Pixel 2 XL Vs. iPhone X: One Long-Term Winner (Review)

Credit: Google

Pixel 2 XL: Google can easily lay claim to one of the world’s best smartphones.

Which of two great phones squeaks out a win over the long haul and delivers an upside surprise? Read on.

Note: this updates a previous review of the two phones.

I’ve been using the iPhone X, Google Pixel 2 XL, and Pixel 2 since the fall of 2017.  In this short review I’ll focus on four metrics of the two flagships that impress over the long term.

Credit: @OnLeaks and MySmartPrice

Pixel 3 XL and Pixel 3 render.

To Notch Or Not: 

I prefer phones without a notch. Based on the above render of the Pixel 3 XL and Pixel 3 from @onleaks and mysmartprice, the Pixel 3 XL will get an iPhone X-like notch.

That’s a little disappointing (if true) because I favor the Pixel 2 XL physical design over the iPhone X because Google executed a great design without the notch. (That said, I guess we’ll all have to get used to the notch because it’s fast becoming the design element du jour.)

Display — Let’s talk about the Pixel 2 XL: 

Pixel 2 XL: I’ve had three builds of the Pixel 2 XL over the last seven months. Why? Because I didn’t like the initial OLED display (made by LG) on the XL: mostly because colors were muted. There was also a “blue shift,” i.e., a blue tint when viewed from an angle on white backgrounds. But the blue shift didn’t bother me as much since all OLED displays (including the iPhone X) have this to some degree.

My most recent build is January 25, 2018. That’s more than three months after it was released and at least four months since the early builds. The upshot: I have been pleasantly surprised with the fresh build. Maybe it’s a hit-or-miss thing but the display quality has definitely improved since the two early builds. The colors are no longer muted and the blue tint, while still there, isn’t glaring (though I can’t speak for others).

But, again, by far the most important thing is that the colors are deeper, more vibrant, i.e., it now looks like a high-quality OLED display (see notes at bottom¹).

iPhone X: Apple’s first iPhone with an OLED display (made by Samsung) is even better than the excellent LCD on the iPhone 8 (which I’ve also been using). That’s saying a lot. When looking at photos, the X’s OLED display is tuned so it’s not quite as garish as the saturated colors on Samsung’s Galaxy phones. In short, no complaints.

Credit: Apple

Software: 

Apps: an even match. Granted, there are some exceptions (like video editing, which tends to favor the iPhone) but generally there’s parity between the two platforms. In fact, most apps are indistinguishable between iOS and Android.

AI: This isn’t breaking news but Google Assistant on the Pixel is superior to Apple’s Siri. I don’t use Google Assistant or Siri that much but if you do, go with the Pixel. Simple fact is, Google does AI better than Apple.

Integration with Mac: Apple is better at synching iOS features with the MacBook out of the box. That includes call features such as FaceTime calls. I also use a Pixelbook (made by Google) with the Pixel 2 XL but, aside from the obvious things like Chrome, Photos, Docs, and Calendar, there isn’t the deeper level of integration that iOS and the macOS have. This a big plus for Apple and I value this a lot. (And I would suggest that Google do a better job here.)

Value: 

Apple has an amazing phone but loses this one because, starting at $999 with 64GB, it is about $100 too much. On the other hand, the Pixel 2 XL with 64GB and a considerably larger 6-inch OLED display (both taller and wider than the 5.8-inch on the X) starts at $849.

Other upsides: the Pixel 2 XL is the best pure, lag-free Android experience, doesn’t have a notch (unlike the iPhone X), has a gorgeous display (on the later builds), a camera that’s the iPhone X’s equal, and feels great in the hand for a big phone.

Overall:

Platform preference aside, the Pixel 2 XL is a better value and boasts quality equal to the iPhone X — even considering the initial display problems. And has a gorgeous physical design sans the notch.

And one more thing: Biometrics. I’m not a big fan of the iPhone X’s Face ID because it requires you to hold the phone directly (more or less) in front of your face. I prefer the XL’s fingerprint ID on the back of the phone. But this is a personal preference thing so I may be in the minority here.

—-

¹The colors appear much less muted even with “Saturated” toggled off (this is done in the “Display” settings under “Advanced”). I have chosen to keep Saturated turned on, which I did not do on the earlier builds because I thought it looked too artificial. That’s not the case now.

Astronomers Reveal Two New Candidates For Alien Life

Credit: NASA

Artist’s depiction, Kepler-1652b.

The list is getting longer.

Space scientists just added two more worlds to the Habitable Exoplanets Catalog—the online database ranking the best picks for life in the galaxy.

55 planets now make the list—all places where extraterrestrials may exist.

Or perhaps not; maybe nothing lives on any of them, not even a microbe.

“There are still so many unknowns,” says Abel Mendez, the catalog’s chief curator.

The two new planets, like their 53 predecessors, are little more than shadows to us, literally and figuratively—cosmic conundrums residing trillions of miles from our solar system.

But this much is known: Both worlds are near the size of Earth. Both might have Earth-like temperatures. Both orbit their stars in the habitable zone—the sweet spot in a system, a location where liquid water may flow and life may flourish.

Mendez, a planetary astrobiologist and professor at the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo, says that’s enough to consider them “potentially habitable,” at least for now.

Credit: [email protected] Arecibo (phl.upr.edu)

Kepler-1652b is new to the Habitable Exoplanets Catalog.

Kepler-1652b—probably rocky, and “only ten percent larger than Earth,” says Mendez—orbits a red dwarf star in the constellation Cygnus, 822 light years away.

Red dwarfs aren’t easy parent stars. Many are hyperactive; some blitz nearby planets with ferocious stellar flares, annihilating their atmospheres.

“But this planet is further out, close to the center of its habitable zone,” says Mendez. “It’s less likely to be damaged by flares.”

Indeed, preliminary data indicates reasonable surface temperatures—around 40 degrees Fahrenheit. In New York City, that’s a mild winter’s day.

“It probably has some temperatures similar to Earth,” says Mendez. “But that’s a guess.”

And that’s also the rub.

Credit: NASA / Walt Feimer

Artist’s impression of a red dwarf star.

Credit: NASA

The habitable zone.

Kepler-1652b is so far away—about five quadrillion miles—there’s little more to do than speculate and estimate. The world is too remote for even NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, now slated for a 2021 launch.

“It will be a long time before we know much about this planet,” sighs Mendez. “It’s screaming, ‘Learn more about me.’ But the distance makes that very hard. It may be decades before we know more. Maybe centuries.”

The other planet—HD 283869b—orbits a “K star” in the constellation Taurus, 155 light years away, approximately 900 trillion miles.

“That’s the good thing about this one,” Mendez says. “It’s closer.”

K-stars—so-called “orange dwarfs”—are larger than reds, but smaller than our Sun.

“And stable,” says Mendez. “That’s a very good scenario.”

The planet, still awaiting confirmation, is about twice the size of Earth“and might be a hot ocean world,” Mendez says. “Microbial life may be an option.”

More additions to the catalog are expected before year’s end. Ultimately, Mendez anticipates a list of thousands.

“This is amazing,” he says. “Who would have thought that, even ten years ago?”

Credit: NASA

Artist’s concept. An exoplanet with life.

What Separates Millionaire Entrepreneurs From The Rest Of Us? Hint: It's Not What You Think

At the end of the day, who doesn’t love a shortcut?

But there’s a trap in this approach that most people don’t realize.

Simply copying their strategies and tactics alone won’t work. You need to first understand the mindset behind what they do.

I’ll tell you, I see people making this mistake all the time. They discover that the big dog of their industry generates 80% of leads using Facebook ads. So guess what they do? They copy their ads and expect it to work.

After spending a few hundred bucks and not seeing any results, they turn their ads down and never touch it again. “I always knew that Facebook ads don’t work for my audience.” Seriously?

What those folks don’t understand is that the guys who made it work for them have a completely different mindset. They focus on learning and experiment with several different variations until they find the one that works.

You see what I mean? It all comes back to your mindset.

Now, I’ve recently interviewed several multimillion-dollar business owners in my podcast, and I sat down with my team to analyze how these successful entrepreneurs think differently.

Here are three key mindsets that you can copy:

1.  Put all your eggs into one basket

The average entrepreneur tends to struggle with what’s known as Shiny Object Syndrome. They try to do everything at once — we’re talking multiple product lines, income streams, and business opportunities.

Millionaires, on the other hand, put all their eggs in one basket. They give the current project they’re working on their 100% — no ifs, ands, or buts.

I’m not going to lie – I fell prey to the Shiny Object Syndrome back when I first started my company, too. I thought that the best way of making money was to sell whatever my clients needed — as long as they were willing to pay, I was willing to do the job.

One day, I was talking to a successful business owner, and he told me to stop running around like a headless chicken and to focus my attention on a single project. I took his advice, and my revenue shot through the roof.

2. Look for the root of your problems

Here’s another way in which successful entrepreneurs think differently…

They look past the superficial and focus on the root of their problems — this helps them solve their problems with ease.

When I encounter a problem, for example, I like to use the 5 Whys technique to identify the underlying issue. This is pretty simple; all you need to do is to ask “Why?” 5 times.

Say you’re not hitting your quarterly revenue target.

Why? Because you don’t have enough sales.

Why? Because you don’t have enough leads.

Why? Because the marketing team hasn’t generated enough leads.

Why? Because the marketing team is unaware that more leads are required.

Why? Because there’s a lack of communication between sales and marketing.

Bingo — you’ve now gotten to the root of your problem.

3. Progress over perfection

Last but not least, the average entrepreneur aims for perfection over progress, and they feel as though everything has to be in place before they make a decision.

On the other hand, successful entrepreneurs are comfortable with moving a project forward even when the conditions aren’t perfect. They’d rather try and fail (and learn something in the process), rather than not give it a shot.

One of our coaching clients, unfortunately, is one of those guys who’s trapped by his own need for perfection. He’s making 7 figures per year, which is a great start — but because he’s obsessed with getting things perfect, he’s become his own bottleneck. This guy’s business has since stagnated, and unless he changes his mindset, he won’t be able to grow.

As entrepreneurs, we typically look for tangible solutions that we can implement immediately. But keep this in mind: at the end of the day, it’s how you implement these strategies and work past your challenges that determines if you succeed or not. Remember, it’s all about the mindset.

A New Generation Of Indian Startups Is Here — And These Specialist VCs Are Driving It

India is witnessing a surge in deep technology investments, as specialist VCs are seeking out high-quality product and enterprise tech startups to bankroll and mentor. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The startup story in India has, in the past, been defined by consumer-driven ventures like Flipkart and Snapdeal, which eventually became e-commerce giants, drawing billions in funding. Lately, however, there has been a gradual shift in that ecosystem as India’s startups begin to focus on technology and product innovation, moving away from the consumer.

Specialist VCs On The Rise

This has led to the creation of specialist early stage funds, focused on grooming product innovation startups and headed by venture capitalists with domain expertise as well as entrepreneurial and operational experience. These specialist funds are playing a key role in co-creating scalable businesses, while bridging the funding gap between angel and series A investments in the venture capital spectrum of India.

And this strategy has paid off–a slew of product innovation and deep technology startups are now beginning to generate serious cash and bag bigger investments. Medical diagnostics startup Sigtuple Labs, which uses AI to analyze visual medical data, raised $19 million in series B funding led by Accel Partners and IDG Ventures. Sigtuple Labs is among the many deep tech-driven startups supported by specialist funds like Endiya Partners and pi Ventures.

“The venture investing ecosystem in India is undergoing a massive shift. Every venture capital company is looking for companies with IP, deep technology applications and a strong product. This is the next wave in India’s startup story,” said Manish Singhal, cofounder of pi Ventures, an AI, ML and IoT-focused early stage venture fund.

From left: Revanth Dodla, Sateesh Andra, Dr Ramesh Byrapaneni, Abhishek Srivastava, Abhiram Katta of Endiya Partners. (Image: Endiya Partners)

From left: Revanth Dodla, Sateesh Andra, Dr Ramesh Byrapaneni, Abhishek Srivastava, Abhiram Katta A of Endiya Partners. (Image: Endiya Partners)

For the founders of Hyderabad-based Endiya Partners, the endeavor was to invest in globally relevant, IP-led product startups, especially since Indian startups are filing more patents now than ever. Endiya’s $29 million portfolio consists of 11 disruptive and category-defining companies across technology, healthcare and tech-enabled consumer sectors that have cumulatively raised the value of their initial investment 10 times.

“Healthcare, fintech, semiconductors, mobile and enterprise SaaS (software as a service) are witnessing the application of advanced technologies like AI/ML (artificial intelligence/machine learning), Big Data, IoT (internet of things) and AR/VR (augmented reality/virtual reality). Investor interest in these startups is on the rise,” said Endiya’s managing director Sateesh Andra. “Being flooded with innovative ideas and support from the ecosystem, India holds the promise of leading the global deep tech startup story.”

Ideaspring Capital

From left: Mohandas Pai, Naganand Doraswamy, Prashant Deshpande and Arihant Patni.

Investors That Offer More Than Just Money

Andra believes the seed and early stage ecosystem in India presents compelling investment opportunities in the deep tech space. Moreover, focused investment strategies and a hands-on approach allows funds like Endiya Partners to not only groom disruptive technology startups, but also cue them up, while participating in follow-on rounds of funding.

For instance, both early stage investors pi Ventures and Endiya Partners brought a lot more to the table than just funds. pi Ventures assisted the team with designing the device and ironing out manufacturing processes, while Endiya Partners helped the team forge key strategic and data partnership agreements in the industry. pi Ventures and Endiya also participated in follow-on rounds of funding for Sigtuple in 2017 and 2018, among other major investors.

“These VCs understand and appreciate the need of innovative product companies in India. They take risks, and understand that some companies require longer gestation periods,” Pandey said.

Founders like Pandey have a mindset to solve problems using technology, and seek investors who understand this. California-based serial entrepreneur and angel investor BV Jagadeesh, who has led several successful investments in companies like Nutanix and Cohesity, believes that now is a critical time for India to develop its own identity as a tech hub, by creating its own products, IP and eventually a budding industry of homegrown talent.

“Currently, there are only a handful of investors in India interested in product startups. These investors are either standalone or run small-size seed funds, but also have operational and domain experience. Early adapters of product companies are needed to develop an ecosystem.”

“The quality of innovation is quite high today compared to five years ago,” said Deepak Agrawal, associate vice-president of Ideaspring Capital, a Bangalore-based early stage venture fund that specializes in deep technology-focused companies. “The advantage of being an early stage investor in product startups is that they aren’t capital intensive–a $600,000 investment can keep a small product team going for about 10 to 12 months as early stage funding is all about product development.”

Data by Venture Intelligence revealed that enterprise deep tech was the only major theme to witness an increase in investment activity last year in India, nearly doubling from 12 in 2016 to 23.

How Chinese Internet Giant Baidu Uses Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

, Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.
Adobe Stock

Adobe Stock

</div> </div> <p>They have also recruited top AI talent including one of the world’s most notable AI pioneers <span><a href="https://technode.com/2018/05/18/baidu-coo-lu-qi-resigns/" target="_blank" data-ga-track="ExternalLink:https://technode.com/2018/05/18/baidu-coo-lu-qi-resigns/" rel="nofollow">Lu Qi</a></span>, who was previously a Microsoft executive before he became Baidu’s COO in January 2017. Qi will step down in July 2018 for personal reasons. Although he was only at Baidu for a short time, he helped chart a clear strategy for the company’s AI operations that will continue. Here are a few ways Baidu uses artificial intelligence and machine learning.</p> <p><strong>DuerOS is Baidu’s voice assistant</strong></p> <p>Since Baidu can leverage its expansive data set, its voice assistant called DuerOS has accumulated more conversation-based skill sets than Alexa, Siri or Cortana. Partnering with other tech companies is one way Baidu hopes to accelerate innovation. They have teamed up with more than 130 DuerOS partners, and the voice assistant is in more than 100 brands of appliances such as refrigerators, TVs, and speakers. Since homes in India, Japan, Europe, and Brazil are more like homes in China, there may be better opportunities for DuerOS to globalize since Alexa, Cortana and Echo are optimized for American households. At CES 2018, Baidu debuted its <span><a href="http://www.businessinsider.com/baidu-artificial-intelligence-ai-services-2018-2?r=UK&amp;IR=T" target="_blank" data-ga-track="ExternalLink:http://www.businessinsider.com/baidu-artificial-intelligence-ai-services-2018-2?r=UK&amp;IR=T" rel="nofollow">DuerOS-powered smart screen</a></span> called Little Fish VS1. This technology can recognize and respond to individual faces.</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>Mobile partners to accelerate AI-powered devices</strong></p> <p>Unlike its competitors, Baidu was steadfast in its commitment to desktops and missed the shift to mobile. To survive, Baidu needed a new strategy and artificial intelligence technology provided just the platform to turn the business around. That’s one of the reasons Baidu has committed so aggressively to AI investment. Today, AI products and services are priorities to make them the core of the company’s future. Now, they are partnering with Huawei to develop an open mobile AI platform to support the development of AI-powered smartphones and Qualcomm to optimize its DuerOS for IoT devices and smartphones using Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Mobile Platform.</p> <p><strong>Self-driving cars</strong></p>” readability=”48.9602941176″>

At the beginning of 2017, Chinese tech company Baidu, the largest provider of Chinese language internet search as well as other digital products and services, committed to emerging business sectors such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. Since China has 731 million internet users, almost twice the U.S. population, Baidu’s data set is capable of fueling AI algorithms to make them even better. With this focus on artificial intelligence, Baidu is exploring some very intriguing applications for artificial intelligence and machine learning including in their offices where facial recognition technology makes standard ID cards unnecessary and allows you to order tea from a vending machine.

Adobe Stock

Adobe Stock

They have also recruited top AI talent including one of the world’s most notable AI pioneers Lu Qi, who was previously a Microsoft executive before he became Baidu’s COO in January 2017. Qi will step down in July 2018 for personal reasons. Although he was only at Baidu for a short time, he helped chart a clear strategy for the company’s AI operations that will continue. Here are a few ways Baidu uses artificial intelligence and machine learning.

DuerOS is Baidu’s voice assistant

Since Baidu can leverage its expansive data set, its voice assistant called DuerOS has accumulated more conversation-based skill sets than Alexa, Siri or Cortana. Partnering with other tech companies is one way Baidu hopes to accelerate innovation. They have teamed up with more than 130 DuerOS partners, and the voice assistant is in more than 100 brands of appliances such as refrigerators, TVs, and speakers. Since homes in India, Japan, Europe, and Brazil are more like homes in China, there may be better opportunities for DuerOS to globalize since Alexa, Cortana and Echo are optimized for American households. At CES 2018, Baidu debuted its DuerOS-powered smart screen called Little Fish VS1. This technology can recognize and respond to individual faces.

Mobile partners to accelerate AI-powered devices

Unlike its competitors, Baidu was steadfast in its commitment to desktops and missed the shift to mobile. To survive, Baidu needed a new strategy and artificial intelligence technology provided just the platform to turn the business around. That’s one of the reasons Baidu has committed so aggressively to AI investment. Today, AI products and services are priorities to make them the core of the company’s future. Now, they are partnering with Huawei to develop an open mobile AI platform to support the development of AI-powered smartphones and Qualcomm to optimize its DuerOS for IoT devices and smartphones using Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Mobile Platform.

Self-driving cars

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Do Not Buy That Engagement Ring Until You Do This First

I was engaged on the fourth of July.  I popped the question to my long time girlfriend, in front of a London Pub, on our way from Paris — just after the big fireworks finale at EPCOT; it was actually much more romantic than it sounds. But it wasn’t all that unique. Turns out that the 4th makes the top ten list of most popular dates to get engaged, and the only date in the top ten not in the November through February time frame. 

That was about 25 years ago, shortly after starting my second business. I recall telling my business partner that I was going to have to borrow a little from the corporate account to pay for the engagement ring.

Outside of my house and first car it was the single most expensive purchase I’d ever made at the time. I recall how the jeweler carefully handled the dozens of stones of various shapes and sizes spread out on a velvet mat under bright lights. Then there was matching the stone to the setting. I quipped to him that as beautiful as these gems were they were also nothing more than a well controlled monopoly. Surprisingly he agreed, and then said, “It’s tradition. Don’t worry, she’ll love it!”

What? You’ve never Seen A Guy Wearing A Fanny Pack?

For a week after my purchase my girlfriend and I vacationed at Disney World. I carried that ring with me everywhere I’d go in a fanny pack that was permanently attached to my waist. My soon to be fiancé shared with me later that she knew something was a bit off when I refused to go swimming without taking off the fanny pack. As insane as it now seems, I was carrying around the entire bottom line from our first year in business in that pouch. 

Indeed, few marketing campaigns have been as wildly successful in manipulating individual and societal behaviors as the De Beers Diamonds are Forever campaign, which for nearly 100 years has been able to convince the world that a diamond engagement ring (and it’s accompanying price tag) equates directly to the degree of affection and love in a relationship.  

I’m not going to get into the debate of the merits or the true value of diamonds. That’s for you to decide. The fact is that there are far less precious things than a diamond ring that we value just as much if not more.  So, far be it for me to make a case for why that magnificent diamond looses more value the instant it’s yours than a brand new BMW when you drive it off a dealer’s lot.  

However, if a diamond engagement ring is the direction you’ve decided to take (whether your the one giving or receiving) then there’s still one thing that I can’t seem to make sense of. 

Warning: I’m going to get practical here, while realizing that this is typically not the time to be practical, reasonable, or otherwise rational. 

You Did Keep The Receipt, Right?

If I put myself on the receiving side of a marriage proposal involving a ring (and here I do not speak from experience), it occurs to me that the last thing I’d want to do is wear what will likely be the single, most prominent, and constant piece of jewelry I’ll ever own without having had any say in what it looks like. 

Those who have been proposed to can tell me I’m wrong here, but it’s likely because the only two options you had were “YES, and I’ll take the ring,” or “NO, and you can keep the ring.” I’m going to guess that the response of, “Yes, and, oh by the way, can you get me a nicer ring, like maybe a round instead of pear-shaped diamond?” isn’t typically on the list of desired responses, for either the proposed or the proposer.

So, it looks like whoever is receiving the ring is just stuck with it or, with the obvious DeBeers answer, wait another 10-20 years until your boat comes in to upgrade to something you really want to wear.

Enter another option with new-age jeweler Hayden Cudworth.

The best way to describe Hayden Cudworth is as the Warby Parker of engagement and wedding rings. As far as I know they are the first jeweler to allow anyone with a valid credit card to do a free “home try-on” of multiple engagement (and wedding) rings. No strings attached.

No I’m not kidding. This is real and here’s how it works.

If you’re in my demographic you’re likely shuddering; all of this sounds terribly wrong. After all, where’s the element of shock and awe, the empowering feeling of knowing your partner so well that you couldn’t possibly go wrong in picking exactly what she (or he) wants to wear 24/7 for the rest of their married lives. And, after all, isn’t the whole point of a proposal a take it or leave it deal? Oh, let’s also not forget that it’s supposed to be a male-driven process, “Sorry, babe, you want me you had better want the ring too. We’re a package deal!” 

Yeah, you see where this is going, right? As my kids might say, “Ugh!”

Hey, 50-Somethings, It’s All Your Fault

Look, I get the sentimentality of this, and how a ring is just a ring, and it’s the meaning behind it that’s important. But let’s be real here. Isn’t all of that just rationalizing the fact that there haven’t been any other good options? It’s the classic case of sticking ourselves into a behavioral prison that we see no way out of, so instead we decorate it nicely. “Okay, so it’s a pear-shaped diamond that’s forever going to be catching onto your sweaters, and you don’t have a single piece of matching rose gold jewelry to go with it. But, hey, it’s a 3-carat pear-shaped rose gold diamond ring!”

Besides, Millennials, and especially Gen Z, don’t operate that way. Why not? Because we raised to then to be open, transparent, collaborative, communicators, equal partners, part of a team, and then, just to be sure they really did all of that, we built the technologies with which to do all of it exquisitely well.

And yet, we scratch our heads when they want to do just that.  

In fact, companies such as Hayden Cudworth and Warby Parker are just the tip of a massive shift in buyers’ attitudes. Buyers want transparency, elimination of middlemen and brokers, they want to be respected as co-creators, and they want to play an active role in, rather than being pressured into, buying. And they always want a home turf advantage.

If you want to call that being entitled, go ahead. But it’s not goign ot help you sell to them. Instead think of what I call a Loyal Brand in my book Revealing The Invisible; a brand that gets me and respects me. Ignore that by sticking to an old tired model of high pressure selling and you’re pretty much just waiting for someone to come along and disrupt you out of business.

Oh, and in case you were wondering.  No, I’m not in the market for engagement rings. Although, to be fully transparent, I did order my five samples. Hey, you never know. It is the fourth after all. 

Samsung's second-quarter profit seen flagging as smartphone innovation dries up

SEOUL (Reuters) – Samsung Electronics Co Ltd (005930.KS) is expected to post its smallest profit growth in more than a year in the second quarter, as lacklustre sales of its premium Galaxy smartphones overshadow its highly profitable chip business.

FILE PHOTO: A close-up view of a Samsung washing machine is seen in a store in Singapore January 26, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas White/File Photo

Analysts expect Samsung’s smartphone sales to drop in the April-June quarter, following a more than 2 percent drop in the previous quarter as consumers flock to cheaper models from Chinese rivals such as Xiaomi Corp (1810.HK).

Samsung’s lead over Apple Inc (AAPL.O) in the global smartphone market is under pressure after the U.S. firm’s iPhone X exceeded market expectations while a lack of technological innovation dogs Samsung offerings.

“Functions (that) Samsung’s mobile phones have are not attractive enough for customers to spend more money on,” said Song Myung-sup, analyst at HI Investment & Securities.

Samsung’s latest Galaxy S9 flagship phone, launched in mid-March, boasts lots of software but little in the way of technological wizardry. It is on track to sell less in its launch year than its predecessor Galaxy S8 series sold in 2017 after its debut, analysts said.

This is expected to drag on profit growth when the Korean conglomerate posts second-quarter earnings on Friday.

Analysts expect an operating profit of 14.9 trillion won ($13.3 billion) for the quarter, up 5.7 percent from a year earlier but less than the record 15.6 trillion won it posted in the March quarter, according to a Thomson Reuters poll.

Samsung, whose shares are down 9 percent so far this year, is also expected to issue guidance for the April-June quarter on Friday, giving estimates for revenue and operating profit. It will disclose detailed results in late July.

CHINESE CHALLENGERS

Samsung relies on traditional distribution to sell phones, whereas competitors have pulled ahead by leveraging online sales to provide high-end smartphones at competitive prices, Counterpoint analyst Shobhit Srivastava said.

Some investors are skeptical whether Samsung’s upcoming line-up of foldable phones with sleek OLED screens will be innovative enough to gain traction with customers. The new Galaxy Note will debut on August 9 in New York.

“Samsung has to show something that will change the paradigm,” said Park Jung-hoon, a fund manager at HDC Asset Management that owns Samsung Electronics shares.

“Market watchers don’t have high expectations for its smartphone business at the moment, when Chinese players have already caught up in technology and ideas.”

In China, the world’s biggest smartphone market, Samsung’s market share was just 1.3 percent in the first quarter, according to data from research firm Strategy Analytics, compared with Huwawei’s [HWT.UL], 22.5 percent.

Chinese smartphone makers – Huawei, Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi – held the top spots in China, while Apple was the only foreign firm in the top five.

In India, Xiaomi displaced Samsung as market leader last year and continued to lead in the world’s second-biggest smartphone market in the first quarter, according to a report from research firm Counterpoint.

To be sure, Samsung remains the world’s largest smartphone maker, selling about 80 million gadgets a quarter and holding more than a fifth of the global market.

Its troubles in the mobile segment are overshadowing the success of its chips business, which generates about three quarters of Samsung’s operating profit and about a third of its revenue.

Operating profit in the chips business is expected to grow about 50 percent to a record 12.5 trillion won in the second quarter versus a year ago, according to analysts, as servers, gaming PCs and cryptocurrency mining devices demand more firepower to process streaming data.

Reporting by Ju-min Park and Heekyong Yang; Writing by Sayantani Ghosh; Editing by Stephen Coates

?SUSE acquired from Micro Focus by EQT

Video: ISS’ Linux high-performance computer could help future Mars mission

Over the years, European Linux power SUSE has changed owners several times.

First, it was acquired by Novell in 2004. Then, Attachmate, with some Microsoft funding, bought Novell and SUSE in 2010. This was followed in 2014, when Micro Focus purchased Attachmate and SUSE was spun off as an independent division. Now, SUSE has announced EQT will buy it from Micro Focus for $2.5 billion.

The acquisition is subject to Micro Focus shareholder and regulatory approvals. It’s expected to go through in early 2019.

Read also: How to find the right Linux distribution for you – TechRepublic

EQT is a Swedish-based private equity firm with €50 billion in raised capital. The company’s overarching goal is to transform its acquisitions “into great and sustainable companies by making genuine, permanent improvements.” EQT also believes that environmental, social, and corporate governance factors are fundamental to business success and strong investment performance. Open-source software fits well nicely with EQT’s social responsibility mission.

Micro Focus, which has seen losses in recent months as well as the resignation of its CEO, will appreciate the forth-coming cash infusion. Its stock, while still over 50 percent down from its 52-week high, saw a modest bump from news of the sale.

With this new ownership, SUSE expects to further its Linux offerings and its emerging open-source cloud and container product groups. After the acquisition, SUSE expects to operate globally as an independent company. To ensure continuity, SUSE expects staffing, customer relationships, partnerships, product and service offering, commitment to open-source leadership, and support for the key open-source communities to remain unchanged.

With seven years of continuous expansion under his belt, SUSE CEO Nils Brauckmann is expected to stay on. In its last quarter SUSE had $164.4 million in revenues and a solid growth rate of 13.1 percent.

Brauckmann said in a statement, “The next chapter in SUSE’s development will continue, and even accelerate the momentum generated over recent years. Together with EQT we will benefit both from further investment opportunities and having the continuity of a leadership team focused on securing long-term profitable growth combined with a sharp focus on customer and partner success. The current leadership team has managed SUSE through a period of significant growth, and now, with continued investment in technology innovation and go to market capability, will further develop SUSE’s momentum going forward.”

Johannes Reichel, an EQT partner, added: “We are excited to partner with SUSE’s management in this attractive growth investment opportunity. We were impressed by the business’ strong performance over recent years as well as its strong culture and heritage as a pioneer in the open source space. These characteristics correspond well to EQT’s DNA of supporting and building strong and resilient companies, and driving growth. We look forward to entering the next period of growth and innovation together with SUSE.”

Read also: SUSE Linux turns 25: From business distro leader to cloud power

People outside the deal itself also think it’s a good one. Chip Childers, Cloud Foundry Foundation CTO, said: “SUSE’s acquisition by EQT is a strong validation of the high-growth industry that has formed at the nexus of open-source software, cloud technologies and enterprise demand for digital transformation.”

This looks like a good acquisition for SUSE. With more funds for growth and owners willing to give SUSE its head in Linux and further open-source software development, SUSE should flourish.

Related stories:

HP Spectre 13 Review: Trading Battery Life For Windows 10's Ultimate Ultrabook

In the back half of 2017, HP revealed the HP Spectre laptop, a thirteen inch ultrabook that promised both style and high specifications. With a few qualifications (notably it focused on traditional functionality over new ideas), the laptop delivered. HP has now updated the Spectre 13, and I’ve taken a look at the refreshed Windows 10 hardware. Can it improve on the previous model?

Ewan Spence

HP Spectre 13, 2018 (Ewan Spence)

HP has certainly kept its design flair. The last few years have seen HP focus on a new design language that helps the brand stand out. Rather than going for a visual tapered design, the new Spectre 13 plays out the idea of two very thin slates on top of each other when closed. The key identifying factor is the hinge, which runs the full length at the rear, and acts as the spine of the ultrabook. The screen hinges up and slightly away on two relatively sturdy curved arms. You can see the influence of tablet design here – although it is not detachable you get the feeling this is a design that could work well if HP wanted to go after the tablet productivity market.

But it’s not a tablet. The screen is clearly design for a laptop, and the big giveaway is the lower bezel. It proudly displays the HP logo, but it also presents an almost one inch thick bar along the base of the screen. Practically I know this is going to be where the connectors and electronics for the screen are going to be housed (given the thin nature of the screen assembly) but it’s still an awkward looking design choice when you see it on a retail shelf.

Ewan Spence

HP Spectre 13, 2018 (Ewan Spence)

This year’s Spectre 13 does raise the design stakes in subtle ways, but the classy change is the ceramic white finish. Along with the gold trim on some edges, this ultrabook looks futuristic and modern. There’s a seductiveness to the look that HP has managed to pull off. 2018’s Spectre 13 screams fashion.

The white styling also draws comparisons to a number of smartphone color schemes, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. That creates a positive association, but ceramic white laptops aren’t as prolific as mobiles.

With the Spectre design bar already high, HP has done well to lift it higher. It’s also, thankfully, done the same with the specifications and hardware. The big change for me is the Spectre screen is now touch enabled. Both the 1080p and 4K resolution choices come with touchscreen, which is something that has become more prevalent on high-end laptops. Windows 10 works well with touch, while macOS stubbornly refuses to add the functionality to the MacBook.

Yes there are times when touch doesn’t work – particularly on older third-party software – but given the wider range of software (and there is a touchpad) I’m happy with that compromise. I’d rather the ability to use older software, and I’m sure enterprise buyers will have the same idea.

Ewan Spence

HP Spectre 13, 2018 (Ewan Spence)

The other notable change is the keyboard. The previous Spectre design compressed the keyboard into a smaller footprint, curving the keys at the corners. That led to some awkward moments. This iteration of the Spectre has solved that issue by going for an edge to edge keyboard and full-sized ‘chiclet’ keys similar to the beloved (and discarded) MacBook keys.

The physical size of the main keys has not increased significantly – the extra space claimed back is shared out across the gaps between the keys of the qwerty keyboard, and to include a vertical row of home/end page up/page down keys at the right hand side. This has shifted the centreline of the main keyboard to not be dead centre of the physical laptop.

When I go to type on the Spectre, my fingers don’t land on the natural home keys, instead they are one to the right. It takes a bit of getting used to – and it’s something that users of the occasional 15-inch and most 17-inch laptops with number pads will be used to. It takes time to get used to, and if this was to become my daily driver then muscle memory would take over, but the ergonomics – especially with the Spectre being used on my lap or while travelling – is one of the points where the newer model has fallen back.

In terms of travel and bounce, the keyboard is firm and the bounce back to the fully raised position is fast and responsive. As a slim Ultrabook the travel is naturally limited, but the chiclet design allows more travel than the aforementioned MacBook and its butterfly keyboard.

The shift to one side aside, the keyboard is one of the key parts of the laptop, and I’m enjoying the experience of long-form writing on this Spectre.

HP has tweaked the touchpad in this iteration as well. It’s much wider than the previous design, but it’s lost a little bit of height. Given the hinge assembly and the speaker location, this is the critical dimension of the Spectre 13. As with every consumer electronic design, there has to be some compromise, and with the knowledge that a touchscreen is being used, the reduced distance of the trackpad is understandable.

Ewan Spence

HP Spectre 13, 2018 (Ewan Spence)

Like most ultrabooks, it is a bit short on ports. The Spectre 13 is exclusively USB-C, with three ports (two are Thunderbolt 3 powered). Expect to use one of these for charging, and the others for your peripheral usage. Dongles to adapt to USB-A are available, as is a USC-C to HDMI for an external monitor. Being an ultrabook you will be looking for portability, but you have the option to load up on peripherals and accessories and use the power in the machine when back at base.

This year’s Spectre 13 is not only a clear flagship from HP, it’s arguably top of the pile of the ultrabooks. It comes with the latest Coffee Lake Core i7 processor, and you can go for an 8GB RAM/512GB SSD version, pr up the numbers to 16GB RAM/1TB SSD.

That’s a lot of performance on board, and the Spectre 13 can handle the vast majority of applications you’ll throw at it – edge cases such as demanding gaming or ridiculous amounts of video rendering may not run as smoothly as a bulkier machine, but HP’s thing and light ultrabook hides a lot of computing power.

The cost that comes with this is the battery life. To get a full day out of the battery you are going to need to husband your resources. My work is more about writing and audio editing rather than video editing or heavy gaming, so it puts less of a load than other methods of use, but it was a rare day where the Spectre didn’t want a sip of power to make it to sunset. Again it comes down to the compromises required to get such a thin ultrabook and accommodating the style. HP has decided to bias away from endurance and more towards power. No doubt this is backed up by usage data from the previous iteration of the Spectre machine and how much they were used on the road and at a desk.

Ewan Spence

HP Spectre 13, 2018 (Ewan Spence)

HP has takes the strengths of the Spectre design and improved the shortcomings in the update. It’s now an ultrabook with a penchant for power. Yes, the battery life is to as strong as the two obvious competitors (from the MacBook Pro and the Dell XPS family) but even a cursory look at this machine and the realisation is that HP has decided that ‘mobility plus endurance’ is not as desirable as ‘mobility plus power’.

That choice helps the Spectre stand out in terms of function. Its design stands out strongly in a sea of thin and light ultrabooks. HP has improved the package, and has built a worthy upgrade to the Spectre lineup.

Disclaimer: HP supplied the HP Spectre laptop for review purposes.

A 15% Yield For Patient Income Investors

Looking for bargain basement deals in the high-yield space?

Take a gander at these performance figures for Summit Midstream Partners LP (SMLP), a company whose price/unit has been seriously pressured over the past year and year-to-date, greatly underperforming the benchmark Alerian MLP Index ETF (AMLP) and the S&P 500.

SMLP had been up in the low $20s as recently as February ’18, but then drifted down into the mid to low teen region, after its Q4 ’17 earnings report. Over the last trading quarter, it has started to come back – it’s up 14.18%:

What Happened?

SMLP’s Q4 ’17 report showed flat revenues and EBITDA, with distributable cash flow – DCF – declining for the third straight quarter, while net income had a big -230% drop.

The Q1 ’18 earnings report in early May had a bigger decline in DCF and Net Income, while revenues also fell -13.61%, and EBITDA was slightly down, year-over-year.

Sequentially, SMLP’s Q1 ’18 earnings figures didn’t bring much joy either, with revenue, EBITDA, and DCF all down vs. Q4 ’17. EBITDA and DCF also were down vs. Q3 and Q2 ’17. Net income was a smaller loss in Q1 ’18 than Q4 ’17, but declined vs. Q3 and Q2 ’17:

As income investors, we concentrate on EBITDA and DCF to gauge distribution and debt sustainability, since net income for infrastructure-intensive companies is usually loaded with non-cash depreciation and amortization.

In SMLP’s case, there’s another non-cash charge which throws a monkey wrench into the net income calculation – the present value of an estimated Deferred Purchase Price Obligation (“DPPO”), for a dropdown asset SMLP purchased from its sponsor in 2016. Q1 ’18 included $21.7M of non-cash DPPO expense, vs. $20.9M in Q1 ’17.

SMLP’s DCF faces another challenge in 2018 – they issued a $300M 9.50% Series A preferred equity transaction in the fourth quarter of 2017, so those preferred distributions get deducted from the DCF for the common units. This was $7.125M in Q1 ’18. That preferred payment lowered the common DCF from ~$51M to $45M – without it, SMLP’s common unit coverage would’ve been ~1.13X.

(Source: SMLP site)

SMLP has two years remaining on this DPPO plan – the final payment comes due in March 2020. In 2018 and 2019, the DPPO will be calculated at a rate of 6.5X the adjusted EBITDA generated by the asset. These are the other adjustments used in this calculation, which came out to an undiscounted value of $467.5M, and a discounted value of $384.6M, as of 3/31/18. Management discounts the estimated remaining consideration on SMLP’s balance sheet and recognizes the change in present value on its income statement.

“The Deferred Payment calculation was designed to ensure that, during the deferral period, all of the EBITDA growth and capex development risk associated with the 2016 Drop Down Assets is held by the GP, Summit Investments.” Management also noted in its Q1 ’18 presentation, that the remaining consideration dollar amount is “largely funded.”

(Source: SMLP site)

As listed above, SMLP can issue SMLP units to pay 100% of the consideration, but clearly, they intend to avoid a major dilution in paying off this deal, as their most recent presentation stated that “the Deferred Payment consideration mix of debt and equity will target the following pro forma metrics: 4.0x leverage and ?1.20x distribution coverage.” That’s good, since they’d have to issue ~25M units at SMLP’s current price to fund it via equity alone, which would amount to ~34% of the current float.

SMLP’s unit count was pretty stable over the past four quarters, only rising 1.36%. Management has kept the quarterly distribution at $0.575 since November 2015. However, with DCF declining by -7.59%, distribution coverage also fell by -10.86%:

Distributions:

Like many of the LPs we’ve covered, SMLP pays in a Feb-May-Aug-Nov. cycle. Unit holders receive a K-1 at tax time. You can track SMLP’s current price and yield in our High Dividend Stocks By Sector Tables, (in the Basic Materials section).

At $15.30, SMLP yields 15.03%, with trailing coverage of 1.09X. Its current $.575 quarterly payout is 100% above its targeted minimum quarterly distribution.

As we noted above, SMLP has had declining DCF over the past two quarters. This has resulted in lower distribution coverage – it fell below 1X in Q1 ’18, to .98.

That doesn’t look promising, but is there some valid rationale for expecting management’s long-term higher distribution coverage goals to come to fruition?

In the Q1 ’18 presentation, they issued EBITDA guidance of $285-300M, and a coverage range of .95-1.05X for 2018. This EBITDA range straddles SMLP’s actual 2017 figure of $290M, implying a growth range of -1.85% to 3.32%. The guidance indicates that coverage will be down by a range of -16.67% to -7.89% vs. the 1.14X coverage SMLP had in 2017:

The problem is that SMLP’s growth projects aren’t expected to contribute meaningfully to earnings until 2019. Management expects the Utica, DJ, and Delaware growth projects to contribute an EBITDA range of $33M to $54M once they’re developed.

The Double E project is being evaluated for various structures, such as a possible joint venture, with a financial decision expected in Q3 ’18. There’s currently an open season for this project, and management is “currently working with a number of anchor shippers for firm capacity under long-term contracts.” This is a much longer term project, and not expected to kick in until Q2 ’21.

(Source: SMLP site)

Capex:

SMLP’s biggest capex spends were back in 2015 and 2016, when it spent $879M and $358M, respectively, in developing its assets. Management guided to a range of $160-205M for growth capex, and $15-20M in maintenance capex in 2018. They’re estimating that the long-term Double E project would require ~$400-450M in capex, but that this wouldn’t be spent until the current wave of growth capex has wound down.

(Source: SMLP site)

2019 – Can SMLP Turn The Corner?

We put together the following table in order to get an approximate idea of whether SMLP can get back to better distribution coverage in 2019. This table uses management’s low end 2018 EBITDA guidance of $285M, and then adds in the high and low EBITDA ranges for its three growth projects that are supposed to earn money in 2019.

We went with the same percent ratio of DCF/EBITDA as SMLP had in 2017, in order to get a rough idea of how much DCF it can earn in 2019. We also came up with a total called “gross DCF,” which is the amount of DCF before the Preferred distributions are deducted.

For 2018, assuming that distributions remain flat, the low end EBITDA guidance of $385M implies coverage of ~.96X.

Adding in the low end growth projects EBITDA of $33M to this gives us $318M, which implies that SMLP’s low end coverage for 2019 will be ~1.09X, and its high-end coverage could potentially reach ~1.17X.

These are approximate estimates, but it looks like SMLP’s distribution coverage, EBITDA, and DCF should start to improve sometime around Q1 – Q2 2019.

CEO Steve Newby was adamant about maintaining SMLP’s distribution on the Q1 ’18 earnings call:

“I would like to make one thing clear, our distribution is secure and sustainable and at this time, there is no need for us to reconsider our current distribution payout. Our leverage is moderate, our CapEx is fully funded and we have visible and accretive EBITDA growth, we made a deliberate decision over the last several years to focus on accretive organic growth versus large dilutive M&A transactions.”

“We understood the ramifications of this will be a slower growth profile coming out of the commodity cycle until these projects ramp-up. However, we now feel stronger than ever that this approach will be beneficial to our unit holders over the next 12 to 18 months, as organic growth kicks in our coverage expands and our balance sheet remains strong.”

Options:

Hmmm, Q1 -2 ’19, eh? What do you do in the meantime – especially if you’re not so patient?

If you’re mildly bullish, but also skittish, here’s an out of the cash secured put trade for SMLP – the idea is to “nibble at the edges” and get “paid to wait.”

The December $12.50 put has a bid of $.55, which is a lot less than SMLP’s next two distributions total of $1.15, but it gives you a breakeven of $11.95.

If you’re more bullish, and want to be more aggressive with this strategy, the December $15.00 put is at the money, and pays much more, $1.35, a bit higher than SMLP’s next two distributions. The breakeven is $13.65, not too far from SMLP’s 52-week low of $13.10. Please note that put sellers don’t receive distributions.

You can see more details for both of these trades and over 30 other daily trades in our Cash Secured Puts Table.

SMLP’s call options aren’t currently that attractive, but you can see details for over 30 other trades in our Covered Calls Table, which updates throughout each trading day.

SMLP’s Assets:

SMLP provides natural gas, crude oil and produced water gathering services pursuant to primarily long-term and fee-based gathering and processing agreements with its customers and counterparties.

SMLP’s assets are located in five producing areas of unconventional resource basins, primarily shale formations, with a focus on the Williston, DJ, Utica, and Delaware basins. They also have assets in the Piceance and Barnett areas.

Drilling down to the segment level shows that the Piceance/DJ basin was its largest contributor to EBITDA in Q1 ’18, followed by Williston, Ohio Gathering, Barnett, Utica, and Marcellus Shale.

In terms of volume, SMLP’s operating natural gas volumes averaged 1.7 billion cubic feet/day in Q1 ’18, which was a 6.8% increase over Q1 ’17, led by higher volume throughput in the Utica and the Marcellus.

(Source: SMLP site)

78% of SMLP’s throughput volume has come from gas-oriented drilling. The Piceance has been its biggest EBITDA-generating area, but the Utica Shale area has had the fastest growth, rising from just 3% of EBITDA in 2014, to 23% in 2017. The Williston area nearly doubled its EBITDA contribution in 2016, to 24%.

(Source: SMLP site)

Risks:

Debt and Dilution – As with most LPs, which pay out the lion’s share of their cash flow, SMLP has to access the equity and capital markets in order to grow. They currently have an at the market – ATM – unit sales program. As you’ll see in the Financials and Debt sections below, management has de-levered the company quite a bit over the past few quarters.

Commodity Cycle – Although SMLP’s contracts are fee based, if there’s another protracted downturn in energy prices, the finishing of its customers’ DUC wells inventory could be pushed out further into the future, which would pressure SMLP’s earnings.

However, SMLP does have a good defense against a downturn – Minimum Volume Commitments, or MVCs, which make up 47% of its throughput volume through 2022, as of Q1 ’18. SMLP’s MVC shortfall payment mechanisms contributed $14.3 million of adjusted EBITDA in Q1 ’18.

IRA’s – UBTI of over $1K/year can lead to tax complications for IRA holders. As this is a sheltered investment, you’ll get more tax sheltering advantages in a taxable account. Please consult your accountant about these issues before investing.

Analysts’ Price Targets:

At $15.30, SMLP is 4.38% below the lowest price target of $16.00, and 13.41% beneath the $17.67 average price target.

Valuations:

In addition to having a much higher than average yield, SMLP looks much cheaper than other high yield midstream LPs we cover in our articles, particularly on a price/DCF, price/book, and EV/EBITDA basis.

Financials:

These financial comps don’t show well, in the ROA, ROE, and operating margin categories – SMLP’s operating margin got thrown out of whack in Q4 ’17 by a long-lived asset impairment of $187.1M related to its Basin Midstream system in the Williston Basin segment.

However, management has made positive progress on several other fronts – ROA and ROE both improved over the past four quarters, and SMLP’s net debt/EBITDA leverage has improved substantially:

Debt and Liquidity:

SMLP had $952M of available liquidity as of 3/31/18, with a total leverage ratio of 3.63X. With liquidity on its $1.25B revolver of $949M, the company is well capitalized.

(Source: SMLP site)

Their debt doesn’t come due until 2022, which gives management plenty of time to refinance:

(Source: SMLP site)

Summary:

We rate SMLP a long-term buy, based upon its ultimate growth prospects, its liquidity, and its very attractive yield. As this article’s title stated, this is one for patient investors – that promise of better distribution coverage isn’t going to come to fruition for several quarters – most likely ~Q1 – Q2 ’19, so this will probably be a contrarian position for the balance of 2018.

All tables furnished by DoubleDividendStocks.com, unless otherwise noted.

Disclaimer: This article was written for informational purposes only, and is not intended as personal investment advice. Please practice due diligence before investing in any investment vehicle mentioned in this article.

Disclosure: I am/we are long SMLP.

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.