Dec 16, 2018

The future of conglomerates is in the cloud

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

United Technologies is breaking up. General Electric is a shadow of its former self. The great conglomerates of the past, names like ITT and Gulf + Western and Hanson Trust, are dim memories at best.

The bottom line: Maybe the big cloud providers — Amazon, Microsoft, IBM, Oracle — are in some way the new conglomerates. They don't own the companies they power, but they deliver impressive and valuable synergies all the same.

The big picture: One of the few conglomerates still alive is Berkshire Hathaway. And it won't long survive the death of its founder, Warren Buffett, who's 88 years old. The other claimants for conglomerate status are the private-equity shops, but they, much like Berkshire Hathaway, are ultimately built on financial engineering rather than genuine economies of scale.

What they're saying: Edward Hadas reckons that conglomerates are far from dead. "Without the ability to bring disparate businesses and skills together, costs in most firms would be higher, revenues lower and many new and improved products would never have been created," he writes for Reuters. "Diversified enterprises, by one name or another, will play a big role in the business world for a long time."

  • Hadas doesn't mention the cloud; he should. The reason to build a conglomerate is to centralize certain skills and apply those skills across multiple business lines. You can do that the laborious way, via acquisition and regular senior-management retreats, or you can just move a large part of your business into a cloud that provides state-of-the-art services on demand.

Go deeper: The end of industrial conglomerates

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This year's census may be the toughest count yet

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Community leaders are concerned that historically hard-to-count residents will be even harder to count in this year's census, thanks to technological hurdles and increased distrust in government.

Why it matters: The census — which will count more than 330 million people this year — determines how $1.5 trillion in federal funding gets allocated across state and local governments. Inaccurate counts mean that communities don't get their fair share of those dollars.

Live updates: Coronavirus spreads to Latin America

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens.

Brazil confirmed the first novel coronavirus case in Latin America Wednesday — a 61-year-old that tested positive after returning from a visit to northern Italy, the epicenter of Europe's outbreak.

The big picture: COVID-19 has killed more than 2,700 people and infected over 81,000 others. By Wednesday morning, South Korea had the most cases outside China, with 1,261 infections. Europe's biggest outbreak is in Italy, where 374 cases have been confirmed.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 1 hour ago - Health

Scoop: Census Bureau is paying Chinese state media to reach Americans

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The 2020 Census Paid Media Campaign, which sends U.S. taxpayer dollars to community media outlets to run ads about the upcoming census, is including a Chinese state-run broadcaster as one of its media vendors.

Why it matters: After China's yearslong campaign to co-opt independent Chinese-language media in the U.S., Washington is now paying Beijing-linked media outlets in order to reach Chinese Americans.

Go deeperArrow2 hours ago - World