Archive for April, 2017


The Black Swan Pushes Events to the Tipping Point-

Maximizing Enterprise Value in the upcoming Crisis

This article was published by Steven R. Gerbsman and Robert Tillman in May, 2007

and again in August, 2015.    It appears it may be “that time again”.

Please read, enjoy and “be prepared”.

Best regards,
Steve Gerbsman – Principal Gerbsman Partners

We are currently in one of the best economic times in our country’s history. The stock market is at all time highs, unemployment is at all-time lows, interest rates are low, money is plentiful and deal valuations are high and getting higher. There are, of course, many worrisome trends: terrorism, excessive government spending, trade deficits, high oil prices, immigration and over the longer term, such issues as an aging population and (possibly) global warming. Although problems and worries always exist, in historical terms, times are very good indeed.

The big questions for us as specialists in maximizing enterprise value are:

Will it end?

Yes. Of course. Even fundamentally healthy economies experience frequent and often violent corrections. The current world economy has evolved in many ways over the past decade. All large businesses are international. The primary economies of the world are very tightly linked together. Money is far more liquid and moves around the world with far less “friction” than it did in the past. The pace of technical change continues to increase. Nevertheless, we do not believe that the laws of history, and especially, the laws of human nature, have been repealed.

As always, “The more things change, the more that they remain the same.”

When will it end?

Unfortunately, no one knows the answer to this question. In historical terms, the current economic expansion has continued for a very long time and has survived numerous shocks, including war, a doubling of energy prices, natural disasters and localized economic downturns, such as the bursting of the sub-prime mortgage bubble. It appears to be “ripe” for a downturn. On the other hand, inherently unstable situations often persist for far longer than anyone could believe possible. During the 2000 Internet bubble, it seemed to us for quite some that the old rules of business no longer applied and that 25 year-old CEOs knew something us old guys did not know. When the crash occurred, we were relieved to find out that we were not so obsolete after all.

We did, however, underestimate the staying power of technically insolvent companies with broken or non-existent business models. Many of these companies had significant cash on the balance sheet (offset, of course, by significant liabilities) and investors who continued to infuse more cash far beyond the point of reason. Today, there exist immense pools of uncommitted cash, much of it in the hands of entities, such as private equity funds and hedge funds that are subject to minim al regulatory scrutiny and whose operations are obscured from the public view. In addition, the weakness of the dollar against both the Euro and the Pound Sterling makes U.S. assets a relative bargain. These factors tend to mitigate against an economic downturn. For how much longer they will continue to do so we do not know (and if we did know, we would certainly would not tell).

How will it end?

Fast, hard and unexpectedly. Two recent books shed a great deal of light on the process:

The first book, The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell describes how human behavior causes events to cascade rapidly once a certain critical mass (the “Tipping Point”) has been achieved. Examples in the business world include periodic economic ?panics? and the spread of certain technologies and products, such as personal computers, iPods, cell phones, etc. It is very difficult to predict in advance when the ?tipping point? in any situation will be reached, but history has shown that, once it has been reached, events proceed very quickly.

The second book, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb describes how highly improbable, and hence unpredictable, events periodically create massive change. The title of the book derives from the observation that the existence of even a single black swan disproves the assertion that all swans are white. Historical examples include the Fall of France at the beginning of World War II, the rise of the Internet and 9/11.

There are many obvious candidates for a “black swan” event that pushes the world economy over “the tipping point” into a downturn – a war with Iran, a nuclear terrorist attack or a worldwide bird flu or small pox epidemic, but generally, it is what you do not see that gets you. We are fundamentally optimists about the long-term prospects of the world economy. In many highly measurable ways, the wor ld really is improving, driven by technological innovation, a lowering of barriers to trade and increasing economic integration. Nevertheless, we are old enough to have lived through many “bumps” along the road and know that such discontinuities will always occur. We believe that we will see a significant economic event sometime over the next 12-18 months, either localized to a particular sector or geographic region or globally.

Our Advice?

Before such an event occurs:

As a board member, investor or stakeholder:

  1. Implement tight cash flow, receivables and inventory reporting so that you are alerted to problems early.
  2. Focus on the control, preservation and forecasting of CASH on a weekly, monthly and quarterly basis.
  3. Require “bottoms up” forecasting for all aspects of revenue and expense. Have the CEO and CFO defend ALL numbers.
  4. Hold the CEO responsible and accountable for Performance. If you are off the business plan/forecast, re-forecast based on the reality of “what is” today.
  5. Communicate frequently with all parties at interest. Check that the CEO is providing leadership, motivation and morale to the management team and employees.
  6. Review all companies in your portfolio. Identify and define action plans to fix weaknesses now.
  7. Utilize professional resources to assist in maximizing enterprise value, when appropriate.

When such an event occurs:

  1. Face up to reality and act quickly. When things are going bad, waiting seldom improves them. We have never seen a board of directors act too quickly when faced with a crisis. We have all too frequently seen a board act slowly or not at all.
  2. Call for assistance early. The earlier professionals can get involv ed in the process, the better the potential outcome in maximizing enterprise value. Many times boards request assistance only after a company has run out of cash. Many more options exist to maximize enterprise value if a company has some running room.

About Gerbsman Partners

Gerbsman Partners focuses on maximizing enterprise value for stakeholders and shareholders in under-performing, under-capitalized and under-valued companies and their Intellectual Property. Since 2001, Gerbsman Partners has been involved in maximizing value for 98 technology, medical device, life science, digital marketing/social commerce, fuel cell, consumer and solar companies and their Intellectual Property and has restructured/terminated over $810 million of real estate executory contracts and equipment lease/sub-debt obligations. Since inception, Gerbsman Partners has been involved in over $ 2.3 billion of financings, restructurings and M&A transactions.

Gerbsman Partners has offices and strategic alliances in San Francisco, New York, Boston, Orange County, VA/DC, Europe and Israel.

Email: steve@gerbsmanpartners.com
Web: www.gerbsmanpartners.com
BLOG of Intellectual Capital: blog.gerbsmanpartners.com

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Will Monster Electric Vehicle Demand In China Impact Oil Demand?

By Robert Rapier

A year ago Bloomberg wrote an article called Here’s How Electric Cars Will Cause the Next Oil Crisis. The gist was that if global electric vehicle (EV) sales continued to grow at 60% annually, by 2023 that could displace two million barrels per day (BPD) of global crude oil demand. Such a decline in oil demand, they speculated, could cause another oil price crash.

As someone who is keenly interested in developments in the energy markets, I took a close look at their analysis.

There were two significant problems with their outlook. The first is that it ignored the underlying annual growth rate in crude oil demand, treating it as a static number. In other words, they assumed that in 2023, EVs would reduce oil demand by two million BPD below today’s level.

In fact, since they wrote that article, global demand has risen by another 1.6 million BPD, and is forecast to rise another 1.3 million BPD this year. So at the end of this year, global crude oil demand will already be nearly two million BPD higher than in their starting assumption. So, at this end of this year, crude oil demand will be four million BPD higher than the assumption they made for 2023.

The second problem is that a 60% annual growth rate would be challenging to sustain for very long. My expectation was that those explosive growth rates would inevitably slow as more EVs hit the market.

Indeed, global sales figures for 2016 were impressive, but they failed to match the blistering pace of 2015. According to InsideEVs.com, the largest independent website devoted to electric vehicle news, global sales numbers of EVs in 2014, 2015, and 2016 were 320,713, 550,297, and 777,497 respectively. This represents a growth rate from 2014 to 2015 of nearly 72%, but that rate of increase fell to 41% from 2015 to 2016.

Global EV sales slowed even more in late 2016 and early 2017. November 2016 sales were only 29% higher year-over-year (YOY), but then December’s YOY number dropped to 19%. January’s came in at less than 13% above January 2016. So I asked Jay Cole, of InsideEVs, if he expects the slowdown to continue. He explained:

There have been a couple of short term drivers that slowed growth late in 2016 and especially in January/early February of 2017.
The first being the wait on the new/longer range Renault ZOE in Europe (huge range gain for basically the same price) which cratered Renault sales, and is just bumping February sales now; a void while waiting on the new Prius Prime, and a lack of follow-through production on some BMW models (people won’t buy the old once they know the “new” is en route); but more specifically China has played a big/the biggest role, as its sales outweigh the global registrations.
China had a lot of cheaters/fraud in 2016…and as a result it said it was going to review and replace its “eligible” plug-in vehicle and OEM list for 2017.
Naturally red tape ensued, and the result was that the “new” list didn’t actually get approved/published approved until mid-February (and if you aren’t on the list…no incentives for you)…so we saw huge declines in China (see story on January Chinese sales here,  BYD specifically had its throat cut in China in January with a 90% percent drop). The list was finally issued mid-February, so the numbers did rebound late (up 55%), but still the list is a work in progress and is only half the size it was previously.
When you are talking global EV sales, the “China effect” is too large. There are China EV sales, and “RoW Sales” (rest of world). And because China basically “tells” the market what it will buy, big gains for 2017 are mostly baked in.
For 2017, China says it is looking for 800k sales overall (passenger & buses), and a 70% gain in passenger EV sales (and even though the yearly target is always 25% or so higher than reality – it is still a lot)…so if you try to make a month-to-month line chart globally, China will shortly be dropping some 50-60k months now it has its house in order, meaning we will see multiple 6 digits months on the global level this year, and almost every month needs a (*) asterisk for ‘what is China up to’.
Depending on the pent-up demand/production arrives after the China incident, we are likely to see a “monster” number from the region shortly, meaning there will suddenly be a ~100% global increase in EV sales in one of the next 2-3 months.

In addition to providing some clarity around the seeming slowdown in sales, I think there are two more takeaways from Jay’s comments. First, EV sales are still being driven by incentives. Take the incentives away, and sales fall. So it’s still not clear what a sustainable EV growth rate may be in the absence of incentives.

Second, the type of EV sales in China is not at all what Bloomberg envisioned in its scenario. Bloomberg estimated the impact of EVs replacing gasoline engines. That is not what is taking place in China. Automobile sales are exploding across the board. Total car sales in China increased by more than three million from 2015 to 2016. Most of those were gasoline-powered. The Bloomberg scenario requires both 60% EV demand growth, while at the same time displacing demand for gasoline engines.

Thus, Bloomberg’s projections look even less likely today than they did a year ago – despite EV sales that are stronger than recent numbers suggest. As a result, there is still little risk that electric vehicles will significantly impact crude oil demand in the foreseeable future.

Follow Robert Rapier on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.

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Once-flush start-ups struggle to stay alive as investors get picky

  • Eighteen months ago, Beepi was rapidly expanding its online used-car business to 16 US cities where people could buy cut-rate vehicles adorned with giant shiny bows.

Beepi doesn’t exist anymore. After burning through more than $US120 million ($158m) in capital, the start-up failed to raise more cash and shut down in February. Its roughly 270 employees cleared out of the cavernous Mountain View, California, headquarters leaving behind the ping-pong table and putting green.

Beepi’s rapid demise offers a glimpse into the changing fortunes of Silicon Valley start-ups, many of which struggled to adjust as a two-year investment frenzy came to an end.

In 2014 and 2015, mutual funds, hedge funds and others pumped billions into companies that they now see as overvalued, and unlikely to pull off an initial public offering. As venture capitalists became more discerning, investment in US tech start-ups plummeted by 30 per cent in 2016 from a year earlier.

For some, demand is still robust. Much of the money still being invested is pouring into the upper echelon of highly valued start-ups like Airbnb and WeWork or younger ones with clear paths to profit.

“There are companies that everybody wants to invest in and there are a large set of companies that almost nobody wants to invest in,” said venture capitalist Keith Rabois of Khosla Ventures.

Venture capital firms remain flush with cash. They raised $US44 billion last year, the most since the dotcom boom.

But investors are staying away from scores of well-funded start-ups that once looked like relatively safe bets, forcing these companies to fight for survival as they burn through their stockpiles of cash and scramble for new money or buyers.

“They’re like the walking dead,” said David Cowan, a partner at Bessemer Venture Partners, who expects a steady stream of failures.

In 2014 and 2015, more than 5000 US tech start-ups collectively raised about $US75bn, according to Dow Jones VentureSource — the largest amount in a two-year period since the dotcom boom.

Much of that money went to a small share of tech start-ups: 294 such companies raised at least $US50m apiece. Almost three-quarters of those companies — 216 — have neither raised money nor been acquired since the end of 2015. Such companies tend to raise funding every 12 to 18 months.

Seemingly every week lately, a well-funded start-up is slashing jobs or pulling the plug. In recent months, mobile-search start-up Quixey shut down after raising more than $US100m, health-benefits broker Zenefits — which raised more than $US500m — laid off nearly half its staff, and blogging platform Medium cut one-third of its employees after raising $US132m.

Such closures and cutbacks were rare two years ago when venture capitalists encouraged start-ups to expand rapidly to edge out competitors. Then when capital became scarcer, investors urged companies to turn profitable, which isn’t easy.

Take start-up Luxe Valet, whose app lets people summon parking valets in bright-blue track jackets. Founded in 2013, the San Francisco company had by early last year had ploughed into eight markets and raised more than $US70m.

Two competitors shut down. But expensive contracts to park cars in garages in big cities like Boston soaked up Luxe’s cash, according to a person familiar with the finances. The start-up has had to retreat to three markets. Luxe didn’t respond to requests for comment.

“There’s going to be a shake-out” for companies that can’t show a profit, said James Beriker, the chief executive of meal-delivery service Munchery. Mr Beriker joined the company in January after a rocky period that resulted in top executives leaving, including the co-founders.

Munchery, which has spent much of its $US120m in funding, is raising a $US10m lifeline from existing investors. The company is cutting costs and aims to be profitable by year-end.

For Beepi, profitability proved too distant for investors to wait.

Founded in 2013, Beepi caught on in San Francisco by giving people a fail-safe way to sell used cars online. Beepi guaranteed sellers a price, and if it couldn’t find a buyer in 30 days, it purchased the car. Beepi marked up the price and pocketed the difference.

Venture capital poured in, and its valuation surged from $US12m in early 2014 to $US525m by mid-2015. Beepi moved out of its cramped office and into a glassie building where the chief executive zipped around on his own Segway. Staffers enjoyed quinoa salad and turkey meatball lunches and dinners when they often stayed late, and unwound with ping-pong or Nerf guns.

The company’s strategy was a common one: blanketing the US to thwart competitors rather than focusing on a few cities.

Beepi spent a fortune to entice buyers and sellers through radio and Facebook ads, spending an average of $US1730 on advertising per vehicle in most of its markets.

Beepi was whipsawed by cars that sat unsold for a month, and that Beepi therefore had to purchase. Losses on those cars could reach more than $US5000 per high-end car, former employees said.

Revenue for the first half of last year was $US50m, up about 40 per cent from the previous six months. But with little revenue from add-on services like car repair, Beepi was losing up to $US5m a month last year, the documents show. Costs were falling, but profitability wasn’t forecast until 2018.

By mid-2016 CEO Ale Resnik hunted for cash to stanch the losses, but investors were spooked. Most of Beepi’s staff was laid off in December.

Employees say they believed the business would have proved sustainable if they were given more time.

“It was clear to us internally how to get there,” said Tyler Infelise, Beepi’s head of product.

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‘Not a random idea factory’: Why Facebook says its brain sensors are closer than you think

Regina Dugan Facebook’s Regina Dugan Facebook/Business Insider

Brain scanning and skin sensors sound like the stuff of science fiction.

And Facebook’s recently announced efforts to create this technology could easily be dismissed by cynics as a public relations stunt by a large company looking to prove its innovation bona fides.

But the 60 scientists and engineers working at Facebook’s “Building 8” — as the skunkworks hardware lab is known — are already making detailed plans for this sci-fi-like future.

Within 18 months, Building 8 hopes to have a working prototype of a brain sensor capable of typing 100 words a minute. And the group is drawing up plans to form a panel to examine the ethical implications of brain scanning.

Regina Dugan, head of Building 8, along with two members of her team, sat down with Business Insider to discuss the group’s progress to date and its plans for the future.

While Facebook’s ability to interface directly with the human brain is still years away from reality, Dugan and her team are serious about their work and its massive implications on Facebook’s businesses and society as a whole.

“We have an entire product launch team whose job it is to move out products at scale,” Dugan said.

Facebook chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer went out his way to stress the reality of Building 8’s efforts in a separate interview, telling BI that the point of the lab was not simply to have a “random idea factory” that never results in actual products.

Right now, the most pressing goal is to develop a working prototype in the next 18 months of a noninvasive brain sensor that’s capable of turning thoughts into text at 100 words a minute, according to Dugan. After that, Building 8’s next mission will be to figure out how to mass produce and sell the sensor.

Dugan, the former head of Google’s advanced projects group who joined Facebook in 2016, said that Facebook’s plans to form an ethics and legal panel with Building 8’s outside university partners to examine the privacy and health implications of brain scanning.

“This is early days,” said Mark Chevillet, the neuroscientist Dugan hired last year to led the brain-to-text project at Building 8. “We have some big challenges ahead of us.”

‘This is not a random idea factory’

12983910_10102777875412201_1824114153464567549_o From left: Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer, Regina Dugan, and Mark Zuckerberg. Facebook

Aside from the scientific and technology challenges behind communicating directly with the human brain, shipping and selling hardware to millions of people represents a new challenge for Facebook.

With Building 8, Dugan and Facebook appear to be taking a page from Alphabet’s X “moonshot” division, which is known for developing far-flung, futuristic products within fixed time frames before either shutting them down or spinning them out as standalone businesses.

Similarly, Building 8’s projects have two-year deadlines to determine whether they can be successfully shepherded from the prototype stage to consumers. Every product that comes out of Building 8 will align with Facebook’s broader mission to connect the world, according to Schroepfer.

“When we were talking to Regina about joining us, one of the conversations we had is, ‘Look, this is not a random idea factory to go do whatever the team wants to work on,'” Schroepfer told BI. “We want to focus people on things that are directly associated with the mission.”

“We were like, ‘If you deliver on this, we know what to do with it,'” he said. “It’s not just going to be some random tech demo. It’s going to go into our products and make a difference.”

Augmented reality and vibrating vests

The brain research that Building 8 is working on will eventually also influence Facebook’s efforts in virtual and augmented reality, the latter of which could one day replace smartphones by overlaying virtual information onto the real world.

“It has huge applications for communication and connection, which is part of our mission,” said Schroepfer of Building 8’s brain-to-computer – or “BCI” — work. “And it’s also a critical technology for AR and VR in the long run. Because the problems of input are a big challenge there.”

Mark Zuckerberg AR glasses F8 Zuckerberg recently said that the goal with AR was for it to work inside glasses “we all want” to wear. Getty

Zuckerberg and other Facebook executives have said that the goal for AR is to have a pair of lightweight glasses that can display virtual objects onto the world around you. The nascent technology is also being worked on by tech titans like Apple and Microsoft along with startups like Snapchat and Magic Leap.

The first AR-equipped eyewear will likely feature some sort of brain-controlled input, according to Schroepfer.

“If you are just able to move your eyes and do a single click from your brain, which is just a single-bit signal, I’ve now just rebuilt the mouse,” he said.

For Building 8’s first brain-scanning tech, Dugan and Chevillet stressed that the sensor they build won’t be able to listen in on all of a person’s thoughts. It will rather focus on transmitting text you think “right before you would say it out loud,” according to Chevillet, who likened the concept to “decoding imagined speech.”

“The signal we’re trying to decode is the signal you’ve already giving intentionally,” said Dugan. She said that the sensor will be able to pair with a device like a laptop or smartphone and function like dictating to Apple’s Siri without your voice.

Along with Chevillet’s brain-to-text sensor, the second Building 8 project aims to let you “hear through your skin” and is being led by Freddy Abnousi, an interventional cardiologist who previously worked at Stanford. His product will likely take the shape of some sort of wearable, like a vest or armband, that vibrates to convey words into the human brain.

He described physical touch as “this innate way to communicate that we’ve been using for generations, but we’ve stepped away from it recently as we’ve become more screen-based.”

The goal is for the device to be “just part of you,” he said. “It’s very natural if you think about it.”

Dugan sees the two projects, which are just the first of others Building 8 is working on but won’t talk about yet, as complementary to each other. One is focused on deciphering what the brain wants to say, while the other is trying to send unspoken thoughts from the body to the brain.

“There’s an interesting similarity in that they’re both communication mechanisms, just in different forms,” she said. “It’s about giving users more alternatives to having input and output into their devices.”

While Dugan said that Facebook’s brain interface would first likely help people who have communication disorders, she acknowledged that the potential for the technology is open-ended. There are massive privacy implications that come with Facebook having access to your thoughts, but for now, Dugan is betting that the positive outcomes will outweigh any negatives.

“I feel tremendously optimistic,” she said.

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Here are the stocks millennials love more than people over 30 do, according to trading app Robinhood

snap bannerBusiness Insider

Robinhood, the app that lets you trade stocks without paying fees, has been a runaway hit with millennials, who have driven the startup to a reported $1.3 billion valuation.

The thinking behind Robinhood was that younger people would want to trade stocks differently: namely on their phones and without the fees. But are the stocks they trade different as well?

To answer that question, we asked Dr. Sahill Poddar, a data scientist at Robinhood, to crunch the numbers. By and large, the top stocks millennials held (by dollar amount) were similar to those of people over 30. But millennials were almost twice as likely to have stock from computer chip designers AMD and Nvidia. Conversely, those over 30 were almost twice as likely to hold Yahoo.

In terms of the top 10 stocks, Twitter and gold (via JNUG) made the over-30 list, but didn’t appear on the 30-and-under one, whereas Google (GOOGL) saw the reverse.

“Overall, millennials trade more often than non-millennials (2.75 times more), but the average dollar amount per trade is half,” according to Poddar.

It’s worth noting that Robinhood is a new platform, so you might expect the popular stocks to skew toward things like technology. But still, the differences between the millennial and over-30 crowd are instructive in understanding what different generations think of the stocks.

With that in mind, here are the top 10 stocks millennials love on Robinhood (by dollar amount):

No. 10: Google (GOOGL)

No. 10: Google (GOOGL)


No. 9: Netflix (NFLX)

No. 9: Netflix (NFLX)


No. 8: SPDR S&P 500 trust ETF (SPY)

No. 8: SPDR S&P 500 trust ETF (SPY)

Yahoo Finance

This ETF is designed to track the S&P 500.

No. 7: Snap (SNAP)

No. 6: Nvidia (NVDA)

No. 5: Tesla (TSLA)

No. 5: Tesla (TSLA)

Thomson Reuters

No. 4: Facebook (FB)

No. 4: Facebook (FB)

Thomson Reuters

No. 3: Apple (AAPL)

No. 2: Amazon (AMZN)

No. 2: Amazon (AMZN)

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos (left) and exec Joe Lewis (right)Getty/ Joe Scarnici / Stringer

No. 1: Advanced Micro Devices (AMD)

No. 1: Advanced Micro Devices (AMD)

Thomson Reuters

Top stocks held by non-millennials on Robinhood (by dollar amount)

Top stocks held by non-millennials on Robinhood (by dollar amount)


  1. Apple (AAPL)
  2. Amazon (AMZN)
  3. Tesla (TSLA)
  4. Facebook (FB)
  5. Advanced Micro Devices (AMD)
  6. Nvidia (NVDA)
  7. Snap (SNAP)
  8. Netflix (NFLX)
  9. Twitter (TWTR)
  10. Direxion Daily Junior Gold Miners Bull (JNUG)

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