Apple debuted its most important product in years just a few months ago—the iPhone X, but it may be closing in on what could not only be a great new product, but a new segment. That new device would be Apple’s version of the smart speaker business led by Amazon’s Echo and Google’s devices. Apple’s version is called the HomePod, and had its debut delayed from late last year to early this year, missing the holiday season. Of course, the device itself may be secondary the the digital personal assistant system, in Apple’s case Siri, as it is this bit of software which keeps users in the company’s ecosystem, which means higher spending.
FINSUM: The devices are merely vehicles for the digital assistants, which are in turn genius products for keeping consumers spending on services.
The SEC has just made an announcement that those in financial industry, and beyond, were waiting for. That announcement was that the SEC has now all but grounded all hopes of having bitcoin ETFs. There has been a remarkable amount of hype about the chances of launching bitcoin ETFs in the hope of getting more mainstream investors involved in the asset class. However, the SEC dashed those hopes, saying “Until the questions identified above can be addressed satisfactorily, we do not believe that it is appropriate for fund sponsors to initiate registration of funds that intend to invest substantially in cryptocurrency and related products”.
FINSUM: This was effectively an unsolicited warning not to try to shirk investor protection rules in efforts to create bitcoin ETFs. It looks like the SEC is taking a hard line here.
Morgan Stanley’s wealth management can be described as nothing other than an unmitigated success in the fourth quarter. The numbers are in, and the data show that the unit is minting cash as the broker enjoys the transition from commission-based to fee-based accounts as provided by the fiduciary rule. Revenue increased a whopping 10% and the profit margin rose from under 10% the previous year to an eye-watering 26% in 2017.
FINSUM: We realize the importance of fiduciary duty, but how is a transition to much more expensive fee-based accounts—which are hugely boosting net profits to big firms—in the ultimate best interest of clients?
Like Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch is in the middle of a big bet on its wealth management unit The broker has decided to focus less resources on hiring senior advisors and more on training younger staff. Accordingly, its staff costs have shrunk despite growing its advisor base by 2%. By some accounts the early signs for the experiment are good, but it will take a long time to see how well it plays out.
FINSUM: The whole industry has a bit of an inheritance problem right now, since there are herds of baby boomer advisors who are set to retire in the coming years, and as yet, a dearth of young advisors to take their places.
Most of the market’s panic over retail centers on the threat from Amazon and the shift to ecommerce from brick and mortar (admittedly related threats). However, there is more out there to be worried about than just those. In particular, the apparel market is not growing very quickly, as it is losing market share to other areas of consumer spending, such as restaurants, entertainment and wellness. Staffing costs are also rising at the same time as price pressure is growing, putting a strain on margins.
FINSUM: Amazon’s growth in apparel sales is also well-outpacing the overall industry’s growth rate, which means it is already stealing market share on top of these other challenges.