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Why you should embrace your ignorance when investing

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I recently found a crumpled piece of paper in my jacket pocket that said, “Embrace your ignorance.” I can’t remember where or when I heard the phrase, but I’ve taken up the cause since my discovery in hope of better assessing my own blind spots and weaknesses regarding investing.

I’m not going to confess my darkest secrets here, but re-reading the piece of paper reminded that I’m not the only one in the investment industry who fails to embrace his ignorance: My counterparts are often found to be supremely confident, able to answer all questions and never lost for a prediction.

Indeed, when I look at the industry through this unique lens, I see professionals who regularly defy all logic and evidence by explaining the unexplainable and predicting the unpredictable. Here are three examples.

Cause and effect

During my first week in the industry, Don Dillestone, one of the wily veterans in our research department, pulled me aside and said, “Tom, when you hear that the market went up for such and such reason, ignore it. Commentators like to find a cause for every effect, but it doesn’t work that way. All kinds of things move the market.”

He was referring to sound bites such as, “The market rallied on Boeing’s strong first quarter,” or, “The market went down today because of renewed trade concerns.” Over the past 18 months, U.S. President Donald Trump has been regularly credited for moving the market.

But Boeing, trade and Trump are just three of the many thousands of factors that impact stock prices, which, in turn, add up to the index number reported on the news. In reality, most days, we’re totally ignorant of what moved the market.

Economy and market

Investment professionals love to tie their market view to economic factors. We’re often hearing phrases such as, “The economy is strong, so stocks will keep rising.”

Evidence suggests, however, that the linkage between the two is somewhere between haphazard and non-existent.

Mr. Market isn’t reading today’s economic data and deciding where to go. He’s straining his eyes to read what will be in the news 12 to 18 months from now. The market is all about the future, not the past.

Growth, inflation and money supply can certainly impact capital markets over time, but there’s no evidence that an accurate prediction of these or other economic factors will lead to a useful market forecast.

Pontificating about the economy sounds brilliant and may dazzle some clients, but when it leads to a market call (with no mention of other factors such as valuation), it reveals quite the opposite.

Throwing darts

Which brings me to the age-old question: What do you think about the market?

You often get the impression economists, market strategists and portfolio managers know where the market is going in the coming months. For instance, a portfolio manager on CNBC last week said, “We reduced our equity weighting at the end of the second quarter. We’re bracing ourselves for another five-to-eight-per-cent pullback in Q3.” I desperately wanted Becky, the show’s host, to ask him what he based that on.

Most market forecasts stay close to the historical averages, but next year’s return is almost assuredly not going to be that. I looked back 60 years and the average annual return of a blended equity portfolio (Canadian and foreign stocks) was 9.8 per cent per year. Over that period, there were only four calendar years where the return was between nine per cent and 11 per cent — four out of 60.

It’s not clear why my industry keeps trying to be precise about something that’s anything but.

The investment industry is full of brilliant people. Some know more about yield curves, inflation, productivity, capital flows and trading patterns than the rest of us could ever hope to. But where their brilliance betrays them is when they try to use that knowledge to predict the timing and magnitude of the next market move.

The next time your adviser or portfolio manager wants to make a change based on an economic view or market action, push the pause button. Ask about his long-term track record on such calls and if you get a soft answer, suggest he too embrace his ignorance.

Financial Post

Tom Bradley is president of Steadyhand Investment Funds, a company that offers individual investors low-fee investment funds and clear-cut advice. He can be reached at tbradley@steadyhand.com

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Income Investing Ideas – Today's Editors' Picks

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  1. Income Investing Ideas – Today’s Editors’ Picks  Seeking Alpha
  2. Full coverage



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Uber is investing its growth into its next chapter — including scooters and bikes

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Uber isn’t expanding the global footprint of its ride-hail service at breakneck speed anymore. It also isn’t close to being profitable yet. That’s in large part because the company, under CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, is spending a lot of its money building out its next chapter, which goes far beyond ordering car rides with your phone.

The Uber of tomorrow includes food delivery, scooter- and bike-sharing, car rental, flying cars, partnerships with transit networks, plus expanding its rides business in key global markets such as India, the Middle East and Latin America.

“Cars are to us what books are to Amazon,” Khosrowshahi has said. Just the beginning.

Fortunately for Uber, its business is still growing rapidly — though a bit slower these days — putting it in a position to invest in these newer areas.

According to financial documents supplied by Uber, the company generated $2.8 billion in revenue last quarter, a nearly $1.1 billion increase over the same period a year ago, representing 63 percent growth. (That’s down from 70 percent year-over-year growth in the first quarter.)

But Uber still lost close to $900 million last quarter, down 16 percent from a $1.1 billion loss in the same period a year ago.

“Going forward, we’re deliberately investing in the future of our platform: Big bets like Uber Eats; congestion and environmentally friendly modes of transport like Express Pool, e-bikes and scooters; emerging businesses like Freight; and high-potential markets in the Middle East and India where we are cementing our leadership position,” Khosrowshahi said in a statement.

It’s not exactly a surprise that the company continues to lose cash. Uber executives have been vocal about their plans to pour funds into growing the surprisingly successful UberEats food-delivery business while strengthening their position in the Middle East and India.

UberEats, for its part, is already in more than 290 cities. At Recode’s Code Conference in late May, Khosrowshahi said that Eats is growing 200 percent at a $6 billion bookings run rate. The company doesn’t break out how much it spends on specific businesses, but a recent report from The Information indicates that losses are “low single digits as a percentage of gross bookings.”

As for its global footprint, winning in the international markets it hasn’t already exited remains especially important. (Uber’s most recent exits include deals with Southeast Asian rival Grab and Russian competitor Yandex, which combined to generate a nearly $3 billion gain for Uber in early 2018.) While the Grab deal was in part an admission that Uber couldn’t compete with its homegrown rival, it was also a sort of call to arms in markets like India, Latin America and the Middle East.

On top of that, Uber has invested in becoming, as Khosrowshahi put it, the Amazon for transportation — a platform that riders can use to access several different modes of transport. It’s a critical part of creating a viable alternative to personal car ownership — and thus more of a reliance on Uber.

To that end, in addition to acquiring Jump Bikes for about $200 million, Uber has also participated in a $335 million financing round for scooter-sharing company Lime. Under that partnership, Uber will let its users rent Lime scooters in its app.

This is all in the lead-up to a potential public offering, which Khosrowshahi said will happen by the end of 2019. It’s critical that the company is able to show that there are new viable growth opportunities while continuing to build out existing revenue streams.

“I think being able to demonstrate [to investors] that we are a company that is able to deliver multiple growth engines and is able to incubate and execute upon a few different opportunities; I think that’s a really important story,” Uber COO Barney Harford previously told Recode.

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These Are The Top 5 Beverage Companies Investing In Cannabis

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Over the past year, a number of partnerships developed between the cannabis industry and big alcohol. Heineken is now the latest beverage company to throw their hat into the ring.

Falling Beer Sales

In January of this year, researchers of a ten-year-long joint study undertaken by two US universities and one in Lima, Peru showed a 13.8 percent drop in beer sales following marijuana legalization. Overall, data showed that sales of alcohol were, on average, 15  percent lower in states with legalized cannabis. The study also showed that marijuana and alcohol have a widely overlapping consumer base.

Sales volume of light beers such as Coors Light and Bud Light took the most significant hit dipping by 4.4 percent, while Budweiser and Coors dipped by 2.4 percent. Also, according to the data, Denver’s beer sales plummeted by 6.4 percent following the legalization of cannabis.

Another study which took place in 2016 showed similar results. Performed, by the New York-based research firm Cowen & Company, the study found sales of beers made by the larger domestic producers had “collectively underperformed” over the past two years in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington.

The report stated, “With all three of these states now having fully implemented a [marijuana] retail infrastructure, the underperformance of beer in these markets has worsened over the course of 2016.”

[Read More: These Are 5 Marijuana Stocks Worth More Than $1 Billion]

Given these facts, it’s no wonder that both cannabis and alcohol companies are looking at the potential market for cannabis-infused adult beverages. These are some of the companies, both large and small, lining up to be contenders in this space:

Heineken

Almost two weeks ago, on July 30, Heineken (NASDAQOTH:HEINY) launched Hi-Fi Hops, a cannabis-only beverage in a handful of dispensaries in California under its Lagunitas brand. The beverage is designed to taste like beer but does not contain alcohol.

Currently, the beverage comes in a ten-milligram version with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and a hybrid version with five milligrams of THC and five milligrams of CBD. Although the drink costs $8 per can, according to reports sales continue to rise.

Constellation Brands

Constellation Brands (NYSE:STZ), North America’s first publicly traded cannabis company, is a multi-billion-dollar firm known for brands such as Corona. Last year, Constellation Brands announced that it would partner with Canopy Growth Corporation (TSX:WEED) (NYSE:CGC) to research the possibility of developing a cannabis brew.

Constellation wound up taking a 9.9 percent equity stake in Canopy Growth Corp. totaling approximately $190 million and has since given itself a chance to expand that stake by acquiring more than $150 million in convertible debt from Canopy. Constellation Brands and Canopy will work together to create new products, including beverages, to reach markets where marijuana is legal.

Last month, Canopy Growth announced a deal to acquire Hiku Brands, a retail-focused craft cannabis producer for CAD$269 million.

Molson Coors Brewing Co.

Back in January Molson’s noted their concerns about falling beer sales. Earlier this week, Molson Coors Canada announced a joint venture with The Hydropothecary Corporation (TSX:HEXO), a recognized leader in Canadian medical cannabis to develop a line of non-alcoholic, cannabis-infused beverages. Molson Canada is the Canadian arm of beverage giant Molson Coors Brewing Company (NYSE:TAP)(TSX:TPX).

[Read More: Matt Barnes on Cannabis, Cancer, and Beating Snoop Dogg at Flag Football]

The Molson-HEXO deal is structured as a standalone start-up company, complete with its own management team and board of directors. Molson Coors Canada will retain the majority controlling interest with a 57.5 percent ownership stake.

Alcanna

Alberta-based Aurora Cannabis Inc. (TSX:ACB) recently announced a license agreement with Alcanna, Canada’s largest private-sector liquor retailer. In February, Aurora paid CAD$103.5 million ($82.5 million) for a 19.9 percent ownership interest in Alcanna, which at the time was called Liquor Stores N.A. Alcanna already started converting some of its 229 liquor stores into cannabis retail outlets.

The exclusive agreement allows Alcanna to open retail cannabis stores under the Aurora brand in provinces where private retail will be permitted. Alcanna will build, own, and operate the new cannabis stores, which will carry a suite of brands from Licensed Producers, including Aurora-owned MedReleaf and CanniMed.

Great North Distributors

Aphria Inc. (TSX:APH) (USOTC:APHQF) signed an agreement with Great North Distributors, Inc. a wholly-owned Canadian subsidiary of Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits to serve as the exclusive distributor for Aphria’s adult-use cannabis products throughout Canada. The deal gives Aphria 100 percent coverage of all cannabis retailers, whether provincially or privately operated, across Canada from the first day of legal adult-use marijuana sales.

Other Beverage Brands To Watch

Province Brands in Ontario, Canada is developing new enzymes and fermentation techniques. The aim of the research project is to create a product with a high that is roughly equivalent to a single beer. So far the company’s experiments have produced a brew with about 6.5mg of THC.

Interestingly, Province Brands claims that the product being developed is brewed from what is now considered a byproduct of marijuana production — the stalks, stems, and roots of the cannabis plant.

The company seems fairly confident that it can do so and plans to invest CAD$50 million into building a first-of-its-kind facility for brewing cannabis beverages.

***

Keith Villa, the founder of Blue Moon Brewing, recently retired from his position at Molson Coors. He and his wife are now founders of CERIA Beverages, a brewing company in Colorado that is working directly with cannabis research company ebbu to develop a THC-infused, alcohol-free beer.

***

Doctor D’s, maker of a probiotic drink, is said to be diving into the cannabis beverage market. Founder Stuart Dimson said that CBD-infused beverages are very attractive to health-conscious consumers who are already purchasing his drinks. Doctor D beverages are already sold in 2,000 stores nationwide. However, none of them are licensed to sell cannabis.

A Growing Trend of Cannabis Beverages

These are just some of the players aiming for the cannabis-powered adult beverage market. In the short term, it’s the cannabis companies and the craft brewers who have the most to gain by the trend. In the long run, however, depending on how well received these products are, the large alcohol companies may or may not be able to make up for diminishing beer sales.

Although recreational marijuana will become available by mid-October in Canada, cannabis-infused edibles and beverages will have to wait until rules are drawn up sometime in 2019.

The rules of the game would have to change for there to be a significant upside for the multi-billion dollar players in the alcohol industry. At this time, no U.S. states allow the sales of cannabis products in liquor stores, bars, restaurants, sports stadiums, and other places where alcoholic beverages are commonly served and sold. Realistically that situation is not expected to change in the foreseeable future. But, in both Canada and the U.S. cannabis laws are still in flux and probably will be for many years to come.

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