Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Too Big to Fail

Just completed this book by Andrew Sorkin on the financial crisis which started in 2007 and wrecked havoc around the world and brought the financial system of the most powerful nation in the world to its knees.

The crux of the entire crisis and hence the book is that the economies of the world and not just that, the various sectors comprising an economy are so interlaced that failure of one big organisation can have ripple effect on others and if one of these firms belongs to the wall street, the source of majority of the money, the results are amplified.

The book is very lucid and mostly factual with very little or no inferences from the author. Obviously Sorkin has done a lot of research on the entire chain of events that transcribed during that period and has managed to give an insight into the world of Wall Street. From the fall of Bear Stearns to the US government bailout, all the major deals that happened or could have happened are described in detail.

The book gives a first person view of the key players on Wall Street and how they coped with the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

Alan Greenspan's comment on CDOs - "...And I figured if I didn’t understand it and I had access to a couple hundred PhDs, how the rest of the world is going to understand it (CDOs)sort of bewildered me."


George Bush's response to the deep debt that AIG had gotten itself in  - “An insurance company (AIG) does all this?” Comments like these give you subtle hints about how the author feels that the entire situation was a result of the greed which drives the Wall Street.

The book does not explain why the crisis happened but gives a behind the scene look at the events that finally led to some sort of stabilization. A word of advice to the readers, try and understand the factors that caused the crisis before reading the book, it will prove to be a real help.The only complain I had is that there are so many characters that sometimes with the speed at which the story moves it gets difficult to keep track of all of them.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Livestrong forever!

The first time I ever heard about Lance Armstrong was when my social studies teacher was telling the class about great people overcoming the biggest obstacles of life. She talked about greats like Stephen hawking, John Nash, Helen Keller and there was a fleeting mention of Lance Armstrong among the contemporaries.

Never had any sport witnessed such a heroic comeback. Here was a guy who was diagnosed with last stage cancer and given no hope of survival. For someone to overcome those painful and weakening chemo therapies and then comeback to win 7 Tour de France titles is huge.  Even having the will to comeback and compete as a professional cyclist after such a setback takes a huge effort and an undying spirit.

To many detractors Armstrong’s refusal to fight USADA anymore is an admission of guilt. To put things in perspective Armstrong has never failed a drug test in his life. Since USADA has no verifiable proof against Armstrong they got a bunch of his former teammates to testify against him. So suddenly their testaments have taken precedence over actual scientific proof which begs the question what’s the point of such drug trials if you are not going to stand by it?

Though it did surprise many Armstrong fans like me when he decided to throw in the towel because it is so uncharacteristic of him but when you take a moment and try to put yourself in his shoes maybe you will realize that this guy has spent all his life fighting , be it for life or as a professional cyclist conquering the toughest of the courses, and now when he wants to spend his life peacefully with his family and to serve the society (Livestrong has so far raised nearly $500 million) the USADA is hell bent on fighting it out with him. I feel it is not an admission of guilt but an acknowledgement on Armstrong’s part that his legacy is not confined to his cycling titles but it goes much beyond that. He is an inspiration for millions of people around the world and shall continue to be so with or without his professional achievements.

I salute you Lance! Livestrong forever!
-a true fan

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Why india needs a superman

Inspired in part by the movie 'Superman Returns' and the present crises in India this small write up represents the frustration and helplessness that an average Indian like me feels right now.

Be it the Coal scam or the 2G scam or even the officiousness of the politicians, one thing that stands out is that this government has failed and failed miserably. How quickly have things turned around for the UPA-2. The government which was supposed to usher us in this new era of economic development, which was supposed to stamp India's dominance on the world map is now seen as the sole reason why the other countries don’t feel so optimistic about us today.

Crony capitalism, inefficiency, redtapism and most importantly the self denial are pulling this government down. Firstly it was Kapil Sibal on 2G scam and now P.Chidambram who are defending the zero-loss theory. It's both a joke and an embarrassment for the country to even think that both these scams were worth nothing and to top it all this political fighting and blaming makes you wonder if this is all stage-managed are these politicians trying to sweep it under the carpet?

The 2014 Lok sabha elections are not far off and there are talks of holding the elections earlier because of the political instability. Well any which way this is the time when the political parties get really desperate and the aam junta become the Raja! The UPA in yet another shameful attempt to appease the voters is all ready to pass another amendment which creates quotas in job promotions. This is by far the most ridiculous idea that they have come up with and trust me they have had a lot, most of them courtesy Kapil Sibal. Such a law would create divides within the organisation and won't help the cause of PSUs which are already burdened with inefficiency.

So what can revive our optimism, the 'India Shining story'?...will it be our next PM (in all probability we will have one)? Will it be a political party? Or will it be Anna Hazare?....well whoever that might be it will need a superhuman effort to break these shackles and to rescue this country.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Why the future of Apple is not so bright!

At the time of writing this the Apple Inc (NASDAQ:AAPL) was worth well over 600b USD, which of course makes it the most valuable company on this planet, the cherry on the top as some call it. So why this blog? What can possible go wrong for this behemoth?

Just so people know this 600b+ evaluation is based on their stock value, which like any other stock is more about market's optimism or pessimism about the company's future and the way their stock prices are soaring the people are pretty darn optimistic!! But then why am I so pessimistic about this behemoth. Well for one optimism and expectations don't always turn out fruitful, do they?  The case in point- Facebook.

To be honest we are talking about a company that has changed the way people ‘perceive’ technology. Whatever Apple might claim, they aren’t the leaders in innovation. If you want any proof ask any nerd or a techie and if you are lucky he won’t laugh at your suggestion of Apple being the leader in innovation. But what Apple did great and still does better than the rest of the pack is to create a niche market for itself. Create an identity for its product which to be honest other OEMs are not even close to. Apple as a brand is far superior to Samsung, HTC or Nokia. And this premium feel of the brand comes with a premium price tag. The gross margins for Apple products compared with its closest rival Samsung are more than twice. While it is true partly because Apple controls the entire chain of production right from the software to the hardware and hence saves out at each and every step of production unlike other manufacturers, the fact is that the customers are not getting any advantage albeit they are paying more for it! But the question is how much and more importantly how long can people keep on paying for it? Let’s break it down to their top 2 products-

iPhone -
As per the sales figures there are about 1 billion smartphone users in the world and that number will keep on growing. What about the next 1 billion most of whom would be from the developing countries. Will they be willing to pay such a hefty price for a product when there are similar alternatives out there? The logical and resounding answer is a big NO.  To be honest one can’t even tell the difference between the latest iPhone 4S and the earlier generations. Compare this with Google which over the years has brought in so many changes to Android that now it is at par with iOS if not better. In terms of hardware Iphone4s pales in comparison to the Samsung Galaxy S3 or HTC OneX. Those who are expecting great news from iPhone 5 will be well advised to pipe down their expectations as all the iPhones have only been incremental updates over their predecessors and frankly it might bring more bad news than good for some people (read the new 8-pin dock connector for iPhone 5).

This is the biggest draw for Apple right now and is bringing in more revenue than any other product in their lineup. It is the best tablet out there by a long shot and no matter how much the android OEMs try they just can’t seem to get it right. That said iPad has a lot of competition going ahead. Firstly the new 7” inch tablet category created by Amazon Kindle and now carried forward by the Nexus 7. Being smaller and more portable there is a bunch of tablet users who will prefer the smaller version over the iPad. My personal opinion is that this new category was created just because the companies realized that it is very difficult it beat the Apple iPad in its own game. Nonetheless these tablets are out there and surely eating into the iPad market share.
The biggest competition for iPad would be coming this October, when we will have Windows 8 tablets out. The early reviews look great and given the millions of windows users the world over it should be a hot commodity when it comes out, something which Apple won’t like a lot.

Well, all said Apple is by no means going anywhere in the coming years, with huge cash reserves,loyal customers and products which are still market leaders, a lot has to go wrong for this company to go down. But there are chinks in their armour and the sooner they realize it the better for them.
Here’s hoping iPhone 5 will turn over a new leaf and will be a great leap forward from the 4S.