Discover more from The Signal
Star's new Colors
Also in today’s edition: Breathing uneasy; Apple enters the AI race; Turmoil for West Asian economies; Home is where the consumption is
Good morning! It's time for a linguistic update. Lol and lmao are ancient history. Kids have a new word: ijbol (pronounced "ij-bowl"), short for "I just burst out laughing". The New York Times reports that Gen Z feels ‘ijbol’ better describes the reality of scrolling endlessly only to burst out laughing (?!). The term originated in the K-pop fan community and has since spread to a wider audience. If that made you go fml, then you’re Boomer asl.
Dinesh Narayanan and Adarsh Singh also contributed to today’s edition.
A quick programming note: We’re taking the day off on Tuesday on account of Dussehra. There will be no editions of The Signal, The Impression, and The Signal Daily podcast on Wednesday, October 25.
We would like to know more about you. Participate in our annual survey by filling up this form. We’ll use your answers to tweak our products and make them more enjoyable for you. As always: you will remain anonymous.
The Market Signal
Stocks & Economy: Investors’ inability to read the moods of the US economy with any certainty is causing volatility across markets. Bitcoin rose to a 15-month high on prospects of exchange traded funds getting approval in the US.
While Federal Reserve officials have said that the regulator is happy holding rates if markets are anyway going to push yields higher, that resolve may be tested as some bearish investors change tack. Hedgie Bill Ackman and Pimco co-founder Bill Gross have turned buyers. On Monday, the US 10-year bond yield crossed 5%, a 16-year high, before falling again.
US tech shares were relatively better off. Japanese equities began the day in a bearish mood but Shanghai and Singapore were trading in green. India is closed today for Dussehra. While volatility is rising in other markets, it is surprisingly falling in India.
Several global tech heavyweights report their quarterly earnings this week, with Microsoft’s and Alphabet’s scheduled for Tuesday.
Jio All The Way?
Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries is close to buying Walt Disney Co’s India operations, Bloomberg reports.
A cash-and-stock deal is on the verge of being sealed provided the two entities converge on a valuation, the report said. While Disney is said to be valuing its assets at $10 billion, Reliance pegs them worth ~$8 billion. That is not too big a gap to bridge considering the massive competitive advantage the combine will have.
The assets of Disney Star will catapult Reliance’s general entertainment arm Viacom18, which also owns JioCinema, to a potent challenger to the still-in-the-making Sony-Zee combine. Already, JioCinema is racing to the top with a tsunami of originals. Star TV, combined with Viacom’s ‘Colors’ channels, will boost Reliance’s share in general entertainment, a crucial money spinner. Besides, the merger will beef up its movies business. Viacom will operate Fox Star Studios, apart from Viacom18 Studios and the newer Jio Studios.
Smell that? Maybe you can’t, what with the blocked nose, sore throat, and incessant coughing. That’s a breath of *fresh* air in India for you. As usual for this time of the year, Delhi recorded ‘very poor’ air quality this Sunday, the first such reading this season, as temperatures drop and stubble burning begins in neighbouring Punjab.
No respite: Meanwhile, the cleansing sea breeze has abandoned Mumbai. Temperatures and air particulate matter are rising in the city, leading to deteriorating air quality. Dust from the city’s innumerable construction sites are making matters worse. Mumbai’s municipal body issued guidelines to curb air pollution.
Irreversible: It may all be too little, too late. In Rajasthan’s Bhiwadi, a crucial industrial centre, asthma is widespread among children and patients of the local hospitals routinely complain of breathing difficulties and skin allergies, including the doctors working there.
🎧 Air pollution season is here, and it’s not just Delhi that’s worst hit. Also in today’s edition: South Koreans go to AI church. Listen to The Signal Daily on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, Google Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.
Backup And Restore
Apple stopped being an innovative company long ago. The reason its repackaging of existing technologies work, though, is the ability to weave them into a hard to leave ecosystem. That hardware-software seamlessness makes Apple a leader in virtually all consumer tech categories.
But even leaders aren’t immune to the bandwagon effect. Bloomberg reports that Apple execs are worried about the company’s late start to the generative AI (GenAI) race. They’re now scrambling to mainline native large language models such as Ajax across the ecosystem.
Apple will spend $1 billion a year to revamp iOS, Siri, developer ecosystem Xcode, Apple Music, and productivity apps with GenAI.
Several goings-on—not conducive to Apple—may have intensified this urgency.
First is the antitrust case against Google, which pays billions to Apple annually to be the default iOS search engine. GenAI could give a leg up to Apple’s otherwise-slow progress on internal search tools if Google gets an unfavourable ruling.
Second is Apple’s growing pains with its ~$3,500 mixed reality headset, the Vision Pro.
Third and most important is its China reckoning. Apple is increasingly relying on Chinese assembler Luxshare—which also makes several Apple devices—even as Beijing flags iPhone-related “security incidents” and probes Apple’s key Taiwanese supplier, Foxconn. Apple chief Tim Cook’s recent visit to China in lieu of declining iPhone sales in the critical market highlights his overwhelming dependence on the country.
If things go further south, Apple will need contingency plans beyond diversifying manufacturing. GenAI may well be one of them.
Cost Of Fury
Israel’s war on the Gaza Strip is coming at a stiff cost to its own population as well as its neighbours.
Bars, restaurants, and other establishments have shut down for want of customers and staff. Israel has called up 360,000 reservists, leaving companies, especially those in the technology sector, which employs 14% of the country’s workforce, particularly impacted.
The stock market has crashed and the Israeli shekel has slipped more than 5% against the US dollar. The economy could shrink between 2% and 3% in the third and fourth quarters, an economist estimated.
Neighbouring Lebanon, from where Iran-backed Hezbollah is launching rockets into Israel and Egypt, which faces an influx of thousands of Palestinian refugees, are staring at huge costs if the war doesn’t end soon. It also takes the sheen off Saudi Arabia’s Future Investment Initiative, key to the country’s, and West Asia’s, economic transformation.
Night Out? No Thanks
What revenge travel? Citizens of rich countries, still traumatised by the pandemic and lockdowns, have permanently become homebodies, The Economist argues. The share of services in consumer spending in 32 countries, including the US, UK, and Germany, has fallen post-pandemic.
Cosy nights in: Rich country folks are spending $600 billion less this year on travelling, eating out, and other experiences than they did in 2019. Instead, they’re spending on home goods: furniture, electronics, food, and wine.
The Indian exception: So what explains the worldwide bump in travel and hospitality? It may be a result of constrained supply, permanently scarred by the pandemic, rather than a return in demand, The Economist says. India is running a counter course though: flight ticket prices are soaring and local billionaires are investing in small city luxury hotels.
RIP: Spin legend and former India captain Bishan Singh Bedi, 77, passed away after a prolonged illness. Parag Desai, scion of Gujarat Tea Processors and Packers—the parent company of tea brand Wagh Bakri—succumbed to a brain haemorrhage after he fell trying to escape a stray dog attack.
Will stay in orbit: Sri Lanka has pledged to continue to be an active participant in China’s Belt and Road Initiative, the two countries said in a joint statement.
Going public: Mamaearth parent Honasa Consumer is eyeing a pre-Diwali ₹1,700 crore ($204 million) IPO at a targeted valuation of ₹10,500 crore, Moneycontrol reports.
Keepin’ it slick: US oil and gas major Chevron is buying rival Hess for $53 billion; it’s the second oil megadeal this month after Exxon’s ~$60 billion acquisition of Pioneer Natural Resources.
Upward bound: The Wall Street Journal reports that SpaceX has secured a deal with the European Space Agency to send up to four flagship Galileo satellites into orbit next year.
Tokyo test: Japan’s competition regulator, the Japan Fair Trade Commission, has launched a probe into Google’s business practices, including its dominance in search.
Quick dash: BlackRock CEO Larry Fink visited India over the weekend to meet business partner Mukesh Ambani. The duo also met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi.
THE DAILY DIGIT
The amount that could be raised annually if there is a global minimum tax on billionaires, according to the EU Tax Observatory. (Reuters)
The old switcheroo: A wanted man is chased by the police, only for him to fake his own death, pocket the insurance money, and live a second life in total anonymity. No, this is not a badly explained plot of a ‘90s Hindi film but a true story. Balesh Kumar, a former Navy steward, meticulously followed this classic plot, only to face arrest by Delhi Police 20 years later. His two-decade run, following the murder of three individuals, ended with a tip-off to the authorities.
God’s Plan: South Korea, land of cutting-edge technology, K-pop, and unrealistic beauty standards, is now embracing AI-powered churches. In this predominantly Christian country, startups like Awake Corp and Voiselah have developed apps for Bible study and prayer services. Users can input their spiritual or day-to-day queries to receive responses like Bible verses, interpretations, and prayers from AI chatbots. Despite initial resistance from the Church, these apps have gained acceptance within the community, with nearly 60% of Protestant ministers using ChatGPT for sermon ideas. South Korea is so based.
Pole-ing high: Leave it to the Americans to make a competition out of everything. The latest is a lineman’s rodeo, wherein electrical linemen compete in timed competitions like climbing a 40-foot wooden pole and ‘rescuing’ a heavyset mannequin. There’s an entire circuit of these competitions, with the ‘World Cup’ being the Annual International Lineman’s Rodeo in Kansas. For the linesmen, it offers a reprieve from their demanding work and gives families a glimpse into their job. A fine example of American exceptionalism.