Thursday, July 10, 2014

Thursday, July 10, 2014 - If It’s Not One Thing…

If It’s Not One Thing…
by Sinclair Noe

DOW – 70 – 16,915
SPX – 8 = 1964
NAS – 22 = 4396
10 YR YLD - .01 = 2.53%
OIL + .59 = 102.88
GOLD + 8.70 = 1336.30
SILV + .32 = 21.52

We start today with the hottest stock in the world: CYNK Technology, ticker CYNK.  It is a one person company, which has something to do with a website, with headquarters in Belize, maybe. There is no indication of revenue, possibly about a million in losses. It had been trading for a couple of pennies, and then for no apparent reason it started trading higher. After closing at 6 cents on May 15 it began its surge with a 3,650% jump to $2.25 on June 17. The stock climbed as much as 49% to $21.95 earlier today in over-the-counter trading on volume of more than 380,000 shares before erasing its gain to close down 5.5% to $13.90, and a market cap of a little more than $4 billion. How and why did this happen? Nobody seems to have an answer, but I think it would be a very, very bad idea to do anything with this stock, just to be clear.

Se nao e uma coisa e outra coisa.

Which is Portuguese for “if it’s not one thing, it’s another thing.”

I’m sure somebody in Lisbon was fully aware of what was going on, and they were waving their arms and screaming about the bank that was ready to implode; and nobody paid any attention because there was so much else happening around the world. Iraq is fractured, bombs are flying in Israel, Germany is expelling a US spy, the Italian economy looks wobbly, Libya, Ukraine, Nigeria, Thailand, China. Pick a global hot spot, pick ten global hotspots, and I bet Portugal is not on the list.

Here’s the story: Espirito Santo International is a big conglomerate in Portugal; they missed a payment on some short-term debt this week. So, a couple of subsidiaries got clobbered, Espirito Santo Financial Group shares down 9%, and Banco Espirito Santo shares down 17%. Trading was halted.  The credit rating agency, Moody’s, cut the corporate credit rating to junk status, which is basically closing the barn gate after the cow gets out.

While I make no claim to any particular knowledge of the Portuguese banking system, the consensus is that this problem should not create a meltdown scenario; however, there has been a singe factor. Borrowing costs for Greece, Spain, and Italy bounced a bit higher. Again, this is not earth shaking, but it did cause a brief flash of realization that the banking problems of the past few years have not been corrected.

A couple of years ago the European Central Bank developed a plan for dealing with sovereign debt crises, the OMT or Outright Monetary Transactions program, but it has never been used and it probably wouldn’t apply even if the situation in Portugal started to create a meltdown scenario. So the fear out of Portugal is something called the “doom loop”; that’s the cycle in which weak banks lean on governments for support, draining public finances, which in turn drags down the banks with them.

A couple of years ago,ECB President Mario Draghi bought some time when he declared the central bank would do “whatever it takes”, and then they did nothing. So it was like a whiff of smoke that reminds you that never bought fire extinguishers, even after that little explosion in 2008, and the Greece fire in 2011.

And so, European stocks took a hit today, and that spread over to Wall Street, where the Dow Industrials started the day with a 180 point dip, until traders remembered – it’s Portugal. And then they decided that a little pullback following a 6 week rally was to be expected and Banco Espirito Santo is nothing to fear, even if you don’t have a fire extinguisher.

So, with the long-term memory of a dog chasing a squirrel, we move on to our next topic. After all, we live in a mobile-first and cloud-first world. So says Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft; no he’s not the guy trying to buy the LA Clippers, he’s the guy who replaced Steve Ballmer. Nadella has sent out a really long email to all Microsoft employees outlining his vision for Microsoft. Over the years, Microsoft made a very large amount of money serving the PC world. Its Windows operating system and Office software generated the vast majority of its sales and profits, but now the personal computer is going the way of the typewriter. Microsoft used to talk about “a computer on every desk and in every home,” a vision it clearly succeeded in delivering. But what do you do when you’ve delivered that vision?

So Nadella writes: “Computing is ubiquitous and experiences span devices and exhibit ambient intelligence. Billions of sensors, screens and devices – in conference rooms, living rooms, cities, cars, phones, PCs – are forming a vast network and streams of data that simply disappear into the background of our lives. This computing power will digitize nearly everything around us and will derive insights from all of the data being generated by interactions among people and between people and machines. We are moving from a world where computing power was scarce to a place where it now is almost limitless, and where the true scarce commodity is increasingly human attention.”

There are a couple of interesting phrases in the mission statement from Nadella; he writes, “computing is ubiquitous” and also “ambient intelligence”. The idea that computers are ubiquitous is fairly easy to understand; just look around you; you probably have a smart phone close at hand; if you are in an office, you still have PCs, and don’t forget the computers in the printers and telephones, and thermostat, and electric meter. If you are driving right now, your car is a computing marvel. And if you are at home, check out the computer in your refrigerator, and dishwasher, and a dozen other gadgets and appliances. Another name for ubiquitous computing is the “internet of things”.

And the idea here is to connect machine to machine, and machine to human, and then human to human. We’ve been talking about that for a long time. The computers would be embedded in almost everything and everything would communicate seamlessly with everything else. We’re not there yet, but if you have questions about the internet of things, just ask Siri or Cortana.

All that computing power means we are surrounded by an ocean of data. The exploration of that data constitutes what Microsoft researchers call the “fourth paradigm”, exploration of data to discover new and interesting results to power a new generation of artificial intelligences. Microsoft Research head Peter Lee recently talked about some of the AI breakthroughs that were powering the new tools. Discussing the concept of “transfer learning,” he revealed that by training a speech recognition neural net on multiple languages, its performance improved with each new language, even on previously trained languages.

There are already apps that can infer context from our emails and documents and then deliver information we need, or might need, when we need it. We’ve already seen this in marketing and advertising; based upon your searches, the data programs can figure out whether you are getting married, pregnant, planning a vacation, or looking for a job; and then they deliver advertising that should grab your fancy and even calculate the probability of a purchase, putting the supply chain in motion, ready to send out drones to deliver your package with same day delivery, or even within the hour. It’s a little like the waiter anticipating when you want a coffee refill; that sounds like a simple task but it is incredibly complex and requires understanding the differences between correlation and causation. Computers are not good at that, but they’re getting better, or maybe they’re getting smarter.

As computing becomes more and more ubiquitous all those little computers, embedded in almost everything, are gathering data; and the neural networks are analyzing the data – watching and learning, and the data eventually becomes information, and the information becomes knowledge. And we end up with collective wisdom. At least that’s the idea.

We’re closer than you think. We already know that computing power grows exponentially. Moore’s Law basically says that technology performance indicators double every 18 months, which leads to incredible innovative applications only slightly bogged down by social acceptance. Not every innovation makes it into common usage because of concerns about privacy, lack of trust, reliability, or just information overload. Somewhere there is a huge scrapyard of abandoned apps.

There is an even larger ocean of smaller and more powerful embedded computers monitoring our actions and data and trying to figure out where we want to go, and then trying to figure out how to help us get stuff done. That’s the benign version. The version will a little less sugar coating involves a complete loss of privacy and subjugation before the robot overlords. Then again, in a world of CYNK Technology and Portuguese doom loops, maybe we deserve robot overlords.

Microsoft will have an earnings call next week, and we’ll likely learn more then. Today’s six page memo was big on building productivity, but that might also mean pink slips for many Microsoft employees; after all there are bound to be some redundancies following the Nokia acquisition. Nadella writes that "We will reinvent productivity to empower every person and every organization on the planet to do more and achieve more." But for all the talk of a brave new mobile first, cloud first world, don’t expect Microsoft to abandon the Xbox game console; it’s a money maker. Still, it is a fairly bold new direction for Microsoft, maybe the biggest vision change since Bill Gates ran the place.

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