Mar 4, 2019

Axios Markets

By Dion Rabouin
Dion Rabouin

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Situational awareness:

  • Tesla will unveil its Model Y SUV on March 14, CEO Elon Musk said. The SUV will cost 10% more than the Model 3 sedan, with "slightly less range" for the same battery. (Axios)
  • Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou is suing Canada over her arrest at Vancouver airport last year at the request of the U.S. (CBC)
1 big thing: Investors don't care about the trade war

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

As news about a possible truce between the U.S. and China in the trade war flowed last week the U.S. market was remarkably unshaken.

That's because investors aren't concerned about President Trump taking a hard line on a deal with China — one that would involve major reforms to their economy and the way the Asian nation does business.

  • Investors have determined that Trump is either a great deal maker or a studio gangster. His tough talk about major changes in the end become incremental tweaks.

The big picture: A deal in which 3 major trade issues — expanded market access, reduction of the trade deficit, reform of IP theft — are addressed with credible enforcement procedures in place is "the ideal situation," writes former macro hedge fund manager Tom Essaye in his Sevens Report market analysis, "and it's also the least likely (say 20%)."

Between the lines: Betting that Trump will not to follow-through on the extreme rhetoric of his campaign pledges has worked out well for fund managers over the past two years.

What they said: "Our view was that (Trump’s) economic threats were not credible," Federico Garcia Zamora, who manages the Dreyfus Emerging Markets Debt Local Currency Fund, told me in September 2017. Acting accordingly, he increased his holdings of peso-denominated Mexican bonds and his fund outperformed 90% of its peers.

  • "It was what he had to say to get elected, given his space and the people he was talking to. But it made no economic sense."

That didn't change much last year.

"Our basic view is that it's really just a lot of noise," Brendan Murphy, head of global and multi-sector fixed income for Standish Mellon, a BNY Mellon subsidiary, told me in April 2018.

But, but, but: Not every Trump-is-a-studio-gangster trade worked out well. Investors bought into emerging markets in late 2017 and early 2018 and lost big as both EM debt and equity were crushed.

  • However, most analysts believe that was due more to the Fed's rate hikes and expectations for global quantitative tightening to take effect in 2019 than the trade war.
  • And that trade is quickly reversing.

What's really happening: The U.S. market has been driven by Fed Chair Jerome Powell. Stocks swooned to near a bear market after Powell said the U.S. central bank was poised to keep hiking rates and draining liquidity by paring its $4 trillion balance sheet. It has marched higher since his U-turn in late December and January.

U.S. Treasury yields initially spiked after Trump's election but have come back to earth as inflation expectations were "pretty much diminished because we didn't get a much stronger economy," Joseph Trevisani, senior analyst at FXStreet, said in April.

2. Canada and Trudeau in trouble
Expand chart
Data: Factset; Chart: Axios Visuals

The Canadian dollar, which had been one of the best-performing G10 currencies in the world this year, fell significantly on Friday. A slide in oil prices and reduced expectations for a rate hike from the Bank of Canada also hurt the loonie, which is edging towards its lowest level of the year against the U.S. dollar.

Driving the news: Canada's economy grew at its slowest past in 2.5 years in the last quarter of 2018 and some economists say first quarter GDP growth this year will be even weaker.

  • "While a slowdown was widely expected in the final months of the year due to falling oil prices, it's a much bleaker picture than anyone anticipated," Bloomberg notes.

Why it matters: That's bad news for the global economy and especially bad news for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The big picture: A downward revision in the Q4 2018 numbers and a negative print on the Q1 2019 numbers would put Canada in a recession. That could mean 2 of the world's 10 largest economies in a recession, with Canada joining Italy, which fell into recession at the end of 2018.

For Trudeau, the news couldn't come at a worse time.

  • Canada's former attorney general and justice minister testified on Wednesday that Trudeau pressured her to drop corruption charges against an engineering company from Trudeau's hometown.
  • Andrew Scheer, the Canadian Conservative leader who hopes to unseat Trudeau in the Oct. 23 election, sent a letter to authorities requesting an investigation into the allegations.
  • New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh, who just won election over a member of Trudeau's party in British Columbia, also is demanding a public inquiry.
  • Trudeau's Liberals have recently lost their lead in the polls, claiming 33.9% of the vote, below the Conservatives' 35.8%, Time reports.
3. Closing the gender phone gap — a $700 billion idea

Cell phone ownership growth in recent years has been driven by emerging, or developing, countries, where companies have connected 700 million new subscribers since 2014. That according to a new study from cell phone industry group GSMA.

But cell phone operators could add an additional $140 billion in new revenue by closing the female phone ownership gap.

  • Further, the countries could add $700 billion over the next 5 years to their collective GDP by getting women connected, the study finds.

By the numbers:

  • In emerging countries, 15% of adults still do not own a mobile phone and 45% do not use mobile internet. These individuals are also predominantly female.
  • Currently, 1.7 billion women own a cell phone in emerging countries and more than 1 billion use mobile internet. Still, their rate of adoption lags behind men's.
  • 48% of women in these countries now use mobile internet.
  • However, women in low- and middle-income countries are 10% less likely than men to own a mobile phone, which translates into 197 million fewer women than men owning one.
  • 313 million fewer women than men use mobile internet, representing a gender gap of 23%.
  • As mobile subscriber growth slows, the gender gap in mobile ownership is not closing.

What they're saying: "The key to any of this however, is removing current barriers — including affordability and literacy rates — to mobile ownership among women," GSMA writes in the study. "Given enduring cultural realities in some of these countries, women are less likely to earn money and receive high level education compared to men."

4. How Lyft's average revenue per user stacks up
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Data: The companies; Chart: Chris Canipe/Axios

Lyft finally filed to go public on Friday, providing the first official look at its business and financials. Lyft's average revenue per user (ARPU) in the fourth quarter of 2018 is higher than Facebook's and GrubHub's, Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva reports.

  • The comparisons don't perfectly align, but they provide one way of looking at Lyft in a broader industry context.

Lyft vs. GrubHub: Lyft is currently bringing in more than twice as much revenue on average per customer, but it’s also losing tons of money overall.

  • On a per transaction basis, Lyft takes a minor portion of each ride (most goes to the driver) and still spends heavily on promotions like discounts.
  • Meanwhile, GrubHub only has to pay drivers to deliver a portion of orders that come through its apps. For orders that are delivered by the restaurants themselves or picked up by customers, GrubHub simply collects a fee from the restaurant for the connection.

Lyft vs. Facebook: Yes, these companies have very different business models.

  • Still, it’s notable that a U.S. or Canadian user is worth nearly the same amount to Facebook as what Lyft is able to generate from a customer (after paying drivers).

Yes, but: Both Facebook and GrubHub are profitable, unlike Lyft, which is far from it right now.

Methodology: For Facebook and Lyft, Axios used the ARPU numbers for the U.S. and Canada disclosed by the companies in SEC filings. For GrubHub, which operates only in the U.S. and has a very small presence in the U.K., Axios calculated the figures by dividing each quarter's revenue by the company's "active diners," as published in its quarterly financial releases.

5. The FAAN(M)G video game subscription wars are on

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

As investors await Lyft's IPO and the looming arrival of the LUPA stocks, Google, Microsoft, Apple and Amazon are each reportedly working on their own versions of a "Netflix for games."

  • The tech giants are entering a heated battle to own the subscription business for video games, Axios' Sara Fischer reports.

Yes, but: It's easier said than done. Netflix rose to the top in part because it was able to exploit a gap in the market years ago around content licensing. An exact parallel to that doesn't exist in the gaming industry.

The big picture: Subscription bundles for games have been around for a long time, but some of the new streaming services will aim to move not only the software but the processing for the game into the cloud.

  • That would represent a big shift in the gaming industry, eliminating not just the need for players to buy individual copies of games but also, in some cases, their need for the expensive specialized hardware required to play them.

Be smart: The problem is that the economics right now don't incentivize game publishers to license their content to tech companies.

How it works: One key difference between video games and entertainment programming is that with gaming, there isn't as big a market for catalog content — material that people want to consume over and over even when it's old (think "Friends" or "Seinfeld").

  • This means that tech companies need to come up with lots of cash to convince game makers, like Electronic Arts or Activision, to license them their newer stuff.
  • But game makers have little incentive, even with a lot of cash being thrown at them, to give up a cut of their sales revenue to tech distributors when they can still sell directly to consumers for now.

What's next: A likely outcome of the streaming wars will be that tech companies begin by licensing and selling individual games a la carte instead, says Michael Pachter, a research analyst at Wedbush Securities.

  • "Could Amazon be successful? They would have to do it the way Apple did it," Pachter adds. "A la carte sales first (iTunes), and a subscription option later (Apple Music)."
Dion Rabouin