No. 255 – Thursday Reads

Source: Niche and Realtor.com

Pittsburgh-Based Niche Secures $35M For School Search Platform After 100% ARR Growth In 2019 – niche is a platform that allows parents to search for schools ranging from kindergarten all the way up to college. what concerns me about this platform is just where we’re headed more broadly in education. A tool like this is more beneficial to the wealthy family that has options in terms of where they can send their children to school. I worry that platforms like this further inequities in education. Look at the map above from Niche’s site where they’ve graded the schools across DC. Guess where the majority of the multimillion dollar homes are?

Another thing that comes to mind is this pandemic has shed more light on our education system – areas where it’s weak, the ability of kids to study from home, the stress kids are under in school, and more. Over the next ten years, where does Niche see its growth coming from to justify a $35M raise? They’re a lot more bullish than I am.

‘Burn. It. The. F#&!. Down.’: The metamorphosis of former hedge fund manager and Epsilon Theory founder Ben Hunt – My buddy Myles Wynn introduced me to Ben Hunt a month or so ago when he wrote a provocative piece questioning the numbers China was reporting on deaths due to COVID-19. This piece does a nice job profiling him. He’s definitely somebody I’m going to be paying more attention to moving forward.

Why Hip-Hop and Gaming are Still Scratching the Surface – Per usual, Dan Runcie does a nice job teasing out opportunities for hip hop artists. In this piece he looks at gaming and how hip hop artists could find an additional revenue stream through partnerships with game development companies in order to put on concerts. He qualifies his analysis by saying that these platforms will need to effectively reach a broader demographic than they currently do in order for artists to maximize the opportunity. Unfortunately, the game development industry is quite monolithic—very white and male. Delane Parnell has built a nice platform on top of the gaming industry facilitating competition through PlayVS, but what black entrepreneurs out there are building new game development businesses?

Ghana’s economy resilient enough to fund healthcare infrastructure – Minister – Earlier this week, I shared my concern with how Ghana was paying for the 88 hotels it planned to start construction on this year. Sure enough, the country is betting on the Sinohydro deal in which China will construct infrastructure in the country in exchange for bauxite. I can’t say that I’m a fan.

Oil Slump, Coronavirus Create a Perfect Storm for Nigeria’s Economy – Back in 2014 or 2015, then Central Bank of Nigeria governor Sanido Lamido Sanusi caused a lot of commotion by claiming that Nigeria’s National Petroleum Corporation had $20B unaccounted for. He eventually lost his job. Around the same time, then finance minister Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala highlighted how Nigeria needed to meaningfully wean itself off of oil dependence and was ridiculed for her stance. It’s unfortunate to see the tough situation the country is in right now due to this mix of oil prices bottoming out because folks are not moving around. Hopefully, the country emerges from this with a focus on reinventing itself.

No. 141: Three AM Reads Late Edition: Kenya’s Geothermal Energy | Resilient Ivory Coast | Nigeria’s FX Reserves

Kenya Pushes Forward on Geothermal Plans

It’s fantastic seeing Kenya continue to make progress on its Vision 2030 plan to be generating 5000MW of geothermal energy by 2030. I was rooting for these projects back in 2011, so I’m glad they’re not making me look bad.

The groundbreaking for the 158MW Olkaria V geothermal site will bring Kenya’s geothermal capacity up to nearly 700MW upon completion. The country’s 5000MW goal is a ways off, but based on the progress made over these more than 15 years and the projects lined up for drilling like the Menengai field, the country could see that goal come into sight quickly.

Ivory Coast Confident Growth Will Continue

Ivory Coast is one of the more fantastic growth stories on the continent. The country was deep in civil war less than a decade ago with former president Gbagbo barricaded in his home. Today, Ivory Coast weathered the specter of another uprising and continued its push as one of the fastest African economies. Incredible.

Nigeria’s FX Reserves Getting Oxygen

The past couple of years have been rough for Nigeria’s FX reserves as oil prices continued to drop, while Nigeria’s government was operating off a budget that assumed much higher oil prices. This left Nigeria’s FX reserves on the struggle bus as the country pulled all the stops to keep things moving. While the reserves have a ways to go before Nigeria is in a comfortable position, it is an encouraging sign to see the reserves account trending up.

No. 26: As a Third Grader, I Broke Up a Fight Between Two Fifth Graders

Credit: CBS

And thankfully, Mark Mobius aka Lex Luthor is breaking up the fight going on between emerging and developed markets on US Federal Reserve Bank guidance rumors. The dance has gone something like this:

Emerging Markets: Sigh, the Fed is being pretty tight with it’s currency. Come on coach, let emerging markets spin!

Ben Bernanke: Policy accommodations are warranted. You get cash! You get cash! You get cash! Everybody gets cash!

Emerging Markets: Invest in [Insert Emerging Market country]. Check out our growing middle class, enormous investment returns, and sandy beaches.

Ben Bernanke: My arm is getting a little tired from throwing these hundreds, so I’m thinking I’m going to wrap this thing up a little early.

Chorus aka Traders: Sell!

Emerging Markets: Wait! Hold up! Oh snaps, what are we going to do? (Christine LaGarde’s name pops up on the cellphone)

Jim O’Neill: Why are you crying? Quit being punks. Step up your financial market game. Give me one good reason why US currency continues to be more important to your economy than your currency is to developed markets. (Silence) That’s what I thought. Quit crying.

Richard Koo: Welp, that’s what you get for not making some hard decisions and preventing US currency from impacting your economy so heavily.

Mark Mobius aka Lex Luthor: Hey. Everybody calm down. Looking historically, emerging markets are killing the game with the returns they are generating for investors. Their foreign exchange reserves are larger than those of developed markets. And, their debt-to-GDP ratios are typically lower. That’s attractive, and if emerging markets keep it up, will remain so for a while. A bump in the road here and there will only make them stronger. Furthermore, there’s still a ton of liquidity out there. Ben has been throwing dollars Lil Wayne style. On another note, do you like my creme suits?

My Take

Mark Mobius is spot on. Involving oneself in emerging markets is a long-term play.  Because of that, traders looking for quick hits are going to find themselves in panic-mode more often than they would like – especially if they have not done thorough research. Commit to the long-term, do the homework, don’t panic, and investors won’t regret the experience.

Emerging market policy makers have a tough line to walk. Consumers in emerging markets are working hard to be able to afford Nando’s (delicious stuff). Policy makers in efforts to create a virtuous cycle of FDI are trying to put consumers in a position to meet their aspirational tastes. At the same time, emerging markets must instill the discipline necessary to position their citizens for Singapore-like sustainable growth. That takes hard teamwork from all stakeholders. Done well, I anticipate having fewer restless nights pondering why Africa is so far back.

I agree with Jim O’Neill’s challenge to emerging markets to develop their financial markets and reduce their dependence on US currency.  A few years ago, Nigeria’s Central Bank shifted a portions of its foreign exchange reserve to include Chinese Renminbi.  Will we see other Central Banks doing more of this? The newly minted East African Exchange and the continued work of the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria are examples of African countries taking steps to strengthen their financial markets.

The Work Continues

The emerging market sell-off that has been going on for the past few months has been frustrating to watch. It must reinforce the urgency with which emerging market policy makers create environments for wealth creation locally and globally. The investors who conduct country-specific research rather than look for key words will continue to do well. At the end of the day, folks are going to make money.