Whatever you think of gambling, its regulations are mesmerizing. Gambling is outlawed in one way or another in all 50 states, but almost all — except Hawaii (surprisingly) and Utah (less so) — have exceptions. Most offer state-run lotteries. Thirty allow Indian casinos. Seventeen have full-scale non-Indian casinos (New York and Massachusetts are poised to join that group.) In each case, government officials limit the number of casinos and determine where they will be located. … Economically speaking, these anticasino regulations are the single greatest profit generator for casino operators. By limiting the number and location, and therefore artificially keeping the market underserved, governments essentially guarantee outsize profits for those in business. (The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, which limits cab licenses, ensures a similar regulatory oligopoly, as do many state liquor-distribution regulators.) If there were unlimited licenses, each casino operator would have to compete — like every restaurant or movie theater — with all the others.
Mathur explains how he and his company, Yulex, hope to break the Asian rubber monopoly using gene sequencing and an unassuming desert plant. ... what he’s trying to do here in the desert, with a plant called guayule. ... Mathur tears a stem from one shrub and peels back the bark, pointing to a thin layer of, well, softness. This is called parenchyma. You can use it to make rubber, and that means you can make wetsuits, condoms, gloves, catheters, angioplasty balloons, and so many other medical devices. But most importantly, you can make tires. Car tires. Truck tires. Aircraft tires. In fact, this sort of natural rubber is essential to making tires. Yes, we now have synthetic rubber, but that isn’t as strong as the natural stuff. Our automobile tires contain about 50 percent natural rubber, and you simply can’t make a truck or aircraft tire without it. ... Today, almost all natural rubber comes from hevea rubber trees grown in Southeast Asia, and that hangs a nightmare scenario over US tire makers and the wider US economy. In the event of war or natural disaster, our supply could vanish, and rather quickly. But guayule can provide an alternative. Since the early 20th century, American researchers, entrepreneurs, and statesmen have eyed the plant as a way of freeing the U.S. economy from this deep dependence on Asia. Rubber trees don’t do well in the US, but guayule does. It’s indigenous to Mexico and the American southwest.
Why the search leader’s antitrust deal fell apart ... The more Europeans rely on Google, however, the more they’ve come to fear it, making it an easy target for politicians. Last November members of the European Parliament voted 384 to 174 for a symbolic proposal to break up the search giant into two separate pieces—its monolithic search engine and everything else. In Spain, Google has been forced to shut down Google News over copyright issues. In Germany, it has stopped collecting images for its Street View navigation service because of privacy concerns. The memory of Stasi secret police surveillance in the former East makes such issues especially sensitive. More recently, Google has been forced to comply with an EU “right to be forgotten” ruling and to remove embarrassing items from its search database at the behest of users. ... Critics now draw from a wealth of evidence about the decision-making inside the Googleplex during this period, owing to perhaps the strangest twist in the entire case. Earlier this year every other page of a staff memo written by the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Competition was mistakenly included in the response to a Freedom of Information request made by the Wall Street Journal. The 169-page FTC document quotes liberally from internal e-mails and memos, during the time when Google’s partners were noticing many of these changes to the search engine—and what they contained seemed incriminating.
Since pioneering the in-flight Internet business, Gogo has dominated, commanding about 80 percent of the market. And as often happens with near monopolies, Gogo has become a name people love to hate. ... For years, customer perceptions that Gogo is basically Comcast at 35,000 feet didn’t hurt the company’s bottom line. Users were literally a captive audience, and if they didn’t like the service, too bad, read a book. But for the first time since that Louis C.K. rant, Gogo has some serious competition. At least two companies—ViaSat and Global Eagle Entertainment (GEE)—are encroaching on its airspace, winning business by offering faster, cheaper connections that use satellites instead of cell towers. ... It’s spent almost $1 billion developing onboard equipment and a network of transmission towers across North America. Back then, travelers in business class who needed to work used laptops or occasionally BlackBerrys or Palm Treos. ... Today, the company provides service on more than 2,000 commercial aircraft. It employs almost 900 people and had revenue of $409 million in 2014, up almost 25 percent from the previous year. ... What Gogo does in the sky is, indeed, different from what wireless companies do on terra firma. It uses an air-to-ground system that functions similarly to traditional cell service, but its radio towers point up, not down. Gogo’s towers are anywhere from 50 to 200 feet tall and can be located in rather remote locations, such as atop peaks in the Rocky Mountains or deep in the Alaskan tundra.
A conglomerate on the order of the old Gulf + Western, China National runs more than 160 cigarette brands, manufactured in about 100 factories across the country, and uses its earnings to invest in banks, luxury hotels, a hydroelectric plant, a golf course, and even drugmakers. Most of its money goes to its owner, the Chinese government; the tobacco industry accounts for about 7 percent of the state’s revenue each year, and China National controls as much as 98 percent of the market. All told, the industry in China employs more than 500,000 Chinese. They are among roughly 20 million people who get some income from tobacco, including members of 1.3 million farming households and workers at 5 million retailers, according to government figures. The extent to which the government is interlocked with the fortunes of China National might best be described by the company’s presence in schools. Slogans over the entrances to sponsored elementary schools read, “Genius comes from hard work. Tobacco helps you become talented.” ... While the growth of its cigarette production has slowed, the company is making more money than ever in the same ways its Western competitors do: by pushing premium brands. Some are low-tar, some are organic, and some feature tobacco from American farmers, whose fortunes have risen along with the demand from China. But China National is being challenged as never before. Faced with a mounting death toll from smoking-related diseases, the Chinese government in the last year has issued a flurry of anti-tobacco edicts and proposed reforms.
Few could have guessed that the league's return would become so bloody, bitter and, most of all, emblematic of how power in the NFL truly works. ... The inability of America's most popular sport to occupy the nation's second-largest market since the Rams and Raiders left after the 1994 season had become a running joke. In the past two decades, at least 20 Los Angeles stadium proposals had been designed and junked. An expansion team had been awarded to LA in 1999 but then, mired in red tape, sent to Houston to become the Texans. Many clubs had used the threat of moving to Los Angeles as leverage to build new, publicly financed stadiums. But now, the idea of at least one franchise relocating to LA wasn't just a fanciful notion. It was real. ... Most owners meetings are boring. Some members doze. Groupthink often prevails. Not this time. For hours, the owners argued and traded barbs.
But a new generation of owners like Ballmer, with fortunes made in technology, private equity, and venture capital, are accustomed to being intimately involved with their investments. They’re not just looking to win championships and trophies. They’re looking to build a great business. ... More than that, these tech-enabled owners have helped turn the NBA into North America’s most forward-thinking sports league. Other leagues struggle with aging fans and restrictive views on intellectual property; the NBA has the youngest TV audience of any US league and lets its content flow through the wilds of the Internet. While the other US leagues struggle to build international interest in their games, the NBA has leveraged social media and new technology to build a huge global following. If the league has its way, the Golden State Warriors’ three-point-shooting machine Stephen Curry won’t be merely an ambassador for America’s most exportable sport. He’ll be the biggest star of the biggest league on the planet. ... the overall composition of NBA ownership groups has radically changed. Today roughly half of NBA teams have controlling owners with backgrounds in tech and investment management. ... These owners don’t talk to each other about on-the-court matters, but they’re all in touch regularly on issues of how to run their businesses and reach fans. ... The NBA began this past season with 100 players from 37 countries and territories, 22 percent of the league. That adds up to a huge international audience. ... The biggest potential prize here is China. By some estimates, almost as many people play basketball in China as there are people in the United States—300 million. The NBA dreams of turning the massive Chinese market into the engine that propels the league into the global economic stratosphere.
Along the way there were early signs that things had changed. First was the decline from the greatest bubble in US equity history, the 2000 tech bubble. Compared to the previous high of 21x earnings at the 1929 bubble high, this 2000 market shot up to 35x and when it finally broke, it fell only for a second to touch the old normal price trend. And then it quite quickly doubled. Compare that experience to the classic bubbles breaking in the US in 1929 and 1972 (Exhibit 2) or Japan in 1989. All three crashed through the existing trend and stayed below for an investment generation, waiting for a new crop of more hopeful investors. The market stayed below trend from 1930 to 1956 and again from 1973 to 1987. And in Japan, the market stayed below trend for… you tell me. It is 28 years and counting! Indeed, a trend is by definition a level below which half the time is spent. Almost all the time spent below trend in the US was following the breaking of the two previous bubbles of 1929 and 1972. After the bursting of the tech bubble, the failure of the market in 2002 to go below trend even for a minute should have whispered that something was different. Although I noted the point at the time, I missed the full significance. Even in 2009, with the whole commercial world wobbling, the market went below trend for only six months. So, we have actually spent all of six months cumulatively below trend in the last 25 years! The behavior of the S&P 500 in 2002 might have been whispering in my ear, but surely this is now a shout? The market has been acting as if it is oscillating normally enough but around a much higher average P/E. ... We value investors have bored momentum investors for decades by trotting out the axiom that the four most dangerous words are, “This time is different.”2 For 2017 I would like, however, to add to this warning: Conversely, it can be very dangerous indeed to assume that things are never different. ... I believe it was precisely these other factors – increased monopoly, political, and brand power – that had created this new stickiness in profits that allowed these new higher margin levels to be sustained for so long.
His laser focus on large pizza chains has allowed him to control as much as 85% of the market for pizza cheese and somehow sell simultaneously to a set of customers — Pizza Hut, Domino's, Papa John's and Little Caesars — that try to cut each others' throat in every way that doesn't involve where they buy their milk products. Dominating the market has its advantages: He's able to invest in technology that no run-of-the-mill dairy farmer ever could, resulting in more than 50 patents —and an estimated 7% net margin, which dwarfs the dairy-industry average. ... Quality is listed first intentionally. It's easy to mock his product (Frankencheese, anyone?), but Leprino Foods is one of the few dairy giants that have never had a recall. Every Monday at 11:30 a.m., Leprino walks down to the test kitchen along with two dozen of his most trusted executives for the weekly Monday Melts meeting like the one I attended. The executives test samples of the cheese produced for some 300 clients in 40 countries and check every complaint received the week before. ... Price has long been Leprino's biggest advantage, and a large one since cheese accounts for about 40% of a pizza's cost. Leprino's scale begat better prices, which begat more scale. And that scale also led to cost-saving breakthroughs that Leprino's fragmented competitors could neither catch up with technologically nor fight in patent court.