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NEWSWIRE: 8/13/18

  • Co-working startup WeWork is no longer serving red meat, pork, or poultry at company functions or reimbursing employees who order burgers. WeWork is the latest in a wave of socially responsible companies that take a stand on values, no matter the cost. (The New York Times)
    • NH: There's a lot going on here. This is, in part, a conspicuous example of a growing "values tribalism" in corporate marketing. Driven by Boomers and Xers at the top, firms that once tiptoed around sensitive issues now see greater value in loudly and publicly taking sides in the culture war. It also reflects a longer-term trend among employers to foster insular corporate cultures by increasingly recruiting, hiring, and training talent in-house. As we have often noted, job churn and geographic mobility have fallen to record lows (see: "Investing Webcast: Declining Business Dynamism: A Visual Guide"). As such, employers are more focused on heightening us-versus-them group cohesion than they are on welcoming outsiders. The competition for Millennial hires--who seek employers that prioritize a tight values-focused sense of community--no doubt heightens this urgency (see: "Trendspotting: 7/9/18"). Note that, from this perspective, WeWork's initiative has little to do with actually improving workers' health--a goal that employers conventionally pursue with gentle nudges like showcasing the salad bar in the cafeteria and allowing time off for the gym. No, the whole idea here is to declare a categorical prohibition that lets the world know WeWork is dividing the world into herbivorous saints and carnivorous sinners. Sure, some employees may get annoyed and quit. But WeWork is betting, perhaps wrongly, that even more will take comfort that, yes, this is my home.
  • The rate of 65- to 74-year-olds filing for bankruptcy has tripled since 1991. The most common reasons cited were high medical expenses and inadequate income—factors that are only going to worsen as more late-wave Boomers age into this bracket. (The New York Times)
    • NH: Personal bankruptcy is what happens when you hit bottom without a safety net. Over the last 25 years, bankruptcy laws have been tightened and bankruptcy rates have declined for every age bracket under 55. That makes the senior bankruptcy boom even more remarkable. As a share of all bankruptcy filings, incredibly, Americans 65+ have sextupled--from 2.2% to 12.2%. Drivers include greater income and wealth inequality, which often leaves noncollege Boomers with declining living standards; lack of employer-provided health insurance, a huge risk for anyone under age 65; and the shift to DC pension plans, which are often hoovered out before retirement by divorce, health bills, or dunning for kids' college loans they once cosigned. Oh yes, and a lot more debt, especially mortgage debt. Back in 1991, only 28% of homeowners age 60-64 still had mortgages; today, 60% do. Since Boomers are a generation of worsening economic trends, first birth cohort to last, this problem is going to get worse over the next decade before it gets better. And first-wave Xers are still only 57.

Trendspotting: WeWork Tells Employees to Go Vegan - Bankruptcies

  • Two Gen-X and Millennial reporters went head-to-head in a “thrift-off” for the Financial Times. While fellow thrifters might pick up some new tips from these reporters (such as using apps that offer off-peak discounts or packing lunch in a mason jar), their many money-saving strategies come off as less a helpful guide and more a telling portrait of the most financially squeezed generations. (Financial Times)
    • NH: Fun video, but I can't help wondering if all this obsessing over small savings is a means of avoiding the big picture. Let's get real: What totally dominates your standard of living will be (a) your professional and employment choices; (b) your live-in relationships (e.g., marriage); (c) how you care for your health; (d) your housing costs; and (e) your consumer debt. You can fuss over instant coffee (ugh!) or 10%-off restaurant apps if you like. Or you can give serious thought to the stuff that really matters.
  • Bloomberg Businessweek highlights the rise of “financial astrology,” whose practitioners use the movements of heavenly bodies to inform their stock picks. At a time when it’s harder than ever to beat the market, money managers are desperately searching for tools (however unusual) that make them stand out from the pack. (Bloomberg Businessweek)
    • NH: As Nassim Tabeb relates (in Fooled by Randomness), humans are story-building animals; we are programmed to see patterns even when the data are random. What's more, we often rely on experts whose methods we don't fully understand. So the popularity of astrologer investment advisers is understandable--so long as they appear to have a decent track record. ("Just tell me the time, don't build me a clock.") Personally, I always insist that the causal link be plausible, at least in theory. So when I'm told that markets dip on the full moon or that recessions occur when sun spots are waning, I will at least keep an open mind. But is the economy booming because Donald Trump was born with Jupiter ascendant on the horizon? No, that's where I draw the line.
  • Columnist Samm Coombs tells Boomers “it’s time to hand over the gavel and leave the podium.” His assessment of this generation’s legacy is neither sentimental nor harsh, praising their many social and cultural highs but also reserving some stern words for their scorched-earth brand of politics. (The Desert Sun)
    • NH: Mixing praise with blame, this is the sort of gentle admonition you'd expect from the Silent Generation. If you want something blunter--written by someone who takes a swinging 2x4 to the Boomers--look to Gen Xers. Bruce Gibney's Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America may be more to your liking.
  • In the wake of the Babies R Us closure, Walmart is pushing aggressively to become the go-to baby care supplier of Millennial parents. The company’s recent launch of curated nursery selections could be a win for risk-averse Millennials who want a trusted brand to pre-select the best options for them. (USA Today)
  • Former Women’s Health editor Amy Keller Laird urges brands to include Gen-X women in the body positivity movement. What’s out there is almost entirely focused on Millennials, but the message to embrace your appearance and resist societal pressures resonates just as strongly with strong-willed Xers who are grappling with the realities of aging and midlife. (Time)
    • NH: I don't want to be insensitive here, but can we at least agree that physical beauty is not entirely a fabrication of cultural conditioning? (For a summary of all the anthropological evidence, read: Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty.) It follows, then, that clothes designed to make men or women sexually attractive at age 25 probably don't work as well at age 55. Once upon a time, this was common knowledge, which was why we were traditionally urged to appreciate higher, non-physical attributes (wisdom, courage, experience, spirituality) as we grew older. Today, bizarrely, there are fashion-industry crusaders who insist that everybody at every age is equally beautiful. No one actually believes this. As we have suggested elsewhere (see: "Trendspotting: 6/18/18"), the real commercial purpose of the body positivity campaign is "to get the beautiful and the aspiring beautiful to feel better and less exclusive about their purchases."
  • Pro sports teams are worried that their players are playing too many video games. Teams have long been concerned about their prized superstars not getting enough rest, but as one sports agent puts it, “It used to be chalked up to them partying and all that, but now it’s because of them playing video games all night.” (The Washington Post)
    • NH: Pro coaches used to worry about drugs, alcohol, guns, and bar fights. And now they're worried about players staying up playing Fortnite? Are you kidding me? These games have become part of the Millennials' competition culture, and--what Boomers and Xers may not know--they are paying out big bucks to young winners. (Epic Games recently announced it s paying out $100 million in "Fortnite" tournament prizes over the 2017-18 year.) It is noteworthy, all the same, that Millennial players are getting--and expecting--a lot more round-the-clock life structure and surveillance than Xer athletes ever received.
  • Once a novelty, robot bartenders are expanding beyond tourist hotspots and into your neighborhood bar. Like hotels and supermarkets today, future bars might come to be a mix of machine and man: the former mixing drinks, and the latter welcoming regulars and listening to sob stories. (The Wall Street Journal)
    • NH: Just don't try to tell a robot bartender the story of your love life. A guy tries that in the recent sci-fi movie Passengers and the result is, well, disastrous.
  • Three-quarters of Millennials in committed relationships report discussing finances with their significant other on a weekly basis, the highest share of any generation. Young adults who saw their parents’ finances (and marriages) fall apart during the Great Recession don’t want to suffer the same fate. (TD Bank)

              DID YOU KNOW?

              Tech Goes to College. Since the arrival of the smartphone, schools have been fighting a constant battle against distracted students. But now, according to The New York Times, a growing number of colleges are embracing technology. Ohio State is leading the way: The institution issued iPads to 11,000 incoming students this year, and even designated 42 fall courses as “iPad required.” Nicole Kraft, a journalism professor at the school, takes attendance via Twitter and does not use e-mail for any of her classes. To be sure, some schools may be trying too hard to stay hip—the Facebook page of Princeton’s office of the dean of undergrads is heavy in slang terms like “bae” and “on fleek.” But it’s all part of a broader effort to update the college experience to fit the needs of late-wave Millennials and Homelanders. Case in point: In addition to incorporating technology into the picture, institutions are also investing in engaging orientation materials, roomy common spaces, and mental wellness training sessions—all good strategies to win over today’s college-goers.