India’s Mobile Monsoon

India’s Mobile Monsoon

 

An article in this week’s Economist points out some phenomenal data that speaks to our Global Rise of the Middle Class investing theme. While the Middle Class in many developed nations is under pressure, part of our Middle-Class Squeeze investing theme, we are seeing technology help leapfrog infrastructure needs in many emerging markets. In India, mobile data is giving people access to the global economy in ways that was utterly impossible just a few years ago.

Just three years ago there were only about 125m broadband internet connections in India; by last November the number had reached 512m. New connections are growing at a rate of 16m per month, almost all on mobile phones. The average Indian phone user now consumes more mobile data than most Europeans.

Incredible economies of scale possible in the most populous nation on earth make for business models that are not feasible elsewhere.

So as not to limit the market to people who can afford smartphones, Jio also launched its own 4g feature-phone, the JioPhone, which it says is “effectively free”. Customers pay only a refundable deposit of 1,500 rupees ($21) for the device, with which they can use WhatsApp, watch YouTube and take pictures. As Mr Ambani said last year, for most users their Jio connection “is not only their pehla [first] phone but also their pehla radio and music player, pehla tv, pehla camera and pehla Internet”.

Which has lead to incredible adoption rates.

Data in India now cost less than in any other country. On average Jio’s users each download 11 gigabytes each month.

The opportunities here are staggering, but as we’ve seen pushback on globalization in much of the developed world, so too is India looking to protect is domestic companies from foreign competition. Draft rules revealed last July would require internet firms to store data exclusively in India. Another set of rules that went live last October require financial firms to store data locally, too. On December 26th India passed rules that hit hard at Amazon (AMZN) and Walmart (WMT), which dominate e-commerce there, preventing them from owning inventory in an attempt to protect local digital and traditional retailers.

Investors are well served to look beyond just the U.S. economy which is facing growth headwinds from slowing population growth, aging demographics and enormous debt loads with a mountain of unfunded liabilities across pensions and Social Security. In India, a country with a massive population that is relatively young and with productivity levels well below those of developed economies, small improvements can generate enormous returns for both its citizens and investors.

Source: Mukesh Ambani wants to be India’s first internet tycoon – India’s new Jiography

Retirement Plans Disappear When Parents And The Kids Return Home

Retirement Plans Disappear When Parents And The Kids Return Home

A recent Wall Street Journal article points out that the American dream is further out of reach for a growing number as plans for retirement go up in smoke thanks to the needs of aging parents and their adult children.

A 2014 study by the Pew Research Center found 52% of U.S. residents in their 60s—17.4 million people—are financially supporting either a parent or an adult child, up from 45% in 2005. Among them, about 1.2 million support both a parent and a child, more than double the number a decade earlier, according to an analysis of the Pew findings and census data.

Rather than enjoying the fruits of their decades of labor, many are finding that their household burdens are growing as they enter their sunset years.

More Americans find themselves housing two generations simultaneously, just when they thought they could kick back and retire. Instead, they face the strain of added expenses, constant caregiving and derailed dreams.

This pressure is coming as our Aging of the Population investment theme sees more senior citizens with inadequate savings and a healthcare system that is unable to provide the care they need at a price they can afford. On the other end of the spectrum, adult children are struggling with student debt levels the likes of which this country has never before seen and years of lackluster wage growth.

The squeeze is coming from both ends. With lifespans growing longer, the number of 60-somethings with living parents has more than doubled since 1998, to about 10 million, according to an Urban Institute analysis of University of Michigan data, and they are increasingly expensive to care for. At the same time, many boomers are helping their children deal with career or health problems, or are sharing the heavy burden of student loans.

This helps explain why discount retailers are expecting their customer base to continue to expand. Those companies that are able to help consumers push their dollars further [such as Amazon (AMZN), Costco (COST), Walmart (WMT)] have a growing set of tailwinds supporting them.

Source: ‘I Was Hoping to Be Retired’: The Cost of Supporting Parents and Adult Children – WSJ

Dollar General Addresses a Pain Point in Rural America

Dollar General Addresses a Pain Point in Rural America

One of the key aspects of our thematic investing approach is to look for pain points and identify those companies that are able to address them. Here is an example of one that is addressing the economic hardship that has continued in much of the more rural parts of the U.S., part of our Cash-Strapped Consumer investing theme.

By now you have probably read about the shrinking middle class in the United States. Part of this is driven by reduced mobility of the American workforce. In the 1990s, 3% of Americans moved out of state every year. Today that rate has fallen to 1.5%, with U.S. mobility at its lowest level since World War II. In rural areas, the shift has been even more dramatic. In the late 1970s, 7.7% of people in rural areas moved across a county line. In 2015, that rate was down to 4.1%

This lack of mobility has created a pain point for those living in smaller towns that have suffered from the decline of manufacturing and farm consolidation, making jobs in these rural areas harder to come by. The number of employees on manufacturer payrolls is today only about one-third of what it was 10 years ago according to the U.S. Census Bureau, with the majority of the job losses in rural areas. Unemployment in such regions has average 7.7% over the past year compared with 4.7% nationally.

When we see pain points, we look for those who are able to address them. In this example, we see retailer Dollar General (DG) bucking the downward trend in brick and mortar retailing by focusing on ways to serve those in this struggling communities. Their customer base is more insulated from the Amazon effect in that their typical customer is less likely to go online to stock up on the necessities but rather gets only what he or she needs only when absolutely necessary. While Wal-mart (WMT) has continued to focus on large stores with lots of “big-box” type products, Dollar General has followed a different strategy.

While many large retailers are closing locations, Dollar General executives said they planned to build thousands more stores, mostly in small communities that have otherwise shown few signs of the U.S. economic recovery.

 

The more the rural U.S. struggles, company officials said, the more places Dollar General has found to prosper. “The economy is continuing to create more of our core customer,” Chief Executive Todd Vasos said in an interview at the company’s Goodlettsville, Tenn., headquarters.

These numbers tell the story.

Pain points can often create opportunities for investors as is evident in the performance of shares of Dollar General versus the S&P 500.

DG Chart

Dollar General is expanding because rural America is struggling. With its convenient locations for frugal shoppers, it has become one of the most profitable retailers in the U.S. and a lifeline for lower-income customers bypassed by other major chains.

Pain created an opportunity for this company, its investors, and perhaps even more importantly those customers who are very much in need.

DG data by YCharts

Source: How Dollar General Became Rural America’s Store of Choice – WSJ

Cocktail Investing Ep 6: The growing divide between the hard & the soft economic reports, boxed.com CEO Chieh Huang

Cocktail Investing Ep 6: The growing divide between the hard & the soft economic reports, boxed.com CEO Chieh Huang

In this week’s program, Tematica’s cocktail mixologists, Chris Versace and Lenore Hawkins talk about everything from the market’s reaction to Trump’s speech before Congress to the widening divide between the real hard economic data reports coming in, (spoiler alert – not so hot) and the softer sentiment reports which are on fire, as well as the latest Thematic Signals. From mobile carriers moving more and more into content in our Connected Society in which Content is King to McDonald’s experimenting with different delivery models for our Cash Strapped Consumer who is eschewing quick service restaurants, preferring Foods with Integrity.

This week we saw the wind down to the December quarter earnings season, Trump’s first speech before Congress and Amazon Web Services wreaked havoc on businesses far and wide when it went down. Snap, the parent company of Snapchat, traded publicly for the first time and despite iffy fundamentals, the share price jumped up dramatically.

January’s real personal income growth weakened materially while real spending growth was the weakest since 2009 – not exactly consistent with the jubilant headlines. It also raises questions for our consumer spending led economy. With signs of inflation picking up both in and outside the US per February data from Markit Economics and ISM, the Fed is looking more like it will hike in March, despite their recent Beige book being full of terms like “modest”, “moderate”, “mixed” and subdued” – go figure.

McDonald’s is looking to offer mobile ordering alongside curbside pickup as it experiences declining foot traffic and same store sales. As we share on the podcast, we think embracing technology is not going to get at the heart of McDonald’s problems.

Mobile carriers are finding more and more they need to feed their networks with content as more than 80 percent of 18 to 34-year-olds in the U.S. use mobile platforms to consume content, spending more than two hours on average every day viewing videos or using apps. We think this is bound to result in a boom for the eye-glass and contact lens industry in a few years time – we’re only half kidding.

If that all wasn’t enough, we had the great pleasure of speaking with Chieh Huang, CEO of our latest online shopping obsession, Boxed.com. In just four years Chieh and his team have grown the business from operating out of Chieh’s garage to now generating over $100 million in revenue while getting their products to 96 percent of their customers in just two days or less. We spoke with him about just how his team has generated such stellar growth and his insights into the incredible level of pain we see in the retail sector. We couldn’t have enjoyed ourselves more talking with a guy who is deep in the thick of a Disruptive Technology with a compelling offering for the Cash Strapped Consumer in our Connected Society.

Companies mentioned on the Podcast

  • ALDI
  • Amazon.com (AMZN)
  • Apple (APPL)
  • AT&T (T)
  • Boeing (BA)
  • Comcast (CMCSA)
  • Costco (COST)
  • Dycom (DY)
  • Goldman Sachs (GS)
  • Facebook (FB)
  • Lidl
  • McDonald’s (MCD)
  • Snap (SNAP)
  • United Parcel Service (UPS)
  • Verizon (VZ)
  • Walmart (WMT)
  • Wegmans Food Markets

 

Chris Versace Tematica Research Founder and Chief Investment Officer
Lenore Hawkins Tematica Research Chief Macro Strategist