Category Archives: Digital Infrastructure

Why the Future is Expanding For Wireless IP Companies

Why the Future is Expanding For Wireless IP Companies

In the days of yore, people picked up a telephone (you remember actually talking over the telephone?) and simply made a call by entering a phone number on the touchtone pad and voila — a telephonic connection began. With the development of the first mobile networks and phones, phone calling became portable, and basic texting emerged (anyone else remember texting using the “T9” approach?).

As mobile technologies and computing powered evolved, and their costs curves matured as the cost of transmission and storage of data continually fell, mobile phones gained new capabilities which in turn spurred demand for more advanced capabilities and services. In July 2008 Apple (AAPL) debuted its 3G iPhone and the iPhone App Store, and it’s fair to say we haven’t looked back as these devices and apps have increasingly become an integral part of our daily lives as we text, video chat, shop, send pictures, bank, and just about any/everything else.

 5G will not only expand the market for RF semiconductor companies, but it will open up new markets for companies seeking to monetize their wireless IP patent portfolio. 

Science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke is often quoted as saying “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” To make all the “magic” of modern telecommunication a reality requires not only mobile networks and devices but also all of the chips that make them work and provide connectivity. Underneath it all, companies have made enormous investments in developing and manufacturing core wireless communications technologies and when we dig deep enough, we find that at the heart of this mobile disruption is a series of technological innovations in wireless technology standards.

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Digital Spending Has Surged During the Pandemic Even Among Boomers

Digital Spending Has Surged During the Pandemic Even Among Boomers

Whether it’s the comments from companies over the last few months or the monthly Retail Sales reports of late, there is little question over the accelerated shift to digital shopping as a result of the pandemic. New data shows this adoption is rather widespread, and in what may be surprising to some includes Boomers. Chalk it up to Mother Necessity, we see this as the intersection of our Digital Lifestyle and Aging of the Population investing themes. And we suspect that like most others when the Boomers realize the ease of digital shopping they may only selectively go back to brick & mortar shopping.

 

Social distancing and stay-at-home measures have upended the shopping habits of US consumers across generations, including older cohorts. In May 2020 data from CouponFollow, nearly half of US boomer internet users said they increased their digital spending since the coronavirus pandemic.

US Internet Users Who Have Increased vs. Decreased Their Digital Spending Since the Coronavirus Pandemic, by Generation, May 2020 (% of respondents in each group)

Source: Nearly Half of Boomers Have Increased Digital Spending Since The Pandemic – eMarketer Trends, Forecasts & Statistics

What the 5G Rollout Really Means for Consumers…And Investors

What the 5G Rollout Really Means for Consumers…And Investors

e recently discussed the market opportunity and some of the technical aspects associated with 5G, shorthand for the fifth generation of mobile network technology that is widely expected to expand the scope of mobile data and connectivity. The simple truth is that for carriers to recoup their hefty investments in any new mobile network, consumers and businesses need to be able to connect to that new network as well as the existing ones. That means devices not only need to access the latest and greatest network, they also need to be backward compatible with prior ones to ensure usage as the new network’s capacity is built out.

While there have been several devices that have connected to mobile networks, including PCs, tablets, and wearables, the original big seller was the mobile phone. While such a rudimentary device can still be found if one searches high and low, it has been replaced by the ubiquitous, wondrous and highly addictive smartphone. Smartphones don’t just make calls — they are used increasingly to access the internet, shop, chat, stream videos, interact on social media, and access other services. In 2019, smartphone shipments totaled 1.38 billion, down modestly from 1.41 billion according to data published by IHS Markit, but as we’ve seen in the past, the deployment of next-generation networks that bring greater data speeds tend to foster a smartphone upgrade cycle. For context, exiting 2019 GSMA found there were 5.175 billion unique mobile subscribers across the globe.

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What is 5G, And How Can Investors Jump On This Emergent Technology?

What is 5G, And How Can Investors Jump On This Emergent Technology?

We’ve been hearing about this new 5G technology for years and how it is going to revolutionize our lives, make autonomous vehicles, the Internet of Things possible, and reduce cholesterol levels. Ok, maybe not that last one, but it has been touted as being a Very Big Deal. So just what is 5G?

  • 5G refers to the 5th generation mobile network. It is a set of technology standards that drive very low latency with a very large number of simultaneous connections allowing for data transmission at very high speed. Say that five times fast.
  • It also tends to be used as a shorthand method for referring to a series of spectrum bands.
  • It is also referred to in use cases, such as with the aforementioned driverless cars.
  • It is also used to distinguish a certain class of devices from others. For example, while Apple’s next-generation iPhone will be the iPhone 12, its being commonly referenced as Apple’s 5G iPhone.

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An Investor’s Primer on Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR)

An Investor’s Primer on Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR)

Just as the internet has changed how we can communicate, transact, consume, and produce, so will Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) improve, and in some respects, utterly transform our lives.

Source: An Investor’s Primer on Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) | Nasdaq

I’m Ringing in 2020 With This Smartphone-Powering Stock

I’m Ringing in 2020 With This Smartphone-Powering Stock

As 5G fires up across the nation and beyond, this chip-maker will likely be called on to let phones connect to new and old generations of networks.

As the smartphone market has matured, it has become increasingly tied to replacement demand.

Look at these statistics: As of December 2019, there are 5.175 billion unique mobile subscribers across the globe, according to the Global System for Mobile Communications, or GSM Association. As surprising as it may sound, the last big quarter for smartphone shipments was the fourth one in 2016. So, despite the seasonal pattern for stronger smartphone sales in the back half of the year, the 1.4 billion units shipped in 2018 was relatively unchanged year-over-year. Prospects for shipments in 2019 also point to modest growth year-over-year.  

As we move through 2020, mobile operators will light up their next generation 5G networks that will likely be…

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Weekly Issue: Key Developments at Apple (AAPL) and AT&T (T)

Weekly Issue: Key Developments at Apple (AAPL) and AT&T (T)

Key points inside this issue:

  •  Apple’s 2019 iPhone event – more meh than wow
  •  GameStop – It’s only going to get worse
  •  Elliot Management gets active in AT&T, but its prefers Verizon?
  •  California approves a bill that changes how contract workers are treated
  • Volkswagen set to disrupt the electric vehicle market

I’m going to deviate from the usual format we’ve been using here at Tematica Investing this week to focus on some of what’s happening with Select List residents Apple (AAPL) and AT&T (T) this week as well as one or two other things. The reason is the developments at both companies have a few layers to them, and I wanted to take the space to discuss them in greater detail. Don’t worry, we’ll be back to our standard format next week and I should be sharing some thoughts on Farfetch (FTCH), which sits at the crossroads of our Living the Life, Middle Class Squeeze and Digital Lifestyle investing themes, and another company I’ve been scrutinizing with our thematic lens. 

 

Apple’s 2019 iPhone event – more meh than wow

Yesterday, Apple (AAPL) held its now annual iPhone-centric event, at which it unveiled its newest smartphone model as well as other “new”, or more to the point, upgraded hardware. In that regard, Apple did not disappoint, but the bottom line is the company delivered on expectations serving up new models of the iPhone, Apple Watch and iPad, but with only incremental technical advancements. 

Was there anything that is likely to make the average users, not the early adopter, upgrade today because they simply have to “have it”? 

Not in my view. 

What Apple did do with these latest devices and price cuts on older models that it will keep in play was round out price points in its active device portfolio. To me, that says CEO Tim Cook and his team got the message following the introduction of the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max last year, each of which sported price tags of over $1,000. This year, a consumer can scoop up an iPhone 8 for as low as $499 or pay more than $1,000 for the new iPhone 11 Pro that sports a new camera system and some other incremental whizbangs. The same goes with Apple Watch – while Apple debuted a new Series 5 model yesterday, it is keeping the Series 3 in the lineup and dropped its price point to $199. That has the potential to wreak havoc on fitness trackers and other smartwatch businesses at companies like Garmin (GRMN) and Fitbit (FIT)

Before moving on, I will point out the expanded product price points could make judging Apple’s product mix revenue from quarter to quarter more of a challenge, especially since Apple is now sharing information on these devices in a more limited fashion. This could mean Apple has a greater chance of surprising on revenue, both to the upside as well as the downside. Despite Apple’s progress in growing its Services business, as well its other non-iPhone businesses, iPhone still accounted for 48% of June 2019 quarterly revenue. 

Those weren’t the only two companies to feel the pinch of the Apple event. Another was Netflix (NFLX) as Apple joined Select List resident Walt Disney (DIS) in undercutting Netflix’s monthly subscription rate. In case you missed it, Disney’s starter package for its video streaming service came in at $6.99 per month. Apple undercut that with a $4.99 a month price point for its forthcoming AppleTV+ service, plus one year free with a new device purchase. To be fair, out of the gate Apple’s content library will be rather thin in comparison to Disney and Netflix, but it does have the balance sheet to grow its library in the coming quarters. 

Apple also announced that its game subscription service, Apple Arcade, will launch on September 19 with a $4.99 per month price point. Others, such as Microsoft (MSFT) and Alphabet (GOOGL) are targeting game subscription services as well, but with Apple’s install base of devices and the adoption of mobile gaming, Apple Arcade could surprise to the upside. 

To me, the combination of Apple Arcade and these other game services are another nail in the coffin for GameStop (GME)

 

GameStop – It’s only going to get worse

I’ve been bearish on GameStop (GME) for some time, but even I didn’t think it could get this ugly, this fast. After the close last night, GameStop reported its latest quarter results that saw EPS miss expectations by $0.10 per share, a miss on revenues, guidance on its outlook below consensus, and a cut to its same-store comps guidance. The company also shared the core tenets of a new strategic plan. 

Nearly all of its speaks for itself except for the strategic plan. Those key tenets are:

  • Optimize the core business by improving efficiency and effectiveness across the organization, including cost restructuring, inventory management optimization, adding and growing high margin product categories, and rationalizing the global store base. 
  • Create the social and cultural hub of gaming across the GameStop platform by testing and improving existing core assets including the store experience, knowledgeable associates and the PowerUp Rewards loyalty program. 
  • Build digital capabilities, including the recent relaunch of GameStop.com.
  •  Transform vendor and partner relationships to unlock additional high-margin revenue streams and optimize the lifetime value of every customer.

Granted, this is a cursory review, but based on what I’ve seen I am utterly unconvinced that GameStop can turn this boat around. The company faces headwinds associated with our Digital Lifestyle investing theme that are only going to grow stronger as gaming services from Apple, Microsoft and Alphabet come to market and offer the ability to game anywhere, anytime. To me, it’s very much like the slow sinking ship that was Barnes & Noble (BKS) that tried several different strategies to bail water out. 

Did GameStop have its time in the sun? Sure it did, but so did Blockbuster Video and we all know how that ended. Odds are it will be Game Over for GameStop before too long.

Getting back to Apple, now we wait for September 20 when all the new iPhone models begin shipping. Wall Street get your spreadsheets ready!

 

Elliot Management gets active in AT&T, but its prefers Verizon?

Earlier this week, we learned that activist investor Elliot Management Corp. took a position in AT&T (T). At $3.2 billion, we can safely say it is a large position. Following that investment, Elliot sent a 24-page letter telling AT&T that it needed to change to bolster its share price. Elliot’s price target for T shares? $60. I’ll come back to that in a bit. 

Soon thereafter, many media outlets from The New York Times to The Wall Street Journal ran articles covering that 24-page letter, which at one point suggested AT&T be more like Verizon (VZ) and focus on building out its 5G network and cut costs. While I agree with Elliot that those should be focus points for AT&T, and that AT&T should benefit from its spectrum holdings as well as being the provider of the federally backed FirstNet communications system for emergency responders, I disagree with its criticism of the company’s media play. 

Plain and simple, people vote with their feet for quality content. We’ve seen this at the movie box office, TV ratings, and at streaming services like Netflix (NFLX) when it debuted House of Cards or Stranger Things, and Hulu with the Handmaiden’s Tale. I’ve long since argued that AT&T has taken a page out of others’ playbook and sought to surround its mobile business with content, and yes that mobile business is increasingly the platform of choice for consuming streaming video content. By effectively forming a proprietary content moat around its business, the company can shore up its competitive position and expand its business offering rather than having its mobile service compete largely on price. And this isn’t a new strategy – we saw Comcast (CMCSA) do it rather well when it swallowed NBC Universal to take on Walt Disney and others. 

Let’s also remember that following the acquisiton of Time Warner, AT&T is poised to follow Walt Disney, Apple and others into the streaming video service market next year. Unlike Apple, AT&T’s Warner Media brings a rich and growing content library but similar to Apple, AT&T has an existing service to which it can bundle its streaming service. AT&T may be arriving later to the party than Apple and Disney, but its effort should not be underestimated, nor should the impact of that business on how investors will come to think about valuing T shares. The recent valuation shift in Disney thanks to Disney+ is a great example and odds are we will see something similar at Apple before too long with Apple Arcade and AppleTV+. These changes will help inform us as to how that AT&T re-think could play out as it comes to straddle the line between being a Digital Infrastructure and Digital Lifestyle company.

Yes Verizon may have a leg up on AT&T when it comes to the current state of its 5G network, but as we heard from specialty contractor Dycom Industries (DY), it is seeing a significant uptick in 5G related construction and its top two customers are AT& T (23% of first half 2019 revenue) followed by Verizon (22%). But when these two companies along with Sprint (S), T-Mobile USA (TMUS) and other players have their 5G network buildout competed, how will Verizon ward off subscriber poachers that are offering compelling monthly rates? 

And for what it’s worth, I’m sure Elliot Management is loving the current dividend yield had with T shares. Granted its $60 price target implies a yield more like 3.4%, but I’d be happy to get that yield if it means a 60% pop in T shares. 

 

California approves a bill that changes how contract workers are treated

California has long been a trend setter, but if you’re an investor in Uber (UBER) or Lyft (LYFT) — two companies riding our Disruptive Innovators theme — that latest bout of trend setting could become a problem. Yesterday, California lawmakers have approved Assembly Bill 5, a bill that requires companies like Uber, Lyft and DoorDash to treat contract workers as employees. 

This is one of those times that our thematic lens is being tilted a tad to focus on a regulatory change that will entitle gig workers to protections like a minimum wage and unemployment benefits, which will drive costs at the companies higher. It’s being estimated that on-demand companies like Uber and the delivery service DoorDash will see their costs rise 20%-30% when they rely on employees rather than contractors. For Uber and Lyft, that likely means pushing out their respective timetables to profitability.

We’ll have to see if other states follow California’s lead and adopt a similar change. A coalition of labor groups is pushing similar legislation in New York, and bills in Washington State and Oregon could see renewed momentum. The more states that do, the larger the profit revisions to the downside to be had. 

 

Volkswagen set to disrupt the electric vehicle market

It was recently reported that Volkswagen (VWAGY) has hit a new milestone in reducing battery costs for its electric vehicles, as it now pays less than $100 per KWh for its batteries. Given the battery pack is the most expensive part of an electric vehicle, this has been thought to be a tipping point for mass adoption of electric vehicles. 

Soon after that report, Volkswagen rolled out the final version of its first affordable long-range electric car, the ID.3, at the 2019 Frankfurt Motor Show and is expected to be available in mid-2020.  By affordable, Volkswagen means “under €30,000” (about $33,180, currently) and the ID.3 will come in three variants that offer between roughly 205 and 340 miles of range. 

By all accounts, the ID.3 will be a vehicle to watch as it is the first one being built on the company’s new modular all-electric platform that is expected to be the basis for dozens more cars and SUVs in the coming years as Volkswagen Group’s pushed hard into electric vehicles. 

Many, including myself, have been waiting for the competitive landscape in the electric vehicle market to heat up considerably – it’s no secret that all the major auto OEMs are targeting the market. Between this fall in battery cost and the price point for Volkswagen’s ID.3, it appears that the change in the landscape is finally approaching and it’s likely to bring more competitive pressures for Clean Living company and Cleaner  Living Index constituent Tesla (TSLA)

 

Ep. 9: How the Tapestry of Earnings is Coming Together

Ep. 9: How the Tapestry of Earnings is Coming Together

A look at the thematic outlook we can piece together from the flow of earnings reports we’ve received thus far.

On this episode of the Thematic Signals podcast, we find ourselves in the thick of earnings season and Tematica’s Chris Versace not only provides an overview for how all of these reports are coming together to form a larger picture, he shares a thematic look at what’s moving several stocks, including Amazon (AMZN), Apple (AAPL), International Airlines Group (ICAGY), IBM (IBM), Netflix (NFLX), Skyworks Solutions (SWKS) and the impact of spending on cybersecurity. In thematic speak, it’s the Digital Lifestyle, Digital Infrastructure, Disruptive Innovators, and the Safety & Security themes, with an added dash of privacy. Of particular note, Chris is really excited about one of the latest signals for Tematica’s Cleaner Living investing theme as Nestle SA has found a way to dramatically reduce the sugar content of its KitKat bar. Why? Because it and other food and beverage companies are under pressure from consumers and governments alike to make healthier products amid rising obesity and diabetes rates. If Nestle keeps this up maybe one day it could land in the Tematica Research Cleaner Living Index.

Have a topic or a conversation you think we should tackle on the podcast, email me at cversace@tematicaresearch.com

And don’t forget to subscribe to the Thematic Signals Podcast on iTunes!

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Europe gets in the game with 5G deployments

Europe gets in the game with 5G deployments

To date the majority of conversation around 5G mobile network deployments has been in the U.S., as once again Verizon and AT&T battle over whose network will be the best. In the past, the eurozone has blazed the next generation of mobile technology due in part to both Ericsson and Nokia being housed there.

But that is about to change as several mobile operators in the eurozone fire their own 5G cannons with initial network deployments and data plans. While the 5G networks will be a work in progress for some time, the data plans will be something to watch as the carriers balance winning 5G subscribers vs. recouping the spectrum acquisition as well as network buildout costs.

Given the growing pervasiveness of unlimited data plans, we’ll be looking to see how network operators price their 5G offerings, and which solutions stick. As this aspect of our Digital Infrastructure investing theme gets built out, our suspicion is the near unquenchable thirst for data consumption that is part of our Digital Lifestyle investing theme will go swallow up 5G data speeds without missing a beat.

Europe may have lagged behind the United States and South Korea in early 5G network launches due to regulatory hurdles, but top carriers are now making up for lost time with aggressive moves across the continent. In Germany, Deutsche Telekom unexpectedly commenced commercial 5G service in two cities today, while rival Vodafone announced unlimited 4G/5G service plans for the United Kingdom, including 5G roaming across the U.K., Germany, Italy, and Spain.

In Deutsche Telekom’s case, the carrier has opted to open 5G test networks in Berlin and Bonn to consumers today, with a promise to add four more cities in 2019, and cover 20 by the end of 2020.

The move comes only weeks after the carrier spent $2.45 billion in a German 5G spectrum auction and a year after it first began to publicly complain about the high costs of 5G deployment — the reason its unlimited 5G plan will cost €85 ($96) per month with voice service, or €75 ($85) monthly for hotspot-only data service. Initial service is being focused on dense metropolitan areas, but the carrier plans to “eliminate white spots in rural areas” and build 5G networks for campuses, amongst other expansions of its coverage.

Meanwhile, Vodafone has built upon its earlier promise to launch 5G on July 3, becoming the first U.K. operator to promise unlimited 4G and 5G data plans. For the first week of service, Vodafone is offering 5G along with data-capped plans, but starting July 10 the carrier will offer three unlimited data plans at prices from £23 to £30, differentiated by speed. The lowest-end plan, Vodafone Unlimited Lite, will be capped at a meager 2Mbps, while a £26 Unlimited plan will offer 10Mbps speeds, and the high-end Unlimited Max plan will hit “speeds as fast as the device and the network will allow,” peaking at 100 times faster than its current LTE network.

“[W]ith 5G, the demand for data is only set to increase,” explained Vodafone UK CEO Nick Jeffery. “That is why we want to remove the limits on data, so that customers can unlock the full potential of 5G and we can really propel the U.K. into the digital age. By offering unlimited plans to our consumer and business customers, we will revolutionize the market.”

Source: Deutsche Telekom debuts 5G in Germany as Vodafone UK offers unlimited plans

Shopify expands footprint into fulfillment services

Shopify expands footprint into fulfillment services

As consumers continue to shift to digital shopping, a key stool in our Digital Lifestyle investing theme, we are not only seeing more companies embrace the direct to consumer (D2C) business model, but we are also seeing more digital shopping solutions for those companies come to market. Internet shopping platform company Shopify is doing just that as it expands its reach into our Digital Infrastructure investing theme by moving into distribution and fulfillment services. Interesting indeed, but what caught our eye is how they are using machine learning, an aspect of our Disruptive Innovators theme, to do so.

E-commerce technology company Shopify Inc. is extending into physical distribution, offering customers access to a network of dedicated U.S. fulfillment centers to store and ship consumer goods for online orders.

The aim is to speed up delivery for retailers racing to keep up with Amazon.com Inc. while keeping a lid on transport costs by placing inventory across a distributed network within easy reach of major population centers.

Ottawa-based Shopify provides internet shopping platforms and other services that help companies sell items online. It has also branched into payment technology and hardware for use at retail stores and pop-up locations as more online businesses open bricks-and-mortar locations. Its customers include Unilever PLC, Kylie Cosmetics and footwear maker Allbirds Inc.

Shopify said Wednesday that its new service uses machine learning to forecast demand, allocate inventory and route orders to the closest fulfillment centers. The company is working with logistics providers and software companies in Nevada, California, Texas, Georgia, New Jersey, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

“Our aim is to make fast and inexpensive shipping the new standard on the internet,” said Shopify Chief Product Officer Craig Miller.

Shopify’s move into warehousing services puts it in competition with companies such as Belgian Post Group-owned Radial, which provides technology and e-commerce services for retailers such as Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc. at 21 fulfillment centers.

The services are part of a growing array of operations that startups and traditional shipping companies have launched to compete with Amazon’s expanding distribution system, including a Fulfillment by Amazon business that ties its online marketplace for third-party sellers to its burgeoning network of distribution centers and transportation options.

Source: Online Retail Provider Shopify Adds Fulfillment Service – WSJ