How The Pandemic Changed The Rules of Personal Finance

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In the last half of last year, we heard a lot of talk (and we at NPR did a lot of talking) about the Great Resignation, aka the Big Quit. This was a trend that started right around the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and saw — anecdotally, at least — large numbers of people leaving their jobs voluntarily. There was some controversy about the Big Quit, not the least because some reporting on the trend made it sound as though many of these workers had decided to leave the labor force forever.

But the hard data — particularly here in the U.S. — suggests that in fact the labor force participation rate, which plunged at the beginning of 2020, recovered pretty quickly. That included workers close to retirement age. Which suggests that people weren’t actually quitting work altogether, but were, rather, just switching jobs — in many cases leaving jobs that paid well but required long hours, and finding jobs that perhaps paid less but gave them more control over their lives. In other words, it was less the Great Resignation and more the Great Reshuffle.

That’s certainly the conclusion that Jill Schlesinger reached. Schlesinger is a certified financial planner and a business analyst at CBS News. She’s also the author of a new book, The Great Money Reset, which draws on her experience talking with callers to her personal finance podcast, Jill on Money. Many of those callers were considering their own Big Quit, but they weren’t sure whether they could do it, or how to go about it.

Schlesinger says questions about switching jobs with a view to achieving better work-life balance aren’t unheard of in the personal finance world, but they became a lot more common during the pandemic. She describes herself as inundated. And she says that is the first in a number of big changes that she thinks will affect the personal finance world going forward.

“Amid the pandemic, people who called my show were seeking more control over their time and work conditions,” she says. “With the benefit of time and the quiet of the pandemic, many concluded that they want to work less or differently, enjoy more flexibility in their jobs, work at a less stressful job, or shift to a new career. They don’t necessarily wish to forgo the comforts of life, but they are willing to make at least some financial sacrifices in order to do it.”

It’s not only about the numbers

Financial sacrifice! That’s not a phrase you hear much in the personal finance world. That’s because, for the most part, personal finance specialists and planners are focused on increasing assets, with an eye on a long-term time horizon: retirement. In that world, the concept of financial sacrifice doesn’t really fit.

Schlesinger believes the pandemic has changed that because investors have been made acutely aware that they may not make it to retirement, and it’s a good idea to think about how to enjoy some of that money now. To factor that into the financial planning process, Schlesinger says, advisors are going to have to get to know their clients better.

“What’s hard for a lot of financial planners is they don’t like to get into the emotional stuff,” Schlesinger says. The best — and most expensive — planners do, of course: they see their clients as complex human beings, who have diverse needs and messy lives. Most of the financial services industry, however, is geared towards treating people as widgets that are expected to have a certain life span, punctuated by a specific retirement point.

There’s not much room for the human factor there. Schlesinger says good financial planners were already turning against that approach before the pandemic hit. “They realize that you cannot just hand a client a list and say, please populate the assets, liabilities, income expenses,” Schlesinger says. “You actually have to learn about who they are. And I think that the pandemic has accelerated that trend.”

The reserve fund is the most important thing

Schlesinger says that before the pandemic, she would give people some pretty standard advice about their money. She would start by telling them about the three mainstays of personal finance.

“I would say to people, you’re just starting out. Here’s what you have to do: You need an emergency reserve fund, you need to pay off your debt, and you need to try to put money into retirement. And I would often give those things equal weight.”

People saw the wisdom of paying off debt and saving for retirement, of course. The emergency reserve fund? That was a harder sell.

“People would yell at me and say, ‘How can you tell people to keep six to 12 months of their living expenses in an account that’s paying no interest?’ Because remember during the pandemic and early days, it really was 0% interest,” she says. But the pandemic underlined the importance of having some kind of cash cushion. “The people I spoke to who had emergency reserves, had funds that they could tap into, went through the pandemic in a very different way than people who were relying on stimulus checks and extended unemployment benefits.”

Now, she says, she still touts the three mainstays, but today the emergency fund gets much more attention. And not just from her. “I think post pandemic, more people understand that having an emergency reserve fund — having access to money that you can rely on — has become number one, two, and three.”

Everyone wants to talk about estate planning now

For most financial planners, the hardest part of conversations is talking about the end game. People are happy to discuss retirement all day long. After all, they’re anticipating a good time, when they can travel, or see family, and do all the things they’ve put off doing for forty years. But talking about what happens to their money and their assets when they die? No one ever wanted to talk about that before the pandemic.

They do now.

“I no longer have to fight with people about getting estate planning,” Schlesinger says. “It’s been a fascinating shift.”

Schlesinger says COVID-19 put end-of-life considerations onto the front burner for a lot of people. She heard an especially painful story from one caller, who told her about a blowup over a family business. “Someone died and there was a small business involved and there was no instruction. Like, ‘what are we doing with this business? Well, dad would’ve wanted us to keep it, but mom really needs the money.'”

A family fight erupted because the parent who died left no instructions. Presumably not what the parent had wanted to leave as their legacy. And certainly not what the grieving relatives wanted to go through.

“Everybody knows somebody who has a terrible estate story,” Schlesinger says. The upside is that those people paid attention to those stories. Now they want to discuss estate planning. But those are tough conversations that force people to make hard choices, and the challenge now, Schlesinger says, is actually getting her clients to put those plans in place.

The triggers have changed

It wasn’t unheard of for people to make big changes in their lives before the pandemic, of course, but Schlesinger says it wasn’t particularly common. Most people had a career and predictable trajectory to retirement that they did their best to stick to. There were usually only a handful of life events that could shift people from that trajectory. Divorce and death were the big ones, she says, but the pandemic brought a lot more triggers to the fore: Mental health; adverse work events; isolation.

“You’re living this very bare, stripped down life, and you’re with your thoughts, and you’re hearing about terrible things and it’s really scary,” she says, noting that in that context, suddenly a lot of the decisions we made in order to reach a faraway financial goal didn’t seem to make sense. “And maybe that’s the moment you say, ‘why do I live a thousand miles away from my parents? Why have I chosen to work so hard that actually I’m not sure I really like my job; but I know I really love my kids, and I don’t really think I want to work this way anymore.'”

The big barrier to making change — even when it seems the obvious choice — is fear. But the way Schlesinger sees it, the pandemic forced change on a large number of people. And they had to face those fears.

“I just was so overwhelmed by the number of people who were fearful. But who, once that fear started to dissipate, really saw opportunity amid all this chaos. And I’m not talking about market opportunity, I’m talking about life opportunity. What is it that I really think I wanna do?”

She says personal finance specialists and financial planners are going to need to come to terms with the fact that, in a weird way, the pandemic made people feel they needed to take control over their lives in a more active way, and to advocate for their more immediate needs and wants. Now it’s okay to look at your career goals and your financial plans for retirement and all the rest of it and say … What about me? Where does my in-the-moment happiness fit into this?

Schlesinger has made big, bold shifts in her own life in the past: she gave up a lucrative financial planning career to become a writer, journalist, and podcaster — so she knows what’s at stake. But it was the experience of a friend of hers, Maureen, that really brought home to her the importance of understanding what the real motivations are for making changes in your life. And how to respond to them.

“Maureen was diagnosed with a very deadly cancer and she had a four month horrible illness and died on November 30th,” Schlesinger says. “Everyone has a momentous event that shakes up your life. Everybody does. And you feel the stress. You feel emotions I think even in myself as I went through that event with her, my own ability to understand how the choices we make matter, was amplified. And what I can tell you is that when you have the ability to plan in advance and use that to open up pathways for yourself, it’s really beneficial.”

Lighten up a little

Wild investing strategies have been around for as long as markets have existed, but the pandemic coincided with some of the craziest, including the meme stock explosion and the crypto craze. Schlesinger thinks this had much to do with people being locked down, without much to do, while there was a lot of money sloshing around the system.

“When I say a lot of money sloshing around the system, remember that we had trillions of dollars of excess savings that built up. Mostly that came from the upper, highest net worth people, but a lot of people were knowledge workers working at home who got stimulus checks and had a lot of time to futz around and had a few bucks in their accounts.”

She says the communities that fueled this kind of trading weren’t new, but they exploded during the pandemic, and they will likely diminish once COVID and its variants recede. But they won’t go away. And that’s okay. It’s even okay to spend some time on your choice of subreddit and surf the occasional meme stock or crypto asset wave. So long as you do it responsibly.

“I’m not constitutionally against people taking flyers,” Schlesinger says. “I mean, have fun, but don’t have fun and risk the farm. Have fun and say, ‘All right, I put 5% of my total investments in some crazy stuff. That’s fun.'”

In other words, personal finance doesn’t have to be all asset allocation, income optimization, estate planning and taxes. It can be fun too — if you choose. That’s a new rule that everyone can get down with. Jill Schlesinger’s new book is The Great Money Reset. It’s out now.

By: Paddy Hirsch

Source: How the pandemic changed the rules of personal finance : Planet Money : NPR

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20 Great Stock Ideas For 2023 From Top-Performing Fund Managers

2022 was a terrible year for stocks. The S&P 500 has lost 20%, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is down nearly 10% and the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite plummeted more than 30%. Blame it on raging inflation, a hawkish Federal Reserve, the War in Ukraine or a looming global recession.

Given that the days of just buying the S&P 500 or some other broad index fund to garner double digit returns appear to be in the rearview mirror, experts believe it is now a so-called “stock pickers market.”

With that, Forbes tapped Morningstar to identify top-performing fund managers who have either beat their benchmarks this year or on a longer-term basis over three-year, five-year or ten-year periods. Here are their best stock ideas for the coming year.

*Stock prices and fund returns are as of 12/23/2022

Charles Lemonides

ValueWorks Ltd. Partners Long-Biased: Long-term strategy that finds disparities between a company’s underlying assets and security price.

2022 return: 39.4%, 5-year average annual return: 23.9%

Chord Energy (CHRD)

Market Capitalization: $5.5 billion

12-Month Revenues: $3.2 billion

Lemonides likes Chord Energy, which he calls ideal for a bumpy period in markets as it is a “defensive play with huge cash generation” that is selling at an “exceedingly attractive valuation.” The company owns nearly one million net acres of drilling rights, formed in July after the successful merger of Oasis and Whiting Petroleum. Both had previously spent billions of dollars building resources in the Permian Basin—so during the pandemic, many fund managers like Lemonides bought up the distressed debt in the two companies for cents on the dollar.

While Chord Energy currently has a $5.6 billion market cap, both Oasis and Whiting each had valuations far above that at their last peak five years ago, he points out. “Back then oil prices were roughly $80 per barrel, and today they’re basically around that,” Lemonides says, noting the two recently merged enterprises are “producing far more oil today than they were back then.” He also likes the fact that Chord Energy is “very shareholder friendly,” returning the great bulk of its more than $1 billion in free cash flow during the last year and a half to shareholders in the form of stock buybacks or dividends: “That’s cash money in shareholders’ pockets.”

Air Lease (AL)

Market Capitalization: $4.1 billion

12-Month Revenues: $2.3 billion

Lemonides is also a fan of Air Lease, which purchases commercial aircraft and leases them to airline customers worldwide. “The industry has gone through as tumultuous an experience as one can imagine with the pandemic, but Air Lease has basically been financially healthy through the other side of that,” he says. “While some airlines have struggled, the industry seems to be on the mend in a powerful way globally.”

Though the company has some debt, with travel rebounding and many planes at capacity, Air Lease is poised to benefit from its pricing flexibility and huge fleet of aircraft. “You’re paying for equity at a $4 billion market cap, but they own roughly $30 billion worth of aircraft that are probably continuing to appreciate in value annually,” even during inflationary environments, Lemonides describes.

“Airplanes always went up in value during my experience in the 80’s and 90’s,” he says. At current valuation levels—with shares down 17% in 2022, “it just doesn’t make a lot of sense not to buy.”

James Davolos

Kinetics Small-Cap Opportunities Fund:

Concentrated portfolio of small- to mid-sized growth companies.

2022 return: 34.7%, 5-year average annual return: 21.9%

CACI International (CACI)

Market Capitalization: $7.1 billion

12-Month Revenues: $6.3 billion

A long-time holding which the fund has owned for more than 10 years, Davolos highlights “defense technology” company CACI International, which he thinks covers “all the right niches that are relevant for national security.” Unlike Lockheed Martin or Northrop Grumman, which manufacture missiles and planes, CACI specializes in battlefield communications, encryption and cybersecurity.

“Given the modern form of warfare, these areas have much higher secular growth than capital goods-focused defense companies,” Davolos says. “But the market still treats it like a traditional defense contractor, with its fortunes heavily intertwined with defense budgets and the hawkishness of the current administration.”

Despite a slowing economy with interest rates staying high, most of CACI’s revenue comes from somewhere within the Department of Defense ecosystem, he describes, adding that government contracts are much less sensitive to inflation or an economic slowdown. Even after rising 9% in 2022, shares of the company “remain cheap on an absolute basis”—especially when compared with more traditional defense contractors with heavy capital expenditures.

Permian Basin Royalty Trust (PBT)

Market Capitalization: $1.1 billion

12-Month Revenues: $42 million

Shares of Permian Basin Royalty Trust, which have risen 116% this year, could be poised for further upside in 2023, according to Davolos. The trust itself is a passive royalty on the Waddell Ranch, the lease on which was bought by a private company Blackbeard Operating just over two years ago. The small-cap operator has made some exciting strides improving old wells by injecting fluid or carbon dioxide—and though relatively cheap per well, those costs have obscured the dividend, leading to a retail selloff in the stock.

Once Blackbeard’s capital expenditures taper off, however, “the stock could easily be distributing a dividend of $3 to $4 per share next year,” Davolos predicts. “You’re not just betting on capital expenditures rolling over and higher energy prices—Blakckbeard is also ramping up production in these wells significantly,” which will also pay off, he describes. The fund initiated a position in mid-2020, using the collapse in energy prices brought on by the pandemic as an opportunity to buy up shares on the cheap.

“If you underwrite an assumption of higher oil and gas prices next year, which we think is going to happen, the dividend will rerate materially—especially as these new wells come online,” Davolos adds.

Kimball Brooker

First Eagle Global Fund: Wide-ranging portfolio of mid- to large-sized growth and value companies, with hedges for volatility.

2022 return: -8%, 10-year average annual return: 6.2%

HCA Healthcare (HCA)

Market Capitalization: $67.8 billion

12-Month Revenues : $59.8 billion

Brooker likes HCA Healthcare—the largest hospital company in the United States, with more than 180 sites of care–because it has “developed a market share big enough so they can use scale to create the best facilities around.” A for-profit operator that is one of the nation’s leading providers of healthcare services, shares of HCA are down nearly 7% in 2022.

The fund has owned the stock since early 2018, when shares tanked after an earnings warning related to margin compression. HCA’s top line was hard-hit during the pandemic, both by hospital patients delaying visits or elective surgeries as well as by wage inflation for in-demand nurses, though both of those concerns have been gradually resolving, Brooker describes.

While the stock has struggled as a result, he says that HCA will be able to eventually pass price increases on to consumers, not to mention continue to generate “robust cash flows” as hospital visits continue to tick up. What’s more, unlike most hospitals–which are not-for-profit–the company is able to reinvest significant cash to upgrade facilities and thereby attract better doctors and improve patient outcomes, Brooker adds.

Comcast (CMCSA)

Market Capitalization: $153 billion

12-Month Revenues: $121 billion

A longtime and currently top-10 holding of the fund, Comcast may appear to have a mountain of debt—roughly $90 billion at the end of September. “In reality, the company has used these years of low rates to take advantage of reasonably cheap financing,” with a weighted average maturity in 2037 and weighted average coupon of around 3.5%, Brooker describes.

“These aren’t particularly scary credit metrics.” He still likes Comcast, shares of which have fallen 32% this year, because of its under-the-radar dividend, which has consistently grown over the past decade and now yields just over 3%. He describes the company as a “durable, sensibly run business” with solid free cash flow, mainly focused on broadband cable but also with elements of diversification with content streaming and theme parks.

“Comcast has a high-quality problem—market share is so high that subscriber growth is harder to get, but at the same time pricing can be used as a potential lever, so it really is a double-edged sword.” One potential catalyst to watch for in the next few years: Comcast’s roughly 33% stake in Hulu, which has an upcoming put option allowing the company to sell to Disney. “At a minimum total valuation of around $27 billion for Hulu, that could result in roughly $9 billion for Comcast,” Brooker points out.

Thomas Huber

T. Rowe Price Dividend Growth Fund: Blend of large-cap companies with a focus on dividend growers.

2022 return: -11.2%, 10-year average annual return: 12.6%

Becton Dickinson (BDX BDX )

Market Capitalization: $71.5 billion

12-Month Revenues: $19.4 billion

Huber likes BD, which he calls a “good defensive growth company” that has reasonable earnings visibility. The fund has owned the stock for a number of years, but it has struggled with disappointing margins and an FDA recall on its Alaris infusion pump last year. Still, “the worst is behind it,” says Huber, who points out that the company has “gotten its act together” with good new product flow, a healthy cost management program, some small M&A deals and steadily improving margins.

The relaunch of BD’s Alaris pump is still a wild card and probably won’t happen until at least 2024, but that has helped boost sentiment, he describes. “There is good money to be made in companies as they improve and come out of a troubled period, whether it is self-inflicted or market driven,” Huber says.

What’s more, while BD’s dividend yield of around 1.5% is by no means huge, it is raising it steadily over time, which is “a sign of a healthy, consistently growing business,” he adds. “All of that is important in a world where rates are rising and growth is slowing.”

Philip Morris International (PM)

Market Capitalization: $156 billion

12-Month Revenues: $31.7 billion

A holding of the fund since 2008, Philip Morris International is a “stock where you’re paid to wait” thanks to a 5% dividend yield, according to Huber. He thinks the tobacco company is “nicely set up as we go into next year;” While Philip Morris took a hit from the strong U.S. dollar earlier in 2022, the currency has since weakened, which could be a big headwind abating, Huber says.

He is a big fan of the main product, the iQOS, a device, which uses heat rather than burn technology to consume tobacco. In addition to being a healthier alternative to regular cigarettes, the reduced risk product (RRP) category has higher margins than the core traditional tobacco business. “Philip Morris has invested heavily—roughly $9 billion in this category—and is now well ahead of the competition,” Huber says, adding that the company boasts “an enormous first-mover advantage.”

It recently acquired Swedish Match, a smaller, multinational tobacco company that crucially gives Philip Morris a distribution line for iQOS in the United States. While former parent Altria doesn’t want to cannibalize its own tobacco business domestically, Philip Morris paid several billion to break the existing agreement between the two companies, now paving the way for a launch in U.S. markets that could be as soon as 2023 or 2024, Huber describes. “That obviously has positive implications for the company and the stock.”

Christopher Marangi

The Gabelli Value 25 Fund: Portfolio of companies selling below private market value, with 25 core equity positions.

2022 return: -17.3%, 10-year average annual return: 5.3%

Liberty Media Series C Liberty Braves Common Stock (BATRK)

Market Capitalization: $1.7 billion

12-Month Revenues: $637 million

Marangi highlights this tracker stock, up 12% this year, which owns the Atlanta Braves baseball team as well as the real estate development rights around its ballpark. “By buying the stock at market today, you’re buying equity in the Braves at a roughly $1.5 billion valuation,” he describes, adding, “the New York Mets sold for $2.4 billion during Covid—and the Braves generate much more revenue.”

Though there is roughly $400 million in debt on the franchise, Marangi thinks that if sold, the Braves could garner a valuation nearing $3 billion. Sports franchises tend to trade as a multiple of revenue, but there has been “no slowdown in the public’s appetite for live entertainment post-pandemic,” he points out.

One catalyst to watch: Parent company Liberty Media, which also owns Formula One, announced in November that it would spin off the Braves into a separate asset. “Once that happens, it’s likely the team could get sold to a private buyer,” Marangi theorizes. “Sports franchises in general have been excellent stores of value, whether in an inflationary or deflationary environment.”

Dish Network (DISH)

Market Capitalization: $7.3 billion

12-Month Revenues: $17.1 billion

Despite a nearly 58% decline in Dish Network shares in 2022, Marangi has high hopes for the satellite TV and wireless services provider next year, having owned the stock for decades. “Communication services has been the worst-performing sector in the S&P 500 for a lot of reasons—both secular and cyclical,” he describes. “Still, there is a tremendous amount of asset value in the stock today.”

He calls the company’s traditional satellite video business a “melting ice cube,” as it has taken a hit from cord-cutting, though it still generates large amounts of free cash flow. Marangi is particularly excited about the company’s wireless-network business: Dish has been spending tens of billions to acquire spectrum licenses across the country as it builds out a 5G network.

“The market is only pricing in a fraction of the value of those licenses,” he argues, with large upside potential for earnings to recover as the company eventually monetizes its investment. “This brand-new network won’t be held back by 4G subscribers who have to transition to 5G,” Marangi says, adding, “Dish can also be aggressive with pricing” as it competes with incumbent providers. Another area to watch for is a potential merger with DirecTV, which could “extend the life and cash flow” of both companies’ traditional video business, he predicts.

Eric Schoenstein

Jensen Quality Growth Fund: Portfolio of 30 large-cap growth companies.

2022 return: -17.4%, 10-year average annual return: 13.1%

TJX (TJX)

Market Capitalization: $90 billion

12-Month Revenues: $49.3 billion

A 10-year holding, off-price department store corporation TJX operates brands like T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods, with nearly 4,700 stores across nine countries and three continents. Schoenstein sees potential for the stock next year, calling it “relatively resilient, with defensive characteristics and a strong correlation to consumer spending” that can help its business withstand a slowing economy in 2023.

“As people have less money to spend, consumers will be more thoughtful about how they spend—and TJX plays a valuable role from that perspective,” he describes. A big selling point of TJX is its great deals, and thanks to prices that are low relative to peers, that helps drive customer loyalty, according to Schoenstein.

Amid an environment where consumers are facing higher rents, mortgages and home-ownership costs, TJX stands to benefit from the subsequent “trade-down effect” and “bargain theory” as consumers cut back spending. The stock has outperformed the market in 2022—not to mention many other retailers–rising nearly 3%.

UnitedHealth Group (UNH)

Market Capitalization: $491.3 billion

12-Month Revenues: $313.1 billion

Another of Schoenstein’s top picks is Minnesota-based UnitedHealth Group, the largest managed-healthcare and insurance company in the country, serving roughly 149 million people. In a slowing economic environment, not only is UnitedHealth a defensive play—with shares rising roughly 3.5% this year, but also “a growth company at the same time,” he describes, calling it “a long-term opportunity, albeit one that has generated some nice returns for us in an otherwise challenging year.”

Now a top five holding in the fund, Schoenstein admires the company’s resilient business model and ability to generate substantial cash flow—with stable earnings growth to limit volatility in the stock, he argues. “That is something that will be much more relevant in 2023, compared to the past where momentum was the play of the day.” UnitedHealth has managed through bumpy periods before, he points out, not to mention the company has grown, giving it the ability to scale up or down depending on the economic backdrop.

While the stock is susceptible to news of potential government regulation in the healthcare sector, “that particular threat seems to have died down somewhat,” with further upside ahead as more people get access to insurance and Medicaid programs around the country, according to Schoenstein.

Kenneth Kuhrt

Ariel Fund: Flagship value fund, primarily focused on small- to mid-sized companies.

2022 return: -19.9%, 10-year average annual return: 10.1%

Royal Caribbean Cruises (RCL)

Market Capitalization: $12.5 billion

12-Month Revenues: $7.2 billion

The Ariel Fund has owned shares of Royal Caribbean Cruises, the number two player in the cruise line industry, for roughly 15 years. Like the other major cruise operators, Royal Caribbean struggled as pandemic lockdowns effectively crippled the industry with fleets under extended no-sail orders.

Still, the company is “frequently misunderstood in terms of the stability of the business model,” argues Kuhrt, adding, “not many companies can be shut down for a year and a half then survive and prosper on the other side of that.” Markets continue to take a very short-term outlook on the cruise industry in general, with investors growing fearful of headlines relating to everything from energy prices to geopolitics, he describes.

“We’re surprised the market isn’t giving Royal Caribbean more credit for their recent earnings guidance and business ramp up.” Despite a 37% drop in the stock this year, Kuhrt points to “significant upside” ahead, especially as management aims for double-digit earnings power by 2025. He also emphasizes that on a comparable basis, cruise pricing is now above pre-pandemic levels, while occupancy rates have also rebounded significantly. “A big part of the story is customer retention,” he says. “The cruise line industry is connected to and understands its customer base better than we’ve ever seen before.”

Zebra Technologies (ZBRA)

Market Capitalization: $12.6 billion

12-Month Revenues: $5.7 billion

This market leader in enterprise asset intelligence, which focuses on bar-code scanning and inventory tracking technology, trades at a “significant discount to its underlying intrinsic value,” Kuhrt says. Zebra Technologies’ large customers include Amazon, Target and many others spanning a range of sectors including retail, manufacturing, healthcare and transportation. While the stock was at $600 per share just one year ago, it has suffered a big dislocation–now down to $250and has undergone multiple compression because of its ties to the technology sector.

Still, investors are underestimating the fundamental earnings power of the business, Kuhrt describes: “Decades ago, the business model revolved around just scanning a barcode; Now, the complexity of logistics and tracking assets is ever increasing.” He is particularly optimistic about some of Zebra’s newer technologies, such as radio-frequency identification (RFID), which uses electromagnetic fields to track and identify different objects in transit. In the nearly 10 years that the fund has owned Zebra’s stock, the company has “continued to adapt and grow” and will continue to do so, despite Wall Street’s concerns about an economic slowdown, Kuhrt argues.

Amy Zhang

Alger Mid-Cap Focus Fund: Focused portfolio of around 50 mid-size companies.

2022 return: -36%, Average annual return since inception (2019): 9.1%

Waste Connections (WCN)

Market Capitalization: $34.3 billion

12-Month Revenues: $7 billion

Zhang likes this Woodlands, Texas-based waste collection, disposal and recycling company, which she calls a “defensive business that would be resilient in a slowing economic environment.” Waste Connections, shares of which are down just 1% in 2022, serves millions of customers across the United States and Canada—with a focus on exclusive and secondary markets that helps guarantee “durable revenue growth.”

Zhang notes that in a business less focused on volume growth and more concerned with pricing, Waste Connections has a strong track record of industry-leading margins and cash flow. Waste management is a stable, defensive business that typically does well during recessions, Zhang points out. Thanks to the company’s pricing power and “superior market selection strategy,” she thinks Waste Connections will be “even more resilient than its peers” going into next year.

Zhang expects margins to improve in 2023 as inflation headwinds dissipate, while also emphasizing that the company could “continue to be an M&A flywheel” if it keeps making smart acquisitions to shore up market share.

Insulet (PODD)

Market Capitalization: $20.7 billion

12-Month Revenues: $1.2 billion

Zhang is also excited about “long-term compounder” Insulet, a medical device company focused on treating diabetes patients through its body-worn Omnipod insulin pump. One of the fund’s top 10 positions, shares have risen nearly 10% this year, outperforming peers in the medtech sector. Beyond the classic Omnipod and Omnipod Dash DASH insulin management systems, Insulet’s sales have gotten a massive boost this year thanks to the company’s newest device, the Omnipod 5 automated delivery system, which received FDA clearance in early 2022 with a full U.S. launch in late summer.

Zhang calls it a “revolutionary new product,” as it is the first tubeless, automated insulin delivery system on the market. “With many diabetes patients still using tube-based pumps or administering injections, Omnipod has a clear advantage to both alternatives,” she says, adding, “it’s been gaining significant market share and has huge potential market penetration.” Insulet’s “high revenue visibility and predictability,” especially with further adoption of the Omnipod 5 next year, makes this a “recession-resilient stock” that is “particularly appealing in an economic slowdown.”

Nancy Zevenbergen

Zevenbergen Growth Fund: Mostly large-cap consumer and tech companies.

2022 return: -52%, 5-year average annual return: 7%

DoubleVerify (DV)

Market Capitalization: $3.6 billion

12-Month Revenues: $424 million

Zevenbergen likes DoubleVerify, a small-cap software company focused on providing verification and safety for digital brand advertising. DoubleVerify’s technology helps brands and publishers with viewability, by detecting fraud and by protecting brand safety. Zevenbergen’s fund has owned the stock since its IPO in April 2021, but despite being profitable with top-line growth, shares have declined over 30% this year and are now trading below their initial share offering price of $27.

DoubleVerify has seen a major market correction this year, but within that there is a major opportunity,” says Zevenbergen. Though overall ad spending could go down during an economic slowdown, markets are also “incredibly concerned about brand safety with advertising,” she adds. “This kind of ad spend should preclude the fear of a recession.” Zevernbergen also sees further opportunities as new entrants beyond social media platforms, such as Netflix, enter digital advertising. “Risk of fraud or poor content placement makes DoubleVerify’s insurance very important… advertisers are going to want to have brand safety.”

Bill.com Holding (BILL)

Market Capitalization: $11 billion

12-Month Revenues: $753.5 million

Another of Zevenbergen’s stock picks for 2023 is $11 billion (market cap) cloud-based software fintech Bill.com, which assists small businesses on accounts payable and receivable. Bill.com helps smooth out back-office payments and could benefit as they move money in a rising-rate environment.

After a 54% drop in share price this year due to macroeconomic headwinds, the founder-led company could present an “incredible opportunity” at an attractive valuation thanks to its high-growth and profitability, Zevenbergen describes, adding, “all the negatives have been priced into the stock.” The company is well-positioned, compared with its peers:

“Being able to digitize or substitute software for labor—a tight resource these days—will be a spend that you want to make,” she says. “Competition from fintech startups is also likely to erode slightly because money isn’t free anymore.” While Bill.com’s payment volume has fallen slightly due to a more challenging economic environment, that has been offset by pricing power and new-customer momentum.

Kirsty Gibson

Baillie Gifford U.S. Equity Growth Fund: Concentrated portfolio of growth companies.

2022 return: -53.5%, 5-year average annual return: 7.2%

Duolingo (DUOL)

Market Capitalization: $2.9 billion

12-Month Revenues: $338.7 million

One of the fund’s more recent additions—from the company’s July 2021 IPO—is education tech company Duolingo, known for its app that teaches languages. Shares of the company have fallen roughly 30% this year, and while Duolingo has fallen victim to the collective selloff in growth stocks, “not all growth companies are alike,” Gibson describes. The edtech company has shown promising trends—reporting five consecutive quarters of accelerating user growth, with revenue in the latest quarter rising roughly 50% year over year..

The app, which boasts roughly 15 million daily users, offers entirely free language courses in the form of missions that are unlocked in sequence–with different lessons that are dynamic and adaptively constructed to each individual learner. “One of the hardest parts of learning a new language is staying motivated to keep studying–particularly if you’re not living in that country,” she adds. “Duolingo has taken a gamification approach to overcome this.”

Since the app is free to use, the company has been able to grow organically with relatively low marketing outlays, allowing more cash for product development. Gibson predicts that it will be difficult for potential competitors to come in and disrupt Duolingo’s “great product,” not to mention that the company has room for growth in the form of new products and paid subscriptions that allow users to bypass ads.

Shopify (SHOP)

Market Capitalization: $43.6 billion

12-Month Revenues: $5.2 billion

The fifth-largest holding in Baillie Gifford’s U.S. Equity Growth fund is Canadian e-commerce giant Shopify, shares of which have tanked more than 70% in 2022. “The company is looking to be the central nervous system that powers millions of businesses around the world,” Gibson describes. While Shopify’s stock was “very much a pandemic darling,” it has since seen a significant price decline as companies that are taking losses for future growth have been pulled down by market sentiment, she adds, describing the business as “discretionarily unprofitable” in that it is choosing to invest in new areas for the long run at the expense of short-term margins.

Gibson also likes what she describes as exciting changes such as the company moving into enterprise markets and launching Shopify Audiences, a premium tool that helps businesses find new customers through focused digital advertising on different platforms like Facebook or Google. “We believe we will continue to see Shopify’s ability to adapt and be resilient in this current environment,” she summarizes.

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Send me a secure tip.

I am a staff writer at Forbes covering wealth management, money and markets. Previously, I worked on the breaking news and wealth teams at Forbes, covering the stock market..

Source: 20 Great Stock Ideas For 2023 From Top-Performing Fund Managers

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Why Amazon Web Services Is Making The Leap Into Supply Chain Management

 Photo: Getty Images

For entrepreneurs still feeling the sting of global supply chain turbulence, there is a new tool coming to market. Amazon Web Services is delving into supply chain management with a new cloud-based application to help businesses manage their inventory and coordinate their networks of manufacturers, suppliers, distribution facilities, and transportation providers.

The machine learning-powered software, which is now available in preview, offers a real-time visual map of a company’s entire supply chain network and aggregates data from other enterprise applications and suppliers into a single system. Based on that information, the application offers automated alerts and recommendations about inventory rebalancing, lead times, and potential risks, such as backlogs or stocks that are running low.

AWS CEO Adam Selipsky announced AWS Supply Chain during the AWS re:Invent conference in Las Vegas last week. “The past two years have highlighted the importance of supply chain resilience. From baby formula shortages to ships circling ports unable to unload, the disruptions have been widespread and deeply felt,” said Selipsky during his keynote speech. “AWS Supply Chain helps you mitigate risks and lower costs.”

While congestion in the global supply chain has improved from the worst levels seen during the height of the pandemic, managing logistics remains a pressing problem facing entrepreneurs. In November, the global supply chain pressure index increased for the second straight month. The New York Federal Reserve, which calculates the measure, said that China was the biggest contributing factor.

You may like to Read: The Ultimate Guide to Supply Chain Management and How Your Business Will Gain From It

The manufacturing superpower, which produces nearly 30 percent of products worldwide, spent much of the past month under strict Covid-19 lockdowns, and that nationwide halt has slowed the global supply chain’s march back to normal. Small-business owners have felt the impact. Nearly a third of business owners report that supply chain disruptions have had a significant impact on their business, according to the most recent monthly report from the National Federation of Independent Business.

Of those surveyed, only one out of 10 said that their business had not been impacted by recent supply chain disruptions. Fixing that pain point has become a major opportunity for the B2B market, and AWS is not the first company to make a leap into the sector. Logistics and supply chain management grew into a $20.24 billion industry this year, according to the research and consulting firm Gartner–making it the fastest-growing market within enterprise software applications.

Even Selipsky’s rollout at the AWS re:Invent conference came less than a month after Microsoft unveiled its own supply chain management platform in mid-November. Still, Amazon, which ships 1.6 million packages a day, could be uniquely situated to solve the supply chain crunch for other businesses, because the homegrown tool harnesses Amazon’s own expertise and data.

“It combines nearly three decades of Amazon.com’s innovation and learning and experience with its own supply chain as we’ve modeled and built it over the years,” said Tariq Choudry, manager of new products and strategy for AWS. He spoke during a breakout session at the conference that discussed applying machine learning to the supply chain and detailed more of the functionality of AWS Supply Chain.

Be warned: Business owners should prepare to keep dealing with logistical problems in the new year, because the AWS CEO made it clear that its foray into supply chain management is a long-term play. “This is just the beginning,” said Selipsky in his keynote speech. “We’re going to continue to invest here.”

Source: Why Amazon Web Services Is Making the Leap Into Supply Chain Management | Inc.com

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Related contents:

CalcuQuote is bringing supply chain solutions to APEX 2023 Electronic Specifier

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What is Supply Chain Management? Aberdeen Group (Market Research)
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How To Earn More Money From Your Savings Now That Banks are Raising Interest Rates

Your bank may have a higher-yielding savings account — but it won’t necessarily let you know.  The Federal Reserve has raised its key interest rate five times this year, most recently on Wednesday, as part of its ongoing effort to slow the pace of inflation.

The idea is that since the U.S. central bank is making it more expensive to borrow money, the demand for goods and services will drop, thereby causing prices to fall.  A side effect of those increased interest rates is that banks can increase the amount of money they pay to consumers who put some of their dollars in savings accounts. As banks earn more on the money they lend, those same institutions can offer higher returns to their customers.

Think of it as the virtuous cycle of the lending and saving relationship that banks have with their customers. But until recently, the interest earned on savings accounts hasn’t been all that impressive. “Every interest rate has fallen quite far from previous decades,” said Bankrate.com chief financial analyst Greg McBride in an email.

Up until this year, McBride said, interest rates had declined for the better part of 40 years — and so has the amount of money that banks pay into those accounts. “Looking back to the early 1980s, the Fed funds rate, Treasury yields, and mortgage rates were in the double digits,” he said. “In 1990, the Fed funds rate was over 8%, Treasury yields were 7% to 9%, mortgage rates were 10%.

“By 2020, the Fed funds rate was near zero, Treasury yields were under 2%, and mortgage rates were 2.5% to 3%.”Now that these rates are rising again, money costs more money. But that means there’s an opportunity to get higher returns on deposits. McBride advises customers to shop around to get the best return on their savings.

Not all banks have significantly increased their interest rates for savings accounts. According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the average national savings account interest rate is 0.17%. Those low interest rates on savings account deposits recently caught the attention of lawmakers on Capitol Hill, who pressed big bank CEOs last week on why rates weren’t higher.

“As rates continue to rise, we would expect to continue to raise the rates we pay to customers,” Wells Fargo CEO Charlie Scharf said in congressional testimony Thursday. Some financial institutions, especially those that are Internet-only with no brick-and-mortar locations, have traditionally advertised higher interest rates with their high-yield savings account products. Some of these banks offer more than 1% or 2% — and in some rare cases more than 3% on savings accounts, according to NerdWallet representative Chanelle Bessette.

Bessette said online banks have fewer overhead costs than brick-and-mortar branches, and also must do more to compete for deposits. Both Bankrate and NerdWallet offer lists of institutions currently offering the highest yields. Among them are Discover, Capital One, American Express Savings, and Marcus by Goldman Sachs. McBride, the chief financial analyst for Bankrate.com, said it is easy to enroll in one of those accounts, even if you do your primary banking elsewhere.

“You can open an online savings account with just a few minutes of your time, and link it to the checking account at your current financial institution in order to move money back and forth seamlessly,” he said. “If your bank has rolled out a new savings account with a higher yield than the one you’re currently in, just reach out and ask to transfer your money into the new, higher yielding account.”

In some cases, banks aren’t making it clear to existing customers that they can now obtain a greater savings-account yield, McBride said. “We are seeing some chicanery where banks roll out a new savings account that offers an attractive yield while the existing account holders remain in the original account with the original rate,” McBride said in an email.

“It is easy enough to switch to the new account, but you have to take the action to make that happen, the bank won’t come knocking on your door with that opportunity.”

Source: How to earn more money from your savings now that banks are raising interest rates

Critics by

Savings interest rates have slowly been going up in the last few months, and the Federal Reserve has continued to raise interest rates to address inflation. If you’re ready to take charge of your savings and find ways to earn more interest on your money, here are five options to explore.

1. Ask your bank for an increase in your savings rate

While savings interest rates have tentatively increased in the last few months across various financial institutions, this doesn’t necessarily mean your savings account will see a sudden bump in its rate.

If your bank hasn’t made an announcement yet, Maggie Gomez,  CFP® professional and owner of Money with Maggie, suggests asking your bank for an increase in the current rate you receive. 

Gomez explains some financial institutions won’t immediately deliver a higher rate unless consumers get proactive. “Later, to be more competitive, they’ll increase their rates more publicly, but I think it’ll be really slow,” Gomez adds.

2. Search online financial institutions for a high-yield savings account

According to the FDIC, the national average rate interest rate on savings accounts is 0.17% APY as of May 2022. However, several financial institutions pay much more than the national rate.

Jerel Butler, CFP® professional and founder of Millennial Financial Solutions, suggests looking at online financial institutions for competitive interest rates on savings accounts.

“It’s a little bit tricky with inflation going on,” Butler notes. “The best savings option for a typical savings account is an online savings account.”

Most banks earn compound interest daily. Meanwhile, credit unions usually earn compound interest monthly. If you’re not sure about your account’s compound frequency, contact your bank’s customer support.

3. Consider switching banks if the rate is worth it

Butler says you should also take the time to explore other financial institutions and compare different savings accounts. 

“This is a great chance to take advantage of the rising interest rate market, and you may be able to take advantage of a welcome bonus at another bank,” adds Butler. “A lot of banks — as a result of the higher interest rates — are running special promotions, too.”

If you find a specific account that provides more compelling offers than your current bank, you might consider switching institutions. 

4. Buy savings bonds

Savings bonds are federally issued debt securities. Lindsey Bell, chief markets and money strategist for Ally, says federally issued bonds are a safe investment option, although there are a couple of things to keep in mind. 

“There’s a limit on what you can invest in those. They are also probably a little more volatile than a CD or savings account, so you have to take that into account,” explains Bell. 

5. Build a CD ladder with short-term CDs if you find a competitive rate

Butler says building a CD ladder might be ideal if you find a competitive rate and are generally risk-averse. However, if you’re not risk-averse, Butler adds there are more options you should consider first.

CD ladders offer a way to take advantage of higher interest rates on CDs. Instead of depositing all your money into a single CD and locking your deposits for a set time, you’ll split your savings into a mix of term lengths.

Bell suggests sticking to CDs under one or two-year terms. If interest rates increase during the year, a CD ladder provides enough flexibility to buy a new CD once your short-term accounts mature. 

.

Related contents:

Shivalik Small Finance Bank revises FD, savings account interest rates The Economic Times

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More Than Half Of All Bitcoin Trades Are Fake


Within the emerging and turbulent market for cryptocurrencies, where there are no fewer than 10,000 tokens, bitcoin, is the great granddaddy, the blue-chip, representing 40% of the $1 trillion in crypto assets outstanding. Bitcoin is crypto’s gateway drug.

An estimated 46 million adult Americans already own it according to New York Digital Investment Group, and an increasing number of institutional investors and corporations are warming to the nascent alternative asset. But can you trust what your crypto exchange or e-brokerage reports about trading in the most important digital currency?

One of the most common criticisms of bitcoin is pervasive wash trading (a form of fake volume) and poor surveillance across exchanges. The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission defines wash trading as “entering into, or purporting to enter into, transactions to give the appearance that purchases and sales have been made, without incurring market risk or changing the trader’s market position.”

The reason why some traders engage in wash trading is to inflate the trading volume of an asset to give the appearance of rising popularity. In some cases trading bots execute these wash trades in tokens, increasing volume, while at the same time insiders reinforce the activity with bullish remarks, driving up the price in what is effectively a pump and dump scheme.

Wash trading also benefits exchanges because it allows them to appear to have more volume than they actually do, potentially encouraging more legitimate trading.

There is no universally accepted method of calculating bitcoin daily volume, even among the industry’s most reputable research firms. For instance, as of this writing, CoinMarketCap puts the latest 24-hour trading of bitcoin at $32 billion, CoinGecko at $27 billion, Nomics at $57 billion and Messari at $5 billion.

Adding to the challenges are persistent fears about the solvency of crypto exchanges, underscored by the public collapses of Voyager and Celsius. In an exclusive interview with Forbes in late June, FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried commented that there are many exchange bankruptcies yet to come.

A significant repercussion of this lack of faith in its underlying markets is the Security and Exchange Commission’s refusal to approve a spot bitcoin ETF.

Unfortunately for the bitcoin ETF hopefuls, many of these fears and criticisms are valid. As part of Forbes research into the crypto ecosystem using 2021 data, we ranked the 60 best exchanges in March. More recently we conducted a deeper-dive into the bitcoin trading markets to answer a few pressing questions:

  1. Where is bitcoin traded?
  2. How much bitcoin gets traded every day?
  3. How is bitcoin traded?

Our study evaluated 157 crypto exchanges across the world. Here are our main findings:

  1. More than half of all reported trading volume is likely to be fake or non-economic. Forbes estimates the global daily bitcoin volume for the industry was $128 billion on June 14. That is 51% less than the $262 billion one would get by taking the sum of self-reported volume from multiple sources.
  2. Tether, the world’s largest stablecoin, continues to be a dominant player in the crypto trading economy, especially when it comes to trades against bitcoin. Its current market capitalization is $68 billion, despite questions about its reserves.
  3. In terms of how much bitcoin activity takes place at these firms, 21 crypto exchanges generate $1 billion or more in daily trading activity, while the next 33 exchanges had volume between $200 million and $999 million across all contract types, spot, futures and perpetuals. Perpetual futures, or perpetual swaps as they are also known, are futures contracts that don’t require investors to roll over their positions. Binance is the clear leader, with a 27% market share, followed by FTX. Looking only at spot bitcoin, the top position is shared by Binance, FTX, and OKX. Chicago-based CME Group is the market leader in bitcoin futures trading.
  4. The biggest problem areas regarding fake volume are firms that tout big volume but operate with little or no regulatory oversight that would make their figures more credible, notably Binance, MEXC Global and Bybit. Altogether, the lesser regulated exchanges in our study account for approximately $89 billion of the true volume (they claim $217 billion).
  5. The creation of new trading assets and products such as stablecoins and perpetual futures adds complications for national authorities seeking to regulate crypto markets. Major U.S. exchanges hardly utilize these instruments or contracts in any of their trading. However, offshore exchanges make significant use of them as ways to synthetically create U.S. dollar liquidity on their platforms (they cannot get U.S. bank accounts).
  6. In the Western world and particularly in the U.S., it is tempting to think of bitcoin only trading against either the U.S. dollar or the euro and British pound. But some of the largest trading pair activity occurs against fiat currencies like the Japanese yen and Korean won and against major stablecoins like Binance U.S. dollar and the USD coin.
  7. 573 million people visit crypto exchange websites on a monthly basis.

We hope that this report builds on top of the important work done by other digital asset researchers such as Bitwise, which estimated in a March 2019 white paper that 95% of CoinMarketCap’s bitcoin trading volume was fake and/or non-economic.

Our Approach

Forbes uses quantitative and qualitative analyses to adjust trading volume reported by the exchanges. Unlike other methods that carry out tests on transactional data (and can also be duped), Forbes grades a firm’s credibility by evaluating no fewer than five datasets that together inspire or diminish confidence in a firm’s self-reported data. Data comes from four crypto media firms, CoinMarketCap, CoinGecko, Nomics and Messari, as well as multiple exchanges and two other third-party data providers.

We apply volume discounts based on a proprietary methodology that relies on 10 factors such as an exchange’s home regulator if any and volume metrics based on an exchange’s web traffic and estimated workforce size. We also use the number and quality of crypto licenses as proxy to gauge the sophistication of each crypto exchange in matters pertaining to regulation and trade surveillance.

If a firm shows a commitment to transparency by conducting token proofs of reserve or by participating in Forbes crypto exchange surveys, it qualifies for a “transparency credit” that lowers any discount that may otherwise apply.

Many of these factors were also present in Forbes’ crypto exchange ranking formula. We divided them into three categories:

Group 1: 48 crypto exchanges that were assigned discounts of 0-25% generated $39 billion of real bitcoin trading activity across all markets–spot, derivatives and futures–on June 14.

Group 2: 73 exchanges with volume discounts of 26% to 79% generated $81 billion in transactional activity (vs. $158 billion claimed)

Group 3: The remaining 36 firms were penalized with a high discount rate (80-99%) and traded $7.7 billion out of $59 billion claimed.

Despite crypto’s global nature, spot bitcoin trading activity is centered around relatively few currency pairs and stablecoins. Stablecoin USDT is the biggest, followed by the U.S. dollar. The next biggest fiat assets are the yen and won.

BTC-US DOLLAR Daily Volume

Group 1 exchanges, many of which are based in the U.S., provide $24.3 billion in daily USD-BTC liquidity, and Group 2 exchanges add $17.3 billion. The prominence of Group 1 exchanges as the main source of BTC-USD occurs across spot, perpetuals, and futures contracts. CME Group is the leading provider of bitcoin futures globally, with $2.1 billion of USD-BTC futures changing hands daily. There are at least 27 crypto exchanges–12 in Group 1–that have daily BTC-USD liquidity greater than $5 million.

BTC – U.S. TETHER Daily Volume

At $71.4 billion daily volume, bitcoin-tether (BTC-USDT) activity exceeds that of BTC-USD by 57%, with 79% generated by Group 2 crypto exchanges and 5% by those in Group 3. There are 77 exchanges–44 in Group 2, 12 in Group 1–with daily bitcoin-tether volume above $5 million. Tether is prominent across spot and perpetual futures markets, less so among the regulated futures industry, which is largely absent outside of the U.S.

BTC – U.S. DOLLAR COIN Daily Volume

U.S. dollar coin (USDC) is gaining adoption in the stablecoin arena. Daily liquidity for bitcoin-USDC was $2.15 billion, with Groups 1 and 2 splitting that total 39% and 60%, respectively. An interesting observation is that Group 2 exchanges use USDC actively in the spot bitcoin market whereas Group 1 exchanges do so with perpetuals. This different use could suggest that Group 2 exchanges may be open to the idea of supporting an alternative to tether’s dominance in the stablecoin market.

USDT and Binance USD (BUSD) each generate more volume than USDC, but the latter now has 26 crypto exchanges (17 in Group 2) with daily trading volume of $5 million or more, versus 77 exchanges for USDT and five with BUSD. If tether’s prominence begins to wane, USDC could be the stablecoin most likely to pick up its crown.

Bitcoin Trading Volume by Exchange Group

The top-10 Group 1 crypto exchanges by volume originate from across the world, with three from the U.S. (CME Group, Coinbase, Kraken), one from Singapore (Crypto.com), one from Europe (LMAX Digital), four from financial offshore centers (FTX, OKX, Gate.io, BitMEX), and one from Central America (Deribit).

Among Group 1 firms, FTX is the largest and growing at a fast clip. It wasn’t until mid 2021 when institutional funding fueled a transformation of FTX operations from a midsized unregulated exchange focused on offshore crypto derivatives to a global group of exchanges today regulated in the U.S., Japan, Europe and elsewhere. In addition to derivatives, FTX trades in crypto spot, tokenized stocks and has recently added equities.

Group 2 crypto exchanges tend to be large and possess wide product offerings. They primarily focus on growth and tend to have much less interest in being regulated where they operate. They also generally lack robust ways to track and deter wash trading. Binance is by far the largest crypto exchange in Group 2, with $34.2 billion of daily trading activity followed by Bybit with $8.9 billion. The majority of these exchanges are based in offshore havens such as the Seychelles and British Virgin Islands.

Group 3 consists of 36 crypto exchanges which, with few exceptions, are unregulated and small. Their huge self reported volume and tiny visitor number cast doubt on the possibility that a limited audience could indeed generate that much trading activity. A case in point is BitCoke, which CoinMarketCap identifies as a Hong Kong-based, Cayman Island-domiciled exchange that purportedly generated $14 billion daily–mostly from BTC-USDT perpetuals.

SimilarWeb, however, indicates that the exchange’s domain receives less than 10,000 monthly visitors–with 53% coming from Argentina alone. The discrepancies in volume versus traffic plus lack of regulatory credentials result in Forbes discounting this firm’s volume by 95% to $702 million.

As discussed above, BTC/USD and BTC/USDT are by far the biggest spot pairs for bitcoin, but there are a few other pairs worth mentioning. The next largest are BTC-KWR, BTC-JPY, BTC-USDC, and BTC-EUR. An exchange’s decision to offer base assets across bitcoin, especially when it comes to fiat, usually comes down to the local fiat currency used by an exchange’s client base. Each of the companies trading bitcoin against the won or yen are based in South Korea or Japan respectively.

USDC, by nature of its blockchain-based DNA, is easier to cross national-boundaries. Readers may notice that Kraken, Binance or Coinbase are not based in Europe, though they each have a series of licenses to operate in certain countries. They each offer euro trading as a way to onboard new users, but unlike the South Korea or Japan-based exchanges, the euro is not their most dominant base asset for trading.

However, while eight pairs by volume garner the majority of bitcoin volume, there are dozens of other varieties trading at obscure exchanges uncounted even in our present study. For example, it is difficult to find the amount of BTC-NGN (Nigerian naira) volume traded in Nigeria because crypto data firms like Nomics, CoinMarketCap and CoinGecko generally do not track it.

One can safely assume that local crypto exchanges not widely known outside of Nigeria capture most BTC-NGN liquidity, which is likely true for many other exchanges operating in emerging markets.

These observations are largely true when it comes to perpetual futures as well. However, the won and the yen do not appear to have gained significant market share in this area.Finally, when it comes to the traditional futures markets, such as those that offer regular monthly expirations, the only two pairs that seem to matter are BTC-USD and BTC-USDT.

Bitcoin may just be the beginning of the problem. If reported trading volumes for bitcoin, the most regulated and closely-watched crypto asset around the world, are untrustworthy, then metrics for even smaller assets should be taken with even greater grains of salt. At its best, trading volume is one of the most measurable signs of investor interest, but it can be easily manipulated to convince novice investors that it has much more demand than it actually does.

Binance remains the 800-lb elephant in the room. Even after a 45% discount on its volume, Binance still generates the equivalent of 27.3% of all “real” trading volume. There is no other crypto exchange that can match its market power, and it’s been that way for the past two years. That said, while Binance has been saying all of the right things about cooperating with regulators – it has started getting licenses around the world and is promising to announce a global headquarters – questions remain about its operational controls. Unless regulators can get comfortable with Binance’s legitimacy, it may be difficult to envision a spot ETF getting approved anytime soon.

Tether remains “Too Big To Fail” – for now: This study invites more questions about the true use and value of two of the largest stablecoins – USDT and BUSD. Say what you will about Tether, and people have, it has found product-market fit in a big way. But that is the exact problem in the minds of many so-called Tether Truthers, who do not believe that the $68 billion is actually backed by reserves. It is hard to imagine what would happen to markets if traders stopped trusting tether – and to be fair there is little evidence that this is happening – and none of its competitors were willing to take its place.

Areas For Future Study

The role of stablecoins in market manipulation. We did not see any evidence that tether-based trading pairs were any more prone to fraud than other assets. However, this area is worth looking into further, especially if tether begins to deviate again from its $1 peg or other algorithmic stablecoins begin to gain traction in large spot-market trading. An ostensibly stable base asset that has higher-than-expected volatility can always lead to both legitimate arbitrage opportunities as well as openings for fraud.

The potential of perpetual futures to be manipulated. Through our research, including first-person interviews with direct market participants, we did not see any evidence that perpetual futures are more prone to wash trading and other forms of manipulation than conventional futures or spot contracts. However, given the relatively novel nature of this product (it was created in 2016), as well as its dominance in crypto trading, it is well worth deeper study.

The future of DEXS in market manipulation. This report did not focus on decentralized exchanges (DEXs), in large part due to the fact that they are not major players in bitcoin trading. To the contrary, when it comes to spot markets most of the major players have separated themselves from the major centralized exchanges by specializing in novel ways to provide liquidity in long-tail assets that are not financially worthwhile for many traditional exchanges to offer.

That said, the market share of DEXs has slowly been creeping up to that of spot–there are even days where Uniswap, the largest DEX, has more trading volume than Coinbase.The Forbes methodology for discounting bitcoin trading volume follows a series of steps.

Regulation. We identify crypto licenses and from what regulatory body that each exchange possesses and use that as proxy to gauge their level of sophistication and intent to deter wash trades and publishing fake volume.

Third-party input. We considered the work of select third parties such as volume data from CoinMarketCap, CoinGecko, Nomics and Messari. Messari’s volume statistics are less extensive by pairs, and it has fewer exchanges than its peers, but it has its own real-volume calculations. Forbes tracked in recent months how Messari applied a volume discount ranging from 40% to 65% to Binance volume, compared with the averages reported by CoinMarketCap, CoinGecko and Nomics at the time.

Messari also discounts the trading volume of FTX by a lesser percentage (less than 20%) and that of Kraken by 99%. With regards to this latter, Forbes doesn’t share the view of applying a heavy discount to a firm that is among the most regulated crypto exchanges in the world. Most exchanges going through the Messari real volume analysis, however, lack any type of volume discount.

Web traffic. Forbes employs third-party data from web analytics firm SimilarWeb to heavily discount the volume of firms claiming a high trading volume without having sufficient crypto licenses and web traffic to generate such volume.

Forbes interviews. Forbes has conducted dozens of interviews of senior executives at major crypto exchanges to supplement quantitative information on a firm’s profile.

I write about digital assets trends and am a leading creator of the Forbes Digital Assets tools and functionality our viewers require. I support the generation of relevant, curated investor

Source: More Than Half Of All Bitcoin Trades Are Fake

Related contents:

Over 50% of all Bitcoin trades on exchanges are fake, new analysis reveals Finance in Bold

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