August 22, 2016

Fortune - Inside McDonald’s Bold Decision to Go Cage-Free 13min

Steve Easterbrook doesn’t seem like the sloganeering type. He’s cool, a rational technocrat rather than a fiery head coach. Yet Easterbrook has two slogans he regularly employs. The phrases—“Act first, talk later” and “Progress over perfection”—hint that beneath his reserved exterior he’s aiming for real change. ... In a year and a half at the helm he has begun paring costs and decided to move McDonald’s MCD -1.81% headquarters from the suburbs back to Chicago. More important, in the U.S. market he launched McDonald’s successful All Day Breakfast, removed high-fructose corn syrup from the company’s buns, ended the use of key antibiotics in the company’s chickens, and embarked on a 10-year plan to liberate the birds that lay its eggs from the cages in which they have long been confined. The latter two changes are potentially transformative not only for McDonald’s—where chickens and eggs now account for 50% of the items on the menu—but for the entire American food industry. ... The Golden Arches are touting purity and provenance rather than solely relying on product launches—Shamrock shakes! the McRib!—to generate buzz as the company did in the past. The new approach allows McDonald’s to tap into the nation’s health zeitgeist in a way that it never has before. ... McDonald’s isn’t waiting for the supply—it’s creating it. But the seemingly simple change to cage-free eggs involves complex and expensive logistics, as we’ll see, and there’s a long, long way to go: Right now only 13 million of the company’s 2 billion U.S. eggs are cage-free.

Bloomberg - How Lending Club’s Biggest Fanboy Uncovered Shady Loans 12min

In 2013, at age 30, he set out to build a better, more equitable way to assign credit scores to millennials who, in the wake of the recent financial crisis, had never taken out a loan before. All Sims needed to get started was a trove of data from a financial institution. ... When Lending Club went public in late 2014, Sims scraped together about $1,000 to buy stock. “It sounds dumb now,” he said, “but it felt like a chance to participate in history.” He was so taken by Lending Club that he began listening to the company’s earnings calls. “Like a weirdo,” he said. It was on one of these calls, in 2015, that he heard Chief Executive Officer Renaud Laplanche say that 14 percent of Lending Club’s borrowers, or more than 100,000 people, “returned for a second loan.” That struck Sims as curious. He knew that for all the information the company made public about its borrowers—incomes, employment histories, their reasons for borrowing—one thing it didn’t list was repeat customers. ... Sims saw a business opportunity: a research service that would independently rate Lending Club loans the way Morningstar rates mutual funds. Sims asked a data scientist, Allen Grimm, to help design an algorithm to identify loans that seemed to have been taken out by the same person and yet were assigned different rates. They called it the Financial Genome Project. ... Lending Club and its backers don’t deny the self-dealing but say it’s a nonstory. ... Sims has discovered dozens of other loans he suspects were made to company insiders, as well as lending practices that seem to have been designed to push growth above all else.

Foreign Policy - Present at the Creation - Part 1 12min

Over the course of our more than 15 meetings with Abu Ahmad, we questioned him intensively about his knowledge of the jihadi group and his bona fides as one of the “soldiers of the caliphate.” Over a period of 10 months, we spent more than 100 hours with him. He patiently answered our questions on everything from how he ended up with the Islamic State, how the organization is organized, and the identity of the European foreign fighters within the group. Our interviews would go on for six hours a day, in week-long stretches. ... Abu Ahmad agreed to speak to us, he explained, for several reasons. Although he is still with the Islamic State, he doesn’t agree with everything the outfit does. He is attracted to the organization because he views it as the strongest Sunni group in the region. However, he is disappointed that it “has become too extreme,” blaming it for doing such things as crucifying, burning, and drowning its opponents and those who violate its rules. ... Abu Ahmad would soon sour on aspects of the jihadi group. First, the Islamic State has not brought jihadis together; on the contrary, tensions have risen with other groups, and he worried that “the rise of ISIS led to the breakup with the Nusra Front and the weakening of unified jihadi forces in Syria.” ... Secondly, while some of the foreign fighters were men who led truly religious lives in Europe, he discovered another group that he took to thinking of as the “crazies.” These were mostly young Belgian and Dutch criminals of Moroccan descent, unemployed and from broken homes, who lived marginal lives in marginal suburbs of marginal cities. Most of these crazies had no idea about religion, and hardly any of them ever read the Quran. To them, fighting in Syria was either an adventure or a way to repent for their “sinful lives” in Europe’s bars and discos. ... Baghdadi, the most wanted man in the world, drank either Pepsi or Mirinda, an orange-flavored soda.

Racked - The Case for the American Mall 17min

The American mall, meanwhile, is supposed to be dying. Many malls are in fact already dead, their gutted carcasses lying dormant on the sides of highways, attracting mild fascination by way of eerie photography and resigned nostalgia. ... Last year, the New York Times put the number of malls suffering vacancies of 10 to 40 percent — an indicator that a mall is not long for this world — at 15 percent. ... In its US Mall Outlook Report from January, real estate research firm Green Street Advisors evaluated mall performance based on sales productivity, assigning grades of A, A+, and A++ to the 198 most profitable shopping centers in the country. South Coast Plaza's self-reported sales volume of $800 per square foot places it smack between A+ and A++, the latter defined by Green Street's report as a mall that boasts "luxury inline and anchor tenants, strong demographics, best-in-sales productivity, retailer ‘waiting list' for space, and strong tourist draw." There are currently 37 A++ malls and 67 A+ malls by Green Street's tally. Together these upmarket meccas account for 44 percent of all mall value, despite only representing about 10 percent of the entire American mall pie. ... The move towards investing in restaurants that are higher quality and unique to the market began percolating about a decade ago, says Marsh. This dovetailed with the emergence of so-called foodie culture, which rendered restaurants of all kinds bona fide destinations, e-commerce-proof businesses that are only bolstered by social media. In the spirit of "experiential living," why eat for sustenance when you can eat for fun and/or for Snapchat?

FRBNY - Crisis Chronicles: The Gold Panic of 1869, America’s First Black Friday 4min

Wall Street in the late 1860s was a bare-knuckles affair plagued by robber barons, political patronage, and stock manipulation. In perhaps the most scandalous instance of manipulation ever, a cabal led by Jay Gould, a successful but ruthless railroad executive and speculator, and several highly placed political contacts, conspired to corner the gold market. Although ultimately foiled, they succeeded in bankrupting several venerable brokerage houses and crashing the stock market, causing America’s first Black Friday.