Archive for the ‘Corporations’ Category

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In their new book entitled iDisrupted by John Straw and Michael Baxter, the two co-authors claim that only 19 of the world’s 100 largest companies in 2012 will still be in that list in 2042. However, it says that even this bold claim may be understating how things will pan out.

Throughout history, new technologies have had a disruptive effect on businesses and the economy, proving fatal to some well-known companies. In the new book, iDisrupted, the authors claim that the rate of fatality is set to increase.

Of the top 100 global companies identified in 1912, 29 companies had experienced bankruptcy or similar; and 48 had disappeared by 1995. Eastman Kodak was one of just 19 companies that stayed in the list during these years, yet at the start of the 21st century, with the onset of digital cameras, home printing and photo sharing websites, it too fell victim to the rise of new technologies.

In iDisrupted, co-authors John Straw and Michael Baxter claim that many of the industries we currently see as strong, such as oil, car manufacturers, banks and energy companies, could also be heading for the corporate graveyard within the next few decades.  They say that only 19 of the world’s 100 largest companies in 2012 will be in that list in 2042. However, even this may be an understatement.

Straw states: “The big corporate success story of the 20 century related to oil companies, but  just because they flourished in the 20th century, this does not necessarily mean they will flourish in the 21st century.” The rise in electric cars, self-driving cars and advances in solar power and energy storage, will all play a part in the energy industry as we currently understand it

Baxter, aka The Money Spy adds: “In our book, we try to explain why it is that technology is set to change the world like it has never been changed before. This is exciting, but it is also scary. There will be winners and losers, and some of the world’s largest companies will be amongst the losers.”

iDisrupted is a book about disruptive technology, how it will affect business, jobs, the economy and even what it is to be human.

iDisrupted –  Disruptive technology: changing the human race forever – will be available in all good bookshops and online from November 2014 or visit www.idisrupted.com for more details.

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The deal between Vodafone and Verizon announced earlier this month is, in fact, the third largest corporate deal in history. In comparison the deal between Microsoft and Nokia is small beer, but it is still a massive arrangement by any normal yardstick. Interest rates are low, but they may not be low for much longer. Is now, and pretty much right now, the time for a new M&A boom?

Let’s look at some of the reasons why the two mega deals of this month have happened. Okay, there is good strategic fit. Verizon and Vodafone both see new opportunities, particularly thanks to 4G in their domestic markets. In the case of Microsoft and Nokia the rationale for the arrangement is pretty obvious and has been discussed to death elsewhere.

But consider two other factors less commonly discussed. In the case of Vodafone and Verizon the factor is low interest rates. Fears that rates may rise soon, was possibly the main rationale for the timing of their deal – indeed Verizon referred to this very point. In the case of Microsoft, the software giant is one of the companies with a massive cash pile. There are many of them. Corporate cash piles have been a particularly notable phenomenon of recent years. Market bulls have been predicting the release of this cash mountain for some time. In the case of Microsoft, its partial release has been triggered by desperation – fear of Google, Samsung, and Apple, even Amazon. Other companies may start spending because they see signs of an economic pick-up. The reason may not matter. It was surely inconceivable that companies were going to sit on all that cash for much longer, but a trigger was required to release it.

Look further down the corporate league and other evidence of new M&A activity emerges. David Lloyd Leisure has been bought by private equity firm TDR Capital – and its new owners have plans for expansion.

The ‘Telegraph’ recently quoted Greg Lemkau, who is the co-head of M&A at Goldman Sachs, as saying: “Within two or three years from now, people will be looking back on this time as a golden opportunity.”

But the overriding point is this. The economy both here and in the US seems to be improving, and pretty significantly too. M&A is always popular during an economic upturn. But because interest rates are set to rise, the ideal timing for such activity is now.

Not everyone in the corporate world has cottoned on to the recovery; they were likewise slow to spot the seriousness of the crisis five years ago, but as the recovery gatherers momentum, the penny will drop, and then we will see a rush for leveraged deals before rates rise much further.

What are the implications? AS M&A activities rise, so too will equities. The FTSE 100, the S&P 500 and the Dow will all pass new highs – probably.

Is it all a good thing in the long run? Well that will be the subject of another article.

© Investment & Business News 2013

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Wearable technology: they say it is the next big thing. What are you going to wear today? Oh I think I will don my T-shirt that helps my breathing, my pants that make me more virile, and my new shoes that count how many miles I have walked in a day. What about you? Oh I am planning to wear my new suit. Samsung has made its first big move, and it seems as revolutionary as a new TV for the 21st Century that can show colour images. If this is the latest example of technology that is set to change the world, and turn some of the world’s biggest companies into something much bigger, then I have this new concept you will love; it is called sliced bread. Yet for Apple – the company that for a very short while was the biggest firm in the world last year – we can draw a quite different conclusion. Samsung’s half-hearted step into the world of smart watches shows that once again a spectacular opportunity awaits its US rival.

Did you ever read Douglas Adams? You may recall that some of the regular jokes in his ‘Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy’ series were those that described humans as so primitive that they still thought digital watches were a smart idea. For a while, back in the late 1970s and early 1980s digital watches seemed like a step towards a future envisaged by Isaac Asimov and Aldus Huxley. As an aside, if you took an exam in the early 1980s – and yours truly took many – and you shared the examination hall with engineering students, then every hour, on the hour, beeps rang out across the room. That was in the days when engineering was on its way out, and James Dyson’s dream of creating an engineering-led revolution seemed as likely as the idea that one day our digital watches might be replaced by telephones.

The new Samsung watch was released yesterday. It looked as elegant as a brick tied to a wrist, as useful as a spare appendix. It can make phones calls if you lift your arm up, it can take pictures, check emails and receive texts, but it can only do these things if you have your Samsung smart phone with you.

In other words it can do some of the things a smart phone, can do, though presumably not as well, but only if you have your smart phone to hand. This begs the question, of course: why not get your smart phone out of your pocket? Are the timesaving benefits of being able to look at your wrist over taking a phone out of your pocket so significant that it is worth spending all that extra money on a smart watch?

But that does not mean smart watches are not a good idea. They need to be better. For one thing they need to be standalone. Sure, they should be connected to the Internet or indeed the Internet of things, but if it needs a control box on your person to make the smart watch work, it does rather defeat the purpose. For another thing, if you are going to wear one of these things, they need to look smart not merely be smart.

They say first move advantage is crucial. Well, not if the first mover move is like this. The only thing likely to be moved as a result is profits turning to losses. This is why design is so crucial. And this is why getting the user interface and the functionality right is so vital.

Samsung’s launch yesterday does not show that it has caught up with Apple. It does not show that the company is more than a follower. What it does show is that no one can yet do it like Apple has done it before.

Maybe the next Samsung watch will be a big improvement. Maybe the Apple watch will be as exciting as wearing a damp squib on your wrist; there is no way of saying for sure. But there is no reason, no reason at all, to think Apple has been knocked off its perch as the greatest innovator in consumer electronics. There are plenty of reasons to think, however, that Apple’s growth has merely hit a temporary lull.

© Investment & Business News 2013

 

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It is the largest corporate deal in history. Vodafone is selling its 45 per cent stake in Verizon Wireless to the Verizon parent company for $130 billion. Management at Verizon says the deal will prove transformational for the US company, but on the whole most comments across the internet suggest markets are worried about the level of debt that Verizon will be taking on. As for Vodafone, shareholders are delighted. Even UK plc should get a nice boost from the deal – although the tax man won’t make much. In fact the reason why both companies are looking interesting can be summarised by two letters, or if you want to make it even more interesting, add a further two.

Vodafone is getting $59.9 billion in cash, $60.2 billion worth of shares in Verizon – worth around 30 per cent of the company – and Verizon’s stake in Italy’s Omnitel. The plan is for Vodafone’s shareholders to get $23.9 billion of the cash, and the Verizon shares. The Inland Revenue will get around $5 billion.

Verizon is raising the money for the cash component of the deal largely via debt. The timing here is important. Right now interest rates are low, and the US firm should not have any major problems raising the necessary at a low interest rate. If it had waited longer, what with the Fed apparently in tightening mood, the interest payments on the resulting debt may have been prohibitive to the deal.

It begs the question: does this idea suggest a bubble? Let’s face it, mega M&A deals often do suggest a bubble. Remember AOL and Time Warner before the dotcom crash? Or if you want to go back further, remember when Saatchi and Saatchi tried to buy the Midland Bank just before the market crash of 1987?

But then again, there are differences this time.

The trend at the moment is towards bundled packages, fixed line and mobile deals. Both Verizon and Vodafone can now focus on building up their networks in their respective territories. In the case of Vodafone, Europe, emerging Europe and Africa provide opportunities – which is why Vodafone no doubt welcomes the Omnitel shares.

But it’s 4G that makes this deal more interesting still. It is 4G that has the potential to be transformational. Up to now, logging onto the internet via 3G was of questionable worth; the speed was just too slow, and unreliable. Some surveys have shown that many users are not that interested in 4G, but these surveys count for very little.

What the end user cares about is what he or she can get. They don’t care if they have 3G, 4G or 28G, but they will care if all of sudden they can get sports content on the move, or they can take part in video conferences when out about and about. As for social media, 4G will make video over Facebook more popular. Users will be willing to pay more for this. The two letters that make this even more interesting are 5G. Samsung says it will have 5G technology available at mass market prices before the end of the decade, at speeds roughly 1,000 times faster than 3G.

Vodafone itself may now be vulnerable to takeover. But in both Europe/Africa and the US the potential represented by 4G and 5G will enormous. In the US Verizon, and over here Vodafone (or maybe its new owner), will have an opportunity to convert this opportunity into big bucks.

Vodafone has already agreed to licence football coverage from BSkyB for use over its 4G Network, but expect much bigger things than that to follow.

© Investment & Business News 2013

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Over the weekend the press were full of talk of Steve Ballmer, the CEO of Microsoft, who has announced his plan to retire next year. This begs the question: what next for the company? Should it revisit the idea of a merger with Yahoo?

Some focused on the somewhat less than gushing terms of the Microsoft release announcing Ballmer’s retirement. Some reckoned they saw hints of a rift between Ballmer and Bill Gates. The two men have been colleagues for decades. By the way, Ballmer was Microsoft’s 30th employee, joining the company in 1980. He became CEO in 2000.

It is not hard to point to what is wrong with Microsoft these days, and as the boss Ballmer will clearly receive most of the blame.

It is not so obvious that things would have been much different if Bill Gates had stayed at the helm. Gates famously failed to predict the rise of the internet, so it is doubtful whether he would have come up with a plan to counter the threat posed by Google, Apple and Facebook.

In fact, you may recall that back in the 1990s Microsoft, led by Bill Gates, and Apple began a joint venture. Some Apple aficionados saw a tie-in with Microsoft as akin to a pact with the devil. Few foresaw a day when Microsoft would be struggling, and living in Apple’s shadow.

But will Microsoft come back?

It is suffering from classic innovators’ dilemma with a little bit of recession to the mean thrown in for good measure. See: The UK’s export-led recovery

The market it has dominated for so long is changing – arguably disappearing – and Microsoft seems to be left plugging technology people no longer want.

It was not always this way. Back in the 1980s, Microsoft learnt how to experiment. To tell the story, we must rewind the clock to 1987. The company had a massive dilemma. It had enjoyed a good run, thanks to DOS, but the world was ready for change. The industry was alive with competitors – many much larger than Microsoft – wanting a slice of the action. Eric Beinhocker tells the story well in his book: ‘The Origin of Wealth’. These days we just assume Microsoft chose to ditch DOS and develop Windows. But it wasn’t as simple as that. It appears that Windows evolved, and a by-product of its development was the failure of most aspects of the Microsoft plan.

In fact, before Windows won through, Microsoft put more resources into beefing up DOS. It entered into a relationship with IBM for the development of OS/2; it held discussions with third parties for products aimed at the Unix market; it bought a big stake in a seller of Unix systems; created software for the Apple market; and, of course, invested in Windows.

By Ballmer’s own admission, Surface was a bet-the-company product, but there was never a need to take such a gamble.

What of the future?

Not so long ago Microsoft tried to buy Yahoo, but the price seemed to be the sticking point. Under  the dotcom seems to be staging something of a renaissance.  Maybe some kind of merger should come back on the agenda, but it’s difficult to see Mayer heading up Microsoft. If, however, she was to head up some kind of joint venture between Microsoft and Yahoo, now that might be more interesting.

© Investment & Business News 2013

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Time was when 2.7 billion seemed like quite a lot of people. That is how many of us are on the internet. But hold on, if the population of the world is around 7.1 billion, what about the remaining 4.4 billion of us? Never fear, Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg has a plan.

Actually, according to the Facebook press release, the plan is to get another five billion people online. It is not clear how Zuckerberg will manage this, given that – according to the maths expressed above – there are only 4.4 billion people on this planet who are not online, and some of them are babies, but hey this Mark Zuckerberg. He is very clever. Maybe he is including family pets or Martians in his projections. More likely he is projecting growth in the population into his targets.

Then again, it is not just Zuckerberg who is at it. He has set up a company called internet.org, which Facebook describes as “a global partnership with the goal of making internet access available to the next 5 billion people.” In addition to Facebook, Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm and Samsung are all signed up to the project.

Some are cynical, and say Zuckerberg is only doing this because he wants more users for Facebook. But so what if that is the case.

Sometimes monopolies can be a good thing. A social media tool such as Facebook is a natural monopoly. It just won’t work as well if some of the people you want to connect with are on a rival platform.

Facebook won’t last forever. History tells us that dominant businesses lose their dominance as technology changes. It is called innovators’ dilemma. Kodak has been a recent victim. It looks as though Microsoft may well be. Facebook will be one day.

But just imagine for one moment what it will be like if the world – that’s the whole world, or at least the human bit of the world, let’s exclude the animal kingdom – was online at the same time, logged on using say 5G, giving them pretty much instant access to all knowledge and anyone else on the internet.

What a very different world that will be. It is one that may be less than a generation away.

© Investment & Business News 2013

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What do you want to do today? How about starting off with a nice coffee and at Harris + Hoole’s coffee shop, a bit of yoga, followed by some shopping at a trendy boutique followed by lunch at a Giraffe restaurant, and then off to the supermarket complete with a ‘Euphorium’ and something called the ‘Bakery Project’. If that all appeals to you, that might mean you would like a visit to Tesco’s new leisure and shopping destination in Watford. But here is some bad news for Chinese shoppers who fancy a similar experience in downtown Beijing. Tesco might be trying to do something big in the UK, but its plans are quite different in China. Is this the company’s opportunity to re-establish itself as an irrepressible force of nature, or is this Tesco giving up on the dream of creating a global super supermarket?

Around a year ago, research firm IGD waxed lyrical about Tesco. Of the world’s four largest retailers, (Tesco sits at number three in that list) IGD predicted the UK company was set to benefit the most from globalisation. It said: “Tesco’s international markets, particularly China, Turkey and India, will be a key element in driving their long-term growth and returns. The company will try to replicate its successful concepts in the UK, such as Express stores and Clubcard rewards scheme, in other countries.”

Well, the quest for world domination seems to be on hold. The company was probably right to pull out of the US. Its Fresh and Easy venture was like a black hole draining it of money. But the timing was awful. It moved into the US just as the world’s largest economy entered its worst recession since the 1930s. It exited just as the US economy appeared to be recovering. Maybe Tesco will be back, maybe it has learnt from its initial foray into the US, and will be back, but this time redoubtable. Maybe…

In China, Tesco has agreed to a joint venture with China Resource Enterprises. It has opted for a 20 per cent stake in the venture, throwing in its 130 stores, to form part of a 3,000 store empire. From a distance of several thousand miles it rather seems as Tesco has chosen to give-up on advancing its brand name; has given up promoting the Tesco business model worldwide, and has opted for a very logical and sensible joint venture rather than trying to create a truly global giant retailer.

As for Blighty, the problem faced by the company is that already has a massive share of the UK retail market. Maybe in creating a retail destination Tesco has chosen the only way it can expand in a market where it already has such a strong presence. Perhaps this approach can translate into other territories, and Tesco will be back in the US and via its partner in China, in the world’s second largest economy but this time as a pioneer of retail/leisure destinations.

But frankly it does rather look as if the dream of creating a global retail super heavyweight is over.

© Investment & Business News 2013