Can California handle recreational Cannabis?

Following a trend of progressive change throughout the country, California recently passed the legalization of recreational marijuana. Going into effect starting in 2018, any person over the age of 21 can legally buy marijuana. The $7 billion industry is expected to generate over $1 billion in state tax revenue.

However, per the federal government, marijuana remains a schedule 1 narcotic (the same level as heroin). Since the federal government is responsible for regulating banks and interstate commerce, there is a significant barrier to banking services for people in the cannabis industry. It is considered a crime to handle the financial proceeds from marijuana sales—banks can lose accreditation or even face money laundering charges.

There are obvious implications that stem from the lack of safe financial structures for the cannabis industry in states where the sale is legal. The irony of this industry is that it is essentially the only business that is begging to be regulated, as regulation will create safety for everyone involved in the transaction.

  • Dangerous
    • With hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash being mulled around in duffel bags and cars presents a high risk for crime and theft. Armored vehicles and security guards are a necessity.
  • Inefficient
  • The laborious counting of stacks of cash for paying taxes is slow and inefficient—it requires the tax collectors to use more time and people bring backpacks full of cash to bank and takes time
  • With a cash-only system, it is difficult to pay employees and write checks

John Chiang & the Cannabis Banking Working Group

To brainstorm solutions to this problem, California State Treasurer John Chiang created a task force coalition, the Cannabis Banking Working Group (CBWG), with representatives from law enforcement, banks, regulators, and local governments. The goal is “to ensure a safe a smooth transition for the public, businesses and financial institutions” in the “unchartered waters” of legal recreational marijuana. The coalition has met several times in the past year and recently published a report on possible solutions to marijuana and banking in California.

Solution 1: State Courier Service

Under this plan, “the money would come to the state and the would be the party that would interact with the banks”. Armored vehicles would pick up cash from marijuana businesses and then transport those tax dollars to a secure counting facility. The cash would then be taken to either a federal reserve facility or a financial institution willing to “accept the cash as deposits to state accounts.”

Solution 2: Adhere to lenient existing laws

 Support and expand the few small banks that followed strict compliance guidelines that allowed for business with the marijuana industry under Obama’s U.S. Deputy Attorney General.

Solution 3: Public Bank

The creation of a publicly owned bank or state-supported financial institution. Public banks are independent of the federal reserve, and are insured by the state. This idea, that has been gaining popularity since public dissatisfaction with Wall Street and big banks, may also reap other benefits. Such a bank could expand banking to underserved groups beyond the cannabis industry. However, the obstacles are formidable:

  • Difficulty of getting deposit insurance
  • Unknown start-up costs
  • Investment likely to measure in the billions of dollars
  • Probability of losses for several years or more that taxpayers would have to cover
  • In addition, a public cannabis institution might have trouble obtaining federal regulatory approval and access to Federal Reserve money transfer systems.

Solution 4:  Lofty Federal Goals

  1. Provide legal safe harbor to financial institutions, by prohibiting federal prosecutors or regulators from penalizing them for serving cannabis customers that comply with state law.
  2. Legalize cannabis by taking it off the list of Schedule I controlled substances.
  3. Prohibit federal officials from prosecuting cannabis consumers or businesses in states that have approved medical or adult recreational use.

 

 

The Impact of Redlining

In early 1930s, Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) was created as part of Roosevelt’s New Deal to reduce the down payment required to buy a house in hopes of promoting homeownership. The Congress then created the Federal Housing Administration, which sets standards for construction and underwriting and insures loans made by banks and other private lenders for home building, as well as insuring private mortgages. HOLC developed a system of maps that rated neighborhoods according to their perceived stability. On the maps, the areas rated “A” were marked in green areas. According to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ article in The Atlantic by, these areas were considered “in demand” neighborhoods that, as one appraiser put it, lacked “a single foreigner or Negro”. These neighborhoods were considered excellent prospects for insurance. Contrastively, neighborhoods where black people and other immigrants lived were rated “D” and were usually colored in red. This is where the term “redlining” comes from. Usually, these “D” neighborhoods were considered ineligible for FHA backing. FHA selectively granted loans to white neighborhoods and forbid the sale of properties in these green areas to anyone other than whites. The mortgage industry as a whole adopted these practices, and turned the maps into self-fulfilling prophesies. The inability to access capital in these “hazardous” redlined neighborhoods, lead to disrepair and the decline of these communities’ housing value, which in turn reinforced the redline designation. The deterioration of these neighborhoods also most likely also fed white flight and rising racial segregation. The federal government eventually retreated from the practice, and it was outlawed by the Fair Housing Act in 1968. Nevertheless, redlining left long-lasting, truly horrific consequences for black people, black families, and black neighborhoods.

The Mapping Inequality project allows online access to the national collection of “security maps” and area descriptions produced by HOLC between 1935 and 1940. By looking at where the differently rated zones falls on the map, it becomes clear how present differences in the level of racial segregation, home-ownership rates, home values and credit scores reflects the old redlining boundaries. Today, these same communities still face predatory lending, or “retail redlining”, which inversely the proportion of Black residents to grocery stores, non-fast food restaurants, and other retail resources important for promoting and maintain health. According to a Pew Research project led by NYU Sociology professor Patrick Sharkey, to this day, Black people with upper-middle-class incomes do not generally live in upper-middle-class neighborhoods. Sharkey’s research shows that black families making $100,000 typically live in the kinds of neighborhoods inhabited by white families making $30,000. “Blacks and whites inhabit such different neighborhoods,” Sharkey writes, “that it is not possible to compare the economic outcomes of black and white children.

Sources:

New York Times

Washington Post

Go Big or Go Home: Many Too Big to Fail Banks Just Got Bigger

Are U.S. banks too big to fail, or are they simply too big to break up?

The economic crisis in 2008 revealed how financially unstable big banks can hold the entire global economy hostage. The concept of these banks being “Too Big To Fail,” meaning a business has become so large that a government will provide assistance to prevent its failure to avoid a disastrous residual ripple effect throughout the economy, was integral during this time. The U.S. government disbursed over $700 billion to save companies like AIG that were on the verge of financial failure.

 

The tremendous monetary support that was necessary during 2008 increased government regulation of Wall Street significantly and set out to decrease the mammoth of preexisting too big to fail institutions. However, while increased regulation has been realized over the past decade since the crisis, too big to fail banks have not been cut down to size. Rather, the system has gotten even bigger. According to SNL Financial, JPMorgan Chase, the top performing bank in total assets, has seen its base increase to more than $2.5 trillion. Since the end of 2008, JPMorgan’s deposit base alone has grown by over 29 percent. With such promising numbers, JPMorgan is considered to sit atop a list of banks that could threaten global stability.

 

JPMorgan, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Bank of America, the so-called “Big Four” institutions, all show this same upward trend since 2008, with over $8.2 trillion in total assets, which is 154 percent more than re rest of the top 50 banks combined.

 

To avoid another round of unfavorable bailouts, financial watchdogs have been calling too big to fail banks to make themselves less risky by dividing up and adding significant capital to safeguard against losses. However, amid demands to break into smaller entities, top Goldman Sachs analyst Richard Ramsden claimed that the government’s call to divide JPMorgan into two or four parts would greatly diminish value for shareholders.

 

According to an S&P Global Market Intelligence report, “if and when another crisis hits, the biggest players will be far larger than they were in the last crash.” Still, approximately 75 percent of the 30 largest too big to fail banks are significantly bigger than a decade ago.

 

Conversely, government experts find the increase in banks’ total assets promising. In her announcement resigning from the U.S. central bank, Janet Yellen wrote, “I am gratified that the financial system is much stronger than a decade ago, better able to withstand future bouts of instability.”

 

This past June, the Treasury Department published several recommended changes to regulation intended to prevent “taxpayer-funded bailouts.” The paper called for “eliminating regulation that fosters the creation… of too big to fail institutions” but offered to suggestions on how to alter those already present.

 

Only time will tell whether the maintained presence of too big to fail institutions will hurt or benefit the U.S. and global economy.

“Little Girl” and My Morning Coffee

Every Tuesday and Thursday morning I would, without fail, purchase a large cup of iced coffee from the Annenberg cafe before heading to class. Personally, caffeine is not a necessity, but more for comfort as I often need that little push to get through the mornings. However, to many people elsewhere in the world, coffee is something they cannot get out of bed without. And this year, these caffeine addicts have all the reasons to get slightly worried as a “Little Girl” returns for another visit.

(Image of author’s favorite morning drink)

I am of course referring to the La Niña (Spanish for “Little Girl”) weather phenomenon. It is the opposite of the El Niño weather, which turns global climate a bit hotter. La Niña is when unusually cool water surfaces in the Pacific and causes global temperature to change as a result. It would mean that this year, the world would feel a little cooler, which may be a good thing for those who do not like hot weathers. However, it is a devastating news for farmers and manufacturers whose products rely upon a hot weather.

In a Guardian article, Sarah Butler introduces this dilemma global coffee enthusiasts are potentially facing. Coffee beans are a tropical produce, and they do not tend to react that well in face of a cooler climate. La Niña can, for example, bring in “severe droughts in key growing areas including the US midwest devastated crops while excessive rains in Columbia led to the spreading of a deadly coffee fungus”, which was what had happened in its last cycle 5 years ago. When the production of coffee beans is directly and negatively impacted, it is inevitable that the coffee price would surge upwards as a result, since by simple supply-and-demand economics we know that a reduction in supply would cause the market price to go upwards.

Of course, while the simple fact is that our coffee would become more expensive, global climate change can have more devastating effects. Floods and droughts can destroy cities and their economies, all the while taking lives of hundreds of thousands. This year, the United States had suffered from three major tropical storms and hurricanes, and the affected areas are only beginning to recover. With La Niña coming in and making weather patterns more unfavorable, the recovery efforts can be hindered.

Then, the economic damage would not just be a few extra cents on my iced cappucino.

Fed eyeing interest rate hikes as U.S. economy gains more steam

The United States’ economy continues to grow, and the possibility of a recession in the near future looks very slim. That’s a promising forecast for a country that had been rocked by economic collapse about a decade ago.

The question still remains; when the economy is booming, how do you prevent too much inflation that can stir markets for the worse?

The Federal Reserve aims to address this issue, keeping the booming economy in check by enlarging interest rates, as Goldman Sachs projected massive market swells and a strikingly low unemployment rate in 2018. Economists of Goldman Sachs also noted that there could be four Federal Reserve interest rates hikes in the next year, and that the United States unemployment rate, which hit 4.1 percent in October, could reach its lowest point since the 1960’s by the end of 2019.

“With robust growth momentum and no striking imbalances in the economy, near-term recession risk still looks fairly limited,” said Goldman’s chief economist Jan Hatzius, via CNBC. “But the strength is becoming ‘too much of a good thing’ and containing further overheating will become a more urgent priority in 2018 and beyond.”

The overall upswing of the United States economy is accompanied by a similar trend in overall global economic health, when viewed in terms of GDP growth. Germany, for example, displayed GDP growth of 3.3 percent in the third quarter, while the UK’s GDP grew 1.6 percent. Germany’s stock market index, Dax, is up 13 percent, per Express.

Marking the beginning of the United States’ recovery from the major 21st century recession at June 2009, the graph below details that the economy has been growing at a very similar rate for some time now.

But if this rate accelerates too much, over inflation is very possible, and therefore, like Hatzius said, the economy becomes ‘too much of a good thing.’ We witnessed the economy swell to unimaginable highs with risky subprime mortgages, a perfect example of an entity falsely fueling the economy while risk was wrongly assumed to be low.

Actually, a disinflationary trend—that is, a reduction in the rate of inflation—seemed to exist earlier in the year and was worrisome until the U.S. consumer prices, through the lens of core consumer price index (CPI), increased in October. Disinflationary trends lingering over longer periods of time concern Fed officials due to the potential to disrupt interest rate anticipations.

“The Fed has struggled this year in determining if the slowdown in core inflation has been due to a confluence of one-offs or more persistent disinflationary forces,” said Sarah House, an economist at Wells Fargo Securities, courtesy of Reuters. “The pickup clears the way for a December rate hike and supports the case for continued tightening in the year ahead.”

It seems to me like the Fed wants to appear more cautious than it has in the past, considering the financial struggles from ten years ago displayed a lack of governmental regulation as one of many undoings of the economy.

Are video game loot boxes gambling? China and Belgium seem to think so.

It’s no new, news that video games and their accompanying systems are cheaper than ever. A case study by IGN found that when accounting for inflation, video games in the modern era are certainly more cheaper than in the past. A $50 PS2 game in 2005 is worth $60 today and more drastically a $70 Nintendo 64 cartridge is worth approximately $100. However, while games can be seen as significantly cheaper in today’s era, the expenses for creating video games has certainly gone up.

A leaked development contract for 2014’s Destiny outlined budgetary payments of $140 million dollars.

The above represents just one game of dozens that are released throughout the year. When looking at the 2017 release calendar, at least two AAA games were released between January and December, all of them carrying comparable budgets.

While games have become undeniably cheaper when accounting for inflation, publishers still find themselves in need of money past the initial $60 entry fee.

Several years ago publishers began to offer content post-launch to increase longevity. Much of the content amounted to scrapped ideas for maps, weapons, and characters. Simply not purchasing the content carried no negative results.

In the years following publisher tactics have become more aggressive. Season passes as they are titled simply aren’t profitable given the nature of multiple releases a month. Console games have since taken on an approach seen in mobile gaming in which in-game purchases are encouraged to receive immediate benefits.

Much of these micro-transactions involve in-game currency which can be used to purchase items such as collectibles or cosmetics. Scaling from as low as a few bucks to as much as over $100 real dollars, these transactions aren’t necessary and can be completely ignored. For publishers, they are a lucrative opportunity to generate serious cash-flow. For example, Take-Two Interactive which is responsible for the Grand Theft Auto series reported in August nearly $500 million in profits from their in-game currency in just three months time.

Electronic Arts which became the exclusive publisher for Star Wars video games after Disney acquired the Star Wars IP for the paltry sum of just over $4 billion has released two titles in the years since.

In 2015 to coincide with the release of The Force Awakens, EA released Star Wars: Battlefront, a reimagining of the popular series on the Playstation 2 era of consoles. The game was reviewed well, however, sorely lacked content. Many maps and characters were held from release and were bundled part of the Season Pass which retailed at a whopping $50, nearly 90% of the cost of the base game.

Many fans at the onset of the release felt slighted. Eventually, EA discounted the base game within weeks of release to bring up the total cost to around what the base game originally was selling for. The game was reported to have sold-through 14 million copies in one year’s time.

Two year’s later and EA has released its sequel. It has more maps, more modes, and more characters. Downloadable content was even revealed to be free.

In place of a customary season pass, the game instead launched rife with mobile-esque micro-transactions transactions, however, unlike other games that offer pure cosmetics, these micro-transactions offered actual statistical advantages for players who chose to put down real money.

The problem runs much deeper than that. These in-game advantages are tied behind loot boxes. These boxes are entirely random and purchasing one does not have any guarantees. While they do carry the possibility of obtaining an in-game advantage item, it is entirely possible that a player receives purely cosmetic bonuses such as emotes.

Granted, these boxes also vary in cost with the most expensive of the bunch all but ensuring some sort of advantage. Those who wish not to participate in such practices are essentially left behind. More so, those do participate can come up empty handed much like real-life gambling.

The ensuing backlash from fans over their predatory nature and construction of an uneven playing ground forced EA to remove them for the time being, however, since then many have wondered whether such boxes should be made available at all.

In the time since then the Belgium Gaming Commission announced that it has opened a case in regards to these boxes and their slot machine like nature. Because players are unaware of what is inside, many are linking it to gambling. When spinning a slot machine, it is unknown what you’ll win if anything. In Belgium, companies involved with gambling are required to have a license in order to operate. More so, minors and those suffering from addiction are forbidden to play.

In China steps have already been taken in response to these practices. In March, developers of games featuring random loot boxes are required to reveal the odds of players receiving specific items. In one instance a rare item in free-to-play title Dota 2 has a mere 2% chance of appearing when players pay for one such box.

It has been reported, however, that it is only required for the Chinese version of the game to release such odds and it’s entirely possible that developers could boost drop rates in China in order to save face. Still, it is the first actual step in an effort to make consumers aware of what lies inside these boxes and potentially put these practices away for good.

In the time since this fiasco, EA’s stock has dropped 2,5% as of Friday, the release date of Battlefront II. In the entire month of November, it has seen its stock dip by 7% overall.

It remains to be seen where the company goes from here. They are stuck in a terrible predicament. The development of Battlefront II required three entirely different studios to complete the game which certainly wasn’t cheap. Throw in an aggressive marketing campaign and other costs and the game rivals the financial commitment of its movie brethren.

Star Wars itself is a large IP and while it would be easy to offer pure cosmetic bonuses in place of in-game advantages, that simply cannot be allowed. Each cosmetic variation would have to be approved by Disney and Lucasfilm and because Darth Vader has already been established to look a certain way, it is almost impossible to imagine some variation being allowed. As with such to help recoup costs from such an expensive development, this is almost the only logical way to do so, however, at the expense of players.

With the game releasing so close to another mainline Star Wars film, these boxes will have to be on hold for the time being. Disney won’t allow negative press to impact the release of The Last Jedi. In the time following the release, players will move past the game and the money that could have been made will be for naught. At that point the studio finds themselves at a loss, and potentially losing a huge IP.

Not only does this tale have future implications on the Star Wars video game franchise, but on gaming as a whole. If said boxes are considered gambling, than other huge franchises such as Call of Duty will find themselves in a similar predicament. At that point will games leave behind their cheap nature in favor of a higher upfront cost? All of this will be seen in the coming months and years.

References:

http://www.gameinformer.com/b/news/archive/2016/10/10/2017-video-game-release-schedule.aspx

https://kotaku.com/how-much-does-it-cost-to-make-a-big-video-game-1501413649

http://www.ign.com/articles/2013/10/15/the-real-cost-of-gaming-inflation-time-and-purchasing-power

http://www.ign.com/articles/2016/05/10/star-wars-battlefront-sales-top-14-million

https://www.theverge.com/2015/10/12/9512397/star-wars-battlefront-dlc-season-pass

https://www.gamespot.com/articles/gta-5s-online-mode-has-generated-half-a-billion-do/1100-6438765/

https://www.engadget.com/2017/08/03/gta-online-take-two-earnings/

https://www.theverge.com/2017/5/2/15517962/china-new-law-dota-league-of-legends-odds-loot-box-random

https://www.pcgamesn.com/dota-2/dota-2-treasures-china

http://money.cnn.com/2017/11/16/technology/battlefront-ii-star-wars-game-ea-costs/index.html

https://www.gamespot.com/articles/ea-stock-price-drops-after-star-wars-battlefront-2/1100-6455080/

America’s Most Powerful Economic Position

President Donald Trump has nominated Republican businessman Jerome H. Powell to replace current chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve System, Democrat Janet Yellen. Powell has served on the Federal Reserve Board since 2012, and Yellen’s term expires February 2018.

Before I was in an economics class, not only did I not know who Janet Yellen was, but what territory came with being the chair of the Federal Reserve, A.K.A., the nation’s most powerful economic position. In fact, 70% of the U.S. population has never heard of Yellen, according to a 2015 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, which was conducted over a year after Yellen had been appointed chairman. Yellen is basically the leader of America’s central bank.

So why does her position hold so much power?

First and foremost, she “is the public face of the Fed, testifying twice a year before Congress and explaining – albeit often in dense Fed-speak – what the Fed thinks about the economy, and why it’s doing what it’s doing,” as explained by USA Today, such as hiking interest rates. USA Today adds—which is key to note—that the “chairman doesn’t set [the] rates, but rather steers the Fed toward a consensus” which “is harder than it sounds.” In other words, what Yellen says has the potential to impact millions of Americans and their finances, as well as the global financial market as a whole—she essentially has the power to both freak them out and put their minds to rest.

And by Americans, we aren’t just talking economists, analysts or businessmen, but any American citizen with a bank account—when interest rates change, “ [it’s also] going to change how much it costs you to borrow from a bank, and how much it costs banks to borrow from each other,” as well as “how much it costs countries to borrow from each other” (Huffington Post). So again, it affects almost everyone.

“Yellen has immense influence over global financial markets and the U.S. economy. Trillions of dollars can be lost of gained based on how investors interpret each word that comes out of Yellen’s mouth,” stated CNN Money. For example, f she sounds confident in the direction of where our economy is headed and if what comes out of her mouth reinforces our expectations, than it can prompt the U.S. stocks to soar, reassuring investors.

So now that we have a better taste of how important the Fed chair is, could Powell do the job?

While (most, if not all of) Trump’s past decisions during his reign so far have been questionable, Powell is a safe pick. Despite not having a degree in economics, Powell, like Yellen, is “someone who supported the cautious approach to interest rate hikes,” as well as “amassed a fortune as an investment manager and, as a pick, would likely please Wall Street” (Independent).

And as a member of the central bank already, he is well-liked. Yellen herself said that she was “confident in [Powell’s] deep commitment to carrying out the vital public mission of the Federal Reserve” (qtd. in New York Times). This is a good thing not only because even our current President has praised Yellen for doing “a terrific job,” but her “leadership has sharply reduced unemployment while maintaining control of inflation,” explained the New York Times.

Powell will hopefully continue a stable economy that Yellen has, and carry on her legacy. More importantly, I hope that a change in the Fed chair will put this position in the spotlight via the media, thus, educating more citizens on the significance of such a valuable role in our economy.

Rising inequality in the U.S.

As Italian, when I first moved to Los Angeles, it was not difficult to realize how much this city was driven on one hand by a great innovation, on the other hand by a very huge inequality. After living here for few days, it was easy for me to having a better sense of the social status of the people living in LA. Basically, you might trace a horizontal line that divides the city between north and south: norther you go, richer the people and neighborhoods you encounter, while southern you go the poorer are the people you encounter. Maybe this could sound a very approximate and stereotyped frame, but nobody can deny that, for someone you just move in LA, the impact with inequality is very strong: too many homeless people living alone in terrible situations along the streets, under the bridges, or in the tents – when they happen to be “lucky”. When I experienced this situation for the first time, honestly my first question was: how is a situation like this be possible in a rich and forward-thinking country as the United States? Yet, after few months living here I realized that, according to the current U.S. economy, unfortunately, it is totally possible. The United States is one of the most unequal country in the world (OECD Income Distribution Database).

According to an article published last week by the New York Times, U.S. elite professionals earn 3.5 times more than the typical (median) worker in all occupations. Its income inequality is testified by the Gini coefficient that, according to the United States Census Bureau, for the 2016 was 0.481. Such a huge different is overcame only by other two countries in the world: Israel and Mexico.

Additionally, when I looked at the NTY chart that refers to the analysis extracted from the World Income Database, I realized that even Italy (my home country) is much less unequal than the United States, where over the last year only the 1 percent’s share of national income has experienced a sharp growth: this information has really blown my mind, because before moving to the U.S. I believed that Italy was one of the worse country for what concerns inequality, because its rate has been rising without control. Actually, it is not.

What it’s really going on in the U.S.? Mr. Trump is taking advantage of the argument on increasing inequality spreading along the country, stating that the main causes of the rising poverty rate have to be referred to: the evil nations oversea, like China, that are responsible for unfair trade negotiations and stealing jobs to U.S. workers, or to the immigrants, who also steal jobs from U.S. workers. Conversely, others believe that the cause of this situation relies on the switch of the type of experts needed in the work place. The number of people employed in the information technology industry is still too tiny, and it has not been contributing to the rise of the average incomes.

Yet, one of the main reason, as the NYT states correctly, is connected to the fact that since 1980 all the norms, both legal or economical, have been shaped by the upper middle class. This factor has led the richer people increasing their influence in the political life so that they could execute their power on the economy, reforming and reshaping the norms according to their interests.

This issue inevitably refers to the recent, and debated, tax plan overhaul, that it does not seem helping to decrease inequality in the country.

As a result, as is shown in this interesting visualization, between 1980 and 2014 the largest income growth has been registered only by the 99.999th percentile, a growth that will keep rising making richer people even more rich.

From The New York Times

A Redesign? Oh, Snap!

Prior to Snap’s IPO in March, it had been evident that Snapchat was on its way to revolutionize the virtual communication process. However, this vision has been a concern for Wall Street. Ever since they went public, the company has lost over $3 billion and has not traded above its IPO price of $17 a share since July, despite the 44% surge during their first day of trade (Yahoo Finance).

On Tuesday, November 7, the California-based company released an earnings report, which included revenue and user growth for the third quarter, that was well below Wall Street expectations. This report was followed by a statement from their billionaire CEO, Evan Spiegel. He startled investors with news that Snapchat will undergo some major changes, indirectly justifying that the mobile app is struggling to compete with its archenemy, Facebook.

Snapchat has never had a strong revenue model. The company has always relied on tailor-made, custom advertising, which has been their primary source of revenue. However, Spiegel announced that they will be implementing a more programmatic method, using automated auctions to bid on a slot. Sounds familiar, right? Yes, Snapchat advertisements may start to feel a lot more like what you see on Facebook and Instagram. This is expected to result in less human involvement and much cheaper ads.

Snap also plans to completely redesign the Snapchat app, which is expected to launch on December 4, 2017. According to Spiegel, the redesign will be focused on responding to the feedback that the app is “difficult to understand or hard to use.” Most Snapchat users, including myself, would agree that the platform can get a bit confusing, especially for the older crowd. Its IPO filings even included a step-by-step tutorial on how to use the application.

Spiegel agreed that the redesign could be disruptive to their businesses in the short term and that is it unclear how their community will respond to the changes. However, he went on to explain that this is a risk they are willing to take because they believe in the long-term benefits. Ironically, Snapchat needs to do what Facebook did years ago and cater towards different age groups, not just teenagers.

This may be the reason behind Tencent’s decision to acquire a 12% stake in Snap Inc. just hours after Spiegel’s announcements. According to Bloomberg, Tencent, the Chinese company behind WeChat, has developed very successful chat apps through engaging content, integrated services, and advertising (Bloomberg). It is apparent that they are trying to do the same with Snapchat, which has a larger U.S. audience than Tencent.

Will these serious changes help Snap Inc. climb out of its deep hole? As of right now, it is still unclear. Although investors might not be convinced, Spiegel and his team are confident that the long-term benefits will be worth it. I guess we will just have to wait and see.

 

finance.yahoo.com/quote/SNAP

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-08/tencent-buys-10-percent-stake-in-social-media-company-snap

https://investor.snap.com/~/media/Files/S/Snap-IR/reports-and-presentations/snap-inc-q3-2017-prepared-remarks.pdf

The Economic Trickery of Black Friday

Every year as Thanksgiving approaches, so does Black Friday. All of sudden our computer screens and TV commercial breaks are filled with exclamations of the best deals of the year. Even in researching this post. I got this black Friday Kohls ad:

Black Friday is more than the headlines and videos of people being trampled to get a cheap TV.

Black Friday tells an economic story of trickery.

A mystery to the average consumer is how stores are able to make money when everything is on sale. First, this idea of “everything” being on sale is false. Retailers in reality use “doorbusters,” like TV, to get you in the door. While the retailers may not make a profit on those items, but you usually don’t just buy that doorbuster. The hope is that when you come in to buy that TV you’ll also buy the full price HDMI cable, mounting bracket and maybe a pair of headphones. They will also hook you into buying a warranty you don’t really need and probably will never use. Retailers rely on you buying not just that tantalizing sale item to make Black Friday successful.

In a 2012 New York Magazine article,  Kevin Roose analyzed some of the behavioral economic theories behind Black Friday. In the article, he calls black Friday “a nationwide experiment in consumer irrationality, dressed up as a cheerful holiday add-on.”  We already discussed the use of doorbusters to get you in the door and ancillary items like a warranty which sound great. The also used implied scarcity to convince you that you of a limited quantity of an item, which makes the deal you are getting seem even more valuable.

Stores also capitalize on consumers irrational escalation. Black Friday is made up of a series of bad decisions on the part of the consumer, including going to the mall before the sun rises. Once a customer is at a store they don’t know when to stop spending. This is known as “sunk cost fallacy,” when people don’t know when to stop something that isn’t profitable. Retailers are using careful and subtle manipulation to make Black Friday a success for them.

Retailers’ behavioral economic magic works. In 2016, according to the National Retail Federation, 99.1 million people shopped in stores over Black Friday weekend and another 108.5 shopped online. They also found that the average person spent $289.19 over the weekend.

Sources: 

http://fortune.com/2016/11/29/cyber-monday-2016-sales/

https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/11/11-economic-lessons-to-make-you-a-smarter-shopper-for-black-friday/383236/

https://www.thebalance.com/what-is-black-friday-3305710

http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2012/11/black-friday-a-behavioral-economists-nightmare.html