose, breathing can completely stop, leading to respiratory arrest and potentially death.

More than 30% of overdoses involving opioids also involve benzos, according to the NIH National Institute of Drug Abuse (a third common drug, alcohol, another central nervous system depressant, often also plays a role in overdose deaths involving opioids and benzos).

A 2017 study found that among more than 315,000 privately insured patients, the number that were prescribed both an opioid and a benzo increased 80% from 2001 to 2013. Similar to the latest study, that study also found a significant increase in overdoses among patients taking both drugs.

The latest study was published in JAMA Network Open.

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A New Study Says These Are the States With the Most Psychopaths (You Might Want to Avoid One Part of the Country)

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

Do you find that, when you travel to certain parts of the country, you suffer from excessive discomfort.

Somehow, the people seem odd. Or rude. Or very, very loud. Or simply have a menacing look in their eyes.

Well, I’m here to help you with your future travels, so that you can avoid excessive disturbance.

A new study — not yet peer-reviewed — has listed the states with the most psychopaths and the ones that appear to bathe in greater depths of sanity.

Ryan Murphy from Southern Methodist University looked at previous research of personality states by state — analyzed according to the so-called Big Five characteristics.

These are neuroticism, agreeableness, extroversion, conscientiousness and openness to experience

He also looked at previous research of classifying psychopathy with respect to these five characteristics. From that he deduced which states enjoy the most troubling sorts.

You might decide, on perusing his conclusions, that they’re enlightening. Or disturbing. 

Or, indeed, both.

You see, the winning state is Connecticut. 

Perhaps it’s a state you don’t think about very often. Or perhaps you feel it’s the home of far too many hedge funds and that explains everything.

After all, psychopathy is often defined by such traits as a lack of inhibition, meanness and a certain sort of bold attitude. Viewers of Billions will surely understand.

However, Connecticut isn’t, on the whole, a state that enjoys all that much national attention.

On the other hand. 

California came second.

So many have strong opinions about this fascinating state — where I happen to live.

Can it be that, despite all the lovey-dovey (of self) nature and the sense of crusading freedom, California is full of, well, difficult sorts? 

Murphy’s overarching conclusion is touching: “Areas of the United States that are measured to be most psychopathic are those in the Northeast and other similarly populated regions. The least psychopathic are predominantly rural areas.”

I don’t know about all of that, sir. The literature of rural areas offers alternative evidence.

Although, having lived in New York for a couple of years, I certainly won’t battle all of Murphy’s thoughts.

It wasn’t just that Connecticut came first, but New Jersey came third and New York tied for fourth.

Murphy also offered a stunningly disturbing — and entirely unsurprising — parenthesis:

The District of Columbia is measured to be far more psychopathic than any individual state in the country, a fact that can be readily explained either by its very high population density or by the type of person who may be drawn to a literal seat of power.

And millions scream: “You don’t say!”

Murphy prefers to exclude D.C. from his league table simply because it has no geographical diversity. Which I don’t think is excuse enough.

My colleagues here at Inc have offered all sorts of tips on how you can spot a psychopath. 

Jessica Stillman, for example, has warned that those who discuss food, sex and money to excess might be difficult sorts. (They are.)

Jeff Haden teased out spotting a psychopath by the sort of boss they prefer.

He also showed how true psychopaths have a certain greed for reward about them. (Now who does that remind you of?)

Murphy’s research doesn’t entirely absolve the more rural areas. Wyoming tied for fourth with New York. Which surely offers the Wyoming Tourism Authority an excellent new avenue for marketing.

Wyoming. We’re as Mean as New York, but the Air’s Better.

You, though, have been holding out hope that you live in the least psychopathic state.

This, according to Murphy’s estimates, is West Virginia.

Which surely also offers this state’s tourism authority fodder for marketing.

Virginia is for Lovers. West Virginia’s For the Sane.

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How This Keynote Speakers Bureau Hit The Inc 5000 And Nearly Doubled Its Revenue In Just Four Years

Executive Speakers Bureau is one of the most successful speakers bureaus in the U.S. and one of the only speakers bureaus to ever hit the Inc. 5000. Founded by Angela Schelp in Memphis in 1993 (husband and partner Richard Schelp joined as president and co-owner in 2001), Executive Speakers Bureaus offers and books hundreds of keynote speakers nationally and internationally and continues to grow at a pace rarely approached in this competitive industry, nearly doubling its overall revenue and number of bookings in just the last four years, while maintaining a reputation for customer service and community involvement that is widely viewed as second to none.

Micah Solomon, Inc.com: You’ve spoken in passing about the importance of your vision of success.  Can you explain what this means specifically as it relates to commercial success?

Richard Schelp, President and Co-Owner, Executive Speakers Bureau: In order to succeed in a competitive marketplace, you need a true plan or strategy.  Our ability to anticipate some of the challenges we have had to face in the industry and our understanding of how to address those challenges has kept us ahead of our competitors and driven our success in revenue and profitability.

Solomon: I’ve heard you and Angela speak about the power of your company’s culture and the pride you take in your employees.  Can you speak a bit about this? 

Schelp: From the beginning the culture of Executive Speakers Bureau has been built around respect for each other, a true sense of team, and the fact that both what we do within our business and in our community affects many people’s lives.  Very few work environments can promise its employees this kind of value.  

Our employees are some of the best you will see in any industry, and certainly in ours.  It is not just a job to them.  They are proud of where they work, and they truly feel responsible for the success of Executive Speakers Bureau.  This is the reason why they want to stay.  They want to see this thing through to the end.  

Solomon: What in your and Angela’s prior background led you to be able to take this approach and succeed with the culture of your company and your relationship to your employees?

Schelp: Both Angela and I have a wealth of corporate experience (IBM, AT&T, and other big firms) in which we have both managed and worked for a number of people.  When you have seen a lot of examples of great and terrible management, you start to get a feel for what works and what doesn’t.  All of the previous managers that I respected established environments in which I felt comfortable going to them, and they were the primary reason for me enjoying my job

 Solomon: Your bureau has grown quite quickly. How is life different now that you are an agency of significant size and pull?

Schelp: Life at Executive Speakers Bureau is definitely a little bit different now that we are much bigger.  With that does come a level of responsibility and respect.  Because of our increased size, we now have a larger role within our industry association.  As a matter of fact, I will become the president of the association next Spring. 

Also, in the early years of our bureau we used to base our decisions about processes, documents, fee recommendations, etc. on what the larger bureaus were doing.  Now we don’t check with others.  We make our decisions based on what we know and what we think makes the most sense.  Surprisingly many bureaus are following our lead, and they are calling us to ask how we do things. 

Solomon: Many of my readers are entrepreneurs and business leaders themselves. It’s very helpful and enjoyable (!) for them to hear about mistakes you’ve made or tricky situations you’ve endured in the past, what went sideways and how you either dealt with it or learned from it.

Schelp: A few years ago I faced an extremely tricky situation that taught me so many lessons as a business owner in our industry. A high-profile sports figure was supposed to speak for me at a large convention in New York.  He decided to fly in on his private plane the morning of the event.  However, there was a terrible electrical storm that morning, and his plane was grounded, leaving me without a speaker.  I received the call at 6:30AM and the speaker’s presentation was at 10:30AM.  I had four hours to find a replacement for a great speaker and get him to the event on time.  Immediately I went to work by calling all of the speakers and agents who were high quality and could get there-and, ultimately, I was fortunate enough to find a speaker who my client absolutely loved.

The lessons from this incident were numerous, but most importantly I realized just how crucial it is to have access to many resources, so that an emergency situation becomes doable, otherwise it is impossible.  Also, I learned that as long as you are determined and efficient any task can be accomplished.

 

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Could Google Image Search Help Fight Fake News On Social Media?

Shutterstock

Last month an image purporting to show children in cages as a result of current immigration policies went viral on social media, accelerated by a number of high profile journalists, activists and former government officials who shared it widely – their visibility and stature leading many to trust the image at face value without the level of suspicion and verification that users might apply to other viral images. The image was real, but taken out of context and spread virally before users began to realize it actually dated from a 2014 news article. Yet, when I first saw the image I simply right-clicked on it and ran a reverse Google Images search that immediately turned up the original 2014 source. Could social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook automate such image searches to help combat fake news at scale?

Social media today is an ocean of false and misleading information spread for nefarious purposes, but far more often by well-meaning individuals who share first and ask questions later. The ease and rapidness with which a 2014 news image went viral, made famous by the very individuals ordinarily tasked with helping to combat false information stands testament to just how easy it is for false information to spread in today’s speed-over-accuracy information ecosystem. In contrast to unverifiable citizen imagery that lacks provenance, professional news photography is particularly easy to verify, yet such ease of verification did little to slow the spread of this image.

The problem is that social media norms encourage sharing over understanding, creating an informational ecosystem in which users act more as transmission nodes, receiving and passing onwards information, than as true consumers that digest and reason about the information they receive. According to one study, 59% of links shared on social media were never actually viewed, while an increasing body of research emphasizes that in our click-happy world of social media, our social capital is dependent on being the quickest to share new information with our connections, with little incentive to take the time to actually read and digest that information to vet it first.

The mobile interfaces that dominate social media consumption today worsen this effect, entrenching the walled garden in which we consume social content and making it difficult to perform extensive research to verify a post. After all, juggling multiple browser tabs and wading through multiple websites to verify the provenance and context of an image seen on social media takes time even on a desktop, but is especially hard in the resource and screen-constrained environment of mobile devices.

On a desktop using the Google Chrome browser it is relatively trivial to right click on a questionable image, click “Search Google for image” and instantly see all of the places on the web that Google’s search engine has seen that image before. Google’s commercial Cloud Vision API goes a step further and can even OCR the image to recognize all text seen in it in 55 languages, making it possible even to fact check visual memes that contain textual quotes or statements. Even more usefully, the Cloud Vision API scans all previous appearances of the image on the web for the captions associated with the image in each case across all of the languages it supports, assigning it topical labels that summarize the most common descriptions of the image online.

Imagine if the major social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook adopted a similar reverse images search and OCR for all images shared on their platform. Every single image shared on their platforms would be compared against a database of unique images and for each new image seen for the first time, the system would perform an open web image comparison to find all previous appearances of that image online. The date the image was first seen on the web and a links to a few high-profile appearances of it would be displayed prominently under each instance of the image being shared online.

In the case of the immigration image, the photograph was shared with a link to the article it came from, which was clearly dated 2014, but when shared on Twitter and Facebook, the presentation display formats used by those platforms do not clearly and prominently emphasize the publication date of a link, meaning that all most users saw was the photograph and a citation to azcentral.com. Displaying the publication date of shared links more prominently might have slowed the spread of the image if users could immediately see that the article dated to 2014.

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The Race To $1 Trillion, But What About $2 Trillion?

Which company is going to reach the notorious $1 trillion market cap first? Apple (AAPL) will but Amazon (AMZN) will whiz by to be the first to $2 billion. Let’s take a look at the numbers…

By the Numbers

Company

Share Price

Market Cap

% Increase to $1 Trillion

Apple

$192.64

$941 billion

5.6%

Amazon

$1,711

$822 billion

20.65%

Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL)

$1,151.78

$788 billion

26.06%

Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT)

$101.65

$781 billion

28.04%

Company

Share Price at $1 Billion

Apple

$203.42

Amazon

$2,063.18

Alphabet

$1,451.79

Microsoft

$129.47

Only the top 4 companies by market cap were included because Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) was fifth and the market cap was around $555 billion at $192 per share. So it basically needs to double before Apple has to go up 5.6%. Possible but not plausible.

So you can see by the numbers Apple looks to be the winner. Especially since the company only trades for 18x earnings, pretty much in line with the S&P 500 (SPX). Even intuitively, Apple reaching $203 before Amazon reaching $2,063 just seems way more possible.

If the question was posed, which company will reach $2 trillion first, a lot of people would have bet on Amazon. Granted, Apple was undervalued a couple of years ago, especially when it bottomed around $90/share and Buffett, or more appropriately Combs and Weschler, backed up the truck. But Amazon’s rate of innovation and the growth of AWS led me to believe Amazon would win the foot race.

Also, Apple has bought back stock aggressively, spending over $275 billion over the past 6 or so years on buybacks and dividends. So it only makes sense that Apple is here, about to cross the finish line first.

The Race To $2 Trillion

But what about $2 Trillion? Which company is going to reach that historic landmark first? Honestly, it would not be extremely surprising if a company not even public right now managed to reach $2 trillion first, but from this vantage point, the easy answer is Amazon. The other three companies here don’t stand a chance. And for one reason: fear of failure. Amazon is not afraid to fail and that has given them a huge sustainable advantage in the form of the culture.

In other words, the company’s mindset is completely different from Apple or Microsoft. The people aren’t smarter, everyone at these companies is a genius. It’s about how those geniuses function in the context of the business. In this department, Amazon will win every time. It has proven itself time and time again. Reading a quarterly press release from Amazon is pure silliness; the highlights section goes on and on and on. There seems to be so much innovation, even the press release can’t handle it.

How Amazon Will Get There

There won’t be a comprehensive model of Amazon’s revenue, split into the three operating segments: AWS, North America and International because well, Amazon is so unpredictable. Instead, just retail and AWS will be considered. This is mostly because the quarterly numbers for the past four years and the financials do not lend themselves to pattern recognition. The only real trends are that cash flow has been strong and revenue has accelerated in the past year, due in part to the Whole Foods acquisition, which is absolutely incredible at this scale.

A slight acceleration might give the company around $240 billion in net sales at the end of this year. Nearly a quarter trillion! About 10% of that will most likely be AWS revenue, which accounts for more than 100% of operating income. Yes, you read that right, more than 100%.

It would be surprised if the company reaches $2 trillion before 2021 honestly. However, in just three years, there will probably be so many innovations investors never even saw coming.

But just some quick, back-of-the-napkin math perhaps.

Year

Total Sales at 25% Growth

AWS Sales at 40% Growth

Retail Value (2x sales)

AWS Value (40x EBIT at 30% opm)

2018

$235 billion

$24 billion

2019

$294 billion

$34 billion

2020

$367 billion

$47 billion

2021

$459 billion

$66 billion

$902 billion

$800 billion

2022

$574 billion

$92 billion

$964 billion

$1,104 billion

This is very rough math but it just goes to show that even for Amazon, it will not be easy to reach $2 trillion. Let’s break down some of the math.

  • The retail value was derived from taking the net sales and subtracting AWS sales (574-92) = 482 and giving it a 2x sales multiple = 964 billion.

To break down the growth in the retail segment, Amazon’s revenue has actually been accelerating in the last couple of years. In 2015, sales grew by 20%, in 2016, growth was 27% and this past year’s numbers shot to 30%.

The pay-offs for years of innovation are just rolling in. In the past quarter, revenue re-accelerated to 43%. An impressive feat for a company of Amazon’s scale. Over the next three or so years, 25% as a revenue growth estimate might be a little aggressive but you cannot deny the technological advancements. For example, apparently almost 30 million Alexas have been sold. Some reports peg this voice-enabled technology market at $55 billion.

And the company is, of course, attacking many other industries. According to some reports, Prime Video has over 26 million watchers and in 2017, Amazon sent nearly $5 billion on original content. And some reports estimate the online streaming industry to reach $82 billion by 2023.

Even more, the Whole Foods acquisition has certainly accelerated the grocery delivery business, a market expected to reach $100 billion by 2025. But the Amazon juggernaut will be a serious player in logistics in the far but not too distant future. Last year, the company unveiled a $1.5 billion hub for its cargo planes. For just its planes! As it funds more the purchasing of more assets through current business operations, it continues to cement its competitive advantage.

For instance, buying more trucks for delivery gives Amazon more control over delivery times, meaning more customers will sign up for Prime, meaning it can fund more trucks. It’s really a beautiful cycle, one that JD.com (NASDAQ:JD) has taken very seriously. The size of this global market is immense. Some estimates have it in the trillions, which Amazon could take a small bite of.

It is much different than an asset-light model but it gives the company a huge structural advantage, enabling a better customer experience. This is all to say that the company’s retail segment can grow and grow and grow. It doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.

And if Amazon reached $574 billion in revenues, the company would still have less than 10% of just North America’s retail market. Plus, with forays into the pharmaceutical industry, Amazon just keeps expanding its markets. Now we have covered grocery delivery, video streaming, logistics, voice-enabled devices, and now drugs. For instance, McKesson (MCK), does over $200 billion in sales for distributing drugs every year. It is possible for Amazon to get a small piece of that.

So all in all, the company has a lot of optionality in terms of the industries it can attack and has decided to attack. The crazy part is that this doesn’t even include international expansion.

To add it all up by the year 2022 (author’s estimates based on reports):

– Voice-enabled tech: $55 billion

– Online streaming: $75 billion

– Grocery delivery: $80 billion

– Logistics: realistically $5 trillion

– Pharmaceutical distribution: $200 billion

– Retail: $5 trillion

Total TAM: $10.4 trillion

Of course, Amazon’s respective market shares of each of these markets varies widely. In logistics and pharmaceuticals, it is practically nothing right now. But it has more than two-thirds of the market in voice-enabled technology. The retail category will naturally move more towards Amazon. Estimates have the e-commerce market at $5 trillion in 2022, up from $2.8 trillion this year. It is likely that the company will capture a sizable piece of that growth.

If the incremental growth in only e-commerce is $2.3 trillion, it is likely that Amazon can add over $300 billion in revenues in the next four years, adding in all the other industries it is involved in as well. Capturing just 10% of that incremental $2.3 billion, leaves the company with revenues of $230 billion. It is likely that Amazon can capture an additional $70 billion from the combination of industries discussed above.

  • The AWS value came from a 30% operating margin on the 2021 number ~20 billion with a 40x EBIT multiple = 800 billion.

One could go on and on about AWS, but it really is a powerhouse. On the last earnings call, Bezos noted that he and his team got a seven-year head-start. In something that moves as quickly as computing, seven years is a huge gap to make up. Only now is Microsoft catching up a little bit with Azure. Even Buffett had to comment.

The fact is that AWS is a gorilla and it will continue to be. By 2022, the cloud computing market is pegged at $210 billion. Currently, the company commands 47% market share so the estimate of $92 billion in four years is not far-fetched at all. In fact, it actually factors in a bit of market share deterioration to 44%.

So all in all, we get over $2 trillion for a market cap, more than a double from today’s levels, or about 26% annual returns after 4 years. That seems like a tall order but then again, it’s Amazon.

Guessing – Why Not?

To guess, Amazon will surpass the $2 trillion mark in the third quarter of 2022. There you have it. Will that be wrong? Almost guaranteed, but based on some quick numbers and knowledge of Amazon’s intensity and innovation, that estimate is plausible.

Apple will reach $203 per share pretty soon. But Amazon will likely be the first company to reach $2 trillion, a crazy number to believe, more than 10% of the US’s current GDP.

Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

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Are Flags Just a Piece of Cloth, or Are They a Powerful Symbol of Something Greater?

This week is Flag Day, June 14. To Americans, the US Flag is an evocative image. It’s a symbol of our freedom, and of what others have sacrificed to ensure it. It can also be a symbol of protest. The US Supreme Court famously confirmed the right to burn the flag as an act of free speech, and nearly no one has missed the recent debate over standing versus kneeling during the national anthem at sporting events.

Non-national flags are powerful symbols, too. They represent ideals, movements, and aspirations. Even national flags can come to represent controversial issues, as the recent kneeling controversy in football reminded everyone.

No one can deny that flags are powerful symbols. Here are quotes that reflect on the power of flags to rouse passions, one way or another:

1. “The stars and stripes were fluttering bright against the rain, clear blue overhead, and their minds were saying the words before their ears heard them.” ― Laura Ingalls Wilder

2. “I see Americans of every party, every background, every faith who believe that we are stronger together: black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American; young, old; gay, straight; men, women, folks with disabilities, all pledging allegiance under the same proud flag to this big, bold country that we love.” ― President Barack Obama

3. “I believe our flag is more than just cloth and ink. It is a universally recognized symbol that stands for liberty, and freedom. It is the history of our nation, and it’s marked by the blood of those who died defending it.” ― Senator John Thune

4. “A true flag is not something you can really design. A true flag is torn from the soul of the people. A flag is something that everyone owns, and that’s why they work. The Rainbow Flag is like other flags in that sense: it belongs to the people.” ― Gilbert Baker

5. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” ― Colin Kaepernick

6. “Every red stripe in that flag represents the black man’s blood that has been shed.” ― Fannie Lou Hamer

7. “I long to be in the Field again, doing my part to keep the old flag up, with all its stars.” ― Joshua Chamberlain

8. “I prefer a man who will burn the flag and then wrap himself in the Constitution to a man who will burn the Constitution and then wrap himself in the flag.” ― Craig Washington

9. “The American flag represents all of us and all the values we hold sacred.” ― Adrian Cronauer

10. “Standing as I do, with my hand upon this staff, and under the folds of the American flag, I ask you to stand by me so long as I stand by it.” ― President Abraham Lincoln

11. “I don’t judge others. I say if you feel good with what you’re doing, let your freak flag fly.” ― Sarah Jessica Parker

12. “There is a strong tendency in the United States to rally round the flag and their troops, no matter how mistaken the war.” ― George McGovern

13. “America has been the country of my fond election from the age of thirteen, when I first saw it. I had the honour to hoist with my own hands the flag of freedom, the first time it was displayed, on the Delaware; and I have attended it with veneration ever since on the ocean.” ― John Paul Jones

14. “I just bought a Jeep painted like an American flag. No one better question how patriotic I am.” ― Blake Anderson

15. “When I see the Confederate flag, I see the attempt to raise an empire in slavery. It really, really is that simple. I don’t understand how anybody with any sort of education on the Civil War can see anything else.” ― Ta-Nehisi Coates

16. “I’m proud of the U.S.A. We’ve done some amazing things. To wear our flag in the Olympics is an honor.” ― Shaun White

17. “Burning the flag is a form of expression. Speech doesn’t just mean written words or oral words. It could be semaphore. And burning a flag is a symbol that expresses an idea – I hate the government, the government is unjust, whatever.” ― Antonin Scalia

18. “I can understand if you think that I’m disrespecting the flag by kneeling, but it is because of my utmost respect for the flag and the promise it represents that I have chosen to demonstrate in this way.” ― Megan Rapinoe

19. “If a jerk burns the flag, America is not threatened, democracy is not under siege, freedom is not at risk.” ― Gary Ackerman

20. “I savored my time on top of the podium by watching the American flag rise up out of the crowd as the anthem played, thinking about how every single second of training I’ve done was for this minute and how many people played a role in my achievement.” ― Hannah Kearney

21. “In most countries, you have a monarch or some other principal person to whom its officers and its military swear their allegiance. Our officials in this country and our military swear allegiance to the Constitution. We say that when we say the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag”. ― Edwin Meese

22. “For any athlete growing up, the Olympics is the one thing you watch with your family, and it’s the one thing you dream about. Seeing your country’s flag go up as you get a gold medal is the best thing you can achieve.” ― Abby Wambach

23. “I can take the steel guitars and fiddles off, we can make it a little more pop, cover ideas that are a little less cowboy. But you got to look at yourself in the mirror and ask, whose flag you are under? For Garth Brooks, I’m steel, fiddles, red, white and blue.” ― Garth Brooks

24. “If anyone, then, asks me the meaning of our flag, I say to him – it means just what Concord and Lexington meant; what Bunker Hill meant; which was, in short, the rising up of a valiant young people against an old tyranny to establish the most momentous doctrine that the world had ever known – the right of men to their own selves and to their liberties.” ― Henry Ward Beecher

25. “Our flag means all that our fathers meant in the Revolutionary War. It means all that the Declaration of Independence meant. It means justice. It means liberty. It means happiness…. Every color means liberty. Every thread means liberty. Every star and stripe means liberty.” ― Henry Ward Beecher

26. “There is not a thread in it but scorns self-indulgence, weakness and rapacity.” ― Charles Evans Hughes

27. “We identify the flag with almost everything we hold dear on earth, peace, security, liberty, our family, our friends, our home… But when we look at our flag and behold it emblazoned with all our rights we must remember that it is equally a symbol of our duties. Every glory that we associate with it is the result of duty done.” ― Calvin Coolidge

28. “‘Shoot, if you must, this old gray head, But spare your country’s flag,’” she said. ― John Greenleaf Whittier

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Vietnam lawmakers approve cyber law, tighten rules on Google, Facebook

HANOI (Reuters) – Vietnamese lawmakers approved a controversial cybersecurity law on Tuesday, voting amid tight security following weekend protests over other legislation that turned violent in some parts of the communist country.

FILE PHOTO: A 3D-printed Facebook like button is seen in front of the Facebook logo, in this illustration taken October 25, 2017. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

The law, approved by 91 percent of attending lawmakers, would require Facebook (FB.O), Google (GOOGL.O) and other global technology firms to store locally “important” personal data on users in Vietnam and open offices in the country. The companies have pushed back against the provisions.

The vote took place two days after thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in several cities and provinces to denounce a plan to create new economic zones for foreign investment that has fueled anti-Chinese sentiment in the country.

Security was tight ahead of Tuesday’s vote, with police manning barricades outside the National Assembly in the capital Hanoi.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Google is pictured during the Viva Tech start-up and technology summit in Paris, France, May 25, 2018. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

Some protesters on Sunday had derided the cybersecurity bill, which experts and activists say could cause economic harm and stifle online dissent.

The United States and Canada had urged Vietnam to delay the vote and review the cyber law to ensure it aligned with international standards amid worries it may present serious obstacles to Vietnam’s cybersecurity and digital innovation future.

Canada said some of the localization requirements might increase costs, uncertainty and risks for Canadian businesses and inhibit their global operations.

The Vietnam Digital Communication Association (VCDA) said the requirements could reduce Vietnam’s gross domestic product by 1.7 percent and wipe off 3.1 percent of foreign investment. Trade and foreign investment are key to Vietnam’s economy.

It also raised fears about tougher restrictions on online dissent by requiring social media companies in Vietnam to remove offending content from their platforms within one day of receiving a request from the authorities.

Human Rights Watch said last week the bill targets free expression and access to information, while Amnesty International said the law would allow Vietnamese authorities to force tech firms to hand over data to censor users’ posts.

Vo Trong Viet, head of the defense and security committee which drafted the law, said the requirement to store data inside Vietnam was feasible, crucial to fighting cyber crime and in line with international rules.

“Placing data center in Vietnam increases costs for businesses but is a necessary requirement to meet the cybersecurity need of the country,” he told lawmakers.

Reporting by Mai Nguyen; Editing by Martin Petty and Darren Schuettler

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Don't Let The General Electric Noise Distract You From The Bigger Picture

Calling a spade a spade, all the suggestions that General Electric (GE), could, and probably should, cut its dividend aren’t off base. The company’s a train wreck right now. On a mathematical/GAAP basis, it can’t justifiably afford to maintain its current payout, which is only half of what it was a year ago.

Equally obvious is activist investor Nelson Peltz’s recent suggestion that GE is seriously considering a significant breakup. Nobody really doubted that’s at least one of the things new CEO John Flannery had in mind when in January he said all options were on the table. (Observers weren’t thrilled with the idea then, but have warmed to it now, but that’s a different story.)

And, if we’re being honest, nobody was truly shocked when Flannery said last month that the company’s energy division wasn’t on the road to recovery yet; most investors know there’s no quick fix to what really ails General Electric.

So why all the wild swings to news that really isn’t news? Because the market doesn’t “get” GE right here, and right now. It’s little more than an instrument of speculation, which is anything but normal for the iconic blue chip.

The good news is, the unusual situation the company – the stock – is in actually sets up an opportunity for long-term investors that can look past the headlines d’jour.

Perspective

It’s maddening how overused the Benjamin Graham axiom “In the short run, the market is a voting machine but in the long run it is a weighing machine” is used, so it’s with great trepidation I invoke it now.

On the other hand, if the shoe fits and the cliché applies… well, you get it. GE shares remain mired in hysteria, and that’s preventing long-term-minded investors from seeing what’s plausibly in store one year from now, let alone three years from now. In the end though, where GE is likely to be three years from now is in better shape than the market’s giving it current credit for.

Analysts think so anyway. Take a look.

Source: Thomson Reuters/image made by author

But cash flow? Yeah, that’s a hang-up, though not as much as one might fear. A closer look at General Electric’s books clarifies that on an operational basis, GE is cash flow positive. It’s just not cash flow positive enough right now to service its pension and debt obligations and also make meaningful, much-needed investments in growth that will supply more cash flow in the foreseeable future.

Maybe that’s in the cards sooner than we’re being led to believe though.

Yes, the power division is a liability. There’s at least a path to profitability in the arena though. Flannery explained during the first quarter call:

“First, we continue to have leading technology, deep domain, digital solutions and broad and deep customer relationships. We continue to be viewed as a go to provider in our industry and we are fighting for every opportunity in the market.

On the cost side, in an industry that clearly has excess capacity, we are aggressively moving to right size our footprint and base cost. We took out $800 million of structural cost in 2017 and an additional $350 million in the first quarter. We are on track to exceed our $1 billion target for 2018 and headcount and sites are coming down….

…We are driving out cost and addressing the quality issues we had last year. The team has introduced a new sales force compensation program specifically aimed at driving transactional services and margins. We have a new leadership team in our supply chain and they are reinvigorating the use of lean and Six Sigma to drive better execution. The H cycle time is down 20%. Ultimately our goal is to cut this another 50% or more…

… we are also exiting non-core assets as we simplify the business.”

OK, it’s not sexy, but it was never going to be. It’s a multi-year project, and a long-term project that becomes increasingly viable each day crude oil prices linger above $60 per barrel. Corporations aren’t fully opening their wallets until they know capital expenditures on GE’s power wares make sense.

In the meantime, aviation and healthcare are still performing well, and growing. The IATA forecasts that air traffic demand will double over the course of the coming 20 years, and the need for healthcare equipment is never going away even if that market is ever-changing. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services reckoned that healthcare spending would grow 5.5% per year through 2026, largely driven by the 10,000 baby boomers that are retiring every day.

Meanwhile, the decision to shed its locomotive business is a big step towards the streamlining of the company that will ultimately unlock the value Flannery and Peltz (among others) have been talking about for a while.

Baby steps.

Green Shoots from GE Stock

To that end, some bulls are occasionally peeking their heads out in the meantime, planting seeds for a few green shots from the stock.

This is where things get interesting, and tricky. All of the technical recovery efforts made thus far have been up-ended. Even the best technical rebound we’ve seen in months – the one from last month – was largely wiped away. Take a closer, second look at the chart though. The tumbles are hurting less and less, and the rallies are making more and more progress.

Source: TradeStation

It’s still a fits-and-starts process, but the tide is turning.

It’s also turning more than you might guess with that second glance. The rising Chaikin line (bottom) says there’s a good amount of volume behind the recovery effort. Those bulls aren’t terribly vocal, but they’re putting their money where their mouth isn’t.

It’s largely a matter of greater confidence that will get – and keep – the stock back on track.

That confidence will be built on someone else being willing to stick their neck out, by the way. Moreover, that confidence will be built on the heels of certainty that the company is indeed going to unlock value by selling pieces of itself. Again though, that’s a multi-year process. The market is slowly starting to digest this reality, which old-school GE shareholders never had to chew on in the past.

Patience

It’s still more of a trade than an investment, to be clear. But, it’s one of those trades that could slowly morph into an investment… that rarest kind of stock picks.

Fanning those would-be-bullish flames even more than getting better income out of the company’s revenue-bearing assets will be, as was noted, more apparent progress on the breakup front. As Stifel analyst Robert McCarthy recently put it, GE is only rated a hold “absent a more material, dynamic breakup.”

That stance puts Peltz’s comments from late last week back in the spotlight, reminding investors that Flannery wasn’t just blowing smoke a few months ago when he alluded to the same. It’s coming, even if investors can’t fully see it yet, and even if they can’t fully appreciate the fullness of the prospect. Melius Research estimated late last month, when General Electric shares were priced at $13.28, that such a price “likely undervalues the assets by 25 percent or more” were the company broken into marketable pieces. With a current price of still less than $14, the bulk of Melius’ upside is in front of the stock.

It’s also possible that even Melius’ outlook underestimates how well GE’s aviation and healthcare arms could perform.

As for a target, Melius effectively says a post-breakup value would make GE stock worth around $16.60, at least. The chart wrestled with the $17.35, as support, and resistance, late last year and early this year. The figure is still within Melius’ “or more” range.

The toughest part of such a trade? Sticking with it even when the headlines are terrifying. They’re taking smaller and smaller bites out of the stock, as investors understand the situation better and better. It’s a process though, and GE shares aren’t fully out of perception-purgatory just yet. They’re getting closer though, and may be worth the risk of getting into before it fully happens.

The risk profile plunges dramatically if-and-when GE shares hurdle the converged 20-day and 50-day moving average lines at $14.39.

If you’re looking for stock picks that are less speculative and better-founded investments, take a test drive to The Well-Rounded Investor service. You’ll get top-down sector analysis and bottom-up market analysis that identifies the market’s best bets… names you may have never found on your own.

Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, but may initiate a long position in GE over the next 72 hours.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

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