How Digital Currencies Went From Boom To Collapse

Yuri Popovich had watched his neighbours’ houses burn down to the ground in Kyiv and he needed a safe place to put his money. So he did what millions of amateur investors have done in recent years: he turned to cryptocurrency. “It was impossible and unsafe to store funds in the form of banknotes. There was a big risk of theft, we also had cases of looting. Therefore, I trusted a ‘stable and reliable’ cryptocurrency. Not for the purpose of speculating, but simply to save,” he says.

The digital asset that Popovich chose in April was terra, a “stablecoin” whose value was supposed to be pegged to the dollar. It collapsed in May, sparking a rout in the cryptocurrency market whose victims include Popovich. He lost $10,000 (£8,200). Popovich says his losses were “devastating”, although donations from sympathetic onlookers on social media have helped make up some of the shortfall. He says: “I stopped sleeping normally, lost 4kg, I often have headaches and anxiety.”

Popovich is one of many experiencing the deep chill of the current crypto winter, more than four years after the market’s cornerstone, bitcoin, marked the first digital freeze by tumbling from its then peak. It went on a long tear after that but it has come to a juddering halt, with bitcoin falling below the $20,000 mark at one point this month – far below its peak of nearly $69,000, which it hit last November.

The fall has been sharp and spectacular: an overall market that was estimated to be worth more than $3tn barely six months ago is now worth less than $1tn.

Crypto boom: a new digital economy

The beginnings of the latest crypto boom held all the hallmarks of being another instance of the “Robinhood economy”, named after the popular American stock trading app. Bored white collar workers, stuck at home because of pandemic lockdowns but awash with disposable income, turned to day trading as a way to pass the time. Subscribers to the r/WallStreetBets forum on the popular online discussion site Reddit doubled over the course of 2020 and then quadrupled in the first month of 2021, as a small army of retail investors flooded into assets as varied as the then bankrupt car rental company Hertz, the troubled video game retailer GameStop and the electric car manufacturer Tesla, pushing the latter from $85 at the beginning of the pandemic to a high of $1,243 towards the end of 2021.

Cryptocurrencies also benefited from the surge in day trading. Bitcoin soared from a low of $5,000 in March 2020 to more than $60,000 a year later. The currency has had that sort of precipitous increase before: in 2017, it had risen 20-fold, to its then peak of $19,000. But in the latest boom, ethereum, the number two cryptocurrency, had an even more impressive climb, from just $120 to a high of almost $5,000 in 2021.

Cryptocurrency is the name for any digital asset that works like bitcoin, the original cryptocurrency, which was invented in 2009. There is a “decentralised ledger”, which records who owns what, built into a “blockchain”, which secures the whole network by ensuring transactions are irreversible once made. In the years since then, a dizzying amount of variations have arisen, but the core – the blockchain concept – is remarkably stable, in part because of the social implications of truly decentralised networks being immune to government oversight or regulation.

Where, 10 years ago, people simply spoke of trading in bitcoin, the space has ballooned. As well as cryptocurrencies themselves, , the sector has developed in a complex ecosystem. It encompasses Web3, a broader selection of apps and services built on top of cryptocurrencies, DeFi, an attempt to bootstrap an entire financial sector out of code rather than contracts, and non-fungible tokens (NFTs), which use the same technology as cryptocurrencies to trade in objects rather than money.

The flood of money washing into the world of crypto did more than simply inflate the paper wealth of pre-existing shareholders. Instead, it led to a surge of interest in, and funding for, the vast array of projects that aimed to capitalise on the underlying technology of cryptocurrencies. For a generation of new investors, the “decentralised finance” opportunities of the sector were appealing. Built on top of the “programmable money” of the ethereum cryptocurrency, the “DeFi” [decentralised finance] sector is an attempt to expand bitcoin’s anti-establishment ethos to cover the entire economy.

Take the comparatively small sector of the crypto market known as NFTs. A product dating back to 2014, NFTs take the tech used to create cryptocurrencies, but let creators link unique assets to the blockchain, instead of money-like currencies. That means NFTs can be traded that represent works of art, virtual collectibles, or even function as tickets to events or membership of clubs. And like cryptocurrencies, they can be bought or sold in open exchanges, held pseudonymously, and packaged up or securitised in complex financial instruments.

One token, representing years of work by the digital artist Beeple, sold for $69m; another, linked to the first tweet sent by the Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, was bought for $2.9m. Individual NFTs in the Bored Ape Yacht Club collection – the most consistently desired examples of “profile pic” NFTs, designed to be used as pre-packaged online identity – regularly sold for $1m-$3m apiece. But by the beginning of 2022, the NFT bubble appeared to have already popped. “Floor” prices for large NFT collections had plummeted, and, while many large NFT acquisitions have stayed in private collection, those that have been put back on the market have fared poorly: the Dorsey tweet was withdrawn from sale after achieving a top bid of just $14,000.

And then: the crash

The crypto crisis has played out against the backdrop of wider market problems, as fears over the Ukraine conflict, rising inflation and higher borrowing costs stalk investors. Some market watchers play down the prospect of a crypto crash triggering serious problems elsewhere in the financial markets or the global economy. The total value of all cryptocurrencies is about $1tn currently (with bitcoin accounting for about 40% of the total), which compares with approximately $100tn for the world’s stock markets.

Since November the value of all cryptocurrencies has fallen from $3tn, meaning that $2tn worth of wealth has been wiped out, with no serious knock-on effects to the broader stock market – so far. Teunis Brosens, the head economist for digital finance at the Dutch bank ING, says the traditional financial system is relatively well shielded because established banks – the cornerstones of the financial world that buckled in 2008 – are not exposed to cryptocurrencies because they do not hold digital assets on their balance sheets, unlike during the financial crisis when they held toxic debt products related to the housing market.

“What has happened in the crypto market has caused great losses for some investors and it’s all very painful and not something I want to downplay,” he says. “But it would be overplaying the role that crypto currently has in the economic and financial system if you were to think there could be systemic consequences for the wider financial system or even a global recession directly caused by crypto assets.” To date, the turmoil has been limited to the crypto sector. Digital assets have been hit by some of the same economic issues that have affected the wider global economy and stock markets. Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have been affected by concerns over rising inflation and the ensuing increases in interest rates by central banks, which has made risky assets less attractive to investors. This meant that as stock markets declined, so too did crypto assets.

But the collapse last month of terra also hit confidence in cryptocurrencies. In June, a cryptocurrency lender, Celsius, was forced to stop customer withdrawals. And a hedge fund that made big bets on the crypto markets slid towards liquidation. Crypto investors and firms that had made bets on the crypto market using digital assets as collateral were forced into a selling spree. Kim Grauer, the head of research at the cryptocurrency data firm Chainalysis, says: “It was a combination of the stock market plus the kind of excessive reaction that is typical of crypto markets because of these cascading liquidations. In this case the key event was terra.”

She added: “Crypto is not going away. And it has experienced crashes more severe than this crash.” Regulators and various government agencies are looking closely. Harry Eddis, the global co-head of fintech at Linklaters, a London-based law firm, says recent events in the crypto asset market will strengthen regulators’ determination to rein in the industry.“nI think it will certainly stiffen the sinews of the regulators in saying that they’re more than justified in regulating the industry, because of the obvious risks with a lot of the crypto assets out there,” he says.

In the UK, the financial watchdog continues to expand safeguards on crypto products. Its latest proposals on marketing crypto products to consumers could lead to significant restrictions on crypto exchanges operating in the UK. Consumers reported 4,300 potential crypto scams to the Financial Conduct Authority’s website over a six-month period last year, far ahead of the second place category, pension transfers, which had 1,600 reports. The FCA has 50 live investigations, including criminal inquiries, into companies in the sector.

The terra collapse has also heightened regulatory concerns about stablecoins, because they are backed by traditional assets and therefore could pose a risk to the wider financial system. In the UK, the Treasury wants a regime in place for dealing with a stablecoin collapse, saying in May that a terra-like failure could endanger the “continuity of services critical to the operation of the economy and access of individuals to their funds or assets”.

“Even just the top three stablecoins hold reserves totalling $140bn in traditional assets, much of this being in commercial paper and US treasuries. A run on redemptions of the largest coin (tether) could destabilise the entire crypto asset system and spill over into other markets,” says Carol Alexander, the professor of finance at University of Sussex Business School.

Elsewhere, the EU is drawing up a regulatory framework for crypto assets with the aim of introducing it by 2024, while in the US Joe Biden has signed an executive order directing the federal government to coordinate a regulatory plan for cryptocurrencies including ensuring “sufficient oversight and safeguard against any systemic financial risks posed by digital assets”. The Federal Trade Commission, the US consumer watchdog, says 46,000 people have lost more than $1bn to crypto scams since the start of 2021.

In general, regulators have been talking tough about cryptocurrencies. The chair of the FCA has called for “strong safeguards” to be put in place for the crypto market, while the head of the US financial regulator has warned consumers about crypto products promising returns that are “too good to be true”, while Singapore has said it will be “brutal and unrelentingly hard” on misbehaviour in the crypto market.

‘I’m sure crypto will bubble again

Where crypto goes from here is an unanswerable question. For proponents, such as Changpeng Zhao, the multibillionaire owner of the Binance cryptocurrency exchange, the sector is sure to recover – though it might take some time. “I think given this price drop … it will probably take a while to get back,” he told the Guardian last week. “It probably will take a few months or a couple of years.”

For sceptics, however, the plummet could be a lasting wound. “Bitcoin will be around for decades,” says David Gerard, author of Attack of the 50-Foot Blockchain. “All you need is the software, the blockchain and two or more enthusiasts. Unless there’s new stringent regulation, I’m sure crypto will bubble again. But if there’s a genuine consumer bubble, it may not reach the heights of this one. The 2021-22 bubble made it to the Super Bowl. As many a dotcom found out 20 years ago, there’s nowhere to go from there – you’ve reached every consumer in America.”

But one thing both sides agree on is that the dividing line between “survivable downturn” and “cryptoapocalypse” is likely to involve neither bitcoin nor ethereum, but the third biggest cryptocurrency: a stablecoin called tether. Stablecoins are a foundational part of the crypto ecosystem. Their value is fixed to that of a conventional currency, allowing users to cash out of risky positions without going through the rigamarole of a bank transfer, and enabling crypto-native banks and DeFi establishments to work without taking on a currency risk.

In essence, stablecoins function like the banks of the crypto economy, allowing people to park their money safely in the knowledge that it is not exposed to wider risk. Which means that when a stablecoin collapses, it has a very similar effect to a bank failure: money disappears across the ecosystem, liquidity dries up, and other institutions begin to fail in a domino effect. The beginning of the latest crisis in crypto was sparked by exactly that: the failure of the terra/luna stablecoin. The algorithmic checks and balances put in place to keep it stable broke – triggering a death spiral.

And so on 9 May, a stablecoin called UST “depegged”, dropping from $1 to $0.75 in a day, and then falling further, and further and further. Within four days, the luna blockchain was turned off entirely, the project declared dead. A domino effect took out other crypto establishments. Some of the “contagion” has been prevented, in part through huge loans made by Alameda Ventures, the investment arm of 30-year-old crypto billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried’s empire. Drawing comparisons to JP Morgan in the panic of 1907, “SBF” has stepped in to support the crypto bank Voyager and the embattled exchange BlockFi, and been loudly calling for support from others.

Unlike terra, tether is a “centralised” stablecoin, maintaining its value through reserves which, the company says, are always redeemable one-to-one for a tether token. The model means it cannot enter a “death spiral” like terra, but also means the stability of the token is entirely a function of how much one trusts tether to actually maintain its reserves. That trust is not a sure thing. Tether once claimed to hold all its reserves in “US dollars”, a claim that the New York attorney general’s office concluded in 2021 was “a lie”.

Tether, and Bitfinex – a bitcoin exchange that shares an executive team with, but is legally distinct from, Tether – “recklessly and unlawfully covered-up massive financial losses to keep their scheme going and protect their bottom lines”, Letitia James, the New York attorney general, said at the time. The two companies had transferred money back and forth to cover up insolvency, she said, and had failed to ensure tether was “fully backed at all times”, the investigation concluded.“Te ther has been the timebomb under the market since 2017,” says Gerard.

“It has reduced its market cap by 15bn USDT in the last month, and has claimed that these are redemptions, or a reduction in their holdings of ‘commercial paper’,” she says, referring to one of the key assets that Tether uses on its balance sheet: commercial paper, short-term debt issued by banks and corporations to cover immediate funding needs. Tether, for its part, remains extremely bullish – and has even suggested it may publish a formal audit of its reserves, something it said was “months away” in August 2021.

In late June, Tether announced another expansion: the introduction of the first GBP stablecoin. “We believe that the UK is the next frontier for blockchain innovation and the wider implementation of cryptocurrency for financial markets,” says Paolo Ardoino, the chief technology officer of Tether and Bitfinex. “Tether is ready and willing to work with UK regulators to make this goal a reality.” More regulation, and further market volatility, are a given. Popovich says he is still receiving donations. “I’m extremely embarrassed. Yesterday an anonymous person sent me $50 in the form of cryptocurrency. And I’ve never borrowed anything from anyone in my life. I’m scared and restless.”

Source: Crypto crisis: how digital currencies went from boom to collapse | Cryptocurrencies | The Guardian

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One-Third of Businesses Plan To Raise Prices In The Coming Quarter

Over a third of all businesses (38%) anticipate raising the price of their goods or services by more than usual in the next three months, a similar result to March 2022, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

ABS Head of Industry Statistics, John Shepherd, said: “Most of these businesses were finding that increases in the cost of products and services (92 per cent) and fuel and energy costs (78 per cent) were leading factors for planned price increases.”

The other side

The survey results also showed nearly half (48 per cent) of all businesses have no plans to increase their prices over the next three months. “Of these businesses, nearly half (46 per cent) said it was to retain customers and 46 per cent said they had fixed-price contracts in place.” Mr Shepherd said.

The results also provided information about planned capital expenditure over the next three months. Almost one in five businesses (18 per cent) have planned capital expenditure in May 2022, consistent with findings in May 2021 (17 per cent). Nearly half (48 per cent) of businesses planning capital expenditure indicated it would be higher than what is usual for this time of year, fewer than a year ago when 59 per cent planned for higher expenditure.

The biggest Influencing factors on whether businesses were planning for capital expenditure were uncertainty about the future state of the economy (25 per cent) and supply chain disruptions (23 per cent).  Current inflation in Australia, as in much of the rest of the world, is the result of a combination of short-term and long-term factors and concerns about demand and supply.

The Reserve Bank of Australia previously raised the official cash rate for the first time in over 11 years from 0.1 per cent, which it had been at since November 2020, during the height of the Covid pandemic. It was raised to 0.35 per cent, which was higher than expected, and the RBA stated that additional increases were on the way.

Furthermore, the Russian war on Ukraine increased commodity prices significantly above pre-COVID levels. They produce more than one-tenth of the world’s oil and wheat.

By: Yajush Gupta

Yajush is a journalist at Dynamic Business. He previously worked with Reuters as a business correspondent and holds a postgrad degree in print journalism.

Source: One-third of businesses plan to raise prices in the coming quarter: Survey

Critics by Patricio Ibáñez, Ricardo González Rugamas, Sajal Kohli, and Eric Kuehl 

To understand the process of determining which price increases are fair and which are not, consider an example. A leading apparel retailer recently received price increases from suppliers for many of its primary brands, each citing the inflationary environment as the reason for the increase. The company wasn’t sure how it should respond.

This retailer needs to determine whether suppliers are passing along an increase that’s in line with inflation’s effect on the supplier’s costs. Although it’s not possible to answer this question exactly, the retailer can at least pressure test the increase by determining if it falls within a fair range.

To do this, it began by identifying the main cost inputs that have the highest level of change, especially in an inflationary environment. In this example, these cost inputs were commodities (such as cotton, polyester, spandex), as well as labor and transportation (such as import costs, shipping, and freight).

Second, it estimated the percentage of the total cost these inputs make up. We would expect that fabric makes up about 50 percent of the total cost of a men’s cotton T-shirt. It’s safe to assume that cotton fiber (which has a commodity index, making its cost relatively easy to research) makes up roughly one-third of the fabric’s cost.

Immediate commercial opportunities to mitigate volatility typically include maximizing spend on existing contracts whose prices aren’t indexed for inflation and requesting clawbacks on unindexed contracts that covered periods when commodity prices fell. Digital and analytics solutions can enhance cleansheet analysis to uncover how much purchases should cost for large parts of company spending, which lets managers quantify the extent to which inflationary pressure should affect supplier prices.

To improve future resilience, supplier collaboration can drive joint efficiencies and potentially help the organization look beyond price and at changes to quality or specifications or at finding ways to use less. Finally, companies can consider ramping up collaboration between pricing and procurement teams to weigh inflation’s possible effects on the prices the company charges its own customers.

The defensive, technical levers to respond to inflation include accelerating value engineering and adjusting batch sizes or order frequency. Reducing SKUs or high-cost features and attributes by modifying specifications is a potential medium-term technical lever that can help improve resilience. Depending on the sector, options to address volatility in the short-to-medium term include optimizing supplier footprints for better control over logistics, cost, tariffs, and inventory.

Longer-term volatility challengers could include strategic inventory stockpiling, relying more on vendor-managed inventory, expanding cross-industry collaboration to share commodity exposures, and partnering through the end-to-end supply chain to derisk certain nodes.

To approach suppliers in high-priority categories, a targeted playbook can help strengthen negotiation strategies, with pressure testing via mock negotiation sessions that anticipate potential supplier counterarguments…

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Data Or Processes: Where To Begin With Intelligent Automation

Over the past year, many clients I’ve spoken with have been looking for ways to make processes smarter, more adaptable and more resilient. According to our recent research, many companies see the combination of AI and automation — or intelligent automation — as key to achieving these goals.

Despite the promise of better operational performance with intelligent automation, a common question is where to begin: with the process itself or with the data that will power the process? The answer lies in identifying which outcome you’re trying to achieve. Getting the sequence wrong could counteract the very goal you’re pursuing.

The right starting point 

Here are two examples that distinguish when a process-led vs. data-led approach makes the most sense with intelligent automation:

How can we improve our operational efficiency?

Amid global uncertainty, supply chain disruptions and social distancing requirements, improving operational efficiency has become a priority for many businesses. The goal in this case is to improve speed and accuracy across the value chain, and achieve outcomes faster without cutting corners.

Adding data intelligence can significantly reduce errors, remove process hurdles and reveal where corrections are needed. But doing so requires a strong process automation backbone in order to shape when and how the data is applied. So in this case, a process-led approach is best.

For example, we’re working with a major insurance provider to improve customer lifecycle management. Typically, insurance customers who file a claim experience long decision times, a lack of visibility into decision making and repeated or disconnected requests for information submission.

Insurers can distinguish themselves by being fast, frictionless and responsive in how they handle claims. However, operating in a highly regulated industry and with overt risks around claims fraud, speed can never be a trade-off for accuracy and compliance.

A contributing factor to the insurer’s process challenges was the dependence on third-party systems and disparate data sources to make decisions. We helped the company implement an automated and fully integrated process for claims handling, which was then supported with AI and data modeling to segment customer profiles and personalize services.

The system has helped reduce the turnaround on claims capture by as much as 80% and shorten overall claims procedure times from 14 days to just two, all while maintaining the necessary high levels of accuracy and regulatory compliance. The insurer has also received positive customer feedback on the effectiveness and quality of services.

How can we be more agile in our product and service offerings?

Leading retailers have an impressive ability to recommend relevant products and anticipate customers’ next actions. Whether shoppers search for a needed item, browse relevant sites or interact with brands across different channels, digitally savvy retailers can connect the dots in real-time and make recommendations with a high degree of precision.

With so many factors and variables at play in dynamic online customer environments, companies need an agile approach that allows them to test the market, gather feedback and continuously improve in order to meet customer needs.

We’re working with an online fashion retailer to deliver this level of personalization. The company is well aware of the speed at which consumers’ tastes and styles change, and realized it needed to move swiftly to gain and keep customers’ attention.

Because it was vital to gain insights into consumer preferences, we took a data-led approach. We helped the retailer use existing data to gain a deeper consumer understanding. Using this insight, we then designed a process that segmented the brand’s customer base and enabled all interactions and product recommendations across channels like chatbots, email and social media to have the highest degree of relevance, timeliness and usefulness.

The combination of process improvements and data insights allowed for an integrated digital thread to run through all phases of the customer lifecycle, including product design and development, sales and after-sales. As a result, the retailer can now drive more relevant customer interactions and next-best offers, which in turn has improved customer mindshare, loyalty and revenue.

Accelerating the path to Intelligent Automation

To get the most out of intelligent automation, process and data need to work in harmony. Automated processes enable greater efficiency, while data enables better decision-making.

By coordinating these attributes — and having a clear outcome in mind — businesses can add intelligence to how and where they automate processes in a way that accelerates business outcomes while ensuring the quality of service is enhanced.

To learn more, visit the Intelligent Process Automation section of our website. View our latest webinar on Redesigning Work for the Post-Pandemic Age.

Chakradhar “Gooty” Agraharam is VP and Commercial Head of EMEA for Cognizant’s Digital Business Operations’ IPA Practice. In this role, he leads advisory, consulting, automation and analytics growth and delivery within the region, helping clients navigate and scale their automation and digital transformation journeys. He has over 25 years of consulting experience, working with clients on large systems integration, program management and transformation consulting programs across Asia, Europe and the Americas. Gooty holds an MBA from IIM, Calcutta (India’s Premier B school), and has executive management certifications from Rutgers, Henley Business School. Gooty has won reputed industry awards with MCA for his contribution to the digital industry in the UK and is a member of various industry forums. He can be reached at Gooty.Agraharam@cognizant.com

Source: Data Or Processes: Where To Begin With Intelligent Automation

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The Thriving Business of ‘Ikea Hacking’

Last August, Alex Hernandez found herself in the market for a new piece of furniture. Holed up in her Miami studio apartment, the 31-year-old executive assistant had grown weary of her “cheap and basic-looking” Ikea couch. She shopped around online and found a new one she liked — but it was a designer brand that was out of her price range.

So she opted for a makeover instead. She spiced things up with a set of mid-century modern legs ($70) and a new cover ($120) from an Ikea customization website. The project cost Hernandez about one-tenth of the designer version she’d had her eye on and it saved an old piece of furniture from the landfill.

This type of upcycling, called Ikea hacking, has been on the rise during the pandemic. And for companies that sell custom Ikea-friendly fixtures — legs, couch covers, knobs, and cabinet doors — business is booming.

What the heck is Ikea hacking?

Ikea has achieved the kind of scale and brand recognition that most companies can only dream of. With ~$44B in annual revenue, 445 retail stores, and 217k employees, the Sweden-based company is the world’s largest home furnishings retailer, enjoying a stranglehold on the ready-to-assemble furniture market.

In many countries, 50%+ of the population owns at least one Ikea product. In a way, Ikea is kind of like the Bitcoin of furniture: the company uses universal designs, meaning its hardware and measurements are uniform across most of the developed world.

And folks who want to add some pizzazz to their mass-produced Billy bookcases and Kallax shelf units have no shortage of customization options to choose from online. Broadly, Ikea hacking is any form of upgrading, customizing, repurposing, or personalizing a piece of stock Ikea furniture.

The movement gained steam in the mid-2000s, when popular DIY blogs like Ikea Hackers and Instructables began offering up easy, affordable tweaks to popular items like Billy bookcases and Kallax shelf units. At first, Ikea wasn’t a fan of people customizing its furniture and even sent Ikea Hackers a cease and desist. But since then, the company has embraced its hackers.

And over the past decade, this once small and wacky community has burgeoned into a full-fledged industry. Nearly every social media platform abounds with Ikea hacking content:

  • TikTok: 64m views on #ikeahacks videos
  • Instagram: 500k posts tagged with #Ikeahack
  • Facebook: hundreds of Ikea hacking groups with more than 1m collective members
  • YouTube: thousands of Ikea hack videos with 100m+ views
  • Pinterest: an endless scroll of DIY Ikea projects
  • Reddit: r/Ikeahacks boasts 76k subscribers and has grown 400% in the past 5 years

Within this broader ecosystem, certain Ikea products have earned a cult following in niche communities. Plant enthusiasts use Fabrikör cabinets to make their own indoor greenhouses. Photographers convert Schottis shades into DIY lightboxes. Parents transform Flisat tables into sensory stations for toddlers. Some have even crafted sex toys out of Ikea shoe trees and milk frothers.

In a survey of 1,206 readers of The Hustle, half of all respondents said they had heard of the concept of Ikea hacking — and 43% said they’d engaged in the practice at some point. In our survey, readers had no shortage of their own creative new uses for old Ikea furniture:

  • Jordan Elgie (musician, Ontario) turned an Ikea shelf into an electric guitar pedalboard.
  • Peter Sanderson (sales director, Rhode Island) converted an Ikea headboard into a dog gate for his Rottweiler puppy.
  • Randy Hees (museum director, Colorado) built a floor-to-ceiling library using 26 Ikea bookcases.
  • Rick Moore (film technician, Vancouver) transformed an Ikea butcher block cart into a wine rack.
  • Laurel Choate (literary agent, New York) made a kitchen island out of Ikea shelves, legs, and a countertop.

During the pandemic, an increase in remote work and time spent at home has led to a DIY remodel boom — and a surge in Ikea hacks. Among our respondents, 69% said they had bought new furniture during the pandemic, and 38% said they had updated an existing piece of furniture.

“We disassembled a cheap Ikea table, painted it a new color, and bought new legs to make it more mid-century modern,” says Zoë Kronovet, a digital marketing manager in North Carolina. “We also bought a $300 velvet midnight-blue cover for a basic Ikea couch to give it a new life.”

Like Kronovet, the majority of Ikea hackers stick to simple aesthetic changes: new knobs on a dresser, a new set of legs on a table, or new cabinet doors — little touches to shake things up. And they have no shortage of options to choose from.

The Ikea hacking industry

When on the hunt to revamp old Ikea wares, prospective customers often turn to a cottage industry of e-commerce startups — mostly female-owned — that specialize in Ikea customization:

  • Semihandmade, Reform: customization options for Ikea kitchens
  • Superfront, Norse Interiors: legs, hardware, and cabinet doors for an array of best-selling Ikea products
  • Prettypegs: legs for Ikea sofas, tables, and consoles
  • Kokeena: doors and casework for Ikea cabinets
  • Panyl: vinyl wraps for Ikea furniture
  • Bemz: covers for Ikea couches and chairs

On Etsy, you’ll find dozens of smaller companies hawking handmade legs, brass knobs, shelf inserts, and sofa covers specifically crafted to fit Ikea furniture lines.

Monica Born quit her copywriting gig 10 years ago to found Superfront with her husband Mick, after noticing that many of her friends in Sweden were commissioning their own pricey Ikea replacement doors from local carpenters.

In Sweden, where 90% of residents own Ikea furniture, she sensed an opportunity to streamline and normalize the customization process.Today, the business offers cabinet doors, handles, and legs compatible with Ikea’s 4 best-selling furniture lines.

Born says the company is on track to hit ~$8m in annual sales this year — a 50% bump from last year. “It’s becoming more and more [common] to tell your dinner guests that you repurposed something,” she says. “It’s cool to say, ‘We thought it was crazy to throw away that piece of Ikea furniture so we redesigned it instead.’”

Jana Kagin left a career in psychology to launch the Stockholm-based Ikea customizer Prettypegs in 2012. “Ikea is such a huge part of Sweden’s DNA — it’s in our breast milk,” she says. “But a lot of people want to differentiate from the mass-produced. We offer a more affordable option by pairing DIY with high-end design.”

As an example, she cites a customer who was able to reconstruct a $1.5k West Elm console for $288 using a set of Prettypegs legs ($60), knobs ($28), and a bit of DIY handiwork.

Demand is so high, she says, that it’s been hard to keep items in stock. “When we first started, we thought, ‘It’s just furniture legs, it’s not rocket science!’ But everything becomes rocket science as a business scales,” she says. “Logistics, hardware, packaging, lacquer, paint — there are so many moving parts that have strained supply chains right now.”

While many of these companies are based in Sweden, some entrepreneurs have found success focusing on the US market. Lotta Lundaas, the founder of Norse Interiors, based in New York City, says her company is on track to hit $1m in sales just 3 years after launching — a 3x increase year-over-year.

Lundaas leveraged her background as an online marketer to identify which Ikea products to offer custom cabinet doors for, reverse engineering the company’s best sellers by looking at search volume data.

The Copenhagen-based startup Reform has taken a different route. Launched in 2014 with the aim of customizing Ikea kitchen cabinets, the company has since moved into offering its own product lines. But it has trouble keeping its prices appealing to the Ikea demographic.

“It’s hard to match Ikea’s economies of scale,” says Scott Bird, the company’s managing director. “They sell some of their products at a price that’s lower than what we can even source them for.”

But these economies of scale come with a price.

An antidote to ‘fast furniture’

Beyond design, Ikea hacking aims to tackle a larger problem: the scourge of so-called “fast furniture.”

In the 1950s, furniture was seen as a generational investment that would last decades. Today, the average couch lasts just 6 years. Each year, Americans discard 20m tons of furniture — a figure that has doubled in the last decade.

Ikea — a company that uses 1% of the world’s entire wood supply and has encouraged customers to frequently replace furniture in the past  — is at the center of this problem.

Part of the stated mission of Ikea hacking, and the upcycling movement at large, is to extend the lifespan of furniture.

In its own independent research, Prettypegs found that a simple design change could result in a person keeping a piece of furniture 20% longer. The company estimates that it has helped customers hold on to 19k pieces of Ikea furniture, saving 179 tons of CO2 emissions.

Consumers are increasingly concerned about the environmental impact of their purchases: In our survey, 60% of respondents said eco-friendliness is an important consideration when buying home furnishings.

A report by the Retail Industry Leaders Association found that:

  • 93% of global consumers expect the brands they use to address and consider environmental issues
  • American consumers will spend up to 20% more on products that are environmentally friendly.

For its part, Ikea has announced buy-back programs and plans to be “climate positive” by 2030. But for consumers who already have a house full of Ikea furniture, a little redesigning and repurposing may be the greenest course of action.

“We’re all in the business of making Ikea products last longer,” says Cagin, of Prettypegs. “We want to turn fast furniture into slow furniture.”

 By: Zachary Crockett @zzcrockett

Source: The thriving business of ‘Ikea hacking’

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Critics:

IKEA is a conglomerate that designs and sells ready-to-assemble furniture, kitchen appliances and home accessories, among other goods and home services. Founded in Sweden in 1943 by 17-year-old Ingvar Kamprad, IKEA has been the world’s largest furniture retailer since 2008. The brand used by the group is an acronym that consists of the founder’s initials, and those of Elmtaryd, the family farm where he was born, and the nearby village Agunnaryd (his hometown in Småland, southern Sweden).

The group is known for its modernist designs for various types of appliances and furniture, and its interior design work is often associated with an eco-friendly simplicity. In addition, the firm is known for its attention to cost control, operational details, and continuous product development that has allowed IKEA to annually lower its prices by an average of two to three percent.

INGKA Holding B.V., based in the Netherlands, owns the IKEA Group, which takes care of the centers, retails, customer fulfillment, and all the other services related to IKEA products. The IKEA brand is owned and managed by Inter IKEA Systems B.V., based in the Netherlands, owned by Inter IKEA Holding B.V. Inter IKEA Holding is also in charge of design, manufacturing and supply of IKEA products.

References

Netflix And Boeing Among Today’s Trending Stocks

According to a report from the Washington Post dropped June 12, 1-year inflation is up 5%, while 2-year inflation sits around 5.6%. This has impacted everything from raw materials like lumber and glass to manufactured products. Used cars are up 29.7% in the last year, while gas has shot up over 56%, and washing machines and dryers sit up around 26.5%.

This comes as the global microchip shortage compounds retailers’ problems as they struggle to automate their supply chains. And while the economy (and the stock market) is certainly rebounding from covid-era recession pressures, consumers are stuck footing high-priced bills as both demand and the cost of materials continue to rise. Still, the Fed maintains that prices should stabilize soon – though “soon” may mean anywhere from 18-24 months, according to consulting firm Kearney.

Until then, investors will have to weigh their worries about inflation on the equities and bonds markets against the growing economy to decide which investments have potential – and which will see their returns gouged by rising prices across the board. To that end, we present you with Q.ai’s top trending picks heading into the new week.

Q.ai runs daily factor models to get the most up-to-date reading on stocks and ETFs. Our deep-learning algorithms use Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology to provide an in-depth, intelligence-based look at a company – so you don’t have to do the digging yourself.

Netflix, Inc (NFLX)

First up on our trending list is Netflix, Inc, which closed at $488.77 per share Friday. This represented an increase of 0.31% for the day, though it brought the streaming giant to down 9.6% for the year. The company has experienced continual losses for the past few weeks, with Friday ending below the 22-day price average of $494 and change. Currently, Netflix is trading at 47.1x forward earnings.

Netflix, Inc. trended in the latter half of last week as the company opened a new e-commerce site for branded merchandise. Currently, the store’s offerings are limited to a few popular Netflix tv shows, but the company hopes to increase its branded merchandise branded to shows such as Lupin, Yasuke, Stranger Things, and more in the coming months. With this latest move, the company hopes to expand its revenue channels and compete more directly with competitors such as Disney+.

In the last fiscal year, Netflix saw revenue growth of 5.6% to $25 billion compared to $15.8 billion three years ago. At the same time, operating income jumped 21.8% to $4.585 billion from $1.6 billion three years ago. And per-share earnings jumped almost 36% to $6.08 compared to $2.68 in the 36-month-ago period, while ROE rose to 29.6%.

Currently, Netflix is expected to see 12-month revenue around 3.33%. Our AI rates the streaming behemoth A in Growth, B in Quality Value and Low Volatility Momentum, and D in Technicals.

The Boeing Company (BA)

The Boeing Company closed down 0.43% Friday to $247.28, trending at 9.93 million trades on the day. Boeing has fallen somewhat from its 10-day price average of $250.67, though it’s up over the 22-day average of $240 and change. Currently, Boeing is up 15.5% YTD and is trading at 180.1x forward earnings.

The Boeing Company has trended frequently in recent weeks as the airplane manufacturer continues to take new orders for its jets, including the oft-beleaguered 737 MAX. United Airlines is reportedly in talks to buy “hundreds” of Boeing jets in the next few months, while Southwest Airlines is seeking up to 500 new aircraft as it expands its U.S. service. Alaskan Airlines, Dubai Aerospace Enterprise, and Ryanair have also placed orders for more Boeing jets heading into summer.

Over the last three fiscal years, Boeing’s revenue has plummeted from $101 billion to $58.2 billion, while operating income has been slashed from $11.8 billion to $8.66 billion. At the same time, per-share earnings have actually grown from $17.85 to $20.88.

Boeing is expected to see 12-month revenue growth around 7.5%. Our AI rates the airline manufacturer B in Technicals, C in Growth, and F in Low Volatility Momentum and Quality Value.

Nvidia Corporation (NVDA)

Nvidia Corporation jumped up 2.3% Friday to $713 per share, trending with 10.4 million trades on the books. Despite its sky-high stock price, Nividia has risen considerably from the 22-day price average of $631.79 – up 36.5% for the year. Currently, Nvidia is trading at 44.44x forward earnings.

Nvidia is trending this week thanks to surging GPU sales amidst the global chip shortage, as well as its planned 4-for-1 stock split at the end of June – but that’s not all. The company also announced Thursday that it also plans to buy DeepMap, an autonomous-vehicle mapping startup, for an as-yet undisclosed price. With this new acquisition, Nvidia will improve the mapping and localization functions of its software-defined self-driving operations system, NVIDIA DRIVE.

In the last fiscal year, Nvidia saw revenue growth of 15.5% to $16.7 billion compared to $11.7 billion three years ago. Operating income jumped 20.8% in the same period to $4.7 billion against $3.8 billion in the three-year ago period, and per-share earnings expanded 22.6% to $6.90. However, ROE was slashed from 49.3% to 29.8% in the same time frame.

Currently, Nvidia is expected to see 12-month revenue growth around 2%. Our AI rates Nvidia A in Growth, B in Low Volatility Momentum, C in Quality Value, and F in Technicals.

Nike, Inc (NKE)

Nike, Inc closed up 0.73% Friday to $131.94 per share, closing out the day at 5.4 million shares. The stock is down 6.7% YTD, though it’s still trading at 36.8x forward earnings.

Nike stock has slipped in recent weeks as the athleticwear retailer suffers supply chain challenges in North America. And despite recent revenue growth in its Asian markets, it also continues to deal with Chinese backlash to its March criticism of the Chinese government’s forced labor of persecuted Uyghurs.

In the last fiscal year, Nike saw revenue grow almost 3% to $37.4 billion, up 5.8% in the last three years from $36.4 billion. Operating income jumped 40.9% in the last year alone to $3.1 billion – though this is down from $4.45 billion three years ago. In the same periods, per-share earnings grew 33.7% and 82.8%, respectively, from $1.17 to $1.60. And return on equity nearly doubled from 17% to 30%.

Currently, Nike is expected to see 12-month revenue growth around 10.3%. Our AI rates Nike average across the board, with C’s in Technicals, Growth, Low Volatility Momentum, and Quality Value.

Mastercard, Inc (MA)

Mastercard, Inc ticked up 0.33% Friday to $365.50, trading at a volume of 2.7 million shares on the day. The stock is up marginally over the 22-day price average of $363.86 and 2.4% for the year. Currently, Mastercard is trading at 43.64x forward earnings.

Mastercard has faltered behind the S&P 500 index for much of the year – not to mention competitors like American Express. While there’s no one story to tie the credit card company’s relatively modest stock prices to, it may be due to a combination of investor uneasiness, already-high share prices, and increased digital payments. But with travel recently on the rise, it’s possible that Mastercard will be making a comeback.

In the last three fiscal years, Mastercard’s revenue has risen 3.3% to $15.3 billion compared to $14.95 billion. In the same period, operating income has fallen from $8.4 billion to $8.2 billion, whereas per-share earnings have grown from $5.60 to $6.37 for total growth of 16.4%. Return on equity slipped from 106% to 102.5% at the same time.

Currently, Mastercard’s forward 12-month revenue is expected to grow around 4.7%. Our deep-learning algorithms rate Mastercard, Inc. B in Low Volatility Momentum and Quality Value, C in Growth, and D in Technicals.

Q.ai, a Forbes Company, formerly known as Quantalytics and Quantamize, uses advanced forms of quantitative techniques and artificial intelligence to generate investment

Source: Netflix And Boeing Among Today’s Trending Stocks

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Critics:
The S&P 500 stock market index, maintained by S&P Dow Jones Indices, comprises 505 common stocks issued by 500 large-cap companies and traded on American stock exchanges (including the 30 companies that compose the Dow Jones Industrial Average), and covers about 80 percent of the American equity market by capitalization.
The index is weighted by free-float market capitalization, so more valuable companies account for relatively more of the index. The index constituents and the constituent weights are updated regularly using rules published by S&P Dow Jones Indices. Although called the S&P 500, the index contains 505 stocks because it includes two share classes of stock from 5 of its component companies.

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