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Can America Function More Like a Fiscally Responsible Company? It’s up to Us, the Shareholders

February 24th, 2011 02:45 admin View Comments

We expect perfection from companies in Silicon Valley. The general consensus is that Yahoo is one of the worst run tech companies in the world, never mind it’s still profitable, cash-rich, and one of the largest media assets in the world. We get outraged and hit the BUBBLE! panic button when valuations of startups like Facebook, Zynga and Twitter get in the double digit billions, never mind their growth rates, user engagement and (in the case of Zynga an Facebook) actual revenues.

So how can we be so apathetic when we see true abysmal fiscal neglect, especially when it’s that of a pseudo-company in which we all essentially own shares?

That pseudo-company is the United States government and in a thorough report issued today, Kleiner Perkins partner Mary Meeker has taken all emotions, politics, spin and manipulation out of the issues, to present a steely-eyed view of just how hosed our financial situation is. Spoiler alert: It’s not pretty. America is gripped by a new red menace and this time, it’s not the commies– it’s a sea of red ink. If politicians reported to voters the way management reports to shareholders, no one would finish out their terms.

If you’re a tax-paying American, you should read the report (embedded below) to see how your money is being spent. If you’re not an American, you should read it too. Far too often blogs like ours trumpet the advantages of living and starting a business in this country, of which there are many. But here’s a sober view of the downside of our wishfully innate belief that we deserve to have it all: We are in a deep financial hole, and there’s not an easy, pain-free or politically palatable way out.

But let’s leave politics aside, as Meeker and her team do, and look at some of the financials. America’s revenue has been flat for ten years. 40% of that income comes from individual tax payers. This surprised me: If you exclude Medicare and Medicaid and one-time charges, America’s profit & loss statement isn’t bad. We have had a 4% median net margin over the last 15 years.

But Medicare and Medicaid are huge exclusions, and Meeker’s report points the finger at them as the biggest culprit for why our financial situation is so untenable. Thanks largely to these unfunded entitlement programs, our cash flow is negative $1.3 trillion, or about $11,000 per household. This isn’t a George W. Bush or Barack Obama issue. Cash flow has been negative for each of the past nine years.

There are a few reasons the situations with Medicare and Medicaid are so bad. First, unlike social security and unemployment, there is no direct funding mechanism to support these programs. Second, the cost is 10x higher than was projected when Medicare and Medicaid were enacted. Why were the estimates so far off? It’s a combination of the aging population, people living longer while the retirement age has barely budged, higher-dollar expectations of care as medical advances have been achieved, and an expansion of who can receive these programs.

And there’s a bad market force at play: Private sector costs increase to help offset lower-cost public programs, which only pushes more people out of privately-funded programs and into public ones. More than 35% of the US population receives entitlement dollars or is on government payroll, up from 20% in 1966.

The report examines the cultural impact of this, asking, “Given the high correlation of rising entitlement income with declining savings, do Americans feel less compelled to save if they depend on the government for their future savings? It is interesting to note that in China the household savings rate is ~36%, per our estimates based on CEIC data, in part due to a higher degree of self-reliance – and far fewer established pension plans. In the USA, the personal savings rate (defined as savings as percent of disposable income) was 6% in 2010 and only 3% from 2000 to 2008.”

Indeed, if it weren’t for Medicare and Medicaid, the numbers show there’d be plenty of room to spend more on defense, education, law enforcement, transportation, infrastructure and energy and still break-even. Meeker notes that our global competitors– particularly countries like China and India– are investing more heavily in those areas.

There’s much more on the financials in Meeker’s report, and some recommendations of how to boost revenue long term through R&D spending and immigration reform. But the interesting thing is why she wrote it: Because for all the hand-wringing over the cost of health care and the state of our deficit, she had a hard time finding the simplest data for what America’s financial situation was.

Last year at her annual Web 2.0 Summit address, she included a slide showing America’s flat revenue, before she got into her presentation on mobile computing, and was stunned at how many people came up to her afterward to express their shock that our revenues weren’t growing. It convinced her to spend some time taking a deep look at America’s financials, and pull out all the politics and emotion to just look at the facts– something we almost never get in a world where our top news sources are Glen Beck, MSNBC and the Daily Show. As a result there’s something for every party or talking head to love and hate in the report– the true sign of balance. Meeker started the project while still at Morgan Stanley, and said in a call this morning she’s going back to her day job tomorrow. There’s no USA, Inc. Part 2 coming out, and no Al Gore-like “Inconvenient Truth” tour planned. It was a one-time project, born of her own curiosity and belief that Americans should know where their money is going.

But do people want to know the truth? And if they do know the truth, will they push politicians to act on it? As the report points out 80% of Americans indicate balancing the budget should be a top priority, but only 12% support cutting spending on Medicare and Social Security– two of the biggest reasons our financial situation is so untenable. You can’t wish this problem away.

The answer to whether American will ever be run more like a company lies with whether America’s “shareholders” will ever start to demand it.

Source: Can America Function More Like a Fiscally Responsible Company? It’s up to Us, the Shareholders

Secrets of a Memory Champion

February 23rd, 2011 02:28 admin View Comments

Science

Hugh Pickens writes writes “We’ve all heard of people who claim to have ‘photographic memories.’ Now Joshua Foer writes in the NY Times magazine (reg. may be required) that a ‘skilled memory’ can be acquired and proves it by explaining how he trained his brain to became a world-class memory athlete winning first place in the speed cards competition last year at the USA Memory Championship by memorizing a deck of cards in one minute forty seconds. According to Foer, memory training is a lost art that dates from antiquity. ‘Today we have books, photographs, computers and an entire superstructure of external devices to help us store our memories outside our brains, but it wasn’t so long ago that culture depended on individual memories,’ writes Foer. ‘It was considered a form of character-building, a way of developing the cardinal virtue of prudence and, by extension, ethics.’ Foer says that the secret to supermemory is a system of training and discipline that works by creating ‘memory palaces’ on the fly filled with lavish images, painting a scene in the mind so unlike any other it cannot be forgotten. ‘Photographic memory is a detestable myth. Doesn’t exist. In fact, my memory is quite average,’ concludes Ed Cooke who recently invented a code that allows him to convert every number from 0 to 999,999,999 into a unique image that he can then deposit in a memory palace. ‘What you have to understand is that even average memories are remarkably powerful if used properly.’”

Source: Secrets of a Memory Champion

Archos Actually Doing Well, Financial-Wise

February 23rd, 2011 02:03 admin View Comments

Remember Archos? With all this talk of Droids v. iStuff, Archos’ stable and handsome PMP/Tablet line has been cast by the wayside, relegated to a distant third place where it commiserates daily with Creative and the Zune. However in many markets Archos is still a leader and now they have the financials to prove it.

According to a recent release, Archos hit 83 million Euro in revenue compared to 59 in 2009. Most of the revenue came from Europe with 116.2% growth and, surprisingly, an over two-fold increase in revenue in America.

Archos saw the most growth in the tablet space, selling many ARCHOS 2.8, ARCHOS 3.2, ARCHOS 70 IT and ARCHOS 101 IT tablets. The 101 IT, for example, is a very capable 10-inch capacitive touchscreen tablet running Android 2.2 as well as a business-oriented Linux distro called Ångström. Great for nerds, no so great for people who just want to watch Glee.

Said CEO Henri Crohas:

“By year end, the success of the Generation 8, especially ARCHOS 70 and ARCHOS 101 tablets, had exceeded all our expectations. The demand was such that we faced shortages in most stores. The demand is maintained at a high level in the current quarter, confirming the strong development potential of the tablet market and validating the strategic choices made very early in this area, more than two years ago.”

So enjoy a finely wrought French meal, Mr. Crohas, and wash it down with a bottle of Bouchard Pere & Fils Pouilly-Fuisse 2008. It’s been a bad few years for the once mighty Archos and things are definitely looking up.

ARCHOS Announces Record Q4 2010 Revenue, Driven by High Demand for Internet Tablets

• Increase in annual turnover 2010: + 44%
• Revenues in the fourth quarter + 120%
• Fifth consecutive quarter of growth

ARCHOS has achieved annual sales of € 83.3 million compared to € 57.9 million in 2009. Fourth Quarter 2010 sales reached € 35.6 million versus € 16.1 million for the same period in 2009, up 120% and registering a fifth consecutive quarter of growth.

M€ unaudited
Q4 2010
Q4 2009
Var° M€
Var° %
EUROPE
24,6
11,4
13,2
116,2%
ASIA
2,2
0,6
1,5
235,8%
USA
8,8
4,1
4,7
113,6%
TOTAL REVENUE
35,6
16,1
19,4
120,3%

In the fourth quarter of 2010 ARCHOS demonstrated its ability to capture growth in rapidly expanding markets through a broad range of products combining technical performance and competitive price positioning.

The growth achieved during the Fourth Quarter was driven in particular by the start of rollout of Generation 8 Internet Tablets in Europe (ARCHOS 2.8, ARCHOS 3.2, ARCHOS 70 IT and ARCHOS 101 IT) where initial deliveries began in October, confirming the wide acceptance of this new expanded range.

Activity was further supported by the significant development of the Home Tablet sales in the U.S.. Year-end sales of MP3/MP4 players increased in Europe and in the U.S., Asia-Pacific development efforts undertaken earlier in the year also began to bear fruit.

Commenting on the figures, ARCHOS founder and CEO Henri Crohas said: “By year end, the success of the Generation 8, especially ARCHOS 70 and ARCHOS 101 tablets, had exceeded all our expectations. The demand was such that we faced shortages in most stores. The demand is maintained at a high level in the current quarter, confirming the strong development potential of the tablet market and validating the strategic choices made very early in this area, more than two years ago.”

Return to growth in 2010

At the close of its fiscal year 2010, ARCHOS recorded an overall revenue growth of 44% marking the sharp turnaround in the group activity and validation of its strategy.

M€ unaudited
FY 2010
FY 2009
Var° M€
Var° %
EUROPE
60,7
43,5
17,2
39,5%
ASIA
4,4
2,7
1,8
66,3%
USA
18,2
11,7
6,4
54,9%
TOTAL REVENUE
83,3
57,9
25,4
43,9%

Through its policy of broadening of the product range, with a portfolio of over 50 references, Archos has regained significant market share in Europe.

Thus, according to a market share study by GFK, ARCHOS rose to second place in France in the MP3/MP4 player under 7 inch segment, going from 5.8% market share by value in 2009 to 7.8% in 2010, In Germany, the group jumped by 4 places, from 11th to 7th place and in the UK, ARCHOS moved from 7th to 4th place[1].

Moreover, in a context of strong market deployment of large format Internet tablets (7-inch and above) ARCHOS’ innovative products have given the group a unique opportunity for development. In this new segment, ARCHOS has proposed, ahead of its competitors, high quality products at an attractive price, enabling the brand in the fourth quarter to become market leader in the 400 euro and under tablet segment in France, and to hold in this area a market share of 22% all price segments combined[2].

The forecasts of growth in the market for tablets are promising, with an estimate of over 50 million tablets to be sold worldwide in 2011[3], three times more than in 2010. ARCHOS expects to take an important position in this growing market.

John Biggs is a Brooklyn-based writer. You can Tweet him here and email him at john at crunchgear dot com.

Source: Archos Actually Doing Well, Financial-Wise

IMDb Takes Android App Global With International Movie Showtimes And More

February 17th, 2011 02:00 admin View Comments


Amazon’s IMDb recently updated its iPad and iPhone apps with international showtimes, entertainment news and more. Today, IMDb is bringing these updates to its recently launched Android app.

The app, which is free, now includes a completely redesigned homescreen that integrates the latest trailers of movies, and features updated entertainment news from hundreds of media outlets. You’ll also be able to install an IMDb news widget on Android devices.

And the Android app shows users international movie showtimes for 13 countries including USA, UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Mexico, New Zealand Argentina and Chile. IMDb says that it will also launch a similar update to its Windows 7 app.

Mobile is a central part of IMDb’s “everywhere” strategy, which also includes the ability to log-in to apps with Facebook Connect and share updates on both Facebook and Twitter from within apps. The strategy seems to be working Over the past two years, IMDb has seen 10 million mobile installs across all platforms.

Source: IMDb Takes Android App Global With International Movie Showtimes And More

Former Microsoft Vet Chris Weber To Lead Nokia’s USA Business, Louison Is Out

February 11th, 2011 02:50 admin View Comments

Following Nokia‘s strategy shift announcement, the Finnish mobile phone giant has just announced that it has appointed former Microsoft executive Chris Weber as President of Nokia Inc. (United States), and head of Markets, North America.

That means Mark Louison, a long-time Nokia employee who was appointed that role back in March 2007, is out to “pursue new career opportunities”.

Weber comes to Nokia from his own consulting business, but he’s mostly known for his career at, yup, Microsoft.

Weber was with the Redmont-based software juggernaut for 16 years – he held several senior executive positions in sales, marketing and professional services.

Among his key roles were Corporate VP leading Microsoft’s US Enterprise and Partner Group as well as heading the US EPG National Sales Excellence and Industry Organization.

He pledges to “work relentlessly on winning the trust of our customers and the hearts of consumers”.

Source: Former Microsoft Vet Chris Weber To Lead Nokia’s USA Business, Louison Is Out

US Authorities GPS Tagging Duped Indian Students

February 1st, 2011 02:56 admin View Comments

Image

tanveer1979 writes “Indian students duped by Tri-Valley University in California have been fitted with GPS devices by US immigration authorities. Scores of Indian students were caught in a scam where the university violated immigration norms and illegally got the students F1 visa and immigration status. To keep a track on the movements of the students, the authorities have fitted them with GPS devices. This is spiraling into a major diplomatic row between India and USA, with the former calling the practice inhuman and unwanted.”

Source: US Authorities GPS Tagging Duped Indian Students

Facebook Averaged Almost 8 New Registrations Per Second In 2010

February 1st, 2011 02:37 admin View Comments

Candytech, a Czech company that helps companies create and measure Facebook marketing campaigns, has gathered a wealth of Facebook-specific data over the years via its statistics portal SocialBakers.

The company has put together this great infographic, offering an overview of Facebook’s growth and population throughout 2010. Some key stats:

- Facebook ballooned from 337 million to 585 million users in 2010
- That means roughly 7.9 new users signed up every second of the year, on average
- USA and the UK are in the top 3 countries, but Indonesia is second with 32.1 million users
- The top 10 countries make up nearly 60% of all users
- The large majority of users is between 18 and 34 years old
- … but the fastest growing age group is 65+ (+124%)
- Three food brands (Coca-Cola, Starbucks and Oreo) make up the top 3 brands on Facebook
- Michael Jackson may have passed away, but his legacy is strong: 26.2 million fans

Source: Facebook Averaged Almost 8 New Registrations Per Second In 2010

Google Releases Software To Iran

January 19th, 2011 01:20 admin View Comments

eldavojohn writes “After working closely with US officials following the lifting of export restrictions, Google has announced that their Google Earth, Picasa and Chrome are now available for download in Iran. US sanctions once prevented this but now Google has created versions of its popular software that block all Iranian government IP addresses from utilizing them — thus satisfying the new restrictions.”

Source: Google Releases Software To Iran

Goldman Sachs Says No Facebook Shares For US Investors

January 17th, 2011 01:02 admin View Comments

theodp writes “In 2009, Robert Cringely speculated that the day might be coming when Goldman Sachs decides the United States isn’t worth dealing with anymore. Crazy, eh? Maybe not. Blaming ‘intense media attention,’ Goldman Sachs has decided to exclude US investors from a $1.5 billion Facebook offering. In a nicely-timed all-investors-are-not-created-equal MLK Day statement, the US taxpayer bailout beneficiary said, ‘Goldman Sachs decided to proceed only with the offer to investors outside the US….We regret the consequences of this decision, but Goldman Sachs believes this is the most prudent path to take.’”

Source: Goldman Sachs Says No Facebook Shares For US Investors

US Scraps Virtual Fence Along Mexican Border

January 15th, 2011 01:06 admin View Comments

Pickens writes “The Arizona Republic reports that the federal government has officially cancelled its multibillion-dollar plan to build a virtual fence along the border with Mexico as Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano disclosed in a congressional briefing that the program known as SBInet was costing too much and achieving too little. ‘SBInet cannot meet its original objective of providing a single, integrated border-security technology solution,’ says Napolitano. Boeing was hired in 2006 to develop the system under a three-year federal contract with cost projections for full build-out as high as $8 billion but efforts were plagued by delays, glitches, budget increases and congressional criticism. Napolitano has ordered Customs and Border Protection to launch a more modest and geographically tailored effort using SBInet funds and existing technology such as mobile-surveillance systems, unmanned aircraft, thermal-imaging devices and remote-video surveillance with proven elements of SBInet including stationary radar and infrared-sensor towers. SBInet cost nearly $1 billion for development along 53 miles of Arizona border.”

Source: US Scraps Virtual Fence Along Mexican Border

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