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Gridcoin "Fern" Release
Finally! After over ten months of development and testing, "Fern" has arrived! This is a whopper. 240 pull requests merged. Essentially a complete rewrite that was started with the scraper (the "neural net" rewrite) in "Denise" has now been completed. Practically the ENTIRE Gridcoin specific codebase resting on top of the vanilla Bitcoin/Peercoin/Blackcoin vanilla PoS code has been rewritten. This removes the team requirement at last (see below), although there are many other important improvements besides that.
Fern was a monumental undertaking. We had to encode all of the old rules active for the v10 block protocol in new code and ensure that the new code was 100% compatible. This had to be done in such a way as to clear out all of the old spaghetti and ring-fence it with tightly controlled class implementations. We then wrote an entirely new, simplified ruleset for research rewards and reengineered contracts (which includes beacon management, polls, and voting) using properly classed code. The fundamentals of Gridcoin with this release are now on a very sound and maintainable footing, and the developers believe the codebase as updated here will serve as the fundamental basis for Gridcoin's future roadmap.
We have been testing this for MONTHS on testnet in various stages. The v10 (legacy) compatibility code has been running on testnet continuously as it was developed to ensure compatibility with existing nodes. During the last few months, we have done two private testnet forks and then the full public testnet testing for v11 code (the new protocol which is what Fern implements). The developers have also been running non-staking "sentinel" nodes on mainnet with this code to verify that the consensus rules are problem-free for the legacy compatibility code on the broader mainnet. We believe this amount of testing is going to result in a smooth rollout.
Given the amount of changes in Fern, I am presenting TWO changelogs below. One is high level, which summarizes the most significant changes in the protocol. The second changelog is the detailed one in the usual format, and gives you an inkling of the size of this release.



Note that the protocol changes will not become active until we cross the hard-fork transition height to v11, which has been set at 2053000. Given current average block spacing, this should happen around October 4, about one month from now.
Note that to get all of the beacons in the network on the new protocol, we are requiring ALL beacons to be validated. A two week (14 day) grace period is provided by the code, starting at the time of the transition height, for people currently holding a beacon to validate the beacon and prevent it from expiring. That means that EVERY CRUNCHER must advertise and validate their beacon AFTER the v11 transition (around Oct 4th) and BEFORE October 18th (or more precisely, 14 days from the actual date of the v11 transition). If you do not advertise and validate your beacon by this time, your beacon will expire and you will stop earning research rewards until you advertise and validate a new beacon. This process has been made much easier by a brand new beacon "wizard" that helps manage beacon advertisements and renewals. Once a beacon has been validated and is a v11 protocol beacon, the normal 180 day expiration rules apply. Note, however, that the 180 day expiration on research rewards has been removed with the Fern update. This means that while your beacon might expire after 180 days, your earned research rewards will be retained and can be claimed by advertising a beacon with the same CPID and going through the validation process again. In other words, you do not lose any earned research rewards if you do not stake a block within 180 days and keep your beacon up-to-date.
The transition height is also when the team requirement will be relaxed for the network.


Besides the beacon wizard, there are a number of improvements to the GUI, including new UI transaction types (and icons) for staking the superblock, sidestake sends, beacon advertisement, voting, poll creation, and transactions with a message. The main screen has been revamped with a better summary section, and better status icons. Several changes under the hood have improved GUI performance. And finally, the diagnostics have been revamped.


The wallet sync speed has been DRASTICALLY improved. A decent machine with a good network connection should be able to sync the entire mainnet blockchain in less than 4 hours. A fast machine with a really fast network connection and a good SSD can do it in about 2.5 hours. One of our goals was to reduce or eliminate the reliance on snapshots for mainnet, and I think we have accomplished that goal with the new sync speed. We have also streamlined the in-memory structures for the blockchain which shaves some memory use.
There are so many goodies here it is hard to summarize them all.
I would like to thank all of the contributors to this release, but especially thank @cyrossignol, whose incredible contributions formed the backbone of this release. I would also like to pay special thanks to @barton2526, @caraka, and @Quezacoatl1, who tirelessly helped during the testing and polishing phase on testnet with testing and repeated builds for all architectures.
The developers are proud to present this release to the community and we believe this represents the starting point for a true renaissance for Gridcoin!

Summary Changelog



Most significantly, nodes calculate research rewards directly from the magnitudes in EACH superblock between stakes instead of using a two- or three- point average based on a CPID's current magnitude and the magnitude for the CPID when it last staked. For those long-timers in the community, this has been referred to as "Superblock Windows," and was first done in proof-of-concept form by @denravonska.







As a reminder:









Detailed Changelog

[] 2020-09-03, mandatory, "Fern"





submitted by jamescowens to gridcoin [link] [comments]

2019 Offseason Review Series: Day 18 - The Carolina Panthers

Team: The Carolina Panthers

Division: The NFC South

It’s that time of year again! After a season that could best be described as “a hangover you don’t deserve”, we watched the Panthers soar to a 6-2 record. After a beatdown of eventual playoff caliber Baltimore, It finally looked like we were poised to shrug off our non-consecutive winning streak habit. But it was not meant to be. A combination of shallow defensive depth and a lingering shoulder issue for Cam Newton saw us collapse down the stretch, and we ended 7-9 winning only a single game. After watching the sharp downturn of our fortunes, questions surrounding our QB’s health and a major exodus of our most tenured veteran talent, one could be forgiven for a glum outlook on the franchise’s future going into this offseason.
But despite the spirit in which we entered it, this offseason has been a resounding success. And one that leaves little doubt that we’re an improved team despite our more prominent losses. What follows is a point for point breakdown in how we made the transition from collapsed contender to potential comeback story.

Coaching Changes

None whatsoever.
From both the commentator sphere and other fanbases, the Panthers were pretty roundly rebuked for hiring offensive coordinator Norv Turner. Despite alarms being raised over 7 step drops and an over reliance on deep shot, Turner was a revelation for our offense. He apparently meant every word of emphasizing high completion throws and taking pressure off of Cam, and we began to see looks for our QB that were totally absent in the Mike Shula era. He’s now had a chance to throw dump offs, and to have reliable comeback options. Cam, prior to breaking down, was enjoying one of the best seasons of his career and despite the shoulder injury, still finished with a career high completion percentage. Christian McCaffery, our other offensive mainstay, saw his rushing efficiency go from 3.7 YPC his rookie season to 5.0 yards in year two, with his total scrimmage yardage upticking from 1,086 to 1,965 in Norv’s new passing and blocking system. Turner’s tenure thus far has been an unmitigated success and a refreshing change of pace from the stale, dull system we fell into under Shula.
The other transition, from Steve Wilkes to Eric Washington at defensive coordinator, yielded decidedly more mixed results. Washington, simply put, was not good in his transition from the DL coach. In over his depth. He struggled all year, culminating in Rivera assuming defensive playcalling down the stretch. The turnaround in our defense once he did was remarkable, though by that point, Cam was falling apart so visibly that what happened on that side of the ball no longer mattered. Washington has been retained for the upcoming season, but Rivera’s going to keep the playcalling duties.
And captaining the ship is Rivera himself. Despite a call for his head among our fanbase’s more frustrated elements, Rivera was kept for 2019. And I’m glad for it. All or Nothing (though I’ve not had a chance to see it) provided a window into his management style, vindicating some like me who pushed back against narratives that he was a dispassionate robot. And while I’m a bit higher on Ron than many, I don’t think it’s unsafe at all to say that none of the coaching hires would have represented an obvious upgrade. At the end of the day, Rivera lead a squad to 6-2 before his QB’s season derailed, which is not really on him. He could maybe be criticized for letting Washington fail for too long, but at the end of the day, few of our woes from last year can be solely attributed to him. While this is certainly a put up or get out year for Rivera, I have little doubt that he’ll be leading the gang come 2020 as well.


Thomas Davis, LB - Now we get into the stuff that hurts. And this one really, really hurts. I understand it. We needed to figure out whether Thompson could stand on his own like, yesterday so we can decide his long term potential. Davis, while still playing at a high level, is an old man for the position he plays. Letting him walk was a logical decision. But none of it changes the fact that Davis has been the soul of this defense for over a decade, and was easily one of the most beloved players and leaders over the 14 years he spent with us. He will be missed, both for his play and his spirit.
Julius Peppers, DE - Speaking of franchise staples, long time DE and future Hall of Fame inductee Julius Peppers’ watch has ended. Unlike Davis, who we simply allowed to leave, Pep has called it a career. And what a career it was. Though almost every single article about our defensive adjustments leads off with “With Peppers retiring, the Panthers no longer have anyone who can rush the passer”, the reality is that Pep did far less than his opposite in Mario Addison to that effect. Though he came back to us in 2017 with a monster 11 sack season, that number was always misleading given how few pressures he accomplished it on. Last year, he came back down to earth. It was time, and while I wish we could have given Pep one last, Super Bowl winning hurrah, a new direction was needed.
Ryan Kalil, C - Ryan Kalil rounds out our list of beloved departing veterans. The anchor of our offensive line for 12 years has hung up his cleats. Of all the offseason changes, this was by far the scariest, as the difference between Cam with and without a good center of the course of his career has been stark and terrifying. Kalil was a damn good player right up to the end, though the rash of injuries he suffered between 2016 and 2018 clearly took their toll on his performance. And while we have replaced him (and debatably upgraded), Kalil was both a locker room leader and a damn good contributor that will be missed by all.
Devin Funchess, WR - We now get into the departures who will be less missed. Funchess, admittedly, gets a bit of a bad wrap from our fanbase who often talk about him as though he were trash. While not trash, he is at least very replaceable. In fact, Funchess replacement began well before the expiration of his contract, as he had been fully supplanted by rookie DJ Moore and sophomore Curtis Samuel down the stretch last year. By the end, he was a healthy scratch. While I’m sure he’s going to put up numbers in Andrew Luck’s offense, Funchess is no sort of elite talent. He’s a big body who fails to gain separation and who inconsistently leverages his size to his advantage. I view his upside as a Brandon LaFell type of guy. And that type of guy is no longer a fit for what we’re trying to do.
Matt Kalil, OT - If the Carolina fandom is ambivalent about Funyun’s departure, we’re positively giddy about this one. Cut with a June 1st designation, Kalil saved us the money that allowed other moves to be possible. Though the shine has come off the diamond that was Gettleman’s tenure with us, the man often doesn’t get the credit he should. He did do a great deal for us, particularly his completely unheralded building of our OL (No less than 3 of our 5 starters this coming season will have been Gettleman acquisitions). But by far the biggest mistake in his tenure was the massive albatros of a contract he doled out to Matt Kalil, who could not have failed more spectacularly (or predictably) to live up to it.
Mike Adams, FS - I speak on behalf of the fanbase when I say that we have nothing but respect for Adams. He was a solid player and a veteran leader who spent his last two years giving lift to a secondary that hasn’t seen a great safety tandem since the Clinton Administration. But your eyes don’t deceive. We really were running his 37 year old ass out there as a free safety. And that simply could not be allowed to continue. I wish Adams the best, but it was time to move on.


Matt Paradis, C - Here’s the fun stuff. After losing Kalil to retirement, we signed former Broncos safety Matt Paradis to replace him. At only 29, Paradis represents a significant youthening at the position, and for a guy whose upside is top 5 at the position, we got him at a significant discount. Obviously that discount was due to medical risks, which prompted his release by the Broncos in the first place. But Paradis’ has been fully cleared from day 1 and avoided the PUP list. By all accounts, he’s in tip top shape. We’ll obviously see how that holds up as the season gets underway, but Paradis is definitely one of the steals of the 2019 free agency period and I could not be happier to have him. His arrival is enormous for our prospects, and has turned our biggest positional question mark into an area of strength.
Daryl Williams, OT - It’s a bit disingenuous to call Williams an arrival, as he never actually left. But that he never left is nothing short of remarkable. After a 2017 All Pro season, Williams suffered a major setback of an injury in 2018 training camp that eventually turned into a season ending injury after he tried to rush back. Still though, the League is constantly hungry for All Pro level OT talent and I was sure Williams was going to get scooped up. Instead, he signed a 1 year, $6 million deal to come back to us, and short of black magic I’m not entirely sure how Marty Hurney pulled it off. Williams is a terrific player who can play many parts of the OL. He can slot in at LG if rookie OT Greg Little can win the LT job, but also provides insurance at LT if he can’t. He and Moton playing opposite one another represents the best OT tandem that Cam Newton has ever enjoyed.
Gerald McCoy, DT - Awwwww yeah! My all time favorite Tampa Bay Buccaneer is now a Carolina Panther. McCoy is a rock solid DT who truly needs no introduction from me. How we plan to use him is a bit murkier, but use him we definitely will. I suspect to see McCoy playing DT opposite Kawaan Short in our 3-4 looks (more on that in a minute), to line up next to him in our 5-2 looks, and to work with him on pass rushing 4-3 sets. He adds more juice to a pass rush that already saw a healthy injection of talent this year, and is more consistent in the run game than some of the other DL on the roster, which was a notable area of weakness last season. He fits the versatility first mold that’s going to allow Rivera to mix up our defensive looks as transition fully to a hybrid, and is a terrific leader in the locker room besides. Our beat writers have described him as “joined at the hip” with Kawaan Short, and I fully expect the pair to make one another better.
Bruce Irvin, OLB - Perhaps the first real signal that this wasn’t going to be the Carolina defense of yesteryear, Irvin is a vet leadership, change of pace signing. In moving to a hybrid defense, we acquired a number of rookie talents to complement OLBs like Marquis Hayes. Irvin rounds out that group, and provides us with a valuable cog in pass rushing sets and a good leader for the younguns. Though he’s not as disruptive as he once was, Irvin is a rock solid player who provides us with quality depth and leadership.
Chris Hogan, WR - A graduate of the Patriots Random White Guy Academy, Hogan flashed serious potential for his first couple of years in New England before getting gradually phased out of the offense. I’m not expecting much, but he has the potential to help us on deep balls and it’s generally never a bad thing to have more talent at WR.
Aldrick Robinson, WR - Robinson does one thing and one thing only, which is catch touchdowns. Conveniently, that’s one thing we struggled with last season. But with Greg Olsen now fully healthy and a sudden wealth of other options at WR, I would give Robinson long odds of making the roster.


Pick 1.16: Brian Burns, DE/OLB - I am still in shock that Brian Burns was available at pick #16. I wanted him very badly, but I was certain he’d be an Atlanta Falcon. Instead, people allowed him to fall all the way to us and I couldn’t be happier. Burns is the apotheosis of what we’re trying to accomplish with our defensive transition. He’s a guy as comfortable upright as he is with his hand in the dirt. While he lacks strength as a run defender, he has incredible burst off the edge and a ludicrously high ceiling as a pass rusher. I think he landed on a terrific team to turn that potential into reality and I’m extremely excited about what he can do with us.
Pick 2.37 Greg Little, OT - Every description I’ve ever read of Little has described him as “Pro Ready”, and the team clearly drafted him with an eye on starting at LT. Luckily, we’ve hedged that bet a bit with the Daryl Williams signing, but Little still projects as a talented young player with a high floor and a well rounded skillset. If not the LT starter this year, he’ll almost certainly have the job to himself next season.
PIck 3.100 Will Grier, QB - Boy did this piss people off at the time. Though cooler heads have since prevailed, this pick was seen by one group of reactionaries as an indictment on Cam’s health, and another as a wasted pick on a player who will never produce for us. The reality is neither. While Cam’s health is in good shape (put a pin it), we were put in a position last year in which he needed to rest a clearly deteriorating shoulder, but we had no faith in the men behind him to win games. If that’s the state of your backup, you need a better backup. This is a team that has seen playoff runs hinge on a game or two that Derek Anderson filled in for. So even as high as pick 100, Grier was a worthy investment. In terms of his playstyle, Grier slots as an accurate QB with a good deep ball and a cerebral style, but average arm strength and mediocre release.
Pick 4.115 Christian Miller, OLB - Like Burns, Miller projects as a do-all DE/OLB who can play either upright or down low. He’s an athletic prospect whose game is a bit raw, but who checks all the measurable boxes. Likely a top 50 player before injuries kept him out of the pre-draft process, Miller represents a hell of a value at 115. I suspect we’ll see he and Burns as long term staples of the pass rush.
Pick 5.114 Jordan Scarlett, RB - This was a bit of an odd one, but I’ve warmed to it over time. Scarlett is a bruising, violent running back who I’m almost certain was drafted to lend a hand in the red zone. As a change of pace to CMC, the two could not be more different. But coaches thus far have raved about his conditioning and power, so the pick may not have been as crazy as it looked at the time. Having said that, while I don’t think anyone should ever get upset over a 5th round pick, I do think we could have found better value at this position. Scarlett wasn’t likely to be gone by the time we selected our next player.
Pick 6.212 Denis Daley, OT - I like this pick quite a bit. Daley had a rough statline in terms of sacks allowed when facing a veritable who’s who of elite college pass rushers (Jachari Polite, Josh Allan, Clelin Ferrell among them). But in spite of that, scouting reports consistently cite both his physical gifts and his improvement as the season went on. If he can cut down on his most egregious habits (most notably his overeager lunging at edge rushers), he has legit starting potential.
Pick 7.237 Terry Godwin, WR - Godwin’s whole game is predicated on speed and football IQ. At 5’11, it’s certainly not coming from his physical measurables. But he was by all accounts a high work ethic, smart players who contributed admirably in his four years as Georgia starter. Godwin’s ceiling is likely a Curtis Samuel backup, but his early rapport with Cam makes me think he’ll stick on the roster despite his late draft spot.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Offense - With Cam’s health reportedly looking good (particularly his ability to throw deep; something he was never capable of throughout Camp) and the team adapting so well to Norv Turner’s system, I think offense as a whole is a good place to start. Though I said it last year, only to be hilariously wrong, Greg Olsen is operating at 100% as well, which provides a boost to our red zone effectiveness that is difficult to measure. By the end of last year, both DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel appeared to be on the cusp of a major breakout, both proving themselves so reliable that Devin Funchess was a healthy scratch by week 17. Those two should continue to grow, and Jarius Wright has proven to be a valuable slot receiver. And, of course, there’s CMC, who will continue to be our best offensive weapon not named Cam Newton. With good health and plenty of diverse options, I suspect the good times to continue to roll as we enter year two of Turner’s stewardship.
Offensive Line - I can’t emphasize this enough, but our offensive line is nasty. With Williams’ return, we now have an All Pro OT to pair with breakout sensation Taylor Moton, which makes for an excellent tandem. Matt Paradis replaces, and if we’re being honest, provides an upgrade over Ryan Kalil, and Trai Turner is as effective a RG as ever. LG will likely be manned by whichever of Williams or Little doesn’t win LT, and Greg Van Roten (who’s performed admirably at the position) is still in the building as well. This is a very solid group of players, and a massive upgrade over what we had to work with last year.
Pass Rush - This was a major area of concern last year, but I’m happy with where we’re at now. The transition to a hybrid defense was the right call for our personnel set, and between the draft and free agency, we’ve upgraded across the board. McCoy is a huge boost to our interior pressure and Brian Burns should contribute immediately. Efe Obada will likely continue to grow, and the new system is a much better fit for talented sophomore Marquis Hayes. Irvin is solid rotational addition as well, and Mario Addison is as stalwart a pass rusher as ever. All in all, we’ve gone from an extremely one dimensional pass rush to one that is versatile and capable of throwing multiple looks at our opponents. We will be hard to predict and hard to stop when we come at the QB next year.
Run Defense - Though I’ve seen little attention paid to it, I’m very concerned about our run defense this year. Although we’ve beefed the hell out of the defensive front, few of these pieces excel in run defense. McCoy has mostly staked his reputation on being a 3 tech. Hayes, Miller and Burns were all flagged as prospect that lacked run support talent. Poe was miserable in defending the run last year, and it’s never really been Short’s bag. In terms of yards per carry, we finished 8th overall which sounds good. But this was mostly on the strength of changes when Rivera took over the playcalling, as backs tended to run over us consistently early in the year. As long as we have Luke, our run defense will be solid. But I do worry that with so much (needed, mind you) emphasis put on rushing the passer, we’ve left off this part of the game.
The Secondary: As always with us, the secondary is a concern. It is, to be fair, less a concern than in previous years. Donte Jackson and James Bradberry both enjoyed very solid campaigns last year, and the former has allegedly done a lot of growing over the previous season. Eric Reid represents a good, solid strong safety. But free safety is, as ever, a mess. The job is going to sophomore player Rashaan Gaulden, but I think his capturing the position unopposed has less to do with what coaches see in him, and running out of money after doling out contracts to Paradis, McCoy and Williams. Our secondary, while improved, was inconsistent last season and was the primary reason we finished in the middle of the pack.
And honestly, that’s about it. This is one of the strongest rosters Carolina has fielded in the Riv-Era, at least on paper.

X Factors

Cam’s Health - Those of your who frequent nfl have likely seen my refrain on this many a time, but Cam’s health is not as dire as last season made it look, and the Andrew Luck comparisons have always been, frankly, crazy. In 2016, Cam tore his rotator cuff. He rushed his recovery in order to play in 2017. This created a buildup of scar tissue which, when coupled with a minor bone spur, caused a great deal of swelling this year that put Netwon in pain and limited his range of motion. It’s one of those injuries that, while not terrible by any means, does require either surgery or a great deal of rest. Cam, by virtue of being alpha and omega to this team, had the luxury of neither. The swelling persisted until he could barely throw. While that looks scary, the actual diagnosis was not that grim, and a simple shoulder scope as cleared the damage. By all accounts, he’s 100% and even making throws that he was incapable of these last two years. Bill Voth, who was the first (and for a long time, only) writer sounding the alarm on Cam’s strength as far back as 2017, has said that he’s making throws that look like his old self routinely.
However, we are putting him on a pitch count. This like likely vet maintenance rather than a source of genuine alarm. But after the last couple of years, he does make you sweat a little.
OL Health - The major fly in the ointment when it comes to Carolina’s optimism over its OL is that big if healthy caveat. If healthy, Paradis is a top 5 Center. If healthy, Williams has All Pro talent. 4 days into camp, however, neither is participating in serious pass rush drills and only today suited up in pads. It is possible that they’re just being eased along. They did avoid the PUP list, which we were almost sure was going to get Paradis at the very least. So they appear to be alright. But if they’re not, or they reinjure again, we go from being an extremely strong team to a fatally flawed one. A great deal is riding on the health of those two players, and the entire house of cards could fall apart quickly if they’re unable to deliver.
Greg Olsen - The one health flag that I do have complete confidence in is tight end Greg Olsen. Suffering a series of foot breaks, he is now moving around at 100% capacity and has been medically cleared for all activity for months. Bone breaks are, when all is written, temporary injuries that often heal stronger when they actually get a chance to heal. Our most trusted beat writers, Voth and Rodrigue, have both been crystal clear that he looks like his old self and that his connection with Newton is as faithful as ever. What I’m less clear on is his role in the offense. For years, Greg Olsen was the pivotal piece of our passing game. But with his largely being sidelined with foot injuries over the last two years, the game has moved on. Curtis Samuel and DJ Moore are both going to receive plenty of targets, and McCaffery will be a critical element to the passing game. Greg will undoubtedly be our principle red zone threat, but the growth of other options has downgraded his loss from catastrophic to merely unfortunate. What role he carves out, and what boost he’s able to give our offense, will be very interesting to watch.
4-3 No More: Much has been made of the Carolina's transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4 this offseason. And most of it is crap. We aren't exactly moving in a direction that binary. IN the past, we have strictly been a 4-3 team throughout the Riv-Era. That is about to change, but not to a 3-4. What Rivera showed last year is a willingness to mix and match personnel sets. There were 3-4 looks, 4-3 looks and even 5-2 looks. What we're moving toward is thus not a single, codified base, but a hybrid defense that can throw out a number of formations and switch between them quickly. We want players who can play OLB and DE. DTs who can play DE. LBs who can drop into coverage and rush the passer. A modern defense is one that doesn't limit itself, which is why such a premium has been put on players with positional versatility. On paper, our personnel set is very well built for this. How it pans out in practice remains to be seen. It's a very radical transitioning happening over a short period of time, and while I think our defense has the potential to be excellent, there will doubtless be some growing pains as we navigate the transition.

Positional Battles

Very little to speak of. The premier battle is going to be between Greg Little and Daryl Williams at LT. Apart from that, the timeshare that forms in different defensive sets will be intriguing. But for the most part, the roster is set.

Win Loss Predictions

I hate this part, particularly since the NFCS is a murderers row at present. The Panthers have a shot at a serious playoff run if all the chips fall right, but the Falcons are likely going to be resurgent (god you have no idea how much it hurts me to type that) and the Saints aren’t going anywhere. The Buccs I’m sure will do their best.
That alone makes pinpointing what our season looks like in terms of Ws and Ls difficult. But this year, we’re also playing the equally enigmatic AFCS, whose teams look like contenders or middlers in turns. Even our other divisional draw, the NFCW, is difficult to find the pulse of.
So rather than pretend that I know what each game is going to look like, I’m going to do what I always do; Likely wins, likely losses, toss ups.
Likely Wins: TB, @AZ, JAX, @TB, @SF, TEN, WAS
Likely Losses: LAR, @NO, @IND
Toss Ups: @HOU, @GB, ATL, NO, @ATL, SEA
So that’s 7 likely wins, 3 likely losses and 6 toss ups.
If that seems like an unusually high degree of uncertainty, that’s because it is. Last year started off strong and fell apart for reasons that are both obvious and cautiously behind us. We’ve only improved over the offseason and should be formidable. But the schedule is grueling and many questions are yet unanswered. I said in my last offseason review that last year was likely going to be a tough season, and should be viewed mainly as a proof of concept for the new ideas we were incorporating via Turner’s offense and our gradual move away from a 4-3 defense. Well, it was a tough year for reasons of which I had no inkling at the time, and it was a proof of concept. And for the most part? The concept was proven sound. So this offseason, we’ve built on it and patched over the holes that developed in it.
I know that “This offseason is a major turning point” is one of those things that gets thrown around a lot. It’s like how every Presidential election gets described as historic, as though choosing the leader of the free world could ever be anything but. But in a very real sense, this franchise has hit a turning point. Cam has to bounce back this year or he’ll face major doubts about his future contract. Rivera has to bounce back this year, or he’ll be out of a job. GM Marty Hurney has done an excellent job restocking the cupboards, but we’ve been down this road of defensive transition and an offense that eases things on the quarterback before. Last year, both ideas mostly worked, but this is the season where we must commit to them and see them through if we want to succeed with the parts we have. Thus the Panthers find themselves where we always seem to. We are a team that is as capable of going on a deep playoff run as we are forcing a total rebuild in the next two years. But for what it’s worth, I think it’s going to be a strong, “Eureka!” type season where everything finally comes together. For the sake of Rivera and company, I hope it does.
submitted by BlindWillieJohnson to nfl [link] [comments]

Overview of the Middle East in 2015 [Paladin]

So, here’s a glimpse at the world map for my superhero setting, Paladin, specifically focusing on the Middle East.
Much of the history of the Middle East went as we know it in our timeline, even with the addition of Metahumans and advanced technologies since 1945. Israel was established, and Metahuman soldiers fought on both sides, with the Israelis emerging victorious each time; European powers withdrew from the region, etc. A few things go differently, though; for instance, Dubai blossoms into a metropolis much sooner than in our timeline. In general, though, everything went as we might expect, until 1980. That was when World War III (1980-1984) broke out, and the villainous forces of the New Order fell upon the Middle East.
Spearheading the New Order’s efforts in the Arabian Peninsula was the S-rank supervillain, Set. A sociopath with the ability to control sand, Set made his base of operations in the shining city of Dubai, and created a massive sand storm that threatened to swallow the entire region.
Ultimately, Set was defeated by the combined forces of two unlikely heroes: an Israeli superhero named Golem and a Palestinian superheroine named Simurgh. The former had the ability to create automatons out of clay, mud and dirt, whilst the latter could take the form of a fiery six-winged bird, as well as transfer her energy into others to enhance their own abilities. They both did their best to fight Set, but in the end the situation required them to not only to work together, but to sacrifice their lives in order to save the Middle East. Simurgh transferred 100% of her power into Golem, who then poured everything he had into a ten-mile-tall colossus of mud and sea water, which he directed to destroy Set. Set, along with the entire city of Dubai, was crushed and buried under half a mile of earth. The Middle East was saved. The war would still rage on for two and a half more years, but without Set, the forces of the New Order were far, far easier to fight.
The lasting legacy of Golem and Simurgh’s sacrifice was a lasting peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, and the creation of the Federal Union of Israel and Palestine, a secular, bi-national confederation of two peoples united by the sacrifices of each other’s children. Between 1995 and 2006, a colossal bridge covered in solar panels was constructed, connecting the West Bank to Gaza. Today, almost a million people live on the Shalam Bridge.
Riyadh was destroyed by Set, killing most of the Saudi Royal Family. When the sand settled, the Saudi Civil War began, and didn’t end until 1999, with the Treaty of Kuwait City. The former territory of Saudi Arabia was broken up, with the oil-rich region of Nejd going to the Gulf Alliance, a confederation of Persian Gulf states, which had occupied Nejd for almost all of the Saudi Civil War. The last remnants of the Saudi Royal Family were put in charge of a revived Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, based in Jeddah. The Jordanians donated a member of their royal family to sit on the throne of the Kingdom of Hashemite Arabia, based in Tabuk. And lastly, all involved officially recognized the Free Territory of the Holy Cities, which was established during World War III by an international group of Muslim superheroes to protect Mecca and Medina first from Set, and then from the Saudi Civil War.
The Gulf Alliance is surprisingly progressive and forward thinking in its own way. As the region hardest-hit by Set’s rampage, it made sense for the governments of Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the UAE to pool their resources in order to rebuild. Though most of the Middle East has been surprisingly welcoming to alien refugees from the moon (long story), due to the massive regional drop in population brought on by Set’s Storm, the Gulf Alliance has welcomed in the most. Though the Alliance itself is mostly secular, the locals have been rather successful at converting the alien newcomers to Islam. Work is still underway to dig up many of the destroyed oil wells, even as the world is moving towards more and more renewable energy.
As for Saudi Arabia and Hashemite Arabia, the latter is a moderate Arab constitutional monarchy, the former…isn’t. The degree to which it isn’t is kinda shocking, actually. Hashemite Arabia lets their women run for positions in parliament; Saudi Arabia 2.0 doesn’t permit women to leave their homes. Hashemite Arabia is debating abolishing the death penalty; Saudi Arabia doesn’t even have prisons – they have a waiting list for the guy with the scimitar who beheads people for anything from theft to lying about one’s virginity. Saudi Arabia is also backing North Yemen’s now-radicalized Royal Army (more on that clusterfuck later).
Moving across the Red Sea, we have the Arab Republic of Egypt, which…well, let’s just say, they have some interesting residents these days. During World War III, Egypt came under siege by the New Order, with the Nile Delta the site of some of the war’s most intense fighting. On one side, the New Order – supervillains, Taurus Group ground and air forces, robots, dinosaurs, African mercenaries, and thousands of undead Nazi soldiers. On the other side, the Allied forces – the Egyptian Army and local Egyptian superheroes, plus some unlikely back-up from the Muslim Brotherhood and the Israeli Air Force. However, the Allies were losing. Badly. So badly that the Egyptian government activated its covert “Osiris Plan”.
See, Taurus Group was able to resurrect the entire Wehrmacht by activating what’s known as a “Charnel Womb” (another long story), which the Nazis created in 1938 through their use of arcane science and mysticism. However, top secret archeological discoveries revealed that the Ancient Egyptians created their own, much more advanced Charnel Womb. Which Egyptian government agents activated. They were then greeted by an undead Metahuman pharaoh by the name of Neherkamun. Surprisingly reasonable, Neherkamun agreed to aid the Egyptian government. In exchange for some concessions later.
Five days later, hundreds of thousands of skeletons, mummies and zombies rode towards the Cairo war zone, astride skeletal and mummified horses, clad in bronze/crocodile leather armor, wielding swords, spears, axes, AK’s, RPK’s, RPG’s and PKM’s, backed up by lich-sorcerers and animated statues armed with massive clubs and scythes – this undead horde charged into Cairo, Alexandria and Giza, to liberate their once and forever homeland from the forces of evil. The forces of the dead were enough to turn the tide in favor of the Allies. With the New Order defeated in Egypt, the Egyptian Army and their new undead comrades then moved to assist Gaddafi in neighboring Libya.
The Egyptian government held up their end of the bargain with Neherkamun and created the Autonomous Region of the Dead in 1990, as an autonomous domain for Egypt’s new undead citizenry. The living are permitted to live in the ARD, though at this point, the dead outnumber them in cities like Luxor (renamed Waset), Edfu (Behdet) and Aswan (Swenett). Neherkamun visited Las Vegas in 1996 (when the city was rebuilt following the devastation it suffered during WW3), and was very much impressed; today, the nightlife in Waset, Behdet and Swenett is a strange Ancient Egyptian-themed neon rainforest with very friendly dead people walking around the gentrified necropolis, with street signs in both Arabic and hieroglyphics. In 1999, another autonomous region for the undead was created in the north of the country – the Autonomous Region of Giza, which has become even more of a tourist-y place than before, now that you can have a friendly conversation with the people who actually built the pyramids. Both autonomous regions have Neherkamun as their constitutional monarch, and all residents of the undead autonomous regions are members of the Egyptian republic.
What are the attitudes of living Egyptians towards their undead countrymen? Surprisingly positive, actually. Sure, some fundamentalists regard them as “spawn of Iblis”, but the undead have been a fairly…secularizing influence on Egypt. Being able to talk with your oldest ancestors brought about a revival of cultural interest in Ancient Egyptian history amongst the Egyptian youth, which pervades. Many undead are still waking up to this day, and they tend to be very, very curious about this new world that they find themselves in – familiar and yet so very strange. It’s not uncommon to see Undead Egyptians visiting Paris, New York, Rio, Tokyo or Moscow, though since most were peasants when they died, most simply remain in Egypt. Some Undead Egyptians have converted to Islam, but the overwhelming majority continue to worship the old gods of the Nile. 2015’s Miss Egypt is the very well-preserved Nefertiti, who became the first undead individual to win such a title.
To the south of Egypt, one can see two grey-ish territories. Before World War III, these were the disputed territories of Bir Tawil and the Hala’ib Triangle. During the war, the New Order made extensive use of combat robots during their invasion of Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia, Djibouti and Ethiopia. However, during the massacre of a village in Sudan in 1983, a simple infantry robot with the designation T9X1109 spontaneously developed sentience and led an uprising within Taurus Group’s mechanical legions in northwest Africa, establishing connections with other “enlightened autonomatons” and “uplifting” those who were not so “enlightened”. T9X1109’s mutiny was mostly successful, and he made an offer to the UN’s Joint Allied Command; in exchange for withdrawing from the conflict, T9X1109 and his “people” would be allowed to settle these disputed territories as a “homeland” for sentient machines. A neutral “machine homeland”, the Republic of 01001001 (binary for “I”; commonly called “01” or “Zero-One”), was created in 1984. In the years since the end of WW3, many machine intelligences have immigrated to this harsh and bitter desert nation, which is covered in solar panels to provide vital electricity for its approximately ~41,233 intelligences. Increasingly, cyborg transhumanist types have made their “pilgrimage” to Zero-One as well, where they evangelize their strange techno-religion to the human refugees from neighboring war-torn Sudan who’ve been permitted to seek refuge in the mechanical country (this is one reason why Cairo likes Zero-One: it’s a convenient Sudanese refugee sponge of sorts). Zero-One has a strictly pacifistic constitution and possesses no military. Its economy is based mostly on production of batteries.
Saddam Hussein’s regime performed impressively during WW3, and he was able to win over much of the public as a result. But he over-played his hand, and thought he could go back to his old ways. He was wrong, and an idealistic, Western-educated superhero by the name of Ninurta (real name: Mohammed Al-Doori) led the uprising against Saddam in 2002. His parents fled Iraq for Canada shortly after the Ba’athists came to power in Iraq in 1968, and young Mohammed longed to return to free his homeland. After deposing Saddam, the eagle-headed superhero abolished the Ba’athist regime and replaced it with a secular, democratic government – the Mesopotamian Confederation of Iraq, with himself as its wise and benevolent dictator. Every office and position in the new Iraq is elected through a multi-party democratic system, with the exception of Ninurta’s position as President. The Federation is divided into six autonomous republics, plus the independent capital district of Baghdad. The six “Mesopotamian Republics” are Babylonia (Sunni Arab majority), Sumeria (Shiite Arab majority), Kurdistan (Kurdish majority), Assyria (Christian Assyrian majority), Sinjar (Yazidi majority) and Akkad (Turkman majority). Under Ninurta’s rule, much has been done to mitigate the country’s historical ethnic tensions and to modernize Iraq. Though most of the time, Ninurta is busy helping to build infrastructure, or assisting the Iraqi Defense Forces with rooting out Islamist or Ba’athist terrorists; there are fundamentalist Muslims who disapprove of Ninurta’s love affair with ancient Mesopotamia or take issue with his atheism, and the Ba’athists are salty that he overthrew Saddam.
To the east of Iraq is the Persian Technate. In 1979-1980, Iran was a country on the verge of revolution, and between despotic monarchs and totalitarians of both the Islamist and Marxist variety, a low-level Metahuman supergenius by the name of Hamid Mousavi created a fourth option for his beloved Iranian homeland – a secular, scientifically-minded brand of populist technocracy. World War III began shortly after the Iranian Revolution, and amid the chaos, with loyalist and revolutionary forces and third and fourth parties fighting each other and the New Order, the Iranian Technocratic Revolutionary Army managed to fight its way to be top dog in the Iran Theatre. When all was said and done, Mousavi effectively controlled the country, thanks to his brilliant grasp of strategy and his charismatic brand of “scientific populism”. In 1986, the Iranian Revolution ended, and the Persian Technate was officially recognized by the US and USSR. Today, the Persian Technate is a rationalist, secular regime governed by scientists, engineers, mathematicians. The Technate’s not very democratic, and though they have a lot of fancy doo-dads, the planned economy is kinda mediocre. Following the death of Mousavi in 2010, his successor’s lack of charisma isn’t helping the growing sense of dissatisfaction with the eggheads ruling Iran.
Turkey has not had a fun time. During World War III, the country was invaded by Taurus Group, backed by Reticulan tripods. Immediately prior to the start of the war, Turkey’s military government was devastated by a string of assassinations carried out by ninjas sent by the Red Hand. To add fuel to the fire, a very young Metahuman in the province of Bayburt experienced a panic attack, unleashing all of its power at once. That glowing blue orb and the “Gulf of Trabzon” you see? That’s the result. The shockwaves resulted in earthquakes across Turkey and tsunamis along the Soviet coastline in the eastern Black Sea, killing upwards of a million people.
Despite all this chaos, the splintered and factionalized Turkish armed forces were able to liberate their homeland from the New Order. Following the end of hostilities in 1984, the National Transitional Council of Turkey was formed, bringing the three main factions of the Turkish Army together – a secular republican faction, a “theodemocratic” Islamist faction, and a Neo-Ottmanist faction advocating for a constitutional monarchy. Negotiations were tense, with militias and paramilitaries clashing in the streets across Turkey, Turkish and Armenian separatists making their moves, and the Syrians expanding their sphere of influence into Hatay. The Turkish national election of 1995 ended badly, with violence raging across the country and the military factions breaking away from the NTCT to back their political allies in the streets. The Turkish Civil War (1995-2001) had begun.
When the dust settled in 2001, a NATO intervention in Turkey resulted in a negotiated ceasefire brokered by the Sentinel Coalition (which still occupies the Bosporus Straits). The country was now divided into the Republic of Turkey (“Republican Turkey”, Istanbul), the Islamic Republic of Turkey (“Islamic Turkey”, Ankara) and the Sultanate of Turkey (“Ottoman Turkey”, Adana). That last one is a mostly-secular constitutional monarchy headed by Dündar Ali Osman, the last heir of the old House of Osman. Relations between the “Three Turkeys” have been tense at times, with Islamic Turkey currently in the midst of a military build-up, fearing the growing ties between Republican and Ottoman Turkey.
Istanbul, Ankara and Adana were all forced to recognize the independence of Kurdistan, as well as, more controversially, the Free State of Izmir.
Allow me to explain Izmir. At the start of the Turkish Civil War, a giant, tentacled Kaiju by the name of Atlas took advantage of the chaos in Turkey to take over Izmir and the surrounding area from the Republican and Islamist forces fighting there. A fan of Ayn Rand, Atlas decided to turn Izmir into his own little capitalist utopia. And the people living there decided to go along with the 300-foot beast’s plan. Today, Izmir is a city in the vein of Las Vegas, Singapore and Bangkok – a free market wonderland of Ottoman and Art Deco architecture with its dictator spending most of his time along the bottom of the Gulf of Izmir.
The People’s Republic of Kurdistan started out as a socialist republic ruled by the PKK (Kurdistan Worker’s Party). Backed by the USSR, Kurdistan made the transition to a multi-party social democracy in 2004.
Meanwhile, in Republican Turkey’s far-eastern provinces the unrecognized and widely-hated “Armenian Republic of Tačkahayastan” claims authority there. The ART is headed by a pyrokinetic Metahuman and Armenian ultra-nationalist by the name of Azhdahak, who is overseeing a rather ironic campaign of ethnic cleansing against the local Turks. Republican Turkey keeps asking Armenia to do something about the flow of arms that’s obviously coming across their border, to which Armenia shrugs and plays stupid every time. Increasingly, however, more and more Armenians are deciding to agitate in favor of ending the madness, and the Soviets are getting around to tapping Yerevan on the shoulder.
North Yemen is…yeah, pretty much a clusterfuck.
The Mutawakkilite Kingdom (North Yemen) and the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (South Yemen) put their differences aside to fight against the New Order, and more or less reached a state of détente with the war’s conclusion. This lasted about 30 years.
Around 2010, the failing Mutawakkilite monarchy began experiencing major uprisings by left-wing protestors backed by South Yemen. On the brink of civil war, and with much of the kingdom’s military siding with the protestors, the Yemeni monarchy made the very, very questionable decision to ally with a supervillain by the name of The Claw. For a while, The Claw was able to keep things under control, though on his watch, North Yemen increasingly became a police state. At the same time, The Claw started to gain his share of odd supporters from the populace. Believing that they could take over the security infrastructure The Claw had built, the Mutawakkilites tried and failed to assassinate him in 2013. Almost immediately afterwards, The Claw staged a coup, backed by his private army of cyborg mercenaries and his following of Yemeni supporters. The Mutawakkilites fled to Saudi Arabia while the Royal Army remained to fight against The Claw’s army, and the left-wing North Yemen Democratic Forces rose up. The North Yemen Civil War had begun. South Yemen continued to back the NYDF, but stopped short of committing their forces to the three-way conflict, believing that the Royalists (backed by Saudi Arabia) and The Claw’s forces (backed by nobody) could be easily defeated. South Yemen’s military was actually busy assisting the Soviets and Ethiopians in Somalia during most of the North Yemen Civil War.
Then, in 2014, half of Aden was ripped a series of explosions in the early morning hours. Suicide bombers, whose explosives were traced back to The Claw’s growing transhumanist cult of cyborgs. Though The Claw himself denounced the attack as the actions of a rogue henchmen acting against his orders, South Yemen announced that it would be withdrawing its forces from Somalia to “rectify a previous error in judgement” and invade North Yemen. The Soviet Union and Egypt have both agreed to back South Yemen’s move and have committed troops to backing the NYDF.
So, conclusion? Middle East is a bit of a mixed bag. Some good, some bad, lots of interesting, I suppose.
submitted by NK_Ryzov to FantasyWorldbuilding [link] [comments]

[CiV VI] I've compiled my Ideas, and many of those I found throughout the sub, to create the ultimate Civ VI wishlist!

I appologize in advance as this post is offensively long. I mean, it's 5000 words with no TL:DR, so abandon all hope all ye who enter. I believe it covers all of the most common suggestions, and I've tried to make it all a little bit more out-there for the sake of flavour, but alas, please roast me merrily and have a lively discussion in the comments! Without further ado...
Musings; Ultimate edition
Tile Improvements
-4 Transport Improvements; Road, Railway, Highway and Maglev. These all have some difference in kind.
-Roads are the cheapest and the lowest tech, working much as they do in Civ V, but boosting yield on some adjacent improvements such as trading posts/towns.
-Railways have a limit on their distance from cities; about 5 tiles in the industrial era, increasing to 7 in the modern. This forces players to build cities closer together, and build the correct improvements, but railway benefits scale with population and aren't usable by enemy combatants.
-Highways work like a straight upgrade of roads, except they allow cities within 5 tiles along a highway to pool food and production yields, but produces 'pollution', which reduces "health".
-Maglev is a funky one for tech focused Civilizations. A maglev network connecting cities, irrespective of length, pools population(citizens available to work buildings), pools production and boosts science yield in both cities by ~30%, but otherwise functions like an expensive railway. Costs "energy" as well as about 4 gold per turn per tile.
-Rivers work like roads, but with no maintenance and provide gold. Great rivers allow ships to sail through. Workers can eventually dig canals which act as artificial great rivers, and tunnels can be bored through mountains through which Railways, Highways and Maglev can travel.
-Le Mountain Tunnels and pontoon bridges/undersea tunnels.
Yield Improvements
-Farms, Wells, Mines, Lumber mills, Plantations, Pastures, Camps and Quarries all work much the same as before, however Mines, Wells and Quarries produce 'pollution' as well as production.
-Windmills and Watermills(by rivers), which can be built on top of Farms and Plantations, provide a small yield of production at no 'pollution' cost. Upon research of "Electricity", they produce an "energy" yield.
-Once "Mechanization" technology is researched, the citizen assigned to a farm or plantation can be replaced with "energy" from appropriate buildings and improvements. The same is true for Mines, Wells and Quarries upon researching "Automation".
-Wells can be built to provide adjacent tiles with fresh water.
-Cottages double gold yield from surrounding tiles, provide 1 gold themselves. +1 gold with "Economics". Grow into Villages and then Towns which provide 3 gold base, 1 science, 1 production and 1 "energy", reduce crime and increase health.
Strategic/Military Improvements
-Forts can't be entered by enemy units without attacking. Area around forts are considered area of control, and give a land claim for a casus belli. Can upgrade to a military base, giving it an aircraft capacity and healing adjacent friendly units.
-Add sentry turrets, which are effectively stationary units which can attack enemy units. Available on Ballistics, can upgrade on Robotics to attack autonomously, Rocketry to be able to fire rockets to destroy tanks.
-Can build walls which provide a combat bonus to units inside, and drain movement points, as well as "outposts" which heal units in adjacent tiles.
-Some units can build trenches and lay mines(requires "Gunpowder") which provide a defensive bonus/act as traps.
Cities and Colonies
-Global happiness replaced with city level "health" and "stability", which affect growth, "bandit" spawn rates and likelihood of rebellions. A city with very low/negative health has a chance of spawning a plague, which behaves almost like a Civ V religion, spreading to other cities via pressure from proximity and trade routes, however plagues can also infect units adjacent to an infected city, which can then infect other cities and units and so on and so forth. Stability is reduced the greater the minimum travel time from the capital to that city.
-Workers can build districts adjacent to the original cities, which act as an extension of the city, reducing "crime", increasing "health", as well as allowing that city to build contextual buildings and units of the suburb's tile. If the population of a city grows too large without extra districts then 'health' and 'stability' decreases, spawning "slums" which in turn spawn bandits. The district can be specialized to be a stability boosting suburbs, health boosting parks, production boosting fabrics/shipyards, money boosting financial districts, culture boosting theatre districts, science boosting science parks and (upon researching hydroponics) food boosting vertical farms. If you play it smart, you can build 10 tile, 100+ pop megapoli by the end of the game.
-From the renaissance era, 'colonists' (super-fast, cheap settlers) can found "colonies" as well. Colonies increase cost of techs and policies by ~75% less than normal cities and grow twice as fast, but have much less defence. They can't (initially) build any buildings, nor build units with production, but can spawn militiamen and mercenaries. All of their production goes into "levelling-up" the colony, from 0 up to 20~25, having at around level 15 the option to turn it into a proper city. At each level you are presented with a "random" dynamic event and options on how to handle it; the options you choose affect the direction your colony takes and the characteristics it has. For example; "Catholic refugees fleeing the Malian inquisition are huddled outside the gates, what is our course of action? Do we; let them in (+1 population, -1 health, +2 diplomacy FP), turn them away (-1 diplomacy FP, +2 food), or offer them refuge in exchange for military service (+1 military FP, a maintenance free unit appears, -1 food). By level 25, 25 of these decisions could have been made, and the colony would have an array of special attributes. But high level colonies would carry a large risk of spawning rebel units, so it's worth converting them to cities (which start with an array of buildings) anyway.
-Casus Belli system; common complaint, common answer. Appropriate and adapt from paradox games. Potential cases include land claim (using forts and spies), espionage offence, liberation (low approval), holy war, ideological conflicts, imperial conquest, resource acquisition, diplomatic offence et cetera. All of these will reduce warmonger penalties with certain Civs for certain actions but aren't a get away with murder card.
-Ultimata; Currently, there is no facility to threaten other civilizations. Ultimata remedy this and work thus; I demand something from another Civ in exchange for NOT declaring war. If they refuse the I automatically declare war on the next turn.
-A focus points system. Civ actions, such as War, Threats, Wonders, Technologies, Trades, Quests and Civics earn focus points in Science, Economy, Religion, Culture, Military or Diplomacy; These give diplomacy bonuses, allow access to special quests, and allow special actions.
-Taunt leaders back. This can give focus points.
-7 types of non Civ actors; City-States, Nations, Tribes, Corporations(get to that later), Rebels(Specific-Hostile) and "Barbarians/Bandits"(Hostile).
-City-States work much like they do in 5, except gold gifts are worth much less, and special quests and focus points are worth much more, and influence is instead 'spent' in order to gain things like world congress votes. Any allied city state can eventually be incorporated fully as a city. Eg. Florence, Milan, Singapore, Monaco, Malta, Honkers, Samarqand, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Ife, Great Zimbabwe, Mombasa, Zanzibar etc. Limited to ~9 tiles.
-Nations are like stripped down Civilizations; a halfway house between city states and full blown Civs. Limited to 4 cities, which must be contiguous, they offer a medium for proxy wars, advanced diplomacy, breakaway states and buffer states. They also conveniently add filler to the map, and can represent small or "failed" nations. eg. Scotland, Texas, California, Belgium, Wallachia, Aragon, Manchuria, New Zealand etc.
-Tribes are an overhaul of Barbarians; Instead of automatically hostile units spawning from encampments, tribes act sort of like city states with no cities. They have territory, in which they have villages which occasionally spawn primitive military units and only primitive military units. There are no penalties for entering tribal territory as long as you aren't seen by any units, and you can even settle on top of their land. However, within these lies a moral choice; do you overpower tribes and take their land or try and bargain with and incorporate them peacefully?
-Rebels are units which spawn in cities with a low 'stability' stat, and are always hostile to the Civ in which they are spawned. The 'strife' can be increased by enemy spies, ideology, large numbers of unemployed citizens and lack of gold/science buildings. If rebels capture a city, then they make a new 'Nation' or city state which can be bargained with like any other.
-"Bandits" are the new Barbs, but as well as spawning in encampments they spawn in slums in civilized territory in response to overcrowding. They are more money focused in that any tile with a bandit unit on it yields negative gold per turn, and will set up their own improvements such as traps and dens. Can perhaps change name based on era and context (eg. Barbarian, Bandit, Pirate, Terrorist, Savage, Gangster, Mobster, Highwaymen etc).Their spawn rate inside Civs is reduced by presence of police buildings.
-InfoAddict style information screens. Graphs for days! Also displayed are opinion modifiers, and the factors determining whether a Civ will accept any particular deal. Less hidden mechanics.
-Ideology has more impact on diplomacy, with significantly different mechanics associated with each (get to that later), and being an extremely significant maker and breaker of relationships.
-Add Chemical, Biological and Radiological weapons which carry a very significant diplomacy penalty, along with nukes.
-One can choose to disobey resolutions or leave the world congress, incurring a large diplomatic penalty.
-Establish pacts with nations and city states.
-Can buy tiles from other actors.
-A less linear tech tree, starting off with a "core" set of techs arranged as they are but with cul-de-sac "branches" coming out of later eras, offering interesting technologies; broadly on spectrum from futuristic to retro-futuristic. The techs that all players need would all be in the core so they didn't have to specialize too much, but there would necessarily be a lot more techs. The ones further out on branches would only really useful for players either aiming for a Science victory or aiming for a specific bonus.
-Civs are able to divide research, researching multiple techs at the same time, utilizing special specialists (heh) called scientists. Much like trade routes in BNW, each era would allow a certain base number of scientists, and then things such as wonders, city states, research agreements, social policies and such would add on to that. Scientists would each be able to research one tech at a time, but multiple scientists (up to -3~4) could be set to research the same tech at an accelerated rate. The rate at which scientists could research stuff will depend on several factors. Each could utilize the entire Civ's global science output, in addition to their home cities' science output and more beakers proportional to extra allocated gold. Scientists would be based in a specific city, and would use up ~3 food, ~3 base gold, and require certain buildings to be able to research techs at certain levels; Libraries for anything beyond the Ancient Era, A University for anything beyond Medieval, A Laboratory for anything beyond Industrial and so on. It would be most efficient to put lots in your capital, but you wouldn't necessarily have the food to do this. Having lots of extra scientists would not be worth the effort if you don't want to have a science victory, and having lots impairs your Civ in other ways. This is an effective nerf to tech, which otherwise is inherently OP.
-New science buildings, such as Particle Accelerators, University Hospitals, Pharmacy-labs, Space-centres and the such in the late game. These would allow new lines of the tech tree, as well as providing bucket-loads of science, for a high price.
-'Rationalism' perhaps split into two different policy branches, Rationalism and Ingenuity. Rationalism is best for tall/tech defence, augmenting the ability of cities to make and use science. Ingenuity best for wide, improving use of strategic resources and reverse engineering other Civs tech i.e. tech offense.
-Research agreements allow one Civ greatly accelerated research into techs already researched by the other Civ, and a boost in global science output equal to that of the smaller Civ, and a two-for-one (maintenance wise) on two of their own scientist. When the agreement ends both players get a one-time tech boost.
-High level spies can be used to take enemy scientists during a time of war.
-Being allied with city states and minor nations allows you to initiate research agreements with them free of gold charge.
-11/12 eras: Ancient, Archaic?? , Classical, Medieval, Renaissance, Enlightenment, Industrial, Modern, Atomic, Information, Genetic/Space and Synthetic eras. Science and Diplomacy win in Synthetic. Cultural in Genetic at earliest. Domination is Domination.
-Revamped Science Victory. Perhaps, Instead of building a spaceship using Information era tech, you have to do special quests. Maybe upon researching a tech in the core of the Renaissance or the Enlightenment , you are alerted to the presence of a special quest for you to follow, and that other such quests are available upon researching specific technologies, which are located far out in the branches of subsequent eras, where non-science Civs daren't tread. The quests could range from "complete this national wonder", to "City state X has this item, acquire by any means necessary", to "Conduct a special research mission at X location". These quests would give special rewards, but would also give you items (all of which) you need to complete the science victory, possibly with an interstellar mission, maybe first contact, possibly artificial intelligence, I don't know. Stick with tradition; an interstellar mission.
-More rubber banding in tech. "Core" technologies that have already been discovered by a met civilization will take ~40% less time to research, and units have a chance of "discovering" a technology when killing advanced enemy units or taking the city of a technologically superior foe.
Late Game Horrors
-Endgame apocalypse scenarios. In the late atomic era players would be notified of the possibility of a coming endgame scenario. There would be a set number of scenarios that would be presented, each with a different probability of advancing. The scenarios would begin at the start of the Information era and progress through different levels of increasingly severe effects. There would be runaway global warming with rising sea levels, desertification, flooding and such the like. A new ice age with falling sea levels, glaciations, deforestation, ecological collapse and so on. Then there could be Atmospheric Toxicity with algae blooms, poison winds, ozone holes and other ghastly stuff. Players can then either concentrate efforts to reverse the cataclysm, to the joy of weaker Civs and nations; or simply withstand it, much to the dismay of those you could help, using dome cities and similar. Perhaps persuading other Civilizations, Nations and City States to unite in efforts to prevent the cataclysm could become the new diplomatic victory. Beats buying city states.
-Nukes become far more terrifying. Each nuke deployed would advance the endgame scenario significantly. To add to this, one nuke hit would turn any city district into a "Nuclear ruins" which spawns special Barbarian units called "Antmen", which drain health of all adjacent units and city districts. Fallout would prevent any food yield and pillage all tiles affected. Some splotches of fallout may end up all over the world in random places.
-Nukes could be set to Dead Man's switch, meaning any nuclear attack on that Civilization would cause any nukes set to dead man's switch to fire at the belligerent's cities
Civics and Social Policies
-Add the quest system from IV and BE, as well as the quest decisions and such from the above two games and a splash of random event decisions from paradox.
-In addition to Social Policies like in Civ V, have Civics which are a set of Binary choices taken ~2 times per era. These would be things like: Collectivism versus Individualism and Citizen Army (low maintenance) versus Mercenary (low production) in the early game, and Religious School versus Secular School in the late era, for example. These are the things ingrained into your Civ's culture.
-Civs are given a "home turf" bonus depending on the terrain they spawn in. A Civ that spawns with more than 12 hills or desert tiles etc. within 3 tiles of the capital will gain a combat bonus and yield boosts relevant to that terrain type.
-Ideologies, like those in BNW, stay, along with their "tenets". However, a new layer is added; "Internal Diplomacy" including an 'Election/Party' system for freedom, a 'Soviet' system for order and a 'Faction' system for autocracy.
-In Civs following freedom, every few turns there would be an "Election" which would give 3 different parties, loosely modeled around Traditionalists/Conservatives, Liberals and Populists/Socialists, a certain amount of weighting/representation. Any particular action would have a certain approval with each party, and total approval (from all parties) gives bonuses or penalties. If total approval is at +80 then you are effectively in a mini Golden age. Less than -50 then you face civil disobedience and mass protest. For example, if you want to raise taxes, a large number of "traditionalists/conservatives" will make you pay, while a large number of "populists/socialists" will cheer you along. The representation of each party is dependent on several factors; large numbers of faith buildings and religious followers will help "traditionalism", culture buildings and high GPT would boost "liberalism", lots of factories or poor GPT helps "populism/socialism", gold buildings reduce "populism/socialism", and a Random Number Generator throws a boon to anyone going every few turns when there's an "election". The weighting of the RNG also throws back to the civics/social policies one takes in the early game; tradition helps traditionalists, liberty helps liberals and so on. Other social policies may change the Parties' opinions on certain actions; honour, for example, reduces opposition to war.
-Order Civs have three 'soviets' in place of parties; Industrial workers (hammer), Agrarian Peasants (sickle) and Intellectuals (pen). Any action you take will reduce or increase "contentment" of each 'soviet'. Contentment of peasants affects food/growth, Industrial affects production/gold, and Intellectual affects science/culture. There are no 'elections' as with freedom, but weighting of the three soviets will depend on the amount of farms, factories and universities; if you don't have any farmers on the land you don't have to pander so much. Every ~10 turns, each soviet will set a quest (5-year-plan) such as: build a university in every city of population >6, secure a source of 6 unique luxuries, gain 10 population in X city and so on. Fulfilling these objectives will gain a boost to yields relevant to the soviet, as well as a quest decision, whilst their contentment will decrease if you fail the objective. Whilst at war these objectives are suspended. If you consistently succeed, gaining contentment and Great person points, then you get special great people called "Stakhanovites". Peasant Stakhanovites can found "ration" districts which expand the closest cities workable radius by one tile around them and boost growth by ~35%. Worker Stakhanovites can found "studio" districts which produce 10 hammers and increase build rate off units or buildings by 30%, and Intellectual Stakhanovites can produce a "Institute" district which boosts city science by 50% and culture by 40%, and gives a free scientist. They can also be expended to found a city with a full suite of growth, production or science buildings, or can found 'Order' corporations. Using Stakhanovites gives massive boosts to tourism, stability and "contentment" of the soviets.
-Autocracy Civs instead must accommodate three 'factions'; the Generals, the Oligarchs and the Ministry. This, necessarily, is quite different to the others. The Generals become restless after long periods of peace, potentially sparking rebellions and mutiny, and so Autocratic states must be at war regularly or else the generals will reduce production, stability and culture. If one fails to acquire new resources and expand gold yields then gold, science and health are massively reduced. The Ministry is responsible for counter intelligence success and food yields, and failing to chastise offending civilizations and build new units causes growth to stunt, stability to decrease and spies to begin leveling down. Autocracy Civs can however by default work a greater radius around their cities, have no penalty for annexing territory, and get replacement workers called Labour Fronts which are quicker, pay no unit maintenance and can fight as a melee unit if enemy soldiers are within the Civ's territory. These are earned through keeping the ministry happy, along with bonuses to great people generation and shorter periods of resistance in captured cities. Keeping the generals happy provides combat bonuses, as well as increased stability and spawning of "Troopers" which are up to date military units free of maintenance with a combat bonus against rebels, enemy units in friendly territory, and units belonging to Nations and City States. Keeping the oligarchy happy will result in the spawn of Autocratic Corporations, and will give conquered cities free gold buildings.
-Corporations behave like little city states (with no territory or cities), and can undertake many different projects with you. Depending on the corporation, they may be able to research technologies which you can then use, build buildings in your cities (some of which are unobtainable any other way), build and maintain improvements (some of which, again, are unique to corporations), spawn unique great people, field a private military/security force to use against barbarians, man culture buildings, establish trade routes and practically anything else. There are several types; tech-based corporations which help with science and give scientists, entertainment/travel corporations which help with culture and tourism, manufacturers which boost production etc. The catch is that you must attract corporations to set up in your cities by following policies which are friendly to them (low taxes) and having buildings and improvements which help them, such as banks and stock exchanges. Tech corporations want universities and labs, Pharmaceutical corporations want lots of unimproved tiles (especially jungle). Trade agreements and diplomacy also attract corporations and allow corporations to operate in multiple Civs to share luxuries, gold, science and culture; however the majority of the benefits go to the Civ with the corporate headquarters. Of course, different ideologies and tenets will be able to reap the benefits of corporations more efficiently. Freedom Civs are the natural choice for taking advantage of corporations, whilst Order Civs have a much harder time; they can only gain their own corporations using special great people. The rough order is; Freedom (Optimal), Freedom, Order (Optimal), Autocracy (Optimal), Autocracy, Order. With the right tenets, Order is decent for Corporations (China), whereas Autocracy locks you in to a kind of Autarky, whereby corporations are nigh impossible to attract if not created by Oligarchs.
Gameplay Tweaks
-Maps are largetiles are smaller; allow Civs to build extremely dense populations without feeling cramped. Countries such as the Netherlands, or England, if put directly into Civ V would effectively be 10 tiles of nothing but cities.
-The vast number of notifications you get when it comes to the late game would be condensed into a "newspaper" which can be opened up and browsed for updates, rather than crowding your screen. Stories could be things like: "Owing to brilliant contributions to the research of Theology, Gottfried Leibniz has emerged as one of Medieval America's greatest Scientists!" and "King Alexander of Greece has completed the construction of his great Porcelain Tower!".
-Ranged Units, Civilian Units, Infantry Units and Cavalry/Siege Units can fit on different "layers" in each tile. Each unit more than the 1st uses 1 food. If they consume more food than the tile can provide, and they are outside the workable radius of a non-starving friendly city, then they suffer attrition damage.
-Addition of more Biomes. Gameplay-wise, there would only be the usual terrain types. However, some forests may appear as bamboo forests, some marshes as swamps or fens, some deserts have red sand and cacti etc.
-Upgrade route for Scouts, going to Explorers and Recon units, as well as Snipers. Along with this: more customizability, and take out the "Great War" units, or put them earlier. Replace them with cold war era units, like Vulcan bombers, MIGs, "Choppers" etc.
-Allow helicopter units to land between turns, allowing them to "refuel". Also allow air unit's like bombers to conduct a "Hail Mary", doubling range and damage but destroying the unit, with a chance of recovering the "pilots" for quicker replacement.
-Incorporate the quest system/binary choices into religion: poly vs monotheistic etc. Just more customization in general. Allow cults to be founded with leftover beliefs once at the enlightenment era.
Espionage (Shout-out to litriod)
-If you put a "spy" into one of your own cities, they become an Agent, which work much like Civ V spies who are set to Counter-Intelligence. They will hunt foreign Spies in the city you send them to, but they won't necessarily kill them when they find them. Instead you are given several actions to choose from; Kill the Spy and send them back to their homeland as a warning, resulting in their leader disliking you, but other nations will then dislike them for spying on people. You can also send them home unharmed, and chastise their government for spying on you making the other Civ like you more for sparing their spy, but they'll send more your way in the future. Or you could allow the Spy to continue their job, with a catch; The Spy's government must pay you gold, you gain some of their intelligence, but the Spy will continue Spying on your people, and your Agent will not level up from the incident.
-When you place a spy to a Friendly Civ's city, they become a Diplomat. Diplomats aren't hidden like Spies, and the foreign government always knows their location. Diplomats give you the ability to see all of the territory owned by the city they're in, not just the two rings around the city. Diplomats will also receive information from officials about events in their empire, working like the Spy's surveillance ability. However, the foreign officials won't give you unlimited Intel, and will inform you if they're plotting against you. Diplomats can allow you to trade World Congress votes with the nation in which they're operating, and each Diplomat you field will give you 1 bonus vote in the World Congress. When war is declared on the civilization housing the diplomat, they may be killed in the crossfire, and your Diplomats are at constant risk of assassination.
-Spies placed in a Neutral Civilization's city become, well, Spies. Spies work much as they currently do: they do shady things under cover, and they risk getting caught and treated by the other player much as you could've treated theirs, but you can of course sacrifice your spy and not pay the tribute if they offer you such. Spies retain their previous abilities: stealing tech and surveillance, but also gain three new abilities; Assassination Sabotage and encouraging rebellion. Spies sent on assassination missions can kill Diplomats from other Civs. If you pull this off their home Civ will blame the civilization in which they had a diplomat, and if there are already tensions building this could start a war. Assassination is a dangerous business though, and you could fail in one of two ways. Either your spy could get caught, making both Civs distrust you, or your spy could fail to properly frame the host Civ, alerting both Civs to a plot but not telling them who by. After a successful or botched assassination, your Spy will flee the city to the Hideout for a turn or two. The second new ability is sabotage, which, if successful, delays that Civs current construction project for 2 turns. The third special ability of the Spy allows you to decease stability and increase the chance of a rebellion, requiring a decent amount of gold to send to the rebels, with greater amounts increasing rebellion chance. If they actually spawn, or are there already, you can still spend money to better equip the rebel units. All this can be a tad awkward if you are caught.
-"Spies" in cities of Guarded or Hostile Civilizations, even if you're currently at war with them, will retain the title of Spy. Spies placed in these cities have a larger risk of capture, but they also have more potential for chaos. They retain their previous abilities: surveillance, stealing tech, spreading discontent, sabotage, assassination etc. but they also gain abilities for their assassinations and sabotage. Spies in this situation can also kill Great People and VIPs; If a Great Person is present you can choose to attempt a strike, killing them if you succeed. Choosing to target a VIP will, if they succeed, result in loss of 1 population and reduce production and stability by about 10% for 5 turns. Spies can also start an insurgency, suppressing production and health, or steal scientists.
-When deploying "Spies" to a City state or Nation, you can set them either as Diplomats or Spies. They can do everything they could when in a proper Civ, but diplomats can trade technology, and "Shill" to increase influence/relations. Spies can Rig elections, increasing influence significantly, and also perform Coups d'état to either annex, puppet, change the ally (swap influence with the State's ally) or Change the ideology of the host State. Spies can also siphon off gold from said states.
-Of course, "spies" can all be leveled up in their different roles.
CIVS(must-haves marked with *)
*Great Britain- Victoria
*France- Napoleon/Louis XIV
*Rome- Augustus CaesaMarcus Aurelius
*Germany- Otto von Bismarck
*Russia- Catherine/Peter I
*Greece- Alexander
Picts- Nechtan
Spain- Isabella
Portugal- Maria I
Yugoslavia- Josip Broz Tito
Poland/Commonwealth- Sigismund II
Austria- Maria Theresa
Hungary- Coloman
Kievan Rus'- Yaroslav' I
Sweden- Gustav Adolf
Denmark/Vikings- Harald Blatand
Ottomans- Suleiman Kanuni
Armenia- Tigranes
*USA- Abraham Lincoln
Lakota- Crazy Horse
Iroquois- Hiawatha
Mississippians- Birdman?
Inuit- Mikak
Navajo- Chee Dodge
Ute- Chipeta
Mexico- Benito Juarez
Canada- John Macdonald
Shoshone- Pocatello
*Aztecs- Montezuma
Haiti- Toussaint L'Ouverture
Gran Colombia- Simon Bolivar
Brazil- Pedro II
*Inca- Pachacuti
Argentina- Juan Manuel de Rosas
*Mali- Mansa Musa
*Egypt- Hatshepsut
*Zulu- Shaka
Ethiopia- Menelik II
South Africa- Nelson Mandela
Carthage- Dido/Hannibal
Morocco- Abdul Ghalib
Ashante- Osei Kofi Tutu
Bornu- Idris Alooma
Fulani- Bello
Kongo- Lukemi lua Nimi
Kitara- Ndahura
*Arabia- Muawiya I
Babylon- Nebuchadnezzar II
Hittites- Suppiluliuma
Israel- Solomon
*Persia- Cyrus
Mughals- Akbar
*India- Gandhi
Gurkani- Timur
*Mongolia- Genghis Khan
*China- Yong-le/Wu Xetian
*Japan- Meiji
Vietnam- Trung(s)
*Khmer- Jayavarman II
Indonesia- Hayam Wuruk/ Gajah Mada
Chola- Parantaka I
Tibet- Songtsen Gampo
Korea- Sejong
Siam- Taksin
Australia- John Curtin
Maori- Te Rauangaanga
Philippines- Dayang Kalangitan
Polynesia- Kamehameha
So, now that's all done. Now to the arguments!
submitted by voggers to civ [link] [comments]

Perpetual Option: Och-Ziff Capital Management Group (OZM)

In his book, You Can Be a Stock Market Genius, Greenblatt talks about using LEAPs to make leveraged bets. The book included his trade in Wells Fargo (WFC, another topic for a future post, I suppose).
But sometimes, stocks get down so cheap that they become priced like options. In the Genius book, the WFC LEAPs were priced at $14 while the stock was at around $77.
Here, we have a hedge fund manager trading less than $3.00/share, which is a typical price for regular options, not even LEAPs. Of course, all stocks are options on the residual value of businesses. But sometimes things are priced for either a large gain or zero, just like an option.
I call this a perpetual option, but that reminds me of those lifetime warranties. Like, who's lifetime? The manufacturer's? The store's? Yours? Nothing is forever, so I guess there really is no such thing as a perpetual option. But anyway...
Och-Ziff IPO'ed in 2007 at $32/share and traded in the mid $20's right before the crisis, then down to below $5.00 during the crisis and back up to the mid-teens. I've been watching this since the IPO and looked at it again when it was trading around $10/share. It's down quite a bit since then. I didn't own it back then but I did take a small bite down at $5.00/share.
I have mentioned other private equity and hedge fund managers here in the past but haven't owned most of them because of the amount of money that seemed to be going into alternatives. I was just worried that the AUM's of all of these alternative managers were going up so quickly that I couldn't imagine them earning the high returns that made everyone rush to them in the first place. Look at the presentation of any of these alternative managers and their AUM growth is just staggering.
Extremely Contrarian We investors walk around and think about all sorts of things; look at store traffic, taste new foods/restaurant concepts, count how many Apple watches people are wearing (I recently biked around the city with my kid (Brooklyn to Central Park, around the park (around the big loop) and all the way downtown back to Brooklyn (30+ miles) and I think I counted two Apple watches that I saw compared to countless iPhones. And this was in the summer so no coats or long sleeves to hide wrists).
And a couple of the things that we tend to think about are, What does everybody absolutely love, and what are they 100% sure of (other than that Hillary will win the election and that the market will crash if Trump wins), and What do people absolutely, 100% hate and don't even want to talk about? In the investing world right now, it seems like the one thing that everybody seems to agree with is that active investing is dead (OK, not completely true because we active investors never really lose faith in it). The data points to it (active managers underperforming for many years, legendary stock pickers too not performing all too well, star hedge funds not doing well etc...). The money flows point to it (cash flowing out of active managers and into passive funds, boom in index funds / ETFs; this reminds me of the 1990's when there were more mutual funds than listed companies. There are probably more ETFs now than listed companies). Sentiment points to it (stars and heroes now are ETF managers, quants etc.).
By the Way Oh, and by the way, in case people say that it is no longer possible due to this or that reason for humans to outperform indices or robots, I would just say that we have seen this before. Things in finance are cyclical and we've seen this movie before.
From the 1985 Berkshire Hathaway Letter, Most institutional investors in the early 1970s, on the other hand, regarded business value as of only minor relevance when they were deciding the prices at which they would buy or sell. This now seems hard to believe. However, these institutions were then under the spell of academics at prestigious business schools who were preaching newly-fashioned theory: the stock market was totally efficient, and therefore calculations of business value -- and even thought, itself -- were of no importance in investment activities. (We are enormously indebted to those academics: what could be more advantageous in an intellectual contest -- whether it be bridge, chess or stock selection than to have opponents who have been taught that thinking is a waste of energy?)
What Do People Hate? So, back to what people absolutely hate. People hate active managers. It's not even stocks that they are not interested in. They hate active managers. Nobody outperforms and their fees are not worth it. What else do they hate? They hate hedge funds. I don't need to write a list here, but you just keep reading one institution after another reducing their exposure to hedge funds. There is a massive shakeout going on now with money leaving hedge funds. Others like Blackstone argues that this is not true; assets are just moving out of mediocre hedge funds and moving into theirs.
This is a theme I will be going back to in later posts, but for now I am just going to look at OZM.
OZM OZM is a well-known hedge fund firm so I won't go into much detail here. To me, it's sort of a conventional equity-oriented hedge fund that runs strategies very typical of pre-Volcker rule Wall Street investment banks; equity long/short, merger arb, convertible arb etc. They have been expanding into credit and real estate with decent results. But a lot of their AUM is still in the conventional equity strategies.
What makes OZM interesting now is that chart from the Pzena Investment report (see here). These charts make it obvious why active managers have had such a hard time. The value spread has just continued to widen since 2004/2005 through now. Cheap stocks get cheaper and expensive stocks get more so. You can see how this sort of environment could be the worst for long/short strategies (and value-oriented long strategies, and even naked short strategies for that matter). Things have just been going the wrong way with no mean reversion.
But if you look at where those charts are now, you can see that it is probably exactly the wrong time to give up on value strategies or value-based long/short strategies; in fact it looks like the best time ever to be looking at these strategies.
Seeing that, does it surprise me that many pension funds are running the other way? Not at all. Many large institutions chase performance and not future potential.
Conceptually speaking, they would rather buy a stock at 80x P/E that has gone up 30%/year in the past five years that is about to tank rather than buy an 8x P/E stock that has gone nowhere in the past five years but is about to take off; they are driven by historic (or recent historic) performance.
OZM Performance Anyway, let's look at the long term performance of OZM. This excludes their credit and real estate funds which are doing much better and are growing AUM.
This is their performance since 1994 through the end of 2015:
OZM fund S&P500 1994 28.50% 5.30% 1995 23.50% 27.40% 1996 27.40% 23.00% 1997 26.70% 33.40% 1998 11.10% 28.60% 1999 18.80% 21.00% 2000 20.60% -9.10% 2001 6.30% -11.90% 2002 -1.60% -22.10% 2003 24.00% 28.70% 2004 11.10% 10.90% 2005 8.80% 4.90% 2006 14.80% 15.80% 2007 11.50% 5.50% 2008 -15.90% -37.00% 2009 23.10% 26.50% 2010 8.50% 15.10% 2011 -0.50% 2.10% 2012 11.60% 16.00% 2013 13.90% 32.40% 2014 5.50% 13.70% 2015 -0.40% 1.40% 5 year avg 5.85% 12.57% 10 year avg 6.69% 7.32% Since 1994 12.05% 8.87% Since 2000 7.59% 5.01% Since 2007 5.14% 6.53%
So they have not been doing too well, but it's really only the last couple of years that don't look too good. Their ten-year return through 2013 was +8.2%/year versus +7.4%/year for the S&P 500 index. It's pretty obvious that their alpha has been declining over time.
For those who want more up-to-date figures, I redid the above table to include figures through September-end 2016. And instead of 5 year and 10 year returns, I use 4.75-year and 9.75-year returns; I thought that would be more comparable than saying 5.75-year and 10.75-year, and I didn't want to dig into quarterly figures to get actual 5 and 10s.
OZM fund S&P500 1994 28.50% 5.30% 1995 23.50% 27.40% 1996 27.40% 23.00% 1997 26.70% 33.40% 1998 11.10% 28.60% 1999 18.80% 21.00% 2000 20.60% -9.10% 2001 6.30% -11.90% 2002 -1.60% -22.10% 2003 24.00% 28.70% 2004 11.10% 10.90% 2005 8.80% 4.90% 2006 14.80% 15.80% 2007 11.50% 5.50% 2008 -15.90% -37.00% 2009 23.10% 26.50% 2010 8.50% 15.10% 2011 -0.50% 2.10% 2012 11.60% 16.00% 2013 13.90% 32.40% 2014 5.50% 13.70% 2015 -0.40% 1.40% 2016* 1.10% 7.80% 4.75 year 6.53% 14.58% 9.75 year 5.48% 6.72% Since 1994 11.68% 8.92% Since 2000 7.29% 5.27% Since 2007 4.82% 6.86%
So over time, they have good outperformance, but much of that is from the early years. As they get bigger, it's not hard to see why their spread would shrink.
They are seriously underperforming in the 4.75 year, but that's because the S&P 500 index was coming off of a big bear market low and OZM didn't lose that much money, so I think that is irrelevant, especially for a long/short fund.
More relevant would be figures from recent market peaks which sort of shows a through-the-cycle performance. Since the market peak in 2000, OZM has outperformed with a gain of +7.3%/year versus +5.3%/year for the S&P, but they have underperformed since the 2007 peak. A lot of this probably has to do with the previous charts about how value spreads have widened throughout this period.
I would actually want to be increasing exposure to this area that hasn't worked well since 2007. Some of this, of course, is due to lower interest rates. Merger arb, for example, is highly dependent on interest rates as are other arbitrage type trades. (The less risk there is, the closer to the short term interest rate the return is going to be.)
One thing that makes me scratch my head, though, in the 3Q 2016 10-Q is the following: OZ Master Fund’s merger arbitrage, convertible and derivative arbitrage, corporate credit and structured credit strategies have each generated strong year-to-date gains through September 30, 2016. In merger arbitrage, certain transactions in which OZ Master Fund participated closed during the third quarter, contributing to the strategy’s year-to-date gross return of +1.3%. Convertible and derivative arbitrage generated a gross return of +0.5% during the third quarter, driven by gains in convertible arbitrage positions, commodity-related volatility, commodity spreads and index volatility spread trades. Year-to-date, convertible and derivative arbitrage has generated a gross return of +1.3%. In OZ Master Fund’s credit-related strategies, widening credit spreads and certain event-driven situations added +0.4% to the gross return within corporate credit during the third quarter, while in structured credit, a +0.9% gross return during the quarter was attributable to the realization of recoveries in certain of our idiosyncratic situations. Year-to-date, the corporate credit and structured credit strategies are each up +1.2% on a gross basis. Gross returns of less than 2% are described as "strong". Hmm... I may be missing something here. Maybe it is 'strong' versus comparable strategies. I don't know. Anyway, moving on...
Greenblatt Genius Strategies Oh yeah, and by the way, OZM is one of the funds that are heavily into the yellow book strategies. Here's a description of their equity long/short strategy: Long/short equity special situations, which consists of fundamental long/short and event-driven investing. Fundamental long/short investing involves analyzing companies and assets to profit where we believe mispricing or undervaluation exists. Event-driven investing attempts to realize gain from corporate events such as spin-offs, recapitalizations and other corporate restructurings, whether company specific or due to industry or economic conditions.
This is still a large part of their book, which is a good thing if you believe that the valuation spreads will mean revert and that Greenblatt's yellow book strategies are still valid.
One thing that may temper returns over time, though, is the AUM level. What you can do with $1 billion in AUM is not the same as when you have $10 billion or $30 billion. I don't think Greenblatt would have had such high returns if he let AUM grow too much.
This seems to be an issue with a lot of hedge funds. Many of the old stars who were able to make insane returns with AUM under $1 billion seem to have much lower returns above that level.
Here is OZM's AUM trend in the past ten years. Some of the lower return may correlate to the higher AUM, not to mention higher AUM at other hedge funds too reducing spreads (and potential profits).
Just to refresh my memory, I grabbed the AUM chart from the OZM prospectus in 2007. Their AUM was under $6 billion until the end of 2003 and then really grew to over $30 billion by 2007.
Their 10-year return through 2003 was 18%/year vs. 10.6%/year for the S&P 500 index.
From the end of 2003 through the end of 2015, OZM's funds returned +7.2%/year versus +7.4%/year for the S&P 500 index. So their alpha basically went from 7.4%/year outperformance to flat.
This is actually not so bad as these types of funds often offered 'equity-like' returns with lower volatility and drawdowns. The long/short nature of OZM funds means that investors achieved the same returns as the S&P 500 index without the full downside exposure. This is exactly what many institutions want, actually.
But still, did their growth in AUM dampen returns? I think there is no doubt about that. These charts showing tremendous AUM growth is the reason why I never owned much of these alternative managers in the past few years I've been watching them.
The question is how much of the lower returns are due to the higher AUM. Of course, some of this AUM growth is in other strategies so not all new AUM is squeezed into the same strategies.
Will OZM ever go back to the returns of the 1990's? I doubt that. First of all, that was a tremendous bull market. Plus, OZM's AUM was much smaller so they had more opportunities to take advantage of yellow book ideas and other strategies.
Boom/Bubble Doesn't Mean It's a Bad Idea By the way, another sort of tangent. Just because there is a big boom or bubble in something doesn't necessarily make that 'something' a bad idea. We had a stock market bubble in the late 1920's that ended badly, but owning parts of businesses never suddenly became a bad idea or anything. It's just that you didn't want to overpay, or buy stocks for the wrong reasons.
We had a boom in the late 1990's in stocks that focused on picking stocks and owning them for the long term as exemplified by the Beardstown Ladies. Of course, the Beardstown Ladies didn't end well (basically a fraud), but owning good stocks for the long haul, I don't think, ever became a bad idea necessarily.
We had a tremendous housing bubble and various real estate bubbles in recent years. But again, owning good, solid assets at reasonable prices for the long haul never became a bad idea despite the occasional bubbles and collapses.
Similarly, hedge funds and alternative assets go through cycles too. I know many value investors are not with me here and will always hate hedge funds (like Buffett), but that's OK.
We've had alternative cycles in the past. Usually the pattern is that there is a bull market in stocks and people rush into stocks. The bull market inevitably ends and people lose money. Institutions not wanting to lose money rush into 'alternative' assets. Eventually, the market turns and they rush back into equities.
I think something similar is happening now, but the cycle seems a bit elongated and, and the low interest rates is having an effect as alternatives are now attracting capital formerly allocated to fixed income. In the past, alternatives seemed more like an equity substitution, risk asset.
Valuation OK, so what is OZM worth?
Well, a simple way of looking at it is that OZM has paid an average of $1.10/year in dividends in the last five years. During the past five years, the funds returned around 6%/year, so it's not an upside outlier in terms of fund performance.
Put a 10x multiple on it and the stock is worth $11/share.
Another way to look at it is that the market is telling you that it is unlikely that OZM will enjoy the success even of the past five years over the next few years. Assuming a scenario of failure (stock price = 0) or back to sort of past five years performance ($11), a $3.00 stock price reflects the odds of failure at 73% and only a 27% chance that OZM gets back to it's past five year average-like performance. Of course, OZM can just sort of keep doing what it's doing and stay at $3.00 for a long time too.
There is a problem with this, though, as the dividends don't reflect equity-based compensation expense; OZM gives out a bunch of RSU's every year.
To adjust for this, let's look at the economic earnings of the past five years including the costs of equity-based compensation.
Equity-based compensation expense not included in economic income is listed below ($000):
2008 102,025 2009 122,461 2010 128,737 2011 128,916 2012 86,006 2013 120,125 2014 104,344 2015 106,565
It's odd that this doesn't seem to correlate to revenues, income or AUM; it's just basically flat all the way through.
If we include this, economic income at OZM averaged around $520 million/year. With fully diluted 520 million shares outstanding, that's around $1.00/share in economic earnings per share that OZM earned on average over the past five years. So that's not too far off from the $1.10/share dividends we used above.
One of the interesting things about investing is when you find alternative ways to value something instead of just the usual price-to-book values, P/E ratios etc.
So how would you value this?
What about adjusting the implied odds from the above. What if we said there's a 50/50 chance of recovery or failure. Let's say recovery is getting back to what it has done over the past five years on average, and failure is a zero on the stock.
50% x $0.00 + 50% x $10.00 = $5.00/share
In that case, OZM is worth $5.00/share, or 70% higher than the current price. You are looking at a 60 cent dollar in that case.
Let's say there is a 70% chance of recovery.
70% x $10.00 + 30% x $0.00 = $7.00/share.
That's 130% higher, or a 40 cent dollar.
By the way, the AUM averaged around $37 billion over the past five years, and remember, their return was around 5.9%/year so these figures aren't based on huge, abnormal returns or anything.
As of the end of September 2016, AUM was $39.3 billion, and this went down to $37 billion as of November 1, 2016. OZM expects continued redemptions towards year-end both due to their Justice Department/SEC settlement and overall industry redemption trends.
The above ignored balance sheet items, but you can deduct $0.60/share, maybe, of negative equity, or more if you think they need more cash on the balance sheet to run their business.
Preferred Shares As for the $400 million settlement amount and preferred shares, the settlement amount is already on the balance sheet as a liability (which was paid out after the September quarter-end). The preferred shares were sold after the quarter ended. They have zero interest for three years so I don't think it impacts the above analysis. You would just add cash on the balance sheet and the preferreds on the liability side.
If you want to deduct the full amount of the settlement of $400 million, you can knock off $0.77/share off the above valuation instead of the $0.60/share.
Earnings Model The problem with these companies is that it's impossible, really, to predict what their AUM is going to be in the future or their performance. Of course, we can guess that if they do well, AUM will increase and vice-versa.
But still, as a sanity check, we should see how things look with various assumptions in terms of valuation.
First of all, let's look at 2015. In the full year to 2015, a year that the OZM funds were down (master fund), they paid a dividend of $0.87. Adjusted economic income was $240 million (economic income reported by OZM less equity-based comp expense) and using the current fully diluted shares outstanding of 520 million, that comes to $0.46/share. OK, it's funny to use current shares outstanding against last year's economic income, but I am trying to use last years' earnings as sort of a 'normalized' figure.
Using these figures from a bad year, OZM is current trading at a 29% dividend yield (using $3.00/share price) and 6.5x adjusted economic income. This would be 8.3x if you added the $0.77/share from the settlement above.
OK, so average AUM was $44 billion in 2015, so even in a bad year, they made tons in management fees. Fine. We'll get to that in a second. AUM is $37 billion as of November 2016, and is probably headed down towards year-end.
2016 Year-to-Date So let's look at how they are doing this year so far. Fund performance-wise, it hasn't been too good, but they do remain profitable. These fund businesses are designed so that their fixed expenses are covered by their management fees. Big bonuses are paid out only when the funds make money.
Anyway, let's look at 2016 so far in terms of economic income.
In the 3Q of 2016, economic income was $57.4 million. Equity-based compensation expense was $18.3 million so adjusted economic income was $39.1 million. Annualize that and you get $156 million. Using 520 million fully diluted shares (share amount used to calculate distributable earnings in the earnings press release), that comes to $0.30/share adjusted economic income. So at $3.00/share, OZM is trading at 10x arguably depressed earnings. (This excludes the FCPA settlement amount). If you include $400 million of the FCPA preferreds (total to be offered eventually), then the P/E would actually be closer to 12.6x.
For the year to date, economic income was $195 million, and equity-based comp expense was $56 million so adjusted economic income was $139 million. Again using 520 million shares, that comes to $0.25/share in adjusted economic earnings per share. Annualize that and you get $0.33/share. So at $3.00/share, OZM is trading at 9x depressed earnings, or 11x including the FCPA preferred.
OK, so maybe this is not really 'depressed'. With still a lot of AUM, it is possible that AUM keeps going down.
AUM was $37 billion in November, but let's say it goes down to $30 billion. That's actually a big dip. But let's say AUM goes down there. And then let's assume 1% management fees, 20% incentive fees, and economic income margin of 50% (averaged 56% in past five years) and the OZM master fund return of 5%.
In this case, economic income would be $300 million. Equity-based comp costs seems steady at around $100 million, so we deduct that to get adjusted economic income. This comes to $200 million.
That comes to around $0.40/share. At $3.00/share, that's 7.5x adjusted economic earnings, or a 13% yield, or 9.4x and 10.6% yield including the FCPA preferreds.
So that's not bad. We are assuming AUM dips to $30 billion and OZM funds only earn 5%/year, and with that assumption the stock is trading at this cheap level.
Things, of course, can get much worse. If performance doesn't improve, AUM will keep going down. You can't really stress test these things as you can just say their returns will never recover and that's that.
On the other hand, any improvement can get you considerable upside.
If assets return to $40 billion and returns average 6% over time, economic income margin goes to 56% (average of past five years), adjust economic income per share is $0.76/share and the stock could be worth $7.60/share for more than a double.
Here's a matrix of possibilities. Skeptics will say, where are the returns below 5% and AUM below $30 billion?!
Well, OK. If returns persist at lower than 5%, it's safe to assume that AUM will go down and this may well end up a zero. That is certainly a possibility. It wouldn't shock many for another hedge fund to shut down.
On the other hand, if things do stabilize, normalize and OZM recovers and does well, there is a lot of upside here. What is interesting to me is that the market is discounting a lot of bad and not pricing in much good. This is when opportunities occur, right?
5% 6% 7% 8% 9% 10% 30,000 $0.45 $0.52 $0.58 $0.65 $0.71 $0.78 35,000 $0.56 $0.64 $0.71 $0.79 $0.86 $0.94 40,000 $0.67 $0.76 $0.84 $0.93 $1.01 $1.10 45,000 $0.78 $0.87 $0.97 $1.07 $1.16 $1.26 50,000 $0.88 $0.99 $1.10 $1.21 $1.32 $1.42 55,000 $0.99 $1.11 $1.23 $1.35 $1.47 $1.58 60,000 $1.10 $1.23 $1.36 $1.49 $1.62 $1.75
The row above is the assumed return of the OZM funds. The left column is the AUM. Assumptions are 1% management fee, 20% incentive fee, 56% economic income margin (excluding equity-based comp expense) and $100 million/year in equity-based comp expense.
It shows you that it doesn't take much for adjusted economic income per share to get back up to closer to $1.00, and can maintain $0.45/share even in a $30 billion AUM and 5% return scenario making the current stock price cheap even under that scenario.
Conclusion Having said all that, there is still a lot of risk here. Low returns and low bonuses can easily make it hard for OZM to keep their best people. But if their best people perform, I assume they do get paid directly for their performance so that shouldn't be too much of an issue.
A lot of the lower returns in recent years is no doubt due to their higher AUM. But it is also probably due to crowding of the hedge fund world and low interest rates leading to an overall lower return environment for all.
If you think these things are highly cyclical, then you can expect interest rates to normalize at some point. Money flowing out of hedge funds should also be good for future returns in these strategies. The part of lower returns at OZM due to higher AUM may not reverse itself, though, if OZM succeeds in maintaining and increasing AUM over time.
But even without the blowout, high returns of the 1990's, OZM can make decent returns over time as seen in the above table.
In any case, unlike a few years ago, the stock prices of many alternative managers are cheap (and I demonstrated how cheap OZM might be here) and institutional money seems to be flowing out of these strategies.
So: OZM is cheap and is in a seemingly universally hated industry Money is flowing out of these strategies, particularly performance chasing institutions (that you would often want to fade) there is a bear market in active managers and bubble in indexing (which may actually increase opportunities for active managers) value spreads are wide and has been widening for years making mean reversion overdue etc. These things make OZM a compelling play on these various themes.
I would treat this more like an option, though. Buy it like you would buy an option, not like you would invest in, say, a Berkshire Hathaway.
There are a lot of paths here to make good money, but there are also plenty of ways to lose. If you look at this like a binary option, it can be pretty interesting!
Posted by kk at 8:11 PM No comments: Links to this post Email This BlogThis! Share to Twitter Share to Facebook Share to Pinterest
Labels: OZM
Saturday, October 29, 2016 Gotham's New Fund Joel Greenblatt was in Barron's recently. He is one of my favorite investors so maybe it's a good time for another post.
Anyway, this new fund is kind of interesting as I am sort of a tinkerer; this is like the product of some financial tinkering. I don't know if it's the right product for many, but we'll take a look.
But first, let's see what he has to say about the stock market in general.
The Market Greenblatt says that the market is "expensive". The market is in the 21st percentile of expensive in the past 25 years. Either a typo or he misspoke, he is quoted as saying that the market has been more expensive 79% of the time in the past 25 years. Of course, he means the market has been cheaper 79% of the time.
The year forward expected return from this price level is between 2% to 7%, so he figures it averages out to 4% to 6% per year. In the past 25 years, the market has returned 9% to 10%/year so he figures the market is 12% to 13% more expensive than it used to be.
He says: Well, one scenario could be that it drops 12% to 13% tomorrow and future returns would go back to 9% to 10%. Or you could underearn for three years at 4% to 6%. We're still expecting positive returns, just more muted. The intelligent strategy is to buy the cheapest things you can find and short the most expensive.
But... Immediately, bears will say that this 25 year history is based during a period when interest rates went down. The 10 year bond rate was around 8% back in 1991, and is now 1.8%. In terms of valuation, this would have pushed up asset values by 6.2%/year ($1.00 discounted at 8%/year then and $1.00 discounted by 1.8% now).
Declining rates were certainly a factor in stock returns over the past 25 years. Of course, the stock market didn't keep going up as rates kept going down. The P/E ratio of the S&P 500 index at the end of 1990 was around 15x, and now it's 25x according to Shiller's database (raw P/E, not CAPE). So the valuation gain over the 25 years accounted for around 2%/year of the 9-10% return Greenblatt states.
Here are the EPS estimates for the S&P 500 index according to Goldman Sachs:
2016 $105 20.4x 2017 $116 18.5x 2018 $122 17.6x
Earnings estimates are not all that reliable (estimates have been coming down consistently in the past year or so). But since most of 2016 is done, I suppose the $105 figure should be OK to use.
I don't know if it's apples to apples (reported versus operating etc.), but if we assume the 'current' P/E of the market is 20x, then the valuation tailwind accounted for 1.2%/year of the 9-10%. But then of course, even if this was a fair comparison, there is still the aspect of lower interest rates boosting the economy by borrowing future demand (and therefore overstating historical earnings).
In any case, one of the main bearish arguments is that this interest rate tailwind in the past will become a headwind going forward. Just about everyone agrees with that.
But as I have mentioned before, calling turns in interest rates is very hard, Japan being a great example. If you look at interest rates over the past 100 years or more, you see that major turns in trend don't happen all that often; it's been a single trend of declining rates since the 1980/81 peak, basically. What are the chances that you are going to call the next big turn correctly? I would bet against anyone trying. OK, that didn't come out right. I wouldn't necessarily be long the bond market either.
Gotham Index Plus So, back to the topic of Gotham's new fund. It is a fascinating idea. The fund will go long the S&P 500 index, 100% long, and then overlay a 90%/90% long/short portfolio of the S&P 500 stocks based on their valuations.
The built-in leverage alone makes this sort of interesting. Many institutions may have an allocation to the S&P 500 index, and then some allocation to long/short equity hedge funds. The return of the Gotham Index plus would be much higher (when things go well).
I think this sort of thing was popular at some point in the pension world; index plus alpha etc. Except I think a lot of those were institutions replacing their S&P 500 index portfolios with futures positions, and then using the cash raised to buy mortgage securities. Of course, when things turned bad, oops; they took big hits in S&P 500 futures, tried to post cash for the margin call and realized that their mortgage funds weren't liquid (and was worth a lot less than they thought).
Or something like that.
There is risk here too, of course. You are overlaying two risk positions on top of each other. When things turn bad, things can certainly get ugly.
I think Greenblatt's calculation is that when things turn bad, the long/short usually does well. I haven't seen any backtests or anything, so I don't know what the odds of a blowup are.
Expensive stocks tend to be high-beta stocks and cheaper stocks may be lower beta, so in a market correction, the high-beta, expensive names may go down a lot harder.
To some extent, lower valuations may reflect more cyclicality, lower credit risk / lower balance sheet quality too so you have to be a little careful. In a financial crisis-like situation, lower valuation (lower credit quality) can tank and some higher valuation names may hold up (like the FANG-like stocks).
But Greenblatt's screen is not just raw P/E or P/B, but is tied to return on capital, so maybe this is not as much of an issue compared to a pure P/B model.
The argument for this structure is that people can't stay with a strategy if it can't keep up with the market. Here, the market return is built in from the beginning and you just hope for the "Plus" part to kick in. In a long/short portfolio, the beta is netted out to a large extent so can lower potential returns. This fixes that. But there is a cost to that.
In any case, I do think it's a really interesting product, but keep in mind that it is a little riskier than Gotham's other offerings.
Oh, and go read the article on why this new fund is a good idea. Greenblatt is always a great read.
Chipotle (CMG) Well, Chipotle earnings came out and it was predictably horrible. The stock is not cheap so it hasn't been recommendable in a while, but I really like the company. There was a really long article on them recently which was a great read. It didn't really change my view of them all that much. I think they will get a lot of business back, eventually.
The earnings call was OK, but what was depressing about it was that they decided to ditch Shophouse. I don't think any analysts asked about it so it was a given, I guess. I had it a couple of times in DC and liked it and was looking forward to it in NY, but I guess that's not going to happen. As an investor, that was not baked into the cake, I don't think, even though there was probably some hope that the CMG brand can be extended into other categories.
This puts a lot of doubt into that idea. Someone said that brand extensions in restaurants/retail never work, and that has proven to be the case here. I wouldn't get too excited about pizza and burgers either. Burgers are really crowded now and will only get more so.
If CMG has to look to Europe for growth, that is not so great either as the record of U.S. companies expanding into Europe is not good. I would not count on Europe growth.
Anyway, this doesn't mean it's all over for CMG. I think they will come back, but there are some serious headwinds now other than their food poisoning problem; more competition etc. They were the only game in town for a while, but now everyone seemingly wants to become the next Chipotle, so there are a lot of options out there now.
As for Ackman's interest in CMG, I have no idea what his plan is. There is no real estate here as CMG rents all their restaurants, and their restaurants had high 20's operating margins at their peak. I don't know if they will ever get back up there, but it's not like these guys don't know how to run an efficient operation. Maybe Ackman sees SGA opportunities, but pre-crisis, SGA was less than 7%, so there wouldn't be that much of a boost from cutting SGA. Or maybe he thinks it's time for CMG to do what everyone else is doing and go for the franchise model. Who knows? I look forward to seeing what his thoughts are; hopefully some 500 page presentation pops up somewhere...
McDonalds I don't want to turn this into a food blog, but I can't resist mentioning this. I have been a lifelong MCD customer; I have no problem with it. OK, it may not be my first choice of a meal in most cases, but it's fine. And when you have a kid, you tend to go more often that you'd like. But still, it's OK. It is what it is, right?
I like the remodelling that they are doing, and the fact that they have free wifi is great too. But here's a big clustermuck they had with their recent custom burger and kiosk idea. I walked into a MCD without knowing anything about any of this recently. A lady said I can order at the kiosk and I said, no, I'll just go to the counter, thank you.
And I waited 10 minutes or so in line, looking up at the tasty looking special hamburgers on the HD, LCD menu board. It was finally my turn at the cash register and I said I want that tasty looking hamburger up there on the screen. And the lady said, oh, you can only order that at the kiosk. I was like, huh? That was really annoying. So I wait all this time and I can't get what I want; I have to walk all the way back and get in another line again? Come on! At that point, I didn't want any other burger so I just ordered a salad (and the usual for my kid).
OK, so it's my fault, probably. User error. But as a service company, as far as I'm concerned, that was a massive fail on the part of MCD.
OK, Now That I started... And by the way, since I got myself started, let me get these two out too. Yes, I spend too much time at fast food joints. Guilty. But still, here are my two peeves related to two of my favorite fast casual places:
Shake Shack: Being dragged there all the time, I have learned to love the Shack-cago hot dog. Chicken Shack is awesome too, in case you don't want to eat hamburgers all the time. But I can't tell you how often they get take-out and stay wrong. I had a long run where they didn't get it right at all and had to ask for things to be packed to go. It is really annoying and wastes everyone's time.
Chipotle: This hasn't happened to me the last couple of times, but this is the usual conversation that happens to me just about every time I go to Chipotle.
CMG: "Hi, what can we get you today?" (or some such) Me: "Um, I'll have a burrito..." CMG: putting the tortilla in the tortilla warmecooker, "and would you like white rice or brown rice? Me: "White rice is fine" CMG: with tortilla still in the cooker, "and black beans or pinto beans?" Me: "black beans". CMG: laying a sheet of aluminum foil on the counter and placing the tortilla on it, moving over to the rice area, "Was that white rice or brown rice?" Me: "white rice" CMG: sliding over to the beans, "and black beans or pinto beans?". Me: "black".
I can't tell you how many times this exact thing happened to me. If you can't remember what I say, don't ask beforehand! Just ask when we get to whatever you are going to ask me about! This is not rocket science, lol... Incredibly annoying.
Anyway, I still love CMG and will keep eating there.
Oh, and to make things interesting, I decided to post a contact email address in the "about" section of the blog. I will try to respond to every email, but keep in mind I may not look in that email box all the time.
I will try to post more, though. (read original with tables)
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