GE Will Split Up: Here Is A Sum Of The Parts

In the past General Electric (NYSE:GE), like most companies was valued based on earnings or cash flow. However, the former and current CEOs have stated significant portions of the company will be sold, spun-off or monetized in other ways. That indicates the best way to value the company now is a sum of the parts.

This calculation has been recently done by others, though in the case of stock analysts, the actual calculation is not available to the public.

On October 9, 2018, Nicholas Heymann of William Blair determined a sum of the parts valuation of $14.60 to $16.78 per share.

On June 27, 2018, Seeking Alpha’s DoctorRx determined a sum of the parts value of at least $18 per share, before further deterioration.

Here is my market value analysis by segment:

Aviation

The aviation segment, which focuses on jet engines, is the crown jewel. Like Amazon Web Services to Amazon, it is probably worth at least half of all of GE. Revenues are growing 10% per year. What is particularly inviting to investors is future revenues are very predictable due to a huge backlog that goes well into the future. Investors love predictable income streams. The Aviation segment had revenues of $22.1 billion in the first nine months of 2018 and operating income of $4.74 billion. Annualized operating income is $6.32 billion. Less 20% for taxes, net income is $5.06 billion. To determine a proper PE ratio, GE aviation was compared to other large aerospace companies.

Sources: Value Line, Yahoo Finance and forms 10-Q.

As shown above, the aerospace industry gets an above average PE ratio, despite below average revenue growth. I attribute this to the huge backlogs which allows investors visibility well into the future, unlike most other industries. HEICO appears to be an outlier. Excluding HEICO, the peer trailing PE ratio is 21.9. GE aviation has a 10% revenue growth rate, significantly above peer average. Boeing, its largest customer, is the best comparable. Based on the comparables, especially Boeing, I believe a PE ratio of 25 is appropriate. With a post-tax annualized earnings of $5.06 billion, the value of GE aviation is $126.5 billion.

Power

GE Power along with lighting is one of GE original businesses. In fact, GE essentially invented this business. Until recently it was GE’s largest business. GE Power had revenues of $20.5 billion in the first nine months of 2018, and $5.7 billion in the last quarter. Revenues were down 21% year to date and 33% in the last quarter. This division lost $631 million in the last quarter and made $64 million for the year. This segment is one of the main reasons it is difficult to value GE based on a PE ratio right now. This is a large business that still has lots of value but is currently reducing overall earnings. That means it is reducing market value if you use a PE ratio, when in fact it still adds to value.

This segment is hard to value as it has no pure play competitors. Siemans is in this business. Its segment in power had revenues of 3.64 billion euros in the fiscal year ended September 30, 2018, down 8% from a year earlier. This confirms that GE’s problems are industrywide not specific to GE. However, Siemans revenue decline was much less than GE’s. Siemans is not a good comparable for value as the power division is only about 12% of the total.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (OTCPK:MHVYF) is probably the closest to a pure play. It had revenues of $36.1 billion last fiscal year ended March, 2018. The stock currently trades at 36.5% of that. GE Power has historically had a profit margin 3-4 times higher than Mitsubishi.

For other comparables, I looked for industrial companies that have declining sales and earnings.

Sources: Value Line, Yahoo Finance and forms 10-Q.

All three shown above are industrial companies or construction companies. Briggs & Stratton is a small engine company that is facing increased competition from lower cost overseas companies. Flowserve and Fluor are diversified but have a lot of exposure to the oil and gas industry. Fluor is a construction company. These routinely have lower profit margins and lower price to sales than average. GE Power has underperformed all three recently but has more recurring revenue by far. Based on Mitsubishi, Briggs & Stratton and Fluor I estimate GE Power to be worth 40% of revenues. I placed it a bit higher than those three due to close to 50% of GE Powers revenue currently from recurring service contracts. Revenues totaled $20.5 billion in the first nine months of this year. Assuming the fourth quarter is the same as the third, annualized sales are $26.3 billion and market value is $10.5 billion.

A second methodology was used based on earnings power. GE Power earned between $4 to $5 billion in operating income during 2013-2016 with operating profit margins of 13-16%. That indicates earnings power is much higher than what is happening today. This industry is facing a secular headwind from renewable power and may not be again what it was in that heyday. Assuming a new lower revenue rate of $25 billion, down from $36.8 billion in 2016, and an operating profit margin of 12%, operating profit potential is $3 billion a year. That is $2.4 billion after a 20% tax. If business is permanently reduced, then GE will right size the company to get to this profit margin. However, that will take time. Based on the time needed to right size and the revenue decline a PE ratio of 8 is currently appropriate. That values the segment at $19.2 billion.

The two methodologies I used show very different values. Putting a two thirds weight on the comparables, my market value for GE Power is $13.4 billion.

Wabtec

GE is selling its transportation division to Wabtec for $2.9 billion in cash plus 50% of Wabtec stock. Wabtec had a market cap of $8.14 billion on November 13, 2018. This indicates GE’s portion is worth the same, plus the cash. GE sold this business at what appears to be a cyclical low in the industry. While not good for GE now, it bodes well for the future.

Healthcare

Healthcare revenues were $14.38 billion for the first nine months of 2018, up 5.0% from one year earlier. Operating income was $2.52 billion over that period, up 8.0%. However, revenues and earnings stalled in the most recent quarter. Operating income is $3.36 billion annualized and $2.68 billion after assuming a 20% income tax rate. The Healthcare segment when spun off is expected to carry a projected $18 billion of debt, including pension obligations.

The comparables used below are large healthcare equipment companies. Those with significant acquisitions were excluded.

Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) deserves a lower PE because a lot of its revenues come from drugs with patent expirations. It also has lower growth. Boston Scientific (NYSE:BSX) and Stryker (NYSE:SYK) have better revenue and earnings growth. Medtronic (NYSE:MDT) is probably the best comparable. Though its product line is different, the growth profile and size is similar. Based on the comparables, a PE ratio of 19 is determined. This puts market value of $50.92 billion.

Renewable Power

This segment primarily deals with wind power. The best comparable is Vestas (OTCPK:VWDRY) which is a pure play in this field and the largest player. Vestas had revenues of 6.77 billion Euros in the first nine months of 2018, down 1% from the prior year. Net profit was 464 million Euros for a 6.8% profit margin. It currently has a market cap of $12.8 billion euros for an annualized PE ratio of 20.7. GE’s Renewable Power segment is much less profitable. Revenues totaled $6.71 billion for the first nine months of 2018 with an operating profit of $220 million. The profit margin is less than half that of Vestas after taxes. Vestas trades at 1.42x sales. GE with half the profit margin should trade at about half Vestas price to sales. That puts the market cap at $6.35 billion. However, being in the exact same business, a premium needs to be given to GE Renewable Power as it has more upside than Vestas which is currently maximizing profits better. My estimate for GE Renewable Power is $7.5 billion.

Baker Hughes

This one is quite simple. GE owns 62.5% of Baker Hughes (NYSE:BHGE) and is in the process of selling down to a 50% ownership. Baker Hughes is publicly traded currently and had a market cap of $26.53 billion on November 13, 2018. GE’s portion is $16.58 billion.

Lighting

GE Lighting is for sale. It had revenues of $1.27 billion for the first nine months of 2018, down 10% from the prior year. Operating earnings were $52 million, up 27% over the same period. Lighting is a struggling industry right now due to declining pricing and most competitors are also struggling. Acuity is a pure play and also the largest lighting company in the U.S. It currently trades at a trailing PE ratio of 14. Acuity has a better profit margin and better growth than GE Lighting. Revenue growth has averaged 9% over the past three years, though its now closer to 4%. Based on Acuity, a PE ratio of 12 is appropriate for GE Lighting. After a 20% income tax, that puts market value at $832 million.

GE Capital

GE Capital is primarily comprised of by revenues of; aircraft finance 48%, insurance 28%, energy financial services 12%, industrial and other 12%. This segment lost $106 million from continuing operations in the first 9 months of 2018. The insurance portion is primarily long term care insurance. This insurance is no longer offered by many former providers due to increasing losses. Earnings in each segment are not broken out. So a comparison using a PE ratio or cash flow is not available. Many financial companies are valued in part by book value. Tangible book value of GE Capital was $9.00 billion on September 30, 2018. GE has agreed with regulators to pump $11 billion into its insurance subsidiaries through 2024, due to long term care losses. That is $2.2 billion per year. Discounted at 5% (their long term bond rate), the present value is $9.5 billion. This exceeds tangible book value. For this reason, I assume no value for GE Capital.

Market Value: Sum of the Parts

Values were determined above pus liabilities and other assets are totaled below.

Sources: Calculations above; September 2018 10-Q.

Based on a sum of the parts, GE is worth $16.35 per share. This is similar to the recent William Blair calculation. As a general rule, companies trade at a discount to a sum of their parts, especially conglomerates. This is partially offset by the fact the GE is dividing itself up with plans to spinoff Healthcare, sell lighting, and sell part of transportation and Baker Hughes. Since GE is in the process of monetizing large portions of its business, a 15% discount is assumed, versus larger discounts usually used. That puts current value at $13.90.

The important thing to note is that only parts of GE are struggling. The aviation segment alone is worth over half of the market value and is doing very well. In my opinion, the stock is down for two primary reasons. They are; an avalanche of bad news over the past year and the dividend cut. The dividend cut specifically is causing dividend investors to sell and temporarily putting further downward pressure on the price. GE used to be a dividend investors staple so the exodus will be significant. It should also be noted there is a new sheriff in town and sale and spinoff plans could change.

I recommend a long position in GE with a price target of $13.90.

Disclosure: I am/we are long GE.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Rest In Peace, Stan Lee. (Here's the Big Break He Told Inc. About in 2009)

The comics world mourned the death Monday of Stan Lee, the man who dreamed up some of the most iconic characters and superheroes of the last 60 years–including Spider-Man, Hulk, the Avengers, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Black Panther, and Daredevil. 

Lee was also a reluctant entrepreneur. His creations became the center of an empire that Disney bought for more than $4 billion. But he told Inc. in 2009 that never loved the business side of his business. 

As he remembered, if you had to point to one big break in his life, it was the advice his wife gave him in the early 1960s when he was about to quit the comics business. His boss was his cousin’s husband, Martin Goodman, and Lee was annoyed that he was being pushed relentlessly to copy the competition, and wanted to go out on his own.

I said to my wife, “I don’t think I’m getting anywhere. I think I’d like to quit.” She gave me the best piece of advice in the world.

She said, “Why not write one book the way you’d like to, instead of the way Martin wants you to? Get it out of your system. The worst thing that will happen is he’ll fire you — but you want to quit anyway.”

So in 1961 we did The Fantastic Four. I tried to make the characters different in the sense that they had real emotions and problems. And it caught on. After that, Martin asked me to come up with some other superheroes. That’s when I did the X-Men and The Hulk. And we stopped being a company that imitated.

Lee’s wife died in 2017. They’d been married for 69 years. He leaves a daughter, and a legacy that people won’t soon forget.

Here’s what else I’m reading today:

Do not hire this 1 person

Seth Godin has a new book out. Like most of what he writes, there are some very interesting takeaways. If you take just one point away as an entrepreneur however, here’s his best advice about the one person no startup should ever hire: a chief marketing officer.

Instead, “go to a shelter and get a German shepherd,” he suggests in an interview with Inc.’s Leigh Buchanan, and train it to bite you every time you think about hiring a CMO. 

That’s because Godin thinks most startups fail because of product problems, or customer service problems that need to be addressed. And the person who is in charge of overseeing product and customer service–and yes, marketing and everything else–is called the CEO. Or maybe the founder. The entrepreneur. In other words, you.

It’s the hardest, best job you’ll ever have, and it’s the one you’ve signed on for. Relish it.

Netflix has some truly eye-opening new technology

Oh, there’s nothing dystopian about this at all: Netflix just unveiled a feature it calls EyeNav, in which its iPhone app tracks your eye movements so you can select shows by simply staring at them, and press stop by sticking out your tongue. Once you get past the inherent creepiness, the entertainment giant says it’s excited about how this could make its app more accessible.
–Bill Murphy Jr., Inc.

The war at 7-Eleven

There’s a war going on inside 7-Eleven, at least according to some franchisees who say the company is tipping off Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and resulting in raids on stores owned by it least cooperative store owners.
–Laureen Etter and Michael Smith, Bloomberg

A Black Friday prediction

A new study says Americans plan to spend $520 each on average during Black Friday, with over half of U.S. residents making at least one in-person purchase. It’s not exactly a double blind scientific study–online coupon site Slickdeals surveyed 2,000 people. But it’s good news, so we’ll take it.
SWNS

What on earth was Hasbro thinking?

The game of Monopoly is 83 years old. Hasbro owns the copyright now, and for almost 25 years, they’ve licensed lots of different versions, from Auburn University-themed edition to an X-Men Collector’s Edition. The latest edition to make the rounds, just in time for the holidays: Millennial Monopoly, in which players don’t buy real estate (it’s too expensive), and collect experiences rather than cash.

The rules say the player with the most student loan debt rolls first, and the rules recommend playing in your parents’ basement. Millennials are not amused, which leads to the question: who did they think would buy this?
–Gina Loukareas, Boing-Boing

Amazon and Apple Just Announced They're Working Together in a Very Surprising Way. (Everyone Else: Be Afraid)

Where did you buy the last thing you bought from Apple? At the Apple Store? Online via Apple.com? Maybe at a retailer like Best Buy or Target, or via your mobile phone provider? 

The one place you probably didn’t buy it: Amazon.com.

But that might be about to change. For the 2019 holiday season, Apple will be selling its iPhones, iPads and other products directly via Amazon

This is a big change, and it makes sense for Apple, which has seen iPhone sales dip and is looking for any advantage. But there’s risk on both sides. The two companies are competitors, and Apple is giving up some customer data by making this move.

Moreover, if you’re Amazon and facing rumblings about antitrust action basically every day, there has to be some hesitation to teaming up with other tech titans. And if you compete with either of these companies, sorry to ruin your Monday morning as you wake up to see them working together.

The upside: Well, if you’re looking for a last minute holiday gift like an Apple Watch, at least you can probably buy it with one click. 

Here’s what else I’m reading today:

The Satanic Temple sues Netflix

This is the kind of headline you have to read a few times to make sense of. A religious organization is suing Netflix for copyright and trademark violations, saying the entertainment giant ripped off their $30,000 statue of a deity called BBBB, and used it in the show “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.”

They’re asking for $150 million, but they probably already got what they really want: a 10X increase in Google searches for “The Satanic Temple.”
–Bill Murphy Jr., Inc.

Oh, and speaking of strange bedfellows with Amazon

A few months ago, Sen. Bernie Sanders was Amazon’s biggest antagonist on Capitol Hill. Then Amazon raised its internal minimum wage to $15 an hour, and Sanders praised them for it.

Now, he’s promising to introduce legislation  in Congress to raise the minimum wage across the United States to that level (from $7.25 to $15).
–Sen. Bernie Sanders, Twitter

Awww, Black Friday is kinda cute compared to this

Alibaba sold more than $1 billion worth of products in the very first minute of the 2018 edition of Singles Day, which if you don’t know is a roughly 25-year-old Chinese tradition celebrating single people–and the biggest online shopping day of the year.

It’s on November 11 each year (11/11 representing four single people), and this was the biggest in history. By the time China hit Nov. 12, the total sales revenue on the world’s largest online platform was $30.8 billion.
–Arjun Kharpal, CNBC

25 years ago yesterday

Here’s a milestone that went completely unnoticed. Before Netscape, before Internet Explorer, before Firefox, before Chrome, before Safari, before Firefox again, there was Mosaic. The first consumer-friendly browser was released, in version 1.0, 25 years ago yesterday. 
–National Center for Supercomputing Applications, University of Illinois

Criminals ruin something really cool

The U.S. Postal Service has a service called Informed Delivery that lets you get scanned images of your incoming mail before it’s actually delivered. It’s free, useful, underutilized- and apparently not as safe as people hoped. The U.S. Secret Service is now warning that hackers have figured it out and are using it to steal identities.
–Melissa Locker, Fast Company

At Netflix, There's a Big Fight Between Two Groups of Crazies. It's Something Every Company Can Learn From

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

In the red corner, a group of self-regarding know-it-alls who believe the sun shines out of their every orifice because their abilities are manifest and manifold. 

In the blue corner, a group of self-regarding know-it-alls who believe the sun shines out of their every orifice and they have the numbers to prove it. In real time.

It’s between movie types who think they know a hit when they see one and data types who think they know a hit when they see one obeying their algorithmic predictions.

Entertainingly, the movie types are based in Hollywood, California while the data types slum it in Los Gatos, California a place that is to excitement what the paper towel is to culinary excellence.

The Journal describes how the nerds believe they know precisely which images from movies can generate clicks.

They claim that advertising is truly unnecessary. Instead, they think their algorithm can find the right viewers for a particular show.

Meanwhile, the Hollywood types prefer to lean on their alleged creativity and star-power. Oh, and marketing budgets.

I confess that when Netflix’s supposedly legendary algorithm recommends a show to me, it’s almost always a complete nonsense.

Indeed, it’s so painfully awful that I spend far too much time trawling the app to find something I might actually like.

It’s as if the machine truly has no clue about any Netflix show I’ve ever watched.

Occasionally, it seems to be so confused — or perhaps exasperated — that it’ll even recommend shows I’ve already seen.

I contacted Netflix to ask whether it was enjoying the tension between the numbers and the artists. I’ll update, should human or algorithm reply.

This apparent standoff between nerds and talent is one that’s surely being repeated across so many businesses.

The nerds appear to behave as if the algorithm is everything. They insist that the numbers tell the whole story. They seem to ignore that the algorithm was built by humans and is infused with a multitude of flaws.

On the other side are people who believe they know the business and have an instinct for its quirks and vicissitudes, none of which can be described by computer-generated numbers.

I recently read a fascinating book called Astroball: The New Way To Win It All. In it, Ben Reiter describes how the Houston Astros committed themselves emotionally to data nerds running their show.

I couldn’t help getting the impression, however, that at least some of their major decisions were made by not being a Slave to the Rithm.

The signing of star pitcher Justin Verlander, for example.

It seems that now some of the Hollywood types at Netflix are following that thought process, finding ways to outmaneuver the sure-thinging crazies that are nerds.

The ultimate problem for Netflix is that there’s now so much stuff in the world that it’s hard to find anything one might like.

Even when one finds it, how stimulating can it be when so much now seems to be created accordingly to a certain formula? 

I do, though, suffer from a helpful countenance. I have one idea that I believe would be a huge hit for the company.

A reality show that follows the artists and the nerds as they prepare to battle each other for supremacy at Netflix.

Now that’s something I’d really want to watch.

Apple finds quality problems in some iPhone X and MacBook models

The new Apple iPhone X are seen on display at the Apple Store in Manhattan, New York, U.S., September 21, 2018. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

(Reuters) – Apple Inc said on Friday it had found some issues affecting some of its iPhone X and 13-inch MacBook pro products and said the company would fix them free of charge.

The repair offers are the latest in a string of product quality problems over the past year even as Apple has raised prices for most of its laptops, tablets and phones to new heights. Its top-end iPhones now sell for as much as $1,449 and its best iPad goes for as much as $1,899.

Apple said displays on iPhone X, which came out in 2017 with a starting price of $999, may experience touch issues due to a component failure, adding it would replace those parts for free. The company said it only affects the original iPhone X, which has been superseded by the iPhone XS and XR released this autumn.

The screens on affected phones may not respond correctly to touch or it could react even without being touched, the Cupertino, California-based company said.

For the 13-inch MacBook Pro computers, it said an issue may result in data loss and failure of the storage drive. Apple said it would service those affected drives.

Only a limited number of 128GB and 256GB solid-state drives in 13-inch MacBook Pro units sold between June 2017 and June 2018 were affected, Apple said apple.co/2AXkeEw on its website.

Last year, Apple began a massive battery replacement program after it conceded that a software update intended to help some iPhone models deal with aging batteries slowed down the performance of the phones. The battery imbroglio resulted in inquires from U.S. lawmakers.

In June, Apple said it would offer free replacements for the keyboards in some MacBook and MacBook Pro models. The keyboards, which Apple introduced in laptops starting in 2015, had generated complaints on social media for how much noise they made while typing and for malfunctioning unexpectedly. Apple changed the design of the keyboard this year, adding a layer of silicone underneath the keys.

Reporting by Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru and Stephen Nellis in San Francisco

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos Ranks Highest In This Important Category, Poll Finds

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is the most skilled leader among top tech CEOs, according to a new poll.

Eighty-three percent of respondents said they had confidence in his abilities to grow his company and innovate, beating Apple CEO Tim Cook (77%), Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella (76%), Google CEO Sundar Pichai (76%), and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (71%), according to a survey conducted on Fortune’s behalf by The Harris Poll.

Bezos has earned his top position by transforming Amazon from a tiny online bookseller into an e-commerce Goliath. At the same time, he pushed the company beyond its roots into streaming video, information technology, Kindle tablets, and, more recently, Echo smart speakers while also expanding into physical retail, most notably by acquiring grocery chain Whole Foods.

“Amazon is sort of it’s own thing right now,” Harris Poll CEO John Gerzema said. “It’s like what Apple was 10 years ago.”

But the current landscape is complicated for tech CEOs. Once seen largely as helping make life easier for their users, many of them are now under suspicion amid problems like privacy missteps and the growing sentiment that people spend too much time staring at screens.

In an effort to gauge public sentiment about major tech CEOs, Fortune enlisted Harris Poll to conduct an online survey on its behalf in mid-October of over 2,000 U.S. adults. The group represents the population at large.

The poll found that public confidence in Cook, Nadella, and Pichai was almost neck-and-neck, just below Bezos.

In the past, Apple, and by implication, its CEO, usually ranked much higher than its rivals. But in the latest poll, Gerzema noticed a decline in confidence, which he attributed to a shortage of innovation at Apple compared to during the era of former CEO Steve Jobs, who unveiled the original iPhone and iPad.

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While Apple has continued to grow its revenue, indicating financial health, and has created fast-growing services businesses like Apple Music, the lack of new revolutionary products could be partly why the public gave Cook a lower confidence score than Bezos.

Microsoft’s reputation, on the other hand, has climbed in recent years under Nadella, who is praised as a “competent and visionary CEO,” Gerzema said. Under Nadella, Microsoft shares have reached record highs due in part to Wall Street’s enthusiasm about the company’s shift from older businesses like the Windows operating system to newer and faster growing cloud computing and related cloud software businesses.

The public is probably less familiar with Google CEO Sundar Pichai, because he keeps a lower profile and is outranked by Larry Page, CEO of Google’s parent company, Alphabet. But most Americans seem to think that Google will continue growing under Pichai’s watch, and likely attribute the company’s success to an executive they likely don’t know, Gerzema said.

That said, the Harris Poll survey was conducted before thousands of Google employees participated in a high-profile walkout to protest how the company’s executive team handled several sexual harassment complaints by workers. Google eventually revised some of its sexual misconduct policies, including ending rules that required mandatory arbitration of sexual harassment and assault claims.

It’s unclear if the recent Google walkout would have impacted the survey results.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg finished last in the survey following a number of data privacy scandals. The company came under fire in April when news reports emerged that a researcher improperly sold Facebook user data to the Cambridge Analytica political consulting firm, and the social networking giant recently suffered a major hack that may have affected up to 30 million people.

A noteworthy addendum for Facebook, however, was that people 18-34 were more confident in Zuckerberg’s abilities (79%) than older adults, 35-44 (72%), 45-54 (67%), and 55-64 (63%). Some possible explanations are that younger people are more familiar with Facebook’s less problem-plagued Instagram photo app, they identify more with the CEO’s relative youth, or that may be unaware of recent negative news about the company.

The poll on CEO leadership skills was part of a larger survey on the public’s perception of tech giants and issues pertaining to data privacy and ethics. The results from the other survey questions found that Facebook is viewed as the least trustworthy of the tech giants when it comes to safeguarding data, and that people are beginning to scrutinize tech companies and their data policies more than they have been.

For instance, while Bezos ranked the highest among the CEOs regarding the public’s perception of data ethics, his approval was at 77% and not the high 80s or even 90s that the executive typically receives in other Harris Poll surveys, Gerzema noted. This could imply that the survey respondents are becoming increasingly concerned with Amazon’s growth into newer areas like the Alexa voice-activated digital assistant, which like other digital assistants, improves over time with more user data.

As for the big takeaways from the overall survey, Gerzema predicted that there will be increased public scrutiny of big tech companies as they expand into new business lines.

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“Silicon Valley might look at these companies as tech brands, but the American public looks at them as lifestyle brands,” Gerzema said. “They are a part of their lives.”

The House Science Committee May Soon Become… Pro-Science

For the past eight years, climate science has been under a sort of spell in the House of Representatives. Instead of trying to understand it better or even acknowledging some of the field’s current uncertainties, House Science Committee Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) used his position to harass federal climate scientists with subpoenas while holding hearings on “Making the EPA Great Again” or whether “global warming theories are alarmist” and researchers are pursuing a “personal agenda.”

But Smith retired this year and Democrats won control of the House on Tuesday. Now some on Capitol Hill say that the anti-climate science spell may be broken.

“Hopefully we will no longer see the science committee used as a messaging tool for the fossil fuel industry,” says Rep. Bill Foster, an Illinois Democrat and science committee member. “I look forward to hearings with a balance of witnesses that reflect mainstream scientific hearings instead of a small group of industry players.”

Foster, who was a particle physicist before being elected to Congress in 2008, said he also wants to see more appearances from cabinet members like Energy Secretary Rick Perry or EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler to explain both their budget and their rulemaking on environmental and science issues. Neither agency head was called before Smith’s committee during his tenure, Foster says.

Ranking member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) issued a statement after the election results Tuesday night stating that, if elected chairwoman, she wants to restore the credibility of the science committee “as a place where science is respected and recognized as a crucial input to good policymaking.” Johnson said that includes acknowledging that climate change is real, “seeking to understand what climate science is telling us, and working to understand the ways we can mitigate it.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who is in line to become Speaker of the House, hinted recently that she may push her members to form a new select committee on climate and renewable energy issues similar to one that operated from 2007 to 2011.

Capitol Hill observers and advocacy groups, however, say it’s not clear that a more science-friendly House will result in any new legislation getting passed or in stopping Cabinet heads that report to President Trump. “The attempt to embarrass the Trump White House isn’t going to work,” says Jeff Ruch, director of the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, an advocacy group representing federal workers in several scientific and environmental agencies. PEER has been litigating the EPA over the enforcement of pollution rules as well as the disclosure of ethics violations during the tenure of former administrator Scott Pruitt.

Ruck says environmental and science policies need to be changed with votes, not hearings. He foresees some Democratic House members introducing what he calls “green riders,” climate- or energy-related amendments to larger, unrelated pieces of legislation that might be able to pass both the House and a Republican-controlled Senate.

Others predict greater congressional oversight as well over issues including pollution enforcement, vehicle emissions standards, and the localized effects of climate change. “Too many people are seeing the impact of climate change in their communities, whether it’s wildfires or drought or storms,” says Andrew Rosenberg, director of the center for science and democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a Washington-based advocacy group. “So at some point members have to respond to their constituents.”

If nothing else, there will be a greater representation of scientists and members with STEM degrees in the next session of Congress. Of the 14 House and Senate members endorsed and backed by the pro-science group 314 Action, eight won their general election race on Tuesday, while one, Seattle-area pediatrician Kim Schrier, holds a 52-48 percentage point lead with absentee ballots still to be counted.

This mini-wave of STEM-trained politicians might result in more evidence-based policymaking, according to Shaughnessy Naughton, the founder and president of 314 Action. “They have a lot of credibility, whether it’s on the environment or health care, and it resonates with voters,” she says.

Of course, climate deniers might still have a home on the north side of the Capitol, where the Senate meets and where Texas’ Ted Cruz is expected to keep his gavel as chairman of the Senate Science Committee.


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Hyundai raises Southeast Asia bet with second investment in Grab

SEOUL/SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Hyundai Motor Co has raised its stakes in growing Southeast Asian markets with a $250 million investment in Singapore’s Grab, its second in the ride-hailing firm, as it chases rivals in the race for new-age transportation.

FILE PHOTO: A worker fixes the Hyundai logo on a vehicle at a plant of Hyundai Motor in Asan, south of Seoul, February 9, 2012. REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won/File Photo

The investment is Hyundai’s biggest-ever in an auto-tech firm, yet is smaller than those made by others including Toyota Motor Corp. Nevertheless, it underscores a shift in strategy at a South Korean conglomerate that has typically shunned partnerships in favor of developing its own technologies.

Hyundai and affiliate Kia Motors Corp will launch pilot electric vehicle (EV) projects in Southeast Asia next year, starting with Singapore, where 200 EVs will be leased to Grab drivers, Hyundai said in a statement.

It said the project will later be expanded to countries including Malaysia and Vietnam, where markets for traditionally powered cars are dominated by Japanese rivals.

The move comes as Hyundai battles sluggish sales in its two biggest markets, China and the United States, while its stock price has fallen nearly a third this year.

Hyundai has joined the global race to invest in mobility firms as individual car ownership is widely expected to fall due to in part to increasing car-sharing options in big cities.

“Not only Hyundai, but all global auto manufacturers have realized that generating revenue solely from selling vehicles is not a sustainable, viable option,” Hyundai’s chief innovation officer, Chi Young-cho, told reporters in Seoul.

“It is better to disrupt than being disrupted,” he said.

Earlier this year, Hyundai said it invested $25 million for a 0.45 percent stake in Grab, joining investors such as Chinese ride-hailing firm Didi Chuxing, Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp and Toyota Motor Corp.

Grab said it has so far raised $2.7 billion in funding, including Hyundai’s latest investment, and is on track to attract over $3 billion by the end of this year. Grab President Ming Maa told Reuters that the company does not yet have plans to go public.

The partnership will help Grab lower car ownership and operating costs for its drivers, Maa said. Lower costs help ride-hailing firms attract and retain drivers.

Hyundai expects to launch its own ride-sharing service in select markets next year, said Chi, who oversees Hyundai’s new businesses such as those involving ride-sharing, artificial intelligence and robotics. He also said the automaker is looking at acquisition opportunities, without giving details.

The automaker aims to collect data such as on battery charging from cars it leases to Grab to develop vehicles better tailored for Southeast Asia. It also hopes to explore the possibility of building a factory in the region in the longer term.

Southeast Asia’s EV market is very small. Only 142 battery-powered cars are likely to be sold in the market this year, versus six last year, showed data from market researcher LMC Automotive.

EV sales this year are likely to reach 693,894 units in China and 172,744 units in the United States, LMC data showed.

Reporting by Hyunjoo Jin in Seoul and Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore; Editing by Sayantani Ghosh and Christopher Cushing

Einride's Electric, Driverless Truck Is Moving Stuff and Making Money

Look at just about any rendering or essayistic sketch of the world’s transportation future, and you’ll notice two things about the cars, trucks, vans, and whatever elses tootling around the roads: They drive themselves and they run on electricity. The funny thing about that pairing is that there’s no inherent relationship between a vehicle’s ability to drive itself and what it uses to move its wheels. Relying on a battery can actually be problematic for vehicles running piles of computers and sensors, but electric rides are a popular choice for autonomy developers anyway, because they feel more like the future.

For Swedish trucking startup Einride, though, the connection between electric and autonomous technology is fundamental. Getting rid of the human, founder and CEO Robert Falck says, makes the formidable challenge of running a truck on batteries far easier.

Last week, Einride started running its all-electric, human-free truck on a commercial route. The “T-pod” is moving pallets of goods between warehouses run by German logistics giant Schenker, in the southern Swedish city of Jönköping. It’s a small, one-year commercial deal: Einride is operating just one truck for the time being, and covering about six miles a day, some of it on public roads, at speeds below 25 mph. But, Falck says, “It’s a first step.”

The first thing you’ll notice about Falck’s truck isn’t that there’s no human sitting inside but that there’s no inside for a human to occupy in the first place. Where a normal truck has a cab, the T-pod has a narrow, windowless slab that holds the sensors and computers that let it drive itself. Under the trailer sit 300 kWh of battery capacity, good for a range of 120 miles. If a situation arises that the current software can’t handle, a remote Einride employee can drive the truck from a call-center-like facility. (Falck wouldn’t reveal how the human and the robot will split the work, but says that “the vision, of course, is to have the highest level of autonomy.”)

Dumping the cab does more than signal that the age of the robo-car is at hand, Falck says. It makes it easier to run the truck on batteries. You save weight. You improve range because you don’t need to worry about a human’s visibility and comfort level, so you can just submit to the laws of aerodynamics. The cab is the most expensive part of the vehicle, and being able to drop it leaves you with money left over for the mass of batteries and the software that makes the whole thing work.

All good stuff, Falck says, but the key upside to getting rid of the human is that you can optimize the truck’s use for running on electricity, not for what a human driver needs. Say the vehicle needs to stop once an hour, to charge for 20 minutes. Keep the human in there, and you’re paying them for every minute, even if they’re only driving 75 percent of the total time. It works the other way, too: no more battery-draining stops for quick bathroom breaks. You can plan your routes based on cold logic. “That’s where you really get the business case,” says Falck, who spent much of his career as an engineer with Volvo Trucks.

Einride is already moving Schenker’s stuff for a “very cost-competitive” rate, Falck says, and he hopes to get more trucks on the road in Jönköping and elsewhere in the coming months, possibly including the US. The startup has plenty of questions left to answer, chief among them how well its self-driving tech actually works, and how it will handle the logistics and costs of having humans do the remote driving when necessary. But if it can turn up satisfactory answers, it might be able to optimize for the best parts of electric vehicles and the best parts of self-driving vehicles—without any pesky human-based design to get in the way.


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Trump’s ‘Racist’ Midterms Ad Backs Facebook Into a Corner

The day before the midterm elections, Facebook took down a virulently anti-immigrant ad paid for by President Donald Trump, which mischaracterizes refugees walking through Mexico toward the US as violent criminals. “America’s future depends on you,” the voiceover says, ending with a plea to “vote Republican.” NBC also took the ad off air on Monday after criticism from stars of NBC shows. And even Fox News stopped airing it on Monday, too. CNN rejected it from the start, on the grounds that it was racist.

Facebook says the ad violated its policy against “sensational content,” which prohibits ads that contain “shocking, sensational, disrespectful or excessively violent content.” Facebook did not specify what aspects of Trump’s ad it found to be sensational.

Immigration has become a major talking point for Republican campaigns across the country this election season as politicians try to rally their base in what is expected to be a number of close races. Trump is not the only campaign to run political ads on Facebook that stoke fears about immigrants making their way to the US border. Arizona Republican congressional candidate Wendy Rogers, for example, is currently running ads that feature many of the same images of so-called “illegal aliens,” as well as footage of violent mobs burning cars and breaking barricades. When asked why Trump’s ad was deemed sensational but Rogers’ was not, a Facebook representative didn’t immediately have an answer, but asked WIRED to send over the specific videos so they could take a closer look.

And Trump’s ad, while no longer allowed to have paid promotion, is still very much on Facebook. The 30-second spot was posted by Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale and shared by Trump’s official page on Monday; in five hours, it had more than 446,000 views. More than a million people have viewed the longer version of it from President Trump’s official Facebook page since November 1. Six million people have viewed the same version he shared in a tweet the president sent out on Halloween. More than 800,00 have viewed the ad from a tweet shared by Donald Trump Jr. on November 3.

(It appears the ad never ran as a promoted tweet on Twitter, and a Twitter spokesperson told WIRED that it would violate Twitter’s “inappropriate content policy” for ads if the Trump campaign tried to pay to promote it. That policy disallows anything that’s disturbing, shocking, threatening, or distasteful, among other things.)

Social media companies have different standards for content shared in organic posts than they do for ads. The rules for ads are stricter.

After the 2016 presidential election, when it belatedly realized that at least 3,000 ads had been purchased by Russians intent on influencing US democracy, Facebook vowed to do better. It voluntarily raised the standards for political ads on its site, and created a searchable database to make ad buys more transparent, including adding a “Paid for by” feature that shows who paid for a given ad. All of this is good, and important—as it’s been clear since way back in 2010 when Facebook did a randomized vote-mobilization test on 61 million unwitting Facebook users that these ads can have real impact.

But the ad system isn’t perfect, as the midterms have shown. Vice posed as 100 senators requesting to run political ads, and Facebook approved all of them. ProPublica investigated how the energy industry obscured their sponsorship of political ads on the platform. The Intercept discovered that Facebook allowed advertisers to target users interested in “white genocide.”

Applying content moderation rules across a site as big as Facebook is incredibly tricky, and often results—as WIRED has written about at length—in what appears to be arbitrary decisions or a reliance on other parties to flag content that violates terms. Paid advertisements, however, need to be reviewed and approved by Facebook before running on the platform, so it technically should be able to make consistent decisions as it approves or disapproves promotional material. Facebook did not comment on the approval process for Trump’s ad specifically.

The question of whether it really makes sense, however, to treat posts from people as so very different from ads promoted by them is one worth asking. How much does it matter that Facebook took down the ad if you can still see it and share it on the site? As studies of promoted content on editorial websites have shown, readers are not necessarily adept at telling the difference between an ad and other forms of content anyway. And if the point of not allowing an ad to run on a social network is to minimize the harmful impact of the message being spread, then why not take all instances of it down?

Maybe it’s because social media sites are increasingly being accused of censorship as they grapple with taking a firm stance against the spread of hate speech, misinformation, and weaponized information on their networks. Distinctions such as ad policies versus content policies help them walk a very fine line. It’s a tightrope walk with increasingly important consequences. Right now, no less than the midterms may hang in the balance.


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