Sep 02 2015

Currency Devaluation in Modern Markets

Published by under Finance & Loans

By Samuel Phineas Upham

Countries have reasons to let their currencies become devalued, and sometimes those reasons are out of the hands of government policymakers entirely. In modern economics, most currencies are what are called “fiat currencies” and they derive value based on the policies that the governments who create them make.

This means the market value is a variable dependent on the policies of the moment. One example of such policies is when a country holds its currency value relative to that of a larger, more established country like the United States.

Currency devaluation in modern markets really hurts investor confidence. For one, access to information occurs in real time so investors are well aware when the signs of devaluation occur. Speculators will sell first, which puts pressure on the country in question to move forward on a devaluation officially.

One way to look at when a crisis is occurring is to look at real exchange value relative to the nominal exchange rate. If the real rate depreciates and falls below the nominal rate, a crisis has occurred. However, countries might try to hide their real value in order to stave off a crisis. This occurred most recently in Greece.

Speculators with imperfect information can actually accelerate inflation and devaluation. This happened in 1994, just after NAFTA was signed. Mexico benefitted greatly from access to foreign capital, but political uncertainty in the region hurt the value of the peso. As a result, speculators pulled out and the economy tanked.


Samuel Phineas Uphamis an investor from NYC and SF. You may contact Phin on his Samual Phineas Upham website or Linkedin page.

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Jun 04 2015

Why the Middle Class Needs FinTech

Published by under Finance & Loans

By Samuel Phineas Upham

The path of upward mobility begins with financial management. If the average person could better manage his or her money, savings would thrive and we would all collectively handle risk better because we’d have a stronger financial cushion. Banks aren’t doing a very good job of providing those services right now, not for lack of trying, but they are bogged down by regulation preventing them from innovating and growing. The solution involves smaller companies that are better equipped to handle consumer demands.

Woman checking email in office.

Shrinking Classes

The shrinking of the classes has as much to do with savings accounts as it does with jobs. The average person can’t see his finances every minute of every day, so poor people living paycheck to paycheck have an especially hard time balancing their budgets. We collectively need technology that better services the populace, delivers financial statistics relevant to our lives and encourages us all to save more.

The Question of Risk

Banks can’t afford risk right now because regulation has forced them to keep cash in reserve, rather than for lending purposes. What was intended to safeguard against the collapse of the financial system is instead fueling a frugal approach to lending and risk. Fortunately, smaller startups represent less risk and are considered safer investments. Big banks are finally beginning to experiment with smaller personal loans, access to credit and other concepts that were too expensive or risky before. They are just doing that experimentation through a sandbox of sorts, where small startups are raised to try new strategies in consumer finance and fail.

All of these change are driven by access: in the edge of the smartphone, the cost of money ought to be sensible.


About the Author: Samuel Phineas Upham is an investor at a family office/ hedgefund, where he focuses on special situation illiquid investing. Before this position, Phin Upham was working at Morgan Stanley in the Media and Telecom group. You may contact Phin on his Samuel Phineas Upham website or Facebook.

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May 18 2015

Get to Know Len Blavatnik

Written by Access Industries

Whether you’ve heard of the Blavatnik Foundation or seen Len Blavatnik in the news, you can probably guess that this USSR-born entrepreneur has an interesting story behind him.

Blavatnik was 21 when his family was able to get visas allowing them to leave the USSR and come to America. Once here, it was clear that his ambition would take him places. He would graduate from Columbia with a masters in computer science. He then went on to earn an MBA from Harvard Business School.

However, before he had his MBA, Blavatnik was the head of his own company, Access Industries. The company is currently located in New York, but has a presence all over the world. Amongst other things, the company is focused on real estate, media and chemicals.

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This is far from the man’s only passion though. He also has a philanthropic side to his personality, which he expresses through the Blavatnik Family Foundation. For over 15 years now, the foundation has focused on providing entitlements to those looking to receive a better education or providing to the world of art and culture. The British Museum is one of the foundation’s favorite recipients, though there are a number of others on that list too.

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Len Blavatnikis an entrepreneur unlike any other out there. From his humble beginnings to his role in Access Industries, he’s a great example of the results of hard work

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May 05 2015

Charles Anderson Dana: Head of the New York Tribune

Published by under Business Services

By Phineas Upham

The New York Tribune, one of the most powerful Republican Papers in circulation during the Civil War, was headed by Charles Anderson Dana. Dana held the position and played the role of a go-between for General Grant and the War Department during those days. He was highly involved in politics, all manors of war, and kept front line reporting at the forefront of his mind.

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When he became the managing editor of the New York Sun, a job he took quite seriously, he announced a credo. his goal was to present a daily photo of the world’s doings, something that would encapsulate the time. That gave him great appeal among the working class, who enjoyed his snapshots of the every man. He soon found himself championing the Democratic movement for workers. That title would only last until the 1890s, when his ambitions would change to becoming a champion of business-oriented conservatism.

Dana had a history of journalism, having written for several well-known publications for the time. He had bylines with Harbinger and the Brook Farm publication, and his work was based largely around social reform and improving general literacy. His travels took him to Cologne, where he met and spoke with Karl Marx. And that was when his prestige brought him to the New York Tribune. Dana became the publication’s managing editor, and he began rallying against slavery and the economy it created. This seemed to shape the paper’s identity, but Dana was a fickle man and took on many issues. Dana was a journalism genius, successfully building his paper on interesting ideas and a motivated staff. He mastered marketing and storytelling during a time when Americans needed a voice.


About the Author: Phineas Upham is an investor at a family office/ hedgefund, where he focuses on special situation illiquid investing. Before this position, Phin Upham was working at Morgan Stanley in the Media and Telecom group. You may contact Phin on his Phineas Upham website or LinkedIn page.

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Mar 27 2015

Tom Landry, Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboy Glory Days

Published by under Business Services

By Phin Upham

The Dallas Cowboys had always been coached by one man: Tom Landry. Landry is a legend in football, thanks to pioneering the “4-3” defense, which is still used today. He ascended to coach the Cowboys in 1960, a job he would hold for 29 seasons. Though he got off to a rough start, he needed time to refine his defense.

Dallas Cowboys' head coach Tom Landry is given a victory ride on the shoulders of his players after the Cowboys defeated the Denver Broncos 27-10 in Super Bowl XII at the New Orleans, Louisiana Super Dome, January 15, 1978.  (AP Photo)

The NFL’s most formidable squad at the time was the Green Bay Packers, coached by another legend named Vince Lombardi. Lombardi’s offense was fluid; his players found pockets and went to them. They were not married to pre-defined routes.

Eventually, Landry’s fluid defense paid off and the coach himself was 2-3 for Super Bowls.

When Jerry Jones took over ownership of the Cowboys in 1989, Landry’s glory days had faded. He was tossed out and replaced with Jimmy Johnson. He drafted amazing talent for the team, leading them to two back to back wins in 92 and 93.

Johnson is a controversial figure. He was rumored to have said that any coach in 500 could have won the Super Bowl with the talent the Cowboys staffed, a remark disparaging Jimmy Johnson. It was also rumored that Jones wanted Johnson gone, and that he was talking about replacing him with Barry Switzer from the University of Oklahoma. Jones is quoted as saying the next morning that the statement was “just the whiskey talking.”

In their prime, Jones had the Cowboys utilizing one of the largest payrolls in NFL history.


About the Author: Phin Upham is an investor at a family office/ hedgefund, where he focuses on special situation illiquid investing. Before this position, Phin Upham was working at Morgan Stanley in the Media and Telecom group. You may contact Phin on his Phin Upham website or Facebook page.

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Feb 25 2015

Frito-Lay: A Match Truly Made in Heaven

Published by under Business Services

By Samuel Phineas Upham

Charles Elmer Doolin decided to try his hand at entrepreneurship when he purchased a corn chip recipe, a handheld potato ricer and 19 retail accounts for $100 from a local corn chip maker. Thus was born the Frito company, Doolin’s new business. He ran everything out of his mother’s kitchen, producing about ten pounds of chips every day with each product costing about 30 cents. Doolin sold those first bags for five cents, netting a profit of about $2 per day from an average of $8 to $10 in sales.

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With the development of the hammer press in 1933, production increased substantially to 100 pounds per day. By then Frito was a company, with a production line operating in both Houston and Dallas. Frito moved its operations to Dallas to capitalize on the city’s location, and it opened a research and development lab in 1937.

This lab produced some amazing products, like the Frito peanut butter sandwich ad peanuts. This was after the invention of the “Fritato” potato chip.

Herman Lay was doing something similar, selling potato chips he’d made from the back of his car. He was a hired food salesman, so he knew the trade, and he parlayed that experience into his own company.

He bought a plant in Memphis for $60,000, then followed up with more plants in Jacksonville and Mississippi. By 1944, Lay’s Potato Chips were easy to find at almost any store.

The two companies merged in 1945, after Frito granted Lay the rights to franchise and manufacture its chips in the Southeast of the country. During that time, they became allies working toward national distribution. The merger took place formally in 1961, cementing a relationship most within the circle had already come to know and love.


Samuel Phineas Uphamis an investor from NYC and SF. You may contact Phin on his Samual Phineas Upham website or Twitter page.

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Feb 05 2015

George Simmel’s Philosophy of Money

Published by under Finance & Loans

By Phineas Upham

Simmel’s philosophy of money is an underappreciated classic that explores society’s relationship to money. The title reads like it might be more of a metaphysical work, the text explores the wider implications of accumulating wealth and how people interact with money on a day to day basis.

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Simmel begins by setting the argument that money is a form of social interaction. Barter is a good example of how social signals can contribute to a situation. Bartering one object for another is a personal experience, but money is impersonal. Money helps society maintain a sense of rationalism in this way, thus advancing modern society. Money can even replace personal ties, in the case of business partners where a friendship may develop but the relationship is based on business interests.

Money has a unique effect on social structures as well, argues Simmel. Money can create or dissolve social bonds, based on voluntary interactions. Consider what would happen if someone in your circle of friends suddenly won the lottery or launched a successful company. How your social structures might alter, how allegiances may change. It’s common to hear lotto winners suddenly finding long lost relatives and estranged parents.

Which means that money is a measure of one’s sense of rationality in many ways. This behavior seems greedy on the surface, but this kind of greed is motivated by an impulse to survive. Not all of these ideas lead to positives. Greed is a terrible side of humanity that can cause people to do impulsive and hurtful things. Yet, Simmel’s examination of money and its impact on society helps us come to terms with what money may mean to us.


Phineas Upham is an investor from NYC and SF. You may contact Phin on his Phineas Upham website or Twitter page.

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Jan 22 2015

The Florida Land Boom of the 1920s

Published by under Investment

By Phineas Upham

During the 1920s, Florida experienced a real estate bubble that had rippling effects felt until the mid 1940s. Miami had everything one could ask for: beaches, sun and all the comforts of modern living. It naturally attracted quite a bit of outside investment money. Speculators bought land hoping for a better valuation on sale, others decided to settle and develop businesses and communities there.

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Much of this activity was driven by a single man. His name was Carl G. Fisher, and he started a fervor for Miami property after purchasing a billboard in Times Square. As citizens strolled through the street, bundled up in their coats, the words “It’s June in Miami” superimposed over a bright beach lit a fire under people.

Property values soared. Except there was a problem with the increase. It’s true that some development was happening, but the billboard caused an influx of people looking to buy property to sell. Entire sections of Miami-Dade County went vacant.

Those speculators also began losing money, after their flip deals didn’t work out. Shortly after, a railroad embargo from the three biggest companies within the state of Florida severely reduced the amount of comfort goods that could be transported through the area. As relief seemed on the horizon, the Prinz-Valdemar sank in the Miami harbor. The schooner was to be a floating hotel, part of a cultural revival. By 1926 the embargo had lifted, but the Great Depression was right around the corner.


About the Author: Phineas Upham is an investor at a family office/ hedgefund, where he focuses on special situation illiquid investing. Before this position, Phin Upham was working at Morgan Stanley in the Media and Telecom group. You may contact Phin on his Phineas Upham website or LinkedIn page.

The economy did recover, but not until World War II.

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May 15 2014

A Profile of Amazon

Published by under Finance & Loans

Written by Phin Upham

Amazon began in a two car garage in 1995. It was two men, including the CEO Jeff Bezos, who packaged and shipped items from their garage in special boxes labeled with the company name and logo. The image of the two piling books on top of an old door, while they awaited packaging, continues into the company’s mythos today. Most of the desks in the Amazon corporate office are still made of decommissioned doors.

Amazon-Filters

Back then, Amazon sold primarily books. It was thought to be a direct competitor of Barnes and Noble or Borders Books. Even though it did eventually outlive Borders, and rose to compete against Barnes and Noble, the company was strictly shipping back then.

Amazon took advantage of price and selection. Prior to the company’s founding, people simply went to a specialized store to get what they wanted. Amazon took advantage of the basic laws of economics to fill a much-needed niche. They offered a wide variety of goods, so wide that no one store could carry Amazon’s selection, then offered generous shipping deals to get those goods directly to the consumer.

This was all before Amazon’s Prime service, when the company was more like a shipping company than a retailer. Gradual increases in people’s acceptance of the Web also contributed to Amazon’s success. People used to be nervous about making purchases online, now we do most of our Christmas shopping from our desktop. The availability of luxury goods online also contributed to Amazon’s rise to success. As more designers began to offer high-quality products, Amazon secured exclusive deals to distribute those products at a price that is often well below retail cost.


Phin Upham is an investor from NYC and SF. You may contact Phin on his Twitter page.

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May 02 2014

The History of Time Magazine

Published by under Finance & Loans

This article was written by Samuel Phineas Upham

Time is published weekly from New York City. It’s a news magazine that has always focused on informing readers of the day’s current events, with concisely written articles and emotional photography. The first issue debuted in March of 1923. Time was founded by Henry R. Luce, a Chinese born citizen with a passion for news, and his Yale schoolmate Briton Hadden.

Time_Magazine_-_first_cover

Time did more than just establish reporting, it changed how magazines actually presented news. Important items were divided into “departments” that covered everything from law and religion, to sports and international affairs. It used a lively layout that emphasized the visual aspects of news and created a stylistic approach to delivering news.

By 1927, Time had over 150,000 readers. It was on track to become one of the most influential news magazines in the world, rivaling existing publications like The New York Times. After Hadden died in 1929, Luce took over management of the publication. He brought his moderate, conservative viewpoints to the magazine and altered some of its reporting based on those ideals.

He stepped down as managing editor in 1964, and the magazine returned to its centrist viewpoints shortly after. The magazine enjoyed a good run until the dawn of the 2000s, when the move toward digital forced them to do some restructuring and layoffs to keep the company afloat.

The Time magazine of today is no longer just an American publication. Editions are published in several foreign languages, and the magazine also includes coverage of the “Person of the Year” and an annual 100 top list of events from the year.


About the Author: Samuel Phineas Upham is an investor at a family office/hedgefund, where he focuses on special situation illiquid investing. Before this position, Samuel Phineas Upham was working at Morgan Stanley in the Media and Telecom group. You may contact Samuel Phineas Upham on his Facebook page.

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