Myths about stockmarket myths that just won’t die

Baruch hasn’t stopped blogging. He’s just been busy at work. To be fair, there also hasn’t been that much he has wanted to write about.

That changes here! A recent and growing animus in the econoblogoverse to, of all things, equity markets, has woken him up. Baruch finds this fairly incredible. Equities, he is fairly convinced, are the asset class of the future. This anti-equities movement, led by jealous journalists and winking, cackling bond apologists with axes to grind, needs to be nipped in the bud, as it is dead wrong. The WSJ’s otherwise reasonable Brett Arends is Baruch’s immediate target among the evil-thinkers, for his (last week’s top read on Abnormal Returns) The Top 10 Stock Market Myths that Just Won’t Die. And that Felix Salmon is also guilty as sin in this, for many offences against shares committed over the past few years.

Myth 1: stocks don’t generally go up

Wronngggg! Try shorting for a living and see how long you last. I’ve tried it. It is *really* fricking hard. Actually this year my shorts have made me more money than my longs, but I am an investing genius, and you are probably not. To those bond apologists who claim that this “stocks for the long haul” stuff is bullshit, I urge you to actually count the number of 10 year periods since 1950 where stocks have not made you a net percentage gain. I can only see 1963-64 and 1999-2001 as periods with evident losses (check out the S&P log chart from 1950). So around 90% of the time in the past 50 years, stocks have made you money on a 10-year investment horizon.

It’s not like you lost lots of money when they did go down, either. At worst, if you had been unfortunate (or dumb) enough to invest in January 2000, by 2010 you had lost about 20%. You would have faced the same, a 20% loss,  in 1964 to 1974. Your upside risk, however, has been pretty assymetric, and in most 10 year periods you would at least have doubled your money, with triples, quintuples and zilliontuples common in the 10 year periods after 1980. That’s from a 60-year sample, which admittedly doesn’t include much in the way of catastrophe, revolution and property confiscation that has occurred in the stock market histories of other countries.  But still, equities look pretty good to me off this very basic analysis.

Clearly, just because in 90% of cases equities made you a positive 10 year return in the past is no guarantee it will continue in future periods. But I bet there were moaning minnies telling us stocks were dead at every point in this history. The onus has to be fairly put on the current stock-deniers to explain why they are right this time.

Myth 2: stocks and the economy are no longer linked

Brett Arends uses the Japanese example to illustrate this point: “since 1989 their economy has grown by more than a quarter, but the stock market is down more than three quarters”. He was probably well aware that this is a thoroughly exceptional example. This was number 4 in his top 10 list of “myths”, and I think he was already beginning to panic that he had 6 more to come up with still.

To be fair, the linkage between stocks and economies, while direct, is complicated. Companies’ share of GDP can increase or decrease while economies are booming or stagnating. Valuation is an extremely important filter. Extremes in the entry and exit point of when you actually invest can determines most of the result of the investment; Brett here chooses the very peak of the stockmarket and real estate bubble in Japan as his entry point for his trade. Not, I think you’ll agree, an exercise immune from sample size error.

The rest of the time, filters aside, stock prices are based on company earnings. When a company announces a better than expected quarter (nota bene,  better than investors expected, not the sell side consensus), the stock tends to go up. In their massive, millionaire-creating stock ramps, Apple and Google and Microsoft all went up because we realised they were going to earn much more in period n+1 than we thought at period n.

Fact is, economies tend to grow, and in a country with stable population it is productivity gains, doing more with the same or less, which is responsible. In other words, innovation equals growth. The repository of innovation, the sharing of ideas and the investment to put them into practice is the private sector, in the vast R&D departments of major enterprises and fast moving startups. May I refer you to the cod Hayekian but still excellent work of fellow Collegiant Matt Ridley for a longer exposition of this. That’s what you buy when you buy equities, that’s what you incentivise when you ask for shares in an IPO. You are driving and partipating in economic growth. Economies grow, company earnings tend to go up, and shares tend to rise. Simple really. Don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees.

Myth 3. The Machines are in charge. The Humans should give up.

Algo-bots sort of rule. Machines dominate lots of daily flow, and make it weird. But they don’t determine the forward PE ratio of e.g. Cisco. We do, and by its own lights the reasoning behind stocks being where they are is sound — if we double-dip, CSCO and everyone else will see their earnings fall, and so stocks trade at lower PEs than their long-term growth track record implies they should. Consensus estimates, the denominator of the PE, do not include the possibility of another recession. The punters, who are not paid to be bullish, don’t trust the numbers and are partially pricing it in.

So we don’t need to blame the algos and high frequency traders for our long positions going wrong. Hedge fund dudes, market makers, and lots of people whose livelihood is exploiting the shorter term moves in the stock market, DO have potential grounds to complain. Their jobs have become harder because of the bots, whose job after all is to scalp the humans. But this is not a reason to give up on stock market mechanisms that still reward medium-term savvy investment decisions.

Listen: the markets are always hard. Its supposed to be like that. Oddly enough, rather than blaming themselves, people like to have someone else to pin it on when their investments go wrong. In the 1990s they used to blame daytraders for driving internet rubbish to great heights, then in the naughties the shadowy “Plunge Protection Team” was the scourge of the bears. These days the bots are the scapegoat. The bots will one day overreach — if they ever really “ran” the market they would very quickly stop making money; trying to scalp each other would not be a good idea. Relax, and learn to love the bots. Whatever bogeyman that replaces them may be much scarier.

Myth 4. Higher volatility = Sell your stocks. We are in a period of higher volatility

This is just SO VERY WRONG that Baruch has to bite his fist. Were it not the thesis behind Felix Salmon’s call to sell all stocks (backed up by some pointy-headed algebra) the midst of the sovereign debt bruhaha of not so very long ago, Baruch would merely have ignored it. To have Felix (Felix!) tell us this is like hearing someone you respect and admire tell you the moon landings were faked by the guy on the grassy knoll, that the US military invented AIDS and that people from Harvard Business School are capable of independent thought. You want to edge away, slowly.

Historically, higher volatility is actually the long investor’s friend. It is associated with stress, periods of fear and panic — in other words buying opportunities, not good points at which to sell. Similarly, low volatility is associated with periods of complacency and is often, but certainly not always, a good point to sell. It’s easy to act pro-cyclical. Buying “at the sound of cannons” is very hard when the cannons are actually going off. Selling is a much more natural reaction, and brings very quick relief. You can feel a very virtuous disgust at stocks, vow never to go near them again, and go and buy some 10 year T-bonds at a 2.4% yield.

Of course, this is a terrible mistake. All you have done is maximise your losses, and give up on the idea of ever making them back. No less an authority than Mrs Baruch, herself an accomplished investor, characterised selling at high volatilty and buying at low volatility a “catastrophic” idea when Baruch told her about it. In order to make money in equities you have to invoke the Costanza Doctrine, ie do The Opposite — the opposite of what you feel like doing, and the opposite of what everyone is telling you to do. The fact that very few people are actually clear-headed enough to do this is probably why equities as an asset class are increasingly unpopular.

Truth 1: everything else is screwed. If you need to invest, you will likely buy some stocks even if you don’t want to

The tragedy is, of course, that equities are the coming thing. No other asset class, at the moment, seems to have the same combination of great fundamentals and juicy valuation. Bonds while the 10-year yields you 3% in a period of heightened risk on sovereign solvency? Puh-leeze. Gold? Who the hell knows with the weirdos on either side of that trade. Commodities may be good, what do I know, but as an asset class they’re probably not suitable for more than 25% of your allocation. Real Estate? Maybe that’s not a bad idea either, but I refer to the answer I just gave on commodities. Also property tends to not be very liquid. Art? Wines? Antique cars? Be my guest. The dirty secret of alternative investments such as hedge funds and private equity is that most of them are disguised equity longs. Hedge funds generally feel much more comfortable being net owners of shares — Baruch has yet to see the multi-strat he works for go net short, for instance. Private equity needs healthy equity markets (and, if you ask me, naive ones) to make actual profits close to the otherwise fictional marks they carry on their books.

At the end of the day, however, it largely comes down to bonds versus stocks. You are going to be overweight stocks in the coming years. It might take some of you some time to actually bite the bullet, and you will do it at higher prices as a result, but you will do it. I look to no less an authority in this as the biggest, baddest bond investor in the world, PIMCO, who is getting into equities in a big way.

Right now, equity investors are being offered a win:don’t lose very much proposition. A double dip, the great fear of the equity markets, is at least partially priced in here, and the upside if we don’t double dip looks very good indeed. It’s a great moment for stocks.

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Google’s long goodbye

Baruch: Today, another round of derivative punditry: There is much reading of tea leaves re Google’s reading of tea leaves re what Chinese authorities really think of Google’s continued web presence in mainland China.

What we know:

Chinese authorities do not look kindly upon the automatic redirecting of a locally-hosted, licensed website with the .cn suffix (google.cn in this case) to a non-.cn website (google.com.hk). China-based sites that have or want a government-issued Internet Content Provider (ICP) license need to be used for their stated purpose. Redirecting is not a valid activity for such a site.

This is not an arbitrary Google-only rule. I was made aware of it last year when my own China-based web project was about to go live — the ICP license was still pending as launch day approached, so we mooted a plan B where the URL would redirect to content on a non-Chinese server. The idea was nixed after we were told by government officials this would be a bad idea. (Fortunately, our ICP license was granted just in time.)

Now that Google’s ICP license is up for renewal, the strategy Google came up with in January March to serve uncensored search results to mainland Chinese netizens is found lacking. This automatic redirecting business has got to go.

What Google is replacing this with is the next best thing (from its perspective): An image that looks just like its search page, but which transports you to the Hong Kong version as soon as you so much as breathe on it. The page looks like it has a search entry field, but it is fake. Click on it and you go to a real search entry field on google.com.hk.

This kind of fakery allows Google to argue that Chinese law has now been followed to the letter, even if the spirit has been taken out the back and shot. The argument better work: If Google’s application for the renewal of its license is declined, it might as well close down all web activity in China. Google needs this new ICP license by July 1. The application based on this new “manual” redirect method was made on June 28.

What we think:

I doubt Google’s trick will fly with the relevant authorities, who will see it for what it is — a politely stated fuck you. A manual redirect is still a redirect, with the site doing nothing else at all. What it does allow Google to do, however, is force China’s hand. Google won’t abandon its users by pulling out of China — it will insist on being pushed.

So yes, Google knows the game is up, which is why its Chinese users are being weaned off google.cn and onto google.com.hk. In China, Google users are among the sophisticated half of web users, and they know how to change a home page, default search location, or shortcut. All they need is a bit of a push to get them to change these defaults, and then they’ll be on their way. When google.cn goes dark, they’ll be fine.

The one thing that would really put a spanner in the works for Google would be if the Chinese government decides to block all non-Chinese google properties, out of spite. But that would just be vindictive, and it would anger far too many web-savvy Chinese users who tolerate their state’s web paranoia as long as ready circumvention options are available.

The thin veneer

Baruch is staring-eyed and stressed. This sovereign debt crisis is beginning to wear him down. He’s beginning to worry. He wouldn’t mind if he was just dealing with risk; he can quantify and hedge that. No, he feels deeply uncertain. Here’s why:

The general hopelessness of european policymakers is just too evident. We don’t have a fiscal head, a SecTreas, to make reassuring noises. We have a cacophony of differing national agendas, and a bunch of governments up for re-election. Arguably reasonable when they do stuff separately, when they act together everything they do has an air of compromise, half measure, and to the uncharitable, incompetence. The ECB, as the heir of the Bundesbank, should have a certain astringency when it comes to dealing with crisis — which in Europe hasn’t come about very often — that the Fed has long since abandoned. If the Fed, especially under Greenspan, was always the loving Mommy, the Bundesbank was the harsh Prussian Vater, prepared to let its kids die if they thought it was good for them. We think that’s what the ECB is supposed to be like, but we just don’t know. It might also tend more to the Banque de France part of its inheritance, which was if possibly even more of a pushover than the Fed is. It’s essentially untested. That’s not risk; that’s uncertainty.

This general European hopelessness in the face of this particular crisis is actually surprising considering how much is at stake. That’s because it is not just about trivial economic issues: what is at stake are key national interests and core principles of post war foreign policy, harking back to a period where tanks roamed the continent blowing things up. It’s also about domestic policy, the fabric of the settlements between right and left in Europe, insofar as what seems to be happening is that the world has decided to stop funding Europe’s social model.*

Baruch was taught to understand the Euro, and the whole European project, in the context of a historic compromise between France and Germany to prevent war from ever breaking out on the continent again. Germany was permitted to become a normal state again, and to thrive, so long as it was separated into BDR and GDR, and vitally, integrated into a number of key institutions, in which the French would be the senior partner (and French the main language — they like that sort of thing). They started with the European Coal and Steel Community, and moved on to the EEC, the Single Market, and later, the EU, gathering more and more members on the way as it was clearly proving to be A Good Thing.

The USSR falling to bits put paid to this cosy arrangement; suddenly half the bargain was going to be broken as the Germans clearly wanted their Eastern relatives back. That this was a real problem at the time is easily forgotten; the Blessed Margaret famously fretted whether Reunification should actually be “permitted” at all. EMU and the Euro was the agreed-on price. Unified Germany would be even more tightly integrated to the rest of Europe, with the added bonus that, at a stroke, the more feckless European economies would be given the envied central banking credibility of the Bundesbank, the model for the ECB. For countries like Italy and Greece, where the smallest notes in circulation had lots of zeros on them, this was also seen as A Good Thing.

This is up in the air now. The Euro is at more risk than it has ever been. And for the new generation of politicians in France and Germany the compromises of  the 1990s may not mean so much. We don’t know how much they are prepared to risk to defend the status quo. They don’t have direct memories of firebombed cities, of fathers not returning home, of mothers and sisters raped by the Red Army. I don’t think we’d have the same worry if Kohl and Mitterand were still around. We would trust them more not to fuck about. Again, like the ECB, Merkel and Sarko are untried; their being in charge implies less risk, more uncertainty. And the French disengagement on this whole issue worries me.

I think that what I learned in 2008 about debt markets and leverage (they seem to go together) is that there’s nothing there without confidence; take it away, and trillions can become worthless in the blink of an eye. And all you get is a stupid coupon. Say what you will about equities (yes, Felix, I like the videos), there tend to be tangible realities behind them, stuff you actually own. Even if it is the nebulous brand value of a TV sock puppet selling online petfood, it is more than zero. This, Baruch thinks, is why bonds are not an asset class for serious people.

Subprime blowing up and its ramifications were, with hindsight, pretty obvious for some time before the crap really hit the fan. When confidence there evaporated the implications for valuing other asset classes were only indirect. The debt of developed western governments may be another matter. Aren’t they the anchor for the whole risk spectrum? All my company DCF models use respective 10 year government yields for the basis of the rate I discount their earnings at. Banks around the world have worked to derisk and delever their balance sheets in the past 2 years; you don’t get safer than AAA/AA government bonds. They must be stuffed to the gills with it. Mrs Baruch turned to me the other day and whispered, you know dear, after all this, corporates are going to be viewed as less risky than governments. She’s almost always right when she talks like this. I don’t know the ramifications of that. I have no idea. The limited bits of CAPM I remember don’t include that contingency. Again, uncertainty, not risk.

Confidence in bond markets is a veneer. We saw what was underneath in 2008 when the veneer thinned. I feel it thinning now, and am really worried that if subprime blowing up meant that commercial lending disappeared, and factories in Shanghai closed their doors for a month and global economic activity froze, the blowup of Eurozone sovereign debt can easily have the same impact.

As I write, eurozone finance ministers are meeting and, we are told, Have a Plan. I hope it is fittingly thermonuclear.

* this is not my original line, it came from an obscure Korean fund manager quoted in a Bloomberg article I read last week. I can’t find it any more. 유감스러운.

UPDATE: Wow, Angela Merkel must read my blog! Wait — hang on — did I just save the Eurozone . . . ?

No Stock Recommendations here; move along

Baruch recently found himself commenting on Wall Street Cheat Sheet, on a post by Damien Hoffman, who seems to really dislike Jim Cramer. The post was about some investigation of TheStreet.com by the SEC, which Damien thought highly amusing, perhaps because he also runs a competing subscription-based financial edutainment site. Now, Baruch doesn’t pay attention to Jim Cramer on TV, but in fact quite likes him in print. He reads his posts on theStreet.com, and respects his track record as a hedge fund manager and pioneer econo-blogger.  So Baruch felt a brief moment of annoyance about seeing someone he liked being unecessarily trashed, but soon his heart was filled with forgiveness and understanding again. We must not be too harsh; snark is Damien’s job, what he gets paid for. He is a financial blogger-journalist, and being cheeky about mainstream media figures is part of that David and Goliath thing blogging used to be all about.

Anyway, this post is only a bit about Jim Cramer and Damien Hoffman. The exchange got Baruch thinking about the differences between journalists/bloggers (or whatever you want to call them) and investors, and what it means to communicate about investments with the public. Baruch finds this terribly interesting, because of course as an amateur econo-blogger and a professional investor, he has a foot in both camps.

Some of Baruch’s best friends are, or have been, financial journalists and commentators, on blogs and print. Being a financial journalist is a good, interesting job, and very important to the proper functioning of a marketplace. Journalists can do things, find things out, and explain things the public and investors need to know in ways investment professionals can’t, at least without risking jail.

But in the end journalists are explainers, commentators. They are dependent on market participants to provide them with things to write about. They review what others do. They work with the huge advantage of hindsight. And when it comes to giving advice about what what should be done, most media commentators are no better than the rest of us. Probably worse; they don’t get as much practice at it.

The major problem that commentators have is that rewards are based on reputation. Praise from peers and increased readership is the only way they have of knowing how good at their jobs they are. This is dependent on how smart the writer sounds, rather than how good he or she is at giving actual foresight. It’s a difficult thing, having to appear smart all the time. A well publicised prediction gone wrong can be pretty devastating to a reputation and undo lots of less well-publicised predictions which went right. Many writers solve this problem by not making many predictions at all. This is why most analysis pieces in newspapers and mainstream blogs end up in prevarication and fence sitting. Most journalists these days are smart enough not to end their articles with the words “only time will tell” — but they may as well.

The need to constantly appear smart also incentivises some to find a shortcut. A good and quick way of appearing relatively smarter is to find some fellow commentator who has broken the cardinal rule of journalistic punditry and actually had a stab at predicting something in a clear, falsifiable way — and got it wrong. Pointing out someone’s errors is a good way to come up with copy when you can’t think of anything constructive to say.

Ironically, consumers of financial media are actually crying out for someone to tell them what to do, rather than the prevarication they are confronted with everywhere. So pundits who do state clear positions tend to get eyeballs pretty quick. This unsettles their peers, who are universally relieved when these outliers inevitably cock it up, and they can now write gleeful articles about how it was obvious their colleague didn’t really know what he was talking about in the first place. Realising this, even sites which purport to give readers actionable intelligence, such as Lex, don’t actually tell them what to do, which would be too risky. A conclusion is always hinted at, but never made as plain as ” we think you should sell”. Instead you get some coded priggishness, like the chairman of company X “should enjoy the view from the top while he can”. Which gives the Lex writer enough wiggle-room to appear clever whatever the outcome for shareholders. This is, after all, the point of his writing, which he would freely admit to you as well if you bought him a pint.

Compare financial journalists now to actual market participants. While every now and then hedge funds get in a feeding frenzy and will short your longs and go long your shorts if they think you are in distress, the rest of the time professional managers are remarkably civil about each other in print, in person, and in front of clients. They don’t have cat fights very often. Continue reading “No Stock Recommendations here; move along”

In defence of the Verizon iPhone

OS share

Baruch has already forgotten about the iPad. Whether chick magnet or large print e-Reader for the elderly, any ideas we have about its significance are speculation at this point, and will probably unravel in the face of reality.  The most tangible action at the moment is in the iPhone, and the most interesting thing that didn’t happen last month is that Verizon didn’t get their own CDMA iPhone announced alongside the iPad.

This was seized on last week by a number of Wall Street analysts who concluded that poor old Verizon won’t get an iPhone at all this year. Credit Suisse reckons there’s a “75%” chance the iPhone stays with AT&T in 2010. I read the research, which also suggested that AT&T might have made some interesting concessions in order to persuade Apple to play along. Barclays Capital (I haven’t read theirs) thinks the fact that Apple is sticking to AT&T for the iPad is a “vote of confidence” in the AT&T network; that, and the comments Apple have made to the effect that they think the AT&T network is very nice, thanks, and they are very happy with it. They don’t see a VZ iPhone in the works either.

Hey, sell side analysts! Are you totally, like, stupid!? There is no way you can make that conclusion on the facts we have so far. The rudest understanding of what Apple is trying to do here and the opportunity set it faces would tell you that the most mind-bogglingly idiotic thing Apple could do would be to keep the iPhone as an AT&T exclusive a moment longer than it has to. And I am not alone assuming that Apple is not mind-bogglingly idiotic. Continue reading “In defence of the Verizon iPhone”

Google: Scientist

Baruch,

Symbolism is never lost on the Chinese, who are the masters of signaling, and thus there was some great poignancy to Google’s A new approach to China being posted to the blogspot.com domain, which is blocked in its entirety by China’s censorious government. This proved quite a sassy way to illustrate a point, before even starting on the merits of the case. Those outside China didn’t even notice. Everyone inside China, including the officials, had to turn on their VPN to read it.

Now that the deed is done so publicly, I don’t imagine either side will back down, and nobody expects Google.cn’s redacted search service to last much longer, with perhaps a further punitive ban on google.com for the sheer audacity of this insubordination. But already today the blogosphere erupted in competing narratives explaining Google’s autodefenestration from Chinese search, and not all were wholly credulous of Google’s stated motives.

Among the cynics, the arguments ran thus:

– Google is misrepresenting its decision: It was a face-saving, kudos-generating way to exit a failing business (though without explaining why profitably capturing 31% of the search market in China should prompt shutting down).

– Google is making a mistake: No business in their right mind would purposely anger the masters of such a lucrative market, so this has to be a stupid tactical mistake. (The stated presumption here is that Google cannot be ethical, or it would not have entered China in the first place, so this fiasco must be a very bad business decision merely masquerading as a moral decision.)

Among the partisans:

– Google was pressured into it by Hillary Clinton, thinks Rao Jin, the founder of the China’s patriotic Anti-CNN forum. (I suspect a failure of the imagination on the part of Rao — clearly, he is projecting onto the US how things are done in China.)

And tomorrow, expect the official mouthpieces’ take, which I predict will involve far more references to the peddling of pornography than to the free market of ideas.

I, Bento, take Google’s explanation at face value, however. And I intend to restate the narrative in terms that will be familiar to long-time readers of Ultimi Barbarorum: All along, Google’s approach to China has been that of the scientist: There was a testable hypothesis, an experiment, and a conclusion based on that experiment. And today, we saw the publication of the results — the hypothesis proved false.

Specifically, the hypothesis, as formulated by Google during 2005: The internet in China will become freer in the coming years, and Google’s presence in China will help strengthen this process. Many believed and hoped this might be the case — the Olympics were approaching, China was opening up, officials exuded reasonableness.

The experiment, initiated in January 2006: Enter the Chinese search market, try to improve the system from within by collaborating with the regime, and see if China’s internet gains freedoms over time.

The evidence: Over the past few years, a progressively stricter program of shutting down those Chinese sites that do not comply with demands for censorship and surveillance. The progressive blocking of all popular foreign sites that allow uncensored anonymous communication, including several Google properties: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Blogger, WordPress, IMDB, Google Docs, URL-shortening services… And, what Google cites as the final straw, recent industrial-strength malware attacks aimed at Gmail-using Chinese dissidents.

The conclusion: Google’s collaboration was not making things better; things were getting worse. They admit they were wrong! There may have been a financial return on its China investment, but the civic return proved disappointing.

Faced with this realization, Google could have done nothing. But that way lies death by a thousand cuts as web property after web property gets axed. How soon before Gmail gets blocked? Google Maps? Earth? Picasa? Google Reader? Instead, Google cleanly terminated the experiment: There will be no more collaboration with the regime. Now China must throw them out if it wants to save face domestically — albeit at the price of losing face internationally.

As Spinozists, this is a proud day for us. Google has posted that placard declaring China’s government Ultimi Barbarorum in a public place. Gone for them is the queasiness of having to placate a regime that believes calling for free elections deserves 11 years in jail for subverting party state power. I’m betting it’s a relief.

A postscript: I was surprised that several Shanghai-based European VCs and businessmen I follow on Twitter were among the cynics, berating Google for not conforming to Chinese/Asian business practices based on saving face, consensus and relationship-building, instead reverting to an “American” ultimatum. But these views come from individuals who have already made their peace with China’s political system, and whose business models and reputation do not depend on the unfettered flow of information. Perhaps some of them are unwittingly using the occasion to signal their own reliability as partners in China: “Look at us — we’d never consider doing what Google just did.” Google may have burned its financial bridges, but they are burning their moral bridges, making them the Stupid Cartesians of this sorry episode, Baruch.

iPorn exists! I take it all back

See full size image

(Asian Boobs)

As proprietor of a family site (in the sense that my mum sometimes reads the blog), Baruch is unwilling to show the images of one of the apparently best-selling apps on the iPhone, “ASIAN BOOBS“. Yes, it is Asian soft porn, charming oriental ladies in bras and knickers, in uncomfortable poses; it’s not pictures of vaguely silly people from China. Of course, this gives the lie to Baruch’s contention that there is no porn on the iPhone platform.

Baruch would like to claim this app only exists because someone at Apple reads Ultimi Barbarorum. No such luck.  Baruch’s scribblings on the banality of the iPhone’s walled garden might have forced the iPhone censor to respond in that inconsistent, atavistic manner of all pro “decency” censors through the ages, you would think, by allowing Asian Boobs onto the platform as a sop. But the app has apparently been a best seller for some time before Baruch wrote his post. Baruch fancies Apple have a group of blog flaks somewhere in Marketing whose job it is to influence commentary on prominent sites, or at least to report on Apple-related issues as reported in the blogosphere. The blog flak would take one look at Baruch’s traffic on some blog rating site or something and realise he didn’t have to bother.

(Don’t bother checking Asian Boobs out by the way; the app is rubbish. You don’t even get to see any nipples).

Meanwhile in another threat to Baruch’s Apple-as-victor thesis, as Dear Reader Cash Mundy points out in comments, the Android axis has been going great guns this week, with Android 2.0 launched, the announcement of a lovely Garmin-killing free navigation app from Google, and the launch of the new Motorola Droid (and a host of follow-on machines from other) to peans of praise from the techno-bloggers. Is this the point when the tide suddenly changed, the El Alamein of Apple’s global smartphone dominance?

Maybe. Who knows? I think Android is definitely likely to clean PALM’s clock, and possibly RIM’s too. But while it looks exciting and all, it also looks very fiddly. Do I want “widgets”? Whatever the hell they are. Do I want my phone constantly bleeping at me with the tweets of distant acquiantances I met once in a bar and don’t know how to tell to sod off, do I want Facebook offers of fricking virtual Bonsais and the latest appeal to stop dogs being used as shark bait force fed to me while I am in meetings or trying to play minesweeper? I suspect Android will be a mess; will all the apps work on all the different hardware configs of the thousand different manufacturers in the ecosystem? How will it work with the Verizon app store, the Vodafone store, the Google-hosted app store etc? Will it be as crap as Gmail (Baruch still has terrible problems using Gmail)? Will it actually have porn? And most importantly, will Google be able to pay it the consistent attention it deserves, outside of brief spurts of focus like we got this week? Prioritizing everything at the same time in one’s quest to organise the world’s information must be hard.

My current thinking is that Android manufacturers probably come to dominate the non-Apple part of the market, but probably don’t flatten the trajectory of iPhone adoption. Apple has many things it can do to step on the gas if it looks like someone is catching up: accelerate the end of operator exclusivity, create a portfolio of devices at different price points and/or, worst of all, decide to accept a lower gross margin, a merely impressive 50% rather than the quite astonishing 60% they are supposed to be getting, and cut price.

But let’s hope, as I said, that I’m wrong.