17 Fascinating Ways United, Southwest and Other Airlines Are Changing Their Airplanes. Do Passengers Notice?

Here are 17 of the most interesting examples–culled from my recent interviews with the airlines and other sources. (Hat tip to the U.K. newspaper The Telegraph for a few of these.)

Almost every airline cited new, thinner seats as a weight-savings measure: Southwest and United especially. Even if nobody likes them otherwise.

“I know these have a less than stellar reputation,” United spokesperson Charles Hobart said, “but they can be just as comfortable as the previous seats once you work them in.”

2. No more plastic straws

American Airlines and Alaska Airlines have done away with plastic straws. American says their planes will drop 71,000 pounds as a result, but it’s not the initiative they wanted to highlight.

“Our fleet is more fuel efficient today because of hundreds of new aircraft we’ve taken over the past five years,” an American Airlines spokesperson told me via email. “It’s the youngest fleet among the big U.S. airlines. That’s the main point I’d make for American,”

3. Lighter in-flight magazines

Changing the card stock on in-flight magazines means United’s weigh only an ounce; previously they were several ounces. British Airways did this too.

With about 757 planes, 8,700 total seats, and one magazine per passenger, a single ounce means four tons less weight to lift off the ground with each United flight per day.

4. Less paper in the cockpit

Southwest pointed this one out: “We recently finished equipping our pilots and flight attendants with electronic flight bags, eliminating the need to carry paper charts and manuals.  Switching to these tablets removed 80 pounds from each flight and saved more than 576,000 gallons of fuel.” 

5. Smaller video screens

JetBlue gets a nod: “On our restyled A320 aircraft, our (Inflight Entertainment) IFE is lighter and there are fewer of those under seat boxes that power the IFE,” an airline spokesperson told me. “We have also recently changed out food and beverage carts to a lighter weight cart.”

JetBlue: We have lighter video screens.

United: We have no video screens!

“We’ve removed video screens as you know,” United’s Hobart told me. “Many people are bringing their own on board. We offer streaming PDE–personal device entertainment instead. That’s a considerable weight-savings.”

The Australian airline Qantas has a new line of flatware and tablewear that it says is 11 percent lighter: “The range has now rolled out across our International fleet (and Domestic business class), resulting in an annual saving of up to 535,000 kilograms in fuel,” a spokesperson said.

8. No heavy plates in first class

Similar move on Virgin Atlantic, “which has thinner glassware and got rid of its heavy, slate plates from upper class,” according to the Telegraph.

“The carrier also changed its chocolate and sweet offerings to lighter versions, redesigned its meal trays (which in turn meant planes were able to carry fewer dining carts), and altered its beverage offering for night flights, when fewer people drink.”

Those big bottles of alcohol and perfume all add up, so they’re grounded. “We removed on board duty free products,” United’s Hobart told me. “Very few people were purchasing them anyway.”

10. Restocking the galley

Southwest: “We changed the way we stock our galleys, reducing the weight carried on each flight, and saving an additional 148,000 gallons of fuel in 2014 and 2015 combined.”

British company Thomas Cook “no longer prints receipts for in-flight purchases, saving it the need to carry 420,000 till rolls across its fleets,” according to the Telegraph.

It also “reduced the number of spare pillows and blankets it carries from four down to two.”

I’ll say that one again: pillows and blankets.

Spirit Airlines gets the mention here, and for something people complain about: their comically small tray tales. Besides being slightly less expensive to manufacture, they weigh a little less, which means less fuel required to transport them.

This one seems smart, like there are probably a lot of ways to make a drink cart weigh less. Several airlines said it was a priority.

“Ours were 50 pounds, and we got them down to 27 pounds,” United’s Hobart said.

I’d never heard of this one, but the Telegraph said that in 2008, Air Canada cut life jets out of some planes, and replaced them with “lighter floatation devices.” Apparently this was allowed as long as the aircraft “didn’t venture more than 50 miles from the shore.”

Did anyone even notice? Prior to its merger with Delta Air Lines, Northwest Airlines reportedly made a point of slicing limes into 16 slices as opposed to 10. That means they nearly halved the number of limes they had to carry.

16. The straight up solution

This one goes back 30 years, but it’s so apt. In 1987, United reportedly realized that removing one olive from every salad it served could save $40,000 a year. That would be just over $89,000 today. Not significant in itself for a $37 billion a year company, but hey, everything counts.

This is the tricky one that airlines would probably love to implement, but it’s hard. In 2013, Samoa Air introduced a “fat tax,” as the Telegraph put it, “whereby passengers would be charged a fare according to their weight.”

Separately, Japan’s All Nippon Airways, in 2009 “asked passengers to visit the lavatory before boarding because empty bladders means lighter bladders.”

Let Advanced Auto, AutoZone and O'Reilly's Pick Up the Repair Bills

FORT WASHINGTON, MD – JULY 03: Automobile traffic moves along the Capitol Beltway during rush hour one day before the 4th of July holiday July 3, 2018 in Fort Washington, Maryland. The American Automobile Association (AAA) is predicting that 39.7 million Americans will drive 50 miles or more away from their homes during the Independence Day holiday week, a 5 percent increase over last year. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The following statistics can make you wonder why would anyone would want to drive on their vacation. AAA stated in 2015 that, “U.S. drivers reported making an average of 2.1 driving trips per day, covering an average of 29.8 miles and spending an average of 48.4 minutes driving, which translates to an average of 763 trips, 10,874 miles, and 294 hours of driving annually.” The Federal Highway Administration notes that these averages have increased consistently every year since 2013, and in 2018 travel in the U.S will reach an all time high of 3,188,711 million vehicle miles per year.

This summer, many people are looking towards the all-American road trip to satisfy their vacation needs. A recent study posted by ISPOS in June of 2018 states that 72% of Americans plan to go on vacation in the next 12 months. Vacationers are looking to skip the security checkpoint lines and excessive baggage fees with MMGY Global reporting that domestic vacations account for 85 percent of American getaways, with 39% of those being road trips. With these numbers, Americans better make sure their cars can withstand the journey.

For travelers looking for convenient and low cost vacations this season, a road trip is the perfect choice.

Recent AAA roadside data shows that vehicles over 10 years old are twice as likely to break down and four times more likely to be towed in comparison to younger vehicles. We have listed three automotive companies below that, we believe, could fuel your vehicles in addition to your investments.

The foundation of our recommendations is to identify companies that perform best and worst on the collective basis of value, growth, EPS revisions, profitability, and LT momentum. The CressCap systematic trading model gathers data daily on 6,500 companies globally and assigns academic grades (A – F) for each financial metric. These grades are scored relative to its region/sector.

CressCap uses a multi-factor model to select the best-performing stocks. Our data is updated daily and the academic grades (A – F) for each financial metric are scored and ranked on a regional/sector relative basis. The foundation of our recommendations is to identify companies that possess the collective investment style of Value, Growth, EPS Revisions, Profitability and LT Momentum. Academic grades of C or better indicate that each metric scores well compared to the peer sector.CressCap Investment Research

Advance Auto Parts, Inc. (AAP-US)

The first company on our list is Advance Auto Parts. This company is a leading automotive aftermarket parts provider that serves both professional installer and do-it-yourself customers. The Company offers a selection of brand name and private label automotive replacement parts, accessories, batteries and maintenance items for domestic and imported cars, vans, sport utility vehicles and light and heavy duty trucks. According to the its first quarter 2018 results, the company experienced first quarter net sales of $2.9 billion along with a gross profit of $1.3 billion. Additionally, its operating income increased 10.3% to $198.2 million and adjusted operating income increased 9.3% to $224.1 million. CEO Tom Greco stated in the same report that the company’s first quarter performance reinforced its commitment to driving increased value for shareholders.

During the first quarter of fiscal 2018, the sales of appearance chemicals and accessories was down for the company as a result of, “unusually cold temperatures and above average levels of precipitation in March and April”. Tom Greco continued on to say that, “spring-related demand bounced back nicely in May and we expect improved top line sales in Q2”. With Americans eager to get on the road when the weather improves, this is a perfect time to invest in the company.

This stock is one to watch for with an A- CressCap sector grade along with impressive financial metrics. This stock’s YTD performance is up 41.27%. The company’s value metrics are on par with the sector holding a Price/Sales ratio of 1.10x vs. sector 1.35x. The momentum metric stands out amongst its competitors in the consumer discretionary sector. The mid and long term price momentum outcomes are favorable compared to the sector with an A- grade. The mid-term price momentum is 25.44% vs. sector 6.06% and the long term price momentum is an impressive 48.97% compared to sector 15.90%. Profitability metrics for this stock also look favorable with a B+ grade for its gross profit margin at 44.12% vs. sector 33.93%, and a B grade for ROI with the stock at 11.30% compared to sector 8.64%.

AutoZone, Inc. (AZO-US)

AutoZone is the nation’s leading retailer and a leading distributor of automotive replacement parts and accessories with more than 6,000 stores in the US, Mexico, Brazil and Puerto Rico. Each store carries an extensive line for cars, sport utility vehicles, vans and light trucks, including new and remanufactured hard parts, maintenance items and accessories. This Tennessee based company stated in its 3rd quarter 2018 earnings that it recognized net sales of $2.7 billion, an increase of 1.6% from the third quarter of fiscal 2017.  Further, both the net income and diluted EPS for the quarter increased, with net income increasing 10.6% over the same period last year to $366.7 million and the latter increasing 17.3% to $13.42 per share.

In the company’s third quarter 2018 results, CEO William Rhodes stated he had confidence in the company’s performance moving into the summer months. He stated that, “the northern Mid-Atlantic and Midwestern geographies did not excel as expected after the harsher winter. However… [over] the last two weeks when most of the country entered a dry hot weather pattern, our sales improved materially and in the geographies and the categories that we expected”.

The outlook on this company is favorable, with profitability, EPS revisions and value metrics producing strong CressCap grades of A, B+ and B respectively. AutoZone’s profitability can be seen in the ROI, given an A+ grade at 37.73% vs. sector 8.64% and EBIT margin at 19.10% compared to sector 9.35% accompanied by an A grade. The CF/ROI ratio at 46.27x compared to sector 15.66x suggests stock is very undervalued. The stocks current P/E ratio is 15.59x vs. the sector 18.92x, given a B+ CressCap grade. Its EPS revisions continue to be adjusted higher for FY1 and FY2 showing us that this stock has good momentum. This year, it had a market cap change of 27.83% relative to a sector change of 18.06%. In our opinion, the stock looks good for quant, technical, and fundamental criteria and it should be viewed as a place to put your money during the summer season.

O’Reilly Automotive, Inc. (ORLY-US)

O’Reilly Automotive, Inc. is the last company on our list. This Missouri based company is one of the largest specialty retailers of automotive aftermarket parts, tools, supplies, equipment, and accessories in the United States, serving both professional service providers and do-it-yourself customers. The company saw sales for the first quarter of 2018 increase 6%, to $2.28 billion from $2.16 billion for the same period one year ago. Gross profit for the first quarter increased to $1.20 billion from $1.13 billion from the same 2017 period. The company has had a good 2018 thus far, with its performance up 19.26% YTD.

In addition to O’Reilly Automotive reporting both a sales and gross profit increase in the first quarter, their metrics also show tremendous upside potential. Notably, the company’s profitability stands out reflected by an A ranking. This ranking is backed by the stock’s ROE at an impressive 99.45% compared to that of the sector at 13.33%, along with the stock receiving A+ and A grades in ROI and EBIT margin respectively. The growth of this stock looks promising, with its 2 year forward EPS growth rate at 36.29% vs. a sector 25.99%. Long term momentum for the stock is strong, with an A- CressCap rank, at 45.64% compared to a sector average 15.90%. In our opinion, the stock looks good for quant, technical, and fundamental criteria and it should be viewed as a place to put your money during the summer season.

Written By: Steven Cress ([email protected]) and Alison Geary ([email protected])

For additional information, feel free to send questions to [email protected] or view our website www.cresscap.com. Please click here to view CressCap Investment Research’s full disclaimer.

Space Photos of the Week: Mars Has Spiders in the Springtime

Did you know Mars has spiders? Well, sort of. This region is part of the Martian southern polar ice cap, and during the springtime, frozen carbon dioxide sublimates from a solid to a gas and gets trapped beneath the surface—creating these dark spider-like features, technically called “araneiform terrain.”

Our moon looks lovely in this photo taken from the International Space Station. Seen from Earth, a full moon looks nice and big in the night sky, but when you are that much closer it really looms large. Oh, and that blue to the right of the photo? That’s an Earth glow photobomb.

The European Southern Observatory captured this image of a stellar cluster 5,500 light years from Earth. Among the astral objects in the cluster, known as RCW 38, are many massive stars due to end their lives in the great death of a supernova. Fortunately we’re somewhat far removed from that otherworldly collapse.

But wait, don’t write RCW 38’s obituary yet! The European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope zoomed in to snap this stunning photo of the stellar cluster. Much closer up, the bright clouds of dust are more detailed, and we can properly assess all the activity in this region.

A photographer in Europe captured the moon passing behind Earth in this time lapse of the January 2018 lunar eclipse. The result is a sort of lunar yoga—our moon streeetching in this groovy image. The reddish hue is created when light from the Sun passes through Earth’s atmosphere and is reflected, giving it the nickname “blood moon.”

Based on analyses of the clays that remain in this area, scientists who’ve studied the Eridania basin on Mars theorize it to be an ancient lake bed that was once filled with water. This lake would have existed some 2 billion years ago, eventually draining to the north.

If you need some cosmic perspective on our small world, images from Hubble are the way to go. Behold a galaxy cluster, one of the largest features humankind has ever discovered in the universe. Some of these clusters are 1 million billion times the mass of our Sun! In this image, stars from our own Milky Way sparkle in the foreground while whole spiral galaxies are peppered across the entire photo.

FOX Sports Using SkyCam For The First Time At An MLB All-Star Game

This diagram of Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. shows how FOX Sports will use a SkyCam for the MLB All-Star Game for the very first time.FOX Sports

If you’ve watched any NFL games on television in the last few years, you’ve undoubtably seen the use of the cable-suspended SkyCam. The ability of networks to fly the camera around the field gives a bird’s eye view where stationary cameras can’t. For the most part, football fans have been the biggest winners of the SkyCam technology, while other sports have been unable to utilize it.

That will change on Tuesday when the 89th MLB All-Star Game is played at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.

FOX Sports will be using SkyCam for the first time, ever, at MLB’s Midsummer Classic. According to the network, the design of Nationals Park allowed for the use of the camera technology where other ballparks have not.

There will be one “WildCat” system on-site with a flyspace that will run over left and center field. The camera will track outside the field of play, largely over the bullpens. By running the system as such, it avoids the possibility of the camera or cabling interfering with play.

Should there be any technical problems with the primary system, FOX Sports is deploying a backup that will be on-site.

As has been the case in the past, FOX Sports continues to push the envelope with technology at jewel events, such as the MLB All-Star Game. On top of the SkyCam, there will be an additional aerial camera; 35 HD game cameras; eight super slo-mo that run at 460 frames per second, and; two extra-slo-mo cameras at 2,000 frames per second will be used.

For audio, FOX Sports has increased the number of microphones being used including 78 embedded in the field to capture the sounds of the game.

All of it will be tied together with more than 250 strands of fiber, over three miles of fiber optic cable, and 1 Gbps of data connectivity.

To make it all come together, the FOX Sports will deploy a small army of more that 125 technicians and 24 support staff that will log more than 10,000 man hours over five days.

FOX Sports’ coverage of the MLB All-Star Game begins at 7:30 pm ET.

SoftBank's cheap valuation draws $1 billion bet from U.S. fund Tiger Global

TOKYO/SINGAPORE (Reuters) – U.S. hedge fund Tiger Global has built a stake worth over $1 billion in SoftBank Group Corp as it considers the Japanese firm undervalued, a source with direct knowledge of the matter said, driving SoftBank shares up as much as 6.8 percent.

FILE PHOTO: An employee works behind a logo of Softbank Corp at its branch in Tokyo March 2, 2011. REUTERS/Toru Hanai/File Photo

The bump added nearly $6 billion to SoftBank’s market capitalization, narrowing the gap between the company’s limited valuation as a conglomerate and the valuation that the company says it deserves, thanks to its rich investments.

The Japanese tech and telecoms firm, which holds a nearly 30 percent stake in Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, has recently started taking action to address the issue, including preparing a listing of its domestic telecoms unit.

New York-based Tiger Global, which manages around $22 billion in assets, told investors in a letter that SoftBank’s stock price had not increased over the last five years even though its holding in Alibaba had added more than $90 billion in value.

SoftBank shares surged as much as 6.8 percent, pushing up the company’s market value to about $91 billion. They closed up 6.4 percent at 9,376 yen, their tenth consecutive day of gains.

The company’s charismatic CEO Masayoshi Son, who owns 21 percent of SoftBank, said at a shareholders’ meeting last month, that a “conglomerate discount” was weighing on the company’s stock. He said the stock should be trading above 14,000 yen rather than where they were then – at around 8,000 yen – to account for its investments.

Besides Alibaba, SoftBank has a stake in U.S. telecoms firm Sprint Corp and Yahoo Japan.

But SoftBank’s investments have left it with a heavy debt load.

It had about $123 billion of debt as of March end and has a debt-to-equity ratio of 3.97, compared with an industry median of 0.10.

In contrast, Alibaba, whose shares have more than doubled since their debut in 2014, has a market capitalization of $480 billion and a debt-to-equity ratio of 0.31.

Sentiment toward the stock has risen recently after the company applied for the listing of its telecom unit and said it was increasing its stake in Yahoo Japan through an indirect deal that will deepen its ties with the internet heavyweight ahead of the IPO.

SoftBank hopes the listing will clarify the distinction between its domestic telecoms operations and investing activities and help chip away at its discounted valuation.

Besides the cheap valuation, Tiger Global based its SoftBank investment decision on SoftBank’s purchase of U.S. investment group Fortress and the launch of its near-$100 billion Vision Fund to find and grow promising technology leaders.

Tiger Global and SoftBank have often invested in the same companies: ride-hailing firms Uber and India’s Ola. SoftBank also bought most of Tiger’s stake in Indian e-commerce firm Flipkart Group earlier this year.

“We continue to believe the market significantly undervalues our stock and we welcome the support from a sophisticated institutional investor like Tiger Global,” SoftBank said in an email to Reuters on Thursday.

Tiger Global was not available for comment outside regular U.S. business hours.

But Tiger’s is not the only big bet on the Japanese company recently.

Los Angeles-based investment firm Capital Research increased its holdings in SoftBank to more than 36 million shares from 4 million as per a June 15 filing, forking out more than $2 billion for the stake, according to Reuters calculations.

Reporting by Sayantani Ghosh in Singapore and Sam Nussey and Ritsuko Ando in Tokyo; Additional reporting by Maiya Keidan in London, Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman

Eutelsat, Intelsat and SES team up on U.S. C-band proposal

(Reuters) – France’s Eutelsat will join satellite operator rivals Intelsat and SES in a proposal to allow mobile operators to quickly access part of the C-band spectrum in the United States, the companies said on Thursday.

The proposed consortium would be open to all satellite operators delivering services in the C-band in the mainland United States, and would deal with transactions with companies wishing to use specific portions of the spectrum for mobile services, the companies said.

The C-band spectrum is used to deliver video and audio programming to more than 100 million U.S. households, as well as for data connectivity in rural areas and services for the U.S. government.

The companies said the consortium would help speed up the deployment of 5G services in the United States.

Reporting by Alan Charlish in Gdynia; editing by Jason Neely

Here's What You May Not Know About The Future Impact Of AI In Your Workplace

CHAIN Cup at the China National Convention Center in Beijing just a few days ago. A computer running artificial intelligence software defeated two teams of human doctors in accurately recognizing maladies in magnetic resonance images on Saturday, in a contest that was billed as the world’s first competition in neuroimaging between AI and human experts. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Good versus evil is a daily battle on a variety of levels but perhaps none more so than that those tracking developments within the realm of Artificial Intelligence. The question on the minds of many business leaders is will the technology create more efficiency within industries or will machines end up usurping their very users.  Many in the workforce simply want to know whether there will be massive impending job loss as a result of AI or whether such tech advancements will help them to be more productive. There are wild myths about this new area of tech and even wilder predictions amidst few, if any, regulations and standards. Given the plethora of various viewpoints on AI, here’s a brief look at the up-to-the-moment trend perspective from a few thought-leaders in the space so that you can better prepare.

So, harmful or helpful? First, the AI-For-Good camp has no shortage of members. This is about blue sky visions and utopian views from which the greater good occurs, all thanks to efficient use of artificial intelligence through businesses. For example, Chief Visionary Nikos Acuña Nikos at Sizmek, a company that helps companies use data to better reach its goals, says in one of his latest vlog posts, “It’s well known that predictive technologies hold the key to customer experience optimization and such optimization can be used for all types of good.”  Nikos believes that technology is going to help us impact the world for the better particularly when it comes to cause marketing.

“Purpose-driven brands want to make a change for the better,” he explains. “And they can inspire people through alignment of data and connect with consumers in more meaningful way to drive messaging. Those who can best use AI to create personalization and brand experiences will be the winners in business and our society because they will be able to link business with better public service via the knowledge that AI provides.”

Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks at the Google I/O conference in Mountain View, Calif. Google pledges that it will not use artificial intelligence in applications related to weapons or surveillance, part of a new set of principles designed to govern how it uses AI. Those principles, released by Pichai, commit Google to building AI applications that are “socially beneficial,” that avoid creating or reinforcing bias and that is accountable to people. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

In addition, many see a deeply positive impact of AI within the workplace. A recent report by Village Capital and Autodesk Foundation entitled Automation for Good: Can Automation and Artificial Intelligence Benefit the Workforce? revealed a number of intriguing findings. In essence, the study found that  AI will both destroy replace and create new types of jobs.

By studying 50-plus startups, the study found certain trends. First, that platforms that used big data were able to better move past hiring biases, improve the quality of matches and thus have a greater competitive advantage in the market. The study also cites the fact that when Hilton implemented an AI tool in pre-hire assessments the company was better able to fill call center and customer support positions. In fact, within three years, the company was  able to reduce the length of time between initial interviews and offers from 42 days to five days.

The study concludes that automation and AI will play an increasingly large role in how organizations source, recruit, hire, and onboard employees in the future. In fact, Village Capital’s cross-industry survey last year found that approximately 62 percent of recruiters planned to spend more on AI-based human resource solutions in 2018.  86 percent said they intend to tap into AI software that helps with sourcing.

Gadi Singer, vice president of architecture group at Intel Corp., speaks during the Baidu Inc. Create conference in Beijing, China, on Wednesday, July 4, 2018. The company’s annual artificial intelligence (AI) developer conference runs through July 5. Photographer: Giulia Marchi/Bloomberg

Also noted in the study is the fact that AI-driven training and “upskilling” will be key in various sectors as well. Findings also show that predictive analytics tools that allow workers to focus less on rote tasks and more on the creative “people aspects” of work.

But like most things in life, there a number of additional elements to consider when it comes to the future impact of AI.

David Benigson, CEO Signal Media offers a holistic view. “You see, the breadth of data has never been greater on earth, yet it has never harder to transform data into true insights. This is where AI can become transformative in terms of  applying machine learning to the data to unlock insights.”

However, he feels that in order to get to that level, it’s going to be challenging given the level of fear and misinformation currently surrounding most things AI-related. “We are over-estimating the short-term impact and underestimating the long-term on what AI will do to our society overall, ” Benigson explains. “And that’s an issue.”  He says that the real fact of the matter is that many automated, manual, repetitive and repeatable jobs will, indeed, vanish. “However the ‘safe jobs’ dealing with things like creativity will remain in demand. So jobs in, say, banking will become obsolete. But if you can build something or write or create music or become a valued entrepreneur, that’s where value will always remain and perhaps AI will help even enhance those working in these areas.”

Benigson cautions that further development around ethics, however, is probably the most important focus within the AI narrative if we want to continue to pursue the path of benefit versus detriment. He suggests that an independent ethics board of members that are not solely driven by financial gain is key.  “Currently we are expecting machines to have the same level of ethics that it’s taken humans thousands of years to develop, which is still not perfect,” he adds.

Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and founder of Facebook Inc., waits to begin a joint hearing of the Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, April 10, 2018. Lawmakers will grill Zuckerberg on issues ranging from the troves of data vacuumed up by app developers and political consultant Cambridge Analytica to Russian operatives’ use of the social network to spread misinformation and discord during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

“We’ve seen what can happen in the past with companies like Google and Facebook that are fairly autonomous. They run into trouble, and we expect them to respond, but they really don’t on a level that’s appropriate, so they need regulation but regulation can tend to stifle new areas by becoming too stringent so a slow and steady approach will be needed,” he adds.

In addition to parameters around ethics, many like Benigson suggest that the AI industry will simply have to further focus on demonstrating how AI can help with efficiency gains in business and vast gains in society overall in order to quell fears and myths. “The most important element to understand as we discuss AI is that algorithms are shaping our experience of the world so we’ve got to get this right.”

National Championship Coach Jay Wright Says These 2 Things Are More Important Than Talent

On April 3rd 2018, Villanova Head Coach, Jay Wright, lifted the NCAA National Championship trophy for the second time in three years.  While no one can debate his achievements as a great coach, his success was not immediate.

Hired in 2001, Wright became the 8th coach in Villanova history. Initially, Wright and his team struggled. In each of his first three seasons, all they could muster was NIT appearances, delivering well below the expectations of the Wildcat faithful.  

What could possibly have changed between Wright’s first and most recent three year time span?  The obvious conclusion would be an increase in the talent of players, but coach Wright knows this success stems from much more than that.

I had the opportunity to interview him on the recent episode of the Follow My Lead podcast and Wright articulated the answer plain and simple. A high-level of basketball athleticism aside, two important qualities must be found in each of Wright’s players: Competitiveness and Character.  

I have never met a leader who did not believe talent was a major part of success. Without this, a natural hurdle is created that will hinder the performance of an individual, team or business. At an institution such as Villanova, where the best talent compete for a place in the program, the differentiators hold the most weight. As Wright knows, this is what has made his team so successful in developing and molding a unique culture.

“We want guys who want to come in and compete (competitiveness) but at the same time have the character to handle failure, handle success, have a good attitude, and have a hunger in continuing to get better every single day.”

Without knowing exactly what characteristics to look for in people, every talented professional that aims to be a part of your company will look like a cannot miss hire.

1. Wake up ready to compete.

Competitiveness can be boiled down to this: The motivation of a person to surpass an opponent’s knowledge or skills as well as to get better for themselves.  While it is easy to see the value this holds for a basketball coach like Wright, I would argue the same importance applies from a business perspective.  

When the referee throws up the ball in a basketball game, for the next 48 minutes players initiate their competitive nature. In business, it is just as ruthless despite rarely competing head to head with your opponents. The vast majority of the time, businesses compete independently through customers evaluating their products and services. This makes it more difficult for professionals to know the referee has already thrown the ball in the air or that another team (startup) just joined the game.  

2. Character makes all the difference.

John Wooden, head coach at UCLA, famously said, “Winning takes talent, to repeat it takes character.”  Repeat is just what Wooden did as he won 10 National Championships over a 12 year period. Following in his footsteps, Wright is elevating character as a critical necessity for his players.

Character is defined as the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual. Seeking out people to join your organization or team who make good decisions, have a humble heart, and are willing to work hard for not only the betterment of themselves but for the entire organization is an important thing to be on the lookout for.

Can they be taught and how do you look for them?

Most studies agree that both competitiveness and character are a combination of innate and developed abilities.  The “how” is where most people tend to disagree.  Wright’s advice for leaders is simple:

“I have learned through trial and error. Players don’t have to have competitiveness and character perfectly, but they have to have it. Then it’s our job to make it flourish. If players don’t have it, I used to think I could save the world and teach them, but turns out they need to have a little bit.”

A strong leader has an accurate sense for identifying character and competitive nature in potentials. Identifying these traits and testing them prior to hiring can be the difference between furthering your business and wasting an opportunity. If you work hard to make people show you their competitive drive and true character, the positive results will speak for themselves.

This Is the 1 Benefit Millennials Really Want From Their Employers

If your company announced that it was giving everybody a fertility benefit right alongside options like vision and dental, would you take it? According to Tammy Sun, that’s likely going to become the norm.

Sun is the CEO and cofounder of Carrot, a company based in San Francisco, CA that specializes in customized fertility benefits. In May, her company conducted a survey that revealed that attitudes around fertility are changing–more than 50 percent of millennials now believe fertility coverage should be an equal part of healthcare benefits.

Why is demand increasing?

One reason why millennials might want their companies to offer fertility benefits is that they are having their first child later in life when compared to previous generations, according to 2018 Pew Research data. Because the risk of complications and birth defects ticks up with maternal age, procedures like freezing eggs and sperm or fetal testing might seem more sensible.

But then why have kids later rather than sooner? A 2014 Time article noted the growing trend for women to have children after age 35, suggesting that the desire to prioritize careers over family comes into play. That desire reflects shifting mindsets about gender roles, but some parents might want to wait for economic reasons, too. With general costs like rent soaring, and with millennials often shouldered with more financial responsibilities (e.g, taking care of aging parents and student debt), having children early without first gaining some monetary security might seem impossible to some individuals. A 2015 article for The Guardian highlights this dilemma and demonstrates that the problem isn’t exclusive to the United States.

But then again, culture isn’t just changing its mind about what women can and cannot do. We’ve also redefined what “family” even is. With the legalization of same-sex marriages, fertility benefits don’t just recognize medical and financial realities. They also reflect an acknowledgment that all types of couples can parent successfully and should have the same opportunities to do so that traditional couples do. If companies want to attract workers with these types of more progressive beliefs, adding fertility benefits could be a proactive way of essentially saying, “I see and support you”.

Cryptocurrency exchange company Coinbase is vocal about its desire to use fertility benefits as a way to foster diversity. Nat McGrath, Coinbase VP of People, asserts that such team diversity helps the company make better decisions, serve the community under a global lens and drive innovation.

“It’s easy to scale software infrastructure,” McGrath says. “It’s much harder to scale people. […] We want employees to feel confident that, as they build their careers in crypto, they can also nurture and grow their families–regardless of age, gender identity, sexual orientation, marital status or anything else.”

Some good leaders are out there, but there’s still room to develop

As FertilityIQ cofounder Jake Anderson-Bialis outlines in his article for LinkedIn, data suggests that offering fertility options like IVF has the potential to affect the bottom line, connecting to greater employee retention and loyalty. And as you might expect, 2016-2017 rankings show that big players from a range of industries–for example, Bank of America, Boston Consulting Group, Chanel, Spotify, Johnson & Johnson and Conair–are doing fertility benefits well. Many of these companies are distinct in that they don’t cap the cost of treatment.

But if you have to point to one industry as a “winner”, then tech companies generally do a great job under Anderson-Bialis’ assessment. For instance, companies like Google, Intel and Facebook don’t restrict benefits based on who you are (e.g., gay, single, etc.).

But ranking high doesn’t mean these companies have all the kinks worked out. For example, Google and Facebook don’t let you choose which clinic you’ll use, and some companies, like Bank of America, reportedly force some employees in particular groups to prove they are infertile before they can use their perk. It likely will take both employee vocalization and additional regulations to eliminate these types of discrepancies.

What the future of work might look like

Right now, work can be…well, a downer. There’s incredible cultural pressure to work long hours and, despite an emphasis on health and wellbeing, to simply accept exhaustion as “the way to success”. Many companies still want employees who can come into the office no strings attached, and the worst still find ways to discriminate against parents or those who are expecting.

But if fertility benefits become standard practice as a way to attract talent and innovate, pretty soon, employers who haven’t done so already are going to have to face the music. There will be more workers with kids, and there will be a shortage of the “ideal” candidate who is free to “live” at the office. That very well might be the tipping point where we change our expectations and finally acknowledge that 24/7 and a lack of connection doesn’t work so well after all.

Equinor: 3 Promising Recent Developments

The past few weeks have seen several developments that have the very real potential to be quite beneficial for investors in Norway’s Equinor (EQNR). This is a company that has looked rather undervalued for quite some time now, particularly when compared to its big oil peers in the United States. This is likely due both to the company not being included in any of the major American indices such as the S&P 500 (SPY) that American investors typically hold passively as well as many of them feeling somewhat uncomfortable at the Norwegian government having a two-thirds stake in the business. However, as I explained in a recent article, Equinor is truly a great company that deserves a place in the portfolio of every energy investor. In this article, we will discuss a few of the developments that are likely to benefit investors going forward.

On Tuesday, July 3, 2018, Equinor submitted a plan to develop the massive gas fields located in the Western portion of the Troll field offshore Norway. According to the plan, the company would invest a total of NOK 7.8 billion ($936 million) to develop the gas field, which would provide enough gas to meet the needs of fifty million European households for the next thirty years. As the development of the field would cost less than $1 billion and Equinor would have total production costs of under $10 per barrel of oil equivalent, we can expect the 2.2 billion barrels of oil equivalent that the company will ultimately extract from the field to yield significant profits. Indeed, as Equinor vice president Margareth Oevrum stated, “This is probably one of the most profitable and robust projects in the company’s history.”

The Troll oil and natural gas field is one of the largest fields known in the North Sea, holding approximately 40% of Norway’s gas reserves.

Source: RigZone

As shown above, the field is located approximately 65 kilometers west of Bergen. The field itself consists of two structures, Troll East and Troll West, with most of the gas lying in the already producing East structure. The plan that Equinor just submitted is for the Troll West structure so it is clearly intended to boost the total production from the field. Due to the potential economic impact, it seems unlikely that the Norwegian authorities will reject the plan. Assuming that is indeed the case, the Troll West field would likely come online sometime early next decade so would begin contributing positively to the company’s results around that time.

On Thursday, July 5, 2018, Equinor announced that it gained approval from the Norwegian authorities to proceed with its Snorre expansion project. This $2.39 billion project involves the construction of a comprehensive subsea development, upgrading of the Snorre A installation, increasing gas injection into the reservoir, and setting up a gas import system to obtain this gas. The goal here is to extend the productive life of the aging Snorre field past 2040 and obtain another 200 million barrels of oil from it before the field is ultimately exhausted. Naturally, this will increase the amount of oil that Equinor can ultimately pull out of the field and sell.

The Snorre field is an oil and gas field located in the southern part of the Norwegian Sea. The field itself is located at the bottom of approximately 300 to 350 meters of water.

Source: RigZone

The Snorre field was originally developed by Saga Petroleum (now part of Equinor) and started producing oil in 1992. It has been producing oil and gas continually since that time, although Equinor has had to make some capital improvements at the site to keep the field productive. Thus far, Equinor has enjoyed success with these programs as the field was originally projected to reach the end of its productive life in 2011 but it is now projected to be exhausted around 2040. The goal of the newest project that was just approved is to extend its life beyond that date.

The Snorre field is one of the largest ever discovered, originally estimated to contain 1.4 billion barrels of oil, 6 billion cubic meters of natural gas, and 6 million tonnes of natural gas liquids.

Finally, on Friday, July 6, Equinor announced that it is purchasing Danish trading firm Danske Commodities for €400 million ($470 million). According to Irene Rummelhoff, executive vice president for new energy solutions at Equinor, the purpose of the deal is to strengthen the company’s position in power generation from renewable energy.

Danske itself trades in natural gas and electricity futures, so this appears to be a move by Equinor to improve its ability to hedge its exposure to electricity rates as it continues to expand into renewable power generation technologies. Numerous energy companies operate trading desks as a way to reduce the impact that rapid commodity price swings have on their revenues. Equinor is merely joining the crowd here by purchasing an already existing operation instead of starting one from scratch.

The profitability of trading operations can be quite difficult to judge in advance. Personally, I somewhat doubt that the purchase of this commodity trading operation will have a huge impact on Equinor’s profitability. What it may help to do though is smooth out the company’s profitability over the business cycle, which itself has a certain benefit for shareholders, particularly those that are buy and hold types.

Despite these positive developments, Equinor remains undervalued relative to its big oil peers. With that said though, analysts recently revised downward the forward earnings growth expectations of Equinor which makes it look somewhat more expensive than it did a few weeks ago despite its stock price being almost flat over the period. One way that we can compare the valuations of different oil companies is by looking that the price-to-earnings growth ration, which is a way of adjusting the price-to-earnings growth ratio to account for forward earnings growth. According to Zacks Investment Research, Equinor will grow its earnings at an 11.68% rate over the next three to five years. At the current stock price of $26.97, that gives it a price to earnings growth ratio of 1.18. Interestingly, two weeks ago, the same analysts projected a 3-5 year earnings growth rate of 19.89%. Thus, analysts expect that the developments discussed above will slow the company’s growth. I expect the opposite, although admittedly I am looking over much longer than a three to five year horizon.

Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

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.

Additional disclosure: I intend to initiate a long position in EQNR at some point in the near future but it will not be within 72 hours of publication.