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Ruble Pares Third Weekly Drop After Central Bank Cuts Key Rate|U.S. Consumer-Sentiment Drop Shows Post-Election Bump Fading|Amazon to Acquire Whole Foods for $13.7 Billion|Pimco Says Australian Dream Is Emerging Markets' Best Haven|U.S. Stocks Slide, Dollar Lower on Growth Concern: Markets Wrap|

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16 June 2017

Amazon Upsets the Grocery Cart

It seems Jeff Bezos is serious about the grocery business. Amazon spent years essentially dabbling in the $795 billion annual U.S. market for food and beverages.

16 June 2017

Amazon Upsets the Grocery Cart

It seems Jeff Bezos is serious about the grocery business.

Amazon spent years essentially dabbling in the $795 billion annual U.S. market for food and beverages. Amazon started its own grocery delivery service, Amazon Fresh, 10 years ago in its hometown of Seattle. It expanded into other cities, but the grocery delivery business never got the big push that typically signals Amazon is dead serious about a new category. Bezos also has been testing concepts for physical grocery and convenience stores, and it recently opened kiosks for commuters to pick up groceries they had ordered online.

All of this, though, seemed as if Amazon.com Inc. was dipping its toes in the supermarket waters. Well, Bezos has taken the full plunge now. The company agreed to spend $13.7 billion to buy the grocery store chain Whole Foods Market Inc., which has more than 450 stores, mostly in the United States.

Until Friday’s announcement, Amazon’s largest acquisition was the $1.1 billion it agreed to pay for shoe seller Zappos in 2009. Amazon has so far controlled a tiny fraction of market share in America’s highly fragmented grocery business. It’s safe to say Bezos is using Whole Foods to speed up his ambitions to shake up food shopping — one of the last areas relatively untouched by e-commerce. Without question, Amazon is the most interesting and ambitious company in the tech industry right now. Buying Whole Foods turns up the ambition dial even more.

Splurge
Amazon’s $13.7 billion purchase of Whole Foods is the biggest acquisition by far in the company’s 23-year history

Bloomberg News had reported that Amazon looked at Whole Foods last fall but didn’t pursue a deal. Since then, Whole Foods has been under investor pressure to reform a struggling business or sell. That likely made Amazon a more willing buyer and Whole Foods a more receptive seller. But I didn’t believe Amazon would really buy Whole Foods. As Bezos often does, he pulled out a stunner. You be you, Jeff. You be you.

Grocery shopping is an incredibly intriguing category now for Amazon because it accounts for about 30 percent of total U.S. personal spending excluding some categories such as cars and energy, Morgan Stanley has estimated. But only a few percentage points or so of all grocery shopping happens online, according to analysts’ figures. Amazon loves giant markets that it can turn upside down and reinvent, and groceries certainly fit the bill.

What’s unclear is how Amazon will run a chain of grocery stores. Amazon said on Friday that it would leave Whole Foods in the hands of its CEO, John Mackey. That makes sense, at least for the short term. It’s unlikely Amazon has in-house expertise to run a sprawling chain of stores. Amazon hasn’t said anything so far about what it plans to do as Whole Foods’ owner. The big question is whether Amazon sees the future of groceries as online delivery, shopping in store or a hybrid. At the very least, Whole Foods provides Amazon nationwide locations to test its ideas for the future of grocery shopping.

No matter what Amazon plans, it’s safe to say that the boring U.S. grocery business is about to become much more interesting. America has been a fairly conventional grocery market. The United Kingdom, for example, is far ahead of the U.S. in the availability of grocery delivery services, and German discount supermarket chains have introduced interesting ideas and cut-rate prices both at home and elsewhere in Europe. (Shares of grocery chains in the U.S. and Europe fell on the news of Amazon’s Whole Foods deal.)

Now that Amazon is dead serious about supermarkets, the U.S. grocery market is in for a major shake-up. Bezos doesn’t abide by the conventional rules of business like … turning a profit. He will slash prices and bleed money for years in groceries if that’s what it takes to fuel his strategic mission to become a big player. That will be good for food shoppers but very bad for traditional grocery chains. Welcome to the new world, America. Jeff Bezos is here to break grocery shopping as we know it.

To contact the author of this story:
Shira Ovide in New York at sovide@bloomberg.net
To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Daniel Niemi at dniemi1@bloomberg.net

15 June 2017

Pimco Says Australian Dream Is Emerging Markets’ Best Haven

The year-and-a-half bull run in emerging markets will end at some point, and Pacific Investment Management Co. has some advice on where investors should be positioned when that happens.

15 June 2017

Pimco Says Australian Dream Is Emerging Markets’ Best Haven

The year-and-a-half bull run in emerging markets will end at some point, and Pacific Investment Management Co. has some advice on where investors should be positioned when that happens.

The world’s second-biggest bond manager is advising clients to seek out the “Australian Dream,” shorthand for countries with strong institutions where external imbalances are low and inflation expectations are under check. In places that meet the criteria — like India, Indonesia and Poland — a weaker currency won’t translate into a rout in local notes.

The idea is that in times of weakness, investors should avoid countries such as Turkey, Colombia and Brazil, which are seen as particularly vulnerable to a stronger dollar, higher U.S. interest rates and any ramping up of global trade protectionism. Susceptible countries used to be known as the “Fragile Five,” but they’re decreasing in number as emerging economies begin to resemble more developed ones, according to Gene Frieda, a London-based global strategist at Pimco, which oversees about $1.5 trillion of assets.

“There’s a much larger contingent of emerging-market economies living the Australian Dream today,” he said. “Their currencies have the capacity to weaken without blowing up the bond markets.”

While Pimco still considers emerging markets the “cheapest asset class” for now — benefiting non-Australian Dream assets such as Brazilian local notes — Frieda said distinguishing among developing nations will be more important as the rally loses its legs.

When Harvard economist Ricardo Hausmann first described the concept of the Australian Dream at a conference in 1999, emerging economies were mired in crisis. His vision was a world where currency shocks in developing countries didn’t send bond investors rushing to the exits. Australia, while it was firmly in the developed-nation category, served as a model, with a semi-volatile currency but more stable bonds.

While the use of that term didn’t really catch on in the subsequent decade, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. revived it in a 2014 note to clients.

Typically, Australian Dream nations possess predictable governments and central banks, improving external balance sheets and a greater ability to withstand trade shocks, said Andrew Keirle, who oversees more than $1 billion for T. Rowe Price’s fixed-income division.

That was seen in last year’s fourth quarter as currencies in Hungary, Romania and Poland weakened between 6.8 percent and 8.7 percent against the U.S. dollar, while their benchmark local bonds dropped much less.

With foreign investors underweight emerging-market local notes, the increasing percentage of bonds held by domestic buyers also acts as a buffer during selloffs, according to Jan Dehn, the head of research at London-based Ashmore Group Plc, which oversees about $52 billion of assets.

That occurred from the eve of the taper tantrum in May 2013 through December 2015, when developing-nation currencies depreciated by about 14 percent, while average local bond losses were 7.3 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. MSCI’s emerging-market currency gauge fell 0.2 percent at 10:12 a.m. in New York, taking this year’s advance to 6.2 percent.

“If that did not blow up their bond markets, nothing will,” Dehn said.

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