FINANCE

Robinhood CEO Baiju Bhatt to talk fintech at Disrupt SF

Robinhood has gone from being a little consumer-facing fintech app to an absolutely giant consumer-facing fintech app. The company, which launched in 2013, has ballooned to a $5.6 billion valuation on the heels of a $363 million Series D financing round led by DST Global. The app has also grown to 5 million users, as of today, with more than $150 billion in transaction volume. But the app, which lets people trade stocks and options for free, is also dabbling in the wondrous world of cryptocurrencies, setting the stage for a potential transition from “fun app” to legitimate financial institution. That’s why we’re absolutely thrilled to have Robinhood co-founder and CEO Baiju Bhatt join us on the Disrupt SF 2018 stage. The key to everything here is that Robinhood offered a simple consumer de...

Is North Korea the next Vietnam? Don’t count on it

AS AMERICA presses North Korea to abandon nuclear weapons, it has pointed to Vietnam as an example of the prosperity that awaits the isolated state. “It can be your miracle in North Korea as well,” Mike Pompeo (pictured), the secretary of state, said on July 8th, on a visit to Hanoi. It is not the first time Vietnam has been held up as a model for North Korea. Over the years, officials from the two countries have discussed lessons from Vietnam’s reforms. North Korea sees Vietnam as less threatening than China and more of a peer, making it a more welcome mentor. But North Korea’s economic path is likely to be more fraught. Yes, there are similarities. Like North Korea’s economy today, Vietnam’s used to be largely collectivised. The Vietnamese Communist party’s ability to retain power at the...

Even stockmarket bulls are more cautious than at the start of the year

BEARS sound clever; bulls make money. This piece of financial acumen, imparted by a trader to a colleague, is hard to beat for brevity. It also makes a good point. There is something about market pessimism that endows bears with an aura of wisdom that is not always deserved. The cautious sound clever because they appear to have weighed the odds. Optimists seem heedless by comparison. Yet it is only by taking on risk that investors can hope to make money. Get our daily newsletter Upgrade your inbox and get our Daily Dispatch and Editor’s Picks. So it is telling that even bulls are now sounding cautious. The economy and stockmarket in America have had a good run, after all. The expansion, which started in 2009, is now the second-longest on record. Unemployment is low. The Federal Reser...

Why the euro zone hasn’t seen more cross-border bank mergers

MERGERS of euro-area banks from different countries, a banker jokes, are “very much like teenage sex. There’s a lot of talk, but little action. And when it does happen, there’s a lot of disappointment.” In recent months gossip has linked each of France’s three biggest banks (BNP Paribas, Crédit Agricole and Société Générale), as well as UniCredit, Italy’s largest, with Commerzbank, Germany’s second-biggest listed bank. Lately chatter has connected UniCredit and Société Générale. But no big, cross-border takeover is imminent. A stream of deals in the 2000s—notably UniCredit’s purchase of HypoVereinsbank, another leading German lender, in 2005—has slowed to a trickle (see chart, top panel). Policymakers at both the European Commission and the European Central Bank (ECB) would like the flow t...

Development-impact bonds are costly, cumbersome—and good

IF A girl in a poor country goes to school, she will probably have a more comfortable life than if she stays at home. She will be less likely to marry while still a child, and therefore less likely to die in childbirth. So, not surprisingly, there is an Indian charity that tries to get girls into school and ensure they learn something, and there are Western philanthropists willing to pay for its work. What is noteworthy is how they have gone about this transaction. On July 13th the Brookings Institution, a think-tank, presents the results of the world’s first large development-impact bond, which paid for girls’ education in the northern Indian state of Rajasthan. In this novel way of funding charitable work, a financial institution gives money to a charity, which tries to achieve various s...

Donald Trump insists on trade reciprocity. But what kind?

IN THE sixth episode of “The Apprentice”, a reality-television show first broadcast in 2004, Donald Trump, as always, fired a contestant vying for a job in his company. She was, he said, the worst negotiator. And she had failed to fight back when belittled by her teammate. The episode was entitled “Tit For Tat”. That same principle of reciprocity guides Mr Trump’s trade policy as president. And it is animating his tariff war with China. On July 6th America imposed 25% duties on Chinese imports worth about $34bn. (Another $16bn-worth will be hit in due course.) China responded by slapping tariffs on a similar amount of American goods (including a cargo of soyabeans aboard the Peak Pegasus that arrived at the port of Dalian mere hours later). Get our daily newsletter Upgrade your inbox and g...

A new $124 million for Brazil’s Movile proves that investors still see promise in Latin American tech

Brazil’s macroeconomic picture may be gloomy, but technology investors still see hope in the nation’s burgeoning technology sector — and a recent $124 million financing for the mobile conglomerate Movile is the latest proof that that the pace of investment isn’t slowing down. Brazil was already the hottest spot for technology investment throughout Latin America — with Sao Paulo drawing in the majority of the record-breaking $1 billion in financing that the region’s startups attracted in 2017. And with this latest funding for Movile, led by Naspers, that trend looks likely to continue. Indeed, Naspers investments in Movile (supplemented by co-investors like Innova, which participated in the most recent round) have been one of the driving forces sustaining the Brazilian startup community. In...

Investors are gorging on American assets

ECONOMISTS think prices, like spilt ketchup, are sticky. They move only slowly as firms digest economic conditions. Financial markets are an exception. Computerised trading by thousands of participants means prices, especially of currencies, can move in a McFlurry. Since The Economist last updated the Big Mac index (BMI), our lighthearted guide to currency valuation, burger prices have remained constant in 19 of 44 countries. But every currency has shifted in value (see chart 1). Our index uses a nugget of economic wisdom called purchasing-power parity: currencies should adjust until goods cost the same everywhere. If, once converted into dollars, Big Mac prices vary, one or other currency looks dear. Big movements in exchange rates, without similarly supersized shifts in burger prices, ca...

Aspire Capital offers fast finance for SMEs in Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia’s digital economy is tipped to grow more than six-fold to reach more than $200 billion per year, according to a report co-authored by Google, with e-commerce accounting for the dominant share. The emergence of e-commerce platforms like Alibaba’s Lazada and U.S.-listed Shopee have enabled online entrepreneurship across the region, but still financial support for online sellers, who are basically SMEs, is lagging. That’s where Singapore-based Aspire Capital, a six-month-old organization focused on speedy SME lending, is hoping to make a difference. The company certainly has opportunity. With a cumulative population of over 600 million consumers and a rising middle class, Southeast Asia is increasingly an attractive market for businesses of all kind, and online companies in par...

Jina Choi, SF Regional Director of the SEC, is coming to Disrupt to talk ICOs and more

The Securities & Exchange Commission, the federal agency responsible for protecting investors and maintaining fair and orderly functioning of our securities markets, has 11 regional offices, including in Miami, New York, Boston, and Chicago, None has quite the workload as the SEC’s San Francisco regional office, where a major area of focus in recent years has been investor fraud in pre-IPO companies, particularly the many startups that in an earlier era would have either have gone public or else out of business, but which today linger as privately held outfits because there’s so much money sloshing around. Among the companies to find themselves in the SEC’s sights in recent years is HR software outfit Zenefits and its founder, Parker Conrad; they were fined $1 million last October as p...

The growth of index investing has not made markets less efficient

IN THE autumn of 1974 Paul Samuelson, a prominent economist and Nobel prizewinner, issued a challenge. Most stockpickers should go out of business, he argued. Even the best of them could not always beat the market average. But there was a snag. “If this advice to drop dead is good advice, it is obviously not counsel that will be eagerly followed.” An alternative was needed to set an example. Someone should set up a low-cost, low-turnover fund that simply tracked the S&P 500 index of stocks. The following year Vanguard, then a fledgling firm, took up Samuelson’s challenge and launched an index fund for retail investors. It was not eagerly received. Denounced on Wall Street as “un-American”, the index fund raised a mere $17m in the half-decade after its launch. It has been only in the pa...

Central Europe’s Goldilocks economies

THEY evoke metal gorillas in a cavernous, floodlit hall: 640 robots with riveting guns and arms for handling parts. They will spring into action this autumn at the opening of a new plant for Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), built at a cost of €1.4bn ($1.6bn) on former farmland in Nitra, in western Slovakia. Cars under construction will travel along 3.9km of elevated maglev track, taking just two days from start to completion. The robots, together with 2,800 human workers, will assemble a Land Rover Discovery every two minutes. JLR is just the latest carmaker to come to Slovakia. VW arrived 27 years ago, followed by Kia and PSA. The firms together churn out over 1m cars annually, more per head of population than any other country. JLR considered 30 or 40 locations, says Alexander Wortberg, who over...