Peak Picks

Trouble for DJ D-Sol: Did you know that Goldman Sachs' CEO David Solomon moonlights as a DJ? And that he played a charity concert in The Hamptons featuring The Chainsmokers over the weekend? And that this concert is now attracting controversy for failing to enforce social distancing guidelines? Hard to believe, but all true!

Miserable in Disney: I don't know about you, but the idea of going to Disney World under normal circumstances fills me with a certain dread. Going during a pandemic is positively terrifying. Fortunately, an enterprising journalist has braved the park for us and reports from the frontlines of Disney World during COVID.

Drive-Thru Strip Clubs... are apparently now a thing. It was bound to happen at some point.
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Vaccine bets paying off: Biotech executives at companies working on vaccines are pocketing big profits by selling their shares at juuuust the right time. The windfalls are creating strong incentives for companies to announce positive news that may or may not be totally accurate. Like many finance stories these days this will almost certainly end in some people making a lot of money, some people losing a lot, and more than a few securities fraud lawsuits.

Better masks: If we're going to be wearing masks for a while, we should probably make them a bit nicer, right? That's what some new companies and designers are betting on at least with better fabrics, cooler prints, and even self-cooling attachments.

Back from the Deadspin: The well-liked sports and culture website Deadspin has been resurrected by its writers and editors under a different name. Deadspin was popular and apparently profitable, but was nonetheless shut down by its private equity ownership in 2019. It's one of many new independent media ventures that have popped up in the past few months.
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TikTok Wars

The drama around what to do with TikTok continues. Zuck is probably going to try to shift attention to the Chinese-owned app in Congressional hearings tomorrow, while at the same time Facebook is now working to lure TikTok stars on to their new Instagram Reels platform. 

Potential payments to TikTok stars could climb to hundreds of thousands of dollars for bigger influencers.

At the same time, TikTok has announced a $200M fund for creators on their platform.

Why do people have a problem with TikTok anyway?

TikTok is basically facing the same criticism as other social platforms in that it hosts conspiracy theories, misinformation, and extremism.

Of course, all of this might be overlooked if it wasn't owned by a Chinese tech company...
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Let's Get Ready To Grill (Tech CEOs)

The CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Alphabet are set to testify before Congress today over whether their companies are monopolies, hurting consumers and crushing rivals.

What to expect: This is the government's most aggressive move to date to counter the power of tech, though the CEOs are likely to argue that they aren't really that powerful (despite controlling companies valued at almost $5 trillion collectively).

Patriots or Pirates? Zuckerberg is reportedly preparing to argue that Facebook is a good ol' American company, and that the real problem is Chinese companies like TikTok.

Quotable: One F.C.C. adviser said the hearings "[have] the feeling of tech's Big Tobacco moment".

You'll be able to watch the proceedings live online as they will be conducted via videoconference. Bets on whether anyone has to ask "can you all hear me?"...
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When The Dam Breaks

This is maybe the most important story you likely haven't heard anything about.

After months of record rainfall, China's massive Three Gorges Dam is under mounting flood pressure.

The dam is now discharging 60,000 cubic meters of water per second, causing flooding in cities and towns downstream along the Yangtze River.

Zoom out: A Xinhua report last week conceded that the dam had suffered "slight deformation", but the dam's operators have said that there is no risk of dam collapse and that Three Gorges could withstand a nuclear bomb blast.

Flood damages: $3.6 billion in economic damage, 141 people missing or killed, and 38 million people evacuated.

Worst case scenario: If the dam breaks, hundreds of millions of people in megacities along the Yangtze would be endangered and the economic heart of Central China would suffer a massive blow.
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The "Dumb Money" Is Winning

The conventional wisdom is that you can't beat the market unless you're a professional. Someone tell that to the amateur traders on RobinHood, because they're up on the year while the average S&P500 stock is down.

The most popular stocks on RobinHood are up 1% in 2020, compared to a decline of 7% for the typical S&P constituent.

Why they're winning: Experts aren't really sure. One theory is that amateur traders are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Using online forums like Reddit's WallStreetBets, they drive up interest in a stock among enough people to influence its share price. Or maybe their risk tolerance has served them well in this period when many are risk averse. Or maybe they're just getting lucky.

Who are they: Individual investors now account for a fifth of stock market activity, more than double the usual level.

Why it matters: This is of course great business for companies like RobinHood and other discount brokerages. But it's also creating large amounts of risk for people who can't necessarily afford to pay the price if their luck turns. How will these investors fare in the next market crash?

The Canadian angle: RobinHood-style easy zero-fee options trading doesn't yet exist in Canada, but with the explosion of interest in the U.S. market you can be sure someone is eyeing the opportunity to be the first to market.
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Ford Finds $4B for Cities

Premier Doug Ford announced that his provincial government will allocated another $4B in funding to Ontario municipalities to help them deal with the Covid crunch on services. The funding, which will come equally from provincial and federal coffers, is to be used support shelters, food banks, public health and about half of the funding will be allocated to public transit systems, which have seen a 90% decrease in fares since the start of the pandemic. 

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Air Canada's Turbulent Takeover

Air Canada's attempted takeover of Transat A.T., the parent company of Air Transat. has once again been delayed. The agreement, valued at $720M, gives each party three delays of the date the deal must close or fall apart. This is the second delay by Transat. Factors in the slow close include awaiting Canadian and European regulators to approve the deal, and the near collapse of the airline industry through the pandemic.

Market Impact:

  • Transat's share price fell another 2% on the news to $5.30, a significant discount to the $18 price tag Air Canada agreed to pay
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Baseball's Bad Start

Positive tests and baseball seem go hand in hand, but unlike PEDs positive tests for Covid-19 could cancel games and perhaps the whole season. MLB's opening day was just last week, at the time of this writing they've already had to cancel two games, a result of 14 Miami Marlins players and staff testing positive for Covid. Sunday night's matchup between the Marlins and Phillies went ahead after 4 Miami players had already tested positive, a decision reportedly made on a text chain.

The Big Picture
The MLB's shortened season was doomed from the start, unlike the NBA and NHL who have adopted a hub city bubble approach to saving their seasons, the Big Leagues have teams travelling from stadium to stadium with limited restrictions on players activities off the field.

I'm not betting on another week before the whole thing is shut down again.
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Canada's Pandemic Warning System Failed

Canada's pandemic warning system, the Global Public Health Intelligence Network (GPHIN), was considered world class. It attracted interest from Google, who tried to buy it from the feds in 2008, and just two years ago the WHO praised the system. A investigation in The Globe reveals how restructuing and bureaucracy left Canadians with our pants around our ankles as Covid-19 took over.

How it (Should) Works:
  • GPHIN was created as an early warning system for disease outbreaks around the world. Decision makers would be armed to make decisions about prepping hospitals, closing borders or cancelling flights.
  • GPHIN is armed with an algorithm that reviews over 7000 data points for unusual patterns. What sticks out is analyzed by humans who issue warnings if needed.
  • The system successfully identified an outbreak of SARS in China in 1998 and Bird Flu in Iran in 2005, both well before either outbreak was officially acknowledged to the world.

Why it Failed:
  • The system, which regular issued a dozen alerts a month sent its last alert in May 2019.
  • The organization was re-organized to prioritize domestic issues over international ones.
  • Layers of bureaucracy were added to prevent warnings from being issued without the approval of high ranking bureaucrats, which would take several days if approved at all.
  • GPHIN did not issue any alerts in the run up or during the Covid-19 outbreak in Canada or abroad, despite their own procedures saying they should.

What Could Have Been:

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