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Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) had its biggest holiday season ever this year and its best-selling products were the Echo Dot voice-controlled speaker and the Fire TV Stick that sold for $29.99 and $39.99, respectively.Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) delayed the launch of its $349 HomePod voice-controlled speaker until sometime in January. Even if it had been available, chances are the HomePod would have been far behind the Echo Dot in sales due mainly to device pricing.And Amazon is not letting up on the pressure. The e-commerce leviathan continues to sell the Echo Dot for $29.99, a discount of 40% from the list price of $49.99, even as the 2017 holiday season recedes further in the rear-view mirror.
Smart speakers like Amazon’s Echo and Echo Dot, Apple’s HomePod, and Alphabet Inc.’s (NASDAQ: GOOGL) Google Home have reached a “critical adoption threshold” according to comScore. Analysts at eMarketer project the number of U.S. smart speaker users to reach 35.6 million in 2017 (13% of internet users) and 52.8 million in 2019 (18.8% of internet users).
A few days before Christmas, eMarketer analyst Cindy Liu compared consumer interest in smart speakers to their interest in wearables like Apple Watch:Consumers have yet to find a reason to justify the cost of a smartwatch, which can sometimes cost as much as a smartphone. Instead, for this holiday season, we expect smart speakers to be the gift of choice for many tech enthusiasts, because of their lower price points.
Given Amazon’s consistent strategy of striving for share over profit, it’s easy to see why the company is keeping the price of its Echo Dot low. Smart speakers are positioned as gateway devices for smart homes where a variety of smart appliances and other smart devices like thermostats and lights can be voice-controlled through the smart speaker.Amazon is the unquestioned leader in voice-controlled devices and plans to build on that leadership position to keep Apple an also-ran. Google Home, which sells for $79 at Walmart with a promotional discount of $25 if a customer buys one with Google Express, can put even more pressure on Apple.It looks like Apple didn’t catch the smart speaker wave at the right time and that the company is going to be swamped as a result.
DECEMBER NEWSLETTER 11
AMAZON LOOKS TO CRUSH APPLE
Guess who's likely to stick around for all four or eight years, and will be empowered in 2018? Stephen Miller, the true-believer senior policy adviser, who trumps Trump on hardline immigration views — and may outlast almost everyone.
The two issues Miller cares and knows most about, immigration and trade, will be front and center.
And Miller channels (and believes) Trump campaign rhetoric more than anyone internally.
Although some of Miller's allies speculate that he could one day wind up as chief of staff, he's seen more as an advocate and adviser than manager or leader. He works super-hard, but doesn't delegate.
Some West Wing officials are putting pressure on economic adviser Gary Cohn to stay: He would be vital to a push for a big infrastructure package, one of the year's policy centerpieces. And he's a crucial goalie on trade.
But Wall Street sources tell us Cohn may depart.
Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell — like Cohn, a major moderating influence — has said she's leaving early next year.
Finding big establishment names to replace them will be hard, especially with the tax cut already in the win column.
If National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster leaves in the dominoes that would follow the expected departure of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, one possible replacement is hardliner John Bolton, who was U.S. ambassador to the U.N. under President George W. Bush.
Among key advisers likely to stay:
Chief of Staff John Kelly, who has imposed order and seems to enjoy running the place, despite occasional frustrations with the boss.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who is good at engaging Trump in briefings.
Defense Secretary James Mattis, a moderate voice in Situation Room meetings.
Communications Director Hope Hicks, the closest adviser — period.
Staff Secretary Rob Porter, respected for his intellect and instincts.
Marc Short, the legislative affairs director, coming off the big tax-cut win.
Nick Ayers, chief of staff to Vice President Pence.
Senior Trump administration official Johnny DeStefano is set to assume greater responsibilities and influence, including overseeing the beleaguered White House political operation."
OUTLOOK FOR 2018
The raging bull market in stocks charged on in 2017, and many investors are still considering how they should be positioned for 2018. After gains of 300% from the panic-selling lows of 2009, the bull market is up more than most investors could have ever imagined, and it is now nearing nine years old.
Should investors sell out of stocks and play it safe? Should they get more aggressive and chase the higher gross domestic product and solid business climate? Or should they just stay right where they are?
One strategy that investors can use to be defensive without taking the extremely low return of bonds is with stocks characterized as low-volatility ones. By taking the “low-vol” approach, investors are effectively looking for the upside of the equity market without as much downside when the markets sell off. In some ways it can be considered a “chicken-bull” strategy.
The SPDR S&P 500 ETF (NYSEARCA: SPY) rose 19.38% in 2017, compared with 25.25% for the SPDR Dow Jones Industrial Average ETF (NYSEARCA: DIA). The iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF (NYSEARCA: EEM) returned about 34.5% in 2017 for a stellar year, but its top holdings are heavily dominated by stocks in China.
Most Wall Street strategists remain bullish for 2018 and many investors have continued to get back into stocks at the same time that interest rates have finally been raised by the Federal Reserve.
When investors consider that the S&P 500 is now up 300% from the panic selling lows of March 2009, maybe they might want to think about lower volatility strategies. These can include the so-called value stocks and the top dividend stocks, but they can also include some of the low-volatility strategies in exchange-traded funds (ETFs).
24/7 Wall St. has tracked the top ETFs and the top “low-vol” ETFs for broad market performance to show how they have done in 2017. These track the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the S&P 500, international markets and emerging markets as a whole.
After considering the 10 things that could wreck the bull market in 2018, taking a low-volatility strategy might make sense. If the market continues its charge higher, then the strategy should reward investors. If the stock market goes down in 2018, then this strategy should offer a buffer to some of the downside.
Investors should understand that a low-volatility strategy does not mean that it is a “no volatility” strategy. If a rising tide lifts all ships, then the opposite is true as well.
Performance metrics have been used by showing the gain in the net asset value represented at each ETF manager website and also by using FINVIZ for the total return in share prices in 2017. We have included basic tracking and objectives of each ETF, as well as shown the top 10 holdings of each for a better representation of what each ETF really invests in.
Here are five broader strategy ETFs for the chicken-bulls in 2018.
Broad U.S. Low-Vol
iShares Edge MSCI Min Vol USA ETF (USMV) is managed by BlackRock and saw its net asset value (NAV) rise 18.97% in 2017 per the fund’s own data, and the FINVIZ total return screened at a 16.7% gain in 2017. That would be a great year compared to most, and that is close enough to the return of the S&P 500 that the implied downside protection may merit investors’ attention. Investors also have lots of company, with more than $15 billion in assets here.
This ETF seeks to track the investment results of an index composed of U.S. equities that have lower volatility characteristics overall than the broader U.S. equity market. BlackRock also says that the ETF has declined less than the market during market downturns.
Its top 10 holdings are listed as Visa, McDonald’s, Johnson & Johnson, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Waste Management, Newmont Mining, Pfizer, Northrup Grumman and Verizon.
Iranians in several major cities took to the streets this week in protests stemming "from seething discontent in Iran," the BBC reports. The protests started over the state of the economy, but quickly became "a general outcry against clerical rule and government policies."Why it matters: These are the most widespread protests since those in 2009 and political protests are rare in Iran where "security services are omnipresent," per Reuters.
Many protesters have voiced anger against President Hassan Rouhani, who was elected for a second term in May, shouting "Death to Rouhani," and "Death to the dictator," per U.S. News.
Reuters reports that videos showed protestors also shouting out against Iran's involvement in Syria, chanting "Leave Syria, think about us."
Per the New York Times, the Iran project director for the International Crisis Group, Ali Vaez, credited Rouhani's opponents for ultimately starting "an antiregime rally" that has spread across Iran.A reformist cleric in Qom, Fazel Meybodi, told the Times the protests stemmed from real concerns: "Economic issues are urgent, and the protests have nothing to do with any factions - neither reformist nor hard-liner. Poor people are protesting, that is it.
PROTESTS SHOW CONTEMPT
WHO WILL STAY