Prieur du Plessis put together an excellent roundtable discussion about the global economy, markets, equities, inflation, bonds, housing, gold, energy, etc.
I participated in this, along with John Mauldin of Millennium Wave Investments; Martin Barnes of BCA Research, and David Fuller of Stockcube Research.
That represents quite a few points on the globe: Prieur is located in South Africa, John in Texas, Martin is a Scot working in Canada, David in London, and myself in New York.
The full discussion can be found here.
Knights of the round table: mapping out the markets
Prieur du Plessis
June 28, 2007
The reviews for the iPhone are coming in, and they are breathless (see below).
Rather than add to the over-the-top-hype about the gorgeous little thing, I would rather think about what lessons can be drawn from its mere existence.
I believe there are quite a few practical things to be taken away from the development and marketing of this. An education is available to those companies, corporate mangements, engineers, inventors and investors who are paying attention:
1. Committees Suck: The old joke is that a Camel is a Horse designed by a committee. As we have seen all too often, what comes out of large corporations are bland-to-ugly items that (while functional and reliable) do not excite consumers.
When a company decides to break the committee mindset and give a great designer the reins, you get terrific products that sell well. The Chrysler 300 does not looks like it was designed by a corporate committee. Think of Chris Bangle’s vision for BMW — and its huge sales spike — and you can see what the upside is in having a visionary in charge of design.
Better pick a damned good one, though . . .
2. Present Interfaces Stink: How bad is the present Human Interface of most consumer items? Leaving the improving, but still too hard to use Windows aside for a moment, let’s consider the mobile phone market: It was so kludgy and ugly that the entire 100 million unit, multi-billion dollar industry now finds itself at risk of being completely bypassed, all because some geek from California wanted a cooler and easier to use phone.
What other industries may be at risk?
3. Industrial Design Matters: We have entered a period where industrial design is a significant element in consumer items. From the VW Bug to the iPod, good design can take a ho-hum ordinary product and turn it into a sales winner.
4. R&D is Paramount: While most of corporate America is slashing
R&D budgets (and buying back stock), the handful of companies who
have plowed cash back into R&D are the clear market leaders this
cycle: Think Apple, Google (Maps, Search), Toyota (Hybrid), Nintendo (Wii). A well designed, innovative product can create — or upend — an entire market. Even Microsoft did it with the X-box;
What other companies have the ability to disrupt an entire market?
5. Disdain for the Consumer can be Fatal: As we have seen with Dell, Home Depot, The Gap, Sears, etc., the consumer experience is more important than most corporate management seem to realize. Ignore the public at your peril.
What other lessons are there for companies in the business of designing products for consumers to use?
For the moment, let’s put the iPhone aside and answer the questions above: What markets, companies, products , segments are at risk due to their poor designs? (Use the comments to answer).
Note: Some of the commenters are missing the point of the post — this is about the business of creativity and innovation.
We are not looking for a discussion of Apple in general; Off topic comments will be unpublished.
"The housing market
has continued to deteriorate throughout the second quarter" and "the
supply of new and existing homes has continued to increase, resulting
in declining home prices across our markets.
As Lennar looks into the third quarter and the
rest of the year, it continues to see weak, and perhaps deteriorating,
market conditions’ and expects a third-quarter loss."
As the chart above shows, the S&P/Case-Shiller House Price Index fell the most it has in 6 years. Dropping 2.1% y/o/y, this is the index’ 4th consecutive down month. Home prices are still up 26.5% from 3 years ago, and 8.8% from 2 yrs ago.
CNN/Money reports that "While sales picked up from the early part of the year, they tumbled
15.8 percent from May 2006 – marking the 18th straight month of
This index differs from the pricing data from the Office of Fed’l Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO) in that it includes the homes in all price ranges — OFHEO pricing data only covers "conforming mortgages" which doesn’t include most of the upper end of the housing market.
Meanwhile, Home Inventory continues to rise: The WSJ reported the number of homes on the market "increased 5% in May, adding to a glut
in many parts of the country and threatening to push prices lower as
the housing market keeps tumbling."
This amounts to a 15 year high of home inventory. And, all this inventory is not going away anytime soon. At current sales levels, the annualized housing sales rate has slipped below 6 million — 5.99 — a four-year low.