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Learning by Proxy

Learning by Proxy | Climate>COVID

COVID has had a huge impact on business in general. Some businesses have been heavily hurt while others not so much. Some are even thriving [healthcare, except in the US]. To me, this just seems like a glimpse of what is to come when the climate goes off the handle. Reminds of a cartoon.

COVID and Business

There has been much said about the hit that several industries have taken in the aftermath of COVID. The numbers are not offering proof and an insight into what has gone on. Businesses that need people to come out; entertainment, travel and hospitality, which apart from being real world are also discretionary expenses, which is a double whammy.

Flying Markets

Just for Context – Bombay Stock Exchange is almost back to its pre-COVID levels.

In stock markets, circuit breakers exist to avoid over steep rise or fall of share price in the stock exchange. When news breaks, often the markets do not wait to assimilate the impact of the news and react immediately. Circuit breakers stop trading in the stock if they are breached and give the market time to consider the impact before resuming. The markets have been so excited that the Bombay Stock Exchange has had to revise the circuit breakers for 647 companies from 5% to 20%.

BSE raised its circuit limits on as many as 647 stocks starting from Friday, including stocks such as Aavas Financiers, Adani Green Energy, Adani Transmission, Delta Corp, Centrum Capital, Eveready Industries and KPIT Technologies.

Source: Economic Times

Also, Dow Jones is back to its pre-COVID highs.

Let us see what the economy is like!

Cinema

I had mentioned in one of the earlier editions how PVR was seeking to tie-up with Swiggy to start delivering pop-corn! It is anticipated that the company would be reporting Zero revenue for the first quarter of 2020-21.

It’s expected to be a very weak quarter for India’s largest multiplex player PVR as theatres have remained shut for the entire Q1 and cinemas are expected to post near-zero revenues. The ET NOW poll estimates revenues to slump nearly 98% to Rs 20 cr and a loss of Rs 230cr for the quarter compared to a profit of Rs 16 cr last year. 

Source: Times Now

Aviation

While the cinemas have been closed completely, airlines have been flying in a spartan manner. International routes are still not open. It had already been reported that flight occupancy was down 95% in India. The revenue is equally down.

InterGlobe Aviation, IndiGo’s parent firm, on Wednesday, posted a net loss at Rs 2,844.3 crore for the quarter ended June 30. It had posted a net profit of Rs 1,203.1 crore in the corresponding quarter last year.

Revenue from operations plunged 91.9 per cent YoY to Rs 766.7 crore during the quarter under review. The operations of airline companies were heavily affected during the quarter due to government orders.

Source: Economic Times

Even internationally sales have been lower, not to the extent that it has been India. Looking at the data from Flightradar24 it is clear the number of flights flown is still 25% below pre-COVID levels.

Source: Flightradar24

Source: Flightradar24

No Flights, No Travel

Moving across the country is not easy right now. People are not travelling much and this also means they are not staying anywhere outside their home. Imagine the condition of a business that helps people book these flights and hotels.

Online travel agent (OTA) MakeMyTrip has recorded a 95.5% annual fall in its revenues in the first quarter of the financial year 2021 due to pandemic and resultant travel restrictions. The company made just $6.4 Mn versus $141.7 Mn in the quarter ended June 30, 2019.

Source: Inc42

Hotels are having a tough time in India. There is a mandate to not cross 33% occupancy by the government. The trouble is that the hotels are nowhere close to coming to 33% occupancy at the moment.

Tata Group backed Indian Hotels Company (IHCL) has posted an 86% drop in its revenue from operations for the quarter ended June 30.

The hospitality chain posted revenue from operations of Rs 144 crore for the quarter under review compared to revenue from operations of Rs 1020 crore for the corresponding period of the last fiscal. IHCL posted losses of Rs 313 crore for the quarter ended June 30, compared to a profit of Rs 5 crore for the same period last year.

Source: Economic Times

Stock markets were trading IHCL up 5% because they claimed to have cut costs down by 51%. The kind of times that we are living in.

Restaurants

Restaurants have been shut but for a long time. Without the delivery volumes, they would probably have been in the same boat as the cinemas. Despite this, restaurants that do not have a strong brand presence don’t seem to be doing too well.

According to the report released Wednesday, these restaurants are among the 83 per cent dine-outs that are currently non-operational. The remaining 43 per cent restaurants that are shut are likely to open as the situation improves.

“Out of the 83 per cent restaurants that are not open for business, 10 per cent restaurants have already shut down permanently… an additional 30 per cent restaurants might not reopen at all. The remaining 43 per cent, which are closed right now, are likely to open as the situation becomes better,” said the report.

The rest of the dining industry is operating at just 8 to 10 per cent of the gross merchandise value (GMV) from earlier levels pre-pandemic levels, it said.

Source: The Print

The idea of taking stock of many parts of the economy in this manner came up because Zomato had released a report card with some interesting insights. They work with many of the restaurants across cities and what they have been seeing is orders coming in from smaller cities. People are moving back to their hometown and bringing their city habits with them!

Real Estate

Real Estate is probably the hardest hit of all. Malls and other commercial buildings have been required to write off their rentals. Sales of property have slowed as the work from home trends seems to be certain to last months if not years. Many have taken to moving back to their hometowns. The bottom is falling out.

Realty firm Prestige Estates Projects has reported a 99 per cent decline in its consolidated net profit at Rs 1.6 crore for the quarter ended June on lower-income amid coronavirus pandemic. Its net profit stood at Rs 115.3 crore in the year-ago period.

Total income fell to Rs 1,296.3 crore in the first quarter of 2020-21 fiscal from Rs 1,567.4 crore in the corresponding period of the previous year, according to a regulatory filing.

Source: Economic Times

DLF, India’s largest real estate company saw its income fall by 65%.

Retail

The USA has seen a string of bankruptcy filings from various retailers with the pandemic exposing gaps in their operations. Amazon had already cut out gaping holes in their businesses. Already 26 Bankruptcies have been filed, you can find the list here.

India is doing no better.

Non-grocery categories have seen their businesses take huge losses and what is even worse is that with the ‘work from home’ trend, the demand is quickly shifting away from many of their products. Suitings companies have been struggling to find any demand for their clothing. Trent which runs Westside, which is not so much in the formal category also took a big hit.

When Trent Ltd announced its March quarter results (Q4FY20) in May, the initial signs of COVID-19 disruptions were visible. After all, stand-alone revenue growth had slowed to 8% in Q4FY20 from around 30% in the previous three quarters.

With the lockdown remaining in place for a good part of the June quarter, Q1FY21 results showed a much more pronounced impact of the pandemic crisis. Revenues fell 87% year-on-year to ₹96 Crore, below analysts’ estimates. The lockdown forced Trent to close its retail stores for a major part of the quarter.

Source: Mint

Healthcare

In India, hospitals have been doing quite well. They have also been using this occasion to scalp the patients and maximise their income. The stories that one gets to hear from anyone who has had the misfortune of having to visit a hospital are grim. Beds that would have normally cost Rs. 7000 a night are now being charged double.

Besides the one-time gain, Apollo Hospitals’ operational performance was strong, with revenue up 17% at ₹2,922 crores, while earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (Ebitda) up 36% at 380.1 crores.

Standalone hospital business of the firm showed a 19% increase in revenue, while that from its pharmacy operations was up by a third.

Source: Mint

Climate

A system that moves between highs and lows is said to be showing volatility. The deviation that it shows from the mean is called Amplitude. If the amplitude is too high it can be catastrophic for the system. Every bridge moves a little up and down in the wind. It just cannot go beyond a certain amount, illustrated by the bridge below.

The climate of this planet has been undergoing a similar swing in recent times. The system might break! You would have often heard people say that we are – Killing the planet – No, we are not. The planet is not dying. 

We are.

California has been burning since last week and this has become a regular thing. There was a lightning storm that caused the parched earth to catch fire. The land was so dry, the fire spread incredibly fast. While the elections have been taking the spotlight, America has been suffering one of the worst droughts in history.

As the United States moves into the last weeks of climatological summer, one- third of the country is experiencing at least a moderate level of drought. Much of the West is approaching severe drought, and New England has been unusually dry and hot. An estimated 53 million people are living in drought-affected areas.

Source: NASA

On the other side of the world, rainfall has been at record levels. All the states on the Gangetic plains in India have been submerged. It started with Bangladesh getting flooded. Bangladesh floods every year just like California burns each year, so nobody noticed. After the flooding of Assam and West Bengal, the flooding is making its way to Uttar Pradesh and closing in on Delhi.

Millions have been forced to flee their homes in Bangladesh because of floods triggered by monsoon rains.

The flooding, which has affected almost one-third of the country, shows no sign of abating due to continuous rain.

Most of the country’s 16 rivers have overflowed – and according to local media reports, the torrential downpours have left at least 161 people dead.

Source: Sky News

According to a tweet by the chief minister’s office, posted on 18 August, the floods have affected 838 villages in these districts—which include Ambedkar Nagar, Azamgarh, Deoria, Gorakhpur, Kushinagar, Mau and Sant Kabir Nagar—and of these, 520 are submerged. In previous tweets, the CMO noted that multiple rivers, including the Ghaghara, were flowing at dangerous levels. 

Source: Caravan Magazine

In the meantime, the west coast has also been at the receiving end. Mumbai had to be shut down a couple of weeks ago due to torrential rainfall which left the city submerged. Again, Mumbai is a city is often underwater so people did not bother much, but then…

Seven people were killed in rain-related incidents in Gujarat over the weekend as intense spells caused flooding and water-logging, prompting the government to deploy 13 teams of the National Disaster Response Force in the state, officials said on Monday.

Source: The Wire

Further south, the states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh. Tamil Nadu and Kerala have also been receiving huge amounts of rain forcing them to release water from their dams. This causes villages downstream to get flooded since they are inundated with rain already.

Across the Bay, heavy rains are lashing Bangkok which is causing flooding and further scare of an increase.

Provinces in the lower part of the northern region are braced for flooding after downpours have submerged several areas for several days.

Chamnan Chuthing, director of the irrigation project in Phitsanulok, said on Sunday it was diverting water from the Yom River to tributary canals as it expected more water from the river to reach downstream provinces — first in Sukhothai and later Phitsanulok — by Sunday.

Source: Bangkok Post

Meanwhile in China

Water levels at China’s giant Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze river are inching closer to their maximum after torrential rains raised inflows to a record high, official data showed on Friday.

Source: Reuters

There has been flooding around the dam in China – A video from Al Jazeera

Meanwhile in Africa

After long-running drought slashed their harvests, small-scale farmers in Lupane, western Zimbabwe, decided to switch away from irrigating their fields by flooding them, which wastes huge amounts of water.

Source: Deccan Herald

This is the majestic Victoria Falls, which spans nations.

This is as of December 2019

What do you think, when you think Afghanistan? Mountains, goats, Taliban, American turning another country into a shooting range, cold weather, snow, wonderful spring; but you never think floods. 

When the heavy rains came overnight, setting off flash floods in northern Afghanistan, the deluge quickly turned deadly and caught many residents off guard because they were sleeping.

On Wednesday, a hospital official said the floods had killed nearly 80 people and injured scores of others in Charikar, home to nearly 200,000 people and the capital of Parwan Province, just north of Kabul.

Source: New York Times

Now, this is not news collected from across time. This is all news from the last 3 weeks. As I write this the government of Indonesia has deployed the Army to prevent forest fires as drought peaks. Northern Turkey lost lives due to flash floods. While California is burning, Utah is flooded and Stanton is flooding. In the meantime, people in Californians are watching their homes burn as the fire scorches the land. Meanwhile, 2 hurricanes have made land in Louisiana and will rip through several states. Meanwhile, in Delhi, the Yamuna is at dangerous levels and there is a high likelihood of flooding.

Politicians have a way of confusing weather with climate, it is not the same. This GIF illustrates the difference.

The amplitude is increasing, slowly but surely. When will this system break? More importantly, what will that look like?

And you thought COVID was disruptive.

Assets and Loans

When the lockdown started, the first action that the RBI took was to infuse more liquidity to the lenders to avoid a collapse. The moratorium that was offered to help individual and businesses to tide through this period is about to come to an end on the 31st of August. The most optimistic estimates are that there will be Millions of defaulters. Indian banks have been struggling to reduce their NPAs for the past few years. There seems to be a plan.

The company says that the multi-year empanelment, renewed every five years, will leverage Quikr Realty’s builder relationships across 22 cities and 4800+ brokers in its network to oversee real estate e-auctions. Quikr says that the transaction mandate includes stressed properties worth more than INR 7,000 Cr.

“This is the second stint of empanelment of Quikr Realty by SEBI for valuation & liquidation of Stressed Assets. Quikr Realty’s earlier associations with SEBI included liquidation of Pearls Agrotech Corporation (PACL), Sahara and Unitech assets,” the company says. 

Source: Inc42

I would not surprised if RBI decides to empanel them to liquidate all of the asset-backed loans that go into stress.

Also

I have to thank Salma for sharing this insanely great ad by Mercedes Benz.

The moon waxes and wanes. Have you ever thought about how the earth waxes and wanes on the moon?

Signing off…

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Learning by Proxy

Learning by Proxy | Visa – Jio – COVID after effects

Every Saturday, I publish this series called Learning by Proxy. It is a capsule of some of the stuff that I found interesting over the week along with some context to it. I hope you enjoy it.

Follow Up

Visa Ban

The USA has been busy disallowing Visa to several categories of people. Last week it hit students with a visa ban. Since the students would be required to attend classes online, why should they have to stay in the US? The universities sued the government from Boston to San Diego. The visa was the only thing that was going to get the students to pay tuition. Without it, the Universities would suffer revenue erosion!

The U-turn by the Trump administration comes following a nationwide outrage against its July 6 order and a series of lawsuits filed by a large number of educational institutions, led by the prestigious Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), seeking a permanent injunctive relief to bar the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from enforcing the federal guidelines barring international students attending colleges and universities offering only online courses from staying in the country.

Source: Indian Express

After H1B and students, the next in line are members of the Communist Party of China. This is being considered as a retaliation to the change in the law in Hong Kong. 

The Trump administration is considering a sweeping ban on travel to the United States by members of the Chinese Communist Party and their families, according to people familiar with the proposal, a move that would almost certainly prompt retaliation against Americans seeking to enter or remain in China and exacerbate tensions between the two nations.

Source: New York Times

The share of non-citizens in the US has already fallen to new lows.

Just 6.2% of the people in households surveyed for the US’s monthly employment survey responded they were not US citizens in June 2020. This is the lowest share of non-citizens since 2000, and down from 6.8% in February.

Source: Quartz

All this while their passport has fallen out of favour with all but a few. These are the only countries to which a person bearing an American passport can travel to Visa-Free. Also, most of Europe would not allow them even if they had a Visa.


Jio Again

Reliance has managed to raise over 20 Billion dollars in the past couple of months. This culminated in the AGM where the Google – USD 4 Billion investment – was also announced.

During the Google For India event for 2020, Google and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai announced that the company will invest INR 75,000 Cr or approximately $10 Bn under the Google For India Digitization Fund for the Indian tech and startup ecosystem. The fund will be invested in businesses, social impact projects and towards supporting the Indian government’s digitisation efforts over the next 5-7 years.

Source: Inc42

This release by Google was an afterthought. They just wanted to put a spin that made it seem larger than just a Jio Investment. But that was all it was. The rest of the 6 Billion is probably expenses that will be undertaken either way over the next 5 – 7 years.

Have you seen a successful all-star team? Jio now counts Facebook, Google and Microsoft as shareholders. 

The company also announced a whole bevvy of products and services during their online AGM.

At Reliance’s Annual General Meet 2020 the company announced Google will invest Rs 33,737 cr for a 7.7% stake in Jio Platforms. Jio also revealed that the company is developing Jio TV Plus, Jio Glass, and more. The company also announced details on JioMart and Jio 5G solution.

Source: Indian Express

While it is one thing to build a product, it is another thing to be able to sell it and build an eco-system around it. While all this investment is in the anticipation that funding means success, it will not be that easy.

Even with Tik Tok banned in India, the aspiring apps are struggling to dominate the space. It takes a lot more than just making something to succeed. Google itself is no stranger to the concept. They rushed out Google Plus to compete with Facebook and promoted it on the most visited page on the internet and still failed. 

This is not over.


ARMing Softbank

In the 1980s a British company called Acorn along with VLSI and Apple created a chip design company called ARM. ARM stood for Advanced RISC Machines. RISC stands for Reduced Instruction Set Computer. This was conceived as a way of enabling low powered devices. Intel, by comparison, was offering CISC – Complex Instruction Set Computers which are more power-hungry. When Steve Jobs came back to Apple in 1997, he sold ARM and used the money to save the company. When he went back to Intel in 2005 asking them to build a low power chip for mobile devices they refused. Apple moved to the ARM design and the rest, as they say, is history. Intel missed the train and today every phone and tablet runs on ARM. Windows already has ARM PCs and Apple announced last month that they are going to move the Mac to ARM.

Unlike several of their disastrous investments, Softbank moved in and bought a majority stake in ARM in 2016. Now is the time for this investment to pay-off.

If it pursues a listing, the chip-design company could go public as soon as next year, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the deliberations are private. That would accelerate a timeline SoftBank Group Corp. founder Masayoshi Son laid out in 2018, estimating an initial share sale for Arm sometime around 2023, a goal repeated in October by Arm Chief Executive Officer Simon Segars.

Source: Bloomberg

The push to list ARM is in no small means driven by all of the other failures that the company has seen in its portfolio. 


COVID and Consequences

Escape Artist

Quarantine is a word that has become quite well enmeshed in our lexicon since the pandemic started. When you travel, you quarantine. If you come across someone infected, you quarantine. And then there are those, who try to escape quarantine. An Australian celebrity tried to escape quarantine and was fined. Fines for escaping quarantine are becoming commonplace. One of the states in the US which has a fine for escaping quarantine – Florida. Would you have thought?

When Australians return to Sydney from trips abroad, the government requires them to stay in a hotel for two weeks. But recently, there have been several reports of citizens attempting to break out of their quarantine at many Sydney hotels. One woman, an influencer who had recently returned from Paris, was fined AU$1,000 (US$694) for busting out via the hotel’s fire escape just a few days in; she might also face legal action for tampering with the sprinklers in the hotel room in which she was confined.

Source: Quartz

Real Estate

I have written about how real estate will not be the same once this pandemic is over. With the increasing ‘Work from Home’ schedule and the absence of the need to hang around cities, real estate is bound to change. There is one sector of real estate that is seeing spiking demand in India. With many people working from home, they are moving back to their home towns and emptying their houses in the city. Unable to shift out completely during the pandemic, they are putting their belongings in long term storage. 

In an extended work from home scenario, a growing proportion of the working population, primarily techies, are leaving the city and moving back to their hometowns, pushing up demand for storage houses, where household and office belongings are stocked securely for low rentals. 

Firms like Safe Storage, Storagians, StowNest Storage, Orange Safe Storage and MyRaksha, which provide the service, are witnessing a spike in the number of clients. 

Source: Times of India

Education

The one thing that is becoming increasingly clear to many parents working from home is that they did not need schools to educate children. They needed schools to be able to buy freedom from their children. The current situation makes it very unsafe for children to go to school. This is fast turning into a crisis. What is the way out?

American parents stand to lose even more productivity—and their minds—as more school districts like Los Angeles limit how many students will return to the classroom for the upcoming school year. This situation could weaken recovery efforts over the long term.

Source: Quartz

Finally

Garbage to Energy

Most of the garbage finds its way to the landfills. This garbage is often a source of various greenhouse gases. One of the gases that can be extracted from garbage is Hydrogen gas. A company is set out to turn all garbage into energy that could power homes and transport.

Most of the landfill gas at Puente Hills is captured by a network of subterranean pipes and used to generate enough clean electricity to power 70,000 homes. But Jean-Louis Kindler, the CEO and founder of a startup called Ways2H, still considers this letting our waste go to waste. If he has his way, we’ll not need landfills like Puente Hills. Instead, he wants to use the world’s trash as the raw feedstock to produce hydrogen, the perennial Fuel of the Future that could power our homes, planes, cars, and plane-cars. “There is so much waste available—plastic, municipal solid waste, medical waste,” says Kindler. “All the things we are struggling with the processing are loaded with hydrogen.”

Source: Wired

In the early 2000s, the world was at the precipice of a new kind of automobile. Companies in Japan and Germany were working on cars driven with Hydrogen Fuel Cell which would use liquid hydrogen as fuel and release water as the by-product. They would re-fueled just like our Petrol cars are – at a gas station. Do not require any new infrastructure. Have similar running range and are much more cleaner. 

At the same time, an internet entrepreneur who had recently sold his company invested in a company called Tesla. Armed with the loan from the US government, he set out to discredit Hydrogen Fuel cell technology. Ironically, he played the role of Edison, to save his investment. (Edison tormented Tesla and tried to prove Alternating Current would not work – we all use alternating current today) Under the guise of saving the planet, Elon Musk has created a Li-Ion Cell Garbage problem across the world. In any case, we will run out of it in the next 10 years. He hopes to be on Mars by then.

I hope we move to Hydrogen Fuel Cell.

Signing off…

Categories
General Thinking

COVID – What the numbers reveal

COVID is a virus that has affected 0.1% of the world population. It is highly contagious and has been able to circumnavigate the globe. 

Worldmeter

On the surface – the above graphs make two things obvious :

  1. More people are being affected by COVID than before
  2. Fewer people are dying due to COVID than before

The spiking numbers during March were all the European countries reporting proper data and then taking proper steps. Made the Europeans looks like people with shit immunity and completely ill-prepared.

But there is more to the story than that. Authoritarian countries have for certain been misreporting case numbers. China for starters claims even today to have had 83,000 cases. 

The United States has 20 times as many and climbing. Even they did not scramble to build a hospital in 10 days! 

COVID and Politics

China most certainly had a much higher number of cases than reported – an order of magnitude higher – 20X / 30X / 50X what was reported. Which implies that both the graphs above are only partially accurate. The outbreak in Jan and Feb was much larger and even the deaths were more numerous.

Russia is currently passing off several COVID deaths as caused by other pre-existing conditions. This is important for Putin to be able to stay in power. In Pakistan, hospitals have ‘Full House’ boards outside of them denying patients entry. India is still dissuading testing if the symptoms are not very pronounced and Delhi has had patients turned away from hospitals because of their inability to accommodate them. 

Testing is not at the level it should be across the world. The US is leading at 25 million tests followed by Russia at 15 Million tests done. 

All Asian counties are Middle Eastern

UAE and Bahrain have tested more than 25% of their population! UK, Russia and Spain have tested 10% of their population while the USA and Italy have tested 7.5% of them. 

More generally the European countries have got a lot of testing done and this has resulted in the control that they have been able to have over the virus. 

I think more than New Zealand, UAE should be commended for the steps taken to curb the virus despite being a major transit destination with flight activity. A country not very well known for its science and one whose success is heavily attributed to a natural resource that they did nothing to acquire. 

More broadly, I think the Asian troubles are not over. 

Most of the larges Asian countries have not tested enough. They do not have the infrastructure to handle patients, hence even active cases might not find a healthcare facility to turn to. Also, a large number of poor means that their death may not even find a record until a long time has passed. In addition to this, political expediencies mean misreporting of numbers is rampant. Without a huge ramp-up in testing, the way out of this mess could be far away.

Asia will be the reason COVID will rise once again in the winter.

Categories
Learning by Proxy

America – Testing – Space | Learning by Proxy

Every Saturday, I publish this series called ‘Learning by Proxy’. It is a capsule of some of the stuff that I found interesting over the week along with some context to it. I hope you enjoy it.

When I started on the suggestion of a friend, I did not know how it would play out. This is the 10th edition already! I know some of you like it. Do share if you do.

Follow Up

China has already crossed into Indian territory and by the looks of it, the de-escalation suggested is because their goals have been met. They took a bit of the salami slice they wanted to. Read this piece on the Chinese strategy from Hindustan Times


Politics

Mr. President

Americans have a way of doing things that few others can.

The death of George Floyd, juxtaposed on the Pandemic where a disproportionately larger number of black people have died was like putting salt on an open wound. To make matters worse, this was not a stray incident, Ahmed Aubrey a young boy was shot in a residential area by while men just a few weeks back. The anger coalesced and spilt onto the street. 72 cities in America protested and many of them burned. The president instead of soothing the pain was searching for cayenne pepper.

If anti-fascists are terrorists, then does America represent the opposite?

The protests even reached the gates of the white house. And the brave president hid in the bunker!

US President Donald Trump was rushed to a White House bunker after hundreds of protesters gathered outside the White House, with some of them resorting to stone-pelting. The incident, according to the Associated Press, happened on Friday night as protests against George Floyd’s death spread to several cities. The AP report said Trump spent nearly an hour in the bunker, which was designed for use in emergencies like terrorist attacks.

Source: Indian Express

And then he threatened to unleash the military on his people.

Declaring himself “your president of law and order,” President Donald Trump vowed Monday to return order to American streets using the military if widespread violence isn’t quelled, even as peaceful protesters just outside the White House gates were dispersed with tear gas, flash grenades, and rubber bullets.

Source: CNN

Reminds you of Tiananmen Square? Maybe all the hate directed at China is just love in disguise! You see we often do the worst things that we can to those we love the most.

The last time that social and economic inequality was rising, new political ideas were emerging, economic mismanagement and environmental factors led to agricultural failure, unmanageable national debt, and political mismanagement were rife; it was January 1793 and King Louis XVI was executed by the guillotine at Place de la Revolution in Paris. 

Revolutions tend to start in this climate.

G7 or G10 or G11

In the first post which I had written in this series, I had mentioned the oil crisis of 1973 which had brought the USA to its knees when the Saudi’s refused to sell them oil. This oil crisis led to an informal meeting of Western Finance Minister which resulted in the creation of the Group of Seven – G7. Seven developed countries for geopolitical purposes met each year to plan how to carve up the world, each year. The world has changed a lot in the last 50 years. Trump wanted the composition of this group to change. Perhaps rightly so.

“I don’t feel that… it properly represents what’s going on in the world. It’s a very outdated group of countries,” Mr Trump said on Saturday.

The G7 group, which the US hosts this year, includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the UK.

The president said Russia, South Korea, Australia, and India should be invited.

Source: BBC

Economics

Transparency

Closer home we have the PM Cares Fund. An opaque account that has been taking in Crores from every organisation that can afford to curry favours. At the same end of the Spectrum are US and UK who have been putting the country under greater debt and distributing the money to keep the shareholders rich. There is a growing call for transparency and the call to know who were these companies that were supported by the government.

While it’s not naming recipients, the UK-owned development bank said it will, sometime in the near future, provide information about the amount of emergency funding each lender has made available to help small businesses weather the coronavirus disruption.[…]

In the meantime, a firestorm is brewing in the US. More than $500 billion has been shovelled out through the government’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) that provides forgivable loans to smaller enterprises. Controversy erupted when it emerged that large, publicly traded companies like Shake Shack had accessed the borrowing (the burger chain and others have since returned the money).

Source: Quartz

Flattening the Curve

In India, the lockdown has devastated several businesses especially the small ones. In addition to this, the stimulus announced has had little or no support for the small businesses. Now that the lockdown is being relaxed, India is having a ‘Hold my Beer’ moment. The number of daily cases has surged upwards from 4000 per day to close to 10,000 per day. The government had the entire population locked up for 8 weeks and did nothing to ramp up testing! And even now very little is being done. 

The city tested between 4,000 and 4,200 daily, even as the number of positive cases detected rose steadily. Mumbai has the capacity to carry out about 10,000 tests every day.

The city’s stagnant testing numbers were in sharp contrast to the daily testing figures for Maharashtra as a whole, which saw a 100 per cent jump over the same period — from 7,237 tests on May 1 to 14,504 tests on May 31.

Source: Indian Express
Source: @20ncounting [twitter]

Indian has the unique distinction of ending the lockdown as the cases began to surge.

As Rajiv Bajaj aptly said – “We seem to have flattened the wrong curve – The GDP Curve”

Business

Space

The US and USSR embarked on their respective space programs in the 1960s out of fear of one another. Once the fear died, so did the space programs. None of it has been for the want of Investment. 

The USA retired its Space Shuttle Program which had outlasted its expiry date by over a decade. In 2010, under the Nasa Authorisation Act, the Space Launch System (SLS) contract was awarded to ULA backed by Boeing. They have since taken in USD 18.6 Billion and delivered zero flights. SpaceX, the new kid in town has posed a credible threat to Boeing and this week managed to put a man in space for the first time.

With privately-led spaceflight, NASA will once again be able to send astronauts to low-earth orbit, expanding its scientific research and preparations for missions to the Moon or Mars. Today’s launch is also a crucial step toward a new orbital economy, which SpaceX founder Elon Musk believes will have the same impact as the internet.

Source: Quartz

Board Games

Charles Darrow is improperly credited for the creation of Monopoly. It was created by Elizabeth Magie, who in 1903 created the game in Washington DC. Monopolists were big in those days and Elizabeth, a stenographer would spend her nights trying to create this game, to create a world where anybody could be one. The lockdown has given board games a second life. Families can play them together. Most of them last for some time and they are very engaging. 

When most people hear “board games” they think games like Monopoly, Clue, and Guess Who?—household names that many of us played as children. The biggest companies like Hasbro, which makes Monopoly, would consider anything less than a million copies sold as a failure, says Englestein.

But hobbyist tabletop games are a different breed. Some of them, like Settlers of Catan or Pandemic, are fairly popular. But there are hundreds and thousands of smaller games that most people will never hear of. In this industry, selling 20,000 units is considered a success, says Englestein. While a single large mainstream gaming company may bring in $10 billion in annual revenue, the entire hobbyist industry could generate just $1.5 billion.

Source: Quartz

Technology / Science

Perception

When a professional tennis player delivers a service, the ball goes from one end of the court to the in about 200 milliseconds. The player at the opposite end of the court has already decided what shot he/she is going to play based on the way the ball is thrown up. Professional players can predict where the ball will go based on the shape of the body as the opponent begins to serve. 

Turns out we can hear hand movement even we don’t see it. So would hand movement have a role to play in communication? Can you predict what is about to be said?

There’s a strong chance that your conversation partner’s movements will leave an acoustic signature that you may be able to perceive, says Wim Pouw, a cognitive scientist at the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands and the author of a new study on this topic recently published in the journal PNAS.

Source: Quartz

Misc

The American Supreme Court has offered an incredible amount of protection to Cops who have killed citizens. Here is an incredible article from Reuters on the subject. Worth a read!

The Cyclone that landed in Mumbai caused rains in Patna. The winds were strong and took it all the way across, saving Mumbai from prolonged showers which we know the city cannot take. 

Signing off…

Categories
General Thinking

COVID could save IoT

COVID could end up being the renaissance of IoT

I had talked at one of the events a couple of years ago about the lack of adoption of IoT. At the event, we were discussing the interfacing. For a lot of us who used a computer before 1995, our introduction to computers was through the command-line interface. We would have to remember commands to get anything done and it was a drab world to live in. 

And then Bill Gates copied the graphical user interface (GUI) from Apple; which Apple had copied from XEROX PARC and brought it to the. It changed the way we interacted with computers. It made computing a lot more useful and made it accessible to many more people. Things became far more intuitive. The smartphone is an extension of the same interface.

The touch interface is still the GUI only with a different interaction paradigm. 

I had mentioned at the time that the next paradigm that is arising is the Voice User Interface.

With the rise of Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), there are a host of voice recognition services that are now available in the market. Apple has Siri, Microsoft has Cortana, Amazon has Alexa and Google has Skynet (?). At the same time, all except Microsoft have their smart speakers to deploy these services at home. While these services have not penetrated our lives as much as they would have hoped, COVID has presented them with the best opportunity to date.

What Opportunity?

Touch is a huge problem in the COVID universe. It is how the infection can spread across people. Almost all of the electronics in every house and office is designed to be touched. Doors, Door Locks, Switchboards, coffee machines, lifts, other appliances, etc. Almost all of them can be controlled through Voice-based solutions if the right interface is in place.

Amazon most certainly has a leg up on all of the others with Alexa Skills and the integrations that it offers. Home Automation was considered the next big wave of technology in 2015. None without exception failed. Nest that was acquired for 3 Billion dollars by Google has not made any mark.

Why?

Nobody wants to pull out their phone, summon up an app, find the right screen and switch off the light. It’s inconvenient. I always maintained that the intuitive thing to do is to provide voice interfaces for all Home Automation. Almost all of these devices can be easily connected with all of the smart speakers. 

Alexa, switch off the lights.

The current situation has the potential to unleash the home and office automation revolution that was predicted back in 2015. Voice-controlled coffee machines, switches, lights, fans, doors, lifts, AC, TV, etc. How this all plays out and who makes the first move remains to be seen. It would be a shame if nobody takes advantage of this situation to bring this revolutionary technology to the market. 

Categories
General Thinking

Hidden Cost of COVID

I have a near and dear one who would probably be helped a great deal by having the entire range of healthcare solutions being made available. But due to age and fear of contracting COVID, the individual has not visited the hospital for over a month now despite symptoms. 

According to WHO Cardiovascular diseases are the number one cause of death globally claiming over 17.9 Million lives each year. Globally, cancer is responsible for 1 in 6 deaths, taking more than 10 million lives each year. India alone records over 62 million cases of diabetes each year and over 1 million deaths caused by it. Each year more than a million people die due to cardiovascular diseases and close to a Million due to Cancer.

Diagnosing the Unknown

There are going to be thousands, perhaps millions of older people who need a diagnosis for heart ailments, cancer and many other diseases. A large number of them would be avoiding visiting the hospital unless absolutely necessary. With many diseases, early diagnosis makes the difference between 10 more years or 10 more months left to live. 

The absence of diagnosis is a horrible consequence of the current situation. In some cases, it may just go undiagnosed till rather late.

Checking the known

Almost all elective surgeries have been postponed the world over due to the current pandemic. Many of these delays are going to eventually prove costly especially if the condition is degenerative in nature. 

The world is witnessing a spate of celebrity deaths and I am certain that the lockdown has most certainly contributed to their death. They would have perhaps had more regular check-ups and issues could have been spotted. 

Hidden Economic Death

In India when the lockdown was announced, I called it a war against poverty. A war where the poor end up dead and leads to fewer poor. As the migrants have made their way through this vast country many have died due to accidents and starvation. There is again no count for the number of lives lost this way. 

These are lives that COVID will take in the coming months without even infecting these individuals. 

Truth be told, nobody is accounting for these lives lost and perhaps this will outnumber the lives lost due to COVID.

Categories
General Thinking

Inflation in the times of COVID

When people get out of the lockdown in India and get back to work/shopping, the one noticeable change that they are going to find is in the prices. 

All the discounts have disappeared! 

A meal that I would cost me about Rs. 300 now costs me Rs. 550. The cab ride which I would have got for Rs. 150 is now Rs. 290. Even the cost of FMCG products is up by 10%-20% now. What gives?

Businesses have changed after COVID

Behaviour – There was a need to change behaviour prior to the lockdown. E-Commerce companies were still trying to convince the last of the resistance that it was the future. That resistance was forced to shop online since it was the safest way and also the surest way to get what you wanted – Stores were not sufficiently restocked.

Absence of hope – Part of the force that was driving all of the discounting by the startups was the hope that they would be able to extract value from those customers in the future. That future has become quite distant now and the search for value has been more current.

Tightening of Capital – The absence of easy private capital given the current environment is going to mean tightening the belt and looking for margins. It is not going to be viable to sell at a loss anymore.

COVID Being a real Reset – Till you have momentum, you don’t want to lose it by doing something stupid like raising prices suddenly. So price increases would very gradual. With the lockdown having served as a reset, everyone starts from ZERO. Also, everyone is under the same pressure. So you can price it right.

All these factors are now moving startups towards real pricing for real profits. The question really is, how many of their customers were using their services only because of the discounts and not because of the convenience? Also, how long before the competition heats up once more to a point where cutting prices makes sense?

Till such time for many of us, the costs we were confronted with before lockdown and the costs we will see after are going to be starkly different!

Categories
General Thinking

Economy – after COVID

Every economy in the world today has two types of income centres – Internal Consumption and External Consumption. 

Internal consumption is all of the things bought and used by the people of your own country. External Consumption is all of the things that you sell to other countries because you are either really good at it or produce a surplus of it. In addition to this, we obviously buy goods from other countries that have a surplus of things that we cannot produce.

Usually, if there is a crisis within an economy there is the external consumption that a country can depend on and fix the other. During the 2008 crisis, the problem was external to India. Were we hurt, Sure! But there was internal demand that we could fall back upon.

The current circumstance is unique in that the global economy has come to a stand-still. A month is 8% of a year. Shutting down any economy for a month implies a decrease of 8% in consumption. Obviously essential goods and services are still available; still, there is going to be a decline. This decline is consistent in both kinds of consumption; internal and external.

Further, small businesses that have short cash cycles and little in terms of capital in the bank – especially the trading businesses may never be able to recover from this. This will further reduce business consumption going forward. 

Money has to be spent on the those struggling but I don’t think any government in the world has the will to do that. They will protect the rich. This is a perfect example of it. Funded companies don’t need the relief as much as the ones that are not. But the ones that are not do not even have a place on the table. This is not survival of the fittest but survival of the richest.

I expect a long and painful recovery from here. It will take perhaps a year and a half for things to return to normal. Growth will not be visible for the next 12 months. Expect most sectors to be hurt in the aftermath. Some more than others.

Sectors that will see a certain slow-down would be: automobile, electronics, real estate, financial services, services, BPO, airlines (some may shut down), travel and tourism.