To Become a Better Investor, Think Like Darwin


On financial innovations — read derivatives and securitizations — and the need for more collaboration :

People respond to incentives, and so if we want to take on much bigger challenges, we need to collaborate across thousands and in some cases hundreds of thousands of people. How do you get 100,000 people to work together? It’s not that easy. In the old days, it was religion and before that it was simple fiat rules, tyranny. The Egyptians built some beautiful pyramids, but they did that with hundreds of thousands of slaves over decades. If we rule out slavery as a possible means of societal advances, there really isn’t any other choice. If we need 100,000 people to cure cancer, to deal with Alzheimer’s, to figure out fusion energy and climate change…I don’t know of any other way to do that other than financial markets: equity, debt, proper financing and proper payout of returns. I think that in many cases [finance] probably is the gating factor. That, to me, is the short answer to the question about why finance is so important.

→ Nautilus

The First Trillion Dollars is Always the Hardest

In its first 10 years, the iPhone will have sold at least 1.2 billion units, making it the most successful product of all time. The iPhone also enabled the iOS empire which includes the iPod touch, the iPad, the Apple Watch and Apple TV whose combined total unit sales will reach 1.75 billion units over 10 years. This total is likely to top 2 billion units by the end of 2018.

• • •

The revenues from iOS product sales will reach $980 billion by middle of this year. In addition to hardware Apple also books iOS services revenues (including content) which have totaled more than $100 billion to date.

This means that iOS will have generated over $1 trillion in revenues for Apple sometime this year.

→ Asymco

The Inside Story of Apple’s $14 Billion Tax Bill

The Maxforce concluded that Ireland allowed Apple to create stateless entities that effectively let it decide how much — or how little — tax it pays. The investigators say the company channeled profits from dozens of countries through two Ireland-based units. In a system at least tacitly endorsed by Irish authorities, earnings were split, with the vast majority attributed to a “head office” with no employees and no specific home base — and therefore liable to no tax on any profits from sales outside Ireland. The U.S., meanwhile, didn’t tax the units because they’re incorporated in Ireland.

Interesting detail about the secrecy surrounding the process of collecting such documents :

Three weeks after the Senate hearing, Lienemeyer’s team asked Ireland for details of Apple’s tax situation. The Irish tax authorities soon dispatched a representative carrying a briefcase filled with a bundle of bound pages. The Irish could have simply sent the material via e-mail, but they were cautious about sharing taxpayer’s information with the EU and have a ground rule to avoid leaks: never send such documents electronically.

→ Bloomberg

How to Hide $400 Million

Illustration by R. Kikuo Johnson

This didn’t just threaten Oesterlund’s fortune. It also had the potential to carve open a portal into the world of offshore finance, a place that the global elite has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to build and defend. In the offshore archipelago, their interests are hidden behind shell companies and trusts, their anonymity guaranteed under the law, from Delaware to the Bahamas to the South Pacific. James S. Henry, a former chief economist at McKinsey, calls the offshore financial world the “economic equivalent of an astrophysical black hole,” holding at least $21 trillion of the world’s financial wealth, more than the gross domestic product of the United States.

→ The New York Times Magazine

Deutsche Bank’s $10-Billion Scandal

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Illustration by Anna Parini
On an April evening in Moscow, I met with a broker who had intimate knowledge of the structure of the mirror trades. The city was emerging from the choking cold of winter, and young people flirted outside Paveletskaya Station as if it were high summer. As the broker and I walked across the square, he characterized mirror trades as just one of a thousand ruses employed by smart businessmen. But why, I asked him, would somebody with a prominent position at a major bank get involved in such a scheme? Wiswell’s annual compensation was in the region of a million and a half dollars. The broker laughed. He said that Wiswell had been paid handsomely by clients of the mirror trades. For the architects of the scheme, the broker explained, it was worth it to bribe someone inside the bank: “Guys always pay something. They think it will hook you, so you are not going to do unexpected things.” In the estimation of the broker, Wiswell was a useful functionary but hardly a criminal genius. Sometimes, the broker said, money was transferred into an offshore account maintained by Wiswell’s wife, and sometimes cash was delivered to Wiswell in a bag.

→ The New Yorker

The Daredevil of the Auction World

Capturechris

With contemporary art having become an important investment vehicle for the superwealthy—a profitable and fun place for the rich to park their money—collectors are no longer necessarily connoisseurs. Gouzer is disdainful of the novice client who shows no interest in an artist’s catalogue raisonné, and who wants to know only if the piece he is buying is considered to be in the top ten of the artist’s works. “It’s very much an Instagram way of buying,” he grumbled to me this spring. “You see an image, and you make a decision.” Yet his approach could not be better calculated to appeal to such consumers. Last November, a colleague at Christie’s brought to auction a Modigliani painting of a voluptuous woman, “Reclining Nude,” which had a presale estimate of a hundred million dollars. Gouzer posted an image of the painting on Instagram and offered this unscholarly observation: “Difficult to say which you would want more, the painting for a lifetime or the model for a night?”

→ The New Yorker