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New Technology = New International Business Opportunities

In today’s world, the old saying “money talks” is truer than ever. But sometimes it really isn’t that easy to understand.

International business opportunities have long been hindered by language barriers. When people and platforms struggle to communicate, it is no surprise that they can’t do business with each other.

Thankfully, this problem is being solved more and more by machine-based translation programs that are becoming sophisticated enough to enable people around the world to communicate as if they spoke the same language. While translation programs are not (yet) being tracked by economists, they are showing tremendous potential to boost international trade.

E-commerce giant eBay, for example, knows too well that the internet is good at connecting buyers and sellers, but international expansion would be all but impossible if shoppers weren’t able to understand product listings from abroad. So they developed a system that allows shoppers to make search queries in their preferred language and receive translated product listings, while also taking into account the context of a customer’s request.

Sanjeev Katariya, an eBay vice president who focuses on artificial intelligence explains,

“anything that supports cross-border trade so that someone from outside the U.S. is capable of engaging in e-commerce is where the power of global trade lives.”

EBay’s inclusion of machine translation has grown the company’s Latin American exports by nearly 20%, according to researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and illustrates the potential for increased commercial activity as translation technologies gain wider adoption in business.

NYC Companies Merge to create Wall Street’s largest woman- and minority-owned firm

The merger of the Siebert Cisneros Shank & Co. and the Williams Capital Group investment banks are merging to form Wall Street’s largest woman- and minority-owned firm.

The new entity will be led by Chief Executive Suzanne Shank, who is describing the move as a merger of equals. Shank is the only African-American woman to run a Wall Street firm. She formed her firm in 1996 after she had dinner at the Post House with Muriel Siebert, the first female member of the New York Stock Exchange. Siebert was looking to create a firm that could lead investment banking deals and wanted Shank to run it.

Siebert Cisneros Shank is among the nation’s leading underwriters of municipal bonds and Williams Capital is a primary player in corporate debt. The combined firm will have 140 employees and be dual based in New York City and Oakland, California. Neither company will issue any layoffs as part of the merger.

Shank underscored the motivation for the merger in saying,

“by bringing together two first-class firms, we will accelerate our collective success and greatly enhance our ability to serve our clients using a strong capital base that is now significantly larger.”

Williams founder Christopher Williams will serve as chairman of the firm. Shareholders include Bill Thompson, former city comptroller and mayoral candidate. Vice Chairman Henry Cisneros once served on the Clinton administration.

Importance of Architectural Design in Property Value

When it comes to real estate Architectural design in buildings has always been extremely important.  Resell and real estate value can really be impacted by poor/quality architectural design.  In addition, when purchasing for one’s own use, with bad design the problems are endless.  Looking for solid, aesthetically pleasing designs with the use of high quality materials and structures is crucial in the real estate market.

A study conducted by Modern Metal Solutions (a group of architects, contractors, engineers, fabricators and installers) also found that homes with rich architecture will have a higher re-sale value over properties in the same neighborhood with all things equal.

According to semi-retired Moshe Victor Keinig, there is another reason architecturally-sound designed buildings are a great investment.

“At the end of the day, people want beauty.  If you look around and think about what people spend money on it’s often something that makes them feel good, that offers comfort and enjoyment.  Thus their home is going to be a place of beauty.  That’s why I personally believe re-sale value is increased by high quality architectural design.”

This sentiment was echoed by a paper published in 2015 in America by the International Conference on Sustainable Design, Engineering and Construction.  It found that vis-à-vis sustainable homes, architectural designs are likely to have an extremely positive impact.  In addition, just two years ago a report published in England by The Modern House in conjunction with Dataloft found that an additional 12 percent can be added to the sale price of a well-designed home.  Modern House co-founder Albert Hill said:

“Design is a real differentiator for today’s home buyers and they are prepared to dig deep if they can see design having a tangible effect on their lifestyle. More than ever people are looking for transformative experiences and so the enthusiasm for investing in a great home space is not surprising.”

In Australia it was found that staying true to classic design can also increase re-sale value.  In 2017 a Carlton terrace property was auctioned for $1m higher than its reserve price due to renovation that stayed within its classic boundaries.

When it comes to property and re-sale value, investments and real estate, it does appear that there are many arguments to be made in favor of renovation, re-design and sound architectural construction.

New Jersey Gets Boost to Increase Small Business Exports

The New Jersey Office of Export Promotion announced that it has been awarded $900,000 in federal funds, for a program that supports small-business owners looking to export goods.

This is the largest in the program’s history, from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) through the State Trade Expansion Program (STEP). The program has assisted hundreds of businesses, leading to millions of dollars in export sales worldwide.

“New Jersey’s diverse small business community is the foundation of the Garden State’s economy,” stated New Jersey Secretary of State Tahesha Way. “The SBA award will help those small businesses reach markets around the world, and in turn contribute to their growth in communities across the state.”

All of the program funds will be awarded to eligible NJ small businesses, helping offset costs related to participation in foreign trade missions, international trade shows and exhibitions, website and collateral translations, and services provided by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s commercial service. Grants will be awarded to eligible companies on a first-come, first-serve competitive basis over a two-year period, from Sept. 30, 2019 to Sept. 29, 2021.

U.S. Companies Hiring More Experienced Finance Chiefs

Big companies are picking seasoned veterans for the most senior financial positions as they face challenges related to changing technologies, shifting consumer tastes, and economic outlooks. Corporate recruiters say the average age of CFOs has increased significantly this year: Finance chiefs at Fortune 500 and S&P 500 companies averaged 52.8 years in 2019. That’s five years older than the average over the previous 10 years. It’s also the first time the average has eclipsed 50 in at least 15 years.

Financial Executives International (FEI) Silicon Valley is keenly aware of this emerging trend, and in 2015 started the CFO Academy. It offers a four-session course to help up-and-coming CFOs (Controllers, Treasurers, FP&A execs, and the like) gain the skills they need for success. This includes a combined curriculum designed to hone hard and soft skills, alongside real-world training in critical components of CFO work. As CFOs-to-be prepare to assume their posts, CFO Academy fills their knowledge gap on things like Investor Relations and/or fundraising.

The director of CFO Academy, Candice Graves, says,

“We specifically address these gaps with presentations from investment bankers, venture investors, and sitting public and private company CFOs. We talk about preparing for fundraising and what is done inside the company and what happens after that information is turned over to the investment community.”

An annual event of the Academy brings together previous speakers, students, and organizers. In addition, each class has follow-up meetings every quarter, ensuring ongoing support and continued group growth.

With nearly 20 students each year, CFO Academy is gaining popularity. The program added a chapter in the SF Bay Area last year and is getting national attention from other groups of FEI. The biggest challenge to recruitment is the time commitment; most students in the Academy are working professionals, with more than full-time obligations.

Rob Krolik, former CFO of Yelp!, is doing his own sort of CFO training entitled, “How to be a great CFO.” He designed and implements full-day seminars for companies looking to select CFOs. He is also partnering with the Wharton School of Business Executive MBA program to reach future business leaders early on. The seminar is based on Krolik’s own experiences and is focused on practical components of the various disciplines under the CFO umbrella. These include managing and conducting board meetings, maintaining facilities, tax compliance, etc. His primary goal is “to give up and coming CFOs confidence.” When CFOs are equipped and prepared for the whole job, they are will more confidently achieve Krolik’s second goal: Helping the CFO guide the board and CEO in decision making. Krolik acts as a moderator for an online forum of seminar alumni where they interact and ask questions of each other in a “safe” environment, adding knowledge, and expanding their network.

Bitcoin: The Global Appeal

Bitcoin – that was launched anonymously in 2008 – is today widely becoming an acceptable and attractive currency.  In its early days it was used primarily for east-west trade routes, today it has established an “almost universal appeal.”

Today with the increasing concern attached to cyber security and online payments, people are becoming more interested in utilizing the services Bitcoin provides.  In addition,  for companies, high net-worth individuals, institutional investors and financial corporations, the currency is attractive when facing economic hardships.

Bitcoin’s popularity is also connected to the fact that it is apolitical and does not require a high socioeconomic status to exist in a country.  As such the following regions are currently benefiting from this:

  1. Venezuela (due to hyperinflation)
  2. Hong Kong (due to political instability resulting in the price of bitcoin go to a 4 percent premium)
  3. America (due to trade war with China)
  4. China (due to the government’s manipulation of the Yuan).
  5. Argentina (election uncertainty, rendering a trading of Bitcoin “10% higher than on many international crypto exchanges).”

Then there is Breez.  The startup company has just launched a new feature which enables lightning-powered direct app bitcoin purchases  thanks to its  new partnership with MoonPay, a fiat-to-crypto broker. According to Roy Sheinfeld, company founder:

Breez CEO and co-founder Roy Sheinfeld told CoinDesk:

“Breez is not just a wallet. It’s a lightning payment service that aims to provide a holistic experience. Breez’s goal is to take the lightning technology and infrastructure and expose it in an experience regular folks could use with compromising on the bitcoin values. Other [lightning] wallets are less UX focused.”

Other countries where Bitcoin is becoming increasing popular according to an article in Best Techie by Alex Hughes are:

  1. Malta (look at its large gambling industry),
  2. Estonia (blockchain technology, government support of the currency),
  3. Switzerland (in Europe but out of the EU),
  4. Belarus (where it was legalized in 2017) and
  5. Slovenia (government is supportive and welcoming to the presence of crypto startups there).

Women: Quotes on Investments

Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, board chair and president of Charles Schwab Foundation, senior vice president of Charles Schwab & Co., and board chair of Schwab Charitable said:

“For women, financial independence is a matter of necessity. [She has] “long been a champion of women taking control of their finances as a means of being individually strong, as well as being strong partners and members of their communities.”

This is clear since there is definitely a lack of women in the hedge fund industry.  According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, out of the top 50 funds, only two of them are run by women.  One recently retired hedge fund investing partner (the only one at the firm), Dominique Mielle even those women in hedge funds aren’t in the top positions.  She said:

“The only women we know that exist at hedge funds are in IR or sales, and therefore that’s where they put them.”

This sentiment was echoed by hedge fund industry veteran who finally did become managing director but was the only female on the executive committee.  Marjorie Kaufman said:

“The everyday reality of being at a hedge fund is to lock yourself in the fraternity basement where everyone around is acting like a frat bro.”

Meanwhile, senior financial planner and VP of Investments with Arcadia Wealth Management, Allison Vanaski had this advice for women:

“You must be able to set aside money today, for some point in the future when you won’t have an income.”

Accredited wealth management advisor and vice president of VFG Associates, Tiffany Welka advised women to:

“Create a goal or investing strategy and stick to it. If you have what you want in mind, everything that you invest in should be working to push you further toward your goal.”

Are Hedge Funds Still Profitable?

While there have unquestionably been some negative yields indicating poor hedge fund performance, the word on the street is that some of this is, “misleading.” According to Legal & General Investment Management head of asset allocation, Emiel van den Heiligenberg: “There are ways of making money from it.” 

The question is, how?  Outside of Europe, hedge fund managers can purchase Europe’s negative-yielding government debt.  These funds are based on relative short term interest rate levels which are way higher in America than in the Eurozone.  As such, dollar-based investors are indirectly paid to ensure options are available for their euros to be transformed back to dollars.

It was also  noted by HedgeWeek that there is continued performance growth in the second half of 2019.  July ended with a 7.68 per cent year-to-date return and positive returns in six of the past seven months. According to BarclayHedge president, Sol Waksman:

“Anticipation of the first interest rate cut by the Fed in more than ten years propelled the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq to all-time highs in July. Concerns over the economic implications of a no-deal Brexit and slowing growth in Europe helped push German 10-year bond yields to new lows. The equity and interest rate sectors provided enough of a tailwind for a positive month.”

Woodline Partners

Woodline Partners has just started trading.  For 2019 to date, it is the largest hedge fund startup.  Debuting with $2billion in investor commitments, it is headed by Michael Rockefeller and Karl Kroeker, both former traders of Citadel.

Ilana Weinstein, founder and CEO of IDW Group said that this amount is very “significant” for a startup “especially in this environment where startups are struggling to raise a couple of hundred million and can be at it for years until they get to break even, if that.”

Over the last few years it’s been very difficult to raise this kind of money.  Investors have become quite disillusioned with the hedge fund industry’s uber high fees and performance that is not guaranteed.