Q2 earnings

11.06.2020   |  Capital Market  |  Fintech  |  News  |  Tech

The past

After a mixed Q1 earnings performance (see my previous blog post) in which I predicted and, eventually, saw most economy sectors under-performing up to the brink of bankruptcy (with famous „victims” such as Hertz International or LATAM Airlines), and the sheer rise to stardom of „work-from-home” sweethearts Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack, it’s easy to say that the Corona pandemic took a carefully selected toll on the business world.

As previously predicted, the superstars of Q1 have been the technology behemoths, starting with the FAANG group (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Alphabet) and continuing with the fresh princes: Zoom, Slack and other collaborative tech companies.

The future

I already mentioned in my previous analysis that, even though Q1 has been very good for business for the companies above, Q2 will not be so generous. More and more people find themselves out of a job, companies close or at least reduce volume, investment budgets disappear, research and development go bust, and consumers become more and more selective with their cash.

Macroeconomic data, in the US and elsewhere, fully supports the statement above and paints a very grim picture: US unemployment close to 25% (that’s more than 40 million people having no other choice but to apply for government help), a GDP drawdown of 34% according to analysts at Goldman Sachs.

It’s a dire future they predict, and it could get nasty for most S&P members. According to a research paper from factset.com, for Q2 2020, the estimated earnings decline for the S&P500 is 43.4%.

If 43.4% is the actual decline for the quarter, it will mark the most significant year-on-year decline in earnings reported by the index since Q42008 (-69.1%).  On a per-share basis, estimated earnings for the second quarter have decreased by 35.9% since March 31st.

*image source: factset.com

I see most, if not all, market sectors dropping in terms of revenue, earnings per share, target prices, P/E ratios. In part, due to the global exposure most of them have which brings more considerable influence, and from Covid-19 induced crisis but also because there’s no winner when everybody’s worrying for tomorrow.

In an interconnected global economy, there can no longer be a superhero company floating above all else; we’re all in the same predicament.

Murdered by numbers

Don’t let yourselves be fooled by the YTD performance of US indices:

  • NASDAQ – 9814 points   ~13% YTD
  • S&P – 3193 points   ~2% YTD
  • DJIA – 27110 points   ~-2% YTD

*image source: Yahoo Finance

By looking at the figures above, one might think the markets are all but immune to the effects of the pandemic over the real economy. It’s my firm opinion that the fairytale in which the markets are living right now is soon to end, more precisely, with the Q2 earnings releases.

In terms of business sectors, I prefer to focus on a 4-pillar aggregate:

  • Cyber-security companies
  • Collaboration & conferencing products
  • FAANG companies
  • Automation companies

Here’s my vision over these diverse and peculiar sectors and how I see the performance on Q2 earnings:

*forecasts from money.cnn.com & TipRanks

Disclaimer:

This is not a place for the giving or receiving of financial advice, advice concerning investment decisions or tax or legal advice. This is being based on personal opinion and experience and it should not be considered professional financial investment advice.

Take into consideration that most target prices from the table above are on the optimistic side as pundits, experts, and analysts are always considering the “market sentiment” in their thought process, and the overall feeling of the market right now is one of “immunity” to the effects of the pandemic.

Delving deeper into the core of the problem, I say the economy is not reflected in the equity markets, and there’s been a division between market sentiment and market performance.

The conclusion

In times of uncertainty and crisis, people and markets alike return to the basics, which, in capital markets, boils down to coming back to the fundamentals. Caution is the word of the times, and this caution, combined with the weaker financial performances of global equities, will push the markets lower - the general decrease in prices will come.

I've always put my money where my mouth is; this is why I'm all-in shorting the markets until the end of the year. When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. When, in turn, it gives you a discount, you buy full-on, pedal to the metal. Because it's smarter to ride the wave and not go against the giants of the global economy: USA, I guess 😊 & China

Sit tight, prepare yourselves and your investment portfolios for big moves, and stay calm – these are the steps I’m taking and have proven to be the right ones in 2008 and any other crisis before and after.

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End of lockdown – Wuhan is the new capital of the world

12.05.2020   |  Capital Market  |  Fintech  |  News  |  Press  |  Startup  |  Tech

“The beginning is always today,” said Mary Shelley two centuries ago

She was quite optimistic, which comes as a surprise from a leading Romantic era exponent. Of course, she was talking about the excitement of an interesting adventure, a fresh day, a brand-new start.

In the trying times of Coronavirus, I keep my right to be realistic. There’s growing talk about the post-corona era, about how everything will come back to what it once was, how society will restart and pick-up from where it was left a few months ago, how economies will put all crisis behind and rise from the ashes. I’m confident that what we’re going through right now is just the beginning of a new epoch, the epoch in which nothing will be the same anymore.

The new normal

I’ve come to this conclusion by observing behaviors around me. From the muted cry of small entrepreneurs who try to find comfort in insufficient government stimulus programs to central banks that gave their all and then some, printing money out of nothing and throwing it in the face of the virus in the hope that this, the last weapon in their arsenal, will start making things right, economies rejoice, and people enthusiastically consume once again.

The underlining note in all of this is one thing: FEAR. Manifested in different forms and with various influences and vectors, but all in all, the same feeling: pure, unadulterated fear.

Business-wise, fear makes or breaks actions and thoughts, dismisses investment plans, smashes development budgets, fires employees, cuts innovation, research, development, affects investor sentiments, turns economic tigers into tame pussycats. Mind you; this is not a presumptuous forecast; this is the reality we’re living in now. This is the new world.

The Wuhan precedent

Let’s not kid ourselves; this is not an exercise of imagination; this is what some already tried. The best example is the lockdown relaxation and economic restart measures in what was, not long ago, the epicenter of this new world: Wuhan, China.

For them, after a 76-day total lockdown, with draconic measures taken to keep them inside at all times, the April 8 announcement of travel bans being lifted came as a literal breath of fresh air.

One month later, and shops are still closed, restaurants are turned into takeaway booths, businesses generate close to zero profits, production is still in shambles, bankruptcy is the new status quo. Already, the local economy contracted by at least 40% and prospects are grim.

Regardless of state-backed stimulus programs, zero-rent programs, employee cost covers, and many more, the economy does not seem to pick up.

The once-thriving 11 million people city is still in mental lockdown. Anxiety is the name of the new game.

Employees that had the luxury of being able to work from home don’t want to return to the office. People no longer frequent gyms, restaurants, cinemas, spas, salons, arcades, shopping malls, travel agencies, beauty parlors, neither the personal nor the professional life of most Wuhanese is now what it was a few months ago.

Authorities, even despotic, autocratic ones as the Chinese are, have no idea what’s going to happen, how to prepare for it, how to tackle it, and what to do if all else fails. It’s a trial and error process for Wuhan, for China, and pretty soon, for the rest of the world.

A mixed bag of information

So far, the pros and cons list contains most, if not all, measures and steps you hear about all day long, every time you turn on your TV or web browser:

Lockdown

  1. It surely works!
  2. It might not, it’s too soon to tell, look at the USA, see the protestors!

Ventilators

  1. Essential for life support during these trying times!
  2. Actually, studies are showing they don’t make much of a difference!

Remdesivir

  1. The magic drug that’s going to cure us all!
  2. Trial test after trial test showed that it has no positive effects and might, in some cases, even make matters worse!

Hydroxychloroquine

  1. Some guy says it cured him!
  2. Intensive medical studies find no relevant connection between it and Corona evolution!

Smokers are better protected

  1. Their lungs are more accustomed to harsh breathing conditions!
  2. How could that be, smoking kills, it says so on the pack!

Flattening the curve is the way to go

  1. Sounds smart and might work!
  2. There’s no proof yet this is the way to go for acquiring mass immunization!

For each contradictory affirmation, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of articles, pseudo-studies, reports, analysis… And with each of those, the general uncertainty about the future grows a little bit stronger.

For the average Joe and for Billion and Trillion-Dollar businesses:

  • revenues and incomes plummet
  • earnings are reaching new lows
  • tens, if not hundreds of millions have already or are very close to losing their jobs
  • productivity is sinking
  • motivation becomes a scarce commodity
  • people invent reasons for staying inside, in the comfort and safety of their homes
  • entire market sectors close up
  • the business world is transforming and all of us together with it

Until the Holy Grail, the vaccine, will be on the market, I see the anxiety described above as an ever-growing sentiment for all of us.

What does the future look like?

Covid-19 is here to stay, even the most optimistic medical scenarios don’t approximate a delivery data for the vaccine closer than 18 months.

Bracing for the second wave is easier said than done, because, in the end, in this new world, nobody knows what the future holds.

Caution is the word of the year, and it should be displayed both in a personal and a professional sense.

Not all people react the same way, and not everybody can work from home, cultures differ, lockdown measures affect each of us differently, central banks intervene in various ways in the markets, government policies that work in Wuhan might not be appropriate for Milan. We’re different, all of us, and now we find each other united by a common enemy and a common goal: survive, adapt, thrive.

Stay safe; stay healthy!

You can follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn

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COVID-19 entrepreneurship: the crisis plan

17.04.2020   |  Capital Market  |  Fintech

To say that we are facing an unusual situation would undermine the magnitude of the phenomenon that conquered every corner of the planet.

Economic crises have happened before and will happen again, but it is for the first time in the last hundred years that the enemy is invisible and affects the global economy as a whole – without discriminating between business sectors, levels of economic-social development, or geographical positioning.

We are facing fear, anxiety, panic, and, like in any extreme situation, the very essence of our being is put to the test: fight or flight? We can relate to this axiom on a personal level, where each of us manages their stress responses as good as they can, and also on a business level, where the actions of the companies are modeled by the spirit of the entrepreneur behind them. 

I’m fully confident that survival and well-being are reserved not only for the most prepared but also for the most adaptable individual.

Current state of affairs

In just three weeks, no less than 16 million Americans have filed for unemployment, according to the New York Times. The signal is clear for entrepreneurs around the world, even if not all countries provide the necessary statistics: the economic crisis is here for sure, with decline estimates varying from a few percentage points to as much as 15-20%, according to expert estimates.

Based on reports of newly registered unemployment claims in the US, some pundits have been anxiously stating that the $2 trillion (thousands of billions) state aid measures announced by Donald Trump will not have the expected effect. History will show us who’s right and who’s wrong.But, as a starting point, this incentive package has provided a period of relative stability for the stock exchanges, and in some cases, even a slight recovery for indices.

The bailout package devised by the FED (and most governments/central banks of the world) will not help the economy stay afloat forever. Fortunately, this is not the intended response. Its purpose is to encourage individuals, entrepreneurs, businesses to wake up from their slumber and fight for survival. Without any supportive reactions from the private sector, it won’t matter how much money the central banks print; the economy will still collapse eventually.

That is why it is absolutely essential that the economy – which is not an entity with a volatile form, but structured on businesses of all levels – will realize that the only desired direction is upwards. 

Action plan

Ever since I took my first steps in entrepreneurship, I focused on building a healthy, sustainable, anabolic type of business that can be developed and scaled, regardless of how the wind of change blows – nationally, regionally, and globally.

A critical factor in this philosophy was the “work-from-home concept", which, until a few weeks ago, was only seen as a "treat" reserved for the select few. Well, for the companies in my group, the employee activity carries on as usual, I’m even noticing an increase in productivity – with 99% of my staff working from home for over a month!

As for any top-performance analysis, the structure behind is much more important than the conclusion: I’m here now because I emphasized from the start significant investments in what I believe is the backbone of a fintech business: the IT department. Only thanks to an IT department that works flawlessly we’re able to talk about digitalization, digital transformation, cloud-businesses, increased autonomy, and increased immune response to any economic storm that may come our way. 

What I did

It is not my intention to deliver a crisis-response manual or to make an exhaustive list; I just want to detail some of the decisions I already took or will be taking in the following period:

1. Specific budgeting
No containing measure or reaction in this world, no matter how revolutionary and daring, will succeed unless it’s supported by money. Cash flow is king! Analyzing, sorting, and transforming the fixed and floating cash-flows are essential processes in times of crisis.

2. Infrastructure
I mentioned earlier that the IT department is the backbone of my business. I’ve set this mindset since 2018, a build-up year, and I enforced everything in 2019, not in anticipation of a crisis (which actually happened), but because this is the ideal flow for my business. 

Internal communication, advanced reporting services, tracking specific KPIs, analyzing business data, building a complete ecosystem that includes the entire business, cloud services, business intelligence, and the list can go on. All of these are just cogwheels which work in sync only when well-oiled by a cohesive and sound IT department. Infrastructure is key during this period of crisis. 😊

3. Empowering
Key people now have the chance to benefit from all this and gain even more power and influence in my organization, when face-to-face communication is no longer an option. I’ve always been humble enough to surround myself with people who challenge me, people with a strong personality, and decision-making power - now is their time to shine and prove to me, once again, that the power of my business is in their hands.

4. Flows and procedures
Setting goals and pursuing them is no longer a novelty for any business of high standards. I have implemented a fixed schedule for evaluation, preparation, and goal-setting meetings that can be easily tracked. Every Monday, I surround myself (virtually, for now) with my top management to prepare and start-off the week, and each Friday finds us in a video session to conclude and evaluate the past five days of activity.

5. Reporting
Thanks to the IT systems mentioned before, it’s elementary for me to track the group's reporting activity, starting from macro to micro objectives – where the situation requires it.

6. Financial motivation
I have built a meritocratic culture around me; with one hand, I reward those who perform well, and with the other, I track, identify, and analyze the environments and the people who aren’t at their best yet. I believe in the people around me, which is why I invest the time and resources needed to listen and help those who need a boost – experience has shown me that some diamonds need to be polished more before they start shining.

7. Preparing the return to the office
In small but firm steps, our activity will be returning to normal. I have invested, and I’ll still be investing in the safety of my colleagues: I’ve acquired medical and protective equipment (masks, gloves, sanitizers...), we’re prepared to install a disinfection tunnel, all in order to be able to gradually start resuming our activity. I forecast that in a few months – although nothing will be the same in the post-Coronavirus era – the activity of my group will be resumed.

Conclusion 

A crisis is an opportunity for reflection, development, and adaptation. There are still many things to improve; there are threats that have not yet made their presence felt, but, based on the above organizational structure, I am fully confident that the Coronavirus crisis era will be a huge opportunity for Key Way Group and myself. We have the right tools and attitude to take this chance and use it to evolve and progress!

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Octavian Patrascu Alternative Investments

Why Millennials are choosing alternative investment routes

16.12.2019   |  Capital Market  |  Fintech  |  News  |  Tech

It used to be the case that one would have some money, and they would go to an advisor who would then, in turn, research different markets and make a recommendation. That person would charge their client a fee for managing the money and a success fee should the placement of funds generate a profit. While the former would vary from, generally, 0.5% to 2% (with the rule being that you pay less when you place more money), the latter could go to up to 20% of your profits. And while, in the old days, one would pay for the work the advisor does behind the scenes to research and get top-notch information in a market, the alternatives nowadays no longer justify paying such high prices to place one’s money. The advisor is slowly being replaced by a user’s own research, online investment management companies, or even Artificial Intelligence.

The price for investing your money has also gone dramatically down, with the rise of more and more digital companies using advanced software to analyse data and generate attractive portfolios. 

Stock market investments are also an attractive alternative. However, without experience in the field or a fee-hungry advisor, this can prove to be a problematic choice. The issue is two-fold: on the one side, picking the stocks to “bet” on can be extremely difficult, as it takes serious market research to identify the potential long-term champions; and then, of course, there is the approach that some companies might skyrocket when they are launching new products or tapping into a new market. However, this comes with significant risk, as overnight success is rare, and massive failures have been generating headlines since before we can remember.

One could think that actively investing one's own money is a bold move, but the old-fashioned “keep your money in the bank” option is now a money-losing option.

It’s been 12 years since the modern financial sector started to show its weaknesses, and 11 since the sequence of events that started with Lehman Brothers collapsing nearly destroyed the world economy. The new reality is one of lack of trust in the banks from the younger generation, and of negative interest rates. Yes, in many countries it actually costs you money to have banks take your placements. 

As such, it is no wonder that it actually makes sense to find alternative ways to protect and expand one’s wealth. However, there is one significant risk that one should always consider: while not being tied to big institutions such as banks is what has made these alternatives attractive to younger generations in the first place, the downside to that is that, if anything were to happen to them, they will not have an entity behind them to bail them out, which poses an increased risk to customers. As such, research and caution are highly desirable.

Over the last 2-3 years, the shared economy model, championed by the likes of Uber, has been adopted in more and more industries, including the financial one.

More and more platforms are offering the option for people to create portfolios using small amounts of money, relying on the power of the crowd to create strength when put together.

So, here are a few of the options that are out there, and a bit on how they work:

  • FinTech is always an exciting field. Have a look at players such as Robinhood and Sofi.com, which offer lending, mortgages and investment to categories of people who would not always qualify for support from a traditional bank.
  • Peer-to-peer lending (P2P) uses marketplaces or platforms to match borrowers (people) lenders (also people) - see Mintos, Grupeer, Peerberry, Lendermarket. Those interested can “buy” a share of a loan on the platforms.
  • Startups: new and exciting startups are in the news almost daily. Two of the ones that have piqued my interest are forgeglobal.com, seedrs.com. If you have a more serious amount of money to invest, getting “in on the action” at ground level can be incredibly rewarding, both in terms of supporting an entrepreneur who’s just starting out, as well as potentially getting a significant return for your investment. But, as with everything, make sure you do your due diligence and ample research in the space you are about to invest in.
  • If you want to go industry-specific, there are now marketplaces for investments in real estate. Don’t have enough money to buy and flip a piece of real estate? That’s okay. You can pair up with other investors, crowdfund and get involved that way. Crowd Estate, for example, promises 17% annual returns. 

Please note that I am an investor in some of the companies I have mentioned in this article. This article is not meant to provide investment advice, it is merely an investor’s perspective on alternative investments available. Capital at risk.

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ADGM

Attracting investors: Romania versus The World

01.11.2019   |  Capital Market  |  Fintech  |  News

Over the last decade, I've built my professional life as an investor, focusing on 3 key areas: financial services, real estate and tech startups. I’ve participated in the setup and development of two major fintechs, and after those two successful exits I’m now directing my resources into building a new enterprise in this area – the Key Way group. 

I've started, participated in and developed companies in Romania, as well as Bulgaria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Germany, the UK, Mexico, Dubai and South East Asia. I'm constantly looking for new segments, new markets and new opportunities, and therefore I interact regularly with the regulator institutions and official agencies in various countries and  markets. 

The most recent example is the GCC area (Gulf Cooperation Council - Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia).  I  started to research opportunities in that area at the end of 2018 -  more specifically, the United Arab Emirates, which are establishing themselves as one of the most dynamic markets in the world.

The whole experience of working with the official institutions there was a great example of how to attract and encourage investors! ADGM, the Abu Dhabi Global Markets regulator, was established quite recently and I was absolutely impressed with their professionalism.

To start off, I researched the local market regulators online. The information was clear and easily available: I contacted them online, via their website and LinkedIn accounts. They responded promptly, and in only a few days, we set up a series of meetings with the financial markets regulators in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai!

The ADGM gave me full support and very clear, detailed information on what and how I need to do to obtain a trading licence in financial services in the UAE. I met with representatives from both the ADGM registration department (where all new businesses have to register before they acquire a licence for online trading) and from the FSRA (Financial Services Regulatory Authority).

They were very clear on the procedure, steps to follow and criteria we need to meet, which is a fantastic help for an investor on a new, highly regulated financial market.

In a few days I started the onboarding procedure - everything happens online, everything is digital, everything is set up for maximum ease and transparency.

They set investors up for success, but they make sure they vet them thoroughly as well! A "user friendly" approach does not mean lower standards, quite the opposite - they made sure I meet all commercial and business criteria, they assessed my financial, capital and business status and previous experience, and checked references from markets in which I operated previously. 

We went through a process of  very rigorous assessment and due diligence, and several meetings where I detailed our business plan and long term vision. Professional but friendly - you feel welcome, encouraged and supported as an investor. 

Furthermore, their “enthusiasm”, or appetite for new business, equaled mine! They’re happy to welcome new businesses, they work hard to attract them and to set them up for success. I was very impressed that they genuinely appreciate the fact that investors, however big or small, choose their market to set up a company. 

I’d love to see this same level of energy, hard work and appetite for business in my home country, Romania.

While other jurisdictions welcome investors and work hard to create the framework for development and success, I often feel that the Romanian regulators, for financial markets and not only, start from a default position of suspicion or, at best, indifference. Investors are regarded with thinly veiled (if at all veiled!) suspicion and distrust and sometimes downright hostility, you almost feel guilty or embarrassed to be successful financially. 

I hope to see this mentality change in Romania, because I, as well as most Romanian entrepreneurs I know, really want to make our country a top choice for investments,  not just in outsourcing and services. We want to make Romania known for its know how and creativity.

I think Romanian regulators  should remember that their whole purpose of existence is to enable business, not hinder it. And as investors, especially once we see best practices from other jurisdictions, we need to remind them of this reality.

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