1 in 6 Americans were Amazon Prime members at end of holiday season, survey says

SEATTLE — One in six Americans was a member of the Amazon Prime service at the end of the most recent holiday season, a 35 percent boost from a year before, according to a survey from a retail research firm released Monday.

The report, by Chicago-based Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, says that nearly half of Amazon.coms US customers, or 54 million people, have signed up for Prime, a program that offers free two-day shipping for many purchases, as well as services such as streaming video and music. Members pay $99 a year. The 54 million figure, if true, could put Amazon Primes US enrollment in the territory of Seattle-area rival Costco Wholesale, which has 83 million cardholders among 45 million annual fee-paying households across its global operations.

Costco doesnt break down how many of those members are in the US, but about 70 percent of its warehouses are in the US and Puerto Rico. Based on those figures, it could be assumed that about 58 million of its cardholders are in the US

CIRP data is based on a survey of 500 US participants who bought items from Amazon between October and December. Amazon is vague about how many people are part of the program. There are tens of millions of Prime members, a spokeswoman said Monday.

Those subscribers spend nearly $1,100 per year at the online retailer, nearly twice as much as non-members do, according to CIRP.

Bittersweet Chinese Lunar New Year holiday: migrant workers sent home early as factories struggle with economic …

Migrant workers Liu Mei and her husband, Chu Yangjian, were told by their employers to start their holidays earlier this year in order to take the 12-hour journey to their hometown for the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday.

However, the offer was not such good news for the couple; they were allowed to head off to Hunan province only because the factory where they work for has seen a drop in orders and production.

Yet they were not alone. The shadow of an economic downturn was looming over many migrant workers waiting at Foshan city train station in Guangdong on Monday, one of the coldest days on record in the province.

READ MORE: Ah, the joys of Chinese Lunar New Year train travel: smelly instant noodles, cheesy feet and noisy children

“Business wasn’t good this year,” said Liu, 38, who works with her husband at a furniture factory in Foshan. “There was an obvious drop in our workload and our salary payments got delayed by two months. Many of us were allowed to start our holidays early.”

Still, the couple are eager to see their children, whom they are able to see only once a year.

The couple’s children, aged 9 and 14, live in the family’s hometown in Xinhua county and are among the tens of millions of so-called “left behind children” in China.

“I miss them everyday but what can we do?” Liu said. “It’s difficult to find jobs in Xinhua.”

Another migrant workers couple in Foshan, Luo Cheng and his wife, also started their Lunar New Year holiday a week earlier than in previous years.

They said they believed it was because the shoe factory where they work and live has had fewer orders this year and the company wanted to cut down on staff salaries by sending them home earlier.

The couple from Hunan province, struggling carrying six huge sacks between them, said they were eager to start their eight-hour train ride home despite the uncertainty over the future of their jobs.

“We have a 12-year-old son who is living at home with our parents, who are in their 60s,” Luo, 40, told the South China Morning Post as he rushed off to board his train. “The long ride home is tough, but it’s worth it.”

However, some workers longing to go home were not lucky enough to start their journeys.

A notice posted at Foshan train station announced the cancellation of nine trains on Saturday, eight, on Sunday and five on Monday because of “strong winds” caused by the polar vortex, which has brought unusually cold weather to much of the country.

Liu Jianyun, 32, was one of the unlucky migrant workers whose train to Hengyang city, in Hunan province, was cancelled.

He has been working at a metal factory in Foshan for 11 years and had to wait in line at the station for six hour to get a refund and arrange a new ticket for another trip.

His wife and their six-year-old daughter back home in Hengyang have been waiting eagerly for his once-a-year return.

Liu said he was frustrated about the enforced delay and also criticised the railway company for cancelling the train.

The annual Lunar New Year holiday, which this year begins on February 8, is one of the most important traditional holidays for family reunions.

Millions of migrant workers travel back to their home towns each year for the holiday – using trains, buses, cars, and motorcycles – with homebound journeys usually starting from 15 days before and return trips finishing about 25 days after the festival.

Seth Klarman Blames Market, Investments for Rare Down Year

One of the most widely followed and profitable value investors, Seth Klarman (Trades, Portfolio) told clients that in 2015 his firm Baupost Group lost money for the third year in its history.

According to a letter and investor update reported by Business Insider, his funds public investments portfolio lost 6.7% and private investments portfolio gained 2.4%, while the Standard amp; Poors 500 Index ended the year down 0.73%. The slide broke Klarmans run of six consecutive years of positive returns. He is said to have returned 17% on an annualized basis since his funds inception in 1982.

Like many investors in their 2015 shareholder letters, Klarman used some space to bemoan a market overly kind to a few companies and punishing to energy names, where he had 39% of his portfolio invested at the end of the third quarter. Klarman, who likes stocks temporarily battered into having a pronounced margin of safety to the extent that he wrote a book titled, Margin of Safety can sometimes misidentify these. His head of public investments, Jim Mooney, described two of their mistakes in the letter:

Our loss on Micron resulted from the fact that we remained overly optimistic about our long-term thesis after it should have become apparent that the companys widening cost disadvantage compared to its largest competitor, Samsung Electronics (XKRX:005930), would result in lower than expected profit margins. It also should have been clearer to us that the company was more vulnerable to the decline in PC DRAM pricing than we had believed. By the time we decided to sell nearly all of our remaining position, the stock was lower a frustrating coda to an otherwise tremendously successful investment that achieved total lifetime profitability of over $900M.

Micron (NASDAQ:MU), Klarmans fourth largest position at mid-year, took up merely 0.25% of the portfolio after a 95% reduction in the third quarter. Year to date, the stock extended its decline, falling 26% to trade around $10.48 per share in mid-afternoon.

In the second case, biopharmaceutical company Keryx (NASDAQ:KERX), Klarmans team overestimated initial prescriptions for Auryxia, the companys approved drug for dialysis patients. Though this only slightly lowered Bauposts estimate of intrinsic value, it had a significant effect on the stock.

The market, however, took a much harsher view and punished the stock, driving it down to almost 70% in less than three months from about $10 to almost $3 a share. Although this certainly was not good news for our mark-to-market Pamp;L, we believe it was a significant overreaction, and we were able to take advantage of the opportunity by investing additional capital on a private basis at what we believe is an incredibly attractive valuation. This, of course, is a great illustration of the fact that even in circumstances when we reduce our own expectations, price declines can far exceed what we judge to be warranted.

Keryx closed Monday at $3.36 per share, down 33.5% year to date and 2.3% for the day. On Oct. 14, Klarman increased his Keryx position by 63% to 42,016,276 million shares, totaling 34.6% of the company.

In addition to the stocks he discussed, Klarman also had losses in his top positions, with Cheniere Energy Inc. (LNG), down 40%; ViaSat Inc. (NASDAQ:VSAT), down 8.4%; and Alcoa Inc. (NYSE:AA), down 29.5% since October.

In retrospect, the long-term investor said he dodged many fallen knives but could have been more patient.

What had, for many investors, been a growing pool of red ink during the year turned into a bloodbath by year-end, he said. To repurpose Warren Buffett (Trades, Portfolio)s famous quote about managements and businesses, when a talented investment team confronts an exceptionally challenging market, sometimes the market wins (at least in the short run).

See Seth Klarman (Trades, Portfolio)s portfolio here. Not a Premium Member of GuruFocus?Try it free for 7 days.

The Generational Investments to Stay Safe in This Market

Stocks actually rose last week, although youd be hard-pressed to find an investor or hedge fund manager who is feeling good about things right now.

But the Dow Jones Industrial Average did in fact gain 105 points or 0.7% to close at 16,093.53 while the Samp;P 500 rose by 1.4% or 27 points to 1906.90. The Nasdaq Composite Index, home of the FANGS, added 2.3% to close at 4591.18. But as the title of the novel goes, its been down so long it looks like up to me.

All three markets are still down sharply on the year and many hedge funds are nursing double digit losses just three weeks into the year.

Conditions are even worse in the high yield bond market, where the average yield on the Barclays High Yield Bond Index is creeping up on 10%. As of January 22, the average yield and spread on the index were 9.72% and 776 basis points. Month-to-date, the index has a total return of -3.67%, which creates a big hole for this asset class to dig out of.

Energy bonds are trading at an average yield and spread of 19.15% and 1,617 basis points while Basic Energy bonds are not far behind at 14.76% and 1,246 basis points. These are levels reminiscent of the 2008 credit market collapse. But rather than being near a bottom, these levels are likely to get even worse.

The End of The Debt Supercycle

On January 21, Moodys Investors Service placed the ratings of 69 US Eamp;P and oil field service companies (and about 50 non-US companies) on review for downgrade. We are witnessing a replay of the collapse of the telecom and Internet bubble fifteen years ago that led to the 2001-2 credit crisis during which the market saw two consecutive years of default rates that exceeded 10%.

While the default rate is unlikely to beat that record, the volume of defaults will be much larger this time around because the market is much larger than in 2000. It is now clear as I warned at the time that the collapse in the high yield bond market beginning in mid-2014 was a warning sign of problems in the equity market. The fact that energy bonds were the epicenter of that collapse was even more alarming because it coincided with the sharp slowdown in the Chinese economy, which in turn signaled a global economic slowdown.

Some are inclined to slough off high yield bond problems as merely a liquidity problem due to the reduction in dealer inventories, which resulted from new bank regulations under Dodd-Frank. They miss what is really going on we are at the end of a Debt Supercycle that will end up severely damaging all asset classes before it reaches its bottom. The logical place for a Debt Supercycle to start showing its age is the high yield bond market. Thats exactly what happened in mid-2014.

Unfortunately, high yield bond borrowers are going to be dealing with $148 billion of debt maturities in 2016 and $224 billion in 2017. Investment grade issuers have another $505 billion in 2016 and $569 billion, according to Standard amp; Poors. The costs of capital for all high yield borrowers and the high grade borrowers in energy and related industries have risen sharply.

This will lead to more defaults among the high yield bond issuers and credit downgrades among the high grade borrowers (Barclays is forecasting that $155 billion of high grade debt will be downgraded to junk). In short, as bad as things are, they are going to get worse. Put another way: even though Ive been down so long, this isnt going to look like up.

Heres How Well Stay Safe

There has been a lot of reader reaction to some of my pieces on gold and silver in Sure Money. The reason I recommend gold and silver despite the fact that they too have been down so long is as plain as the nose on my face.

Last week, ECB President Mario Draghi promised again to do whatever it takes to create inflation in the Eurozone. That means he is going to try to weaken the Euro. Pressure is rising on the Bank of Japan to weaken the Yen.

The Chinese are actively devaluing the Yuan. And the Fed may talk big about raising interest rates four times in 2016, but the odds of that are about as great as the odds of Janet Yellen having an extreme makeover exactly zero. The worlds paper currencies are being destroyed by the deliberate policies of central banks because they have no other tools to promote growth or inflation and governments have no other way to pay back the trillions of dollars of debt they have created.

I think these are the wrong policies, but we must take the world as it is and not as we would like it to be. Accordingly, the only antidote to the destruction of paper money is tangible assets such as gold and silver.

Sure, these could go lower, but eventually they will be worth much more than their current depressed prices. These are generational investments, not short term trades. Investors should continue to buy gold and silver and save themselves.

Join the conversation. Click here to jump to commentshellip;

Endemol Shine UK Acquires Short-Form Producer, Digital Talent Agency

Endemol Shine UK is growing its online footprint with two separate acquisitions. The company says it has bought short-form and branded content production house Electric Robin along with digital talent management firm OP Talent. The companies will augment the existing commercial department which already includes digital studio Endemol Beyond UK; short programming creators ChannelFlip; and social talent agency FlipSide.

IndyCar champion Scott Dixon says talent alone is not enough in F1

High sponsorship demands of Formula One chasing young driving talent to sports cars

Four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon says that even his success in the US is not a ticket to Formula One.

As the 35-year-old New Zealander prepares for this weeks Rolex 24 at Daytona, he said the sports-cars arena has increasingly become a main outlet for professional racing drivers.

Having a lot of talent doesnt get you to the top on its own anymore, especially in single-seater racing, Dixon told the NZ Herald. In Formula One, theres probably only six or eight guys who are getting paid, the rest are bringing money.

If youre driving well and youre quick, long distance racing is a good option right now. The manufacturers are not necessarily looking for money, so they take the talent and thats why youre seeing an increase of young people heading in that direction.

Cleantech VC 2016: 8 Early-Stage Energy Investments

Venture capitalists invested $58.8 billion into US-based startups in 2015, according to Thomson Reuters, PwC and the National Venture Capital Association — the second-highest figure recorded.

But VCs continue to turn a blind eye to the cleantech sector — with less than $700 million invested in the last quarter of 2015, according to Clean Energy Pipeline, and just a fraction of that total going to early-stage deals.

Nevertheless, weve managed to find eight earlyish-stage cleantech deals to start off 2016.

Powerhive, a microgrid developer and financier for emerging markets, closed a $20 million series A financing round led by Prelude Ventures along with Caterpillar Ventures, Total Energy Ventures, Tao Capital Partners and Pi Investments. The funding will be used to grow Powerhives footprint into new markets in Africa and the Asia-Pacific region, as well as to support continued expansion in Kenya. Recently, Powerhive received a $12 million equity investment in its flagship project, which is seekingto develop microgrids that will serve 90,000 people in western Kenya. The Berkeley, Calif.-based company has offices in Nairobi and Manila, and received early backing from First Solar. Off-grid renewable energy companies raised close to $200 million in 2015 versus the roughly $64 million invested in off-grid solar solutions in 2014.

MPrest just raised $20 million in equity funding led by GE Ventures and OurCrowd in its series A. The startup provides software to connect the dots across multiple complex systems of any scale for real-time situation awareness [and] predictive analytics and is bringing its technology to the internet-of-things/utility market. The firm is already working with New York Power Authorityand Israel Electric Corp. The company has also contributed to Israels Iron Dome defense system.

London-based Telensa, a 10-year-old developer of networked LED street lighting equipment for smart city applications,raised $18 million in equity and debt from Environmental Technologies Fund and Silicon Valley Bank. Telensa already has hundreds of thousands of endpoints networked using its low-power wide-area wireless technology. The company is a founding member of the Wireless Internet ofThings Forum.

Mercatus, a cloud-based provider of Energy Investment Management (EIM) solutions to energy producers, developers and financiers, raised $11.7 million in series B funding led by Traverse Venture Partners and TPGs Alternative and Renewable Technology fund, along with existing series A investors Vision Ridge Partners, Trepp and Augment Ventures. Josh Green of Traverse said, In the current era of rapid energy industry transformation, we see Mercatus EIM solution as a critical enabling technology that accelerates the mass deployment of distributed energy. Mercatus is seeking to speed up the investment of massive amounts of capital required by the energy industry, according to Haresh Patel, the companys CEO.

Pellion Technologies, a Cambridge, Mass.-based developer of a magnesium battery technology with a potentially high energy density, raised an undisclosed amount of funding from Motorola Solutions. Motorola joins previous investor Khosla Ventures, along with the DOE. David Eaglesham, former CTO at First Solar, is the CEO of Pellion.

Small modular reactor startup Terrestrial Energy closed $8 million in funding from undisclosed sources for its Integral Molten Salt Reactor design, according to SEC documents. Terrestrials chairman Hugh MacDiarmid is on the board of two companies financially involved with the $106 billion Ontario Teachers Pension Plan, suggesting their undisclosed involvement here. The small nuclear reactors are intended for industrial process heat markets, with market deployment targeted in the 2020s.

According to SEC documents, Geli, the distributed energy storage software developer, has raised $3 million of a $9 million funding round from undisclosed investors. Strategic funders will fill out the rest of the round, according to sources.

Voltaiq closed on $1.6 million of a $3 million funding round, according to SEC documents. The startup is developing software to track and analyze the performance of batteries with analytics and big data. Michael Berolzheimer, an investor at Bee Partners, is listed on the SEC document. CEO Tal Sholklapper co-founded Point Source Power, a fuel-cell technology firm funded by Vinod Khosla.

Which older BMW M Cars will be good investments?

Most of us car enthusiasts have dream car collections, lists of cars that we wish we could have in our garage at the same time. Many of enthusiasts dream of buying cars that will appreciate in value, so as to actually have their collection be a good investment, rather than just an assortment of automotive toys. However, its difficult to judge which cars will be good investments.

There are some ways to determine what is going to be a future classic, a car that will be worth considerably more in the future than what someone pays for it now. Things like age, rarity, importance and popularity all play a factor in what might make a car increase in value. And being that were BMW fans here, lets make a look at some BMW M cars that might be good investments in the future.

The BMW M635iCSi is one such car. Firstly, its the very desirable shark-nosed, E24 6 Series, which everyone loves because its such a cool design. Secondly, the M635i was the first real BMW road car to be powered by BMWs M88 engine from the legendary M1. 280 hp, 0-60 mph in 6.4 seconds and a top speed of 158 mph are specs that would be decent for a sports car today, but this debuted back in 1984. Just under 6,000 units were built, making the M635CSi a rare car which only increases its desirability. Combine the rarity with its stunning good looks and incredible engine and you have a car that will be worth a lot of money for a long, long time.