Amazon's Hidden Platform Labor Startups

For the past couple of years, Amazon has trialed last-mile delivery with individuals, in a program called Amazon Flex, and with small-courier companies using “white vans.” Both of these initiatives are designed to rival UPS and FedEx.

As Amazon prepares for the holiday season, these programs are ramping up to take on more of the load. But that’s not all. Amazon recently launched Amazon Relay, an app aimed at making it easier for truck drivers to make pickups from Amazon warehouses, and is soon to launch a trucking cargo app. All of these services are being trialed internally at Amazon and slowly being turned into platform businesses, specifically services marketplaces.

Amazon Flex: What Uber Rush Aspires To

Amazon Flex lets individuals with cars pick-up packages from an Amazon warehouse and deliver them to customers’ doorsteps. Amazon advertises that drivers can earn $18-25 per hour. The B2C delivery model has been tried before by platforms like Postmates, Deliv and UberRush. However, UberRush has been reported to be struggling after launching a couple years ago.

UberRush also focused on small businesses as its primary customer. These businesses, like restaurants, would use UberRush to deliver products to their customers. Postmates is different. The customer places the order through Postmates and pays Postmates the delivery fee.

Amazon Flex can subsidize the cost of the B2C delivery model to small businesses with its own package volume. As Amazon Flex gains a more public presence, it’s rumored that Amazon will let other small businesses use the program for their own needs. However, the cost structure is completely different if a driver is already on a scheduled route to deliver Amazon’s packages and is adding incremental volume from small businesses.

Amazon’s Trucking Apps

Amazon Relay is primarily for internal use and will likely not be opened up as a stand-alone platform. It helps trucker drivers coordinate their drop offs at Amazon warehouses. The app makes this tedious process more organized and efficient. However, the app also will prove to be a great learning experience for Amazon in advance of the rumored release of Amazon’s cargo delivery app for truckers.

Uber Freight launched in May of 2017 and began a national roll-out just a few months after launch. The service provides a seamless booking process for truck drivers to accept freight delivery jobs similar to the Uber process for passenger drivers. Uber Freight also provides driver benefits like payment within a few days of completing a job when the industry norm can be payment after a month or more. For this reason and others, Uber Freight seems to be making good progress.

Amazon’s competing app should be coming out soon and will probably follow a similar process of leveraging the existing demand from Amazon’s routes as we have seen with Amazon Flex.

Act as a Consumer

One of the hardest elements of building a successful platform is the chicken and egg problem. Existing businesses have an advantage in launch a platform because they can act as the producer or consumer at launch to seed the marketplace with liquidity. In Amazon’s case, it is acting as a consumer for both individual delivery drivers as well as truckers.

As Amazon builds a fluid network of producers (drivers), it can scale its network by opening the service up to other customers. If not opened up, this would still be considered a linear business; however, platforms like Amazon are masters at building new platform businesses on top of its core modern monopoly: the product marketplace.

Just like Google built platform moats around its modern monopoly in search. Google built Android, YouTube, Gmail and others which leverage Search’s advertising network and protect the business that drivers over 95% of Google’s profits.

As Amazon expands further into logistics, it seems to be heading down a similar path.

Record Earnings And A 10% Yield On Qualified Dividends – Buy This Niche MLP On The Dip (No K-1)

When does an LP not act like an LP? When it issues a 1099 at tax time, so you can avoid the complications of a K-1. KNOT Offshore Partners LP (KNOP) is one of a few LPs that has elected to be treated as a C-Corp, and issues 1099s to unit-holders at tax time. Thus, we are spared what some investors refer to as the “dreaded K-1.”


KNOT Offshore Partners LP owns and operates shuttle tankers under long-term charters in the North Sea and Brazil. The company provides crude oil loading, transportation, and storage services under time charters and bareboat charters. KNOT Offshore Partners GP LLC serves as the general partner of the company, and Knutsen NYK Offshore Tankers AS is their sponsor. The company was founded in 2013 and is headquartered in Aberdeen, UK.

To say that shuttle tankers are a niche industry would be putting it mildly – shuttle tankers comprise only around 1% of the world’s conventional tanker fleet, and are a vital key solution for oil companies looking to monetize their product. Since many ports don’t have the infrastructure to accommodate large tankers, producers charter shuttle tankers to get their oil into port. These are specialized vessels that take 2.5-3 years to build, so there isn’t a lot of speculative new-building going on in this industry.


Like many of the high-yield stocks and LPs we cover in our articles, KNOP works on long-term, fee-based contracts, with strong counter-parties such as Statoil (NYSE:STO), Exxon Mobil (NYSE:XOM), and Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE:RDS.A) (NYSE:RDS.B).

This serves to provide stable cash flow for KNOP’s distributions. The company now has an average of 4.4 years left on their fleet’s contracts, with an additional average of 4.5 years extension at the charters’ option.

Since their 2013 IPO, KNOP’s fleet has grown 230% to 14 vessels with a low average vessel age of about 4.5 years, compared to the rest of the industry average, which is much older – around 12 years.

(Source: KNOP site)


Our High Dividend Stocks By Sector Tables track KNOP’s price and current distribution yield (in the Services section).

KNOP pays their distributions in the usual Feb-May-Aug-Nov. cycle for LPs, but there’s a big difference at tax time: unlike most LPs, it’s elected to be treated as a C-Corporation for tax purposes, so investors receive the standard 1099 form and not a K-1 form. (Tell your accountant he owes you a beer.)

Management has held the quarterly distribution steady, at $.52, since October 2015 – it’s ~39% above their targeted minimum distribution of $.375. Since their 2013 IPO, KNOP has paid common unit distributions of $8.74.

When asked about future distribution hikes on the Q3 earnings call, management replied, “The MLP has an elevated yield compared to most MLPs, and we therefore are focused on first rebuilding coverage and then deleveraging when not making accretive investments. There is little benefit to the MLP in the short term (in) paying much more than the current yield.”

KNOP achieved record distribution coverage in the past two quarters, at 1.46x in Q3 ’17 and 1.43X in Q2 ’17:


KNOP has options, which we feature in our premium service, and didn’t list here. But you can see details for over 25 other income-producing trades in both our Covered Calls Table and also in our Cash Secured Puts Table.


After a sub-par Q1 ’17, KNOP has bounced back strongly in Q2 and Q3 ’17. Q3 ’17 saw 34% growth in Revenue, 29% EBITDA growth and 18% DCF growth.

KNOP hit record amounts for revenue, EBITDA, DCF, and net income in Q3 ’17, due to their new vessels contributing to earnings.

In the last 12 months, the MLP has acquired the Raquel Knutsen in 2016 Q4, Tordis in Q1 2017, Vigdis in Q2 2017 and Lena Knutsen in Q3. “The fleet achieved strong performance with 99.7% utilization for scheduled operations and 99.3% utilization, taking into account the scheduled drydocking and repair of Carmen Knutsen. We completed the acquisition of Lena Knutsen, which is a five-year charter to Shell.” (Source: Q3 ’17 earnings call)

Even with the unit count growing by 9%, distribution coverage has grown from an already strong 1.24x factor to 1.28x, over the past four quarters:

This table compares the low end of KNOP’s 2017 guidance, pro-rated for three quarters, to their actual figures for Q1-3 ’17. So far, they’ve exceeded their net income and EBITDA guidance, and narrowly missed their DCF, distributions and coverage ratio guidance:


Dilution/Coverage: Since LPs pay out the lion’s share of their cash flow, they must periodically go to the debt and equity markets to raise more capital for further expansion. (See the Financials and Debt and Liquidity sections at the bottom of the article for more information about current debt levels.)

On 11/6/17, management announced a secondary public offering of 3,000,000 common units, representing limited partner interests in the Partnership. This 10% dilution caused their price to fall well over 12%, to around $20.00.

But therein lies the opportunity – with KNOP’s ample distribution coverage, that $.52 quarterly distribution isn’t going away. Even with a 10% higher unit base, they should still achieve good coverage.

3M more units at $.52/unit = $1.56M in additional payouts/quarter. In Q3, they paid out $17.39M in total distributions, so this would rise to ~$18.95M. If DCF is flat, coverage would still be ~1.26x, with plenty of leeway.

Management did warn on the earnings release that in Q4 ’17, “the Partnership’s earnings for the fourth quarter of 2017 will be affected by the planned drydocking and repair of the Carmen Knutsen, which is expected to be offhire for 73-75 days until mid-December 2017. Offsetting this offhire will be the Lena Knutsen, which is expected to operate for the entire fourth quarter. There is no further expected offhire for the fleet during the fourth quarter of 2017″ (Source: Q3 ’17 earnings release).

So we could see DCF fall, with the Carmen Knutsen being out for ~2.5 months, unless the new vessel, the Lena Knutsen is able to pick up the entire slack. Either way, we see KNOP maintaining good distribution coverage for the long term, which is why we bought more units on the dip.

Contract Expirations – Management has been working on renewing/extending contracts for some of their vessels which had contracts expiring in late 2017 (Windsor Knutsen) and in 2018 (Hilda and Torill Knutsen). So far, it’s gotten the Windsor extended to October 2018.

The company addressed this on the Q2 earnings call:

The Windsor Knutsen has been on a two-year contract from 13th of October 2015 with Brazil Shipping, a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell with a further six years of extension options. In July ’17, the first option is listed taken charter codes reaching October 2018.”

The company still has plenty of time to re-contract the Hilda Knutsen and Torill Knutsen, whose contracts expire at the end of Q3 ’18 and Q4 ’18, respectively. Also in their favor is the fact that these are highly specialized vessels, which would take 2.5 to 3 years to replace.

Privately held Preferred Units: Management sold a total of 4.1M preferred units in two private placements in February and May.

These 8% (~$2/unit annually) preferred distributions will take seniority over common units in any liquidation scenario, in addition to lessening the amount of DCF available to pay common unit distributions, by around $1-2M/quarter.

However, as we detailed above, KNOP’s distribution coverage hit records in Q2 and Q3 ’17, even after accounting for the preferred payouts.

Positive Developments:

Management elaborated about current trends and developments concerning their sub-industry and their sponsor Knutsen NYK on the Q3 earnings call.

As our production moves further offshore, these tankers operate in a space which will see substantial growth in the coming years. Some of the largest discovered oil reserves in the southern hemisphere are in pre-salt layer, 130 kilometers off the coast of Brazil. And Petrobras, for the month of September, oil and natural gas output on those proportions of 1.68 million barrels of oil equivalent average daily production, a 6.6% increase from the previous months and higher than last year’s average.”

Petrobras Transpetro have requested tenders for shore tankers and whilst have not been specific about numbers, we believe their requirement will be for at least 4 vessels initially. Although our MLP is young, our sponsor is a very experienced operator, having been involved in the design and construction of these type of vessels for over 30 years.”

Concerning future dropdowns, they said, “We will see when we get this Torill financing out of the way and perhaps, we’ll see how the equity market looks. I think probably early next year, first quarter next year, we might send that ship dropping to the MLP. But that’s subject to the factors on equity we can raise and what kind of financings we do. So it can be longer than that. But after that, we’d probably take a bit of a breather.”

Analysts’ Price Targets:

At $20.25, KNOP is over 16% below the average price target of $23.57, and 23.5% below the high price target of $25.00.

Estimates are mixed – with average EPS estimates rising over the past seven days for Q1 ’18, 2017, and 2018, but a mix of upward and downward EPS revisions for those same periods, and two downward revisions for next quarter:

(Source: YahooFinance)


KNOP was outperforming the market and the Guggenheim Shipping ETF (NYSEARCA:SEA) over the past year, until the November pullback. At $20.25, the stock is only 2% above its 52-week low.


Although KNOP isn’t an LNG tanker company, we’ve added them this LNG shipping company valuations table to compare the company to other tanker companies we cover in our articles, such GasLog Partners LP (GLOP), Golar LNG Partners LP (GMLP), and Dynagas LNG Partners LP (DLNG). The table also includes Teekay Offshore Partners L.P. (NYSE:TOO), the closest comparative company we could find, and Hoegh LNG Partners LP (HMLP).

KNOP is in the lowest tier of this small group, for price/DCF, price/book, and price/sales. Their 10.27% distribution yield is above average also:


Like most LPs, KNOP’s debt levels wax and wane over time as the company takes on debt to finance new vessels, and those vessels begin to contribute to earnings. The company ended Q3 ’17 at a net debt/EBITDA level of 6.11x, up substantially from Q3 ’16, but also much lower than their peak of 7.15x. Their ROE ratio has improved over the past two quarters, while their ROA is lower than it was in Q3-4 ’16, due to a higher asset base and higher depreciation and amortization charges:

KNOP is in a lower margin business than these LNG carriers, but their financial metrics are certainly much better than Teekay’s, the other shuttle company in the group:

Debt and Liquidity:

In the year-to-date, to finance the growth of acquisitions, we have raised both $145 million of new equity and $100 million of long-term debt, and $25 million of credit facilities, all on attractive terms.”

At the end of Q3, we had a very solid liquidity position with cash and cash equivalents of $38.1 million and undrawn credit facility of $12 million. And the credit facilities are available until mid-2019.”

The Partnership announced that its subsidiary, KNOT Shuttle Tankers 15 AS, which owns the vessel Torill Knutsen, has entered into a term sheet for a new $100 million senior secured term loan facility with The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, which will act as agent. The New Torill Facility is expected to be repayable in 24 consecutive quarterly installments with a balloon payment of $60.0 million due at maturity. The New Torill Facility is expected to bear interest at a rate per annum equal to LIBOR plus a margin of 2.1%. The facility is expected to mature in 2023 and be guaranteed by the Partnership. The new Torill Facility would refinance a $74.4 million loan facility associated with the Torill Knutsen that bears interest at a rate of LIBOR plus 2.5% and is due to be paid in full in November 2018. Closing of the New Torill Facility is anticipated to occur by the end of 2017.” (Source: KNOP Q3 ’17 release)

With the new Torill Facility, KNOP’s first maturity is in 2019:

(Source: KNOP Q3 ’17 release)


We rate KNOP a long-term buy, based on their very attractive yield, their distribution coverage, and their secure position, via long-term contracts within their niche industry.

All tables furnished by, unless otherwise noted.

Disclaimer: This article was written for informational purposes only, and is not intended as personal investment advice. Articles posted on SA aren’t meant to be all-inclusive white papers by any means. Please practice due diligence before investing in any investment vehicle mentioned in this article.

Disclosure: I am/we are long KNOP, GLOP, GMLP.

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.

Last Chance To Pick Up This 5.3% Yielder On The Cheap

It’s been a rather forgettable year for shareholders in New York Community Bancorp (NYSE:NYCB). While the rest of the financial sector has surged, NYCB stock has been left for dead. Here’s the financial sector ETF (NYSEARCA:XLF) (red line) and the regional banks ETF (NYSEARCA:KRE) (yellow line) as opposed to NYCB in blue since the election last November.

I previously wrote about NYCB with my article The Sky Isn’t Falling in May. Since then, the stock has been flat once you count dividends. Indeed the sky wasn’t falling, but I’d been hoping for a rally. Instead, New York Community has continued to trail other regional and national banks. NYCB initially popped following Trump’s victory – along with the sector – but it’s been downhill since then.

That’s all about to change though. New York Community has trailed the market due to a specific problem. That is that NYCB is on the threshold between being a regular bank and a systemically important bank. Following the financial crisis, regulators put in place a rule that causes banks with total assets of more than $50 billion to face greatly enhanced oversight.

The threshold is high enough that not many banks were caught right at the $50 billion figure. However, New York Community Bank has been stuck up against the limit for years now. This arbitrary limit has caused a great deal of trouble for the bank, since any additional growth would cause NYCB to trip the limit and see its regulatory costs shoot up.

The bank tried to resolve this problem by merging with Astoria Financial, a move that would have catapulted the bank far over the $50 billion threshold. However, the merger fell apart. And, in the process of preparing for the merger, NYCB cut its dividend and issued new stock. Those moves, combined with the failed merger, greatly irritated much of the shareholder base, and the stock ended up largely abandoned. Hence the steady trade down from $17 into the 12s over the past year. Read NYCB articles at Seeking Alpha and elsewhere, and you’ll find there’s still plenty of resentment and revulsion toward the management team – understandable in the heat of the moment, but at this point, the past is past, and it’s not worth dwelling on any longer.

For years now, almost every quarter, we see NYCB perform well, but it is forced to sell off most of the new loans it makes. The bank operates in a quality niche within the New York City market where it has access to a large pool of low-risk loans. NYCB’s loan losses are among the lowest you’ll ever see for a national bank of its size. However, instead of getting to hold these high-quality loans and make steady profits, as most banks do, NYCB issues new loans and then immediately sells them to stay clear of the $50 billion limit.

As such, investors have looked at the bank as a dead stock, good for its 5%+ dividend, but not much else. Without any possibility of growth, NYCB stock may look more like a bond. I’ve been long the stock for awhile now, not just for the dividend but also for the possibility that the arbitrary $50 billion cap would be raised.

And now, at last, it’s finally happening. NYCB stock popped pretty aggressively on Monday, but there’s a lot more coming assuming this catalyst plays out. What’s the news?


NYCB Price data by YCharts

On Monday, reports surfaced that the Senate banking committee is preparing a bipartisan bill that would repeal some of Dodd-Frank’s most restrictive provisions, including the SIFI limit which has been the thorn in NYCB’s side. The bill specifically plans to raise the SIFI limit to $250 billion and has the support of nine Democrat and Independent senators.

Now, I’ll be the first to say that it’s been a bad bet to invest on the assumption that Trump can get any legislation passed in 2017, even through his own party. However, the SIFI limit in particular, and tough banking regulations in general are one area where there is substantial support within both parties for changes. In fact, there was a sizable contingent of Democrats that wanted to relax the banking rules, post-crisis, during the Obama era. And, on the Republican side, it seems unlikely that you’ll find too many votes against freer markets and fewer regulations. The bill would give Democrats a tangible example of them not being obstructionist, while allowing Trump to point to something in particular that he’d signed which should lead to job creation.

In short, there are a lot of reasons why a bill like this should be able to pass, even in a generally acrid political climate. It follows the historical pattern as well, where financial institutions are given more and more liberties until a crisis, and then the government hastily cracks down again. At nearly a decade out from the last crisis, and with banks exceptionally well-capitalized at the moment, there’s good reason to think the banks will be able to achieve a looser regulatory environment.

What’s it mean for NYCB specifically? If a bipartisan bill along these lines passes, the bank can immediately go back into growth mode. The bank trades cheaply now because the market is assuming that it can’t grow. When it flips back into growth mode, the rally will be a lot bigger than the 6% or so that we saw on Monday.

It’s also worth considering that NYCB has far less exposure to rising interest rates than most other banks, due to its short-duration loan book and reliance on wholesale funding. This was viewed as a negative when the market had assumed that the yield curve would be moving up sharply, as New York Community had less exposure (it actually loses money as interest rate spreads rise!)

The Financial Times explained it well earlier this year:

New York Community Bank, one of the largest US lenders, is facing a potential hit to annual profits from higher interest rates. While the earnings dent should be manageable for the $49bn-in-assets lender, the forecasts show there are some exceptions to the rule that increased borrowing costs will be good for the sector. […]

For a smaller group of lenders, however, higher rates are expected to spell lower profits. The largest is NYCB, which estimated in the small print of its most recent quarterly filing that a 1 percent rate rise would cause its net interest income to drop 3.9 percent. […]

Most banks can benefit from higher rates because they push up interest charges for borrowers while keeping deposit rates lower for longer. The widening gap between what they earn on assets and the cost of their funds should lift profits. NYCB has a different business model, however. It focuses on commercial real estate loans with terms fixed for several years, giving it less scope to increase interest charges.

However, now that the yield curve has plunged to new 5-year lows, more than wiping out the entire Trump rally, NYCB is among the best-positioned for this unexpected interest rate climate. As other banks see declining NIMs, NYCB gets relief on its short-term borrowing costs and doesn’t have nearly as much to lose from the long-end rates going down since it doesn’t lend for duration.

To sum up, NYCB is still yielding 5.3% and has massively underperformed its rivals over the past year. That despite its main obstacle (the SIFI limit) going away soon, and the interest rate curve taking a massive turn in NYCB’s favor as compared to peers.

At this point, NYCB stock is still down simply for past perceived sins. You still see authors demanding that NYCB’s management resign due to the stock’s underperformance for the past couple years. Classic “what have you done for me lately?” thinking.

It’s worth remembering that NYCB’s long-time CEO Joseph Ficalora took the company from seven branches in New York City to a 255 branch bank that is 24th-largest in the country. The stock performance over the past 23 years (as far back as my data source goes) has been jawdroppingly good:

NYCB sailed through the financial crisis with hardly a scratch, and in total, has compounded at 14%/year for the past 23 years, producing a total return of 1,994% over that stretch. One of the best banks in the US in fact. It’s short-sighted, to say the least, to demand that management leave because they had to play it conservatively for the last few years due to an arbitrary government limit that crushed their ability to grow. With that limit going away, the good times are back for NYCB. Put another way, you won’t have much time left to buy this stock with a 5%+ yield.

Disclosure: I am/we are long NYCB.

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.

How to Watch the Leonids Meteor Shower

The annual Leonids meteor shower this weekend will brighten the night skies with a fireworks show, courtesy of the universe.

The meteor shower, which usually takes place in November, gets its name from because some of its shooting stars appear to come from part of the Leo star constellation. In fact, the Leonids meteors are debris from Tempel-Tuttle comet that burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere—creating colorful streaks in the sky.

How to see the Leonids meteor shower:

The meteor shower, which can last for weeks, peaks in visibility tonight. The New Moon, when the moon passes between the Earth and Sun, helps make the sky particularly dark. For the best view, get away from city lights, if possible, and, of course, away from any clouds. Expect to see up to 10 meteors per hour during the shower’s crescendo at 3:00 am on Friday, according to NASA. If you can’t make tonight, you can also try Saturday night, when the shower will be only slightly less visible.

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Where to look:

Although the meteors can appear anywhere in the sky, you’re better off looking towards the Eastern horizon, where the Leo Constellation typically appears, according to a report by At 5:00 am, the Leo Constellation will appear in the “south-southeast part of the sky,” the report said.

How to watch online:

Of course, if you can’t stay awake, are fogged in, or unwilling to go out into the cold, you can always watch a livestream. One should be available on Friday from the astronomy and telescope website Slooh.

12 Things You Didn't Know About Webinars That Will Blow Your Mind

Ah, yes…the webinar. That online seminar that we know so well. The slides. The monotonous speaker. The boring topics. Pretty much sums up my webinars, at least!

And yet, webinars continue to thrive. We all know the reasons why. They’re inexpensive. Easily accessible. Relatively quick. Some people love them and some don’t. But there’s no question that webinars are here to stay. In fact, 73 percent of B2B marketers and sales leaders they say that a webinar is the best way to generate high-quality leads and 57 percent of them say they will continue to create webinars in 2018.

These facts were evident in GoToWebinar’s recently released 2017 Big Book of Webinar Stats.  The webinar service provider studied 351,000 online events conducted on their platform from over 16,000 of their customers.  So what did they find?  If your company does webinars get ready to be blown away…

1 – 61 percent of webinars are done for B2B purposes. They can be a great lead generation and educational tool for your customers, just so long as your customers are businesses.

2 – The best webinar titles include lists (10 ways or 101 ideas), or the words “how to”, “new” or “trends.”

3 – Their average customer does about 23 webinars per year. Remember – these are companies that are choosing webinars as a marketing strategy over other options. But twice a month seems reasonable. My company does about four per month.

4 – When it comes to marketing, 73 percent of a webinar’s attendees ultimately come from e-mail solicitations. A website listing and some search engine optimization is helpful but let’s admit it: e-mail is far from dead.

5 – You’re going to get the most sign-ups (69 percent) a week before the event with a third coming the actual day of the webinar. So focus your marketing on the 24-72 hours beforehand.

6 – However…15 percent of webinar registrants sign up as much as three to four weeks ahead of the event, so don’t be afraid to get the word out a month early.

7 – Most people register for a webinar on a Tuesday. Not sure why, but your marketing (and event day) should coordinate around that. Don’t worry if you can’t make that happen – Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays aren’t that far behind for registrants. But target your marketing between 8AM and 10AM (for the recipient) because that’s when the most people sign up.

8 – The most popular day for a webinar is…drumroll please…Thursdays!

9 – The most popular time for a webinar is…drumroll please…between 12PM to 3PM Eastern Time.

10 – The most popular length of a webinar is…drumroll please…60 to 90 minutes. Really? I thought shorter is sweeter but GoToWebinar found that people don’t mind longer online events. 60-minute webinars attract 2.1 times more registrations than 30-minute webinars, and 90-minute webinars attract 4.6 times as many. Over half of their webinars fall between 45 to 60 minutes.

11 – The vast majority of marketing webinars have fewer than 50 attendees. If you fall into this range, you’re doing fine.

12 – Actually it doesn’t really matter how many people attend your live event. 84% of B2B customers opt for replays over live webinars. So make sure you archive your webinars for future viewing.

I’d like to add a personal 13th:  I’ve found that more and more of our attendees like discussions rather than one person shuffling through slides. A roundtable.  A group conversation.  Maybe that’s related to the explosion in podcast popularity.  Or maybe it’s because people like to listen when they’re on the go and don’t want to be stuck staring at a screen.  Whatever, if you’re doing online events this year you should consider this change in format.

OK…mind blown. So is there any reason why we can’t make our online events successful in 2018?

Tezos organizers hit with second lawsuit over cryptocurrency fundraiser

(Reuters) – A second lawsuit was filed this week against the organizers of cybercurrency technology project Tezos, an initiative that raised $232 million to issue a cryptocurrency that does not exist and fund development of a transaction system that has no clear end date.

Tezos co-founder and CTO Arthur Breitman and his wife and co-founder Kathleen Breitman respond to questions during the Money 20/20 conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. on October 24, 2017. REUTERS/Steve Marcus

The class action lawsuit, filed in a U.S. District Court in Florida by Coral Springs-based law firm Silver Miller, alleges that Tezos’ organizers broke U.S. securities laws and defrauded and misled participants in the online fundraiser, according to court documents.

Special Report: Read Reuters original investigation into Tezos

Many who put money toward the initial coin offering consider themselves investors, but the funds were raised as non-refundable donations.

The lawsuit was filed on Monday and made public on Wednesday. The defendants are Kathleen and Arthur Breitman, the co-founders of the project; their Delaware-based company Dynamic Ledger Solutions Inc, which owns the rights to the transaction system’s code; and the Tezos Foundation, a Swiss entity that was set up to carry out the fundraiser.

It is the second lawsuit in less than a month to hit the embattled project that in July raised funds in one of the largest ever initial coin offerings, a popular way for technology startups to collect money by issuing cryptocurrencies.

Neither Brian Klein, an attorney for the Breitmans, nor Johann Gevers, president of the Tezos Foundation, immediately responded to requests for comment.

The lawsuit quotes from a Reuters investigation and reports published in October that revealed details of a backroom battle between the Breitmans and Gevers over control of the project. The dispute has delayed the project. (

The lawsuit alleges that contributors to the fundraiser were not told that it could take more than three years for the Swiss foundation, which holds the funds, to purchase Dynamic Ledger Solutions and the project’s source code.

This time frame, revealed by Reuters, was not disclosed to investors despite being “a highly material fact,” the lawsuit alleges.

Plaintiffs are asking for a refund as well as damages, according to the lawsuit. It also alleges organizers sold unregistered securities.

“As a result of Defendants’ fraud, false representations and violation of federal and state securities laws in connection with the Tezos ICO, Plaintiff and the Class Members state their demand that the Contract be rescinded and canceled,” the lawsuit states.

Other law firms have said they are considering litigation.

Reporting by Anna Irrera and Steve Stecklow; Editing by Lauren Tara LaCapra and Cynthia Osterman

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

GE: When Will Shares Become Attractive?

By Bob Ciura

To say that General Electric (GE) has had a difficult year would be an understatement. Shares of the industrial conglomerate have lost over 40% of their value year-to-date.


GE Year to Date Price Returns (Daily) data by YCharts

GE’s fundamentals have deteriorated in 2017, and the decline accelerated in the most recent quarter. GE has performed so poorly this year that it made the difficult decision to cut its dividend by 50%.

The dividend cut, while painful, allows GE to reset its capital allocation program. Along with cost cuts, it will free up billions of cash that GE can invest to improve its under-performing businesses.

GE has been in operation for more than 100 years. Prior to the dividend cut, GE had a dividend yield well above 3%. These qualities placed GE on Sure Dividend’s list of blue-chip stocks. You can see our entire list of blue chip stocks here.

It is reasonable to question whether GE still deserves recognition as a blue chip. But it is important to remember that GE is still a highly profitable company, with growth potential. If the stock continues to drop, it could soon become a value opportunity.

News Overview

At its 2017 investor meeting, GE announced a number of new policies. First and foremost, it cut its quarterly dividend by 50%, to $0.12 per share. GE also lowered its earnings guidance, below analyst consensus.

For 2017, GE expects earnings-per-share of $1.05-$1.10. For fiscal 2018, GE expects adjusted earnings-per-share of $1.00-$1.07, compared with analyst expectations of $1.14. GE has gotten to a position where it simply isn’t growing. The company had become a lumbering giant, with an overly complex web of businesses that could no longer be managed effectively.

GE will focus on three core businesses for growth: health care, aviation, and power. This makes sense, as these are GE’s three largest businesses, together comprising over 50% of annual revenue. These three businesses also have the strongest growth prospects moving forward.

As a result, while there was not much for investors to be encouraged about from the investor update, GE’s portfolio trimming could help position the company for a return to growth down the road.

Growth Prospects

GE’s strongest areas of growth moving forward are health care and aviation. The aviation and healthcare businesses posted 7% orders growth last quarter. GE’s industrial backlog grew by 3% for the quarter, to $328 billion.

Source: Investor Update Presentation, page 25

GE’s aviation business is the flagship of the industrial operation. At the same time, GE is hoping to improve performance in the power business, while continuing the strong performance of the aviation business.

Source: Investor Update Presentation, page 12

These two areas will fuel GE’s long-term growth. GE will also utilize asset sales to streamline its portfolio. The company will shed $20 billion of low-growth businesses over the next one to two years, such as transportation and lighting. The positive aspect of GE’s asset sales is that the company can improve its balance sheet.

GE is targeting a net-debt-to-EBITDA ratio of 2.5, which would be a healthy amount of leverage. An improved balance sheet would help keep GE’s cost of capital low and further reduce the burden on the company’s dividend.

The turnaround initiatives and cost cuts will help the company become more efficient. Management expects as much as 3% organic revenue growth in 2018, including 7%-10% growth in aviation. If GE’s earnings bottom out and return to growth, the stock could be an attractive value here.

Valuation & Expected Returns

GE stock has lost over 40% of its value year-to-date. With such a huge decline, value investors might begin to view the stock as a buying opportunity. GE might not be there yet, but it’s getting close.

Based on the midpoint of fiscal 2017 earnings guidance, GE stock trades for a price-to-earnings ratio of 16.6. GE is still valued slightly above its 10-year average price-to-earnings ratio, of 15.9.

Source: Value Line

As a result, it would not be surprising if GE shares continued to fall. Investor sentiment has become very pessimistic, meaning GE’s valuation could continue to contract.

However, at some point GE would become attractive. If GE traded at its average valuation over the past 10 years, it would have a share price of $16.45 based on the midpoint of 2018 guidance. This price is approximately 8% below the November 14th closing price of $17.90.

From a dividend perspective, a 3% dividend yield would be an attractive entry point for GE. At the new annual dividend rate of $0.48, this would result in a share price of $16.

Therefore, there is potential for further downside for GE stock. But at a price near $16, the stock is attractive on the basis of valuation and dividend yield.

Assuming GE returns to earnings growth in 2019 and beyond, the stock could generate positive total returns. Positive organic revenue growth, along with margin expansion and cash returns, could fuel returns as follows:

  • 1%-2% organic revenue growth
  • 0.5%-1% margin expansion
  • 2% share repurchases
  • 2.7% dividend yield

Based on this, total returns could reach approximately 6%-8% per year.

Dividend Analysis

The new quarterly dividend rate of $0.12 per share works out to a $0.48 per share annual payout. This is a 50% dividend cut, but will save GE approximately $4 billion per year. GE’s right-sized dividend is more in-line with the cash flow of the company, given the massive divestments that have taken place over the past year.

The bad news is the dividend yield drops significantly. GE’s forward dividend yield is 2.7%.

Source: Investor Update Presentation, page 16

The good news is, GE’s new dividend has much better coverage than the previous payout, which took up more than 100% of free cash flow. GE needed to cut its dividend. After the massive sale of multiple financial businesses as well as poor performance in power and oil and gas, the dividend cut was necessary. The new $0.48 per-share annual payout represents a free cash flow payout ratio of 60%-70%, which is manageable.

In a previous article, I argued investors should avoid GE at least until the results of the November 13th investor meeting. At that time, I stated that if GE were to cut the dividend, the stock could fall to $18 or below. Dividend cuts are typically accompanied by a drop in the share price.

Sure enough, GE did cut the dividend, and the stock has indeed fallen below $18. At this point, it is reasonable to wonder if the selling is overdone. After all, GE is still a massive company and is an industrial giant and economic bellwether. If GE continues to decline to a 3%+ dividend yield and a price-to-earnings ratio in the mid-teens, the stock becomes more attractive.

Final Thoughts

There is no doubt that GE has struggled over the past year. The reduced guidance and dividend cut are a disappointment, and are a reflection of the company’s poor financial performance. However, GE is not a doomed company. It remains one of the strongest brands in the U.S., with a leadership position across multiple industries.

GE is still a profitable company, and its turnaround initiatives will help slim down the company for an eventual return to growth. The balance sheet is in better shape as well. While there could be further downside risk for the shares, given the highly negative sentiment right now, at some point GE will become an attractive value.

There are many industrial stocks with longer histories of dividend growth than GE. Find out which ones are confirmed buys or sells with our service Undervalued Aristocrats, which provides actionable buy and sell recommendations on some of the most undervalued dividend growth stocks around. Click here to learn more.

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.

The Best Black Friday 2017 Deals You Can Buy At Home

Black Friday, Black November, Pre-Black Friday, Cyber Monday… The buzzwords for November’s big holiday sales are as plentiful as stuffing on Thanksgiving. And we’d like you to enjoy that Thanksgiving dinner. Instead of getting shoved around at your local big box store just to save $20, hop on your PC! We here on WIRED’s Gear team have found some of the absolute best tech deals online before, during, and around Black Friday.

Black Friday Ads For 2017

The Best Black Friday Deals We’ve Found (So Far)

TCL 55-inch 4K Roku LED TV – $400 ($200 off)

Date: Available Now

Buy on Amazon

A lot of TV deals will float around throughout the holidays, and you probably can find a way to save another $50, but this TCL is a solid 55-inch 4K TV with built-in Roku (which you’ll want anyway), and it’s down to $400. It will be difficult to find many TVs that offer this size and feature set for the price.

Amazon Echo Show + Cloud Cam – $300 ($50 off)

Date: Available Now

Buy on Amazon

We just reviewed the Amazon Cloud Cam and liked it a lot. With it, you can monitor your home from afar using Alexa. The Echo Show is basically another Alexa speaker, but with a 7-inch screen on it. Camera + Screen + Alexa. You can put the pieces together.

Kindle Paperwhite – $90 ($30 off)

Date: Nov. 19

Buy on Amazon

On Nov. 19, the Kindle Paperwhite will get a $30 discount. The Kindle is still the definitive digital way to read books (much better than a phone or tablet screen), and the Paperwhite has every essential Kindle feature you’ll want. It’s small, has touch, and has a light-up screen, making it our favorite overall Kindle.

PlayStation 4 Console Bundle – $200 ($100 off)

Date: Nov. 19-27

Buy on Amazon

Thanks to the Xbox One X, we’ve seen a slew of Xbox One discounts, but this generation’s most popular console is also getting a deep discount for the holidays. The standard black PS4 Slim is $100 off for an entire week. Sony is also heavily discounting its DualShock controllers (all colors) and a Skyrim PS4 + VR bundle at most retailers.

Roku Streaming Stick Plus – $50 ($20 off)

Date: Nov. 22 9 p.m. ET – Nov. 27

Buy on Amazon

Roku has become the de-facto standard for streaming media, and it’s fancy 4K TV models are not only under $100, but down to $50 for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. If you need an upgrade, or have a relative that is just getting into streaming, a Roku is an ideal way to watch Netflix and all the other streaming services.

Jaybird Freedom F5 – $50 ($100 off)

Date: Nov. 23-25

Buy on Best Buy

If you need a new pair of earbuds, or want to see if you like wireless, we recommend picking up this deal. We loved these buds, and at one third their regular price, you should, too. If you’re afraid of them selling out, they’re currently on a Pre-Black Friday sale of $70—also an awesome price.

Apple MacBooks and iMacs – $800 ($200 off)

Date: Nov. 23-25

Buy the MacBook Air for $800 ($200 off) on Best Buy. Buy the iMac for $800 ($200 off) on Best Buy

Best Buy is the place to be for Apple deals this holiday. During Black Friday, it will discount the MacBook Air and iMac by $200.

Amazon Fire HD 8 – $50 ($30 off)

Date: Nov. 23

Buy on Amazon

In our Fire HD 8 review we said it’s the best tablet you can buy for the price, by far, and that was at $80. At $50, it’s now as cheap as the standard Fire 7, (and is a far better device). If you’re an Amazon person and could use a tablet for TV, movies, reading, or music, this is the best value you’ll find.

Xbox One S Console Bundle – $190 ($60 off)

Date: Nov. 23

Buy on Best Buy, Microsoft Store (extra game included)

A number of retailers will offer the Xbox One S for $190 on Black Friday. This is a record low price, and unless you have a 4K TV with HDR, there’s no reason to get a One X over a One S this holiday. Microsoft’s Store has the best deal of the bunch. It includes a free game and one month Game Pass.

KitchenAid Mixer – $200 ($300 off)

Date: Nov. 23-25

Buy on Best Buy

You can certainly find cheaper mixers, but KitchenAid’s classic 450W mixer with bowl-lift is still highly regarded. We even love the model without arms. This model is deeply discounted for Black Friday weekend and if you’re in the mixing mood, check it out.

Google Home Mini – $30 ($20 off)

Date: Nov. 23-25

Buy on Walmart, Best Buy, Target,

In our review, we praised the Google Home Mini, though we wish it sounded better. This is a fantastic, cheap way to get a Google Assistant speaker in your house. If you want a better speaker, Walmart will also discount the standard Google Home by $50 during Black Friday.

Skullcandy Uproar Wireless Headphones – $25 ($25 off)

Date: Nov. 23

Buy on Walmart, Amazon

These wireless headphones won’t redefine audio, but they’re a bargain at $25. They have great reviews and should give you a great all-around sound without breaking the bank.

Apple iPad and iPad Mini ($80-$125 off)

Date: Nov. 23-25

Buy the iPad Mini 4 (128GB) for $275 ($125 off) on Best Buy

Buy the iPad (32GB) for $250 ($80 off) on Walmart

Tablets are still fun to have around the house to watch Netflix, get recipes for cooking, and toy around with. iPad is, by far, the best tablet to own. Both the newer $330 larger 10-inch iPad and more compact 8-inch iPad Mini 4 are going on sale.

HP Laptop with 8GB RAM, Intel Core i5, 2TB drive – $360 ($200 off)

Date: Nov. 23

Buy on the Microsoft Store

This HP laptop checks most of the boxes for a decent Windows 10 laptop, including having a touchscreen, a decent amount of RAM, and a very good Intel Core i5 processor. HP claims it will get about 8 hours of battery life.

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When LeBron's shoes speak, everyone listens. It's time for you to lace up, too.

October 17, 2017, was a winning night for LeBron James, and it had nothing to do with the Cavs defeating the Celtics. Where James made the biggest splash wasn’t with his athletic prowess but with his fashion statement.

When a photo of his jet-black LeBron 15 Nike shoes emblazoned with the word “EQUALITY” in gold letters hit social media, his influencer cred got the viral version of a slam dunk. Now you’re lucky if you can find any LeBron 15 Nikes. Unless you’re willing to hock those precious NBA season tickets, you might as well accept that you’ve allowed this ball to whiz past you.

Marketers everywhere could have a field day analyzing this triumph. Nothing was said, yet the statement was loud and clear: This beloved athlete supports equality with style. Want to join him? Get out your credit card, and start swiping through Nike’s hottest offerings before they’re gone.

No wonder brands have long relied on everyone from Olympians to college stars to hype their products. In an era where everyone — including all those wonderfully divisive political figures — leans heavily on social network interfaces, businesses are wise to plot ways to hit the viral lottery. Obviously, Nike made the right choice; the LeBron 15 has remained a bestseller, which is why the company has contracted with James for upward of $1 billion.

While not everyone can afford LeBron James’ price tag, it’s possible for just about any organization to boost product frenzy by taking a few strategic steps:

1. Collate audience data to determine your message.

In order to craft a relevant message, you first have to determine what your audience wants. During a sporting event, fans all over the stadium are using their mobile devices to share this exact information — a fact that companies like Umbel, FanThreeSixty, and ProSuite use to their advantage. The companies’ platforms gather data from fans’ mobile activity during sporting events to determine what they’re sharing, discussing, and enjoying to build a picture of who the team’s fan base truly is.

Wade through all the information you can glean about your strongest targets. That way, you’ll have a courtside understanding of the most relevant messages for your audience, making it easier to envision your ideal buyer persona.

2. Narrow your target persona for each image.

Even with all the right data at your fingertips, countless small details can affect how much certain audiences respond to your content. After using data to uncover a brand’s target audiences, savvy marketing firms like to craft and test unique creative messages for each customer persona until they find the perfect formula that inspires action. Even performing A/B testing on the smallest of adjustments — such as background color — can drastically impact engagement.

Chart which individuals are going to be drawn to which images, as well as why they are likely to gravitate toward your messaging. Then you can craft a post that’s designed to specifically appeal to whichever customer segment you want.

3. Tap into trending news — wisely.

Images go viral for wide-ranging reasons; be cautious when devising yours. Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi ad upped the hype, but it didn’t exactly shine a positive light on the corporate beverage maker. Instead, the spot fizzled out because it lacked a deep understanding of what Pepsi drinkers really felt about a politically and racially charged issue.

On the other hand, James’ “EQUALITY” shoe statement successfully rode a similar trend: the intermingling of politics and sports figures. The shoes worked because they were subtle — albeit unmistakably political — product placements properly worn in the right forum.

4. Partner with the right influencer.

James and Nike couldn’t be a better fit. Who’s your business’s perfect “face”? Every company can get the benefit of influencer marketing, perhaps one of the most exciting types of marketing methods available. If you’re just entering the waters, focus on Instagram and Facebook for big impacts, as suggested by more than half of influencers in a 2016 poll. Whom should you pick? Look for someone with power among your target personas and design irresistible messaging that rocks.

5. Allow your images to speak for themselves.

Nobody likes to be told what to think, so avoid verbosity. James didn’t have to open his mouth to spark tremendous fanfare; he allowed his footwear to do the talking. Nike realized long ago that words clutter up emotion-packed photos; therefore, use phrases and sentences judiciously. Otherwise, your intentions will feel forced rather than organic.

You could be one image away from sales glory. All it takes is thoughtful planning and a deeper understanding of what makes your audience tick. Now get out there and hit nothing but net.

Uber board strikes agreement to pave way for SoftBank investment

SAN FRANCISCO/NEW YORK (Reuters) – Uber Technologies Inc’s [UBER.UL] warring board members have struck a peace deal that would allow a multibillion-dollar investment by SoftBank Group Corp to proceed, and would resolve a legal battle between former Chief Executive Travis Kalanick and a prominent shareholder.

A photo illustration shows the Uber app on a mobile telephone, as it is held up for a posed photograph, in London, Britain November 10, 2017. REUTERS/Simon Dawson

Venture capital firm Benchmark, an early investor with a board seat in the ride-services company, and Kalanick have reached an agreement over terms of the SoftBank investment, which could be worth up to $10 billion, according to two people familiar with the matter. The Uber board first agreed more than a month ago to bring in SoftBank as an investor and board member, but negotiations have been slowed by ongoing fighting between Benchmark and Kalanick. The agreement struck on Sunday removes the final obstacle to launching the tender offer.

SoftBank, a Japanese conglomerate that has become a heavyweight in Silicon Valley tech investing, is leading a consortium of investors that plans to invest $1 billion to $1.25 billion in Uber, and in addition, will buy up to 17 percent of existing shares from investors and employees in a secondary transaction. The terms are expected to be signed on Sunday, one of the people said, although the tender offer would likely take weeks to complete.

Uber is valued at $68 billion, the most highly valued venture-backed company in the world. SoftBank’s roughly $1 billion investment of fresh funding is expected to be at the same valuation. The secondary transaction, or the purchases from employees and existing investors, would be at a lower valuation.

A spokeswoman for Benchmark did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and a spokesman for Kalanick declined to comment. Uber did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Completing the SoftBank deal would allow Uber to open a new chapter after a year of controversy, including the resignation of Kalanick, the ouster of several top executives, sexual harassment and discrimination allegations, and multiple federal criminal probes. The deal is also tied to new governance rules that aim to more equally distribute power and bring more oversight to the company.

“Uber had a remarkable first six or seven years, a bumpy past two years, and now the Softbank deal allows for a full reset,” said Bradley Tusk, an Uber investor and political strategist who works with tech companies.

The logo of SoftBank Group Corp is displayed at SoftBank World 2017 conference in Tokyo, Japan, July 20, 2017. REUTERS/Issei Kato

It would also be a major victory for Uber’s new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, who often served as a mediator to help broker the agreement, according to a third person familiar with the matter.

To allow the deal to go forward, Benchmark has agreed to immediately suspend its lawsuit against Kalanick, which it filed in August in an effort to diminish the ex-CEO’s power at the company and force him off the board, one of the sources said.

Upon the successful completion of the SoftBank investment, Benchmark would drop the lawsuit entirely, the person said.

In turn, Kalanick must receive majority board approval should he want to replace the board seats over which he has control, according to the source. In addition to his own seat, Kalanick controls two more, which are occupied by Ursula Brown, the former Xerox Corp CEO, and former Merrill Lynch & CO Inc [BACML.UL] CEO John Thain. Kalanick appointed them in September without first consulting with the board.

“Ending the litigation is a big step forward if it finally ends the specter of Kalanick retaking control,” said Erik Gordon, an entrepreneurship expert at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.

Uber’s board already approved a slate of governance reforms that are contingent on completion of the SoftBank deal. They include removing super-voting rights that gave Kalanick and his allies outsized power, adding new independent directors and increasing the size of the board to 17.

Uber plans to run newspaper ads informing investors about the share purchase, and SoftBank will propose a price at which it will buy stock. The company has threatened to invest in ride-hailing rival Lyft if it doesn’t get the Uber deal done.

The deal gives early investors such as Benchmark, whose Uber stake is worth nearly $9 billion, the opportunity to cash out a very lucrative investment.

Reporting by Heather Somerville in San Francisco and Greg Roumeliotis in New York. Additional reporting by Liana Baker in San Francisco.; Editing by Diane Craft

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