SoftBank Buys A Major Stake in Uber (at a Major Discount)

Technology news site The Information reported on Thursday that Japanese telecom titan SoftBank will buy at least 14% of the existing shares in ride-hailing giant Uber. The report notes that $6.5 billion of the SoftBank investment will be at a 30% discount against Uber’s current private valuation of $69 billion. The Japanese company is also investing another $1 billion at Uber’s current valuation.

The deal offers possible synergies thanks to SoftBank’s stakes in ride-hailing services in international markets. But the steep discount against Uber’s valuation also reflects just how rough Uber’s year has been. According to Uber shareholders quoted by The Information, one reason for the discount was Uber’s regulatory hurdles globally. (The company has been banned in several markets, among them London, primarily over driver-screening issues.) Another is the unproven status of services like UberPool. (One early Uber stockholder this month described a SoftBank offer at a very similar price as a “low blow.”)

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Uber, which is believed to be losing billions of dollars per year, is also facing a rocky path to profitability, particularly given recent stumbles in its self-driving car program. Autonomous cars are ultimately intended to cut costs, but Uber’s development team has been mired in a legal battle with Alphabet’s Waymo.

The SoftBank deal is expected to close in early 2018.

Could Threats to Net Neutrality Spark Interest in Local Broadband?

Despite broad public opposition, the Federal Communications Commission and its chairman Ajit Pai in December voted to rescind rules intended to ensure net neutrality. Those rules prevented the prioritization of content by Internet service providers, and their repeal is expected to benefit telecommunications companies such as Comcast and AT&T. (To learn more, read Fortune’s explainer on the subject.)

But the decision may have unintended negative consequences for those major Internet providers. In the wake of the FCC’s move, there appears to be growing interest in ways to access the Internet without requiring the centralized services of corporate ISPs. Enter the community-based Internet service.

The most prominent example—limited in scope but symbolically important—was announced by the tech website Motherboard on the same day as the FCC repeal vote. The site and its privately held parent company, Vice Media, say they will build a community ISP near their Brooklyn headquarters and develop a guide to help other groups build locally-owned Internet services. Vice also appears to be working with a group in Honolulu to build a local system.

The Vice project will follow the model of the existing NYC Mesh network, a community-based service that lets users within a neighborhood share an Internet connection. (A mesh network is defined by the interconnectivity of its nodes.) It charges no fees to users, and, crucially, says it “does not block or discriminate content.”

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But mesh networks are still relatively unproven and may be a hard sell for an average consumer. Another option is the municipal broadband service, which are owned and operated by local governments and essentially mimic the Internet access provided by corporate ISPs. Their pitch: Because they’re locally owned, they are more responsive to customers on issues, including net neutrality. Successful municipal services are already operating in locales such as Chattanooga, Tenn.

Still, municipal efforts can lose money or outright fail—not to mention that expanding the purview of government is a political nonstarter across much of the U.S. Indeed, several states have laws that effectively ban municipal broadband—laws that have been lobbied for by big telecoms and justified on pro-market grounds.

It’s no wonder, then, that so many people use corporate ISPs to access the Internet, even as they criticize them. (In a recent survey most Americans opposed the FCC’s rollback, and the tone of the opposition was vociferous ahead of its December vote.) Still, recent attention on net neutrality could encourage people to try alternative Internet access methods. Inverse, the digital magazine for men, reports that NYC Mesh has received a record number of inquiries since the FCC vote, and recent votes in more than a dozen Colorado localities showed overwhelming support for locally-run Internet access. Recent rate hikes by big ISPs are already being linked by some to the net neutrality rollback, which could fuel further interest in alternatives.

That could have serious long-term consequences for popular broadband providers. In just one city that recently voted to move forward with a municipal system—Fort Collins, Colo.—it has been estimated that Comcast could lose up to $23 million per year if faced with local competition. Watch this space.

One Simple AdWords Trick That Can Boost Online Sales

Today we’re talking about broad match modifier. 

Why is it so popular? Because if gives you the ability to match on exact keywords while still maintaining flexibility on the entire search term.

Best of all: there’s evidence that the Broad Match Modifier option can improve your return.

In this article, we’ll cover the concept of Broad Match Modifiers and explain how you can use them in your search engine marketing campaigns.

Broad Match Is Too Broad

As you probably know, AdWords offers a number of keyword matching options:

  • Broad Match – matches on the keyword plus related words, related searches, and misspellings

  • Exact Match – matches on the exact keyword

  • Phrase Match – matches on a phrase within the search term

  • Broad Match Modifier – matches on words within the search term

By default, AdWords will hook you up with Broad Match. That’s a problem.

Why? Because broad match is usually just a little too broad. Your ad will likely appear to people who aren’t in your target market.

When some of those people click your ad (and they will), you’re going to spend money on those clicks. That cost will eat into your ROI.

However, you also don’t want to exclude people in your target market from seeing your ad because they used a slightly different search term than the one you specified.

That’s why it’s a great idea to use a modified version of Broad Match.

What Does Broad Match Modifier Do?

Broad Match Modifier allows you to specify one or more words within your search term that must appear. For the other words, the standard Broad Match rules apply.

Let’s say that you’re selling goth makeup online. You market your ecommerce site on AdWords using the search term “cheap goth makeup.”

If you let that run with a Broad Match only, you’ll end up showing your ad to people who view related searches. One of those related searches is “goth makeup brands uk.”

People who search for goth makeup brands in the UK probably aren’t interested in your business if it’s located in the United States. So you really don’t want to show your ad to people who use that keyword.

Fortunately, you can solve the problem with the use of a Broad Match Modifier. In this case, you specify that the words “cheap” and “goth” must be included in the search term. You leave “makeup” alone because you’re okay with synonyms for that word.

Now, the only way people see your ad is when they search for a term that includes “cheap,” “goth,” and a word related to “makeup.”

There Are Some Caveats

There’s more to the story, though.

For starters, Google will still show your ad to people who use variants of the words you specified for inclusion. In this case, those words are “cheap” and “goth.”

That means if somebody searches for “cheapest goth makeup,” your ad will still appear. But that’s okay because anybody who uses that search phrase is in your target market.

However, if somebody searches for “inexpensive goth makeup,” your ad will not appear.

Why? Because the word “inexpensive” isn’t a variant of “cheap.” It’s a synonym.

You’ll have to set up a separate keyword for “inexpensive goth makeup.”

Keep in mind, though, that you didn’t specify “makeup” as a word for exact match. That means Google will use synonyms for that word.

So if somebody searches for “cheap goth palettes,” your ad could still appear.

How to Set up Broad Match Modifiers

It’s easy to set up Broad Match Modifiers in Google AdWords.

Start by signing in to your account. Click “Keywords” on the left-hand menu.

You’ll see a big plus button in the middle of the screen. Click on that and select your Ad Group.

In the text area box, enter the search phrases you’d like to use. Be sure to put a plus sign in front of the words that are required.

For example, you’d enter “+cheap +goth makeup” if you want the words “cheap” and “goth” (or their close variants) included in the search phrase.

Click “Save” when you’re done.

If you’re already running one or more Broad Match campaigns, you can still apply modifiers to your keywords.

Again, click on “Keywords” on the left. Then, hover over one of the keywords.

Click the pencil icon so you can edit it.

In edit mode, put a plus sign in front of the words that are required in the search phrase.

Finally, click “Save.”

Keep in mind that you’ll have to follow that same routine for any other keywords you want to edit.

Wrapping It Up

Quit wasting your money on Broad Match keywords. Instead modify them so your ad is less likely to appear in front of people who aren’t in your target market. Then, check your analytics to see which combinations are giving you the best return. Focus your ad spend on those keyword options.

Top Ten Podcasts Every Marketer Should Listen to

As marketers, we live busy lives. We’re under pressure to learn as much as we can as quickly as we can so that we can ride trends and help our brand to reach as many potential customers as possible. The problem is that as marketers we are also busy creatures that spend a lot of time putting out fires. 

That’s where podcasts come in. Because they use audio content, rather than written or visual content, you can listen to them on the commute or have them on in the background when you’re at the gym. Perhaps that’s why podcasts are so successful. After all, the numbers speak for themselves. In fact, 21% of Americans listen to podcasts, which is 57 million. That’s the same percentage of people that are Twitter users, and only 13% of the country uses Spotify. Podcasts are huge.

And yet despite that, it’s not always easy to get started. People don’t know which shows to listen to and whether they’re wasting their time by giving a new show a chance. That’s where this list comes in. Here are just ten of the podcasts that marketers should be listening to in 2018.

No list like this is complete without a shout out for Gary Vaynerchuk, the bestselling author, celebrity and thought leader who’s behind #AskGaryVee. The show asks people to submit their questions and then Vaynerchuk answers them with a rotating panel of celebrity guests. If you’re not a huge fan of audio by itself, you can also head over to Vaynerchuk’s YouTube channel, where you can see a behind the scenes take on the show for a little extra inspiration.

This show is hosted by Unbounce, a company which knows a thing or two about digital marketing. The product that they offer is designed to improve bounce rates on landing pages, and their podcast is dedicated to the art and science of carrying out state of the art digital marketing campaigns. They also regularly welcome guests on to the show, which allows you, as a marketer, to discover all sorts of new points of view on the industry.

If you’ve ever heard of Social Media Examiner then you should know what to expect here. This podcast is hosted by SME’s Michael Stelzner and is another of those high caliber shows that welcomes all sorts of special guests from different walks of life. As a publication, they focus on sharing the latest news in the social media space, and as a podcast, they focus on discussing and dissecting it.

This weekly podcast has a fairly heavy focus on copywriting, but it also covers topics like SEO, email marketing, digital marketing and much, much more. It takes the form of an interview with some sort of subject matter expert, and that means that no matter what it is that you’re actually learning, you’re sure to be learning from the best.

This is another one of those podcasts which takes a certain amount of kudos from the company which publishes it. The Science of Social Media is the brainchild of Buffer, and it aims to cover all aspects of social media marketing from the basics to the more advanced elements that were previously left to the experts. They welcome expert guests, of course, but the best thing about the podcast is that they have a heavy focus on the metrics that make social media marketing so inherently measurable.

If you’re listening to podcasts over coffee then you could do worse than listening to marketing over coffee, which is more informal than others and which turns that to its advantage by creating the kind of podcast that makes for great background noise whilst simultaneously actually teaching you stuff. The podcast itself is recorded in a coffee shop in Boston and as a listener, you can sense that in the way it’s presented. Just take our word for it and listen to it.

You might have heard of Ferriss thanks to his bestselling book, The Four Hour Work Week. The Tim Ferriss Show is his podcast, and it shares all of the insights that you might have come to expect if you’re familiar with his work. It’s regularly cited as one of the best podcasts period, regardless of genre, and if you’re not listening to it then you’re missing out.

This is yet another podcast that comes to us via a big name publication. This time, it’s VentureBeat’s Stewart Rogers and Travis Wright that are behind the microphone, and while this podcast doesn’t focus specifically on marketing, it does welcome all sorts of interesting guests on to the show while touching on topics that are relevant to marketers all over the world.

This one comes to us via Convince and Convert and it’s earned its place on this list thanks to its position of one of the most popular marketing podcasts in the world. Hosted by Jay Bear and Adam Brown, it’s a great way to stay up with the ever-changing marketing landscape whilst simultaneously getting the experts’ take on what those changes mean in practical terms. Definitely one that’s worth a listen.

This Old Marketing Podcast isn’t any old marketing podcast. It’s co-hosted by Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose and focuses largely on the power of storytelling, both in digital and offline marketing. It won’t necessarily give you a practical list of things to do, but it will give you food for thought and that’s arguably more important.

Conclusion

By now, you should have seen that there are plenty of podcasts out there and that the next step is to actually go out there and start listening to them. Give a few different podcasts a try and figure out what you like and what you don’t like. With a bit of luck, there’ll be a few on this list that will capture your imagination and start filling you up with inspiration.

That inspiration will only get you so far, though. Be sure to actually act on that inspiration and to put some of the tips that you learn into practice. Only then will you start to see just how powerful podcasts can be. Good luck.

8 Gene Therapy and Genetics Startups to Watch in 2018

The FDA just approved the first drug, Luxterna, to cure a rare form of genetic blindness by changing DNA. It’s not the first gene therapy ever approved (it’s third), but it is the first time the FDA has ever approved an injected drug that changes the inherited DNA of a person’s cells to effect a cure.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb recently remarked, regarding gene therapy, “we’re at the early stages of a transformation in medical treatment as a consequence of this new technology. And the benefits are likely to accelerate quickly.”

Earlier this year was the first time a hospital biohacked a patient to try to cure a genetic disease. While it takes time for gene therapies to be tested, trialed, and possibly approved by the FDA, genetics startups like Spark, AveXis, Caribou Biosciences, Editas, and Audentes have been on the road a while. MIT estimates over 40 new therapies would be approved by FDA in the near future.

New breed of startup tackles genetics 

new breed of software company is developing for the genetics industry. Just this year, over 50 U.S. genetics and gene therapy startups raised at least $1 million to support genetics-based treatments, including speeding trails, improving accuracy of tests, and providing better platforms. Collectively, this new kind of startup can help drive down the cost of gene therapy discovery for patients.

Here are some of the startups to watch in 2018 that back discoveries in genetics and gene therapy.

Synthego, founded by former SpaceX engineers, aims to be the ‘AutoCad of gene editing.’ This month, it just released its first gene knock out kit, an application it has been developing with major research institutions like Salk Institute and St. Judes. 

“A constant challenge for our research is trying to reduce the number of clones we need to screen to find a desired targeted modification. In our tests, the Gene Knockout Kit gave us greater than 80 percent knock-out rates for seven targets,” shares Shondra Miller, Ph.D., Director, Center for Advanced Genome Engineering at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, on Synthego’s web site. The company offers researchers a money-back guarantee you’ll get 50 percent or better editing in any human cell type for research use.

Paul Dabrowski, CEO and co-founder of Synthego, shared with me in email that, “It’s possible to imagine a day when gene therapies are safe, effective, easy and affordable for anyone who needs them. Right now, the first CRISPR gene therapies are in development, but they are not built on a ‘standard stack’ and require a lot of custom work for each indication – these therapies will be coming into the clinic and hopefully get approved the coming couple years, and after that there could be significantly more investment into standard tools.”

Edico, Backed by investors like Dell, Qualcomm and others, San Diego-based Edico is the backend for bioinformatics. Their DRAGEN data platform offers a dedicated processing environment tuned to the massive data analysis needed for gene research. According to the company, “DNA sequencing technology is advancing at an even more rapid pace than the cell phone revolution. By increasing the speed and accuracy for NGS data analysis like whole genome sequencing (WGS), our computing platform makes it easier to discover links between DNA sequence variations and human disease.”

Trace Genomics, founded in 2015 by Diane Wu and Poornima Parameswaran in San Francisco, has been discussed as the 23&Me of dirt. The agtech startup has raised $4 million in one round to test farm soil for its microbiome. An initial screening cost of only $199 allows farmers to have their soil samples analyzed by Trace, which applies machine learning to uncover not just what’s in there, but what it means for crop yield and productivity.

Paradigm Diagnostics of Pheonix, AZ offers a gene-specific cancer test that helps physicians pinpoint the best cancer therapies for their patients based on DNA analysis. It just raised a $7 million Series B.

There are a number of software startups focused on improving cancer treatment with better analysis, like early stage CureMatch, based in San Diego. “Nothing could be more important than precisely identifying DNA code alterations that drive the cancers’ growth and use that information to decide on treatment plan,” Dr. Stephane Richard, CEO, shared with me in email.

Celmatix. Based in New York, Celmatix just earned $4.5 million dollar grant from the New York Economic Development Council for expanding in Manhattan. The company has developed a software-driven testing platform that helps families and physicians make fertility choices faster and more accurately for individuals. “Women can now make potentially life-defining decisions about how to proactively plan for the family they want to build and be more efficient in overcoming fertility difficulties they are experiencing using better, more personal, information than age,” founder Piraye Beim shared earlier this year in TechCrunch.

Genoox, an Israeli startup now based in Palo Alto, is a cloud research platform for sifting massive medical trial data quickly and accurately. Their website says, “Simplify complex sequencing data and make impactful discoveries using the most advanced genetic analysis tools and applications.”

Insilico Medicine, originally a Latvian startup now based in Baltimore, develops custom AI learning platforms that uncover insights based on biology. Their latest product is Chemistry.AI.

23&Me. No list of major gene therapy movers would be complete without 23&Me. At one time blocked by the FDA, 23&Me is now a smash hit with both consumers and pharma companies. Its kit was one of the top 10 sellers on Amazon’s Prime Day this year. Plus, its treasure trove of DNA sample data from millions of customers is just the kind of testing data many of the next generation of gene therapies need.

Founder Anne Wojcicki recently expressed her sense of hope in the future of genetics to the New York Times, “Genetics is like your cholesterol test. So your cholesterol test is going to tell you if you have high cholesterol, which is a risk factor for heart disease. But it’s not saying you’re going to die immediately from heart disease or even die at all from heart disease. It’s just saying you have a risk factor. And so genetics is similar. It’s saying you have a risk factor. So the beauty to me of genetics is, it’s always a story of hope.”

Time for Tech Firms to Take Responsibility for the Havoc They Wrought in 2017

?As one of the earliest, and first, female investors in Twitter, I had great hopes for its potential to improve human connectedness and relationships. Today, it’s become clear it’s done the opposite—by becoming a thunderously divisive tool weaponized by the leader of the free world.

WIRED OPINION

ABOUT

Susan Wu (@sw) is an entrepreneur, engineer, and angel investor. Susan is cofounder of a new educational movement focused on empowering children to thrive in the world of the future. She is also part of the founding team of Project Include.

Consider other harm caused by today’s major technology companies: The immense power wielded by Facebook in the 2016 presidential election and its complicity in stoking genocidal violence against the Rohingya people of Myanmar. The pervasive ethical shortcomings surrounding Uber’s business practices, and Airbnb’s sometimes devastating influence on neighborhoods. Not to mention revelations about workplace harassment and discrimination that occur in many corners of Silicon Valley (and beyond).

Our industry hardly needs more evidence that what constitutes success in the digital age urgently needs to be redefined.

Technology has recently played a positive role as well, with the long-awaited revelations of long-standing abuse by men amplified by #metoo, and in galvanizing a movement around longstanding racial inequities with #blacklivesmatter.

It’s crystal clear that Silicon Valley’s chief executives are no longer merely startup founders, product creators, and business executives. They’re societal leaders too, oligarchs shaping the very nature of our identities, communications, and relationships.

In a world where software and algorithms run most every part of our lives—where Google and Facebook control close to 70 percent of all digital advertising, and smartphone penetration is nearing 80 percent—creating innovative software and launching indispensable apps is no longer enough.

As basic social contracts across nearly every aspect of Americans’ lives are being dismantled by a voracious, so-called free market system and gluttonous political administration, citizens each have an even more urgent need to acknowledge our responsibility to one another. Today, racking up a stratospheric market valuation without significant consideration of the product or company’s broader societal impact is reckless and irresponsible.

Urgently, innovators must consider the massive ripple effects of their creations as part of their imperative. Being an innovation leader isn’t just about delivering quarterly shareholder results or hitting product launch dates. Genuine innovation isn’t just about making technological advances, but also about reimagining and understanding structural issues underlying society.

The tech industry can either design for and build positive externalities, or we can inflict many negative ones—job displacement, fracturing of neighborhoods, addictive behaviors, compounding isolation, fortifying tribalism, and widening income equality, to name a few.

As a veteran angel investor, engineer, and technology entrepreneur, I worked to popularize and commercialize the World Wide Web 20 years ago. The hope then was to revolutionize power structures, increase access to opportunity, and construct a level playing field for all.   The tomorrow I hoped for has not yet arrived: one grounded in engaged empathy and equality, where humanity and technology are synthesized and integrated in a new force, one that empowers people to thrive as whole human beings.

Achieving this requires a commitment to the belief that true progress and discovery is only possible by addressing the fundamental human needs of many, not just those fortunate to have a voice and a presence at the table. Though stratospheric income inequality may insulate the most privileged from the real-world impact of many of their decisions, there are some global crises that are inescapable, like climate change.

Harnessing the perspectives of women, people of color, and underrepresented communities, including the 80 percent of the world who lives on less than $10 a day, would offer a diversity of lived experiences that could propel genuine, structural innovation this coming decade. Imagine the types of platforms, products, and inventions that can be created when we expand the pool of entrepreneurs to welcome entirely new viewpoints.

Without thoughtful consideration of how technology interacts with structural and systemic issues in society, would-be innovators are inadvertently rehashing history, by moving around the same pieces on the same game board over and over.

Look, for instance, at the most likely probability that men hold well over 90 percent of the asset value of today’s techno-darling bitcoin, the latest example of merely shifting power from one group of privileged men to another.

Perhaps it’s time for an updated version of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, one that underscores what’s essential not just for individuals to flourish, but for the greater good of society. Startups and management executives universally invoke this theory as an accepted canon for framing the human problems they’re trying to solve.

The problem is that Maslow’s framework pertains to individual, not societal, well-being. The reality is that individual needs cannot be met without the social cohesion of belonging, connectedness, and symbiotic networks. A revised design focused on a thriving civilization would have at its root empathy and ethics, and acknowledge that if inequality continues to grow at its current pace, societal well-being becomes impossible to achieve.

The very idea of what it means to be human is changing—and we who are leaders in technology are aiding and abetting that change. Let’s acknowledge and embrace the magnitude of that power—and our responsibility to put it to good use.

We must never forget that the innovations of today set the standards for the future: how we learn, socialize, enjoy, work, shop, mate, and navigate this tiny rock we call planet Earth. Great leaders in innovation understand that they’re continually earning the right to be leaders, effectively representing the needs of all communities, and empowering all of humanity to live ever better lives.

WIRED Opinion publishes pieces written by outside contributors and represents a wide range of viewpoints. Read more opinions here.

Edward Snowden’s New App Turns A Smartphone Into a Security System

Edward Snowden, who blew the whistle on NSA surveillance of U.S. citizens, knows a thing or two about spying. He’s now released an app, Haven, that makes it easier to defend yourself against the most aggressive kinds.

Haven, now in public beta, turns any Android smartphone into a sensitive security system. It’s primarily intended to be installed on a secondary phone — say, last year’s model — which then takes photos and records sound of any activity in a room where it’s placed. Haven will then send alerts of any intrusion to a user’s primary phone over encrypted channels.

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The announcement for the app says it’s designed “for investigative journalists, human rights defenders,” and others who might be targeted by powerful enemies. According to The Verge, Snowden was encouraged to develop the app by a lawyer who fought to bring down Chadian dictator Hissene Habre.

One commonly cited use case for Haven is protecting laptops holding sensitive information, which can be relatively easily compromised if someone gains physical access. Snowden, who lives in Russia because he faces espionage charges in the United States, has adopted extensive personal security measures himself, and reportedly doesn’t even carry a smartphone anymore.

Even A Cloudy Crystal Ball Comes Into Focus Twice A Year

Subscribers to “Retirement: One Dividend At A Time” got an early, in-depth look at this material via free instant text message trade alert and email alert.

Users of crystal balls are usually concerned with the ability to foretell the future. “Will I marry?” “Will I grow old?” “Will I be rich?” Most of us would admit having interest in the first two questions. All of us, as investors, would certainly have great interest in the third.

It is with this in mind, as an income investor, that I concern myself with discovering historical patterns that can be used in conjunction with important metrics like free cash flow, earnings growth, and especially dividend growth. When interpreted correctly, many ingredients can be combined in a way that will lead us to investments that help bring us closer to our goals, to reach retirement with a continuing stream of growing income that outstrips inflation.

It was just a few days ago that I postulated that our core holding, AT&T (T), was on the cusp of raising its dividend, by another penny per quarter. This, I said, would bring the annual dividend payment up from $1.96 to $2.00 per share.

Photo source

I readily admit it: This fortune teller is much easier on the eyes than my old puss. However, even my rusty crystal ball is on the money sometimes.

AT&T Declares An Increased Dividend

On Friday, December 15th, AT&T declared a $0.50/share quarterly dividend, which is a 2% increase from the prior dividend of $0.49.

Forward yield 5.24%.

Payable Feb. 1; for shareholders of record Jan. 10; ex-div Jan. 9.

34 Consecutive Years of Dividend Increases Reflects Strong Cash Flows

Not many companies can boast of such a long period of increasing their dividends to shareholders. A company that increases its dividend for 25 consecutive years is referred to as a dividend aristocrat. AT&T has superseded this designation by nine years, to date.

The board of directors of AT&T Inc., doing what it’s done for 34 consecutive years, approved yet another in a long series of increases in the company’s quarterly dividend.

The annual dividend will in fact increase from $1.96 to $2.00 per share.

Randall Stephenson, chairman and CEO, said:

Our strong cash flows and outlook for the business allow us to raise our dividend for the 34th consecutive year. We’re committed to returning value to our shareholders, and we’re pleased to deliver yet again.

Source: about.att.com

About AT&T

Photo source

AT&T Inc. is a holding company. It is the largest telecommunications company in the U.S. AT&T products and services are provided or offered by subsidiaries and affiliates of AT&T Inc. under the AT&T brand and not by AT&T Inc. Additional information about AT&T Inc. is available at about.att.com.

Source: Business Wire

Crystal Ball Prediction

That prediction of mine was based on the aforesaid history of 34 consecutive years of dividend increases. It was also based on the fact that free cash flows have been increasing, and that is what supports a growing dividend. It was also based on recent history indicating AT&T has been raising the dividend by this same amount the last several years – nine years in fact.

AT&T Recent Dividend History

Going back 9 years, penny a quarter increases have been the norm (4 cents per year).

Source: Yahoo Finance

Fed Having Difficulty Getting Inflation Off The Ground

Though the Fed just raised the fed funds rate another 1/4 point recently, and three more hikes are expected for 2018, the Fed continues having difficulty getting the economy to produce inflation above its target rate of 2%. In fact, it’s been running below this target range for quite some time, confounding many economists and the Fed chair herself.

This Is What Winning Is

As long as AT&T keeps delivering dividend increases to shareholders like this one, running at a 2.04% increase while inflation runs below 2%, stakeholders like us continue to run ahead of the game and preserve our purchasing power. For us, that’s the name of this game we call dividend growth investing.

We Are Not Unhappy With The Capital Gains, Either

Our recent purchases In AT&T to expand our core positions further, for both the RODAT Subscriber Portfolio and the Fill-The-Gap Portfolio, have paid off quickly and handsomely.

On November 6, while most investors were down on AT&T because of all the confusion surrounding the merger with Time Warner (TWX) and the worries about how much debt T would take on to accomplish the marriage, we stepped into the morass and bought more shares for both portfolios at $32.60 per share.

We based our analysis, among other data, on the fact that T’s dividend yield normally flies in the 4.5% to 5% range, as discussed in “AT&T’s Downward Spiral: What, Me Worry?”. We secured a 6.01% dividend yield at that $32.60 price. As soon as the $2.00 annual increase takes effect on February 1st, our effective yield will rise to 6.13%. This amounts to capturing 36% more income from our shares than investors who bought at much higher prices and obtained the much lower 4.5% yield.

If you translated this type of extra income to a total portfolio, you could easily visualize the difference in income produced by making well-timed investments like this:

$100,000 portfolio yielding 4.5% generates $4500 in annual income.

$100,000 portfolio yielding 6.13% generates $6130 in annual income.

For investors fortunate to have accumulated a higher portfolio amount:

$500,000 portfolio yielding 4.5% generates $22,500 in annual income.

$500,000 portfolio yielding 6.13% generates $30,650 in annual income.

The $64,421.38 Question

Here’s a rhetorical question for you: Which of the above annual dividend supplemental incomes would you choose for your retirement to supplement your Social Security benefit, $22,500.00 or $30,650.00?

There’s Always A Sale, Somewhere

Waiting for your watch list candidates to suffer undeserved beat-downs can lead to much higher income in retirement. If you make your watch-list bench deep enough, you’ll find there’s always a sale, somewhere in the markets that you can take advantage of.

With shares selling for $38.50 as I write this, we have bought ourselves, our followers, and subscribers an early Christmas present: capital appreciation of 18.1%. We can buy a whole lot of Xmas presents with that, not to mention those hefty dividend payments.

Photo source

Our Payoff

The Fill-The-Gap Portfolio holds 1,530 shares of AT&T. Our annual income from this name has now climbed to $3060.00 and $765.00 will flow to our accounts on February 1, 2018.

Please adjust your digital tracking tools to reflect this new dividend amount of $2.00 per year.

New Net Neutrality Rules

The changes in the rules will have various outcomes to all parties concerned, including consumers of internet services, the providers of those services, and the investors who look to profit from ownership in those providers. Included among them are these:

Consumer Impact:

The FCC’s recent decision to free up internet service providers, allowing them to charge higher prices to whomever they choose and to slow down speeds for sites they desire, or speed up others, or charge for faster speeds may harm some of us as consumers.

ISP Impact

As an internet service provider, or ISP, this change in rules will certainly benefit companies like AT&T which provide the pipes and now will have more control over how the internet flows through those pipes.

Investor Impact

As investors, higher charges should flow through to higher free cash flow, thereby enabling a sustaining of the dividend at a minimum, and a faster dividend growth rate at the maximum.

By this time next year, the results of this rule change and the ultimate decision as to whether the merger with Time Warner is allowed to proceed should come further into focus, and we will see if the thesis for a higher dividend growth rate pans out as I believe it will.

Free Cash Flow Picture Brightening

The company has projected free cash flow of $18 billion for the full year.

Because of a decrease in investment activity, free cash flow was substantially higher year to date than was expected. Thus, the $18 billion target seems attainable.

Because the $18 billion is achievable, this casts even better light on the payout ratio.

The last five years, the payout ratio (dividends/free cash flow per share) has ranged from about 65% to 75%. This year, the company is on track to sport a dividend/free cash flow payout ratio near 50%.

What does this mean? For one, it means that AT&T will have no difficulty paying its dividend obligations to shareholders. For another, it means that the dividend is covered by a factor of two. The dividend is not only safe and sustainable, but also a dividend increase is to be expected for shareholders again next February 2019. If they conform to the pattern of the last several years, investors should expect another penny per quarter increase going forward, or greater if free cash flow is positively impacted by the new net neutrality rules and the proposed TWX merger.

The Fill-The-Gap Portfolio

The FTG Portfolio contains a good helping of dividend growth stocks, like AT&T. It was built with the express purpose of benefiting from this and other strategies.

Two and a half years ago, I began writing a series of articles on December 24, 2014, to demonstrate the real-life construction and management of a portfolio dedicated to growing income to close a yawning gap that so many millions of seniors and near-retirees face today between their Social Security benefit and retirement expenses.

The beginning article was entitled, “This Is Not Your Father’s Retirement Plan.” This project began with $411,600 in capital that was deployed in such a way that each of the portfolio constituents yielded approximately equal amounts of yearly income.

The FTG Portfolio Constituents

Constructed beginning on 12/24/14, this portfolio now consists of 21 companies, including AT&T Inc., Altria Group, Inc. (MO), Consolidated Edison, Inc. (ED), Verizon Communications (NYSE:VZ), CenturyLink, Inc. (NYSE:CTL), Main Street Capital (MAIN), Ares Capital (ARCC), British American Tobacco (BTI), Vector Group Ltd. (VGR), EPR Properties (EPR), Realty Income Corporation (O), Sun Communities, Inc. (SUI), Omega Healthcare Investors (OHI), W.P. Carey, Inc. (WPC), Government Properties Income Trust (GOV), The GEO Group (GEO), The RMR Group (RMR), Southern Company (SO), Chatham Lodging Trust (CLDT), DineEquity (DIN), and Iron Mountain, Inc. (IRM).

Because we bought most of these equities at cheaper prices since the inception of the portfolio and because most of our stocks have increased their dividends regularly, the yield on cost that we have achieved is 7.67% since launch on December 24, 2014. Current portfolio income, including recent dividend raises by AT&T and Realty Income, and our newest addition of AT&T shares, now totals $31,573.30, which is $505.36 more annual income than the previous month. This represents a 1.64% annual income increase for the portfolio.

When added to the average couple’s Social Security benefit of $32,848.08, this $31,573.30 of additional supplemental income brings this couple annual income of $64,421.38. This far surpasses the original goal set to achieve a total of $50,000.00, which is accepted as a fairly comfortable retirement income in many parts of the country. That being said, this average couple now has the means to splurge now and then on vacation travel, dinners out, travel to see the kids and grandkids and whatever else they deem interesting.

Taken all together, this is how the FTG Portfolio generates its annual income.

FTG Annual Dividend Income

Chart source: the author

Your Takeaway

An investor could get whiplash watching the stock price gyrations of some stocks. The sentiment on AT&T has turned from decidedly negative to positively positive the last five weeks. Dividend investors who initially abandoned the stock have rushed back with a vengeance, pushing down its yield from 6.01% to just 5.09% today. This dividend aristocrat that has come through for dividend investors for decades has once again returned to favor.

We can’t normally predict with much accuracy what a stock’s price will be from one day to the next, no matter how clear our crystal ball might be. However, if we use history as a guide and take present data like free cash flow growth into account, we can sometimes come to a decent projection of where the dividend is headed.

In this instance, my crystal ball, cloudy though it may be, was just clear enough to make a prognostication of AT&T’s dividend growth that was right on the money. I don’t doubt that some other investors may have come to the same conclusion, and they joined the march back with me to this solid stalwart that provides dependable and reliable dividend income to retirees and others for decades.

In fact, it is my contention that a steady decline in stock price lopping off 22% of market value is right about the time investors should start contemplating adding to their current stakes or starting a new position. Opportunities like this to enhance yield and income do not come along often. But when they do, the opportunities usually evaporate almost as quickly as they appear. In this case, it took only 5 weeks for the dividend yield to revert back close to the mean.

If you missed this opportunity that I presented weeks ago, don’t fret. There will always be others. There’s always a sale somewhere in the market.

Holiday Wishes

Over the past five weeks, these recent gains in both capital appreciation and dividend growth couldn’t be more timely and beneficial.

Total portfolio dividend income has now risen to $31,573.30, providing plenty of manna with which to share our bounty this Chanukah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa.

From our family to yours, we wish you the best of the holiday season.

As always, I look forward to your comments, discussion, and questions. Did you view AT&T’s price deterioration in real time as a loss or an opportunity? do you still harbor doubts whether the dividend from this name is sustainable? Are contemplating taking a quick profit or will you hold for continued, future dividend growth? Please let me know how you approach these situations in your own portfolio and how you arrive at your decisions.

Author’s note: Should you be interested in reading any of my other articles detailing various strategies to enhance your returns on a dividend growth portfolio, you will find them here.

If you’d like to receive immediate notification whenever I write new content, simply click the “follow” button at the top of this article next to my picture or at the bottom of the article, then click “Follow in real time.”

For even better performance and faster dividend growth, learn more about a free two-week trial of this highly rated premium service at this link “Retirement: One Dividend At A Time.” I encourage you to try it before you buy. You’ll receive free instant texts, exclusive articles, updates, commentary and analysis throughout the week.

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As part of our premium subscription program, all subscribers receive a free Portfolio Income Tracker to track income production in the subscriber portfolio and stay focused on income production in their own portfolio.

My promise to you: With every exclusive article, email, instant text and chat, I’ll help guide you to:

  • Increased income for retirement, one dividend at a time.
  • Under-valued stocks for a greater margin of error and higher capital appreciation.
  • Methods to safely diversify your portfolio.
  • Strategies to build, grow and protect your income for retirement.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to provide information to interested parties. As I have no knowledge of individual investor circumstances, goals, and/or portfolio concentration or diversification, readers are expected to complete their own due diligence before purchasing any stocks mentioned or recommended.

If you’re interested in learning how to construct a portfolio to build, grow and protect YOUR dividend income in this way for your retirement, let’s celebrate new milestones together! We’ve been helping many hundreds of investors reach their goals for over 2 years now with our exclusive newsletter on Seeking Alpha. Our following is growing by more than 1000 per month and now over 20,700 readers have chosen to follow my work.

On desktop and mobile, in the last 12 months, my articles have attracted more than 2 1/2 million views by readers like you.

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Have a prosperous day!

Best,

George Schneider

Disclosure: I am/we are long ALL FTG PORTFOLIO STOCKS.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Does Your Company Have a New Year's Resolution?

Two days ago the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) published the very first Apple patent related to autonomous vehicle technology.  One might ponder whether or not that was a critical goal or milestone for the corporation in 2017.  We could learn a lesson from this tech giant, not when it comes to slowing down old devices, but rather, the importance of audacious goal setting in a climate where the fixation around quarterly profits sometimes gets in the way of innovation. 

Another example is the Apple watch, which may soon be transforming from a luxury fashion accessory into a serious medical device.  As you think about your business, what are your New Year’s Resolutions for 2018?  We’re not just talking about industry-changing tech devices here.  You may opt to start with the basics and getting those right, so treat yourself to some self reflection and goal setting time over your holiday break.  Then kick of the new year right with a team meeting on January 2 to relay and orient the troops to your vision. 

Here are three thought starters to get you started:

Big Data

What is the role of data in your organization and do you need a Chief Digital Officer, Chief Data Officer or both?  By 2019, 90 percent of large global companies will have an appointed CDO, Gartner predicts.

If you are based in Europe, or have business operations there, how will General Data Protection Regulation impact you? GDPR will go into effect May 2018, and will strengthen data protection rules for all organizations that touch personal data for EU residents.

For a trend report on other 2018 data predictions and insights download the Top Data Trends for 2018.

Net Neutrality Repeal

As a result of the 3-2 vote, on Dec. 14, consumers no longer have equal access to the Internet.  Online SMBs and startups with less revenue and consumer reach would be the first to feel the pain of deregulation. Do you have the budget to pay for prioritization if it comes to that?  What other risk mitigation strategies should you be thinking about to make your business more resilient in 2018. Maybe this is a way to put your corporate tax saving to work. 

Tax Bill

The corporate tax rate has been cut from 35 percent to 21 percent starting next year, and the new laws will first be applied to 2018 tax filing season. While AT&T, Comcast and Boeing promise bonuses, and Wells Fargo claims to increase its minimum wage for U.S. employees from $13.50 to $15, how will the new tax bill impact your fiscal decisions at home and in business?  Might be a good time to check in with your CPA although you will not be able to write off his/her services next year.  

Beyond these thought starters, give your business some real scrutiny and remember that pain points or obstacles can be transformed into opportunity. Here’s to a great 2018.

My Money Works Harder Than Me: Early Retirement Fund Income Update

I started a new experiment. Since poker, specifically No Limit Texas Hold’em, is one of my favorite hobbies, I decided to attend a weekly poker session at my local poker room every Tuesday night. The goal is to sit down at the $1-2 stakes table and play anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours to see how much I can profit during the last few months of 2017. I started this experiment in August and have done quite well for an above average cash game amateur player.

My hobby is an income source, but a minimal one with lots of volatility. Any poker player knows that you can’t win every time you play. But how well have I done since August? I am delighted to share that I have profited $1,051 at the poker table after playing 26.5 hours. These poker results calculate out to a $39.66 hourly rate. This rate is outstanding, the best I have achieved during my amateur poker career, and something I am very proud of, but there are drawbacks.

To achieve my coveted $39.66 rate, I have had to stay disciplined at the poker table, stay alert and energized at the table after working a 10-hour shift at my full-time job, deal with the stress involved in deciding to call/raise/fold in big time decision moments, and deal with the occasional large loss as the best hand in poker does not always win. Poker requires a lot of mental toughness that can take a toll on you physically if you are not disciplined and focused.

So why should you care about all the time I have spent playing in a weekly poker game? Well, it’s simple. It provides a perfect example; no matter how hard I work during my free time, my dividend stocks will always work harder without costing me time, stress, and sacrifice.

Before we can compare my hourly poker rate to my portfolio income, I first must show you what income my Early Retirement Fund [ERF] has generated over the last 4 months. After I prove that my money can work harder than me, I will share my 2018 goal.

August to November Portfolio Income

The table below shows the income I received from my ERF portfolio from August to November 2017:

HOLDING

INCOME TYPE

AMOUNT

August

GNC Holdings (GNC)

Option Premium

17.32

Kinder Morgan (KMI)

Dividend

9.22

Lazard (LAZ)

Dividend

41.00

Verizon Communications (VZ)

Dividend

2.24

Waddell & Reed Financial (WDR)

Dividend

46.00

August Subtotal

115.78

September

Aircastle (AYR)

Dividend

15.60

Chevron (CVX)

Dividend

16.37

Cummins (CMI)

Dividend

118.80

Douglas Dynamics (PLOW)

Dividend

24.00

Emclaire Financial (EMCF)

Dividend

27.00

GameStop (GME)

Dividend

38.00

Helmerich & Payne (HP)

Dividend

16.80

International Business Machines (IBM)

Dividend

49.50

LyondellBasell Industries (LYB)

Dividend

90.00

Meredith (MDP)

Dividend

1.37

National Oilwell Varco (NOV)

Dividend

5.00

NOV

Option Premium

15.32

Old Republic (ORI)

Dividend

19.00

Stage Stores (SSI)

Dividend

4.85

Valero Energy (VLO)

Dividend

70.00

Waste Management (WM)

Dividend

1.61

September Subtotal

513.22

October

Bank of Nova Scotia (BNS)

Dividend

20.33

Domtar (UFS)

Dividend

28.64

Macy’s (M)

Dividend

15.10

Maiden Holdings (MHLD)

Dividend

22.65

NOV

Option Premium

87.32

New Residential (NRZ)

Dividend

50.00

Steelcase (SCS)

Dividend

9.56

October Subtotal

233.60

November

Arbor Realty Trust (ABR)

Dividend

23.75

KMI

Dividend

9.22

LAZ

Dividend

41.00

NOV

Option Premium

39.82

VZ

Dividend

2.28

WDR

Dividend

46.00

November Subtotal

162.11

GRAND TOTAL:

1024.71

Source: Author Calculations

The total income I received during the last 4 months was $1024.71 which is 2.2% higher than the income I received, $1002.93, during this same time in 2016. With one month left to go in 2017, I am averaging $237.22 a month in dividends and $55.43 a month in premiums. Comparatively, I averaged $175.27 a month in dividends and $134.84 a month in option premiums during the first 11 months of 2016. My dividends have increased 35.3% year over year, and my option premiums have decreased by 58.9%. I am very pleased with my dividend income growth and not too concerned about my option premium decrease. I only use options to move in or out of a position. It is not a consistent source of income like my dividends are.

I received premiums over this time frame for writing covered calls as I am attempting to completely sell out of my GNC and NOV positions due to both companies cutting their dividends. My September GNC option was called at an attractive price so I no longer own any GNC stock. I continue to own NOV and I am actively writing calls to pick up extra income and exit my position at a predetermined price. If covered calls are unfamiliar to you and you want to learn how you can benefit from them, please read my article here that explains them in detail.

Source: Author Calculations

During the 4 months, a few of my holdings raised their quarterly dividend payments. I had to do nothing to earn these raises. The table below shows the changes in my quarterly dividend payments for the following holdings:

Holding

2016 Quarterly Payment

2017 Quarterly Payment

Change

AYR

15.60

16.80

7.7%

CMI

112.75

118.80

5.4%

VZ

2.24

2.28

1.8%

Source: Author Calculations

It is evident that the cumulative dividend raises were greater than current US inflation rate of 2.2%. Dividend raises are one of my favorite benefits of dividend growth investing.

How Hard Does My Money Work?

So now that we know my portfolio income from August to November, we can compare it with my poker income. The chart below shows why it is very difficult to work harder than your money:

Income Source

Hours

Income

Hourly Rate

Poker Experiment

26.5

$1051.00

$39.66

ERF Portfolio

10.0

$1024.71

$102.47

Source: Author Calculations

I need to point out the 10 hours associated with my ERF portfolio. I only spend about 30 minutes a month of portfolio maintenance. These 30 minutes involve logging into my brokerage account at the end of every month to view my dividend transactions so I can enter them into a spreadsheet. I then use Seeking Alpha’s portfolio function to keep tabs on my holdings. The only headlines I really pay attention to are dividend announcements and earnings reports. I will read the occasional article about one of my stocks if the headline seems interesting to me. Since I am a long-term buy-and-hold investor, portfolio maintenance is very minimal. Writing a call option takes mere minutes when I decide to exit a position due to an unfortunate dividend cut.

I did initiate two new positions during this time frame; ABR and SCS. Because I keep my stock research and rating system simple, I spent only 8 hours analyzing and learning about the two stocks before I bought shares.

It’s easy to see the time-saving benefits of dividend investing evidenced by the table above. My poker experiment has been a giant success but when you compare the risk, time, efficiency, and stress involved to that of a passively managed dividend portfolio, I realize that maybe I would be better off spending more time increasing my dividend income stream than playing poker. No matter how hard I work playing my best game at the poker table, or even working hard at my full-time job, I am certain my ERF portfolio will always work harder.

New Year’s Resolution

After running the numbers, I am expected to surpass $3000 of dividend income in 2017 as December will prove to be a record-breaking month of dividend payments. I am ecstatic about reaching this milestone and look forward to achieving $4000 or more of dividend income in 2018. To reach this goal I will need to increase my dividend income by about 33%. This will be a lofty goal as I am only projected to increase my dividend income from 2016 to 2017 by about 30%. I am very proud of my 30% increase but love to challenge myself to accomplish bigger and bigger goals every year.

To reach the $4000 milestone, I will have to stay focused and remain disciplined. Life is always full of distractions so I plan on putting my investment savings on autopilot so I am not tempted to “forget” a portfolio contribution or two. I plan to set up a direct deposit to my brokerage account so that every month I am contributing a set amount to the ERF portfolio without effort and the temptation of spending that money elsewhere.

Conclusion

As 2017 comes to a close, my monthly portfolio income has grown year over year due to dividend payment increases, reinvestment of all portfolio income, and steady monthly contributions. I have spent very little time maintaining and managing my portfolio, yet it continues to provide record-breaking results. In the meantime, I have spent a lot of my free time honing my valuable poker playing skills. With the time, risk, and sacrifices I have made to manage this “alternative” investment, I have realized that no matter how talented I am at a game, my money is always going to work harder and sacrifice less than I ever could.

Disclosure: I am/we are long ABR, AYR, BNS, CMI, CVX, EMCF, GME, HP, IBM, KMI, LAZ, LYB, M, MDP, MHLD, NOV, NRZ, ORI, PLOW, SCS, SSI, UFS, VLO, VZ, WDR, WM.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Editor’s Note: This article covers one or more stocks trading at less than $1 per share and/or with less than a $100 million market cap. Please be aware of the risks associated with these stocks.