Outsmarting Crime Together: CityCop CEO Nadim Curi, 23 March 2017

IMG_7676Sami J. Karam speaks to Nadim Curi, CEO of the anti-crime app CityCop.

Powered by its successful rollout in Latin America started in 2014 and further boosted by funding from startup accelerator techstars, CityCop has staked a claim to turn its “social platform for community watch” into the global leader in crime reporting and public safety.

Curi explains:

What Waze has done for traffic globally, we have done the same for public safety.

What we are doing at CityCop is to make all of this information [about crime incidents] that today is private or is lost, to make it public. The criminals have always taken advantage of this lack of information. They have always the same modus operandi, in the same areas, at the same hours, against the same unaware people. CityCop is making all of this information public for the people to be much better informed of what is happening.

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Starting in Austin, CityCop plans to expand to San Francisco, Chicago, New York and other cities. Curi’s ultimate ambition is to turn CityCop into a global “Waze against crime”.

TO HEAR THE PODCAST, CLICK HERE OR ON THE TIMELINE BELOW:

India’s Disruptive Gamble

by Ravi Srinivasan

(Ravi discussed this post at the BreakingBank$ podcast. His segment starts at 20:10.)

Modi’s demonetization was the other November 8th global earthquake.

A thorough historical record will show that not one but two man-made events shook the world on 8 November 2016. One was of course the election of Donald Trump to the US Presidency against the predictions of nearly all polls and pundits. The other was the Indian government’s shock and awe decision to withdraw from circulation all ₹500 ($7.3) and ₹1,000 ($14.6) rupee bank notes, equivalent to 85% of the country’s paper money. Although the first event dominated the headlines, the second will have a greater impact on over a billion people in India and elsewhere.

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500 rupee banknote, an endangered species since 8 November 2016.

This process known as demonetization is the latest in a series of initiatives by the Modi government to modernize Indian society and to increase financial inclusion and digitalization. Along the same lines in the past two years, other government efforts have included the ambitious and unprecedented Aadhaar national identification system started in 2012, the Aadhaar-based remittance system offered by the National Payments Corporation of India in 2013, and the Jan Dhan Yojana drive to bring financial services to lower-income segments of society. Some private players such as Paytm, Citrus Pay, Mobikwik and Freecharge have also moved in lockstep with public initiatives. Read more

On White Collar Prosecutions, with Jesse Eisinger

“The government no longer has the will and ability to prosecute top corporate executives across a wide variety of major industries.”______ Jesse Eisinger

photo_7887Jesse Eisinger is a senior reporter at ProPublica and a former reporter at the Wall Street Journal. He has studied, investigated and written extensively on the 2008 financial crisis, its causes and consequences. In 2011, he and a colleague won a Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting. In addition, he has won the 2015 Gerald Loeb Award for commentary.

Eisinger is the author of a forthcoming book on white collar prosecutions, to be published next year by Simon & Schuster. He speaks to populyst’s Sami J. Karam about the reasons why there have been few such prosecutions in recent years. Among these reasons, Eisinger identifies ‘elite affinity’, a revolving door between government and business, and a resource shift that took place at the FBI after 9/11. The conversation closes with Eisinger’s discussion of current anti-trust issues and some comments on the 2016 US presidential race.

TO HEAR THE PODCAST, CLICK HERE OR ON THE TIMELINE BELOW:

Learning from Medellín with Alejandro Echeverri

“I think, if you want to write a new narrative at some specific moment in the story of a city, it is important that you have to feel the transformation and see the transformation. So the physical transformation is important but always there is more a spiritual thing, as happens with emotional connections and inspirational things.” ______Architect Alejandro Echeverri.

EcheverriPhotoIf you have an interest in Latin America or in urban matters, you will have read by now that the city of Medellín, Colombia has undergone a startling transformation in the past fifteen years. In the 1980s and 1990s, the name of Medellín evoked fearsome drug cartels, violence and terrorism.

But in the 2000s, Medellín took a dramatic turn for the better. In 2012, it was selected from 200 contenders as Innovative City of the Year in a survey organized by the Wall Street Journal and the Urban Land Institute. Today, it features regularly among lists of forward-looking cities and must-see destinations. Read more

Talking About Brexit with Andrew Stuttaford

“So far as the original founders are concerned, the journey [of European integration] continues. The problem is it is not what most British people thought they were signing up for.” ____Andrew Stuttaford.

Screen Shot 2016-06-19 at 6.15.53 AMAndrew Stuttaford is a British-born contributing editor at National Review and a frequent writer on British and European topics. In recent months, he has been an advocate of ‘Brexit’, the United Kingdom leaving the European Union. A few days before the June 23rd referendum, Stuttaford explains the factors that made him increasingly wary of further European integration. Read more

Advocate of Early Detection: Podcast with Cardiologist Dr. Michel Accad

22 April 2015

Cardiologist Michel Accad advocates early testing for detection of heart disease.

“We do have very robust technology, non-invasive technology that is simple to use and reliable and that has been established for a long time, to try to detect heart disease before it actually causes any problems. Most of the time when heart disease becomes manifest with symptoms or sudden cardiac arrest or a heart attack, it has been present for many many years before that time. So there is an opportunity to make a diagnosis that is very specific.”   Dr. Michel Accad, Athletic Heart of San Francisco.

Demography is one of the recurrent themes at populyst. In America Heading towards Zero Population Growth, I wrote that the population of the United States is growing at a slowing rate and that, except for immigration, it will not grow at all in the 2030s and 2040s. This prediction may however come into question if US life expectancy increases significantly in the next 20 years.

For this and other reasons, it is useful to periodically examine the progress being made in health and medical practice.

Heart disease remains the number one killer in the United States, accounting for 611,000 of the 2.6 million deaths in 2013. Strokes were responsible for an additional 129,000 fatalities, which means that cardio-vascular ailments led to 29% of all US deaths. By way of comparison, cancer in its various forms accounted for 23% of US deaths.

Death by heart attack is largely an older person phenomenon. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), as many as 40% of fatal heart attacks strike people aged over 85 and only 8% strike people aged under 55. This means that a hypothetical increase in US life expectancy, which currently stands at 79 years of age, must probably be accompanied by a measurable reduction in heart disease.

The table, compiled from CDC data, shows the percentage of heart disease and cancer fatalities per age group.

Heart v Cancer

Detection and prevention are seen as essential ways to fight back against cancer. It has become widely accepted that after a certain age, people should undergo routine testing for detection of some cancers even if they appear on the surface to be completely asymptomatic. Some such tests are mammograms and colonoscopies. It is important to note that these tests are most often covered by insurance, a factor which certainly raised their adoption among patients and their doctors.

By contrast, historically, the approach to detection of heart disease has relied primarily on a nebulous review of the usual risk factors, mainly diabetes, blood pressure, cholesterol, smoking, and their frequently attendant obesity. More recently however, a growing number of cardiologists have started advocating proactive testing via CT Scans (aka CAT Scans) of all people over 45 or 50.

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Michel Accad, MD.

One of the most vocal among this group is San Francisco-based Dr. Michel Accad, a practicing cardiologist who is also the founder and medical director of Athletic Heart of San Francisco.

In addition to early detection of coronary heart disease and other heart ailments, Dr. Accad also champions a more proactive approach to early detection of any risk of sudden cardiac arrest. Although relatively rare compared to coronary heart disease, sudden cardiac arrest can strike any person of any age during strenuous physical activity.

Dr. Accad’s years of experience coincided with rapid advances in technology and the two have converged today into the following messages:

1- It is a good idea for any person over the age of 45 to get a CT Scan. Because the first manifestation of heart disease can be catastrophic (one third of all heart attacks are fatal), it makes sense to try to detect the presence of any plaque in the arteries.

2- It is a good idea for any person of any age who is active in high-intensity physical activity to undergo tests designed to detect early any risk of sudden cardiac arrest.

As noted above, insurance typically covers cancer tests such as mammograms and colonoscopies. But CT scans designed to detect plaque in the arteries are not generally covered. Perhaps this is due to the fact that treatment of cancer can be far more expensive than treatment of heart disease, at least in its milder form. Dr. Accad notes nonetheless that the cost of CT scans is not prohibitive for a vast majority of patients.

I discussed all of these issues and questions of life expectancy with Dr. Accad in a podcast which you can hear through this link or by clicking the timeline below.

TO HEAR THE PODCAST, CLICK HERE OR ON THE TIMELINE BELOW:

Dr. Accad may be reached through Athletic Heart of San Francisco or through his blog.

Disclosure: Sami Karam and populyst have no business dealings with, and receive no compensation from, Dr. Michel Accad, Athletic Heart of San Francisco or any other parties named in the podcast.

Manhattan Real Estate: A Conversation with Lisa Larson

14 April 2015

Sami Karam speaks with Manhattan’s Lisa Larson, a licensed associate real estate broker with Warburg Realty and a REBNY Deal of the Year award recipient. Topics include the state of the residential market and the boom in supertall tower construction, from the real to the surreal.

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“I get asked almost daily: ‘How is the market? What is happening in the market?’ And increasingly, it is getting much harder to define the market as a whole. So I always say: ‘Which market are you talking about?’ The super tall and skinny market [of new high-rise towers in Midtown], we read about every day. It is exciting and we see the towers from every angle. But that is not really the market that most of us live and work in, and buy and sell in. What really makes this job so exciting to me is that there are so many different sub-markets in this city.”   Lisa Larson, Warburg Realty.

TO HEAR THE PODCAST, CLICK HERE OR ON THE TIMELINE BELOW:

Lisa Larson can be reached at Warburg Realty or through her website.

Disclosure: Sami Karam and populyst have no business dealings with, and receive no compensation from, Lisa Larson, Warburg Realty or any other parties named in the podcast.

The Case for Agricultural ETFs: A Conversation with Sal Gilbertie

“It is really important to have ags in your portfolio. Most people have gold and most people have oil. The fact that they don’t have ags is actually quite a mystery.”    Sal Gilbertie, President of Teucrium Funds.

TO HEAR THE PODCAST, CLICK HERE OR ON THE TIMELINE BELOW:

As Sal Gilbertie would have it, CORN is not only the king of agricultural commodities. It is also the ticker symbol for one of Teucrium Funds agricultural ETFs. In addition to CORN, Teucrium offers three other single-commodity ETFs: WEAT, SOYB, CANE, for wheat, soybean and sugar. Each of these ETFs invests in futures and is configured to “mitigate contango and backwardation” and to track the price of its underlying commodity. A fifth ETF, with ticker TAGS, tracks an equally-weighted basket of corn, wheat, soybean and sugar.

I recently had a conversation with Gilbertie who is President of Teucrium. Gilbertie cut his teeth in the 1980s as a commodities trader at Cargill and later at other large institutions. His case for investing in agricultural commodities is three-fold:

  • the long-term: growth in demographic demand in emerging markets.
  • the timeless: diversification away from the S&P 500 and from gold.
  • the short-term: agricultural commodities are now significantly undervalued relative to gold.

1- Long-term Demand and Supply

Demand for agricultural commodities is expected to rise steadily in the decades ahead due to 1) the growth of the global population currently from 7 billion people to over 9 billion by 2050 and 2) the rise in living standards and concomitant improvement in diets in emerging markets.

The table below shows future population estimates per the United Nations’ medium variant estimates. It should be noted that this medium variant assumes a big decline in total fertility rates (TFRs, number of children per woman) in India and Sub-Saharan Africa. In the event that TFRs do not decline as fast as expected, the population growth in these countries would be even greater.

Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa will show the biggest jump in population and in demand for basic food stuffs. Note in the table that Sub-Saharan Africa is forecast to contribute half the population growth between today and 2050, and as much as 81% of the growth between today and 2100.

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It is not difficult to conclude from these figures therefore that Sub-Saharan Africa will require more than a doubling of food supplies in the next 35 years, a significant challenge at a time when it is still trying to eliminate hunger in many countries.

Of course, supply is also growing but it is generally more volatile than demand due to periodic crop failures (from floods, droughts etc.) in one or another region of the world. Supply is also constrained by two factors: lower yields from farms in emerging markets and poor infrastructure in the regions of the world which have the largest unused acreages of arable land.

In 2012, the African Union Commission (AUC), the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Brazil-based Lula Institute joined forces to “eradicate hunger” in Africa. At the time, the Chairperson of the AUC stated the following [my emphasis]:

“Food security is one of the key priorities of the African Union. Africa has the potential to increase its agricultural production given that almost 60 percent of the arable land in the continent is still not utilized. This enormous potential can make a real difference to improve our agricultural production and food security. It is time to move beyond subsistence agricultural production and consider ways of eventually embarking on agro-industrial production.”

More generally, looking at the global picture, Sub-Saharan Africa is believed to have the largest reserves of untapped arable land. As promising as this may be, massive investments in technology, infrastructure and logistics will be needed before new farm land can yield significant amounts of grain that can be delivered to consumers.

With regards to agricultural yields, an FAO report released in 2002 stated:

“Global cereal yields grew rapidly between 1961 and 1999, averaging 2.1 percent a year. Thanks to the green revolution, they grew even faster in developing countries, at an average rate of 2.5 percent a year. The fastest growth rates were achieved for wheat, rice and maize which, as the world’s most important food staples, have been the major focus of international breeding efforts. Yields of the major cash crops, soybean and cotton, also grew rapidly.”

For example, wheat yields in developing countries have nearly tripled from 1,000 kilograms per hectare in 1968 to over 2,600 now.

To sum up, supply will keep up with demand but only if yields improve at existing farms and if new infrastructure is put in place to service new arable land.

2- Timeless Diversification

Agricultural commodities are less correlated to the stock market than gold and should therefore be considered for diversification at any time. In recent decades, gold has drawn tens of billions in portfolio investments mainly because it was seen as a hedge against possible dislocation in financial markets.

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Gold delivered on its promise as an effective diversification asset in 2008-2011, outperforming stock markets by a wide margin during the financial crisis and its aftermath. Although it has retreated from its 2011 highs in recent years, gold is still a significant outperformer of all leading stock indices in the decade and a half since it hit bottom in 1999. See chart above.

Of course, gold grossly underperformed stocks in the 1990s, but the subsequent decade proved that there can be prolonged periods of time when it beats the popular indices by a very significant margin, notwithstanding comments by some market participants who deride it as barbaric or uncivilized. The pragmatic reality is that, barbaric as it may be, gold sometimes outperforms stocks for ten or fifteen years.

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Still, if we have shown that diversification into commodities is desirable, the chart above from Teucrium’s web page argues that agricultural commodities are even better diversifiers than gold because they have a lower historical correlation with the S&P 500 than gold does. Through the 20-year period 1995-2014, sugar, corn, wheat and soybean have all had a lower correlation to the S&P 500 than has gold.

3- Short-term Valuation

The ratio of gold to corn was in September 2014 at its highest level since gold started trading freely 38 years ago. It stands today at nearly twice its long-term average. Gilbertie says that, on average since 1976, an ounce of gold has purchased 165 bushels of corn. Last September, an ounce of gold could buy 377 bushels and today it can buy around 300 bushels, still nearly twice the long-term average.

The ratios of gold to the other grain commodities and to sugar tell a similar story.

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Thank you for reading. My conversation with Gilbertie includes more original insights about the mechanics of trading futures and ETFs and about the supply and demand prospects for agricultural commodities.

You can listen to the full podcast here:

Disclosure: The author has no contractual agreement with Teucrium and receives no compensation from Teucrium. As of the date of this posting and for at least the following 72 hours, the author has no investments in the Teucrium Funds.

Disclaimer: This article represents the author’s best faith efforts at presenting true facts. Nonetheless, despite the author’s best diligence, the article may include unintentional errors. Do your own work, read more research and draw your own conclusions before you decide to trade.