Saturday, December 26, 2015

Commodity roller-coaster not over yet; Smartphone brands face mass extinction; Finding some social 'Netiquette'

1 Commodity roller-coaster not over yet (Carmen Reinhart in Gulf News) The global commodity supercycle is hardly a new phenomenon. But the element of predictability in the path of the commodity-price cycle, like that in the course of a roller coaster, does not make its twists and turns any easier to stomach.

Since the late 18th century, there have been seven or eight booms in non-oil commodity prices, relative to the price of manufactured goods. The booms typically lasted seven to eight years, though the one that began in 1933 spanned almost two decades. That exception was sustained first by World War II and then by the post-war reconstruction of Europe and Japan, as well as rapid economic growth in the US. The most recent boom, which began in 2004 and ended in 2011, better fits the norm.

Commodity-price busts — with peak-to-trough declines of more than 30 per cent — have a similar duration, lasting about seven years, on average. The current bust is now in its fourth year, with non-oil commodity prices having so far fallen about 25 per cent.

The risk is that when the roller coaster careens downward, a debt crisis will derail markets. And, indeed, during commodity-price downturns, banking, currency, and sovereign debt crises tend to proliferate — and crisis avoidance becomes a hot topic for policymakers, as highlighted in the International Monetary Fund’s most recent ‘World Economic Outlook’.

The question now is what trajectory the recent crash will take. The answer lies primarily (but not exclusively) with China. If China’s economic slowdown persists the commodity downturn is likely to continue, as no other economy is capable of picking up the demand slack. The US economic expansion is likely to slow soon, as the Fed raises interest rates. And Europe’s relatively recent recovery will probably be moderate and tilted toward domestic services.

This commodity price roller-coaster ride is probably not over yet. While we cannot know for sure what will happen, it would be prudent to brace ourselves for another drop — and do what we can to avoid a crash.

2 Smartphone brands face mass extinction (Dawn) Smartphone brands are heading for extinction in 2016. The industry’s growth rate dipped below 10 per cent this year. Apple and Samsung’s high-end phones are taking most of the spoils, while upstarts like China’s Xiaomi are picking up first-time buyers. Loss-making brands from HTC to Sony may be forced to conclude the game is over.

The smartphone industry grew at a single-digit rate this year for the first time, according to data from IDC. Just two years ago, the industry was expanding at a breakneck 40pc. Demand from China — the world’s largest handset market and once the driver of growth — will be flat this year.

The slowdown suggests two things. First, the market is saturated: existing smartphone owners outnumber first-time buyers. The People’s Republic, which accounts for 30pc of global shipments, has joined North America and Western Europe to become a replacement market where sales are driven by upgrades.

That’s good news for premium handset makers like Apple and Samsung. The $600 billion iPhone maker grabbed a staggering 94pc of the industry’s profits in the three months to September, analysts at Canaccord Genuity reckon. Samsung remains the only big Android phone maker that is profitable.

Second, first-time buyers in emerging markets will power growth. Handset shipments in the Middle East and Africa rose 50pc year on year in 2015, IDC estimates. Chinese groups Xiaomi and Huawei - which catapulted to third place in shipments this year - have just entered those markets selling budget phones. Fierce battles are also playing out in India, where locals Micromax and Intex are fighting Samsung.

Those without Apple-level margins or Huawei’s scale may not survive. The loss-making HTC is already on life support as its $1.3bn cash pile dwindles. Ailing Japanese conglomerates, from Sony to Kyocera, will be under pressure to shut down unprofitable mobile units. Even smartphone pioneer BlackBerry may be forced to give up on hardware if sales of its latest model disappoint. 2016 may be the beginning of the end for many.

3 Finding some social ‘Netiquette’ (Maan Jalal in Khaleej Times) I've just finished social stalking someone I went to high school with. This is the digital age after all. The computerisation of all information, which includes our experiences, thoughts, feelings no matter how relevant or irrelevant, are documented in megabytes and pixels. Swipe, click, scroll - information is there on our literal fingertips. Everything and everyone is readily available. Maybe too available.

All of us are connected to each other somehow, in some way. We are watching each other while being watched by each other almost 24 hours a day. It's never been easier to creep on other people. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining for the most part. I am not, by any means, a social media snob and I am as much of a social stalker as the next person.

My point is, just because the platform is available for us to utilise, it doesn't mean the whole world needs to know what I had for breakfast, what my pet peeves are, or whether or not my child, hours away from being born, will look like me or my wife.

Social media is also the fastest evolving form of entertainment, vanity and communication there is. Stalking sensibilities are getting more advanced with each new app update. WhatsApp's last update gave us the knowledge of seeing not only when someone has received our messages but whether they have actually opened the message and read it.

One of the advantages of communicating through the written word means that there is no pressure to answer as soon as one gets a message. However what I view as common sense is breaking some digital age 'netiquette' and branded me an unreliable communicator in the digital sense. I simply don't understand why always being connected has been translated into always being available.

Whether you're a Facebook fiend, Snapchat snob, Twitter tease, Instagram influencer or a WhatsApp weirdo my advice is simple. Take it easy. Think about the value of what you're posting more than how often you are posting it. And, let's not forget people, the truth of the matter is (and I speak from experience) no one actually cares about what your posting as much as you.

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