Reading across disciplines is one of the best ways to improve our investment acumen. Here is a summary of some of the best articles I read this week. If you like this collection, consider forwarding it to someone who you think will appreciate it.
1. The new kid on the audio block – Clubhouse
Clubhouse, as you have no doubt heard, is an invitation-only audio social network that has drawn millions of people eager to socialize and listen in on an endless stream of conversations, as if all the text on Twitter, Facebook, and Interview magazine had acquired vocal cords.
Thought leaders, politicians, and A-list celebrities have headlined countless Clubhouse rooms. More prosaic sessions include scammy get-rich-quick pitches and endless hand-wringing about current events. Some of the discussions have become notorious, with charges of racism, anti-Semitism, misogyny, and disinformation. All of which has generated yet more curiosity about the app.
Clubhouse arrived at a perfect moment. It delivered spontaneous conversations and chance meetings to people stuck at home. For those weary of tidying and curating backgrounds for Zoom, its audio-only format is a virtue. Even being iPhone-only and invitation-only hasn’t held back its popularity. New users often become obsessed with it, spending 20, 30, even 40 hours a week on the app. Discussions are popping up in German, Greek, and Burmese. In early February, the app even earned the badge of respect accorded to free speech-ish platforms such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter: It’s been banned in China.
2. China tries to boycott US brands
Western brands are suddenly feeling the wrath of the Chinese consumer, the very shoppers who for years have clamoured for their products and paid them vast amounts of money. Egged on by the ruling Communist Party, Chinese online activists are punishing foreign companies that have joined a call to avoid using cotton produced in the Chinese region of Xinjiang, where the authorities are waging a broad campaign of repression against ethnic minorities.
It isn’t clear what the long-term impact might be on Western companies that depend on China to make or buy their products. On Thursday, there was still a steady stream of shoppers at several popular H&M and Nike outlets in Shanghai and Beijing. Previous state media-driven pressure campaigns against companies like Apple, Starbucks and Volkswagen failed to dent Chinese demand for their products.
3. There is no correlation between earnings and stock price returns
Researchers have demonstrated that the relationship between economic growth and stock returns was weak, if not negative, almost everywhere. They studied developed and emerging markets across the entire 20th century and provide evidence that is difficult to refute.
Their results suggest that the connection so often made between economic developments and stock market movements by stock analysts, fund managers, and the financial media is largely erroneous.
From 1904 to 2020, earnings growth and stock returns moved in tandem over certain time periods, however, there were decades when they completely diverged, as highlighted by a low correlation of 0.2.
The perspective does not change if we switch the rolling return calculation window to one or 10 years, or if we use real rather than nominal stock market prices and earnings. The correlation between US stock market returns and earnings growth was essentially zero over the last century.
4. The fonts used in luxury watches are not fit for purpose
In reality, only a small and decreasing number of watchmakers go to the trouble of creating custom lettering for their dials. More often, watch brands use off-the-rack fonts that are squished and squeezed onto the dial’s limited real estate. Patek Philippe, for example, has used ITC American Typewriter and Arial on its high-end watches. Rolex uses a slightly modified version of Garamond for its logo. And Audemars Piguet has replaced the custom lettering on its watches with a stretched version of Times Roman.
That watchmakers use typefaces originally created for word processing, signage, and newspapers highlights a central paradox of watch design: These tiny machines hide their most elegant solutions under layers of complexity, while one of the most visible components – typography – is often an afterthought.
Even subtle tweaks to a typeface can elevate a watch, but the brands who fully invest in custom lettering view it as a distinguishing factor in their timepiece’s design.
5. Bitcoin consumes more electricity than Argentina
“Mining” for the cryptocurrency is power-hungry, involving heavy computer calculations to verify transactions.
Cambridge researchers say it consumes around 121.36 terawatt-hours (TWh) a year – and is unlikely to fall unless the value of the currency slumps.
The online tool has ranked Bitcoin’s electricity consumption above Argentina (121 TWh), the Netherlands (108.8 TWh) and the United Arab Emirates (113.20 TWh) – and it is gradually creeping up on Norway (122.20 TWh).
The energy it uses could power all kettles used in the UK for 27 years, it said.
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