Jun 18, 2019

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

🍦 Breaking scoop, via Axios' Sara Fischer: Former Snapchat exec Imran Khan launches an Amazon for luxury goods.

😎 Good Tuesday morning! Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,399 words ... ~ 5 minutes.

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1 big thing: Apple needs a next act
Apple CEO Tim Cook previews new Apple Watch apps on June 3. Photo: Jeff Chiu/AP

Apple generates ridiculous cash flow, but the nearly $900 billion megacompany's growth is built on its ability to reinvent entire product categories — which it hasn't done lately, Axios Markets editor Dion Rabouin writes.

  • Why it matters: Doubters don't see evidence that Apple still has the innovative juice to dominate the global consumer marketplace.

What's happening: The iPhone is Apple’s most important product and generates the bulk of its revenue.

  • But the iPhone is losing market share, and Apple services like streaming music, streaming video and home speakers show no signs of generating similar cash flow.
  • Apple has struggled to keep up the magnitude of innovations: Apple Watch, AirPods and other "wearables" are buzzy, but account for a fraction of the company's earnings.
  • Richard Mathes, president of asset manager Mathes Company, who dumped all his Apple holdings earlier this year, tells Axios: "They’re going to be a slower growth company going forward."

Investors have taken notice. Following the company's first quarter earnings report — which beat expectations, but revealed the steepest decline ever in iPhone sales — Apple has been by far the most shorted company in the world, according to data provided to Axios from data firm S3 Partners.

  • In April, short interest levels were almost double that of the No. 2 most shorted company, Tesla.
  • Overall, analysts have remained enthusiastic about Apple stock, with "buy" ratings edging out "holds."

Yes, but: This could all turn around — because we really don't know what Apple is cooking. The iPhone itself was a second act for Apple, which nearly died in the late '90s.

  • Apple has suggested it has things in the works on the health/wellness front, leveraging the Apple Watch and its privacy reputation.
  • Companies like Microsoft and IBM have found ways to age gracefully, finding new revenue streams and delivering shareholder value.
  • Apple declined to comment.

Our thought bubble, from Scott Rosenberg, Axios managing editor for technology:

  • The iPhone was such a monster product that Apple is unlikely to repeat the success. For investors, that may be argument enough to see the company as overvalued. But in Silicon Valley, there's still plenty of respect for Apple's potential to keep innovating.
2. Tim Cook roasts Big Tech
Photo: Liu Guanguan/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images

Apple CEO Tim Cook used a Stanford commencement address on Sunday to go after the "chaos factory" built by other unnamed Silicon Valley companies:

Social media, shareable video, snaps and stories that connect half the people on Earth. They all trace their roots to Stanford’s backyard.
But lately, it seems, this industry is becoming better known for a less noble innovation: the belief that you can claim credit without accepting responsibility.
If we accept as normal and unavoidable that everything in our lives can be aggregated, sold, or even leaked in the event of a hack, then we lose so much more than data. We lose the freedom to be human.

Why it matters, from Axios chief tech correspondent Ina Fried: As the national conversation on tech shifts gears from admiration to regulation, Apple hopes to carve out a safe harbor by positioning itself as a privacy champion.

  • Subscribe to Ina Fried's daily tech newsletter, Login.
3. New this morning: Facebook unveils cryptocurrency

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

After nearly a year of speculation, Facebook today unveils its plans to create a cryptocurrency, which will be called Libra and debut in 2020, Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva writes from S.F.

  • Why it matters: With more than two billion users, Facebook is arguably better positioned to roll out a global digital currency than any other company, government, or organization.

Details: Facebook has spent the past year working in-house on the plans and tech for Libra, but the cryptocurrency will be managed by a separate, Swiss-based foundation initially backed by Facebook and 27 other organizations.

  • Founding members include Uber and Lyft; Visa, Mastercard and Paypal; Andreessen Horowitz and Union Square Ventures; and nonprofits and academic institutions like Kiva and Women’s World Banking.
  • Libra may also provide a new channel for acquiring customers. "If you’re Spotify [a founding member], you’re thinking ... there are a lot of people in markets you want to serve that don’t have an ability to pay you digitally," Kevin Weil, product chief of Facebook's cryptocurrency division, told Axios.

Calibra will initially be available inside Facebook’s Messenger app, WhatsApp, and as standalone iOS and Android apps.

  • Because Libra’s technology is open source, it’s possible new digital wallets could eclipse Facebook’s in popularity someday, Weil told Axios.
  • The company "will make no money off this for a long time," he added.

Be smart: This is not Bitcoin. Unlike the pioneering cryptocurrency and many of the other digital-token experiments, the goal here is not to supplant the traditional financial system but rather to extend it to serve people without access to conventional banking or stable currency.

Early look for Calibra app screen (Courtesy Facebook)
4. Trump vows mass migrant arrests

On the eve of tonight's Orlando kickoff of his re-election campaign, President Trump last night tweeted that U.S. immigration agents are planning to make mass arrests starting "next week," the WashPost reports.

  • Translation: That is "an apparent reference to a plan in preparation for months that aims to round up thousands of migrant parents and children in a blitz operation across major U.S. cities."

Be smart: "Large-scale ICE enforcement operations are typically kept secret to avoid tipping off targets."

5. More troops heighten U.S.-Iran tensions
This image, taken from a U.S. Navy helicopter, shows what the Pentagon says are members of Tehran's Revolutionary Guard removing an unexploded limpet mine from a Japanese-owned oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman. Photo via AP

"Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan announced ... the deployment of about 1,000 more troops to the Middle East for what he said were defensive purposes, citing concerns about a threat from Iran." (Reuters)

  • Why it matters, from AP's Matt Lee: "The U.S. and Iran are taking actions that move them a step closer to what could become an open conflict."
6. How the sun might destroy us
A solar flare shooting into space. GIF: NASA

Some are calling for legislation and regulation to make the U.S. more resilient to threats from solar weather, Axios space correspondent Miriam Kramer writes.

  • Although rare, an extreme coronal mass ejection (CME) — a large burst of solar plasma sent out after a solar flare — could cause a months-long blackout, knock out communications satellites and cause billions in damage.

It happened before: Perhaps the most extreme example of a damaging solar storm occurred in 1859 when a CME hit the Earth, lighting telegraph lines on fire and creating auroras that could be seen almost everywhere on Earth.

7. 📚 What we're reading: Navigating a career in the modern economy
St. Martin's Press

Out today, from one of our faves ... "How to Win in a Winner-Take-All World: The Definitive Guide to Adapting and Succeeding in High-Performance Careers," by N.Y. Times senior economics correspondent Neil Irwin.

Neil writes in a Times excerpt about findings by Dawn Klinghoffer, a former actuary, and Ryan Fuller, a former management consultant:

One of their findings was that people who worked extremely long work weeks were not necessarily more effective than those who put in a more normal 40 to 50 hours. In particular, when managers put in lots of evening and weekend hours, their employees started matching the behavior and became less engaged in their jobs, according to surveys.
Another finding was that one of the strongest predictors of success for middle managers was that they held frequent one-on-one meetings with the people who reported directly to them.
Third: People who made lots of contacts across departments tended to have longer, better careers within the company. There was even an element of contagion, in that managers with broad networks passed their habits on to their employees.

Read an excerpt.

8. The more popular Trump
Anna Connelly and Jeanna Gullett were among the Trump supporters camping out in Orlando a day ahead of tonight's rally. Photo: John Raoux/AP

New polling by Firehouse Strategies and 0ptimus finds that in three critical states, Ivanka Trump has a higher net favorability among likely general election voters than her father does:

  • Pennsylvania: Ivanka +3, POTUS -3
  • Michigan: Ivanka +1, POTUS -5
  • Wisconsin: Ivanka -4, POTUS -7

Why it matters: Ivanka, a presidential adviser who'll be in Charlotte today to co-chair the second American Workforce Policy Advisory Board meeting, can be a surrogate in tough states.

9. First look

The SGNL, "the first political album," launches today as "a new media product designed to get [progressive] young Americans engaged in the 2020 election."

10. 1 pup thing
Photo: Alex Sanz/AP

Behind those puppy-dog eyes:

  • New research suggests that over thousands of years of dog domestication, people preferred pups that could pull off that appealing, sad look, AP reports.
  • And that encouraged the development of the facial muscle that creates it.
Mike Allen

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