Archives for October 2018

Facebook shareholders back proposal to remove Zuckerberg as chairman

(Reuters) – Several public funds that hold shares in Facebook Inc on Wednesday backed a proposal to remove Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg as chairman, saying the social media giant mishandled several high-profile scandals.

Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg listens to French President Emmanuel Macron after a family picture with guests of the “Tech for Good Summit” at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, May 23, 2018. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/Pool

State treasurers from Illinois, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania, and New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, co-filed the proposal. They joined hedge fund Trillium Asset Management, which bought it to the table in June.

The proposal, set to be voted on at the company’s annual shareholder meeting in May 2019, is asking Facebook’s board to make the role of board chair an independent position.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives for a meeting with French President at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, May 23, 2018. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

“Facebook plays an outsized role in our society and our economy. They have a social and financial responsibility to be transparent – that’s why we’re demanding independence and accountability in the company’s boardroom,” Stringer said.

The proposal said lack of independent board chair and oversight has contributed to Facebook “mishandling” a number of severe controversies, including Russian meddling in U.S. elections and the Cambridge Analytica data leak.

Zuckerberg has about 60 percent voting power, according to a filing in April.

The New York City Pension Funds owned about 4.5 million Facebook shares as of July 31.

The Pennsylvania Treasury holds 38,737 shares of the company, according to a spokeswoman. Trillium holds 53,000 shares.

Shares held by the Treasurers of Illinois and Rhode Island were not immediately available.

Reporting by Arjun Panchadar and Munsif Vengattil in Bengaluru; Editing by Bernard Orr

Exclusive: Amazon zooms in on central Mexico for large new warehouse

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Amazon.com Inc is scouting for land in central Mexico for a fourth distribution center in the country, sources said, aiming at a bigger slice of the burgeoning e-commerce market in Latin America’s second-largest economy.

FILE PHOTO: A view of the Amazon fulfillment logo in Mexico City, Mexico, September 12, 2017. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido/File Photo

The retail titan’s target is Queretaro state in the industrial center of Mexico, where it is looking to hire a developer to build a large hub, two real estate professionals familiar with Amazon’s property hunt said. They asked not to be named because Amazon has not announced its plans.

The expansion plan highlights Amazon’s intent to plant roots beyond Mexico’s bustling capital, banking on the nation’s potential to grow into an e-commerce engine of Latin America.

Online shopping in Mexico comprised just 3.0 percent of total sales last year, according to market research firm Euromonitor International, but it is projected to more than double by 2022, reaching $14 billion.

“Mexico’s digital economy has great potential. We expect it to keep growing in the future,” said Brian Huseman, Amazon’s vice president for public policy, at a recent event in Mexico City promoting efforts to get more Mexican companies on its platform.

“Amazon is here for the long run,” he said.

The company has considered several properties in Queretaro, and was looking for 50 acres where it could commission a more than one million-square-foot warehouse, about the size of 17 football fields, plus office space, one of the sources said.

Amazon declined to comment.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of the web service Amazon is pictured in this June 8, 2017 illustration photo. To match Exclusive MEXICO-AMAZON.COM/ REUTERS/Carlos Jasso/Illustration/File Photo

Queretaro, 114 miles north of Mexico City, is within a day’s reach of Monterrey and Guadalajara, two of Mexico’s most populous regions. It also sits in a cluster of middle-class cities in the Bajio, a region dense with automotive and aerospace plants.

Most of the state’s industrial parks sit along the so-called “NAFTA highway,” a key artery for companies in Mexico receiving goods from the United States and Canada under the North American Free Trade Agreement. An updated pact was agreed last month and is expected to preserve cross-border commerce once it becomes law.

The parks are also within several miles of the Queretaro Intercontinental Airport that handles cargo.

Amazon’s expansion to Queretaro would be part of the company’s bid to reel in shoppers with fast deliveries while keeping a lid on shipping expenses.

“It’s all about speed to market and keeping costs low,” said Marc Wulfraat, president of logistics consultancy MWPVL International Inc.

Amazon, which began selling physical goods in Mexico in 2015, already operates three warehouses just outside Mexico City with about 1.5 million square feet. That space is equivalent to just 1.0 percent of its vast U.S. logistics footprint, according to MWPVL.

Still, it has scaled up faster in Mexico than in Brazil, which MWPVL says has 665,400 square feet.

For Pedro Villa, whose Mexico-based company Konekte sells home storage equipment, speedy deliveries boost sales by reining in first-time shoppers who are concerned about online fraud and worry packages may not arrive.

“It’s about confidence,” Villa said. “If you pay and it takes a week or 15 days, you’re going to want your money back.”

Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon; editing by Clive McKeef

U.S. judge approves SEC settlement with Tesla, Musk; shares jump

(Reuters) – A U.S. judge on Tuesday approved a settlement between a federal regulator, Tesla Inc and its chief executive officer, Elon Musk, over his tweets promising to take the company private, signaling an end to a tumultuous period for investors.

FILE PHOTO: Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk speaks during the National Governors Association Summer Meeting in Providence, Rhode Island, U.S., July 15, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo

Tesla shares rose as much as 5.5 percent to $273.88 before easing to $271.63 in early-afternoon trade on Nasdaq. Despite the gains, the stock is still down more than 20 percent since Aug. 6, the day before Musk said on Twitter he would take the company private and claimed he had secured funding to do so.

Judge Alison Nathan of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York approved a motion filed by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission outlining the agreement with Tesla and Musk.

A Tesla spokesperson confirmed the settlement, but said the automaker would make no further comment on the matter.

Under an agreement with the SEC, Musk has agreed to pay a $20 million fine and step aside as Tesla’s chairman for three years to settle charges that could have forced his exit from Tesla.

The company will also pay a $20 million fine, despite not being charged with fraud.

The government lawsuit threatened Tesla and Musk with a long fight that could have undermined its operations and ability to raise capital.

Under the settlement announced on Sept.29, Tesla must appoint an independent chairman, two independent directors and a board committee to control Musk’s communications.

FILE PHOTO: Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk reveals the Tesla Energy Powerwall Home Battery during an event in Hawthorne, California, U.S., April 30, 2015. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon/File Photo

Musk must comply with procedures set by the committee, including preapproval of “any such written communications that contain, or reasonably could contain, information material” to Tesla or its shareholders.

Twitter has frequently been Musk’s go-to venue for freewheeling communications and confrontation with Tesla’s critics.

The stock dropped last month after the SEC accused Musk, 47, of fraud over his “false and misleading” tweets on Aug. 7.

On Oct. 4, just hours after Nathan ordered him and the SEC to explain why their settlement was fair and reasonable, Musk appeared to mock the SEC on Twitter.

“Just want to [sic] that the Shortseller Enrichment Commission is doing incredible work,” Musk, a frequent critic of the investors who have bet against the company, wrote. “And the name change is so on point!”

The day after the tweet, Tesla’s shares fell 7 percent when billionaire investor David Einhorn’s Greenlight Capital hedge fund criticized the electric carmaker, saying Musk had been deceptive and the carmaker’s woes resembled those of Lehman Brothers before its collapse.

Musk has gained legions of fans for his bold approach to business and technology, using his 23 million Twitter followers to promote Tesla, his rocket company SpaceX, and tunnel venture Boring Co.

But the Aug. 7 claim that he had the funding to take Tesla private, and a subsequent U-turn, stunned Wall Street and came as Musk was filmed briefly smoking marijuana during a live Web show and when he called a British diver in the Thai cave rescue a “pedo.”

The Financial Times reported last week that outgoing Twenty-First Century Fox Inc CEO James Murdoch, a son of Fox mogul Rupert Murdoch, was the lead candidate to replace Musk as chairman. Musk called the report “incorrect.” Tesla has until Nov. 13 to appoint an independent chairman.

Thanks to Musk’s vision and showmanship, Tesla’s valuation has at times eclipsed that of traditional, established U.S. automakers that make millions of vehicles and billions of dollars in profits annually, and the company has garnered legions of fans despite repeated production issues.

Reporting by Munsif Vengattil in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur and Jeffrey Benkoe

Lyft selects JPMorgan, Credit Suisse for IPO in 2019: source

(Reuters) – Ride-hailing company Lyft Inc has chosen JPMorgan Chase & Co, Credit Suisse and Jefferies as underwriters for its initial public offering, slated for the first half of 2019, according to a person familiar with the matter.

FILE PHOTO: An illuminated sign appears in a Lyft ride-hailing car in Los Angeles, California, U.S. September 21, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Helgren/File Photo

The source did not want to be identified because Lyft’s plans were still private.

Reuters had earlier reported that Lyft was in talks with JPMorgan to lead its IPO, after rivals Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley decided not to pursue such a role out of loyalty to another IPO hopeful and Lyft’s larger competitor, Uber Technologies Inc.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Uber could be valued at $120 billion in its IPO, expected in 2019.

JPMorgan declined to comment. Credit Suisse did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment, while Jefferies was not available for a comment.

Lyft also declined to comment.

The two IPOs are widely seen as a litmus test for investor tolerance for lack of profitability when it comes to iconic technology unicorns.

Uber and Lyft have taken hits to their bottom lines in order to attract drivers and enter new markets, although they have made strides in recent years in narrowing their losses.

Like Uber, Lyft offers an app that lets passengers request rides on their smartphones. It was founded in 2012 by technology entrepreneurs John Zimmer and Logan Green, three years after Uber.

Reporting By Aparajita Saxena in Bengaluru and Liana Baker in New York; Editing by Shailesh Kuber

3 Vanguard ETFs To Consider Right Now

I’m penning this article the evening of October 11, 2018. The market has just completed two of the most severe convulsions since early-February, when the Dow suffered a 600-point decline followed by two 1,000-point declines over a span of 4 trading days.

Over the past two days, the Dow has dropped 1,377 points, the Nasdaq 409 points, and the S&P 500 some 152 points, declines of 5.21%, 5.29%, and 5.28%, respectively. When you look at those 3 averages, you quickly sense that the decline was widespread.

Clearly, if one is looking to pick up some bargains, one could look to snap up any one of a number of ETFs. A good total-market ETF, for example, might not be a bad bet. Might you, though, be able to do even better than that? Might there be options that, viewed over the course of 2018 as a whole, present even better bargains?

I spent a little time looking at that question, and have come up with 3 ETFs I’d like to propose for your consideration. Here they are.

  1. Vanguard FTSE All-World ex-US ETF (VEU)
  2. Vanguard Consumer Staples ETF (VDC)
  3. Vanguard Real Estate ETF (VNQ)

First, here’s a quick peek at what our 3 candidates did over the past couple of days. You’ll notice a slight divergence. VEU slumped fairly consistently both days. VDC and VNQ held up decently on Day 1 of the decline, but then got hit hard on Day 2. Long story short, however, they fell hard just like pretty much everything else.

Chart

VEU Price

data by

YCharts

Next, though, let’s step back and take a look at how the 3 ETFs have performed year-to-date. In this graphic, I’ve overlaid the S&P 500 average to put things in perspective.

Chart

^SPX

data by

YCharts

The action in the S&P 500 is pretty dramatic. In two days, the average dropped from a YTD return of almost 7.5% to 2.05%. However, this is still between roughly 9% and 13% better than VEU, VDC, and VNQ.

One by one, let’s take a quick look at each of these 3 ETFs. I’ll briefly consider how each got to the point it is today, a little about the ETF itself, and the possibilities moving forward.

Vanguard Consumer Staples ETF

As you can quickly gather from its name, VDC focuses on the consumer staples sector. As it turns out, this sector is particularly helpful in protecting your portfolio in the event of a market downturn. In brief, Consumer Staples is the term given to products, and the companies which produce these, that are considered essential, such as food, beverages, household items, and tobacco. These are the sorts of items that people need to function each and every day, and therefore, are generally unable to cut out of their budget even in bad times.

Take a look at VDC’s Top-10 holdings.

VDC Top 10 Holdings

Source: VDC Profile Page

Just the other evening, I went to my local Costco (COST) and, among other items, picked up a multi-pack of Crest toothpaste, a Proctor & Gamble (PG) product. My neighbor is a huge Diet Coke fan, and I see empty cartons from cases of this Coca-Cola (KO) product in his garbage on a regular basis. Lastly, I recently got a great price on a few pairs of jeans at Walmart (WMT). And I am far from alone.

Why, then, have consumer staples stocks struggled in 2018? Analysts suggest several factors. Established companies are facing competition from smaller, nimbler upstarts. Energy costs are rising. Finally, ongoing trade wars may not be doing this segment any favors.

It may prove folly, however, to discount these established companies. Think, for example, about Coca-Cola’s massive and efficient distribution network. Think about things such as economies of scale. Lagging the overall S&P 500 by some 9% this year, this segment may deserve a second look.

VDC contains 93 stocks, and has Assets Under Management (AUM) of $4.6 billion. It carries an expense ratio of .10% and sports an SEC yield of 2.85% as of 9/30/18.

Vanguard Real Estate ETF

When I first featured VNQ in a comparison of 3 REIT ETFs, the name of the ETF was Vanguard REIT Index ETF. A REIT is a corporate entity that invests in real estate. You might be surprised to discover that much of the real estate you see as you move about your daily life is owned by REITs. This can include everything from downtown Manhattan office buildings to suburban outlet malls to high-quality apartment complexes to mobile home parks.

What makes REITs somewhat unique from other entities that might invest in real estate as part of their business is their tax status. To qualify as a REIT, a company must agree to distribute at least 90% of its earnings to its investors in the form of dividends. As a practical matter, many REITs distribute 100% of their income to investors such that they owe no corporate tax.

The change to its present name was no accident. Beginning in late-2017, Vanguard gradually transitioned the index tracked by this ETF to the MSCI US Investable Market Real Estate 25/50 Index. According to a statement from Vanguard, the sector “includes real estate management and development companies in addition to real estate investment trusts (REITs).”

So, for example, VNQ now counts American Tower Corporation (AMT) as one of its Top-10 holdings. As you might have guessed from the name, among other things American Tower owns and/or operates some 40,000 cellular towers in the United States.

Here’s a look at VNQ’s sector breakdown:

VNQ Sector Weightings

Source: VNQ Profile Page

Not surprisingly, since REITs tend to hold large amounts of debt, they are very interest-rate sensitive. In the current environment, this forms a large part of their relative underperformance. At the same time, they offer stability and, by their very charter, a solid stream of dividend income. VNQ’s yield currently stands at approximately 3.29%.

VNQ currently has AUM of some $33.0 billion and carries an expense ratio of .12%.

Vanguard FTSE All-World ex-US ETF

VEU is a venerable ETF in the international total-market asset class. With an inception date of 3/2/07 and AUM of $22.9 billion, it stands head and shoulders above the competition. No wonder it carries an enviable (for a foreign ETF) .02% average spread to go along with its competitive .11% expense ratio.

VEU tracks the FTSE All-World ex-US Index. This index focuses on large-cap and medium-cap companies outside the U.S., but shies away from small-cap companies. Its fact sheet lists the index as having 2,712 constituents covering 46 different countries, in both developed and emerging markets.

Here’s a quick peek at VEU’s Top 10 holdings.

VEU Top 10 Holdings

Source: VEU Profile Page

To give you some small sense of the sorts of companies that constitute the largest portions of the fund, here are extremely brief synopses of two of these companies, Nestle SA (OTCPK:NSRGY) and Novartis AG (NYSE:NVS):

  • Nestle SA – Nestle is the largest food company in the world, measured by revenues. Encompassing baby food, bottled water, coffee & tea, dairy products, frozen food, pet food, snacks and more. The list of brands is made up of legendary names that you will instantly recognize, and Wikipedia states that 29 of these brands each have annual sales of over $1 billion. The company operates in 189 countries.
  • Novartis AG – Novartis is the 6th-largest largest pharmaceutical company in the world, measured by revenues. According to its latest annual report, its R&D group received 16 major approvals, made 16 major submissions, and received six breakthrough therapy designations from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Novartis’ products are available in more than 155 countries worldwide.

In a recent article on emerging markets, I briefly outlined some of the reasons for the underperformance of this asset class compared to the U.S. market. Developed international markets have also not been exempt from many of these factors, hence the roughly 13% YTD underperformance of VEU as compared to the S&P 500.

Summary and Conclusion

By the time you read this article, Friday’s market session will have likely come and gone. While, based on activity in futures, the expectation is that there will be a positive bounce, we’ll just have to wait and see.

However, I can all but promise that the YTD underperformance of these 3 ETFs will not be remedied in any one day. If you have been dutifully stashing some extra cash away, here are three possible places you can put some of it to work.

Bonus: A Peek Into ETF Monkey’s Personal Portfolio

In late 2016, after writing for Seeking Alpha for a little over a year, I for the first time offered readers a peek into my personal portfolio. It had been awhile since I had updated this, and a few things have changed. On my personal blog, I recently posted an update as of September 30, 2018. If you’re curious to see how I have allocated my own money, you’re welcome to take a peek!

Disclosure: I am/we are long VEU, VNQ.

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.

Additional disclosure: I am not a registered investment advisor or broker/dealer. Readers are advised that the material contained herein should be used solely for informational purposes, and to consult with their personal tax or financial advisors as to its applicability to their circumstances. Investing involves risk, including the loss of principal.

You're About to Drown in Streaming Subscriptions

You’ve got your Netflix subscription and Amazon Prime. You’ve got HBO Now, at least when Game of Thrones is on, and maybe pay up for a more specialized service too, like Crunchyroll or the WWE Network. It’s already lot! Bad news: It’s about to get worse.

The notion that streaming services might someday totally supplant the monolithic cable package has glittered on the horizon for years now. But as that future becomes increasingly the present, an uncomfortable reality has set in: There’s too much. To Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and HBO Now, add WarnerMedia, Disney, and Apple as omnibus, general interest streaming destinations. Investors have poured a billion dollars into something called Quibi, which has an unfortunate name but exclusive Guillermo del Toro content. And the niche options continue to proliferate as well, whether it’s DC Universe or College Humor. If we’re not at the breaking point yet, we’re surely about to find it.

“Everybody wants to talk about how much money’s being spent on content. But as a consumer, don’t you already feel like you have enough content choices out there?” says Dan Rayburn, a streaming media analyst with Frost & Sullivan. “Our eyeballs and the time that we have to consume media of any kind is being challenged.”

There’s nothing wrong, of course, with choice. That’s especially true if your interests run more niche, outside the relatively anodyne confines of a cable package, or even the relatively mainstream offerings of Netflix and Amazon. “The abundance of programming and commercial viability of smaller audiences is making it possible for storytelling from a much wider range of experiences to finally be available,” says Amanda Lotz, a professor of media studies at the University of Michigan and author of Portals: A Treatise on Internet-Distributed Television.

But while tailored, a la carte services have long been the promise of streaming TV, it’s starting to look more like a series of pricey buffets. Competing megacorporations are all pumping billions into original content, much of it designed for mass appeal. (Apple has reportedly mandated no “gratuitous sex, profanity or violence” on its incoming streaming service.) And even if each also produces more experimental or idiosyncratic options, you’ll be hard pressed to access all or even most of them. The show that scratches your itch won’t necessarily be on a platform you can afford to pay for.

“Realistically you’re not going to have a consumer with more than two or three services per month,” says Rayburn. Especially when you consider that these streaming services still largely supplement, rather than replace, traditional cable packages. There’s only so much disposable income to go around, no matter how much you care for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

“In a lot of ways it’s an extension of the narrowcasting that began in the 1980s, with cable,” says Jennifer Holt, a media studies professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. But by advancing that trend, it also exacerbates the fragmentation of culture that came with it. Again, that has plenty of potential benefit, giving otherwise marginalized perspectives more opportunities for representation. But it paradoxically may also make those shows increasingly hard to find.

“There was a time, the ’70s or the ’80s, when you knew what channel your show was on,” says Holt. “That kind of got lost in a lot of ways, with certain streaming services. Now maybe the idea of branding this content will take on different dimensions. You’re going to have to know where to find it. It becomes more work.”

Meanwhile, the splintering of services also threatens to hasten the decay of a broader, shared cultural conversation. “It starts to evacuate the potential for any real communal, cultural touchstone when we’re all watching completely different services,” says Holt.

All else being equal, one might expect all of this to be a blip, a temporary flash of exuberance that will subside once good old fashioned market forces clear away the rabble. But the untimely death of net neutrality, along with a merger-friendly Justice Department, have left all else quite explicitly unequal.

“I think the bigger issue is what happens in the aftermath of net neutrality’s elimination,” says Lotz, who argues that allowing ISPs to enforce paid prioritization is “more likely to change the marketplace for the services in profound ways.”

AT&T owns WarnerMedia, for instance, and so can not only potentially offer its impending streaming service at a discount—or for free—to its mobile or cable customers, but could prioritize its performance on its network, and downgrade that of rivals. (WarnerMedia hasn’t announced pricing yet, but if any of this seems far-fetched, note that AT&T already offers DirecTV Now discounts for mobile customers, and doesn’t count DirecTV Now streaming against data caps.) Comcast, meanwhile owns NBCUniversal, which gives it a sizable stake in Hulu; it also recently acquired Sky, which operates Now TV, a popular streaming service internationally.

The cable-content hybrid companies, in fact, win no matter what. Even if you pass on their streaming service, they can always make up the difference by charging more for broadband.

And then there are the companies for whom a streaming platform is a means to a greater end. Apple isn’t an ISP, but it does want to sell iPhones and iPads and Apple TVs, and will reportedly make at least some aspects of its streaming service free for hardware customers—just as, Holt notes, the early radio programs only existed to help radio companies sell more radios. Likewise, Amazon attempting to drive Prime subscriptions. All of which is to say, the field will stay crowded for longer than you might expect.

There are some bright spots in all of this, especially when you think small. “The services that work very well are the niche services, the ones that are targeting a specific type of user with a specific type of content,” says Rayburn. Those more targeted services have also forged new business models; Rayburn points to CuriosityStream, which recently embraced sponsors to help lower prices for viewers.

And Holt notes that most popular streaming services currently have fairly liberal password-sharing policies; as long as that holds true, she says, piracy could be the tie that binds us.

As more megaservices fill the landscape, though, one wonders how long before the niche upstarts feel the squeeze. And as your streaming options continue to kaleidoscope, what’s coming next looks promising, sure, but also daunting. Especially given who it’s coming from.

“The combination of the digital distributor, whether it’s the mobile phone or the ISP, and the content delivery, to me that’s the bleak future we’re headed toward,” says Holt. “I don’t think it’s going to work out for consumers.”


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REI End of Season Sale (Fall 2018): Patagonia, CycleOps, Rumpl, Suunto, Dakine

At this time of the week, we usually like to scour the web for great prices on our favorite headphones or gaming consoles. But this is a special occasion: REI’s End of Season sale started yesterday, and will continue through Monday, October 15. This is your best chance to snag the outdoor gear you’ve been coveting all summer for unbelievable prices. We combed through thousands of deals to bring you some of our favorite picks.

Rumpl’s soft, eye-catching blankets are made out of technical ripstop nylon with a DWR finish. It will shed dirt and dog hair, repel moisture, and keep you warm on your next fireside outing. Buy the Rumpl Puffy Blanket for $72 (was $129).

  • Dakine Cassette Stomp Pad for $4 (was $8). According to the reviews, it might not last that long. But it will look amazing on the day that you stick it on.

  • Darn Tough Crew Socks for $7 (was $20). You knew these would show up here. Everyone always needs more indestructible socks. Unless your socks are already all Darn Tough socks, in which case you might be set. REI’s entire selection of socks is worth browsing; there are plenty of men’s versions on sale too.

  • Brooks Juno Bra for $24 (was $65). This is one of the best-selling sports bras from Brooks’ sister company, Moving Comfort, which is best known for bras that, er, strap it all down.

  • Patagonia Black Hole Gear Tote for $27 (was $49). Patagonia’s tote in the Black Hole line serves as a tough, durable catch-all for everything from wet hiking boots, dirty gym clothes, or laundry. It stuffs down into its own pocket when not in use.

  • REI Co-op Midweight Base Layer for $29 (was $80). The end-of-season sale is a great time to stock up on a lot of essentials that would otherwise be extremely pricey, like merino wool base layers. REI’s in-house line offers a lot of value for the money, but if you prefer other brands, they also have a lot of Smartwool and Icebreaker on sale too.

  • Patagonia Baggies for $30 (was $55). Depending on where you live, you probably won’t need these for a while. But these are the some awesome outdoor shorts. They’re also made from recycled materials and come in a variety of fun prints.

  • Chacos Classic Z/1 Sandals for $45 (was $105). You won’t be able to use these for awhile either. But now is a good time to stock up, if you don’t currently have a pair of Colorado’s or Oregon’s official summer state shoe.

  • Nathan Speed 2L Hydration Vest for $31 (was $85). Are you running in the Los Angeles, Eugene, or, God help us, the Boston Marathon this spring? You’ve probably been looking for a hydration vest, which sits close to your body, has breathable mesh panels, and won’t bounce like a bladder backpack would.

  • Manduka Prolite Yoga Mat for $37 (was $82). Manduka’s high-density, closed-cell yoga mats are very popular, and usually very heavy. This one is light enough to tote to and from class.

  • Vuori Movement Hoodie for $44 (was $118). REI carries a lesser-known outdoor brands, like Bridge & Burn, United by Blue, and Topo Designs. Vuori’s soft, moisture-wicking hoodies have a cult following and very rarely (if ever?) go on sale.

  • Ruffwear Cloud Chaser Jacket for $48 (was $80). Ruffwear’s doggy jacket is waterproof, windproof, and even has reflective trim. If you’re going to be decked out to protect yourself from the elements, maybe your pup should be too.

  • Patagonia Nano-Air Jacket for $74 (was $199). All of Patagonia’s vaunted midweight jackets (Nano Air, Nano Puff, Micro Puff?) will quickly become the layer that you never take off.

  • REI Co-op Camp Bundle for $134 (was $239). Have you put off camping because all the gear seemed incomprehensibly expensive? This is an amazing value for a three-season tent, air-foam sleeping pad, and 30-degree sleeping bag. Now all you need is a cookstove, a headlamp, a backpack…

  • Suunto Ambit3 Vertical GPS Watch for $246 (was $469). Suunto’s GPS watches are good-looking, lightweight, and offer incredible capabilities for the price. The Ambit3 Vertical tracks vertical gain (no doy!) for ultrarunners, trail runners, and hikers.

  • Lib Tech Attack Banana 2017/2018 for $310 (was $589). If you’re an all-mountain rider who is more likely to carve around in powder or pop into the park, rather than bomb down as fast as possible, Lib Tech’s poppy Banana boards are a great choice.

  • Coalition Snow Bliss Skis for $359 (was $599). Do you need another reason to get excited about ski season starting up? Coalition Snow is just one of many great snow brands that are on sale right now.

  • CycleOps Magnus Bike Trainer for $412 (was $600). ‘Tis the season, for bringing your bike indoors and pedaling while watching The Great British Baking Show, instead of biking outside.

  • Surftech Universal 10’6” Stand Up Paddleboard for $668 (was $1049). ‘Tis also the season for buying paddleboards on clearance and fantasizing about going out on lakes and rivers again.

  • When you buy something using the retail links in our stories, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Read more about how this works.

    'First Man' Review: Houston, We Have an Indie Blockbuster

    First Man is a rare bird. It’s a big, adventure movie that goes from the flats of the Mojave Desert to the surface of the moon; and it’s a deft, thoughtful film about overcoming grief. It’s got wrenching performances, and an entire sequence shot in IMAX that looks best on the biggest screen possible. The fact that these things all coexist in one film isn’t that unique—but the fact that they all play together in one piece that never loses its heart or its momentum very much is.

    Based on the book of same name by historian James R. Hansen, First Man is a biopic for Neil Armstrong, the NASA astronaut first to plant a boot on the surface of the moon during the 1969 Apollo 11 mission. But instead of focusing just on the eye-popping, nail-biting specifics of getting a rocket into space, it trains its lens on the story of Armstrong as a stoic and private national hero who always stuck to the business at hand. (A space cowboy he was not.) It shows not simply the ticker-tape parades and cheering flight controllers in Houston, but the side of astronaut life that’s downright terrifying.

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    That balance, that through-line between the quiet and the bombastic, is turning out to be Damien Chazelle’s strongest suit. Like he did with La La Land, a simple love story given a grander scale thanks to huge musical interludes, the director excels at letting intimate indie-movie moments live right next to sweeping shots with orchestral scores—it doesn’t matter if they’re visions of dancers above Los Angeles’ Griffith Park or the Saturn V rocket launching over Kennedy Space Center. And at a time when indie directors are being handed massive genre and sci-fi franchises with very mixed results, that ability to deliver a spectacle while maintaining an auteur’s eye feels nothing short of magic. Chazelle’s is the perfect balance of cacophony and calm.

    The calm, in this case, comes in the moments Armstrong (played by La La Land and Blade Runner 2049 star Ryan Gosling, who gets to do some capital-A Acting here) is looking inward. First Man begins with the illness, and subsequent death, of his young daughter Karen—long before Armstrong was called up to Project Gemini, long before Apollo. It’s followed by the deaths of Elliot See, Edward Higgins White, Gus Grissom, and Roger Chaffee—all of whom lost their lives as the result of operations during the Gemini and Apollo projects. It gets mentioned less and less these days, but when NASA was deep in the Space Race, the prospect of leaving Earth’s atmosphere at all, let alone going to the moon, was terrifying. Chazelle’s film captures that uncertainty crisply, giving his characters a chance to be people instead of just heroes. (Though, contrary to early internet rumors about the film, it does wave many, many American flags.)

    Chazelle, working from a script from Josh Singer (The Post, Spotlight), also doesn’t sugarcoat what was happening around NASA in the ’60s. The backdrop of his film is full of people skeptical of the space program amidst disillusionment over the Vietnam War. (It also features an interlude of Gil Scott-Heron’s poem “Whitey on the Moon.”) The goal, it seems, isn’t to show a great achievement, but to show one that happened amidst strife, the way life often does.

    But when First Man does show that achievement, it is on full, brilliant display. Much of the early scenes, thanks to production designer Nathan Crowley (Interstellar), show NASA in its dark, gritty, nuts-and-bolts beginnings—and when it comes time for Apollo 11 to blast off, the visuals are a thing of utter brilliance. The film’s moon-landing was shot in IMAX (it should also be viewed on IMAX, if possible), and serves as an almost overwhelming counterpoint to the intimate 16mm shots from inside the Eagle lander and Columbia module, a dramatic shift from the claustrophobia of a spaceship to the vast eternity of space.

    First Man could have easily been a failure. The problem with doing a movie about Neil Armstrong, or any space-race astronaut, is that their defining moments have already been brought to the screen so many times before. From Family Channel docudramas to TV documentaries to Mad Men and Forrest Gump, the 1969 Apollo mission is one of the most well-known, and well-covered, events of the 20th century. There’s not a lot to be gained by showing it to people again. Had it not gone deep into the story of the person at its center, First Man would’ve fallen flat. Instead, it stuck the landing.


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    So, Self-Driving Cars Could Make Humans Unhealthier Than Ever

    Cars kill people. More than 37,000 over the course of 2017—what would statistically be considered a ‘good year.’ Big tech has a solution: Have the cars drive themselves, free of the distractions, drunkenness, and other human foibles. Flood the roads with autonomous vehicles, and watch collision deaths plummet.

    Too bad this lovely narrative has a major plot hole: Blunt force trauma isn’t the only way cars kill. Each year, hundreds of thousands of people die prematurely from breathing exhaust-poisoned air. Even more insidious is how the mere act of sitting in a car for an hour or so each day drastically increases peoples’ risks of developing life-altering—sometimes life-ending—conditions like obesity and heart disease.

    A widespread shift to vehicles that drive themselves, some experts say, could weaken humanity’s already slipping stance in a two-front war against pollution and sedentary behavior. They worry that once the stress of traffic and overt dangers of car travel are gone, people will spend more time in their rolling barcaloungers. And just because cars drive themselves doesn’t mean they’ll all be battery-powered, or that they’ll somehow inspire their occupants to get active.

    The only way to ensure the chauffeured masses don’t reach their final destinations far too soon is to address the automobile era’s original sins. Sins that aren’t rooted in who’s working the pedals.

    Fear and Loafing

    If people were rational, top phobias like snakes, sharks, and spiders would be replaced by things like sitting too much, skipping workouts, and living close to freeways. Together, exposure to pollution and sedentary behavior are two of the most common risk factors for heart disease, which accounts for one in four deaths in the US each year. They also put people at risk of developing many types of cancers, lower respiratory diseases, diabetes, stroke, and other lifestyle diseases. (If you’re morbidly curious, car accidents mop up about 1 percent of the nation’s annual death toll, below marginally more prolific killers like suicide, Alzheimer’s, and the flu/pneumonia.)

    Now, pollution and sedentary behavior are nebulous things, each with a variety of causal factors. But want to hazard a guess at what is one of the biggest contributors to people breathing bad air and not getting enough exercise? That’s right: spiders.

    Seriously, though, it’s cars. Numerous studies have linked traffic to air pollution, in the form of lung-spackling poisons like particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxide. Not even homebodies are safe, as vehicular belches can waft indoors. Motor vehicle pollution is so bad that EPA warnings about it survived Scott Pruitt’s information purge.

    At the same time, car commuters tend to live more sedentary lives, and as a group experience elevated rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. “Although people think these risk factors are individual behavior choices, the reality is that our choices are shaped by our environments,” says Karen Lee, a physician and associate professor of preventive medicine at the University of Alberta in Canada. Over the course of the 20th century, vehicle ownership made it possible for people to work in cities without having to live in them. Personal chariots begat the personal fiefdom, which begat urban cores surrounded by ever-thickening rinds of suburbia.

    So, for many people, walking is no longer an option. Sprawl makes public transportation untenable: You’d need too many buses, or too many miles of rail, to service all that acreage. The ironic twist of the personal freedom cars enabled is they required everyone make the same choice: Get a car, or get bent.

    “Why do we care about safety?” says Peter Norton, a transportation historian at the University of Virginia. “Because we care about human health.” Norton warns that the autonomous future will result in less walking, more sprawl, and—without dedication to electric propulsion—a huge spike in pollution. “When your car drives itself and you can spend the commute doing whatever you want, who cares if a trip that used to take 20 minutes now takes an hour?” he says.

    It doesn’t have to be this way. In November 2017, a British parliamentarian laid out a proposal to clear away any impedimentary regulations, and invest £1 billion in self-driving technology, so the nation could have autonomous vehicles on its roads by 2021. This plan had some notable oversights. Early proposals focused on benefits, like how people would have so much more time to work during their commute, and how that might benefit the economy. “I was concerned about how the supporters of this plan focused on productivity,” says James Harris, a policy and networks manager at the Royal Town Planning Institute in the UK.

    Harris encouraged his country’s transportation planners to look at how autonomous transportation might worsen public health. Or, how it would change land use patterns, by encouraging Brits to move farther and farther from the places they work, shop, and recreate.

    So, how to deploy a potentially life-saving technology without exacerbating already serious public health problems? Maybe by skipping cities. Allowing vehicles into urban areas in the first place was one of those original sins. Cars foul the air, don’t move enough people, and rob funding and space from transportation modes that make sense here, like buses with dedicated lanes, bicycle infrastructure, and safe-to-cross streets for pedestrians.

    Autonomous vehicles might make the most sense in the suburbs and on highways. First of all, because this is where the majority of road fatalities occur. And while they wouldn’t roll back sprawl, they could at least, if connected to public transit, make city-bound suburbanites spend some time on foot—going from the curb to the train, from the train to work—which could make a dent in the epidemic of preventable lifestyle diseases.


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    How Tech Swagger Triggered the Era of Distrust in Government

    Last month, I heard Jill Lepore give a talk about These Truths, her single-volume history of America from the 15th century through the 2016 presidential election. She got her biggest laugh when she made fun of WIRED for predicting in 2000 that the internet would both lead to the end of political division and be a place where government interference would be senseless.

    There are many famous WIRED moments that also fit this description, including Jon Katz’s assertion in 1997 that Netizens had nothing but contempt for government, John Perry Barlow’s 1996 Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, or the Joshua Quittner profile of EFF in 1994 depicting Electronic Frontier Foundation co-founder Mitchell Kapor and the fabled Esther Dyson as people who “got it.” Their goal was to have the net be a wiring together of humanity that would restructure civilization. The EFF would “find a way of preserving the ideology of the ’60s,” Kapor told WIRED.

    Much of that early libertarian net culture—white, rich, smart, and full of “let’s just geek around it” swagger when it came to government—has become mainstream in Western democracies in 2018. Paradoxically, that ideology came from a time when, in fact, government was doing a lot for people.

    Those baby boomers being profiled by WIRED had known only a United States full of generous government support for education, a time of continuous upward mobility, and an America that could carry out enormous and inspiring public infrastructure projects—including requiring that phone companies permit competing internet service providers to use their lines. The voices in WIRED were those of a very secure bunch of people. And they were bored by it all; they saw government as a set of clueless, bland bureaucracies. Who needed that?

    As it turns out, we all did. Today, globally interconnected changes in climate and widespread disdain for democratic institutions are the key titanic, messy trends that are likely to begin producing shocking results 25 years from now. At that point, with the globe dealing with punishing heat and alarming levels of water, it won’t be internet technology that will be doing the disrupting. There are signs that the internet will be fading from view as a distinctive “place” prompting political and social changes. Indeed, if we keep to our current course, communications capacity and what humans do online may be controlled by a few highly profitable actors who will be uninterested in the unpredictable. Given this context, there is a substantial risk that 25 years from now the breathlessly libertarian views trumpeted by WIRED’s early voices will have reached their unpleasant apotheosis.

    I hope I am wrong.

    Let’s start with the weather. Techies are good at positive feedback loops, and these days we’re seeing one operating at global scale. As the dynamics of air patterns change around the world in response to overall warming, melting ice in the Arctic is having an effect on distant lands. Weather is getting stuck in place, making both extreme dryness and extreme downpours routine. It’s a giant, resonating system of ever-increasing cataclysmic change.

    We humans are a resilient, cheerful group, so presumably we’ll adapt. But it is probably already too late to carry out the large-scale planning that would have been necessary to move people comfortably and gradually away from the coasts and change the economics of places that are plunging into unending drought. Millions or billions of our fellow less-well-off beings will be forced into climate refugee status.

    What’s particularly troubling is that even relatively rich countries may be losing the capacity to plan ahead for all of their citizens. And that’s the second messy force that will affect the next 25 years: increasing cynicism about the role of democratic government in people’s lives, particularly in Western Europe and the US.

    Unless something changes, government at all levels will come to be viewed as a thin, under-resourced platform whose purpose is to help already-thriving people make even more money. The familiar drumbeat that will get us there will include fewer people voting, increasing talk about shrinking government, declining trust in most levels of government, and outright, unabashed disdain for “bureaucrats.” And so authoritarianism may increasingly fill the void, with countries like Hungary, Poland, and Brazil added in the years to come to a list that now includes places like Cuba, Russia, and China.

    Into this swirl of depressing global trends steps WIRED, the internet, and those ’60s-culture voices. It turns out the pixie dust of digital did not remove the crushing economic and social truth that unrestrained moneymaking leads to chaos and despair. But the larger public caught the WIRED mystique and amplified the message of complete freedom from old-fashioned governmental constraints—not knowing that the message had implicitly assumed the ongoing presence of a functioning public sector. (For starters, absent government involvement and regulation—that dreaded word—the early net-heads would not have been able to use an internet protocol that elegantly allowed computers to speak to each other across heterogeneous networks.)

    Take these trends to their extremes decades from now and you could have a hollowed-out public sector, growing affection for essentially private strongmen who might be able to protect your socioeconomic tribe from searing heat and punishing storm surge, and an online world that has, like electricity, faded into the background as a social change agent. Not only will all generations be used to “digital” (at varying levels depending on their wealth and location), but if we keep following the Barlow rhetorical path, life online may not be all that that interesting. Imagine a wholly oligopolistic, vertically integrated online ecosystem focused on entertainment and advertising—access to which is subject to neither competition nor oversight—and try to feel creative.

    After the two world wars and the Great Depression, Americans and the citizens of every other developed country absolutely understood that it simply is not true that the incentives of unrestrained private gain are always aligned with or lead to public good. You would have been laughed off the stage in the early ’50s—under a Republican president, by the way—if you’d said anything like that.

    Nothing happens quickly, and we may still see a return to a more balanced view of the role of government, particularly as rising waters and changing weather dynamics disastrously change human lives. But for now, and for the foreseeable future, we are increasingly on our own.


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