Boston Desperately Wants A New Zuckerberg, Plus Best Buy Somehow Managed To Crush Earnings

By 05.26.17

morning brew

Here’s your hand-crafted Brew for May 26th.

QUOTE OF THE DAY“It’s time for our generation to define a new social contract.” — Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg referencing Rousseau’s 18th century treatise in his speech to Harvard University grads.

Market Snapshot

  • Stocks were up again on Thursday, despite oil falling back below $50/barrel as OPEC leaders met in Europe—sit tight, more below.
  • The dollar strengthened alongside gold. Treasury yields were little changed at home, while German Bunds fell four basis points.

You, gigster, you

Earlier this week, a Brewer emailed us about a concerning employment stat: how on earth is the labor participation rate only 63%? Something must be wrong, they said.

Not wrong, but not the full picture.

For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t accurately count self-employed workers or independent contractors.

That means your Uber driver, the TaskRabbit putting together your IKEA furniture, or any of the other 68 million freelancers in the country.

A new report out this week estimates gig workers (the spiffy name they’re called) make up a whopping 34% of the workforce—and could reach 43% by 2020.

That’s a problem.

Sure, many gig workers are happy avoiding the 9-5 grind and working at their own pace. But many others are stuck in less-than-perfect jobs because they can’t find better pay.

Not only does this mean that a group larger than the entire IT sector doesn’t get benefits like paid time off, health insurance or maternity leave, the Freelancers Union estimates companies shaft gig workers by an average of $6,000 a year.
But there is hope

Senator Mark Warner, a democrat from Virginia, introduced a bill yesterday that would set aside $20 million of “portable benefits” for on-demand workers.

Okay…explain.

Sure—so the idea is that gig workers, just like full-timers, should be entitled to benefits like healthcare or retirement, but lack the vehicle to do so.

Portable benefits provide that vehicle. In practice, gigsters would be able to pay jointly into a fund (with their employers contributing as well), and always have access to it as they move gig-to-gig (hence the portable part).

See people, this Super Senator’s just trying to keep up with the times.

With almost all job growth since 2005 coming from “contingent work” (another name for gigsters), Warner and several others don’t want to leave an ever-increasing piece of the employment pie out to dry.

Now, back to work.

If You Can’t Buy ‘Em, Join ‘Em

After failing to outright acquire mattress startup Casper for $1 billion, Target (+0.13%) has a new strategy: invest. The Minnesota-based chain is injecting $75 million into the digital-first sleep company that will bring its flat-pack foam mattresses into Target’s 1,800 stores, much like it did with Harry’s razors last winter.

Offline shelf space has helped the razor startup slice into a very dull razor market—and it already has 50% of Target’s razor share. Now it’s time for Casper to rise-and-shine––a $28 million mattress market awaits it.

Oil Got a Shave Too

Meeting in Vienna yesterday, OPEC (and Russia and the U.S.) agreed to cut worldwide oil output by 1.8 millions barrels a day—about 2% of total production. They have two major reasons for the cut: getting rid of a huge global surplus, and boosting (currently very low) prices.

Lower oil prices are better for consumers—who doesn’t love to fill up their tank on the cheap?

But the massive glut is a whole other beast. The shale oil boom (this is where fracking comes in) upended a cozy and comfortable oil market, causing prices to drop by over half in the last four years. When most of your exports are oil (hey Saudi Arabia) you want the best bang for your barrel.

Best Buy Crushes Earnings

The electronics retailer steamrolled past Wall Street’s expectations yesterday, providing a bright spot in the black hole that is retail. Best Buy (+21.48%) saw same-store sales grow by 1.6%, a big increase in the age of Amazon (+1.33%).

What drove the success? Well, in addition to everyone spending their tax credit money on electronics, Best Buy’s customer service and in-store “mini shops” gave shoppers an experience Amazon isn’t capable of providing. Plus, a strong performance by Nintendo’s new Switch boosted Best Buy’s gaming sector.

What Else Is Happening…

Economic Calendar


Water Cooler

Boston Desperately Wants a New Zuckerberg

Harvard has a clear reputation for churning out billionaires. Bill Gates, Jamie Dimon, and most famously Mark Zuckerberg (who delivered the commencement address yesterday). But lately, unicorns aren’t exactly exploding across the Charles River from Cambridge. Here’s how the city plans to get back on top:

  • It all comes down to education. Boston has 35 colleges and universities, more than almost any other city in the country. Of course, getting students to stick around is the next issue.
  • Flybridge Capital Partners, run buy Harvard alumni, has started a $2.5 million fund to invest in Harvard grads. Partners include HBS professors, former Hubspot executives and more.
  • In 2010, the city laid out plans for its Seaport District revitalization. 2.9 million square feet of the 12.5 acre neighborhood is earmarked for “innovation incubation”—and General Electric has already moved in.
  • The situation isn’t exactly dire. Boston is already home to some well-known companies like TripAdvisor, Wayfair, DraftKings, HubSpot. It also has the second highest rate of tech employment outside of Silicon Valley. Now, the trick is just finding the next Facebook…

The Breakroom

It’s Quiz Time

Can you remember some of the biggest stories this week? If you answer all of the quiz questions correctly, you’ll be placed in a random drawing to win a bundle of Brew swag!

Interview Question of the Day

A scientist puts a bacteria in a petri dish at exactly noon. Every minute, the bacteria divides into two. At exactly 1 pm, the petri dish is full. At what time was the dish half full?

(Answer)

Startup of the Day

Butter probably isn’t the first thing to come to your mind when we say “bulletproof.” Yet somehow Dave Asprey has convinced plenty of Silicon Valley-ers that butter in their coffee is the key to health. His company, called Bulletproof 360, just raised a fresh $19 million funding round based on some…interesting…science.

Stat of the Day

$5 million — that’s the reported yearly value of Odell Beckham Jr’s shoe deal with Nike. It’s the most lucrative shoe deal in NFL history, and double any of Nike’s previous partnerships.


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