The Business of Bringing Back Businesses

Fashion Fair, the beloved cosmetics company, went bankrupt in 2018. But in June 2022, the firm, which Pulitzer prize winner Lynn Nottage said “represented Black beauty, it represented sophistication, and it was the first makeup that I ever tried on in the mirror,” was resurrected. This is part of a current economic trend in which Black businesswomen opt to revive a legacy brand rather than start a new company from scratch. In some instances, Black entrepreneurs are launching companies based on known white-owned firms that unfairly used images of Black people as part of their branding and merchandising.

Like Fashion Fair, Madam (originally known as Madam C.J. Walker), the Black hair care brand, revamped both the external elements of their products, like packaging and advertising, as well as the actual production processes. Even with these changes, Fashion Fair and Madam still focus on the shared historic mission of each company: bringing wealth, access, and prestige to Black communities, particularly women.

McKinsey study found that Black-founded and Black-owned beauty brands comprised 2.5 percent of 2021 revenue in that industry; Black consumers spent 11.1 percent, the equivalent of $6.6 billion, on beauty products. While spurred mostly by need, as a way of ensuring the employment and safety of Black Americans in the dark era of Jim Crow laws, Black-owned businesses are a historic and iconic representation of pride. Historian Juliet E.K. Walker describes the time as the “Golden Age of Black Business,” when Black-owned businesses grew across the U.S.

The newest iterations of the company are also updated for today’s consumer interests. The Madam formula, for example, has been revised to substitute petroleum, which is derived from crude oil, from the products’ hair and scalp treatment recipes.

In some instances, Black entrepreneurs are redressing historic wrongs of white-owned companies that feature images of Black domestic workers in their logos and images. Rapper and entrepreneur Percy Miller, known as Master P, restarted his Uncle P’s line of pancake mixes and rice in response to this trend. He recalls how his grandmother used to favor brands featuring Black people, but as he grew he came to realize “that Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben were models, and none of the proceeds from these brands went back to helping the community and their families; it was just pure mockery.” In an attempt to remedy these historical injustices, Miller sources rice for his products from Ghana; some profits are earmarked for programs serving low-income children and the elderly in New Orleans and St. Louis. A picture of Miller himself, in sunglasses, is affixed on Uncle P’s products.

Remote Workers Resign to a Renters Crisis

Pandemic restrictions are lifting and most bosses and companies are accepting that remote work is here to stay. And as employees continue to enjoy the benefits of working from home, they are also looking for homes to work in. The rental market is fierce these days, with prime interest in Florida and across the Northeast region of the U.S.

A review of recent real estate data released in June by RentCafe, a subdivision of Yardi real estate software, indicates that Miami-Dade County, with its 20+ miles of beaches, had the most competitive rental market during the first third of 2022. Orlando and other parts of Southwest Florida are also in the top-ten list of cities, as are Harrisburg, Pa., North and Central Jersey, Grand Rapids, Mich., Rochester, N.Y., and Milwaukee.

What these cities all have in common is their excellent school systems, tranquil lifestyles, and family-friendly communities. The demand for rental properties is driven by high housing prices that have not budged in years and climbing mortgage rates prompting buyers to delay their purchase and seek a rental lease. While some cities are accommodating the increased demand, like Miami-Dade County where additional units were released to the rental market, other cities are not as quick to meet the need: Harrisburg, PA did not add any new apartments in the last four-month period, causing most tenants to renew their leases instead of moving out.

Leveraging Quant Funds to Navigate the Volatile Economy

When market forces become unstable, investors often have a hard time thinking rationally and considering the bigger picture. The very real possibility of significant money loss spooks many investors to make rash and impulsive decisions.

But quant funds offer a more appealing and lucrative solution. As they rely on strategies based on algorithmic or systematically programmed information. The various investment strategies are backed by numerous trading signals—which themselves center on economic data points, security cost trends, real-time business news, and other measurables. This kind of consistent and hands-off research, along with the inclusion of updated models, allows quant funds to uniformly perform.

As quant funds are market-neutral, they can yield dependable and improved returns, with appropriate risk adjustments, without being tied to the market. Furthermore, quant funds offset long and short positions. With an emphasis on utilizing stock prices relative performance by having comparable investments in both long and short stocks, it is possible to deliver on critical qualities of risk, like instability and drawdowns.

Rising interest rates also favor quant fund strategies. The higher interest rates usually generate higher volatility and more price disruptions across stocks and industries, thereby increasing opportunities and returns.

Chattanooga: the newest Hub of Tech, VC talent

Chattanooga at night

Chattanooga, Tennessee is one of the first American cities to have installed fiber optic cables with gigabit speeds across the entire city. While this upgrade was completed a little over 10 years ago, Mayor Tim Kelly says the pandemic brought a surge of new residents all looking for comfortable remote working spaces and quality of life.

Kelly, himself a former businessman and startup founder, credited the 2010 EPB investment in fiber optics as a forward-thinking move by previous leaders. He notes that while Chattanooga doesn’t offer financial incentives for relocation like other places, it does cultivate a vibrant cultural life and family-friendly ethos.

As a result- and specifically since the pandemic- Chattanooga has seen a new balance of tech companies and those working for them; once concentrated in major coastal cities, firms are now widely dispersed in more rural areas across the country. The Brookings Institution found that tech jobs in San Francisco, Seattle, and Los Angeles had slowed or disappeared, while regions like St. Louis, Philadelphia, San Antonio, and Nashville showed an unprecedented uptick.

Brickyard, for example, is a newly established venture fund based in Chattanooga. Cameron Doody, the co-founder, explains that as workers from traditional tech hubs swamped cities like Atlanta and Austin, residents of those cities moved to places like Chattanooga for quiet, comfort, and quality of life. Brickyard invests in international tech companies. The founders then come to headquarters in Chattanooga to rigorously expand their product and enjoy the benefits of amenities like a sauna, a gym, and a steam room.

Kevin Ulrich is Anchorage’s New Chairman

Kevin Ulrich has served as CEO of Anchorage Capital Group for two decades. In recent months, the co-founder of the hedge fund declared he will be stepping down from his day-to-day duties as CEO and becoming chairman. Simultaneously, Ulrich announced Anchorage would be closing its flagship fund.

Kevin Ulrich, Chairman of Anchorage Capital Group
Kevin Ulrich, Chairman of Anchorage Capital Group

Once considered one of the largest distressed-debt funds worldwide, Anchorage is unwinding its $7.4 billion fund which managed almost double that amount just a few years ago. The firm will concentrate on its $18 billion structured-credit business and its $4 billion private-equity-style fund.

Citing uncooperative markets and client withdrawals as the primary catalysts for the closure, Kevin Ulrich further explained to clients that current credit markets “present challenges for an evergreen fund designed to tactically allocate capital across the credit spectrum.” Ulrich plans to manage the unwinding of the hedge fund while working together with the firm’s executives to map out plans for its future.

Anchorage is one of the most distinguished and biggest hedge funds to have closed in 2021.

Uber and Flywheel Riding Toward a New Partnership

Flywheel Technologies and Uber are putting the final touches on a partnership agreement to fully transform transportation in San Francisco.

While the cooperation is similar to an agreement Uber penned with taxi companies in New York City, it is a noteworthy shift from years of ferocious battling between the two transportation groups. Uber, which is headquartered in San Francisco, was once sued by a local taxi company in federal court for rapacious pricing schemes. Some taxi drivers have expressed concern that the partnership would mean lower earnings and make it harder for taxi riders to afford a drive. Uber and other companies that rely on gig workers (i.e. Lyft and DoorDash) supported California’s Proposition 22. The bill gave the workers limited benefits but also made it impossible for them to be considered full employees of these companies. The measure passed in 2020, even though most voters opposed it; a judge dismissed it in 2021. This partnership expands Uber’s driver pool substantially. The app’s driver base shrunk rapidly during the height of the pandemic, and many drivers voiced discontent with their low earnings. Rising gas prices have also pushed many drivers away. According to the Municipal Transportation Agency, taxi drivers will benefit too, by leveraging Uber’s ridership toward the city’s taxis.

The agreement, part of Uber’s long-term strategy to increase taxi representation on its app, will allow Uber passengers in San Francisco to hail a cab virtually. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s board of directors still has to approve the pilot, and Jeffrey Tumlin, the city’s director of transportation needs to authorize it, but the partnership is slated to begin as early as May 2022.

Google Buys Mandiant

Global tech giant Google has announced its acquisition of Mandiant, the cybersecurity company. In a $5.4 billion deal, Google will expand its services to provide businesses with strategic planning assistance for and in response to cyberattacks.

Google Mandiant

The purchase comes as Google tries to distinguish itself and its cloud computing platforms from those offered by Amazon and Microsoft.

Organizations around the world are facing unprecedented cybersecurity challenges as the sophistication and severity of attacks that were previously used to target major governments are now being used to target companies in every industry.

Thomas Kurian, chief executive of Google Cloud

Based in Virginia, Mandiant has over 2,300 employees, making it Google’s second-biggest purchase ever. The biggest was Google’s 2011 buy of Motorola for $12.5 billion.

Something’s Brewing at Starbucks

Employees at four Starbucks stores in New York City have petitioned to unionize through the National Labor Relations Board. This development follows months of efforts to unionize at three Buffalo Starbucks locations, two of which have already successfully established unions. The NYC Starbucks employees have requested to hold a vote on March 3.

In letters to Starbucks president and CEO Kevin Johnson, workers from the four stores expressed concerns about deteriorating work conditions during the pandemic and unfair salaries. The employees have received support from more than 70 New York elected officials, including City Council members and U.S. representatives, according to the New York Times. A signed letter read: “New York City is a union town and union-busting has no place here. We believe that these organizing efforts will ultimately lead to a stronger and more sustainable future for Starbucks, the workers, and our city and state.”

Although Starbucks has claimed not to be anti-union, just last week the company fired seven Memphis employees who tried for form a union claiming they had violated company policies. A few years earlier, two Philadelphia workers trying to unionize were also fired.

Mid-America’s Economy is Strong, if Slowing

Creighton University’s Mid-America Business Conditions Index, a premier economic barometer for the region of states between Minnesota and Oklahoma, shows a recent slight drop. Nevertheless, it remained above neutral growth for the 20th consecutive month. Employment in the region dropped to 43.6, its weakest since June 2020, the third consecutive decline in the monthly index.

“Creighton’s monthly survey results indicate the region is adding manufacturing activity at a positive pace, but with much weaker job numbers for the month. In terms of supply chain disruptions and bottlenecks for the first half of 2022, approximately one-third of supply managers expect delays to worsen with only 12% anticipating improvements. Despite healthy growth over the past year, compared to its pre-pandemic level, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics employment data indicate that the region has lost 16,000 manufacturing jobs, or 1.1%,”

Dr. Ernie Goss, the study director

Barbie and Balmain Pair Up for Couture NFT Project

Barbie, the quintessential American toy by Mattel, announced a partnership with French fashion powerhouse Balmain.

This collaboration is surprising on many levels. First, there is no actual doll involved. Second, the collection is a mix of real fashion and NFTs.

The collection includes 50 adult garments inspired by the iconic Barbie doll. Avatars of diverse racial backgrounds model the clothes, and three NFTs of unique looks are being sold at auction.  Barbie is extending its efforts into the realm of virtual collectibles as each NFT includes a doll-sized physical design. The entire collection and the NFT designs are unisex: there is no more Barbie and Ken, just high-end fashion for all.

Mattel also has a partnership with Gucci to create Hot Wheels Collectibles.