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.

New Leak Offers Details About Microsoft’s Folding Pocket Computer, ‘Andromeda’

A leaked Microsoft document bolsters long-running speculation that the company will introduce a folding, pocket-friendly device may join the company’s Surface line. The device, according to current plans, would be roughly palm-sized when folded, include a full-width screen covering a center hinge, and could be controlled by a stylus.

The new document was obtained by The Verge. Details of the project, known internally as Andromeda, have surfaced previously both in leaks and in possibly-related patents. A designer has even produced unofficial 3-D mockups based on those details, which according to The Verge closely resemble Microsoft’s own prototypes.

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But the new document adds more detail to Microsoft’s overall vision for the product. According to The Verge, Microsoft describes Andromeda as “a new pocketable Surface device form factor that brings together innovative new hardware and software experiences to create a truly personal and versatile computing experience.” Strategically, Microsoft reportedly views the device as a rebound from the failure of Windows Phone, aimed at blurring “the lines between mobile and stationary computing,” and creating a “new and disruptive” hardware category.

As gorgeous as the speculative mockups look, potential applications for this sort of device aren’t quite instantly compelling — even focusing on sheer portability, it might compete with the big phones so many power users already carry. Intel recently demonstrated a similar folding concept known as Tiger Rapids, showing it used for handwritten note-taking, then converted into a mini-laptop with a touchscreen keyboard. The latter might be a tough sell for serious users, since most touchscreen keyboards are, well, kind of terrible.

The tech news site Thurrott, whose reporter seems to have viewed part of the same document earlier this month, emphasizes that none of these plans are certain. Microsoft has canceled other projects within weeks of planned launches, and Andromeda was reportedly largely spearheaded by Terry Myerson, who was in charge of Windows and devices before leaving the company earlier this year. That increases the chance that all of these rumors could come to nothing.

Microsoft has declined to comment about Andromeda so far, but Fortune has reached out to the company and will update with any response.

4 Ways to Make Your Data Speak to Your Audience

Let’s say you’re tasked with giving an anti-tobacco presentation to an audience of high school freshman. From the tobacco-related research out there, you know the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates one out of every 13 teens will die early from tobacco-related problems. You also know that numbers will be meaningless without context.

What do you do to engage the young people listening to your speech? You bring 13 of them onstage to illustrate the point. Suddenly, the numbers have real-world impact. As your youthful volunteers nervously look at one another, each silently wonders, “Will that one in 13 be me?”

Therein lies the power of solid data storytelling — not to mention smart public speaking strategy.

Businesses have more and more data available to them, and using it is no longer optional; it’s required for any company that wants to remain competitive. According to Asha Saxena, CEO and chairperson of Future Technologies, Inc., a data management firm that has partnered with Microsoft and Tableau, data is not a business element you can skip over. “Every business needs to have a strong data strategy,” she says. “If they don’t start looking at their data as an asset, it’s going to be very difficult for them to survive.”

However, businesses historically haven’t contextualized their on-hand data in a clear way. In fact, more than half of organizations included in Experian’s 2017 global data management benchmark report said they “rely on educated guesses or gut feelings” when making decisions based on their company’s data. Many simply push out facts, hoping audience members can draw their own correct conclusions. Not surprisingly, most people can’t connect the dots without a little help. That’s where charts and graphs (like this one from the Washington Post showing readers for how much of their lives the U.S. has been at war) come into play.

Now, data storytelling isn’t exactly a new concept. Humans have shared narratives since time immemorial. As Mike Brody, co-founder of Exago Inc. and three-time software entrepreneur, explains, “Stories are how people make sense of the world, so it follows that they’d also be our way of making sense of data.” Brody sees technology as a means to facilitate storytelling with data, but points out that tech alone “cannot yet put data into human context.”

Having data isn’t enough; without a storyteller, the data can seem flat or unimportant. That’s why it’s time for businesses to not only mine their data, but also give flavor, color, and substance to the data discoveries they unearth.

Want your data to speak to your audience? Make sure the narrative you craft has everything it needs to tell a structurally sound story. Learn the rules for aligning your data and business strategies via these robust storytelling techniques:

1. Alter your data story to fit your audience.

Every audience has unique needs, and your data storytelling must resonate with your audience’s personas. Are they highly educated? Socially diverse? Extremely analytical? Ideally, you want to create an emotional link between readers or listeners and your knowledge. The best scientific research papers do this well: They have a layout that allows audiences to get both an abbreviated and full-length story depending on their needs or attention span. Likewise, you should arrange your narration in a way that matters to your target prospects and stimulates them on a personal level.

2. Identify “characters” throughout your data narrative.

Every unforgettable story includes compelling characters, often portrayed in “good” or “bad” lights. As you craft your story, the good guy will be your company, and the bad guy(s) could be your competitors, the conditions of your industry’s market, and, of course, your audience’s pain points. The characters you choose will take action to address your narrative’s conflict — their actions and the outcomes of those actions are where you can incorporate your data into the story. As long as you’re being true to the data itself and not manipulating it, you can give the characters showcasing your data any personalities you want.

3. Highlight the conflict in your data story.

Conflict makes stories more compelling, so look for the conflict point or points in your data. What’s the core issue? Where are the places of friction? It may be wise to bring in a professional storyteller to help breathe life into your data. You can also team up with business intelligence vendors who offer software and platforms to foster improved data storytelling that highlights your story’s conflict.

4. Give your data story a resolution and call to action.

After reading or hearing your data story, what should your audience know or do? Give them guidance and direction; otherwise, they’ll just have the information and not take any further steps. For example, you may want customers or prospects to make a purchase, download a whitepaper, join your mailing list, or contact your sales representatives. Determine the overall goal and weave it into your story’s conclusion.

You’re sitting on a wealth of data that keeps growing daily. It’s time to use all that wonderful information to your advantage. The abundant data at your fingertips can be fuel for a practically endless supply of riveting tales for your audience. Your team simply has to become creative enough to turn it into memorable narratives and visualizations, instead of never-ending spreadsheets.

Twitter, Facebook launch tools to track advertising

(Reuters) – Twitter Inc (TWTR.N) on Thursday made it easier for users to identify political campaign ads and know who paid for them, as social media platforms faced the threat of U.S. regulation over the lack of disclosure on such spending.

FILE PHOTO: People holding mobile phones are silhouetted against a backdrop projected with the Twitter logo in this illustration picture taken in Warsaw September 27, 2013. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo

The microblogging site launched ‘Ads Transparency Center’ to allow anyone to view ads that have been put on Twitter, with greater transparency about U.S. federal election campaign ads.

The tool follows Twitter’s recently launched political campaign ads policy and a similar move by Facebook Inc (FB.O), which started a searchable archive of U.S. political ads last month.

Facebook said on Thursday it would go even further by enabling users to see listings of all active ad campaigns, whether the advertiser is political in nature or not. Users can also view a log of name changes to a Facebook page.

The features should help people spot misuse of Facebook, it added.

Twitter’s ads center gives users access to details such as demographic targeting data for the ads from U.S. political advertisers, along with billing information, ad spending, and impression data per Tweet.

“We are making it clearer than ever who is advertising U.S. federal political campaign content on Twitter,” Twitter said in a blog post.

The transparency center will include all advertisers on Twitter globally, but at this stage only U.S. federal election campaign ads that fall under its new policy will be shown.

Google has vowed to launch a similar transparency center for political ads on its services this summer. It declined to share additional details this week.

Reporting by Sonam Rai in Bengaluru and Paresh Dave in San Francisco; Editing by Bernard Orr and Richard Chang

10 Things You Need to Know Before You Start Your MBA

What are some tips for someone who is about to attend business school? originally appeared on Quorathe place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Bernie Klinder, Serial Entrepreneur, Investor, Consultant, on Quora:

What are some tips for someone who is about to attend business school?

I’m assuming by “business school” you mean an MBA program, although I think my advice will likely apply to undergraduate school as well.

Here are my top 10 tips for getting the most out of your MBA program.

  1. Make sure you get your money’s worth. MBA’s are expensive. Mine was about $1,000 per class day. Overall, my cohort spent over $1 million on the program. Keep that in mind everyday when you sit down in class: Imagine forking over $1,000 in cash (or whatever your tuition breakdown is) when you arrive each day. Make sure you see the value in that class. If not, demand it.
  2. Don’t let your professors be lazy. If your professor is essentially just reading the book to the class and flipping through the PowerPoint deck provided by the book publisher YOU ARE WASTING YOUR TIME AND MONEY. Push your professors to provide real world examples and relate their own experience (if they have any – some have no business experience). The classroom should be a dialog, not a canned speech.
  3. Do the reading and prep work. If the class lecture is your first exposure to a topic, you’re already failing. As much as I advocate for holding the faculty accountable, you have to own the other side of the equation. Professors often teach to the middle of the bell curve, so its up to you and your cohort to move that curve to the right. Having an overview of the material in advance will help you ask better questions and get more out of your class time. It allows more dialog, and less time reviewing the reading. Make sure to read any linked articles in your syllabus, and do some additional digging instead of just stopping at the required list.
  4. Take collaborative notes with your classmates: Taking notes will help you retain information, but comparing notes with your classmates will help uncover things you missed. Using programs like Evernote, OneNote, or Google Docs will allow you to share and edit documents in real time annotated with images, sketches, or even video. Its easy to do a quick image search and add supply and demand curves, charts, finance equations, and other examples into your notes instead of trying to sketch them out.
  5. Get to know your classmates. Each of your classmates will have specific strengths: some may have work experience in accounting, manufacturing, supply chain, etc. Leverage their knowledge in each class, and define who subject matter experts are. This will help when you’re stuck in statistics, economics, accounting, or finance. You are also supposed to learn from your classmates, this is why the quality of the cohort is so essential to the quality of the program. If you are the smartest person in the cohort, you went to the wrong school!
  6. Assume each of your classmates could be your future boss. Communities and networks are small. The best way to leverage your MBA is to grow your professional network. If you’re on a group project, do more than everyone else. Be more prepared. Be the team hero – but be humble. After graduation, you will likely run into your classmates again. You may need them for a job referral. Years down the line, one of them might be your boss – or your bosses boss. Make sure they remember you well.
  7. Be proactive. Sit in the front row, be engaged, ask questions. Don’t be afraid of asking the wrong question, everybody does sooner or later. If there is a guest speaker, really leverage their knowledge. Don’t wait until the lecture is over to ask a question in a side bar. Most of your professors will be professional academics with limited real world business experience. If are fortunate enough to have a former C-level executive as a professor or lecturer, get them to talk about actual challenges they’ve had.
  8. Leverage audio books. Many of the non textbook business classics are available as audiobooks that you can listen to while driving to work, doing chores, or working out. Many also have book summaries online. You can also leverage secondary material in your semester breaks. I took advantage of the Teaching Companies lectures on Economics, 3rd Edition to prep for the Macro and Micro Econ courses and sailed through the classes.
  9. Dig into the case studies. The real world application of knowledge is what an MBA is all about. The case studies are as close as you’re going to get. Learn as much as you can from them, do the prep work and do not get caught flat footed on the Q&A! Try to understand and not judge the different perspectives from your fellow students. Remember that the program is designed so you learn from each other. In case studies (as in the real business world) there may not be a clear right answer. Sometimes you have to choose between two bad options, and not everyone will agree on the best way forward. Learn to make your case using data and without getting defensive.
  10. Don’t be afraid to hold the school and program accountable, and switch schools if necessary. I left the first MBA program I enrolled in because of some of the issues cited above. I lost a semesters worth of work and tuition, and took other members of the cohort with me, but the bigger mistake would have been staying and throwing good money after bad. Surprisingly, the other MBA programs we had applied to were happy to add us to their existing cohorts without a fuss. Don’t assume you are stuck if you enrolled in a bad program – start exploring options immediately.

Hope this was helpful.

This question originally appeared on Quora – the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. More questions:

Published on: Jun 27, 2018

Apple CEO Tim Cook Pulls Ahead of Rivals In News Curation Battle

This article first appeared in Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily newsletter on the top tech news. To get it delivered daily to your in-box, sign up here.

Tim Cook blasphemed Monday night in San Francisco, at least from the perspective of his Silicon Valley brethren.

“We felt that the top stories should be selected by humans,” Cook said, discussing a new, curated section of Apple News devoted to the U.S. midterm elections in November. His reasoning: “To make sure that you’re not picking content simply to enrage people.”

The last thing Silicon Valley’s news aggregators want is human selection, you see. Google (googl) and Facebook (fb) thrive by algorithm. Popularity counts most, even if the beauty contest is gamed by state-sponsored trolls and other criminals. And more is always better than better because there’s money to be made here.

Again, Cook took issue with his neighboring Goliaths. “I’m not being critical of people who do something different,” Cook allowed, a sure sign he was about to be critical of two companies that profit mightily from re-purposing the news that others write while collecting data from readers, “but Apple has always stood for curation. We’ve always believed in quality, not quantity.”

Cook’s comments were self-serving—Apple (aapl) sells gadgets and services that run on them, not ads or data sets—but that didn’t make them any less refreshing. Quality may not always be a better business model, but it’s infinitely more satisfying. Never perfect, Apple nevertheless has the high ground on this issue. Cook said Apple News will employ its own writers to supplement what it gets from other sources. He also said the company will turn to topics other than the midterm elections.

Cook was the opening speaker at the annual meeting of Fortune’s CEO Initiative, a community dedicated to exploring how business can improve the world through its profit-making activities. The Apple CEO, about to hit the seven-year-mark in the job, has been outspoken on issues like immigration, equality, privacy, human rights, and the environment. He carefully draws the distinction between commenting on policy (good) and politics (bad).

A beta tester or Apple’s announced-but-unreleased “Screen Time” feature to help users monitor their over-reliance on smartphones, Cook said he’s cut down on his use of notifications and also has begun picking up his phone less.

Because more isn’t always better. And quality tends to win out in the end.