Tag Archives: Should

How health care should take advantage of the cloud
August 7, 2018 12:00 pm|Comments (0)

The cloud has come to the health care sector, and it’s having an impact by saving some money. However, that’s not the real value of cloud computing for this sector, a sector that affects us personally at some point in our lives.

Black Book Research found that 93 percent of hospital CIOs are actively acquiring the staff to configure, manage, and support a HIPAA-compliant cloud infrastructure. Also, 91 percent of CIOs in the Black Book survey report that cloud computing provides more agility and better patient care with the proliferation of health care data.

But there is a huge innovation gap when it comes to health care and cloud computing between what’s possible versus what is actually being done. Take patient data, for example. Most health care organizations, providers, and payers don’t make many moves toward better and more proactive management of patient data unless regulations move them along.

This isn’t about operational and billing data, or electronic health records (EHRs). If health care systems abstracted information in certain ways, both the doctor and patient would have better insights into the patients’ health, preventive care, and treatment.

The cloud services that support these innovative functions are now dirt-cheap. As hospitals become cloud-enabled, it’s time to start moving faster toward the complete automation of care, treatments, and analyses of patient health. Let’s move from a system that’s largely reactive to a system that’s completely proactive.

Of course, there are islands of innovation in the health care sector. But it’s still mostly on the R&D side of things and has yet to trickle down to direct patient care. The potential here is greater than in any other sector I’ve seen. Just consider the telemetry information gathered from smart watches and cellphones and the ability to funnel all data though deep learning-enabled systems that cost pennies an hour to run on the cloud.

Now that we have the tools, there is little excuse not to innovate beyond what’s been done already. We’re better than this. 

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Should We Be Concerned About The Yield Curve?
July 21, 2018 12:00 pm|Comments (0)

On the latest edition of Market Week in Review, Senior Quantitative Investment Strategy Analyst Kara Ng and Sam Templeton, manager, global communications, discuss why we should pay attention to the US yield curve, President Trump’s tariff talk, and the latest corporate earnings reports.

US yield curve getting close to inverting

The slope of the US yield curve has fallen to just 24 basis points and getting close to inverting. Ng says “we should pay attention because an inverted yield curve is historically one of the best predictors of a downturn.” She notes over the last 5 economic cycles, an initial inversion preceded an economic recession between 9 and 18 months, while equity markets tend to peak about 6 months before a recession. This means there’s a large negative impact in being defensive in your portfolio too late, but also a cost in being defensive too early, and missing out on the late-cycle gains. Ng says savvy and timely investment strategy is everything. And while the slope of the yield isn’t inverted yet, it has uncomfortably flattened. She is currently expecting a recession in late-2019 or 2020, so believes it’s still too early to go completely defensive.

Should the Federal Reserve be more concerned about the yield curve?

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell testified before the Senate Banking Committee in Washington this week and didn’t express a lot of concern about the flattening yield curve. Ng says Powell was upbeat about the economy and affirmed that gradual rate hikes are appropriate; for now it’s the neutral rate he’s more focused on than the shape of the yield curve. The neutral rate isn’t something you can observe, but is the theoretical rate where interest rates neither hurt nor help the economy. Ng is concerned that the Fed hasn’t paid enough attention to the slope of the yield curve historically and has argued “this time is different” too often. She explained it contains lots of information. For example, when the 10-year rate falls lower than the current short-term rate, it may be that the market expects lower short-term rates in the future, possibly because of a future growth slowdown resulting in the Fed cutting rates to stimulate the economy. Meanwhile, she says the shorter end of the curve is heavily influenced by the current Fed policy. If the Fed raises interest rates too far above sustainable fundamentals, then the restrictive monetary policy might start a recession. Ng says not to ignore the yield curve.

Trump threatens more tariffs on China

Ng says a month ago it looked like a US trade war with China was a risk, but not our central scenario. Now, she says the odds of a full-blown trade war are closer to 50/50. Ng says the tariff announcements are probably a “maximum pressure” negotiation strategy, because the US wouldn’t benefit from closed trade. She notes a lot of the tariff goods are intermediate, not final goods. That means that those goods are an input to some final product that could be made in the US. In the short run, US companies would have trouble finding substitutes for those intermediate parts, which would hurt US businesses. Ng says to keep an eye on how consumer and CEO confidence develops given potential disruptions to global supply chains.

Second-quarter earnings

It’s still early days in the reporting season, but so far Ng says the Q2 earnings season is surprisingly strong. Only 17% of US companies have reported so far, so Ng isn’t extrapolating too much from the small sample size, but of those companies, about 95% have beat expectations. She says that’s high, especially since earnings expectations were optimistic to begin with. However, market response has been relatively muted. Ng expects the Q2 earnings season will be strong, but not as strong as the Q1 season. Some of the macro tailwinds that previously helped Q1 earnings are fading – global growth is moderating and the US dollar strengthened, which impacts US multinational companies’ earnings.

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Retirement: Should You Prepare For The Next Downturn Now?
July 7, 2018 6:37 pm|Comments (0)

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The Supreme Court’s Mobile Privacy Stand Should Prompt Further Changes
June 25, 2018 6:17 pm|Comments (0)

This article first appeared in Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily newsletter on the top tech news. To get it delivered daily to your in-box, sign up here.

There was an important, close, widely watched Supreme Court decision last week that could have big implications for parts of the tech industry for decades to come. No, not the 5-4 ruling allowing states to require sales tax collection from e-commerce sites in the South Dakota v. Wayfair case. (Though if that’s your bag, The Economist had a good analysis.)

Instead, it’s the 5-4 decision in Carpenter v. United States that’s also worth examining deeply.

Carpenter in this case is “Little Tim” Carpenter, who was convicted as the alleged organizer of a crime spree where a gang of crooks stole bags of brand new smartphones at gunpoint from more than half a dozen Radio Shack and T-Mobile stores in and around Detroit. In 2011, Carpenter was nabbed, in part, because the police had subpoenaed records from his cellphone provider that included somewhat crude but voluminous realtime location data covering 127 days. And Carpenter was around the robbed stores at the times of the robberies, the records showed.

Typically, the Supreme Court has allowed police to collect almost any kind of information generated by third parties, such as bank records or a list of phone numbers called, with just a subpoena. It’s known as the third party doctrine. You knew the bank or the phone company was collecting that data, so you had no “reasonable expectation” of privacy. Something more like papers you kept in a locked drawer in your desk required a full search warrant, with a showing of probable cause that evidence of a crime might be found.

Maybe you can see where Chief Justice John Roberts took this analysis in Carpenter’s case. The level and amount of detail that companies are collecting about us has exploded. Where once the phone could simply tell the police who you called and for how long, now they have a precise and comprehensive map of everyplace you’ve been, not to mention every web site you visited. “This case is not about ‘using a phone’ or a person’s movement at a particular time,” Roberts wrote. “It is about a detailed chronicle of a person’s physical presence compiled every day, every moment, over several years.”

A bevy of tech companies, ranging from big players like Apple (aapl), Google (googl), and Microsoft (msft), to smaller cloud-related outfits such as Dropbox (dbx), Evernote, and Airbnb, had written a brief for the court arguing that the rules of the third party doctrine “make little sense” when applied to the new kinds of digital online data now being collected. Urging the court to rethink its view of when people have a reasonable expectation of privacy, they noted digital devices and apps unavoidably generate deeply personal data:

Short of forgoing all use of digital technologies, they are unavoidable. And this transmission of data will only grow as digital technologies continue to develop and become more integrated into our lives. Because the data that is transmitted can reveal a wealth of detail about people’s personal lives, however, users of digital technologies reasonably expect to retain significant privacy in that data, notwithstanding that technology companies may use or share the data in various ways to provide and improve their services for their customers.

That made sense to Roberts and a majority of the court. New Justice Neil Gorsuch dissented, but only because he thought the majority should go even further and practically dump the whole third party doctrine. Expect more knotty conflicts over digital data privacy, not just among Supreme Court justices, but with lawmakers, regulators and law enforcers across the country.

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A Discounted Backdoor Into An 18% Yield – Buyout Should Close Very Soon
June 23, 2018 6:13 pm|Comments (0)

Due to a generous 8.7% discount to its post-buyout price/unit, we just increased our holdings of Southcross Energy Partners (SXE), a smaller midstream LP, which is being bought by American Midstream Partners LP (AMID).

The deal is supposed to close by the end of Q2 2018, and it has already been approved by SXE and AMID unitholders, and has received final state approval.

Deal highlights – Among many other positive attributes, AMID’s mgt. sees this deal as being immediately accretive to its Distributable Cash Flow. This makes sense – SXE used to pay $ .40/unit quarterly, but eliminated its payout in February 2016. However, SXE generated $ 25.36M, and AMID generated $ 89.88M in DCF over the past four quarters.

(Source: AMID site)

The new entity will also have a simpler structure, with four segments: Gas G&P, Natgas Transportation, Liquid Pipelines, and Offshore Pipelines, with the offshore segment being its largest, contributing 57% of gross margins:

(Source: AMID site)

AMID Assets

AMID has significant offshore assets in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, an area which is projected to see 32% production growth over the next 3 years. Technological advances should also reduce production costs for Gulf oil.

AMID’s CEO detailed this growth on the Q1 ’18 earnings call:

“In February of this year, the Gulf of Mexico produced 1.7 million barrels per day of crude oil and 2.6 Bcf a day of natural gas. To put this in perspective, the Gulf of Mexico is the second largest crude oil producing base in The United States behind only the Permian Basin. It is producing roughly 30% more oil than either the Bakken or the Eagle Ford basins and 3 times more than the Anadarko basin, home of the SCOOP.”

“In Q1 ’18, AMID’s Okeanos pipeline had volume increases of over 10% vs. Q1 ’17, and were up 6% vs. Q4 ’18, due to additional volumes from dedicated wells tied into the system.”

AMID’s Delta House asset has been under maintenance, which has reduced its output. On the Q1 call, management pointed out that “current production is just under half of pre-maintained levels or about 55,000 to 60,000 barrels a day equivalent. However, by July, we anticipate the crude oil and natural gas volume should increase from current levels by 64% and 155%, respectively”.

In addition, AMID is receiving support from ArcLight Partners’ affiliate, Magnolia Infrastructure Holdings, LLC, “to provide additional capital and corporate overhead support to us during the first three quarters of 2018 in connection with temporary curtailment of production flows at Delta House. Pursuant to the agreement, Magnolia has agreed to provide support to us in an amount to be agreed, up to the difference between the actual cash distribution received by us on account of our interest in Delta House and the quarterly cash distribution expected to be received had the production flows to Delta House not been curtailed. Subsequent to the balance sheet date of March 31, 2018, we have received $ 9.4 million for such support”. (Source: AMID Q1 ’18 10-Q)

(Source: AMID site)

AMID has over 1,565 miles of natural gas and crude oil gathering systems, 8 processing plants with ~325 MMcf/d of capacity, 4 fractionation facilities, a fleet of 75 crude oil transportation trucks and 95 trailers, and ~20 NGL transportation trucks. Its onshore assets are located in some of the most prolific production areas, including the Permian and Eagle Ford basins:

(Source: AMID site)

(Source: AMID site)

AMID’s natural gas transmission segment has significant firm, take or pay contracted volumes in Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, with a balanced customer mix.

Management commented upon the uptick in volume on the Q1 ’18 earnings call:

“AMID’s Southeast Natural Gas Transportation assets performed very well, establishing a new throughput record of over 835 million cubic feet a day. This segment experienced 75% growth in gross margin over 2017, as a result of the acquisition of the Trans-Union pipeline in the fourth quarter of 2017 and strong demand as a result of exceptionally cold weather across the Southeast US.”

A Backdoor Discount

SXE continues to sell at a discount to its post-buyout price, which is equivalent to .16 units per AMID unit. With AMID at $ 10.00 on 6/21/18, SXE should have been trading at $ 1.60, but it closed at $ 1.46.

Distributions

SXE doesn’t currently pay a distribution, but after the buyout, the converted SXE units will receive the same $ .4125 quarterly payout as current AMID unitholders.

At $ 1.46, SXE is trading at a post-buyout equivalent of $ 9.13, which translates into an 18.08% yield. AMID’s next ex-dividend date should be ~8/3/18, with a pay date of ~ 8/14/18:

Deal Terms

“AMID has agreed to acquire equity interests in certain Southcross Holdings’ subsidiaries that directly or indirectly own 100% of the limited liability company interests of the general partner of SXE and approximately 55% of the SXE common units by issuing 3.4 million AMID common units, 4.5 million new Series E convertible preferred units (the ‘Preferred Units’), options to acquire 4.5 million AMID common units (the ‘Options’) and the repayment of $ 139 million of estimated net debt. The Preferred Units will be issued at a price of $ 15.00 per unit and may be paid-in-kind at the AMID common unit distribution rate at AMID’s option for two years. AMID will have the right to convert the Preferred Units to AMID common units if the AMID 20-day volume weighted average price exceeds $ 22.50. The Options are American-style call options with an $ 18.50 strike price that expire in 2022.” (Source: AMID site)

There shouldn’t be any immediate threat of the Series E convertible preferreds converting into more AMID common units since they can’t convert unless AMID’s common price goes higher than $ 22.50, which is over twice its current price level.

Here’s the breakdown of pre- and post-buyout units, which will total ~63.22M after the deal goes through:

We calculated what the post-buyout distribution coverage should look like, using the combined trailing Distributable Cash Flow/Unit of both companies as of 3/31/18 vs. AMID’s current $ 1.65/year payout.

The initial post-deal coverage should work out to about 1.10X, which is what AMID’s press release listed:

“AMID expects the transaction to be single-digit accretive to DCF/unit in 2018 and 2019, approaching double-digit accretion in 2020. AMID expects to maintain a pro forma distribution coverage of 1.1 to 1.3 times”. (Source: AMID site)

Trailing Earnings

Judging by AMID’s and SXE’s trailing figures, this deal should be just what the Dr. ordered – both companies should emerge stronger as one entity.

Due to non-core divestitures, AMID has had declining DCF and distribution coverage, with coverage falling to 1.04X. EBITDA has been down slightly over the past four quarters as of 3/31/18.

SXE’s EBITDA has been just about flat, but its DCF fell -17.82% over the past four quarters.

In addition to its divestitures, AMID’s management has made a series of acquisitions in order to transform the company into a more stable cash flow model. AMID hasn’t gone to the equity markets to fund these acquisitions.

(Source: AMID site)

Valuations

The market has pressured SXE’s price/unit to an extreme point – it’s currently selling for just 15% of Book Value and .11X Price/Sales. SXE’s Price/DCF of just 2.81X is also the lowest valuation we’ve seen in many moons.

Debt

Another part of the rationale for this buyout is for the combined company to emerge with lower debt leverage. Since AMID hasn’t funded its growth via issuing more units, its debt leverage has increased:

“In conjunction with the transaction, AMID will continue executing against its stated capital optimization strategy to deliver a strong pro forma balance sheet with substantial liquidity. AMID is targeting an additional $ 400 to $ 500 million of non-core asset sales primarily related to its terminaling services segment.”

“These proceeds, incremental debt financing and modest equity will allow the combined entity to target closing pro forma trailing debt to EBITDA of near 4.5 times with a 12- to 18-month goal of near 3.5 times and target pro forma liquidity of $ 300 to $ 400 million.” (Source: AMID site)

In February, AMID announced a definitive agreement for the sale of its refined products terminaling business to DKGP Energy Terminals LLC, a joint venture between Delek Logistics Partners LP (DKL) and Green Plains Partners LP (GPP), for approximately $ 138.5 million in cash, subject to working capital adjustments. The transaction is expected to close in the first half of 2018.

AMID’s management just announced on 6/18/18 that it has “entered into a definitive agreement for the sale of its marine products terminaling business to institutional investors advised by J.P. Morgan Asset Management, for approximately $ 210 million in cash, subject to working capital adjustments. The transaction is expected to close in the third quarter of 2018.” (Source: AMID site)

We assembled this table to get an idea of how the proposed debt leverage is working out. As of 3/31/18, AMID had Net Debt/EBITDA leverage of 6.63X, its leverage was 8.03X, and the combined leverage was 7X.

In this table, we used AMID management’s Net Debt/EBITDA targets in tandem with its asset sales to see if the targets are realistic. Management is targeting annual post-deal EBITDA of $ 300M and a 12-month goal of ~4.5X leverage.

With the sale to DKL of $ 138.5M, and the $ 139M paydown of SXE’s debt, the initial Net Debt/EBITDA may be ~5.88X, which is much better than the Q1 ’18 figure of 7X.

Moving forward to Q3 ’18, with the JPMorgan $ 210M sale, the debt could reach $ 1,250.99M, with a Net Debt/EBITDA ratio of 5.04X. This is assuming a devil’s advocate scenario in which trailing EBITDA merely stays flat, at $ 248.52M, which may be too conservative seeing that mgt. is targeting $ 300M annually.

Management addressed post-deal debt and DCF on the Q1 ’18 call, asserting that it should generate $ 300M in EBITDA and hit $ 140M in DCF, which is much higher than the combined $ 115M AMID and SXE generated in the most recent four quarters:

“Following the closing of the Southcross acquisition and combined with a positive impact of recent growth initiatives, we remain on track to generate pro forma annualized EBITDA in excess of $ 300 million and approximately $ 140 million in distributable cash flow.”

It looks like the combined companies could hit that 12-month leverage target of 4.5X if they’re able to increase their EBITDA:

Risks

Debt Leverage: AMID’s 2018 Q1 10-Q states that, as of 3/31/17, its total leverage ratio was 5.23X. However, we came up with a higher figure of 6.6X. One of the distinctions that management makes is not counting non-recourse debt in its presentations – it refers to “compliance leverage”:

(Source: AMID 2018 Q1 10-Q)

Moody’s downgraded AMID on May 4, 2018, but note the reference to the financial support from ArcLight Partners:

“Speculative Grade Liquidity (SGL) Rating to SGL-4 from SGL-3. Other ratings remain on review for downgrade. The downgrade of the liquidity rating to SGL-4 reflects deterioration in liquidity and Moody’s expectation that AMID will have weak liquidity over the next 12 months as the partnership continues to rely heavily on its revolver while executing on aggressive growth strategies and repositioning of its asset base”.

“The SGL-4 liquidity rating reflects Moody’s expectation that AMID will have weak liquidity over the next 12 months. At year-end 2017, the partnership had $ 9 million of cash and only $ 48 million available under its $ 900 million revolver. Financial covenants limit access to less than the full revolver which expires in September 2019. ArcLight intends to support the partnership through April 2019 to comply with its financial covenants, if necessary. Also supporting the partnership’s liquidity is its ability to monetize assets. Moody’s notes that the partnership anticipates it will close on the sale of its refined products terminals during the second quarter of 2018 for $ 138.5 million (subject to working capital adjustments).” (Source: Moody’s)

Deal Execution – There’s always a chance that the buyout won’t go through. However, it has been approved by both boards, by the unitholders of both AMID and SXE, and 4/10/18 they received the final state-level regulatory approval for the merger. On the Q1 ’18 call, management said that “at this time, we expect to close this transaction during the second quarter.”

Summary

We increased our holdings of SXE, based upon the current post-buyout price discount, and the very attractive 18% post-buyout yield. Another plus is that a very supportive, veteran energy investing firm, ArcLight Capital Partners, owns ~27% of AMID’s units.

(Source: AMID site)

All tables furnished by DoubleDividendStocks, unless otherwise noted.

Disclaimer: This article was written for informational purposes only, and is not intended as personal investment advice. Please practice due diligence before investing in any investment vehicle mentioned in this article.

Disclosure: I am/we are long SXE, DKL.

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.

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Three Important Things Non-Programmers Should Know About Programming
June 12, 2018 6:04 pm|Comments (0)

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What are the three most important things non-programmers should know about programming? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Ken Mazaika, CTO & Co-founder at thefirehoseproject.com, on Quora:

Early in my web development career I realized that there were three things that were critical for every non-programmer to know before interacting with programmers in a professional setting.

My experience building a single feature with a non-technical product manager taught me these lessons almost immediately.

Let me explain…

I was working with Colin, a non-technical product manager who was responsible for driving the direction of the product and working with my team, the development team, to implement features for our product.

As a developer, Colin was great to work with. The feature requests he created were always really well thought out. He always had all the edge cases accounted for and he drew detailed wireframes, diagrams of what the expected behavior of the feature should look like.

But then, all of a sudden, Colin had a feature request for our team that caused a major problem for our entire development team!

Colin gave our team a wireframe diagram of our application that had an additional checkbox that would allow a user to store their credit card information on the platform.

The feature request seemed simple enough, but because of laws and regulations about credit card information (specifically PCI compliance laws), storage of credit card information is something that is highly complex and regulated.

Despite seeming simple, supporting this one feature in our application would require a complete rewrite of our code.

I brought this issue up to Colin and at first he didn’t get it. “All I’m asking for is a simple checkbox, it can’t be that difficult to add”, he said. I explained that adding the checkbox would be super easy, but making the checkbox do what it claimed would be the difficult part.

Colin then did something that proved that he was the type of product manager who got things done.He explained, “Let me explain why I wanted to include the ability to allow a user to save their payment information…” and then Colin explained that after making a certain type of purchase, it was very common for users to make a related purchase shortly after.

Together we realized there was a solution where we could prompt the user to purchase both items at the same time, instead of worrying about storing the payment information. This was a solution that would give Colin everything he wanted and be ten times easier to implement for our team.

Together with Colin, we implemented this solution. This experience taught me that there are only three things that non-programmers need to focus on when working together with other developers.

They’re also easy lessons to learn…

1. Communicate the technical details to developers quickly and efficiently.

There is no more effective way to explain functionality of an application than showing a developer wireframes of proposed changes.

2. Things can appear to be easier to implement than they actually are.

Be open to the idea that things that seem like they should be really easy can be much more difficult to implement in practice.

3. Provide context about why you think things are important.

Explain the why behind the thoughts you have in situations where you’re getting pushback from developers — if you do this you’ll find yourself working together with them to solve problems.

Remember that you are have the same end goal as the developers you’re working with — to provide the best experience possible or the application you’re building.

Follow these steps and the developers you’re working with can focus their energy on being the best developer they can be. And if you’re a developer you can focus on the 29 Behaviors That Will Make You An Unstoppable Programmer.

This question originally appeared on Quora – the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. More questions:

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The Untold Truth About Referral Hiring and Why You Should Rethink Using It
May 24, 2018 6:01 pm|Comments (0)

I know what you’re thinking. I must be crazy right? What can be wrong with taking advantage of employee connections to find your next hire? After all, studies have found that referral hiring saves money, takes less time, lowers employee turnover rates, and is rising in popularity.

While none of these things are untrue, referral hiring isn’t just this perfect strategy with no strings attached. In fact, a lot can go wrong with using referrals, and it can often lead to terribly regrettable hiring decisions. Here’s how:

1. It encourages laziness.

Referral hiring can potentially make it so easy to hire a candidate that companies become complacent. In other words: too much of a good thing is actually a bad thing.

Part of what makes referral hiring so appealing is that it gives companies the ability to outright skip parts of the recruitment process. Once you get a good number of potential referrals, you simply identify which among them will be your best bets. There’s no longer the need to go through thousands of resumes and job applications to find the perfect candidate. No need to go to job fairs or to advertise on social media. Perhaps you also skip the phone interview stage and jump straight to on-site interviews.

The result? You save time and you save money, just like what studies claim. But as a consequence, your talent pool is significantly smaller and your screening process isn’t as comprehensive as what it should have been.

2. It forces biased decision-making.

Alright, so maybe it doesn’t necessarily force you to be biased about your hiring decisions, but it’s definitely a very real concern and something that’s very difficult to avoid. In fact, companies don’t avoid biased decision-making. They embrace it. This is why referral hiring is so popular to begin with and why referral candidates have their applications placed right on top of the pile. What else would explain why referred candidates are so much more likely to be hired than your average applicant. It’s why business connections are so important in the first place.

Ask yourself this though. Does having a pre-established connection with someone make this someone a better fit for the job? Are they somehow smarter, harder working, more creative, more driven, or more likely to do a better job than the next guy? 

From what I can tell, the answer is “no,” and that’s what makes referral hiring so dangerous. Referred candidates have a way, way higher chance at getting the job, yet when you look at their actual credentials and work experience, they’re often no more qualified than everyone else applying.

3. It doesn’t find you the best talent.

Isn’t the whole point of the hiring process to find top talent? I’m not talking about good talent or good cultural fit. I’m talking about the very best of the best. The elite. The cream of the crop. Now what are the chances this person just so happens to be someone your employees already know? Not very likely from my guess. The point is, finding the best person for the job should be a lot harder than simply going through a list of your employees’ existing connections.

Look. I’m not advocating for you to eradicate referral hiring from your arsenal of hiring strategies. I’d be lying to you if I said I don’t use referral hiring myself. However, it’s important to consider some of the possible ramifications when using it.

While referral hiring does have its merits, it also has its fair share of issues as well. It can shrink your talent pool and cause you to make suboptimal hiring decisions.

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GOF – The Popular Fund You Should Not Marry Into Your Portfolio
May 6, 2018 6:07 pm|Comments (0)

Please Note: This article was first published for Income Idea subscribers on Thursday along with additional analysis and implementation ideas. All data in this article is as of 5/2/2018.

I have generally been a fan of actively managed funds where the management team has the flexibility to invest in a variety of asset classes where they best see fit, in line with the investment policy statements laid out in the prospectus documents.

For those reasons, many of my client portfolios will typically include a “strategic income” fund of some sort for fixed income investors. This could be either an open end mutual fund, ETF or a unit investment trust (‘UIT’).

Such fund typically outperform over longer periods of time however you do run into the issue where generally speaking “strategic” = “junk bonds.” This applies to both taxable and tax free fixed income.

Where these funds are great however is that during flat or uncertain fixed income markets, by investing in go anywhere fixed income funds you are giving up that investment decision to the portfolio manager whom you believe has a better read on the market and more importantly is able to find those opportunities which neither you or I have access to as individuals.

Perhaps the most well known of such funds is the PIMCO Dynamic Credit Income Fund (PCI) which I wrote about in “PCI – Not For Me.” My issue with the fund was that as great as it is performance wise there is a very hefty price, the lack of transparency around certain aspects and the exceptionally high leverage and fees.

Another fund that fits this bill and sponsored by one of my favorite managers is the Guggenheim Strategic Opportunities Fund (GOF). While I have looked at it a number of times for myself, I have never written about it or invested in it myself for the simple reason that I do not buy CEFs at a premium.

I did have a number of readers ask me about the fund and that is why we are taking a deep dive into the fund today, particularly as it may be just the recipe for the uncertain fixed income markets of tomorrow.

Fund Basics

  • Sponsor: Guggenheim
  • Managers: Guggenheim Partners Investment Management, LLC
  • AUM: $ 619 million in investment exposure, $ 511 million common assets
  • Historical Style: Diversified Fixed Income, predominantly below investment grade
  • Investment Objectives: The Fund seeks high total return through investment in US Government and agency issued fixed income debt and senior equity securities, corporate bonds, mortgage and asset backed securities and through utilizing an options strategy
  • Number of Holdings: 377
  • Current Yield: 10.44% based on market price, monthly distributions
  • Inception Date: 7/27/2007
  • Fees: 1.8%
  • Discount to NAV: 8.78% PREMIUM

Sources: CEF Connect, Guggenheim Website, and YCharts.

The Sales Pitch

For whatever reason the fund does a horrendous job on its website and in its marketing material to set the case for investing in the fund.

On one hand, they do not need to as the fund only raises capital at its IPO or during follow up offerings but still…. why not put up a few graphics or paragraphs outlining why investors should consider it?

Since the fund fails to do that job, I will attempt to.

As I stated in the introduction, I am a fan of go anywhere investments, especially when they can give you uncorrelated investment exposure.

A Closed End Fund structure further lets the fund use leverage and due to its structure, management does not need to have money allocated to cash for any redemptions which occur with open end mutual funds.

The CEF structure also lets you, in most cases, to purchase funds below their net asset value further generating alpha. (Although this has generally not applied to GOF.)

In the fund’s semi-annual report the fund manager does point out that “thorough research and independent thought are rewarded with performance that has the potential to outperform benchmark indexes with both lower volatility and lower correlation of returns as compared to such benchmark indexes.” Source: GOF Semi-Annual Report

The Alpha/Fund Strategy

Unlike in an exchange traded or an open end index fund which follow an underlying index with their generally transparent index methodologies, no such things exist in go-anywhere, actively managed funds.

As such, investors generally rely on the information provided in the prospectus for the fund’s general investment guidelines.

As a true “strategic income” fund, the fund may invest without any limitations in fixed income securities rated below investment grade, aka junk bonds.

The fund may further invest up to 20% in non-US dollar denominated securities, including up to 10% in emerging markets.

What makes the fund relatively unique is that it may invest up to 50% in equities and up to 30% in fund of funds or pass through securities.

Source: GOF Website

The Portfolio

One of my personal attraction points to Guggenheim is their strong position in asset backed securities, particularly aerospace.

Even though this is an actively managed go-anywhere fund, it is not overly concentrated. The top 10 holdings make up just 7.98% of the fund.

Source: Guggenheim Website

Looking at the fund more broadly, even though it can allocate up to 50% to equities, the fund is currently 80% allocated to fixed income with just a bit over 15% allocated to common stocks.

Source: Guggenheim Website

Breaking it down further shows us that more than half of the fund is allocated to floating rate bank loans and ABS, or asset backed securities. In general, these are below investment grade.

Source: Guggenheim Website

High yield bonds add another 14% while investment grade corporate bonds are just under 5% of the fund.

This obviously shows up in the credit quality. More than 90% of the fund is either rated at or below BBB or not rated. More than 70% is either below investment grade or unrated.

Source: Guggenheim Website

Unfortunately due to the nature of the fund and the fund’s decision, Guggenheim does not publish some common statistics such as the average effective maturities and durations. From the transparency side this is a disservice to investors and I hope the sponsor changes it in the future.

The only reference to duration which I found was in the semi-annual report.

Source: GOF Semi-Annual Report

Guggeneheim does disclose that the fund had an average duration of about .7 years which is quite good. We do not however know whether that was leverage adjusted or not.

In either case, what this means is that for a 1% rise in interest rates, the fund’s NAV should be expected to decline by just .7%. If we have to adjust for leverage it would be closer to 1%.

The opposite is also true if interest rates decline.

Looking at the risk data we can find a 5 year beta of .997. This implies that the fund has essentially been as volatile as the underlying markets.

Source: YCharts

The maximum draw-down which the fund experienced was 54.69%, likely during the closed end fund sell off in 2007/2008 when the leverage markets dried up and funds were forced to liquidate.

Looking at the risk adjusted metrics, the fund has achieved a 10 year Sharpe ration of .7935 and a Sortino ratio of .6941. While these are not mind blowing… for a closed end fund of this nature it is quite good.

Leverage

Like most closed end funds, the Guggenheim Strategic Opportunities Fund(GOF) uses leverage.

The fund uses two primary methods for obtaining leverage.

First, the fund uses reverse repurchase agreements whereby it pledges its investments through transactions creating leverage.

As of November 2017, the fund had $ 58 million in reverse repurchase agreements with its syndicate of banks on which it paid an average weighted interest rate of 1.85%. These costs would be higher today.

Source: GOF Semi-Annual Report

The second source of leverage is a traditional credit facility with a lender.

GOF has an $ 80 million credit facility on which it pays a borrowing rate of .85% over 3 month LIBOR. On this line as of the end of November the fund had just $ 2 million outstanding as it had paid down the majority of the credit facility.

Source: GOF Semi-Annual Report

What is important to note here is that most of the CEF leverage which we have looked at is typically a spread of .7% to 1.2% over 1 Month LIBOR. In the case of GOF it is 3 month LIBOR which is a higher rate.

While generally this was a small spread, the gap is now close to .5%! As such, the fund’s current borrowing costs on this credit facility would be over 3%!

Chart

1-Month LIBOR based on US Dollar data by YCharts

Fortunately it seems that Guggenheim is employing some smart people to run the fund, namely Scott Minerd who has been quite critical of the markets. As such, the fund has been deleveraging as of late.

Source: GOF Semi-Annual Report

The Numbers

The fund is currently distributing a market price distribution yield of 10.44% and is trading at a PREMIUM of 8.78% to its NAV, or net asset value.

Source: CEF Connect

Over the previous year the fund has continued to trade at premiums although it did come very close to parity earlier this year.

Generally speaking, the Net Asset Value has failed to grow beyond its initial IPO even though there is a growth component. THIS IS QUITE CONSISTENT with the findings of the distribution analysis. A few good years bail out many bad years however there has not been meaningful growth.

Looking back over the fund’s lifetime, we can see the fund has generally traded at a premium over the previous 7 years or so however did trade at a discount in 2015/2016 and during the financial crisis when it was trading at close to 30% discounts to NAV. This is once again consistent with “junk bonds.”

Chart

Performance wise, year to date the fund has been sold off with most other CEFs. The fund is up a mere .21% on a total return basis accounting for the distribution. The price per share is down 3.27% while the NAV is down 3.04%.

Do note at the price vs NAV action early this year when the fund was thrown out and decreased 9%. This is a risk to buying a fund which is trading at a premium as any sustained sell off turns premiums into discounts, adding more misery to the underlying losses.

Chart

Over the previous year the fund did give investors a 10.28% total return. This came strictly from the distribution. The underlying price per share is down .6% while the net asset value fell 2.89%. Over distributed? AHA!

Chart

Over the last 3 years the story remains the same. The fund presented investors with a 36.17% total return while the price fell 2.9%. The underlying NAV declined 2.5%. A good 2016 bailed out the fund’s track record during this time.

Chart

Over the previous 5 years we have precisely the same story. The total return was all about the distribution. The underlying price per share declined 9.28% while the NAV declined 8.99%.

Chart

Going back 10 years would have you purchase the fund near the lows of the financial crisis. AS such, the fund has achieved phenomenal results. The fund would have a 270.8% total return (if reinvested). The price per share increased 24.11% while the NAV grew just 8.5%.

Chart

Since inception the numbers are not as good. The total return declines to 233.8% with a 4.38% price per share gain and an essentially flat NAV.

Chart

The moral of the story, the fund did a PHOENOMINAL job coming out of the financial crisis but it was quite volatile and since 2011 or so, has not grown its NAV in the greatest bull market yet.

Should have? Want signs of over distribution? Plain vanilla (AGG) and (MUB) grew their NAVs during this time.

Chart

To put the fund into perspective, we will take a look at the fund against a number of competing products, both levered and unlevered.

As far as “go anywhere” type funds, there are a number of competing closed end funds such as the BlackRock Multi-Sector Income (BIT), the PIMCO Dynamic Credit Income (PCI), and the DoubleLine Income Solutions (DSL) funds. PCI is managed by the PIMCO team and the DoubleLine fund is a representation of the famed Jeffrey Gundlach’s ideas.

I also wanted to take a look at how it does against a covered call fund such as the BlackRock Enhanced Global Dividend fund (BOE).

Lastly we can take a look at two unlevered open end funds, the Fidelity Strategic Income (FSTAX) and the PIMCO Total Return (PTTAX) funds.

Year to date on a total return basis we can see that generally speaking, GOF has lagged for most of the year and was actually the most impacted during the sell off in February. It has since rebounded and comes in the middle of the pack. For the year however (PCI) and (DSL) have been the best performers.

Chart

If we look over the last year we can see (GOF) has beat most of its peers coming in behind PCI. Interestingly (BIT) lead the way until the sell off this year. Also of note, even though also PIMCO managed, the open end Total Return Fund was the worst performer.

Chart

Over the last three years we have a similar story. PCI lead the way followed by GOF, DSL and BIT.

The equity focused BOE lags and is followed by the two open end funds which were quite stable. In either case, the Fidelity fund handily outperformed the PIMCO Total Return fund.

Chart

Looking back 5 years we essentially have PCI and GOF leading the way, followed by (BIT). The high performing DoubleLine fund however comes in at the bottom of the CEF pack simply due to its horrible performance in 2015.

Once again it shows the importance of risk management. It is not as import as to how much you make, and it is more important to focus on how much you DON’T LOSE!

Chart

This is ever so important for buy and hold investors.

To get a 10 year number we only have the (GOF) and (BOE) closed end funds along with our two open end funds. This is critical but we do not have any idea how (PCI), (BIT) and (DSL) would perform during a financial crisis.

As we can see, the two closed end funds were decimated during the crisis. While GOF recovered, BOE never did. In fact, the plain vanilla open end Fidelity income fund would provide better total returns than an equity CEF fund.

Chart

Overall, GOF has been a good fund especially if we consider that it has been generally less levered than its peers. More importantly from the risk management perspective the fund is leading the way in delevering while its peers are increasing their leverage to maintain the distribution level.

Bottom Line

Guggenheim is an experienced manager and if you want to capitalize on and follow Scott Minerd, (GOF) is a way to do so. Here is a good article on Scott Minerd’s recent thoughts.

From the pricing side, it is very tough for most closed end fund investors I know of to justify purchasing it today, or even keeping it if you already own it.

Over the previous year the fund traded at a premium to NAV of as low as .62% to as high as 11.33%.

Source: CEF Connect

As we can see, the current 8.78% premium to NAV is quite expensive over EVERY measured time period and the Z-Score solidifies that. The right time to buy it would have been earlier this year when it was trading at near parity.

Source: CEF Connect

Overall it is certainly a peculiar time for funds like GOF, PCI and DSL.

I think a great way of thinking about them is like dating a super model. Yes, they look really pretty and you have a great time dating and you get lots of envious looks. But are they the people you believe would end up being terrific soul mates to live together and raise a family?

GOF, PCI, DSL and other high yield junk bond funds have certainly become the “popular guy/gal” and people are paying premiums for them. At the same time, high quality funds and munis have been left at the alter.

Yes, they have performed exceptionally well in a terrific bull market for both fixed income and equities, but so did the housing market in the early 2000s.

The “crazy” part comes in where on one hand we see premium prices for those funds, yet the underlying fundamentals are either turning or completely falling apart such as the distribution coverage with GOF and others.

Of course, I once again have to remind, a distribution is not a dividend and you have to take an underlying look at how the fund is doing.

Bottom line, this is certainly a fund worth owning, but perhaps when the prices are quite a bit better and we have another opportunity to buy in ONCE the tornado comes through.

In the mean time, the BlackRock Multi-Sector Income Fund (BIT) will let you play in the same space at a far lower cost, a 10% discount versus an 8.78% premium and while I have not looked at it yet, the underlying distribution coverage can’t be as bad as (GOF)?

For more information on the fund, please visit the fund’s website at Guggenheim – GOF.

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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.

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Apple: Should You Be Worried?
April 12, 2018 6:10 pm|Comments (0)

As we approach Apple’s (AAPL) earnings report on May 1st, more and more negative news seems to be piling up. Data points suggest that a couple of key product categories are not doing well, and some are even questioning Apple’s capital return strategy. While I don’t think shareholders should be in all out panic mode just yet, I do think there are reasons to be a bit more cautious.

First of all, Apple’s fiscal Q2 report is the one time a year where management updates its capital return plan. This year, investors are expecting a lot considering US tax reform, repatriation, and the company’s plan to get to a cash neutral position in the future. While I’ll cover an expected dividend raise and buyback hike in the coming weeks, the bear camp seems to think that Apple will use a massive buyback to try to overshadow poor results. A buyback will help earnings per share, but if sales are struggling, some investors might wish the company made some acquisitions as well to help the top line.

Outside of the capital return update, I want to hear from Apple management if the battery replacement program is hurting iPhone sales. In my most recent article on the name, I discussed how one Street analyst discussed weak smartphone data out of China, and another analyst recently suggested that iPhone builds for later this year will be down quite a bit over last year:

Based on our channel checks with suppliers, we think current expectation for new iPhones production is ~80M–90M units for 2H18, below suppliers’ expectation of ~100-120M units for iPhone 8/X in early 2017.

After the bell on Wednesday, we also received the quarterly PC shipment estimate from IDC. As you can see in the table below, the research firm thinks that Apple’s sales were down almost 5% in calendar Q1, resulting in market share loss thanks to overall sales being almost flat. Apple also fell into 5th place for the fiscal Q2 period. While supporters will wait for official results from the company, I’ll note that last year’s Q1 estimate from IDC was nearly dead on to Apple’s result.

(Source: IDC article linked above)

Now I mentioned in a past Apple article that analyst estimates have been coming down, especially for the June quarter that we’ll get guidance for in a few weeks. Currently, analysts call for $ 52.31 billion in fiscal Q3 revenues, the lowest that I’ve seen and down nearly half a billion dollars in the past month. Reports of weak demand for the HomePod isn’t likely to help the situation.

Additionally, if I look at estimates for the March ending period to be reported, analysts are less than $ 200 million from Apple’s guidance midpoint. Don’t forget that guidance was weaker than expected to begin with. As the chart below shows, this is the second most bearish Street stance going into a report in the last two years. Dollar values are in billions, with the difference being the estimate compared to guidance midpoint.

*Current Street estimate, seen here. Guidance taken from quarterly reports on Apple’s financial information page.

While I still think Apple is a good long-term investment, there seems to be some concern building in the short term that could give investors some pause. IDC estimates that the company did not have a good PC sales quarter, and iPhone data might be coming in softer than expected. While an increase to the capital return plan will be nice, will it be enough to overcome potentially bad results?

As seen in the chart below, Apple has underperformed the Nasdaq so far this year, a trend that could continue if recent data points show growth is not coming in as hot as originally thought. Apple is less than 1% from its 50-day moving average, so if it breaks below that key level, it could trade down to the 200-day which by next week will likely be around $ 165.

(Source: Yahoo! Finance)

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: Investors are always reminded that before making any investment, you should do your own proper due diligence on any name directly or indirectly mentioned in this article. Investors should also consider seeking advice from a broker or financial adviser before making any investment decisions. Any material in this article should be considered general information, and not relied on as a formal investment recommendation.

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The Questions Zuckerberg Should Have Answered About Russia
April 12, 2018 6:00 am|Comments (0)

Over the last two days, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was questioned for more than 10 hours by two different Congressional committees. There was granular focus on privacy definitions and data collection, and quick footwork by Zuckerberg—backed by a phalanx of lawyers, consultants, and coaches—to craft a narrative that users “control” their data. (They don’t.) But the gaping hole at the center of both hearings was the virtual absence of questions on the tactics and purpose of Russian information operations conducted against Americans on Facebook during the 2016 elections.

Here are the five of the biggest questions about Russia that Zuckerberg wasn’t asked or didn’t answer—and why it’s important for Facebook to provide clear information on these issues.

1. What were the tools and tactics used by Russian entities to execute information operations against American citizens, and what were the narratives pursued?

In both hearings, in answering unrelated questions, Zuckerberg began to describe “large networks of fake accounts” established by Russian entities. In both instances, he was cut off. This was a significant missed opportunity to pull back the curtain on the mechanisms of Russian information operations against the American public.

The vast majority of information made available by Facebook—and the focus of questions in response—have been about ads and promoted content from Russian entities like the Internet Research Agency. In fact, this was not the primary means of distributing content, collecting information, identifying potential supporters, and promoting narratives. The main tool for this was fake accounts posting “native” content—plain old Facebook posts—building relationships with real users.

In Wednesday’s hearing before the House Energy & Commerce Committee, for example, Zuckerberg said that tens of thousands of fake accounts were taken down to prevent interference in elections in 2017, implying that this was mostly relating to Russia. But this wholesale removal of accounts obviously went way beyond the 740 accounts that have been identified as buying ads on behalf of the IRA. Zuckerberg focused only on ads bought by Russian accounts, not the regular Facebook posts that were so much more numerous. He testified that the Russian accounts were primarily using “issues ads”—aimed at influencing people’s views on issues rather than promoting specific candidates or political messaging. Asked about the content though, Zuckerberg said he had no specific knowledge.

In the indictment of the IRA, prosecutors highlighted the fact that the agency had used false IDs to verify false personas. So, while Facebook’s announcement that group pages will now require verification with a government ID and a physical address that can be validated, fake IDs and the use of US-registered shell corporations (a point raised by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse) can be used to bypass these security protocols—albeit with a much more significant expenditure of resources.

Zuckerberg said Facebook only identified Russian information operations being conducted on their platform right before the 2016 elections. But in his written testimony, he says they saw and addressed activity relating to Russian intelligence agencies earlier. And from 2014 onward, Facebook was made aware of the aggressive information campaigns being run against Ukraine by Russia.

It wasn’t an accident that Zuckerberg used the term “sophisticated adversaries” in his prepared statement. Facebook, more than anyone, has visibility into what Russia does and why it works. Apparently, no one was interested in hearing what he had to say.

2. What personal data does Facebook make available to the Russian state media monitoring agency Roskomnadzor or other Russian agencies? Is this only from accounts located in or operated from Russia, or does this include Facebook’s global data?

These questions were asked by former fighter pilot and Russia-hawk Rep. Adam Kinzinger—and answered evasively by Zuckerberg, who did not address the fact that the Russian government requires companies like Facebook to store their data in Russia precisely so they can access it (and that the Russians say that Facebook has agreed to comply). Very few companies—including Twitter and YouTube—have provided much transparency on what data they share with the Russian government. This is important because, depending on the scale, Russia doesn’t need to rely on data harvesters if they can just get it themselves. In another instance, a corporate partnership was formed with Uber to force data sharing.

This is also important because Zuckerberg expressed extreme skepticism about sharing data with the US government. Does he feel the same way about foreign entities? When law enforcement or intelligence agencies from more aggressive foreign governments ask for information, does Facebook comply? Is there any instance where they have complied with a foreign government request that they would deny the United States?

In both hearings, Zuckerberg was also asked if Russia or China scrape Facebook data, or used apps like the one used by Aleksandr Kogan, the data scientist who provided Facebook data to Cambridge Analytica. Zuckerberg responded that he didn’t have specific knowledge of that—but, as Rep. Jan Schakowsky pointed out, there were 9 million apps scraping data, so how can they possibly begin to know where the data and all its derivative copies went?

Zuckerberg called Chinese internet companies a “strategic and technological threat”—and whoever asked the question just moved on. This is a huge admission from one of the people best positioned to understand how AI and data tech can be weaponized by adversaries. Next time, maybe let the man talk about what he sees and the threats we are up against?

3. Did Facebook delete data related to Russian information operations conducted against American citizens? Will it agree to make this material available for researchers?

In the House hearing, there was one question relating to data preservation in connection to the Cambridge Analytica case. But not a single member asked if Facebook has preserved all of the data and content connected to Russian information operations conducted against American citizens, or whether that data and content would be made available to researchers or intelligence agencies for evaluation.

Many accounts have been pulled down and deleted, and while some of the advertising clients have been exposed, many of the fake accounts and false identities are not known to the public. It is vital that this information be analyzed by people who understand what the Russians were trying to achieve so we can evaluate how to limit computational propaganda from hostile entities and assess the impact these operations had on our population. Without this kind of analysis, we will never unravel the damage or build realistic defenses against these capabilities.

Zuckerberg got no questions about mitigating the psychological impact of these operations. There were no questions to about Facebook’s own internal research and evaluation of these tools and tactics. And no one asked what Facebook knows about their broader effectiveness or impact on the public.

4. What assistance do Facebook employees embedded with advertising clients provide? Did any Facebook employees provide support to the Internet Research Agency or any other business or agency in Russia targeting content to American citizens?

Facebook dodged a major bullet because this entire line of questioning was left unexplored. There was one question about Facebook employees embedded in 2016 political campaigns; largely Zuckerberg answered sideways. But there are extremely important questions to be raised about the way in which Facebook employees aided and enabled harvesters of data and the targeting of hostile information operations—not only against the American public, but in other countries as well.

If Facebook employees worked with the Russians to define more effective audience targeting, for example, then they had vastly more knowledge than they admit and are vastly more complicit. The same would be true if Facebook embeds were working with third parties like Cambridge Analytica and other companies that help governments and ruling parties target their oppositions and win elections. For example, Cambridge Analytica/SCL’s work in Africa shows how aggressively Facebook was used in elections. Did Facebook know? Were they involved? Do their employees have direct knowledge of or aid “black PR” and coercive psychological operations?

5. Does Facebook have copies of data uploaded to “custom audiences” by any Russian entity?

In many ways, the data will be the fingerprints of the investigations of the Russian operations in the 2016 elections. As part of Facebook’s “custom audiences” feature, you can upload datasets to target Facebook users. If there is overlapping targeting data or instances in which similar data was used by different advertising clients, you can show potential coordination between separate entities—for example, maybe the IRA and the NRA, or the dark money PACs running ads against Clinton. Does Facebook have any known Russian datasets from 2016 that could be compared to Cambridge Analytica and or Trump campaign data?

Senator Amy Klobuchar highlighted the fact that 126 million people saw IRA content and asked if these people overlapped with the 87 million who had their data scraped by Cambridge. Zuckerberg said it was “entirely possible” that they overlapped. If this can be documented, it would make it likely that the Cambridge Analytica data was used by the Russians and by the Trump campaign—and this would mean coordination between the two entities. The question then would be who knew about the shared data?

American privacy is important. But gaining a more expansive understanding of the information operations being targeted against our population by hostile foreign actors like Russia is also critical. In that respect, the Zuckerberg hearings were a huge missed opportunity. We do not have a lot of time to assess and evaluate what happened in 2016 before the 2018 elections are upon us. This is not merely a cybersecurity challenge; it’s not just about protecting voting machines or email servers. There is an information component that is not being addressed, and doing so gets harder when companies like Facebook are erasing and suppressing the data that can help us become more informed and help us develop a new kind of human-led deterrence that will prevent these campaigns from being as effective in the future.

Zuckerberg repeatedly referred to the idea of data “control” that was completely nonsensical to anybody who actually speaks English as a first language. We don’t control our data. Especially not when Facebook is aggressively harvesting data on everyone, not just their 2 billion users, and building internet access globally so they can get even more data. It doesn’t matter that Facebook isn’t “selling data”—an oft-repeated theme. They are using psychographics to profile you and selling advertisers access to the products of those algorithms. This is why there was evasion on questions about predictive profiling—the entire backend of adtech. Facebook knows it works. They use it every day—and they understand exactly how effective it can be for hostile actors like Russia.


Mr. Zuck Goes to Washington


Molly K. McKew (@MollyMcKew) is an expert on information warfare and the narrative architect at New Media Frontier. She advised Georgian President from 2009-2013 and former Moldovan Prime Minister Vlad Filat in 2014-15.

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