The Anatomy of an #Engaging Presentation

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Earlier this week, I taught a “Master Class” at the CFA Institute’s Annual Conference in Frankfurt, Germany. Approximately 400 people attended my session, which was organized as two 60-minute talks about “Demographics, Incomes and Global Value Chains” separated by a 30-minute coffee break.

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Given the CFA Institute’s increasing focus on social media, I sought to encourage the use of Twitter during my session. I began by making the event’s “hashtag” (#FutureFinance) easily visible on my opening slide (click HERE) and by then providing the audience both my (@mansharamani) and the organizer’s (@cfainstitute) Twitter handles. Next, I offered a prize (my book) to the person who had the most interesting tweet as determined by the session’s moderator (click HERE).   And lastly, I thought it might prove useful to actually provide examples of tweets so I added “Tweet Idea” boxes within my presentation and wove social media into my delivery.

I began my talk with a picture of the audience and immediately tweeted it (click HERE). The event organizers reinforced these efforts as well (click HERE). I made reference to 2 unique facts during my first hour and encouraged the audience to share those facts. I had no idea if anyone cared or noticed.

The first thing I did when the break began was to turn on my laptop.  I was stunned by what I saw! My Twitter account had hundreds of notifications, I had picked up dozens of new followers, and here’s the really valuable part, I was able to get real time feedback from the audience. For instance, I noticed there were tons of questions about the virtual water (click HERE) content of jeans. I joined the conversation and answered questions, shared some of the more interesting tweets, and even provided backup material about water consumption in denim production.

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After the break, I informed the audience that I had joined the conversation and posted backup material, for instance, on the water content of denim jeans. I pointed the audience online for more details, encouraging continued participation.   Throughout the session, event staff were gathering handwritten questions and passing them to the moderator.

By the end of my session, I turned to answering questions. In prior sessions with similar audiences, I would have had 5-10 questions waiting.   Not so this time. Rather than diminishing the “in-room” engagement (as I had feared), the Twitter discussion had actually intensified it – when I looked at the moderator, she was holding an inch-thick stack of question cards – 10x what I had expected!

After my session, when I finally returned online, I was thrilled by what I found. My tweet with backup material about jeans (click HERE) had almost 300 engagements and over 10,000 impressions, meaning the conversation had expanded both within as well as outside the room. By contrast, my opening tweet with the audience picture had 12 engagements and 245 impressions.

People had asked (and answered) each other’s questions. Supporting data was shared about countries I hadn’t considered (click HERE). New areas of confusion had been raised; others had been clarified. The audience extrapolated my discussion about unrest from food insecurity to riot risk from medical and education inflation (click HERE). Another participant introduced how China was outsourcing work to Ethiopia, reinforcing my claim that value chains shift over time (click HERE). As an educator, I was absolutely thrilled!

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People who had never been on Twitter signed up to join the discussion. (If someone at Twitter is reading this, please tell Dick Costello to send my commission check to the CFA Institute Research Foundation!) Folks from around the world literally joined our conversation in Frankfurt, including one woman who was unable to attend in-person for medical reasons.

It was like having a strong critic in the back of the room sharing her reaction to my delivery slide by slide – only better. I could also see reactions to reactions. I could see which of my comments resonated, and which were duds.

So what did I learn from this experience? I learned that online engagement doesn’t just happen. It takes planning, effort, coordination, and careful execution. I used a prize and even wove social media into my presentation to encourage participation. I joined the conversation during a break, answered questions, provided backup material, and reacted and shared interesting points. The organizers were highly engaged, both in the room and online. They reinforced my efforts and multiplied my impact. Ultimately, I believe the audience (and organizers) left the room more engaged, informed, and energized by my presentation because of social media. I know I did.

 

 

This Article is Gluten-Free

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Gluten-free. It’s among the hottest trends in food today. It competes with “non-GMO”, “local”, and “organic” for mindshare among today’s health-conscious, price-insensitive, and trend-following foodies, yuppies, and self-anointed amateur nutritionists. It’s become so fashionable to be gluten-free that even Fido and Spot have jumped on the bandwagon (click HERE). Like all such sweeping trends, it has a powerful attractive force that lures innocent bystanders into asking if they too should join the party. Last Fall, The New Yorker ran an article entitled “Against the Grain: Should You Go Gluten-Free?”(click HERE) to help readers answer the very question. Grain Brain and Wheat Belly hold entrenched positions on lists of today’s best selling books. Gluten-free is clearly on the minds of many.

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Like financial bubbles, the herd behavior identified by such popular attention is never sustainable. We’re likely in the midst of a gluten-free bubble; one that seems poised to burst. Here’s the big disconnect that captures the essence of the problem: less than 1% of the population has celiac disease (click HERE), approximately 6% are gluten intolerant (click HERE), and…. drum roll please… almost 30% of American adults are trying to avoid gluten (click HERE).   One of the main reasons consumers avoid gluten is they feel it’s healthier. It’s generally not.

The blunt reality is that many gluten-free foods are not healthier for the 93% of the population that doesn’t have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. Consider that a Glutino Original New York Style Bagel has 26% more calories, 250% more fat, 43% more sodium, 50% less fiber, and double the sugar of a Thomas’ Plain Bagel – for a price that is 74% higher! (Click HERE). Further, because many gluten free products utilize rice flour, they are also at risk of containing higher levels of arsenic than desirable or healthy (click HERE).

Despite these facts, the gluten free craze continues. Market research firm Nielsen estimated that sales of products with a gluten-free label have doubled in the past four years, rising from $11.5 billion to over $23 billion. While the trend is impressive, it’s partially driven by marketing efforts. Chobani Greek yogurt and Green Giant vegetables, for instance, added “gluten-free” labels onto products that never contained gluten (click HERE). Add a label, grow your sales! Reminds me of Internet mania when merely announcing a URL increased valuations overnight. Another sign the gluten-free bubble is nearing its end is the popular backlash against casual gluten-free diners (click HERE).

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None of this is to suggest that there isn’t a real underlying need for gluten-free products.   There is, and I know from personal experience. In October 2011, my doctor informed me that a blood test indicated I had heightened sensitivity to gluten. The sensitivity was so high he recommended a gluten-free diet. I protested, suggesting he was over-diagnosing my unhealthy diet.

I asked: “Have you considered icecreamitis? That’s a disease I know I have,” bluntly admitting my addiction to the divine creamy frozen sugar to which I was devoted. I insisted he conduct a genetic test to determine if I had genetic marker for celiac disease. When the results came back, I was saddened to learn that I indeed had the gene. I’ve been gluten-free for three and a half years now and I genuinely do feel better.

Whether you have celiac disease, are gluten intolerant, or just part of the fashionable trend-following crowd, you can rest assured that this article is certified gluten-free.

 

How I Consumed 6373 Gallons of Water In One Day

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It was a typical day. I awoke, took a shower, brushed my teeth, had a quick breakfast (~3 scrambled eggs) and jumped in my car. 15 miles, a cup of coffee, and a handful of cashews later, I arrived at my first meeting. I presented my 54-page slide deck while enjoying another cup of coffee, a plate of fruit and a bottle of water. The meeting ended a bit earlier than I had expected. I decided to squeeze in a workout before lunch and took a quick shower after.

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For lunch, I had a salad topped with steak and mango while grading a 154 page senior essay that one of my students had just submitted. Although I was genuinely interested in its topic (price and quality transparency in healthcare), I did manage to consume another cup of coffee (and a chocolate bar) during the first 30 pages that I read. I then had three back to back to back conference calls before heading home.   Upon arriving, I made dinner (chicken breast, asparagus, and red-lentil pasta) and poured myself a glass of red wine.

Over the course of this ordinary and unremarkable day, I consumed ~8 cups of drinking water and used approximately 50 gallons for my two showers, multiple toilet flushes, and my sink-based activities of hand washing, teeth brushing, and shaving (click HERE).

The amount of water I consumed indirectly, known as “virtual water,” was far more noteworthy. At 37 gallons of water per cup of coffee (takes a lot of water to grow coffee beans!), my three cups of coffee added another 111 gallons (click HERE).   Given I used around a cup of almond milk across with my three coffees, I effectively used the 750 gallons or so used to generate the cup of almonds (click HERE). The glass of wine (a healthy pour!) was equivalent to about 50 gallons of water (click HERE), bringing the running tally to 962 gallons of water and water equivalents.

What about the virtual water in the food I ate? The three eggs I consumed required 159 gallons of water to produce (click HERE). 500 gallons for my cashews (click HERE), 100 gallons for the fruit, 1300 gallons went into my steak (click HERE), and an additional 220 into the mango. The bed of kale upon which the beef and mango sat? 25 gallons. Chocolate bar: 317 gallons (click HERE). My chicken “only” consumed 130 gallons of water, less than the 160 gallons consumed by my asparagus, and a water bargain when compared to the 500 gallons consumed by my portion of lentils (click HERE). New total: 4373 gallons.

And then there’s the virtual water in everything else I used. A 60-watt light bulb consumes the equivalent of 5 gallons of water per hour (click HERE); I probably used the equivalent of 25 light bulb hours (125 gallons). A gallon of gasoline in my car took 13 gallons of water to produce (click HERE), and I probably used 3 gallons today (39 gallons). It takes about 3 gallons of water to make a sheet of paper (click HERE). Given I made 20 double-sided copies of my 54-page slide deck and read 72 pages of a double-sided senior essay, my paper use effectively consumed 1836 gallons of water.   Updated tally: 6373 gallons.

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While the 6373 gallons may seem like a large number, it likely underestimates my total usage.   My actual water footprint is likely much higher!  Consider that it takes 700 gallons of water to make one t-shirt, or 2900 gallons to make a pair of jeans (click HERE). Or that watering a lawn can take tens of thousands of gallons per month. Or that a bath consumes 7-10x more water than a shower. Water is hidden virtually everywhere.

How much water did you consume today?

 

 

Believe Coal is Dead? Think Again.

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Coal is an abundant, cheap, secure and reliable source of energy. It currently generates approximately 40% of the world’s electricity (click HERE). But it’s also dirty and a major source of carbon emissions. For each unit of energy produced, coal generates two times the carbon dioxide released by natural gas and about 133% that released by oil (click HERE).

Given the recent boom in natural gas production and the collapse in oil prices, many have stated coal is dead. I’m not convinced, and here’s why.

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More than 90% of the population growth and 70% of the increase in economic output expected between now and 2030 is happening in the emerging markets (click HERE). This alignment of population and income growth is generating what I believe will be an unprecedented global consumption boom, a development that will affect demand for everything from healthcare to education to food and, you guessed it, energy. According to BP’s Energy Outlook, emerging markets will account for more than 90% of the growth in energy consumption between now and 2030 (click HERE).

Although coal usage is slowing in the United States and Europe, these two markets represented ~20% of global coal demand in 2013; China and India represented ~60% (click HERE).   Further, China and India are growing their coal consumption rapidly and show no signs of slowing. India has proposed building 455 coal-fired power plants to provide electricity to its 340 million citizens currently without any power. China is planning on adding 363 new coal-fired plants (click HERE) to keep pace with power demands from a booming middle class.

And then there is Africa, a continent with ~1 billion people that is on the verge of an enormous population boom (click HERE). Germany, a country with a population of about 80 million, has a larger electricity generation capacity than all of Africa (click HERE). Sub-Saharan Africa has less capacity than Alabama; it generates barely enough electricity to power one light bulb per person for ~3 hours per day (click HERE). I have no doubt that coal is going to play a large role in Africa’s power sector.

Clean coal technologies such as carbon capture and storage (CSS) have proven expensive and are believed to raise costs by 25-45% (click HERE); even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggests costs may be high (click HERE). Further, effective global regulation of carbon seems elusive. Australia last year became the world’s first country to repeal its carbon tax (click HERE), and Japan has been relaxing its restrictions on coal power in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear accident (click HERE). Might others follow?

Archaeologists have evidence that humans burned coal as early as 3490 BC (click HERE). For 5000+ years, coal has played a role in improving the lives of humans. While its relative importance may fall, it’s unlikely to disappear as an energy source anytime soon.

 

 

Castles in the Sand: Modern Day Pyramid-Building in Egypt

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The Egyptian government announced last month that it plans on literally leaving Cairo for a $45 billion new capital city that will be built within 7 years. In what is likely to be the most ambitious large-scale infrastructure project the world has ever seen, this yet-to-be-named city will span 700 square kilometers (about the size of Singapore), have 21 residential districts, hundreds of hospitals and clinics, 1250 religious facilities, and more than 1.1 million new homes for more than 5 million residents.

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Other facilities to be built include a park roughly two times the size of NYC’s Central Park, a 4 square kilometer theme park (4x the footprint of Disneyland), an international airport occupying 16 square kilometers (i.e. bigger than London’s Heathrow Airport), more than 40,000 hotel rooms, 700 kindergartens, 4.2 million square feet of retail space, and office buildings to house Egyptian ministries and foreign embassies. Building the new city is expected to create almost 1.8 million permanent jobs.

Lest you think that I’m making up these numbers, click HERE for a link to the project’s website and see for yourself. My favorite line on the website: “With over 10,000 km of boulevards, avenues and streets, the city will be pedestrian-friendly.”   That’s a lot of potential walking!  According to The Guardian, the project is the “largest purpose-built capital in human history – nearly as large as Islamabad, Brasilia, and Canberra put together” (Click HERE).

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Moving a capital to another city is not particularly unique (click HERE) and has been done dozens of times in Egypt before 969 AD, but building a new city from scratch is not very common. But there are examples. Brazil moved its capital from Rio de Janeiro to a newly built Brasilia in 1961; Nigeria moved from Lagos to the planned city of Abuja in 1991. More recently, Myanmar moved its capital from Rangoon to Naypyidaw, a new city built in the jungle.

I’ve long been a skeptic of attention grabbing projects of enormous size, scale, or scope – and believe they are wonderful manifestations of hubris, global liquidity, and speculative tendencies. The world’s tallest skyscrapers (click HERE for a piece I wrote for Forbes in 2011) and mega-projects are similar in this regard. In fact, upon hearing about Egypt’s new capital project, I immediately thought of Ghana’s Hope City, a $10 billion development that was planned in a $48 billion economy (~20% of GDP!) (click HERE). Over the last few years, Ghana went from the world’s fastest growing economy to having one of the world’s weakest (click HERE).  At a cost of more than 15% of GDP, the new capital city does not suggest a rosy outlook for Egypt's economy.

Sadly, Egypt has a history of trying to deal with population pressures by creating new cities (click HERE) and in fact already has a “new Cairo” that was meant to attract several million residents (it currently holds a few hundred thousand) – a fact that led Egypt’s investment minister to call the current project the “New New Cairo” (click HERE), reminding me of Internet bubble thinking as captured in The New New Thing by Michael Lewis.

New New Cairo strikes me as an example of vision that has gone too far, where speculative juices and global liquidity have met overconfidence and hubris. The combination is toxic and risks misallocating capital away from productive uses that improve the lives of Egyptians towards modern-day pyramid building.

 

Widespread Global Stability…April Fools!

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The world continues to feel fragile.  As I write this note, Iranian nuclear negotiations continue (after the supposed deadline), Brazil is in the midst of a massive corporate scandal, the Canadian economy seems destined to shrink, Japan is continuing to struggle, instability is plaguing Syria and Yemen, China's slowdown continues to apply downward price pressure to certain commodities (look at iron ore, for instance), and Europe continues to be a work in progress.

There is one seemingly (at least at this stage) bright spot: Nigeria.  What?!?!  I know!  Felt like an April Fool's joke to me when I read that the election seems to have gone smoothly and a peaceful transition of leadership seems likely.  My expectations, like many Africa watchers, were too low.  While I'm now optimistic and very hopeful, I do think the situation warrants continued attention in the weeks and months ahead.

Another noteworthy development is rising wage pressure.  McDonald's recently agreed to raise wages.  Walmart did so early this year.  Is this a sign that incomes are starting to rise?  Might this squeeze corporate margins, a concerning scenario at a time when markets are already fully-priced?  (Click HERE for my interview with CNBC in which I briefly discuss wage pressures).  Could these wage gains spark the dreaded wage-price spiral that generates runaway inflationary pressures?  It's worth watching.

I'll continue to comment on developments I find interesting and noteworthy.  In addition to posting my thoughts on my website every Wednesday, I have also begun posting them to LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.  Listed below are links to my most recent comments.  As always, I'd welcome feedback!
PS. Given the extensive commentary that my notes are generating on LinkedIn, the links below are now pointing to my posts on LinkedIn so that you can also read what others are saying and join the conversation if you feel so inspired!


Forthcoming War In The Arctic?

Last month's developments in the Arctic were concerning.  Norway held military exercises on its Russian border in the Arctic, and Russia quickly followed with a demonstration that included 40,000+ troops.  Tensions in the region are rising.  In this short note, I explore how the Arctic heating up has the risk of escalating into war.   Click HERE to read my comment.


 

Canadian Economic Bubble?

While speaking at an event in Florida last month, I expressed my concerns about Canada's housing market and leveraged consumer.  I was shocked by the fact that the audience was shocked.  In this short comment, I discuss how Canadian household debt, high housing prices, and a booming subprime mortgage market are blowing a bubble that the fall in crude oil prices is about to burst. I lay out my thesis for why I believe Canada may be the most vulnerable large economy in the world today. Click HERE for my comment.


 

Three Questions About The Robolution

The increasing automation that is spreading globally is forcing us to rethink the role humans will play in a host of industries -- ranging from farming, camel racing, logistics, manufacturing, publishing, and even dance and music.  My note about robots explores possible implications of this seemingly unstoppable trend.  Click HERE to read the piece.


 

Focus on Customers, Not Competitors

I recently had the pleasure of flying to and from Abu Dhabi on Etihad Airways.  The experience was fabulous and I'm unlikely to fly another airline if Etihad is an option. Upon returning, I noticed that Delta Airlines and other US carriers were suggesting the US government modify its Open Skies agreement with the UAE.  In this short note, I suggest US carriers would be better served by focusing on customers rather than competitors.  Click HERE for my comment.


 

You're Underestimating Africa

Few people truly understand how large Africa actually is.  Its land area is equivalent to the United States, Europe, India, China, Mexico, Japan, and the United Kingdom -- COMBINED!    Further, it's population is booming.  Nigeria (about the size of Texas) will have 1 billion residents by the end of the century.  Click HERE for more.


 

Sheep Pulling Lobsters from Snow?

Amidst the never-ending snowfall this winter, I took a trip up to Southern Maine.  While stopping in Perkin's Cove in Ogunquit, I noticed that many lobstermen were busy.  This was extremely unusual, leading me to explore the connection between China's Year of the Sheep celebrations and the Maine lobster industry.  My short note generated more than 12,000 views on Linkedin!  Click HERE to read it.


 

Bloomberg TV Appearance

In mid-March, I had the opportunity to guest host Bloomberg Surveillance with Tom Keene, Olivia Stearns, and Brendan Greeley.  Over the course of the show, I was able to discuss Wall Street culture (click HERE for short video), political manipulation of markets (click HERE for a short video), and Canadian economic vulnerability (click HERE for a short video).

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